Finance, Goals, Money Management, Saving

Rebuilding toward a Brighter Future with Emergency Savings

By: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

This year, for many Americans who experienced financial challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, preparedness means taking small steps toward rebuilding and resilience.

If you are ready to think about your bigger financial picture for the first time in months, what’s the first step?

Consider – or start – your emergency saving fund. As you build it over time, it will help cover unexpected expenses that may come, whether that be a natural disaster, unexpected illness, car trouble, or other financial downfalls. It can become an important means for avoiding unwanted debt and help you more quickly realize your dreams. In short, it can become a strong foundation for your financial future.

There are different strategies to get your savings started. These strategies cover a range of situations, including if you have a limited ability to save or if your pay tends to fluctuate. It may be that you could use all of these strategies, but if you have a limited ability to save, managing your cash flow or putting away a portion of your tax refund are the easiest ways to get started.

Strategy #1: Create a savings habit

Building savings of any size is easier when you’re able to consistently put money away. It’s one of the fastest ways to see it grow. If you’re not in a regular practice of saving, there are a few key principles to creating and sticking to a savings habit:

  • Set a goal. Having a specific goal for your savings can help you stay motivated. Establishing your emergency fund may be that achievable goal that helps you stay on track, especially when you’re initially getting started. Use our savings planning tool to calculate how long it’ll take you to reach your goal, based on how much and how often you’re able to put money away.
  • Create a system for making consistent contributions. There are a number of different ways to save, and as you’ll read below, setting up automatic recurring transfers is often one of the easiest. It may also be that you put a specific amount of cash aside each day, week, or payday period. Aim to make it a specific amount, and if you can occasionally afford to do more, you’ll watch your savings grow even faster.
  • Regularly monitor your progress. Find a way to regularly check your savings. Whether it’s an automatic notification of your account balance or writing down a running total of your contributions, finding a way to watch your progress can offer gratification and encouragement to keep going.
  • Celebrate your successes. If you’re sticking with your savings habit, don’t miss the opportunity to recognize what you’ve accomplished. Find a few ways that you can treat yourself, and if you’ve reached your goal, set your next one.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. If you know you have a regular paycheck or money consistently coming in, you can create a habit to put some of that money towards an emergency savings fund.

Strategy #2: Manage your cash flow

Your cash flow is essentially the timing of when your money is coming in (your income) and going out (your expenses and spending). If the timing is off, you can find yourself running short at the end of the week or month, but if you’re actively tracking it, you’ll start to see opportunities to adjust your spending and savings.

For example, you may be able to work with your creditors (like your landlord, utility companies, or credit card companies) to adjust the due dates for your bills, or you can use the weeks when you have more money available to move a little extra into savings.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone. This is one important first step in managing your money, regardless of whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck or have a tendency to spend more than your budget allows.

Strategy #3: Take advantage of one-time opportunities to save

There may also be certain times during the year when you get an influx of money. For many Americans, a tax refund can be one of the largest checks they receive all year. There may be other times of the year, like a holiday or birthday, that you receive a cash gift.

While it’s tempting to spend it, saving all or a portion of that money could help you quickly set up your emergency fund.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone but particularly those with irregular income. If you receive a large check from a tax refund or for some other reason, it’s always good to consider putting all or a portion of it away into savings.

Strategy #4: Make your saving automatic

Saving automatically is one of the easiest ways to make your savings consistent so you start to see it build over time. One common way to do this is to set up recurring transfers through your bank or credit union so money is moved automatically from your checking account to your savings account. You get to decide how much and how often, but once you have it set up, you’ll be making consistent contributions to your savings.

It’s a good idea to be mindful of your balances, however, so you don’t incur overdraft fees if there’s not enough money in your checking account at the time of the automatic transaction. To help you stay mindful, consider setting up automatic notifications or calendar reminders to check your balance.

Who is this helpful for: Anyone, but particularly those with consistent income. Again, you can determine how much and how often to have money transferred between accounts, but you want to make sure you have money coming in. If your situation changes or your income changes, you can always adjust it.

Strategy #5: Save through work

Another way to save automatically is through your employer. In addition to employer-based contributions for retirement, you may have an option to split your paycheck between your checking and savings accounts. If you receive your paycheck through direct deposit, check with your employer to see if it’s possible to divide it between two accounts. If you’re tempted to spend your paycheck when you get it, this is an easy way to put money aside without having to think twice.

Who is this helpful for: Those with consistent income. Again, if you’re getting a check from your employer on a regular basis, pay yourself first by putting a portion of it automatically into savings.

It might seem impossible to save enough to get you and your family through something like a furlough, job loss, or reduced hours. But any amount can make a difference and it’s never too late to start. The more you can save, the better you can weather the worst, and the faster you can recover when it is over.

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Budgeting, Finance, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Ask Chuck: 5 Steps to Improve Your Finances This New Year

By: Crown Financial Ministries

Dear Chuck,

Covid set me back financially this year. As a result, we’re having a very frugal Christmas. Can you offer any tips on setting financial goals for next year? I want to be better prepared for what may lie ahead!

Getting Ready for 2021

Dear Getting Ready, 

I am so sorry for the setbacks you have suffered during this pandemic. Millions of people just like you are looking forward to the new year with great anticipation and are hoping to make improvements in our finances. 

New Year, New You

January is typically a time of renewal. For many of us, that includes diets, health and fitness goals, relationships, or financial plans. However, after what we have experienced in 2020, our highest need will be for renewed hope. Watching the news, scrolling through social media, and listening to certain friends or family members will not fulfill that need. Hope gets us through the tough seasons and gives us direction in times of uncertainty. Thankfully, we have the ultimate source of hope: Jesus. We need to learn to rely on Him in order to cultivate that hope. Here is a quick outline of the steps for 2021.

Step One: Make a Vow. Dedicate this year to the Lord and seek his guidance in all decision-making.  

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3 ESV)

Step Two: Make a Plan. Plan and encourage one another daily. 

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 ESV)

Pray for self-control and the willingness to stay focused throughout the coming year. 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things, there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

Step Three: Make a Target. Defining your financial goals gives you something to aim for. 

  • Write them out and place them where you are reminded daily. 
  • Determine to spend less than you earn. 
  • Have monthly money dates to analyze your progress. 
  • Assign roles to each other for defense and offense. Be “guard dogs” to protect your earnings so that you can steward wisely. I guarantee you that the “thief” is on the prowl. He comes ONLY to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a ESV). He will rob you of progress unless you are very intentional in implementing your plan.

Step Four: Make a Budget. Gather your financial records, track your expenses, and create a budget. Make giving your first priority. Establish an emergency account. This will enable you to cover unexpected expenses so that you can avoid debt. Start with $1,000 and then aim for an amount that covers 3-6 months of your overhead expenses. Analyze lifestyle decisions. Some short-term ones to consider include replacing a vehicle, repairs, maintenance, vacation, gifts, etc. Long-term decisions may include a downpayment for a home, education, retirement, etc. Keep your tax liability in mind and plan accordingly.

Step Five: Review Your Insurance. This is a good time to review your insurance coverage: Homeowners or Renters/Auto/Liability, Disability, Life, and Long-Term Care. Not only should you determine if you have coverage but also if you are getting the right price for what you have in place.

Don’t Overlook These 

Update your will. Today this includes creating a Living Will or Trust, Health Declarations, Power of Attorney documents, and password files. 

Pick a debt management plan and pay off all credit cards! Christian Credit Counselors are trusted partners of Crown and have helped hundreds of thousands of families eliminate their credit card debt. Once free of consumer debt, you can begin investing

Depending on your age, put a reminder on your calendar to enroll in Medicare before your 65th birthday. Determine when you should begin to draw social security. 

Check your credit reports from Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. This is important with the number of security breaches. Check to make sure information is correct and report any inaccuracies. Contact them to freeze your credit if necessary. This will prevent thieves from applying and obtaining credit in your name. You can unfreeze as needed. 

Know your credit score. A free report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com. Some credit cards update your FICO score for free each month. 

Calculate your net worth (assets minus liabilities). Aim for a positive number! 

Get Wisdom! 

There has never been an easier time to attain a Biblical financial education. Books, online studies, and insights from places like Sound Mind Investing, Generous Giving, and Crown’s online library of courses make it convenient and practical to learn year-round.

Most importantly, read the Word of God. You will gain wisdom, discernment, and hope that is more advantageous than anything the world offers. 

God has called us to himself that we might shine light into the darkness and bring Him glory. At Crown, we provide resources that will renew your hope through Biblical truths about the Father and the gifts He has entrusted to you.  

Merry Frugal Christmas 

It has been our experience that a frugal Christmas is often the best Christmas. The focus shifts away from the number of boxes under the tree or the expense of the season to the awe and wonder of celebrating the incarnation of Christ; Emmanuel, God with us. 

I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year. We are here to help you on your journey in 2021.

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Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Goals, Money Management, Personal Goals

Turning Financial Resolutions into Regular Routines

By: Brittany Frost

We are now more than a month into 2017 which begs the question: how are your financial New Year’s resolutions coming along? What steps have you taken so far to reduce your debt or save money? Maybe you’ve been so busy that you have yet to make a financial resolution this year. If so, don’t worry! December isn’t the only time for resolutions. It is never too late to resolve to take control of your finances toward a better financial future. According to a NBC News article, the most popular resolution in 2017 was “getting healthy” with specific interests in gyms and fitness (Ref. #1). Don’t forget: financial health is also important! However, if one big financial resolution overwhelms you, it may help to set mini-resolutions that are more achievable and may be easier to keep. Switch them up so they aren’t so daunting. Start now! Trim your debt and get your credit in better shape! Choose at least one of the following tips to create your own mini-resolutions today:

  • If you haven’t done so in a while, go to annualcreditreport.com to pull your 3 free annual credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Even if it’s scary, you need to know your credit in order to improve it.
  • Pay cash for gas each month to keep it off your credit card so your balance will be lower on the next statement. 30% of your FICO credit score is calculated based on “amounts owed” so pay with cash to help keep your balances low and do not use a high percentage of your available credit (Ref. #2).
  • Use a free app or paper to record every dime you spend so that the money is earmarked when you pay your credit card bill! 35% of your FICO score is calculated based on “payment history” so record and budget to pay ON TIME and in full if possible (Ref. #2).
  • Go to myfico.com to learn more about how your FICO score is calculated and use that as a guideline to improve your credit.
  • Try not to eat out for one week. “Brown-bag” it to save money.
  • Instead of paying for a baby-sitter, swap out watching kids for free with friends.
  • Negotiate everything; not just houses and cars but hotel rooms and other items. It’s always worth a try.
  • Don’t just take something at face value. Shop around to compare and find the lowest price before purchasing. For example, it may be cheaper not to bundle insurance. Instead, get separate quotes from an independent agent on auto, home, and life insurance to find the best price for each.
  • To keep the cost of holidays/birthdays down, give homemade gifts of baked goods or food instead of pricier, store-bought items.
  • If and when you get a tax refund this year, vow to put it directly toward bills or your debt with the highest interest. Resist the temptation to splurge! It will only hurt you in the long run.

You can make resolutions any time, but the sooner the better! The key to making and keeping resolutions is not to dwell on the past, but to learn from what DIDN’T work and focus on what DOES work. Even if they seem small now, forming healthy financial habits every day can make a big difference in a year. Give your finances the time, attention, and exercise they need to get back in shape in 2017 and, before you know it, your financial resolutions will turn into regular routines!

 

At Christian Credit Counselors, we help consumers battling credit card debt and desiring a more positive financial future. For more tips on how to quickly improve your finances with debt counseling, please contact us.

CCCc2abutton

 

References

  1. http://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/2017-new-year-s-resolutions-most-popular-how-stick-them-n701891
  2. http://www.myfico.com/credit-education/whats-in-your-credit-score/
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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Goals, House, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Student Loans, Uncategorized

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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Activities, Budgeting, Consumer, Coupons, Finance, Freebie, Goals, Holiday Tips, Personal Goals, Saving

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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Budgeting, College Debt, Consumer, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Personal Goals

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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Activities, Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Community, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Economy, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, National Debt, Personal Goals, Saving, Student Loans, Taxes

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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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Goals, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Taxes, Uncategorized

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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Activities, Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Finance, Freebie, Goals, Holiday Tips, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Saving, Uncategorized

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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Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Debt Settlement, Goals, Holiday Tips, Home, Kids & Money, Money Management, Personal Goals, Uncategorized

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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