Tuesday, October 17, 2017

10 Life Hacks to Help You Free Up Money

 by Kevin Graham, September 17, 2015 in Saving Money

Are you looking for ways you can cut down on expenses and put a little extra money aside? Maybe you’re looking to budget more efficiently, fund that big vacation or save for retirement.
This post is dedicated to little tricks to keep more of your money in your pocket. You can have a little fun with these things, too.
 1. Call to Cancel. See How They React.
Savings doesn’t always mean going without. Sometimes when you call to cancel a service (e.g. cable, Internet, satellite radio, etc.), they’re very motivated to retain you as a client. After all, some of your money is better than none at all.
If they’re focused on retention, they may give you a reduced rate for a certain period of time or direct you to a plan that costs less without 37 channels that show 20-year-old movies.
Another good strategy in this situation is to research their competition. Tell them you’re switching to Competitor X who’s offering the same or better level of service for $50 cheaper. Play them against each other. Even if they just offer to match, this works to your advantage. You don’t have to take the equipment back.

2. Cut the Cord

A lot of people are cutting the cord and canceling cable for good. A couple of technological developments happening right now make this very possible.
For starters, you can now get HDTV out of an antenna to watch your local programming. You can also subscribe to multiple services like Netflix, Hulu and even HBO online to get your television for less than you would pay on a monthly basis for a cable subscription.
However, you might run into a problem with sports. Many games are shown on cable, but all the major professional leagues have their own subscription services now. Just be aware you may have to pick and choose sports to make cutting the cord cost-effective.

3. Reacquaint Yourself with Your Local Library

I seem to recall my library as being a place where I went to pick up the occasional book for school. When I went back with my sister to get a book she wanted to read, I probably hadn’t set foot in the public library in four years.
I took some time to browse. While it was good to see they still have books at the library, the CDs and DVDs were a definite surprise.
When I got to the counter, the librarian who asked me if I wanted to renew my library card told me I can check out e-books. It was as if I’d been transported to an alternate dimension. Giraffes might as well have been serving ice cream.
Seriously though, your library may have a lot more education and entertainment options than it used to. It may be worth checking out if you haven’t been there in a while.

4. Lunch at the Grocery Store

I’ve been known to partake of the grocery store sample line a time or two. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I realized a motivated person has many choices, often including dessert, from the sample lines. Why do you think everyone is queued up when you go in there on a particularly busy Saturday? They’ve discovered a secret.
“Of course I’ll try the chicken cordon bleu…Why yes! I think I’ll have a butterscotch cookie.”
It’s important to note that the portions are small. You can definitely make this work for lunch, but not dinner.

5. Pay Attention to Those Receipts

After you’ve done your shopping (and maybe gotten a midday meal in the bargain), it’s time to head to the cash register. However, it’s important to remember the savings don’t always stop when you check out
Many stores add coupons to the backs of receipts now. It’s their way of keeping you coming back for more, but it also saves you money to use those coupons.

6. Get That Deposit Back

Many states charge a small deposit on the purchase of all bottles and cans. You get that deposit back when you bring them back to the store and feed the machine.
You won’t be able to retire early on the amount you get back, but it will give you some spare change for the drive-through.

7. Save Those Ketchup Packets

My grandpa goes to fast food places every so often and orders inside. When he comes back with lunch, he’ll always bring back a mountain of napkins. To this day, I’m not sure how he does it, but we’re never out.
My grandpa is an extreme example, but it proves a point. If they give you four sauce packets and you only use two, stick the others in a drawer. They could come in handy when you run out. You’ll also be well-stocked when the zombie apocalypse causes a worldwide shortage of whatever that stuff is they use for onion ring sauce.

8. Rewards Programs

Many businesses will have rewards programs for their customers. You can shop around to see who gives you the best deal. There are programs for things like credit cards, airline miles and grocery stores.
Although the traditional ones are above, you can find rewards programs for all sorts of things. Every time I go to my local movie theater, they try to get me to join their rewards program. One day, I will go often enough to make it worthwhile.

9. Attend Matinee Movies

There’s not many things I want to roll out of bed before 9 a.m. on a Saturday for, but my thrifty nature will occasionally pull me away from my pillow for a matinee movie. Different theaters will have different times, but if you go to one of the early showings, you can often get a ticket $5 or $6.
It can be super cheap entertainment if you manage to run through without succumbing to the smell of the popcorn stand. Sadly, this is one magic trick I’ve yet to master. I do have a trick I learned in high school for cheap dates though:
If you and your friend are going to drink the same beverage, don’t go with two smalls. It’s often cheaper to get a large drink and two straws. Just make sure you know whose is whose.
The same matinee strategy will work if you go to the theater for a play as well.

10. Gift Card Sites

Thankfully, no one has ever given me a gift card to Pottery Barn. I know in a couple of years when I’m getting married and looking to move into my first place with my beautiful bride, I’ll rue writing this because we’ll be registered there or something.
As a single dude in my mid-20s, I just don’t think I’m in their target demographic.
However, there are sites online where I could sell such a gift card to someone else at a slight discount to benefit us both. I’ve converted a gift card I wasn’t going to use into cash and gotten a deal on something I’d use.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

10 Reasons You’re Flat Broke (and What You can Do to Fix it)

 by Patrick Chism, October 20, 2015 in Saving Money
If your bank account looks like one of those western movies where the tumbleweed drifts by, you may have a money problem. Before you throw your hands up and accept that this is your lot in life, consider this: Spending your hard-earned money wisely isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, more than half of Americans are struggling with this discipline, living paycheck to paycheck with no savings to speak of. That’s right. Your average American is one flat tire or one sick cat away from catastrophe. It’s time to take a hard look at the decisions that got you here, as well as the way you’re going to abandon this sinking financial ship for something better. Let’s take some time to recognize the reasons you’re broke, as well as ways to develop strong financial habits.

You Don’t Know Your Money

If I asked you about your finances, including your debts, your savings and your assets, would you be able to come up with an answer? Better question – would you be satisfied with that answer? Knowing your money is an important first step to saving. You’ve got to understand how much you’re making and how much you’re spending, and the only way to do that is to create a budget. It doesn’t matter if you’re making minimum wage or sporting a six-figure salary; if you don’t know your money, you won’t be saving much. And statistically, a measly 32% of our fellow Americans are keeping track of their expenses every month.
This mainly comes down to the fact that budgeting is, without question, one of the least sexy things to do. With the exception of me and few other masochistic money crunchers, no one gets their jollies from building a budget. We like spending money and we like the idea of saving money, but we don’t want to take the time to see the way our finances are being used. Furthermore, it’s downright scary. Budgeting requires us to recognize our debts (our college-graduate audience just gulped) and make a plan for the future. This is the first and most important lesson you must learn if you plan to pad your wallet with more than lint.
Not good with numbers and spreadsheets you say? Congratulations, you no longer have to be. Welcome to the future. We now have free, automatic budgeting tools that are available at our fingertips. Mint.com is my personal favorite. It allows you to set up mobile alerts so you remain true to your budget, and it helps you track your financial goals.

You’re Not Talking about Money

We don’t like it when people ask us about our money. Our culture has an overall problem with this, thinking it a social faux pas to openly discuss finances. In fact, 44% of Americans say that talking about personal finances is the most challenging type of conversation. Seriously – we’re more comfortable chatting it up about death and politics than we are about money. And this doesn’t just pertain to conversations with strangers; we don’t like talking to our spouses or significant others, either. And when we’re not communicating about our money, we tend to run out of it. This, in turn, stresses everybody out. According to a survey by SunTrust Bank, money is the leading cause of anxiety in relationships. It’s also one of the leading causes of divorce. Money talks are an imperative part of our relationships, so we need to learn how to have them.
Accountability is one of the best ways to cut through the stress and set financial goals. It’s essential that you and your spouse are talking when it comes to these decisions. Take a page out of Dave Ramsey’s playbook and set up a time to budget each and every month. Together. Be aware of your money and talk about your mutual needs and desires.
No spouse? No problem. If you and your business partner, friend, child, neighbor, stranger – whatever – set financial goals for each other, you’ll be able to hold each other accountable. An accountabili-buddy forces you to actively speak about your money. And when we talk about it, we’re more likely to act on it.

You Don’t Have Mad Skills

With all the talk we’re hearing about student loan debt topping $1 trillion, a lot of people are wondering if getting a degree is worth the trouble. But according to David Leonhardt in an article from The New York Times, “Yes, college is worth it … For all the struggles that many young college graduates face, a four-year degree has probably never been more valuable.”
He’s referring to the fact that college graduates, on average, “made 98% more an hour … than people without a degree.” In other words, if you’re flat broke, it may be partially due to the fact that you don’t have a college education. Going back to school will typically allow you to make more money in the long run.
Even if college isn’t your thing, there are several high-paying skills you can acquire. One of my favorite financial writers, Mr. Money Moustache, has an excellent article about higher-paying careers that don’t necessarily require a traditional college education.
You shouldn’t run toward a career simply because of the salary, but you need to consider the money you need to make and how your job is going to make that happen.

You’re Not Saving or Investing

Your money doesn’t belong under your bed. It needs to be set aside and gaining interest. Many financial advisors suggest that you prepare an emergency fund for a rainy day (3–6 months of living costs). However, finance guru Ramit Sethi (you should really check out his blog) suggests that simply telling yourself to put an emergency fund together rarely works because it “produces little behavioral change.” Instead, he argues, you should be automating your account so a specific amount goes from your checking to your savings account every month. This forces you to start saving money. And who needs good financial habits if your bank is doing them for you?
Another trap that the broke and beautiful fall into is leaving all of their money in savings and checking accounts. The problem with this is that these accounts accrue incredibly low interest. Your savings account isn’t going to earn much more than 1% interest (and that’s on the high end). Instead, you need to be looking at opportunities to invest. Whether you’re looking at investing in the stock market (which is still a good option) or jumping into the real estate game, looking for opportunities outside of savings accounts is essential. If you’re planning correctly, the interest you gain from these investments should be your main source of income during retirement.

You’re Glued to the Tube

This one’s more of a public service announcement. Quit watching so much television! Right now, Americans are watching an average of five hours of television per day. That means, throughout a single week, you’re spending 35 hours watching the tube. That’s more than a whole day. You’re only spending 5.5 days living and the rest of your week caught up in a fictional world.
Thomas Corley, author of “Rich Habits,” found that 77% of those struggling financially “spend an hour or more a day watching TV,” and 74% are “spending more than an hour on the Internet” for recreational purposes.
So get off the couch and get your mind working. The television is where your finances go to die.

You Tried Keeping Up with the Joneses

If you want to start saving, you need to ignore the Joneses. This may seem like incredibly obvious advice, but for most of us, looking over at the neighbor’s yard or the coworker’s cubicle creates a pretty big temptation. Financial columnist Knight Kiplinger explains that “the biggest barrier to becoming rich is living like you’re rich before you are.”
Keeping up with the Joneses causes all kinds of financial follies. It’s likely one of the largest triggers for those impulse buys we accidentally make. The best way to ignore the Joneses is to cling to your budget. If Mr. Jones goes out and buys a new car or a new house, and you also want a new car and a new house, you first have to consult the budget. And if the budget says no (due to being used for other commitments and goals), then you’re out of luck. It’s much easier to get yourself under control when you can blame the budget. Find out what house you can afford with a mortgage that is right for you.

You’re Playing the Lottery

The fact that we need to write about this one is just depressing. But Americans spend more on the lottery than, well, just about all other forms of entertainment. This includes sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets and music. We spent $70.15 billion playing the lottery last year.
First of all, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’re going to win. According to our statistician friends at the Huffington Post, the “probability of winning the jackpot is 1 in 175,223,510.” That’s a difficult number for us to wrap our heads around, but the fact is that you’re statistically unlikely to ever win the lottery.
But, of course, people will always argue with this information, responding with the age-old “well, someone has to win” logic. Don’t get caught up in this trap. Yes, that’s technically true, but for every person that wins, there are millions and millions of losers.
Low-income households (incomes under $13,000), on average, spend $645 each and every year on lottery tickets. That comes out to be 9% of their annual income. If, instead, they took that money and invested it (considering a 7% interest rate) every year for 40 years, they’d walk away with $147,436.77. That breaks down to over eleven years of their current annual salary.
Instead of the lottery, save or invest that money. It may not seem as pleasurable at the moment, but your future self will thank you. In the words of Dave Ramsey, “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.”

You’re Carrying High-Interest Debt

There are two different kinds of debt: good debt and bad debt. If you’re trying to decide if your debt is evil or benign, just check out the interest attached to it. Good debt usually refers to student loans and mortgages because these are low-interest debts. Another attribute of good debt is that the purchase gains value over time. For instance, by paying for college now, you’ll be able to get a higher paying job later. Therefore, good debt also includes small business loans and loans used to purchase real estate. Sure, there will always be a risk involved with this kind of debt, but it can potentially help you financially down the road.
The other kind of debt – the bad debt – is largely made up of credit cards and car loans. Playing with credit cards is a dangerous, albeit necessary game. Credit cards are a great way to build your credit score, but if you’re going to use them, you should pay them off at the end of the month. All of it. No exceptions. There are a many advantages to credit cards, but only if you use them correctly. Make sure you’ve studied up on correct credit card behaviors before making the plunge.
Car loans on the other hand, are just ridiculous. That’s not a popular viewpoint, I’ll admit, but hear me out. New cars are incredibly expensive, and the second you pull off the lot, the “new” vehicle is dropping in value. Holding debt on property that’s plummeting in value is never a good idea. Save up and purchase your car in cash. Remember, you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses.

You’re Paying for Bad Habits: The Costly Three

Before you buy your next pack of smokes, consider how much you’re spending on these “necessities” each year. If you’re puffing away at a pack each day, you’re spending upwards of $5,000 a year. That’s the cost of a new (used) car!
Also take some time to consider the cost of your alcohol consumption. The average American has four drinks a week. If you’re having these drinks from the comfort of your home, you’re probably not paying too much. But if you go out and purchase these drinks, it’s going to cost you over a grand a year. And what if purchasing and consuming alcohol is more of a passion than a hobby? Four drinks isn’t really that much. If you’re getting more drinks each week, this number will skyrocket. This calculator will help you look at the real cost of your drinking.
Eating out is the last, but certainly not the least, of the costly three. The average American family spends $225 each month eating at restaurants, fast food establishments and perhaps the occasional pub. That adds up $2,668 a year. Take a moment to think about that, and then step slowly away from the chicken nugget.
On top of all these things, don’t forget about medical bills! Poor habits are not just expensive on the surface. They’ll follow you around for years. Yeah, if you feel broke now, just wait until you have to visit the doctor.

You’re Whining Instead of Winning

More than all of these things, putting cash in your bank starts with the right attitude. Pouting shouldn’t be your first reaction to an empty wallet. If you spend all of your time blaming others for your circumstances, you’ll never see the opportunity to start saving money. Yes, some people are born with more privilege than others, and some people just have terrible luck. Whining about your position isn’t going to change it. Instead, use that energy to make a plan or to tweak your current lifestyle. Simple changes can make big results when you’re trying to save money.

Monday, October 2, 2017

How to Build Credit: The Best Practices for Building and Maintaining Good Credit

by Allison Hendricks, September 22, 2017 in Credit & Debt

Credit can be a confusing and complicated concept. Building credit can be its own beast, especially if you have no credit history. Without a history, credit card companies, insurance providers, landlords, employers and lenders have a hard time determining your spending and repayment habits, making the process of getting a loan nearly impossible.
The quickest way to build good credit is by using a credit card, but you can’t get a credit card without good credit. While this can seem like a vicious circle, there are still a few ways you can establish credit history, and most of them you can take action on today.
We’ve listed four ways you can start establishing credit, as well as our tips for building and maintaining a good credit score.

4 Ways You Can Establish Credit

If you’re unable to get an unsecured credit card or apply for a loan, whether from bad credit, or a lack thereof, there are a few ways you can start to show a history of responsible repayment. Spoiler – some don’t even require a credit card!

Apply for a Secured Credit Card

A secured credit card is a great tool when you’re just starting to build your credit score. It functions just like any other credit card in the sense that when you use it to make a purchase, you’ll then make payments on that purchase on or before the due date, gathering interest if your balance is not paid in full.
The card requires a cash deposit that becomes the credit line for that account. The cash deposit, usually the same amount as your credit limit, backs the card. For example, if you put $300 into the account, your credit card limit becomes $300.
The cash deposit is used as collateral, making the risk to the issuer significantly lower than an unsecured credit card, because if you don’t pay your bill, the issuer can draw the money from your deposit. However, if you do pay your bill on time, you’ll get your deposit back after you upgrade to an unsecured credit card or close your secured card.
A secured credit card is a great tool to build credit and work your way up to an unsecured card (a card without a deposit). Before you apply for a secured card, make sure it reports to all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Get a Co-Signer

While a secured credit card is a great way to build or repair your credit on your own, you can also apply for an unsecured credit card using a co-signer.
A co-signer is used when an individual can’t get approved for a loan or a credit card on their own accord due to a negative or lack of credit history. The co-signer agrees to pay back debt in the case that the borrower is unable. This may include any late fees and collection costs, on top of the full amount of debt.
However, this is not the most appealing way to build credit, as it poses a risk to the co-signer. Additionally, unlike secured credit cards, unsecured cards often charge higher fees and interest rates.
If you do plan on applying for an unsecured credit card by means of a co-signer, make sure you use it responsibly, paying your balance early or on time and never charging more than you can pay back.
We’ll dive into additional best practices throughout this post.

Become an Authorized User

Becoming an authorized user on a person’s credit card is another tool for building or repairing credit.
As an authorized user, you are added to someone else’s existing credit card, usually a family member or significant other, issued your own credit card that you are able to make purchases on, but not legally obligated to pay the debts on the account, even if they are from your charges. The repayment responsibility remains with the primary account holder.
Before you become an authorized user, consult the primary account holder and confirm that the card issuer reports authorized user activities to the three credit bureaus, or else you won’t receive the benefit of building your credit.

Build Credit While Paying Your Debt

You can build credit without even using a credit card by paying off your existing debts, like student loans or auto loans – even your rent.

Student Loans

If you’ve taken out a student loan, making on-time payments may be a great way to boost your credit.
When you pay your loan in full and on time each month, the three major credit bureaus will make note of your habits on a continuing, 30-day basis, demonstrating to future lenders that you handle your money responsibly.
Continue to maintain this history of responsible payment, and you’ll be able to qualify for an unsecured credit card and even a mortgage with reasonable interest rates and lower monthly payments.

Auto Loans

Buying a car can also build your credit, if you make on-time payments on your auto loan.
Once you purchase the vehicle and get a new loan, the new debt is added to your credit report. As you begin to make payments on time and prove your responsibility, your credit score will increase.

Rent

Often, renters can build credit by making on-time payments and reporting those payments to the credit reporting agencies.
If your landlord doesn’t provide this service, you can pursue services that will report your rent payments to credit agencies to build or boost your credit, like Rental Kharma. However, there is often a fee for this service, so be aware of the costs before you sign up.
Keep in mind that while these are all great ways to build your credit, you should make payments on time, as missing payments can have an adverse effect on your credit score.

Building Your Credit Score – The Right Way

Building a good credit score requires time and responsibility. You must be able to prove at least six months of timely payments to start building your score. There are a few best practices to follow to prove your creditworthiness.

Make All of Your Payments on Time

Payment history makes up approximately 35% of your credit score, so it’s no surprise why our first tip is to make all of your payments on time. Even one late payment can result in a hefty late fee, additional interest charges and a ding on your credit report.
Be sure to pay your bill on or before the due date, because even if you pay on or after the due date, the late payment could remain on your report for seven years.

Don’t Reach Your Credit Limit

Just because your card has a $500 limit, doesn’t mean you should try to use all of it.
The more available credit you use, the worse it is for your credit score, a concept known as your credit utilization (your current credit card balance compared to your limit). Avoid using more than 30% of your credit card’s limit.

Don’t Open Too Many Accounts at Once

New accounts lower your average account age. You want depth in your credit report, because it shows that you have a long history of responsible payments.
Additionally, for every new account you open, the lender will pull your credit, which can lower your credit score by a few points.

Keep Your Existing Accounts Open

One of the most common credit card mistakes is closing a credit card. This shortens the length of your credit history and will most likely decrease your credit utilization ratio – both factors that will affect your credit score.

Check Your Credit Card Statements

Make sure you’re keeping up with your credit statements for oversights. This is not only good for checking on errors and discrepancies, but also identity theft. Be aware of any unfamiliar charges that might pop up so you can handle them accordingly.

Maintaining a Good Score and Credit Report

The best way to maintain a good credit score is by following the best practices of credit card management. In short, never spend more than you can pay back, and make sure you make all of your payments in full and on time.
Your credit report will show you a history of how you’ve used credit in the past and can estimate how you’ll handle it in the future. Sites like QLCredit.com, offer you the chance to check your credit score for free.
Your credit score is one of the key factors that mortgage lenders consider when you apply for a home loan. While FHA loans are available with credit scores as low as 580, Quicken Loans recommends striving for a score of 660 or higher, as it allows more mortgage options and determines your interest rate.
If your goal is preparing your credit for buying a first home, make sure you set yourself up for future success by following our tips today.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

10 Good Tips For Renters To Feel At Home

by Rebecca Orlov on apartmenttherapy.com


One of the best things you can do as a renter is to treat your rental as your home instead of a 12 month contract. As a longtime renter, I've picked up some great tips - some practical, some emotional - when it comes to home sweet home. Try these to make yourself feel at home.

Change out the lights

Set the design tone in your rental by replacing the standard lights with new ones that fit your taste. Plus use lower wattage bulbs to create an intimate vibe in your home.

Live by the idea of "home sweet home" 

Even though it's a rental, you are living there so take on the perspective that this is your home and place for you to enjoy, relax and unwind.

Save your boxes

Save yourself $40 or so and take apart your moving boxes when you are done unpacking and place them in a closet or under your bed.

Buy a toolbox 


A small toolbox with a hammer, nails, screwdriver, etc is a great resource to have around when moving in and getting settled. For most projects around the house we need at least a couple of basic tools to get the job done. In our last place we had a lot of drawers in the kitchen so we could dedicate one to tools/picture hangers/nails/etc. In our new place we need to rely on a toolbox (and to be honest, the drawer wasn't great since we still had to do a lot of digging to find what we were looking for). Below we've rounded up some of our favorite no-nonsense toolboxes to help organize those things you use most for repairs and projects around the house.



Get rid of the "box" that you may keep lugging around with you 

If you aren't going to unpack it, then you probably don't need it. Really consider what you are keeping in your home. If it's meaningful then find a place for it. If it's just stuff, consider letting it go.

Paint 

For under $50, you can really design your space with great color ideas. Take the extra step and confirm with your landlord that you can paint and simply repaint when you are ready to move. If you are not allowed to paint, there are some great temporary wallpaper sources these days.


Use your walls 


It's easy to fill nail holes (and many new hanging hardware doesn't require making holes!) when you leave so hang up your favorite pictures and artwork. Surround yourself with things you love.

Invest in pieces that you know you will keep 

Along the ideas of home sweet home, invest in pieces that you love and you know you will use. Forget the idea of waiting until you own a place. Long after you leave your rental, you'll have these with you.


Unpack all of your stuff 

It takes some people a while and some people no time at all but unpack all of your things when you move and really settle into your home.