Consumer, Finance, Home, House

Ask Chuck: Is Low Price Better Than High Quality?

By: Chuck Bentley, Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

I like nice, quality things. My husband prefers lower prices. My perspective is that buying quality is better in the long run. Is there a right or wrong way to look at it? We are stuck on which refrigerator to buy to replace the old one we have now.

Needing A Compromise

Dear Compromise,

Let’s reframe the choices you have from just two to three. You could get a quality refrigerator, you could get a low priced refrigerator, or you could get the best value refrigerator. The final choice is the best one but getting to the compromise will be the challenge.

My wife and I both like nice things…at a good price. But it can take months to find a deal! My wife, Ann, will research an item to death, whereas I’m ready to buy when I know an item is right for us. The key is learning to work together by honoring each other’s personality and opinions. Both of you can be equally right, and wise decisions can be made through prayer and honest, respectful communication.

There is a time to spend more for quality and longevity. There’s also a time where the extra expense doesn’t matter. However, some people do not understand the difference. Rather than using common sense and trusting the Lord, some people are caught up in the need for luxury.

In The Psychology Behind Why People Buy Luxury Goods, Vanessa Page writes:

People buy luxury goods for a variety of reasons, all of which are related to the strong emotions that we attach to expensive material goods. Whether we are financially comfortable or not, we will often purchase luxury items to show off to or gain acceptance from others and to reward ourselves for an accomplishment.

A good steward has his/her identity in Christ and does not ‘need’ luxury. Quality is different. Here are a few basic things to remember when shopping for the best value: a quality product at a great price. 

Consider the length of ownership to determine what should be quality and what is non-essential. A refrigerator lasts a long time so quality is important. You need to know for certain that it will protect the food you buy for your family. A cat bed, however, is disposable and does not need to be the best on the market.

When to Spend More for Quality

  • Energy efficiency
  • Longer life of the product
  • Dependability
  • Maintenance free

When to Be Frugal

  • Disposable items
  • No difference in quality
  • Functionality is equal
  • Less expensive won’t affect safety or health

Tips on Getting the Best Value

Know what you need to best serve your family. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and talked into spending more money than is necessary because there are so many bells and whistles on appliances today that have little meaningful purpose.

If you shop Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, remember, not all sellers can be trusted. In addition to having no warranty or guarantee that the product will work, you may have to move it yourself. And, when replacing appliances, that means moving out the old ones as well.

Check out sales over holiday weekends and check for online sales. Avoid new models and take advantage of the old stock that retailers want to clear out. The end of the month is a great time to negotiate a purchase because employees working on commission are eager to make more sales. Always ask to see any ‘scratch and dent’ items. They are often significantly discounted for appearances only. 

Ask if there are delivery and installation charges and any fees with hauling away the old appliance. I ignore extended warranties and always research reviews and consumer reports.

Steward Time, Money, and Relationships

The time you put into researching the purchase of a higher costing item can be saved over the life of a product. Do your work upfront. Time is money. Read reviews. Talk to salesmen, people you know, anyone willing and trustworthy to educate you on the purchase.

Pray for discernment and for leading to the right item. Needs and wants should be vetted. God often grants us the desires of our heart when he knows our desire is to use His money wisely. Let your husband know that you are willing to work to find the best value refrigerator and ask for his support.

Seek harmony and peace in your marriage. Respect your spouse’s opinion. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. In humility, present your case with proven research while honoring your husband. If he believes his way is best, then submit in love. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our desires for the good of the marriage. Your relationship is more important than an appliance.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:14-15 ESV)

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10 Back-To-School Shopping Tips that Save Money

To your kids, shopping for new clothes, gear, and school supplies may be the only good thing about going back to school, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune every year. Here are 10 great ideas for how to get everything they need and save a few bucks doing it.

Hold off buying trendier gear

Kids may love a certain lunch box or pencil case they find in July, but once they start school and see that their friends are all using another kind, they’ll beg you to upgrade them, and that only results in wasted cash.

Shop end-of-summer sales

You know as well as we do that kids wear short sleeve polo shirts all year long, so hit the big summer sales and snap up discounted duds that can be worn well into fall.

Stick to the list

The teacher’s supply list at the start of a new school year is daunting enough so don’t waste time and money on unlisted items. Extra supplies, while they may be cute, will probably never get used and just leave your pockets empty.

Head to the supermarket for basic supplies

Check weekly circulars for great deals on pens and loose-leaf paper, and get your weekly grocery shopping done at the same time. Bonus: buying everything in one place will save time and gas money!

Let the kids raid your cabinets

The kids can select home-office supplies and then personalize them in unique ways. For example, decorate inexpensive plain, white binders with digital photos by creating a collage and inserting the page into the plastic outer cover.

Host a back-to-school swap

Round up a couple of other moms with kids the same gender as yours but different ages, and host an annual clothes swap. Trade toys and books, too! You’ll save a bundle.

Plan lunch

When you’re in charge of what your child eats, you’ll save yourself money. Check the weekly circulars at your local supermarkets for sales. If turkey isn’t on sale one week and ham is, go for the ham!

Buy bright

Lost school supplies may be a given, but gear that’s hard to miss can stave off the inevitable. Pack all their pencils, erasers, and other goodies into a bright backpack or pencil pouch to keep them from disappearing.

Shop the big three

Old Navy, Gap Kids, and The Children’s Place rotate merchandise often. Ask when they do their markdowns so you can grab the deals. Also, if you see an item you bought in the past 14 days on sale later, you can get the difference refunded, you don’t need the clothing, just the receipt.

Browse craigslist.org

Yes, you can find top-quality stuff on the cheap, but you can be a seller, too. Why not get some cash for that barely worn, now outgrown brand-name outfit? Just enter your location and click on “Baby and Kids.”

By: Parenting.com

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Use the Start of the School Year to Set the Stage for Your Child’s Financial Success

By: Brittany Frost

Where did the summer go? As the school year rapidly approaches, children are preparing for the academic and social journey of the next grade level while parents are bracing their financial situation for the costs of continuing education. Parents can take this golden opportunity to go above and beyond just shopping for school supplies at Wal-Mart and, instead, show their children how to budget, save, and spend their money in order to teach them how to financially prepare for school (which will undoubtedly come in handy for college).

Alarmingly, a study released in July by the FINRA Foundation estimated that almost two-thirds of Americans couldn’t pass a basic financial literacy test, including calculating interest payments correctly (See Ref. 1). When you pair that with the fact that public, in-state college tuition, room, and board has risen 1300% since 1971 (See Ref. 2) and a recent survey showing that 75% of U.S. workers have student loan debt so high that they contribute less to their retirement (See Ref. 3), it is easy to see why parents must take every opportunity to educate themselves and their children so they do not end up in pools of unmanageable student loan debt. It is never too early to avoid the debt cycle and teach your children to financially prepare for school. Think about it: Did you or do you still struggle with enormous student loan debt? Did you avoid college altogether because you couldn’t afford it? Or did you have the financial means or knowledge to keep your student loan debt to a minimum? Either way, think of your financial mistakes, trials, and triumphs and use the start of this school year to teach your children everything you’ve learned about financially preparing for school. Use your experiences along with the following resources and ideas as motivation to set the stage for your child’s financial success or, perhaps, to change your own path.

So how can you do this? Include your child in the financial process of preparing for school. Sit down and discuss with them. Educate them on the difference between a “want” and “need” so they can decide what they need for school. Ask for their opinion and listen. Use free online budgeting tools available on www.christiancreditcounselors.com to set a budget together. Discuss and research ways to stick to that budget by using free resources such as Passionate Penny Pincher’s Free Back-to-School Cheat Sheet for a complete list of back-to-school deals. Record and track your spending. Make back-to-school shopping a learning experience through mathematical games. In “7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing,” Deacon Hayes also suggests tips like assessing your child’s current school inventory, visiting thrift stores first, and adding in a fun but frugal activity such as stopping for an inexpensive lunch or treat to make back-to-school shopping a happy experience (See Ref. 4). Above all, just enjoy spending time and working toward your financial goals together as a family. By doing this, you will not just be buying more pencils and notebooks, but you will be setting the stage for the financial success of your children AND yourself. Here’s to a successful school year!

References

1.       Farber, Madeline. Fortune. Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Can’t Pass a Basic Test of Financial Literacy. 12 Jul. 2016. http://fortune.com/2016/07/12/financial-literacy/

2.       Jacoby, Jeff. The Boston Globe. Making college ‘free’ will only make it worse. 13 Jul. 2016. 18-20. http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.ncher.us/resource/collection/6E4F0103-05C8-4F48-844E-BEEAC285C10B/db0714_2016.pdf

3.       O’Connell, Brian. The Street. 75% of U.S. Workers Say High Student Loan Debt is Crippling Their Retirement. 12 Jul. 2016. https://www.thestreet.com/story/13627148/2/75-of-u-s-workers-say-high-student-loan-debt-is-crippling-their-retirement-savings.html

4.       Hayes, Deacon. U.S. News Money. 7 Smart Ways to Save on Back-to-School Clothing. 15 Jul. 2016. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/2016-07-15/7-smart-ways-to-save-on-back-to-school-clothing

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Thoughtful Money-Saving Ways to Celebrate Dad

Showing Dad you love him doesn’t have to mean sending him on an expensive golf vacation or buying him a new camera. The special day should be all about connecting with him, and there’s no better way to do so than by spending some quality time together. Here, we’ve rounded up meaningful activities you can do no matter where you live or what budget you have — all the activities are free or cost very little. Cheers to being fun and frugal with Dad!

Pack a Picnic
Picnics are for spending quality time with loved ones, and that certainly includes Dad. Take time to pack snacks you know he’ll like, and head to the park for a day of sun and making memories.
 
Play Tourist
Make like a tourist and see sights in your own city that you often overlook. If Dad grew up there, he might even share some stories of his younger days around the block.
 
Browse Books
Whether it’s at a local bookstore or public library, you two can get lost for hours surrounded by books. Discuss which genres are your favorites and why, buy one another a favorite book, or take home the same book so you can start your own book club for two.
 
Take a Cooking Class
Get ready to roll up your sleeves for some quality cooking time with Dad. Many culinary schools and even locals will open up their doors and homes to teach you how to make a delicious meal at a fair cost.
 
Play Mini Golf
He doesn’t have to be a big golfer (or a middle schooler) to appreciate the fun that comes with a good game of mini golf. Other similar and budget-friendly ideas include bowling or hitting the batting cages.
 
Watch Home Movies
Break out those VHS tapes collecting dust in your drawers and take a trip down memory lane by watching homemade movies with Dad. You’ll not only get to see how much you’ve changed, but you can also poke fun at Dad’s camera skills.
 
Tour an Art Gallery
You’d be surprised at how many art galleries — and even big museums — open their doors for free or offer discounts. Bond with Dad while strolling past beautiful paintings and sculptures.
 
Go For a Hike
There’s nothing like some fresh air and scenic views to enjoy the day. If Dad is someone who likes to hike a lot, ask him to take you on his favorite trail.
 
Go Wine Tasting
You don’t have to travel to the vineyards of Napa to enjoy some wine tasting with Dad. Do so right at home by looking up wine bars and clubs that typically offer samplings at an affordable cost.
 
Learn Your Family History
It’s not very often that we sit down with our parents to learn about their upbringings. Take this time to go through old family photos or mementos with Dad; ask him about his grandparents and to tell you all that he knows about your family’s genealogy.

By: http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Cheap-Father-Day-Ideas-30636652

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Stop Her Before She Shops Again

Originally posted at Christian Post February 5, 2016.

chuck-bentley

Dear Chuck,

I have a friend who is a non-believer and an impulse buyer, especially on-line. If I suggest to her that she cut up all her credit cards, I’m concerned that such a plan leaves her without a tool that she will sometimes need. But my fear is that she will also use this one credit card to continue buying things she doesn’t need. How I can help her stop buying things online that she doesn’t need? Help!

A Worried Friend

Dear Friend,

What a blessing it is for your friend to have a Christian in her life who cares about her, prays for her, and wants to help her get free from the bondage of impulse spending. Without help, she will likely suffer the consequences of excessive debt and continual stress.

One of the reasons so many of us struggle with spending is that it feeds something in our hearts, a need that we try to fill with things. Impulse spending or compulsive shopping, especially when it involves going into debt, is often driven by our emotional state. We shop to try and make ourselves happy.

I had a friend who went through several job interviews for a significant promotion. The day it was announced that he did not get the promotion, he left the office, drove to a car dealership and purchased a brand new car – that he could not afford. It was totally out of character for him. He told me later he was trying to cover his disappointment with something he thought would make him feel better about himself. The opposite happened. He grew to resent the car as he made payments month after month and eventually sold it for a significant loss.

The process for really getting free from this habit begins with a relationship with Jesus Christ, who first loved us, who died for us and who can teach us how to put the things of this world into perspective. Before you ask her to cut up the credit card, try a different approach that gets to the real root issue. I recommend that you meet face to face and talk as friends about having a relationship with our Savior. Let her know that you care and want her to experience the freedom you have found in Christ.

Without help, it will be difficult for your friend to let go of the kinds of desires that advertisers twist to get us to buy their products. She will remain vulnerable to trying to meet her emotional needs through stuff, with or without the credit card in her hand.

And then, rather than trying to talk her out of credit cards, let’s talk about budgeting. According to Gallup, two-thirds of Americans don’t budget. Your friend may find that she can understand how her spending is hurting her if she sees how it impacts her bottom line, and Crown can help. There are some great tools for creating a simple budget. And there are people trained to help you with a debt management plan, such as a Crown partner, Christian Credit Counselors.

You’re right that credit cards, in this economy, are often a necessary device. I’ve written about the right way to use a credit card in an earlier Ask Chuck column, but one important tip for all card users is to pay off your balance each month. That way, you have the use of an important tool without the burden of debt.

One of the things that you might be able to do to help your friend grow spiritually as well as in financial maturity is to invite her to share a Bible study with you, and maybe a few other friends, which examines what God says about money. This will provide a less stressful way to begin a conversation about money, about life and about why we make some of the choices that hurt us. You can learn more about that here, but the bottom line is that your time, invested in your friend, could change her life for eternity.

The real peace she needs is found in 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

Credit cards can be a problem for many of us. But that debt is small compared to the greatest debt we have in our lives: the debt of the penalty for our sin that only Christ can repay. Start with Jesus … the rest will follow.

 

By: http://blog.crown.org/impulse-shopping

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Managing Your Student Loans Wisely: A Great and Unique Gift for Mother’s Day

By: Brittany Frost

What greater gift is there than the joy of seeing your child become financially responsible and independent throughout and after their college years? If you are looking for a unique and great gift to give your mother on May 8th for Mother’s Day this year, consider the gift of managing your student loans wisely. Instead of spending money on the gift, you’ll be saving it. Managing your student loans during and after college can help you avoid extra costs and interest as well as reduce your overall debt. Saving money and achieving your financial goals is not only a great gift to the mothers who are able to contribute to their child’s education, but also for the mothers who so desperately want to help but don’t have the means to do so. Here are a few tips to manage your student loans wisely this Mother’s Day:

 

• Before you even take out a student loan, apply for as many scholarships and grants as possible. This alone can save you (and your mom) a lot of money. Visit your school’s website or www.studentaid.ed.gov to view federal grants and scholarships.

• If you still need a loan, research loan types and repayment plans to make an informed decision. In general, federal student loans can have more repayment options and lower interest rates than private student loans. For more information on federal student loans and repayment plans as well as budgeting resources and calculators, visit www.studentaid.ed.gov.

• Budget and plan ahead. For more help budgeting for your student loans, contact Christian Credit Counselors at www.christiancreditcounselors.org.

• Use other free resources. According to the recent article Baylor University Partners with iGrad to Implement Online Financial Literacy Education Initiative by Jo-Carolyn Goode, Baylor will team up with iGrad, a financial literacy leader, to offer interactive workshops about budgets, scholarships, student loans, applying for jobs to help students pay for school, and a seminar for seniors to discuss loan payment options after graduation through iGrad’s financial literacy platform. For more information, visit www.igrad.com.

• When repaying your loan, consider an automatic payment deduction to save money on your payment. Also, put as much money as you can toward your payments. Each extra dollar paid toward your student loan payment each month can help overall.

• Since it is tax season, remember that student loan interest is tax-deductible and there are credits and deductions for parents and students. According to the College Board in Danielle Douglas-Gabriel’s article in the Washington Post entitled Paying for college? Have student loans? Here’s what you need to know before filing your taxes, the average family saved about $1,460 in education credits and deductions in 2013. To research various options of increasing your savings through tax credits and deductions such as the American Opportunity Tax Credit and the Student Loan Interest Deduction, refer to www.irs.gov. See how much you can save!

By using these tips and managing your student loans responsibly, you will not only save money but you will provide valuable peace of mind for you and your mother. That’s something that you won’t be able to buy at the Hallmark store!

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Ditching Debt in the New Year

skTo learn Biblical answers to your financial questions, you can #AskChuck @AskCrown your questions by clicking here.

 

[column type=”two-thirds” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]Dear Chuck:

I know that getting out of debt is a great New Year’s resolution (I’m willing to try that one again!) but do you have any advice on something else that I should prioritize?

Looking for a New Idea.

Dear New Idea,

First, Happy New Year! This is a great question since most resolutions involve getting in better shape physically or fiscally (financially — may be a better word here)!

My encouragement is to keep this as your top priority as it is likely the best financial move you can make. You should also work to establish an Emergency Savings account.[/column]

 

[column type=”one-third” fade_animation=”in” fade_animation_offset=”45px”]chuck-bentley[/column]

 

I have an idea that could kill two birds with one proverbial stone — this year get your taxes organized as quickly as possible so that you can file in January and put that money to work for you. The fact is, most of us are giving the government an interest free loan by having our withholding too high. We don’t realize that when we get that refund check, that money — which could have been working for you — has been sitting with Uncle Sam waiting for you to ask him to mail it back to you.

The average tax refund is more than $3,100, a good start on debt reduction in the New Years. You can file your taxes by mid-January, and if you file on-line, a refund won’t be far behind.

To get started, gather your tax records, and look through your finances for potential deductions. You can find some great tax tips from Crown here. One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you are a Do-It-Yourself tax preparers, whether you want to hire an accountant, or, like a good friend of mine in personal finance, do all of the above. You can save a little money by preparing your own taxes first and then having a professional take a look for a smaller fee. Your legwork can lead to savings.

With the help of tax filing software, filing your own taxes is a good idea if you keep good records and don’t have a complicated return. There are a number of good firms that help you to file on-line. We prefer 1040.com since we share the same values. But there are a number of others such as TurboTax, H&R Block or even an easy file process at IRS.gov.

Be aware that you will likely need to file a long form tax return if you’ve experienced a major life event, such as whether you got divorced or married, received an inheritance, came into some unexpected money, adopted a child or moved for work. File the long form if you own a business, have unusual deductions, or need to manage assets, especially if they are in multiple states.

Once you get your taxes filed and your refund is in your hand, if you have not previously tithed on this income, I recommend that you do so off your refund check. Then be sure to fully fund an emergency savings account, if you haven’t already. At Crown, we counsel people to first have an emergency fund of at least $1,000. If you need help in learning how to create a budget that includes tithing, click here, to see how to organize one.

But next, take that refund and get started on your resolution to get out debt. Try the debt snowball method and start by paying off the most expensive debt first. That is usually the credit card charging you the highest interest rate. Then work your way to the next debt using the money you are now saving by paying off the first debt completely. This will allow you to develop a snowball effect! Crown has many free resources to help you on your journey to becoming debt free, but if you need a debt management counselor to help you one-on-one, you can contact our friends at Christian Credit Counselors a non-profit organization that helps individuals consolidate and develop a plan to pay off your debt.

You’ll start your New Year better able to financially handle what comes next. It is certainly a guaranteed method to reduce stress!

 

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/new-year-money-finances-debt-free-tax-refund-154178/#27TgH38iwppMJpKj.99

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14 Money-Saving Valentine’s Day Ideas!

Debt Free Valentine’s

Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Think fun.

Some of the best gifts involve sharing time, along with a little thoughtfulness. And the memories last far longer than a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Here are 14 ways to express your love on the 14th — or any other day for that matter.

For a spouse or significant other:

1. Time in a bottle:

Give your hardworking spouse a full day to do whatever he or she wants — or just to relax — no interruptions allowed. For him, that mean he gets to engage in his hobby, watch the game, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might mean you feed and entertain the kids while she indulges in a good book, a bubble bath or a manicure. Announce your gift — along with your most heartfelt message of love and appreciation — in your best handwriting or play with various fonts on your home computer. Clean up an old wine bottle and insert the rolled-up message tied with a red bow.

2. Dining out:

Sure, you can take your loved one out to dinner, but that can get expensive. Instead, eat out — as in outdoors. A picnic in a park or at the beach will fill the bill. In frostier climes, set up a picnic blanket and basket at the dining room table, on the living room floor or in the middle of that king-size bed. Add a rose or two (rather than a dozen) for atmosphere.

3. New adventures:

Do something different. Go somewhere you’ve never been before, or “someplace you haven’t been in a while that’s special,” says John Gray, author of “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routine, “that’s what creates the memory,” he says.

4. Surprise, surprise:

For guys that don’t normally cook, Gray says, your best attempt at a home-cooked meal can be a huge treat and doesn’t have to cost anything. Or hide a note under her pillow the night before or little notes around the house on the day, telling her what she means to you. Look at the little things. “What men don’t realize about Valentine’s Day is that it doesn’t have to cost a lot,” says Gray. “Little things make the difference. The surprise factor is nice, whenever possible,” Gray says.

5. Culture up:

Does your significant other delight in museums, foreign films or rare books? In most metro areas, you can find high-culture, low-dollar activities if you know where to look. (Start with the local paper, check online and you can even call the local library or cultural organizations for suggestions.) Many museums have free days. Movie houses have special times when tickets are heavily discounted. For the book lover, plan a trip to a rare book shop, and splurge for cappuccino and biscotti at a nearby coffee house.

For the parents:

6. Creature comforts:

For mom or dad it’s always a good idea to focus on the creature comforts. Let her sleep late and bring her coffee or orange juice and a simple breakfast in bed. “Some of the best stuff is free,” says Melina Bellows, author of “The Fun Book for Moms: 102 Ways to Celebrate Family,” and editor in chief of National Geographic Kids. Give dad or mom — especially if you have a single parent — the gift of an hour of “me-time” when they get home from work just to decompress, says Eric Stromer, author of “Do-It-Yourself Family: Fun and Useful Home Projects the Whole Family Can Make Together,” and host of HGTV’s “Over Your Head” and AOL’s “Do-It-Yourself with Eric Stromer.” “Try it Friday or Monday,” he says. If you know dad will retreat to his man-cave, post some kind of thank you note or affirmation there, just to let him know how much you appreciate his hard work.

7. Get techy wid it:

The perfect gift for parents from teens and college kids. “Offer to be mom’s tech concierge,” says Bellows. Teach her to text, or show her how to download music or movies. If she’s wanted to investigate social networking, introduce her to Facebook, and create (with her permission) a page for her, so that she can catch up with her high school and college friends. Or, if you have a few bucks, do the old mixed tape one better and load up her MP3 player with a playlist of music you know she’ll like.

8. Child labor:

Sure, you’re busy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a little time making sure your parents know you love them. Make a book of coupons for your parents filled with jobs you promise to do for the week, month or year: things like shining dad’s shoes, washing mom’s car, watering the plants or even taking out the trash.

For the kids:

9. Cooking up some love:

Kids will remember the Valentine’s Day they baked cookies with mom or dad. With little kids, opt for something simple, like heart-shaped cookies. With older children, consider cupcakes with more elaborate Valentine’s Day decorations. Then turn off the TV one night and have family game time or story time. Get out the old favorites or create a few new ones.

10. Treasure of love:

Kathy Peel, author of “The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Organized Home,” suggests hosting a treasure hunt. “Post clues (pictures, rhymes or words) to direct family members from one location to another until they find their treasure: a small Valentine’s Day gift,” she says.

11. Get crafty:

Try a family craft project, says Stromer. “Nothing spells love more than a heart made out of balsa wood and hung on the front door,” he says. Balsa is inexpensive, easy to work with (you can often use tools that you already have), and available at local craft stores. Paint it, let it dry and display it prominently, says Stromer.

12. Start the day with love:

Celebrate with a Valentine’s Day breakfast, says Bellows. For a lot of families, the morning routine is hectic. So take some time on Saturday for a leisurely breakfast. Go for something traditional with a twist, like their favorite pancakes in heart shapes. Keep with the Valentine’s theme by using lots of strawberry or cherry syrup and whipped cream. And focus on the foods they really love.

13. Work together:

Take a few hours on Saturday to work together as a family on a project geared to the abilities of the kids. Build — or even just hang — a bird house. You can find kits in craft stores or if you’re not handy, take the children to pick out a seed ball. Then, together, select a spot where it can be seen from indoors and hang it. Not only do you help foster local wildlife (and help creatures during the cold winter months), you and your family get to enjoy a little bit of nature in your own backyard. Another thought: Make your own kite. A little newspaper (or other heavy paper or light cloth), some balsa wood (available at craft stores), string and poster paints can add up to a pretty fantastic kite. (Check Internet sites or children’s craft books at the library if you need examples or instructions.) See who can design the prettiest, fastest, most colorful or most unusual kite. You can display them in the kids’ rooms or around the house. Then on the first sunny, windy day, try them out.

For any situation:

14. Be a friend:

Know someone who’s alone? Set aside some time to share a meal, go on an outing, or swap recipes or gossip. It can cost virtually nothing, and you’ll likely gain a lot more than you give.

By: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/personal-finance/14-loving-but-inexpensive-valentine-gifts-1.aspx#ixzz3ywr2cEQv

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Your Spending Habits and Your Holiday Spirit

The Average American’s Holiday Spending Habits

Already thinking about everything you have to do for the holiday season? Does the thought of holiday preparation stress you out? According to the National Retail Federation, it was estimated that the average American spent $77.52 on candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween in 2014. According to a CNBC report, the average American planned to spend $765 on Christmas for the holiday season as well. Is this how much you will spend this year? To avoid answering yes to this question, start planning ways to save money now.

Holiday Money Saving Tips

Shop with a Gratitude Attitude

The first, and possibly greatest, thing that you can do to save money this season is to adjust the way you THINK about the holidays. Rather than getting caught up in the commercials, products, and social pressures, concentrate on the things you already have in your life that you can use or recycle and the people you already have in your life to whom you can show love and appreciation. Concentrate more on the FEELING that you can give someone else rather than the MATERIALS you can give them. For Halloween, get creative and make your own costumes during a Family Craft Night. Change your spending habits by making it about the experience rather than shopping. Can’t afford to make or host a big dinner? Plan a family movie night, rent scary movies, and gorge on popcorn and pizza.

Make Random Acts of Kindness a Holiday Norm

Instead of buying gifts, clean the car or house for your spouse, make a collage of old photos for a friend or family member, call a distant friend or relative and leave a Christmas Carol voicemail to spread cheer over the phone, make a list of reasons why you love someone or appreciate someone, write a song or poem for them, and make decorations using household items such as a string of popcorn. Use this new mentality to set the tone for your entire family. For any other holiday necessities, you can financially prepare to save money by creating a budget and setting aside a small amount every week or paycheck. Just remember though, gratitude, love, and the right mentality can save you and your family A ton of money this holiday season, especially if you are all on the same page.

Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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    Fall Money Saving Tips

    Cutting Costs at Home

    There are many ways you can save money and have fun doing it this holiday season. Falling leaves and decomposing Jack-o-Lanterns are the perfect way to start a compost pile this fall. Starting now means you’ll be one step ahead when spring arrives.

    Make sure your roof is free of holes, destruction and critters; if it isn’t, repair the damage or shoo the animals away. Assess the gutters as well as the chimney. Nothing is worse than a cold, rainy winter inside the home without a fireplace. Repairing now helps ensure you don’t have any last minute problems during the winter.

    It’s also very important to weatherproof your home. Chances are, you’ll be using your heater this winter. Rather than lose all of that precious heat, weatherproof your windows, doors and anything else you can think of.

    Restock on winter essentials before they’re all snatched up. Coats, food, gloves and boots are some important winter items that disappear as it gets closer to December.

    Shopping on a Budget

    The holidays are almost upon us, and that means holiday shopping is close at hand. If you start shopping around in October and November, it will be a lot easier to pick up the perfect present than if you were to wait closer to Christmas time.

    So many fruits and vegetables come into season in the fall, so don’t forget to stock up. Not only will you get cheaper produce, but it will be nice and fresh. And as always, use coupons to save even more.

    Look out for fall and holiday deals and coupons. There’s something about the festive, fall season that puts stores in such a great mood. So many places are offering seasonal items for super cheap; it’d be a shame if you didn’t partake.

    Lowering Travel Expenses

    If you’ll be flying at some point during fall, purchase tickets in the middle of the week. Most sales occur Tuesday through Thursday, so when planning a trip buy on the less busy days.

    Compare round-trip flights to one-way flights. Sometimes flying round-trip isn’t necessarily the best deal. If you can save more on two tickets, take that deal.

    Luggage and travel accessories are going on sale during this time of the year. If you’re in need of a new suitcase, now’s the time to buy one for that vacation coming up.

    Your Entertainment Costs

    Bike riding is a great way to let off steam in the cool air, while also getting where you want to go! Exercising and saving money never felt so good.

    Take a walk with the family. Play board games with your kids and significant other by the fireplace instead of sitting in front of the TV. Find new and fun ways to spend time with those you love. Parks are also a great place to go; they’re usually free and offer many great family-friendly amusements.

    Harvest festivals, farmers markets, and city events are a super fun and cheap way to get outside as well. Pumpkin patches offer a great time for you and your kids, and spending time together is always a beautiful fall activity.

    Do you want to know more about debt and how you can make smart financial decisions now that will help you secure a more prosperous financial future? Sign up for our newsletter for monthly money tips.

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