Tuesday, January 15, 2008

JANUARY 15, 2008

The most-watched show on American T-V returns tonight. FOX's American Idol kicks off its seventh season with auditions from Philadelphia on a two-hour opener, followed by a second two-hour audition show on Wednesday. Over the course of the auditions, you'll see singers compete in San Diego, Dallas, Omaha, Nebraska, Charleston, Miami and Atlanta.

Judge Paula Abdul tells us about the most-sung, and most-feared, tunes the judges dealt with on the audition trail. "It's not that we don't like the songs -- it's just that we don't want to hear them anymore. It's a toss up between Etta James's 'At Last' and [R. Kelly's] 'I Believe I Can Fly.' Or this season we heard so many of, believe it or not, Gnarles Barkley's 'Crazy.'However, they were some of the best auditions, because, believe it or not, the liberty that some of the creative contestants took with that song will surprise you."

There will be some changes this season. For the first time, contestants will be able to use instruments when the gang hits the Hollywood round. From there, the field will be narrowed to the Top 24, which will be evenly split between the boys and the girls. There will also be fewer mentors this year. Music luminaries such as Barry Manilow and Diana Ross will still drop by, but guest singing coaches will not be a weekly feature.

Are you ready to try saving $5,000 in the next 12 months? The secret is looking at every area of spending, then cutting back in significant but reasonable ways.

Go on an H2O
DietFor the next 12 months, give up ordering soft drinks whenever you eat out. Ask for water instead. Every time you do this, stash $2 into your savings. Even if you save only $10 a week, that's $520 a year.

Cut back on a few extras
The average annual entertainment expenditure per U.S. household is $2,388. Go out for one less meal with your family a week. Skip one movie a month, and trim back other entertainment such as sports events and concerts. If you are diligent, you'll be able to put at least $100 a month into your savings. That's $1,200.

Save on Groceries
Here's the simplest way ever to reduce your grocery costs in 2008: Instead of buying name-brand cereal for $4 a box, opt for your store’s premium label, also known as the store brand. If you choose the store brand just 10 percent of the time this year, expect to save $150.

Wait to Get Your Hair Done
Extend the interval between trips to the hairdresser. If you typically get your hair cut every four weeks, you'll have 13 appointments in 2008. Stretch that to five weeks, and you'll cut it to 10 sessions and save $150.

Adjust Your Cable Package
You may be surprised to see that the channels you really want are part of the basic service package. Make the switch and expect to save at least $25 a month.

Streamline Your Cell Phone
Unless you use all the add-ons such as text messaging, Internet access and picture mail at least once a day, drop them. Call customer service to switch to a plan that eliminates the bells and whistles but still meets your needs. You may be able to cut $25 a month without changing your calling patterns at all.

Shop Insurance Plans
Call around or go on the Internet to find lower quotes on your auto and home-owner/renter's insurance. You want to get the same or better terms and coverage, but for less.

Lock up Your Debit Card
If you regularly spend down your bank account and pay overdraft fees, just put it away! Why do banks push debit cards for every purchase you make? Because they stand to make millions—largely at your expense. Those who pay with debit cards 20 times or more each year pay an average of $223 in overdraft fees, compared to just $40 for those who don't use debit cards at all.

According to Hans Stuart, who's a spokesman for the New Mexico Bureau of Land Management, which oversees the federal helium supply, we could be completely out of helium in 10 years.

In 1925, the government started buying helium and stockpiling it. It stopped collecting helium in 1995, but still supplies about 45% of the helium in the U.S. and 33% of the helium in the world.

A lot of the plants that produce helium (--from decaying uranium and thorium) have also shut down recently. So between the government not refilling its supply and fewer plants producing helium... we're running out of commercially-available helium.

And so... the prices are WAY up. It costs about $5 for a liter of liquid helium today, which is a 50% price increase from a year ago.

The International Balloon Association, which is based out of Wichita, Kansas, is calling for CONSERVATION... recommending that you use air instead of helium for your balloons unless they HAVE to float.