39 Ways to Do March Madness on the Cheap

March Madness doesn't have to break the bank. Here are easy ways to save money while following college basketball's biggest event.

The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament is almost here. It’s the biggest event in college hoops, and following the unpredictable 68-team tournament can lead to big costs for hardcore fans. The average fan spends about $211 on March Madness expenses, according to Sara Skirboll, a shopping and trends expert for RetailMeNot, a shopping deals website.

However, there are ways of enjoying March Madness to the fullest without going over your entertainment budget for March (or April). We’ve tried to cover them all here, whether you’re looking to save on tickets so you can see a game or two live, watching at home, showing your team spirit or even putting together a competitive bracket. (Have more ideas? Let us know in the comments.)

1. Shop Around for Deals on Apparel

Looking for your favorite team’s gear? Skirboll said sporting goods retailers often offer discounts leading up to the tournament, sometimes with free shipping. Skirboll also suggested following specific retailers on social media or subscribing to their newsletters for the chance at more deals.

2. Take Advantage of Discounts on Food

For those hosting March Madness viewing parties, you may want to shop around for discounts on refreshments. See if your local pizza joint offers a discount, especially if it’s a big chain, Skirboll said.

3. Make a Party Budget

Your National Championship Party might not be as big of an event as your Super Bowl party was, but you’ll still want to make a realistic budget and stick to it.

4. Limit Your Guest List

This may also help cut down on disputes on whether or not Duke is the worst.

5. Ask People to Bring Food & Drinks

Call it a potluck and you might end up with leftovers for days. That’s a win, even if your team loses. (To help, you may want to check out these tips on how to save on groceries.)

6. Don’t Put All Your Money on Your Bracket

It’s fun to put together a bracket, but you don’t want to blow your budget by putting too much money down. The NCAA reports that the odds of picking a perfect bracket — and this is a lowball — are one in 128 billion.

7. Change Your Cable Plan

CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV are carrying all the games (all of these except CBS are on cable). So you may want to consider one of these six ways to save on your cable bill.

8Go Old School

CBS is airing the biggest games of the tournament — the Final Four and National Championship — so you can watch them without a cable package. Dennis Restauro, who writes about ditching cable on Grounded Reason, said you can buy an antenna (runs about $20) to get the channel.

9. Cut the Cord

There are several services that let you stream live TV without signing up for cable, many of which don’t have an annual contract. Some even offer free trials so you can sign up just for the tournament, if you time it right.

10. Just Get the Channel You Want

Another way to watch CBS is to get CBS All Access, available on multiple devices. This airs the local CBS affiliate in more than 150 markets, but it does come at a price: $5.99 a month with commercials and $9.99 a month commercial-free.

11. Follow Along With Free Apps

There are countless March Madness apps out there, but we narrowed it down to eight of the most useful apps for following March Madness for free. The NCAA March Madness Live app carries every game live. (Note: You need a cable subscription to watch the games broadcast on networks other than CBS.)

12. Phone a Friend

If you really want to avoid paying to watch games, you can just visit a friend. Make sure to buy them a six-pack or pizza if you plan on mooching off their cable subscription.

13. Visit the Bar

You can also patronize your local sports bar to watch games. The proprietors will look on you more kindly if you actually order food and/or drinks. You should also leave a decent tip if you’ll be hanging out watching hoops all day.

14. Take a Math Professor’s Bracket Advice

Tim Chartier, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Davidson College, in Davidson, North Carolina, leads a sports analytics group that has worked on several projects for fantasy sports websites and conducts analysis for Davidson sports teams. His first tip: Be wary of picking seeds lower than 10 to go far. Very few of these teams win more than four games.

15. Weigh Your Odds

If teams from weaker conferences play tough against out-of-conference teams, Chartier said, it could be a sign they have what it takes to make a run.

16. When Calling an Upset, Pick the Right Seeds

Calling upsets can be the key to winning your office pool. Teams seeded 10, 11 or 12 account for 76% of all upsets, Chartier said. Teams seeded 12th account for 27% of upsets alone.

17. But Pick a High Seed to Win It All

Don’t rock the boat too much when you’re picking a champion. Over the past 15 years, every tournament winner except one has been a 1, 2 or 3 seed, Chartier said. The only exception was Connecticut, seeded 7th.

18. Pay Attention to Strength of Schedule

Don’t just look at winning percentage, Chartier said. To get the edge on your workmates, pick teams that not only win, but win against good teams. Avoid teams that lose against weak teams, even if it was close.

19. Pick Teams on Good Runs

Also look at recent performances, Chartier said. A team with momentum can usually carry it into the tournament.

20. See Who Can String Wins Together

See which teams have gone on big winning streaks, Chartier said. After all, winning the tournament is simply a matter of going on a six-game winning streak.

21. Pick Road Warriors

A team’s road record is also important, Chartier said. “March Madness is one long stretch of away games,” he said. “How does a team do winning on the road?”

22. Location, Location, Location

Nate Rattner, an analyst for ticket search engine SeatGeek, said location plays a big role in prices. Tickets for games where teams are close to home and fans don’t have to travel far will likely be the priciest, Rattner said. For example, if the Kansas Jayhawks end up playing at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, expect those tickets to be more expensive. Conversely, if they’re scheduled for a game at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, N.Y., prices might be lower.

23. Bigger Isn’t Always Better

Tickets at Madison Square Garden are always expensive, no matter who you’re coming to see. But “cities like Memphis and Kansas City have smaller populations and will require more outside fans to make the trip in, which could make tickets more affordable,” Rattner said.

24. Watch the Hot Teams at Home

Certain teams could drive up ticket prices. As of press time, Northwestern has a shot at making the tournament for the first time in Wildcats history. If Selection Sunday is kind to Northwestern, expect prices for their games to pop, Rattner said. “With an extremely excited (and often wealthy) alumni base, wherever Northwestern is drawn, their fans will follow.”

25. Try to Be Patient

Every time a team gets knocked out, a big chunk of their fan base stops wanting tickets, so if you can hold out, it may pay off. “Of course, waiting longer increases the likelihood that the perfect seat may no longer be available,” Rattner said.

26. Buy Full-Strip Tickets

These get you access to every game at a given location and can be a good value. However, ticket prices for later games can drop, so make sure to do the math to see whether they’re worth it, Rattner said.

27. Traveling to See Games? Use the Right Card

Check to see if your credit card offers rewards for travel or hotel stays. If not, there’s still time to get one if you feel this is the right move for you. (Here are a few of our favorite travel rewards credit cards you might compare to get you started.) Just make sure you take a look at your credit scores before you apply.

28. Look for Hotel Deals

Make sure to search online (including social media) for coupon codes or promo offers, especially tied to March Madness. You may also be able to get deals through clubs you belong to or other loyalty programs. And if you can’t find any…

29. … Give Them a Call

Sometimes talking with a representative on the phone can get you a better rate than booking online. (Want more ideas for saving on a hotel stay? Check out these new Marriott Hotels you can visit in 2017 for free.)

30. Get a Package Deal

You also might score a discount if you book your hotel as a bundle with your plane tickets and/or car rental. You may even ask if they have any March Madness specials.

31. Ditch the Fees

A baggage fee here or a resort fee there may not seem like much, but they add up. You can read this guide on tips to help you avoid outrageous travel fees.

32. Share the Expense

If a bunch of you are headed to the games together, you probably don’t each need your own accommodations. After all, you’re there to watch basketball, not sit around in the room. Splitting the cost can really help you save (and maybe even splurge on an extra round of wings).

33. Pick Cinderellas That Steal

Correctly picking a Cinderella — an unheralded team that goes far — can turn your bracket into a moneymaker. One of the things to look for is whether a prospective Cinderella can force turnovers, Chartier said. If a team can do that, even against a stronger opponent, it’s a big swing, because it robs the other team of a possession and usually creates a high-quality scoring chance on the other end.

34. Pick Teams That Defend the 3-Point Line … 

A good Cinderella also concedes few three-pointers, Chartier said. Obviously, threes are worth more than twos, and a team that’s forced to take only two-pointers will generally be less efficient.

35. … & Teams That Shoot Lots of 3s

On the same note, a Cinderella candidate should also shoot a lot of threes, Chartier said. “By taking a larger proportion of threes, underdogs give themselves a chance to outscore a more talented favorite,” he said. “Keep in mind, they’ll need to have a good night.”

36. Pay Attention to Matchups

Also see who your potential Cinderella is playing. If the bracket lines them up against a team with a bad defense, that creates upset potential, Chartier said.

37. Pick Teams That Feast on Freebies

A team that doesn’t shoot free throws well could also be ripe for an upset, Chartier said. “If you are shooting a low percentage of free throws, you aren’t making as many points per possession,” he said.

38. Pick Teams That Swat Shots

Pay attention to shot blocking. Teams that give up clean looks at the basket are often fall prey to Cinderellas.

39. Earn Millions for Your Bracket

Finally, if you really believe in your bracket, consider applying for a job at Berkshire Hathaway. CEO Warren Buffett told CNBC that his company would give $1 million a year for life to any employee who guesses which teams will play in the Sweet 16. Time to brush off that resume.

Image: gmcoop

The post 39 Ways to Do March Madness on the Cheap appeared first on Credit.com.

6 Free (or Cheap) Tools We Used to Make More Money & Get Out of Debt

tools-to-help-grow-your-business

Employment gives us a lot — a sense of security, a regular paycheck, health and life insurance and other perks, but what about our dreams? How much do we give up to be employed by someone else and work on their dreams? How do we change so that we’re both financially free and personally happy?

We paid off $51,000 in credit card debt and became financially free. When we started our dream business three years ago, our goal was to build a business so that — from anywhere in the world — we could help others become financially free. We decided we wanted geographic freedom along with financial freedom. We’ve achieved this through our writing, speaking, videos and podcast.

The same tools that keep us digitally connected to grade school friends and celebrities are also a source for information and a platform to grow a business.

The barriers of entry to start a business today are lower than ever. With a tablet, a website and a few social media accounts, a few hundred dollars spent on moderately sophisticated recording equipment and basic editing knowledge gleaned online, you may be able to turn your hobby into a successful blog, podcast or video show.

The trick is learning how to monetize these mediums. This can be done with affiliate marketing, sponsorships and branding that provide multiple (horizontal) income streams, eliminating the risk of the single (vertical) income stream. But the first step comes in learning about your given industry and what the leaders of a platform or marketplace are doing.

Below are the six tools we still use today to help grow our business.

1. YouTube

YouTube isn’t just for music videos and beauty video bloggers. YouTube is for ME: motivation and education.

Whether we’re paying full or partial attention, motivational videos keep us positive. Starting your own business isn’t easy and there are times we get negative. Negativity must be remedied. As Willie Nelson once said, “Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” And we’re always looking for positive results.

We’ve used YouTube as a teacher. It’s taught us about creating tags and categories for our website, how to manage lists in Twitter and video editing. We’ve spent hours studying public speakers on their style, tempo and delivery.

If you want videos that both motivate and teach you the art of public speaking, you can’t lose by YouTubing anything with Lisa Nichols.

2. Podcasts

Podcasts supplement YouTube and offer access to today’s leading minds for free and on your own time. Listening while we work, drive or exercise allows us to challenge ourselves to new ways of thinking, which helps us in our personal and professional lives.

Want to know what Mark Zuckerberg is planning next for Facebook? Want to learn what Tim Gunn thinks of today’s fashion? Want to hear what world leaders think of today’s current affairs? Podcasts can be your answer. Two of our favorites are Sean Croxton’s “The Sessions” and Stephen Christopher’s “Business Revolution.”

3. Apps

Can’t afford a personal coach? Neither could we, so we turned to apps. Apps are a great alternative and can be the tools that help get you to where you want your career to go. With just your phone or tablet and the right level of engagement, some business and life coaching apps can be as helpful as some business and life coaching humans.

4. Books

Nothing beats books. Though certainly not new, the accessibility of books is new. On Amazon alone, an average of 1.064 million digital books were downloaded each day, as of January 2016. There are many free books available on Amazon or at your local library. Here’s another secret: Don’t only source your books from the bestseller’s lists. There are great books being published independently. Give someone lesser known a try. Two such books are “True to Your Core” and “Discover. Act. Engage.” These are both powerful books that haven’t been picked up by a major publisher yet.

5. Facebook Groups

Facebook is more than cat videos and memes about the drudgery of the 9-to-5 grind. Facebook groups offer valuable information and support. Whatever your specialty or niche, you can likely find a Facebook group for it. Within these groups, people share their successes and failures, ask questions and throw out ideas. These are motivating and inspiring discussions that can have a much wider reach than they did before the days of social media.

6. LinkedIn Groups

You can do more with LinkedIn than create a digital resume. Like Facebook, but on a more professional level, are LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn groups are especially good for career guidance and networking.

To be fair, you may already be aware of some or all the tools we mentioned. What we hope we’ve demonstrated here are our ways to help you embrace what’s available to you and get you closer to financial freedom.

[Editor’s Note: Saving money and paying off debt can be an important part of any financial plan and can even benefit your credit. You can see how your spending behaviors are affecting your credit by viewing two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.]

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

The post 6 Free (or Cheap) Tools We Used to Make More Money & Get Out of Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Why Daniel Radcliffe Is Our Patronus

Daniel-Radcliffe-saving

Call him The Boy Who Saved.

Daniel Radcliffe has made an estimated £74 million (equal to about $94 million, based on the current exchange rate) since taking on the eponymous role in the blockbuster Harry Potter franchise. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise, given the eight movies in that series alone have raked in close to $8 billion worldwide.

But you may be surprised to learn that the 27-year-old British actor has, well, been hoarding his money in Gringott’s.

“I don’t really do anything with my money,” Radcliffe told the Belfast Telegraph in late September. He went on to put forth a compelling argument for why he decided to save it.

“I’m very grateful for it, because having money means you don’t have to worry about it, which is a very lovely freedom to have,” Radcliffe said. “It also gives me immense freedom, career-wise … For all the people who’ve followed my career, I want to give them something to be interested in, rather than them just watch me make loads of money on crap films for the rest of my life.”

Radcliffe may be talking specifically about movie projects, but, no matter what your role in life, he’s right that having some money socked away can afford you a certain amount of freedom and security. People with money in the bank can sleep a little easier at night knowing they could weather an unexpected financial setback (like job loss or major car repair), afford more home and pursue new job opportunities if their boss turns out to be a real He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

But, despite these clear advantages, many people — and Americans, in particular — just aren’t saving enough. Survey after survey shows that we’re woefully underfunded for retirement, are ill-equipped to handle even a small financial emergency and carry more debt than is ideal.

Ways Mere Muggles Can Save

Of course, there are plenty of socio-economic reasons for that: Many folks are still recovering from the Great Recession, wage growth has been pretty stagnant and high levels of student loan debt are weighing down many Americans’ finances. (We don’t all have £74 million in the bank, you know?)

But even people who are on a tight budget can consider Radcliffe their financial Patronus (we do) and find some new ways to save. Here’s how you might be able to get some more Galleons in your vault. Accio, savings!

1. Automate Your Savings

You shouldn’t spend more than what you have. If this is a challenge for you, consider setting up an automatic transfer so at least some of your extra funds (after paying your bills) make it into your savings account. You can apply a similar strategy to your investments and up the money from each paycheck that’s going into your 401K.

2. Improve Your Credit

A good credit score can help you save on everything from mortgage rates to insurance policies, so if your credit is looking a little lackluster, it might behoove you to put in a little work. You can improve your scores by paying down high credit card balances, disputing errors on your credit report and identifying specific areas where you need to improve. (You can find out what these areas are and monitor your progress toward building great credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

3. Find Ways to Generate More Income

The gig economy is real, and, in many respects, thriving, so if you and your family aren’t saving because of lack of income, consider a side hustle. You might be able to make some extra dough selling your stuff online, blogging, running errands for others on the weekend or sharing your ride, among other things.

4.  Scrutinize Your Budget

Even if you’ve already cut back, there may be ways you can still reduce your expenses. Spending too much on coffee? Brew your own at home. Blowing your food budget? Switch from brand name to generic products at the grocery store. Paying too much for cable or other subscription services? Ask your provider if they can lower your rate. You can find 47 more ways to stay out of debt — and, as a result, save more — here.

Image: YouTube

The post Why Daniel Radcliffe Is Our Patronus appeared first on Credit.com.

10 Money Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making

money-mistakes-you-dont-know-youre-making

If you take a look at your spending, are you really being as smart as possible? It may seem like it at first glance, but if you really sit down and think about it, you may be actually making mistakes with your finances and not even realize it. This can mean you’re overspending or missing opportunities to save. Here’s a list of mistakes you might be making, and the changes you can make.

1. Not Having a Budget

A written budget can be the key to managing your money. A budget puts financial control back in your life. Otherwise, your money just goes and you can lose control over your finances.

I know it can seem scary to actually sit down and make a budget, but it really is not that bad. In fact, once you do it and start to follow one, you will realize how much better you feel about your money.

If you need help getting started, you can read about how to create a budget here. 

2. Not Being Involved in Your Finances

If you are in a relationship (married or otherwise) where you both contribute financially, are you both involved in paying the bills? In most cases, it seems that just one person takes care of this. There are instances where it is the person who is better at handling money (and/or maybe enjoys it). But really, to have a full understanding of your money, you both should be involved.

Consider sitting down together and talking about your budget (see point 1). Fill it out together so you both see how you plan to spend your money. You can both contribute to how you will save, what you will budget for dining out or other items you want to spend your money on. You both have an equal voice. You both are in control of your money.

Once you have the budget, look at your investments, credit cards, life insurance — anything with any sort of financial tie. Make sure you both understand where these items are held, be it a bank or insurance company, and that you both know how to access the account (login and passwords).

3. Not Saving for Retirement

Too many parents focus more on college than retirement. Sure, we’d love to help our children financially with college, but it’s important to consider your future as well. It is up to you to take the steps now to ensure that you are looking ahead to take care of yourself for the future.

Consider looking at the options your employer offers. Do they have a 401K plan? Do they have a matching program? Start saving now and look ahead toward covering yourself for those golden years.

4. Using Credit the Wrong Way

Many people are wise when it comes to using credit cards. They use them and pay the card off completely every single month. If you are one of these people, that’s what we should all aspire to. The problem is when you’re not careful to understand the fine print. The low introductory rate or the in-store discount can very tempting, but will only be worth it if you can afford what you charge.

Take a look at this example: You open a store card to save 20% off of your purchase that day and end up spending $400. The bill comes and you open it. You see that the interest rate is 18.9% and that the minimum payment is only $16. Rather than pay the entire $400 out of your account, you decide to send in the minimum balance because you need the $384 for something else.

If you continue to do this, it could take you nearly 3 years (34 months) to pay off this balance. Not only that, but you could accumulate more than $120 in interest on this charge alone, making your $400 purchase ultimately cost more than $520. Keep in mind — while only paying the minimum isn’t ideal, it is better to make that payment on time than to not pay at all.

You can see how your financial habits are affecting your credit scores by taking a look at your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

5. Listening to the Bank Instead of Your Budget

If you want a new home or car (or anything that requires a loan), you will go to the bank. Consider this scenario — You fill out an application for pre-approval and find out that they tell you that you can afford a $300,000 home with an interest rate of 3.76%. Your monthly payment will be $1,391.05.

While that looks like it will work, according to the numbers, you know that will really stretch things thin. However, the bigger house with that huge master tub and large backyard is so wonderful. The neighborhood is upscale and it is everything you want. But is it what you can really afford? (Consider using this tool to get a better understanding of how much house you can afford.)

You take a look at your budget and decide you really should spend only $900 a month instead. That would mean you should not spend more than around $200,000 for a home ($100,000 less than what the bank says you can afford).

By spending less, you have freed up money to allow you to do things other than pay for your home. If you find yourself in this situation, it might be wise to consider downsizing or maybe trying to refinance at a lower rate to reduce the amount you are paying each month on your mortgage.

6. Not Doing Research Before Shopping

It is easy for us to overspend on things such as home repairs, clothing and gifts, as emotion is driving us on many of these purchases. If the refrigerator goes out, we worry and know we have to get it fixed as quickly as possible. That may result in paying more than necessary.

Instead, it’s a good idea to shop around and do your research. You may even want to do so before the unexpected happens. In the instance of an appliance repair, make some calls to find out the rates of various companies that repair the items you have in your home. Find out who does good work at an affordable price. Then, write down that name and number so that when you need someone, you will know who to call.

You can also look around for deals and the best prices on other items such as clothes and gifts. By taking a few extra minutes to do some research online, you might find a better price at another store.

7. Not Teaching Your Children About Money

Kids take in everything they witness and hear around them. This can lead to them learning great things, but also not so great things. You want your kids to be smart in all areas of their lives as they get older. This includes their finances.

It’s good to start educating them at a young age. When my kids go to the store, they know that we can’t just buy anything. We talk about our budget with them and tell them we have only a certain amount of money to spend on food, so we have to first cover the items we need and then we may be able to pick up that splurge item.

We also teach them financial responsibility. It is important that you start young with your children so that they understand the concept of how to manage their own money. Teach them about giving, saving and spending. By starting young, you set them on the path to financial independence as they get older.

8. Not Planning for an Unexpected Loss

None of us ever plan on losing a spouse or something happening to them that can prompt financial hardships. But, the reality is that it can happen. It is important to plan now so that you are ready just in case. To do this, consider sitting down with your spouse or partner and having a candid discussion. Ask yourselves these questions:

  • Who will raise our children if we are both gone?
  • How much money will my spouse need should I pass away?
  • How will we cover a funeral and/or medical expenses?
  • What happens if I become disabled and can no longer work?

Use this to figure out what your emergency fund should entail. Look at your budget and determine what could be cut back if you were out of work (things such as entertainment and dining out may have to be put on the back burner). It’s also wise to add in the additional cost of health insurance premiums (if you get this through your employer). Then, work hard to try to build up your emergency fund so you can support yourself and your family, should you find yourself (or your spouse) out of work.

From there, you may want to make other considerations, like life insurance or disability insurance. Check with your employer as they may offer some supplemental benefits as well as some sort of disability insurance at a reduced premium rate. You can read more tips to help you plan for the unexpected here.

9. Not Having a Debt Payoff Plan

If you currently find yourself in debt, it’s a good idea to have a plan to pay it off.  These are some simple things to keep in mind with any debt plan:

  1. Figure out your monthly payments to get the debts paid down.
  2. Set a deadline to getting out of debt.
  3. Put it all in writing and do your best to stick to it.

(If you are currently working to pay off your credit card debt, consider using this credit card payoff calculator tool to see how long it may take you.)

10. Ignoring Your Finances Completely

The truth is, ignoring your problems does not make them go away. The same holds true with your finances. If you are ignoring them, things will not improve.

If you find you are in over your head, check with your bank. Some of them offer free assistance to anyone who wants to get out of debt. They might even have financial planners available to assist you. You never know what services are out there unless you ask.

It is not how much you make that matters, it is what you do with it. Making wise financial decisions can keep you from throwing money away and help you gain more control.

Image: gpointstudio

The post 10 Money Mistakes You Might Not Know You’re Making appeared first on Credit.com.

Cats vs. Dogs — Which Pet Is More Affordable?

So you think you’re ready to bring a fluffy bundle of joy home, but you can’t decide between getting a cat or a dog?

MagnifyMoney might be able to help, at least where your budget is concerned. We broke down the costs of owning a cat and a dog, so you can decide which of the most popular pets in the U.S. you’d like to bring home next.

We didn’t just stop at determining the annual cost of kibble or Fancy Feast.

We looked at how much a dog and cat costs in the first year of ownership — and how much each pet costs over their lifetime.

Check out our findings below.

Upfront Costs

These are the initial start-up costs of getting a cat or a dog — adoption fees; accessories like leashes and food dishes; and veterinary services like spaying/neutering and vaccinations. To get these estimates, we used the latest data from Petfinder.com

pet costs

The Winner: Cats

Your first-year expenses as a cat or dog owner could range anywhere from $125 to a little more than $1,000 depending on the size, breed, and accommodations your new pet would require, according to Petfinder.

Overall, you’d shell out less for a cat up front — as little as a $125 if you take advantage of savings during adoption, shop around to save on your initial veterinary costs, and use coupons when buying accessories or toys for your furball. On the high end, if your kitty is an expensive breed or you simply like to splurge on your feline companion, you’d spend around $635 during the first year.

Recurring Annual Costs

The costs don’t end after you bring Fido (or Fluffy) home. You should budget about $1,125 yearly on vet visits, food, boarding, toys, and grooming for a cat, and about $1,641 on a dog, according to the American Pet Products Association’s most recent National Pet Owners Survey.

RecurringCosts

THE OVERALL WINNER: CATS

If the decision came down to your wallet, cats are significantly cheaper than dogs, costing about $13,625 to $17,510 in a lifetime, compared to dogs at $16,607 to $22,423.

We based the lifetime costs on the average lifespan of dogs (10-13 years) and cats (12-15 years).

But even though cats typically live two to three years longer than dogs, they still come out more affordable in the end.

The post Cats vs. Dogs — Which Pet Is More Affordable? appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

49 Ideas to Help You Get Out of Debt

ways-to-get-out-of-debt

When it comes to trying to get out of debt, I’ve seen and heard it all, from the person who got three jobs to the guy who sold his dream car. But it got me thinking, what are some of the craziest ideas out there to help you find your way out of debt?

I decided to make a fun post about things people have tried, and some of them work. Maybe they’ll inspire you to make changes too.

Sell Things

Things are that — just things. They don’t define us, and they don’t always make us happy. My husband and I sold so many things when we were trying to get out of debt that we were able to raise more than $1,000. I can’t even remember what we sold (which proves we obviously did not need it). Here are some unconventional ideas for things you can sell.

1. Hair

This may sound bizarre, but people will pay for long hair. Crafters often use it for making dolls. You will generally need at least 10″ or more to sell, and prices vary greatly.

2. Toilet Paper & Paper Towels

Ever been on sites like Pinterest and seen the number of craft projects that require paper towels or toilet paper tubes? They are all over the place. You can go onto local sites to sell these products.

3. Gift Cards

If you get a gift card for any reason, you can turn around and sell the card. You won’t get quite the face value, but at least you’ll get paid in cold, hard cash.

4. Daily Deals

Did you buy a deal on coupon or discount sites that you haven’t redeemed? Try selling it.

5. Sell Things You Don’t Need

Use online marketplaces or classifieds sites to sell things you don’t need anymore.

Keep It Simple

The following ideas are common sense, but perhaps you haven’t thought of them yet.

6. Budget

This should go without saying, but it is not always obvious. If you don’t have a budget, you really have no control of your money. (You can learn how to create a budget here.)

7. Use Coupons

Start using coupons to save as much as you possibly can at the grocery store. Then put the amount you save toward your debt. (You can learn more about using coupons here.)

8. Shop Different Stores

Skip the clothing store and find consignment stores to purchase gently used clothes.

9. Eat at Home

This is a tough one, but it works. Best of all, it’s not something you’ll have to do forever. Just think, if you spend $100 or more a month on dining out, that is more than $1,000 to put toward your debt in one year. If you do have dinner out, skip the soft drinks and go for water instead, which is free. Make sure you also pass on appetizers, and consider splitting a larger entree.

10. Set Aside Hobbies

If you are an avid golfer, you might give that up for some time and use the monthly dues to pay off debt.

11. Plan Your Meals

By planning your meals, you not only know what you’re having for dinner but what you need to buy.

12. Request Rate Reductions

Contact your creditors to see if they would lower your interest rate. This is not always something that works, but it is definitely worth a few calls.

13. Avoid Monthly Fees

If your bank charges monthly fees, ask to waive them. If they won’t, consider switching to an institution that offers free banking. Even $5 a month is $60 a year.

14. Keep the Change

I always use cash; I don’t even pay with change. If the total is $6.42, I hand over $7, and keep the change. I roll all of this once a year, and usually have quite a nice amount saved up. Best of all — I never miss it!

15. Overbudget

This is a fun way to get extra money. We may budget $300 for groceries every two weeks, but I will do what I can to keep my shopping way under this amount. Then I take anything left over at the end of that two weeks, and save it (you could put it toward debt). This is a fun way to challenge yourself to see how little you can spend.

16. Change Your Insurance

Make some calls to find out if you can get a better rate on your auto and/or home or renter’s insurance. You can sometimes find a better deal by bundling or even increasing your deductibles a bit.

17. Skip Evening Movies

If you love the movies, hit the matinee. You can usually pay less by catching the afternoon show. Make sure you pass on the snacks, too, as those can add up quickly.

18. Hit the Library

Instead of buying books, visit the library or download free ebooks.

Going to Extremes

These ideas don’t work for everyone but have helped others get out of debt quickly.

19. Stop Retirement Contributions

If you are in serious debt, you might want to consider taking that 15% you were saving for retirement and put it all toward your debt. As soon as you are debt free, you can start that contribution again (and maybe even save more).

20. Cut the Cord

Cable can run more than $100 (or even more than $150) per month. If you can cut out cable completely, you might quickly free up $100 or more every month.

21. Sell Your Car

If you have an expensive vehicle, you can sell that, and then purchase an older car, which will reduce your monthly overhead (and possibly taxes and insurance).

22. Move

If you are renting, or even if you own your home, consider downsizing to pay less each month. I know many people have opted to sell their home and use any income to put toward debt and then rent until they are debt-free. Then they save to get the house of their dreams, which they can purchase with cash.

23. Turn off Your Home Phone

This can run $30 or more a month. Consider just using your cell phone, and canceling your home service.

24. Downgrade Your Cell Phone

Try to reduce the data you use to see if you can’t lower your monthly payment on your cell phone. Stick with your home internet for most of your data usage, and you can use your phone less and less and really rack up the savings.

25. Swap Services

Instead of paying for babysitting, exchange time with another couple. You watch their kids for free, and they can do the same for you. You might be able to swap tutoring for haircuts or lawn mowing for repairs.

26.  Make Gifts

Instead of buying people gifts for birthdays and holidays, consider making them yourself. You could even offer a “service” gift where you will babysit once a month for a year, etc. Find a way to give from the heart instead.

27. Budget Your Utilities

If you can, arrange for budget billing with your utilities. This can make it easier to meet your budget and will avoid those swings in the summer or the winter when certain utilities may be more expensive.

28. Drop the Gym

If you have a membership of any sort, consider cancelingl it. If you work out at the gym, try to find free videos you can follow at home or create your own plan. If you like to golf, budget to go once a month or go as a friend’s guest.

29. Ditch Your Morning Lattes

Make your coffee at home each morning, and consider cancelling that run through the drive-thru.

30. Pack Your Lunch

Pack your lunch, and you’ll save a nice chunk of money each and every month.

31.  Carpool

Take turns driving to work and save money on fuel and wear-and-tear on your car.

32. Set Up No-Spend Months

This is a tough one, but see if you can go a few weeks without spending anything more than you need to in order to survive. That means no dining out. No entertainment. No clothes. Just food and fuel, and that’s it.

Money-Making Ideas

These ideas can help you make a bit more money just by doing what you already do.

33. Sell crafts online. 

Consider selling homemade wares online.

34. Rent a Room

If you have a walk-out basement, consider renting out the space to make more money. Just make sure it’s legal.

35. Sell Stocks

If you have investments, considering selling them and using the proceeds to pay off your debt.

36. Give Music Lessons

If you know an instrument or can sing, consider using your time to teach others.

37. Tutor

Find your expertise and teach others.

38. Start a Blog

You may not get rich, but it can turn into a nice stream of income.

39. Visit Garage Sales 

Find items inexpensive items at yard or garage sales, put in some elbow grease and turn them into something you can sell for a profit.

40. Find Holiday Work

When the holidays roll around, many stores hire employees for a short 6 to 8 week period.

41. Become a Mystery Shopper

This is not a way to get rich, but could be a nice way to get some of the things you need for free.

42. Become an Auction Site Master

Purchase items on clearance or at deep discounts, and then sell them for profit on online auction sites.

43. Ask for a Raise 

If you have taken on more responsibilities at work or it’s been a while since you received a raise, it might be time to ask.

44. Sell an eBook

If you are an expert in any field or love to write, create a book you can sell online.

45. Visualize Your Goal

If you want to get out of debt to afford a vacation, tape a photo of the destination where you can see it each day. It could be on your office wall, bathroom mirror or the refrigerator.

46. Be Happy With Less

Sure, a new TV might be fun to own. It could be enjoyable to go out to dinner. However, do you need those things? Probably not. Find ways to be happy spending no money at all, and you may realize how much those things don’t matter.

47. Learn to Say No

You may need to tell friends you can’t go out to dinner. You may need to tell the kids that they can’t get that treat. You may even need to tell yourself that you don’t need that afternoon latte. Learning to say no can help you keep more cash in your pocket.

48. Give More  

This may sound crazy, but it actually works. When you give more of yourself to others, you feel better. Best of all, giving doesn’t just mean money; it can also mean your time.

49. Hang With the Right People 

If your friends encourage you to spend money, then you might want to distance yourself from them (at least until you can get better control of your finances). Find other people who think like you so they can encourage and build you up.

There you have it: 49 ways to actually help you get out of debt. Which ones are you going to try? Let us know in the comments.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your own financial goals, like building good credit, for free each month on Credit.com.]

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: laflor

The post 49 Ideas to Help You Get Out of Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

49 Ideas to Help You Get Out of Debt

ways-to-get-out-of-debt

When it comes to trying to get out of debt, I’ve seen and heard it all, from the person who got three jobs to the guy who sold his dream car. But it got me thinking, what are some of the craziest ideas out there to help you find your way out of debt?

I decided to make a fun post about things people have tried, and some of them work. Maybe they’ll inspire you to make changes too.

Sell Things

Things are that — just things. They don’t define us, and they don’t always make us happy. My husband and I sold so many things when we were trying to get out of debt that we were able to raise more than $1,000. I can’t even remember what we sold (which proves we obviously did not need it). Here are some unconventional ideas for things you can sell.

1. Hair

This may sound bizarre, but people will pay for long hair. Crafters often use it for making dolls. You will generally need at least 10″ or more to sell, and prices vary greatly.

2. Toilet Paper & Paper Towels

Ever been on sites like Pinterest and seen the number of craft projects that require paper towels or toilet paper tubes? They are all over the place. You can go onto local sites to sell these products.

3. Gift Cards

If you get a gift card for any reason, you can turn around and sell the card. You won’t get quite the face value, but at least you’ll get paid in cold, hard cash.

4. Daily Deals

Did you buy a deal on coupon or discount sites that you haven’t redeemed? Try selling it.

5. Sell Things You Don’t Need

Use online marketplaces or classifieds sites to sell things you don’t need anymore.

Keep It Simple

The following ideas are common sense, but perhaps you haven’t thought of them yet.

6. Budget

This should go without saying, but it is not always obvious. If you don’t have a budget, you really have no control of your money. (You can learn how to create a budget here.)

7. Use Coupons

Start using coupons to save as much as you possibly can at the grocery store. Then put the amount you save toward your debt. (You can learn more about using coupons here.)

8. Shop Different Stores

Skip the clothing store and find consignment stores to purchase gently used clothes.

9. Eat at Home

This is a tough one, but it works. Best of all, it’s not something you’ll have to do forever. Just think, if you spend $100 or more a month on dining out, that is more than $1,000 to put toward your debt in one year. If you do have dinner out, skip the soft drinks and go for water instead, which is free. Make sure you also pass on appetizers, and consider splitting a larger entree.

10. Set Aside Hobbies

If you are an avid golfer, you might give that up for some time and use the monthly dues to pay off debt.

11. Plan Your Meals

By planning your meals, you not only know what you’re having for dinner but what you need to buy.

12. Request Rate Reductions

Contact your creditors to see if they would lower your interest rate. This is not always something that works, but it is definitely worth a few calls.

13. Avoid Monthly Fees

If your bank charges monthly fees, ask to waive them. If they won’t, consider switching to an institution that offers free banking. Even $5 a month is $60 a year.

14. Keep the Change

I always use cash; I don’t even pay with change. If the total is $6.42, I hand over $7, and keep the change. I roll all of this once a year, and usually have quite a nice amount saved up. Best of all — I never miss it!

15. Overbudget

This is a fun way to get extra money. We may budget $300 for groceries every two weeks, but I will do what I can to keep my shopping way under this amount. Then I take anything left over at the end of that two weeks, and save it (you could put it toward debt). This is a fun way to challenge yourself to see how little you can spend.

16. Change Your Insurance

Make some calls to find out if you can get a better rate on your auto and/or home or renter’s insurance. You can sometimes find a better deal by bundling or even increasing your deductibles a bit.

17. Skip Evening Movies

If you love the movies, hit the matinee. You can usually pay less by catching the afternoon show. Make sure you pass on the snacks, too, as those can add up quickly.

18. Hit the Library

Instead of buying books, visit the library or download free ebooks.

Going to Extremes

These ideas don’t work for everyone but have helped others get out of debt quickly.

19. Stop Retirement Contributions

If you are in serious debt, you might want to consider taking that 15% you were saving for retirement and put it all toward your debt. As soon as you are debt free, you can start that contribution again (and maybe even save more).

20. Cut the Cord

Cable can run more than $100 (or even more than $150) per month. If you can cut out cable completely, you might quickly free up $100 or more every month.

21. Sell Your Car

If you have an expensive vehicle, you can sell that, and then purchase an older car, which will reduce your monthly overhead (and possibly taxes and insurance).

22. Move

If you are renting, or even if you own your home, consider downsizing to pay less each month. I know many people have opted to sell their home and use any income to put toward debt and then rent until they are debt-free. Then they save to get the house of their dreams, which they can purchase with cash.

23. Turn off Your Home Phone

This can run $30 or more a month. Consider just using your cell phone, and canceling your home service.

24. Downgrade Your Cell Phone

Try to reduce the data you use to see if you can’t lower your monthly payment on your cell phone. Stick with your home internet for most of your data usage, and you can use your phone less and less and really rack up the savings.

25. Swap Services

Instead of paying for babysitting, exchange time with another couple. You watch their kids for free, and they can do the same for you. You might be able to swap tutoring for haircuts or lawn mowing for repairs.

26.  Make Gifts

Instead of buying people gifts for birthdays and holidays, consider making them yourself. You could even offer a “service” gift where you will babysit once a month for a year, etc. Find a way to give from the heart instead.

27. Budget Your Utilities

If you can, arrange for budget billing with your utilities. This can make it easier to meet your budget and will avoid those swings in the summer or the winter when certain utilities may be more expensive.

28. Drop the Gym

If you have a membership of any sort, consider cancelingl it. If you work out at the gym, try to find free videos you can follow at home or create your own plan. If you like to golf, budget to go once a month or go as a friend’s guest.

29. Ditch Your Morning Lattes

Make your coffee at home each morning, and consider cancelling that run through the drive-thru.

30. Pack Your Lunch

Pack your lunch, and you’ll save a nice chunk of money each and every month.

31.  Carpool

Take turns driving to work and save money on fuel and wear-and-tear on your car.

32. Set Up No-Spend Months

This is a tough one, but see if you can go a few weeks without spending anything more than you need to in order to survive. That means no dining out. No entertainment. No clothes. Just food and fuel, and that’s it.

Money-Making Ideas

These ideas can help you make a bit more money just by doing what you already do.

33. Sell crafts online. 

Consider selling homemade wares online.

34. Rent a Room

If you have a walk-out basement, consider renting out the space to make more money. Just make sure it’s legal.

35. Sell Stocks

If you have investments, considering selling them and using the proceeds to pay off your debt.

36. Give Music Lessons

If you know an instrument or can sing, consider using your time to teach others.

37. Tutor

Find your expertise and teach others.

38. Start a Blog

You may not get rich, but it can turn into a nice stream of income.

39. Visit Garage Sales 

Find items inexpensive items at yard or garage sales, put in some elbow grease and turn them into something you can sell for a profit.

40. Find Holiday Work

When the holidays roll around, many stores hire employees for a short 6 to 8 week period.

41. Become a Mystery Shopper

This is not a way to get rich, but could be a nice way to get some of the things you need for free.

42. Become an Auction Site Master

Purchase items on clearance or at deep discounts, and then sell them for profit on online auction sites.

43. Ask for a Raise 

If you have taken on more responsibilities at work or it’s been a while since you received a raise, it might be time to ask.

44. Sell an eBook

If you are an expert in any field or love to write, create a book you can sell online.

45. Visualize Your Goal

If you want to get out of debt to afford a vacation, tape a photo of the destination where you can see it each day. It could be on your office wall, bathroom mirror or the refrigerator.

46. Be Happy With Less

Sure, a new TV might be fun to own. It could be enjoyable to go out to dinner. However, do you need those things? Probably not. Find ways to be happy spending no money at all, and you may realize how much those things don’t matter.

47. Learn to Say No

You may need to tell friends you can’t go out to dinner. You may need to tell the kids that they can’t get that treat. You may even need to tell yourself that you don’t need that afternoon latte. Learning to say no can help you keep more cash in your pocket.

48. Give More  

This may sound crazy, but it actually works. When you give more of yourself to others, you feel better. Best of all, giving doesn’t just mean money; it can also mean your time.

49. Hang With the Right People 

If your friends encourage you to spend money, then you might want to distance yourself from them (at least until you can get better control of your finances). Find other people who think like you so they can encourage and build you up.

There you have it: 49 ways to actually help you get out of debt. Which ones are you going to try? Let us know in the comments.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your own financial goals, like building good credit, for free each month on Credit.com.]

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: laflor

The post 49 Ideas to Help You Get Out of Debt appeared first on Credit.com.

Fewer Than 1-in-5 Families Use a Tool That Could Limit College Costs

saving_for_college_tuition

Setting aside savings can be difficult, particularly if you’re trying to raise a family — and that includes saving for your kids’ college educations. Only two out of five families have a savings plan for higher education prior to their student’s enrollment, and just 16% of families are using 529 college savings vehicles to pay for college expenses.

That’s according to the annual survey report “How America Pays For College” from Sallie Mae and market research firm Ipsos. The report reflects the results of telephone interviews conducted between March 16 and April 18, 2016, with 799 parents with children ages 18 to 24 who are enrolled as undergraduate students and 799 undergraduate students, ages 18 to 24.

The number of families using savings from 529 college savings plans or other college savings vehicles fell slightly from 17% in 2015 to 16% in 2016, the survey found. The average amount used from these accounts also dropped slightly, from $9,129 in 2015 to $8,315 this year.

Much like a Roth IRA, 529 savings plans have several tax advantages that can make them useful when saving for college. Contributions to the account are taxed but any earnings made on interest accrue federal tax-free. And withdrawals from the account are also tax-free so long as they’re put towards college expenses.

Families With a Plan Spend Less

The survey also found that families who did not have a college savings plan in general prior to their student’s enrollment reported spending more than twice their savings and income on college expenses over those families who did. Also, those families who had a plan reported a full one-third less borrowing by the student than those from families without a plan.

“It’s clear that having a plan for college really does pay off,” Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesperson, said in an email. “Those families with a plan are, as you might expect, more informed, but they are also saving more for college and borrowing less.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.39.43 AM

Chart courtesy of Sallie Mae

Families with a plan also reported greater peace of mind in regard to paying for college. The survey showed:

  • 61% of families with a plan felt completely confident they had made the right financial decisions about paying for college, compared to 41% of families without a plan.
  • 45% of planners reported never or rarely being stressed over education expenses, compared to 32% of non-planners.
  • Parents who planned were less likely to be very worried than non-planners about the possibility of loan rates rising (12% vs 29%) or tuition increasing (17% vs. 28%).

Scholarships, Grants Still Largest Resource

Of the average amount families reported paying for college — $23,688 — scholarships and grants funded an average of $8,059, or 34%, the report said. That’s an increase of four percentage points over 2014-15 and represents the largest proportion of any resource used to pay for college in the past five years, according to Sallie Mae.

Parental income and savings averaging $6,867, or 29% of total spending on college, came in as the second largest funding resource. That’s slightly lower than last year’s high of 32%, the report said.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.35.11 AM

Chart courtesy of Sallie Mae

Student borrowing was the third most-used resource to pay for college, averaging $3,176, and money borrowed by students paid 13% of all college costs, the survey found — slightly less than the prior year’s 16%.

The survey also found that 90% of families expect their college student to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, including one-third of those students attending community college, and more than half (54%) expected their student to get a graduate degree.

If you’re ready to start saving for your child’s college education, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the various forms of student loans and the federal aid options that might be available to you and your family — and how those options might impact your finances and your credit. (You can see a summary of your credit report for free on Credit.com to get an idea of where you stand.) The more informed you are, the less worried you may be about affording college expenses.

More on Student Loans:

Image: Kali Nine LLC

The post Fewer Than 1-in-5 Families Use a Tool That Could Limit College Costs appeared first on Credit.com.

How to ‘Stockpile’ Stuff & Save Money

stockpiling

Many of you have probably seen the television shows about hoarders. When they get done, they find that they have 87 tubes of toothpaste, 120 rolls of toilet paper and 24 toothbrushes. I will admit that in my house you will find 8 tubes of toothpaste, 30 rolls of toilet paper and 5 toothbrushes (other than those we are using). I have even more than that, but I won’t bore you with the full list.

Stockpiling isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. It’s good to plan for the unexpected — a job loss, natural disasters, fluctuating gas and food prices. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to create your own stockpile.

1. What Is Considered a Good Deal?

If I can get my item for at least 75% off or more, then that qualifies as a stock-up deal for me.

For exampled, a while back, I found toothbrushes on clearance at a drug store chain for only $1.09. I happened to have several $1.00-off coupons. So, I picked up 9 toothbrushes for only $0.81 or $0.09 each! I didn’t sacrifice the brand I wanted to use — these were the toothbrushes we use regularly.

I actually stockpile when I can get household items and toiletries for $1.00 or less each. When I find toothpaste marked down, and through coupons and deals I can get it for free – or close to it – I’ll pick up several at a time.

2. Where Is the Best Place to Shop for a Stockpile?

Many times you can find toothpaste and other toiletries for free, or nearly free, when you shop at drug store chains like CVS or Walgreens. Yes – your local drug store can be less expensive than even big box stores when all is said and done. How? Through certain rewards programs they offer that provide coupons to save you money on your next purchase. You can, of course, find great deals at your local grocery store or retail chain stores; just always keep your eyes peeled.

3. How Much Is a Good Amount to Have on Hand?

Obviously you can’t stockpile items that will expire soon. However, you can stockpile canned and boxed goods, toiletries, laundry needs, paper supplies, cleaning supplies and anything else that won’t “go bad.” You can even stockpile meat products — as long as you have the freezer space. The quantity of items to keep on hand varies from person to person, but for me anything that is non-food related I like to have at least two years and food items anywhere from six months to one year.

4. Doesn’t This Take Up a Lot of Space?

It can — if you try to buy everything under the sun. You have to determine what space you have to give up to your stockpile. Obviously, if you live in an apartment, what you stockpile will probably be less than someone in a large home.

5. Does Stockpiling Include Travel-Size Items?

It sure does! Many times, you can get travel-size items free with a coupon (unless the coupon specifically excludes that size). So, you can pick up several and have paid absolutely nothing for them. They may be smaller sizes, but they are still free. And, in my book – free is free!

One of the most wonderful aspects of a stock pile (besides saving money, of course), is not having to run right to the store when you are out of something. For us, it seems that my kids eat toilet paper as I am forever changing the roll.  It is great to have it on hand when we need it. Otherwise, it means a trip to the store (where we may not get the best deal).

It also helps with meal planning. I almost always have something to throw together for a great meal as I have a completely stocked pantry. Then, when I plan my weekly shopping list (based upon menus created from my stash), I rarely need many items to actually cook my meals. My list is made up of incidentals and items to add to the pantry.

With a little planning ahead, you can start to create a little bit of a stock pile yourself – and ensure you are paying the price you want for the things you need.

You can find more tips on saving money in your day-to-day life here. You can also keep track of how your spending choices are affecting your credit score by looking at your free credit report card, updated monthly, on Credit.com.

More Money-Saving Reads:

Image: Louis-Paul St-Onge

The post How to ‘Stockpile’ Stuff & Save Money appeared first on Credit.com.

Uh-Oh … Are Americans Raiding Their Piggy Banks?

consumer_spending

Consumer spending increased 1% from March to April, the biggest increase in more than six years, according to a Reuters report on new Commerce Department data. In very basic economic terms, a jump in consumer spending can be a good thing: It can show that people are confident they’ll make ends meet without having to squirrel away their paychecks, like some people might do if they’re worried about losing their jobs.

Before you get too excited about Americans’ recent urge to splurge, there’s another statistic you should know about, and this one’s a little bit of a downer. At the same time consumer spending increased, Americans’ savings decreased, from $809.4 billion in March to $751.1 billion in April. That’s a $58.3 billion drop. That indicates Americans aren’t spending more because they’re earning more; rather, they’re spending more by choosing to save less or even tapping their savings to make purchases. (Personal income increased 0.4%, and disposable income increased 0.5%, while spending increased 1%.)

Put another way: The average personal savings rate dropped from 5.9% in March to 5.4% in April. There are a lot of opinions on how much people should save, but probably the most common rule of thumb says to put away 10% of what you earn. If that’s what people are working toward, they lost a little momentum last month.

But these data are complicated. There are advantages to both saving and spending. Perhaps some of the people who diverted savings money to spending money last month did it so they could purchase something they’ve needed for a while, like a new car or a more energy-efficient appliance that could end up helping them save money.

Ideally, you don’t have to shortchange your savings goals to buy things you need, because building a sufficient emergency fund can be crucial to your financial health. Say you lose your job or come down with a sudden illness — having enough money saved up to cover your necessities after an unexpected financial change can help you avoid going into costly credit card debt or missing payments, both of which could seriously damage your credit. (You can keep tabs on your credit by getting a free credit report summary, updated monthly, on Credit.com.) So, if you’re spending some of the money you should be putting toward your savings, thinking you’ll make up for it later, you may be putting your financial stability at risk.

More Money Saving Reads:

Image: funstock

The post Uh-Oh … Are Americans Raiding Their Piggy Banks? appeared first on Credit.com.