Inexpensive Valentine’s Day Gifts


Want to celebrate Valentine’s Day without going into debt? Keep reading!

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 a few ways to express your love on Valentine’s Day.

For a spouse or significant other: 

  1. Give them Time: Give your hardworking loved one a full day to do whatever he or she wants. If that means a day to just relax make sure to give that to them – no interruptions allowed. For him, that might mean he gets to engage in his favorite hobby, watch a game with the guys, play 18 holes or do absolutely nothing. For her, that might mean a spa day, binge watching Netflix or just enjoying a new book. To make their day even more special, throw in a back rub, make their favorite dinner or watch their favorite movie. You’ll give them the chance to recharge and that will mean more to them than chocolates ever could!
  2. Get Cooking: Instead of spending a fortune at an expensive restaurant, run to the grocery store and pick up the essentials to make your loved one’s favorite meal. Light some candles, dim the lights and play some romantic music in the background. Don’t forget the desert!
  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. The site of your first date, for example. When you vary your routines, it helps create new memories!
  4. Surprise, surprise: The best gifts are those you usually least expect. Make breakfast in bed or hide notes around the house telling your loved one how much they mean to you. Both of these ideas are super simple and won’t cost you a penny! Just remember: It’s the little things that sometimes mean the most. You don’t have to spend a lot to express how you feel!
  5. IOU Coupons: An excellent way to show your love can be through making IOU coupons or vouchers. Some examples include:
    • This voucher is good for one week of dish washing by me, no questions asked.
    • This voucher is good for guaranteeing one season of your favorite TV show to be shared with me. And a promise that there will be no channel surfing during said show.
    • This voucher is good for one foot massage. To be redeemed any time.
    • This voucher is good for one breakfast in bed.
  6. Flowers
    If flowers are a must, you may have to cash up a few extra dollars. Flower bouquets are always extremely over priced on Valentine’s day. My recommendation is to pick some up from the grocery store as opposed to a flower shop. Also, try looking for flowers at wholesale stores like Costco and Sam’s Club. They will be cheaper, and your loved one will never even know the difference! It’s the thought that counts, right?


Whatever your gift might be, the most important feature of any gift is sincerity. Tell your Valentine you’re happy they are in your life. The best gift of all should be spending quality time with your loved one and showing them how much you care about them, not just on Valentine’s Day, but everyday!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jessica M.

Tips for Buying Your First Home



Is there anything more stressful than buying your first home?

Skydiving? Perhaps.

But surely spending six figures – much of it borrowed – has to rank in the top five on anyone’s anxiety list. Buying your first place may not be stress-free, but it shouldn’t be a white-knuckle experience either, if you’re prepared. Here’s how to make it easier.

Define your dream
The key to finding a home is being realistically optimistic. Wanting a five-bedroom, four-bath, exquisitely restored Victorian on the best block in town may be realistic for some buyers, but take a hard look at your budget before deciding whether it’s possible for you. Make a list of your deal-makers and deal-breakers and figure out how to make them fit into your budget.

Do you need to be in a good school district? Will just a driveway do, or do you also need a garage? How important is that third bedroom? Are you willing to sacrifice space for location? Deciding what you need will save you time and aggravation when it comes to serious shopping.

Fatten up your credit
Check your credit history and credit score before applying for a mortgage. If there are any errors on your credit reports, get them fixed. The higher your FICO score (an excellent score generally ranges from 720 to 850), the better the interest rate you’re going to qualify for on a mortgage.

If your credit score is low, start paying down your debt (as you save for your down payment), which will punch up your score. A percentage point or two added to your interest rate may not seem like much now, but over the life of your mortgage, a lower rate could save you thousands of dollars.

Get preapproved
Getting preapproved for your mortgage will streamline the process of buying a home because you’ll be able to show sellers and their agents a letter of commitment, confirming that you are in a position to purchase their home. If it comes down to accepting an offer between a preapproved buyer or one who is not, why would the sellers take chances?

Going through the preapproval process not only helps sellers take you more seriously, but it’ll also help you understand how much house you can afford. Once you see all the figures broken down into monthly mortgage payment, taxes and other fees, you’ll have an idea just how high you can go. You can also discuss the terms of your mortgage: Do you want a fixed-rate or an adjustable-rate mortgage? Are you looking at a 30-year or 15-year commitment?

Preapproval isn’t as difficult as getting the final mortgage, but it does mean gathering a giant stack of paperwork for the lender that will examine your financial history. Mortgage lenders such as Community 1st Credit Union can provide lists of exactly what you’ll need: pay stubs, tax returns and more. It may feel invasive, but would you lend you several hundred thousand dollars on a handshake and a smile? Probably not.

Prepare to settle in
Even if you’re able to pay with cash, buying a home is always going to be a little stressful. But by breaking it down into small, manageable steps, you can make the process a less overwhelming. The reward will be all that much sweeter after you’ve filed the paperwork, written all the checks and are able to unlock the door to your new home.


Judy McGuire, NerdWallet

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Choosing Your Financial Institution

What was the very first financial choice you ever made?

Think about it: it likely took place before your first job, even as far back as when your annual income consisted of Tooth Fairy money and lucky pennies. The very first financial decision you ever made is also one of the most important choices—it’s where to keep your money.

When you first made that decision, piggy banks, sock drawers and buried-in-the-sandbox-like-
pirate-treasure all seemed like perfectly acceptable options. As it turns out, they aren’t nearly as super-secret as you might have hoped. Opening a bank account is the best solution, but in order to do that, you first need to choose a financial institution—so, your choice is between a bank and a credit union.

Banks and credit unions offer essentially the same products and services, but there are huge differences in the way they operate. Despite this, many people put more thought into building their Netflix queue than they do choosing their financial institution. It’s a Money Thing is here to help fill in the gaps and show you how the differences can affect your dollars. Whether you’re just starting out or rethinking your current financial setup, here is what you need to know.

The main difference between banks and credit unions is in their structure. Banks are for profit, while credit unions are member-owned and -operated. This means that banks have numerous expenses that credit unions simply don’t have. Banks have to pay their shareholders, their private investors and even their board of directors (credit union boards are typically volunteers elected by credit union members)—and all this is in addition to regular operating costs. Banks are set up in a way that allows a select group of people to make money off of your banking activity.

Credit unions, on the other hand, are set up in a way that allows all of their members to benefit from their profits. Once the operating costs are covered and reserves are set aside, the profits are distributed back to members in the form of free banking products, lower interest rates on loans and higher interest rates on savings accounts. Credit unions in the United States are also exempt from federal and state income taxes, which translates to even more profit that comes back to members. 

Credit unions sound pretty great, right? You might be wondering why some people choose banks over credit unions, even though credit unions consistently outperform banks when it comes to deposit and loan rates and customer service

The simple answer is that banks are bigger, and some people believe bigger is better. A more effective approach would be to figure out your banking priorities. Here are some factors to consider:

1) Am I eligible for an account? Banks are open to anyone. Credit unions have membership requirements, but don’t let that intimidate you! Requirements can be as simple as living in a certain community or working in a certain field.

2) How much does it cost to get set up? Are there any fees associated with opening an account? Is there a minimum balance required? Joining a credit union involves purchasing a share (they’re usually $5), but this is different from a fee—it means you’re a member-owner of the credit union.

3) Will I have good access to ATMs? You might feel as though you see larger bank ATMs everywhere, but credit union ATMs are just as accessible. In fact, the largest credit union ATM network is actually larger than the largest bank ATM network. Find out which other financial institutions share your local credit union’s network—free ATM transactions are not limited to machines with a particular credit union name on them.

4) What can I do online? More and more financial institutions are offering online banking services. Find out what you can do from your computer and smartphone. Can you check your balance? Schedule payments? Transfer money between accounts? Taking advantage of online products can be super-convenient, and can avoid a trip to the ATM or the nearest branch.

5) And speaking of the nearest branch, where is it? Find out what the hours of operation are and how they work with your schedule. Find out if you can bank through other branches, too. This could come in handy if there’s a location close to work or school. 

6) What can my financial institution do for me? Ask about products that are tailored to your situation. How do the interest rates compare to other financial institutions? Are there free products you’re eligible for? Don’t settle for a financial institution just because you need an account—you should also want to have an account there.

At the end of the day, choosing a financial institution is a personal decision with a huge influence on how you manage your money and your time. If you make the effort to ask questions and compare services, you’ll find the best home for your finances.

 Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

New Year’s Resolutions: Get Your Finances in Shape for 2016


Hey Everyone!

2015 has definitely been an amazing one, but i’m ready to bring on the new year! It seems just like yesterday that I was given the opportunity to be your spokesperson and crazy enough, in less than 12 hours, it will be 2016. Where has the time gone? Since the new year is all about making goals, have you thought about what your New Year’s resolution will be? If not, make it a goal to be financially savvy. Here are 3 ways to kick off your new year the right way:

  1. 52 Week Money Challenge. Looking for an easy and efficient way to save money? Check out my blog post about the 52 Week Money Challenge! It’s all about saving a little more each week and by the end of the challenge you will have saved $1,378. Think of all the things you could do with that extra cash!
  2. Start Saving Now! I can’t emphasize it enough – Saving money is so important! You never know when an emergency can come about. Financial emergencies can come in the form of a job loss, significant medical expenses, home or auto repairs or something you’ve never dreamed of. The last thing you want to do is be forced to rely on credit cards or a loan which could simply increase the problem. Most experts agree that you should keep three to six months worth of your income set aside in your emergency fund. The most common reason for the need of an emergency fund is due to a sudden loss of income. If you feel it is difficult to begin saving, simply start with a small amount. Each month put aside $20 and as you learn to budget and eventually make more money, you can increase that dollar amount. To help you stay on track, set up an automatic transfer at your Credit Union. Each month you can automatically transfer a certain amount from your checking to your savings account for no fee at all!
  3.  Manage your Debt. Whether you borrowed to pay for college or to enhance your lifestyle, it is difficult to feel financially savvy if you are drowning in debt. Make a plan of action! Start by paying off debts with the highest interest rate first (e.g. credit cards). Also, try paying more than the minimum payment. You will be able to pay your loan off faster and the overall interest amount will decrease.
  4. Collect Your Change. Any time you make purchases with cash, only spend whole dollar amounts. If you go to the grocery store and your items come to $67.39, pay $70 in cash and pocket the change. The first thing you should do when you go home is throw the money in a large container. If you stick to this method and don’t spend any of the change, you are likely to save several hundreds dollars over the course of a year.


If none of these helped you out, I’m confident you will be able to make good decisions on your own! I wish you all a happy and successful New Year! Good luck and I will see you in 2016!

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.


Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship

Are you a senior in high school and a permanent resident of Iowa? Click below to register for the Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship and a chance to win one of 30 scholarships worth $2,000.

The Iowa Financial Know-How Challenge: Senior Scholarship is:
•Open to legal U.S. citizens who are permanent residents of Iowa; are seniors at an Iowa high school during the 2015 – 2016 school year; and attend college in fall 2016.
•A no-purchase-required scholarship.
How to Qualify
To qualify for the scholarship, students must:
•Register by March 4, 2016.
•Complete two online financial literacy tutorials created by Iowa Student Loan.
•Take an online financial literacy assessment test created by Iowa Student Loan.

The three online components will take a total of about one hour for students to complete. The 30 seniors who score highest on the assessment will receive a $2,000 scholarship sent directly to their college in fall 2016. If a tiebreaker is necessary, tied students will be asked to write and be judged on a short essay.

Deadline to apply is March 4, 2016.

Winter Driving Safety Tips


Falling snow can be quite beautiful this time of year, however it can also wreak havoc on the roads. While no one enjoys driving in snowy or slippery conditions, there are steps you can take to help improve your safety with these winter driving tips:

Preparing Your Car:

  • Take your car to a mechanic and get the following things checked: antifreeze level, battery, oil, thermostat, heater, brakes and defroster.
  • Check to make sure your tires have adequate tread. If the treads are worn, replace them. Better yet, exchange them for a set of snow tires, which have treads that provide better traction and are equipped to handle extreme winter driving conditions.
  • Keep the gas tank at least half full throughout the winter. This will reduce condensation, making your vehicle easier to start on cold mornings.

Packing Your Car:

  • Blanket: In Iowa, weather can be unpredictable. Temperatures can drop quickly and you’ll need a good blanket to stay warm. Keep an extra pair of gloves and a hat in your trunk as well in case of an emergency.
  • Snow Shovel & Ice Scraper:  Keep a folding snow shovel and ice scraper in your kit in case you need to dig your car out of a ditch or snow bank.
  • Flashlight: Be sure to keep a small but bright flash light in your glove box in case you get stranded at night. You will also want to make sure you have fresh new batteries in your kit as well.
  • Cell Phone Car Charger:  Put an extra cell phone charger in your glove box! Too often do we become overconfident on the roads knowing we are only a phone call away from help…BUT what if it dies? Then what do you do?
  • Emergency Contact Numbers:  If you are relying on your cell phone to be the storage unit for all your emergency info, just think what would happen if your phone dies or if you got in a car accident and your phone is damaged. Just to be safe, write down all of your emergency contact info on a piece of paper and store them in both your glove box and your wallet.
  • Important Documents: Proof of insurance, vehicle registration and owner’s manual. Easy enough right?
  • Non Perishable Snacks: Keep plenty of bottled water and nonperishable, nutritious food items, like energy or protein bars, in your kit to keep you hydrated in case you are stranded or have to wait a long time for assistance. Check expiration dates periodically and replace these items as needed.
  • Sand or Kitty Litter: If you find yourself stuck in snowy slush, non-clumping cat litter can be a lifesaver (or at least a timesaver). Pour it in the path of your wheels to help get traction.
  • Jumper Cable
  • First Aid Kit

Driving Your Car:

  • Clear snow and ice off your car – including windows, mirrors, lights, reflectors, hood, roof and trunk.
  • Drive with your headlights on, and be sure to keep them clean to improve visibility
  • Keep your windshield washer reservoir full, and make sure your car has wiper blades that are in good condition.
  • Remember that speed limits are meant for dry roads, not roads covered in snow and ice. You should reduce your speed and increase your following distance as road conditions and visibility worsen.
  • Be cautious on bridges and overpasses as they are commonly the first areas to become icy.
  • Avoid passing snow plows and sand trucks. The drivers can have limited visibility, and the road in front of them could be worse than the road behind.
  • Drive Slow! Your boss will understand if you are a few minutes late due to winter weather conditions. Plan ahead and monitor weather conditions by checking local news stations the night before.
  • If you must travel during a snowstorm or in blizzard conditions, be sure to let a relative, friend or coworker know where you are headed and your expected arrival time. Avoid the temptation to check or be on your phone while driving as all of your attention should be on arriving safely.


Just remember, as important as it is to have your car tuned and have a winter survival kit in your trunk, it’s equally imperative to know how to protect yourself while driving in the snow and ice. Follow these tips and you will feel safer and more prepared this winter!


Stay Warm,

Jessica M.

Quick and Easy Holiday Goodies

It’s finally December and with Christmas being right around the corner, your weekends are probably jam packed with holiday events. If you’re expecting to be a guest this holiday season, a polite gesture would be to bring a side dish or some goodies to help contribute to the party. Today, I wanted to share some fun and easy holiday treats that you can take with you to share with your friends and family. Check them out below!

1. Rolo Pretzels
These are by far one of my favorite Christmas treats. Not only are they cheap, but they are quick and super easy to make!



  • Lay out pretzels on a baking sheet
  • Place a Rolo on top of each pretzel
  • Bake in the oven at 250*F for 4-5 minutes (no longer)
  • When you remove them from the oven, the Rolo will still be in the same shape as when it went in the oven. Place an M&M or pecan half on top of the Rolo and press down a bit.
  • Put in the fridge for about 10 minutes to allow the chocolate to harden.

It’s that simple, and they are that good!


2. Oreo Cake Balls

1 package of Oreos
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese (softened)
1 package of white chocolate chips
1 small package of milk chocolate chips


  • Crush the Oreos until they are finely powdered. I put mine in the chopper or food processor.
  • Mix the cookie crumbs with the softened cream cheese. Form into the desired size balls. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes to allow for hardening.
  • Melt the white chocolate in the microwave just until it gets melted.
  • Dip the Oreo balls into the white chocolate to cover. Place on a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet.
  • Melt small amount of milk chocolate chips and drizzle on top.  I use a ziploc bag and cut a tiny hole in the corner to drizzle.
  • Refrigerate. Once they harden you can package them into containers, but it is best to keep them refrigerated


3. Rice Krispie Wreaths
These delicious treats are fun, easy to make and perfect for any Christmas party!

3 tablespoons butter
1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
1 teaspoon green food coloring
6 cups Rice Krispies®
  • In microwave-safe bowl heat butter and marshmallows on HIGH for 3 minutes, stirring after 2 minutes. Stir until smooth.
  • Add food coloring
  • Add KELLOGG’S RICE KRISPIES cereal. Stir until well coated.
  • Using 1/4-cup measuring cup coated with cooking spray portion cereal mixture.
  • Using buttered hands roll each portion into a log and shape into small wreath.
  • Decorate with frosting and/or candies.


4. Peanut Butter Balls


2 Cups Creamy Peanut Butter
1/2 cup butter
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 cups Rice Krispies cereal
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


  • Melt peanut butter and butter in saucepan, over low heat. In large bowl, mix rice crispy cereal and confectioners’ sugar well. Pour melted peanut butter and butter over cereal and sugar and blend together thoroughly.
  • Form into 1 inch or smaller balls, spread on cookie sheets, chill till firm in refrigerator (over night is okay).
  • Melt chocolate in double boiler and keep melted while working with balls. A teaspoon is best to use in dipping the balls in chocolate. Dip good and place on cookie sheet. As you dip them place them back on cookie sheet and keep chilled till firm.


There you have it…. four easy to make recipes which are tasty, fun and festive for the holidays. What are some of your favorite holiday treats?


Happy Holidays!
Jessica M.

Trying to Save Money While Paying Off Debt?


Student loans. Car Payments. Rent. Credit cards.

The list of debt for Millennials can go on and on, but those four mentioned above are the biggest income drain of all. It may seem impossible to save while trying to pay off debt all while trying to have somewhat of a social life. But no matter how hard you try to avoid it, saving money is crucial. 

Saving money is more than just creating a good habit that will serve you well – it’s tied to your emotional well-being and your financial future. If you are living paycheck to paycheck but still want to save money, here’s a roadmap to start you on your savings journey.

1. Cut Back on Going Out.
It’s okay to enjoy life. If your guilty habit involves happy hours after work, or dining out on the weekends, by all means—do it! But once per month, say “no” to drinks with the guys or that weekend shopping trip. Take the $40 and put it away! After a year, you’ve saved $480! Easy enough, right?

2. Don’t let your emotions guide your financial decisions.
This is extremely important. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed paying your bills each month and seeing money go straight to your student loans, but you have to keep a level head to avoid making poor financial decisions. It’s not easy to save and pay off debt, but remember that you’re far from being the only one struggling and you can ask for advice any time.

3. Refinance your debt.
Stuck at a high interest rate? It’s time to refinance! Many credit unions even offer a cash incentive for members to refinance. From the cash bonus to lower interest rates, you could save over $100 per month just by moving your auto loan elsewhere.

4. Switch to a Credit Union
On the refinance note, save yourself on monthly fees as well. If you’re paying money just to have a basic checking account, it’s time to say goodbye. Find yourself a credit union and save the average $7 per month. That’s another $84 per year in savings!

5. Downgrade, if possible.
If refinancing your student loans or credit card debt won’t save you much money, it might be time to dig a little deeper. Look at your spending to see where you can cut back. Move into a cheaper apartment, get a roommate, get a cheaper car with better gas mileage. If you’re overspending, you simply need to cut back. If you’re not overspending, take time to find a side hustle or other means of increasing your cash flow to save and pay off debt at the same time.

Don’t stress over your finances. Do what you have to do until you can do what you want. It’s hard, but in the end, it will all be worth it!

Do you have any tips on saving money while paying off debt? Leave a comment below!

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Budget Friendly Thanksgiving Menu

Embraced extended family celebrating Thanksgiving day

Getting together with friends and family for the holidays may be priceless, but putting food on the table can cost a lot of money!

The average cost of Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people exceeded $50 for the first time since the American Farm Bureau began tracking it in 1986.  The total price of the feast increased 70 cents (or 1.4 percent) to $50.11 from 2014.

The most expensive item on the list is a 16-pound turkey, which costs an average of $23.04 this year. That’s up $1.39 from last year, or 6.42 percent, the largest percentage increase of all the grocery items.

So how can you make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner without breaking the bank? Well, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve carefully come up with recipes and tips for preparing a Thanksgiving dinner all while staying on a budget. The entire meal will please your appetite and will keep your wallet happy too. Now that’s something to be thankful for!


  1. Meat: Turkey is usually about 40 percent of the cost of the meal. And as mentioned above, the cost of turkey has increased this year. You can save money by purchasing a store-brand frozen turkey (with a coupon) instead of a fresh turkey. Be sure to allow enough time to thaw the bird: one day in the fridge for every five pounds. Then do some research on how to prepare it and spice it up with flavor! Here is a super easy recipe for you first time turkey bakers out there! If you want to forgo the Turkey this year to save some cash, switch it up with Ham or Chicken! They are both just as delicious and you will be saving yourself a few extra bucks!
  2. Stuffing: Although it is probably more fun to make stuffing from scratch, I think it’s easier to just buy it at the store and prepare it. My all time favorite stuffing is the Pepperidge Sage and Onion which you can buy from any grocery store. Instead of adding water though, I like to add chicken brother to give it a little more flavor.
  3. Mashed Potatoes and Gravy: If you are crunched on time, there is nothing wrong with making boxed potatoes. These are cheap and can be made in just minutes. But, if you are looking for the real deal, check out this simple yet delicious recipe! Don’t forget the gravy!
  4. Green Bean Casserole: It’s the dish everyone’s expecting on the holidays, but it’s so easy to make, you can serve it any day. What makes this green bean casserole so good?  A secret ingredient – cream of mushroom soup. Check it out here!
  5. Corn: You can buy corn on the cob, canned corn or frozen corn. Whatever you decide, it’s easy and quick to prepare! Just add a little butter, salt and pepper to give it some flavor and there you have it!
  6. Dinner Rolls: Buy them in the package or make your own. Whatever the case, these are always great to add to your Thanksgiving dinner!
  7. Deviled Eggs: These are one of my absolute favorite appetizers at Thanksgiving time. For those of you who are unsure how to make deviled eggs, click here for the recipe! I always like to add a little more mayo to mine to make them softer and sweeter.
  8. Pumpkin Pie: What’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? I have yet to make my own pumpkin pie but I found a simple recipe online for you guys! Check it out here! Just don’t forget to double up on the whipped cream!
  9. Veggies: Veggies and dip are a good appetizer for everyone to snack on. Buy your favorite veggies (carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes), chop them up and spread them out on a platter for everyone to enjoy!
  10. Cheese and Crackers: This is another great option for you and your guests to snack on before and during the main meal!



  1. Make It a Potluck: Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. People are happy to pitch in and bring a dish or two, and potlucks are trendy right now. Not only will it save you time and stress, but it will save you quite a bit of money as well!
  2. Make a list and stick to it!: Without a plan for what you’re going to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, you are likely to spend more money than you would with a set menu. Make a list and stick to your list in the grocery store. You’ll save both time and money!
  3. Use Coupons!  There’s a reason millions of people use coupons – simply put, they’re free money. After you’ve made up your menu, look through your local Sunday paper and clip coupons for any of the items on your list. For those of you who don’t get the paper, you can go online to or to get coupons for your favorite Thanksgiving items!

Until Next Time,

Jessica M.

Holiday Fraud Fighting

I shared this post last year but I wanted to share again as a reminder to be smart while doing your holiday shopping. Check out this guest post from Cait Klein at Nerdwallet! NerdWallet is a personal finance website that is focused on helping people lead better lives through financial education and empowerment. When it comes to credit cards, insurance, loans or expenses like hospital costs, consumers make almost all their decisions in the dark. NerdWallet is changing that by building accessible online tools and providing research and experts that can’t be found anywhere else, all to balance consumer finance in favor of the consumer. They call it putting knowledge in your wallet.

No fraud

The holidays are a time of family, friends and fun, but for an unfortunate few, it’s also a season marred by fraud and even theft. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself while shopping online and at the store.

Online Safety Tips

  1. Shop smart: If you plan on making purchases online, only use secure websites with URLs prefaced with https://,  rather than http://. Think of the extra “s” as standing for safety.
  2. Bolster passwords: If it’s been a while since you last changed your passwords, now’s the time. Avoid using the same one across multiple sites so that if one gets hacked, others won’t fall as well. Make passwords a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters and numbers, along with symbols. For example MeRRyXmaS!* is a much safer password than MerryChristmas.
  3. Log out when done: After completing an online transaction, make sure to log out of the website and close the browsing tab instead of hopping directly over to another site. It may be tempting to keep multiple sites open at once to speed movement between them, but avoid creating this browser mall. For each purchase, open a new browser to ensure security.
  4. Watch for porch poachers: As online purchases are shipped, keep track of when the orders are set to reach your door. You can track packages online to make sure they don’t sit on a porch or step for hours, presenting a tempting target for thieves. Try to be home to accept deliveries, or ask a neighbor to grab them.
  5. Beware of identity theft: Personal information about tens of millions of people in the U.S. has been exposed by data breaches, mostly involving big retail chains like Target, Home Depot and T.J. Maxx. While taking precautions such as changing passwords can help you avoid becoming a victim, keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity. Most bank, debit and credit card accounts can be monitored online and with smartphones as well as through mailed monthly statements. Financial services providers like Community 1st Credit Union often offer online andmobile apps to help you keep an eye on things. If you think one of your accounts has been compromised, report it to the account provider first, then file an identity theft report  with theFederal Trade Commission.
  6. Shop smart: If an online deal sounds like a holiday hoax, chances are it is. Be skeptical about closeouts, super discounts and terms that seem too good to be true.

In-Store Safety Tips

  1. Shop in numbers: The more the merrier—as well as safer. Shop with a friend or family member to help you avoid in-store predators. If you’re lugging more bags than you can easily carry, it can attract a thief who could grab a sack or slip something out of one unnoticed.
  2. Hide and lock: Keep purchases hidden from view in your vehicle’s trunk or covered cargo space, and remember to lock the doors. Bring along a blanket or extra jacket to toss over any purchases you must leave on a seat.
  3. Watch out: Heading to and from the parking lot, keep an eye out for sketchy characters hanging around, and keep your purse or wallet tucked inside a jacket. Danger isn’t everywhere, of course, but it’s better to be safe than sorry — and it never hurts to be alert to your surroundings.

Simple precautions like these can help keep you safe this holiday season, both online and in stores.

Cait Klein, NerdWallet


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