Buying

Rewarding to Shop

As a college student, I am always looking for ways to save money when buying the necessities.  After some major research and personal experience, I have compiled a list of stores that offer some awesome rewards programs. It pays to shop my friends, especially if you shop smart.  Take a look into these programs and give ‘em a try.

  • Target Red Card

This is, essentially, a credit card and if you are like me credit cards are a scary, scary thing.  But Target does have 2 options for their Red Card.  You can use it as is, a credit card, or connect it to your debit card, using it as your debit card when you shop their stores.  Either way you will receive 5% off your total every time you shop. Basically, just a pretty sweet deal all around.

  • Panera Bread

One of the most delicious soup, bread, and pastry restaurants I have ever gone to with an equally delicious rewards program. Just by scanning your card every time you come in, you receive free drinks and food! Free anything is fantastic, don’t ya think?

  • Hy-Vee Fuel Savers

If you are in the Midwest and anywhere near a Hy-Vee grocery store, you must be living under a rock if you have not heard of the Fuel Saver program.  Hy-Vee advertises that through purchasing certain items you can earn discounts towards gas that you can save for up to 30 days from the purchase date.  Costco and other large chain grocery stores participate in gas discount programs similar to this and are definitely worth checking out!

  • Student Advantage Card

This is a student credit card that gives you discounts on a ton of things; flights, hotels, textbooks, and clothing stores being amongst those things.  I have not used this program, but of the friends of mine who have, it has been a great success.

shopping discounts
Many stores offer shopping discount cards

These are just a few examples of programs that can help you save when you shop with them.  Do you know any store, restaurant, or company that offers a rewards program? Are they better than the ones I just listed? Oh yeah? Well, let me here ‘em! Email the store name and website to me including your name and home state to megan@investinged.com with the subject heading of Financial Ed!, and share the discounts!

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.

How to Pick Charities to Donate To

The decision to donate to a charity is not just a noble one; it is a reflection of empathy on one’s part and an understanding that where one has been blessed by fate, others have been less fortunate. So for those seeking to improve the lot of humanity, to give back, for those seeking to “be the change they seek”, there are a number of pointers that can ensure that their gestures actually have the impact they have in mind and reach their intended target.

Choose a charity

The method of choosing which charity to donate to that are outlined below are not perfect methods but they will offer a guideline that can help one make an informed decision on how to impact the world around them.

(Credibility. Efficacy. Community Neighborhood. Immediacy. Passion. Anonymity)

Credibility

It is important that you choose a charity that has gone through a vetting process of some sort. This process varies from one area to another but certain aspects of the vetting process are fairly easy to spot: the charity should be registered, and have a recognizable board and patronage of standing within the community; it’s activities and how it puts it’s resources to use should be transparent, and easily accessible financial records play an important role in this; it’s impact should be visible, and not simply at a PR level but intrinsically, in line with it’s stated vision and goals.

Efficacy

The charity should be able to actually effect change in the individual lives and communities it works with. It is all very well to provide shelter for the homeless, but alongside this, those sheltered should find a system that helps them better themselves so that they move on to a way of life that helps them earn a living and provide for themselves so the shelter can help another lost cause.

Community

The charity should be impacting directly on the community it exists in. Global charities naturally have global reach, but to actually work, charities need to experience the reality of the people whose lives they are seeking to have an impact on.

Immediacy

There are sometimes situations that demand an instant response from the community, whether local, nationwide, or even globally. These often occur during natural disasters like earthquakes, outbreaks of disease and tsunamis. In this particularly situation, creditable organizations like the United Nations make impromptu calls for immediate help and these are calls that one should respond to when seeking to donate. In this particular scenario, every dollar counts, and the immediacy of the situation also validates it.

Passion

One should also find a charity that appeals to one’s passions, or beliefs. It is easier to relate to a cancer charity, for example, if you have suffered from the disease or have known somebody who has been ravaged by it. The things we are passionate about are often the ones we are also most effective with.

Anonymity

As much as possible, do seek a charity that ensures the donor remains anonymous. It gives real meaning to your offer; the reward is in you yourself knowing.