College Budgeting For Parents: What To Know BEFORE You Pay The Bursar

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When you’re preparing your college-bound child, you tend to worry about grades, test scores and admission essays. Once they’ve decided on where they’ll take classes, your attention shifts to tuition payments, schedules and how well your child will get along with their roommates. There’s a lot of preparation – mentally, emotionally and financially­ – as your student begins his or her newest adventure.

 

Don’t forget to focus on your own obligations as well. Proactive consideration of your established budget is smart planning for you and your student. Financial stability is one of the leading factors of happiness in adulthood, so teaching your child to budget in their college years is a life lesson with serious real-world impact.

 

Look At Your Own Accounts

Take an honest look at what you can afford to pay for and how much monetary help you can provide. If you have other children in the house, or if you foresee the need to assist your own parents as they age, you should strongly consider and account for these forthcoming expenses. How does your retirement look? This should take precedence over paying for your child’s college costs. Students will have a much easier time getting financial assistance for tuition and living costs than you will if you find yourself short on funds at retirement.

 

Be Transparent about Support

Once you’ve decided what you want to do financially for your student, tell them! Too often, parents don’t communicate with their children about finances. While this is often not intentional, it can be harmful to the their ability to maintain their own finances. What and how much you’ll be supporting them as they begin their college careers is an excellent opportunity to begin this conversation.

 

Manage Expectations

If you’re willing and able to financially assist your student, it’s extremely important to have a discussion with your child about how, when and what you’re offering to cover. Too often, parents send money or set up a stipend hoping their child will be naturally prone to manage their expenses. Caught up in the novelty of their newfound independence, a student might try to justify purchasing an $80 team jersey instead of allotting their funds for unforeseen expenses like gas money or fees for extracurricular clubs or groups.

 

Clarify what you will pay for long before school begins. This way, your student can begin making their own, independent choices about saving or spending their money. The summer before freshman year is a great time to begin putting together a budget. Establish a budget with your student and remember they’ve likely never done this before. CommunityAmerica offers a budgeting program called Finance Works, but there are other programs out there like You Need A Budget or Mint that make creating a budget simple. These digital programs also allow you to monitor your funds, and your student’s, easily.

 

Look Beyond the Obvious

Many parents automatically look at tuition payments as the best way to support, but if the student can get solid financial assistance on tuition, consider other ways to help. Bill or insurance support, covering grocery costs or other living expenses are areas to consider.

If you’re unable to help out with college costs, there are still things you can do to promote financial success for your student. Make time to help them fill out FAFSA paperwork, scholarship applications or other student aid forms. If your child is working part time as they finish high school, you may consider ‘matching’ their paychecks or tips. It’s a gesture that can encourage them to work harder while promoting financial diligence.

 

As your student chooses classes and activities, they’ll need to learn how to budget their time. Next week, we’ll discuss how you can help them budget their money as well. For more advice on navigating financials or saving for higher ed, click here for friendly advice from the CommunityAmerica Credit Union Savin’ Mavens. This post was written by Maven Jason Armstrong, a branch manager at CommunityAmerica.

How to Free Up Cash to Save for Retirement

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I recently took a hard look at my retirement savings, and let’s just say I was disappointed at what I saw. While I’m not woefully behind, I do have some catching up to do.

If you haven’t thought about your retirement recently, it would behoove you to take a look at your savings and plan. Retirement is one of those things you have to prepare for – failing to do so can take the shine off your Golden Years. If you’ve fallen behind, or you’re currently not setting money away, here are some ideas to get you on track.

1. Review Your Mortgage Terms
Thirty year refinance rates are currently around 4%, while 15-year rates are hovering around 3%. If you’re paying a significantly higher interest rate, a refinance might be prudent. Just make sure you contact a qualified mortgage refinance professional before committing to a new loan.

2. Take Advantage of Employer Retirement Savings Programs
Does your employer offer a 401k retirement savings program? And more importantly, does it match funds? If so, start investing up to the company limit. This is money provided to you free of charge from your employer, which usually beats the gains you could accumulate by investing elsewhere.

3. Commit to a Budget
If your goal is to ramp up retirement savings, you must set (and stick to) a personal budget. Create one online at the BudgetPulse website, or develop a spreadsheet of your own. After listing your income and expenses, see what you pay for each monthly bill, and look for ways to cut costs. For instance, getting a home audit done by your energy provider can lower your energy expenses, and there are almost always teaser deals available for new cable TV, Internet, or smartphone plans.

4. Rethink Your Spending Habits
What would you prefer – a new smartphone and the latest upgrade on your tablet, or the peace of mind that comes with a fully stocked retirement account? Hopefully, it’s the latter. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses, and focus on your future. Your best bet is to forgo short-term luxuries in order to achieve long-term goals.

5. Sell Your Goods
Do you have a drawer full of old electronics, or a closet filled with toys your kids don’t use anymore? Create a seller account on eBay or Amazon and start making money. Describe your items accurately, include photos, and price your items to sell.  Ship fast in secure packaging to cut down the possibility of returns.

6. Don’t Buy a New Car
If you’re about to pay off your current vehicle, don’t immediately take out a loan for a new car. Make do with what you have, and each month you drive your paid-for car, you can put the savings into your retirement account.

Once you have more to invest, make sure you’re investing it wisely. Study up on your retirement account’s expense ratio, which is basically the fees taken out for fund management. Opt for indexed funds and exchange traded funds, which usually have lower expense ratios than actively managed funds. Then once per year, review your investments and make adjustments based on your risk tolerance, age, and investment performance. Saving for retirement is great, but your work doesn’t end there – devote care and attention to your portfolio as you move forward.

How are you planning and saving for retirement?

How To Save Money on Kids’ Birthday Parties

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kids parties

We are about 2 months away from celebrating not one – but TWO birthdays!  Both of our girls were born in September (as was their dad), which makes for one expensive month!   Not only that, but the girls’ birthdays are just 4 days apart from one another!
We try to give our kids a great party, but not spend too much.  I know how quickly spending can get out of control for kids’ parties.  While some think bigger is better, I personally think that could not be further from the truth.

HOST / HOSTESS SAVINGS

 

Balloons/Streamers/Signs.  They can be lots of fun and great to look at, but what is the purpose?  Honestly, most kids will never even notice and you can quickly save yourself $10, $15 or even more!  We have colored table cloths for our party  – just to make clean up easier.  No fancy decorations here this year!

Party Ware. This is an area where your costs can add up quickly. There is really not any reason to have the fancy plates or cups. After all, no one really notices them. They gobble up the cake, swallow the punch and immediately throw it into the trash. Why not just stick with plain white? Or, if you want something more fun, pick up colored items rather than themed plates and napkins.

Party Favors/Hats.  I have been dealing with goodie bags for years.  My kids bring them home, I pull out one piece of candy or a pencil (if I am lucky), they look at and play with the things inside for about 30 seconds and it all goes into the trash.  I have wondered why is it that parents feel that you must give out goodie bags?  Isn’t the party for the child and not the guests?

I know that many people still want to give them out.  If you do decide to have goodie bags, just keep a few things in mind.  Pick up inexpensive items such as stickers, lollipops, sunglasses or things that are inexpensive.  If you can, try to avoid the “2 second toys”….the ones that mom will pick up for 2 seconds before she throws them in the trash.

Invitations. The main point of the invitation is to let your guests know the Five “Ws”: Who, What, Where, When & Why. You can get a simple, more plain invitation for about a third to one-half of the cost of fancy invitations. You’ll save even more if you bypass the customized, printed invitations. However, if you really want something personalized, check out Vistaprint – they always have great deals on printed items.

Cake. While professionally decorated cakes are fun, why not try your hand at doing your own? Use some fun icings, candles and candy decorations and your child will probably not even know that he or she is missing out. There are lots of great photos and ideas out there to help you decorate your own.

Dinner/Lunch.  I have been to many parties where there are snacks and then cake.  My kids do not eat the snacks.  They really only want the cake.  Why not opt out of serving it?  If you plan your party for the right time of day, there is not any need to feed the kids anything other than some cake and/or ice cream.  In the kids would rather fill up on that than snacks anyhow!

GUEST SAVINGS

 

So, now you know what you can do to save money when throwing a party. But, what if you aren’t throwing a party – but attending instead. Can you save money? You bet – here’s how:

R.S.V.P.  You might be thinking how does this save me money?  Quite frankly, it doesn’t.  This saves the host/hostess money.

It seems that so many people have forgotten what this means. It is a French phrase: Répondez s’il vous plaît. Not sure of the translation? It simply means – Respond if you please.

If you or your children are invited to a party, you should have the courtesy to call and let the host/hostess know whether you will be attending or not.   This is not option.  It is respectful – plain and simple.  Think of it like this – if someone invites 20 people and purchases food, etc and plans on that many and only 4 show up – look at the wasted money. On the flip side, if you plan on 20 and 25 show up, you don’t have enough to feed your guests.

In addition, many parties are held in locations where the family pays per child. If you do not show up or, if you even show up without letting them know, can cost the family more than expected (Oh – and whatever you do – don’t bring siblings to parties when they are not invited – unless YOU are paying for them to participate).

By taking the time to call the host or hostess, you can essentially save them money so that they can do proper planning/spending. I know as a mom I GREATLY appreciate this more than my guests know.

Gifts. You don’t have to spend a lot to give a child a great gift. Books, coloring books, crayons, puzzles, games – these are all gifts that seem to have gone to the wayside, but can be found at a really great price. Try to buy gifts when they are on clearance off season and stock a gift closet. That way, when it is time for a gift, you have one handy.

Gift Wrap/Cards/Bows. Why not stop by the dollar store and pick up a roll of paper and card ? They always are just ripped apart in minutes and no child really cares how the package looks – they just love opening packages. After all, it is the gift that matters and not the packaging. You can even find plain colored paper and bows after Christmas and stock up to cover your party needs throughout the year.

One final thing that I want to share is what we are doing with our kids.  Every two or three years they get a BIG party — otherwise, it is low key.  Sure, we invite friends, but we keep the costs low and then can save so we can do something extra special for those years with the big “to-do”.   We might pick up a balloon or two during the off years, but most things are kept simple and inexpensive.  My kids learned this very young.  We still celebrate.  They still invite friends over.  However, we don’t blow the budget for 2 hours of fun.

Now that our oldest is ten, we’ve migrated from a big party to just taking a couple of friends out to dinner and then taking them somewhere to play games.  It will not only cost us less, kids are so busy that trying to find the time to have a party when many can attend is much more difficult.  This way, she can have a couple of friends with her to celebrate (which will actually cost mom and dad much less money)!

Finally, I don’t compare myself to other parents and what they do (or do not do).  Everyone has their own budget and own ideas.  It is not for me to judge what they have done or not done at their child’s party.   As long as my children have fun and more importantly the birthday boy or girl has fun, then that is all that matters.

Whether throwing or attending a party, there are ways to save.  The most important thing is to celebrate how much that person means to you.  Do you have any great party money saving tips?  If so, please share!

Five Easy Tips to Save Money on Back to School Shopping!

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Earlier this morning, I was a guest on Kansas City Live, a local talk show.  I shared five easy tips to help you save money on your Back to School Shopping — for clothes and supplies!  I wanted to pass along these tips with all of you who may not have seen the segment!

1 – Shop at home first.  Take a look at the clothes you have – including hand me downs from older kids.  Make a list of the things you need.

You can also look at your supplies.  Perhaps you have a pencil box from last year that you can clean up and use again.  The same goes for scissors and other items.

2 –  Shop the sales.  You’ll find deals on items at various times.  For instance, if you know you need glue sticks and they are on sale this week, go ahead and pick them up if you will be at the store anyhow.  By combining each week’s sales, you can take advantage of all of the deals.
3 – Consignment stores.  If you need clothes, these are a GREAT way to not only find deals, but also make money.  You can sell the items your kids can’t wear anymore.  Turn around and shop with that money and get those items you need for your kids.
4 – Use those coupons!  Target has great store coupons and there are also other coupons coming out all of the time, which you can use towards those supplies for your kids.  For instance, there was recently a coupon to save $1.50 off of 3 up & up school supply items this week at Target – which can make for FREE items.

Also use those coupons on clothes.  Look for free shipping offers and discounts on clothes and uniforms.  You can use apps, such as Coupon Sherpa to find those coveted coupons!

5 – Know your budget!  The average family will spend more than $650 this year on supplies and clothes.  That doesn’t mean you have to.  Look at your budget and determine how much you have to spend and make sure you stick to that.  The best recommendation I have to stick to your budget is to shop with cash – because you can never overspend!

10 Tips To Help You Save Money On Back to School Clothes

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10 Ways to Save on Back to School Clothes

It is time for back to school once again.  It is expected that the average family will end up spending around $635 this season (according to the National Retail Federation).  That includes the much needed supplies, electronics and clothing.

You can actually spend less than this amount by taking steps to ensure you save as much as possible.  You can easily save on your supplies by finding the best deals (see our Back to School Database).   You can also save on your kids’ clothes by following a few money saving tips!  Below you will find ten:

1.  Shop Your Closets.  Before you head out to shop, take a look in your kids’ closets and dressers.  Have them try things on so you can see what fits and what does not.  Then, make a list of the things you will need.

2.  Shop Thrift Stores.  Second hand stores often have items which have little wear.  If you look at how quickly your kids grow and the cost of clothes, this is an easy way to pick up new threads which they will wear for only a few months.

3.  Stay at Home.  Oftentimes, you can find online codes to save on your purchase.  If you happen to also get free shipping, that makes for an even better deal.  This will allow you to shop from the comfort of home without fighting crowds.  You can also save time by not driving around as well as fuel costs.

4.  Put your Phone to Work.  There are many great apps you can download to help you find coupons and discounts.   One of my favorites is CouponSherpa.  They have retail coupons which you can pull up right at checkout. The cashier will scan your phone and you can save – without having to clip a thing before you leave!

5.  Shop The Sales Tax Holiday.  Many states offer a sale’s tax holiday to help reduce the burden to families.  We pay nearly 9% for sales tax where I live, so that can add up to significant savings when we shop over that weekend.  Find out if your state is participating by reviewing our 2014 Sales Tax Holiday List.

6.  Clothing Swap.  Find friends who have kids who might be a size larger or smaller than your kids and do a swap!  You can give them the clothes your kids can no longer wear nd and get new items as well.

7.  Recycle Clothes.  Just because you have a short sleeved shirt doesn’t mean you can’t wear it in the winter.  Just add a long sleeved tee underneath and you’ve got something new for fall and winter!

8.  Shop clearance.  It is still warm outside (and will be for a few more months).  You can find clearance deals on shorts and tees, which is what your kids will start out wearing initially anyhow.  This is a great way to pick up a few items to start off the school year.  That also allows you time to see discounts and deals on the other items they might need later in the season.

9.  Always shop off-season.  This is one you might not be able to do right at this moment, however, when you shop ahead for the next season you can save.  For example, winter items are always put on clearance in January (which never makes any sense to me).  If you can find jeans, coats or other items, pick them up one or two sizes larger for your kids and hold onto them for the following winter.

10.  Keep your budget in check.  Sure, your kids might want the $150 sneakers, but if your budget is set at a $50, stick to it.  They might think it is the end of the world if they don’t have the best, but you need to make sure you don’t overspend.  If your child want something at a higher price than what you are willing to pay, you can always allow them to cover the difference.  They might just learn that they really don’t want that item as badly as they thought, when they have to cough up the cash for it.

What tips do you have to save on back to school clothes?

 

Saving Money For College: 529s, ESAs, IRAs (and Trusts), Oh My!

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We’ll start with the good news: Tuition rates grew at a much slower pace in the past year. The bad news is that from 2003 to 2013, tuition rates rose nearly 80 percent, far outpacing average changes in household incomes. With these startling rate hikes, it’s not surprising that nearly 60 percent (or close to 12 million people) borrow money to attend college. Combined with rising student loan interest, the best method of paying for higher education is to begin saving long before your kids are even thinking about college. But we have advice for parents wherever they are along the continuum.

 

All 50 States

 

A 529 plan (named for its section number in the Internal Revenue Code) is a smart, lower-risk (this could vary depending on how you invest) method of saving for college. Granted, It’s also the most recommended account for college savings. The main advantage of 529 plans is that the money you invest grows tax free (federally), and often there are state tax benefits as well. You can open a 529 savings account with as little as $25 and individuals can deposit up to $14,000 a year without incurring a gift tax. Your 529 savings cover all “qualified higher education expenses,” including:

  • Tuition
  • Room and board
  • Mandatory fees
  • Books, computers (if required)

All 50 states offer 529 plans, but some offer either a prepaid tuition plan ora college savings plan. Some states offer both (to see what your state offers, click here). Anyone can open a 529 plan for a student (or beneficiary) – parents, grandparents, other relatives or friends, and the investment is transferrable (with some limits).

Prepaid plans, which are not as common, effectively allow you to purchase tuition credits at today’s rates. Savings plan investmentsare based on market performance of your chosen stocks and bonds. Even for investment beginners, 529 plans are easy to choose from and understand. For more information on 529 plans, click here. There are, of course, other options to consider as well.

 

Options Abound

 

The primary, and often most attractive, difference between a Coverdell ESA (formerly called an Education IRA and recognized as a custodial/trust account) and a 529 plan is that the Coverdell ESA can be used to cover the tuition and education-related costs at primary and secondary schools. 529 plans are strictly for use at postsecondary and graduate schools.

The limit of contribution is $2,000/per year and the money you put into a Coverdell ESA must be spent by your child’s 30th birthday. If the funds aren’t used, they can be rolled over to another member of the family (who is under the age of 30). Another less attractive option is withdrawing the money, which is then subject to a 10 percent penalty and income taxes.

An alternative custodial trust you may consider is an UGMA (Uniform Gift to Minors Act) or an UTMA (Uniform Transfer to Minors Act) account. These accounts give parents control of contributions and withdrawals until the child reaches what’s called “the age of majority,” which is typically 18 or 21.

For more long-term planning, some families utilize Roth IRAs as a means to save for college. These contributions can be used for college expenses and any remaining funds can be saved for retirement. Roth IRAs differ from traditional IRAs in that contributions are post-tax.

For grandparents who want to help contribute to a child’s college education, the Roth IRA option is ideal, since account holders over age 59½ can withdraw their earnings and principal tax and penalty free. There are limitations for parents, however, and you should speak to a financial advisor about contribution limits and phase-out amounts, which vary depending on income and whether or not one or both parents are covered by a retirement plan at work.

 

Planning Ahead (For Everyone)

 

Any amount you can save to help out your student will help, but most financial experts would advise parents to consider their own retirement accounts first. As we’ve said before and it’s worth restating, there is no loan for retirement, which is why putting parents’ retirement (especially those amid their biggest earning years) smack dab in the middle of college savings advice is important! Why? Students have more options for borrowing money than do struggling retirees.

Scholarships, grants, part-time work in high school, financial aid, loans, and work-study programs are available to students. Here are some great online resources to help you get started when you’re deciding what and how to save for college:

  • Academic and financial college preparation checklists for parents and students, starting from elementary age to adult learners.
  • This Student Loan Calculator compares the average income associated with undergraduate majors to the cost of these programs.
  • Use a Net Price Calculator to figure out the estimated cost of your university.
  • Scholarship Finder is a great way to narrow down scholarships by eligibility requirements.

Remember, every dollar you and your child can save is money that won’t have to be repaid (with interest).

There are many ways to start saving for college tuition, but there’s more to school than that. Next week, we’ll break down student necessities like laptops and textbooks. For more advice on navigating financials or saving for higher ed, click here for friendly advice from the CommunityAmerica Credit Union Savin’ Mavens. This post was written by Maven Rance Carlson, vice president of CommunityAmerica Financial Solutions, LLC.

How to Determine Toilet Paper & Paper Towel Stockup Prices

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toiletpaperstockup

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is a good stock up price for toilet paper and paper towels?”  While what you pay can vary from region to region, everyone seems to see a really good deal on these products every now and again.  Here are my stock up prices:

 

TOILET PAPER:  $0.01 – $0.03 per square foot

PAPER TOWELS:  $0.03 – $0.05 per square foot

 

This requires a little bit of math on your end to determine your per square foot price — but it really is a simple calculation to complete:

 

Price Paid / Total Square Feet = Price Per Square Foot
(i.e.  $7.00 / 700 square feet = $0.01 per square foot)

I really don’t ever look at a price per roll since there are double sheets, bonus rolls, 1/2 sheets, etc.  That can be very misleading and oftentimes confusing when trying to determine if it is a good deal or not.   When you calculate your price per square foot, you really do see your “bottom” line price.

What do you consider other good stock up prices for the products you need?

Why You Should Avoid Falling for Debt Consolidation

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If you are deep in debt, the idea of just ONE payment at a single interest is always tempting.  However, is it the best thing you can do for yourself to get out of debt?  Not always.  The reason is that debt consolidation is just a symptom of a an underlying issue — spending!  If you don’t work to pay down the debt the right way and just lump it into one payment, more than 75% of the time, debt will return.  You have to cure the illness (in this case spending) so that the debt can truly go away.

Of course, who wouldn’t love to pay a little less out of your pocket each month with the promise of a lower interest rate?  It sounds ideal!!!  However, what most of these companies do not tell you is that it will take you LONGER to pay down your debt, thus resulting in your paying more over the life of the debt than you would have, had you just done it yourself.

Here is an example which might help explain it better (this was taken from Dave Ramsey, as he did the calculations and explained it perfectly):

If you happen to have two loans — one two-year loan for $10,000 at 12% interest and another four-year $20,000 loan at 10% interest.  Your monthly payment on loan #1 is $517 and on loan #2 would run $583.  That is $1,100 monthly.  

What a debt consolidation company will do is tell you that they can lower your monthly payment to $640 per month and your interest rate will be 9%.  At first glance, that looks FANTASTIC as you are saving $460 monthly.

However, what they do not tell you is that you will pay on that loan for a period of six year.  if you had paid it off yourself, you’d pay both off in 4 yrs (perhaps less if you used a snowball method).

The total amount you will pay back over the life of the loan through the consolidation company is $46,080.   However, had you just continued to pay the loans off yourself, your would have paid only $40,392.  That is an additional $5,688 out of YOUR pocket — which goes directly into the pocket of the debt consolidation company!!

Unfortunately, I have first had experience with a debt consolidation company.  When I was in my early 20′s it seemed that this was the perfect solution to my debt nightmare.  I could make just ONE payment every month and I’d get it all paid down.  I didn’t learn.  I still racked up debt.  I was paying out only a small amount less through this company, but yet, was going to have to pay on the loan for a longer term.  I ended up having to declare bankruptcy.  Not my finest moment, but one that taught me a valuable lesson:

Anything worth having in life requires hard work and dedication!

Once I went down that bankruptcy path, I did incur additional debt.  However, this time around, I did it the RIGHT way.  I worked hard (along side my husband) and we paid it all down — on our own.  No help from anyone.  We didn’t do a home equity loan.  We didn’t consolidate.  We just pushed ourselves and eventually, the debt was paid off.

I take complete ownership of my financial mishaps in life.  Looking back now, I am actually grateful for them.  I am the person I am today because of the failures I have made in my life.  I learned a lot — and did so the hard way.  However, I can now draw upon those experiences when teaching my children about finances, in hopes they will not repeat my mistakes.

Of course, if you are in need, there are companies who can help.  You can contact the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find someone in your area to help you.  You might also reach out to your local Community America Credit Union as they will help you too — free of charge!

Just don’t think debt consolidation is the easy way out.  It isn’t. There is no easy way out of debt.  Just hard work, blood, sweat and tears.  Lots of tears.

Thomas and Friends Journey To Rewards Program + 700 Bonus Points For Signing Up!

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*Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lunchbox. Opinions are my own. however these opinions are 100% my own and were not influenced by another person! 

If you are a fan of Thomas the Train I’ve got some EXCITING news for you!!! You can actually earn rewards when you purchase your Thomas and Friends items!!!

Thomas & Friends™ Journey To Rewards is the only program that rewards you for buying all your little engineer’s favorite Thomas & Friends™ toys, tracks, clothing, DVDs, and more at Walmart. It’s simple: Shop at Walmart, scan your receipt, redeem your points, and earn big rewards when you buy all year-round.  If you sign up HERE right now and use the code PennyPinchinMom, you’ll even get 700 bonus points instantly added to your account!

My kids have been fans of Thomas & Friends forever.  Of course, now that they are getting older, they are outgrowing him (which makes me so sad), but for some reason, they still love to look at all of those toys anytime we go to the store! As parents, we love to purchase the toys and products our kids love for those birthdays and other events.  And yes, we do wait for a sale, as we are all frugal in our shopping.  However, what better way to save than to get PAID to shop.  (Where was this program when my kids were little???)!!

When you purchase select Thomas and Friends products (as listed here), you will be rewarded with points.  Those points can then be redeemed for great rewards — Walmart giftcards!  You can claim anywhere from $5 to $25 (depending upon the number of points you earn).

This was such a simple program (and didn’t require a special app on my phone – which I appreciate).  I made a purchase today and already have more than 1700 points in my account and am getting ready to cash in to get my first reward!!!   This is what you need to do to get your points:

1. Create an account HERE at Journey to Rewards.
2. Enter the code PennyPinchinMom and get 700 points when signing up (very first line item).
3. Review the products available on the list.
4. Visit Walmart and make your purchase.
5. Snap a photo of your receipt.
6. Upload it to your account.
7. Get your points (within a matter of minutes).
8. Cash them in and get your eGift Card!
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I picked up a Thomas and Friends Trackmaster set – and am going to donate it this holiday season to our local toy drive.  When I received those points along with my bonus points for signing up, I was able to cash in instantly to receive my eGift Card!!

The one tip I have is to make sure that your photo is very clear. Make sure the barcode is legible and clear when you upload – and that your photo is submitted properly and includes the barcode — and turned the right way! I actually tried twice and realized I had made that mistake myself. The final time, I took a very close photo and made sure the orientation was correct and it FINALLY went through! Whew! (So please, learn from my own mistakes so that you don’t make them yourself)!

The entire process really was very simple and easy to follow.  It really is a great way to get those Thomas & Friends Products you want — and actually EARN MONEY for doing so.  What are you waiting for? Hurry over and get signed up!!!

Five Tips to Save Money for the Holidays

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Save Money For the Holidays | www.pennypinchinmom.com

Today is June 25th.  That means Christmas is six months away.  If you haven’t already started saving for your gift giving for 2014, there is still time to get started!  Here are five simple ways to get started saving:

Keep the change.  Use your cash budget to your favor.  When you make purchases, always pay with bills.  Take all of your change and set it back.  You might be surprised at how quickly this all adds up.  I know our family can easily save $300 – $400 annually just by following this simple tip!

Look at your 2013 spending and start your list now.  Take a look back at last year and see how much you spent.  Take a look at who was on your list and who you need to add and/or remove.  Determine what you spent per person to get an idea as to how much you will need to save to cover your holiday shopping.  It’s never too early to check your budget!

Use an auto transfer feature through your bank.  Start setting cash back every week to help pay cash for the holidays. Many banks have built in on-line banking features for auto transfers.  Use this to your advantage to set money back every single week!

For example, if you spend $700 in 2013 you might try to keep the same amount in mind for 2014.  Since there are six months left, that means you should try to save around $117 each month — or just $30 every week.  When you look at it as just $30 a week, it seems very doable and an amount that is not so daunting.

Shop now.  There are always great deals all year long on toys, clothes and even small stocking stuffer ideas.  Start to shop now and set items back and you’ll not only get a jump on your shopping, but you’ll save in the process!!

Bring in Extra Money.  There are a lot of different things you can do to earn money from home.  Take a look at this list of ten different Work from Home ideas!