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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Debt Counseling
Budgeting, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debt, Finance, Holiday Tips

Debt Counseling and Holiday Credit Card Debt

Debt Counseling and Christmas

Most people love spending money on their family and friends, wrapping presents with shiny bows and watching their expressions as they open gifts. However, Christmas is a bittersweet holiday for people with excessive credit card debt. By seeking debt counseling before or after the holidays, you take control of your holiday credit card debt.

According to an article in the Huffington Post, many shoppers experience the shopping hangover after major shopping days such as Black Friday. Even if you shop on major sale days, you don’t get ahead by using credit cards if you can’t pay them back. Revolving credit card debt is at the highest level it has been in several years, according to the Federal Reserve. Debt counseling gives you an edge so you start the New Year on the right path.

Credit Card Debt Repayment

If you can only afford to pay the suggested amount due or minimum due, you will benefit from debt consolidation. By receiving debt counseling, you find out how to budget to pay back all of your credit debt as well as monthly bills and expenses. With a debt repayment plan, you figure out how to get out of credit card debt for good.

By consolidating debt you pay off credit card debt and satisfy your creditors. If you take a different approach such as using a balance transfer credit card, you could end up running up even more credit card debt. Debt counseling helps many consumers overcome the temptation to keep putting items on credit instead of setting the credit cards aside.

Credit Counseling and your Finances

If you just want a short-term fix, pay your minimum balance or transfer credit card balances to a new credit card. However, experts say most credit cards charge a 3 percent transfer fee. Also, paying the minimum amount doesn’t lower your interest rate. A credit counselor helps you actually lower the interest you pay on your credit card debt so you pay it all off in less time. A long-term fix is about examining your spending habits, learning how to boost a credit score and budgeting. Many consumers fall into traps. You can change your spending and savings habits with a few simple personal finance tricks.

Although the holidays are all about giving, it is a good time to treat yourself to debt counseling. With a proper budget, you can buy loved ones holiday gifts and avoid lingering debt.

 

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

    Credit Card – Avoiding the Debt Trap this Holiday Season

    Gift Giving on Credit

    Staying out of debt can be almost as difficult as paying it off especially when our emotions take over. After all, buying gifts for our loved ones during the holiday season is a very emotional purchase.

    Preparing for gifting should begin way before the holiday season. In a survey conducted by The American Research Group, Inc., 2014 Christmas gift spending was up 8% over 2013 with an average of $861 spent per adult consumer. So what is the most efficient and painless way to save money for the holidays each year?

    Budgeting for Gift Giving

    Creating a management budget at the beginning of each year will ensure you achieve your financial goals, establish a savings, and have funds set aside for gifts and holidays throughout the year. First, calculate how much money you spend on the holidays annually and divide that by 12 months. This is how much money you will need to set aside in your monthly budget for holiday spending. There are many spending trackers and saving tools out there but sometimes its easiest to just create an envelope labeled holidays and put cash in it each month. This might seem like a tedious task, however when the time comes to buy gifts and holiday items throughout the year it will be nice to already have the cash available and not have to worry about denting your budget.

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      Debt Consolidations
      Debt Consolidation

      Debt Consolidation – Combating Holiday Credit Card Debt

      Setting Financial Goals

      By planning ahead, it’s easy to combat holiday credit card debt that puts you behind with New Year’s resolutions and financial goals. According to an article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the best approach is to plan ahead to avoid holiday binge buying. By talking to a Christian credit counselor, you learn about debt consolidation. Whether you sign up for a debt management plan before or after the holidays, you will have a strategy in place. Experts say paying off credit card debt is an important step to financial freedom and balance. Depending on your personality, financial habits and goals, the payoff date will differ. Thirty-eight percent of households deal with credit card debt, according to statics by Nerdwallet.com.

      Paying off Credit Card Debt

      One decision to make is whether you want to move around your credit card debt or get it paid off. Balance transfers buy you time if you want to take debt from a high interest credit card and move it to a zero percent card. The downside is the introductory interest rate doesn’t last. Most people get stuck paying an extremely high rate. A better option is debt consolidation through a reputable credit counseling agency such as Christian Credit Counselors. Because holiday shopping occurs typically at the end of the year, you will likely run up an old credit card if you transfer the balance.

      Debt Management and Gift Giving

      When you sign up for a debt management plan before the holidays, you stop using your credit cards. Although it is likely too late in the year to save up a holiday gift fund so you can buy gifts with cash, you can save money by making homemade gifts or providing gift certificates for services such as mowing a loved one’s lawn or back rubs. Your loved ones will likely appreciate a crocheted blanket more than a cash gift because it represents time spent and effort.

      Listening to Financial Experts

      If you accumulated a lot of debt throughout the year, it’s good to step back and evaluate where you have been. Before you get carried away with the holidays, talk to debt consolidation experts. In addition to consolidating debt, you find out how to budget, save, plan, improve your credit score and organize financial matters. Instead of leaning on your own understanding of financial matters, take the bold step to ask for help. A trained credit counselor doesn’t leave it to you to contact your creditors. Instead, the experienced credit counselors contact your creditors and work out a plan so you can pay back your debt. The holiday gift for you is a lower interest rate on what you owe as well as the peace of mind and joy of having a payoff date and realistic monthly payment.

      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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        At Christian Credit Counselors, we help our clients with debt consolidation so they get out of debt 80 percent faster than other strategies. For more information on how to financially plan ahead for the holidays, please contact us.

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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.

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          Activities, Budgeting, Car, Christian Credit Counselors, Consumer, Coupons, Credit, Credit Cards, Credit Counseling, Credit Score, Debit & Your Credit Score, Debt, Debt Consolidation, Economy, Finance, Gas, Gas, Holiday Tips, Kids & Money, Money Management, Repairs, Saving, Technology

          Fall Money Saving Tips

          Cutting Costs at Home

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

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

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

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

          Shopping on a Budget

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

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

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

          Lowering Travel Expenses

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

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

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

          Your Entertainment Costs

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

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

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

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

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            Debt Counseling
            Debt

            Surviving the Holiday Spending Trap With Debt Counseling

            After the school season starts, many people start getting ready for the holidays. Following Labor Day, the major holidays that often run up debt for the average American include Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. By receiving debt counseling in the fall, you gain valuable insights and information about how to pay off debt, budget, and set financial goals. You may decide to enroll in a debt management program so you can get a fresh start. A debt management plan is an agreement to pay back creditors, but typically with better terms. In most cases, you pay less money toward interest and pay off your debt much faster by consolidating the debt. To save money for the holiday season, consider consolidating old debt while resisting the temptation to take on any new debt. According to an article by marketwatch.com, one of the best way to tackle holiday credit card debt is to lower your interest rate. Talk to a credit counselor about how you can pay a lower interest rate by consolidating debt.

            Living below your Financial Means

            One of the lessons you learn with debt counseling is to live below your means. By having a budget, you know exactly what you owe to creditors, what you owe to the mortgage company or your landlord as well as how much you have for discretionary spending. Buying holiday gifts or costumes for Halloween and other parties is not a necessity. However, you can put aside money for gifts as long as you save some money for discretionary purchases. Living below your means does not mean you can’t spend money on others, but it’s about spending less than you earn.

            Figuring out how much your time is worth

            Another way to improve your financial situation is figuring out when you should do something yourself or when you should hire another person. If you can earn more money working at your career, it could make financial sense to pay someone else to clean your house, mow your lawn or cook for you. On other hand, you also have to think about your core values as well as hobbies. If you get exercise from mowing and love the outdoors, it’s more than a financial decision. When it comes to the holidays, save money by making your own costumes if it makes sense. If you earn a lot by working, consider hiring someone else to put up your holiday lights or deliver your Christmas tree.

            Spending time and not money with family

            If you are having trouble balancing your budget, avoid hosting holiday parties or buying a lot of gifts for others. Taking holiday trips also tends to run up credit cards. On the other hand, if you consolidate your debt prior to the holidays, you will have a firm grasp on how much money you have leftover in your monthly budget after paying on your debt management plan.

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              Uncategorized

              Budget Ideas for Mother’s Day

              Mother’s day is just around the corner, have you thought about what you will do for your Mom? If you are married and have kids; what are you and the kids going to do for your wife? It’s easy for most to spend money on gifts, lunches, or a night out. It’s important that you make and stick to a budget, and it’s especially important when you are trying to save money and get out of debt. That means you need to get a little creative and put some extra thought into things. We have scoured the web and racked our brains to come up with our top three favorite Mother’s Day categories with tons of ideas to show Mom you care!

              Pampering, rest, and relaxation

              1. Breakfast in bed, nothing says I love you more than a few flowers from the garden and a yummy breakfast made by you and the kids. Check out this post on Hallmark.com with 32 Mother’s Day recipe ideas.
              2. Buy something to delight her senses and enable some relaxation. Ideas include her favorite lotion, a beautiful smelling candle, bath salts, a yummy smelling body scrub, or even perfume. It does not have to be expensive just something thoughtful then make sure you facilitate some “her” time so she can use whatever you chose to buy for her. Many of these items can be found at inexpensive places like Marshalls, TJ Max or Ross.
              3. If you are the adventurous type and feel comfortable giving your wife a manicure, pedicure, or massage go for it! Bonus points!

              Show her you care

              1. Take some time to think about some of your favorite memories with Mom. On Mother’s Day, spend some time with her remembering and talking about those special memories. Let her know how important those memories are to your life today.
              2. Just think about all the times your mom and/or wife has cleaned up after you and /or the kids over the years. What a wonderful surprise if you hired a cleaning crew or just you and the kids cleaned your house and/or your mother’s house. If you do it yourself this will cost you nothing but the time to make it happen.
              3. Create your own custom fortune cookie with a special message for mom, no cooking necessary! Just watch this short video from Datevitation a great website on how to have fun together. Click here for the step-by-step video.
              4. Have kids? Create this special craft from our friends at Hallmark it will be sure to melt your wife’s heart!

              The traditional stuff

              1. Flowers, interestingly enough studies show that flowers give women a mood boost that lasts up to several days. They don’t need to be roses. Most grocery stores and roadside stands have beautiful alternatives to roses at a much smaller price tag. If you have a Costco near by they always have a gorgeous selection for less.
              2. Chocolates and a small jewelry item, it does not need to be expensive. Most women prefer costume jewelry over fine jewelry these days because they are stylish and vibrant in color.
              3. Date night, dinner, movies, miniature golf, bowling or something else you don’t normally do on a regular basis.
              4. Plan a special outdoor picnic in her favorite nature spot, park, lake, or the ocean if you live near it. It’s a great family activity and a way to create new memories. If you have kids you can get them involved in the planning and execution of the special meal.

              These are just a few budget saving ideas … to get you started! Mother’s day is a special time of year. It’s a time to honor, say thanks by loving and cherishing those that raised us and/or are in the midst of raising your kids. Have a cool idea, or maybe you tried one of these ideas? Let us know … be sure to share your experience with us! You never know, we may feature your story in our next client newsletter!!

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                Holiday Tips, Money Management, Saving

                Budgeting for a Festive St. Patrick’s Day

                Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

                Another holiday means more temptation to go out and spend money to celebrate. Whether you are Irish or not, people like to take the opportunity today to wear green, eat some corned beef, and wash it down with an Irish brew. There are many other ways to celebrate today as well. Here are some budgeting ideas for you to save some green this St. Patrick’s Day.

                1. Check out a local parade and get into the Irish spirit. This is great for the whole family and will most likely be free of charge.
                2. If you want to decorate a little bit around the house, don’t go to expensive craft stores. Opt to go to the Dollar Store to find great St. Patty’s decorations, and save some green.
                3. If you wish to celebrate by eating some traditional Irish food, instead of going out to a restaurant, find an easy recipe online and try to make it yourself. Visit Allrecipes.com or foodnetwork.com and filter the search to meet your needs. If you are planning on making tonight a date night, cook the meal together and have fun with it!
                4. Rent a movie inspired by the Irish. 411mania.com offers a list of the top 10 movies to watch on St. Patrick’s Day. Make an Irish coffee and bundle up on the couch for a relaxing evening.
                5. If you do not want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, that is okay! Today is the start of the NCAA’s March Madness. So kick back and watch some basketball. You can still enjoy an Irish brew if you like, I won’t tell.

                I hope you all have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Most importantly, even if you are feeling the luck of the Irish, be safe.

                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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