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One Good Deed, One Tax Write-Off

Amanda Bar

Starting next week (after many delays!) I am having the kitchen to my new home replaced.  This Wednesday I had a chance to speak with the installers, and they advised me that I had two options in regards to my old cabinet removal.  The first choice would be just a simple breakdown and haul away, but the second option would have them take down the cabinets intact (thus preserving their usability) so they could be donated.

I've never heard of this before, but apparently Habitat For Humanity has a re-store program that helps supply people with housing necessities.  This program utilizes salvageable home items (such as my kitchen cabinets) to furnish homes for needy families, and every donation counts as a tax write-off.  Not only that, but they are responsible for the item pick-up - you never even have to leave your home!  Simply give your local Habitat For Humanity location a call, arrange a date, and they'll send a truck and workmen over to accept your donations.  They couldn't have made it any easier to both earn yourself a tax credit as well as offer a helping hand to your community.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 12:45 PM on January 30, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (4)

When Cash Cuts Into Your Social Life

Amanda Bar

My close friend Ashley recently contacted me in reference to getting her entire wedding party together for a Vegas vacation this upcoming May.  I was the Maid of Honor at her wedding, and I'm close friends with most everyone who is also invited.  However, this marks the first of what I imagine will be many events that I had to force myself to reject due to money concerns.

I'm not one for planning ahead, but the recent raise in my mortgage threw me for a loop - and even though I could probably afford the weekend trip the entire ordeal has made me paranoid about where I spend my meager savings.  Not to mention that my main priority is continuing with repair work at my new home, which is a process that I can imagine will take years, and plenty of cash, to fully complete (replacing the downstairs tile being next on my list).

Besides the money I have put aside for my kitchen renovation, I'm only working with a couple thousand dollars worth of cushion in my savings.  A trip to Vegas - and the subsequent gambling - would hardly be conducive to my long-term finance goals.  It's unfortunate, but something that I have to deal with as a (gulp) responsible adult.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 05:46 AM on January 25, 2010 in Entertainment , Savings , Vacations | Permalink | Comments (0)

A cheap frill

Name bar I have had the same no-frills lawn service for more than five years. They don't trim hedges, install sod or weed. They mow, edge, and shake the trimmings off the door mats.

But today, I found out they do have one really great frill after all.

I was out of town recently, and had asked the service to stop by. The lawn certainly looked perfectly trimmed when I came back. But as I was going through my bills today, looking for a receipt for their visit, I couldn't find one. So I gave them a ring.

I didn't have a bill because they hadn't mowed the lawn.

"We came by, but the lawn hadn't grown so we didn't cut it," the owner said. "That's why there was no bill."

In this economy, they could have left me a bill anyway, or mowed the dry mess my lawn has turned into in recent weeks and charged me for it. The owner lamented the weather was cutting into business. But they didn't.

That's a frill money can't buy.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 03:03 PM on January 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Going on a debt diet

Name barIf it were really so easy to lose weight or eliminate debt, everybody would be doing it, right?

My inbox is filled with supposedly fail-proof ways to do one or the other, or both. Some of my friends of mine are struggling with these issues, and some of them are truly determined. Are they morons for not making it happen, since it's soooo easy?

I don't think so.

For one thing, life happens. Uncontrollable things. I had my pay cut significantly a while back. I'm lucky to still have health insurance, but despite that, I just got an $850 bill -- my portion of a recent doctor visit. (The scary part is the original charge was more than $7,000.) When I paid, the woman asked me if I was sure I wanted to pay in full -- on my credit card. I said yes, knowing I wasn't close to my limit, assuming it would get me a handy amount of points or cash, and because I'll be continuing my tradition of paying off my bill every month.

I'm well aware that this is not reality for most people. And it's not because they don't have the discipline or will to keep on top of their finances.

But I'm curious if you've ever used one of those get-rid-of-debt-quick deals and if it's worked. Or if it's been a disaster.

Send me your stories, and I'll mail you a copy of one of the dozen books on my desk that promise to get you out of debt.

Not necessarily easily, or fast.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 12:49 PM on January 20, 2010 in Books , Savings | Permalink | Comments (1)

Family & Friend Freebies

Amanda Bar

This weekend saw a lot being done at my new house in preparation for the big move-in date (originally tentatively set for this January, but now sometime early to mid-February); I had several malfunctioning light switches repaired, and my front security light installed.  These jobs would have probably have cost me a couple hundred dollars through any electrician, but thankfully my roommate's father is handy with electrical do-dads and was able to take care of these issues free of charge.  You might not always get lucky like this for the big jobs, but utilizing the skills of family or friends can end up saving you a lot of money!

Not only that, but with my birthday around the corner I'm getting several offers from relatives to purchase me various household necessities - a huge deal when it comes to the miniscule budget I am working with.  I promptly went out and purchased a bedroom ceiling fan on my father's bill (and a none-too-inexpensive one at that...but it IS my birthday, after all!).  My mother has also stated that I can count on her for a new comforter set, and my stepmother has already gifted me with towels for my brand new bathroom.

I suppose you can say the moral of this post might appear to be "squeeze your friends & relatives dry", but I prefer to spin it as "appreciate them for all they're worth"...which can be a lot, if I get my hands on them!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 09:42 PM on January 17, 2010 in Home decor , Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spikes in Taxes, Rising Escrow Payments

Amanda Bar

This weekend I was hit with a double whammy.  First I had my vehicle issues to repair (thankfully it only came to just over $200), and then I get a statement from Bank of America advising me that my property taxes have been re-assessed and that by February 2010 my monthly escrow payment will be jumping from a little under $90 to $613!

I made calls to Bank of America, my title company (Southern Financial), as well as the Broward County property appraiser in regards to this sudden and drastic spike in price, but unfortunately I was left with no real recourse to fix this issue until later this year.  One of the main issues is that my property value was re-assessed at $172,000 (up from last year's $88,000), and in order to have that amount reduced - considering I only paid $144,000 for the property - I have to wait until August to put in a claim. 

The second issue is that I apparently owe $2,600 in addition to my increased tax payments, because during 2009 I was (unbeknownst to myself or Bank of America) paying property taxes based upon the previous year's property value (that being the $88,000 number) instead of the re-assessed value.  Once the county realized this they promptly sent a statement to Bank of America, who then promptly sent a notice to me that I owe the difference in taxes.

While this is a somewhat staggering blow for me, I am fortunate enough that I can still afford my new monthly premium...but just barely.  All of the home repairs that I was planning after my kitchen remodel will have to be put on hold indefinitely, and with these new payments it will be near impossible for me to save up any significant amount of money until I can get this problem resolved later this year.

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 05:21 PM on January 13, 2010 in Housing , Savings | Permalink | Comments (3)

Are Constant Vehicle Repairs Worth It?

Amanda Bar

I don't pretend to know anything about cars except where to jam my foot to make them start and stop, and this sad fact never comes more into focus for me than when there's a problem with my own vehicle.  For the past two to three years I have experienced an unusual amount of issues with my 2001 Chevy Cavalier, and just this past weekend I've encountered another (somewhat startling) new development: my engine is leaking gas! 

For the past several months I've noticed the smell of gas when I start up my car, but whenever I took it in to get examined (both at Tires Plus, as well as an independent car repair shop) the vehicle technicians either didn't notice the odor themselves or they couldn't establish the source.  Well, this Sunday as I was jumping a friend's battery I finally observed it for myself - a steady drip-drip-drip from around one of my hose...thingies.  Plugs?  Valves?  I have no idea what they're called, but needless to say I've now seen it for myself and can no longer shrug off the issue.

This Friday I have an appointment with Tires Plus, but I've come to a threshold with this car that I might not be willing to cross with another pricey repair.  I just recently replaced the water pump for $600, and before that it was the gas pump and cap for $1000+!  I would say that it's safe to estimate that I've spent over $4000 on my car in the last three years alone.  Should I start looking at a new car, or will this constant stream of vehicular disasters ever end?  The car itself is in decent shape with only 86,000 miles...but enough is quickly becoming enough!

Posted by Amanda Conwell at 11:21 PM on January 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

New Years Decor On a Budget

Amanda Bar
This New Years fellow Miami Herald writer Bridget Carey and I hosted a masquerade themed party at our house.  Choosing a theme for any gathering is a bit of a risk - partially because people might be turned off from attending if you are "forcing" them to dress up, and partially because you run the risk of people disregarding the theme entirely.  It was definitely more of the latter for this party, but forseeing this problem my creatively-inclined friend Chrissy and I brainstormed a cheap and easy solution.

We headed over to Michael's and purchased cheap plastic masks at 3 for $1.99; add onto that a can of silver spray paint for $6, and a handful of pre-glittered fake flowers and plants at $00.60 a bouquet (on sale).  We spray painted the masks, and while those were drying we chopped off the flowers and leaves from the plastic stems with scissors.  Once that was done we picked a mask, grabbed a handful of foliage, and set to work hot gluing the entire mess together in as decorative a manner as we could manage.  Vois la!  Themed party decor for less than $20 (plus something to spend a lazy Wednesday afternoon working on)!


Posted by Amanda Conwell at 04:32 PM on January 2, 2010 in Entertainment , Savings , Shopping | Permalink | Comments (1)

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