Tips for Keeping Your Gifts Safe This Holiday Season

It can be the worst feeling when you buy gifts for your loved ones and they wind up being stolen or broken.  Here are a few tips to prevent this:

1-If you buy something online, be sure to have it delivered when someone is home so it doesn’t linger on your porch for too long.

2-Don’t leave any shopping bags visible in your car–bury them in your trunk where potential thieves can’t see them.

3-Don’t mention any big purchases on social media or show pictures of any big ticket items there so potential thieves can’t target you.

4-Don’t keep your fragile gifts within reach of children–they like to shake their presents a little too much!

-Allison G.

 

 

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Smart Spending During the Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us and for many people, this means spending more money than any other time of the year. Yet, there are a few ways that you can make your dollar stretch even further during this time and prepare for future holiday seasons.

  1. Take advantage of “end of the season” clearance items. Buy summer and fall clothes and outdoor items on clearance. Just be sure that you are shopping around and buying quality items that will stay in style and last for a few years to come. Also, ask for additional discounts for items with blemishes or for floor models.
  2. Buy Halloween decorations and costumes after the holiday and store the items for the next year. This is a great way to save a significant amount of money on costly costumes especially for young children. Remember to account for your child’s growth and buy a size or two larger that will fit him/her in the next year. Buying Christmas decorations and wrapping paper after December 25 and storing them for next year is also a great way to save money.
  3. Make the most of the season’s biggest sales. Create a list of gifts or items that you want to buy this season and then research what stores sell the products, what their deals are, and compare to find the best price.
  4. Avoid impulse shopping. With all the great deals and lowered prices that are heavily advertised, it can be easy to be tempted to impulse buy and purchase items that you don’t need (and may regret buying later on). Stick to your list of needed items and gifts. It is also helpful to keep a close eye on your budget during this time so that you know exactly how much money you have to spend.
  5. Finally, stay organized. If you buy clothes to use next summer or decorations to use the following year, be sure to store them somewhere so you will remember you have them! Ignore the temptation to stash them in a closet or the garage with the intention to properly store them at a later date (you might forget you have them and buy them all over again the next year.)

-Kathryn M.

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Participating in Rewards Programs and How to Keep Track of All of Those Store Rewards Cards

A great way to save money on your daily purchases (and your larger, less frequent purchases) is to take advantage of a store or brand’s rewards program. Signing up for these programs is free and easy but keeping track of the cards and remembering to bring them with you when you shop can be a huge hassle. Luckily there are apps that help you do this. Mobile apps like Key Ring, Belly, Stocard, and Five Stars help keep your cards organized and in one place. Simply download the app to your iPhone or Android and then take pictures of your different rewards cards. The app stores and organizes the cards for you and you no longer have to remember to bring a particular store’s card with you when you shop- just remember your phone!

Some stores and brands like Walmart or Huggies offer a rewards program in a mobile app. Once you download their app, you scan your receipt or enter the receipt number into the app and the app records your points or, in the case of Walmart, your extra savings.

Other apps such as AwardWallet, TripIt, MileWise, and PointsBuzz help you keep track of frequent flyer miles and compare the best itineraries and ways to purchase airline tickets (e.g., using cash, miles, or points).

If you don’t have a smartphone, you can manage your different rewards cards by being sure to use the same phone number and/or email every time you sign up for a rewards program. That way, if you forget the card, the cashier can look up your account using your phone number or email. By always using the same phone number or email, you don’t have to remember which contact information you used for a particular rewards program. Be sure to do whatever you can to take advantage of free rewards programs so you can save money on items you buy regularly.

-Kathryn M.

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Living Within Your Means

Most of us have heard at one point or another that it is important to “live within your means.” But what does that mean exactly? There are a few steps you can take to make sure that you are indeed living within your means.

  1. First, create a budget to make sure you are not spending more money than you are making each month (i.e., not accumulating debt each month).
  2. If you are accumulating debt each month, you need to look at your expenses and see what you can cut. It is important to carefully examine each of your expenses and decide if it is a need or a want. For the expenses that are wants, ask yourself what are you gaining from spending your money on it? What if you didn’t buy it? Would it make that big of an impact on your overall happiness? If not, stop spending money on it.
  3. Keep detailed records of how much money you are spending and if you are really sticking to your budget. You may be surprised how much you spend in one area or another. Then find ways to trim those expenses instead of cutting them out completely.
  4. Set savings goals for the items that you want but can’t afford at the moment (i.e., a big trip or car purchase). Be sure to track your progress towards your goal and have a timeline to make sure you are on track.

It is easy to get caught up in the moment and stray from your budget or make that big purchase without having the funds but it creates more debt and stress than it is worth. By living within your means, you are able to have the essentials and some “wants” without the stress of accumulating debt.

-Kathryn M.

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Live Below Your Means and Beef Up Your Checking Account

I just had the chance to read two interesting articles in a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The first article was an opinion piece written by Ashleigh Brooker.  Ms. Brooker made the argument that it’s always smart to live below your means, or essentially to only spend up to 80% of your income and save the remaining 20% no matter what your income level is.  This way, you provide a cushion for times when you may lose your job and have to live on one income or no income, or for times when an emergency arises such as an illness, or disability.  She provided a couple of examples of situations where individuals either had to move and needed extra time to find a new job (thus living off one income for a short while) or when a grandparent moved to be closer to his grandkids, but had to accept a lower paying long-term position.  By living below your means, you provide yourself with greater flexibility.

The second article I read was a summary of recent research conducted by Joe Gladstone, a research associate at the University of Cambridge.  He had the chance to look at how happiness levels change in correlation with levels of wealth.  His interesting finding was that there was a significant correlation between a person having more money in his/her checking account and the person’s happiness level.  This correlation existed regardless of the overall wealth level of the individual.  Thus, in reading these two articles, I immediately thought—if you live below your means and save 20% of your income, you can put that 20% of your income (or some portion of it) into your checking account and that may boost your happiness level.  Not a bad plan!

-Allison G.

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How to Create a Budget & Stick With It

Creating a budget for your household is very important but can feel like an overwhelming task. Here are some steps to help you get started.

1. Calculate your total income and expenses for a month. Start by looking at your paystubs and add up the net amount from each paystub for a month (your total income). Then write down all of your regular monthly expenses (i.e., rent, car payment, groceries, gas, entertainment, etc.) and add up how much you are spending. You will also want to include irregular expenses (i.e., insurance, property taxes, gifts, tuition, etc.). To determine the monthly cost of your irregular expenses, add up all of the irregular expenses for the year then divide that total by 12.

2. Now that you have calculated your total income and total expenses, you have to figure out if you are spending more money that you are earning or if you are saving money each month. Simply subtract the total of your regular and irregular expenses from your total income. If your expenses are more than your income, then you are accumulating debt each month and need to cut back on your expenses. If your income is more than your expenses, you are saving money each month.

3. If you need to cut back on your expenses or would like to save more money each month, then you should examine all of your expenses and figure out where you can save money. A good way to start is to separate your expenses into essential and non-essential groups. For the essential expenses (i.e., rent, electricity, food, etc.) are there ways you can save on those bills? Using coupons or shutting off lights and unplugging appliances when not in use can start to save you money. For the non-essential items (i.e., eating out, entertainment, etc.) are there items that you can live without? And what are ways that you can still do the activities that you enjoy but not continue accruing debt? Stopping your Starbucks visits, committing to eat out only once a month, or attending matinees instead of evening shows are great ways to start to save money.

If you start with these three steps, you will be well on your way to creating a household budget and having a more secure financial future. Just remember that sticking to a budget is difficult and it may take a few months before you are able to do it, but don’t give up! There are also apps like Mint and GoodBudget that can help you stick to your budget.

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Payday Loans Are Not the Answer to Financial Problems

When it is still two weeks until your payday and an unexpected problem arises (i.e., you need to fix a flat tire or visit the hospital), it may be tempting to take out a payday loan to make ends meet. Although it may seem like an answer to your immediate problems, it will probably end up costing you more money in the long run.

Payday loan companies charge extremely high interest rates. Some companies also charge maintenance fees and origination fees for a loan even if you borrow as little as $100. Additionally,these companies will generally let you rollover your debt if you pay the fee. This may seem like a nice feature but you could quickly end up paying more in fees than the original amount borrowed. For example, if you borrow $300 and pay $45 in fees and roll over the loan for another two weeks, you will end up paying $390. If you are unable to pay the loan for two months, you will end up paying $360 in fees – more than the original loan amount.

So, how do you avoid needing to take out a payday loan? The best plan is to save each month to prepare for unexpected emergencies. Even if you are only able to invest $20 into a savings account each payday, that money will start to accumulate and could help you make ends meet when money gets tight.

-Kathryn M.

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