Christmas Budgeting Tips

Christmas is right around the corner! This means lots of holiday cheer, family, and gifts. Lots of gifts. This sounds great but if you’re not properly prepared you will end up blowing the budget you worked so hard to maintain throughout the year. Here are a few tips to help you get through the holidays without increasing your debt.

Create a Christmas Budget

Keep it simple by doing these two things:.

  • Write down how much money you can save between now and Christmas day
  • Figure out how much of that money you are willing to spend on Christmas gifts.

Make a list and check it twice

Write down a complete list of all the people you want to buy gifts for. This list should include family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, your favorite service providers (mailman, delivery boy, teachers, paperboy, etc), and anyone else you feel is deserving of a gift from you.

Once you’ve completed your list, look it over and remove anyone that you are unsure about. After that, separate the list into 3 groups:

Christmas cards – Everyone in this group will be receiving a thoughtful Christmas card instead of a gift.

Handcrafted gift – Everyone in this group will receive a unique handcrafted gift. These gifts to not have to be extremely detailed or time consuming. In fact, they can be as simple as a baked good like cookies or a cake,  handmade ornament or a personalized coffee mug.

Paid gift – This is the group that directly affects your budget. Everyone is this group will receive a gift purchased with the money you have saved.  Place the amount of money you are willing to spend for person on this list. For example, you may want to spend $100 on a joint gift for your parents, $50 on a gift for your sibling, and $25 on a gift for your co-worker.  Just be sure not to overspend on after you set each amount.

Now, what are you waiting for? Follow these tips and start your Christmas shopping today!

Happy Holidays!

Top Couponing Tips to Help Save Money

When it comes to saving budgeting and personal finance, one of the first things people think of is groceries. If you’re in a household with a spouse and kids, a monthly grocery bill can be quite expensive. On top of other bills that need to be paid, you want to find ways where you can cut back on certain things. Couponing is a great way to help you make ends meet. Here are some tips to help you in your couponing efforts.

Look for specific coupons from your local store. You can get on a subscriber list and they and post weekly deals. This is a good way to get updates and even download online coupons for the register to scan during your checkout. See if you can get a loyalty card to save even more money. This will really help with the budgeting process.

Make sure that you check the mail for deals. Some stores still do things the old school way and give you printouts of sale items. Carry this with you so you can scan the barcode and get good discounts off select items. Check any newspapers or coupon books during the week to take advantage of any deals.

Always keep in mind that coupons have an expiration date. Certain discounts may only apply for a week. Other discounts last a year. It’s important that you mark these dates down so that you don’t end up losing on a good discount that helps you with your personal finance.

These are a few tips to make couponing more successful. This helps you save more and spend less to increase your quality of life.

Halloween Shopping on a Budget

For families who look at their personal finance situation before budgeting for special occasions, there are great reasons to celebrate Halloweens fun festivities. While many kid friendly holidays and events can be rather expensive, this is one of the holidays that is easier on the family budget. While there is no shortage of expensive Halloween costumes out there, there are also some rather inexpensive alternatives for families on a tight budget to still ensure everyone has a great time.

Finding Inexpensive Costumes

The biggest expense for Halloween are the costumes. But the good news is inexpensive costumes can be put together quite easily with a little imagination and preparation with these few tips:

One of the best resources for inexpensive costumes are thrift stores. While they often sell traditional costumes, they also sell many clothing items such as gowns, black dresses, capes, sports clothing, winter snow clothing, hats, children’s costume toy accessories, rhinestone shirts, tiaras, costume jewelry and more. These clothing items are perfect for creating a whole series of different costumes at a fairly inexpensive price which ensures parents will have little drain on their personal finance situation.

Another great resource are dollar stores and discount stores as they can provide a great place for costumes and accessories. In fact, many store retail chains like Dollar Tree and Dollar General carry dress up costumes or accessories year-round for princesses, fairies, angels, cowboys, ninja warriors and more.

Inexpensive Treats and Candy

At this time of year, there are many coupons available for candy. This is because chocolate and candy manufacturers gear up for one of their busiest times of year from Halloween to Valentine’s Day. Coupons and sales flyers are abundant and can usually show what stores are having the best sales. Grocery stores and pharmacies often have the best deals and if added with coupons they can make the stocking of treats quite inexpensive. For people who love to give chocolate bars, and may sneak one or two for themselves, dollar stores also often sell 8-10 candy bar packets for $1.00 year-round. If you take time to shop around there is no shortage of sweet treats to be found at a great price.

Top 5 Personal Finance Podcasts

Podcasts sure have a come a long way since their early years over a decade ago. They are now considered a serious alternative to get valuable information on just about any and everything under the sun. The truth is there are many people who feel uncomfortable lending their voice for TV or radio, will do so for podcasts. This includes personal finance podcasts. The following are some of the best examples.

1. Stacking Benjamins
Joe Saul-Sehy, the host, definitely knows his stuff. A retired financial planner and former radio financial-show host for 15 years, Saul-Sehy brings you a ton of money-management experience. Stacking Benjamins’ format includes interviews with money experts like Mark Iwry from the US Department of Treasury.

2. Feed The Pig
Not one of your typical finance podcasts, Feed The Pig is a static podcast that isn’t updated very often. However, it is a top-rated financial podcast because it goes to great length to assemble some of the best minds in the financial world for you, such as members of The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. From advice on buying your first car to mutual-fund investing, this podcast covers all basic stuff you need to know and that never gets old.

3. The Clark Howard Show
Clark Howard has been in the personal finance advice industry for years and hosts one of the most-popular and listened to financial podcasts. By age 30 Howard had made enough money to retire and now hosts a radio show from 1 to 3 p.m. EST. The show focuses mainly on how you can reduce expenses, build savings and smell money scams from 10 miles away.

4. Smart Passive Income
A solid personal finance podcast, Smart Passive Income teaches you how to earn more while working less. Host Pat Flynn interviews successful entrepreneurs who’ve generated large amounts of passive income. The show’s goal is teaching you some of the proven strategies for running a successful online business and how to optimize it to generate your own passive income.

5. Mad Money
Master finance guru and host of “Cramerica,” Jim Cramer ran a hugely-successful hedge fund for over 20 years, averaging over a 20-pecernt return for his investors. If you want learn how to invest in stocks, smartly and safely, Jim is your go-to guy. Cramer has a daily TV show that is also aired as a podcast.

Credit Cards for Bad Credit

One of the most detrimental stigmas when managing finances is a low credit score, which can be caused by any number of reasons which may be no direct fault of the card holder. It doesn’t help that companies aren’t inclined to give second chances, regardless of reason or circumstance. If you have bad credit, it will follow you every time you attempt any sort of financial transaction. This being said, there are still some credit companies who understand and are willing to work with you to provide you with several options to bring your finances under control.

Low deposit credit cards
One example are low deposit credit cards, which require you to pay only a fraction of a deposit for a credit limit, while typical ones require an equal deposit. You can also pay off deposits in installments, making this card ideal for those with damaged credit.

No credit check cards
No credit check cards don’t require credit checks or even a bank account at the expense of no method to upgrade to an unsecured card.

Rewards cards
Rewards cards have no annual fee and give cash back rewards on restaurant and gas spending and lower rewards for other spending, at the cost of requiring an initial deposit from a bank account.

Low interest and fee cards
Low interest and fee credit cards offer an APR of only 12.50%, half that of many secured and unsecured cards with no deposit restrictions at the cost of requiring a credit union membership.

Secured cards
A particularly appealing option are first progress secured credit cards, which require no minimum credit score or even a credit file, though your security deposit must equal your credit line.

Pre-paid debit card
While not technically a credit card, pre-paid debit cards set a limit to your spending without requiring a credit score but don’t affect your credit card score positively either.

There are options for you if your credit is less than ideal but they’re still not a free pass and come with the expectation that you will work take responsibility to rebuild your credit. If your finances are in the drain you can still bounce back, as long as you work to not repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Finance Tips for Small Business Owners

All too often we find ourselves with big dreams of owning our own business without the capital to match. This is by far the most difficult part of building a business from the ground up. Small business owners need to be sure that they are saving enough money to act as an umbrella on a rainy days but they also to need to be sure they have enough funds to purchase materials, advertising, necessary software programs, hire human resources, etc. Needless to say, there is hardly ever enough money to go around at the beginning stages of developing a small business. Here are a few tips that can help.

Credit Reports
Credit is important! That can not be said enough. Maintaining and keeping track of your credit score is essential to the growth of your business. If maintained properly, your credit can help you secure future business and investments.

Cash Management
How is your business going to survive if you don’t have systems in place that allow you to track and monitor the cash flow? You need to be aware of the financial condition of your business at all times and have the ability to identify any possible issues or risks. In order properly manage your cash-flow, you need to be able to:

  • Manage receivable accounts
  • Manage payable accounts
  • Have a crisis management plan prepared
  • Have a financial emergency plan prepared

Be sure to keep accurate records by tracking and monitor all the above mentioned.

Balance Sheet
Your balance sheet is a clear and simple way of reflecting the financial security of your business. Your balance sheet should include:

  • Expenses
  • Available assets and liabilities
  • An acceptable amount of capital to increase assets and reduce liabilities

Many small business owners update their balance sheets daily in the early stages of their business and move to updating it weekly once the business is established.

Welcome to College! Finance Tips for Freshman

The time has finally come! You are off to college and are beginning to experience many of the freedoms that go hand in hand with adulthood -no one telling you what to do, where you have to be, or what to do with your finances. However, as we all know, “with great power comes great responsibility. And how to properly handling finances is one of the greatest lessons you will ever learn.

Balance is key. It will be tough to juggle your schooling, new responsibilities, and financial freedom. So, here are a few tips to help make the transition a little bit easier.

Economics, accounting, investments, oh my!
One of the first steps in learning how to handle your new found financial freedom is to enroll yourself in some sort of finance course at your university. Depending on the knowledge you already possess, you can opt to enroll in a basic finance course or advance. It is suggest that no matter what you already know, you should begin with a basic course. In doing so your memory will be refreshed or you will learn:

Financial principles
Create and balance a budget
How credit card interest works
The best to ways pay off debt
How to be money savvy

These invaluable basic principles will assist you immensely in years to come.

Say NO to credit…for now
It’s difficult to receive those generous credit card offers in the mail and not be tempted to apply. DON’T! Using credit the wrong way will not benefit you in the long run and can possibly damage your credit in the long run. Before you apply for credit cards try:

Living on your own for a minimum of one year
Have experience successfully living within a budget you have set for yourself
Successfully demonstrate financial restraint

Did you say budget?
Yes, now that you are on your own it is essential that you understand how to properly budget your finances. Creating a budget is simple. All you need to do is:

Make not of your net income
Make note of your expenses (including rent, utilities, food, travel, laundry, etc.)
Add a miscellaneous section for recreational activities (movies, dinners, etc)

Pay close attention to your budget to be sure that you do not overspend. The whole point of a budget is to help you save money you do not necessarily have to spend.

The paths of your new found freedoms will take you on the most important journeys of your life. Embrace it all. Do not be afraid. Instead, Do your research and take your time. You are going to be just fine.

Finance Apps

Apps make everything easier, especially personal finance. If you’re like most people your day is usually busy, and you don’t always have the time to fire up your computer to check your bank statement. In fact, you might only check your finances once per week due to your schedule and responsibilities. Or you might be the sort of person who very rarely thinks about budget and spending. The good news is that there are many apps that can help you stay on top of your finances and track your money. Here’s a list of some of the top finance apps available.

Mint
I’ve written about Mint a number of times in the past. The site is so popular for a simple reason: it’s one of the best personal financial tools on the market. Mint’s app is just as useful as the site—if not more useful since all of the information you want to access is right there on your phone. The app gives you the ability to sync all of your accounts in one place so you know how much you spend each month. One of the most useful features is the alerts that you receive when you are close to going over your budget.

Level Money
After you enter your accounts and bills into the Level Money app, it will present set a monthly spending goal for you. Additionally, the app will give you recommendations on how much money you should save each month. The app updates in real time, so you can review your budget after every purchase to make sure that you’re on track with your spending and savings goals.

Digit
If you have trouble saving money each month Digit can help. You can connect your bank account to the app, and it will gain an understanding of your income and how much you spend on a regular basis. Once it has this information Digit will create a savings account and withdraw small sums of money from your checking account. Every month it takes into account how much you spend, so the amount that it withdraws is different each month. Digit’s savings account doesn’t earn interest, so in the long run, you should transfer your money to a better account. However, it’s a great place to start.

Goodbudget
Goodbudget gives users the ability to create “envelopes” for different categories. For example, you can create envelopes for food, entertainment, and bills. Then you decide the budget for each envelope. If you go over your budget, the app will let you know. Goodbudget doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles that Mint has, but it is a simple budget app that anybody can easily use.

Tips for Paying Off Student Loans

Debt is one of the biggest hindrances to financial health. Today just about everyone under fifty years old who has attended college has some sort of student loan debt. The more recently you went to college the more likely it is that you have student loans. This means that millennials are well acquainted with the real cost of attending college. Fortunately, it’s possible to pay off your student loans quickly. You just need to be smart about your payment strategy. To learn how you can eliminate your student loan debt, take a look at the below tips.

Larger Payments
The easiest way to pay off your loans quickly is to simply pay more money. When you pay more than the minimum payment your money goes after the principal balance faster. Some people make larger monthly payments while others choose to make payments every two weeks. Ultimately, how you decide to make larger payments depends on your financial situation. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t put so much money toward your loans that you end up not having money for savings.

Automatic Payments
Most loan providers allow you to set up automatic payments. It’s a good idea to create an account where you can deposit money that gets automatically deducted each month. By keeping your loan repayment money separate from your regular checking account, you won’t be tempted to spend the extra money that you want to go toward your loans.

Extra Work
If you’re reading this and you’re still in school, consider finding a part-time job that will help you save money. Then you can use that money to pay your loans. After graduation when you work full-time, you can earn extra money by doing different small jobs. For example, if you make crafts you can sell them on Etsy. Or if you’re an artist you can sell your art on the side. You can take the money that you earn from your side job and apply it to your loans.

Be Smart
Ultimately, paying off your loans quickly comes down to a simple formula of saving money and applying it to your loans. If you want to save your money, though, you have to make the right decisions. Don’t needlessly waste your money every month. Create a budget; stick to it, and in time you’ll have extra money saved up that you can apply to your loans. While it’s true that you will need to make some sacrifices in order to pay off your loans quickly, in the end, you’ll be happy living a debt free life.

3 Ways You Can Save Money This Summer

During the summer there are many ways that you can overspend. When the weather is warm and inviting it’s difficult to stay inside. Plus, there’s a good chance that you want to purchase new clothes for the vacation that you planned. If you live in an area where it gets hot, then you likely spend a lot of money on your electric bill each month. However, it’s possible to save money and enjoy the summer months at the same time. Below are some of the simplest ways that you can save money during the hot summer months.

Staycation

Every family knows how expensive vacations can be. If you really want to save money, think about some of the ways that you can have an enjoyable staycation. Do you know anybody with a pool membership? Maybe they will let you and the family tag along for a day. Other ideas include the movies, miniature golf, or even a local amusement park if you want to go on rides. Eating out while on vacation is one of the most expensive aspects of the trip. You’ll save a lot of money just by cooking at home or packing your lunch if you visit an amusement park.

Turn Off the Air Conditioner

It might sound crazy, but turning off the air conditioner is one of the easiest ways to save money over the summer. Instead of blasting the AC every day think about using a ceiling fan instead and open up the windows. Obviously, in some situations (like during a heatwave) you should absolutely keep the AC running. However, on days when it’s not too hot or humid, don’t be afraid to turn off the AC, get a drink of something cool, and dress lightly. Then you’ll save money and stay cool at the same time.

Don’t Waste Water

If you want to save money over the summer, then be careful not to use too much water. One of the biggest wastes of water is lawn sprinklers. The possibility of drought is a real concern for many areas of the United States. Even if you don’t live in a part of the country that has experienced a drought, it’s still a good idea to put the sprinkler away. In most cases, it’s better to let Mother Nature take care of your lawn for the most part. If you must water your lawn, just make sure you’re not overdoing it.