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Budgeting & Saving

Car Shopping on a Budget

Time for a new car?

One of the hardest parts about buying a new car is choosing something you can absolutely afford. Persuasive car sales people combined with shiny paint can ruin a person’s budget in a hurry!

At the end of the day, most people need a reliable car. The process of car shopping on a budget isn’t too difficult. But it does takes heaps of self-control. When shopping for a car, you can remain within your budget by taking the following steps:

Figure out How Much You Can Afford

Create a new budget by listing out all your current expenses. Compare your income and expenses. What you have left over can be used to pay for your car. If you feel you don’t have enough left over, you may have to cut your expenses and prioritize your spending by avoiding costly budget busters.

Consider expenses like fuel, auto insurance and maintenance. If you can only afford $400 per month to spend on a transportation, don’t sign for a $350 car loan. Instead you might, want to spend $200-250 per month on a vehicle and the rest for insurance, fuel and savings for maintenance and repairs. The car itself is only part of the overall transportation costs.

Bankrate has a very helpful tool to help you create a realistic car budget.

Try to Stick with Cash

If you have some savings and don’t want to deal with the burden of having a car note, try to purchase with cash. This may not be possible for everyone, but the earlier you start preparing the better. If you know you want to buy a car or notice that your current car on its last leg, start setting money aside each month. A little each month goes a long ways.

Unless you have $15,000+ lying around, you will most likely need a used car. Luckily, there are plenty of used cars in good condition for as little as $4,000. If you don’t have enough to pay for a car completely with cash, you should still try to save up a large down payment to lease or finance a car.

[Tweet “Cash is king when buying a car!”]

Leasing or Financing?

There has always been a big debate between leasing and financing options. When you finance a car, you pay a down payment and a lender loans you the rest of the money. You then pay it back with interest for a certain amount of time. Once you’ve paid back the entire loan plus interest, you own the car.

With leasing, you pay a fixed amount each month (usually a lower than a monthly payment than with financing) plus interest. When the term is over, you must either renew your lease or return the car. You may also be able to buy the car once the lease expires.

If you can’t pay for a car in cash, financing is the wiser option. Often, when you lease a car, there is a penalty for driving a certain amount of miles so you watch your odometer. Also, there is no point in hustling to pay back your lender and make extra payments with a lease. Doing so won’t get any closer to owning the car.

For the most part, leasing just allows you to drive a nicer, newer car at a lower price for a short amount of time. Buying with cash or financing are the superior alternatives.

Check Your Credit

If you do choose to move forward with financing a vehicle, you’ll need to check your credit first (this link shows you how do check it for free). Your credit score will be key in determining how much money you get approved to finance and your interest rate. If you don’t have good credit, you may run into problems.

Pull your FICO Score several months before you decide to go car shopping. Make sure it’s doing okay. Credit Sesame lets you monitor your credit for free and also lets you see credit scores and reports for TransUnion and Equifax. Make sure to always keep an eye on your credit score in the future. Here’s a way you can keep track of your credit score for free.

It’s important to pay off as much debt as you can before you take on more debt. Try to only use 25% of your credit limit each month. You might also want to wait for some of your old credit inquiries to fall off your report before you add new ones.

Try to increase your score as much as you can. Higher scores mean lower interest rates. Your credit score is your ticket to savings.

If necessary, wait until your credit score climbs before applying for a loan. Even just waiting 3-5 months for a new car may save you hundreds per year in interest. Wealthy people are usually patient people.

Compare Vehicles and Pricing

When you are car shopping on a tight budget, it’s important to focus strictly on your needs and requirements instead of becoming emotionally attached to a car. Logic should trump emotion when car shopping. Always be ready to walk out the door without the car.

To help keep the price down, you should search online for economical used vehicles with low mileage. A car will probably cost less than an SUV or a truck in most cases so keep it simple.

You should also research various makes and models to become more knowledgeable about which type of cars last longest and require the least amount of maintenance. It’s best to be open-minded and compare various types of vehicles before settling on one.

To compare vehicle prices online, use online vehicle pricing and comparison tools like TrueCar or Edmunds. Although not necessary. it’s wise to check Carfax before making an offer. Carfax gives buyers the scoop about how the car has been treated in the past.

Overall, it’s important to thoroughly do your research and stay within your means when buying a new car. All of these steps will make the car buying process easier and cheaper.

 

Are you car shopping? Do you plan to pay with cash, get a lease, or finance?

Originally posted 2015-09-02 10:00:24.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

National Thrift Shop Day: Why Thrifting is Good For You (And Your Bank Account)

August 17 is National Thrift Shop Day this year. As if thrift stores and consignment shops couldn’t sell products for any less, this special day is the perfect time for frugal deal seekers to visit second hand stores in their neighborhood and score even better deals on the merchandise.

Most thrift stores have special discount days throughout the year, but National Thrift Shop Day usually offers some of the best savings. Getting the opportunity to be able to buy used everyday items and even furniture and electronics for an extremely discounted rate can really help decrease your spending and increase the amount you are able to save.

Here are a few ways thrift shopping can be great for you and your wallet.

Helping the Environment

When you shop at thrift stores, you’re not only helping yourself find great deals for less, you’re also helping the environment. Thrift stores like Goodwill and Savers help keep gently used items like clothes, toys, furniture, tools, electronics and small appliances from getting thrown out and sent to landfills.

Reusing, recycling, and repurposing are some of the most eco-friendly actions you can take to help eliminate waste and clutter.

The Best Place to Find Gems

Thrift stores are the best places to find high quality gently used merchandise that would normally retail at a higher value in mainstream stores. Whether you get excited when you come across a gently used designer handbag for cheap, name brand electronic devices or fancy home decor at an affordable price, I classify all these items as being ‘gems’ since they can be found at thrift stores for a quarter of the retail price.

If you want to spice up your wardrobe but don’t have money in your budget, head to the thrift store in search of these gems. It’s important to get past the thought of being uncomfortable wearing someone else’s clothes or using items that were in someone else’s home if you want to find top notch products at the thrift store.

[Tweet “It’s important to get past the thought of being uncomfortable with thrift store items. There are deals to be had!”]

When you think about it, we share and reuse tons of items with other people all day long whether it’s the dining room table at a restaurant, your shopping cart at the grocery store or even the gas pump handle at gas stations. According to America’s Research Group (a consumer research firm), about 16-18 percent of Americans shop at a thrift store during any given year. More people should be taking advantage of thrift store and resale shops to soak up all the savings.

Find Children’s Necessities For Less

Kid’s clothes, toys and books are some of the best items to find at thrift stores. As a parent of a young child who is constantly growing, it’s more economical for me to purchase some clothing items and toys from Goodwill so I’m not overspending on items that my son will either wear out or lose interest in over the next few months.

From my experience, young kids are only interested in certain toys temporarily (when they’re new) and have little interest in clothes AT ALL. So it always made little sense to me why parents would spend so much money clothing their children with outfits from retailers like GAP, OshKosh, and Under Armor. If I really wanted to find a GAP or Nike shirt at a thrift store for my son I probably could, but spending time together and investing in activities and outings that we both enjoy sounds like a much better way to spend my money.

Thrifting Can Be Therapeutic

As much as I hate to say it, shopping can be therapeutic when done in moderation. I wouldn’t exactly agree with the whole ‘retail therapy’ concept that embodies the idea of running out to the store when bad things happen in your life to buy items in an attempt to make yourself feel better.

On the contrary it has been proven that shopping with friends can help relieve stress and let’s face it, when you find a good deal on a household item you need, it’s hard to escape that feeling of success just by knowing that you kept more money in your wallet instead of spending it.

It’s important to set a budget before you go thrifting and plan your shopping trip with the intention of picking up something you really need and that would be of value to you. It’s a great feeling to walk away with items that you wanted without disturbing your budget.

What’s are your favorite thrift store finds? Do you take advantage of special discount days?

Originally posted 2015-08-17 10:00:53.

Categories
Young Finances

6 Free (and Fun) Ideas for Family Activities

Sometimes keeping kids entertained is easier said than done. When you’re looking to bond with your family and have a great time together, expensive outings like vacations and trips to amusement parks may come to mind. However, these expensive trips aren’t necessary.

You don’t need to spend a Space Mountain-sized pile of cash to entertain the family. In some cases, you don’t need any money. Here are 6 easy ways to have free family fun this year:

Family Activity 1: Have a Game Night

If you want to have a fun night in the house, without spending money, try to have the occasional old school game night. Classic games like Monopoly, Candyland, Sorry! and Guess Who are extremely affordable when found at garage sales and thrift shops like Goodwill.

Pop some popcorn, bake something sweet and turn on Pandora as you split up into teams and begin game play. Enjoy the comforts of being at home. It will be a be a special bonding experience for your family.

[Tweet “Families who play together, stay together.”]

Family Activity 2: Go on a Nature Walk

Don’t let the summer season pass without going on a family nature walk. If you have any walking trails near your house, it would be a great idea to take advantage of them. Getting outside is great for everyone’s health – no matter the age. You can even get on bikes if you don’t feel like walking. Consider visiting a national or state park for more scenic views and some light hiking. State parks are usually free to enter, but the guided tours cost money so be mindful of that. Some state parks are huge. There’s so much to see. You could still have plenty of fun doing a self-guided tour. Consider taking along a library book about the park. Books often contain more information than any human guide could remember, anyway.

Family Activity 3: Check out Museum Free Days

Every city has museums that offer a few free admission days. Take advantage of these free admission days and plan a family outing. In my area, the art institute, aquarium, natural history museum, the children’s museum and the zoo all have free admission days. I try to make most of them. What’s important is to plan these money-saving days in advance. Consult your city’s Chamber of Commerce to find free event days.

Pack a lunch and head out early to beat the crowd when visiting your local museum on free admission day. Sometimes the lines can be longer than normal as more people will be visiting. But the key is to get out early and beat the rush. You can still have a great time, even with a few extra strangers around.

Family Activity 4: Have a Picnic at the Beach

Have any beaches near you? Man-made beaches often cost money to visit but natural beaches like the ones along lakes or the ocean are always free. The best part about these is they have long hours. A beach picnic can even turn into an all-day event. Pack a meal or two, bring your sunscreen and let you kids bring their buckets and shovels for a fun filled day at the beach.

When I visit the beach with my family, we always pack a cooler with drinks, sandwiches and snacks so we don’t have to purchase any of the expensive(!) food from the vendors. My son can play in sand for hours, so it’s always a relaxing outing that helps keep him entertained. I’d rather he dig in the sand than dig in my yard.

Family Activity 5: Visit the Library

The library is one of the best free resources in a community. It’s also a great free place to go hang out when it’s hot outside and you need to get cool. The library can be just as fun as a paid entertainment center would be for kids.

There are books and movies to rent. There are toys in the children’s area, computer games to play, story time events to attend and craft stations. Did I mention that all of this is free? It’s free. At your local library, you can always walk away without having to spend a dime.

Some libraries host events not just for kids, but ones that the whole family can enjoy. Grab a calendar from your local library and make sure you don’t miss any free events. Again, planning is important for taking advantage of free resources.

Family Activity 6: Go to the Fire Station

Your kids don’t have to wait for a school field trip to see a fire station! Visiting your neighborhood fire station tops the list of fun and free family activities. It can be a great learning experience for your kids and yourself as well. Give the fire station a call ahead of time and ask if you can have a brief tour of the station, look at the trucks and meet the firefighters. Sometimes fire stations offer group tours and other times you may get your very own private tour.

There are tons of free ways to enjoy family time!

What’s your favorite way to have free fun with your family?

Originally posted 2015-08-03 10:00:28.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

How to Get Along with a Thrifty Spouse

A thrifty spouse may seem like a handful to deal with. They may be extremely logical. You may not always see eye-to-eye. But a frugal spouse can be an asset to your family.

Luckily, when I started becoming thriftier, I set an example in my household and encouraged my partner to follow suit. And it worked. We all love being frugal now.

You may learn to love the frugal side of your spouse. But even if that never fully happens, it’s important to still accept and get along with them. This post lists a few ways to help you both get along financially.

Realize You Both Have Different Perspectives

You need to understand where your partner is coming from so you can work as a team. Your spouse may be focusing more on the future while you live in the present. There’s nothing wrong with that. You could both balance each other out quite nicely.

If you are both trying to make the other one ‘see the light’ or the positives of your perspective, you need to step up, be the bigger person and accept your spouse’s choices and preferences. Opposites attract. Would you really want to marry an identical person?

Try to understand their mindset and support what they are doing. Being thrifty isn’t the worst thing in the world and it’s definitely something you can work through in your relationship. If your spouse sees you accepting and supporting them, they will be more willing to accept and support you as well.

Don’t Use Offensive Words or Phrases

As a part of accepting your spouse’s perspective, you shouldn’t use offensive words to describe their thriftiness. Avoid doing so even if you aren’t just being playful. Everyone finds different things offensive, but saying things like, “Why do you have to be so cheap?” or “You make us look broke!” or “You’re always penny-pinching…” can make you look argumentative and cause tension between the two of you.

Your word choice and the way you talk to your partner can put them in a defensive state, and that could easily start an argument. As a married couple, neither of you should have to feel defensive about your habits or characteristics as long as they are not hurting yourselves or anyone else.

Using offensive words and phrases to discuss your partner’s thriftiness isn’t helpful. Think about it from their perspective. They are trying to save the family money in order to improve your lives. Not only are you not thanking them, you are making fun of them.

Embrace the Benefits of Being Thrifty

Being thrifty is an acquired taste. There are much worse habits or addictions your spouse could have: gambling, hiding money or cheating. Try to embrace the benefits of frugality and understand that your household will save a lot of money and be more financially stable due to your spouse’s thriftiness. Be happy! Think about all the headaches you’re avoiding by having a frugal spouse:  the threat of bankruptcy or foreclosure, no emergency fund, massive credit card debt, and more!

Realize that ‘tightening your belt’ can actually lead to greater long-term financial fun opportunities. For instance, if you avoid driving a BMW today, over time, you will be able to buy it used and still have money to build a garage for it.

[Tweet “A frugal partner is a blessing, not a curse.”]

When you adopt a positive mindset and embrace the benefits of being thrifty, you’ll get along with your spouse better and understand where they are coming from.

Compromise

To help improve your relationship, you both could compromise so that each person’s views are honored. Both you and your spouse can hold on to a guilty pleasure. You can even keep doing something you both enjoy that isn’t necessarily frugal. Meanwhile, you also commit to a certain level of thriftiness each month whether that includes shopping around for the best deal, meeting a particular savings rate or eating at home more often than usual. Compromise with your partner.

Embrace low cost entertainment options that don’t make you feel extremely thrifty. Accept simple ways that your spouse intends to save money – even if that means pretending to look away when they present a coupon after a romantic dinner. At least you’re dining out, right?

If you want to attend an event or go on an outing that could be costly, tell your spouse about it weeks or months ahead of time. This way, you can both start saving up. As a result, you get your outing and they get the reassurance that it was a planned expense and have time to budget.

Some couples even allow each other a monthly allowance to spend as they please with no questions asked. If you and your spouse each get $100 to spend freely each month on anything you want or need, that could be a nice compromise.

How do you enjoy a spendy + thrifty relationship?

Originally posted 2015-07-27 10:00:00.

Categories
Budgeting & Saving

What Would the World Be Like Without Budgets

The importance of having a budget has been debated probably since the origin of the word. Some people live by a budget and can’t get by without their spreadsheets, while others simply see it as an ineffective waste of time.

In fact, a Gallup poll indicated that two-thirds of American households do not utilize a budget.

Budgets Are Intended to Help Us Do Three Main Things:

  1. Track our income and expenses each month.
  2. Prioritize our spending by matching our money with our goals.
  3. Limit how much we can spend on certain expenses to prevent overdrafts, running out of money too soon each month, or going into debt.

Given the crucial benefits budgets offer, it’s hard to imagine a world without them. You’ve probably heard the word ‘budget’ used several times when you were a kid. You may have heard it from your parents or other adults but never really grasped the concept.

Here are some of the key financial setbacks that occur when you don’t budget:

Out of Control Spending

While it’s easy to create a budget, it’s not so easy to maintain it. Each day, Americans are faced with advertisements and temptations to spend. When you don’t have a clear budget to create a purpose for your money, it becomes all too easy to overspend. It’s why you may find yourself leaving a store after spending $100 when your initial intention was to spend only $25.

“But if you don’t have a budget that limits your spending, how can you technically ‘overspend’?”

You’ll know that you overspent when you wind up short on cash later in the month. A budget helps restore order to your spending habits and control the money you have instead of letting it control you. A budget should be freeing.

Increased Debt

Out of control spending will no doubt lead to debt. You can only live above your means for so long. Having a budget can help you pay off your debt quicker by avoiding costly interest charges. Your budget can also keep you from accumulating crippling amounts of debt.

Many families are already dealing with debt. 2015 Federal Reserve statistics show Americans hold a combined average total of $890.9 billion in debt. I wonder how much of that debt belongs to anti-budgeters. Credit card debt is the third largest source of American debt, followed by student loans and mortgage debt. It’s difficult to picture the debt numbers being even worse. But if the Americans who do budget would stop… that could lead to an astronomical amount of debt.

Financial Goals Wouldn’t Be Attainable

Whether your financial goals are to pay off debt, buy a house, retire, or take a vacation, you’ll do well with a budget. Having no idea where your money is going each month can be confusing, overwhelming and derail you from ever reaching any of your goals.

You won’t be able to save, say, $5,000 extra dollars if you don’t establish a clear and realistic goal. A budget simply puts your goals on paper. Budgeting is all about prioritizing your spending and making the most of your money. It helps you keep your goals in sight at all times.

If the entire world didn’t budget accordingly, we would all just spend our money on whatever came our way without considering the consequences. We would be unknowingly working against ourselves and preventing ourselves from ever reaching financial stability.

This is why creating some type of budget is so crucial. Without it, the world and the economy would be in even bigger trouble. Even if you’re already good at managing your money, a budget will help make sure that never changes. Think of a budget as your very own accountability partner. A budget is a great way to make sure you achieve the life you dream.

[Tweet “If you don’t have a goal, how will you know when you’ve scored?”]

Do you budget? How does it help you reach your financial goals?

Originally posted 2015-07-08 10:00:00.

Categories
Young Finances

Why Getting the Latte Makes You Richer

Do you have a guilty pleasure that always seems to steal attention from your financial goals?

For many people, purchasing coffee each morning is becomes their ‘expensive’ habit. Coffee is more of a want than a need so it’s often looked down upon in the world of personal finance. Financial goals such as saving money, paying down debt, and investing should take precedence over morning coffee distractions. Or so most financial ‘gurus’ would have you believe.

But coffee only costs $2-$5, depending on where you get it and the size of your cup.

In his book, The Automatic Millionaire, David Bach writes about an idea called, The Latte Factor.

It’s based on the notion that small expenses, like purchasing a morning coffee, can add up over the course of a year. Let’s say you get a coffee each day before work. Most people work 280 days per year. Let’s round up and say your coffee costs $5 per cup. This will cover those ancillary purchases such as adding the occasional fresh scone to your order. Don’t forget to include tips as well. This daily coffee run is looking expensive, isn’t it? It is. At the end of the year, this one small habit would end up costing you $1,400 annually!

While most people don’t order a latte every work day, The Latte Factor suggests that the money you spend on coffee can be saved or put toward a financial goal to help you get ahead quicker.

At the surface, this sounds like a very insightful concept. However, I don’t buy it. The personal finance community teeters between those who agree that saving money by cutting small expenses is worth it and others who believe the real savings come from big wins. I call them the Money Makers and the Money Savers.

If coffee is your thing, I don’t think it’s realistic to just stop dead in your tracks and do away with it. I’m here to tell you to buy the darn latte if it makes you happy; it just might make you richer too.

Making Coffee at Home Doesn’t Save Much

Contrary to popular belief, making your own coffee at home each morning isn’t as cheap as it sounds. You have to purchase ground coffee or coffee beans, cream and sugar, a coffee maker (if you don’t have one already) and you also have to factor in the time it takes you to alter your morning routine. You must add ‘be a barista’ to your list of morning responsibilities.

Depending on the brand you buy, a cup of coffee costs $0.70 to $1.80 a cup to make at home. Saving just a few bucks on coffee is hardly worth the hassle, in my opinion.

You May Pick up Other Habits

If you force yourself to stop buying a morning coffee, odds are you will hunt for other ways to spend that extra coin. You may do so by swinging by McDonald’s for a breakfast sandwich. Or you may grab store bought drinks as a morning pick-me-up. There’s a good chance you will still find a way to spend the money.

If made for you coffee helps with your productivity, it might not be the best decision to give it up. In order to get the most work done throughout the day, you need to be focused and work efficiently. I’m not saying go out and purchase a $10 espresso shot Mocha Cookie Frappuccino each morning, but if you feel you need or would perform better with a coffee, then by all means don’t beat yourself up about it!

[Tweet “Buying expensive coffee is worth it if it makes you more productive.”]

You can always pick up a drink during happy hour, use seasonal coupons or earn gift cards through Swagbucks to cut costs. When it comes to saving money and meeting your goals, there are bigger fish to fry.

Go after Big Wins

While the math behind The Latte Factor is sound, the concept is a little silly. Instead of focusing only on small details of your budget, try going after big wins. Cutting larger expenses will have a more profound impact on your budget.

Let’s touch on earning money for a moment. Getting a raise at work or increasing your income are big, life-changing wins. It’s important to balance out saving money with earning more and establishing new side hustles to improve your financial situation. Remember, the amount of money you earn can be limitless. Getting the made for you coffee can wake you up to those big financial wins.

Has cutting out lattes ever made a profound impact on your life?

 

Originally posted 2015-07-01 10:00:51.