Trans World Assurance Blog

Trans World Assurance's Tips for Budget-Friendly Holiday Gift-Giving

Posted on Fri, Oct 26, 2012


With the holidays quickly approaching, Americans are beginning to anticipate the family gatherings, indulgent feasts, and generous gift giving that characterize the Christmas season. Though all the holiday cheer is typically a positive experience for most, families must budget for Christmas gifts, which can be a costly endeavor.  In fact, according to Consumer Reports, approximately 12 million Americans had not paid off their debt from the previous holiday season, as of October 2008.

If you cannot afford to empty your wallet at the checkout counter this holiday season, and the thought of being in debt for a year or more terrifies you, read the following tips from Trans World Assurance to learn about ways to keep your budget for holiday gifts within reason.

1) Create a Budget and Stick to It

To keep holiday spending in check, you must create a reasonable budget and stick to it.  Eric Tyson, author of a 2012 report published in the journal Personal Excellence, recommends creating a budget and documenting the cost of each gift you purchase to ensure that you do not exceed your spending limit.

First, determine how much you can afford to spend.  Then, create a list of every person for whom you intend to purchase a gift, and budget a reasonable, set amount for each person.  Total the amount you plan to spend on gifts for each person and ensure that the amount falls within the amount you can afford to spend.  As you are shopping, write down the cost of every gift you purchase and keep a running total of the amount you have spent.  Once you have spent the total amount that you budgeted for gifts, your Christmas shopping is done.

2) Take Advantage of Free Shipping Offers

You may think that making a trip to the mall is a cheaper alternative to ordering online and paying shipping fees, but free shipping offers can make online shopping more cost effective than traveling to stores. When you travel to a store, not only do you spend money on gas, but you are also likely to stop for takeout or a meal at a restaurant after a long day of shopping.  This can quickly turn a shopping trip into a budget wrecker.

Save money by staying at home and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate as you relax in front of the computer, make online purchases, and enjoy having them delivered to your home free of charge. Check out freeshipping.org to learn about free shipping deals offered by your favorite retailers.

3) Cash in on Rewards

If you have been saving up credit card rewards all year, now is an excellent time to cash them in to buy gifts.  Credit card companies often give you numerous options for redeeming your rewards.  For example, Discover allows its credit card customers to redeem their cash back rewards in the form of gifts cards or select merchandise. Discover customers can also opt to have the value of their cash rewards direct deposited into their checking accounts, or rewards can be put toward their credit card balance. Chase offers similar perks for credit card customers.

Use your rewards to purchase gift cards for loved ones, or have them direct deposited into your checking account so you have extra cash for shopping.  You can also accumulate cash rewards by using your credit card throughout the holiday season, and then use those rewards to pay off your credit card balance.  When using a credit card, however, remember not to spend more than what you can afford to pay off in full, or the value of your rewards may be negated by interest charges.

4) Shop eBay or Amazon

By shopping online at eBay or Amazon, you can save a considerable amount of money on brand new items, such as clothing, electronics, and toys. For instance, Amazon recently boasted 20 percent off the sticker price of a 4th Generation 32 GB Apple iPod Touch. 

Though some items on eBay are used, eBay does offer significant savings on brand new items.  EBay allows users to sell items that are “new with tags,” and these items are typically much cheaper than the brand new item in stores.  For example, Jen Long, an eBay customer from Ohio, recently purchased a brand new Lands’ End black dress, originally priced at $69.99, for just $19.99 on eBay.  Taking advantage of savings like this can profoundly reduce the amount of money you spend on Christmas gifts.

5) Choose Alternatives to Gift-Giving

It may be inappropriate to remove children, close family members, and your spouse or significant other from your Christmas list, but you can find an alternative to gift giving among your friends.  For example, instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars on gifts for your friends, host a holiday dinner and ask everyone to bring a dish or side item, or get together with friends for a holiday cookie-decorating party.  Chances are, you will save money and enjoy the experience more than the act of giving costly gifts.

Perhaps you can also reach an agreement with your spouse. Instead of buying expensive gifts for each other that neither of you truly need, you could contribute a $100 donation to a charity of your choice.  Not only would this likely be less costly than the gifts you usually purchase; it is also a way to give back to your community during the holiday season, which is much more meaningful than any gift under the Christmas tree. Choosing to give to charity instead of spending mindlessly is a telling way to reduce your holiday spending. 

Regardless of the number of people on your gift-giving list or the amount you can afford to spend, you can create a reasonable holiday shopping budget and stick to it with proper planning and a few small sacrifices.


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References
Consumer Reports.  (2009). Holiday shopping gotchas.  Consumer Reports Money Adviser, 6(12), 1-5.
Tyson, E. (2010). Limit your spending.  Personal Excellence, 17(1), 11.

Tags: money saving tips, purchases, personal finance

Money Saving Tips for the 4th of July from Trans World Assurance

Posted on Fri, Jun 29, 2012
The Fourth of July is, for Americans, the single day above all others when we can celebrate the birth of our country and our shared American heritage. But more than that, for many families, July 4th is the summer holiday that means family fun and togetherness. It’s tradition for families across the country to consider the Fourth of July a mini-vacation, either with travel or just fun at home. But with the present economy stifling so many family budgets, too many people think it will be impossible this year to celebrate July 4th with a bang. Even taking tight budgets into consideration, families should not fear; the Fourth of July can be celebrated with just as much fun as usual, with just a few frugal tips.

1) The first tip is simple, but can be hard to follow for so many people. It’s simply this: don’t go overboard on the food. It’s almost tradition for Americans to cook to feed an army during holiday celebrations, and while such bounty is a blessing, buying and preparing so much food can be a major hit on the wallet. Aside from that, much of the food prepared for holidays goes uneaten, and is almost inevitably thrown in the trash. Downsizing the amount of food prepared is an easy task; people never eat as much as hosts usually plan for, and many will not miss food that isn’t there. Plan on having one substantial meal on the Fourth, maybe hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill with a few hearty sides. Prepare snacks like fruit and vegetable trays for those who get hungry throughout the day, and have plenty of water and juices on hand. Those who are celebrating with others should consider a potluck, even if it’s only asking guests to provide sides for the meal.

2) The second tip is even simpler, and is perhaps not so hard for many to follow. Keep the holiday decorations to a minimum, and be prepared to use what you already have. Holiday decorations, in general, can be expensive, and too many people believe they have to deck every nook and cranny of their homes and yards with red, white and blue. The truth is that a few simple and well-placed decorations will suffice for any July 4th get together, and spending hard-earned money buying extras will not make the celebration any more festive. Take a trip to the dollar store to stock up on a few patriotic touches – a few small American flags, plastic tablecloths, and perhaps one door decoration – and leave the rest of the celebration plain. Use your usual plates and cups, or plastic ware left over from previous celebrations. With good food and fun, no one will care about the lack of holiday themed décor.

3) This tip is perhaps the most difficult for many people, especially those with children, to follow, but it is probably the most crucial. Do not buy more than a few fireworks to shoot off on the Fourth. Fireworks are expensive, and buying more than a few for a small celebration can be beyond pricey. The truth is, most Fourth of July celebrations call for little more than sparklers, regardless of the need to go completely overboard at the fireworks stand. Those who wish to see grand fireworks displays need not despair; there are plenty of ways to get your fix on the Fourth. Most towns and cities have organized fireworks displays of some sort, which are always free for those who wish to see them. Taking a picnic blanket to the town center and communing with neighbors while watching the displays is one of the best ways to spend the Fourth. For those without organized displays to attend, there is always the option of spearheading a neighborhood group to buy and set off the fireworks together.

4) Finally, the most frugal of all tips is this: don’t travel on the Fourth unless your plans have already been made and you have already paid for the trip. Holidays are among the worst times to travel, especially with a family, as prices go up and lines get longer. Beaches and amusement parks are always crowded, and the cost of everything from gasoline to souvenirs skyrockets. Almost every family is better off staying home and planning their own private celebration. Not only will this tip save money, it will save the hassle and frustration of traveling at the busiest time of the summer.

While taking all these tips into consideration, it is important to remember that the Fourth of July is about celebrating our country, our freedom, and our families. Whatever the Fourth holds for each and every family across the country, celebrations filled with patriotism are the best way to mark this holiday.

Tags: money saving tips, purchases, personal finance

A Guide for Shipping to APO and FPO Addresses

Posted on Fri, Mar 16, 2012

A common problem for military stationed overseas, and their dependents, is their ability to shop online with ease. There are still many online merchants who will not sell to military using APO/FPO addresses, even though they offer shipping options using USPS (United States Post Office), which is the way in which those who are military and living overseas receive their package deliveries.

More often than not, the difficulty results from the merchant not understanding how to ship to APO or FPO addresses, and it is to easy for them to just not ship to those addresses rather than become informed of what is involved. The reasoning for why many of these merchants will not ship to APO or FPO addresses is because they think these addresses are international addresses, and this is just not so. APO (Army/Air Force Post Office) and FPO (Fleet Post Office or Federal Post Office) are not international addresses, but are considered United States addresses.

Even though there are so many military friendly merchants out there, there are still many more who do not ship to them only because they do not understand that they are not international addresses; other merchants have other reasons like it being inconvenient. There is definitely a need for a guide to shipping APO/FPO, and it is the hope that by putting together a brief guide others, especially merchants, will have a new and better understanding for the process.

• APO/FPO addresses are not international addresses.
There is an assumption, that because we reside in a foreign country, our mail goes through an international postal carrier. This is not so. Our mail goes through USPS Priority Mail. If USPS surface mail is chosen, a package will take up to eight weeks to arrive, sometimes longer. Of course, this limits us when it comes to businesses that use only Federal Express or UPS; however, maybe in the near future, if negotiations go that way, this too may be an option. Mail sent to APO/FPO addresses will go either to California, New York, or Florida before it is transported to the overseas military installations.

• APO/FPO addresses have a state.
These addresses use the following state abbreviations: AE (Armed Forces Europe), AA (Armed Forces Americas), and AP (Armed Forces Pacific).

• Customs Paperwork:
Yes, when shipping a package to an APO or FPO address, the shipper will be required to fill out a customs form. This can be obtained at your post office or online at the USPS website, where you can download and print the customs forms.

• General Restrictions:
APO/FPO addresses do have restrictions against certain items being sent and shipped to these addresses.

1. A package shipped to APO/FPO should not exceed 70 pounds.

2. They may not exceed 130 inches when length and girth is combined.

3. The Post Office does require that packages be hand delivered to the Post Office by the company or person who is shipping item to the APO/FPO address.

4. Restricted items: perishable food, tobacco, alcohol, firearms, privately owned weapons, pornography, illegal substances, and hazardous items. Check with your post office for any other restricted items specific to the APO/FPO zip code you are shipping to. 


It is really not that complicated, and the efforts made to accommodate those military, which are so far from home, really is appreciated. There is an understanding and respect for companies' decisions not to ship, but not when they will not because they think these addresses utilize international postal services - they do not. Hopefully, in the near future, Federal Express, and UPS will finalize an agreement and ship to service members and their families residing overseas; but, even when that day arrives, there will still be those merchants that think they are international addresses.

Not only are there problems with some merchants not shipping to APO/FPO addresses, but also there are many who make it hard for military stationed overseas to do business with them. For example, when one decides to make a purchase online for a gift for someone back home in the states, they finalize their choice and head to the check out. When it comes time to enter billing information, they are brought to a halt; and more often than not, have to forget about making their purchase through that merchant. What happens is they can enter city as APO or FPO, but they do not give the choice for AE, AA, or AP in the states menu. You can attempt to use NY, CA, or FL, however, when putting in the zip and proceeding, it sometimes does not recognize the zip as valid or they may receive an email that their credit card was declined for invalid address. It can be rather frustrating. When emailing the merchants about this, the same old reply is made, they do not accept orders from international customers, and they do not care that you possess non-international credit cards and debit cards. A simple fix would be to add AE, AA, and AP to the state menu, this way even if merchant does not wish to ship to APO or FPO, at least those overseas can still make purchases that will be sent within the states.

Written by Jan Castagnaro

 

 

Tags: military, purchases

Time Purchases and Save Up To 80% (Jeff Burch, Money Book)

Posted on Fri, Apr 15, 2011


Early in my marriage, my wife, occasionally, would come home with what seemed like a boatload of stuff from shopping all day. Our money was always tight back then, so being under pressure to stay financially afloat, in frustration, I'd bark out with something like, “What bank did you rob to buy everything.” She'd immediately fire back, “I saved you money! Everything was on sale!” The debate would last into the wee early morning hours, with the typical make-up, and the promise of "It'll never happen again," until it happens again (sigh). 

However, over the years, I found that she was right; you really can save 10% to 80%, “if,” you time your purchases. Use this page to assist you in scheduling the purchase of specified products, so you can receive deep discounts during particular months of the year.

 
Items to Buy Best Time to Purchase
   
Best Clothing Sales After Washington’s Birthday, 4th of July,
Easter, Christmas Biggest Sales, Jan, Aug
Air Conditioners Feb, July, Aug
Appliances (Small) Jan, April, Nov, Dec
Appliances (Major) Jan, Mar, July, Dec
Art Supplies Jan, Feb
Auto Batteries Sept, Oct
Baby Products* Nov
Backpacks* Aug
Bathing Suits Jan, June, After July 4th, Aug
Bedding Jan, Feb, Aug
Bicycles Jan, Feb, Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
Blankets Jan, May, Nov, Dec
Books Jan
Builder Hardware June
Camcorders* June, July, Nov, Dec
Cameras Digital* Feb, April, Sept, Oct
Camera Equipment Oct, Nov
Camping Equipment May, Aug
Camping Gear* May
Car Seat Covers Feb, Nov
Carpeting Jan, May, June, July, Aug, Sept
Cars New* Aug, Sept, Dec
Cars Used* Feb, Nov, Dec
China Jan, Feb, Sept, Oct
CDs* Jan
Christmas Gifts Anytime but December
Christmas Supplies Jan and After Xmas
Clothing Athletic* May
Clothing Children’s April, July, Sept, Nov, Dec
Clothing Men’s Feb, April, Oct, Dec
Clothing Women’s Jan, Feb, April, Nov, Dec
Clothing School Aug, Oct
Clothing Spring* April
Clothing Summer June, July
Clothing Winter* Jan
Coats Children’s April, Aug, Oct, Nov, Dec
Coats Men’s Jan, Mar, Aug, Oct
Coats Women’s Mar, April, Aug, Oct, Nov, Dec
Computers* Jan, April, June, Oct
Cookware* Jan
Costume Jewelry Jan
Curtains Feb
Dehumidifiers* Aug
Dishes Jan, Feb, Sept, Oct
Drapes Feb, Aug
Dresses Jan, April, June, Nov
DVDs* Jan
Electric Blankets Summer, Oct
Electronics (small)* Mar, May, June, Sept, Dec
Ellipticals* Jan, Feb
Fans May, Aug
Fishing Equipment Oct
Fuel Oil July
Furniture Indoor Jan, Feb, June, July, Aug, Sept
Furniture Outdoor* July, Aug
Furniture Porch April, May
Garden Equipment Mar, Aug, Sept
Garden: Trees & plants* May
Glassware Jan, Feb, Sept, Oct
GPS Navigators* Nov, Dec
Grills (Gas)* Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec
Handbags Jan, May, July
Hardware Aug, Sept
Home Decorating Nov
Home Furnishings Jan, Feb, June, Aug, Oct
Home Enter. System Jan, May to July, Nov, Dec
Hosiery April, Oct
Houses & Condos* Jan, Feb
Housecoats April, May, June, Oct, Nov
House Wares Jan, Feb, Mar, Aug to Oct
Humidifiers* Feb, Mar
Infant Wear Jan, Mar, April, July
Irons Jan
Lamps Feb, Aug, Sept
Lawn Equipment March
Lawn Mowers April, May, Aug, Sept, Oct
Lingerie Jan
Luggage Mar, May, Nov
Lumber (Wood) June
Nursery Items Dec
Paints April, Aug, Sept
Phones Cordless* May
Ranges April, Nov
Rugs Jan, Feb, Mar, July, Aug, Sept
School Supplies June, Aug, Oct
Shoes Athletic* May
Shoes Boy’s & Girl’s Jan, Mar, July
Shoes Men’s Jan, July, Nov, Dec
Shoes Women’s Jan, July, Nov, Dec
Sheets & Spreads Jan, June, July, Dec
Silverware Feb, Oct
Snow Blowers* Aug, Sept
Sports Gear June, July, Sept, Oct
Sports Gear (Winter)* Mar
Sporting Goods Feb, Aug
Stereo Equipment Jan, Feb, July
Television Sets Jan, May, June, Nov, Dec
Tires May, June, end of Aug
Towels & Linens Jan, May, Aug
Toys Jan, Feb, Nov, Dec
Treadmills* Jan, Feb
Vacations Before Christmas
Water Heaters Jan, Nov

   

■ PRICE CHECKER: www.consumerworld.org. Use Price Checker to help you shop around for a specific item at lowest cost, if you need it now and can’t wait for a sale.

■ DEALNEWS: http://dealnews.com. Dealnews is one of the web's best deal-hunting websites. 

*Reference: Consumer reports Magazine - January 2011 issue

Tags: Trans World Assurance, Money Book, Jeff Burch, money saving tips, purchases