Saving Money During The Holidays

The most wonderful time of year can also be the most stressful. Between making holiday travel plans, and finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones, saving money can feel impossible. However, putting aside money and taking care of holiday expenses is still doable with a bit of preparation and serious discipline. Check out our 10 tips on putting aside extra cash during the chaos of the holidays.

  1. Set a spending limit

This is the key to not overspend when doing your holiday shopping. Sales tags and great deals can fool you into thinking you’re actually saving money, but after adding up your holiday haul, you may be shocked at just how much money you’ve spent.

  1. Create a gift list

Between family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. you may feel like your gift list is endless. Sit down and write out a list of everyone you want to give a gift to this season and then, with your budget in mind, start making cuts. This may sound harsh, but you might not be able to realistically buy gifts for everyone on your list, and that’s ok.

  1. Grab Some Cash

After creating your budget, take out the amount of cash you will need to purchase gifts. This prevents you from overspending. Once the money is gone, the holiday shopping is over!

  1. Put away the credit cards

Many individuals tend to get swipe happy around the holiday shopping season, and before they know it, they’ve racked up a bill that seriously sets them back. Stick to your budget and say no to the plastic.

  1. Avoid express shipping costs; buy gifts early

We’ve all been in the unfortunate situation where Christmas is around the corner, and you’re scrambling to purchase gifts that you’ve put off buying. Around the holidays, those express shipping costs are extremely high. Make your purchases now, and use regular business shipping.

  1. Consider baking

The way to just about anyone’s heart is through their stomachs. Skip out on buying expensive holiday presents this year, and give the gift of baked goods! Holiday specific goodies are not only festive, but they are a pretty frugal option when trying to save money.

  1. Teach kids financial boundaries

Your kids have probably been inundated by commercials selling them all the latest toys and gadgets. Instead of buying them every toy on their wish list, explain to them that gifts cost money and money doesn’t grow on trees. Even Santa has a Christmas budget to adhere to.

  1. Pay attention to sales

Discounts are everywhere during this time of the year. Hit them up and save a small chunk of change. Nothing wrong with purchasing last year’s hot ticket item at a discount!

  1. Hit up holiday freebies

There are plenty of things to do around the holidays. Get creative and meet up with friends for ice skating, or take your family on a drive to see Christmas lights. Not everything worth doing costs money.

  1. Remember the spirit of the holidays

At the end of the day, the holiday season is a special time of year and a great opportunity to spend much needed time with those you care about. Don’t get too caught up in spending and gift giving, and forget just how great the holiday season can be!

Winterize Your Life

As the weather becomes brisker, and the leaves begin to change colors and fall, you should take some time to prepare your home for winter. Doing these things ahead of time can save you money in the long-run, and prevent you from being out in the cold.

Heating System Tune-up

You should change your filter monthly. Have an HVAC technician give your system a good once over. Fixing something before it is irreparable could save you time, money and stress; one faulty part could cause a trickle-down effect. You’ll also save yourself from paying an “emergency rate” for after hours or weekend work when something breaks unexpectedly.

If you have a gas heater, pick up a carbon monoxide detector at the hardware store. Don’t forget to reverse your ceiling fans to push heated air down from the ceiling.

Finally, do a quick check of the weather-stripping around your doors and windows. Replace where you feel cool air coming in to keep your heat from escaping.

Clean and Inspect Your Roof and Gutters

Clear any debris from your roof that may cause snow to accumulate and add unnecessary weight. Also, clean any fall leaves from your gutters as clogged gutters will cause water to spill over and freeze on walkways next to your foundation.

Disconnect hoses and use an indoor valve if possible to shutoff water leading to outside faucets. If you have a back-up generator, test it out and make sure you have plenty of fuel on hand.

Stow your lawn equipment

Before winter weather arrives, run your mower until the tank is dry. Leaving fuel in the tank over the winter will cause difficulty when you try to start it in the spring.

Prune Trees

Prune any limbs that are close to your home or hanging over power lines leading to your home, but do not get overzealous! Horticulturists advise waiting until late winter to prune most plants when they’ve been dormant for months and sprint growth is just about to begin. Only prune the limbs that may cause winter problems.

Inspect Your Chimney

If you’re planning on setting the mood with your fireplace, this one is a MUST. Call a certified chimney sweep to inspect the chimney and vents. This can prevent chimney fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace.

Prepare Winter Emergency Kit

  • Buy a fire extinguisher, or check the charge on the one you already have
  • Keep some non-perishable and semi-perishable foods on hand
  • Forego the candles for LED flashlights, hundreds of fires are started every year during power outages by candles
  • Know where your tools are in case you have to do any mini repairs in the midst of a storm
  • Make sure your cell phone is charged and buy a car charger in case you need to top it off while your power is out
  • Keep plenty of adequate clothing and heavy blankets on hand to keep warm
  • Find some fun board games or a good book to entertain you through a night or two with no television

Savings Tips For Black Friday Shopping

The holidays are some of the most festive and financially stressful times of the year. Between travelling, purchasing gifts, and feeding a ton of hungry family members, you may find yourself strapped for cash.

Have no fear, Black Friday is here. OK, you may be wondering why would I mention savings and the biggest holiday shopping day of the year in the same blog post?

Well as hectic, and expensive, as the holiday season is, there is one place we know you can save some serious cash: your holiday shopping list!

Getting the most out of your Black Friday Shopping day takes strategic planning. Unfortunately, many store offers and “deals” aren’t deals at all. A study done by Nerd Wallet found that many major department stores have been running the same ads for the past 3 years. However, if you’re in the market for videogames and technology, black Friday, as well as Cyber Monday, are truly the best times of year to score big!

For years shoppers have been flocking to major retailers in search of the latest technologies for the best prices. TVs, cameras, video games and systems, laptops, phones and tablets have consistently topped the list when it comes to the best sales, and this year is no exception.

If you want to have holiday shopping success this Black Friday, then follow our list of shopping strategies to make the most of your time and money.

  1. Do your Research – If you’re not following your favorite stores on social media, now’s the time. Retailers will begin posting their deals on their Facebook and Twitter, to create buzz and hype around their products. Also, pick up a local newspaper the day before and scope the sales ads. Websites such as blackfriday.comare also great sources of information for insider tips on special promotions.
  2.  Have a Plan in Mind – Black Friday isn’t really the time to wander the aisles aimlessly hoping to stumble upon something interesting. It happens, but for the most part, everyone shopping on the busiest shopping day of the year has a purpose, and really great deals can be sold out within a blink of an eye!
  3. Scope Out the Playing Field – The night before sales, take a trip to the store. Many businesses begin setting up and taping off aisles where in demand products will be staged. A quick walk through of the store will help you know exactly where the inventory you’re after will be located, so that you can make a bee-line directly to those items.
  4. Be on Time – As a seasoned Black Friday shopper, I can attest to the craziness and frenzy surrounding a highly anticipated sale. Shoppers will begin lining up outside of stores hours, and even days, before the sale even begins. Prioritize which items and stores you will hit up first and stay on your timeline.
  5. Stay at Home – Ok, I know I’m calling an audible here, but give me a chance to explain. Stores have created an unsavory trend of starting sales on Thanksgiving day, and as great as some Black Friday deals are, spending time with family is even more important, so stay at home during family time. Plus, its 2016 and we’re in the age of technology. Skip the lines and do your shopping on Cyber Monday!

Whether you decide to participate in Black Friday shopping

Finance 101: Cutting The Cord On Cable

Are you one of the many individuals who pay a $100+ cable bill every month and only watch a handful of the channels that you’re paying for? Well, if that’s the case, maybe it’s time to cut the cord on your cable and opt in for some less expensive options.

No, I’m not saying you have to throw out your television set, or purchase an outdated antenna to catch a fuzzy picture of your cities local channels. There’s actually a handful of alternative options available so that you can significantly cut down your monthly payments, and still catch many of your favorite shows!

The World of Streaming

Many things that sound too good to be true often are, but that’s not the case when it comes to streaming all of your favorite shows at a fraction of the cost for cable. Right now there are a number of streaming services available with high quality popular shows.

Sling Television ($20 per month)

If you’re a heavy TV watcher, then this is the streaming service for you. With their $20 basic package, you receive many of the popular channels you would get with your cable subscription. Sling TV offers real time streaming from ESPN, ESPN 2, AMC, Food Network, Disney Channel, TNT, Travel Channel, TBS, Adult Swim, CNN, Cartoon Network, ABC Family, and more. They also offer On Demand options for TV and videos.

Amazon Prime ($99 per year)

Having an Amazon Prime account offers you many perks for the full Amazon service such as free shipping on products. However, its movie offerings are top notch, and it also offers many popular network shows including HBO.

Hulu Plus ($7.99 per month)

This streaming service is for individuals who are more into watching TV than movie watching. With Hulu plus you can stream the latest shows that are currently running; whereas with Netflix or Amazon, there is usually an extended window of time before the network shows are available.

Netflix ($8.99 per month)

This may be the most well-known and familiar service to many streaming users. Netflix is the mecca for movie and TV streaming. Offering its own award winning content as well as popular titles, Netflix has the biggest library of any streaming service.

Buying a Home with Student Loan Debt

Managing Your Student Loan Debt

It’s 2016 and student loan debt in the U.S. is sitting at a staggering $1.3 trillion. That total is comprised of about 43.3 million borrowers. With that many Americans holding a student loan balance, one might assume that borrowers are educated about all things student loans so that they don’t make critical mistakes with their finances. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

On average, over 40% of borrowers aren’t making their student loan payments, and about 3.6 million people have defaulted on their loans; that’s a total of $56 billion in student loan debt.

As many are aware, defaulted loans have significant effects on your credit, making it extremely difficult to receive a loan, purchase a car or obtain a mortgage. The negative impact is not only financially crippling, but extremely stressful. Constantly worrying about ruined credit or garnished wages can be quite depressing.

If you carry a student loan balance check out this list of dos and don’ts so you don’t end up making a life altering mistake.

Deferment vs. Default

These are two terms you don’t want to mistake. A default is a failure to fulfill your financial obligation to an institution, but a deferment is something totally different.

Deferring your student loans, or getting permission to avoid payments for a specific set of circumstances, can give you some breathing room if you’re struggling with unemployment or other types of economic hardships. A forbearance is a similar type of loan relief only unlike deferments in which interest only accrues on unsubsidized loans, with a forbearance interest accrues on all loans.

Getting a deferment or forbearance will not cause damage to your credit score, although they will be noted on your credit report. A default, however, will cause your score to take a major hit.

Strategize

There are many types of repayment strategies and plans offered for federal student loans that can help you with making your student loan payments. Income-based and pay as you earn plans are particularly popular and can help you avoid high monthly payments.

The act of making a plan to pay off your debt alone increases your odds of not defaulting and paying off your loans. There’s something to be said about the sage advice “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”  If you haven’t already, sit down and strategize a 3-to 5-year plan detailing how you can pay off your debt.

Don’t Be Duped 

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Debt elimination, advanced fee and even some consolidation programs aren’t always what they claim to be. Scammers use student’s vulnerability against them in order to make a profit. Any forgiveness or consolidation programs should be well researched to ensure that they are reputable.

Check out our post “Growing debt for new grads”

There is no hard and fast rule on what the best course of action is to take when managing your student loans. The best things you can do are stay educated, look at all of your options, and make the best decisions that work best for you and your financial being.

Are Your Expensive Habits Costing You Hundreds?

A habit, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a usual way of behaving: something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way.

Life’s little luxuries are nice to indulge in every now and again, but when splurges become habitual practices, your savings can seriously suffer.

Try cutting out some of these habits and finally make waves on that 6-month emergency fund you’ve been meaning to build up.

1. Wasting groceries

Picking up food after work on the drive home or ordering takeout is a habit that could cost you quite a bit of money and wasted food. Yes, it’s convenient, but if you’ve already done your grocery shopping for the week, or month, you are throwing money down the drain. Make a grocery and takeout budget for the month and stick to it.

2. Paying your bills late

With charges of $25 and up, late and overdraft fees can really set you back. Setting up automatic payments and making sure you have enough funds to cover your costs will save you money and keep you from having to pay a hefty bill.

3. Fancy lattes every morning

Starbucks is great, most of us can agree on that, but it can also get expensive. Especially if your coffee drink of choice is a $6 venti caramel macchiato (those things are addicting). I’m not telling you not to splurge on your favorite coffee drinks, just don’t make it a habit. Treat yourself to a specialty drink every now and then but opt for a simple, less expensive, cup of joe with cream and sugar, or even better make your coffee at home!

Read our blog about how to reward yourself for avoiding splurging.

 4. Designer shopping

I love my MK bag; in fact, I may even be obsessed with it, but updating to a new handbag or shoe every time Michael Kors or Coco Channel decides a style they released last week is outdated can dry up your entire paycheck. Splurging on expensive items is something you should do sparingly. Try taking a page out of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s book and just wear the same thing every day. It seems to work for him!

 

5. Paying for a gym membership… you don’t use

Ok, sure you had great intentions of working out every day when you originally bought that $50 a month gym membership, but intentions don’t save you money, and in this case, they lose you money. Time to be realistic and ask yourself “is it really worth it to pay for something I haven’t used since January 2nd?”

Reduce Your Debt-To-Income Ratio

In the wake of the home finance crisis that began in about 2008, obtaining a mortgage is now more difficult than it was before, but knowing the obstacles will help prepare you for buying a home.  Today’s lenders want to avoid the mistakes that bankrupted yesterday’s lenders.  Additionally, Government Sponsored Entities (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have set much tighter guidelines that lenders must follow.  There are numerous factors considered when determining eligibility for a mortgage, but the three big ones are credit history, income and debt.

The debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is a valuable number that underwriters look at heavily when determining your borrowing ability.  To put it simply, DTI is the amount of debt you have compared to your overall income.  A low DTI shows lenders that you have a favorable balance between debt and income.

There are two main kinds of DTI and they’re expressed as a pair (front-end/back-end).  The front-end ratio indicates the percentage of income that goes towards housing costs (principal and interest, mortgage insurance, property taxes and homeowners’ association dues).  The back-end ratio is the percentage of income that goes towards paying recurring debts, including the housing costs covered in the front-end, plus credit card payments, car payments, student loans, child support, alimony, etc.  AmeriSave, one of the nation’s largest online lenders generally requires a DTI of 45% or lower for conventional conforming loans.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, one of the keys to unlocking the door of homeownership is reducing your debt-to-income ratio.  There are many things you can do to actively reduce your DTI so you can apply for a mortgage.

Increase your income – This might mean working some overtime, asking for a salary increase or taking on a part-time job.  Be advised though, as we mentioned earlier, income verification standards have increased greatly in the new age of lending so be mindful that cash or otherwise non-reported earnings will likely not count toward your “income”; although it could be used to reduce debt to the same effect.

Reduce spending – Review your bank and credit card statements to see where you are spending most of your money.  Cut back on unnecessary expenses and research other providers of insurance, phone, cable and other utilities to see if there are lower-cost alternatives.  Plow those savings into reducing your debt.

5 Ways to Cut Costs and Save

Reduce debt – A high DTI is not necessarily bad if you’re actively reducing debt.  For example, if your income is $2000 per month and you’re putting $1000 towards debts, your DTI is temporarily 50%, but will be reduced to 0% when you’re finished.  If you have any cash saved, you might want to consider paying off some debt.  While credit cards have high interest rates, the minimum payments are typically lower than, say an auto loan. Consider this scenario:

You have credit card debt of $5000 with a minimum payment of $120 and an auto loan with $5000 remaining and a payment of $600.  The $600 per month towards the auto loan reduces your borrowing power by $100,000, so you may want to consider using the savings to eliminate the auto loan and continue paying monthly towards the credit card.

If you plan on paying off any debts in full, ask the creditor the date they report to the credit bureaus, then apply for the mortgage after your account has been updated, revealing less debt.  You can also track changes to your credit report with free services like Credit Karma.

Check out our post on easy ways to save money!

Is It Time For Back To School Shopping Already? Let’s Hear It For Tax Free Weekends

Summer break is quickly coming to an end and kids are begrudgingly preparing to head back to school, which only means one thing; its back to school shopping season!

Fortunately for some, many states offer tax free weekends on school supplies, clothing, shoes and more. We’ve got the list below!

Chart courtesy of https://dealnews.com/features/when-are-state-tax-free-weekends/

State Dates Eligible Items / Max Cost
Alabama August 5 – 7 Clothing: $100 Computers: $750 School supplies: $50 Books: $30
Arkansas August 6 – 7 School supplies: No limit Clothing: $100 Clothing accessories and equipment: $50
Connecticut August 21 – 27 Clothing and footwear: $100
*Florida August 5 – 7 School supplies: $15 Clothing: $60
Georgia July 30 – 31 Clothing: $100 School supplies: $20 Computers: $1,000
Iowa August 5 – 6 Clothing and footwear: $100
Maryland August 14 – 20 Clothing and footwear: $100
*Massachusetts August 5 – 6 Clothing and footwear: $100
Mississippi July 29 – 30 Clothing and footwear: $100
Missouri August 5 – 7 Clothing: $100 School supplies: $50 Computer software: $350 Computers: $1,500 Computer peripherals: $1,500 Graphing calculators: $150
New Mexico August 5 – 7 School supplies: $30 Clothing: $100 Computers: $1,000 Computer equipment: $500
Ohio August 5 – 7 Clothing: $75 School supplies: $20 School instructional material: $20
*Oklahoma August 5 – 7 Clothing: $100
**South Carolina August 5 – 7 Clothing and accessories: No limit School supplies: No limit Computers and accessories: No limit Bed and bath items: No limit
Tennessee July 29 – 31 Clothing: $100 School supplies: $100 Computers: $1,500
Texas August 5 – 7 Clothing and footwear: $100 Backpacks: $100 School supplies: $100
Virginia August 5 – 7 Clothing and footwear: $100 School supplies: $20
*Indicates states containing links to legal documents with details on Sales Tax holidays

**Indicates states that still have to confirm tax holidays for this year

***States not participating in Sales Tax Holidays are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts. Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New York. North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

How To Save Money Without Doing Anything!

Raise your hand if you hate click-bait headlines. Me too! However, that is NOT what this is.

If you’re anything like me, the idea of possessing impregnable willpower that keeps you from spending on simple (yet expensive) pleasures is disheartening. Passing up my grande caramel macchiato every morning as I drive by Starbucks is a feat I have yet to master. I don’t possess that kind of resolve. However, there is hope for my saving account yet.

Long gone are the days where penny-pinching habits such as depriving yourself of the deliciousness that is Starbucks, or pulling apart 2-ply toilet paper to save an extra $2 a week were the only savvy ways to build your savings. There’s nothing wrong with splurging every now and then. Money was made to be spent and you should enjoy it, just pay yourself first.

We are in the age of automation and continually creating technologies that make life easier. With the inventions of self-driving cars, hover boards and virtual reality headsets (it honestly feels like we’re living in a Back to the Future movie), why not use automated savings? This technology isn’t recent but the majority of Americans aren’t taking advantage of these capabilities.

Check out these two sure fire ways to save money that require little to no work from you. Just put these practices into place and let technology do the rest!

Automatic Savings Apps

There is an app for everything these days and automatic savings is no exception. All you do is connect your bank account to an application such as Acorn, Digit, or Qapital and they do the rest for you. These apps work best for individuals who use their debit or credit card frequently over cash.

With Qapital, you can set up “rules” and round your spending up to the nearest dollar every tim

e you swipe your card. The amount is so inconsequential you won’t even notice you’re saving. Or my personal favorite, the 52-week rule. It works by taking money out of your account over the course of a year, 52 weeks. Week one takes out $1, week two $2 and so on until the 52nd week. After your last deposit, $52, you will have accumulated $1,378 over the course of a year!

For many, investing in the stock market is something you’ve heard you should do but have no clue how to actually do it successfully. That’s where the Acorn savings app comes into play. It’s similar to Qapital, only instead of funneling your rounded up change into a savings account, it invests your money into diverse ETF portfolios! This app probably won’t make you rich, but it is a great non-threatening way to introduce yourself into the world of stocks!

Digit, like the other savings apps, connects directly to your bank and credit cards, but instead of rounding up purchases or using rules to tell it how much money to take out, Digit uses an advanced algorithm that monitors your spending habits and deposits a few dollars at a time into a savings account. They also have a no-overdraft guarantee, promising that they will never transfer more money than you can afford.

The best thing about most of these apps is the initial signup cost is free and r there are no fees. The exception is Acorn, which requires a $15 a year fee if your investments are worth less than $5000 and .275% if your investments are worth more than $5000. Each app uses secure software to ensure the safety of your information and money. Also, you can receive your money from any of these accounts at any time. These are just three savings apps but there are many more. Do your research and pick the best app that works for you!

Savings account deposits

Many employers allow you to split your paychecks among multiple accounts. Set up a savings that automatically deposits a set amount into your account each time you get paid. This is one of the best ways to save a chunk of money without much thought or effort.

Out of sight out of mind! If you’re not seeing the money to begin with, you’re not tempted to spend. Treat the automatic deposit to your savings as any other bill payment.

Whether it’s an online high yield account or savings through your current bank or another establishment, find a savings account that works for you!

The information in this article is provided for education and informational purposes only, without any express or implied warranty of any kind, including warranties of accuracy, completeness, or fitness for any particular purpose. The Information contained in or provided from or through this forum is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice or any other advice. The information is general in nature and is not specific to you the reader or anyone else. YOU SHOULD NOT MAKE ANY DECISION, FINANCIAL, INVESTMENTS, TRADING OR OTHERWISE, BASED ON ANY OF THE INFORMATION PRESENTED ON THIS FORUM WITHOUT UNDERTAKING INDEPENDENT DUE DILIGENCE AND CONSULTATION WITH A PROFESSIONAL BROKER OR COMPETENT FINANCIAL ADVISOR. You understand that you are using any and all information available on or through this forum AT YOUR OWN RISK.
RISK STATEMENT – The trading of stocks, futures, commodities, index futures or any other securities has potential rewards, and it also has potential risks involved. Anyone wishing to invest should seek his or her own independent financial or professional advice.

Brexit – What’s Happening With Our Friends Across The Pond And How It Could Affect You

For those who haven’t heard, last week the UK experienced a historical shock when British voters surprised everyone and voted in favor of a British exit, aka Brexit, from the European Union. With the news of the UK  withdrawing from the European Union, experts have been in major debates over the future trickle effects this action may have across the world’s economy. Figures already show a $2 trillion loss to investors; this is the worst one-day drop on record according to data from S&P Global. .

Money

“How could a decision the United Kingdom made possibly have anything to do with me?” you might ask. Well, if economists’ predictions are correct, with their state in turmoil we will begin to see an increase in foreign and domestic investment here in the states. Basically, the dollar is the safe betright now and investors will begin replacing their money from UK and EU currency to US currency. This in turn will strengthen the US dollar as the British pound and euro decrease in value.

Savings

Experts are saying the Brexit outcome could directly affect the amount of interest you get on your bonds and CDs savings. If you are unfamiliar with how interest yields work, ultimately the Federal Reserve (our country’s central banking system) regulates and monitors global financial markets in order to maintain a stable financial system. So, since we are on the brink of a likely volatile market, the feds are in damage control mode; meaning a hike in yield rates are unlikely in the near future.

The Fed released the following statement, “The Federal Reserve is prepared to provide dollar liquidity through its existing swap lines with central banks, as necessary, to address pressures in global funding markets, which could have adverse implications for the U.S. economy.”

Mortgages

Although Brexit could possibly have negative implications for savers, there is a light in the darkness. Experts say mortgage rates are expected to drop to historic lows as individuals look for more secure investments. This is great news for consumers in the market to buy or refinance homes as they can take advantage of the low rates.

As the Brexit vote is still relatively new, we are still in a state of uncertainty as to what the actual economic effects will be. Many experts believe there will be no major economic effects at all. It is too soon to really gauge the long term impact Brexit will have