Get Ahead on Your Holiday Shopping with November’s Best Buys

Here are three tips for how to talk to your spouse about money problems over the holidays.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just a few weeks away, you may have instituted a shopping moratorium until then. The post-Thanksgiving sales will be undoubtedly great, but sales are going to pop up throughout November, particularly for large appliances, video gaming, and apparel.

Take a look at some of this year’s best November deals.

1. Large Appliances

Appliances often go on sale in September and October when new models are released. However, according to data from deal site Slickdeals, some of the best appliance sales of 2016 were actually in November—at stores like Sears and Lowe’s. This year, impressive promotions will make a comeback.

Current Deals

Sears: Up to $35% off appliances through 11/4.

ApplianceConnection.com: Sliding scale discounts based on the amount spent, starting at $20 off purchases over $1199.99, through 11/2.

GE Appliance: Up to 27% off certain dishwasher collections and up to 45% off washers through 11/6.

Forum Home Appliances: Up to 43% off current best-selling products through 11/30.

Best Buy: Free delivery on major appliance orders of $399 or more through 12/30.

2. Tablets

If someone on your list needs a tablet—even if that someone is you—you may be thinking Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but there could be some surprise sales before then. To get the best price, set deal alerts on various deal sites for the item you’re looking for. Once a deal is available, you’ll be notified.

Current Deals

Best Buy: Up to $100 off certain Galaxy tablets and up to $15 off select tablet cases.

HP: $10 off purchases of $60 or more with code GREET17 through 11/2.

3. Clothing

Apparel deals are plentiful this November. We’ll see sales all month long, and they’ll ramp up around Cyber Monday, with deeper discounts and fewer restrictions. Like last year, there will be discounts from many popular stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s.

Current Deals

Miracle Body: 50% off all orders—though there are some restrictions—with code MB50 through 11/2.

Necessary Clothing: 20% off any order with code FB20 through 11/4.

Macy’s: 25% off your next order when you sign up for an account on the Macy’s app through 11/11.

Nordstrom: Up to 30% off any Nordstrom gift card at Raise.com.

Gap: Up to 75% off purchases during the Great Big Fall Sale through 11/6.

Kohl’s: 15% off your next order of $100 or more with code CATCH15OFF.

Kate Spade: 15% off your next purchase through 11/5.

4. TVs

If you’re in the market for a TV, wait until Black Friday or Cyber Monday—the prices are traditionally the lowest then. Typically, retailers won’t post specific sales until very close to Black Friday, but if last year is any indication, there will be spectacular discounts. And you may even find 4K TVs for the price of 1080p TVs.

Current Deals

Best Buy: Up to 45% off select smart TVs and other TVs through 11/5.

Vizio: Up to $500 off at the Fall Big Screen Sale while supplies last.

5. Gaming

Now is a great time to stock up on video games, consoles, and accessories. Last year, the Nintendo 3DS Super Mario Edition was available at Toys“R”Us for only $100, and at Target, the 500GB Xbox One S Battlefield 1 Bundle was just $250 and came with a $40 Target gift card. In games, Walmart offered the Guitar Hero Live bundle for only $25. We anticipate similar deals this year, especially closer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Current Deals

Target.com: Buy two video games and get a third free through 11/4.

Gamestop: 16% off pre-owned games with code CAG16.

Gamesdeal: 44% off Mafia 3 for the PC with code GD4off.

Keep an Eye Out for Apple Deals

In late September, Apple introduced the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. And while Apple is not known for its deals, there may be sales on the 8 after the new X comes out early this month. We also expect to see deals on the Apple Watch Series 2, with the impending introduction of Series 3.

What Not to Buy in November

Furniture

The savings in this category are at their highest in December and January, due to the impending shipment of new models in February.

Holiday Decor

If you can hold off until next month, do. Stores like Hobby Lobby, Kmart, and Macy’s will be anxious to clear space and the discounts will get better and better throughout December, peaking right after the holidays.

As you gear up for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday sales, prepare your finances and your wallet properly. Consider applying for a cash back credit card, and establish some fiscal guidelines before you shop. For more tips and tricks, stop by our Personal Finance Learning Center.

Image: svetikd 

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10 Things You Need to Know before Buying a Car

uninsured_driver

Buying a new or used car can be an intimidating experience. Many car salespeople may pressure you to leave the lot with a purchased vehicle, so it’s crucial you’re armed with information about the cars you are interested in, the budget you can afford, and the value of your trade-in—if you have one. With these details, you have all the tools you need to negotiate properly.

Here are 10 tips and strategies for making sure you get the best-quality vehicle at the lowest price.

1. Think about Financing

Prior to visiting any dealership, have a sense of what kind of deposit you can put down and what monthly payment you can afford. It also helps to do some research on available auto loans to get a sense of what you qualify for. Or try a service like AutoGravity, which allows you to select rates and terms that fit your budget and then obtain offers from lenders.

2. Check Your Credit Score

Knowing your credit score can be helpful as well. Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for BeenVerified, says, “Having a good idea of your credit report and credit score and the interest rates available can help you negotiate a good deal and save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.”

3. Shop Around

Research the cars you might be interested in before you head to a dealership, rather than going in unprepared. To determine what kind of car you want, use resources like US News Best Cars, where you can search anything from “best cars for families” to “best used cars under 10k.” Another resource is Autotrader, which can be used to search new and used cars in your area by make, model, price, body style, and more.

4. Compare Prices

Lavelle also stresses getting detailed pricing info in advance: “Price the car at different dealerships and use online services to get invoice and deal pricing.” A reliable tool is Kelley Blue Book. Use the site’s car value tool to find out the MSRP and the dealer invoice of a car as well as a range of prices you can expect to see at dealerships. TrueCar is also helpful to use. You can search for and request pricing on any make, model, or year of car. You may get a slew of phone calls, emails, and texts from dealers immediately after, but having information from different dealerships can help you negotiate prices. You should also visit dealer sites to look for rebate offers.

5. Research Your Trade-In’s Value

If you have a trade-in, don’t wait for the salesperson to tell you what it’s worth. On Kelley Blue Book, you can get a sense of the value ahead of time so you know if you’re receiving a good offer. Or try the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer feature, where dealers will give you a guaranteed price for a trade, eliminating complicated haggling at the dealership. 

6. Test Drive Potential Purchases

You may want to pass on the test drive if you’re familiar with a particular make and model, but Lavelle recommends taking the time to do it anyway. “It is a good idea to inspect the car and give it a good test drive just to make sure all is working and there are no noticeable squeaks, rattles, or shimmies that could cause you headaches after your purchase,” he says.

7. Look at Car Histories

Before selecting dealerships to visit, search for consumer reviews so you can avoid having a bad experience. However, Lavelle warns that just because a car sits on a reputable, well-reviewed lot does not necessarily mean that the car is issue-free. So he recommends digging deeper, especially for used cars. “Services like CARFAX represent that they can tell you about the car’s life from first purchase forward, so that might be a good place to start,” he says. He also recommends checking the title, which you can do online via the DMV.

8. Find Repair Records

In addition to checking the repair history on the specific car you are interested in, Autotrader suggests looking up the repair record of the make and model. “Check J.D. Power and Consumer Reports reliability ratings to see if the vehicle you’re considering is known to be a reliable one,” the site states. It also recommend Internet forums and word of mouth.

9. Spring for an Inspection

Autotrader also suggests telling the seller you require an inspection from a mechanic before purchase to ensure there aren’t any problems. “While a mechanic may charge $100 or more for such an inspection, it can be worth it if it saves you from thousands of dollars in potential repairs,” it recommends. Some sellers may try to dismiss a mechanic’s inspection. Don’t give in—the seller could be covering up a serious issue with the car. Insist an inspection is done, or rethink your purchase.

10. Know Your Rights

For any new or used car, take the time to get familiar with the warranty package and return policies. Do you need to supplement the warranty? Is there a lemon law in your state? Currently, there are only six states that have one, so be sure to check.

Shopping for a car can be frightening, but with the right research and preparation, you won’t have any regrets. Use the tips and resources above, and snag a free credit report from Credit.com so you know what kind of financing you can expect.

Image: istock

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10 DIY Home Renovations for the Thrifty Homeowner

remodel-card

Whether you’re preparing to sell your home or staying put and craving a refresh, you may be concerned about how renovations can impact your budget. If you’re willing to put in some time and get a little dirty, these DIY projects will help you update your home without taking out a second mortgage.

1. Clean Your Vinyl Siding

Vinyl siding can keep your house looking new for years, but it can start to look dingy after a while. Home renovation pros Vicki and Steph Kubiak, from Mother Daughter Projects, say that despite what you may think, you don’t need to hire a pro or rent a power washer to clean your home’s exterior.

“Sometimes the solution to a problem is the simplest and least expensive,” they say. “Cleaning vinyl house siding can be accomplished with nothing more than a long-handled scrub brush, good-quality cleaner, a garden hose, and a little elbow grease.” They recommend this handwashing approach over using a power washer, which can damage the siding.

2. Repaint the Front Door and Update Exterior Accents

Whether your exterior has siding, paint, shingles, or stone, updating your front door can boost the curb appeal of your home. Marty Basher, home design expert for Modular Closets, suggests that you “choose a bold accent color that works well with the rest of the exterior, but also stands out from it, to give the door a bit of a spotlight.” For an even easier project, “change out your house numbers and possibly your mailbox,” he says, “and voila, you have a whole new look and feel when you’re entering your house.”

3. Apply Removable Wallpaper

Updated walls can easily improve your space, but the very word “wallpaper” might make you cringe, especially if you’ve attempted installing wallpaper yourself in the past. Elizabeth Rees, the founder of removable wallpaper company Chasing, states, “Removable wallpaper is a stylish and affordable way to update your space with minimal investment. Moreover, it’s a really easy way to add color or pattern to your space with little commitment.”

Rees also recommends sprucing up the front of your stair steps with removable wallpaper. Just cut strips to size and apply, and your stairs will look good as new.

4. Paint Your Walls

If you prefer a painted surface to wallpaper, you may be surprised by how easy it is to paint a room yourself. The caveat is that you do have to take your time for quality results, especially with project setup. Skip Bedell, home improvement expert from Home Depot, says that preparation is everything and will make the job and cleanup much easier.

“I love CoverGrip drop cloths because they are reusable,” he says. “They also have PVC dots on the back, so they don’t slip or slide as you are painting.” If you don’t feel like doing the whole primer and paint approach, try an all-in-one paint to drastically reduce your paint time.

5. Refresh Your Cabinets

Old-looking cabinets can make for a dreary kitchen. Rather than replacing them, Anthony Navarro, author and co-creator of the online talk show The Wedding Planners, recommends painting them and switching out the hardware for a dramatic update. “If you are not adventurous enough to paint your cabinets, consider changing out one cabinet door in the kitchen to glass, so you can highlight your entertaining glassware, serving pieces, and china,” he recommends.

6. Apply a New Backsplash

A fresh backsplash can give the impression of a much bigger renovation, and the Kubiaks suggest peel-and-stick tile, rather than the real thing. “A new kitchen backsplash is surprisingly affordable and DIY-able for homeowners,” they say. “Peel-and-stick tile makes it a DIY project that can be completed without complicated or expensive tools. These tiles can be cut to size with ordinary tin snips and stick to the wall without added adhesives.”

7. Rejuvenate Your Bathroom

If you’re not in a position to pay for a bathroom renovation, Jamie Gold, a kitchen designer and the author of the New Bathroom Idea Book, suggests upgrading hardware and fixtures, but keeping it easy. “When replacing cabinet pulls, choose new ones that can fit into the same holes so you don’t have to patch old ones,” she says.

Gold also suggests replacing your shower door and fixtures to update the room: “For hundreds of dollars, instead of thousands, you can replace a shower door with a modern frosted style that will hide a builder basic interior, replace a basic showerhead with a handheld model offering massage settings, install a designer-friendly grab bar that doesn’t need to be blocked, or add handsome storage shelves if there’s no niche.”

8. Hang Wall Art

You can change the look of a room by simply hanging artwork. Judy and Jess, the mother-daughter duo behind interior design studio Verandah House, say, “Before you place holes in the walls, measure your wall and mark out the same space on the floor. Lay out your artwork on the floor.”

Alternatively, they suggest cutting out cardboard to the size of the artwork and temporarily affixing them to the wall with a removable adhesive. If you don’t have framed pieces on hand, Judy and Jess suggest heading to flea markets, antique stores, and secondhand shops for vintage artwork.

9. Put Up Window Coverings

New window treatments can dramatically enhance a room without requiring a ton of effort. You can find reasonably priced and easy-to-install shades, curtains, and rods at stores like Target and Home Goods. Basher suggests IKEA’s no-sew curtains that are easy to trim and finish to size.

10. Update Old Floors

Worn out, old floors can set the tone for an entire room, but re-sanding and finishing your floors could be beyond your capabilities. Basher has a fix: “Whether you have old carpet or beat up hardwood floors, a little measuring and a few hours of work over a weekend can spruce up your floors and change the complete look of a room. A couple coats of durable floor paint or peel-and-stick tiles from your local home store can go a long way.”

Fixing up your home doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult—just consider these suggestions for your next home improvement project. If you do decide to take your renovations a step further and need a loan, look up your credit score to get an idea of what you’ll qualify for. Get a free credit report at Credit.com and see where you stand.

Image: istock 

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Can You Pay a Credit Card With a Credit Card?

Female buying something on internet with computer and credit card. Garden blur background

[Update: Some offers mentioned below have expired. For current terms and conditions, please see card agreements. Disclosure: Cards from our partners are mentioned below.]

Store credit cards from retailers like Lowe’s, Best Buy, and Target can be enticing to sign up for. Once you are approved, the cashier is often empowered to offer you an immediate discount on the merchandise you’re buying.

There are additional bonuses as you continue to use the card, like special introductory offers 0% APR for a limited time, advance intel on in-store deals, extra discounts, and—with certain cards like the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi and the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card—the ability to use the card anywhere and earn cash back almost everywhere you shop.

While there are a lot of upsides, the downside of using store credit cards is the high annual percentage rate (APR), which can be as high as 26.99% in the case of the Lowe’s credit card and 26.24% for the Best Buy credit card. If you get a card that has a substantial APR, you could end up owing a lot of interest on top of your existing debt.

Ideally, these cards should be paid in full every month. But what if you can’t make that happen, or you get carried away and are now sitting on a pile of debt? What can you do to pay down the balance of your high-APR card and avoid accruing interest? You may be tempted to pay off your debt with another credit card, but there are a few things you need to know first.

Can I Pay My Credit Card with Another Credit Card?

Unfortunately, none of the major card issuers we queried (including those offering store credit cards) will let you pay your bill directly by credit card.

As a consumer, you may think that it would make sense to pay off one credit card bill with another credit card, thereby maximizing the benefits of one while paying the other. But it’s actually not that surprising that credit card companies won’t allow you to do so. If your card issuer accepted another credit card for payment, it would have to pay the merchant fee—which could be 2% to 2.5% or more of the payment amount. That means, essentially, it wouldn’t get the full payment from you.

In addition, card associations may impose other restrictions on this practice. Andrew Gerlt, director of Global Brand & Product Communications for Visa, noted in an email that “Visa rules do not allow the payment of credit card debt with a credit card. We do allow for debt repayment with a debit card, however.”

6 Other Ways to Pay Your Credit Card Bill   

If you really need to “charge” your next payment, there are workarounds. Here are six other ways to pay your credit card bill without charging it to another credit card.

1. Pay Your Credit Card Using a Personal Loan

A personal loan is a good option for managing your high-interest credit card debt and for consolidating debt as well. Personal finance expert Andrea Woroch, who is working with Marcus by Goldman Sachs, says, “Instead of paying separate credit card bills, people should consider a loan that offers lower interest rates. One loan can make payments easier to manage as well.”

For more information on personal loans, visit our Personal Loan Learning Center.

2. Pay Your Credit Card with a Cash Advance

As long as you have enough available credit, you should be able to use a credit card to get a cash advance and then use that money to pay another credit card bill. You can obtain a cash advance at most banks or credit unions, or at an ATM if you have a PIN for your card.

But do your homework before you take this option. The interest rate on cash advances is often higher than the rate for purchases. David Reiling, CEO of Sunrise Banks, says, “Advances generally start accruing interest immediately, and, depending on your credit card terms and conditions, could be at a rate higher than you think. Call your credit card company and ask before advancing cash, or, if willing and able, read your terms and conditions.”

Before you decide to use a credit card cash advance, review what that entails.

3. Transfer Your Balance

If one of your card issuers offers a balance transfer, you can use that to pay down or pay off your other card. If you have already received convenience checks in the mail, you can use one of those to make a payment on another card (though you can’t use a convenience check to make a payment on the same account). Or you can deposit that check into your checking account and use those funds to make a payment. If you haven’t received one of these offers in the mail, check with your card issuer online or by phone to see if you are eligible.

If your credit scores are strong, you may be eligible for a low-rate balance transfer card. Just keep in mind that these offers almost always charge fees ranging from 2% to 4% of the amount transferred. It’s hard to find a credit card that offers a 0% APR balance transfer with no fee, but they do exist.

For more information, review our expert guide on credit cards with balance transfers.

4. Pay Your Credit Card with a Home Equity Loan

If you own a home, you may be able to use equity to help pay your credit card bills. Bobbi Rebell, financial expert and author of How to Be a Financial Grownup, says, “If you have credit card debt, you can often shift that debt to a home equity line of credit and get a double benefit. First, you will get a much lower interest rate. Credit cards often charge upwards of 20%! A home equity line of credit could be a quarter of that or less. The other big bonus is that in many cases, home equity debt can be deductible on your tax return.”

To learn more about home loans, review our guide to finding the right loan.

5. Sell Your Stuff to Pay Your Credit Card

Rebell also suggests selling off things that you don’t need. “Raise money to pay the debt,” she says. “Go through and actually sell stuff you don’t use—or can do without. Do you need the second car? Do you need the gym equipment sitting in the garage? What about that baby stroller? You’d be surprised how much value you can discover in your home.”

For more tips and tricks on getting your personal finances in order, visit our Personal Finance Learning Center and review other ways to make more money.

6. Use the RPTPP Method to Pay Your Credit Card

If cash flow is the main reason you want to use a credit card to pay another credit card, try the “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” method. Use your credit card for everyday spending in order to free up as much cash as you can to pay your credit card bill. It’s not ideal, or even recommended, but it can be an option in a cash crunch.

If you’re finding it necessary to use the RPTPP method, it’s probably time to review your finances and budgets.

Proceed with Caution

None of these approaches will help you earn reward points, so that option is likely off the table. And if your cash flow problems are anything but truly temporary, these methods may simply help you dig a deeper hole.

In addition, moving your debt around may not help your credit scores in the long run. Debt is one of the main factors most scoring models consider when calculating credit scores. If your debt is bringing down your scores (you can find out if that’s the case by getting your credit report for free at Credit.com), then paying it down is one of the best ways to build stronger credit.

Image: Ingram Publishing

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees, and terms for credit cards, loans, and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees, and terms with credit card issuers, banks, or other financial institutions directly.

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What to Buy in October

Save Money with Good Grades

Ah, October. The kids are finally getting settled into their school routines and weekends are devoted to leaf peeping and apple picking. If your busy schedule allows time for some shopping, October is also a great time to replace those ratty gym shoes, book your holiday travel, refresh your cookware in advance of all those holiday parties you’ll be throwing, and, of course, purchase Halloween costumes for the family.

According to the deal experts at Slickdeals.net, here are the four categories you should focus on—plus a few known deals to help you get the most for your money.

1. Footwear

If you’ve worn your sneakers into the ground, or if someone on your holiday list is in need of a pair, now is the time to start looking. According to Slickdeals.net, retailers like Puma, Macy’s, Nike, and Adidas had footwear for 30% off in 2016, on average.

Current Deals:

Kohl’s: 20% off select items already on sale with code WHATADEAL from 10/2 to 10/4.

Under Armour: 10% off for students, military personnel, and first responders through 12/31.

FitFlop: 20% off men’s styles plus free shipping through 10/4.

Superga: 5%-75% off select styles through 10/5.

Skechers: Free socks with orders over $50 and free shipping if you join at Skechers through 10/5.

Adidas: Up to 50% off apparel and footwear.

Puma: Up to 50% off women’s sale items, plus free shipping. 

2. Travel

If you’re contemplating a trip home for the holidays, start looking at prices now. Last year saw sales on travel from Southwest ($44 one-way), WOW Air ($99 one-way to Iceland and $99 one-way to Europe), and JetBlue (30% off). Royal Caribbean also offered buy two, get two free deals for select cruises in November and December. 

Current Deals:

Avis: Up to 25% off car rentals with promo code S951601, and a free car upgrade with promo code UUGA037.

Expedia: 10% off select hotels when you join Expedia+, plus up to 40% off select trips through 1/31/2019.

Hertz: 15% off car rentals through 10/31.

Travelocity: Sliding scale discount based on spend, starting at $10 off $100 through 10/2.

Orbitz: 15% off select hotels through 10/1.

AccorHotels: 30% off and a free breakfast for bookings made on AccorHotels.com for bookings 10/16 through 10/20.

3. Cookware and Small Appliances

Whether you’re gearing up for your annual holiday hosting or your cookware is looking worn, you’ll find solid deals this month. Last year, Slickdeals saw deep discounts on brands like OXO, Lodge, Crock-Pot, and Pyrex and deals from retailers like Target and Bloomingdale’s.

Current Deals:

Bloomingdale’s: 20% off almost all small electrics, gadgets, and cookware at Bloomingdales.com during the Friends & Family Sale through 10/9. Look for promo code FRIENDS as you shop online.

Best Buy: 20% off select small appliances with promo code SAVEONSMALLSNOW.

BJ’s: $20 to $30 off select appliances (including FoodSaver, Keurig, and Farberware) at BJ’s and BJs.com through 10/18.

Kohl’s:  $10 off your home purchase of $50 or more with code HOME10 from 10/12 to 10/22.

Sur La Table: 20% off clearance items with promo code EXTRA20.

Home Depot: Sliding scale discounts starting at 15% off $75 or more with promo code BUYMOREDECOR; up to 20% off seasonal essentials like slow cookersrice cookerspopcorn makers, and specialty cookware through 10/20.

4. Halloween Costumes

With Halloween around the corner, now is a good time to grab this year’s costumes. The longer you can wait before the big day, however, the lower the prices will be at stores like Buy Costumes and Kohl’s—but the pickings will get slimmer the closer you get to Halloween. If you like to think ahead, shop the clearance sales in early November to get your costume for next year.

Current Deals:

Halloween Express: 20% off by providing your email.

Spirit Halloween: $5 off $30 purchases, $10 off $50, and $25 off $100 with code LEAVES15 through 10/6.

Halloween Mall: 25% off select costumes and accessories through 10/7.

Halloween City: $10 to $24 off select costumes through 11/5.

Kmart: 10% off posable spiders with code KBOO.

What Not to Buy in October

iPhone 8

If you’re an “Apple person,” you’re probably eager to get your hands on the iPhone 8, but you should wait to buy if you’re looking for savings: Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer better chances to get a deal. With the iPhone X coming out in November, that could mean even more favorable pricing on the 8 next month.

Electronics

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the best days to buy electronics, so if you can hold off on purchasing laptops, TVs, smart watches, tablets, and Amazon devices, you should.

Smart shopping means smart saving. Visit our Personal Finance Learning Center to learn more strategies for taking control of your finances and saving for the future.

Image: istock

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A Home of Your Own: How to Evaluate Your Financial Readiness and Save for That Big Down Payment

4 Things You Shouldn't Overlook When Buying a Home

Everyone wants a piece of the American dream, and for many people that dream includes owning a home. But owning a home is one of the biggest financial steps you can take in your life, so it’s important to carefully assess your financial situation before jumping in headfirst.

We’ve asked some financial and real estate experts to share their tips to help you prepare for the exciting plunge into homeownership.

1. Keep Track of Your Spending

Creating a budget—and tracking your spending to ensure you stick to it—is an important first step to get a sense of where you stand. Roshni Chowdhry, innovation and product development lead at SafetyNet, says, “Understanding where you allocate your money will give you a realistic expectation of what you can afford.” Whether you use a pen and paper, Excel, or an online tool, tracking the inflow and outflow of money for at least a month is a good place to start.

2. Evaluate Your Down Payment

According to Bank of America’s recently released Homebuyer Insights Report, almost one-third of first-time buyers believe they need 20% of a home’s price for a down payment. However, that’s not always the case.

Down payments can range between 5% and 20%, and according to Kathy Cummings, senior vice president of homeownership solutions at Bank of America, “There are affordable entry points to homeownership that require significantly less than 20%.” Keep in mind, however, that the lower the down payment, the higher your monthly mortgage payments will be. You may also have to pay mortgage insurance if your down payment is under 20%.

3. Crunch Some Numbers

Before you start working with a real estate agent, do your due diligence and utilize online tools like mortgage calculators so you are well informed and ready to answer the slew of questions your agent will have for you.

Account for any additional costs, too. Michelle Waymire of financial advisory firm Young + Scrappy says, “When planning for a big purchase, be sure to include all the incidental costs associated with it. For example, saving for a house doesn’t just include a down payment; you also need to consider closing costs and an emergency fund to have on hand in case of home maintenance needs.”

4. Get the Purchasing Power of a Pre-Qualification

Once you know how much money you have to play with each month, Tami Halton Pardee, a real estate broker and founder of Halton Pardee + Partners, recommends speaking to a mortgage broker—whom your real estate agent can introduce you to—to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. “Getting pre-qualified and having a realistic sense of what your spending ability is prior to beginning the house hunt leaves you much more mentally and emotionally prepared,” she says.

Also, if you’re pre-qualified and find a home you like, your offer will be taken much more seriously than someone who is not pre-qualified.

5. Keep an Eye on Your Credit

If you’re gearing up to buy a home, there’s one three-digit number that should be a top priority: your credit score. A high credit score will qualify you for the best loans at the best rates, saving you substantial interest over the life of your mortgage.

Beth Kobliner, a personal finance expert and bestselling author, says, “One of the best ways to build [your credit score] up is by paying your bills on time, every time—that means credit cards, utilities, and student loans. Automating these payments can make the process less painful. Plus, keep an eye on your utilization ratio. That’s the amount of credit you’ve used—on a credit card, say—compared to the amount of credit available to you.” Many experts agree that keeping your utilization under 30% will prevent it from hurting your overall credit score.

6. Start Saving Now

As soon as possible, start socking money away for that down payment. A favorite saving tactic amongst many financial experts is to automate the process so you don’t have to think about it. Justin Lavelle, chief communications director of online background check platform BeenVerified.com, says, “Once you know how much you need, you want to start saving in a way that makes it routine. Auto withdrawal services are a good way to do this. Set up certain amounts that will automatically be deposited into a savings account for your future purpose.”

If buying a home will cost you more than what you are currently paying for housing, Lavelle suggests aiming to save that difference amount so you can get comfortable with a lower monthly outlay. 

7. Consolidate Your Debts 

Try reducing expenses by consolidating any debt, and put what you save in interest into your down payment savings fund. Personal finance expert Andrea Woroch says, “If you’re carrying a revolving balance across your credit cards, for instance, tighten up your budget and save money by consolidating debt into one easy-to-manage personal loan with a low interest rate.”

Buying a house is no small accomplishment, and it takes time to do it right. By following the tips listed here, though, you’ll be on a path to homeownership before you know it.

For further information on how to prepare for a mortgage, check out our Mortgage Resource Center. 

Image: istock

The post A Home of Your Own: How to Evaluate Your Financial Readiness and Save for That Big Down Payment appeared first on Credit.com.

11 Things You Can Do Now to Avoid Holiday Debt

Happy couple in the shopping center

If you were aghast at how much you spent on holiday gifts when the credit card bills arrived last January, now is the time to start thinking about how to avoid a repeat performance. Even though it may feel shockingly early to begin thinking about the holidays, starting now will give you plenty of time to plan, budget, and build a shopping fund so after New Year’s, you’ll hardly have a bill to pay. Below, financial experts share their favorite tips for emerging from the holidays virtually debt-free.

1. Look Back

It’s an ideal time to set a budget for your holiday shopping, but where to begin? Roshni Chowdhry, innovation and product development lead at SafetyNet, recommends looking at your past spending history. “We have a tendency to underestimate how much we will spend on gifts each holiday season,” she says. “Make a list of what you bought last year and note what was necessary and what wasn’t—then eliminate the latter. This will give you a realistic measure of how much you should plan to spend.” 

2. Make a Gift List

Making a list of whom you need to buy for and how much you plan to spend per person is an effective way to stay organized. Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer for background-check service BeenVerified, says, “You can save yourself a lot by shopping from a list. This can prevent impulse buying, and thus, limit overspending.”

Before you finalize the list, Catey Hill, author of The 30-Minute Money Plan for Moms: How to Maximize Your Family Budget in Minimal Time, recommends asking yourself if you’re giving gifts to people you’re no longer connected to. “For people you don’t chat a lot with during the year, consider sending a card rather than a physical gift,” she says.

3. Change It Up

If you can’t get to a comfortable budget with your current list of recipients, Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement at Principal Financial Group, suggests that holding a family gift exchange or white elephant party—instead of buying many individual gifts—can be a fun way for everyone to celebrate and save money. “Set a spending limit that everyone is comfortable with to keep things fair and affordable,” he suggests. 

4. Build a Holiday Fund

Chowdhry advocates for having a specific fund for holiday shopping rather than drawing from any savings you already have. “Withdraw whatever you can afford to stash away each payday, whether it’s $20 or $200,” she advises. “When it comes time to do your shopping, use your saved cash first so you know exactly what you’re spending and can avoid pulling from your more important savings account.” 

5. Turn Pennies into Presents

Patterson suggests saving even more money by saving all your spare change. He says, “At the end of each day, make an effort to throw your extra cash and spare change into a jar. If you start now and commit to regularly adding to the pot, these small contributions can add up before the holiday shopping season begins.”

6. Eliminate Excess Spending

Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch likes to save by cutting back on extras for a few months. “Review your spending over the past several months and identify areas where you can cut back,” she says. “Whether it’s weekly takeout, weekend spa appointments, or too many morning lattes, there is always room in your budget to cut back and boost your holiday savings.”

She suggests putting that money into a savings program at your bank or local credit union or using a site like SmartyPig.com, a free service that helps you stash cash for any purpose.

7. Play It Smart with Credit Cards

While you’re shopping, Steve Hasbrooke, the VP controller at Mission Federal Credit Union, recommends limiting your spending to one credit card, preferably the card with the lowest interest rate. “This will save you money by paying less interest while you pay off your holiday purchases,” he says.

And try to avoid the lure of opening a new store credit card while you’re out shopping. According to Dana Vas Nunes, senior manager of deposit products at Alliant Credit Union, “Retailers are incentivized to push them during the holiday season, and they often offer perks like a 15% discount if you open a card that day. But that discount can actually come at a steep cost. Most store cards have higher fees/costs than traditional credit card providers; it’s how they offset the discounts.” If you do decide to open a new card, do your research ahead of time and consider one of these recommended store credit cards. 

8. Reap the Rewards

Speaking of credit cards, remember to let your credit cards work for you. Woroch suggests that between social events, back-to-school shopping, and family getaways, you likely racked up quite a few points on your credit card over the summer. “Use those points to offset your holiday spending by turning them into gift cards,” she says. “You can give these cards as gifts or use them to pay for gifts.” 

9. Get Started Now

Giving yourself a few months to shop for holiday gifts allows plenty of time to find the perfect present and the best prices. Hasbrooke says, “If you’re like me, you have probably found yourself scrambling for a last-minute gift. This often leads to spontaneous purchases of items that may not be exactly what you would have chosen if you had more time to consider the purchase. It can also lead to spending more on that item than you budgeted for.”

10. Consider Layaway

Lavelle suggests that layaway can be a helpful tool to spread your spending out over a few months. He explains, “It is a concept from the past, but many stores are bringing it back, especially for toys and household items. The store will keep the item and allow you to make small payments toward the purchase price until you have it paid off.” 

11. Get Creative

Save money on holiday gifts by making some of them yourself, which is something that Certified Financial Consultant Jim Szakacs of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, recommends. “Consider giving gifts that you’ve made with your own two hands,” he says. “Nothing communicates more personally during the holidays than opening a gift that you know someone has spent time not only thinking about, but actually making for you.”

By following these tips now, you can avoid the shock of those post-holiday bills a few months down the road. Plan ahead to make sure you can enjoy your holidays without financial stress.

Image: Martin Dimitrov

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10 Essential Financial Life Lessons—What to Teach Your Kids Before They Leave Home

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.

The moment you have dreaded has finally arrived. Your baby is leaving the nest. Some of the most valuable lessons you can impart should be shared right now, before they head out into the world.

In case you need help picking some wisdom to pass on, we’ve asked top money managers and financial pros to weigh in with their favorite lessons you should share with your child. You might learn a little something, too!

Lesson #1: Understand Debt

It’s important to understand what student loans and other debts will really cost, both today and in the long run. Catey Hill, author of the upcoming book “The 30-Minute Money Plan for Moms: How to Maximize Your Family Budget in Minimal Time,” suggests using real examples with dollar amounts to demonstrate. She says, “Bankrate has a calculator that shows what paying the minimum looks like. Use the cost of anything that might be relatable to your teen, then plug those numbers into Bankrate’s calculator to show how expensive an item can get when you pay just the minimum.”

Lesson #2: Know What You Expect to Earn Before You Borrow

When weighing whether or not to take out a loan to pay for school, College Ave Student Loans CEO and cofounder Joe DePaulo suggests that you think about the type of career you see in your future. “It’s okay if you’re not exactly sure what you want to do yet, but having an idea of your future earning potential will help you avoid over-borrowing now,” he says. “It’s a general rule of thumb not to borrow more for school than you expect to make in the first year of your professional career.”

Lesson #3:  Save, Save, and Save Some More

Save what you can, and make saving a habit by revisiting your spending and savings goals each month. David Osborn, entrepreneur and coauthor of “Wealth Can’t Wait,” says that by simply mastering the art of saving and investing, you could end up with a fortune. If you don’t understand money instinctively, Osborn suggests making it a priority to learn about wealth by reading or listening to roughly four books per year about investing. “Learning consistently leads to greatness over time,” he says. “Think of your extra dollars as employees, and if you put them to work for you, they will one day pay you all you need to live and more.”

Lesson #4: Set It and Forget It

Automating saving can lead to successful saving. Chad Parks, CEO of Ubiquity Retirement + Savings, suggests using a digital platform that saves for you so you don’t have to think about it. “One of my favorites is Digit.co, which analyzes your bank account and spending patterns,” he says. “The software looks at your daily checking account balance, learns your spending habits, and automatically moves small funds to your Digit account to increase savings. The amounts vary depending on your checking balance and spending habits for that day/week/month.”

Lesson #5: Learn How to Cut Back

If at any point you realize that finances are tighter than expected, conduct an assessment and see where adjustments can be made. Jared Kaplan, CEO of OppLoans.com, recommends that you “create a chart and total your income and expenses and compare them. If you spent more than you made, that’s a clear red flag.” Once you understand the inflow and outflow, you can figure out where to cut by separating wants from needs.

Lesson #6: Plan for the Unexpected

At school and beyond, be prepared for things to cost more than you planned. DePaulo recommends looking for ways to manage your spending to keep costs down.  “Borrow instead of buying school textbooks, maximize your pre-paid dining plan instead of eating off campus, and plan for one extra trip home each semester,” he says. “Finally, get advice from current college students to find out how much they are spending on extracurricular activities, school supplies, going out with friends, and more so you can create a realistic budget.”

Lesson #7: Make Your Bank Work for You

Today’s banks do a lot more than they did “back in our day.” Parks recommends the online bank Simple. “Simple has single-handedly changed my spending behavior and offers two savings features—Goals and Safe-to-Spend,” he said. “Goals allow me to save for anything, from my upcoming trip to Maui to my student loan payment, by auto-transferring money each day to the Goals. My money is still in my checking account (Simple does not make you open a traditional savings account), but when I look at my account, I just see a Safe-to-Spend balance, which excludes funds in my Goals.”

Lesson #8: Work Hard

Some young people struggle with lack of motivation and it’s our job as parents to help them understand the reality of working hard, especially when they have debt. Hill says, “Know the value of hard work—of picking up a job (or a second job) if you have to. Many of us will have debt at some point in our lives—and extra income can be one of the best ways to pay it down quicker.”

Lesson #9: Find a Side Hustle

Students have busy schedules, so a traditional job can be tricky. Thanks to today’s “gig economy,” though, there are lots of ways to earn money. Osborn says, “By going out and cutting grass, driving Uber, or even selling old textbooks online, you can create an additional stream of income. The more money you make, the more money you save, the more money you can invest!”

Lesson #10: To Ivy or Not to Ivy

Even if your child is accepted into a top school, it doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for their career path. Margot Bisnow, author of “Raising an Entrepreneur” suggests measuring the expense of school against the likely income generated by the career they intend to pursue. “Will going to Dartmouth help them earn more money as a songwriter ten years down the road? Probably not,” she says. “So set aside your ego and their ego, and ask yourselves the tough question: can we justify spending all this money on an elite private school? What’s the ROI, besides bragging rights?”

Learning financial literacy can be tough, but it’s a necessary life lesson for your children. Send them off with the best chances at success by helping them understand how to budget, how to save, and how to check their credit score (they can check it for free on credit.com) and keep their finances secure.

Image: Imgorthand

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11 Hacks for Finding an Affordable College Apartment

College is expensive and so are apartments. Finding a college apartment that fits into your budget is possible with a few simple tricks.

Your kid doesn’t want to stay in the dorms, so now what? In today’s real estate market, finding a place to live can cost a fortune. From negotiating tactics to gaining a leg up over the competition, real estate experts share 11 ways to save on your kids’ new pad.

How to Get Started

Where is the best place to look for off-campus housing? Sean Conlon, Real Estate mogul and host of CNBC’s The Deed: Chicago, recommends checking with your campus housing office first. “They will have information for nearby landlords that are looking for college students to rent out their units,” he said. He also said that most schools will display postings for apartments for rent and recommendations from past students on the best places to live in the campus housing office.

Use websites to conduct additional research. Paul Morris, realtor and co-author of Wealth Can’t Wait recommends sites like Zillow, Craigslist and Padmapper (a search engine that uses Craigslist data) in addition to local Facebook groups and popular local sites. He said, “It is critical to use the ‘alerts’ function for each of these online resources because most often they provide a text or email whenever there is a new post meeting your criteria.” He added that some of the local sites are private but will usually grant access if you request it.

Location, Location, Location

When determining where to look, Xavier Izquierdo, a real estate investor in the Los Angeles area suggests familiarizing yourself with the market rental rates in specific pockets close the campus, as even a three to four block difference can save you a few hundred dollars per month. He said, “Look at proximity to campus. Is there a campus shuttle, local bus or is it an easy bike ride or walk? Does the campus security patrol the area? Are there free rides from campus to your apartment late at night? Or, if you have a car, ask if a parking space is included.”

Victoria Shtainer, residential real estate expert at Compass, a real estate firm with listings in several cities in the US, suggests considering a new development. “These buildings might offer more incentives – free rent, gift card upon lease execution, etc. than other buildings, as they are looking to pull tenants in,” she said.

Morris suggests doing some local reconnaissance, if logistically possible. “Even though most rentals will be listed on the major services, it’s not true of every rental,” he said. “Stop by grocery stores, community centers, and other places where small landlords post openings. This can be time-intensive, but also can be where most of the ‘deals’ are found. He also suggested that you tell everyone you know that you are looking. “Maybe there is an available apartment next door to a friend and it has not been listed yet.”

Don’t Go at it Alone

Chad Kehoe, Co-Founder and CEO of Leaseful, a leasing platform, advises using a broker to help with your search. “Not only will they be able to show you a plethora of places, but they can also help you negotiate rent with the landlord – they want to lease the apartment just as bad as you do!” he said.

You will pay a fee when using a broker, but sometimes that fee can be negotiated. Allen Brewington, a broker with Triplemint, a real estate brokerage site, said, “When negotiating with a listing broker charging a 15% fee, show them how qualified you are by discussing the financials of your guarantor and then request a reduction in the broker’s fee. If you can assure them a quick, easy deal they may go for it.”

Compare Short Term vs. Long Term Rates

Brewington advised staying away from short-term rentals, as they tend to be more expensive. “Even if you are in school only for the fall and spring semester, it may be cheaper to rent an apartment for a full twelve months,” he said. “If your landlord lets you sublease the months you are not there, all the better.”

Another money-saving trick is to pay upfront — if you can afford it. Shtainer said, “Try to pay for the entire year of rent upfront…this is a very good tactic to give you leverage when negotiating the rent!”

Buy vs. Rent

It may sound a bit extreme, but an alternative to renting is buying. Shtainer said that parents should consider purchasing a unit for the duration of college, and perhaps longer if the student plans to stick around. “The student can pay the mortgage as the monthly ‘rent’ and contribute toward building equity in the property,” she said.

If you do happen to rent for a full year or purchase a property, consider leasing for the months you don’t need the place if it’s allowed.

Ask the Right Questions

When you meet with the broker or landlord, arm yourself with a list of questions that will help you find the place that is right for you. Ask whether it’s furnished, if Wi-Fi, trash collection and utilities are included, etc. Izquierdo said, “Finding a furnished apartment and having utilities included may be a little more on a monthly basis, but comparing this to buying furniture and putting deposits with utility companies to establish service needs to be considered when comparing total move-in and monthly costs.”

Make a Good Impression

Because competition can be stiff and apartments can go quickly, Morris suggests making sure you stand out as a solid candidate. Also, be prepared to commit on the spot if you find the place that’s right for you. “You should have a way to put the deposit down immediately-whether by check, or popular cash-substitutes like Paypal and Venmo,” he said. “Additionally, you should pull your own credit report and have a copy available. Great credit will open doors. If your credit is not perfect, be prepared to offer more in terms of a security deposit.” (Before apartment hunting, see where your credit stands with a free credit report snapshot from Credit.com). He also recommended writing a short statement about why you would make a great tenant, highlighting your strengths and even including references from former landlords, coaches or professors.

Refer a Friend

If you are looking at an apartment in a large housing complex, inquire about referral bonuses for bringing in tenants for the following school year. Kehoe said, “Big student apartment complexes usually have some sort of promotion to bring in new tenants. For example, the apartment buildings will sometimes offer the first month’s rent free as a signing bonus, or might have a referral program you could join where you and a friend can get discounts off of rent for signing a lease.”

Timing Is Everything

Most college students are looking for apartments towards the end of summer for the fall semester. If you happen to be looking mid-year or well in advance of the school year, this could be to your advantage. Brewington said, “For those looking to increase negotiating power, try to get off the summer search cycle. Look for an apartment in late September or October, after living somewhere temporarily for the first couple of months.”

Time to Move

When you’re working out your budget, don’t forget to factor in moving costs. Real estate expert, Ken Snee, said, “Many people underestimate the cost to move and the sticker shock can be overwhelming. It could be thousands of dollars with the moving truck handling and travel fees, packing services, and mover’s insurance.” Using sites like Unpakt, that let you compare the cost of movers and even book your move online can save you time and money.

Plan Ahead for Next Year

As soon as you get the sense that your student may want to live elsewhere next year, Izquierdo suggests looking now. He said, “Many locations are pre-leasing up to one year in advance. This will save time and money and it will give you the best chance at your desired locations.”

Image: Geber86

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12 Ways to Save on Your Summer Garden

A summer garden can be a wonderful hobby and investment when you follow these money saving tips!

Back in the spring, you were confident you would have an award-winning garden by now. You thought you planned and planted well, but as you enjoy a glass of rosé on the back porches of friends, you realize that your garden pales in comparison. Never fear, it’s not too late. Gardening pros share their favorite tips for saving money on your summer garden upgrades.

1. Buy Small

While big plants look impressive, smaller plants are less expensive. Alice Rossiter, founder of Alice’s Table, producer of floral arrangement events, said, “If you’re in the market for perennials, trees, or flowering shrubs, purchase the younger, more economical sizes. While smaller in the beginning, the plants will quickly grow to the same size as the marked up, larger sizes.”

2. Reuse & Recycle

If you’re starting seeds for next year, Rossiter recommended used K-Cups instead of small plastic pots. “These small cups are perfect for starting seeds,” she said. “Plus, they already have a hole created in the bottom that’s perfect for drainage, reducing plastic waste and saving you time and money.” She also recommends checking out summer yard sales for great deals on gently used tools and supplies.

Trevor Morton, content creator for Australian gardening service provider Fantastic Gardeners Melbourne, suggested saving your own bulbs, seeds, and cuttings instead of buying new ones. “Also, If you want a plant you don’t have, check if your friends have it,” he said. “I’m sure they will be happy to share.”

3. Team Up

Rossiter suggested creating a “purchasing pod” with your friends or neighbors. “You’ll save about 20% buying flowers — like annuals — by the flat, versus individual cell packs,” she said.

Joining online communities can help save you money, too. Gena Lorainne, horticulturist and plants expert at UK-based gardening service provider, Fantastic Gardeners UK, said, “Look online for communities where you can swap seeds and plants with other garden enthusiasts instead of paying for new ones.”

4. Grow What You Can Eat & Drink

Gardens don’t only look pretty, they can be functional, too. Craig Jenkins-Sutton, founder and president of Topiarius, a landscaping firm in the Chicago area, said, “One of the biggest trends for 2017 is growing juice gardens to cut the cost of the grocery bill. There is nothing like picking fresh fruits and greens from the garden and using them in the juicer.” He also suggested growing fruits and vegetables while you’re at it.

Herbs are also very useful to grow in your garden. Lorainne said, “It is in all cases better to have a herb garden instead of buying fresh.” She noted, “It is definitely less expensive to grow a herb garden from seed, but transplants will be ready to harvest much earlier and will be easier to grow.”

5. Spend to Save

Sometimes you need to invest more up front to save long-term. Morton said, “Investing in drip irrigation or soaker hoses will save a lot of money in the long run. Burying those under the soil or mulch will deliver small amounts of water straight to the roots of your plants. This is better than soaking the top of the soil as it is better absorbed and also conserves water.”

Jake Hill, research analyst for on-demand lawn service LawnStarter.com, recommends buying high quality equipment instead of cheap. “The more money you put up front on quality equipment such as shovels, trowels, wheelbarrows, etc. the longer your equipment will last,” he said.

6. Go Slow

Be prepared to take your time. “In many cases, those opting to do home landscape projects might be working with limited financial resources, so we recommend purchasing your materials in phases,” said Don Caroleo, owner of The Garden Dept., a nursery and landscaping business on Long Island, New York. “Not only does this help keep costs under control, but it also allows homeowners to adjust their plans and designs as they work.”

7. Self-Seed

Hill recommends focusing on self-seeding plants that grow back year after year on their own. Some examples include Forget-me-not, Verbena bonariensis, and Chrysanthemum parthenium. “The plants you select should be well adapted to your growing zone so they will not require any special attention,” he said. He proposes referencing the Department of Agriculture hardiness map for more details.

8. Water Wisely

Hill suggested collecting rainwater in rain barrels and to be smart about watering. “Water your garden in the cool morning hours to reduce losses to evaporation,” he said. “Also, mulch the soil at least two inches thick to keep the ground cool and moist, and water the soil not the foliage (so it gets to the roots where the plants need it).”

9. Keep the Trees

Trees can keep a garden cool, and that’s a good thing. Cassy Aoyagi, founder and President of FormLA Landscaping, a sustainable landscaping firm based in Los Angeles, said, “Trees canopies can cool a garden by as much as 20 degrees. According to the [Environmental Protection Agency], strategic use of trees can reduce energy bills by as much as 50%. Trees also have their own, appraisable value and increase the value of homes.”

10. Make the Most of Your Space

We don’t all have a ton of land to create the garden of our dreams. Bonny Ford from the lifestyle and design blog, FurnishMyWay, said you can expand your usable space with vertical planters. She refers to easy do-it-yourself projects for vertical planters on BonniePlants.com and on the Better Homes and Gardens site.

11. Shop Around

If you’ve determined that maintaining your own garden will be too much work, Gene Caballero, Co-Founder of GreenPal (the “Uber for lawn care”), suggested shopping around before choosing a provider. “Using online services like GreenPal, LawnLove and LawnStarter to find lawn care can ensure that any homeowner is getting the best bang for their buck,” he said. “When homeowners list their lawn, they are getting quotes from several lawn pros. They are inevitably going to get bids from various lawn care professionals at the best rate.”

While deciding on a provider, consider using a cash back card when you seal the deal. A lot of credit cards have great cash back deals that can make the cost more bearable. Remember, many cash back cards require a decent credit score to reap those rewards. You can check two of your credit scores for free at Credit.com.

12. Prep for the Pro

Doing a little legwork before you bring in a landscape designer can save you time and money. “Prepare your ideas before meeting your prospective landscaper,” said Jenkins-Sutton. “Some companies offer free consultations, but it’s standard for others to charge. Offer as much detail as possible like printing or tearing out images of things you like from landscaping websites, magazines and books.”

Image: AleksandarNakic

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