When you’re so good at saving money that you can retire at age 31, people understandably want to hear your money tips. That’s how Clark Howard ended up with his own radio show, where he takes consumers’ questions about all things personal finance.
As it often is, debt has been a popular topic recently, and Howard has a few tried-and-true tips he likes to share with consumers. Whether you’re committed to paying down huge credit card balances or simply want to avoid ending up in debt, here are three things Howard recommends you do.
1. Always Save Some Money
Saving money is Howard’s primary approach to getting out of debt. Shoot for a savings rate of a dime per dollar earned (or 10%), but if you’re not saving anything right now, start by setting aside a penny per dollar (1%) and increase your savings rate every six months, he said.
“Now you may wonder, what does this have to do with eliminating debt in your life?” he said. “You have to start off by learning to live on less than what you make.”
Unless you can find a way to make more money, that means you need to cut things from your budget and put that extra money toward your debt (or a savings account, so you don’t have to turn to a credit card in an emergency).
2. Pay More Than the Minimum
“A lot of people pay the minimum payment because that’s what the bill says,” said Alex Sadler, managing editor of Clark.com. Doing that could leave you in debt for a very long time, so make it a priority to budget for more than the monthly payment. Credit card bills also include a section that says how much you need to pay each month in order to get out of debt in 36 months (three years), which can help you figure out how much room you need to make in your budget to get out of debt.
When you have multiple debts to pay off, Howard recommends using the “laddering method” to save the most money. That means focusing on the debt with the highest interest rate first.
“Keep throwing money at it, and [on] all the others pay the minimum,” Howard said. “Methodically, step by step, work your way to zero debt.”
It helps to make a list of all your debts and their interest rates. In fact, most people who call Howard don’t know how much debt they have, so sitting down and getting a sense of the numbers is a great place to start.
“If you ever want to get out of debt … the first thing you have to do is figure out how much debt you owe, and then you can make a plan,” Sadler said.
3. Find a Cheaper Alternative
One of the most common kind of questions Howard gets these days is about student loan debt, particularly from older consumers who borrowed or cosigned on behalf of children or grandchildren. As with all kinds of debt, the best thing to do is avoid it in the first place, because once you’re in debt, there’s usually not much you can do to get rid of it other than pay it off. (This is especially true of education-related debt, because it’s rarely discharged in bankruptcy.)
“The reality with anybody approaching college is the cost of college needs to be the highest priority,” Howard said. “You may have your favorite, but if your favorite would put you into very heavy debt or your family into very heavy debt, you need to go with a different school.”
Though he’s talking about education, that approach applies to anything that could put you in debt. You can’t always avoid going into debt, but if you save up as much as you can and opt for more affordable things (like a vehicle with fewer options or a home with most but not all of the things on your wish list), you’ll end up borrowing less and spending less money on interest.
As you work to pay down and stay out of debt, keep an eye on your credit scores. Not only will good credit help you qualify for better terms on things like an auto loan or mortgage, it can also make it easier to get everyday necessities like a cell phone or utility accounts. You can see two of your credit scores for free, with updates available every 14 days, on Credit.com
It’s easy for us to focus on huge resolutions because they feel so impactful and empowering. Promises of losing 20 pounds or saving $10,000 feel good to say even if they may be a little unreasonable. Sadly, most of those are abandoned before the flowers have begun to bloom.
But what if I told you there were a handful of things you can do right now that can set you up financially all year? They don’t take big promises or big changes in your life, but they have the potential to make a big difference.
The first three months of the year are crucial, and you can use this time to put processes in place to make the rest of the year that much easier. Here are five ways to get started right now.
1. Start Budgeting
Famed management expert Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The quote itself has many variations, but the point is straightforward. If you don’t measure something, you can’t manage it. And if you can’t manage it, you can’t improve it.
If you want to understand your finances, you need to measure them, and that means having a budget. The first step is to track your finances, and there is a plethora of tracking tools out there for you to choose from.
Once you’ve started tracking your expenses, you can start being more proactive about where you spend your money. If you find yourself spending too much in one area, you’ll know and can adjust for it next month. For a particularly large adjustment, take advantage of a transition budget to help make that change over time so it’s more likely to last.
2. Increase Your Retirement Contributions
For many, myself included, retirement can feel like a lifetime away … but it’s not. One way you can help yourself prepare for retirement is to save just a little bit more than you are already. A little bit more can have a big effect.
Try to increase your retirement contribution by 10%, so that if you’re saving $100 a pay period, try increasing it to $110. By saving an extra $10 a month over 40 years, you’ll make $4,800 more in contributions. Imagine what could happen if you increased it even more!
3. Pay Yourself First
Do you still want nearly all the benefits of budgeting without all the work? Pay yourself first. That’s where you save a percentage of your paycheck first, then spend the rest. By transferring out your savings immediately from your checking account, perhaps into a retirement account or a separate savings account, you prevent yourself from spending it in the first place.
When you save first, you get nearly all the benefits of budgeting without the pesky accounting homework.
4. Close Old Accounts
I love getting mail — unless it’s tax-related mail. This time of year, my mailbox is full of tax forms and other filing documents. Few things are as irritating as a 1099-INT reporting interest for an account I rarely use.
Do yourself a favor and start closing and consolidating all those accounts you no longer use. This will simplify your finances and also reduce the amount of mental clutter involved with managing your money. Most accounts are very simple to close and take just a phone call.
The only exception to this would be your credit cards. Closing an account can have a negative effect on your credit score, so for now it may be best to leave those alone.
5. Check Your Credit Reports
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives you the right to check your credit report once a year at each of the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can visit Annualcreditreport.com to get a free copy of one of your reports once a year or you can view two of your free credit scores, with updates every two weeks, on Credit.com.
It’s best to do this now so you can fix any errors immediately. If you plan on doing anything that involves borrowing credit, from buying a house or a car to signing up for cell service or renting an apartment, you’ll want your credit report to be accurate. Fixing errors can take time, so you don’t want to be doing this when you’re, say, two weeks away from buying a house.
By making the five moves outlined above, you can set yourself for a much easier financial year.
It’s tax season, and many of us dread the thought of what we may end up owing Uncle Sam. I, on the other hand, take it as an opportunity to do my annual financial audit—and save hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars a year.
What is a financial audit? A financial audit, as I define it, is the practice of going through your personal financial records and checking your ongoing monthly expenses, unexpected one-time expenses, splurges, and anything else that is money-related.
When I audit myself, I am taking a cold, hard look at spending patterns, higher-than-expected payments, services that I’m paying for but don’t use, late payments (and why they are late), and any other financial habits that are keeping me from financial success.
One of the most interesting parts of my audits is realizing how easy it is to lose track of monthly subscriptions. In a previous audit, I discovered that I paid $400 for a service that I didn’t use for an entire year! I now try to avoid monthly subscriptions whenever possible. I save my money and pay upfront for whatever service I would like to use.
Here’s how I do my self-audit.
1. Stay Focused
First, this is not to be done on an empty stomach or after more than one drink. You need to be alert. Do it midday, when you’re awake and ready to tackle your finances. Do this at home during the quietest part of your day, and if you have kiddos or pets, I would recommend doing this when they are out of the house.
The fewer distractions, the better.
2. Analyze Your Spending
You will want to look at your bank statements or financial management systems such as Mint, Personal Capital or even monthly Excel spreadsheets using a secured online system.
Then you should spend time looking at the different areas of spending that your money is going toward: groceries, car expenses, kids, travel, debt repayments, and even pets.
In my case, I discovered that I spent a lot on food, travel and debt repayment. Once I discovered where my money was going, I started to think creatively about how to lower expenses in those different categories.
For example, when I began this process I was spending twice the amount that I currently do on groceries and eating out. So I started shopping for groceries once a week and I downloaded a grocery app that allowed me to save money each time I purchased food.
I don’t feel like I’m missing out on going out to eat or having my favorite foods — I’ve just embraced some new strategies so that I don’t eat my money up!
4. Uncover Savings
I decided to embrace traveling less, and when I did travel, I looked at ways to make travel less expensive. I very rarely stay at hotels and prefer to use Airbnb and hostels (with my own private room) because those accommodation options are much less expensive — they cost around $30 a night versus $80 to $150 a night in a hotel.
I still travel to cool places — this year I spent two weeks in San Diego, and the year before that I spent two months in Australia. But now I work hard on figuring out my expenses before I do anything, and I pay with cash.
You don’t do a financial audit to give yourself a hard time — in fact, just the opposite. Financial audits are great because they give you clarity and a direction for what your next steps should be.
During one of those audits, I discovered that I was spending $1,200 a year (around $105 a month) on my cell phone service. But I don’t like to talk on the phone all that much. Not to mention, $1,200 a year is the equivalent of a trip to South America for three weeks with airfare! I side-hustled like a rock star and paid up to get out of my contract, and then I switched to a pay-as-you-go service that averaged me around $30 a month. This created a savings of $900 a year. Cha-ching!
If this is the first time that you’ve done a financial audit, don’t be scared! Just have fun putting money back into your pocket.
Everywhere you look, there are credit cards offering huge signup bonuses. Unfortunately, those cards almost always require a large initial spend. If you are on a limited budget, spending $4,000 or more over a three month period might not be an option. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a reward card for you. There are plenty of cards available that are perfect for low spenders. Here are five of our favorites.
One of the best reward cards available right now is the Chase Freedom card . For anyone with low monthly expenses, this might be the perfect fit. You will have the chance to earn a $150 signup bonus, and you only need to spend $500 in the first three months. That should be doable for many people. Plus, if you add an authorized user, you will earn an additional $25 after they make a purchase in the same three-month period.
This card can really make a difference in your ability to earn bonus rewards. Each quarter there is a rotating set of categories, allowing you to earn 5% cash back. One quarter it might be restaurants and department stores, the next quarter it might be home improvement stores and ground transportation. Even if you don’t spend much, 5% can make your rewards add up quick. One thing to keep in mind is that there is a limit of $1,500 within the 5% categories each quarter. All other purchases will earn 1% back.
As an added bonus, this card comes with an introductory 0% APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. Once the introductory period is over, the APR will change to a variable 15.49% to 24.24%, depending on your creditworthiness when you apply. (You can read more about how credit card interest works here.) This card has no annual fee.
Blue Cash Everyday Card From American Express
Even with a small budget, there is a good chance a large portion of that goes toward groceries. If so, then the Blue Cash Everyday card from American Express could be a great fit for you. You will earn 3% cash back on the first $6,000 spent each year at grocery stores. You will also receive 2% cash back at gas stations and department stores. Any other purchase you make with the card will earn 1% back.
With the Blue Cash Everyday card, you will receive a $100 signup bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months. You will also receive an introductory 0% APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers. Once the introductory period has ended, the APR will become a variable 13.49% to 23.49%, based on your credit standing. This card has no annual fee.
Citi Double Cash Card
The Citi Double Cash Card is perfect for anyone who’s looking for a straightforward cash back card. There are no rotating categories or bonus rewards to remember. Every purchase you make will earn 2% back. You will earn the first 1% when you make the purchase. You will then earn a second 1% back after you pay off the purchase. One possible downside to this card is that there isn’t a signup bonus. (Full Disclosure: Citibank, Chase, American Express, US Bank and Barclaycard advertise on Credit.com, but that results in no preferential editorial treatment.)
If you are carrying a balance on your current card, then the Citi Double Cash card might be able to save you some money. (Keep in mind you do not earn cash back on balance transfers.) You will receive an introductory 0% APR for 18 months on balance transfers. After the promotional period has ended, the APR will become a variable 13.49% to 23.49%. This card has no annual fee.
US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card
The US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card is perfect for low spenders because it gives you the ability to earn cash back on your own terms. You will be able to receive 5% back on up to $2,000 per quarter from two categories of your own choosing such as cell phone bills, movie theaters and fast food. In addition, you will be able to earn 2% cash back from an everyday spending category like groceries, gas and restaurants. All other purchases will earn 1% back.
This card offers 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for the first year. Purchases carry a variable APR of 14.49% to 23.49%, based on your creditworthiness. After that, the purchase APR will apply. This card has no annual fee.
Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard
The Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard is another hassle-free cash back card. With it, you will receive an unlimited 1.5% back on every purchase you make. You will also receive a 5% bonus when you cash out your earnings. This card also comes with an attainable signup bonus: You will receive $100 after spending $500 in the first three months.
Just like the other cards on this list, you will not pay an annual fee. This card offers 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for the 15 months. Purchases carry a variable APR of 15.24%, 20.24% or 25.24, based on your creditworthiness. After that, the purchase APR will apply.
At publishing time, the Chase Freedom, Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express, Citi Double Cash and Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard are offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for these cards. However, these relationships do not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuers. Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuers.
No one wants to think about a job loss, but sometimes these things can happen. If you think you may be out of a job soon or a cutback came out of the blue, then you might want to take some necessary steps to manage your budget.
Here are some tips to help.
1. Separate Essential & Nonessential Expenses
Take a look at your bank statements from the past three months or so and see how much you’ve been spending and what you were spending it on. Write down a list of which expenses you think you need (rent or mortgage) and which you can cut (eating out, cable and landline). This will help you stay afloat for now. It is important not to worry, as this is only a temporary budget cut until you can get back on your feet.
2. Create a New Budget
Once you cut your nonessential expenses from your budget, it is time to create a new one — and to make sure it is at the absolute minimum. This means shelter, groceries, mortgage, debts, etc. Since you are cutting a lot of expenses from your budget, you should have enough funds to hold you over until you have regular money coming in again.
3. Negotiate Your Monthly Expenses
Consider calling your service providers and seeing if you can negotiate your way to a lower monthly payment that is more reasonable for you and your budget. It can’t hurt to ask, and with no regular income coming in, you might not have a choice.
4. Prioritize Your Next Job
Make your next job applying for a new job. Try and apply to jobs several hours a day. Your next job doesn’t have to be a career choice; it can be something to hold you over until you get the one you want. You might want to make it a priority to get cash rolling in again so you won’t have to worry about falling behind on your bills. (Remember, missed loan payments can do big damage to your credit score. You can keep an eye on yours by viewing your free credit report snapshot, which comes with two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
5. Speak to a Professional
Even if you know you will have a job again soon, it might make sense to speak to a professional about what your options are. It can be a scary thing going from a regular income to nothing. You might need help reworking your budget and even paying off your expenses. If you don’t think you will have money to hire someone, then consider getting advice from your local debt attorney or financial planner (some offer free consultations) — they might even be able to help you settle your debts and negotiate your bills while you are on a tight budget.
If it seems your friends and coworkers are always off on their next big international excursion and you’re stuck at home trying to figure out how you’re going to pay this month’s utility bill, we’ve got some good news for you. That dream of lazy days on white-sand beaches or gentle afternoons reflecting in the Louvre is actually possible, even if you think you can’t afford it.
We’ve put together 28 mostly pain-free ways to start setting aside money today so you can turn your dream vacation into reality.
Everyday Ways to Save
1. Open a vacation savings account.
Automating your savings — whether for a vacation, retirement or a down payment on your dream home — makes the process so much easier. Even if you’re only able to save $5 a week at first, you have an account established and can plunk savings from the following list of ideas in there whenever possible. And make sure it’s a free account with a low enough minimum balance requirement so that it won’t end up costing you money.
2. Save your change.
You can really up your simple savings game by using a bank service like Bank of America’s Keep the Change program, which automatically rounds up your debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference into your savings account.
If you’re not quite ready to take this step, you can start saving your change the old-school way by grabbing a jar and emptying the change from your pockets or wallet into it at the end of the day. Don’t hesitate to throw some paper bills in there as well.
2. Cut back on your food budget.
It’s amazing the money you can save on food with just a little advanced planning — like making a weekly menu and buying your groceries strictly around that list, cooking in batches so you have meals prepared ahead of time, eating this 16-cent breakfast and avoiding the impulse to eat out or get delivery.
3. Cut back on duplicates.
Do you really need the Oreos and the Milanos? Probably not. Still, treat yourself to some cookies, but choose one to put back.
4. Put a stop to loose spending.
A little advance planning can go a long way toward saving money. For example, shop for next year’s winter coat during this year’s winter sales. You’ll save money by avoiding impulse buys and giving yourself time to find good deals.
5. Cancel your subscriptions & memberships.
Do you actually know how much you spend each month on subscriptions to websites, like your streaming services, magazines, and the gym you swore you’d hit three times a week? Make a list, including amounts you spend each month, and then prioritize that list. Cut out anything you don’t use regularly and bank that money in your vacation account (or change jar).
6. Walk to and from work.
If you live in a walkable city, consider commuting by foot instead of by car or public transit. Not only will it save you some cash, it’s a good, healthy habit.
7. Go to the library.
Want to know what’s even better than getting the latest James Patterson book? Getting it for free. You’ll get to lose yourself in a great story, all while saving up for your own adventure.
8. Wash your car by hand.
If you use one of those automated drive-through washes, or especially a fancy handwash place, you can save a ton of money. The average drive-through costs nearly $10, and the premium carwashes can be as much as $30 for just the basic wash and vacuum. Instead, grab your hose and a bucket or, if you live in an apartment, head to one of those do-it-yourself stalls and then tuck away the savings.
9. Stay home.
It’s that simple. If your friends want to get together, ask them to come over and watch a movie, or have a potluck dinner. Even if you’re spending just $20 or $30 on a once-a-week outing, that can add up to some serious money over just a few months.
10. Make a no-gifts agreement.
The holidays can get ridiculously expensive ridiculously fast. The average American planned to spend around $929 for gifts this past holiday season, according to a report by American Research Group. Instead of spending all that money on things your friends and loved ones may not even want, see if they’ll agree to skipping the gifts this year. Maybe you could all book a holiday trip together instead. Two birds …
11. Cut back on your habits.
If you regularly drink, smoke or take illegal drugs, you probably already know these habits are expensive. For example, a pack of cigarettes can cost nearly $13 in New York, so if you’re a pack-a-day smoker, that’s more than $4,700 a year. That’s a seriously nice vacation fund, not to mention the health benefits of quitting. You can start small, too, if that’s easier.
12. Get a side gig.
If you have no interest in changing your lifestyle and spending, you could always get a second job and use those earnings for your next vacation. You could do the same if you’ve looked at your budget and there’s simply no way to cut back any more than you already have. Of course, if this is your situation, it’s probably more important that you set aside savings for possible emergencies before considering any travel savings.
13. Clip coupons & use savings apps.
You really can save a lot of money using coupons, especially if you manage to hit double or triple coupon days. And using apps or discount services can help you save on your everyday purchases as well.
14. Give yourself plenty of time to save.
All of the above can add up to some pretty dramatic savings, but you’ll still need time to accumulate enough money for a significant getaway. The farther in advance you plan your trip, the less you’ll have to cut corners to save up for it. It’s usually a lot easier to set aside $200 a month for a year than $400 a month for six months.
Ways to Leverage Your Credit
15. Get a new rewards credit card.
If you don’t already have a card that lets you earn points or cash back, now’s a great time to consider it. Even if you don’t have stellar credit, you may qualify for a card that can help make your vacation dreams a reality. Check out some of the best rewards credit cards you can get to see which best fits your spending and savings needs.
Lots of travel rewards credit cards offer bonus miles if you spend a certain amount in your first few months. So if your wallet and credit score can handle it, consider adding one of these cards to your wallet. (Don’t get carried away, though. There are plenty of downsides to credit card churning.)
18. Transfer your credit card balances.
If you’re already carrying balances on your credit cards, getting those paid down should be a top priority. One of the easiest ways to do this is by applying for a new credit card with a 0% introductory balance transfer offer. Some cards have offers as long as 18 months. That can result in a big savings on interest.
Ways to Power Plan
19. Book smart.
Timing is everything when it comes to booking your airfare. Experts recommend booking domestic flights about six weeks out; international flights may require more lead time.
20. Score a companion pass.
Whether you’ve saved enough miles or your friend has you covered, a companion pass — offered through your rewards credit card — can save you a bundle.
21. Google flights.
Enter your destination, fare type and dates, and a number of options should pop up. The site’s also helpful for exploring nearby destinations, and you can sign up for fare alerts.
22. Check Travel.State.Gov.
Before you set your budget, visit this site to see what’s required in terms of passports, visas, vaccines, and more.
24. Book through your credit card issuer’s travel portal.
Most give you more bang for your buck when it comes to redeeming or earning rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which offers 50,000 points if you spend $4,000 in your first three months — equivalent to $750 in travel booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. Or the American Express Platinum, which offers five times the points on airfare booked directly through the issuer or airline.
25. Ask hotels for a discount.
Skip the search engine and call a hotel directly to ask about their lowest nonrefundable rate. If you strike out prior to your trip, ask the concierge whether any upgrades are available when you get there.
26. Sign up for a loyalty program.
Most hotels and airlines have one, and they’re generally free to join. Rack up points where you can (say, on your flight home for the holidays) and then look into pooling them with credit card rewards to fast-track an award flight or hotel stay.
27. Prioritize your itinerary.
You can’t see and do everything at your travel destination, and trying to do so will likely only stress you out and break your budget. Prioritize the travel items on your to-do list so it’s easier to make a cut when your budget calls for it.
28. Avoid the peak season.
A quick internet search will tell you when your destination of choice is particularly popular. If the vacation you want is still possible during off-peak travel times, consider trying to go when there’s lower demand. It can help you save on travel and accommodation costs.
At publishing time, the Platinum Card from American Express is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com is compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment. This content is not provided by the card issuer. Any opinions expressed are those of Credit.com alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.
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.
If saving more money is on your to-do list, but you just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s time to stop making excuses. We’ve all told little white lies to ourselves about why we’ve yet to open a Roth IRA, save for a down payment on a home, or stop living paycheck to paycheck. But have we actually sat down and come up with solutions? Probably not.
To help you get out of this habit — and on the right financial footing — we’ve come up with a list of common excuses money managers often make. If you find yourself using one of them, you’re doing your money no favors.
I Don’t Have the Time
Saying you don’t have time to manage your finances is like saying you’re too busy to hit the gym. There may be some truth to your reasoning, but you probably refuse to make it a priority for another reason. Perhaps you’re dreading what you’ll actually find when you check your credit scores (you can do this for free on Credit.com). Or you’re afraid not making ends meet will mean having to change your behavior. Whatever the fear, avoiding the problem won’t solve it, and you’ll have to face up to it sometime. Start being honest with yourself so you can stop the shame cycle for good.
I’m Bad at Math
Not everyone loves crunching numbers as much as your algebra teacher. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with a system to better manage your finances. Plenty of free smartphone apps make budgeting a cinch for right-brain types, and if you don’t like using an app, then there’s always old-fashioned pencil and paper. Excel or other spreadsheet applications can be useful for those who like keeping tabs on their progress.
I Don’t Earn Enough Money
It’s rare to find someone who’s truly content with their take-home salary. But that shouldn’t hold you back from managing what you do have coming in. While it’s reasonable and even advisable to think about a raise, you owe it to yourself to make your current paycheck work for you. That means living within your limits — excessive debt is a no-go for building good credit, as how much you have (in relation to your overall credit) impacts a chunk of your score — setting aside what you can, and rewarding yourself for a job well done when you can afford it.
I Can’t Give Up My Lifestyle
If living a life of luxury now matters more than saving for the future, it’s time to assess your priorities. This starts with understanding a need versus a want — something you need, like food and shelter, versus something you want in the moment, like the latest eyeshadow kit. The latter may be a fun splurge, but it certainly won’t pay for your house or fund your retirement. It also won’t feel so hot when you get a hefty credit card bill or a dreaded phone call from debt collector wondering why you haven’t paid what you owe. Worse still: Being rejected for credit when you really need it to buy a house, get a job or help out a relative.
Remember, staying on top of your finances is often easier said than done. But you can make it easier for yourself by doing away with the excuses and getting proactive. Reaching your goals won’t happen overnight, but you’ll be well on your way to financial success if you start being honest with yourself.
Valentine’s Day is less than a month away, so if you’ve yet to start shopping, there’s a chance you’ll spend more. That’s according to deals site Brad’s Deals, which recently conducted a little experiment to see how the price of a bouquet of a dozen red roses — a classic Valentine’s Day gift in the U.S. — rises over the year.
In tracking the prices of a dozen red roses at five different online florists — ProFlowers, FTD, Teleflora, 1-800-Flowers and FromYouFlowers — every Monday between Jan. 4 and Dec. 26, 2016, Brad’s Deals found they were surprisingly affordable over the summer but also maintained their affordability throughout the year, except for February, naturally. Prices did not include any vases, upgrades, delivery charges or coupons, according to Rebecca Lehman, director of content marketing for Brad’s Deals. Only the base price shown on the website was considered.
In terms of prices, February was the high point, with a bouquet of red stems costing as much as $49.98, according to Brad’s Deals. The lowest price point was $31.58 in August.
Why Are Red Roses So Expensive?
There are a few reasons prices went up, the site says. When demand rises, labor must be hired to harvest the roses, and that requires some coordination. “If there are more flowers to ship, that also means more trucks, more airplanes to carry them off to the florists,” Brad’s Deals writes on its blog. “Who picks up the cost of all that extra labor? You do.”
“We believe that the high-low pattern we found should be close to what consumers can expect: high prices for Valentine’s Day, when demand for a highly perishable, imported product on a single day in the middle of winter drives costs up, and low in the summer when demand is lower, more diffuse, and flowers are available from domestic sources,” Lehmann said.
How to Save on Valentine’s Day
Based on their research, Brad’s Deals recommends ordering red roses well in advance of Valentine’s Day, around Jan. 15. The cost will only rise as the holiday approaches. Another tip is to have the roses delivered to yourself on Feb. 13 to avoid hefty delivery fees. You can give the bouquet in person the next day.
It also pays to keep your budget in mind when planning for Valentine’s Day. We recommend keeping track of your finances in an app or the old fashioned way with pencil and paper, as well as knowing the difference between wants and needs so you don’t wind up overspending. After all, the last thing you want to do is go over your budget when you’ve got roses to buy. Another helpful way to keep tabs on your finances is by checking your credit. You can view two of your credit scores, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com. Checking your scores will not harm them in any way.
Every new year comes with more New Year’s resolutions. Here are five you might want to put on your list.
1. Have a Plan
Set aside some time in 2017 to go over your finances and see how you’ve been doing. Are you following a budget? Do you need to? There might be some lifestyle changes you need to make to stay on top of your bills. You might have to put together a budget for an upcoming event or start saving for your children’s education. Set aside time to figure out where you stand and how you plan to afford your expenses for the year. Consider reevaluating that plan every three months to make sure you are on the same page or make any adjustments.
2. Set Up an Emergency Fund
If you don’t have an emergency fund already, now is the time to create one. Make 2017 the year you are always prepared, even for unexpected expenses. You never know when your heat will break or you need a car repair. An emergency fund can be an easy fix for an unexpected expense and keep you out of debt at the same time. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.)
3. Pay Off Your Credit Card
If your credit card has a balance, now is the time to pay it off. The new year is a fresh start to your life, so why not make it a fresh start for your credit card as well? If you have multiple credit cards with a balance, then you might want to focus on paying one balance down at a time. Continue to make the monthly payments on all cards, although you might want to make biweekly payments to the credit card with the highest interest to see a decrease in your overall balance.
If you have a large amount of credit card debt and aren’t sure how to repay it, you might want to consult with a debt attorney or bankruptcy attorney to weigh your options. It can’t hurt to ask. Consider making a list of your questions before seeking help.
4. Check Your Statements Regularly
Do you check your statements every month? Are you aware of how much money is in your bank account at all times? Make it a New Year’s resolution to always check your finances. You might want to consider signing up for online banking or downloading your bank’s app to help you stay organized. If you are always in the know, then you will always have an idea of how much debt you have, how much you can spend and if there have been any irregularities in your account.
5. Save for an Event
Have anything big planned for 2017? You might want to make a list of financial goals and pick one to start with. Maybe you and your partner have always wanted to go on a tropical vacation together but never had the money. Now is the time. Put a little money aside each month and give yourself an end date. You might want to give yourself a year to save, depending on how much you’ll need. Be sure to check your budget before you save for your goal. You don’t want to fall into debt because you were putting too much money into your savings and didn’t leave enough over to live on.
Approximately 31% of all couples have arguments over their finances at least once a month, according to an Ameriprise study. While this may be true, the real issue at hand is that you may not be having a financial conversation with your partner, especially during the holiday season. This could cause unwanted stress, and lack of communication could potentially damage your relationship in the future.
Here are some steps to get you started and help you avoid financial conflict in the new year.
1. Initiate the Conversation With Confidence
You might want to sit down with your spouse or partner over coffee to review your holiday spending plans to avoid a “debt hangover” after the holidays. Talking about finances can be difficult, so it is important to speak in a relaxed environment. Review one another’s numbers, accounting for how much each of you intends to spend this year and on whom. You may want to take a look at receipts from last year as a point of reference and go from there. You might even want to start the conversation by addressing your partner’s strengths with money and how much you appreciate all that they do for you financially (i.e.: paying the bills every month or helping out around the house).
2. Discuss Your Goals
Talk to your spouse about the pros and cons of saving money together instead of overspending on nonessential items and gifts over the holidays. You might even want to bring up how you would like to save up for a future goal together. If you or your partner continues to overspend, that goal may never be reached. You could even have a little fun with it and create a savings jar. Just fill it up until you reach your goal! (Curious about where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
3. Come Up With a Plan
Create a holiday budget together, and consider writing down whom you plan to buy for and how much you plan to spend on each person. Once you have ideas on what you want to buy and how much you plan to spend for each person, make sure you do your research by comparison shopping. This might mean shopping online rather than in store, taking advantage of special store sales and clipping coupons.
You might also want to designate roles for you and your partner to take in the holiday shopping process where one of you is responsible for finding sales while the other takes care of the actual shopping. If you plan to shop as a team, you may not only save money but spend quality time together that makes the experience much more fun and enjoyable.