Budgeting, Coupons, Holiday Tips, Saving

How to Save During the Holidays

By: America Saves

Holidays are often an exciting time of the year. Spending time with family, enjoying time off work, and celebrating with family traditions are enjoyable activities. However, the holidays can also represent added stress due to the crunch on your wallet.

It is hard to look forward to a holiday if you are worried about how to pay for it. Have you stressed about how to provide a fun experience for your family without breaking the bank? Decorations, gifts, and food expenses add up quickly.

To avoid this financial strain, it is important to plan for holiday expenses throughout the year. America Saves has compiled some tips to help you plan for a fulfilling holiday season while not drowning in expenses.

Develop a Holiday Budget

One way to reduce impulsive spending is to develop a budget that includes clear expectations for travel, food, entertainment, and gift-giving expenses.

  • Set your spending limit before you start budgeting. And stick to your limit. That might mean making some compromises. Decide what you will spend on each person before going shopping. If possible, talk with family members and friends to set a spending limit that everyone can spend on each gift.
  • Be as comprehensive as you can when you create your budget. Make a list of everyone who will receive a gift as well as all items that will cost money during the holiday season. Some items often forgotten include gasoline, babysitter fees, eating at restaurants more often, and so on.
  • Reduce your spending. Add up the total of your holiday list, and don’t be shy about reducing it some more. Challenge yourself to spend a little less each year. Consider writing handwritten notes expressing thanks or appreciation rather than buying gifts when possible to reduce your spending costs.
  • Divide the list into necessary items (needs) and extra opportunities (wants). For example, gasoline is a needed expense for traveling while eating out at restaurants while on the road is an extra expense that can be avoided if needed. Dividing your list will help you save for all necessary expenses and provide a list of ideas in case extra money is leftover.
  • As part of your budget, determine how you will pay for each item. Paying with cash will help avoid unexpected spending. Paying with a credit card without keeping track of spending may cause you to forget purchases for which you’ll have to pay later. If paying with layaway, look out for hidden fees and be sure to budget for any interest added.
  • Carry a copy of your budget with you, and be sure to follow it while in stores. Once a budget is made, it can still be hard to follow. In-store sales are tempting, but making impulsive purchases, no matter how small, can add up quickly.
  • Plan your shopping trips ahead of time by reviewing store ads for upcoming sales. This step will lower costs while also helping to reduce impulsive decisions while in the store.
  • Remember to save. Continue saving over the holidays so you don’t shortchange your retirement, education, small business, or other goals. Stick to more long-term savings goals and avoid the accumulation of new debt.

Download our Free Holiday Budget Printable for easy budget construction, and check out additional budgeting tips here.

Consider the following tips for the upcoming holidays:

  • Cooking an entire holiday meal on your own can be expensive. Consider having a potluck with friends and family to avoid cooking or paying for the entire meal yourself.
  • Keep the menu simple. Dinner can be special without two different types of meat, four vegetable dishes, and three different desserts. If you plan to serve mashed potatoes and gravy, you can skip the macaroni and cheese casserole. If you plan to make candied carrots, no need to serve candied yams also.
  • Plan for meals ahead of time to take advantage of coupons and grocery deals. Advertisements about upcoming sales can be found online and in local newspapers. Using in-season produce for recipes can often reduce food costs.
  • Reduce travel expenses by visiting out-of-town families for one holiday during the winter season (such as just Thanksgiving or only Christmas, rather than both holidays).
  • Consider setting up new holiday traditions that cost less. For example, some families or friend groups use “Secret Santa,” where each person draws a name randomly so that each person receives a gift and each person only buys a gift for one person.
  • Consider spending time together rather than gift-giving. Other ideas include a nice dinner out or playing games as a group.

When it comes to holiday spending, the important thing is to stick to your budget. We all want holidays to be special, but if you create debt in the process, it will end up being more of a headache than a holiday.

Spending less is just the first part of a successful financial plan. Put away the money you save during the holidays into a savings account for future expenses, both anticipated and unexpected ones. Those with a savings plan are twice as likely to save successfully. Let America Saves help you reach your savings and debt reduction goals. It all starts when you make a commitment to yourself to save. That’s what our pledge is all about. Learn more about how to save money for the future here.

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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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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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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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