10 Money Goals You Should Set for the Holidays

December 5, 2017

Handmade gift, special day, wintertime, knit, scarfAvoid that fate (financial distress) this season with these self-imposed goals on how to better manage your holiday budget. It’ll help you start the New Year financially fresh and fancy-free.

  1. Stop spending money on gifts people don’t need

When planning out your holiday gift list, think long and hard about what those people on your list may want or need. Don’t be afraid to ask them, either. I always ask friends and family if they have something specific in mind — and I staunchly believe in getting what they’ll love and use, so long as it fits into my budget.

Sometimes they provide solid ideas, and other times I get the ol’ “I don’t need anything” routine, even though they know good and well I’m going to buy them something anyway. (Way to help, Dad.) If you’re unsure about a gift, or you feel like you’re buying something just to buy it, think again. There’s no reason to spend your money on something that will go unused, or even worse, be regifted.

When in doubt, a gift card to a favorite store generally works well — and you should take advantage of the ubiquitous “Spend $X in gift cards and get a $X gift card for free” promotions that many retailers and restaurants offer during the holidays. Stretch that cash every way you can.

  1. Stop spending money on people who don’t need gifts

Does everyone you know need a gift? Will you even see the recipients this holiday season? Are you disproportionately spending money on the people you do buy for? If money is tight and you’re stuck in a pattern of buying gifts because you feel obligated, stand up for yourself and put a stop to it.

Several years ago, my brother, cousin, and a few of my best friends started churning out children left and right. I had to make the tough decision to cut the adults off my list. I couldn’t afford to buy for everyone, so I chose the kids instead. I’ve never looked back on that decision with any regrets. I get to be the cool uncle who always gives the best presents — all while being able to save money despite that distinction.

  1. Select, make, and “buy” gifts from stuff you already have

There’s only one rule to regifting, in my opinion: Make sure the regift doesn’t end up anywhere near the person who gave it to you in the first place. Bad form. Otherwise, please, regift items that were given to you that you haven’t used (so long as they’re still unopened and/or haven’t expired). The same goes for unused items that you bought for yourself throughout the year (like clothing with the tags still on). Gift them to someone you think will appreciate them to help keep more money in your pocket.

I’m also a big fan of making gifts by hand. For instance, I’m hosting a small dinner party in December, and I’m making my guests a little take-home gift consisting of a festive homemade body scrub, a hand-poured holiday candle, and a bottle of wine I’ve recently made from a kit.

Simple, inexpensive, thoughtful — that’s the name of the game.

  1. Concentrate on eliminating existing debt before racking up more

One of your top money goals this time of year should be focusing on debt you already have instead of racking up more buying gifts. That’s not always easy to do during the holidays, but the due diligence will pay off.

If you have existing credit card debt, try your best not to make only the minimum monthly payments. Instead, begin paying a bit extra toward the principal starting with the card with the highest interest rate. This repayment strategy (otherwise known as the debt avalanche) will save you the most money overall on interest payments. High interest rates are what’s keeping you in debt, and the faster you reduce or pay these cards off, the better.

  1. Make a list of gift recipients and assign a budget per person

I like to plan out my gift buying to the tee, because I know how bad I can be with impulse purchases around the holidays. You know what it’s like: You plan to get your mom a nice perfume set, but then you see this great piece of jewelry on sale — and your entire budget unravels before your eyes.

To combat this habit, I make an itemized list of what I’d like to buy for each person and assign a top-line budget based on the advertised retail price. And then I get to work. Before I make the final purchases, I scour my apps for cash-back deals, search the internet for promo codes, cash in my retailer rewards, and try to plan my in-store shopping around major sales. It helps that I get just about every circular and marketing email known to man — so I’m always abreast of what deals are going down — but you’ll find equal savings with your own resourcefulness and research.

The point of all this extra legwork is to drastically come in below the gifts’ retail prices so you cannot only stay under budget but, in fact, walk away from the holidays a solid winner.

  1. Pay for gifts strictly from your holiday-spending envelope

Once you’ve made your itemized list of gifts and determined the overall budget, take out the cash from the bank, stick it in an envelope, and use only that money to buy gifts. There is no other alternative; this is all the money you have to spend, and you need to stick to this plan. If what you want to buy is online, consult your budget to make sure you’re on track, then use your debit card. Then, immediately replace the deduction by making a deposit into your checking account so everything balances out. Yeah, it’s old school — but it works.

  1. Put any cash gifts you receive into savings or toward bills

Plan to put any holiday cash you receive from family members straight into your savings account or toward bills. This savings tactic isn’t any fun — I understand — but you’ll likely receive plenty of gift cards that you can spend instead that will help quell your urge to blow everything before the holidays even come to a close.

  1. Shop with a buddy to keep each other away from impulse buys

I like shopping alone for several reasons. For starters, I don’t have to wait on my companions and they don’t have to wait on me, which, when shopping together, can really zap the relaxation out of my leisurely pace. Furthermore, I don’t like people’s opinions of my purchases or their comments about whether I really need this or that. It’s my money, and I’ll buy what I want.

Except around holiday time.

This is the time of year I like to employ the buddy system when shopping for the sole purpose of keeping each other focused on our lists and away from impulse buys. Because if my bestie can’t smack my hand in public and tell me no, who can? That’s what friends are for.

  1. Lay the groundwork for 2018 and the future of your finances

There are a million things happening during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look ahead and prepare yourself financially for the New Year. In fact, you owe it to yourself.

Kevin Driscoll, VP of Advisory Services for Navy Federal Financial Group, agrees.

“If you’re not already doing so, begin contributing to your 401(k),” he says. “Make 2018 the year of financial freedom in retirement by saving now. Check out the retirement plan your employer offers, and if they offer a match, be sure to take advantage of this.”

Also worth considering is investing in an online investment platform.

“You’ll find that there are many sites that allow you to make minimal contributions to buy a portion of a stock,” Driscoll continues. “This is a great way to get your feet wet with investing and hopefully make some extra money, too. Additionally, these platforms are generally low maintenance, and don’t require any prior knowledge of the market or investing.”

  1. Find ways to spend and save even smarter

Every year, one of your top resolutions should be to stay on top of your finances and to improve your own money management. How do you do that? That’s really up to you, but it will require due diligence on your part. It could be as easy as subscribing to personal finance blogs so you’ll receive the latest financial self-help articles in your inbox, or maybe you can enroll in a local course that will help you better understand your money and your relationship with it. Both of these tactics combined would be great, too.

The point is, you should continue to educate yourself about how to spend and save smarter so you can achieve your goals and live a life free from the burden of debt. Easier said than accomplished, but people just like you do it on a regular basis. Invest in yourself and it will pay off eventually.

 

Source: WiseBread.com

8 Secrets to a Debt-Free Holiday Season

November 28, 2017

Christmas gifts are readyRemember when the holidays were all about simple pleasures like spending time with family and exchanging modest gifts? Neither do I. Holidays have taken on a life of their own, turning otherwise reasonable folks into consumer zombies and blowing up the budgets of too many Americans. This year, let’s celebrate simplicity and financial solvency. Here are the secrets to a debt-free holiday season.

  1. Push back against “holiday sprawl”

Ever feel like the holidays come earlier, last longer, and require more gifts, more elaborate decorations, more money, and more travel? Let’s call this endless expansion what it is — holiday sprawl. Fight back by embracing the idea of enough. Suggest (and stick to) reasonable spending limits and keep ballooning expectations in check. Your budget will thank you.

  1. Shop early and shop around

Bright lights, big crowds, sales of the century — it’s enough to make even the most levelheaded shopper lose control. Skip all the holiday madness by shopping early. You’ll have more time to compare prices, shop for sales, and space out purchases so you won’t have to rely on credit.

  1. Slow down

Holidays can be frantic. In the rush of activity, we often make bad decisions about what to buy and how much to spend. Slow. Things. Down. Break up your shopping excursions into several smaller trips and avoid shopping on days when you have a thousand other things to do. When shopping online, load your virtual cart, but don’t commit to buy until you’ve thought about your choices overnight.

  1. Avoid gimmicks

The holiday season can make or break retailers. To help us stretch our spending muscles, almost every store features blowout sales or deals that require the purchase of multiples (10 for $10). My advice? Be skeptical. That “biggest sale of the year” probably isn’t. And what are you going to do with 10 bacon-scented candles, anyway?

  1. Pay cash

Do you tend to spend more when you use credit? You’re not alone. Paying by credit card — or worse yet, smartphone — blunts the conscious connection between spending more money and having less money. Make this holiday a cash-only affair. It’ll keep your accounts in the black and make your first credit card bill of the new year a lot less frightening.

  1. Make your gifts

Exchanging handmade gifts can be wonderful, even among adults. Buck the retail trend altogether and focus on your talents. Are you an expert baker? A gifted artist? An inspired brewmaster? Explore Pinterest for inexpensive homemade holiday gift ideas, then tap into your creative spirit.

  1. Skip the greeting cards

I didn’t get the memo: When did everyone decide that $14.99 is an acceptable price for a box of holiday cards? This year, save a few bucks by ditching the costly cards and postage. Instead, send a group email or catch up with a leisurely phone call.

  1. Share experiences

If money’s tight, swap traditional gifts for the gift of time together. Organize a holiday potluck, host a movie night with friends, or coordinate a charity event where everyone contributes a few hours of their time as a group. After all, what could be better than good food, good friends, and goodwill?

If you’ve done everything right but still need a little cash to complete your shopping, we can help with a small loan. >>

 

Source: WiseBread.com

10 financial steps to take now for a fresh start in 2018

October 30, 2017

Preparation Today Leads to Success TomorrowIt may only be early autumn — and, in many parts of the country, still feel like summer — but winter, New Year’s Eve and then 2018 will be upon us before we know it. Looking ahead to the annual fresh start that New Year’s Day affords us all, the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has drafted a list of 10 financial year-end tips to help you prepare for a financially sound 2018.

Consider tax strategies

“If you expect your tax bracket to rise or fall in the current year — for example, if you’ve recently retired or started a new job — it might make sense to consider opportunities to accelerate deductions into the current year or postpone them to 2018. For example, if you’re in a higher tax bracket in 2017 than you expect [to be] in 2018, a donation to charity in December may provide a better tax benefit than if you wait until January. A qualified CPA tax advisor can help you evaluate whether it makes sense to plan the timing of items that can affect your tax bill to fall before or after the end of the year.”

Review your investment mix

“Are your investments still in line with your goals and risk tolerances? Changes in the values of your stocks, bonds and other holdings over the past year may have moved the relative weights away from what best meets your needs. For example, if the stock market had a good year, the percentage of your investments in stocks may have drifted upward from what you see as the right proportion of stock market risk. The approach of the new year is a good time to review your mix. A qualified CPA financial advisor can help you determine if it’s time for rebalancing.”

Review all insurance coverage

“Take a look at your coverage for auto, home, liability, etc. to be sure you have enough — and not too much — and that you’re not overpaying. Look at whether you could drop some deductibles to save on premiums or if you have some unnecessary ‘extra’ features in your policy that are adding up. Comparison-shop among insurance companies to see whether switching makes sense. Even if you’ve done this before, it pays to compare periodically, as different companies adjust pricing frequently to meet competition or get more competitive at times in certain markets.”

Review your retirement-plan contributions

“If you haven’t been contributing to your 401(k) plan at work at a level that gets you the maximum employer match, check on whether there may be a ‘catch up’ opportunity before year-end to avoid leaving money on the table. Similarly, it might make sense to increase your IRA contributions if you haven’t reached the limit for the year in order to take full advantage of this year’s opportunity to put away retirement savings dollars for tax-deferred growth.”

Review your beneficiaries

“Especially if you’ve had a recent family event such as a marriage, birth or adoption of a child, new grandchildren or a divorce, the approach of the new year is a good opportunity to make sure the beneficiaries you’ve designated in your life insurance, will, bank accounts and IRAs are aligned with your current situation and wishes.”

Get your budget in shape

“A budget that maps out your expected income, fixed expenses such as rent or mortgage and car payments, what you plan to set aside for savings, and what’s available for everything else you may want can help you stay on track toward your financial goals. If you don’t already have a budget, the new-year milestone is a great time to start. If you’re already using a budget to help manage your finances, a year-end tune-up can help you make sure it’s still current.”

Leverage technology to automate savings

“Whether it is an app or a desktop program, there are many programs and technological tools, many of which are free, that can help you automate your savings and spending plans. Automating these processes means you don’t have to remember them every time, and that by itself can increase your chances of success.”

Plan out your goals, and get a budget buddy

“Simply saying you want to save more money may be enough to get you started, but taking the time to differentiate your short-, medium- and long term will help keep you focused and on track through the inevitable bumps in the road. Thinking of your budgeting process like a long-term exercise program makes sense — improving your finances is a long-term commitment. Partnering with someone else on the same journey will make this process easier, and you can motivate/support each other along the way.”

Use it or lose it

“If you have a flexible spending account that requires forfeiture of funds for the current year if not used for qualified expenses, consider whether you’re on track to take full advantage of what you’ve set aside before the forfeiture deadline approaches. For example, your plan may have a grace period that allows funds to be used until March 15 of the coming year, with forfeiture of anything remaining afterward. If you have substantial remaining flexible-spending funds for this year, consider whether it makes sense to get your new glasses or dental work done before the deadline.”

Health insurance open enrollment

“If you purchase your own health insurance — for example, if you’re self-employed or have a Medicare Supplement plan — watch for open-enrollment periods that may provide an opportunity to shop around for better coverage, cost savings or both.”

 

Source: CNBC

$5 to access your own money? ATM fees jump to record high

October 4, 2017

Young woman taking money from ATMPaying to access your own money is one of the most frustrating things about using ATMs. And the cost keeps rising.

The average total cost for using an out-of-network ATM hit a record $4.69 per transaction, according to a new Bankrate.com survey.

That’s up 2.6% from a year ago and is 55% higher than 10 years ago.

And the fees are likely to continue to rise, Bankrate.com chief financial analyst Greg McBride said.

“People are smarter about their money, and they are using less cash and making fewer ATM withdrawals,” McBride said.

As fewer people use them banks are having to charge more. But the fees are avoidable and the cost of ATM networks are being borne by non-customers, he said.

In addition to ATM fees, consumers are also facing a rise in overdraft fees.

The average overdraft fee rose to a new high of $33.38 this year after seeing a slight dip in 2016.

Consumers in Philadelphia are hit with the highest average overdraft fee of $35.30 among the top 25 metro areas.

What can consumers do about fees?

Fees are easily avoidable if you are proactive, McBride said. Plan ahead as to where and when you make your withdrawal.

And technology is making it easier than ever.

“Knowing where you can make free ATM withdrawals and monitoring your available balance to avoid overdrafts are as close as your smartphone,” McBride said.

He also advises signing up for email and text alerts that let you know when your balance gets below a certain level. That can help you from withdrawing more than you have in your account.

Personal finance web site Credit.com offers these five tips to avoid ATM fees:

  1. Use your phone to find an ATM in your bank’s network
  2. Get cash back without paying a fee when using your debit card at stores
  3. Prepare ahead and make a habit of carrying some cash
  4. Find a bank that doesn’t charge ATM fees
  5. Know what’s in your wallet: Use debit or credit cards

 

Free ATM Locations >> 

 

Source: USA Today

5 Signs That it’s Time to Sell Your Car

October 3, 2017

young man with broken down car calling for helpMany people avoid the thoughts that want them to sell their cars, just because they tend to hold an emotional sentiment.

Your cars are very dear to you since you have created lots of memories in them.

Cars come under the category of our greatest assets, the one whose value decreases with time.

Sometimes you’re driving your ride with a smile on your face thinking it is perfect but those around you see it as a deathtrap. You need to be smart enough to know when it is the perfect time to sell it.

We have five signs here for you that tell it’s time to sell your car:

  1. Repair Costs More Than the Car Itself

You still remember the time when you got your brand new car, and there was nothing that required fixing? Well now you are spending money on it every month, and they are increasing.

This problem starts with minor things such as getting your car speakers fixed, but after about six months you’re getting your brakes and much more problematic issues fixed. So when the repaid starts costing more than the car itself, it’s time to say your goodbyes.

  1. It No Longer Meets Your Needs

Your life must be changing when you’re married to the love of your life expecting a new born, then driving them around in an old deathtrap would not be such a good idea. If you own a two seater car, and you need more space, then you may look for a new car, preferably an SUV or a minivan.

  1. Parts are Hard to Find

Your car is aging by year, and that just makes the parts hard to find and expensive if you order them from some place far away. Sometimes the parts can be hard to find if you’re driving something that wasn’t appreciated by the majority, and you’re the only one driving that vehicle, so the parts also get more expensive.

  1. You Don’t Trust it Anymore

If you start losing your confidence, then it’s time to get a new one. You may find yourself praying before you start it just so the battery would cooperate. You can’t take it out on a raining or snowy day because you know it will simply become a challenge to drive it. Apart from that you just don’t feel comfortable driving your loved ones or friends in it because you fear their safety.

  1. You Just Want a New Car

Listen to your heart; if you’re bored with your car, you may get a new one because at the end it all depends on you. Maybe you don’t connect with these other 4 points and have a feeling that it’s time for something new. This wouldn’t exactly be a substantial reason to sell your car, but it is a sign. You might be in this old car for so long that you’re just craving the smell of a brand new car.

 

Source: MoneyMiniBlog