Finding Public Assistance Programs

Some people find themselves going deeper and deeper in debt because tragedy strikes (i.e., loss of employment, medical emergency, damage to major appliance or vehicle, etc.) and they are unaware of assistance programs available to them. Instead of applying for aid, they go into debt to cover expenses and some are forced into bankruptcy. This is unfortunate because there are lots of national and local programs available to help people get back on their feet. If you find yourself in a situation where you are having difficulty making ends meet, be sure to research aid programs to see if you qualify. Below is a list of websites and places to help you get started:

  1. Benefits.gov helps you find government assistance programs. You just answer a few basic questions and then select the programs in which you are interested. The website then walks you through a series of questions to see if you qualify for the program.
  2. USA.gov also provides detailed information on different government public assistance programs.
  3. Need Help Paying Bills is a website that provides information on programs that are available to help pay a variety of different types of bills. It gives a basic explanation of each program and information on how to contact the program.
  4. The Salvation Army also provides emergency assistance.
  5. Local churches can sometimes also be a great resource even if you are not a member of the church.
  6. Some hospitals have financial aid programs as well. Their applications are usually long and in-depth but can save you thousands of dollars. If you have large medical bills, contact the hospital’s business office and ask about financial assistance programs.
  7. Your city government. Many cities offer housing assistance among other programs. You can search their website or call their Human Resources office to find out more information. Even if they do not sponsor any programs, they may have information about other local organizations that do.

Even if you do not qualify for any of the above programs, call and talk with your creditors (i.e., hospital, credit card company, mortgage company, etc.) and see if they will work with you to lower payments or skip a payment. Most companies are willing to work with you if you are proactive and make an honest effort to repay your debt.

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Get Paid to Save Energy

“I wish I cared about anything as much as my dad cares about lights being turned off in unoccupied rooms” is a popular meme making rounds on social media. Although it may make you laugh, anyone trying to stick to a budget and save money knows that by turning off lights and appliances that aren’t in use, you can save not only energy but also money. Did you know that you can also save money by purchasing appliances designed to save energy? Energy Star appliances help you conserve energy and you can receive tax credits or rebates for using them. The products page of the Energy Star website has information on where to purchase appliances, rebates, and quality ratings for all types of household appliances. Energysage.com has lots of information about solar products as well as incentives and programs for energy savers.  Finally, DSIRE has detailed information about government energy saver policies and incentives by state. If you are considering purchasing a new appliance for your home, remember to research energy star appliances to see if they are right for you so that you can take advantage of the many different types of incentives offered.

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Guidelines for Buying a Car

Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases that a person will make in their life aside from buying a house. Since many rely on their car to commute to and from work, take their children to school, and go to enjoy different activities, it is important that you are sure you are getting a reliable car.  But the process of buying a car and negotiating with a dealer or private owner can be extremely overwhelming. Below are a few guidelines to help you get started.

  1. Set a budget. Before you even begin shopping for a car, it is important that you know how much you can spend. Do you have enough money in savings to purchase the car or will you need financing? How much can you afford to pay each month? When calculating how much you can pay for a car payment be sure to include all the expenses that come with a car such as gas, insurance, registration, maintenance, and parking. Once you have calculated how much you can afford, stick to that amount. Don’t be swayed by a convincing salesman that you can possibly afford more.
  2. Research what type of car you need. Do you need a small car or a larger SUV? Are you wanting to buy a domestic or foreign make? Websites like Kelly Blue Book, Car Fax, Consumer Reports can help you determine how much a car will cost and provide information on a car’s safety, reliability, gas mileage, etc.
  3. Shop online. Most dealerships list their cars online and you may be able to find a better deal from a private owner.
  4. Test drive. Be sure to drive on different roads at different speeds, test out the lights, blinkers, windows, sit in the front seat and the back seat, open all the doors including the trunk and hood, etc. Have a trustworthy mechanic inspect the car and run a history of the car using its VIN number to see how many accidents it has been in.
  5. Sleep on it. Buying a car is very exciting and it can be incredibly easy to get pressured into buying one on impulse but resist the urge. Salesman are very good at their jobs and can be very convincing that you may miss out on the car or offer a discount if you buy the car that day. But it is always better to take a couple of days to think about the purchase and any additional questions you may have. After a couple of days, go back and test drive it again before buying the car.

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Raising Financially Responsible Children

Creating and following a budget, saving, investing, and planning for the future are difficult topics and sometimes confusing for adults. It, therefore, can be very overwhelming to think about how to teach your children about complicated financial topics. So much so, that many people avoid talking to their kids about money which can lead to kids not being able to become financially independent adults or not knowing how live within their means. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the amount of complicated financial topics, start small by focusing on the basics of money management and following these steps:

  1. Set a good example. Children are excellent observers and will model the behavior of their caregivers. If you are living within your means, budgeting, saving, etc., your kids will learn from your habits.
  2. Start early (or now, if your kids are older) and don’t rely on the schools to teach your kids about finances. Show your kids how to balance their checking account, the importance of saving, etc.
  3. Don’t pay your kids for regular chores. They won’t earn money for doing everyday tasks as adults. Instead, if you choose to give your kids an allowance or pay them, have your kids earn it by taking initiative and going above and beyond. For example, raking up all the leaves in the yard, helping with special tasks, etc.
  4. Show them the importance of saving. Help them set goals and encourage them to achieve those goals.
  5. As your kids grow, help them become financially independent. Have them be responsible for their cellphone costs, work to earn money to buy “wants”, etc.

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How to Recognize a Scam

Scams are becoming more and more sophisticated and sometimes difficult to recognize. Especially with advances in technology and the ability to find personal information about people online. Scammers are excellent at presenting themselves as legitimate and earning people’s trust. How can you protect yourself from falling victim to a scam? Be skeptical. Always question why someone is offering you a deal or contacting you and research them thoroughly before sending any personal or financial information. Here are a few additional tips to keep in mind to help you recognize a scam:

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Everybody likes to find a great deal and passing up hundreds of dollars of potential savings is hard to do but it is worth it to protect yourself from losing money or having your identity stolen by a scammer. For example, if a home security salesperson is at your door offering you a $1,000 discount on the latest system with free installation just because your address ends in the number “5” and in order to take advantage of the deal, you have to pay a down payment right then, it is probably a scam.
  2. If the salesperson is insisting that you pay immediately, it is probably a scam. Most offers do have an expiration date, but legitimate companies give customers a chance to review the offer first. Scammers pressure people to pay immediately so that they take their money before the customer realizes it is a scam.
  3. If contact is made completely out of the blue, it may be a scam. Getting a message from an old high school crush or long-lost friend is exciting but be very cautious. It is very easy to find lots of personal information online through searches and Facebook. If an “old friend” makes unexpected contact and something just doesn’t seem right (even though they know the name of your high school, former teachers, etc.), trust your instinct. Especially if this person suddenly needs money. Scammers will use your good nature against you.
  4. Never give out personal or financial information through email or on the phone to someone calling from an unknown number. If you are unsure if it is really the company calling you, tell them that you will call them back (look for their phone number on their website or card or statement).
  5. Trust your gut and resist the urge to be impulsive. If something just doesn’t feel right, trust your instinct and don’t do it. Lots of victims of scams say that they had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but they didn’t want to seem rude or miss out on a deal. Had they listened to their instinct they may not have fallen victim to the scam. Always take the time to make sure that you are dealing with a legitimate company and the person really is who they say they are.

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Tips on Talking to Your Spouse About Money

Money is commonly listed as one of the top reasons for divorce. It can also be the source of many arguments and stress in a relationship, especially if you and your partner have different spending habits. Most couples have difficulty discussing money because they may be ashamed of their debt, afraid of being judged by their partner, or don’t understand why their partner spends money the way they do. This results in many couples avoiding the subject all together which only makes the situation worse. So, how can you discuss finances with your spouse without it becoming an argument? Below are a few tips to approaching the topic:

  1. Be purposeful. Set aside a time specifically to discuss finances in a casual setting (i.e., over dinner, drinks, coffee, etc.). Don’t dwell on past mistakes but talk about what your personal goals are and what goals you have for the family.
  2. Make it a routine. It is important to talk about money frequently to make sure you both are on track to achieve your goals. Additionally, if you both know that on the 5th of each month, you will discuss finances, then both parties know to expect the conversation and won’t feel ambushed by the other.
  3. Listen to your partner. Most times arguments about finances come about because of a difference in values and the way we were raised. For example, one partner may value convenience (i.e., paying for delivery) over having a little more money in the bank. In order to understand why your partner spends money or doesn’t spend money a certain way, you must be willing to listen to them without judging.
  4. Be self-aware. If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated during the talk, take a break and resume the conversation after both parties have had a chance to calm down. Also, be open about your spending habits and mistakes.
  5. Seek help. If you and your partner are not able to discuss your finances calmly or agree on how to reach your financial goals, get help from a counselor or financial adviser. Sometimes having a third party to listen and mediate the conversation can help you communicate more clearly with your spouse.
  6. Finally, don’t put off talking with your spouse. Financial problems, like all problems, only get worse if ignored.

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Spending Wisely

Everyone defines “spending wisely” differently depending on personal beliefs, likes and dislikes, and lifestyles. There are, of course, a few universal principles such as: not living beyond your means and saving money for unexpected emergencies. The differences arise in what people consider worthwhile purchases. For example, someone who hates cooking may not think of eating out as a poor decision, but a passionate cook sees it as a waste of money. The differences of opinions are fine as long as each person is able to live within their means. If you find yourself having a hard time spending less than you earn, however, you may need to reevaluate your spending habits. Sometimes the best way to take control of your spending is to change your mindset.

Managing your finances can be difficult and requires self-control just like maintaining a diet. One way that helps people maintain their diet and not eat that all-too-tempting-donut in the break room is to think about how much exercise it would take to burn off the extra calories if they did indulge in the donut. The same thought process can be applied to impulse purchases. Instead of thinking of the cup of coffee as only costing $5, think of how much time you would need to work in order to have the money to pay for the coffee. For example, if you make $20/hour, you would have to work for 15 minutes to pay for the $5 coffee. If you are buying coffee five times a week, then you are spending $25/week or one hour and fifteen minutes of work. Is that coffee worth the hour and fifteen minutes of work? Or, is it more worth your time to make coffee at home for significantly less money? If you apply this thought process to all your purchases, it may be easier to identify which ones should be eliminated and help you stick to your budget.

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