Budgeting

Five Great Gifts that Cost Less Than $5

During the holiday season, like Christmas and the New Year holiday, and in fact, during any other occasions that give cause for celebration, like birthdays, finding a gift can be quite the task, especially when you consider the different considerations of what the person may actually want or like. Apart from this, in today’s difficult economic climate, or if you are a prudent person regarding spending, you might want to be interested in something that is tasteful but also still cost-effective.

Here are some suggestions that just might fit the bill.

SE Mini 45X Brass Microscope w/Illuminator

This toy is ideal for children between the ages of six and ten, especially those with a scientific leaning of sorts. At just $3.18, it can be used to examine plants, devices and anything your young aspiring son might be interested in. It has proven to be a particularly popular toy, especially with boys that age that typically, always want to take a closer look at the world around them.

Coffee Mug with an Imprint

A coffee mug with a name or an image that represents the person or something important to the person is a great gift, especially for an adult. If it is a special occasion, like a graduation or something similar, this would carry even greater weight if an insignia representing this is printed onto the mug. The cost you can expect for something of good quality? About $4.10.

A Picture Frame

A picture frame is always a great gift, especially for a female recipient. Retailing for about $4.50, picture frames vary, and you can make some excellent selections depending on the age of the person receiving the gift. Go with something bright and fun for a female child, something trendy and zany for a teenager, something urbane and sophisticated for a young female adult and something ornamental for anyone older.

A Classic Book

Some of the older classics, especially from the thrift stores make delightful gifts, especially for young adults interested in reading and who have not been exposed to some of this great work. Luckily, one has a great selection to choose from, from Lord of the Flies, the works of William Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, the list is endless. Retailing at just under $5, these make a really great and thoughtful gift.

Oven Mitts or any Kitchen Accessory

Oven mitts make a great holiday gift and are also great for birthdays or celebrations like Mother’s Day. Indeed, kitchen accessories can be a touching fit of sorts especially if your intended target is a dab hand around the kitchen. They combine practicality with elegance and have the benefit of being available in festive colors as well. Other kitchen accessories that would work quite well include kitchen towels. All these retail at just under $5 as well.

Little Luxuries on a Budget

Often times, when budgets get tight, the first things to get cut are luxuries. We say “so long” to coffee and donuts on the way to work and bid farewell to the days of weekly manicures. We cancel our newspaper subscriptions and bow out when friends ask if we’re going to a midnight premier at the movies.

free dunkin doughnuts doughnut

While cutting back is a good way to reign in spending when times are tough, there are ways to keep some of these small pleasures in your life and within your budget.

Before you cancel your newspaper subscriptions entirely to save a few bucks, consider two alternatives: decreasing and digitalizing. Many newspapers offer cheaper subscriptions with weekday only or weekend only delivery, so you can stay informed and stay within your budget. Many newspapers, and some magazines, also offer digital-only subscriptions that cost less than the print subscriptions and allow you to read the content online at your leisure. Digital subscriptions are also eco-friendly, making them good for your wallet and the environment.

Keeping a manicure looking fresh from week to week can get expensive, but trying to do it yourself can be a mess if you’re not ambidextrous. Luckily, for the cheap and chic, many salons offer a simple polish change at a price much cheaper than a full manicure. If you’re willing to clip and file your nails yourself before you head to the salon, you can have a fresh coat of polish put on without the mess of an at-home application or the high price tag of a full manicure. By applying a clear coat yourself every 3-4 days, you’ll extend the time between polish changes, too.

While renting, borrowing and streaming movies are all cheap alternatives to a night out at the movies, you can reduce the cost of a movie night without losing the theater experience. Joining your local theater’s discount club is a good place to start, as frequent trips can earn you discount tickets or free refreshments. Opt for matinee showings when possible, or wait for the movie to show in a less expensive second-run theater. Check if your theater offers discounts for students or see if any of your memberships, like AAA or AARP, will earn you a discounted price.

If that morning coffee and donut fix is your luxury of choice, you don’t have to give it up entirely. The bottom of every Dunkin receipt has instructions for getting a free donut with the purchase of any beverage, medium or larger. Simply go online within 3 days of getting your receipt, fill out the brief survey and get a validation code good for a free donut. Though Starbucks doesn’t have surveys at the bottom of every receipt, if you’re lucky enough to get one, you’ll get a free small (“tall”) drink of your choice on your next visit, with no purchase necessary.

And it’s not just the coffee shops that have survey offers, so check your receipts from other vendors too. Restaurants will often give you a free appetizer or dessert just for filling out a customer satisfaction survey, and some vendors will enter you into a drawing for a gift card just for reflecting on your in-store experience that day. These surveys usually take around 5 minutes to complete and those few minutes of work could help keep make some of those other small luxuries in life more affordable.

How do I Improve My Credit Score?

When it comes to the importance of improving your credit score, it is almost as important as losing weight!
Credit Score
Whether your credit is bad or relatively okay, you need to know your current position before you try to improve your credit score. Free credit reports can be obtained one every calendar year. If you haven’t gotten yours yet, now is the time to do so. Before proceeding with anything, make certain there are no mistakes on your credit report. If you find something fishy, be sure to report it, have it investigated and maybe even have it removed from your report.

If you want to improve your credit score, like we all do, then here are a few steps that will help you quickly improve your credit score:

1. Pay Down Your Current Cards – While it may not be at the top of your list, it is important to pay down your current credit cards. When you go into a bank for a loan, lenders want to see a significant difference between your available credit and the credit that you’ve used – or are currently using. Balances under 30% of your credit limit are great, but lower than 10% is fantastic! Start with the highest-rate credit card or the credit card that is closest to be being paid off.

2. Get a Credit Card – If you don’t already have a credit card or just have one, apply for a new credit card. You can build your credit by using your credit and then paying off the balance. If your credit happens to be too poor, get a secured credit card. These are similar to that of a pre-paid debit card, as you load money onto the card and that is your credit limit, except that these report to the credit bureaus. Make sure to get a secured card that reports to all three of the major credit bureaus in order to benefit the most.

3. Get an Installment Loan – Revolving, which is considered a credit card, and installment, which is a student loan, a mortgage and a personal loan, are known to be the best types of credit to improve your credit history and your credit score. Get an installment loan if you can – even if it’s a small personal loan.

4. Don’t Max Out Your Cards – There’s no reason to max out every single one of your credit cards. Regardless of whether you pay it back quickly or not, your credit score will not benefit from maxed out credit cards.

Most delinquencies will appear on your credit history for as many as seven years, so you can’t expect to rebuild your credit history and improve your credit score overnight. It is possible to improve your score, though, and it is worth the time and effort to do so. Follow the four steps above and you’ll be well on your way to improving your credit score!

Budgeting College Style

Every college student knows that money does not exactly grow on trees. Sometimes you have to make choices about what you do or buy based on how much money you have. This is called budgeting and it is an important skill to have, especially in today’s economy.

college saving

The summer is an especially hard time to budget because of all the fun stuff to do and the free time to do it, but the more you save now the more you will have come the fall, and the start of the school year.

A few tips to help budget and save money are:

1. Limit how many times you go out to eat, each time you go out you are typically paying for food at a higher price than you need to. For lunch it is easy to buy cold cuts and make sandwiches instead of going to a deli to buy them. Not only will it be cheaper, but cold cuts can last for several meals making the cost even less.

2. Try to find free or cheaper things to go to. Look around your area for free activities such as concerts, fairs or even just going to the park or the beach. It is easy to find fun things to do that are free or inexpensive if you just spend sometime looking for them.

3. Keep track of your spending. If you keep a record of what you spend your money on, you not only will see how much you money you have and how much you are spending, but you can also see what you do not need to buy, and places where you can save a little extra money.

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Before starting a savings account, making investments, and making your own financial plan, you have one choice to make. Should you put your trust in a bank or a credit union? From the outside, the two financial institutions appear the same. What you do not know, however, could be the difference between becoming a member of a local bank or the local credit union.

Charles Funk, president and chief executive officer of MidWestOne Bank in Iowa City, Iowa delves into the subject.

“From the outside, banks and credit unions look basically the same,” Funk says of the two financial institutions. However, there is one distinct difference. Credit unions were created with the goal and mission to serve the under served. Taking a quick look at how credit unions have grown into a large brand shows how the original goal has been strayed from.

Banks have common stock and shareholders, whereas credit unions have members instead of shareholders. This also means that, unlike banks, credit unions do not pay income taxes. This allows them to use more of the money the collect for profit.

Banks and credit unions both offer similar services, from checking to savings accounts but how they operate on the inside is not as similar as the outside appears.

When it comes down to it, the choice between using a bank or credit union is up to the student. The thing to remember is to check all available options and find the one that works best for you.

How to Find the Cheapest Textbooks

It is no secret that buying text books for your college courses can really drain your bank account. College book stores boast being the only place you can find the book you need at such a discounted price. Do not believe this! Your college’s book store is not a bad place to pick up a book, but you do have other options. Here are just a few other places to start looking for books before you give in to the book store.

Online

Buy your books off resale stores online. They usually list the books at different prices, depending on the condition of the book. Personally, I have found buying the cheaper, not as pretty, books work just as well as the brand spanking new ones. Sites like Chegg.com are great sources for books.

Friends

Make friends who have been going to your college. Find people who are studying what you are studying and make a deal. Work your schedules so that you are both taking classes that the other will need, but take them at different times. That way you can split the cost of the books and share them. It’s a simple and easy way to cut your book budget in half.

Talk to Your Teachers

Some classes barely use the books that they say are required. The library will almost always have copies of these books as well. Email, call, or speak with your teacher and ask how necessary the book is to your success in the class. Most teachers want you to get through college with as little financial expense as possible. But be warned; check the author of the book before you ask your teacher. There is a good chance that the teacher is also the author. Do not ask them how important the book is if they are the one who put the time into writing it. You will not be one of their favorites.

Kindles, iPads, and Other Ereaders

Not only do these eReaders help keep your book bag light, they save you money. Purchasing your books on one of these is a great way to save some money. However, some students find it easier to use a classic, paperback book so that they can highlight and take notes. You, also, cannot sell back books purchased through eReaders. These are a great option for saving money, but may not be beneficial for all students.

Spending hundreds of dollars in the book store does not have to be your fate! Be on the lookout for places to buy your books for cheap or for options to split the price in half. And do not forget to sell back your books at the end of the semester. If the book store will not buy back the book, sell it online! If you are willing to look for them, there will always be ways to make or save money on your college text books.

Ten Ways to Save at College!

Every college kid knows that college is expensive–and that doesn’t even include the fun parts! While education itself costs a pretty penny, it’s important to think about extra curricular costs when planning and budgeting. Going to school in a city can be particularly challenging, since almost nothing is free. Here are the top 10 helpful hints to getting by in college while still having fun:

Saving at college

1. On-campus Jobs:

Don’t under estimate the benefits of an on-campus job. They are held solely for students, tend to pay above minimum wage, and are conveniently located. Whether you work in the financial aid office or in a dining hall, you can make connections with students, faculty, and staff that will surely benefit you down the line. It may not be your dream career, but on-campus jobs are great for a little spending cash.

2. Use the dining plan to your advantage:

It’s surprising what you can smuggle out of a dining hall. If you are willing to invest in plastic bags or reusable Tupperware, there is no limit to the possibilities of kleptomania that lurk in a dining hall. From apples to zucchini, there is no food (raw, cooked, warm, or chilled) that can’t be snuck out. If you grab a sandwich at dinner and keep it for a late night snack, that’ll prevent you from spending those 5 dollars for the Subway foot long across the street.

3. Thrift store:

There is nothing you can’t find at a Good Will. Whether you’re looking for a set of plates for under $10, or an electronic robot for endless hours of amusement, a local thrift store is sure to not disappoint. A wide range of useful apparel can be mixed in with your high-class Anthropologie dresses for the bo-ho chic look so prevalent amongst trendy college girls.

4. Gifts:

It’s easy to get stuck in the endless-string-of-Birthday’s-breaking-the-bank rut. Don’t let it happen to you. Your new found college friends deserve the best-the best home made gifts! There are countless great gift ideas online that can be made out of supplies in a dorm room. From melting records into bowls, to a clever fortune teller, gifts should be creative and meaningful, not expensive! By saving on the gift, it might be a little less painful to splurge on your third dinner at The Cheese Cake Factory for someone’s birthday.

5. Get a Bike:

If you’re in a city, public transportation can be expensive and unreliable. Craig’s list constantly sells bikes for give-away prices, and it’s most definitely worth investing in to save money in the long term. Plus, you won’t have to worry about the freshman 15 if you’re biking to dinner.

6. Drink before going out to a bar:

Keeping an inexpensive bottle of wine or a cheap six pack around is never a bad idea. Sure it’s okay to have one drink at a bar, but who wants to throw down $20 for a few drinks? Start the buzz before you head out (if you’re not driving, of course).

7. Text book tactics:

Text books are expensive, but colleges at making it easier and easier to afford them. From renting to e-books to selling used books, you should never be paying full price for a book. Look on sites like Amazon and Half.com for great deals on text books. When it comes time to sell the book back, don’t go through a third party. Post them directly onto a website where you get to set the asking price.

8. Free Housing:

There are opportunities on many college campuses that allow for free housing. Frequently, a position such as resident assistant comes with room and board, and occasionally, a stipend.

9. Funding:

Colleges have money. If there is something you really want to do, like put on a show or go sky diving, there is probably an organization on campus that could fund it. Students are often in charge of allocating funds, and it’s up to you to make your ideas known. By being part of an already existing organization, or by starting one on your own, your chances of getting funds for something fun is very high.

10. Quickie jobs:

If you’re not willing to make a time commitment to a part time job on or off campus, many colleges post one time jobs available around the community. These can be great if you’re looking for some fast cash, and depending on the job, you may get more than just one time employment for it.

How to Find Low Cost Banking

Nowadays, our credit defines us. Our credit is often what determines whether we get a checking account free of charge, for a nominal fee, or for an outrageous charge. So many banks are making us pay more to get less. If you want to get the best checking account for the absolute ideal amount of money – you know, the best bang for your buck – check out these tips:
Low cost banking

1. Better prices may be found in smaller places – While large branches will have more branches and ATM’s, they offer convenience, which means higher prices. However, smaller banks will have less branches and ATM’s so the convenience won’t be there, but they price is much more affordable. So, if convenience isn’t an issue for you, then you can find low cost banking easily at smaller branches in your area.

2. Always maintain the required minimum balance – A number of banks will require that you maintain a certain minimum balance in order to have free checking. For example, so long as you don’t dip your account balance under $500.00, your checking account is free; otherwise, you have to pay, say, $10.00 per month for the account services. If your bank requires a minimum balance, find out if it an average balance over a certain period of time or if it is a daily minimum balance, so that you can make sure you are up to code.

3. Get overdraft protection, but don’t bounce checks – As difficult as it may be to not write that check to buy that hip new shirt at the local clothing store, it will save you money in the long run not to write it. Sure, you may have overdraft protection, but writing that check and having it accepted is going to cost you a decent chunk of change. In fact, banks are constantly raising their prices on how much a returned check costs. Then, just think if you have exceeded your overdraft protection limit, you are going to be out even more. Not only will you be paying for the returned check fee at your bank, but you will pay for the same fee at the store that you wrote the check. As a general rule, this is a $30+ charge each time, at each location.

4. Purchase your own checks – Believe it or not, you can save a ton of money by buying your own checks from a third-party source rather than from the bank itself. Sometimes, you can save as much as 50 percent! And, more than likely, you’ll have a much wider selection of excellent check designs than you would have at your financial institution.

The above-mentioned four tips will help you ensure that you get more of what you want and need out of a checking account from a low cost bank for an affordable price that won’t break the bank!

Financial Downfalls of a College Student

Every college freshman is confronted with new finance problems and issues. Out of their parent’s house, not having to report where they are going or explain what they are doing all the time. It is like finally understanding what freedom is supposed to feel like. Cloud nine feels pretty good for a while. You are floating along, going to parties, going out to eat, spending all the money you saved from the summer before or all the money Mom and Dad sent you off with when suddenly, the money and the cloud are gone and you are left sinking into a major money problem, with a bank account sinking as well.
Financial Downfalls of the College Student

Don’t be ashamed. It happens to almost all of us incoming college students. Here are a few helpful tips to keep you in line during your first year and keep you on that cloud and out of debt.

1. Find a job.

This may seem obvious to those who worked during high school, but for those who did not need to, this may seem like a last resort. You may begin looking at all the negatives of what getting a job can mean; less study time, less social time, and more responsibility on top of your school work. Now, push those thoughts out of your mind and look through the positive ones. You will make money and new friends with your co-workers, gain good real world experience, and create new opportunities for yourself. Look for places where you have the possibility to move up, or that have benefits for college students. I currently work for a grocery chain in the Midwest, Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee offers a 401 K plan for everyone ages 19 and over. This is the kind of benefit I am talking about.

2. Find the right bank.

Look at the banking options you have around you. Check out the savings account and checking account options. Which one has the highest interest rate? Do any of them offer start up or joining benefits? Pick the one that seems like the best fit for you and go start a bank account! I highly recommend starting out with a checking account. Once you’ve accumulated around $500, start a savings account. Usually savings accounts have to be started with a $100 deposit. Once you do this, start a monthly automatic transfer of a small sum from your checking into your savings. This way, you will be automatically saving money and not even needing to think about it. A small amount, such as $10, $15, or $20 will not be missed during the month.

3. Create a budget.

This may seem like the solution to all your problems. “Oh I’ll just start a budget and stick with it. No problem.” Well, it is actually a lot harder than it seems. First, take a look at the things in your life that are costing you money, like driving, eating out, groceries, going out with friends, other car expenses, rent, utilities, etc. Then take a look at how many hours you work during a week. This may seem overwhelming, but once you know where all your money is going, where you can cut back, and where you can afford to give more, you will feel much more confident in your financial situation. Make a list of all things you cannot live without, like driving, groceries, rent, utilities, etc. Now, plan out how much you can put towards these items each week. Remember; do not plan out on spending all your paycheck on these things every week. You will want to have a little “random” fund set aside in case of emergencies or something comes up that you had not thought about. If you are planning on creating the savings account with the automatic transfer of money, do not forget to budget that in either.

Once you figure out where all your money will be going, you will feel so much more secure in your financial situation.

4. Take advantage of your options.

If you are attending school in a big town, like I am in Iowa City, take advantage of the buses. Many times the “Cambus,” or the university’s bus system will be free. If you can use their buses, you will save your gas money for the week.

Look for coupons online and at the grocery store you use. I am not recommending that you become an extreme couponer or anything. Just think about what you are buying and where you can afford to save money.

Find the free shows downtown or go to the park and play Frisbee golf with friends! Activities that are free usually tend to be a lot more fun for you and your pocketbook. Jump into your new financial situation with confidence and knowledge, and have a great time doing it! Check back often for more great easy to understand financial advice, that every college student is going to want to know about.

Family Considerations When Planning a College Education

Cost, unemployed highly educated people, skilled high paying jobs not requiring a degree. The perspective we will consider when looking at the question of a college education will be the most common, that is, the parents who basically plan the education of their children and also, because of their position as the bread-winner and heads of the family, plan the family’s expenditure and future.

A college education has often been considered to be vital to one’s future. It is almost written in stone for most people, despite the fact that most billionaires do not actually have one. A college education’s benefits of course cannot be ignored, even if you are interested in an entrepreneurial career.

Apart from the obvious skills set you may acquire, it also gives you something to fall back on in case entrepreneurship or any other career not involving a college education, like music, sports or acting, does not pay off.

There however, are a number of reasons why more and more often, the decision to get a college education may need to be taken a little more thoughtfully (apart, of course, from the fact that most millionaires do not have a college degree).

It has gotten more and more expensive to get a college education. Some people go through their whole lives saving up for the education of their children and this is a considerable financial and stressful burden for parents all over the United States and indeed, the rest of the world.

It also does not guarantee one a job. The press and web are full of stories of janitors with first degrees, Masters and Doctorates and with the economy globally being largely unpredictable, a college education is no guarantee to future financial stability.

Another notable statistic has developed over the last eight to ten years, especially in the United States. More and more jobs, rather well paying jobs at that, do not actually need a college education. The skills-set for these positions can be acquired in a shorter and cheaper period through more accessible vocational institutions, while for some of them, on the job training is preferred. To give a few examples, some of these include Casino Gaming Manager ($67,000), Web Surfer ($86,000), Elevator Installer and Repairer ($69,000), Industrial Production Managers ($85,000), Ship Captains ($87,000), In-flight Service Managers ($72,000), Illustrators with advertising agencies ($60,000), and Locomotive Engineers ($70,000). If you factor in the debt burden that is represented by student loans which people often resort to in order to get a college education, as well as the interest accumulated before those loans are paid off, a rather grim picture emerges.

Inevitably of course, one cannot ignore socio-economic factors like the fact that a lot of families in the United States are single parent families, which makes saving for a college education even harder than it used to be for the once typical two-parent house-hold.

As such, the decision on whether to get a college education today is no longer simply an automatic one. It involves a family, the parent or parents in this case, taking a close and prudent look at their financial position and having a greater understanding of economic global trends, particularly those influencing the preferred or stated careers of their children and the socio-economic environment they exist in.