10 Ways to Save Energy Costs this Winter

1. Use the sun for free heat. That bright orb in the sky should be the focus of temperature control in your residence throughout the year. Open the curtains on your south-facing windows during winter days to bring free heat into your home. Close your window coverings when the sun goes down to keep the heat inside.

2. Bundle up with warm accessories. This is one of the easiest ways to save on your heating bill. Instead of turning the heat up, put on a cozy winter sweater and warm socks. Keep throw blankets on your couch, and add an area rug to insulate the floor.

3. Use ceiling fans to your advantage. Homes that have better ventilation and airflow can be more energy efficient in the summer and winter months. If you have ceiling fans in your apartment, you have more control over ventilation than you know. Ceiling fans can be used strategically to achieve better airflow: counter-clockwise will push hot air up in the summer and clockwise will trap heat inside to keep your rooms warmer during cooler months. Turn your ceiling fan on a low setting to gently push hot air back down.

4. Adjust the thermostat at night. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save about 10 percent per year on your heating bills by turning your thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours. Consider investing in flannel sheets and a warm comforter for your bed and keeping your apartment cooler when you sleep.

5. Only heat the rooms you use. If you have rooms that you never use, like guest rooms or large storage areas, close and seal off the vents in those rooms to be more energy efficient and direct the flow of air to the rooms you use most. Energy bills run, on average, $183 per month. By using a space heater in the rooms where you need it and setting the thermostat to 62 degrees, you can save approximately $200 each year.

6. Keep your furnace clean and unblocked. Keeping your furnace and vents properly maintained will reduce energy consumption and help you save. Check your furnace filter monthly, and replace it when it gets dirty.

7. Get a humidifier to add moisture to the air. The air inside your home can become very dry. Moist air feels warmer and holds heat better, so a humidifier can help you feel comfortable when your thermostat is set at a lower temperature. You can also increase the humidity in your apartment with a collection of house plants.

8. Invest in insulation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs are lost each year due to escaping heat and cold air in homes without proper insulation. Get some inexpensive insulation from your local home improvement store, and cover up all those areas where heat might escape. Start with foam weather stripping for your doors and windows; it's cheap and is extremely easy to apply.

9. Decorate with LED lights for the holidays. Buy new LED holiday lights, which use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than older, incandescent lighting. In addition to consuming less energy, LED lights don't emit as much heat and are more resistant to breakage, making them a safer alternative. Bonus tip: Always unplug your holiday lights before going to bed or leaving the house. As with all appliances and electronics, your holiday lights will continue to draw power even when not in use, which adds unnecessary expense to utility bills.

10. Only use exhaust fans when necessary. Exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathroom pull the hot air that rises to the ceiling out of your apartment. Use exhaust fans sparingly, and shut them off when you are done with them.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment and gives tips on how to move.

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5 Ways You're Wasting Your Money This Holiday Season

1. You're making financial decisions with your heart, not your head. Amanda Mulfinger, a psychologist who owns a small group practice just outside of Minneapolis, believes this is where many consumers go wrong.

"Part of the reason people spend so much money during the holidays is because they're chasing the idealized picture of the holiday that they have in their heads. It doesn't feel fun to just set a budget and stick to it," she says. "We believe that the more money we spend, the better the chances that we'll be able to purchase the perfect holiday."

Her recommendation? If we focus more on what we love about the holidays, beyond the shopping part, and we make it a point to engage in non-spending activities, whether that's baking Christmas cookies with friends or volunteering at a soup kitchen, then suddenly, "the holidays are both more meaningful and a lot less expensive."

2. Your gift list is too long. Dawn Casey-Rowe, a social studies high school teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, who just finished writing an upcoming book, "A Broke Teacher's Guide to Success," suggests considering whether someone can be cut from your gift list.

Sure, it sounds cruel, but Casey-Rowe points out that "many times, we buy out of guilt or obligation while the other party is doing the same thing. If you can get a no-buy agreement with some people, that will go a long way to helping you reduce holiday costs."

You can always be truthful and explain that it's nothing personal, but you're trying to save money. Most people will likely understand that.

3. You're glued to social media. You may not realize it, but social media can affect buying patterns.

Vassilis Dalakas, a consumer psychology specialist and a professor of marketing at Cal State University–San Marcos, says you might save money by staying away from Facebook. After all, your friends and family may be posting photos of shopping bag after shopping bag or of elaborate holiday parties that they're throwing.

"They essentially establish norms," Dalakas says.

And if their normal is in a higher financial bracket than your normal, you could be in trouble. After all, Dalakas points out, we all have a desire to win.

"So not only are [we] likely to follow those norms established by our peers but we are also likely to try and do better than them, which means spending even more money," he says.

4. You're overdoing gift cards. Arguably, one of the best ways to waste money is to get everyone on your list gift cards. Look at the math. Unless you're getting everyone $10 gift cards, you're probably buying gift cards worth $25, $50 or more, depending who you're buying for. So let's say you're shopping for your brother-in-law. You want to get him something nice, but you want to avoid that tradition of being broke in January.

Now, you can give him a $50 gift card to his favorite restaurant or home improvement store, and he'll probably appreciate the gift (he'd better). But unless you're going to a gift card reselling website, like GiftCardGranny.com or Cardpool.com, you're almost certainly going to spend $50 on that $50 gift card. But if you shop and look for deals, hypothetically speaking, you might buy him a sweater and slacks on sale for a total of $35. He does well, and you've saved yourself $15.

These numbers add up, and if you plan on buying a lot of gift cards, you will save time, but you will be killing any chance to save money.

5. You wait until the last minute. Starting early means you'll have more time to give a loved one something meaningful and relatively inexpensive, like, say, a handmade scrapbook.

It also means you have more time to look for sales and consider what your friend or family member really needs.

"Do a little detective work to see where they shop, what they were looking to buy, if they have an Amazon wish list," Casey-Rowe suggests, adding that too often, we end up getting the recipient what we would like to receive. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, as Casey-Rowe says, if the gift isn't used or is underappreciated, "that creates waste."

And, really, if you're smart about how you buy your gifts, you're really giving yourself at least two presents – less stress and more money.

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5 Easy Ways to Save Money on Holiday Shopping

With core holiday shopping season just around the corner, it can be stressful thinking about all of the money you may have to shell out for presents. Don't worry, we've got you covered with five easy ways to save on your holiday shopping.

Buy Discounted Gift Cards

If you find something you want to buy, check to see if you can score a discounted gift card to get instant savings.

Sites like Raise.com typically offer gift cards with discounts off of the total cost ranging from 5% to as high as 30%. For example, consumers can currently purchase Nordstrom gift cards for 5% off, Allen Edmonds gift cards for nearly 12% off, and Happy Socks gift cards for 15% off on Raise.com.


Aside from store gift cards, the holidays are also a great time to stock up on discounted restaurant gift cards, for yourself or others. Restaurants usually offer these deals from November through the end of the year.

Many restaurants offer exceptional promotions during the holidays, including several of the major steakhouse chains - such as Capital Grille, Del Frisco's, Morton's, The Palm, and Ruth's Chris - as well as upscale restaurant groups, including Rosa MexicanoBR Guest Hospitality, and Starr Restaurants. Even casual dining restaurants like Chipotle, Jamba Juice, and Steak n' Shake sometimes offer discounted gift cards.

Use Cash-Back Shopping Sites

Cash-back shopping allows consumers to save money on nearly everything they buy online, regardless of whether a particular store is holding a sale. The savings come from cash-back portals, which have affiliate relationships with all of the stores listed on their sites.

Quite simply, cash-back sites earn a commission when they refer a customer who ends up making a purchase. These sites allow referred consumers to share in the commission generated in the form of cash back, typically in amounts ranging from 1% to 30% of the purchase price. You can take advantage of cash-back shopping through two simple steps.

  1. Sign up for a cash-back site. Some of the most popular options include EbatesMr. Rebates, and TopCashBack.
  2. When planning to make a purchase, go directly to the cash-back shopping site instead of the store's website. Once there, search for your store of interest, click its name, and - ta da! - you will be redirected to the store and off to cash in on some savings through cash back.

Most cash-back sites allow you to cash in on these savings through a check or online deposit within a specified time frame, such as one to three months after completing the purchase.

Take Advantage Of Sales

Combining the first two strategies with store sales allows you to save even more money. During the holidays, a sale always seems to be going on, so you have little reason to pay full price. In addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, sales also occur for Small Business SaturdayGreen Monday, and Free Shipping Day, among other events.

Use A Price Adjustment App

Although sales abound during the holidays, you may still find it difficult to time when you will get the best price for a particular product. That's where a price adjustment app could be helpful. By signing up for an app like Earny, your credit card and email will link to the app. The app will then track whenever you might be eligible for a price adjustment, either through the store or through your credit card, for past purchases.

If you're eligible for a lower price, the app will automatically send an email to the store or card company, detailing the relevant transaction, the price difference, and the refund request. That's it! At the end of each month, Earny will take 25% of the total amount refunded across all transactions.

Look For Free Shipping Both Ways

Some stores offer free shipping to you, but not necessarily free shipping both ways. Certain stores, including Nordstrom, Bonobos, and Zappos offer free shipping both ways year-round. Other stores may offer free shipping both ways only during the holiday season.


Don't despair if a particular store lacks free shipping and free returns as you may still be able to qualify for these benefits. Services like Shoprunner offer free shipping and free returns for a range of participating stores, including Bloomingdales, Express, Kate Spade, Saks Fifth Avenue, Under Armour, and 1-800-Flowers. The service typically costs $79/year or $8.95/month. However, consumers with a personal or small business American Express or World or World Elite MasterCard are eligible for free Shoprunner memberships. If you don't have either of those credit cards, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial of Shoprunner, which you may be able to strategically use for the holidays and then cancel.

Even if a store lacks free shipping and isn't a Shoprunner partner, there is still hope. Check FreeShipping.org to see if you're able to find a free shipping code for your store of choice.

Putting It All Together

There's no time like the present to start planning to save on your holiday shopping. You can sign up for one or multiple cash-back shopping sites today, to save you time during your actual shopping journey. In addition, you can start scouting out stores that offer free shipping both ways. Remember to continue checking back as many stores offer free shipping promotions around the holidays.

When you find an item that you want to buy (on sale, of course), the remainder of your shopping journey can be as simple as 1-2-3:

  1. Go to a site like Raise.com to look for discounted gift cards for the applicable store
  2. Go to your cash-back shopping portal, click through to your store of choice, find your item, and proceed to checkout
  3. Sit back and relax while you wait for your item. In the background, your price adjustment app will be monitoring prices for you to see if you are eligible for a refund, should prices decrease

7 Best Practices for Black Friday & Cyber Monday

1. Black Friday Is Now Black November

With holiday shopping now starting as early as October, it’s not surprising that by the time Black Friday arrived in 2011, 54 percent of shoppers had already completed more than one-quarter of their holiday purchases, according to an eMarketer study.

Affiliate Strategy: If you’ve already been running holiday promotions, create a new campaign specific to Black Friday and boost incentives for publishers during the 24- hour period.

Another good data nugget to keep in mind is that men are more likely to shop on Thanksgiving night as opposed to early morning on Black Friday. This comes from the National Retail Federation and was reported by the New York Times. Depending on your merchandise, you may want to take this into consideration as you customize your online promotions.

2. Consumers Tend To Shop Before & After Work On Cyber Monday

An eMarketer study found that during last year’s Cyber Monday, consumers did their shopping before 9:00 a.m. then picked up it again between the hours of 5:00-9:00 p .m.

Affiliate strategy: Consider running limited-time promotions during the heavy online traffic cycles of Cyber Monday.

3. Daily Deal Sites Continue To Be Popular

Last year, nearly one in four online consumers purchased a gift from a daily deal site.

Affiliate Strategy: Retailers should offer their own daily deals and work with publishers to promote them. Additionally, with so many consumers flocking to daily deal sites, ensure that your business is included in their listings. What many retailers may not realize is that you can still appear on coupon site listings even if you’re not offering a coupon.

4. Value Supersedes Price

A recent study by the E-Tailing Group surveyed 1,136 U.S. consumers about their expected holiday shopping plans. The study found that when it came to selecting a retailer, 87 percent of respondents say the are looking for value while 85 percent say they are looking for price.

Affiliate Strategy: The fact that value and price are neck-in-neck for consumer attention is not a surprise. Yet, retailers should leverage their brand name and emphasize the quality of their goods over the price to attract buying customers.

5. Product Curation/Product Category Focus  

Consumers are making more online purchases from more product categories than ever before. Publishers are becoming better curators of product than the retailers themselves. You will endear yourselves to your shoppers and build loyalty if you have a good eye for selecting and highlighting the best products from your advertiser data feeds.

Affiliate Strategy: Put a strategy in place for finding, sourcing and identifying products that fit the unique tastes of your audience.  It’s easy to focus on price and discounts, but value can also mean finding just the right product with the right features. You can build loyalty among your shoppers if they feel they are continuously discovering unique gifts and other items on your site that they don’t easily find on other sites.

6. Mobile On The Rise But Not Yet The Dominant Sales Platform

Forrester Research finds that smartphones will account for three percent of e-commerce this year, and that number will increase to seven percent by 2016. Meanwhile, tablets are expected to generate more Web traffic than smartphones by early 2013, according to the Adobe Digital index. While it’s clear that m-commerce is on the rise, it’s not yet the dominant e-commerce platform.

Affiliate Strategy: Ensure every path to your website accommodates the needs of the shopper whether they’re on a traditional computer, smartphone or tablet.

For m-commerce shoppers, be sure you go beyond simply m-enabling your current website and are able to fully support both tablets and smartphones. This may require additional adjustments given the different screen sizes of smartphones and rich visuals you’re able to display on tablets, yet is well worth the investment.

For your traditional website, be sure that you call out your holiday deals and promotions to improve search engine results and accommodate the specific interests of shoppers when they come to your site.

7. Promotions & Free Shipping Reign

A survey conducted by Shop.org after the 2011 holiday season found that the top three marketing tools that drove sales were promotions, free shipping without conditions, and free shipping with conditions such as a minimum purchase requirement.

Affiliate Strategy: While we’ve covered promotions extensively above, let’s take a closer look at free shipping. As you probably guessed, free shipping is becoming table stakes in e-commerce.

To differentiate your business, consider offering free returns as well and extending how much time a customer has to return items after the holidays. Also, be sure to be bold when calling out your shipping policies to entice customers, especially since you know they’re comparing deals on multiple sites.

With some small adjustments, you’ll be able to reap even more from your performance marketing efforts this holiday season.

6 Ways to Host Thanksgiving on a Budget

Have you ever wondered how you can possibly host a Thanksgiving dinner and still afford all your Christmas gifts? If you just answered yes, I'm here to help. It is totally possible to host a generous, palate-pleasing Thanksgiving feast on a budget. Hey, don't be so skeptical! The Pilgrims were on a budget — and they helped inventThanksgiving.

1. Accept help and go potluck

Are you trying to be the holiday hero, tackling the entire menu? Why mess with the spirit of Thanksgiving? This is a potluck-style holiday at heart, so accept help and get everyone involved. My extended family does a potluck style Thanksgiving like this every year and it's a great way to cover all the essentials, start a few of your own traditions (we always have oyster stuffing, thanks to a very distant streak of New England heritage), and share costs.

→ Small Household Budget Tip: If you are only cooking for your immediate family, find a friend in the same situation and split your groceries. You save money by getting only the ingredients you need, and you'll avoid the very American tradition of typing "What do I do with leftover turkey?" into your search engine for three weeks afterwards. It's a win-win!

2. Stick to your shopping list

Write out a menu and budget and stick to them. Take your Thanksgiving list along on your regular shopping trips for the month of November and try to pick up non-perishable items during store sales. Bread, for example, is often on sale and you can freeze it until needed and then make your own breadcrumbs.

3. Make your menu from scratch

Outlaw pre-made items from your shopping list, including special spice packs (if you have spices in your cupboard at home), powdered mashed potatoes, pre-made stuffing, and pre-made pie crusts and pies. You're usually paying for packaging and end up with a lower-quality product. Instead, buy a bag of potatoes and peel, boil, mash, and butter them by hand. Make your own stuffing with leftover sliced bread, onion, celery (cheap, seasonal produce), seasoning, and broth. Slice sweet potatoes and sprinkle them with brown sugar, salt, and pecans, and broil them in the oven.

You probably won't feel like you're saving much with each small choice—but those small choices add up and can really shave dollars off your final bill.


4. Do without the alcohol

There's so much food on Thanksgiving, it can be its own soporific! Or, if you simply must have wine with your turkey (and you're hosting for more than just your immediate family), ask someone else to bring a bottle or two.

5. Prioritize the dishes you love the most

Who needs 15 side dishes? Pick your priority foods (the absolute must-haves to complete your Thanksgiving tradition) and simply make less.

This brings me back to my first point: If you're serving fewer dishes, you'll be less tempted to buy a plethora of cheaper, pre-made options and instead spend more time creating high-quality dishes. And if you're like me, you'll buy a pint of heavy whipping cream, whip it up, and totally smother your homemade pumpkin pie with it. (And with that on hand, who really cares about anything else?)

6. Decorate with what you already have

Buying Thanksgiving-themed decorations can be a slippery slope. Once you start, you just keep going in pursuit of that perfect look. Buy a few quality, versatile pieces that you can bring out each year — avoid the fake leaves, themed napkins, and cheap centerpieces — and use what nature offers (dried grasses, herbs, and decorative gourds). A little goes a long way.


5 Money Saving Tips for your Home this Fall

  1. Schedule a tune-up for your HVAC system. Controlling the temperature of your office building, retail store or warehouse space most likely accounts for the largest portion of your energy bill. That’s why energy efficiency experts are gung-ho for tune-ups and maintenance of HVAC systems before the high-demand months of winter. This includes boilers, stack economizers, furnaces, and rooftop HVAC units (RTUs). Not only will your system run more efficiently, but you may also catch and repair HVAC problems before they leave you cold.
  2. Seal leaks around doors and windows. You pay to heat air, air escapes through leaks and cracks, and then you pay to heat the air again. Waste like this needlessly adds to energy bills, so don’t overlook a simple repair that can save you money.
  3. Resist using space heaters. In cold climates, central heating systems are usually more efficient than electric resistance space heaters because most electricity is produced from sources that convert only about 30% of fuel energy into electricity (energy.gov). If a space needs supplemental heat, it may also be a red flag that air leaks or insufficient insulation are the underlying cause of the chill.
  4. Say ‘hello’ to your programmable thermostat. Has it been a while since you reviewed the settings and features on your thermostat? Have business hours changed, or are you using the space in a different way? Now’s the time to check your thermostat, and if you wonder how much you might save by changing the settings a few degrees, Energy Smart has people and tools to help you calculate the savings.
  5. Check your lighting photocells and timers for proper operation. The days are getting shorter and the time your lights are on is getting longer. Make sure your automated lighting systems are running properly, for safety as well as energy efficiency. Remember to check exterior lighting—an opportunity for energy savings that is often overlooked.
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5 Fun Fall Projects

5 Fun Fall Home Renovation Projects

For many reasons, fall is the perfect time to bang out home renovation projects. Due to a combination of mild weather and inactivity, autumn months make home improvement particularly easy and productive. If you're looking for a few renovation projects to polish off this fall, the following five upgrades are always a good place to start.

1. Do the Landscaping

As we all know, landscaping plays a big part in the overall aesthetic appeal of any property. When fall rolls around, be sure to mulch your perennials and trim any dead wood that's cluttering the yard. Furthermore, fall is the perfect time to aerate your lawn after you've cleared it of dead leaves to promote robust spring growth.

2. Batten the Hatches

Whether you live in Canada or Mississippi, fall always means colder weather in the near future. Audit your home for draft hot spots using a thermal leak detector and install insulation as needed. Caulk any windows and doors as a stopgap measure if a full hardware replacement isn't necessary. Next up, swap out old window and door trim that shows signs of rot or pest infestation. 

3. Gussy Up the HVAC

Regardless of local climate, most houses have some sort of HVAC system. Have your furnace cleaned and your vents swabbed out thoroughly by a trained professional. In addition, you can take this opportunity to install additional vents in problem areas that are difficult to heat. Installing a classy cast iron wood stove to augment your primary heat source can add value to your home while saving you money on energy bills. 

4. Pull a Few Paint Jobs

Autumn is often the best time to paint the exterior or interior of a home. Seeing as how a new paint job is just good winterizing practice, you might as well use the opportunity to give your home a makeover. Take some time to pick the right shades to achieve the look that you desire. Whenever possible, opt for darker colors to maximize heat retention during the chilly summer months.

5. Smarten Up Your House

Last but not least, there's the little matter of making your home more energy-efficient via technology. A smart house is ultimately a less expensive house, after all. Start off by installing a programmable Nest thermostat that you can control remotely from your smartphone. Another frugal fall home improvement option worthy of serious consideration is a tankless water heater setup. Tankless heaters deliver hot water instantaneously and use less energy than traditional water heaters. 

Most people look at home renovation and maintenance as a chore. If you adopt this attitude, you're more than likely to come up with lackluster results. If you take run-of-the-mill home renovation projects and put a fun spin on them, you'll end up with far more positive returns in the long run. Use the preceding fall renovation ideas as a jump-off point and tailor your plans to meet your own unique needs.

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3 Car Buying Tips To Ensure You Get a Good Deal

Know the incentives and rebates

The first you hear of an incentive should not be from the sales person.

You'll want to do your homework, says Jones. "You want to get a read on what a regular deal is, then go for the holiday sale."

A good way to do this is to track incentives and rebates. Go to an industry source like Edmundsor Kelley Blue Book for their current lists of automaker discounts and sweeteners.

These are the manufacturer's blue-light specials, but they don't compare apples to apples. It may be $2,000 cash back on one model and $300 cash back on another. Some deals may be available only to certain groups of people like recent college graduates, veterans or those who already own a vehicle from the automaker.

Usually the incentives come in the form of cash rebates, a low annual percentage rate on financing or special lease terms. But it could also be a totally unrelated bonus gift, like an iPad or a boat. (Seriously: "Yes! There was a dealership in Texas that was giving away a boat with the car!" says Jones.)

After you look at the automaker's deals, check out any additional specials local dealers have.

"If you see big fat incentives from the automaker, chances are the dealership may have incentives of their own," says Jones.

Choose the right kind of car

Not only do manufacturer and dealer incentives get car buyers' attention by saving them money, they help steer buyers toward particular models that automakers want to move. Those cars may suddenly become much more attractive.

In short, you're not going to get a sweetheart deal on the new Dodge Demon -- that's going to be $90,000 any day of the week. But the current year's Chrysler 300 or Ford Expedition? Now you're talking significant discounts.

When you're deciding which kind of car to buy, look at cars that are being phased out or replaced with new models, says Jones. They're more likely to be discounted.

Most people just want to be sure they're not over-paying, says Jones. "On sale days, if you do a little bit of research, chances are you'll be in good shape."

Get the timing right

There are ways to time your purchase to improve your chances of getting a lower price.

Even if you take advantage of time-sensitive deals, you can still negotiate the price lower.

"If the sticker is $30,000 and there's $5,000 cash back, it doesn't mean $25,000 is your ultimate best deal," says Jones.

But, he said, the timing -- a sale weekend when there are already discounts and the showroom is incredibly busy -- means long, drawn out negotiations may not be necessary or even possible.

"Read the room," says Jones. "If you walk in there and you're the only person there, you may have more time for negotiation." But if it's full of people, you're not going to get an hour for negotiating, "you'll get 20 minutes."

Jones also said that if you can buy a car when there are two years of that model on the lot (often at the end of the summer, but not always) you're likely to get a better deal.

"Those are real, no-smoke-and-mirrors deals."

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9 Money Saving Tips for Families

Last year, CNN reported that the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed nearly 40% in the last 10 years. Parents can now expect to shell out about $227,000 on each child between birth and the age of 18. That’s a huge amount of money – but when you consider the clothing, food, shelter, education, and other aspects of raising a child, it’s easy to see how your bank account is often dry at the end of the month.

Here’s the problem: Lots of money-saving advice requires a complete lifestyle overhaul for you to see a return. Whether it’s switching to a more sustainable lifestyle, or skipping out on family vacations, you simply might not be willing to make the huge sacrifices that frugal living sometimes requires.

This is understandable. I have two children, and I pride myself on providing them with the best I can manage. It would be hard for me to completely overhaul our way of life to save a little cash. That’s why, when my budget became tight recently, I looked for baby steps to savings.

Some of the smallest changes in your lifestyle can reap the biggest benefits when it comes to a floundering budget. When you understand that saving money with your family doesn’t have to be all about extreme couponing or deprivation of quality time, you might be more inclined to make tiny changes and save more – I know I was. If you make saving money a family affair, it can lift some of the burden off your shoulders, and it teaches your kidsimportant lessons about spending and saving.

Money-Saving Tips for Families

The most frugal families know that lavish trips and the latest clothes do not necessarily make a happy family. Reducing bank account strain, however, can help relieve family stress. There are many simple things you can do to ease your monthly finances:

1. Plan Your Meals
One of the greatest downfalls of even the most frugal family is an impromptu trip to McDonald’s in lieu of dinner. Instead of serving up a healthy meal for under $2 a serving, you end up splurging – on calories and money – to feed your family, making it an automatic budget buster.

By taking the time to plan your family’s meals, you remove the excuse of not knowing what’s for dinner. Though you can plan any way you want, I find that it’s easiest to plan a week at a time. When I already know that I’m serving up chicken on Tuesdays, I can get started on supper without staring at the fridge for 20 minutes or resorting to a fast food meal. To help plan your meals, use a free online meal planner, such as Food on the Table.

2. Shop Smart
You don’t have to be a hardcore couponer to save money on groceries. Instead, smart strategies can relieve pressure at the store so you don’t overspend.

It’s imperative that you only shop once and get everything you need in one trip. Heading to the store for a forgotten gallon of milk or an extra loaf of bread can cause you to repeatedly overspend all week long, and plus, it wastes gas. I also like to shop without the kids. When my little ones are with me, it’s harder to stay focused and resist spontaneous purchases – especially when they’re clamoring for them.

3. Arrange for a Staycation
Instead of blowing your budget on a trip to Disneyland, see what fun stuff you can do nearby instead. If you can take a few days off work and school, a “staycation” feels like a vacation even if you’re sleeping in your own bed.

Many nearby towns and cities have tons of stuff to do, whether it’s historical sites, campgrounds and hiking trails, free museums, or cheap daytime admission to the movie theater. When times are tight, it’s fine to nix the yearly vacation for something new. As long as you make it fun for your kids, they’ll hardly miss the trip. Vacations are about spending time and making memories together. Do you really have to go out-of-state for that?

4. Invest in Reusable Items
Disposable goods are usually cheap and super-convenient, but not when you have to buy the same items repeatedly. Your family probably uses a ton of paper products, but why keep spending your cash on them when you can purchase reusable goods instead?

Paper towels can cost around $1 a roll – instead, buy a pack of $1 washable cloths and you’ll save money in the long run. Rather than buying plastic water bottles by the case, purchase a filter and aluminum water bottles for each family member to get your water for cheap. Before you grab a disposable item off store shelves, ask yourself if there’s a reusable solution instead.

5. Buy Secondhand
Buying previously used items can definitely take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to brand new gear. But tons of stuff can be bought used without any difference as to how and when you use it.

For instance, I refuse to buy books from the big box bookstore when I can frequent local used book shops for way cheaper. I can fill my kids’ bookshelves and support local small businesses at the same time. Toys are another item you can save money on by buying used. Outdoor bikes and scooters are big-ticket items, but they’re significantly more affordable when bought from garage sales or thrift stores. You might be surprised at what you can get for a small amount of money without sacrificing your kids’ fun.

6. Shop Around
A couple of years ago, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was paying too much for satellite television. Being the reality TV junkie that I am, I wasn’t willing to get rid of our service (or the Disney Channel) altogether, so I started shopping around. Once I collected various package prices from a couple of other service providers, I contacted my own to negotiate a better rate. After only five minutes on the phone, I had credits for a couple months’ worth of service, a lower price for my package, and six months of premium channels for free.

Shopping around for cell phone plans, insurance, cable or satellite TV, or just about anything else you pay for regularly can net you better deals without drastically changing your lifestyle.

7. Entertain at Home
If the kids are driving you crazy, it can be tempting to head out to the movie theater or bowling alley just to get out of the house. But your day trips can spell disaster for your budget.

Instead of nixing family time altogether, find ways to keep the kids entertained at home. A stash of board games, a run through the sprinkler, or a home movie night complete with popcorn can keep your kids occupied for pennies. If you need to get out of the house, try being park critics: Head out to parks in your area and rate them according to a bunch of different characteristics. It’s fun, and let’s you know which places to come back to later.

8. Head to the Library
One of the best ways that I entertain my kids on the cheap is a trip to the public library. It’s a perfect outing, and allows us to bring home free movies, audiobooks, and books to enjoy throughout the week. It saves a ton of money on rental fees, and is the perfect way to answer the age-old whine, “I’m bored!”

Rental movies cost about a dollar a day, and can be a major problem if not returned on time. As long as you live within your city’s limits, library cards are free and late fees are minimal. You can save more money if you make sure to always get your items back on time.

9. Be Energy Smart
You’ve probably heard it a million times: Save energy and you save money. Of course, not every family has the means or the know-how to install a new low-flow toilet or a tankless water heater. Still, you can make saving simple by conserving energy the old-fashioned way: Turning off lights, timing showers, or taking baths can all help to lower utility bills, while teaching your kids an important lesson about energy conservation. While you might find yourself nagging from time to time, conserving energy eventually becomes habitual for everyone.

Final Word

Saving money with your family doesn’t have to require drastic steps. Instead, small, simple methods can make a big difference for your bottom line. It might take some getting used to, but getting your family on board with your money-saving efforts makes it easier to gain a little wiggle room in your budget or to add more padding to your savings account. The reduced stress is worth the extra effort.


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11 Ways to Save Money as a Renter

A smart renter will tell you, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank just to have a roof over your head. In this article, I'll show you eleven money saving tips for renters that will keep money in your pocket.

1. Take Advantage of Technology

Cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York may be the best in the world but they are also among the most expensive to live in. In New York, for instance, finding an affordable rental unit is next to an impossibility. In addition, there is an agent’s fee that you have to may have to pay. There is also the challenge of finding a compatible roommate.

The good news is that there are some apps that help you find an affordable rental. These include smartphone apps like Zumper, Naked Apartments, Rad Pad, Zillow, PadMapper among others. These apps not only help you avoid the real estate agent’s fees but also enable you to find compatible roommates and even people you can sublet a space to.

2. Negotiate For Lower Rent

Because rent is arguably your biggest monthly expenditure, you may want to negotiate for a lower rent with your landlord. Those who don't ask, don't receive. Here are some tips to help you:

In case, you plan to live in the same place for a long time, ask your landlord if it’s possible to sign an extended lease agreement. In exchange, you can negotiate for lower rent. Most landlords would be happy to receive lower rent but consistently. Ask for one month off your lease for every additional year you sign for. The worst that they can say is no.

In case, you can pay your rent earlier, use this as a bargaining tool. For example, if you're able, pay 3-4 months of rent in advance when you sign. Ask your landlord to give you a discount of 5%-10%. The feeling of certainty is very important for landlords.

3. Research The Competition

One of the best ways to negotiate for a better rent is to know the area and the competition. It could be that the apartment down the road is more competitively priced than your place. Use this newfound knowledge as leverage.

6. Find A Roommate

A foolproof way of saving money on rent is through having one roommate or two. Use websites like Roommates.com or Craigslists.com to find one. Roommates bring one big advantage in that they split the rent and utilities cost. A roommate helps you save on rent and therefore you may be able to afford a larger and nicer apartment than if you lived alone. Also, you can split the cost of shared items such as groceries.

7. Consider Having Renter’s Insurance

When you rent an apartment or a home, your landlord will be responsible for insuring the unit against fire damages and other disasters. However, this doesn't mean that your personal property is also protected. You can buy a renter’s insurance to protect you from any eventuality.

For instance, if there is a break-in and your possession are stolen, or even damaged by severe weather or fire, the insurance will allow you to be compensated.

8. Nurture A Great Relationship With Your Landlord.

Make sure that everything is laid out in writing and also document the condition of the house or apartment. If the house requires painting or some minor repairs that you can do, ask the landlord for a discount. Communication can help you a lot financially, especially under these circumstances.

9. Design On A Budget.

Websites such as Freecycle and Craigslist can help you find used furniture and movers among other things. Get creative with DIY projects to further save and personalize.

10. Location Is Everything

When renting, the two most important things are price and location. Find a place that’s close to a school, grocery store, and work. This will help you save on commute time and gas. The Walk Score smartphone app enables you to see nearby grocery stores, schools, restaurants and coffee shops.

11. Be Mindful Of Mother Earth.

Irrespective of whether the utilities are included in your contract or not, it is always a good idea to remain as efficient as you can. Install window shades to save on energy. Also, use energy efficient light bulbs and install a programmable thermostat.

As a renter, you want to be smart. There are many things you can do to save on your rent and live more easily. Know how to negotiate with your landlord for a lower rent, find a good location to save on gas and groceries, find a roommate to save on rent and other utilities and above all, maintain a great relationship with your landlord. After all, the more you save, the more you'll have for when you eventually buy.


4. Maintain A Healthy FICO Score

Just like any other business, a landlord also wants to protect their investment. They want to be sure that you will pay the rent when the time is due. Having an "excellent" score of 700 or more can give you leverage for negotiation. This is because it shows that you are financially responsible and therefore a less risk.


5. Increase Your Income.

In addition to having a robust credit score, you also want to demonstrate to your landlord that you have strong financials. You can take on part-time jobs, work overtime, or even consult online. These not only help your bottom line but also increase your rental options. But make sure not to rent above your financial ability to avoid working for your rent.

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Funding your Home Improvement Projects

Owning a home, while rewarding, requires a lot of upkeep and maintenance. Fall is a great season to begin those home improvement projects you've been meaning to start: the weather is cooler and the kids are back in school. However, such projects are often costly, leading many homeowners to push off remodeling and improvement projects indefinitely. But did you know you can utilize a personal loan to get your home improvement or remodeling project off the the ground?


Because homes are a core part of your life, it's important to invest in it and ensure that you are happy with how it looks and feels. A personal loan can help you achieve your goal for your home, whether that is a complete remodel, an addition, or even upgraded appliances. Home remodels or improvements often pay off in the long run as they increase your property value. It is possible to take out a personal loan to fund these projects without leveraging your home equity. 

A personal loan allows for great flexibility- it can be used to fund whatever home improvement project you have in mind. This type of loan is also unsecured, which means that your home or other assets will not be used as collateral. To put it simply, this means that your home equity will remain intact. Personal loans are also beneficial because they allow you to get fixed rates with a set payment schedule, keeping you and your project on track!


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The Best Ways to Save Money this Fall


Changes in season inevitability bring new expenses. While autumn leaves are a beautiful sight to behold, the beginning of school, cooler weather, and holiday shopping all lead to higher bills during this season. Save money this fall with these tips!


Weatherproofing your home is one long-term method to save month. Because the temperature starts to drop in the fall, many homes experience a higher heating bill. Weatherproofing your home will cost you upfront, but you will save money in the long run, especially throughout the winter!


Eating out is one expense that many families tend to overlook. Dining at restaurants or ordering takeout adds up very quickly. Save money and eat healthier by preparing more meals at home. Plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables come into season in the fall including butternut squash, artichokes, pumpkins, apples, and sweet potatoes. Creating a meal plan can help you stay on track during the week!


Take advantage of fall sales. Holidays like Columbus Day, Halloween, Veteran's Day, Black Friday, and Small Business Saturday offer plenty of opportunities to purchase products at a discounted price. Waiting for an item to go on sale during one of these days can save you a bundle.


Fall is also known as football season by some. Enjoy the games on a budget by purchasing team gear in the off-season and hosting potlucks during game-time instead of purchasing food. 

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Car Loans 101

Car Loans 101

Purchasing a car is a huge expense, one that often requires a loan. While securing a car loan is relatively easy, the many steps involved may make it confusing for a first-time buyer. The following is a quick breakdown of the basics behind a car loan.


What is a Car Loan Exactly?

A car loan is a loan specifically for the purpose of purchasing a car and is composed of two parts: the principal amount and interest. Principal is the total amount taken out for the loan whereas interest is accrued on that amount. Some loan terms may require you to pay interest owed on the loan amount, but you may be able to find a 0% financing deal.  


Because a car loan is for quite a large sum of money, paying one back often takes a long time. Thus, car loans are referred to in terms of months, whether that is 12 months of 72. Deciding between a short term plan with high payments versus a long term play with small payments depends on your own unique financial situation.


When to Get a Car Loan?

Interested in getting a car? You may not know, but you should always shop for a car loan before looking for the perfect car. Your bank may offer you a good rate as you are already an established customer. If you are not satisfied with your bank's rate, a credit union is the next place to look. The only drawback to credit union is that you often need to be a member before you can take out a loan. If you are a homeowner you may want to consider taking out a home equity loan in order to pay for your car with cash. 


Lastly, auto manufacturers also provide in-house financing companies, particularly at new car dealerships. These companies are likely to offer you the best rate as they ultimately want you to purchase their brand's cars. If, however, you are looking to purchase a used car, steer away from these companies. For used cars you will likely get a rate that benefits the dealership rather than you. 


How Long to Pay a Car Loan?

There are short term and long term loans. Both have their advantages and disadvantages depending on your financial situation. A long term loan will mean reduced monthly payments but more interest payments. A short term loan will mean less interest but higher payments each month, something that not everyone can afford. The best type of loan is a 0% financing loan, in which case your monthly payment will be the same no matter how many months the loan is. 


Be sure to check what your loan says about buyouts. If you come into enough money to pay off the principal loan, you don't want to be charged an "early payout fee". This type of fee is sometimes included in a loan's terms to make up the loss of the interest that occurs when you pay off the loan ahead of schedule. 

Source: http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2014/11/car-loans-101-what-you-need-to-know-about-financing-a-car.html

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Different Methods to Fund Your Start Up

Launching a startup can be both an exciting and a daunting task. A brilliant idea can turn into a flourishing business but laying the foundation demands a hefty amount of investment. Balancing a great idea and finances is crucial to ensuring that your business does not run itself into the ground. There are many different ways to fund your business but not every method is appropriate for every potential business. 


Different loans will have varying degrees of usefulness to you depending on your unique financial situation. A home equity loan or line of credit may be best for you if you are a homeowner who already has 20-30% equity in the home at the minimum. If you are interested in this type of loan, you will also need a 650+ credit score. A home equity loan will enable you to borrow 80-90% of your home's equity with a 3-8% APR.  This type of loan is especially beneficial because of its low interest rates. However, do not make this loan lightly as you run the risk of losing your home if you are unable to pay back the loan. 


A personal loan is another option you may consider for bringing your startup to life. A 650+ credit score will enable you to borrow up to $40k with a 5-20% APR. If you qualify, you will likely receive funding in less than 1 week. Additionally, this loan is an appealing choice for many because you can receive funding pre-revenue. On the other hand, you must bear in mind that this loan is limited to $40k, making it preferable for those seeking a relatively lower investment to launch their business.


Networking has often been touted as an invaluable tool in the business arena and starting up a new business is no exception. If you have a willing family member, friend, or acquaintance that believe in you and your business's ability to succeed and has the funds then all you have left to do is put it in writing. Be sure to determine a workable interest rate as well as a cap on funding amounts in order to ensure that the loan is fair to both you and the person funding you. This type of loan has the potential to be tricky since it involves personal relationships and and failure to pay back the loan would result in emotional as well as financial repercussions. 


Crowdfunding is another alternative to conventional loans to start up your business. There are a number of sites you can use to explain and promote your cause and such sites allow you to persuade a large number of people to invest a small amount of money each into your business. The crowdfunding model means that there are no minimum or maximum funding amounts,  no interest rates, and no debt to pay off, making it an ideal option for would-be business owners.  However, crowd-funding works on an all-or-nothing basis, meaning that you either reach your monetary goal or you do not. You may also need to deal with many legal regulations if you choose to utilize this means of funding.


Having a great idea but limited funds shouldn't stop you from bringing your ideas to life. Find the method of funding that works best for your situation and move one step closer to starting your business. 


What Not to Do While House Hunting

on't just pick up the phone, call the number on the sign, and go by yourself. First, it's unsafe. Second, you can end up looking at a bunch of properties that don't meet your search criteria or price range, wasting your time. Third, it can make sellers think you are unrepresented and, thus, that they have the greater bargaining leverage from the get-go. Let your Realtor do her job; if you drive by an interesting property your Realtor hasn't mentioned to you, call your Realtor with the property address and phone number from the sign, and let her research the asking price and property details, nine times out of 10, your Realtor hasn't sent it to you because the property doesn't meet one or more of your search criteria. The 10th time out of 10 - your Realtor can escort you there and show it to you while the seller is out of the house, and out of your hair.

Don't plan something for two hours later. You don't want to rush, you want to linger where necessary. Plus, if you find one you really like, you might spend more time there. And, with drive time, etc., it can easily take three hours to see seven houses - not to mention that you may find one you want to immediately write an offer on, which will take another hour or so.

Avoid taking separate cars on your buyer's tours. Every once in awhile a hot property will come up, your Realtor will call you from work, and you can meet her there. If you are going to be driving from house to house, get in the car with your Realtor -- even if it means you have to put the baby seat in your Realtor's car. This way, you don't get separated, no one gets lost, and you can spend the time between houses debriefing and providing your Realtor with the feedback she needs to narrow your search and hone in on your home.

Don't bring a triple Venti mocha frap with you on your buyer's tours. How can I say this? Uh, you don't want to be using everyone's bathroom, if you know what I mean -- especially if people still live in the house. Vacant houses are the best ones for pit stops, but because everyone knows that, they are also the most likely to have nothing in the way of toilet paper except a cardboard roll with a couple of spots of paper still stuck to the glue.

Plus, coffeehouse drinks usually have coffee and milk, not the most gastro-friendly substances. If you need to, plan ahead to stop in the middle of the tour for a snack and a pit stop, and do feel free to bring a bottle of water.

Don't wear lace-up shoes. Slip-ons, flip flops, etc. are ideal. Many well-prepared homes will have new carpet, and often the listing agent will have posted a "please remove shoes" sign to help keep the flooring clean. Having to untie and tie your shoes at every house can be a huge waste of time and really anti-climatic when you get to the front door of a house you really want to see. Note-those paper booties some "shoes off, please" agents provide can be slippery. Avoid them; if you can't stand the idea of walking barefoot through a house, make sure you wear socks with your slip on shoes.

Don't hesitate to look in drawers, cupboards and closets. If you really dislike a place, you needn't get really detailed in your viewing of a property. But if you don't hate it, you should open every door. I've had clients miss whole rooms and large storage areas by not opening a door they assumed went to a closet. Besides, you need to know how wide and deep the real closets are, which you can't find out without opening the door and having a look. If you really like a place, you should also open kitchen and bathroom drawers, cupboards and cabinets. You're not being nosy, you're gathering information. Rest assured that the sellers have had ample notice to straighten up those spaces in anticipation of your poking around.

Hold the trash talk. Sellers may be listening. I wish I was kidding, but often the seller just steps outside or next door. (I once represented a kooky seller who walked around with her purse on during the Open House "ooh"ing and "aah"ing like she was a prospective buyer.) And they don't always understand that it's the most interested buyers who pick the place apart to figure out exactly what they will need to do to it to make it theirs. If you end up in a multiple offer situation, you don't want to have an uphill battle because you badmouthed the sequined butterfly "artwork" the seller had hanging in the hallway. So, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Until you get in the car, and roll up the windows - then you need to let it rip so your agent can learn your likes and dislikes.

Don't think you can offend your Realtor. I always remind my clients that the house I'm showing them is not my house. So, if you like it, that's great. But if you hate anything about it, don't hesitate to say so. Don't be timid or polite and omit a criticism or concern you have. Doing so can result in you seeing more of the same, which is a waste of everybody's time.

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Tips for Saving on Books for College Students

Every college student must buy books. You’ve probably heard horror stories of textbook “final bills.” Well, we have options that will save you money on your textbooks. Make sure to allow yourself time; don’t wait to run to the bookstore the day before your class begins.

  1. Before you even think about putting out money for a textbook, don’t you think someone else on campus had to already have one? Borrow if it’s possible.
  2. If you can’t borrow, buy used college textbooks. On sites like Amazon used hardcover books are often cheapest. Soft cover are more valued for convenience, so if you’re willing to haul a couple extra ounces, then hardcover is the cost-saving choice. ISBN allows you to easily compare book prices from major online book stores. The campus bookstore will sell a supply of used books, but they are limited; so check the online sources as well.
  3. If you are buying new, check for an “international” edition. The book will be almost exactly the same, except for maybe some Chinese characters on the front, AND it will be exponentially cheaper.
  4. Have your own store of used textbooks?
    • See your used textbooks online and make some cash for yourself, at the same time you will help some other starving students save their money.
    • Or you can sell them back to the campus bookstore, but expect to take a big hit on the value if you sell them back to the book store. Some sneaky students wait in the campus bookstore with their old books in hand, trying to connect with new students that need their books, hoping to strike a better payout directly.

5 Simple Steps to Acing Your Next Loan

These 5 steps will help you ace your next loan.

Here's what you need to know.

Step 1: Check your credit report

Your credit report is a blueprint of your financial life.





If you are not regularly monitoring your credit report, it should be your first stop when you are declined for a loan.

Check your credit report for accuracy to ensure that an error is not the reason for the decline.

Under federal law, you are entitled to view your credit report every 12 months from each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. 

If you find an error, you should report it to the relevant credit bureau(s) immediately so that it can be corrected.

Your credit score will not improve over night, but the sooner you take action, the better.

Step 2: Diagnose the problem

After checking your credit report, diagnose the reason why you were declined for a loan.

Each lender has its own eligibility criteria, underwriting requirements and approval processes.

For example, with student loan refinancing, some common reasons for denial may be insufficient income, high debt-to-income ratio, low credit score or poor financial track record.

Lenders want you to demonstrate a history of financial responsibility.

Lenders are in the risk mitigation business. They want borrowers who will repay their loans in full, on-time and with no issues.

Your credit score is one tool to measure your financial health. If your credit score is too low, it may be one reason for the denial.

So what can you do improve to strengthen your credit profile?

Step 3: Improve your credit score


If your credit profile needs improvement, take proactive steps to improve your financial track record.

Your credit score is critical because it may determine whether you qualify for a student loan, mortgage, auto loan or credit card.

Your credit score also may be used when you apply for insurance, rent an apartment or purchase a cell phone.

To demonstrate financial responsibility, pay your bills in full and on-time.

If you have a delinquent payment, pay off the balance. To avoid a late or missing payment each month, enroll in autopay with your service provider.

Do not open or close multiple credit cards at once, since they can result in several hard inquiries on your credit score, which can adversely impact your credit score.

Keep your credit utilization – which is the proportion of your credit card balance as a percentage of your credit line – low.

A good rule of thumb is 30% credit utilization; the lower the utilization, the better.


Adapted from Forbes.com 

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College Students: Go Beyond the Classroom and Make Smart Financial Decisions Now

Straddling that line between teenager and adult can be difficult to manage for some students. College may be their first time away from home, which adds to the stress of managing a budget, paying bills and making decisions that will directly impact their future. For many, it is tempting to rack up debt now and worry about it later. College should be fun, but it’s also vital that students start thinking about their future and what life will be like after graduation.

Vikki Feggulis, a 2013 graduate of Utica College, said that while in college she watched many of her friends be carefree with their money. “It was really tempting to do that too, especially with the stress of school mounting,” says Feggulis. “But I recognized that working hard, getting out of school as fast as I could and being mindful of my finances would put me in the best spot upon graduation.”

It is not possible for every student to graduate from college debt free. However, it is crucial to make smart financial decisions while still in school to limit the financial burden as much as possible, as this will have a direct and lasting impact on your financial health for the rest of your life.

Maintain a Source of Income

Even with loans, grants, scholarships, or all of the above, some students may still need additional sources of income while in school. Getting a job will not only provide some much needed income, but could also give students an opportunity to beef up their resume and get some real life experience that will help them land their dream job upon graduation.

Find a job that you know will be flexible with your class schedule. Working at night or on weekends will allow you to attend class and leave time for homework. Students should also make the most out of Christmas and summer breaks, working as much as possible so they can save money for the rest of the school year.

Colleges and universities offer a number of opportunities to work on campus. Students can serve as research assistants, clerical assistants, tutors and more. Some of these positions may even allow students to earn credits toward graduation and get paid. Looking for a job related to your major will increase your chances of getting an internship and send you to the top of the list when you start applying for jobs after graduation. Another added bonus to working on campus is that most of these positions find it perfectly acceptable to complete school work if you have down time.

Feggulis says, “I’ve been working at least one job at all times since I was 15. I (worked) every holiday weekend, winter break and summer break.” She also had a number of jobs that helped ease the cost of her education. “I took a paid internship in NYC and... held an internship position at a local radio station, which was related to my major and allowed me to make extra money. I also tutored and was a resident assistant, which covered my housing costs and provided a small stipend.”

Use Credit Carefully

A line of credit can be great when you’re strapped for cash or want to earn rewards for your purchases; however, credit cards aren’t the ideal source of funds while in school. It’s easy to wrack up a large balance, but not so easy to pay it off, especially if you carry a balance. After graduation, when payments on student loans begin, a credit card payment can be an unnecessary burden.

If students do use credit cards, they should learn to manage them responsibly and use them for the sole purpose of building their credit so they have good to excellent credit upon graduation. Students should never use credit cards as a source for paying their tuition. Student loan interest rates are 2-4 times less than credit card interest and credit cards also charge, on average, a convenience fee of 2.62 percent to process student loan payments.

Before opening a credit card, students should understand how credit cards and credit scores work. Most importantly, they should have a firm understanding that whatever you charge on a credit card has to be paid back, and it can be very difficult to pay back large balances that have a high interest rate.

There are a variety of trusted sources that can provide consumers with information about understanding credit scores. Wells Fargo has a comprehensive resource section for learning about credit scores and building healthy credit. Pathway to Financial Successand Cash Course also offer information that is specific to students and can help them shape healthy financial habits.

If a student does decide to open a credit card, there are credit cards designed specifically for students. Determining which student credit card is best for you will depend on factors such as your credit score and what kind of perks or benefits you want. Check out the guide for the First Time Credit Card Owner when you think you’re ready for your first credit card.

Along with saving money, it’s equally important that young adults understand the importance of their credit score. Most college freshmen haven’t had the chance to establish a good credit history and may not even understand what it means. Using services like CompareCards’ Credit Concierge, will provide them with the necessary information for learning about what’s included in their credit report and how their credit score impacts their ability to make purchases and obtain loans.

There are a number of ways young adults can establish good credit. Having credit cards, utilities, or loans in their name and always paying bills on time is the first step in building good credit. Banks and credit unions also offer credit-building loans that allow students to “borrow” against money that is already in their account. This allows them to build credit without the risk of incurring large balances.

Be Budget Savvy

Remember, budgets and coupons aren’t just for parents. College students typically have a small budget, but also have a relatively small number of bills to pay each month. Students should calculate monthly expenses versus how much money they have available through work and/or loans. If there isn’t enough to cover the bills, students should focus on how they can save money.

Buy Generic

A study from economists at Tilburg University and the University of Chicago revealed that people who buy generic brands of products actually score higher on IQ tests. That indicates that students who are smart enough to get into college are prime candidates for saving money by buying off-brands instead of paying premium prices for well-known brands. Generic products typically contain the same ingredients as the name brand products and lose no value or quality.

As reported by CNN, “Nine times out of ten, pharmacists and doctors will buy the generic version of aspirin rather than a brand-name like Bayer. Likewise, professional chefs prefer store-brand sugar, salt and baking powder instead of brand name ingredients.”

The savings on consumer products across the board can be dramatic despite the fact that the products or their key ingredients are virtually identical.

Cut Down on Textbook Expenses

The reason that textbooks are so extraordinarily expensive is because most of them are printed in rather small quantities. They are sold only to colleges and universities and, among those buyers, may only appeal to certain campus bookstores where professors specifically request them. Publishing companies also know students have limited options and are almost locked-in, because choosing not to buy the book would likely cause the student to fail the class.

That makes the market for used textbooks a great resource for students who are shopping for bargain prices or want to resell their own books for fast cash. Most campuses operate their own book exchanges where you can find books in great condition at a fraction of the price. You can also find ads on campus buildings or dormitory bulletin boards. Some websites where you can buy or sell textbooks include:

Another way to save big on textbooks is to use digital e-book versions instead of hard copies that weigh down your backpack. Many educational institutions are converting to this more environmentally-friendly and less costly format. Check with your college and/or professors to see if there are e-books or open-source textbook options available. Open-source textbooks can be printed and bound for about $40.

Take Advantage of Free High-Tech Financial Tools

There are tons of great tools, apps and programs that can be helpful in managing your budget and saving money, and many of them are free. Websites like Mint.com, for example, can help you create and manage your budget like a pro, while also including expert information about how to be a wise saver and investor.

Most major banks have free apps that you can download to enable you to keep track of your accounts or pay bills from a smart phone or other Wi-Fi device. Online banking options usually offer lower rates and fees than traditional brick and mortar banks. You can also set your account preferences to take advantage of text and email alerts when your payment is due or when you are hitting your spending limit.

There are even some banks that reward students for doing things like paying their bills on time, so be sure to shop around and find a bank that matches your goals, while helping to save you money.

Always Mention You’re a Student

Just about every single merchant, service, or product offers a discount for students. This can result in discounts on food, clothing, entertainment and more. Mention to the merchant that you’re a student to make sure you receive the highest discount you can. Most require you to have a copy of your student ID card on hand, so make sure you always carry that with you.

As students work hard in school and hopefully work hard at making financial choices, they can learn more than just what professors are teaching in the classroom. While it might seem like economics are only for economic majors, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Students who take charge of their financial education will be in a better position to meet their financial responsibilities after graduation.

The economy and work force can change quickly, so it’s important to continually monitor what salary and employment projections are expected for your intended field of work. As you move toward graduation, talk with advisors and use resources such as Payscale”s yearly College Salary Report to determine what you might expect to make after graduation.

Students can also continue to look for additional grants and scholarships. Some grants and scholarships are renewed yearly, or are specifically designed for students who are already in school.

To prepare yourself for post-college life, the most important things you can do are exit college with as little debt as possible and have good credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each credit reporting company (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to provide consumers with a free credit report once a year. These reports will provide details about your report, outstanding debt, credit inquiries and more.

Credit monitoring services such as Credit Concierge can help you understand your credit report and make sense of what is positively and negatively impacting your credit. This free credit monitoring service allows users to track and monitor their credit profile.

This extra step will set students up for a healthy and robust financial future. As they look forward to graduation and starting a career, they will be equipped not only with book smarts, but also with the financial skills needed upon entering the real world.


Adapted from HuffingtonPost.com 

How to Buy a Home in an Expensive Are


Owning a home is a financial goal for many Americans. For those who live in the most expensive real estate markets, like the New York City area, the D.C. area, the Boston area and pretty much the entire states of California and Hawaii, that goal may appear hopelessly out of reach. Median housing prices in these regions are astronomically high compared to the U.S. median home price ($252,800 as of May 2017). How do you save enough for a home down payment when you are already paying very high rent as a percentage of your income? It can be done, but it’s not likely to happen the traditional way.

Make sure it makes sense to buy.

Buying a home is likely to be the largest financial commitment you make in your life. Make sure that it really makes sense to buy instead of continuing to rent. As I mentioned in a recent post about saving for a down payment on a first home:

“Real estate is like marriage. The wrong choice can really mess up your life. Renting, on the other hand, is like dating. It’s something you should keep doing until you are sure you want to settle down and are ready for a committed relationship. Many people are happy dating – and renting – for a long time before they decide to commit.”

If you are ready to commit to a geographic location (and school district, if you have kids), the next step is to evaluate if it makes sense in your geographic market. Is it cheaper to rent or buy? Use this tool from the New York Times to run the numbers.

Calculate your home budget from your rent.

If you are renting, you may already be paying a mortgage, interest and property taxes – your landlord’s.  Use your monthly rent as a starting point for how much you can realistically afford to pay every month in total housing costs. Last week, I spoke to an employee on our Financial Helpline who wanted to buy her first home in Southern California. She and her husband paid rent, not including utilities, of $2,800 per month. We ran some numbers (see the calculation here) and determined that if their housing costs were similar, they could support a mortgage of $460,000 to $510,000.

You can run your own assessment with this calculator. Make sure you include assumptions about down payment, mortgage term, mortgage interest rate, private mortgage insurance (mandatory with a low down payment mortgage), homeowner’s insurance and property taxes. Don’t forget:

  • If your current rent includes utilities, make sure you back out the average cost since you’ll be paying those directly as a homeowner. Keep in mind that if you’re increasing your home size (e.g., from a 2-bedroom apartment to a 3-bedroom single family home) your energy costs will probably increase.
  • If you’re looking to buy a condo or home, your current rent must support a mortgage, interest, insurance, taxes – and possibly HOA fees.
  • Home maintenance will be extra. Be prepared to budget an additional 1 to 4 percent of your purchase price annually for the care and upkeep of your home.

Don’t fixate on one neighborhood.

You may love where you are living now, but there is more than one neighborhood for everyone. You may find that looking outside of your current area opens the possibility of lower home prices, better schools or a more spacious home. I suggest you house hunt in a minimum of three different neighborhoods before you settle on your top target location.

Look at your trade-offs.

For example, if you live closer to your workplace so you can walk to work and to the grocery store, you might be able to give up one car. Conversely, it may be worth paying more to keep your child in their school. Consider the commute time and the effect on family life. As the saying goes, you can have anything you want but not everything you want.

Explore first time homebuyer programs.

Lenders typically require that home buyers pay at least 20 percent of the home’s purchase price and will offer a mortgage of up to 80 percent of the appraised value of the home. In an insanely expensive real estate market like Southern CA or the NYC region, where median home prices are very high, a 20 percent down payment could amount to several years’ salary. Accumulating that large of a down payment may not be realistic while you are paying high rent each month, but that does not mean you can’t buy a home. You could be eligible for a low down payment mortgage backed by the FHA, VA, USDA, or Freddie Mac, with some as low as 3 percent of the purchase price. Explore all the first-time home buying programs summarized in this article.

City, county, and state governments may also offer down payment assistance programs, so check and see if you qualify. For example, I encouraged the helpline caller I mentioned to check out the CA Housing Finance Agency for down payment assistance as it appeared that she might qualify based on her household size and income. 


Referenced from Forbes.com 


It's a Great Time to Buy a Car

Ask most people when the best time is to buy a new car and the response will be December. It’s fairly well known that manufacturers will offer end of year incentives to bolster sales. It is less well known that there are extra incentives to bring down the price of most new cars in August.

In fact, we help clients buy and lease almost as many vehicles in August than we do in December. Why would this be? There are a few reasons why August is a popular month for new car purchases, from model year end deals to back to school shopping. We’ll look at each of these in turn:

Back to school

For many parents, back to school means back to carpool duty and soccer practice. As kids get bigger, it can make sense to invest in a larger vehicle that will fit them comfortably. Often a vehicle with a third row of seats can make a lot of sense for growing families.

Other parents may decide to invest in a safe, reliable vehicle for their teenage driver or college-bound offspring. Top priorities can also include fuel economy, hands free texting, and crash avoidance systems. 

Either way, this makes August a peak time for family car buying. Luckily, it's also a time when manufacturers and dealerships can be motivated by the model year end change to move their existing inventory.


Model year end

While the new model year traditionally starts in October, many brands release new models throughout the year. By late summer, manufacturers are ready to clear out their 2016 models in advance of the 2017 arrivals—and are willing to offer discounts and incentives on 2016 vehicles to make this happen.

Buying or leasing in August allows you to take advantage of these specials while there is still decent availability of popular 2016 models. As always, Cartelligent can help you take advantage of all manufacturers' incentives to ensure you get a great deal on your new car.


New model availability

The majority of the new 2017 models are not in dealerships by August, but the window for special orders is often open. If you have your heart set on being the first on the block to drive the latest model, placing your order in August can be critical to making that happen. Special ordering allows you to customize your new car exactly the way you want, choosing the colors and options you want without paying for additional features you don't need.


Referenced from Cartelligent.com.