Budgeting, Money Management

Money Saving – Top Ten Tips

Setting a Spending Plan

At the beginning of each year, many Americans include “get out of debt” on their list of New Year’s resolutions and then seem to live under the illusion that they will be able to wish this into reality since a spending plan is never created or written down. The most important part of taking control of your finances is starting somewhere and starting now.

The only way you will get out of debt is if you stop unneeded spending and start allocating the money you are saving toward your debts.

Money Saving Tips

    1. Stop eating out –  Even if you only eat out once a week, if you spend $25 each time you eat out, you’d be saving $100 per month—so there you go, that’s already $100 you are saving.
    2. Stop spending at Starbucks –  Let’s low ball this and say you spend $3 each weekday on coffee, meaning you spend $60 per month. Now you’re at $160 saved.
    3. Use coupons wherever you go – Coupons.com has a plethora of coupons that you can print out. No one wants to be dubbed coupon-crazed, but one or two dollars here and there will definitely add up. Just make sure you aren’t buying something just because you have a coupon for it (and you don’t need it).
    4. Cut out luxuries – If you’re serious about getting out of debt, you can find alternatives to these luxuries.
      • Ladies— getting your hair done; either go natural or do it yourself. Color out of a box will save you at the very least $50. This also goes for getting your nails done.
      • This one is for guys and girls—cancel your gym membership and go hiking instead. You’ll save $20-$30 per month and you’ll get some fresh air in the meantime.
      • If you can think of some other luxuries you can live without, like massages or having a monthly cleaner for your house, you’ll notice that you’ll save at least $100 on those alone.
      • Now for something a little harder to cope with for some—cable. Cancel cable and watch shows for free online at hulu.com. Most shows are available online and you can watch them at anytime. This will save you at least $30 per month.
    5. Downsize your living space. You won’t have to stay in this situation forever, but this could be an easy way to save a few hundred dollars a month.
    6. Downsize your car. Sell your car and buy a less expensive car if you would be able to make a significant amount on the sale. If your family has two cars, try downsizing to one and sell the other. It may not be very convenient, but if you are serious about getting out of debt as soon as possible, these are some options that could help you right now
    7. Sell some of your items on Amazon or eBay.
    8. Work overtime or ask for a raise (only if you deserve it). This also means it’s important to make yourself an asset at your company–do your job.
    9. Take side-jobs if you can. Learn a new skill or use a skill you already have to make some extra cash outside of your current job.
    10. Rent out an extra room in your house if you have one. Advertise this availability amongst your friends and family and post it at church. You’ll need to choose a renter wisely since they will be living under your roof.

Have more tips to add? Share them in the comments below!

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    Gas

    Money Saving Tips at the Pump

    Average National Gas Prices

    The national average for a gallon of gasoline has hit $3.76 and is increasing daily. On top of that, gas has topped $4 per gallon in Alaska, California and Hawaii, with several other states close behind. Unless you are planning to switch to a bicycle anytime soon, the following 6 ways to save of gas will help you keep a little more cash in your pocket when you go to the pump.

    1.  Warehouse clubs & grocery stores. Membership-based stores such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club have discounted gas available to their members. These places tend to consistently be the cheapest gas around. The only drawback is that you need to be a member to save–each membership ranges between $35 and $55 per year.

    If you don’t want to buy a membership, you can always purchase gas at a grocery store that offers a discount, like Vons. Vons Club cardholders automatically received 3 cents off gas and can earn 10 cents off depending on the amount of reward points they accumulate.

    2.  Use cash. Remembering to get cash out at the ATM may not be the most convenient option, but you will find many gas stations will offer a few extra cents off per gallon if you pay with cash. In addition, there are gas stations, such as ARCO, that charge $0.35 per transaction for using a debit card (they don’t even accept credit cards).

    3.  Shop smarter. Using apps like Gas Buddy will help you save time and money. The user-updated app uses your phone’s GPS to give itemize a list of gas stations around you by distance and price. You then have the option to get directions to the gas station you choose. So whether you want to find the cheapest gas in your area or you’re running out of gas (we do not recommend this), this app will get you where you need to go.

    4.  Fill up mid-week. Fill up your tank on Wednesdays and fill up all the way. Gas prices increase on Thursday mornings to prepare for weekend traveling and it’s important to fill up all the way since a break in price increases doesn’t appear to be in the forecast anytime soon.

    5.  Avoiding idling. Aside from warming up or cooling down your car, avoid keeping your car on at a standstill. If you are going to be waiting for someone in your car for more than one minute, it is better to cut the engine than keep it on. It wastes more fuel to leave your car on than it does to start the engine again. This also goes for drive-through’s; it’s faster to park and go inside.

    6.  Use a rewards card. If you qualify for a credit card that offers gas rewards, now is the time to take advantage of the offer. You can receive an average of 2-3 percent cash back on these types of cards. The important thing to remember is to pay your balance in full EVERY month. This way, you won’t be charged any interest and it won’t be tempting to carry a balance each month, which would cause you to easily slip into debt. If you don’t think you will have the discipline to pay the full balance, don’t sign up for a rewards card. It isn’t worth the risk.

    Have more tips to share? Leave them in the comments below!

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      Budgeting, Credit Counseling

      Financial Planning – The Importance of an Emergency Fund

      A National Foundation for Credit Counseling Poll

      A recent online poll released by the NFCC (National Foundation for Credit Counseling) revealed that a majority of American consumers don’t have enough savings to cover a $1000 emergency expense. Only 36 percent of respondents said that they would have enough to cover a $1000 unplanned expense, the remaining 64 percent of those polled

      stated that they would have to rely on other resources.

      Here are the results from that poll:

      • 36% of consumers had enough to in their savings account to cover their expenses.
      • 9% of those polled would have to take out a loan.
      • 17% of American consumers would have to borrow from friends of family.
      • 9% responded that they would take out a cash advance on their credit card.
      • 17% of those polled would have to disregard other financial obligations.
      • 12% of those polled would have to sell or pawn their assets to cover an unplanned emergency expense.

      The American Consumer

      The report uncovers some alarming data on the current state of the American consumer and even though the poll doesn’t go into details of reasons why two-thirds of Americans don’t have a safety net, it’s very apparent that many individuals are still living check-to-check. There could be several factors that weigh into these statistics, for example many of those polled could be college-aged or in their early twenties. Another reason could be that many of those polled could be unemployed or severely underemployed.

      The most disturbing statistic revealed from the poll was that 17% of consumers would disregard other financial obligations in order to cover an emergency expense. This option could have huge consequences and could leave a consumer even deeper in debt, but financial planning can alleviate this. Missing a mortgage payment, skipping out on the rent or disregarding credit card payments will not only put an individual back financially it will have a negative impact on one’s credit rating.

      “Without adequate savings, consumers have poor resolution choices when an emergency arises,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the NFCC. “People often say they can’t afford to save, but the truth is that they can’t afford not to.”

      Setting a Monthly Budget

      Regardless of why 64% of Americans don’t have an emergency expense, it’s clear that many consumers have not set up a monthly budget.

      “Selecting any option other than taking the money from savings should be a red flag,” continued Cunningham. “If saving money has always seemed out of reach, there is no better time than now to get to the root of the problem and protect yourself, your family and your financial future.”

      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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        Budgeting, Saving

        Budget Tips for Your Vacation

        Summer Vacation and Your Budget

        Summer is quickly approaching, and if you haven’t planned a vacation yet, you have at least thought about it. With the current state of the economy and the rise of gas prices, you may think you won’t be able to afford a vacation this year. But, there are a few ways you can take some time off and relax without overspending.

        There are many sites that now offer discounts toward the purchase of a vacation. Check out Jetsetter and Living Social to see what they offer. You can get email alerts from these sites so you are always up-to-date with the latest travel deals.

        A Vacation vs Staycation

        Do your research and pick a destination that is not over populated with tourists. These popular vacation spots are generally overpriced, and you will end up spending more money than you think.

        Consider a staycation to save money. Visit local attractions you have never seen by researching reviews on local restaurants, spas, and museums. Also research to find out if there will be any events going on in your city.

        If you are going to be staying at a hotel, try and upgrade to get a room with a kitchen. The room cost may be a little more, but you will save a lot of money by cooking your own meals instead of eating out at restaurants.

        These are just a few tips to help trim some costs during your summer vacation. What do you do to try and save money during vacation?

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          Budgeting

          Your Wedding Budget

          Budgeting for your Wedding

          With the Royal Wedding happening tomorrow, wedding buzz has been in the air. What does the dress look like, how many people are they inviting, and how much is this wedding going to cost?! Although we all cannot fork out the reported $65 million, which is about 2,000 times as costly as the average British upper-middle class wedding, according to Christian Science Monitor, we can try to have our own royal wedding on a budget.

          Wedding Invitations

          It would be nice to have our wedding invitations adorn the words “commanded by the Queen” but let’s not get carried away. If you are on a tight budget and do not want to spend a fortune on your wedding invitation, research ways to print your own wedding invitations online. There are so many options nowadays, why spend more money? Ann’s Bridal Bargain is a great example.

          The Bridal Bouquet

          This can be one of the most expensive costs of a wedding, so make sure to choose wisely. Choose flowers that will be in season, and easily accessible to you. Be honest with your florist about your budget so you are not shocked when you get the bill. You can also plan your wedding at a park or garden so you already have a beautifully decorated venue.

          The Wedding Gown

          One of the most important, stressful, exciting decisions a woman will ever make…picking out the wedding dress. We may not have every designer wanting to design out gown like Kate Middleton, but we can get what we want, at the price we want. Many high-end designers are now selling wedding gowns at affordable price. Check out Vera Wang’s collection at David’s Bridal.

          The Wedding Location

          Like mentioned before, you can save money on flowers by having your wedding at a park or garden. These are great inexpensive options along with a local church or college, historical building, or the beach.

          There is an endless list of costs when it comes to weddings, but these four are probably the biggest. Research as much as you can, because you deserve the wedding of your dreams!

          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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            Budgeting, Christian Credit Counselors, Credit, Money Management

            Financial Literacy: Money Lessons

            Financial Literacy Month

            We are back! I hope you had a Happy Easter with family and friends. And even though April is coming to an end, it is still Financial Literacy Month. Gregory Karp of the Chicago Tribune has put together a money quiz to help contribute to your understanding of money topics. Here is a chance to test your knowledge and hopefully learn a thing or two that will ultimately help you with your finances.

              • Do your credit scores rise when you get a higher paying job?

            Simply put, no. Your income in not shown on your credit report, so that isn’t a factor when determining your credit score. Using credit, and using it well, is what really matters.

              • Is a household budget meant to restrict your spending?

            Restrict is the wrong word. Budgeting allows you to tell your money what to do instead of wondering where it disappeared to. If you keep track of your spending and budget wisely you can set aside money to spend on fun things. Indulging once in a while will keep you on track so you don’t feel so restricted.

              • Should I pay off highest interest-rate debt first?

            Mathematically, using extra money to pay off high-rate debt, such as credit cards, makes sense. But if you have many different debts, you might get a psychological boost by wiping out smaller debts first.

              • What is the only official site for getting your credit report?

            You can request a free credit report annually from the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. For the most part, they have the same information, so you could request one every four months to keep track of your score throughout the year.

              • If a thief steals your credit card and charges $1,000, you’re responsible for how much?

            Federal law says you’re responsible for $50, but most major credit-card issuers absolve you of all liability if it’s a clear case of a stolen card or number.

              • What is likely to provide the highest returns over time: stocks, bonds or CDs?

            Most financial advisers suggest a mix of stocks and relatively safer bonds, with the mix getting more bond-heavy as you approach the time you’ll need the money. Stocks have provided the highest returns over long periods, especially if you’re talking about decades.

              • Which is more expensive for a family of four: food or financing a new car?

            Food costs more, unless you’re talking about an especially pricey car. The American family of four spends about $8,700 on food in a year, or $725 per month, according to the most recent government Consumer Expenditure Survey. That’s far more than most monthly car payments. People will research for months to get a good deal on a car, but many won’t look at a sales flier or clip a few coupons.

              • How large should your emergency fund be?

            Three to six months of bare-bones living expenses, most money experts advise. But with the current state of the economy, six months should be the minimum.

             

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              Money Management

              April is Financial Literacy Month

              Financial Literacy

              In a proclamation on March 31st, President Obama explained how important it is to be financially literate and to have access to trustworthy financial services and products.

              “The financial crisis was fueled by a lack of responsibility from Wall Street to Washington,” Obama said. “It devastated ordinary Americans, many of whom were caught by hidden fees and penalties or saddled with loans they could not afford. Preventing a recurrence will require both better behavior and oversight on Wall Street and more informed decision making on Main Street and in homes across our country.”

              Financial Protection Laws

              It is our duty as Americans to be financially responsible and contribute to the financial education of the men, women and children around us. It is important that they know the importance and the freedom that comes with being debt free.

              President Obama is in the process of enacting more consumer financial protections into law, continuing what he started with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure Act and the Dodd‑Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act signed into law last year.

              For the remainder of the month of April, our posts will be about some basic financial education topics that we have found to be helpful. Feel free to respond in the comments below with suggestions or topics you would like to learn more about.

               

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                Christian Credit Counselors, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Debit & Your Credit Score, Finance

                Your Finances and Financial Spring Cleaning

                Financial Spring Cleaning

                With winter gone, and spring in full bloom spring cleaning is on probably on your mind. This is what you’ve been waiting for all winter, to clean your entire house from top to bottom. Wait, you don’t do annual spring cleaning? It’s okay, I don’t either, but the idea of going through your finances at least once a year seems a lot more beneficial then scrubbing the toilet.

                Know Your Financial Goals

                This may seem like a no brainer, but most people don’t have a defined plan concerning their financial future. Figure out exactly where you are now, and where you want to be in the next year, 5 years, 10 year, etc. Having a written document you are able to look at every so often will keep you on track toward securing your financial future.

                Get Rid of Unnecessary Documents

                While it is good that you are keeping a hold of valuable documents, some that have been in your pile for years may not be needed anymore. Visit bankrate.com to see what records you should have on hand and for how long.

                Review your Credit Report and Score

                The three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion offer you one free credit report annually. This is something you should take full advantage of. For more information about credit reports and your score, check out our last blog!

                Analyze your Insurance Coverage

                To make sure you are getting the best plan at the best price, shop around and compare rates. Companies are competing for your business, so you may be able to get a better deal somewhere else. Visit sites such as insurance.com and insure.com to help you in your research.

                De-clutter your Home

                Go through your closet, old boxes, basement, attic, etc. and get rid of unnecessary items that are sitting there collecting dust. You can opt to make a little money by trying to sell some of your goods, or you can always donate/recycle them. Either way, after de-cluttering your home, you will be inclined to improve other areas of your life, such as your finances!

                Happy Financial Spring Cleaning!

                 

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                  Budgeting, Money Management, Saving

                  Save Money at the Gas Pump

                  Rising Gas Prices

                  We have all noticed in the past week how much gas prices have gone up. It hasn’t been this high since 2008, and frankly, we are not liking it. With the everyday stress of trying to save money and pay off bills, while staying out of debt, an increase in gas prices isn’t good for our wallets. Unfortunately, we cannot change the prices, but we can alleviate some of the burden by a few simple adjustments to our lifestyle.

                  Driving Alternatives

                  If you are fortunate enough to live in the city, you can get anywhere by foot, taxi, bus, subway, etc. Take advantage of these options when you need to get somewhere. Even in more rural areas, public transportation is still available. If you don’t want to resort to these, then try carpooling. You won’t only save on gas and money, but you’ll get a chance to catch up with friends/colleagues/family.

                  Don’t make unnecessary trips

                  Instead of going to the grocery store after work every day, simply go once a week and stock up. You can also make dinner at home instead of going out to eat. You won’t only save on gas, but you will save on money from the added expense of fancy dining.

                  Opt for a car that is good on gas mileage

                  If you are in the market for a new car, consider buying a hybrid or one that has good MPG (miles per gallon). There are SUV’s out there now that offer decent MPG if you need the extra room that a sedan or compact car can’t offer.

                  Do your research

                  It is so easy to go online or download an app that will provide you with the cheapest gas prices in your area. Instead of going to the same gas station all the time, shop around for the best deal out there. A few cents here and there might not sound worth it, but over time those pennies will accumulate and you will be glad you put in the extra effort.

                  Ride your bike whenever possible

                  This is not only a great alternative to driving your own car or using public transportation, but you will be doing something good for the environment. You will also get some exercise and maybe even reduce some stress! Who knew going green could be so easy?

                  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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                    Budgeting, Holiday Tips, Money Management, Saving

                    Loving on a Budget for Valentine’s Day

                    You and Your Valentine’s Budget

                    The day is quickly approaching. If you have been procrastinating on getting your sweetheart a gift, totally forgot, or feel like you don’t have the money to spoil your loved one, you still have some time before the big day. Remember, it’s the thought that counts, so as long as you put a little bit of time and effort into it, you should have your loved one feeling like the luckiest person in the world.

                    A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

                    With the ease of taking your photos on your computer and saving them to a memory card, you have no excuse to say you don’t have time for this. Pick some funny/romantic/memorable photos of the times you have shared together, save to your memory card, and head to the nearest photo kiosk at Walmart, Target or CVS. You can upload your photos to create a personalized card or a photo book. Most places can do this in an hour or less, and you will have a one-of-a-kind gift to give.

                    Chocolate….need I say more?

                    Who doesn’t love chocolate? Unless you are allergic–then I understand, but if you’re not, then…well…I’ve got nothing. Chocolate releases endorphins that make you happy, and who doesn’t want to make their partner happy? There are so many different chocolates out there to choose from, try to go for something a little unique. If it’s a little pricey, maybe opt for the smaller package, or just get a few pieces for your loved one to try. It isn’t everyday they get to indulge on fine chocolates, so it will be sweetly memorable.

                    See’s Candies, Ghiradelli and Godiva,

                    “Love” Coupon Book

                    Pamper your loved one. A great idea is to create a personalized coupon book. You can have coupons such as: good for one half-hour massage, breakfast in bed, movie night or dinner of your choice, a big smooch, etc. Tailor the coupons to what you know your partner will actually enjoy. This is probably one of my favorite ideas out there, because not only are you showing how much you care, but it allows you to spend more quality time with your loved one, not just on Valentine’s Day.

                    Here are some pre-made coupons that you can print out: Free Love Coupons

                    Romantic Dinner

                    You don’t have to go out to a fancy restaurant to have a romantic evening. Cook your partner their favorite meal, and have a nice quiet evening at home. You can set the mood with candles and music, and avoid the hustle and bustle of finding parking. You can also buy their favorite wine, make dessert, and serve your special someone as if they were in a fancy restaurant. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so ladies; this might be the perfect way to celebrate this year.

                    The Food Network Valentine’s Day: Cooking for Two

                    There are many way to show someone you love them without breaking the bank. Just remember that as long as it is special and coming from your heart, your valentine will appreciate the time and effort you put into it. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Valentine’s Day! Go out there and spread the love!

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