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

The post What to Buy in October appeared first on Credit.com.

How My Emergency Fund Saved My Finances

iStock

In 2012, Heather Vernillo, then 33, learned she had kidney cancer. The Tampa-area nurse had emergency surgery days later. While her health insurance covered 100 percent of her care, the experience left her unable to work for 15 weeks. This translated to more than four months of missed income, plus a $1,100 monthly bill for COBRA, which kept her health coverage intact during her involuntary hiatus.

Vernillo’s emergency fund turned out to be her saving grace through an ordeal that cost her roughly $7,000.

“The situation pretty much wiped out my savings, but it was worth every penny,” she told MagnifyMoney.

Vernillo’s experience underscores the vital importance of keeping a cash reserve on hand. Still, two-thirds of Americans would struggle to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to a 2016 poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Vernillo is no millionaire. As a nurse, her annual income fluctuated between $95,000 and $50,000 before her diagnosis. (She took a pay cut when she moved from New Jersey to Florida in 2012.) Nonetheless, she says her approach to building her rainy day fund was simple: She set up automatic monthly withdrawals from her checking account to her emergency fund, treating it like any other line item on her budget. It took about two years to build up a fund sufficient enough to cover the expenses she incurred during her medical crisis.

Now, she is focused on rebuilding her fund. This wasn’t always financially easy, she admits, but after her health scare, it was a top priority.

“I’ve been able to partially replenish [my savings] and currently have about two months’ worth of expenses tucked away, just in case,” she says.

Choosing your best worst option

When people don’t have cash on hand for emergencies, they’re more likely to turn to alternative borrowing methods that could wind up costing them much more down the road. (Hello, payday loans.) Sometimes, it can feel like a painful choice from an array of bad options.

If you’ve exhausted all your best options for cash — you’ve emptied your bank account and asked friends and family for loans — then it’s time to look at your next best alternative. And at this point, it’s about choosing the option that will cost you less in the long run.

If you’re overwhelmed with medical bills, for example, ask the doctor or hospital to put you on a payment plan. Or consider a personal loan or a low-interest credit card — whichever option carries the lowest APR. Check out our ranking of the 10 best options for cash when you need it fast.

“If you don’t have any other options, then using a credit card or personal loan to pay for an emergency is better than defaulting on a bill, which can negatively impact your credit score,” Natalie Colley, a financial analyst with Francis Financial, tells MagnifyMoney.  “You’ll pay more in the long run with interest, and ultimately you’re setting yourself up for financial instability and getting caught in a debt cycle.”

The key is to use these methods as a last resort and create a plan to pay down the debt as soon as possible.

Thanks to consistent monthly contributions, Marvin Fontanilla, a 35-year-old marketing professional in San Jose, had $8,000 tucked away in his emergency fund. It was enough to cover three months’ worth of expenses, and it came in handy back in August, when the battery on his hybrid car called it quits. A replacement cost $2,200, and an additional $622 for a rental car to use during the repair.

“It didn’t make a huge dent in our savings because my fiancee and I live way below our means,” Fontanilla says. “We’ve actually already replenished it by taking money we normally use to make aggressive student loan payments and redirecting it back into our savings account.”

While we certainly can’t anticipate every financial emergency that lies ahead, he adds that the death of his car battery didn’t come completely out of the blue; he knew when he bought a hybrid that the battery would likely have to be replaced once he hit 200,000 miles, so the expense was already in the back of his mind.

How much should you save?

Just as there’s no way Vernillo could have predicted her cancer, it’s impossible for any of us to really know what financial twists and turns are in our future.

“We can plan until we’re blue in the face for what lies ahead financially, but no matter how great our planning is, emergencies happen,” says Colley.

She tells her clients to live by a basic rule of thumb for savings: Save for at least three to six months’ worth of expenses.

“That’s a large number, and it’s going to take years to get there, but the important thing is to establish the habit of putting money aside every month and having it automatically transferred from your checking account to your savings account,” she says.

How much you contribute each month depends on a number of factors, not the least of which are income and expenses. After accounting for fixed bills and variable expenses like food and entertainment, what’s left should be divvied up between your financial goals. If your emergency fund is at zero, Colley suggests starting small and focusing solely on the first $1,000; a safe cushion in case of a minor setback.

Once you hit that milestone, you can begin redirecting some money toward other financial goals (like paying off  high-interest debt, dialing up your retirement contributions or saving for a down payment on a home) while continuing to build your emergency fund. Everyone’s goals are different, but the main takeaway here is that it isn’t an either/or situation. Rather, it’s all about saving for multiple goals at once.

Where to stash your savings

Where you keep your emergency fund matters. Colley likes the idea of keeping it at a bank that’s separate from a regular checking account. (Out of sight, out of mind.) She recommends going with an online, high-yield account, like Capital One 360, Ally or Synchrony. While a traditional savings account at your local bank will likely only pay 0.01 percent, these online accounts dole out 1.20 percent with no minimum balance requirement.

Another plus is that it typically takes three days to transfer money into your checking account, which reduces the likelihood of impulsive withdrawals. The idea is to build an emergency fund that’s liquid, but not so liquid that you’ll be tempted to dip into it when the mood strikes.

For smaller pop-up expenses that leave you needing cash on the spot — a flat tire or overdraft protection, for example — Colley says it’s not a bad idea to keep a few hundred dollars in a traditional savings account that can be tapped immediately.

“Having a fully funded emergency savings doesn’t happen overnight, and it also shouldn’t be your one and only focus,” Colley says. “If you do that, all your other goals will come to a grinding halt while you build your savings account.”

The post How My Emergency Fund Saved My Finances appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

The Best Credit Union CD Rates – October 2017

The top credit union CD rates
Source: iStock

Certificates of deposit (CDs) are a great way to safely store your savings at a financial institution, as they offer a guaranteed rate of return, and CD rates tend to be higher than those on traditional savings accounts. Maybe you’ve even heard that credit union CD rates offer higher returns—but is that really the case? On average, yes. As of June 2017, the average one-year credit union CD had a 0.58% annual percentage yield (APY), compared to the 0.48% APY average among one-year bank CDs. (You may also want to view our picks for the overall best CD rates.)

Using data from DepositAccounts.com, another LendingTree company, we identified the top one-year credit union CD rates, as of Oct. 2, 2017. We then eliminated any credit union with a health rating lower than a B and identified the top three offerings in three categories: restricted, no cost, and best banking app. If there was a tie by APY, we went with the product with the lower minimum deposit. Here are the best one-year credit union CD rates.

Best CD rates for credit unions with no cost to join

The thing about credit unions is that they’re not usually just open to anyone. You usually need to meet some membership criteria in order to get in and get access to all of their really nice products. These credit unions, however, will let you in for free regardless of your personal details. (Note: Only two credit unions met our criteria for this list.)

 

Unify Financial Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 0.85% APY, min. deposit $1,000

UNIFY Financial Credit Union
Unify FCU offers the highest interest rates on CDs (which it calls share certificates) of any credit union with no cost to join. The interest rate on their 12-month CD, for example, is 0.85%, compared to the national average of 0.597% in August. You would earn $8.50 on a $1,000 deposit. If you withdraw your money early, however, you’ll face a penalty of 90 days’ worth of interest.

NASA Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 0.55% APY, min. deposit $1,000

NASA Federal Credit Union
If the rigid inflexibility of CDs makes you leery, NASA FCU might be your best bet. They have a lot of flexible certificates, such as add-on certificates that let you start with as little as $250, and bump-rate certificates that let you opt for a one-time interest rate increase if rates go up. You can even take out a loan from your certificate should you need the cash before it’s matured. You can join NASA FCU with a complimentary membership to the National Space Society.

If you do need to make an early withdrawal, you will face a penalty of 180 days’ worth of interest.

Best credit union CD rates with restricted memberships or membership fees

Each of these credit unions have restricted membership criteria, but don’t let that scare you away. If you don’t meet their membership criteria, it’s possible to make a small donation to their charity of choice in order to become eligible for membership. Furthermore, these credit union CD rates offer some of the highest-returning share certificates out of any category.

 

Air Force Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.56% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Air Force Federal Credit Union
Members and family members of the military, civilian contractors, and certain employees are eligible to join the Air Force FCU, along with anyone willing to join the Airman Heritage Foundation ($25 annual membership fee).

This credit union comes in first place overall for highest interest rates for 12-month CDs. You can earn $15.60 by depositing a minimum of $1,000 in a 12-month CD, with an APY of 1.56%. You can also use your CD as collateral to earn a lower interest rate on a loan, and membership comes with a host of discounts for parks and businesses in the San Antonio, Texas area. Watch out for the early withdrawal penalties, however, worth half of whatever you would have earned between when you withdrew the funds and when it would have matured.

Andrews Federal Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 1.41% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Andrews Federal
Andrews FCU comes in just behind the Air Force Federal Credit Union in terms of the highest CD interest rates of any credit union on our list. With just a $1,000 minimum deposit, these CDs are much more attainable if you don’t have a lot to spare. You’ll earn $14.10 in interest on a 12-month CD, and if you withdraw your money early, you’ll face a penalty of 90 days’ worth of dividends (for CDs of less than 2 years), or 180 days’ worth of dividends (for CDs of 2 years of more).

Anyone can join Andrews FCU with a one-time $5 donation to the American Consumer Council, a national financial literacy organization.

Connexus Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.40% APY, min. deposit $5,000

Connexus
If you don’t meet Connexus CU’s regular membership criteria, you can always join by making a one-time $5 donation to the Connexus Association, the credit union’s education wing. Once in, you can take advantage of the one of the highest credit union CD rates. There’s just one catch: You’ll need more money than most credit unions require to open up a share certificate—$5,000. If you’re able to swing that much, you can earn $70 with just a 12-month CD. The early withdrawal penalty is 180 days’ worth of dividends on the amount you withdraw.

Alliant Credit Union – 1-Year Share Certificate, 1.35% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Alliant CU
You can join Alliant Credit Union by making a $10 donation to Foster Care To Success, a nonprofit that helps teenagers aging out of the foster care system, if you don’t meet their other membership criteria. A 12-month CD at Alliant CU earns 1.35% APY (still far above the national average of 0.597% APY), meaning you can earn $13.50 on a $1,000 deposit. Alliant CU is unique among credit unions in that they’ll allow you to withdraw your monthly dividends (not the whole CD) without penalty, although this will reduce your earnings.

Best CD rates for credit unions with the best mobile apps

By their very nature, CDs aren’t something that require constant attention, poking, and prodding. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of a deal, so you won’t need any spiffy banking apps to use CDs.

But, if you’d like to switch all of your banking to the same institution that holds your CDs, it might be a wise idea to consider one of these credit unions if you’re a digital junkie. Most credit unions lag behind their bank compatriots in terms of mobile banking apps, but these credit unions offer top-notch mobile apps, according to MagnifyMoney’s 2016 mobile banking app analysis.

 

Wright-Patt Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 1.39% APY, min. deposit $500

Wright-Patt Credit Union
Unlike many credit unions, you can’t just make a simple donation to join Wright-Patt CU if you fail to meet their membership criteria. You need to live in certain areas of Ohio, be associated with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, or be an employee of their select employer group, among other options.

You can earn $6.95 on a 12-month CD with just a relatively small $500 deposit. Early withdrawal penalties vary depending on the original term of your CD, however they’ll be anywhere between 5-12 months’ worth of dividends.

Eastman Credit Union – 1-Year Investment Certificate, 1.25% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Eastman Credit Union
Eastman Credit Union also has pretty restrictive membership requirements. You’ll have to be an employee (or a family member of an employee) of one of their select employers, or live in certain parts of Tennessee, Texas, or Virginia.

Eastman CU is another one of the rare credit unions that allow you to withdraw your dividends penalty-free before the maturity date, although again, doing so will lower your total returns. Currently, you can earn an interest rate of 1.25% on a 12-month CD. With a minimum deposit of $1,000, that translates into earnings of $12.50 after one year. If you withdraw your money before the CD matures, you’ll owe a penalty fee of anywhere between seven days’ worth of dividend earnings or all of your dividend earnings.

Delta Community Credit Union – 1-Year Certificate, 0.75% APY, min. deposit $1,000

Delta Community Credit Union
There are many ways to join Delta Community CU, such as living in certain parts of Georgia, being a member of one of their select employers, or being a member of one of their partner organizations. Interestingly, citizens of many countries like Argentina, France, and Peru are also eligible to join.

At 0.75% APY for a 12-month CD, Delta Community CU ranks as one of the lowest-earning credit unions on our list—not much above the current national average of 0.597% APY. You’ll earn $7.50 on a 12-month CD with the minimum deposit of $1,000. Early withdrawal penalties range are 90 days worth of interest on a 12-month CD.

3 questions to consider before opening a credit union CD

Banks are more likely to call their products certificates of deposit, while credit unions often refer to them as share certificates. Aside from the name, the biggest difference between the two is that credit unions have higher average annual percentage yields (APYs), as of June 2017. That’s good news: It means more money back in your pocket when the CD matures (i.e., reaches the end of its term and is available for withdrawal).

There really is no difference in safety between depositing money in a CD with a credit union versus a bank, as long as they participate in either the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) for credit unions, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) for banks.

According to Neal Frankle, a Los Angeles-based Certified Financial Planner with Wealth Pilgrim, deposits of up to $250,000 per financial institution are “backed by the full faith and credit of United States Government, so it’s pretty solid.”

For the most part, choosing a CD at a bank or a credit union boils down to your preference as a consumer: Do you want to be a bank customer or a member of a credit union? Here’s a primer on the differences.

The biggest advantage of credit union CDs over bank CDs is that you can likely earn more interest. But with both products, the longer the CD term, the more interest you will earn. And with a CD laddering strategy, you can have the best of both worlds: frequent access to your money, yet you can still keep it locked away in high-interest, long-term CDs.

Beyond that, the disadvantages of opening a credit union CD are the same as if you’re opening a CD with a bank. You can’t access that money without paying an early withdrawal penalty until the CD matures. While CDs do offer some of the highest rates for any financial product you’re likely to come across at a bank or credit union, they still don’t really earn great interest. If you’re investing for the long-term (like retirement savings), your money is better invested in the riskier (but higher-earning) stock or bond market.

The post The Best Credit Union CD Rates – October 2017 appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Ingredients to Buy in Bulk and Keep for Years

A great way to reduce your grocery spend is by planning meals ahead.

Everyone who goes grocery shopping knows that buying food weekly can become fairly expensive—especially when you add in how much money we waste on food. Luckily, there are many foods that’ll last for years and save you money in the long run if you buy them in bulk and store them properly.

Check out these 12 ingredients that can help you save money on your groceries for years to come.

1. White Rice

It’s hard to find a food that’s more versatile than rice: you can eat it on its own, with vegetables or beans, in soup, with meat, in sushi, and so much more. You can even use it to help save your electronics from water damage. Plus, rice is super cheap and often comes in bulk. Even better, white rice can last more than 30 years if stored properly—in the pantry, in the fridge, or in the freezer—so don’t throw it out unless it has spoiled through improper storage. (Brown rice has a higher oil content, so it’ll actually spoil after six months, unfortunately.)

2. Honey

Scientists have found perfectly preserved honey in the Egyptian pyramids—even at over three thousand years old, that honey is still edible and safe to eat. Honey’s high acidity and lack of water help it last indefinitely. It may crystallize over time, but don’t worry; it is still safe to eat. You can warm it up to soften and de-crystallize it for easier consumption. Honey can be used as a sweetener, in salad dressings, in desserts, as a home remedy, and even for facials.

3. Oats

If you love breakfast foods and baking, buy bulk portions of oats to store in your pantry. Rolled and instant oats can last several years when kept in airtight containers—some estimate that oats can be safely eaten for 30 years if stored properly! Keep oats on hand and make your own flour, granola bars, or cereal whenever you want.

4. Hot Sauce

From eggs to salads to pizza, anything can benefit from some added spice. Whether you’re a Tabasco or Tapatío fan, your favorite hot sauce can last for three to five years thanks to its high vinegar content and the capsaicin found in chili peppers. Just make sure you follow proper storage directions, and keep in mind that the taste will change as time passes. The sauce may even get hotter as the peppers age! Buy a large bottle on sale and keep it for years—or until you run out.

5. Dried Beans

You can find a great source of protein in beans, especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Flavored and canned beans will last you a while, but dried beans can last for up to 30 years. They do begin to lose their moisture after a few years, so cooking times may vary depending on how long you have been storing them. If you love black beans in homemade burritos or homemade barbecue chili, keep bags of dried beans in your pantry—they’re super affordable and go with pretty much anything.

6. Quinoa

Contrary to popular belief, quinoa is a seed not a grain, so it actually keeps two to three years past the expiration date. Though it lasts several years, you do need to keep quinoa in a cool, dry area or it could grow mold—and you should never eat quinoa that has grown mold. Quinoa is super filling and can be used in tons of dishes in place of less-healthy carbs. Make soups, salads, or protein bowls with this superfood.

7. Pure Vanilla Extract

Imitation vanilla extract will last you a while if you’re in a pinch (about two to four years), but we highly recommend finding a big bottle of pure vanilla extract. The high alcohol content of the extract makes it stay good indefinitely—just keep it away from heat and light and keep the cap tightly closed when not in use—so it’ll always be ready to use when you’re baking or cooking.

8. Soy Sauce

If you’re a fan of Asian food, don’t throw out your open bottles of soy sauce. Due to the large amounts of sodium, soy sauce can last over three years when stored properly. It keeps its flavor and freshness better when stored in the refrigerator, but it is safe to keep in the pantry as well. Save money on takeout by making your own stir-fry, Chinese chicken salad, or noodle dishes with your long-lasting soy sauce.

9. Apple Cider Vinegar

Due to its high acidity, apple cider vinegar can last for up to five years when stored in a cool, dry place (in the pantry or in the fridge) with the lid tightly closed. If you see a dark, cloudy substance in the bottom of your bottle, don’t worry—that’s just the “mother,” formed by naturally occurring pectin. The mother is actually the most nutritious part of the cider, so feel free to consume it! Add apple cider vinegar to soups and salad dressings for an acidic finish.

10. Dried Ramen

It might seem obvious, but dried ramen noodles will last for many years in your pantry, though the taste is best if consumed within a few years. The noodles are extremely dehydrated, so they don’t usually spoil. Use this cheap staple to make soup or cold noodle bowls.

11. Pure Maple Syrup

Unopened, pure maple syrup will last indefinitely if stored in the freezer (it won’t freeze solid) and up to several years if kept in the refrigerator. Syrup lacks water and is relatively acidic, which contributes to its long shelf life—though it can develop mold, in which case you should not consume it.

12. Baking Soda

One of the most versatile ingredients you can buy in bulk is baking soda. While not super exciting, this extremely cheap ingredient is perfect for making homemade toothpaste, freshening up your fridge, leavening anything you bake, washing your counters, and removing stains from your clothes. Stock up on baking soda and don’t throw it away because it will last you multiple years without going bad. You can test your baking soda to determine whether it’s still good: just add a few drops of vinegar to your baking soda and see if it bubbles.

Whether you’re a cash-strapped college student or just a conscious spender, every little bit helps. Buy these ingredients in bulk and enjoy them for years.

As with all food, check to make sure these ingredients haven’t spoiled before you eat them, and never eat food that has not been stored properly.

Image: RoBeDeRo

The post Ingredients to Buy in Bulk and Keep for Years appeared first on Credit.com.

7 Ways to Save Money That Could End Up Backfiring

Saving money is a noble goal. It can even become addictive, like a game. But if you’re not careful, your savings strategies might lead you to spend more money in the long run.

These seven stories will help remind you to always keep your long-term savings goal in mind. That way you aren’t blindsided by short-term “savings.”

Couponing

Source: iStock

Who hasn’t been enamored with the “Extreme Couponing” TV show, where people get carloads of groceries for free? They make coupons seem like the equivalent of cash dollars — but the only way you can use those dollars is to spend money first. This sets up a snag where overzealous consumers can easily be tricked into spending more money than they otherwise would have in the quest of using the Holy Coupon and their “savings.”

Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa, has some tips: “Coupons, Groupons, and vouchers of any kind that save you money on products, services, or experiences you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in are ones you should stay away from. Instead of clipping ‘interesting’ coupons from the Sunday circular or browsing Groupon when you’re bored, look for coupons on items you already intend to buy.”

Trying to save too much money

Source: iStock

Joseph Hogue, a chartered financial analyst and personal finance blogger, was in a familiar trap in his first professional job: He hated it and wanted to leave. So he tried saving up all of his cash so he could retire early.

“I fell into the financial equivalent of yo-yo dieting,” he says. He would take on as much work as possible before becoming burned out and blowing all of his hard-earned money in a spending spree.

He learned the hard way that it’s not enough just to make and save a ton of money. You also need to pace yourself, set realistic goals, and reward yourself along the way. Hogue’s advice? “Find something outside of work you enjoy doing to make all the effort and saving worthwhile.”

Growing your own vegetables

Source: iStock

Growing your own vegetables doesn’t seem like it would cost much money. Just throw some seeds in the ground and add water, right? Wrong.

Once you factor in everything you need to grow a garden — tools, soil amendments, fences, plants, hoses, etc. — costs can quickly spiral out of control. Still, you have to be careful about cutting corners. Joshua Crum, a personal finance blogger, found this out firsthand when he forgot to include wild-animal-proof fencing in his calculations. “I spent around $100 and tons of work on a garden. Wild animals came and ate everything I planted.”

If gardening is your thing, see if you can reduce your expenses by buying used equipment instead of new. Also consider planting cost-effective vegetables for the maximum return for your buck.

Not reading the fine print on a purchase

Source: iStock

There are a ton of ways to save money if you keep your eyes open. Receipt-scanning apps, rebates, sales, coupons, store loyalty cards — it’s a long list. The catch is that you have to carefully read the fine print so you can meet the requirements. Before you make a purchase with the intent of getting a rebate or some other discount, make sure you understand the terms and will actually benefit from the deal.

Mindy Jensen, community manager at BiggerPockets, recently found this out. She bought a ream of paper, expecting to use a rebate to have another free ream of paper shipped to her house. “I didn’t read the fine print, and the return was in the form of a store credit. I almost never shop there, so it was kind of a waste.”

In another incident she bought a bottle of alcohol specifically for a $5 rebate. “I have gotten in the habit of saying ‘No, thank you’ to receipts at the store, to save paper and the environment.” When she got home, she was stunned: “Guess what you need in order to get the rebate? A receipt. Of course, I felt like an idiot for not getting the receipt; having a proof that you purchased the product is a basic tenet to getting a rebate.”

Skimping on insurance

Source: iStock

No one likes paying their monthly insurance premium — until it comes time to make a claim.

According to Neil Richardson from the auto insurance comparison site The Zebra, getting just the minimum liability protection for your state “is simply too little financial protection to cover a number of common car insurance claims scenarios. People end up with huge bills because they wanted to save a few dollars off their premium.”

MagnifyMoney recommends checking what insurance options are available with your insurance broker. Ask yourself: Would you be able to fully cover the cost of any unfortunate events outside of the minimum coverage? If not, you might need to reconsider your insurance coverage.

Skipping doctor visits

Source: iStock

Going to the doctor is about as fun as stubbing your toe, not to mention being expensive. It’s pretty tempting to save some money by diagnosing yourself over the internet. Sometimes this works out, but it can have costly consequences if it doesn’t.

Abigail Perry, a personal finance blogger, once felt a urinary tract infection coming on but decided to treat it herself. It quickly turned into lower back pain, which was her signal that it was becoming more serious. She eventually ended up spending $75 to go to the emergency room, when a visit to her regular doctor would have had a $0 copay.

Perry’s advice is to “just go to the doctor. And if you can’t get an appointment there, find an urgent care clinic [rather than going to the emergency room, if possible]. Just be sure to bring a good book and a charge cord.”

Buying in bulk

Source: iStock

Smart shoppers know that the best way to save money is by looking at the per-unit price of each food item. This often means buying food in bulk. Even smarter shoppers know to take into account an item’s shelf life, so they can plan to use it before it goes bad.

But there’s more to it than that, like making sure you actually need what you’re buying. For example, Lisa Torres, a retired high school teacher, buys several boxes of Popsicles at a time when they go on sale during the hot New Hampshire summers. Buying Popsicles in bulk seems like a logical choice, because she’s going through a lot of them and they’ll keep for months. But Torres also likes buying fresh fruit in the summer, when some of her favorites are in season. When her family has both options as a snack, they tend to choose the Popsicles.

“The healthy fruit in the fridge goes bad because we are eating Popsicles instead of fruit,” she says. “And next week I have to buy more Popsicles.” Torres says she’s still working on making better buying decisions so she doesn’t waste food or money.

When buying in bulk, it’s always best to stop and think about whether you’ll be able to use all of the product, as well as if you have any alternatives at home. By keeping tabs on what you have at home and taking a minute to think before every purchase, you can successfully navigate these common savings pitfalls.

The post 7 Ways to Save Money That Could End Up Backfiring appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

What Should Your Teen Do With Their Summer Earnings

Source: iStock

According to a 2017 survey released by the National Financial Educators Council, 54% of respondents (all 18 years and older) said a course in money management in high school would benefit their lives. Another survey — the most recent from the Program for International Student Assessment — reports that only about 10% of U.S. 15-year-olds are proficient in personal finance matters, falling in the middle among the 15 countries studied. The message is clear: Young Americans need to learn more about money and managing it wisely. One way to start them off is giving them hands-on experience with their own money. Enter the summer job.

Having a summer job can be a good introduction to adulthood for many reasons: The discipline, submission to management, team work, and a regular paycheck are just a few of the things a teenager will get used to with their first summer job.

It’s also a good way to introduce kids to the real world of money. Though the money your teen earns is technically theirs, as a parent, you should use summer job earnings as an opportunity to help your kids form good habits with money. There’s no better time to show them the value of money than in the crucial years before they’ll be saddled with obligations like student loans, car notes, and mortgages.

Here are a few ways to make sure your teen will get the most out of their money-making experience that will keep them money savvy for years to come.

Pay their fair share

Once your teen begins making money, you’ll to want consider how they can begin to cover certain expenses. You’ll be tempted, no doubt, to let your teen keep their hard-earned money for themselves. Trust this process. If the goal is to raise money-smart kids who become even savvier adults, there will have to be simulations of the real world that include actually paying for things

If your teen uses the car, consider having them cover a portion or all of their car insurance bill. Another option is to have them contribute to their cellphone bill or even some of the Wi-Fi they use.

Having expenses is a real part of life, so it’s better to help them understand that now rather than later when ignorance isn’t so blissful.

If the thought of making your child pay for expenses bothers you, consider a different approach: Teach them about the costs of everyday life by asking them to cover their portion of a bill, but take that money and put it away for them. You can save up all that money and, as a nice gesture, give it to them when they need it most, like when they go away to college or finally leave the nest to launch out into the real world.

Open bank accounts

Source: iStock

While many families do not have access to or elect not to participate in the traditional banking system — it’s estimated that 27% of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked — you’d ideally want to get your teen familiar with banks and how they work. Though check use has been on the decline since the mid-1990s, it’s still important for teens to learn how to write a check, along with keeping a checkbook register. Sure, this practice probably won’t last long, as electronic payments and money management apps continue to grow, but this approach gives your kids the gist of how to keep track of their cash flow.

While your teen has a bank account, you’ll also get them used to understanding how a debit card works. They’ll get familiar with how easy it is to swipe for things they want, yet how difficult it can be to replenish their account with the money they’re making at their job.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that your teen opens a savings account. In most states, a person can open a bank account when they become 18. For younger teens, many banks have special teen or kid accounts that a child can share with their parents. Co-owned checking accounts can be opened as young as 13, while custodial savings accounts can be opened at any age.

Developing good habits around saving and managing money takes time and some getting used to. So using their summer earnings would be a perfect opportunity to get into the groove of budgeting for expenses and managing money through a bank account.

Set money goals

Once money starts to flow into your kid’s hands, seize the moment and get them to see the bigger picture. Summer money is great, but paying for life will take much more than what your teen earns from a few hours of work in a bike shop. Begin to show them the cost of things like college, cars, homes, and luxuries like vacations or hobbies.

Once you compare the costs with their summer job earnings, it should help them come to conclusions about how money works: The more you have, the more you can do. The idea is to inspire them to increase their earning potential with tools like education or savings to invest in income-producing assets.

Another result of these conversations could be your teen realizing they’ll want to start saving up for life sooner than later. They may decide to put away money for the purpose of paying for school or their first condo.

Ron Lieber, New York Times financial columnist and author of the book The Opposite of Spoiled, says parents should prompt their kids with an immediate goal like having a college fund. “The best thing to do is to use any earnings to begin a conversation with parents about college, if your teen plans on going,” Lieber says.

Lieber suggests questions to guide the conversation:

  • How much of your college expenses will be covered by parents versus the child?
  • How much have the parents saved for the child’s college expenses?
  • How much are kids/parents willing to borrow or spend out of their current income?

According to Lieber, “The answers to these questions may cause a teen to save everything, if they think it will help them avoid debt in their effort to attend their dream college.”

No matter how temporary their summer job is, you’d do well to use it as a springboard for more conversations about money. Whatever their long-term money goals are, it’s never a bad idea to start working toward them early on.

Learn compound interest

While your teen is making all of those big money goals, you could drive the point home with a lesson in compound interest. Using a compound interest calculator, you can show your teenager many scenarios where interest can either work for or against them.

Run scenarios around savings for big-ticket items versus financing them. The math will speak volumes:

*Example APRs are used. APR will vary on factors like individual credit score, loan amount, and bank requirements.

In the above scenario, you’d end up paying a total of $226,815 in interest. That same amount ($226,815) invested for 30 years with a moderate 3.5% return yields over $636,000!

Seeing these numbers in action should motivate your teen to start a savings habit that they will maintain throughout adulthood.

If they are really excited about the prospects of compound interest working on their behalf, encourage them to open their own IRA to begin investing themselves. This way, they’ll not only understand the theory of investing but also get hands-on experience with it. After all, the time value of money works even better when you’ve got more time. Investing as a teen could set the stage for copious returns later on in life.

Create a budget

Making money can be the fun, somewhat easy part of a summer job. Figuring out how to spend it can be difficult. Make your teen prioritize needs and wants by learning to create a budget. A good practice would be to have your teen make a list of things they’ll spend money on versus how much money they will bring in. You could also introduce them to a money-management app — here are some of the best ones.

This will help them understand the finite nature of money and how their current cash flow stacks up against their current earnings.

Have fun

According to Brian Hanks, a certified financial planner in Salt Lake City, “Don’t be concerned if your teen ‘blows’ a portion of their earnings on things you consider to be worthless.” Hanks goes on to say that it’s better to make money mistakes as a youngster: “Everyone needs to learn tough money lessons in life, and learning them as a teen when the consequences are relatively small can save bigger heartache down the road.”

A summer job should be fun and low-stress, but it can also be used as a learning experience that prepares your teen for the real world. If your teen turns out to be a terrible budgeter or extreme spendthrift, give them more than a summer to learn better ways. Remember, they’ll have the rest of their lives to continue grasping and mastering money concepts.

The post What Should Your Teen Do With Their Summer Earnings appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

15+ Apps That Help You Make Money

Need extra money? Your mobile device could actually unlock a world of additional income for you. There are many ways to earn money online, and they are now conveniently available on smartphones and tablet devices. Add an internet connection, and you’re set. Pursuing a side hustle can be time consuming, but if you’ve got a financial goal like getting out of debt or saving up for a down payment on a home, these apps could be a good start to boosting to your income. All the apps here are free to use via web browser and/or mobile device.

Surveys

Swagbucks

Devices: Android, iOS

The Swagbucks iOS app. Source: iTunes.

Swagbucks is a popular survey website with a couple of app counterparts (discussed below), including Swagbucks Local and SB Answers. By taking surveys, you accumulate points called Swagbucks, not actual money. These surveys usually ask about your demographics, preferences, and behaviors on topics like cereal you eat, places you shop, TV shows you watch, and other lifestyle choices. Plan to spend 15-30 minutes on each survey, though there are occasionally seven- to 10-minute surveys.

In terms of how the conversions work, one Swagbuck is about 1 cent, and you can redeem them for gift cards to places like Amazon, Starbucks, and popular retailers like Walmart and Target. You even have the option to donate your Swagbucks to more than 10 charities featured on the site.

So, how good are the payouts? A three-minute survey could offer you five Swagbucks or approximately 5 cents. A 20-minute survey pays out 80 cents on average. However, many people earn much more with the Swagbucks referral program: 500 Swagbucks (worth $5) per person once the referral is active. Plus, you’ll get 10% of your referrals’ point earnings over the lifetime of their account.

You have a few options to earn Swagbucks on your mobile device:

Surveys On The Go

Devices: Android, iOS

The Surveys On The Go iOS app. Source: iTunes

Surveys On The Go allows users to take various surveys with pretty decent payouts: You’ll get surveys for between 25 cents and $1. However, be prepared to spend time on these surveys. You can spend 15-20 minutes completing them (or more).

There also aren’t always a lot of surveys available. I’ve logged in a few times and found there were no surveys for me. The survey availability will depend on your demographic and even location. Sometimes, there are high-paying surveys ($15-$20), but it’s hard to tell when and where that will happen.

There’s no way to know how often there will be surveys available, but you can choose to receive app notifications when there is a new survey you qualify for.

Unlike Swagbucks, these surveys offer you actual money. You’ll need to earn $10 before you get a payment via PayPal. A nice thing about this app is that you get a consolation compensation of 10 cents if you start a survey and are not qualified to complete it.

InboxDollars

Devices: Android, iOS

InboxDollars iOS app. Source: iTunes

Much like Surveys On The Go, InboxDollars offers cash rewards. The app also offers “sweep” points, which allow you enter sweepstakes for more sweeps, money, or other prizes.

This app usually has plenty of surveys to take, though they are not all optimized for mobile viewing. At times, the interface can be a little wonky and a tad clunky to navigate.

You should also know that you can get deep into a survey (say, 5-15 minutes) only to be disqualified because of your answers. Your hourly “wage” comes out to be pretty low considering you make anywhere from 20-25 cents per 20-30 minutes spent answering questions. You cannot request a payout from the app until you’ve reached the $30 minimum. A $3 processing fee applies to every payment request. Your payment options include a check, gift card from Target or Kohl’s, or a prepaid Visa card (the latter two options available to Gold members only.)

Other survey apps to explore include Panel App, QuickThoughts, and SurveyMini. Overall, if you are looking to make a living wage from taking surveys, you likely won’t come close. With payouts that amount to just a few cents an hour, you’re better off with other ways to produce extra income (unless there’s absolutely nothing else you can do to earn).

Fitness

What’s better than losing unwanted inches? Getting paid for it. There are a few apps that allow you to convert your fitness activity into financial benefits. As always, you’ll want to consult your physician before starting any fitness program.

DietBet

Devices: Android, iOS

DietBet iOS app. Source: iTunes

DietBet allows you to turn your fitness goals into money. In order to enter a bet, you have to put money up front in a game that pools the money of other people with weight-loss goals. Those who make their goals win the bet and split up the pot (minus DietBet’s 10%-25% fee) that is paid out by those who don’t make their goals. WayBetter, the company behind DietBet, also has a StepBet app that offers similar games where you put down money when you set activity goals and win the bet if you meet them.

On DietBet, you can participate in a short, four-week challenge called a Kickstarter or a six-month game called a Transformer. You can be in multiple bets at a time to maximize your earnings. The company says Kickstarter winners get back an average of 1.5-two times their bet, while the average Transformer winner takes home $325 for winning all six rounds, or $175 for winning just the final round.

DietBet and StepBet have a No Lose Guarantee, which states that if you win, you will not lose money. They’ll forfeit their cut of the pot to make this happen. Of course, if you don’t win, you don’t get anything, so there’s potential to lose money here. The average Kickstarter bet size is $30, and Transformer costs $25 a month (or $125 up front).

Sweatcoin

Devices: Android, iOS

Sweatcoin iOS app. Source: iTunes

The Sweatcoin app converts your outdoor steps into currency called Sweatcoins (SWCs), which you can redeem for products like watches, fitness apparel, and gift cards. Currently, you’ll earn .95 SWCs for every 1,000 steps you complete. The exact conversion of these coins seems to change depending on the reward: Past promotions include a $12 smoothie gift card for 150 SWCs, a $120 Actofit watch for 1,600 SWCs, and a $88 VICI Life gift card for 250 SWCs.

The items available for purchase with Sweatcoins are limited and change often based on availability and the company’s promotional schedule. This app requires access to your GPS data and location in order to verify that your steps are taken outside.

Shopping

There are many apps that reward you for doing something you’d do anyway — shop. Here’s how most of these apps work: If you purchase a product, the app developer usually gets commissions on purchases you make at their suggestion, which they split with you. In this way, they can provide you with rewards that literally pay you for shopping.

Ibotta

Devices: Android, iOS

Ibotta iOS app. Source: iTunes

Ibotta offers rebates for buying certain products in nearby stores. Once you let it access your geodata, you’ll find deals on items at retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, Costco, and more.

Sometimes the deals are super product-specific, and other times you can see generic items like milk or eggs offered with a chance to get 25 cents back. In order to get your rewards, you’ll have to scan the item’s barcode with your phone’s camera and snap a picture of the receipt. You’ll then submit these through the app.

This can be somewhat time consuming. For example, the receipt can be long, requiring a few pictures, or you could accidentally throw away the packaging (which I’ve done on a few occasions).

This is another app with a generous referral bonus: You get $5, while your referral gets $10. You accrue referral bonuses and rebates in your Ibotta account and can request payouts via PayPal, Venmo, or a featured gift card once you meet the $20 threshold.

Ebates

Devices: Android, iOS

Ebates iOS app. Source: iTunes

Similar to Ibotta, Ebates gives you rewards for shopping through their portal and purchasing featured items, but Ebates also offers discounts. There are popular stores like Loft, Tom’s, JCPenney, Macy’s, and more. You’ll get your earnings via PayPal every three months (unless you’ve accrued less than $5.01.)

Ebates also has a great referral program. The payouts change from time to time, so you’ll need to check their referral program page for current payouts. At the moment, when you refer one friend who makes a minimum $25 purchase, you’ll get a $5 bonus, while your friend gets $10 added to their account balance after their first purchase.

Shopkick

Devices: Android, iOS

Shopkick iOS app. Source: iTunes

Shopkick pays its users points called Kicks for a variety of shopping activities.

When you open the app, it detects your location and shows you a list of nearby retailers and products that can help you earn Kicks. If you allow the app to access your GPS data, you’ll hear a cha-ching sound when you get close to a participating retailer.

Shopkick is set up to show you the best deals and popular products from retailers like Best Buy, American Eagle, Yankee Candle, and many more.

Kicks can be redeemed for gift cards to places like Best Buy, Starbucks, and Target. The referral program offers 250 Kicks for each friend who signs up and completes their first in-store action.

In terms of the conversion rate, 250 Kicks equals $1 for most rewards. You’ll need to check the rewards section of the app for conversions on specific items.

Gig economy

If you’ve got time and a certain skill set, you can make money helping someone nearby. The apps below are variations of the Uber-like work arrangement we are all getting more familiar with. Given the higher earning potential these opportunities offer, they also require more commitment: Before you can start earning money through these kinds of apps, you may have to submit an application and agree to a background check.

TaskRabbit

Devices: Android, iOS

TaskRabbit iOS app. Source: iTunes

TaskRabbit allows you to complete small tasks like errands, cleaning, or handyman work for people nearby. As a “tasker” you can choose the types of tasks you’ll complete, your rates, and your own schedule. There’s no minimum to the amount of work you can do; however, the site explains that you cannot invoice for jobs that are under one hour. TaskRabbit takes 30% of your earnings and is available in 39 U.S. metro areas.

The application process is straightforward but stringent. In addition to your general demographics, you’ll need to verify your account with official identification like a driver’s license. You will also need to complete a background check. The TaskRabbit website explains that the company receives a large amount of registrations and cannot give you a timeline on when you’ll be approved.

Fortunately, once you get going, it’s pretty easy to see tasks available, accept them, and even invoice your clients. Although earnings for individual taskers vary due to a number of factors, a report by Priceonomics puts the average monthly earnings are around $380.

GoShare

Devices: Android, iOS

GoShare iOS app. Source: iTunes

GoShare is an app for people who need moving and delivery help. You can earn money with this app if you have a vehicle for large deliveries and can lift heavy items. However, GoShare is only available in nine cities among three states: California, Georgia, and New Jersey.

GoShare users can also work with large retailers to help unload shipments and deliver items to customers. For example, someone who ordered a refrigerator from Home Depot could request a GoShare driver to deliver it.

If you live in one of the areas GoShare serves, you can apply to be a driver. Potential earnings vary by vehicle type: The website says someone who drives a small pickup truck could earn up to $47.52 an hour, while someone with a cargo van can earn up to $61.92 an hour.

Uber/Lyft

Devices: Android, iOS

Left: Uber iOS app. Right: Lyft iOs app. Source: iTunes

Probably the most popular of the bunch, Uber and Lyft offer people the opportunity to use their own car to drive people around and get paid for it. Rates are typically set by the company and depend on your location, time of day, type of car you have, whether or not a passenger will share a ride with other passengers, and a few other factors. Uber is in more than 630 cities around the world, and Lyft is in more than 550 U.S. cities.

Chime

Devices: iOS

Chime iOS app. Source: iTunes

Chime is a division of the popular child care site, Sittercity. Chime is a mobile app designed for people who need quick connections for child care. Again, the premise is: I’m available, you need help, let’s connect with this app. Chime is available in Boston, Chicago, New York City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

According to Chime, all sitters are thoroughly vetted and have completed a background check as well as undergone ID verification. The hourly rate is set according to your local market starting from around $15-$18 per hour.

Rover

Devices: Android, iOS

Rover iOS app. Source: iTunes

The Rover app is like Chime but allows users to look for and offer house-sitting and pet care services. Once you apply to be a sitter, your profile, if accepted, takes about five days to be approve. (Note: You can opt to complete a background check through a third party, but it’s not necessary.) You should also know that you get to set your own rates for services.

Once you agree upon a price with your client and complete a job, your client pays through the Rover app. Those funds are released to you within 48 hours, less the 15% transaction fee Rover deducts. Your payments stay in your Rover account until you withdraw them.

A community forum thread on the Rover website puts part-time earnings at $500-$1,000 per month.

GreenPal

Devices: Android, iOS

GreenPal iOS app. Source: iTunes

There are a few Uber-like apps for lawn care, and GreenPal is just one of them. The only issue is that some of these apps don’t have enough users to make it worthwhile for either service seekers or gig workers (GreenPal currently serves 12 U.S. cities).

As a vendor, you’ll apply through the company’s website. Part of the vetting process is passing a criminal background check, providing client references, and confirming that you have proper lawn care equipment.

Once you are approved as a lawn care provider, you’ll get notifications of nearby jobs. You are able to upload photos of your finished work (kind of like a lawn care portfolio), and then your client will rate you.

Depending on your location and market, expect to bid anywhere from $25-$45 per job. GreenPal takes a 3% transaction fee when your client pays you.

If you have a financial goal in mind and need more earning options, apps like these can certainly help. Just remember to weigh the value of your time against the potential of earning more money before you commit to chasing income this way.

The post 15+ Apps That Help You Make Money appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends

Everyone has those New Year’s resolutions that, even with the best intentions, seem to fall by the wayside. While it might be too late for some, there’s still plenty of time left in 2017 to fulfill your financial goals.

Courtney Lindwall, 24, an editor in New York City, says she set out at the beginning of this year to spend less money eating out. While she’s been better lately, she says she didn’t start working toward the goal right away.

“Around March, I was finally like, ‘Enough,’ and have been a little stricter about it,” she says.

In fact, mid-year is the perfect time to re-evaluate your financial situation and find new motivation for saving, says Catalina Franco-Cicero, director of financial wellness and a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Clubs of America.

“We could all say that we get really excited at the beginning of the year,” Franco-Cicero says. “Then come summertime, we think, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t do anything. I really want to get remotivated.’”

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says he also recommends reassessing financial goals mid-year. Making financial resolutions at the new year almost seems to “curse” them, he says, and there are many events to plan for financially in the second half of the year, such as back-to-school season and the holidays.

Here are five areas to evaluate to help you become more fiscally fit in the last half of 2017.

1. Put together a status report

You need to understand your financial situation in order to set goals for improving it. Finding the money to save or pay off debt can seem doubly daunting if you don’t know how you’re spending your money each day.

Evaluate the last six months’ worth of your expenses and income so you can plan for the rest of the year. McClary suggests reviewing the following things:

  • Your budget: Determine how much you’re spending each month on your home, car, food, and other living expenses.
  • Your debts: Make a list of all your debts, how much you owe on each one, the interest rates, and any pay schedules.
  • Your savings: Take stock of your savings accounts, including retirement accounts and emergency fund. Also think of things you would like to save for.
  • Your credit score. (If you’re not sure how, you can check out our guide to getting your free credit score.)

“Really give yourself a full picture of your financial situation so you can then go in and identify your best ways to save,” McClary says.

2. Dig into your spending habits

Once you have a high-level view of your finances, take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Franco-Cicero says she uses Mint, a money management tool, with her clients to help them categorize their transactions — a process people can easily turn into a habit.

Then, evaluate your discretionary spending to see what’s not necessary or where you can cut back. For example, consider reducing the amount you spend on subscription services or dining out and use the savings to pay off debt or to boost a savings account.

One thing to remember is seasonal expenses, like heating and cooling, McClary says.

“You want to make sure you’re making adjustments to your budget, while at the same time, being mindful of the expense categories that can change on a seasonal basis,” he says.

3. Reassess your credit card situation

A key step in reassessing your debt is taking a look at how much of a balance you carry on credit cards each month, how much you’re paying off each month, and how long it will take you to become debt free at that rate. You can figure this out with a credit card payoff calculator.

“Say [to yourself], ‘Hey, if I continue at the rate that I am going, will I ever be debt free?’” Franco-Cicero says.

Then create a plan to pay off your debt. McClary says the most important thing is to craft it around what motivates you the most. For example, if paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate motivates you, focus on that. If paying off the card with the lowest balance motivates you more, check that off first.

And even if it seems impossible to pay it off, he says there are benefits to chipping away at your credit card balance: Your minimum payments could go down, and using less of your credit line can help your credit score.

4. Start saving for something

We all know that we should be saving, whether it is for an emergency, retirement, or vacation. However, 23% of Americans don’t save any of their income, and only 38% report making good progress toward their savings needs, according to a 2017 survey from the Consumer Federation of America.

One of the best ways to become fiscally fit is to start saving for something that motivates you. You’re more likely to stick with saving toward a goal that you set for yourself, Franco-Cicero says.

If you don’t know where to start, she recommends a so-called “curveball” account.

“Curveball” accounts are similar to emergency funds in that they can help you cover unexpected expenses. The difference is that your “curveball” account would be used for things like replacing the worn-out tires on your car versus using your emergency fund to repair a blown transmission.

Now is also a good time to focus on saving for a house, McClary says, because you’ll have six to eight months to save before the next home-buying season. You can plan how much you need to save by looking at your existing savings, the cost of buying in your desired neighborhood, your debt-to-income ratio, and your credit standing.

No matter what you’re saving toward, McClary says an ambitious goal would be to save 20% of your monthly income between now and December.

If you make $2,000 a month after taxes, that means you would put about $400 toward savings each month. If you start in August, you could save $2,000 toward your goal by the end of the year.

5. Stick to your plan

Establishing where you are and where you want to be is only half of the battle when it comes to being fiscally fit by the end of 2017. Sticking with your action plan, as with all resolutions, can be the toughest part.

To be successful, Franco-Cicero suggests automating everything you can, from paying your bills each month to putting money into your savings account. This way, you don’t have to think about making sure a portion of your paycheck goes toward savings — your bank account will do it for you.

Franco-Cicero also says you should find a “money buddy” who knows your goals and can help you stay on track. Be sure to find someone who also has a financial goal and who will stick to a schedule so you can check in with each other. It’s a good idea to pick someone with whom you feel comfortable talking about money, not someone who you feel passes judgment on your purchases.

“We can be very lenient with ourselves, so you’ve got to find somebody who will hold you accountable,” she says.

Lindwall has had success following a similar approach. She says cooking more at home with her boyfriend has helped her stay on track toward her goal of eating out less.

“The biggest thing is getting someone else on board to do less expensive things with you,” she says.

The post 5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Why Banks Are Still Being Stingy With Savings and CD Rates

Mike Stuckey is a classic “rate chaser,” moving money around every few months to earn better interest on his savings. Lately, that has meant parking cash in three-month CDs at a rather meager of 1% or so, then rolling them over, hoping rates sneak up a little more each time.

“It’s at least something on large balances and keeps you poised to catch the rising tide,” says the 60-year-old Seattle-area resident.

Rate chasers like Stuckey still don’t have much to chase, however. The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rates four times since December 2015, and banks have correspondingly increased the rates they charge some customers to borrow, but many still aren’t passing along the increases to savers.

Why? There’s an unlikely answer: Banking consumers are simply saving too much money. Banks are “flush” in cash, hidden away in savings accounts by risk-averse consumers, says Ken Tumin, co-founder of DepositAccounts.com. Bank of America announced in its latest quarterly earnings report its average deposits are up 9% in the past year, for example – despite the bank’s dismal rates.

“In that situation, there’s less of a need to raise deposit rates,” Tumin says. “In the last couple of years, we are seeing deposits grow faster than loans.”

Banks don’t give away something for nothing, of course. They only raise rates when they need to attract more cash so they can lend more cash.

As a result, savings rates remain stubbornly slow to rise. How slow? Average rates “jumped” from 0.184% in June to 0.185% in July, according to DepositAccounts.com. (Disclosure: DepositAccounts.com is a subsidiary of LendingTree Inc., which is also the parent company of MagnifyMoney.com.)

And while the average yield on CD rates is the highest it’s been in five years, no one is getting rich off of them. Average one-year CD rates have “soared” from 0.482% in April 2016 to 0.567% in July. Locking up money long term doesn’t help much either – five-year CD rates are up from 1.392% to 1.504%.

There’s another reason savings and CD rates remain low, something economists call asynchronous price adjustment. That’s a fancy way of saying that companies are more price-sensitive than consumers.

It’s why gas stations are quicker to raise prices than lower prices as the price of oil goes up or down. Same for airline tickets. Consumers eventually catch on, but it takes them longer. So for now, banks are enjoying a little extra profit as they raise the cost of lending but keep their cost of cash relatively flat.

Holding Out for 2%

There have been some breakouts, however, most notably among internet-only banks. They have traditionally offered higher rates than classic brick-and-mortar banks, and now, they are more sensitive to rate changes, Tumin says. Goldman Sachs Bank USA, the Wall Street firm’s push into retail banking, announced in June it would offer 1.2% interest to savings depositors. The bank is working hard to attract new customers. Soon after, Ally Bank announced higher rates at 1.15%.

“Internet banks are always more sensitive to changes in the economy and at the Fed. Also, internet bank account holders tend to be more rate sensitive,” Tumin says.

“I remember in 2005-2006 we were seeing a 25 or 50 basis point upward movement,” says Tumin. Now we are looking at a 5 or 10 basis point improvement.” He expects that trend – stingy rate increases – to continue for the foreseeable future.

When will more consumers sit up and notice higher savings rates – and perhaps start pulling cash out of big banks, putting pressure on them to join the party?

“I think 2% will be a big milestone,” Tumin says. “That will be a big change we haven’t seen in five years.”

If you’re really frustrated by low rates from traditional savings accounts and CDs, Tumin recommends considering high-yield checking accounts, a relatively new creation. These accounts can earn consumers up to 4%-5% on a limited balance – perhaps on the first $25,000 deposited. The accounts come with strings attached, however, such as a minimum number of debit card transactions each month.

“If you don’t mind a little extra work … you are rewarded nicely,” Tumin says.

Time to Ditch Your Savings Account?

For that kind of change, is rate chasing worth it?

For perspective, a 0.1% interest rate increase (10 basis points) on $10,000 is worth only about $10 annually.

It’s, of course, up to consumers whether or not the promise of a little more cash in their savings accounts is worth the effort of closing one account and opening another.

Stuckey says rate chasing doesn’t have to be hard.

“I don’t really find it anything to manage at all,” he says. “(My CDs) are in a Schwab IRA, so I have access to hundreds of choices. They mature at various times, and Schwab always sends a notice, so I just buy another one.”

The low-rate environment has impacted Stuckey’s retirement planning, but he’s philosophical about it.

“I have mixed feelings. In 2008, as I planned to retire, I was getting 5.5% and more in money market accounts. High-quality bonds paid 6 and 7%. So lower rates have had an effect on my finances,” Stuckey says. “But … it has been nice to see young people able to afford nice homes because of the low rates. My first mortgage started at 10.5%.”

The post Why Banks Are Still Being Stingy With Savings and CD Rates appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

7 Ways to Manage Money Better than Your Parents Did

Don't let your parents' bad habits become yours. Here's how to do money the right way.

Every generation has their own habits when it comes to money. Whether it was our parents stashing cash in paint cans or their bedroom mattresses, or our great grandparents balking at investing after the Great Depression, generational events help mold how we manage our lives.

Sometimes it’s a good thing. Learning to be frugal after living through hard times can leave you better off, for example. Then again, some financial habits from decades ago have absolutely left people worse off.

If your goal is avoiding many of the financial pitfalls your parents (or their parents) fell into, you should strive to learn positive money habits while unlearning any lessons that stifle wealth.

I spoke to several financial planners to hear their thoughts on how the younger generation can do better than their parents. (Full Disclosure: I am also a certified financial planner.) Here’s what they said.

1. Avoid Placing Blind Trust in Financial Advisors

Your parents and their parents likely met with a financial planner during their lives. They didn’t have as much information at their disposal as we do today, so they hired professional help.

Unfortunately, many placed too much trust in the financial professionals they hired. Without much oversight, old school financial advisors were able to line their own pockets at their client’s expense, usually by selling them high-cost investments with low returns they didn’t understand.

To avoid falling victim to bad advice, you should learn as much about investing as you can, says Colorado financial advisor Matthew Jackson of Solid Wealth Advisors.

“Dedicate yourself to learn about investing so you can make educated decisions about your retirement rather than risk being led down a wrong and costly path,” Jackson said.

“In the age of technology, educating yourself about finances can be free and done in the comfort of your own home,” he continued.

You should still consider hiring a financial advisor, however. Just don’t trust them blindly. Brian Hanks, a financial advisor and author of How to Buy a Dental Practice said  your best step is to find an independent, helpful, fee-only advisor who is paid a flat fee to offer comprehensive advice.

By avoiding advisors who are paid commissions for the investments they sell, you can ensure you’re getting unbiased advice meant to benefit you.

2. Diversify Your Investments

Many people from the older generation have a narrow view of what it means to invest. Unfortunately, they tend to believe their way is the best way – even if it’s not the best way for their kids.

“If the parents are risk averse, they tell their kids to save their money in bank CDs, pay down debt, and avoid things like equities,” said financial advisor Joseph A. Azzopardi of The Well Planned Retirement. “If the family’s wealth was primarily made in private business, they encourage their children to focus their capital on business ownership.”

While many of these strategies can be successful when it comes to building wealth, there is no single best strategy. That’s why Azzopardi and many other advisors suggest their clients diversify instead of putting all their eggs in one basket.

“Diversifying a family’s balance sheet is a valuable way to lower overall risk and create multiple sources of income,” he said.

3. Switch Employers When it Benefits You

Our parent’s generation was strikingly loyal to a single employer, often to their detriment. Even when they had the opportunity to make more money, they often eschewed that option based on a misguided sense of duty.

“Many people just put their heads down and went to work every day, never thinking that there might be a better opportunity across the street,” says financial planner for business owners, Grant Bledsoe.

While loyalty is admirable, the advice to stick with a single employer for life is rather outdated today.

“You can be loyal to your employer of course, but need to be more strategic about your career advancement,” says Bledsoe. “You can really boost your earnings by continuing to improve your skill set and taking calculated risks along the way.”

4. Plan for a Lengthy Retirement

These days, people are living significantly longer. For the younger generation, that means we need to save up more cash to retire.

“As life expectancy continues to grow, present and future retirees will need to plan for a retirement that could span the course of several decades,” said Seattle Financial Advisor Josh Brein.

Whether you sit down with a financial advisor or plan your investments yourself, make sure you’re planning for a lengthy and expensive retirement. According to the Social Security Administration, men and women who reach the age of 65 can expect to live until ages 84.3 and 86.6, respectively.

5. Put Your Own Financial Health First

Our parents placed a lot of faith in higher education, so much so that many worked hard to pay for their children’s college education while neglecting their own retirement needs. This is a mistake, said financial advisor Joe Carbone of Focus Planning Group.

No matter what, you should remember you can’t borrow money for retirement. And, once you reach retirement age and find you’re short on cash, it’s too late.

6. Learn Basic Financial Education Early

In many families, the topic of money has always been taboo. You don’t speak of it because it’s “rude,” or because it’s an adult topic that shouldn’t be discussed with the kids.

But, not talking about money can be devastating for young people who reach adulthood without basic financial knowledge. Because of this, most financial advisors agree today’s parents should teach their kids money basics like budgeting and how to manage credit scores.

“Let’s face it, it almost completely falls on the parents to be the money professor since it’s rarely touched upon in our education system,” said Kansas City Financial Planner Clint Haynes.

If you don’t teach your kids about money, you can expect them to learn their lessons the hard way.

7. Build a Lifestyle That Doesn’t Require Debt

Today’s climate of cheap and easy credit started decades ago. Unfortunately, many of our parents embraced the idea of borrowing money to buy things they couldn’t afford.

This has led to the acceptance of ideas like the “perpetual car payment” and huge mortgages.

Albuquerque financial planner Jose Sanchez said his dad fell into the trap of financing an expensive car long ago when car loans first came into play. After getting his first job, he went out and bought a new 1968 Camaro, mostly because he thought “he deserved it.” But, after having kids and settling into working life, he realized the purchase was more of a financial burden than he thought.

Today’s workers would be wise to reject the easy credit atmosphere that is so prevalent today. The less money you owe, the more options you have.

And when it comes to building a life you truly love, the more options you have, the better off you’ll be.

Image: Zinkevych

The post 7 Ways to Manage Money Better than Your Parents Did appeared first on Credit.com.