Memorial Day Weekend: Money Saving Tips

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day weekend is about honoring the men and women who have served for our country, but it is also the unofficial kick off to summer! No matter what your plans are, check out some helpful money-saving tips this Memorial Day Weekend!

If you’re traveling, here are some ways to save a little extra cash:  

  • Tune up your vehicle to get the best gas mileage:
    • Check your tire pressure to make sure each tire is inflated properly. You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3% by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure.
    • Use cruise control while driving! The consistent speed will save you money on gas and might save you from an expensive speeding ticket.
    • Empty your trunk of any unnecessary items and save at the tank! For each additional 100 pounds loaded into your car, you lose 1% to 2% in fuel efficiency. For every 100 lbs. you manage to shed, you’ll save the equivalent of 6 cents per gallon.
    •  Finally, turn off the air conditioner, open the windows, and enjoy a little fresh air (assuming the rain stays away)!
  • Pack a cooler full of snacks and refreshments! While traveling, you might have a tendency to eat at nice restaurants or fast food chains which can all add up quickly! By packing food ahead of time, you can save money to do other fun things on vacation!

Here are some ways to enjoy your weekend if you’re on a budget or want to keep it simple :Memorial Day Food

  • The warm weather is finally here! If the rain decides to stay away this weekend, take time to enjoy the sun, have a bonfire or a picnic with your family. Outdoor activities are generally free, so they fit in perfectly with a thrifty lifestyle.
  • Spend time on the water! Rent a boat, kayak, canoe or fishing boat. Get a group of friends to help split the cost. Bring your own beverages and snacks and enjoy the soothing waves while catching some rays!
  • Go Camping! Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of camping season! With no work or school on Monday, many of us will break for the outdoors to embrace the warm weather. Campsite spots fill up fast so call ahead to see if they have anything available.
  • A barbecue is also a great way to enjoy the outdoors while feeding your friends and family on a budget. Hamburgers and hotdogs are always a great choice and won’t break your bank account. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring sides or drinks to a barbecue, saving you a few more dollars. Most likely, they will be glad to help out! Play some music and grab a bags set or some other fun outdoor activities you and your guests can enjoy. It’s sure to be a hit!
  • Instead of traveling, or hosting a party, enjoy your three-day weekend in the comfort of your own living room. Rent some movies and enjoy quality time with your loved ones for little or no cost.

Most importantly have fun, be safe and take a moment to remember why we celebrate this special day!

 

Have a great weekend!

Jessica

Money Monday: Living on Your Own

It’s graduation time and many of you graduates will soon be moving into your first apartment! It’s a very exciting milestone in your life, but there are a lot of things to think about financially. Are you ready to make the big move?

Living on your own creates new expenses that you may not have considered, such as rental insurance, commuting expenses and furnishing your new place. Here are a number of things to consider as you plan for your big move.

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Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Thrifty Thursday: DIY Skin Care/Beauty Products

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There is nothing like having a little down time to pamper yourself a few times a year. However, going to the store and purchasing high end products to do so, can drain your bank account pretty quickly. Ditch the expensive beauty products and get in the habit of DIY (do it yourself). Not only can  you find most of these ingredients in your kitchen, but you will avoid the chemicals and artificial junk that may be doing more harm to your skin than anything else.

1. Hair Mask
There are so many hair masks you can create that will help your hair stay beautiful, but my favorite is this recipe including coconut oil and honey. These ingredients combine to make a mask that your hair won’t soon forget. The richness of the coconut oil, combined with the antibacterial nature of the honey give this a consistency that feels amazing while applying it, and leaves your hair feeling amazing. Click here to find out how to make and apply!

2. Exfoliating Oatmeal Body Scrub
This scrub is specifically designed to exfoliate the skin, and help keep it calm at the same time with oatmeal. Four simple ingredients go into this recipe, and out comes a body scrub that doesn’t include any harmful ingredients that actually work against you. Click here for the recipe!

3. Natural Lip Scrub
Make sure your lips are healthy and smooth all year long with this DIY lip scrub. Using a homemade lip scrub once a week, especially in the wintertime, is very important. Your lips have the thinnest skin on your whole body and should avoid becoming chapped or dry. Many people suffer from dry, cracked lips and there’s no reason to keep them that way!  Apply this scrub to your lips for about 20 seconds and you will see results instantly!

4. Face Masks
Why pay for a store-bought face mask when you can use basic ingredients found around the house to make your own concoction! The first thing to do when making a DIY face mask is to pick a base. These are usually simple ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry. Check out a few recipes that work great for all skin types!

Curious as to what kind of mask will work best for your skin? Check out this BuzzFeed article for more information!

5. DIY Eye Cream
Eye cream is necessary to get rid of puffiness, wrinkles and dark circles. Don’t try to fight it!  For a natural moisturizer that targets that delicate under-eye area and boosts collagen production, you’ll only need a small container and 2-3 ingredients. You can create the eye cream without the essential rose oil, but if you want the extra perks try it out! Click here to find out more!

6. Coconut Oil for Everything!
Did you know you can swap out many of your beauty products for coconut oil? Get rid of the expensive moisturizer, hair products and switch to coconut oil. It can be used for almost anything ranging from make up remover to reducing premature signs of aging! Sounds appealing right? Click here to find out how you can use this in your morning/bedtime routine!

 

Have you made any of these DIY products? What did you think? Any recommendations?

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Money Monday: 10 Ways to Cut Your Debt Now

Are you swimming in debt and don’t know how you’re ever going to pay it off? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, the average U.S. household has more than $15,000 in credit card debt, according to a 2014 NerdWallet analysis.  It’s important to know that getting rid of debt is possible, it may just take small (but very important) steps and strategies to get there!

Advice is always a good first step. Set up a meeting with a financial planner who can help you investigate all sources of income and total up all your obligations — most will make you bring all your bills with you — and tailor a plan that matches your needs and circumstances. But in general terms, here are 10 steps you should follow:

  1. Get a grip on the amount of debt you have: You can’t overcome a debt problem without knowing how much you owe. Start pulling together every bill with a balance where you’re charged non-tax-deductible interest — credit cards and auto loans for a start — and get a total. If you’ve missed any payments on any of these balances, bring those current first. Then organize the rest of the debt with interest rates and set a payment order that attacks your highest rate balances first. Also, this is a good time to check your credit reports to make sure there are no other surprises in your credit picture. You are entitled to three free credit reports each year on AnnualCreditReport.com. Any other credit report with the word “free” in its name that asks for a credit card number will likely charge you — avoid those.
  2. Put the credit cards away: Cut up your cards if you have to, but at the very least, put them in a safe place where they’re far away from your wallet and your phone or computer (so you don’t use them for catalog or web orders). Once your debt is paid off, then you can consider which accounts you will use — sparingly — in the future.
  3. Now get a grip on spending: It’s time to make a budget. For a month, start tracking your spending — every dime. You can do this on paper or on a computer-based solution like Quicken or Mint.com. As you go through the numbers weekly, start identifying things you can live without — coffee and doughnuts, expensive lunches (carryout is a huge budget-buster) and any other frills that can be cut or eliminated. Once you start to suspect that a particular spending item isn’t absolutely essential, cut them immediately — don’t wait for the end of the month. When you get to the end of the month, build a spending plan that covers the essentials and then direct any additional savings you’ve identified toward paying off the debt.
  4. Try to refinance your home debt: If you have not recently refinanced your mortgage or home equity debt, see if there’s an opportunity to do so while rates are still low. You’ll need at least 10 percent equity in your home and a credit score exceeding 740 to qualify for the best rates, but start negotiating with your current lender first and see how well you do.
  5. Try to refinance your credit card debt: If you are facing an overwhelming amount of credit card debt, talk to each credit card company directly to see if you can lower rates or monthly payment amounts. Don’t fall for the 2:00 a.m. come-ons from debt resolution companies — they generally charge high fees and take the payment process out of your hands, which may mean late or missed payments. It’s not easy to negotiate a better deal and you may need to insist to speak with several supervisors. But if you succeed at getting a more favorable deal, it’s better if you keep the payment process in your hands so you can keep a constant eye on how your situation is improving.
  6. If you need outside help, use some smarts: The Credit Card Act that took effect in February 2010 requires credit card issuers to print a toll-free number for a nonprofit credit counseling service on every bill. It’s important to know that the credit card companies fund these nonprofits, so they’re not acting completely in your interest. Nor are they foolproof in making sure bills get paid on time — any time you let someone else handle your finances you face that risk. But if you are looking for outside assistance and negotiation with your balances, these agencies are a better option than those credit-repair agencies you’ll see advertised on TV. Yet a financial planner may be able to offer specific negotiation tips that can help you keep better control of your debt issues.
  7. Learn to use cash or debit: Try to migrate as much spending as you can to cash as long as you get receipts that help you track that spending. A more efficient solution — particularly if you download your bank transactions into a financial tracking computer program — is the debit card. Debit cards wearing a bankcard logo are typically welcome at most stores where credit cards are accepted. This way, you pay cash without carrying cash. If you don’t have such a card, you can probably get one from your bank to replace your traditional ATM card. But remember to tell them to limit your buying power on the card to only what you have in your account. And use overdraft protection to avoid fees.
  8. If you can do it safely, do it yourself: You don’t have to pay for a hand car wash or a lawn service if you can do such things yourself. For any home or auto maintenance chores you may have during the year, learn as much as you can about those tasks and how much skill, money and time it takes to do them. Previous generations made do-it-yourself a necessity. See if that option is right for you and you might save a considerable amount of money doing it. Also, for bigger jobs, pair up with friends and family and help each other save money.
  9. Plan your shopping in advance: Impulse buying had its own role in the debt crisis. It’s time to stamp it out at least until your debt issues are fully under control. Start making a centralized list of necessary shopping items — keep the list for grocery, discount store and other locations on one page so you can see everything you’re considering. Mark off what seems less than necessary. Use coupons and other discounts — the same goes for online purchases. Always do a search for coupon and discount codes to save money on shipping and overall purchase price. Oh, and when you can, buy used — recycled clothes, furniture and home goods will save you money, and if you’re making smart purchases, no one will care. Again, direct all savings toward debt.
  10. At the end of the rainbow, don’t restart the problem: Once the slate is clean, don’t start spending again. Start saving and investing.

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

 

Resources: http://www.moneysmartweek.org
http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance

Your Paycheck: What It Tells You

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Getting a regular paycheck? It’s a great feeling isn’t it. You are now able to make purchases on your own without the help of your parents. But, your paycheck isn’t as much as you thought, is it? Welcome to the working world.

Curious as to where some of your earned income is going and what the rest of the stuff on your paycheck means? Educating yourself on how to read your pay stub and understanding the information it contains can play an important role in effective money management and proper budgeting. Knowing where your money is going can help you stay on top of your finances and make the most of your hard-earned paycheck.

  • Gross Pay: Includes the total amount of income that you earned during a particular pay period. A pay period is determined by your employer, but is typically bi-weekly or monthly. This figure does not factor in tax withholdings.
  • Net Pay: Includes the amount of income that you actually take home after all withholdings have been applied. It is the amount of money that you take straight to the bank!
What is deducted from my paycheck?
Federal Income Taxes
The federal government gets a piece of your income each and every paycheck. The amount of money withheld for federal taxes depends on the amount of money that you earn and the information that you gave your employer when you filled out a W-4 form or Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate. On a W-4 form, you may make allowances for yourself, your spouse, and your dependents. For every allowance that you take, less money gets withheld for federal taxes and more money gets added to your paycheck. Take fewer allowances and a bigger chunk of your income will be withheld for your federal taxes.

State Taxes
Depending on where you live, you may or may not be required to pay a state income tax. As with federal taxes, money for state taxes is withheld with every paycheck.

Social Security
The federal government requires every working American to contribute a portion of their paycheck to Social Security, a system of supplemental retirement programs established in 1935. Every worker contributes 6.2 percent of their gross income directly into the Social Security fund, and every employer chips in an additional 6.2 percent for each employee. The Social Security fund provides benefits to current Social Security recipients.

Medicare
The federal government requires every working American to contribute to Medicare, a U.S. government insurance plan that provides hospital, medical, and surgical benefits for Americans age 65 and older and for people with certain disabilities. Every worker contributes 1.45 percent of their gross income to Medicare and every employer chips in an additional 1.45 percent on behalf of each employee.

These federal and state withholdings account for much of the difference between your gross income and net income (or take-home pay). But there may be other deductions as well, depending on the programs that you sign up for with your employer.

Insurance
If you signed up for medical, dental, or life insurance through your employer, your contributions to these plans will be deducted from your pay.

Retirement Savings Plans
Contributions to retirement savings plans such as a 401(k) plan will also be deducted from your pay. When you sign up for a 401(k) plan, you select a percentage of your pre-tax salary that you’d like to contribute to the retirement account. If you choose 5 percent, than 5 percent of your pre-tax pay will be contributed to your retirement account.

Flexible Spending Accounts
A flexible spending plan allows you to set aside pre-tax dollars for medical expenses including health insurance copayments and deductibles and prescription drugs. Contributions to a flexible spending account are deducted from your pre-tax income.

 

If you need further explanation on how to read your paycheck stub or if a particular calculation doesn’t seem correct, consult your Human Resources Department for assistance. Don’t procrastinate! Exercise good money management skills by being proactive. If a calculation is incorrect, the issue may reappear on every paycheck. Also, you may not be making the best choice for a retirement plan contribution, or losing money if your earnings are not calculated properly. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure that you are being properly compensated.

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Choosing Debit Vs Credit at Checkout

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I’m sure you’ve encountered the following question when swiping your debit card at a gas station or retail store:  “credit” or “debit?”  The question might better be phrased as “PIN or signature?” So what should you do? Does one card do BOTH transaction types? Does it really matter which one you choose? Let’s break it down.

What happens if you swipe as debit?

  • Payment comes from your account
  • You are required to enter a PIN- personal identification number
  • Your account decreased immediately
  • Transaction fees less expensive for retailer
  • No rewards for using
  • Amount may be limited per day
  • Can get cash back but in addition to purchase

What happens if you swipe as credit?

  • Payment comes from your account
  • You are required to sign your name to authorize payment
  • Account decreases immediately
  • Retailer pays more in transaction fees
  • Bank may offer “rewards” for using
  • No limit on amount
  • No cash back option

Debit cards are NOT credit cards, no matter the transaction type. They may look alike and share the same logos, but they are NOT equal. The most important difference is where the money comes from.

When using a Debit Card… 
You essentially make an electronic payment. Money is taken directly from your account you linked to the card. Your account balance decreases when you use the card, and you do not get a monthly bill. The card works at ATMs (Automated Teller Machine) as well as for store and online purchases. Lastly, a debit card is NOT issued without an account.

What is the difference between swiping your debit card as credit vs using an actual credit card?
When using a credit card you are NOT using your own money. Rather, the amount you charge is a loan until you pay it back, hopefully when the bill arrives. Your bank or credit union may issue the credit card to you, but the card is not tied to your account. In fact, the credit card is not tied to a bank account.

 

So next time you head to the store, think before you choose debit or credit. Why are you choosing one over the other and what are the pros and cons of each one? Either way, the money will be withdrawn directly from your banking account. If you want to earn rewards or enjoy a float of a day or two, you may want to opt for credit. Otherwise, choosing debit might be the safer option.

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Money Smart Week has officially started, therefore I am going to post about topics this week to help you become smarter with your finances. To kick things off, I thought I would share some tips on how to help keep your identity safe and sound.

What is identity theft?
Simply stated, it is the theft and fraudulent use of another’s unique identification and personal information, such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, Social Security number, or credit card account number, for unlawful or criminal gain.

According to The Financial Times, college students are five times more likely to become victims of identity theft than any other demographic. Security experts have proposed two reasons for this increased risk: College students are living in very close quarters, making them more vulnerable to theft in general, and most do not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. Stay ahead of the game and protect your identity with these simple, but helpful tips below:

  1. Immediately report lost or stolen debit or credit cards
    As soon as you discover your card is missing, contact the issuer immediately. Even if you think you may find it in a day or two, they often can place a temporary hold on your card to restrict transactions and give you some time to find that misplaced card. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
  2. Don’t keep your Social Security card in your wallet
    A Social Security number is all a thief needs to steal your identity. Instead of carrying it in your wallet, keep it in a safe place at home or in a safe deposit box. And of course, don’t keep the number written down in your wallet or purse.
  3. Never provide your personal information to anyone who contacts you by phone, email or any other way
    It’s easy for a con artist to pretend that he or she is a representative of an authentic business over the phone and they may even drop a name that you think is legit. Don’t give into this! Hang up the phone or delete the email immediately. If you provide personal info over the phone, do it only when you are the one initiating the call.
  4. Use online banking to check your bills and statements regularly
    Be on the lookout for charges you didn’t make and if you notice something suspicious, contact your financial institution immediately.
  5. Check your credit reports at least annually
    You are entitled to receive one free credit report from the big three credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian every 12 months. For your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com.
  6. Don’t list your date of birth or your social security number on your resume
    There is no reason why potential employers would need to know this information about you at a first glance
  7. Use your ATM card and pin number wisely
    The combo of your card and pin number is like free access to all of the money in your account. Transactions on a debit or credit card can be disputed, but cash can’t often be retrieved. Never write your pin on your card or keep it with your card either.
  8. Guard your checkbook
    You may not use checks very much anymore, but if you ever notice that any of your checks are missing, contact your financial institution immediately.
  9. Select strong passwords that can’t easily be guessed
    Using your birthday or last 4 digits of your social are too obvious to use for passwords or pins. If your identity is stolen, contact your credit union and any other financial accounts you have: credit card issuers, the three major credit bureaus, file a police report and file a report with the FTC.
  10. Be aware of what you share
    With an increasing number of social media sites being used/created, a significant amount of personal information is being shared online that can be used to authenticate a person’s identity. Don’t share or post personal information online, such as your address, phone numbers, SSN, birth date, or birth place.

Unfortunately identity theft is fairly common, but it is possible to help prevent it. If you have any questions or need more information, don’t hesitate to contact us because we are here to help you!

 

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

How-To-Tuesday: Tips on How to Rock that Interview!

Spring semester is winding down and companies are looking to hire. If you are a recent graduate or even just a student looking to build your resume, chances are you’re looking for a job or internship to kick start your career!

Once you get an interview, you’re now one step closer to landing a job. Stay calm, and follow these simple tips on how to ace a job interview:

1.  Do your homework– One of the biggest complaints of hiring managers is that many job interview candidates know very little about the company they’re interviewing for. Research the company. Know their history, what they offer, their mission/vision, locations, etc. You can never underestimate the importance of preparation. Know the company inside and out and you should score major points with the interviewer.

2. Ask yourself questions– Getting a list of common questions for an interview is easier than ever before. Make a list of questions and write down your response for each. Then practice, practice, practice with a friend, colleague, or family member. If you are a college student, set up an appointment with your career center and have them conduct a mock interview with you. Even if you’re a recent graduate, many college career centers will conduct mock interviews to help alumni. Utilize these free services while you can! They are there to help you!

3. Interview yourself for the position-Before every interview, ask yourself: “Why am I a good fit for this job?” Identify what is unique or special about you. How have you gone above and beyond? What did you accomplish that no one else managed to do? Did you volunteer to tackle a problem and solve it? Don’t underestimate the value of looking at yourself, your skills and your accomplishments and outlining the key points you will want to share with a prospective employer.

4. Clean Up Social Media- Nowadays with our lives being exposed all over the internet, it’s easy for employers to check out your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, so police them carefully. Many hiring managers believe millennials make the mistake of posting potentially compromising content, including inappropriate photos, profanity and too-personal information.

5. Dress to impress- First impressions are everything in a job interview. Whether you are interviewing for the top job of a Fortune 500 firm or a local company, what you wear to the interview will be judged equally with your background. When selecting your look for the interview, “Dress to Impress” is always the best practice.

6. Be Positive– Even if you faced hard times at your last job, NEVER speak badly about former employers or bosses. No matter how mad the situation was, a negative answer often reflects badly on you not the employer or manager.

7. Be Confident- Being confident from the moment you walk through the door will always give you a better chance of landing the job. The key to confidence when interviewing is coming prepared and staying present, connected and fully engaged in the process and what you need to convey about yourself. Connect with your interviewer by providing helpful answers to questions and being actively interested in what they have to say. The more focused you are on what you trying to accomplish; the less room insecurities, nervousness, and self-doubt will have to creep in.

With all of these tips, you are now ready to rock that interview! Just be yourself and own it!

Good Luck!

Jessica M.

March Madness: Financial Edition

March-Madness Things are heating up with March Madness beginning this week, and many of us are scrambling to pick our favorite teams and fill out our tournament brackets. So, why not apply the same concept to your finances? Check out Financial Four, an interactive bracket developed by the National Endowment for Financial Education and the Financial Planning Association to help you identify the financial areas that are most important to you.

How to Begin:

On the interactive web page, the topics are divided into four groups:

  1. Growing Your Money
  2. Spending Wisely
  3. Protecting Your Money
  4. Learning About Money 

Rank each topic until you advance your selections to your #1 financial priority. Clicking submit shows how users’ answers compare to financial experts! Each item on the list is also linked to a helpful resource for financial information. It’s as easy as that! Interested in what your financial priorities are? Click here to play!

Now that you have filled out your bracket, what did you come up with? Is it establishing an emergency savings or using credit responsibly? Was it living within your means or ensuring job security?

Expert financial planners and advisors recommend the following as their top suggested “financial four” priorities:

  1. Live Within Your Means. This was the top choice among financial planners and advisors. Spending less than you earn and living within your income allowance is the best way to ensure you meet your financial goals.
  2. Pay Yourself First. Every time you receive a paycheck, save a certain percentage of your income before spending money on anything else.
  3. Rein in Debt. Have less than 15 to 20 percent of your income earmarked for debt payments – excluding mortgage debt. If you pay more than this, you’re in the danger zone and potentially in over your head with debt.
  4. Maintain Adequate Insurance. Ensure your financial security by having adequate insurance coverage in place for health, disability, long-term care, auto, homeowners’, and renters’ to protect yourself and your assets.

Now What?

Well now that you have filled out your bracket the only thing left to do is create an action plan! Make it a goal in 2015 to focus on your/or the recommended financial priorities, and you will be on your way to creating a successful financial future.  Easy enough right?

Share with us your final four financial priorities in a comment below!

Until Next Time,

Jessica M

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