So Apparently the Holiday Shopping Season Started Already

holiday-shopping

Holiday shopping once marked that precious time between Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Santa sightings, piped-in Christmas carols and a mad rush at the mall all made buying those gifts almost a full contact sport. But this year, before the first frost, even before school started, Americans have been shopping. In fact, one in three began shopping before Labor Day, according to new data from Rubicon Project.

And they’re getting more splurgy, too. According to the data, the average person is planning to spend $1,175, up 12% from last year.

Who’s Spending the Most? 

Men plan to spend more ($1,360 on average) than women ($1,028 on average), and parents plan to splurge the most – around $1,700, or $495 per child, mostly likely spent online.

Interestingly, despite reports of their staggering student debt, Millennials are also showing big increases in holiday spending this year, up 33% from 2015, to an average of $1,427. Most plan to shell out their dollars on apparel and accessories, video games and gift cards, Rubicon found.

To collect the data, the Rubicon Project used polling firm Penn Schoen Berland to conduct 1,003 interviews among holiday shoppers in the U.S. from August 23 to 25. The survey has a margin of error of 3.09%.

Rubicon’s stats aren’t the only suggestion that Americans are getting ready to spend big this holiday season.

Data from the National Retail Federation is predicting that sales in November and December, (excluding automobiles, gas and restaurant sales) will increase a solid 3.6% to $655.8 billion. The number is “significantly higher” than what it has been for the past ten years, an average of 2.5%.

“Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for more spending throughout the holiday season,” NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a press release on the Federation’s website.

The NRF’s holiday sales forecast is based on several economic indicators including consumer credit, disposable personal income and previous monthly retail sales releases.

Getting Your Wallet Ready for the Holidays

If these numbers seem like a lot of money to you, remember, you shouldn’t feel pressured to overspend to keep up with the Joneses. It’s prudent to budget what you’re planning to spend for each person on your holiday list before heading out to do your shopping, and to have a total tally of what you plan to spend entirely for the season, with maybe a little room for leeway (but not much.)

It’s also important to budget for food and beverages. When you hit your spending limit, consider braking hard, because the last thing you need is to ring in your fabulous new year with of mountain of credit card debt. Falling into debt can also negatively affect your credit score, and a better score can net you better opportunities and loan rates for that next big purchase. (You can check two of your credit scores for free, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

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Lunch Is More Expensive Than Ever. Here’s the Easy Way to Save

save-money-on-lunch

Are you taking your lunch to work? Good. You’re probably saving a lot of money, and very likely calories as well. You’re also part of a growing movement.

It turns out that people aren’t eating lunch at restaurants as often as they used to, according to recent data from NPD Group, a global research firm. Lunch visits to restaurants, which represent 33% of U.S. restaurant traffic during the day, were down by 4% percent in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, according to NPD.

Part of the reason is the rise in the number of people working at home, the research firm said. Add to that more shopping online, which cuts down on foodservice meals and snack breaks, and increases in menu prices, and you get less overall lunch traffic.

A pricing analysis done by NPD Group found that the price point where consumers are most satisfied and most likely to visit is when they feel it is “affordable to eat there often” and “good value for the money.” Average lunch checks in the second quarter of 2016 have increased by as much as 5% compared to the same quarter a year ago. NPD Group said that has also moved them beyond consumers’ “sweet spot” price.

“Simply said, who can afford to go out to lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group, restaurant industry analyst, in a press release. “Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn’t want to invest a lot time, money or energy into this meal. It’s apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn’t meeting these needs.”

How to Spend Less Than $2 a Day on Lunch

If you’re still buying your lunch most days, chances are you could experience some significant savings with just a little bit of advance planning. In fact, it’s possible to spend less than $2 on lunch every day by making it yourself. You can see how the savings can quickly add up, especially if you’re currently spending $10 or more each time you eat lunch.

That extra money can go toward saving for a dream vacation or a new car. You could even pay down your student loans or credit card debt, which can dramatically improve your credit scores. You can see how your spending habits and debt are impacting your credit by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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How You Can Make Over $100K By Skipping Your Morning Coffee

cutting-back-on-coffee

I won’t lie. It’s going to take some time.

But yes, you can make over $100,000 by skipping the coffee shop on your way to work every day. Oh, and you can still make your coffee at home.

Here’s how.

Say your favorite coffee at your local drive-thru costs $3 (it might cost more). Also, let’s say it costs $1 for your favorite coffee drink at home (it might cost less). Keeping things simple, there’s an obvious $2 difference between making your coffee at home and grabbing your favorite drink at the drive-thru.

Now, let’s say that you decide to go cold turkey and always make your coffee at home starting today and every day over the next 40 years (because you’re awesome). I estimate that you’re going to be saving about $40 per month that you can put toward a diversified, traditional portfolio of stocks.

Assuming a 7% annual rate of return, you’re looking at over $100,000 in investments at the end of the 40 years. Boom — skipping drive-thru was worth it.

Now, here’s the thing. You probably won’t skip the drive-thru every day. You may not get a 7% return on your investments. Your coffee at home might be more expensive to make. Perhaps the price of coffee on-the-run dramatically falls (unlikely). Maybe you would prefer to put your money into a high-yield savings account, where your hard-earned dollars are safer. There are a number of variables in this equation. Historical performance – and even reasonable assumptions – do not have a direct connection with future performance. However, it’s the best thing we have.

The point of this calculation is to show you how making a small change in your lifestyle dramatically raises your chances of obtaining a big pile of money in the future. It’s not completely sound science, but it’s a fun hypothetical example.

Benjamin Brandt, financial adviser and founder of RetirementStartsTodayRadio.com, gives another interesting example: “What could you do with the money saved from kicking your $5 daily coffee habit? How about opening your own coffee shop? According to Franchise.org, opening a Dunkin Donuts franchise takes an initial investment of $240,000. By simply investing your $5 per day in the S&P 500, based on historic rates of return, you could open your own shop in 24 years!”

Consider the following choice of options: Take a million dollars today or one penny doubled every day for 30 days. Which would you take? Ronn Yaish, wealth adviser and founder of FinancialHappyPlace.com, uses this exercise to demonstrate the impact of compounding returns. The answer is that after 30 days one penny doubled every day would be worth over $10 million dollars.

Yaish explains that “even individuals who understand this idea don’t necessarily have an easy time translating what that means for them and their spending.” It doesn’t take too long to find small things people spend their money on everyday like coffee, cigarettes, scratch-off cards, drinks, snacks, etc., that if saved can help that person accumulate wealth.

For example, if we find someone who spends $5 on a soda and snack every day, that $5 spending translates to $1,825 a year and over $54,000 over 30 years. If that person decided to take the $1,825 a year and place it in a suitable investment vehicle that perhaps earned 5% a year, that $5 a day can theoretically grow to over $125,000 over 30 years. Yaish says, “The next step is to help that client find all the hidden $5 in their daily living, and then assist him or her to commit to a simple change of habit. If the client finds the change is not too onerous, too limiting or frustrating, the plan will stick.”

As you can see, this really isn’t just about coffee. It’s about identifying all the little expenditures in life that eat up our opportunity to invest. Once the gravity of this problem is understood, something can be done about it.

The next question is, of course, “What can be done?”

There are several important actions that one can take to help reduce expenses. Really, it comes down to one-time expenses and recurring expenses. The recurring expenses are certainly the first place to focus.

Recurring, automatic expenses, once set, can go unnoticed for years and years before one day you wake up and realize that you’re spending too much money. Think about your cell phone bill for a moment. Does it keep going up and up? Perhaps it would be better to get a prepaid plan that’s predictable.

Next, be sure to think about your one-time expenses. These matter too. You might think of your trips to the coffee shop as “one-time” expenses, and in a sense, they are. It’s not as if you plan on going back day after day. Still, these expenses can happen again and again, leaving you with less money in your wallet and ultimately a weak retirement fund.

Explore various ways to save money. It doesn’t hurt to consider your options, and some of them might not be as painful as forgoing your coffee before work.

The point here is that there are some small changes you can push yourself to make – even ones that aren’t as horrifying as skipping the java hut – that may result in major rewards down the road.

Will everything work out perfectly as you had planned? Probably not, and that’s okay. Just make a few small changes. Change one thing at a time. By saving a little money here and there and properly investing it, you’ll probably do profoundly better than you otherwise would have.

But whatever you do, don’t do this alone. Find a battle buddy. Whether that person is your spouse or a close friend, keep an accountability partner close by. This is the person who will watch to make sure you’re on the right track. Even these small changes aren’t so easy to maintain. If you want to win over the long haul, you’re going to need someone to remind you when you veer off course.

To summarize, here’s your homework: Pick something to sacrifice. It could be coffee, snacks, movies or something else. Invest, and watch the money pile up.

[Editor’s Note: Remember, if you’re looking for creative ways to save money, it’s good to start with a budget. Strictly adhering to a budget plan will allow you to eventually start saving money, pay down billsconsolidate debt and reach your financial goals. You can see how your spending habits are affecting your credit by viewing your two credit scores, updated each month, for free on Credit.com.]

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Darth Vader’s Suit Would Cost $18.3 Million

darth_vader

If Darth Vader were a Sith Lord in real life, he’d likely need a budget nearly the size of the Star Wars’ franchise’s $21 billion and counting in box office and merchandise sales just to stay dressed.

It turns out Lord Vader’s iconic black suit would cost a whopping $18.3 million (and that’s not including a lifetime supply of undergarments or that stunning cape). The folks over at Shade Station broke down the numbers to find this figure, by using a wide array of sources. Here are their findings:

The Helmet

$600,000

Not only does Vader’s helmet keep his facial features a mystery, but this thing has all kinds of fancy features. In fact, according to Shade Station’s estimates, it apparently has augmented reality functionality, similar to what you’d find in the mounted display of the U.S. Air Force combat fighter jet, the F-35. This gives Vader night vision, navigational capability and advanced targeting, so he’s prepared to fight and defend at a moment’s notice, no matter the hour.

Breathing Tool

$45,000

This mechanism helped make the “Luke, I am your father” sequence iconic, but it also keeps the essentials getting to Vader, making sure his lungs and (alleged) heart remain functioning.

The Suit

$12 Million

Factoring for the climate in space, the suit Vader wears has to be pressurized and airtight. Shade Station estimates it would be similar to a suit that is used by NASA — and that doesn’t come cheap.

Prosthetic Legs & Left Arm

$180,000 ($70,000 per leg, $40,000 for the arm)

Vader would have required top-of-the-line prosthetics to regain the mobility he exhibits in A New Hope, Shade Station says, following his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith.

Prosthetics Upkeep

$5.4 Million

The initial price tag for creating the prosthetics and then connecting them to Vader is one thing, but their maintenance is something else entirely. Medical bills and upkeep of a single high-end prosthetic can cost an estimated $1.8 million apiece and this infamous spaceman has three.

Voice Box

$1,000

The cheapest item on the list is Vader’s voice synthesizer. Of course, without it, James Earl Jones’ voice would just sound like Mufasa from The Lion King. (“Look, Luke. Everything the dark touches is our kingdom.”)

Grand Total: $18.3 Million

Remember, it’s important to take a look at some of your spending habits and see where you need to or can make adjustments to avoid the dark side. You can find out how changes in your spending habits and debt levels would affect your credit score by viewing two of your credit scores each month for free on Credit.com.

More from Credit.com:

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Darth Vader’s Suit Would Cost $18.3 Million

darth_vader

If Darth Vader were a Sith Lord in real life, he’d likely need a budget nearly the size of the Star Wars’ franchise’s $21 billion and counting in box office and merchandise sales just to stay dressed.

It turns out Lord Vader’s iconic black suit would cost a whopping $18.3 million (and that’s not including a lifetime supply of undergarments or that stunning cape). The folks over at Shade Station broke down the numbers to find this figure, by using a wide array of sources. Here are their findings:

The Helmet

$600,000

Not only does Vader’s helmet keep his facial features a mystery, but this thing has all kinds of fancy features. In fact, according to Shade Station’s estimates, it apparently has augmented reality functionality, similar to what you’d find in the mounted display of the U.S. Air Force combat fighter jet, the F-35. This gives Vader night vision, navigational capability and advanced targeting, so he’s prepared to fight and defend at a moment’s notice, no matter the hour.

Breathing Tool

$45,000

This mechanism helped make the “Luke, I am your father” sequence iconic, but it also keeps the essentials getting to Vader, making sure his lungs and (alleged) heart remain functioning.

The Suit

$12 Million

Factoring for the climate in space, the suit Vader wears has to be pressurized and airtight. Shade Station estimates it would be similar to a suit that is used by NASA — and that doesn’t come cheap.

Prosthetic Legs & Left Arm

$180,000 ($70,000 per leg,$40,000 for the arm)

Vader would have required top-of-the-line prosthetics to regain the mobility he exhibits in A New Hope, Shade Station says, following his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith.

Prosthetics Upkeep

$5.4 Million

The initial price tag for creating the prosthetics and then connecting them to Vader is one thing, but their maintenance is something else entirely. Medical bills and upkeep of a single high-end prosthetic can cost an estimated $1.8 million apiece and this infamous spaceman has three.

Voice Box

$1,000

The cheapest item on the list is Vader’s voice synthesizer. Of course, without it, James Earl Jones’ voice would just sound like Mufasa from The Lion King. (“Look, Luke. Everything the dark touches is our kingdom.”)

Grand Total: $18.3 Million

Remember, it’s important to take a look at some of your spending habits and see where you need to or can make adjustments to avoid the dark side. You can find out how changes in your spending habits and debt levels would affect your credit score by viewing two of your credit scores each month for free on Credit.com.

More from Credit.com:

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You’re Not Stuck With Bad Credit Forever, Study Finds

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Your credit score isn’t like your family; you aren’t stuck with it forever. In fact, credit scores are quite fluid, as a recent study from VantageScore Solutions shows.

The study looked at the credit scores of 2 million consumers between 2011 and 2013, reporting that 49% of these consumers saw a credit score increase of around 19 points during a 3-month period. During the same time frame, only 30% saw a decrease, averaging 24 points, while the rest of the people in the study (21%) had scores that remained level. VantageScore Solutions also looked at the score changes during a 12-month period, finding 51% of consumers had an average score increase of 27 points and a mere 11% had scores that stayed the same.

During the study, 53% of consumers had a positive uptick in their score, with an average of more than 40 points during 12 months. That being said, the odds are that your score will change this year. And whether these changes are for the better or not can depend on the financial choices you make.

How to Better Your Credit Score

Your credit score is in your hands, in a sense. The choices you make and spending habits you have influence it. But to know how your past behaviors are playing a role, as well as if you have any habits now that you need to break, you first need to check your credit. You can get free annual credit reports from each of the major credit reporting agencies, and you can get two of your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com to see where you stand.

If you need to do something to fix your credit score, here are the next steps. First, you need to figure out why you have a bad credit score and address the issue. If your credit is suffering because you habitually make late payments, change your habits and start paying earlier or set up account alerts to remind you to make a payment. If you’ve checked your credit reports and think your credit is suffering because you’ve become a victim of identity theft, reach out to the credit bureaus to dispute any accounts that aren’t yours and contact the authorities.

Finally, take steps to improve your credit. This can include everything from opening a secured credit card to help build up your score or contacting a credit repair agency for help (here are some tips for picking a good one). You won’t necessarily improve your credit 19 points in three months like the study showed, but with the right tools and motivation, you can turn things around.

[Offer: If you’re worried about errors on your credit reports, and you don’t want to go it alone, you can hire companies – like our partner Lexington Law – to manage the credit repair process for you. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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