8 Activities to Plan Now for a Fun and Budget-Friendly Fall Staycation

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Is your kids’ fall break coming up? Plan ahead now to have a great time while also saving money. Over Memorial Day weekend, more Americans traveled than had in the last 12 years, and we spent more on travel, too. If your family spent a lot of money then, you might want to save this fall. Luckily, fall is the perfect time for a family staycation—a vacation where you play tourist in your hometown.

Staycations are great because you can get to know new attractions in your own town, and you don’t have to spend money on accommodations or plane tickets. If you’d like to do fun things as a family without spending a fortune, here are eight staycation ideas to try.

1. Participate in Agritourism

Many sections of the country will be in a harvesting period over fall break. For instance, in my native Indiana, fall break is a great time to pick apples and pumpkins, among other fall-harvested produce.

Check out your state’s agricultural extension to find agritourism destinations in your area. The bonus here is that you often get a fun trip rolled in with a place to eat, which is great!

2. Visit Local Museums and Zoos

Has it been a while since you’ve checked out your local museum or zoo? A staycation is the perfect time to revisit them. You might also try a different type of museum that you’ve never tried before. For instance, some art museum exhibits can be surprisingly kid-friendly.

Or, check online for completely off-the-wall small museums in your area. For instance, my neighborhood has a tiny museum dedicated to Statue of Liberty figurines! These museums can make for a fun experience, even if they are a little cheesy. 

3. Frequent Small Businesses and Restaurants

Have you neglected to check out your area’s local restaurants and small businesses? A fall staycation is a great time to try them out. Local breweries and wineries abound these days, and they often offer kid-friendly menus, as well. You could also visit an area with lots of small businesses. Give your kids a little bit of spending money, and let them go to town.

4. Go Biking or Hiking

Fall is just about the perfect time, in most places, to go biking or hiking. It’s not as hot as summer, and there may be fewer bugs. Check out some new trails and parks on your family vacation. You could even make it a point to check out two or three state parks with your kids during your fall break.

5. Go to the Library

Lots of local libraries offer additional programming during school breaks. Check out your library’s schedule to see what’s going on. Nothing special happening? No worries. Take an afternoon to stock up on books. Then, spend a cozy evening in, drinking hot chocolate and reading aloud as a family.

6. Have a Party

Hosting a party is a great way to get the whole family involved in a big project together. Get everyone to pitch in on making invitations, creating food, and cleaning and decorating your house. Then, have friends and family over for a fun, fall-themed get-together.

7. Make Christmas Gifts 

It’s not too early to start planning for the holidays. Now is a great time to put together handmade holiday gifts. You might try layered jar gifts, such as soup mixes or brownie mixes. Or try making candles, picture frames, or photo gifts. This is a great way to spend time together, while also taking care of some of your holiday planning.

8. Make a Collage 

Chances are you have a smartphone with a decent camera. Spend some time on your staycation driving or walking around your neighborhood, and set the kids loose with that built-in camera. Ask them to find beautiful things to photograph. There’s never a better time for it than fall! At the end of your vacation, print off the photos they’ve taken and create a collage of autumn memories.

If you start planning now, you can save even more money on your fall vacation. The key to saving is recognizing your spending habits. Get a handle on your spending and credit by checking your credit report for free at Credit.com.

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Why You Should Start Paying Interest on Student Loans Immediately

College is even better with the right credit cards. Don't miss out on deals and cash back!

Whether you’re just starting college or are entering your senior year, chances are you’ve taken out student loans somewhere along the way. With many student loans, you aren’t required to make payments at all until about six months after you’re no longer enrolled in school full-time.

That’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe not.

In fact, making absolutely no payments on your student loans while you’re in school can mean that you graduate with a lot more debt than you expected. That’s because interest accrues on some of these loans while you’re still a student.

Did I lose you? Don’t worry. Here’s a quick primer on what all that means for you.

Understanding How Interest Works on Federal Student Loans

First, know that we’re mainly talking about federal student loans here. If you have private loans, they may work differently. Check your loan paperwork to find out.

When it comes to federal student loans, though, they fall into two main categories: subsidized and unsubsidized.

You have to meet certain income qualifications to get subsidized student loans. If you qualify, the government will pay the interest on these loans while you’re still enrolled in school. We’ll see in a moment why that’s advantageous.

On the flip side, the government does not pay interest on unsubsidized student loans while you’re in school, but you’re still not required to make payments.

On unsubsidized loans, interest is charged from the day the loan is issued. You can figure out this date from your loan paperwork. So if you have a loan with a 5% interest rate, that annual interest is charged starting on the issue date.

Most loan interest is compounded daily, meaning that the total interest rate is divided by the number of days in the year. Each day, the lender charges that amount of interest on the loan’s outstanding balance.

So if you don’t make any loan or interest payments while you’re in the grace period, your interest continues to accrue. The longer you go without making payments, the more interest will accumulate.

This, in and of itself, isn’t the end of the world. You can always catch up on interest payments once your grace period is over. However, capitalization can turn accrued interest into a huge problem.

At certain points in the life of your loan—like when your grace period ends or after you exit a period of deferment—any unpaid interest on the loan capitalizes. This means that the unpaid interest is added to the loan’s principal balance. Then your interest is calculated based on that new, higher balance. So not only do you have a higher balance to pay off, but your interest payments are higher each month, too.

Doing the Math

This is all kind of confusing, so let’s look at how the math breaks down.

Let’s say you take out a $10,000 unsubsidized federal student loan at 5% annual interest. You’ll pay 0.013699% interest daily. Doesn’t sound like much, but it comes out to about $1.37 each day. So over the course of a month, you’ll accrue roughly $42 in interest.

Again, that doesn’t sound like a lot of money, so what’s the big deal?

Well, play this out over the course of your college career. You take out this loan as a freshman, and you let interest accrue for your entire school career, including the six-month grace period after you graduate. Let’s say that totals 54 months.

In 54 months, your total interest accrued on the loan is around $2,268. If that interest capitalizes when your grace period ends, your principal balance is now $12,268. That means your daily interest is about $1.68, making your monthly interest about $51.

Again, it doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money. But multiplied by several years’ worth of student loans, it can really add up.

This is just a general example, though. You can use this calculator to determine just how accrued interest could affect your particular student loans.

Making Interest-Only Payments

Even if you can’t make full interest-only payments, paying what you can to reduce your loans’ capitalized interest is a smart idea. To figure out how to do this, just get in touch with your student loan servicer. Usually you can send in your payments online.

Since you’re not technically on the hook for paying off your loans, you don’t have to make payments every month. But if you come into some extra cash or get a paid internship, consider devoting some of your budget to paying off your student loan interest.

Student loans can be overwhelming, but paying off interest as you go is one way to pay less in the long run. If you have more questions on the best way to tackle your loans, check out these additional student loan resources for expert answers and guidance.

Image: Mixmike

The post Why You Should Start Paying Interest on Student Loans Immediately appeared first on Credit.com.

The 5 Things Single Parents Need to Consider about Life Insurance

There are plenty of ways to save at buybuy Baby without cutting your registry and wishlist short.

As a parent, one of the scariest things to think about is what your children will do if something happens to you someday. This can be even scarier if you’re a single parent without a partner to fall back on.

But here’s the thing: you are the sole provider for your children. It’s even more important that you take time to consider all the future possibilities. Here’s what you need to know about life insurance, including how much coverage to get and how much it’s likely to cost.

How Much Coverage Do You Need?

The biggest life insurance question is usually about how much coverage you need. There are all sorts of rules of thumb for this issue. Some say you need seven times your current annual income, while others say more or less.

But how much coverage you need really depends on how the benefit would need to be used if you were to pass away. Ultimately, this depends on a few factors, including the following:

  • How old your children are right now
  • Who would care for them if you were to pass away
  • What that caregiver would need to be able to care for your children
  • How much debt you currently have
  • Whether or not you want to pay for your children’s college costs

Let’s break this down, then, into the five things you’ll need to consider to get the most out of your life insurance policy.

1. Talk to Potential Caregivers

If you don’t already have plans for alternative caregivers for your children, now is the time to make them. Your life insurance decisions will largely hinge on the circumstances of those who would care for your children in the event of your death.

For instance, let’s say you have four kids who would live with your parents if you passed away. If your parents have already downsized into a retirement home, they’d probably need to move to care for your children. In this case, you need to account for their additional moving and housing expenses in your life insurance policy. If they’ve already retired, you may need to consider the other ways that caring for your children would impact their ability to cover their own living expenses.

But what if you have only one child who would move in with family friends if you passed away? If your friends already have a few kids of their own, they may not need to move or add on to their home to accommodate your child. In this case, you may not need quite as much life insurance coverage.

It’s a good idea to have an up-front conversation with potential caregivers. What would they need in order to care for your children appropriately? These are difficult conversations to have, but they’re an essential part of this equation.

2. Think about Your Kids’ Needs

How much insurance you require also depends on your kids’ ages and needs. If you have younger children, you’ll need more coverage—and you’ll need it to last longer. If your kids are older, though, you can probably purchase a shorter policy with less coverage.

Beyond just their ages, you’ll want to consider your kids’ particular needs as well. Are they currently attending a private school that you’d want them to continue attending? Or maybe you have a child with special medical needs. Make sure your policy is large enough to cover those costs.

If you want to fund your children’s college attendance with your death benefit, you’ll need quite a bit more coverage. If you can’t afford to cover college tuition right now, you could also look at college funds as the icing on the cake. In a couple of years, if you’re in a better place, consider upping your policy or adding a second one to cover these costs.

3. Consider Your Current Financial Situation

Even those without children should have enough life insurance coverage to tackle leftover debts and other end-of-life expenses, but it can be even more important for single parents. You’ll want to be sure your children aren’t dealing with a burden of debt while also grieving your loss. If possible, you’ll want to cover the full amount of your debt so they don’t need to.

Keep in mind the costs of end-of-life services, like a funeral service and burial, as well. These can run as much as $10,000 and be a real financial burden if you forget to plan for them yourself.

4. Add It All Up, and See What You Need

Now it’s time to determine how much total life insurance coverage you need. Here’s an example, based on the recommendation that you cover seven times your annual salary.

Sherry is a single mom of a four-year-old and a ten-year-old. She makes about $40,000 per year. If she passed away, her parents would care for the kids, and they’d need to move into a larger home to do so. She has about $25,000 in debt, outside of her mortgage, and she would want to fund both kids’ college funds with her life insurance. Here’s where she stands:

  • Income Replacement: $280,000
  • Additional Housing Costs: $50,000
  • Debt: $25,000
  • End of Life Expenses: $10,000
  • College Funds: $200,000
  • Total Life Insurance Needs: $565,000

That sounds like a lot, right? Before you decide you can’t afford insurance, though, take the next step.

5. Check Out Term Life Insurance Coverage

Over half a million dollars in life insurance coverage seems like a lot, but many people actually overestimate the actual costs of such insurance, especially for healthy, relatively young individuals.

The key is to get term insurance (unless you have a good reason to have more expensive whole life insurance coverage) for only as long as you need it. The longer your term, the more expensive your coverage. Sherry should probably have a 15-year policy, which would cover her until her children are both adults. And if Sherry is in good health, a policy like this could cost well under $50 per month. That’s much better, right?

Once you know how much coverage you need, it’s time to shop around. Plenty of online quoting systems can get you an estimate on your costs in just a few minutes.

These steps aren’t fun to think about. But having an affordable life insurance policy you know will protect your loved ones is worth a bit of discomfort. Check out our Personal Finance Learning Center to ensure you’re on the right track to keep your children safe and secure when you’re no longer here.

Image: Juanmonino

The post The 5 Things Single Parents Need to Consider about Life Insurance appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service

Meal planning isn't always fun, but it can save you a lot of time and money.

My family’s recent subscription to a meal planning service has been a godsend. With my husband and I both working full time while raising our two children, cooking has been put on the back burner. We found ourselves eating out too much and when we did cook at home, we used the same recipes over and over.

Plus, I really hated trying to meal plan. I never had new, creative recipes unless I spent too much time on Pinterest. Then I would inevitably forget something on the grocery list, forcing us to reconsider our plan or shop again later in the week.

So far, we’ve had a great experience with a meal planning service that puts together our weekly menu and shopping list for us. The meals have been creative and really tasty and we’ve spent way less money on food.

Jumping into a meal planning service took some time. For one thing, it’s another item to add to our budget. And for another, there are loads of options out there to choose from.

If you’re looking for a way to change up, simplify, or declutter your meal planning, a service might be a great investment. But don’t just go muddle around on the internet for hours trying to figure out what will work best for you. Instead, take these steps to find your perfect meal planning service.

1. Figure out Your Priorities

First, know that meal plans cater to all sorts of priorities. Maybe yours is to save as much money as possible. Or maybe your goal is to be as healthy as possible or to follow a certain type of diet. Or maybe your goal is to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less every night.

There’s a meal plan for all of those priorities.

You can often balance two competing priorities fairly well, too. For instance, I wanted to both have healthy, veggie-packed dinner options and save money on groceries. Our meal plan isn’t the most budget-friendly. But it does keep our spending pretty low while providing healthy meal options.

So, before you even start shopping around, know your top two or three meal-time priorities.

2. Decide if a Delivery Box Is an Option

Next, you need to figure out if a meal planning service that actually delivers ingredients is an option.

If you have a liberal food budget these options could make your life super easy. But if your goal is to restrict your spending as much as possible, they’re probably not a wise option.

Ingredient delivery services aren’t all super expensive. But since someone is shopping for, measuring, and packaging your ingredients, it’s usually more expensive than going to the grocery store. With that said, if you wind up eating out a lot because you can’t make it to the grocery store, a delivery box might be right up your alley.

3. Get a Sample of Your Top Three Options

Once you’ve narrowed down your field of choices, get a sample of your options. Most online meal planning services will give you a week’s menu or more for free. Plus, many of the delivery boxes on the market have free — or almost free — trial periods.

Sampling will help you see which menu you like best, and which one will consistently work best for you. You’ll have to use a few different systems over the course of a month or so. It can be frustrating but through trial and error, you’ll be more likely to find the perfect meal planning service for you.

4. Use it for at Least a Few Weeks

Once you figure out which of the services you like best, I’d recommend sticking with that service for at least a month before you decide to switch to something else.

For my family, it’s taken some time to figure out how many of the meals we make each week. Our plan comes with seven, which is too many for us because we often eat with friends once a week and use leftovers over the weekend. It’s taken a couple of weeks to figure out that I need to trim the menu down to about five meals before I send my husband to the grocery store.

For extra savings, you can charge your meal plan and groceries on a cash back credit card. There are plenty of great cash back credit cards but before applying it’s wise to check if you qualify. You can check two of your credit scores for free with Credit.com.

That’s it! Finding the perfect meal plan for your family is all about prioritizing and then checking out what’s out there.

Image: franckreporter

The post 4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service appeared first on Credit.com.

4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service

Meal planning isn't always fun, but it can save you a lot of time and money.

My family’s recent subscription to a meal planning service has been a godsend. With my husband and I both working full time while raising our two children, cooking has been put on the back burner. We found ourselves eating out too much and when we did cook at home, we used the same recipes over and over.

Plus, I really hated trying to meal plan. I never had new, creative recipes unless I spent too much time on Pinterest. Then I would inevitably forget something on the grocery list, forcing us to reconsider our plan or shop again later in the week.

So far, we’ve had a great experience with a meal planning service that puts together our weekly menu and shopping list for us. The meals have been creative and really tasty and we’ve spent way less money on food.

Jumping into a meal planning service took some time. For one thing, it’s another item to add to our budget. And for another, there are loads of options out there to choose from.

If you’re looking for a way to change up, simplify, or declutter your meal planning, a service might be a great investment. But don’t just go muddle around on the internet for hours trying to figure out what will work best for you. Instead, take these steps to find your perfect meal planning service.

1. Figure out Your Priorities

First, know that meal plans cater to all sorts of priorities. Maybe yours is to save as much money as possible. Or maybe your goal is to be as healthy as possible or to follow a certain type of diet. Or maybe your goal is to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less every night.

There’s a meal plan for all of those priorities.

You can often balance two competing priorities fairly well, too. For instance, I wanted to both have healthy, veggie-packed dinner options and save money on groceries. Our meal plan isn’t the most budget-friendly. But it does keep our spending pretty low while providing healthy meal options.

So, before you even start shopping around, know your top two or three meal-time priorities.

2. Decide if a Delivery Box Is an Option

Next, you need to figure out if a meal planning service that actually delivers ingredients is an option.

If you have a liberal food budget these options could make your life super easy. But if your goal is to restrict your spending as much as possible, they’re probably not a wise option.

Ingredient delivery services aren’t all super expensive. But since someone is shopping for, measuring, and packaging your ingredients, it’s usually more expensive than going to the grocery store. With that said, if you wind up eating out a lot because you can’t make it to the grocery store, a delivery box might be right up your alley.

3. Get a Sample of Your Top Three Options

Once you’ve narrowed down your field of choices, get a sample of your options. Most online meal planning services will give you a week’s menu or more for free. Plus, many of the delivery boxes on the market have free — or almost free — trial periods.

Sampling will help you see which menu you like best, and which one will consistently work best for you. You’ll have to use a few different systems over the course of a month or so. It can be frustrating but through trial and error, you’ll be more likely to find the perfect meal planning service for you.

4. Use it for at Least a Few Weeks

Once you figure out which of the services you like best, I’d recommend sticking with that service for at least a month before you decide to switch to something else.

For my family, it’s taken some time to figure out how many of the meals we make each week. Our plan comes with seven, which is too many for us because we often eat with friends once a week and use leftovers over the weekend. It’s taken a couple of weeks to figure out that I need to trim the menu down to about five meals before I send my husband to the grocery store.

For extra savings, you can charge your meal plan and groceries on a cash back credit card. There are plenty of great cash back credit cards but before applying it’s wise to check if you qualify. You can check two of your credit scores for free with Credit.com.

That’s it! Finding the perfect meal plan for your family is all about prioritizing and then checking out what’s out there.

Image: franckreporter

The post 4 Steps to Finding Your Perfect Meal Planning Service appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Ways to Stop Blowing Your Grocery Budget

Saving money on groceries doesn't need to be difficult and it doesn't always mean cutting back.

If you’re like many Americans, a large chunk of your budget is spent on food — maybe 10% or more. Percentagewise, we spend less on food than we did in the ‘60s, but 10% is not an insignificant portion of your income.That’s why so many money-saving articles focus on groceries as a great place to cut back on spending.

And the truth is that grocery spending is so variable. You could spend $200 per month to feed your family of four, or you could easily spend more than $1,000. With all that variability, it can be easy to blow your budget for groceries. If you find that you’re consistently spending more than you’ve budgeted for groceries, following these tips can help with saving money:

1. Figure out If Your Budget Is Even Reasonable

One issue might be that you have an unreasonably small grocery budget. Maybe your budget is inspired by a few articles from Pinterest about feeding a family of seven for a mere $250 per month. Let’s get real, though. Those families (often the moms!) spend hours meal planning, cooking from scratch, clipping coupons and driving to various grocery stores to snag the best deal.

Their results are amazing but that amount of effort isn’t feasible for everyone. As a working mom in a two-income family, there’s no way I can spend that much time saving money on food.

So if you’ve budgeted $150 per month to spend on groceries, maybe that’s not enough. Here’s how to find out:

a. Break Down Your Spending by Category

First, dig out your grocery store receipts from the past several weeks. If you don’t usually keep receipts, make a point to save them from your next few shopping trips. Shop as you normally would for those trips.

Then, break down your grocery spending by category. For instance, you might divide it into meat, dairy, breads and grains, premade items, veggies and fruits, etc. If you purchase items like cleaning products, cosmetics or toilet paper during your grocery shopping trips, divide those into a separate category as well. Remove everything that’s not actually grocery store spending from this category. Fast food and restaurant spending should be dealt with separately.

Once you’ve got your categories, add up what you spent in each category over the course of a month. This may not be a true average, but it’s a starting place.

b. Set a Reasonable Budget

Finally, you can see what you actually spend on food groceries. Now it’s time to see if that budget is reasonable. A good place to start is with the USDA Food Plans, which average the cost of cooking at home each month. In May 2017, the USDA thrifty plan for a family of four was $561 per month. The liberal plan for a family of four was $1,097 per month.

If your food spending is close to the thrifty end of things, maybe you’re actually not spending too much on food. Maybe you’re just setting your budget too low. But if you’re coming out on the high end of food spending — or if you want to outdo the USDA — use the following steps to trim your spending.

2. Look for Savings in Your Highest Spending Categories

Since you’ve got your spending categorized, you can easily find out where you spent the most money. For instance, if you’re consistently spending half your food budget on meat, it’s time to start cutting back there — perhaps by eating meatless meals a few times a week. Or maybe you’re spending a bunch of money on prepared meals that you could make much more cheaply at home.

Once you know where you spend the most, you can target that category for reducing spending. Some options include clipping coupons for items in that category, shopping manager’s specials, or simply cutting back on eating those types of foods.

3. Look Into Different Local Grocery Stores

There’s a reason Whole Foods is nicknamed “Whole Paycheck.” It’s a great place to find certain specialty items. But if you’re doing all your grocery shopping at high-end stores like these, you will spend more.

Our family saves a fortune just by shopping at Aldi, a discount grocery store that’s becoming more common across the nation. We used to do most of our shopping at a local chain but realized we saved a couple hundred bucks a month just by buying what we can at Aldi.

Chances are you’ve got some cheaper grocery options local to you. For instance, ethnic stores can be a fabulous place to pick up exotic spices and basics like rice and pasta on the cheap. Or you may find that a wholesale store membership saves your family a ton on food staples. Plus, you can use reward credit cards while shopping to earn even more deals. (Before applying, remember that most reward cards require a decent credit score — you can check two of yours for free with Credit.com.)

4. Create a Bank of Easy-Fix Meals

If your family is anything like mine, quick to prepare weeknight meals are a necessity. Without them, you fall back on going out to eat. Pinterest is a great place to find recipes for quick and easy meals that rely on whole, healthy ingredients.

Start trying out these types of meals. If you find a hit, keep the recipe close by. Try to find at least a few of these recipes that use ingredients you tend to keep around.

5. Do Some Freezer Cooking

When you find a great sale on expensive ingredients, pick up extra. Then, double up on your recipe, and put half in the freezer. This is a win-win. You get to save on groceries, and you have a meal ready to go for a busy evening!

For instance, if you find a great deal on ground beef, buy enough to make two lasagnas. Make them both at the same time, and pop one in the freezer. If you get into this habit, you could suddenly find yourself spending less on expensive ingredients, and you’ll have a freezer full of delicious meals to choose from.

6. Cut Back on Waste

How much of your grocery budget goes down the drain the form of wasted food? If you’re like most Americans, it’s a lot!

Start keeping a tally of the foods you throw away after they go bad. Keeping track for a month or two could reveal some interesting information. Maybe you’re over-ambitious when you buy fruits and veggies. You think your family will eat them, but you never get through them all. Or maybe you consistently throw away leftovers. It’s time to freeze those leftovers, pack them for lunch or make smaller servings of your recipes.

Cutting back on waste is an amazing way to save on groceries. Make a point to wait to grocery shop until the fridge is nearly empty. You’ll get more specific with your grocery shopping and more creative with your meal plans.

Even if you’re already saving on groceries, there’s usually room to save more. These tips will help you do just that.

Image: vgajic

The post 6 Ways to Stop Blowing Your Grocery Budget appeared first on Credit.com.

13 Things That Can Help You Survive a Road Trip With Kids This Summer

If the thought of hours in the car with your kids doesn't thrill you, here are some tips that can make your summer road trip downright enjoyable.

My family is getting ready for our very first vacation as a family of four. We’re so excited. But our five-year-old is already complaining that we’re driving instead of flying. (And we haven’t even packed the car yet!)

Tackling a seven-hour road trip with a five-year-old and an eight-month-old is a little daunting, I’ll admit. But I’ve been looking at some ways to hopefully survive the trip without spending a fortune on new toys and games. Here’s what we’re planning:

1. Relax!

First off, understand that your trip is going to take way longer than Google Maps says it will. That’s just part of road tripping with kids. My husband can normally drive seven solid hours without stopping even once. I’m preparing him for much more frequent stopping on this trip.

If you need to get out and let the kids walk (or crawl) around so that they’re less fussy for the next hour, go for it.

2. Plan for Some Fun Pit Stops

Don’t make your end destination the only thing you’re looking forward to, especially on a long road trip. We’re personally planning a lunch stop at a very cool dairy farm about a third of the way through our trip. It gives us something fun and delicious to look forward to.

Check your route ahead of time on Google Maps. Find a city a few hours in, and look for something fun to visit there. Bonus points if that something lines up with a meal you’ll need to eat anyway.

3. Spend a Few Bucks on New Apps

Even parents with strict screen time rules are likely to relax the rules a bit on long drives. We certainly do!

Our daughter will be using the shared family tablet for some of the trip. I’m giving her a $5 budget to spend on new apps. She’s got some old favorites on there, but new options will keep her engaged for longer.

4. Invest in Comfy Kid Headphones

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to actually hear all those new apps my daughter will be using. When her tablet is on, her headphones get plugged in. We had a hard time finding ones that work for her, but settled on the kind that are embedded in a fleece headband.

Luckily, you can get decent kids’ headphones (with volume control!) for well under $20 on Amazon. They’re an excellent investment, but if money is tight, you could consider using a cash back rewards credit card to pay for them. Use that same card to pay for your gas, food and lodging on your trip, and they’ve paid for themselves. Of course, you’ll need good credit for most cash back rewards cards. If you don’t know where your credit stands, you can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com. (Also check out some of these great electronic gifts kids love.)

5. Put Together a Coloring Kit

Most little kids can color for ages on end. My vacation coloring kit includes coloring books, plain notepads and crayons galore. I’ll also pack her some of the stickers from our seemingly endless supply in the art cabinet.

The trick here is to keep the coloring stuff accessible. Put everything in a bag or backpack that will slide beside the colorer’s car seat during the drive.

6. Check out Reusable Sticker Kits

If you don’t mind spending $5 on extra entertainment for the trip, check out reusable sticker kits. You can find them on all sorts of themes on Amazon. We bought a fairy one and a cupcake decorating book for our trip. I swear the five-year-old is more excited about opening these than she is about going on vacation.

7. Pack a Cooler

You probably already know snacks are indispensable on a road trip with kids. But packing a small cooler can give you more options, especially for healthier snacks. Just be sure the cooler can fit between your kids’ seats and the front seats. That way you won’t have to stop the car every time your kids need a snack.

Our snack list includes bottled water, string cheese, grapes, apples, small oranges and mixed nuts. We’ll also throw in some usually forbidden unhealthy snacks because we’re on vacation, after all.

8. Strap on the Pacifier

Traveling with an infant who likes a paci to sleep? Invest in a pacifier strap and strap the paci to the car seat. We keep ours strapped to the side of the car seat near the front passenger seat. This makes it way easier to find when the baby is ready for a nap, but can’t reach his pacifier.

9. Drive Over Nap Time

This is a simple one that just involves planning. If you can, drive when your kids would normally be sleeping. Even our five-year-old, who doesn’t always nap these days, will knock out in the car under the right conditions.

Some parents prefer to leave late in the evening and drive overnight. I’m too old for that now. But we’ll be leaving for our road trip around the baby’s morning nap time.

10. Pack Blankets & Pillows

With that in mind, pack blankets and pillows. We’re always warmer in the front seat than the kids because of the sun coming through the windshield. So we crank up the A/C and then the kids get cold. Pack some lightweight blankets and small pillows so kids can make themselves comfy.

There are all sorts of pillow-like gadgets on the market for kids. But check out your car seat’s instruction manual before you use anything that attaches to the seat!

11. Try a Family Audiobook

We’ll be listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone together for some of our trip. Other excellent chapter books that will please a variety of ages include the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Boxcar Children books, and the Little House on the Prairie books.

We get many of our audiobooks from our library’s app, so they’re free. Other options include Audible and Playster, which are both subscription-based services. Both have free trials, though, if you just want to give it a shot for your road trip.

12. Pack a Potty

If you’re in the early stages of potty training a toddler, put on pull-ups just in case. If your child has been potty trained for a while, he’s not going to want to wear a diaper, but little kids also aren’t great at holding it.

The best way to solve this problem is to pack a small portable training potty in the back. You can pull over just about anywhere for a kid to use this potty. It’s gross but better than having to find a laundromat to wash your car seat cover after an accident.

13. Go to the Library

We just picked up a huge stack of books from the library yesterday. They’ll live in the car while we’re vacationing so none get lost. Reading aloud from the front seat is an easy way to keep the kids entertained, though showing off pictures could be more complicated if yours are still rear-facing.

Image: Imgorthand

The post 13 Things That Can Help You Survive a Road Trip With Kids This Summer appeared first on Credit.com.

The Pros & Cons of Sharing Your Finances as a Married Couple

We’ve collected the pros and cons of combining your finances and keeping them separate so you can decide which method will work for you.

For years, the standard financial advice for couples was to combine their finances. All income, debts and expenditures belong to both parties, so why not put them together?

Combining finances makes sense for many reasons, but not everyone wants to take this direction. If you’re preparing to tie the knot, you might wonder which option is best for you. We’ve collected the pros and cons of combining your finances and keeping them separate so you can decide which method will work for you.

The Pros of Combining Your Finances

Combining your finances can be tricky, especially if both parties have their own debts, accounts and assets coming into the marriage. But it might be worth it for the following reasons:

Women May Have Greater Security

Other research shows that women have greater security when they combine finances with their spouses. That might seem counterintuitive, but remember, women are typically more prone to income interruptions, as they may take time off to start families.

It Keeps Things Simple

Splitting finances may work for some couples, but it can also lead to complicated conversations. Who pays which bills? Should you split evenly when there’s income disparity? Who should pick up the check on date night? If all the money is going into and coming out of the same pot, it may help simplify things.

It Allows for More Flexibility

When you can rely on your spouse to foot the bill while you take parental leave, go back to school or start a new business, you may be more likely to take certain career risks. And in the long run, those risks can be good for the couple if they pan out. If, on the other hand, you have to keep paying your share of the bills, you might be less likely to take the leap.

It Creates Shared Goals

When all the money comes from the same place, the couple needs to communicate. That can be a good thing, as couples can thrive on having common financial goals to work toward.

The Cons of Combining Your Finances

Combining finances may not be the solution for everyone. This strategy also has some potential downsides:

Making Debt a Bigger Issue

If one partner comes into the marriage with big financial problems — including hefty debt or terrible credit — that can turn the relationship sour. In these instances, it can sometimes be better to separate accounts while the indebted spouse works on their finances. (You can keep tabs on your finances by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

You Can Feel Constrained

As an adult, it’s natural to want to spend your money however you see fit. After all, you earned it. When all the money is combined, you may not get to spend on those personal things you have in mind, especially if your spouse has a say in your spending.

It Can Cause Arguments

What if each spouse has a different idea of what financial responsibility looks like? Maybe one spouse prefers to pay down the mortgage, while the other thinks it’s wise to invest. Or maybe one spouse is frugal, while the other’s a spendthrift. In this case, combining finances requires take serious communication and the ability to compromise.

The Pros of Keeping Things Separate

There are plenty of ways to keep your finances separate. Some partners split expenses down the middle while others split them according to who earns more money. Some partners maintain a joint account for overarching expenses like housing but hold separate accounts for everything else. Regardless of how you do it, keeping separate finances can be good for a few reasons:

Keeping Spouses From One Another’s Messes

If you’re going into marriage with a lot of student loan debt or an otherwise complex financial situation, you may want to keep your money — and money problems — to yourself. This can make your spouse more comfortable and shield them from disaster in an emergency.

Giving Both Spouses More Autonomy

Perhaps the main reason couples decide not to combine finances is because they like having autonomy. Having control over your own money may cut down on fights and allow each spouse to meet their own financial goals.

The Cons of Keeping Things Separate

Here are a few reasons to avoid this option:

It Can Devalue a Spouse

Splitting household expenses by income may seem like a good idea, but it can make each spouse feel their value in the marriage is tied to their salary. However, splitting things 50-50 can make things stressful for the spouse who earns less.

It May Diminish Risk-Taking Ability

As we noted above, one of the advantages of a joint financial approach is that it allows for risk taking. When you have your spouse’s income to fall back on, you can go start a business or have a baby. The opposite may be true of couples who split their finances, unless the couple works out a system to allow for such ventures.

For many couples, the best approach to will be somewhere in between. My husband and I, for instance, combine most of our finances. But we each maintain a separate checking account for “fun money.” We can transfer a predetermined amount of money out of the joint checking account each month and spend that money however we wish. This helps us have a bit more autonomy, but ensures we’re still on the same page about our finances.

Whichever approach you choose, keep evaluating what works and what doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings and change your approach if things aren’t working.

Image: PeopleImages

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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Cut Your Budget to the Bone to Get Out of Debt

Getting out of debt is a lot like dieting. Sure you can stop eating, but that approach isn't sustainable. Here's how to focus on the long term.

So you have some debt that you need to pay off. If you listen to the advice of many get-out-of-debt gurus, you should pay it off as quickly and intensely as possible. They say you should never set foot in a restaurant, go on vacation, or do anything “extra” until the last credit card and student loan are paid off.

This seems like a good approach. If you can just cut out all your extra expenses — and maybe bring in some additional income — you’ll get out of debt much sooner, right?

Well, maybe not.

In fact, becoming debt-free may be quite similar to getting to and maintaining a healthy weight. The intense, fast options may seem like a good idea, but they can actually have negative consequences.

Paying Off Debt & Yo-Yo Dieting

Intense weight loss strategies can often result in what’s called a “yo-yo diet.” It’s when you lose a bunch of weight quickly only to gain it back quickly after your intense efforts are done. Even Biggest Loser contestants aren’t immune to this problem.

If you cut calories dramatically for three weeks before a big event, sure you’ll lose weight. But you haven’t made sustainable changes that will help you stay healthy over the long term.

This is similar to getting out of debt. Sure, you can cut your budget to the absolute bare bones to pay off credit cards in a matter of months. But does this approach really help you build sustainable habits — and a sustainable budget — for the long run? Maybe not.

My husband and I struggled with this early on in our marriage. We wanted to pay off our student loans and car loan desperately. So for a few months, we’d cut everything extra out of our budgets. No restaurants. No fun money. No nothing.

It would work for a bit, and we’d make some progress. But eventually, we’d get to the point where we felt so restricted, we just had to break free. And break free we did. Usually to the tune of a couple hundred dollars or more of “unnecessary” spending.

We went through this cycle for literally years until we learned to take a more measured approach to our “debt diet.” We still keep a close eye on our spending and try not to waste money. But we each have a monthly allowance for things like new clothes, our hobbies, and other personal items. And we have a date night fund so that we can enjoy each other’s company out of the house at least once a month.

This extra spending means we’re not paying off debt as quickly. But it also means that we avoid those splurges that used to throw us completely off track.

You Should Still Enjoy Life

What’s the main point of losing weight on a diet? Sure, you want to look good in a pair of jeans. But you also want to be able to move more freely, have more sustainable energy levels, and just enjoy life more.

What’s the main point of getting out of debt? Sure, you want to stop paying ridiculous interest rates on your credit cards. But you also want to free up money in your budget so that you have more options financially, so that you can enjoy life more.

So what’s the point of dieting or paying off debt if you’re miserable for months or years while you’re doing it?

When you’re dieting, you could cut out everything but salads with dry grilled chicken and probably lose weight very quickly. Or you could learn to make delicious, healthy meals that you love. And you could give yourself tiny splurges once in a while. You might see slower, steadier weight loss progress, but you’ll enjoy life while working towards your goal.

The same applies when paying off debt. You could spend on only the absolute necessities — food, housing, utilities, and transportation — to pay off debt more quickly. Or you could create a reasonable, sustainable budget that allows for frugal vacations, occasional meals out, and entertainment options you love. Again, you’ll see slower, steadier progress, but you’ll actually enjoy life while getting to that debt-free goal.

Your Approach Depends On Your Situation

Are there some times when a quick crash diet may be appropriate? Sure. Bodybuilders who are already in excellent shape will often cut calories dramatically right before an event. They’re just taking their everyday discipline one step further for a few days or weeks.

Similarly, what if you’re generally good at managing your money but just had an unexpected emergency — a broken-down vehicle or a medical emergency, for instance — that bloated your credit card debt? In this case, a few weeks or a couple months’ worth of cutting your budget to the bone to pay off the debt may make sense. Since you’ve already got good money management habits in place, you’re unlikely to rebound into more unnecessary spending.

But if you’re staring down a scale that says you need to lose 50 pounds? Research shows that slow and steady is the way to go.

And if you’re staring at massive amounts of debt? Slow and steady may work better for you, too.

Some Tips & Tricks

So how do you get started with a slower, steadier approach to paying off debt? Here are some tricks we’ve swiped from the diet world:

Make smart swaps on things you eat every day. When you’re trying to cut calories, it’s amazing how much progress you can make just by switching to a lower-calorie salad dressing or sprucing up your breakfast routine. The same goes for your finances. Try refinancing your mortgage or auto loan, renegotiating or even eliminating your cable bill, or revamping your insurance policies for painless ways to save money month after month.

Also keep in mind that your credit can impact how much you pay in mortgage and auto loan interest, and even increase your insurance costs if it isn’t very good. You can keep track of your credit by checking your credit scores regularly right here on Credit.com.

The quality of your calories matters. More and more research is saying that “calories in, calories out” isn’t the end-all-be-all of dieting. High-quality foods, especially healthy proteins and fats, can keep you satisfied for longer, making cutting calories easier. Similarly, not all spending is equally satisfying. If you only have a few extra bucks a month to enjoy life, spend it on what really makes you happy. (Hint: Experiences are usually a better bet than more stuff!)

Track your progress. Weekly weigh-ins are an important part of many weight loss programs. Weighing in often helps keep you motivated — and lets you spot problems quickly so you can correct your course. When paying off debt, keep track of your debts each month. Consider using a line chart to get a visual representation of your debt dropping each month over time.

Budget calories for enjoying. Many successful weight loss programs operate with the idea of a cheat meal, cheat day, or set number of cheat calories per week. This means you know how much and how often you can splurge. Do the same for your budget. Set aside some fun money each month, and you’ll reap the benefits of staying on track without feeling miserable.

Paying off debt isn’t exactly like dieting, of course. But you can draw plenty of parallels. So when you’re trying to get debt-free, think about ways to make your progress steady and sustainable over the long haul.

Image: LeoPatrizi

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How Transferring a Balance Affects Your Credit Score

Are you thinking about taking advantage of a balance transfer offer? They’re awfully tempting and can be an excellent way to efficiently pay off your debt.

Thinking of taking advantage of a balance transfer offer? It can be an excellent way to pay off your debt. But how will transferring a balance affect your credit score? And of what potential pitfalls should you be aware?

It’s impossible to predict exactly how any one financial decision will affect your credit score. We can guess based on what we know about credit-scoring algorithms, and credit score simulators are can show you how a particular choice might affect your score. But so many factors influence your score that an exact effect is difficult to predict.

With that said, we can look at two areas of your credit score a balance transfer will most likely impact: your credit utilization and new credit inquiries.

Balance Transfers & Your Debt-to-Credit Ratio

Your credit utilization, or debt-to-credit ratio, is the second most important piece of your credit score, behind your payment history. It’s essentially a measure of how much you owe versus how much credit you have available.

Say, for instance, you owe $1,000 on a card with a $2,000 limit. In this case, your debt-to-credit ratio is 50%. (You can see how your debt is impacting your credit by viewing two of your scores for free on Credit.com.)

If you’re approved for a new credit card with a balance transfer offer, you’ll wind up with a higher overall credit limit. This could be a good thing, since it will push your debt-to-credit ratio lower.

In the above example, if you’re approved for a new card with a $1,000 limit, your total credit limit will be $3,000. As long as you don’t accrue more debt, your total debt-to-credit ratio will be about 33%. Since that’s better than 50%, your credit score should be fine. Plus, with a lower interest rate, you can presumably pay off the debt quicker. As your debt decreases, so will your debt-to-credit ratio, which means your credit score will climb.

What About New Credit Inquiries?

A balance transfer’s effect on your credit score isn’t all good. To open a new credit card, the card issuer will pull your credit score, which will most likely add an inquiry to your credit file and cause a small but temporary decrease in your score. The impact won’t likely be large unless you apply for several balance transfer cards at once.

The Possible Pitfalls of Balance Transfers

A balance transfer card can be good in some circumstances, but it has potential drawbacks. Here’s what to avoid if you opt for a balance transfer:

Taking on More Debt 

If you’re already dealing with credit card debt because of your spending habits, a balance transfer may be the wrong choice. Opening a new credit card gives you access to more credit, and with that access can come the temptation to spend. If you’re likely to reach your credit limits, a balance transfer card may not be for you.

Paying Too Much in Balance Transfer Fees

Most balance transfer cards come with a one-time fee. This fee may be worth it if it gets you out of paying loads of interest every month. But it might also cost more than you’re willing to pay. Be sure you know what the fee is upfront.

Maxing Out a Credit Card

Scoring algorithms like FICO’s look at both your overall credit utilization and your per-card credit utilization. So maxing out a balance transfer card to take full advantage of a low- or no-interest offer may negatively affect your credit score, even if opening the new card decreases your overall debt-to-credit ratio.

Should You Transfer a Balance?

Is a balance transfer right for you? If transferring a balance helps you save money and pay off debt faster, it’s most likely the right choice. Just be careful if you’re preparing to apply for a larger loan, like a mortgage. Even a small ding at the wrong time can hurt you. Still, transferring a balance and efficiently paying off debt will have great consequences for your credit score over the long term.

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