Consumer, Holiday Tips

Supply-Chain Chaos: Holiday Edition

By: Robert Briones, Thrivent

The supply chain is the network by which products flow from the factories of suppliers to the inventories of retailers so they can ultimately be purchased by consumers. Corporate supply chains have been under pressure since the pandemic began, but the stress intensified in the latter months of 2021, with demand for goods surging and the holiday season fast approaching.1

The California ports that receive about 40% of U.S. imports are now operating 24/7, but workers still can’t keep up with the rush of container ships arriving from overseas. In mid-November, there was a record backlog of vessels waiting offshore for more than two weeks to unload their cargo.2 Other U.S. ports are also congested, and severe shortages of truck drivers and warehouse workers have further slowed the distribution of goods throughout the nation. These bottlenecks held up finished merchandise, as well as the inputs and raw materials needed to manufacture products domestically.

Compounding supply-chain issues have been increasing freight and labor costs, delaying shipments, and leaving consumers with higher prices and fewer options since the spring of 2021. As summer turned to fall, logjams remained and time was running out, raising fears that U.S. retailers would not have sufficient inventories of goods to meet consumer demand during the holidays.

The good news is that many businesses responded nimbly to challenging conditions, and some consumers have been proactive, too. Here’s a glimpse into how these kinks in the supply chain might affect your holiday shopping in 2021.

Are Retailers Ready?

Many of the nation’s largest retailers anticipated problems and went to great lengths to ensure that shelves would be well-stocked with a robust variety of goods in time for the holiday shopping season. In many cases, this required paying much higher freight costs to charter their own smaller ships or cargo planes so they could bypass clogged ports and make up for production delays.3

Such costly measures are usually not an option for smaller retailers, which could put them at a disadvantage. In a November survey, 48% of small businesses reported that supply-chain disruptions are having a significant negative impact on their holiday sales.4

Expecting enthusiastic consumer demand, the National Retail Federation forecast record holiday spending of 8.5% to 10.5% above 2020 levels. But retailers have also warned consumers that sporadic product shortages and shipping delays would continue and perhaps worsen later in the season.5

Poised to Spend

U.S. retail sales rose 1.7% in October, a surprisingly strong showing and the third monthly increase in a row.6 The potential for a more limited selection of some types of products has been widely reported, and it seems that consumers are paying attention. According to an annual NRF survey, a record share of consumers (49%) started their holiday shopping before November, and 36% did so to avoid missing the chance to buy key holiday items.7

U.S. households have extra money to spend this year after amassing about $2 trillion in excess savings during the pandemic. This was largely due to historic levels of economic relief provided by the federal government, along with fewer spending opportunities due to lockdowns.8 The recent rise in consumer spending bodes well for retailers and economic growth, but heavy demand also weighs on the supply chain and pushes up prices.

A Season of Inflation

Unfortunately, escalating prices for holiday gifts and basic needs could prompt the loudest “bah humbug” of the 2021 holiday season. With businesses paying more for the raw materials, packaging, labor, transportation, and fuel needed to produce and distribute products, a portion of the additional costs are being passed on to consumers.

Measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), prices across the U.S. economy increased 6.2% during the 12 months ending in October 2021 — the highest inflation rate in nearly 31 years. Grocery prices (food at home) rose 5.4% year over year, while prices for the category that includes meats, poultry, fish, and eggs spiked 11.9%.9

Energy prices overall have climbed 30% since October 2020, and the natural gas that keeps many homes warm and cozy increased 28.1% year over year. Gasoline prices rose nearly 50% over the prior 12 months, slamming the budgets of households who plan to drive to family gatherings over the holidays.10

Because supply-and-demand shocks have driven these sharp price increases, some economists still believe they are temporary and that inflation will moderate in 2022 as supply constraints ease.11 Of course, even short bursts of inflation can be especially painful for consumers with lower incomes and little or no savings, and no one knows for certain how long prices might stay elevated.

Shop Early or Be Flexible

On top of being more expensive, some in-demand products could be hard to find, and transportation bottlenecks aren’t the only issue impacting supplies. A global shortage of semiconductors, or computer chips, is limiting the production of all kinds of electronic devices, including cars, home appliances, laptops, smartphones, TVs, and gaming consoles. The availability of some brands of sportswear, shoes, and accessories could be affected by a COVID outbreak that shut down factories in Vietnam. Other reported shortages include jewelry, some popular toys and books, frozen turkeys, cardboard boxes needed for shipping, and Christmas trees, both real and artificial.12

If you need certain items for entertaining or have family members with specific gifts on their wish lists, it could be risky to wait until the last minute to buy them. Otherwise, shopping locally, being open to alternatives, and giving cash or gift cards to be spent later might end up being your best options.

Projections are based on current conditions, are subject to change, and may not come to pass.
1) Consumer Reports, October 20, 2021
2) Bloomberg, November 13, 2021
3) The Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2021
4) National Federation of Independent Business, November 3, 2021
5, 7) National Retail Federation, November 16, 2021
6) U.S. Census Bureau, 2021
8) Bloomberg, November 16, 2021
9-10) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021
11) Moody’s Analytics, November 18, 2021
12) CBS News, November 18, 2021
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Credit, Holiday Tips, Money Management

Should you buy now and pay later?

By: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Buy Now, Pay Later

If you’ve shopped online recently, you may have noticed new payment options at checkout, including buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) credit, for purchases like clothing, electronics, furniture, and exercise equipment. BNPL is a type of deferred payment option that generally allows you to purchase items with little to no money paid upfront, followed by installment payments. Its use has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent survey, 42% of American consumers have used BNPL at least once. Although features of BNPL sound similar to traditional layaway, credit cards, or other loans, there are distinct differences. It’s essential to understand the benefits and risks that come with BNPL (or any financial product) before making your next purchase.

How BNPL works

Products that are eligible for BNPL range in price from less than $100 to several thousand dollars. When you’re buying one of these products using BNPL, you will select that option at checkout online or in an app. If approved, the purchase is sent to you and the cost is split into a payment schedule – typically four fixed payments made bi-weekly or monthly until the balance is paid in full. Approval takes minutes, with no interest or finance charges.

Unlike credit card companies or other consumer loan lenders, BNPL companies generally don’t conduct a hard credit inquiry when you apply. Instead, most BNPL providers only require the following:

  • You’re at least 18 years old
  • You have a mobile phone number
  • You have a debit or credit card to make payments
  • They are able to validate your identity.

BNPL may seem straightforward and convenient; however, you should consider a few things before selecting this option to make a purchase.

Don’t overextend your finances

BNPL can be a tempting payment option for many consumers because it makes it easy to purchase something today and pay for it later. Because you can qualify for BNPL without passing a hard credit inquiry, make sure you have a good sense of your finances and whether the payments will fit within your budget. Just because you qualify for BNPL or any other credit product, doesn’t mean you should use it. Contact a qualified financial advisor if you need help creating a budget or check out the CFPB’s resources.

Understand credit reporting

Your repayment behavior on many types of loans and credit products is reported to consumer reporting companies. This can help you establish credit or build a credit score or hurt your credit profile if you make late payments or use too much of your available credit. Some consumers might assume that BNPL credit helps them build their credit history. It’s important to know that most BNPL credit is not reported to the credit bureaus and won’t impact your credit score. If getting or building credit is your goal, use our resources to better understand how to improve your credit record over time.

While most BNPL companies don’t currently report to consumer reporting companies, there are some that do. If you make a late payment, and the BNPL company reports your late payment to a credit reporting company, this can harm your credit history. Be sure to research whether or not a BNPL company reports to credit bureaus before using their service.

BNPL products can carry late fees

While many BNPL companies don’t charge interest, most do charge late fees if you miss a payment. In addition, you could be blocked from future purchases until you make past payments and could even have your debt sent to a debt collector if you fail to repay. Because lenders have different fees and policies, it is important to carefully review the BNPL terms and conditions to understand your obligations. Also, be aware that your bank may charge you an overdraft or NSF fee if you sign up for automatic repayment through your debit card or bank account and don’t have enough funds to cover the payment.

BNPL products don’t have the same protections as other types of credit

Like a credit card, you can use BNPL to make a purchase and pay for it later over time. However, BNPL loans currently lack the consumer protections that apply to credit cards. For example, BNPL companies don’t offer the same dispute protections as credit cards if the item you purchase is faulty or a scam. Returning merchandise bought with BNPL can sometimes be complicated. The BNPL company may hold you responsible for the total cost of purchase even after you’ve returned the product, so be sure to read and understand the merchant’s specific return policies.

Compare BNPL to other payment options

BNPL offers aren’t the only new payment option you might find when making an online purchase. There are other types of installment loans that let you repay purchases over a longer time, though some of these loans charge interest and may also charge late fees. Most of the other loan options also do a hard credit inquiry when you apply and report your payments to the credit bureaus, which could help or hurt your credit score.

As with any loan or credit offer, make sure you can afford to make the payments on time and that you understand the terms of the loan before agreeing to it.

 

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Budgeting, Credit Cards, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Saving

A Saver’s Guide to Holiday Shopping

By: America Saves

Ready or not, the holiday shopping season is here. With the multiple sale days between now and the end of the year, you can avoid being served a heaping side of seasonal debt along with your plate of honey-baked ham if you keep a few smart-saver tips in mind.

Set Reasonable Expectations

In 2012, it was reported that the average American expected to spend $854 on gifts during the holiday season. While many won’t spend that much on shopping, any spending that strains your finances or saddles you with post-holiday debt is bad for your financial future —period. Take the time to talk with family and friends about realistic holiday spending limits before you go shopping. Consider less expensive gift options like homemade gifts. If you have a large extended family, maybe it’s time to start a new tradition of picking one name out of a hat to buy a gift for, rather than everybody buying a gift for every person in the family.

Plan, Budget, and Save

One of the best approaches you can take to holiday shopping is figuring out who’s on your gift list, creating a holiday budget, and gradually setting money aside to help you avoid overspending, unwanted debt, and financial stress. You can find helpful budgeting tools on mymoney.gov. If you didn’t budget and save for this year, it’s never too early to start saving for next year. Check with your bank or credit union to see if they offer holiday savings accounts that you can use to save for next year’s holiday goals. If you set up a plan now and leave that money alone, you’ll have a nice gift fund in a year.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind

It can be easy to forget that we spend money on other things besides gifts during the holidays. Big holiday dinners, travel to see family and friends and even increased electricity costs to run massive holiday light displays can drain your bank account. Make sure you plan for the cost of all of your extra holiday activities.

Watch Out for Costly Surprises

If you’re using gift cards or layaway plans, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions. Expiration dates, inactivity rules, and hidden fees on gift cards can eat away at their value if you’re not careful. Take the same cautious approach with store credit cards that you’re offered at checkout. They might save you a few bucks at the register today but stick you with very high-interest rates later.

Avoid Holiday Debt Traps

Doing things like catching early sales, comparison shopping, ordering from sites or stores that offer free shipping, shopping at discount stores, and buying items that offer rebates can help save you money on holiday purchases. However, don’t let the excitement of holiday deals go to your head! If you rush to a store sale because you can get a $3,000 television for $2,000, you’ve still spent $2,000. Was that really something you had planned to do? Also, don’t be enticed by payday lenders who want to “help” you get holiday cash. Proper planning and saving long before the holiday can help you avoid a cycle of high-interest debt that can last for weeks or even months after the holidays are over.

Keep in mind that holiday spending is short-term spending. Once the unwrapping frenzy is over, how long will the excitement last? Saving your money for long-term goals like homeownership, college or a comfortable retirement may be the very best gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

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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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Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, College Debt, Consumer, Coupons, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Finance, Freebie, Holiday Tips, Kids & Money, Money Management

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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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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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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