Buying

The Smart Way to Get A Mortgage

The current economy and dire predictions of the real estate market to come may frighten prospective buyers from taking that big step into home ownership. But with careful preparation and research, there’s no reason to be afraid when setting out to obtain a home loan.

house mortgage

As with any large purchase, research is the first step to finding and applying for a mortgage. Examine your personal finances and assets, figure out what kind of monthly payment you can afford, not to mention whether you have enough on hand to cover fees, underwriting and closing costs. The majority of lenders require a significant down payment – between five and twenty percent – and you should know ahead of time how to secure that lump sum. Beyond your current financial situation, make sure to contact one or more credit report services to review your credit score and history, making sure to correct any errors right away. Once you’re satisfied that you have the assets and income necessary to maintain your mortgage payments, it’s time to research potential lenders.

Whether it’s through a credit union, broker or direct lender; rates, fees and closing costs determine which loan is best for you. Look into the approval percentages of the lenders you’re interested in, as well as their interest rates. If you go with an adjustable rate rather than fixed, ask how your monthly payments will vary with market fluctuations. Another often overlooked expense is Private Mortgage Insurance. If you apply for a loan that is more than 80% the cost of the property, most lenders will require a monthly insurance payment to protect them in the event you default on the loan. There are limitless online resources for loan shoppers, and www.fdic.gov even offers a shoppers worksheet to help you compare and contrast the details of up to four different loans. Remember, these institutions are fighting for your business. Don’t hesitate to let them know that you’re shopping around for the best rates.

When you’re ready to apply for the loan, ask for a “lock-in” that puts the rate, fees, points and closing costs in writing, protecting you from rate changes throughout the approval process. For the application you’ll need to provide proof of residency, check stubs, bank statements, tax returns and any income from investments you may have. Once you’ve provided the lender with the application they’ll review your credit history, evaluate your ability to pay and perhaps appraise the property. Given the research and due diligence necessary, it can take up to three or four weeks to receive a final decision. Remember, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act protects borrowers from discrimination by lenders due to sex, race, age, religion, national origin, marital status, or income from public assistance. If you suspect your failure to be approved is due to discrimination don’t hesitate to confront the creditor and your state’s Attorney General. However, with hard work and preparation, chances are good that you’re on the road to owning your own property.

 

Coupon Basics: Types of Coupons

While coupons used to conjure up images of homebody housewives or hobby-less elderly women, popular television shows like TLC’s Extreme Couponing, in combination with continued tough economic times, have made couponing less taboo for the young, the single and the non-soccer-moms among us.

couponing tips

But you don’t need hours of preparation, intricate spreadsheets or a support team like the stars of these shows to rack up impressive savings. Understanding how coupons work is the key to saving success.

There are two main types of coupons, each with different purposes and uses.

Manufacturer coupons are distributed by the manufacturers of specific products in an attempt to boost sales of those products. These coupons generally carry the brand name of the products, or the company that produces it, but will not list a store name. Manufacturer coupons can typically be used at any location where that product is sold, regardless of location or chain. The store later sends your redeemed coupons to the manufacturer to be reimbursed for the savings they passed on to you.

Manufacturer coupons can most often be found in newspaper inserts or on the products themselves; stuck to the exterior of the item, contained within the packaging, or printed on the interior of the packaging. These are also the coupons you often see in both static and electronic dispensers along store shelving.

Rebates are a slightly different family of coupons offered by manufacturers. Mail-in Rebates offer savings after the fact rather than at the time of purchase. After your purchase, you send a receipt, a form or a proof of purchase to the company to be reimbursed for the value of the coupon. Rebates have expiration dates, just like other coupons, so just be sure to read the fine print to make sure you get your savings.

Store coupons often look similar to manufacturer coupons, but they can only be used at the indicated location. These coupons may or may not have a specific brand name or product listed, but they will carry a store logo indicating where they can be redeemed. Stores offer these venue-specific coupons in an attempt to get you through their doors instead of someone else’s.

Store coupons are most often found in newspaper inserts or mailings to the local area. Occasionally, these coupons are also found in-store, either in the form of flyers or booklets distributed at entry or in the dispensers on the shelves. Joining a store’s rewards program can also earn you members-only store coupons sent to your home or email.

Catalina coupons are the coupons that print at the register after a purchase, and these rewards can be a combination of store and manufacturer coupons. These coupons are awarded and printed based on your spending habits, and are usually triggered when you spend a certain amount on a product type or purchase a pre-determined number of that product. Depending on the current catalina promotions, you can receive printed coupons that offer you money off your next product, money off your next purchase, or a free product as a reward for reaching the spending threshold.

If you’re shopping online rather than in store, be sure to check out our previous article, “Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Saving,” to see the benefits and uses on online coupons and promo codes.

And be sure to check out parts two and three in the Coupon Basics series to understand coupon values and maximize your coupon savings.

How to Stock Up and Save

As a college student, you will begin buying things you did not previously have to worry about, such as toilet paper and groceries. These things can sometimes be expensive and rarely go on sale. This means that you have to be aware of the sales and stock up while you can! Here are a few items to keep an eye out for sales!

Stock up and Save

1. Toilet paper

Toilet paper is an interesting product. You can by the cheap kind and risk chaffing and other uncomfortableness, or you can spend big bucks on the softest and most comfortable kind and really bring up your total at the cash register. Personally, I would rather spend more and avoid any unfortunate side effects of the cheap brand. Watch for sales and stock up while you can!

2. Soda

Soda or other beverages can really add up. Water bottles, Gatorades, Arizona Sweet Tea, Coca-Cola and Pepsi products go on sale rather often. Store and off brand products are almost always cheaper than name brand and usually are made by the same companies creating the name brand companies. Stock up on the beverages when you can! You can even recycle the bottles and cans and get money back to put towards your next purchase!

3. Toiletries

I do not know about all of you, but my wonderful Mother almost always purchased my shampoo, conditioner, soap, tooth paste, and other toiletries for me while I still lived at home. Now that I am buying these things on my own, I realize just how quickly they eat up my checking account. Hit up these sales whenever possible and you will never have to worry about not having something when you need it!

4. Favorite snacks

Crackers, chips, cereal, and cookies are all college favorites. If you are burned out on Ramen noodles and soup, sales on these items can be your relief! Sales on these items can come up often, but be sure to look for manufacturer coupons as well, to bring the price down even lower!

5. School Supplies

I lose my pens and pencils almost weekly. I go through notebooks and loose leaf paper like nobody’s business. So I am constantly watching for sales on school supplies. Better to over stock and have more for next semester, than be scrounging for writing utensils your last few weeks of classes!

Stock up and save on all these items and you will thank me later. Do not forget to watch for coupons as well! Sign up for sites, like Groupon, that will send you coupons for local products. Pick up a copy of your grocery store’s weekly ad and leaf through all the deals. Saving money is as easy as that.

This Holiday Seasons Most Popular Gifts

As the Christmas and New Year holidays drew near, certain products started flying off the shelves, or more accurately, getting ordered online. In no particular order, these include:
holiday gifts

“Steve Jobs”, a book about the late Apple guru that passed away on October 5th, 2011. His impact on the world of computing and mobile devices was totally unprecedented and it was no surprise that this book, written by Walter Isaacson, was particularly popular, retailing at $17.49.

Amazon’s Kindle was another popular Christmas gift, with shoppers not being daunted at all by its $199; indeed, most considered it a steal for the tablet, despite it’s relatively short-time span on the market.

Nintendo surprised everyone with the game Just Dance 3, a sing and dance video that could also double as a cardiovascular regime guide. Unlike the usual role-playing or first shooter videos, this broke from the norm and was an instant it at $29.96.

Olay put out a cut price beauty product called the Olay Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System that was hugely popular with the ladies. At only $ 26,it claimed to compete solidly with similar product packages used by professionals and was ten times cheaper. It would seem they were telling the truth, because it simply flew off the online shelves.

Apart from topping charts, Adele’s sophomore album “19”, sold at $9.99 was also a huge hit with Christmas shoppers with the singer-song writer from England making a mockery of poor CD sales in the industry.

Toys and holidays are synonymous and the Alex Toys Friends 4 Ever Bracelet Making Kit, handy for making friendship bracelets using beads and floss was a hit with children, selling at $20.47.

Movies also were best sellers during the holiday, and true to tradition, one of the best- selling movies was from Walt Disney Studios. The help, sold at $16.99 compared to traditional favorites from the industry in terms of sales.

Levi, the jean making brand, is a traditionally strong selling item all year round and sales shot up during the holiday season, with the jeans available in a conveniently wide array of sizes and selling at $39.99.

Beads seemed to be a central theme this holiday and the affordablely priced jewelry from Heart Mother & Daughter Beads Charm, selling at $9.99 worked as the perfect mother and child holiday gift as well.

With the holidays and a White Christmas comes the inconvenience of using a touch screen. Well, along came Agloves with the Agloves Original Touch Screen Gloves which made using a touch screen during winter for phones, tablets and other media much easier.

Honorable mention also goes to the following gifts: Janae cuff links, the ultimate in statement cuffs; gift-wrapped pistachio cookies; classy but affordable earrings from Mark; the hugely popular HoodieBuddie With HB3 Technology Sweatshirt, a hit with husbands all over the country and finally comfy Minnetonka Men’s Slippers, all of which retailed affordably at stores during the holidays.

Give the Gift to Save

Christmas is literally right around the corner and I know that many of us will be doing some last minute shopping!  When I pick out gifts for my college friends, I try to pick things that I know will be beneficial in ways that go beyond just making them happy.  Give these gifts ideas a good look over, you might just want to add them to your wish list.

1. Gift cards

Well, as if that one wasn’t obvious enough.  My favorite gift card to receive? Food or gas cards.  They are probably two of the things I spend most of my money on and I jump at any chance at spending some else’s money on them!

2. Hulu Plus or Netflix subscription

Buy them a year or couple month’s subscription to either Hulu Plus or Netflix! I am obsessed with watching and re-watching Drop Dead Diva on Netflix.  You’ll save them the money they would be wasting buying the seasons of their favorite show on DVD…or you could just buy them their favorite show and favorite season on DVD!  The choice is up to you. (cough, cough, Netflix!)

3. Coffee Machine

Does your friend need a serious Starbucks fix in the morning? It’s okay, no judgment. We all need our caffeine. We just don’t need to pay 5 dollars for a small…or whatever the heck that Italian word is.  Buy your friend a coffee machine and the first cup of the semester is on her! Enough said.

Now it is your turn.  Tell me what you think would be a great gift to give or receive that would save you money! Send all answers to megan@investinged.com and the best answer will be spot lighted in the next article.  So don’t be shy, share the savings!

 

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.

Smart Online Shopping, Part 1: Security

Online shopping has become so mainstream that much of the early hysteria over the potential identity theft associated with online purchases has waned. In place of this hysteria, though, many have adopted a rightfully placed healthy fear of having their purchasing data compromised. There are always risks associated with making online purchases, but there are also many ways to protect yourself and your financial data from being misused.

Sticking to secure websites and transactions for your online shopping can significantly reduce your risk of compromising your financial information. A simple way to see if the website is secure is to look for some sort of symbol and logo along the top or bottom of the website indicating that the company has protected it’s purchasing process. Often times, you’ll see a padlock, a key, a checkmark or some other symbol indicating that the company has secured it’s website for the protection of their customers.

Not all websites advertise their security, though. Another way to see if the website is secure is to look to the URL, that is, the address bar at the top of your Internet browser. Most URLs you see start with “http,” but some will start with “https.” The “s” stands for “secure,” and that little “s” means you can trust the security of the transaction you’re about to make, even if the website is not otherwise labeled as protected or secured.

But the presence of an “https” or a logo with a lock and key is never a guarantee of security. If you’re looking for added security, or if the website you’re dying to shop on doesn’t display the security indicators above, there are other methods for protecting your purchasing information.

Many banks offer alias cards for your credit or debit accounts. These cards, also called “virtual accounts” or “secure cards,” allow you to make online purchases without having to enter your actual credit or debit card information. Alias credit cards or accounts often have single-use numbers that wouldn’t work if someone tried to re-use their information maliciously. In the case of alias debit cards, you can transfer money to the alias account before making your purchase. Should the debit card number become compromised, the would-be thief would not have access to your full account, but would instead be limited to the amount you had transferred for the purpose of the purchase.

If your banking company doesn’t offer an alias card or virtual account, you can still use a single-use gift card for your purchases. These gift cards are often sold at grocery stores or gas stations, and are most commonly Visa or American Express cards. This is probably the safest way to purchase online, as the cards are not in any way linked to your actual banking information. Just like with the alias debit cards, any would-be thief who obtained the card number would be limited to the amount of damage they could do. In this case, the only thing compromised would be whatever amount remains on the gift card.

With so many easy ways to protect your purchasing information, there’s no reason to be afraid of online shopping. And, if you’re going to move forward with shopping online, check out “Smart Online Shopping, Part 2: Saving” for tips on getting the most bang for your now-protected buck!

Car Insurance

After college or before it many people start to find themselves owning their first car. Something that many people have trouble deciding is what insurance they need for their car. It is important to consider a few things while buying insurance. The amount of coverage you are required to have, the amount of coverage you actually want, and what company fits your needs best.

Car Insurance
Don’t even ask what car insurance on a car like this is!

By law you are required to at least have a minimum of coverage and car insurance to legally drive a vehicle. The coverage varies by state and it is important to look at what your state requires for a minimum of insurance coverage. This is meant to protect all people on the road.

You may indeed want to buy more coverage than is required and this may be the best thing for you to do. Minimum coverage does mean minimum cost, but it also means minimum protection. Some minimum coverage’s might not protect your car or you well enough. It is important to look at different coverage plans and determine which things you want covered such as personal liability coverage, which helps to protect you from lawsuits in case of an accident.

It is also important to shop around and get quotes from different companies, and to always checkout reviews about the companies you get quotes from. If you get the exact same coverage from one company for a cheaper price than it would be from another, than it is probably a good idea to choose them.

 

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.