Saving

Just a Tip

Saving money is something we all struggle with from the young age of 16 to the adult age of 50.  After a little experimenting I have found a couple simple and easy ways to save money.  As a college student, these few methods are very simple and very do-able.

Bank Your Change

You may have heard of programs like this on television.  You use your card to make purchases and the bank rounds the purchase amount to the next dollar, putting the difference into the account of your choosing.  For me, the account my change is placed into is my CD account. When starting a CD account, you choose how long you wish to keep your CD untouched.  That means you will be forced to save money through saving your change.

The Jar Technique…

…otherwise known as the literal save your change technique.  I do not like to carry cash, but when I do I try to break it down to as much coin change as possible.  I think put it in an old mason jar and save it to a certain date or till the jar is full.  I also like to put my one and five dollar bills in the jar.  If I have something planned, like a dinner date with friends, a bowling night with family, a car wash, etc., I get the money in cash and put it in the jar as well so that I know I have it when I need it.  If you are like me and spend cash when you have it, the jar technique is an experiment you may want to invest in.

Savings jar
Even spare change put in a jar works for saving.

These are two small and simple ways to save money.  Whether you are a college student scrimping by for loan payments or an adult just trying to save a little pocket change, both these methods are worth your time.  Check them out and let me know how you do!

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.

Five Smart Financial Moves to Begin the New Year!

It’s a new year and with it of course, come some new resolutions on how to improve our way of life. A chief aspect that governs our lifestyles is our finances, and so outlined below are five suggested steps or areas which we need to either initiate, maintain or improve on in that particular regard.

Champagne

Savings

It would surprise many people to discover this but saving is not something that many people do. Like all good things that improve us, for saving to be effective, we need to adopt it as a habit, a mindset of sorts. Deciding that every income we get will be levied by a certain percentage which goes into untouched savings is a great first step. Follow this up with something methodical, for example, installing a standing order on your banking account so that every inflow of income that goes through it has a percentage deducted to a fixed deposit account. You will be impressed at how quickly you build your nest egg, and best of all, once the process is a habit, it simply gets stronger, securing your future.

Fiscal Planning

It is important to make sure you have filed all your tax returns, whether it is on income, property, or any other dues. This is vital because improperly filed taxes have a nasty habit of coming back to haunt you, and tend to gain interest as well. Make sure you do not owe the tax man anything.

Debt or Credit Management

Just like unpaid taxes, bad debt can be a terrible burden, particularly with rising interest rates. Calculate your total debt and start dealing with it promptly. Know to what extent you are in the red. It will give you perspective let you have a handle on what your next move should be, and it will also help you monitor interest and keep a decent credit rating, which is vital.

Investment

You will also need to look more carefully at how to invest whatever you are earning. Investment involves risk, of course, but calculated risk into assets and blue chip stocks are a safe way of managing your investment efforts. Look at solid and credible mutual fund managers as well, but do find a way to grow your hard-earned income that is significantly more effective than the comparatively low interest it will earn sitting in the bank.

Diversification of Income

Because of the current economic climate, never has the importance of income diversification been so high. Even when things improve with the global economy, having a diverse income base is always beneficial to ones lifestyle and welfare. It might not seem such a straight-forward option but you would be surprised at the areas that you can delve into and add to your own personal cash flow just by setting a few hours aside to develop a skill that is marketable or that fills a demand in the economy. Never has the proverbial statement “do not put all your eggs into one basket” been more relevant.

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 Juggle College Finances

With disposable income becoming a bigger and bigger problem both in the United States and globally and inflation and the economic situation increasingly unpredictable, investment in aspects of our lives like education is becoming harder to manage.

college finances

College education, of course, makes a critical the most important part of one’s education and is traditionally a major source of concern for the majority of families in the United States.

College education represents an expense process that covers many facets, and for a lot of people, the one thing that is focused on is tuition fees. Of course tuition forms a critical part of one’s college education but several other expenses play a role as well, without which the college degree may be encumbered or possibly not even achieved.

Apart from tuition fees, colleges have different fee structures that include registration, and access to different facilities at the university that may not be included in the tuition fees structure.

Daily living expenses are also important, as one needs to take into consideration meals, accommodation, transportation and things of that nature. Study materials, like text books and laptop computers cannot be ignored either.

All these and many more mean the study process for a college student is a difficult and expensive one for a lot of people.

However, there are a number of ways of reducing the cost implications covering the requirements of a college education.

Keeping the college choice within your state of residence or home states cuts back on transportation costs considerably and makes access to scholarships easier especially if you focus on those which are within your locality; people tend, surprisingly, to ignore these.

You can also consider the advantages, cost-wise, of using community college, which have particularly pocket friendly tuition rates and permit one to carry college credit accumulated in high school.

Applying for Free Application for Federal Student Aid doesn’t hurt at all, especially if you have more than one child attending college. You may just fall through the cracks or the criteria can include you because of the obvious implied financial strain.

Once in college, it is important for the student to remain focused on his or her studies and goals. All those extra semesters or papers carried forward imply additional costs that add to your financial load. Some universities also offer programs that help you save or recoup on certain costs like tuition, travel costs for visiting family as well as text books (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/08/24/colleges-offer-hidden-savings-to-students). It helps to be on the look out for such initiatives.

Being prudent with your money at this point in your life is always going to be a challenge but it forms an integral part of learning financial discipline. Look out for student discounts in college towns, which are usually on offer at restaurants, shops and clubs. Prioritize your technical needs, for instance, do you really need to have a printer in your room? Make the most of what the college does offer you, like meals which make an unnecessary dent in your personal expense account when you eat out.

When looking to cut costs or save, it’s more often than not, the little things that actually count and the same applies to college-related expenses.

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.