Avoid These 5 Things to Save a Little Extra Money

It can be tough to have a little extra money left at the end of the month after paying bills, contributing to savings and retirement accounts, while budgeting for grocery, gas, and spending money.  If you are even coming out ahead you are doing a great job, but there are a few, if you think about, really unnecessary expenses that we continue to shell out money of each month, draining our accounts.

Cable TV

If you think about how many channels you pay versus how many you actually watch, and how often you even watch those channels, it can be upsetting to see how much you are spending on your cable bill each month.  Not that there is anything wrong with watching TV, but cable companies need to figure out a way to make it cheaper before subscribers are totally gone in favor of $10 a month streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu.

Snacks

Not only for health reasons is it good to avoid snacking between meals, but you are essentially spending money on junk food.  Unless you are having the guys over to watch a game and you put out a spread of your favorite gameday snacks, you should avoid at the grocery store.  Not only will you save at the grocery store, but ever stop into a gas station to buy snacks?  Those little bags are triple the price what the full size would have been at the grocery store.

Energy Drinks

Trading one caffeine addiction for another (hey, at least coffee is cheap, and you can brew at home and take a travel mug with you), energy drinks have plenty of poison in them that should be avoided in your body, not to mention spending a few dollars per can, more than what 20oz of sodas would be.  Unless you are a high performing athlete (even that I doubt could be proven that they are more effective), you should stick to free tap water.

Online Shopping

Talk about something else that can be an addiction is online shopping, especially coming from someone who works from home and has access to the internet all day sitting at my desk.  It can be easy to be distracted to go on Amazon, order an item or two, and have it arrive at your doorstep in two days, not even having to leave the house to go to the store.  Do your wallet a favor, and stop the online splurging.

Eating Out

While it is a convenience to have someone else prepare your food, not to mention cleaning up, it comes with an extremely high markup that these days a couple cannot go out to a restaurant and get out for under $40 with a tip, and that is even on the low end.  While it is enjoyable to go out to eat, try only going once a week, or on special occasions and you will see how quickly the money will add up only sticking to grocery shopping and eating at home.

5 Smart Ways to Use a Tax Refund

Tax time can be a little stressful.  It is when you take a look at all the documents, expenses, and hopefully receipts, over the past year to see where you fall.  The goal would be to have a $0 refund, which meant that you paid enough taxes during the year and received the most in your paycheck, but if you are lucky to get money back, try and spend it wisely.

Home DIY Projects

If you have not already been thinking what you wish you could do around the house if you magically came across some money, well this is your lucky day, so spend it wisely.  With buying some higher-end paint, you can bring new life to a room, and adding a fresh coat of white for the trim and doors to really made it pop.  Replacing the worn-out carpet can be fairly inexpensive to do as well.

Build Up an Emergency Fund

If you ever heard your parents say “put it in the bank”, this is one of those times when you get a little money that you want to spend, but need to hold onto it.  Experts have long said that you should have between three and six months’ worth of expenses on hand in case of a job loss or event where you need money to fix an appliance or car repair.

Decrease Debt

If you are carrying a credit card balance over month-to-month there is plenty of interest being charged that could have been used elsewhere, so it is always good to pay off the balance each month, but in the event, that you have not been able to, then you should pay down debt with a tax refund.  Some cards can have an APR of 16%, so most of your monthly payment could just be going toward interest and not putting a dent in the principal balance.

Take a Vacation

I am cautious saying this as it seems that I may be giving a nudge to blow the money but that is not it at all.  If you stick to a budget and live frugal the rest of the year, then you may be in for a long overdue vacation that you are able to take for free with a tax refund.  After all, it is important to save, but life experiences are as important to others as well, so make sure to still live life, without breaking the bank of course.

Donate to a Charity

Sure, this may not be the first idea that comes to your head when you see a check made out to you come in the mail and get you excited, but your donation could go a long way for those in need.  There are endless numbers of charities that are out there, so give to one that you are most passionate about, whether it be child, animals, or research.  If you are wondering what is in it for you, besides given to someone less fortunate, you will be able to write-off on your tax return, getting a little back when you file next year.

5 Hidden Fees to Watch Out For that Could Be Adding Up

As if we do not have enough everyday expenses that add up to huge monthly costs that eat up our paychecks and hold us back from building up that retirement savings.  Sure, it is our own fault it we splurge on spending and not focusing on sticking to a budget, but some are just unavoidable that are not displayed in the beginning, but give a huge shock when the final total is added up, so keep your eyes peeled at some of the common hidden fees.

Event Ticket Purchases

Take it from someone who attends a lot of concert and sporting events, that most of the ticket charges are extra fees.  Whether it is from the venue’s site, Ticketmaster, or third-party sites such as StubHub, it is nothing but fees, charging upwards of 30% of what the face value of the ticket is, by the time you add in service fees, delivery costs, and even added-in parking costs.  Do yourself a favor and try and buy all tickets in-person, directly at the venue’s box office to avoid any extra fees.  This way you are able to attend more events, and it is comforting seeing the ticket say $25, and it is not actually $40 by the time you add in all of the extra charges.

Extra Hotel Charges

Speaking of extra charges, when it comes to booking a hotel room, the actual room rate is not bad, but by the time you add in the taxes, it really boosts the price up.  If you are looking at rooms in Las Vegas, for example, keep in mind the extra “resort fee” which can be upwards of $30 per day added to the daily room rate.  Since all of the sites have their own fees, try and get the best final rate between the hotel’s website and all of the various travel sites.

Inflated Cable Bill

You see the ad for cable where you get it for $20, but add in a decent cable package, HR, DVR, not to mention internet and you quickly build up a hefty monthly fee.  Wait until the promotion period is over and you will really see your bill skyrocket, reaching $200 a month, and you will start dialing customer service right away to lock you into a better deal, just make sure you continue to escalate the call to someone that will give you the best deal, even if it is sending an email to the CEO’s office to help.  Most locked in periods are for two years, so savings over 24 months can really add up.

Banking Fees

This is the reason that I switched to a credit union.  There are no monthly “maintenance fees”, or minimum balance requirements that can see $10-20 a month in unnecessary charges to your account that can otherwise be avoided going elsewhere.

Airlines

When you book a flight, do not ignore the extra $30 each way to add in baggage, not to mention if you want to select your seat beforehand.  A $200 deal you think you can be getting on a flight quickly turns into $300 after taxes and baggage.

Best Ways to Simplify Your Credit Cards

Depending on your discipline with credit cards, they can be a huge benefit by getting cashback using for spending, or the death of you with overspending and interest charges.  Credit cards can be stressful, even if you are on top of your finances, so why make it even worse by juggling multiple cards, due dates, payment balances, and keeping track of which reward is for which card.  Give yourself a break and save a few gray hairs by simplifying credit cards the best you can.

Limit the Number of Cards

Using multiple credit cards for spending can get tricky when it comes to payment dates, balance, and interest on each card, so why not limit to only one card with a balance, while the rest are at zero.  It is important to leave the remaining cards with a zero-balance open, and not close them, as closing could reduce your credit score by lowering the available credit.  If you are worried about using the other cards, then simply cut them up, that way you will not be able to use them, while the accounts will remain open.

Monitor Account Statement

Now that you are down to using only one credit card throughout the month it will be easier to track spending.  Take a look at the previous month’s statement and go over line by line every dollar spent and split up into categories such as necessary and unnecessary spending.  If you need to take it a step further, you could break up the necessary spending into further categories such as monthly expenses, gas, food, although the food spending will most likely trickle into the unnecessary spending, as down the road you can hope to reduce the number of times eating out.

Pay the Full Balance Every Month

Some will say that automated billing payments are necessary in order to simplify credit cards, but that will only work if you are paying the full account balance. Paying anything less than the minimum payment will only lead to interest charges that will take over a majority of the monthly payment and limit the amount of principal balance that will be paid.  By making the entire balance payment you will eliminate any extra charges in interest and start fresh each month, although you will need to make sure the regular spending occurring throughout the month will be able to be paid in full the next month.

Try Not to Ignore Rewards

With so much competition between the creditors trying to win over your business, as long as you have a great credit score, they should be lining up to provide you with rewards in return for spending.  When figuring out the credit card you are going to use regularly, you should pick the one with the maximum rewards, such as cashback, miles, or point for gift card redemption.  If you do not have a rewards card, then it would be worth the initial credit score hit for the application inquiry in order to save on rewards the remainder of the year.

Take Advantage of 5 Free Things You Always Had to Pay For

As we find ourselves getting older we always look back and say “I remember when…”, sounding like our grandparents did to us when they would say they would have to walk to and from school in three feet of snow, making note of how easy we had it compared to them.   Our kids have it even easier than us when it comes to items that we used to have to pay for that are free now.

Current Events

I was actually kind of sad when I cancelled my newspaper subscription.  My whole life since I was a kid I have known the newspaper to be part of the morning, and even when I didn’t read the paper, could look forward to the Sunday sale papers.  Now, I find myself reading it every day now, but online, for free.  I even remember having the newspaper at the library attached to those sticks.  Let’s hope the website ads are helping to pay for the lost subscriptions, otherwise I will feel really bad.

Checking Your Credit Report

These days you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report once a year from each of the three major credit bureaus:  Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.  Much like anything you have to enter your personal information, especially your social security number, so you will want to make sure it is a legit site, so if you are not clicking a link off their sites, AnnualCreditReport.com is a trusted site.  The credit score is not included, that will be an additional charge, but with most credit card companies giving your score on monthly statements, you should not have to shell out the extra money.

Every Song at Your Fingertips

This is not talking about downloading songs from pirate sites, that is free and illegal, but something that is free to use and legal (for now), and always a topic of conversation around the industry, is streaming songs.  With sites like YouTube, you can find literally any song to listen to, and with music streaming site such as Spotify and Pandora, as long as you don’t mind a few ads, you are able to listen to stations, genres, and artists of your choosing.

Making Long-Distance Calls

Probably most of you reading this article does not remember having to dial a (1) and then the area code when having to make a long-distance call from your landlines, but I bet your parents remember getting the phone bill in the mail with the outrageous charges and screaming when they see what the damage is.  Now I suppose parents could yell over minutes and data usage.

Directions

It is not only the gas station maps that we used to have to pay for, but I thought it was the greatest when I got my Garmin GPS as a gift, but even those are obsolete a decade later now that we have the free map app on our smart phones, only using the data we have included in the plan.  The other plus is that the app can refresh when maps are updated, giving you the latest possible info.

Ways to Pay for Holiday Shopping

The holidays can be quite a difficult time to remain on a budget. There is so much pressure to find just the right gifts that are both affordable and nice, and this can be quite the challenge. If you happen to be worried about how you will manage to get through this holiday season, financially speaking, we have a few tips that might help.

Installment Loans

Payday loans are not recommended at all. The repayment terms are typically not easy to handle and the interest rates are exorbitant.

There is an alternative, though. Some people actually take out installment loans to pay for the holidays and then pay it back once the holidays are over. These online payday loan alternatives can get you as much as $1,250 for your holiday shopping needs. They are easy to qualify for; you just need to have an active checking account, a valid social security number, and verifiable employment. Funding is fast and most of the time, you can have the funds deposited into your account the very next business day. Payments are flexible and you typically will have about 6 months to pay it back. You can pay it back before that time with no penalty.

Not having a budget for shopping really doesn’t mean that you will not be able to afford holiday shopping this year. There are other things that you can do…

Ride Sharing

If you have a vehicle, a valid driver license, and insurance, you might consider making a bit of extra money by driving for Uber. This is a great way to earn extra money at any time. You can work driving around your existing schedule, whether it includes work, school, or anything else. They even offer Instant Pay, which will allow for you to be able to transfer all of your earnings right to your bank in an instant.

Credit Cards

Yes, if you have credit cards, you will more than likely be tempted to use them for your holiday shopping. This is not really recommended. There are a couple of reasons for this too. One is that credit cards should only ever be used for emergencies. This gives you a cushion in the event that you experience a financial crisis at some point. The other reason is that you should never spend money in order to save money. Consider this… during the holiday season, stores often have their best sale prices of the year. You might be tempted to buy stuff at these reduced prices. However, if you are making these purchases with your credit cards, you will also be paying interests and possibly some other fees. Therefore, you will be spending money to save money – and this is always a financial no-no.

Make Money Online

This is easier than you might realize. The internet offers so many opportunities. There really is something for everyone. You might consider writing for cash. You can do this by writing for other people, or you might decide to create your own blog or website. You can also become an affiliate marketer. This is someone who will assist entrepreneurs and companies to sell their products and or services. You can offer your services as a translator if you know a foreign language. You might be versed in the cyber arts and decide to open your own business creating websites. You can be a marketer, a virtual assistant, a customer service representative, and the list goes on.

The great thing is that with most of these things, it is ok if you have a job outside of the home. These can be done on your schedule. This is a great way to make extra money for the holidays or at any other time of year.

The very best thing to do is not to do all of your holiday shopping at one time. If you get everything in a single day, how much of a hit will your bank account take? Think about buying things one or two at a time throughout the year. If you see something in February, for example, that Aunt May would love, get in in February and put it up until the holidays. You might be surprised how much stress that will take off of your shoulders when the holidays do roll around.

Items to Avoid Wasting Money On

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With so much of our income already going to monthly expenses such as housing, car, insurance, and utility bills, throwing money away on ridiculous items should be avoided to free up any extra dollars that can instead go towards fun, savings, and retirement.  It may actually take going line by line on bank and credit statements to see which are necessary expenses, and which unnecessary expenses can be avoided.

Bottled Water

You might not think it is much to drop a dollar or two for a bottle of water, but added up over the course of a month to a year, and it is significant spending.  The spending can be reduced by buying cases at a time at the grocery store, but getting a refillable water bottle and sticking to tap water has the best savings, and you are saving on empty plastic water bottles that most probably throw away instead of recycling.

Brand Name Items

With the generic brands offering the same quality ingredients, why would you pay more just for a name.  Whether it is canned food, cleaning supplies, or over-the-counter medicine, buying store brand is where the greatest shopping savings will occur.  When you are in the market for a product, compare prices on all brands and just select the cheapest option, I doubt you will be able to tell the difference.

Credit Reports

Each of the three major credit bureaus all you to receive a free copy of your credit report once a year, which is recommended to do to ensure accurate information.  Credit scores will not be included, but now that most credit card statements include your credit score, you should not be in the dark any longer when it comes to credit, and if you are working on improvement, you can track the progress month over month.

Expensive Pets

With a significant population of dogs in shelters that need a great home, avoid the overpriced pet stores and breeders and take home your next best friend for a fraction of the price.  You will be giving a life for your new pet, opening up a spot for the next rescue to be cared for, and adding a quality of life for your family.

Credit Card Interest Charges

Not only will carrying over a credit card balance to the next month get you in a hole of debt that can take some years to get out of, you are also paying interest to the credit card company, sometimes upwards of 18%.  Making minimum payments will do little to the principal balance and ensure that you will continue pay interest for the foreseeable future.

Shipping Costs

There is so much competition from the retailers, especially online, so you might as well look around for not only the lowest prices, but discounts in shipping as well.  Hitting a certain spending amount will often net you free shipping, but depending how often you order, joining Amazon’s Prime membership will give you free two-day shipping on everything, which is nice to save money and receive fast.

Ways Using a Credit Card Can Work to Your Advantage

Credit cards used to have a negative connotation when it came to making purchases, meaning you did not have the cash available at the time of the purchase, so put it on credit and worry about it later.  While that may still occur for some, using credit cards actually make excellent financial sense.  If you are currently not using your credit card, or only for emergencies, you could be missing out on its maximum potential.

Builds Up Credit

The more you charge up your card and pay off the entire balance each month, the more you will see your credit limit start to rise.  Lenders see you as trustworthy when you are not carrying a high balance over month to month, likely to default, but if your balance is paid each month, you could eventually have enough funds available to purchase a brand-new car (although would not be wise).  If you are in credit trouble, or just looking to continue to build your score, continue to make charges on your card and pay off each month.

Rewards = Free Money

I have recently started to use my credit card for every single charge I make within the last year, and I have noticed my cashback rewards balance continue to rise.  Having the Costco Citi card and getting between 1-4% cashback on purchases, that adds up to a huge check to receive in the mail, just by making the purchases that you normally would make anyways.  It does take discipline to be able to pay off the balance each month, but the risk is worth the reward. There are store specific cards that work well too. For example, you can go to your Victoria Secret credit card login and view your current rewards status and how that translates into savings.

Better Fraud Protection

If you have ever noticed charges on your account that you do not recognize, it could be potential fraud, which is becoming more popular these days, scanning at gas stations, or being a victim of a retail store hack.  With a debit card, the charges were already subtracted from your bank account, and will remain that way until you settle with the bank, which could take upwards of a couple weeks.  With a credit card, you do not have to pay until the next statement, giving plenty of time to sort out.

Paying Grace Period

Speaking of credit card statements, the payment grace period from the time of purchase is a great plus to using a credit, as you will have the entire month to make sure you have the total statement balance paid off before the interest kicks in next month.  For some this could be a deal breaker though, if you are not spending responsibly, there will be a huge bill coming that you will not be able to pay off.

Accepted Everywhere

Whether you are traveling locally or internationally, you never have to worry about credit cards not being accepted.  When it comes to renting cars, and booking hotel rooms, always use a credit card, as using a debit could require a significant hold on your account for hundreds of dollars during the booked period, which could take up to five business days to release once finished.

3 Ways to Save on Your Next Summer Vacation

The kids are now out of school and you plan to take the family out for a summer vacation, along with peak prices on airfare, gas, and lodging.  Save a little extra spending money by following a few ways to save on your summer vacation.

Stay Within a Tank of Gas

Just because it is summer and you want to travel does not mean you need to get on a plane or drive halfway across the country.  Instead, stay within a few hours of home.  Visit the other side of the state, an amusement park, major city, or camping, and it will still feel like you are on vacation.  If you think about your home state, I bet there are family friendly tourist areas that you have not even visited yet, probably some major cities, or pack up the car and head camping at a lake you have always wanted to take the family to.

Vacation Does Not Mean Always Eating Out

Whether you are staying in a hotel room, tent, or a rented house, does not mean that you have to eat every meal out.  Even if you plan on going out to dinner each time at least take a trip to the local grocery store and plan for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks to cover your trip.  The amount of money you will save on buying even snacks and drinks will add up to huge savings.  If there is a BBQ on site, take advantage of the nice weather and everything tastes better off the grill.

Late Summer Getaways

If you have tried to book a hotel or rental property on a lake this summer in the months of June, July, or even August, you probably have noticed you are out of luck.  During those peak travel months the kids are finally out of school and the entire family packs up to head out of town.  Even if you could book during this time, the prices would be outrageous, as property owners know that people will pay during this time.  To benefit for having places available and at lower prices, look at end of August, September, or even early October.  The weather will still be warm and the extra money you will save can go towards dining and entertainment, and the kids could be happy to miss a day or two of school.

Become a More Efficient Spender

There is no better time than now to become more financially responsible with your spending this year.  After you went on a spending spree in 2015 and do not have much to show for it in your bank account, was it worth it in the end?  Maybe you had a lot of fun.  While I am not saying to stop spending for those memories, maybe there were extra expenses that did not need to be there; there had to be.  Start from scratch and look to improve your spending right away.

Impulse spending is some of the most dangerous type of spending, which I am guilty of it myself.  You want something, get excited about it, and purchase right away without shopping around or even weighing the pros and cons of making the purchase.  Taking the time to check the competitor prices, and even taking it a step further and taking the quote to use as a negotiating tool to get a better deal can add up to be huge savings.  Just sitting back and thinking before you spend is very important, as it gives you a sense of how much is leaving your bank account.  Think about that when you do not feel like cooking and go out to eat for the night, when that $50 bill for two of you would not be there if you had taken a few extra minutes and ate what was in your pantry, and if your cupboard was bare, it could have bought you a few bags of groceries that could have had meals to last you a week.

Staying organized with a budget is a great way to improve previous indulgent behavior.  After you have made your normal monthly necessary expenses such as the mortgage, utilities, auto lease, and insurance, you need to discipline yourself with what is left to spend.  Try using cash, as it will give you more awareness when it comes to spending, feel the value of the dollar leaving your hands.  When you withdraw a certain amount to spend in the month, stay within that limit only.

Rewarding yourself is extremely important when you have successfully improved spending habits.  A little positive reinforcement, even if only your own, can go a long way in making it a permanent habit.  Get your spouse involved, a close friend or relative, someone that will check on the progress.  After all, spending less and saving more is the goal.

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