Several months ago, my cable/internet bill went up suddenly. After over a year of paying about $120 per month for cable, internet, and our home phone, I discovered that our cable bill was suddenly $30 more expensive. It only took a little digging for me to realize that our introductory bundle price had expired.
Even though we should’ve expected the price hike, we still couldn’t afford it. I knew I would have to call our cable provider.
To be honest, I hate getting in touch with our cable company. While all the customer service representatives are friendly, I still find it nerve-wracking to deal with what seems to be a pretty slippery industry. Add to that the fact that our provider is the only game in town, and it often seems like a productive negotiation is out of my reach.
However, I discovered that it’s possible for just about anyone to negotiate a lower cable bill — even me. Here’s what you need to know to ensure that negotiating with your cable provider goes the way you want it to:
A common mistake in negotiation is to start off too aggressively. Many newbie negotiators think that they need to be inflexible and insistent in order to get their way. In addition, it’s very easy to feel outraged about whatever it is you’re planning to negotiate. (I certainly had some choice words for our cable company when I saw the change in my bill.)
The problem with this is that the customer service representative on the other end is also a person — a person who will not react well to being barked at. A better strategy is to be friendly and calm and ask your service representative to help you in fixing your issue. They’re much more likely to go the extra mile for a nice, friendly customer than they are for a snarling, angry one.2. Don’t take no for an answer
It’s likely that the person answering the phone won’t have the authority to make any big changes to your bill. Even if they assure you that there’s nothing anyone can do, ask to speak to their supervisor. The higher up the chain you go, the more authority you’ll find, which means that eventually you should reach someone who does have the power to negotiate.3. Keep your expectations reasonable
When asking for an improvement on your bill, you need to have an idea what a reasonable discount is. For instance, there was no way I could reduce my $150 bill to a $75 one, no matter how much I may have wanted it that way.
A good way to know what’s reasonable is to research the rates for competing companies. Not only will you have an idea of what to pay for your services, but you’ll also have an excellent bargaining chip: “Company X only charges $99 per month for this bundle. I’d prefer to stay with you, but I really need my cable bill to fit within my budget. What can you do for me?”4. Threaten to leave
Even if you live in an area where there’s only one available cable company, like I do, you can still use the leverage of leaving as a negotiation tactic. For instance, when I spoke with our company, I told them that I wanted to drop cable altogether. We only really need the internet and phone, so cable is just an extra expense.
Our provider instead agreed to reduce our rate by $20 (which is what we’d save by only dropping cable) but still let us keep all three services.The Bottom Line
Remember, by making you happy with a price drop, your cable company is ensuring that you remain a loyal customer. So let them make you happier with your bill — it’s in their best interests.
Have you ever had to negotiate with your cable company?
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I’m a firm believer in not paying my kids an allowance. And no, I’m not just a meanie. It’s important to me to make sure that my kids understand the relationship between work and money. I’ll explain my unconventional approach below.Why I Don’t Pay my Kids an Allowance
1. Picking up toys, clothes, books, and trash that belong to you is not an option in my house. It’s part of keeping clean and healthy. You wouldn’t pay your kids to take a shower, so don’t pay them to pick up after themselves.
2. The family serves as a sort of miniature model for the real world. We love and care for each other — without expecting something in return. This means my older son may have to take out the trash when dad works late, or the youngest may have to help with dinner if a client calls while I’m cooking. Making this concept an expected and normal part of life now will make it easier for my boys when they’re grown and have families of their own. We don’t keep tabs or a “you owe me” list, and we don’t feel cheated if all we get in return is a simple, “thank you.”
3. As part of the family, my kids are responsible for contributing to the well-being of the entire family. This may include doing dishes, folding laundry, or carrying in firewood in the winter. These are tasks that benefit the child and the family, and they are therefore not rewarded with money.
4. As a farm family, my kids are also responsible for many things that might surprise you. My youngest helps change oil and repair tractors and trucks, and my oldest has helped birth calves and carry bags of feed that weigh as much as he does. They also help maintain a four acre garden and assist with canning vegetables every year. These activities also benefit the family (and extended family) and are not rewarded with an allowance. While helping with these types of chores, they’re learning life skills that will help them as adults.
5. Pet care is another area of expected daily work without pay. We have two house bunnies, two farm dogs, and a load of cats that require feeding, watering, brushing, waste removal, exercise, love, and attention. These activities are performed every day, rain or shine. Just as the adults care for the farm animals in inclement weather, when sick, on holidays, and when we’re bone-weary tired, the children are expected to care for their pets, as well. Supper for humans is not served here until all the animals have eaten and are cared for. The farm animals and pets rely on us for their necessities. This teaches the kids responsibility and interdependence without extrinsic rewards.
So what DO I pay my kids for? I give them money when they go above and beyond what is expected. Get straight As in school? Help dad chop firewood in 10 degree weather on a Saturday afternoon? Walk your brother to the bathroom in the middle of the night because he’s afraid of the dark? Help mom by scrubbing all the kitchen counters after you spill jelly in front of the microwave? All these things are rewarded with a little extra money.
My kids also have a list of items that are on my to-do list that they can perform at any time for pay. These are MY chores that, if they so choose, they can take over to free up my time for other activities. This provides them with an opportunity to save for wanted items and to learn the true value of a dollar.
Do you give your kids an allowance? How do you teach them financial responsibility?
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- Five Things Your Kids Don’t Really Need
Life is highly unpredictable – day to day, hour to hour, circumstances can change, and not always for good. Although you may not always be physically or emotionally prepared for a major crisis, you can have the peace of mind to know you are financially prepared. With a little planning, saving, and maintenance, you can create a cushion of funds to support you in a crisis and eliminate some stress when the expected happens. Here are tips on how to make it happen.
Set aside enough funds for 6 months of living expenses. Not every emergency situation will require this much money, but 6 months of income should allow you either:
1. Enough money to cover major unexpected expenses such as vehicle tows or repairs, plain tickets, hospital bills, etc.
2. Enough funds to support you for a few months in case you get laid off or otherwise find yourself suddenly unemployed.
An even better idea if you have a two-income family is to set aside 6 months’ worth of both incomes. Yes, this may seem like a large chunk of money, but you will appreciate it in the odd chance that both you and your spouse lose your jobs at the same time.
Use your emergency funds only in an emergency. The important part of an emergency fund is having it available in a true emergency. Dipping into your savings for regular or impulse expenses on a regular basis is a sure way to drain your emergency fund, and you are lowering the chances the money will be available when you actually need it. If you find yourself dipping into your emergency fund frequently, it’s a good sign your budget may need some tweaking. If you plan to put more than 6 months’ worth of living expenses in your savings, you may be able to dip into it for slightly less urgent (but still unplanned) expenses, such as the down payment on a new vehicle you need or an amazing house you stumble upon.
On the other hand, if you plan to put more than 6 months’ worth of living expenses in your savings, you may be able to dip into it for slightly less urgent (but still unplanned) expenses, such as the down payment on a new vehicle you need or an amazing house you stumble upon. Being an over-saver may allow you to jump at opportunities others are unable to.
Replenish what you use. If you use emergency funds, don’t forget to replenish them. The ideal is to maintain 6 months’ worth of expenses at all times. Life isn’t always fair with dealing out emergencies. You could be stuck with two major emergencies in a short time frame – another example of why it’s better to save a full year or 6 months’ worth of two incomes. The sooner you replenish your fund, the sooner you’ll have peace of mind that you’re prepared for the worst.
Make it easier to save by using payroll deductions. If you have electronic banking, the best way to start building your emergency fund and keep it maintained is to set aside contributions from each paycheck. As a rule of thumb, you won’t miss money you don’t get to see. Even a small amount such as $20 can quickly turn into hundreds over the course of a few months.
Emergency funds are a key component of financial stability and responsibility. With money in the bank for a ‘rainy day,’ you will be significantly less stressed in a crisis, and in turn less of a burden on friends and family members who might otherwise have to bail you out. You don’t have to be a fatalist or expect the worst to happen – just be prepared for it.Related Posts:
My cell phone has recently started to act up. There are a number of things malfunctioning, which is making me think about getting a new one. I’m nearing the end of my two-year contract (under my parent’s plan), so I’ll soon be eligible for an upgrade and a renewed contract. Finding a cell phone that will last me for the duration of the plan is my first priority. My current provider has poor service in my home, so getting a better provider is also a consideration.
When my contract is complete, should I re-sign and get a new phone with my current provider, or should I switch plans and providers completely?The Phone
Cell phones have become more and more expensive with my provider, even with the signing of new two-year contracts. This is because they offer a lower monthly price in favor of higher upfront costs. My wife’s last phone was nearly $300 with an upgrade, whereas other companies offer similar phones for around $150-$200.
My current phone has had numerous problems, so I need to decide what type of phone I want to get. My provider doesn’t currently offer the ones with the fruit on the back, so I need to do some research. I’m looking for a reliable phone that will stand the test of time. Some bells and whistles are nice, but I don’t need all of them; a simple smartphone would work for me.
When searching for the right phone, ask around to figure out what’s best. Check online reports, or ask your friends what’s worked for them.The Plan
Finding the right plan is also very important. Over a two-year contract, the plan will cost you far more than the phone. If you have your own plan with data and texting capabilities, you can expect to pay around $70 a month. This totals $1680 over two years. Small changes in the monthly price can save you lots in the long run.
My parents still have me on their plan, making it hard to find a reason to change plans. With the two-year contract running up soon, however, I’m anticipating the possibility of growing up and moving on to my own plan. When my wife’s contract runs up, she could do the same. Because my wife and I move around so much, picking the right provider can be difficult for us. For example, our current provider has very poor service in our home, whereas other providers have great service.
Getting the right amount of data, texting, and talking allotments is vital. I text quite often and also use my phone for social media and emailing. If I choose to switch, shopping around for the right plan will be a very important process.How to Decide
My decision will come down to a combination of finding the best phone and the best plan. If I choose to switch providers, finding the most cost-effective plan will be imperative. With a little research, I know that I’ll be able to both save money and find the right plan/phone.
How do you make your decisions regarding cell phones and plans?
- How Much Will Your Smart Phone Really Cost?
- The Basics of Cutting Cost with Cell Phone Contracts
- Mobile Phones: What’s Best For You?
In recent years, a “set it and forget it” approach to long-term investing has become increasingly popular. One of the ways this trend manifests itself is through “target date” retirement funds.
Target date funds are designed to automatically adjust as you get closer to retirement age. Your asset allocation is shifted from an emphasis on stocks to an emphasis on bonds as you approach your target date. It’s all supposed to happen seamlessly so that you don’t have to worry about it. Just keep investing, and your portfolio will take care of itself.
But should you rely on target funds for your retirement?Problems with Returns
One of the issues with target date funds is that you might not be able to plan for huge market events. Some target date funds still haven’t fully recovered from the stock market crash of a few years ago. What happens when a stock crash happens just before your target fund starts moving your assets into bonds? You could end up “locking in” those stock losses as you end up in more conservative investments, which won’t offer you the chance to recover the losses.
In order to deal with this issue, you might need to switch to a fund with a target date that’s further out, or you might need to look for other ways to recoup some of the losses. The problem with relying on an automatic formula is that you so often see automatic responses — no matter what’s going on in the world outside.Don’t Get Lazy
Another issue is that target date funds, and other automatic type plans, tend to encourage a certain amount of laziness on the part of investors. While you don’t want to get involved in too much active trading (the fees can start to add up and cut into your returns), you also don’t want to just forget about your investments.
Sometimes, it’s a good idea to check in on your asset allocation, and consider selling mutual funds, or other investments, that aren’t helping you reach your retirement goals. Obsession’s not good, but neither is ignorance.
Target date funds tend to get you thinking that it’s all “taken care of,” when it might not be.
Before you decide to invest in a target date fund, figure out what type of management it undergoes. Additionally, be prepared to check up on the fund. You want to see how things progress throughout your milestones. That way, if you need to make adjustments (like picking a longer target date), or if you decide that you’d be better served by doing something else with your money, you can make the move before it’s too late.
It’s important to pay attention to what’s happening with your portfolio. A target date fund may help take some of the pressure off, but it doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility of doing your own research.
Do you have a target date retirement fund?
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- Why We Always Recommend Buying Low Cost Index Funds
Would you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars if you could get the same (or better) product for pennies on the dollar? Probably not. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what people are doing with their 401k plans. The management fees these plans charge sound very innocuous. How much does 1 percent really add up to? The answer is more than you think.
Future Advisor was kind enough to prepare this infographic for us today, which look at some of the very best, and the very worst 401k plans, and what that percentage really adds up to.
Where possible, utilize low fee index funds, and you can save hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can also see how your 401k plan stacks up here.
You’ve taken on the challenge of improving your finances in the new year – congratulations are in order! This article is the last in a four-part series on the subject of seizing the opportunity a new year represents to make significant changes to your financial state. In Part 1, A New Year of Money: Evaluating Your Financial State, I discussed how to discover the current state of your finances. Part 2, A New Year of Money: Goal-Setting to Make an Impact, served as a guide to determining goals while Part 3, A New Year of Money: Implementing Positive Financial Changes, provided support for taking actions that would lead to a stronger financial foothold.
No plan, financial or otherwise, can succeed with a, “Set it and forget it,” mindset. Vigilance is the key to success. Now that you’ve taken the steps to decide upon goals and implement them, it’s important to keep a watchful eye to make sure that you are, indeed, making the positive changes you desire and anticipate. It’s important to put into place a means by which you can measure your headway on those goals. Remember, these types of things can impact the best laid financial plans:
- The unexpected - Loss or decrease of income or higher expenses than expected
- Human nature - Nobody’s perfect. That high-ticket item tempted your credit card right out of your pocket…
- Carelessness - Perhaps you forgot about a payment that was due and now you’ve incurred a penalty or late fee you hadn’t anticipated.
- Errors in judgement - The amount you budgeted for groceries or transportation could have been significantly lower than reality. Maybe dividends from an investment were lower than you’d planned on.
It’s important that you recognize and remedy these types of incidents when they occur. Gone unchecked, they can easily snowball from a minor blip in your plan to an out-of-control problem. That’s why, each month, you should review your budget to make certain that it reflects your most recent and realistic spending habits. Acknowledge your progress and shortcomings.SAdjust as necessary
Certain expenses cannot be controlled, even through frugal living and mindful spending. If you need to budget more in certain areas, so be it. Rates for utilities, gasoline, even groceries, are always on the rise – even though your income may not be. You still need power and water in your home; you still need to be able to drive your vehicle and eat, so reallocate some of your “discretionary” money to those categories so that they are always covered by the budgeted amount.
As for the rest of the “monkey wrenches” that can throw your financial goals off target, it’s up to you and your diligence.
- Vow to learn from your careless mistakes and not repeat them.
- Learn the satisfaction of delaying gratification until you can afford to make purchases without using credit.
- Become more financially informed by learning about investing so you can make more profitable investment decisions.
Finances are never carved in stone. The best you can do is the best you can do. Don’t expect perfection from yourself because it will only lead to discouragement. Chalk up mistakes and miscalculations to experience and move on with greater knowledge backing you up. Each effort you make toward spending wisely and managing your resources responsibly is a step toward overall mastery of your financial situation.
Whether your finances are meager or vast, you can make significant strides toward creating your best possible financial circumstances when you take control, learn, remain vigilant and forge ahead.
How do you track your financial circumstances and assess your progress toward goals?Related Posts:
Last week, we discussed using food to reduce the cost of health care. But there’s something else we must do that will also help you keep those costs down.
Being healthy isn’t only about food; it’s also about using food as fuel. We sit more than ever, and this constant sentience is slowly killing us. Exercising is one way to combat our sedentary lives and stay healthy, which will also help us reduce the cost of health care.Exercising
Once upon a time, cavemen had to hunt and gather their food. Exercise was a part of their lives, and food was scarce. Now, we must hunt and gather our exercise, since food is plentiful and fitness scarce.
Sitting all day at our desks rots our muscles. These muscles are what help us burn the fat and calories we take in throughout the day, so we must find ways to move each day and rebuild those atrophied tissues.
Unfortunately, for many of you, exercise is a harsh word, and “working out” makes you want to cry.
Think of exercise as proactive living. Investing in your proactive lifestyle is going to save you loads when it comes to medical bills later in life.
The more you move, the healthier you’ll be. Find movements you love and do them — with maximum effort — for at least 15 minutes everyday.
Doing Zumba for 15 minutes a day could burn more than 150 extra calories, so the more you push yourself to really move, the more you’ll burn. Add some weight training to your workout, and you’ll significantly boost your burn factors.
You can also increase the time you exercise. If you love dancing, won’t you want to do it longer? Dancing all out for an hour will earn you a whopping 500 calorie torch.
Dancing, obviously, isn’t the only way to burn calories.
Get in the habit of moving more and moving well. You can focus on the numbers once you’ve grown accustomed to the routine.
Treadmills are great if the weather isn’t. But, if the weather permits, skip the machine and take a walk around the block. Fresh air helps your lungs, and the change of scenery will serve as a terrific mental boost. Again, you can turn up the caloric heat by alternating jogging or running with your walking.
Optimum fitness and health is about truly learning to love a new lifestyle. It’s about becoming comfortable with getting and staying healthy. It’s about surrendering your chair in exchange for a better mood, a happier outlook on life, and ultimately, a lower health insurance bill!Maximum Effort
If you love a challenge, there are workouts that can help you reach your goals faster.
This type of exercise is called High Intensity Interval Training. While the name might sound scary, it’s something you can do without any experience.
The only requirement in HIITs is to push to your maximum effort for a short period of time, then rest for an even shorter one.
If you want to make the absolute most of your 15 minute investment, this is a great way to make sure you’ll push hard and sweat.
But, you don’t have to be Schwarzenegger to do it.
A few ideas:
HIITs can be as easy or as difficult as you want. Starting out, you’ll be more likely to stick to it if you make it a mountain, easily conquered.
As long as you perform the exercises back-to-back with a short rest in between “rounds,” you can turn any set of exercises into HIITs that will be torch sessions for your calories. The more calories you burn, the better you can manage your weight. The better you can manage your weight, the more you strengthen your heart, stay healthier, and earn the better health insurance rates that you deserve.
Try combining these classics for maximum burning effect:
15 push ups
15 triangle push ups
15 body weight squats
15 dead lifts
15 leg lifts
Do the reps quickly, but with the proper form. The faster you can do them correctly, the bigger your burn. Since these are bodyweight exercises, you won’t bulk up or pack on lots of muscles, but you’ll trim down and tone up.
If you don’t like traditional pushups, modify them by doing them on your knees until you get used to them.
As long as you stick to the format, you can turn any combination of exercises into a HIIT. Just do your exercises hard and fast for a 20 second to 3 minute duration, with a 10 second to 1 minute break in between — for a total of 15 minutes each day.
You’ll build your strength, stamina, health, and wealth with a small daily investment of time and energy. Once you’re ready to shop for the lower health care coverage you’ve earned with your new healthy eating and exercise routine, you can visit a health comparison site like HealthCompare.com to get a free health insurance quote and find out how well your efforts have paid off.
Have you tried HIITs? What exercises do YOU do daily?
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- How Much Exercise Do I Really Need to Live Healthier?
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Tax season is underway, and that means that fraudsters are starting to pick up the pace. One of the growing forms of identity theft is tax refund fraud. Identity thieves file a tax return with your social security number on it, posing as you, and then pick up your refund. You might not even know about it until you try to file your own return, and find that your refund has already been “paid.”How Tax Refund Fraud Works
This type of identity theft is fairly easy to perpetrate. The identity thief gets your Social Security number from some information source, whether they hack a database, or find information with your number lying around. The thief fills out a tax return, using your Social Security number, and maybe even your name, but putting a different address on the form. Then, the fraudster just has to file the tax return before you do. (This year, the earliest you can file is January 30, 2013.)
An identity thief can also claim refundable credits, like EIC, on your behalf in order to boost the amount of the refund. The IRS receives the tax return, processes it, and then issues the refund. When you try to file your return, you receive a notification that a return bearing your Social Security number has already been filed. This can be frustrating and disappointing, especially since you won’t get your refund until the situation is resolved.What You Should Do if You are a Victim of Tax Refund Fraud
The good news is that you do have options if you are the victim of tax refund fraud. First of all, if you find out that a refund has already been filed with your Social Security information, you need to file a Form 14039 with the IRS. This form is designed to help the IRS know that there might have been a breach, and that fraud could be involved.
When you file your Form 14039, you will need to include documentation that proves your identity. You might need to mail or fax copies of your passport, driver’s license, or ID card to the IRS. You might also be required to send in other identification. Remember to only send copies; you should never part with original documents.
Once you have notified the IRS of the problem, an investigation will take place. However, it can take months before things are sorted out and you receive the tax refund you are entitled to. While you wait for the IRS investigation to be completed, you need to move forward to protect yourself in other ways. First of all, the reality is that your Social Security number is clearly out there. Consider placing a credit freeze on your identity so that identity thieves can’t use your information to open credit accounts. Double-check all of your accounts and your credit report, and watch for signs of fraud. You can also report the problem to law enforcement authorities.
While the fraudster probably won’t be caught, you can at least limit the damage to yourself, and make sure that you do everything possible to get the tax refund you have coming.Related Posts:
Extracurricular activities used to be the domain of the child prodigies. Little ones who were training for the Olympics or the children’s orchestra were the only kids you saw going to gymnastics or violin lessons after school. For the rest of the kid population, doing homework and riding bikes was more than enough activity.
Times have certainly changed, with younger and younger children going from school to music lessons to sports practice to scouts. Not only do all the extra activities take up a lot of time in the car, they can also be difficult for parents to afford. In addition to the clear registration, activity, and equipment fees, there can also be unexpected fees for things like team photos or group snacks.
Here are four ways to reduce the costs of your children’s extracurricular activities, without giving up the fun:
1. Know what you’re getting into.
One of the reasons that parents find themselves surprised by the total cost of an activity is that the numbers are rarely broken down for them from the beginning. You’ll certainly be able to determine registration fees and such ahead of time, but the incidental fees have a way of creeping up on you.
To combat this problem, talk to the coach or other parents before signing Junior up. Even if no one has ever recorded every cost associated with the activity, you should be able to get a ballpark estimate of what the activity will cost over the course of the season or year. If you budget that amount, plus 10% extra to cover potential surprises, you won’t be scrambling to find the money to pay for a team tee-shirt you didn’t know you needed to buy.
2. Prioritize activities.
There are certainly children out there who thrive on having a jam-packed schedule, but most kids will be happiest when they’re only focusing on one or two activities outside of school. So let your child decide on what they’re interested in pursuing. By allowing them to follow their interests, you’re also less likely to have the “I don’t wanna go!” reaction — after you’ve already dropped a hefty amount on the activity.
3. Find cheaper options.
One way to reduce the overall costs of extracurricular activities, as well as mitigate the costs of your child “trying on” different activities before finding something they love, is to find non-profit or school-based programs. While every sport and activity has coaches who offer private instruction or private sports clubs, those are going to be the most expensive method for getting your kids active.
Instead, sign your children up for intramural sports at your local Boys & Girls Club or YMCA. Find introductory classes for music, language, or individual sports like ice-skating, at local recreation centers. While none of these options will be free, they’ll be a great deal less expensive than the private options.
4. Have your children help pay.
It’s a good life lesson for kids to understand how much their favorite activities cost. Even if you don’t have your children chip in some allowance money to purchase equipment, you can spend some time talking about what trade-offs you have to make in order to pay for their karate lessons.
The Bottom Line
Extracurricular activities can be expensive, but they don’t have to break the bank. The trick is to be proactive both in your extracurricular budget and your choice of activities.
What extracurricular activities does your child participate in? How have you made it affordable?
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- 3 Activities to Teach Your Children About Money
- Is Private School Always Best?
I saw an Amish man using an iPhone in a McDonald’s parking lot the other day. You know the digital age has a hold on our society when it penetrates to the Old Order Amish living in my community. Now, he’ll probably lose that phone when his Bishop hears about it, but he sure looked like he was having fun while it lasted.
I’m thankful every day that I wasn’t born Amish and that I’m fortunate enough to have a few tech gadgets in my possession. (Let’s be honest; I’m a geek, and I love new technology.) One of my all-time favorite gadgets is the iPhone, because it’s so versatile.
You can customize your iPhone for business, gaming, design, music, or whatever happens to be your passion of the week — simply by changing out the apps you use every day. Mine is loaded with apps to help me manage my money better.
Here are a few of my favorite iPhone apps that help me save money and live frugally.
1. Shopper by Google
This app is fun to use and has a nice interface. You can scan barcodes or magazine ads to get product information, or browse the ready-made categories for products. And best of all, it’s free. I like that this app is produced by Google and can be connected to your Google Wallet account. It’s great for shopping online or gathering info about products you plan to purchase in person.
This handy app is my all-time favorite for comparison shopping. I used it while holiday shopping to scan a box of Crayola colored pencils that was “on sale” at Kmart, only to find I could buy that same box of pencils at Walmart (on the other side of the street) for $4 less than Kmart’s sale price (it was a 50% savings!).
I’ve also used this app to figure out the price of an unmarked object when I can’t find a sales associate to help me. It gives me a rough idea of how much the item will be at check-out, which helps me decide if it’s even worth hunting down further assistance. You can also browse deals of the day, check store listings, or look at popular products that other users are scanning.
If you haven’t heard of Pinterest, you’re missing out. This free app requires a free account, which you can set up in a few minutes. Users submit things they’ve uploaded or found on the Web, and pins are sorted according to categories. The search function is intuitive and the app is easy to navigate. You can find DIY instructions for everything from building your own platform bed to making your own solar panels. If it can be done, someone has pinned it. This app is also a treasure trove of inexpensive recipes, product reviews, and tips for everyday living.
BEWARE: it can easily eat up hours at a time! Once you start digging through pins, it’s kind of like being in Grandma’s attic or being told you can peek at the back room of your favorite auction house. My advice is to set a timer and quit when the buzzer goes off.
4. CamScanner Pro
This handy app lets you use your iPhone’s camera to “scan” any document and has limitless uses. It resizes, trims, and straightens your scan, and it also has the option to autocorrect color and lighting for better readability. You can tag your images, email, fax or print your scanned documents, and create PDF pages of your documents.
Since we no longer get cancelled checks back for our records, I use it to photocopy my incoming and outgoing checks. I’ve also used it to capture receipts, phone numbers, business cards, and even the occasional coupon. If you have a .edu email address, you can get the PRO version upgrade for free by registering as a teacher or student. This is a great app for finding out where your money is being spent and for keeping track of expenses for taxes or business purposes.
What are your favorite money saving apps?
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Personal organization is always one of the top New Year’s resolutions. Everyone wants to be organized because it can make every area of your life run more efficiently and eliminate the stress that clutter brings. Organization can even save you money as you discover items you misplaced or have a better grasp of your pantry’s inventory. As desirable a goal as organization is, it is much easier talked about than actually accomplished. Tackling clutter can be a daunting task, so here are some tips on how best to make your organization goals a reality.
Make a list. Yes, the best way to start your organization is with an organized approach! Make a list of what areas of your home or life you want to get organized (i.e., garage, pantry, kitchen cupboards). Add any specific ideas or plans you may have, such as the addition of shelving or storage bins. Whenever you feel like you’re getting off track, refer to your list for renewed direction and motivation. And, of course, cross off items are you accomplish them. Nothing feels better than being able to visualize your accomplishments.
Tackle one thing at a time. If you have a lot of areas to get organized, you can end up running from project to project, only partially completing them and therefore not accomplishing anything. Force yourself to stay on one task at a time. If you feel yourself getting burned out, take a break and do something else. Going away from a project for a while often brings clarity and ‘fresh eyes’ that can help you get past roadblocks.
Employ the help of friends. The best ideas often come from outside sources. If you’re feeling stumped or overwhelmed with a project, enlist a friend to help you gain new insight and offer fresh ideas. In return, you may be able to help them brainstorm how to organize an area of their home.
Use resources at the library and online. Instead of buying home decorating or organization magazines, consider checking them out at the library. Libraries keep a current edition of most popular magazines, and one of them is sure to have some tips that can help you. Numerous online articles exist to help you battle specific organization dilemmas, as well as free membership-based sites where you can interact on forums and seek personal advice.
Don’t be afraid to throw things away. In the course of your organization, you will probably discover many belongings that have outworn their use, never been used, or you have no idea where they came from. As you go through each room, set aside items to be thrown out, donated, or sold. Eliminating stuff you aren’t using will automatically ease your ability to organize. If you don’t have enough space for items you claim you still need, consider whether it’s worth the extra expense of building or renting additional storage. If the value of the items doesn’t outweigh that trouble and expense, get rid of them.
Enjoy the rewards. When you have finally reached your desired level of organization, enjoy the rewards of a more frugal, less stressful, and less cluttered life. If you feel particularly inspired, pass on what you’ve learned to others.Related Posts:
Investing for the future is important. While retirement may be a long way off, it’s always a good idea to begin saving early. My wife and I are beginning to take steps to invest for our future. We have paid down our student loans significantly and now have more money to put aside for the years ahead. We are considering a few retirement investment options and one of them is a Roth IRA.
Is a Roth IRA right for you?Options
Depending on how much money you have to invest and how you want to allocate those funds, you have a number of different choices. My wife and I are leaning towards investing on our own due to the ease of use online and lower fees. If you choose this route, you’ll need to evaluate the pros and cons of each company. Some offer no maintenance fees, while some require a minimum balance; some offer a certain number of free trades, while others offer low expense ratios.
A Roth IRA can be opened in any number of locations, and many workplaces give this as a retirement portfolio option. Financial advisers may help you open one, or you can start your own online. If you choose to invest with an adviser, you need to be sure you know how much you’re paying and what services are provided.Advantages
Roth IRAs offer a number of advantages to those saving for the future. They are especially favorable for younger people, because they are post-tax investments that are withdrawn tax free. This means that after the age of 59.5, you’ll be able to draw from your Roth IRA without paying tax on it. Assuming that you’re going to be in a higher tax bracket when you’re older, this is a great benefit that allows your account to grow tax free.
Because they’ve already been taxed, the contributions to a Roth IRA can be taken out at any time (with penalty fees). You won’t have to pay fees if it’s for a qualifying reason — such as, after five years of contributions, buying your first house.Disadvantages
Roth IRAs carry a distinct set of downfalls, as well. You can only contribute up to $5,000 per year until you’re 50, and $6,000 per year after that. If you earned more than $125,000 as an individual or $183,000 as a married couple in 2012, you’re ineligible to contribute to a Roth. This means that your current holdings would be sitting until you retired or decided to move the money. And, as mentioned above, there are penalties for early withdrawals.The Bottom Line
The tax advantages offered by a Roth IRA are great in most circumstances. If you end up in a lower tax bracket when you retire, then you’ll lose that advantage. Of course, predicting future tax law is quite difficult.
Roth IRAs are excellent investment strategies for a large set of people. If you’re within the income limits and have money to put into a retirement account, a Roth IRA is a good choice.
What’s your experience with Roth IRAs?
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Many of my bills are automated. Not only is my mortgage automatically withdrawn from my account, but I even have my weekly produce delivery automatically charged to a rewards card — a card that’s automatically paid off with funds from my checking account.
From automatic investing to regularly scheduled transfers to a savings account, my finances move fairly smoothly most of the time. However, automated finances aren’t for everyone. In some cases, they can cause more harm than help.Advantages of Automated Finances
For the most part, having your finances automated is about convenience. When most of your bills are paid automatically, you don’t always have to think about due dates and using a check or cash. With everything moving through your accounts, you can go on vacation without worrying that you’ll miss a payment and be charged penalties. Additionally, it’s harder for the bills to slip through the cracks when you have them automated.
Finally, automating your finances can help you save more. If you automatically invest and save, you can build your wealth more quickly and more automatically — because you don’t have to stop and think about it.Can Your Cash Flow Handle Automated Finances?
Even though automating your finances can be convenient, it’s still important to pay attention to your cash flow. In fact, it’s important to consider your cash flow before you start automating your finances. This is because when you have everything automated, it works out like clockwork — unless something goes wrong. Then, you’re going to have problems.
I saw this firsthand a few months ago. My husband and I both have irregular income, so we have to pay attention to our cash flow. For the most part, we’re covered; but a clerical error in the processing of one of my husband’s checks resulted in a smaller paycheck than we had expected. All of the bills were paid on time, but we didn’t check to make sure that the deposit came through as expected. As a result, we ended up overdrawing the account and being hit with fees.
When the mistake was discovered, my husband’s employer covered the fees — we were lucky. We put too much trust into the automation and didn’t follow up like we should have. It’s easy to become complacent with automated finances. If something goes even a little wrong, it’s possible that you could end up accumulating fees due to overdrawn accounts.Conclusion
Automating your finances doesn’t give you a pass on paying attention to your accounts. Organizing your finances can be helpful, and automating can make things easier for you — but only if you’re already responsible with your finances. Carefully think about your finances, and whether or not you could benefit from automation. Also, recognize the pitfalls of automating your finances. Take the time to double-check your accounts occasionally, and make sure you have the cash flow to support automation.
Have you automated your finances? Why or why not?
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The new year brings with it high hopes. One of those high hopes may be to make headway toward a stronger financial foothold. Hopes are the inspiration but it takes a plan to bring about significant change. In the first part of this four-part series, A New Year of Money: Evaluating Your Financial State, I discussed the importance of examining your past and present financial habits to gain an overall view of your current situation. The second installment, A New Year of Money: Goal-Setting to Make an Impact, examined choosing goals that will result in meaningful changes to your financial situation. In this piece, I’ll suggest some changes that will set your finances on a course to a better place this year.
The key to improving your financial situation is to take a tight grasp of your money matters. You may not have much control over how much comes in but you can exercise a lot of control over how much goes out.Reassess regular expenses
We often take our regular expenses for granted without even considering that they could be lowered if we trim the fat. Examine these possibilities for cutting down your regular expenses:
- Refinance loans at lower interest rates. Consider transferring credit card balances to your lower-interest cards.
- Reevaluate insurance premiums. Make sure you’re paying for exactly what you need and nothing more. Look for companies that offer discounts for good habits (non-smoker, safe driver…) or multiple policies.
- Do away with your landline. More and more people are opting to use their cell phone exclusively.
- Reassess your data plan. Are you paying for more than you really need – or regularly paying for overages? Your carrier can help you choose a plan based on the reality of your use.
- Revisit your entertainment options. There are a plethora of low-cost alternatives to the cable TV or satellite plan you may currently have.
- Do a household energy assessment. What could be unplugged, turned off (or down) or used less to lower your utility bills? Could investing in more efficient appliances, household repairs or insulation help you save on the monthly outlay?
- Lease a car instead of buying. Because lease rates are generally cheaper than an auto loan, you could spend less on your monthly car payment and put the money you saved toward buying something that increases in value over time (unlike a vehicle).
- Rethink where you shop. Are you purchasing household items and groceries at the best possible prices? We often get used to shopping at certain stores and fail to recognize cheaper alternatives. Be sure to consider Internet shopping, too – online prices are often quite competitive and many offer free shipping.
Saving is a necessity! Determine a realistic savings “bill” and pay it – like any other expense – into a savings account. It won’t lead to “wealth” but it will strengthen your purchasing power and shore-up your financial footing.Define a concrete goal
Once you’re sure that your expenses are streamlined, define what will represent financial growth for you. It could be to:
- eliminate a percentage of your debt
- save six months of living expenses
- increase savings for retirement or college
- make a significant purchase (without going into debt)
- save up a down-payment for a home
- make home repairs or renovations
The key to improving your financial circumstances is to manage your existing money in such a way as to free-up as much as possible, then allocating it so it does you the most good, for the short and long term.
How do you plan to improve your financial situation this year?Related Posts:
It’s been three weeks and your cough is still hanging around, but you don’t want to go to the doctor.
How long will you suffer with that stuffy head while wishing you had health insurance?
How often do you avoid going to the doctor because you know you can’t afford it without coverage?
It’s terrifying to know that you must either continue to suffer or fall further into debt.
If you’re one of the nearly 50 million Americans (up from 49 million in 2009) living life without health insurance, then you’ve definitely felt the pain of ever-rising health care costs.
And, worst of all, things don’t seem to be getting better.
The costs of health care increase every year, and skyrocketing insurance rates aren’t the only problem. The costs of office, hospital and ER visits, plus prescriptions, lab work, and the other minutia of health care are all soaring.
With these increases comes concern.
A report in the American Journal of Medicine (2009) stated that more than 60% of all bankruptcies are caused by medical problems. Paying for expensive doctor and hospital bills can be devastating to a bottom line; the looming threat of bankruptcy is a harsh reality and can ruin even the best credit.
With that weight of debt pressing on you like a humid day in Georgia, it’s hard to bury that fear and move on with life.
Yet, there are a few things you can do to fight the rising costs of health care.3 Ways to Cut Back on Health Care Costs Quit Smoking
By now, you know the hazards that smoking poses to your health. The government suffers $167 billion dollars in tobacco-related productivity losses and health care costs each year. The number of years of life lost to smoking hovers around the 5.4 million mark.
Even if you don’t have insurance, your health care costs will skyrocket from poor health if you engage in this destructive habit.
Quitting smoking improves your health and the amount you can save in medical coverage and health care costs. (Not to mention money saved by not buying cigarettes!)Change Your Residence
Where you live can effect how much you pay for healthcare. Moving isn’t always an option, especially if you can’t find work in an area that pays lower health insurance rates. Or, perhaps you love where you live, and you aren’t going to move just for more affordable coverage.
It’s an option to consider, however; many areas of the country enjoy a less painful health insurance premium each month, or lower out-of-pocket costs.Eat Right & Exercise
Eating right is another way to save on health insurance. There are 35 diseases of almost-epidemic proportion caused by the foods we eat. Many companies are now offering their employees health incentives to eat right and exercise to reduce the costs of health care.
In today’s fast-paced society, it’s hard to eat right most of the time, but it’s important to try your best. The ideal diet for every body is different. Some swear by the Paleo Diet. Some by South Beach. Whatever your preference, whole foods that are cooked and prepared at home are by far the healthiest.
As for exercise, you have a myriad of options from going to yoga classes to running. Figure out which workout method makes the most sense for you, and keep at it.
Eating healthy and exercising does take time and effort, but it’s always worth it. When you blend these practices, your body and wallet will both come out as winners.
What ways have you found to cut back on healthcare costs?
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A couple of years ago, I began using a “regular” taxable investment account as my emergency fund. So far, it’s worked out reasonably well for me. I have a more liquid account with less money, just for quick access, but I have a good amount in the investment account that can be drawn on.Advantages of Using an Investment Account as an Emergency Fund
One of the things I’ve really liked about using the investment account is that the money grows faster. If you put your emergency fund in a savings account, the low rate means that you are lucky to get 1% APY. You can use a CD ladder, but you have to be ok with having the money tied up for longer periods of time.
With the investment account, I invest in an all-market ETF, and the money has grown nicely over the last couple of years. I use an automatic investment plan to have the money automatically taken from my checking account each month and invested in the fund. The money offers the potential for better returns, and it’s fairly liquid. It usually only takes a few days for me to get my money if I need it (as I did two years ago to pay for the aftermath of a flooded basement).
However, it’s important to note the risks. Even though an all-market ETF is generally considered fairly low risk, it’s still an investment, and it can still lose value. If you end up in an emergency situation, you might have to sell at a loss (but at least you can get a tax deduction for the loss). You have to be careful, because you don’t want to risk big losses with your emergency fund.Things to Keep in Mind with an Investment Account Emergency Fund
If you decide to go this route with your emergency fund, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Have some very liquid funds: Even though the bulk of my emergency fund is in the investment account, I have some very liquid funds available to me. This way, if I need immediate access to money, I can get it.
- Plan for a wait: It usually take between five and seven business days for me to get my money when I use the investment account. That means I have to plan for the wait. So far, none of my emergencies have required the need for immediate money, so the wait hasn’t been a problem. But if I was in a different situation, I could use the more liquid portion of my emergency fund to hold me over for a few days.
- Choose something relatively low risk: Your investment should be something that is relatively low risk. I chose an all-market ETF because it exposes me to the whole market, rather than hanging my emergency fund on my stock picking ability. As long as the market is trending generally upward over time, my emergency fund should do ok. I have one friend who chose a bond fund for his investment.
- Use dollar cost averaging: Be consistent as you build your fund. Dollar cost averaging can help you build your emergency fund automatically.
Would you consider using an investment account as your emergency fund? If not, a credit card can also act as your emergency fund as long as you are careful.Related Posts:
You’ve noticed lately that Mom and Dad are starting to show signs of aging. Cobwebs and dust may be appearing in the previously spotless living room, or they’ve been forgetting things like appointments and medication. But your parents adamantly refuse to even consider moving to an assisted living facility or nursing home.
According to the AARP, nearly 42 million Americans are caring for their elderly parents, and many of them are facing a similar dilemma. Keeping your parents living safely at home isn’t going to be cheap, but it’ll likely be less expensive than an assisted living facility, which costs around $36,000 per year, or a nursing home, which costs around $77,000 per year for a private room.
Here’s what you can expect financially from helping your parents stay in their home:Modifications to the House
In many cases, Mom and Dad don’t have the mobility they once enjoyed, and everything from stairs to showers offers potential hazards. While full remodels of a house are anything but cheap, adding or modifying a home in order to make it more senior-friendly can be done relatively inexpensively.
According to Forbes, the most common modifications include “hand railings, grab bars and lighting, as well as access and easy entry into bathrooms. Other common home modifications involve changing the entry and exit from a home or accessing a second floor.”
The average cost for making full-scale modifications, including the installation of extra railings, widening or adapting entrances, and adding items like stair chairs, generally runs between $20,000 and $40,000.Hired Help
The other half of helping your parents remain in their home is making certain that they have whatever help they need to maintain basic living standards. If your parents need help with personal care, like dressing or bathing, then you’ll absolutely need to have someone come to help out daily. Even if they’re still handling their own grooming and dressing well, they may still need help with household activities like cooking, home maintenance, and errands.
In-home care can range anywhere from $14-$24 per hour. Depending on how often your parents need a helping hand, this can be an affordable option. The best bet is to find out what the going rate is for in-home care in your area, and then calculate the monthly cost.Technology
One last way of keeping Mom and Dad safe at home is through the judicious use of technology. With everything from digital pillboxes (that remind users when they’ve missed their medication) to wearable motion sensors that can alert you (and potentially 911) when the wearer falls, modern technology offers new ways to fix old problems.
Purchasing these sorts of gadgets can be an inexpensive way to help your parents be safer at home.The Bottom Line
Most seniors desperately want to remain in their homes. Who can blame them? Finding an affordable way to make that happen is possible. Just make sure you and your parents have honest conversations about your finances and their changing needs.
Have you had experience with aging parents? What have you found to be the best solution?
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Teaching our kids to effectively manage money is essential. Kids with good money management skills grow up to be adults with excellent money management skills, and those adults will be leading our country someday.
Leaving an inheritance for your kids isn’t enough — they must know how to manage the money, or they’ll likely end up wasting everything you worked so hard to save up for them. Teaching kids about money is an intentional process. Unless you make money skills a priority, you aren’t likely to succeed. You need to create a plan for financially educating your children.
Here are 15 things every kid should know about money — hopefully these skills and beliefs will stick with them for life.
15 Things Your Kids Need to Know About Money
1. Money isn’t magical. While Uncle Fred may pull a quarter from behind your ear, money doesn’t magically appear or disappear.
2. Earning money is a privilege, not a right. Nothing is free in life, and a respectful attitude about earning money is necessary. Not everyone has the ability to work, nor does everyone have a job. Be thankful when you’re given the opportunity to earn your own money.
3. Wasting money adversely affects you AND others. You can influence others in your family and your community by encouraging good or bad spending habits. Just like someone is always setting an example for you, you are always setting an example for others.
4. Saving up for a wanted item is not the same as saving long term. While delayed gratification is a necessary money skill, it’s separate from creating a savings plan.
5. Giving to others isn’t about charity; it’s about investing in the lives of those you’re inspired to help.
6. Giving financially to others does not make you superior to them. Someday, you may need to ask for financial help yourself.
7. Sometimes, circumstances dictate our financial situations (ie. recession, natural disasters, lottery winnings, death, job loss) and no amount of good or bad planning is responsible for the end result. Good money management builds character and increases your chances of doing well financially. Though it won’t guarantee a stable financial future, it will help you deal with life with grace and integrity.
8. Learn to be content with what you have, but never stop dreaming big.
9. Mistakes happen. You’ll lose money, but it’s part of the learning process.
10. Don’t be afraid to try new investment strategies.
11. Never stop learning about money management.
12. Spend time with people who manage their money well and listen to their beliefs about money.
13. Read books about managing money. Even if you don’t understand everything, you’ll pick up a few terms or ideas to help you grow your understanding of financial management.
14. Even pennies matter.
15. Self-reflection is an excellent teacher. Frequently take time to examine how you feel about money and the lessons you’re learning.
What’s your favorite? What would you add to the list?
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If you’re interested in buying a new house or deciding whether to refinance, 2013 is shaping up to be a good year for the housing market. According to major mortgage buyers like Freddie Mac, 30-year fixed mortgage interest rates are at a near-record low, reaching digits that haven’t been seen since the 1970s. And, unlike previous years since the housing market crash, the economy is showing signs of growth, further increasing the incentive to buy now.
Although all signs are showing that this year is a great time to buy or refinance your home, you may not be certain whether refinancing is the best option for you at all. The following are some reasons you may or may not want to take this important financial step.
You May Want To Refinance If:
Rates have fallen at least 2% lower than your current interest rate. This is a general guideline. If interest rates in the market have dropped significantly lower than your current loan rate and appear to be stable, it’s a good time to refinance and get a lower fixed rate for your 30 or 15-year mortgage. There may be advantages to switching the type of loan you are carrying, as well, such as from a variable rate to a fixed rate. Improving the terms of your home loan can relieve financial stress and free funds for savings and other financial goals.
You want to consolidate your home loans and other debt. Lower interest rates may be a good time to consolidate two loans into one, a step which could reduce the amount of interest you pay on both and change the pay-off schedule to better meet your needs. Consolidating your debt could also mean adding in other debt, such as credit cards or student loans. Since credit card interest rates are usually much higher than those of mortgages, you will be saving money while achieving the convenience of one monthly payment. Another benefit of consolidating all your debt into your mortgage is that the interest you pay will be tax-deductible, unlike other kinds of debt.
You want to do major renovating or pay for college. The equity, or value or your home, can be the basis of a home equity loan. This may be a good choice if you are comfortable with your monthly payments and need funds for home improvements or cash for college tuition. The exact amount you are able to borrow will depend on your home’s equity and the remaining amount of your loan. Although it’s not advisable to go further into debt, home improvements and college tuition are usually wise investments with long-term benefits as long as you don’t over-extend yourself.
If you think you want to refinance, there are numerous online refinancing calculators to help you get a better idea of what your new loan would look like. Simply plug in your specific loan statistics and the calculator will do the math for you. Beyond online tools, you should contact your mortgage owner to see what options are available to you.Related Posts: