The Fourth of July is up there with Halloween as one of my favorite holidays. I love it so much that I have a Thomas Rebek water-color of the Boston Esplanade hanging in my bedroom. The weather is usually perfect, you often get a four day weekend of freedom from work, and the food… doesn’t everyone love barbecues?
There is only one problem, it can get expensive. As WCCO TV reports, food, fireworks, and travel are going to be more expensive this year. Everyone knows about the food and the travel expenses, but I was surprised to learn that fireworks are up 30%. I think you should skip the fireworks and leave it to the city. No only are they illegal in many states – why would you pay 30% for the privilege of losing a finger?
How can you lower the cost of the Fourth of July and still have fun? It helps to get creative. Here are a few tips:
Look to the Community
I noticed that a neighboring town is having a full day of activities starting at 8AM and carrying through to the 9:30PM fireworks. Activities are family friendly and this one includes a pancake breakfast, parades, dog shows, four concerts, and of course a barbecue. I’m sure the barbecue and pancake breakfast are going to cost a nominal fee, but they are for good charities. Chances are you live near a community that has similar activities.
Throw a Pot-Luck Barbeque
My mother always said that many hands make light work. When it comes to the Fourth of July, many wallets make for a cheap party. Get a bunch of friends and throw a party. Everyone should bring something. If you get enough people, each person can take advantage of bulk purchases at warehouse stores such as Costco. You can save a lot of money by buying 40 hamburgers at one time. If you are looking for some cheap foods, here is a great list of frugal Fourth foods (say that five times fast). As a final tip: Don’t get stuck as the guy who has to buy the beer if invited.
Try not to Travel, but…
If your plans involve traveling and it’s too late to change your plans, you can at least look to travel cheaper. Look for some ways to save on fuel. While on the road, keep your eyes open for cheap eats along the way. I recommend Taco Bell’s Fresco Menu – for around a dollar you can get a choice of a few options that are high in protein and low in fat. Lastly, please don’t add to any credit card debt to celebrate the Fourth of July. Credit cards can charge more than 20% interest, which compounds extremely fast.
You can skimp on a number of things; just don’t skimp on the fun.
Two and a half years ago, I did something that would make many personal finance gurus scream. I took out a home equity line of credit to buy a diamond ring. I put my home on the line so that I could show the woman I love that I wanted to spend forever with her.
Before we get into that decision, I want to note a few things about the diamond industry in general. The reason a diamond is worth as much as it is today is due, in part, to two things – a great marketing campaign by De Beers combined with their ability to limit production through a near monopoly. Secondly, diamonds and precious metals are two very expensive things that serve no tangible purpose for the average individual. You can’t watch American Idol on them, they don’t keep you warm in the winter, and they don’t transport you from one location to another.
If you can’t tell, I’m not really a fan of the diamond industry. So why would I go through such drastic measures as putting my home on the line to buy my girl’s engagement ring? There were a couple of factors
As much as I hate to admit to admit it there’s a social and cultural aspect to getting engaged nowadays. When four of friends have gotten their future wives big shiny rocks, there’s no way to not
do the same without looking cheap. Put another way, because everyone else has jumped off that bridge, you are expected to as well.
It made financial sense. I knew that if we were engaged my future wife would not have a problem with moving in with me (we had discussions about moving in together in the past). However, as my girlfriend, I could see how she’d want a sign of commitment before making that big step. Moving in together saved us each quite a bit of money. My future wife could rent out her own home, covering her mortgage, condo fees, and property taxes. We would share the costs of living in one place, which reduced my mortgage payments and utility bills (especially telephone and cable television). I did the math and found that I would break even financially after about 7 months of
living together. After that we’d be saving money each month.
Taking those two factors into account, I took the plunge – a slow, calculated plunge. I went to learn everything there was to learn about buying a diamond and it took me nearly three months. I started off at the Jewelry Exchange, a national chain that promises discount prices. I found their prices to be the best that I could buy locally. I looked on Amazon which had one of the best diamond finding tools I’ve seen. I went to Costco and Blue Nile on a tip that I read in a newspaper. Those places had good prices, but not “the best” price. Here are the tips that lead my appraiser to exclaim, “I can’t buy a diamond of this quality for that price on the New York Wholesale Diamond Exchange!”:
PriceScope Forums – These are great forums and people who have no vested interest will help a new person like me learn more.
PriceScope Cut Adviser – If you have the dimensions of the diamond you can find out if it really is the great cut that a jeweler says it is. From the forums, I learned this is the most important “C” of the 4 C’s (carat, cut, clarity, and color).
PriceScope Diamond Search – The last of my PriceScope links, allows you search many diamond retailers at once and compare prices. Yes, I bought my diamond on the Internet, but I made sure the company was publicly traded and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. I also made sure that the people in the PriceScope forums have had great experiences with the retailer in the past. If you are doing this be very, very sure to get it appraised.
Think about going with lesser color and clarity to save thousands. From a distance people notice the size, so that was important to me. The cut affects the way light reflects off the diamond and I felt that
to be very important as well. You can only notice that the diamond is of lesser color when compared to another diamond. I found that S1 clarity in many cases was a sweet spot where most people could see any imperfections with their naked eye and still cheap.
Buying a loose diamond on the Internet can save thousands, but it’s often wise to buy the ring and get it set locally. Having a local relationship with a jeweler is valuable. You may need to have the ring cleaned, polished, or serviced someday. You’ll want them to know your name.
When I was making the decision to finance my ring, a home equity line of credit got me the best rate – around a 7% interest rate at the time. While I was happy with that, I would have preferred not putting
my house on the line with a secured loan like that. Prosper wasn’t around at the time, but if it was, my good credit would have gotten an unsecured loan at 8-9%. If I had to do it again, the extra percentage point or two would have been worth it for piece of mind of knowing that my home was safe.
Is it right for you finance an engagement ring? I think you have to answer that question for yourself. One could quite easily question the decision to start off a life together in debt. On one knee, no one man ever says, “Here’s a symbol of the debt that I’m in. Would you marry me and my debt?” That said, I think there’s a happy medium to be found – and that might mean saving up money until the time is
right to propose.
Local cable has been running a television commercial that simply rips my heart out. A young girl around eight goes into a jewelry store with her dad and her bright pink piggy bank. The dad helps her pick out some jewelry for mom and the commercial ends with everyone smiling and happy. Even though it’s fictional, I try not to think of how long this girl would have to save up for anything of value at a jewelry store. Do you think her mom really wants her daughter to spend months worth of savings? If I’m her mom, I’m sad. I could have simply bought it myself with the savings from a few hours of work. I would much rather have a poem or a picture from my son or daughter.
The commercial would have made Anna Jarvis, the inventor of Mother’s Day, extremely angry. Though she thought that mothers should be recognized, she later regretted the idea due to the mass commercialization of it. Jarvis ended up spending the rest of her life trying to take back the holiday from the marketers.
Lastly, please consider writing your own card. Why would you go to a store and pay $4 to have someone else tell you how you feel about your mom? Think of this exchange from Seinfeld:
Kristin: You got the card I sent?
Jerry: I did.
Kristin: So where is it?
Kristin: The card. Is this it in the trash?
Kristin: This is my card, you threw it away.
Kristin: I put a lot of thought into this card.
Jerry: You signed your name and you addressed the envelope, it’s not like you
painted the picture and wrote the poem.
A couple of weekends ago, I a good friend of mine invited me out on his boat. It was beautiful day, around 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We headed on up to McCovey Cove to sit outside the San Francisco Giants stadium and enjoy the day. There’s also the small chance that someone will hit a homerun into the boat. And as it turned out John Bowker of the home team delivered his first major league homerun into the water. We never had a chance to retrieve it as someone with a telescoping net from within the stadium scooped it up. Nonetheless, short of winning the lottery it was the perfect day.
Maybe it was the perfect day or maybe I got a little too much sun, but I found myself thinking about the future. How many days like today will I experience? If my wife and I have kids and grandkids, will they be able to enjoy the same fresh air? It was that thought that triggered my wife and me to finally recycle some old electronics that we had sitting around the house. Thought it was a shame that doing the right thing left our wallets $18 lighter (we had to pay to recycle the electronics), we realized that in the grand scheme it’s a small price to pay.
You don’t have to lighten your wallet to make a difference. Here are just a few tips to get you started:
Use Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs – This is the definitive way to save money and the environment. They are a much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
Don’t Drink Bottled Water – Especially avoid imported bottle water. Instead, get a filtered water pitcher and a refillable bottle.
Read The Good Human. It’s full of tips on how to do things in a more environmentally friendly way. The writer is modest, he’s a great human. I’m only an okay human.
Recycle Aluminum Cans – The price of aluminum keeps rising. That means people will pay you for your efforts. Some states charge a deposit so by not recycling you are throwing money away.
Donate Items You Don’t Use To Charity – You can earn yourself a nice tax break.
Drive a Small Car – I’m not going to suggest you sell your current car and buy a small one, but consider a fuel-efficient car when you buy your next car. Better yet, carpool when you can.
I know you have a lot more tips. Submit your favorites in the comments. Remember, a lot of people doing a few little things can really make a difference.
Spring is finally here and with that comes blossoming flowers and college kids going crazy in Cancun. For me, Spring means mostly one thing… the start of baseball season. I will watch over 130 Red Sox games this year. While I love watching the game on television, it doesn’t compare to going to a game. They are completely different experiences.
If you have to buy tickets on the secondary market it can get much more expensive. Some tickets for regular season games go for $1000 or more a piece. While that’s the high end, even the bleacher seats get marked up 100% or more.
Here are some tips for enjoying baseball games despite your situation.
Consider Minor League Baseball – Though this a complete cop out if your favorite team is a major league team, some great savings can be had. Here’s a great story about a blogger saving money at a minor league baseball game.
Eat before the game or bring your own food – Many people don’t realize it, but many ballparks allow to bring your own food to the game. For instance, Fenway Park has a long list of items of not allowed, but food is not listed. For drinks, you might be limited to juice boxes since they prohibit nearly every other container I can think of.
Take public transportation – One thing I learned quickly is that it is much cheaper to drive near the game and take public transportation the rest of the way. I find that I get home quicker because I don’t have to deal with traffic when the game finishes.
Buy souvenirs in advance – Hats and shirts are likely to be more expensive at the game. If I were taking a family of four, I
would hop on Ebay and buy clothing in advance. You’ll not only save money, but you’ll look good tailgating before the game.
Prepare for weather – I’ve gotten a sunburn and nearly suffered from hypothermia in the same game. Now I make sure that I
have a strong sunblock on, dress in layers, and bring a blanket.
Watch your favorite team in another city – This is more appropriate for those who have to deal with the secondary ticket
market. Why not plan a summer vacation around the baseball schedule of your favorite team? Washington D.C. can be an extremely fun and educational vacation – and you can catch the Red Sox and Yankees there August 18th-24th.
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