Common Misconceptions About Credit Cards

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

credit card misconceptions| www.pennypinchinmom.com  #credit cards #knowledge

 

Common Misconceptions About Credit Cards

Scott Sery is a contributing writer for Card Journalist where he writes about everything dealing with credit cards including how to use them to travel for almost free.

Before the mid 1990’s credit cards were somewhat of a novelty. Many people had them in case of emergencies, but they rarely ever used them. When you went into a store and paid with your card, the cashier (and most people in line behind you) would groan. The cashier had to take out a large clunky device, slide a carbon paper over the card to make a couple of different copies, and then it was submitted for payment. It was a cumbersome process. However, improvements on phone lines and internet have switched the roles of credit cards and checks. Now if you pull out your checkbook people will groan that you’re holding up the line. The point is, credit cards are still a relatively new commodity. And with anything new, there are a lot of misconceptions that go along with the use of credit cards. Here are a few.

 

Carry a Balance to Boost Your Credit Score

 

Shortly after I turned 18 I got my first credit card. I had several friends tell me that to build my credit score faster I should start carrying a small balance (just a few dollars each month). One had even heard it from his mom who works at a local bank. Some quick research showed this myth will do nothing more than waste money on interest.

 

A Lower Limit Boosts Your Credit Score

 

One of the items that FICO looks at when determining your score is how much of your monthly limit you use. For instance: if you have one credit card with a $1,000 limit, and you charge $990 every month, then you are using 99% of your limit. If you have one card with a $10,000 limit and you charge $990 each month, then you are using 9.9% of your limit. The lower the percentage that you use, the less risk of default you pose, thus the higher your credit score.

 

I Just Need to Pay the Minimum

 

Technically this is correct; you only need to pay the minimum. However, this is a foolish decision due to the outrageously high interest charged on credit cards, and it may actually hurt your credit score. Notice the example above; if you max out your card, and then you only pay the minimums, you are keeping your balance near 100% of your limit. A high percentage, especially for an extended period of time, means your score could go down.

 

They Aren’t Safe

 

With news coming in every few months about how certain retailers have been hacked, and credit card information may be compromised, it is easy to believe that credit cards are not safe. However, consider this scenario: you are travelling, and you have $1,000 in cash in your wallet. If your wallet is stolen, there is no way (aside from tackling the thief) to recover your money. If you have no cash and only a credit card, you can cancel the card and you will not be liable for any fraudulent purchases. Would you rather be out $1,000, or out the hour or two to cancel your card and file a fraud claim?

 

Travelling with Your Credit Card

 

Most people know that traveling with a card is a good idea. Not only do you rack up rewards points, but you also get some perks that you wouldn’t otherwise get when you pay with cash. Take these perks into consideration before paying with cash:

-        Free auto insurance. Did you know that when you pay with your credit card, you will likely get the rental agency’s extended coverage for free? If you pay for it, you are paying for something you already get for free.

-        Free travel insurance. Many cards offer free travel insurance. This covers you in case your luggage is lost, and possibly other misadventures.

-        Free hotels. Certain cards offer perks where if you have an overnight layover, they will cover the cost of your hotel.

-        Free Travel Planning. Most cards offer a concierge service that is almost never used. If you have a trip coming up but no time to plan it, just call and have your card company arrange the details.

-        Free Airline Ticket. Many cards that are offered by major airlines offer a companion ticket. Once per year you pay for your ticket (at full price) and a companion can fly for free (just pay taxes). My favorite companion offer is from Southwest Airlines.

-        Free checked bag. If you used your airline card to purchase your tickets, you may be entitled to a free checked bag.

-        Free Airport Lounge. Certain airline cards will allow you access to these exclusive lounges in the airports.

-        Free extended warranty. Traveling or not, many cards will give you a free extended warranty on big purchases. This means if the item is lost, stolen, or broken you can get it replaced for free (even if the manufacturer’s warranty has expired). This goes for cell phones, so don’t waste your money on those insurance plans.

-        Free fraud protection. The biggest perk of any credit card is that you aren’t liable for fraudulent purchases. Most will be wiped from your card the instant you call in, and removed permanently if the investigation determines that you aren’t liable.

Wrapping it Up

 

Credit cards are wrought with myths. For some reason many people are still suspicious about how they work and if they are actually going to help them. Those who embrace the card, and are responsible with their spending, can get a number of free rewards and perks. As usual, check with your card to see which perks are offered.

 

How do you use your credit card? Have you taken advantage of all that it has to offer?

A Baby Costs HOW Much? Create a Budget BEFORE Baby Arrives

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

create a budget before baby comes | www.pennypinchinmom.com

 

Having a baby is a life-changing experience. Every aspect of your life will be altered, especially how you spend and save money. A recent BabyCenter survey found that 42 percent of parents expect to spend around $10,000 in their first year with baby. Of course, this number is an approximate cost. With some forethought and careful budgeting, you and your family can moderate some of the costs associated with the first year of your baby’s life. While you can’t foresee every cost, being proactive will minimize surprises and increase peace-of-mind and enjoyment when your beautiful new addition arrives.

 

Giving Birth

 

Labor and delivery costs vary wildly. Location is a big factor. Depending on where you are in the country and where you choose to give birth (home, hospital, or birthing center), choosing where to give birth can alter your plans and budget.

According to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the average cost of a normal (no C-section or complications) birth in a hospital is around $3,200. Add in the costs of pre and postnatal care, you’re looking at an additional $4,000 (or more) added to your hospital bill, and this is after insurance. If there are any kinds of complications, such as low birth weight or jaundice, you can realistically except to pay more.

When you find out you’re pregnant, contact your insurance company to find out what kind of coverage you have and if you have it, what your HSA or FSA will cover. If you’re insured through work, talk to HR. You will likely be having several conversations in his or her office, especially if you’re going to take maternity leave.

 

Taking Time Off

 

Finding out what kind of family leave your company offers (or doesn’t offer) is going to affect your budget. It may be surprising, but only about one-third of all working women in the United States are offered any sort of maternity leave. If your company offers leave, find out if you get the full amount or only a percentage of your regular paycheck. This may affect how long you take or even if you return to work. If your company doesn’t provide leave, they’re still required to honor 12 weeks, unpaid, under FMLA law. Fully understanding your own benefits will give you a clear idea of how to create a feasible budget for you and your growing family.

 

Budgeting For Baby

 

Once you have a clear idea of how much money will be coming in, you can begin creating a budget for the months leading up to, and after, giving birth. Use a ‘first year’ calculator to figure out what you’ll need to save. The numbers may surprise you so expect to make some adjustments in your spending. Curious about how to start making some cuts? Start by figuring out where your money is going now. Track your expenses in Excel or if you’re more comfortable on your phone or the computer, try using an app/program like Finance Works, You Need A Budget or Mint.

Once you’ve figured out where your money is going, create a budget with savings in mind. More importantly, start that budget before the baby is born and stick to it! If you’re spending more than you’re earning (or saving), start cutting unnecessary expenses like cable or magazine subscriptions. Limit your travel and avoid eating out too often. Packing a lunch, instead of ordering a sandwich, can add up quickly.

 

Buying For Baby

 

Buying furniture and supplies as you prepare your home for your little one is where a lot of families tend to blow their budgets. First-time parents are often unsure about what and how much they will need to care for their newborn. Before you build a registry or go on a shopping spree, have an honest conversation with your partner, yourself and other parents about what’s truly necessary.

Bring a parent on your registry trip – they will give you the lowdown on strategic purchases and can assist your internal debate between that fancy baby Jacuzzi or $10 plastic tub. That doesn’t mean you can’t splurge on something adorable you love. Just call a splurge a splurge, save for it and buy other things more affordably.

Don’t buy anything without seeing what your friends or family members are willing to lend or give you for free. Some babies grow so quickly they never get the chance to wear their newborn outfits or onesies. The same can be said of furniture like gliders or high chairs – parents may discover that their kids prefer their car seats or booster chairs. Buying gently used clothing, furniture and supplies can save you a lot of money over time. Also, consider registering or purchasing gender-neutral clothing and equipment. If you plan on having more children, you won’t feel pressured to buy new things.

Lastly, if you’re planning on using day or homecare, the sooner you can start interviewing centers or home care candidates, the better. Some have an admissions process, waiting lists or deposits so if you have a certain person or location in mind, schedule your visit well before your due date. With this sort of prudence and planning, you’ll feel more confident about bringing your baby home.

 

What happens when you planned to go back to work but have a change of heart after the baby is born? Next week, we’ll discuss making this emotionally charged decision. For more advice on navigating financials or saving up for your growing family, click here for friendly advice from the CommunityAmerica Credit Union Savin’ Mavens. This post was written by Maven Jason Armstrong.

 

Ten Ways To Make Money From Home

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

How to make money from home | www.pennypinchinmom.com  #workfromhome  #money #income #budget #finances

We have had several requests to share this post again.  Here are ten ways to make a little extra money from home.

If your budget is stretched just as far as it can go, you might be looking for additional ways which you can earn money.  Unfortunately, if you do a search on-line, you will more than likely hit upon sites which are less than honest (so I don’t recommend you do that).

The best tip is to look for something you can do to use your skills and interests.  Don’t try to do something simply to make money, or you’ll quit before you even get started.  Below you’ll find TEN ideas for jobs you can do right from home!

Of course, you can always check out Amazon for several free Kindles (and some for which you pay), but below you’ll find TEN popular ideas!!

1. Virtual Assistant. This type of job is for someone who is organized.  Many sites (even mine) hire Virtual Assistants to help them.  A virtual assistant (VA) works for bloggers or websites.  They could do things from check email, to writing articles to even doing accounting.  The hours and pay varies from site to site, but it is a nice way to pick up a few extra hours of work and some extra spending cash.  Visit VirtualAssistants.com to learn more about how to become a VA.

2. Survey/Points Sites.  I’ve recommended these before – because they work.  You may not always get approved for every survey, but if you keep at it, you can definitely earn some money.  In addition, it can take a while to turn those points into cash, but it does happen!  Most of these sites reward you in the form of points and then you in turn redeem the points in exchange for cash or prizes.  Some of them you might look into include:  Inbox Dollars, MyPoints, MySurvey and National Consumer Panel.

3. Open a Day Care.  This is one which is for someone who truly loves kids.  You will need to be able to prepare meals, teach kids and have a set up in your home which would be safe for children.  If this interests you, it is important that you visit your own state’s childcare license office to learn what it will take to become accredited.  Share with friends to help them get the word out that you are open for business!

4. Home Based Business.   I’m sure you’ve heard of many consultant based businesses, such as Thirty-One Gifts, Mary Kay, Party Lite, Pampered Chef, etc.  These are great companies that allow you to set your own hours, get out and meet new people and still bring in a little spending money.  Make sure you do your homework so you fully understand the start up costs and even what you have to do in order to maintain your consultant status.

5. Ebay.  If you love to search out deals, Ebay might be a good deal for you.  If you find a great deal on a toy on clearance, you can probably turn around and sell it on Ebay for more than what you paid for it.  Another great thing to sell on Ebay is children’s clothes.  Right now, the economy is so tough that parents can’t afford new clothes, so they can head to Ebay and purchase them for just a few dollars per item.  Whatever you decide to sell, Ebay has tools to help you from determining your cost to ad layout.  Just do your research and get ready to sell!

6.  Sell Your Photos.  If you are budding photographer, you can make money by selling your images.  There are sites where you then sell your photos.  As with any on-line endeavor, always read the fine print before you sign up so you know what you are getting into.  Here are a couple of sites you might check out:  iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, Fotolia.

7.  Call Center Employee.  When you place a call to a company, the call rarely goes to an office, but is directed to an employee (who is probably working from their home).  You simply set up an area where you can work and follow a script, taking calls from customers.  Pay varies, depending upon the type of company for which you work.  If you are interested in this option, here are some sites you can visit to learn more:  workingsolutions.comliveops.com or alpineaccess.com.

8.  Data Entry.  With the digital age comes the need to transfer all of that content on paper into digital media.  Companies actually pay people, just like you,  to enter this for them.  This is the one where you will find a LOT of scams, so make sure you are very careful before you sign up.    Here are a few sites you can trust:  FlexJobsHEA-Employment and VirtualBee.

9. Content Writer. Love to write?  You might be able to get hired for freelance writing jobs.  The reason is that companies need to hire quality writers to create content for their websites.  This can also be a way to sell your content to bloggers (if you are an expert in a field).   Visit Elance to get started!

10.  Sell your wares.  If you love to create items, you can sell them for cash.  Check out Etsy and sign up!

Of course, before you ever sign up, make sure you protect yourself.  Here are tips to know if the company could potentially scam you:

  • Watch for pyramid schemes.
  • Be leery of a company who makes you pay before they tell you what your job will be.
  • Read the fine print.  Know what to expect before you agree to the terms (that means, don’t just click the accept button).
  • Research the company at the Better Business Bureau to see if they are accredited or if there have been complaints filed.

Whatever you decide to do when you work from home, just make sure you do thorough research.   Make sure it works for you and it is something you enjoy doing.  Not all opportunities are for everyone.  Good Luck!

 

Grocery Store Savings Tips On Meat, Dairy and More!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

How to Save Money on Bread, Meat, Milk and Produce!  www.pennypinchinmom.com  #groceries  #budget
Saving  money seems pretty simple when you see a sale and a coupon.  But how do you save on those items you need which never have coupons?  You know the items I am referring to — meats, dairy, produce and breads.   Believe it or not, you really can save on these items, even if you don’t have a coupon!

Below find some easy tips on saving on your dairy, meat, produce and bread/grain items.  Even when you don’t have coupons, it doesn’t mean you can’t still save money!!

 

DAIRY

 

Know Your Dairy Prices.   Many times, stores like Aldi sell milk at a much lower price than your regular store or even larger chains.  I actually see milk priced at $1.99 – $2.49 a gallon compared to $3.49 – $3.89 in the grocery store.  For that savings, it can be worth stopping by your store.

Shop the Store Brands.  Did you know that store brands are big brands with a store label on them?   The store brands are oftentimes priced at a lower price than those with a label on them.  Just avoiding the brand labels can help you to save.

Pay Attention To Dates.   Read the dates on your packages.  If you know you will not consume items past the Best If Use By date, then it could result in wasted food and wasted money.

  • “Sell-By”  — This is the date by which the store can display the item for sale.  If you find an item past this date, it does not mean it is bad, but you might get a discount.   In most cases, you should purchase the item prior to this date to allow time for consumption before quality begins to decline.
  • “Best if Used By” — This date is reflected to let you know the date recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Use-By” — This date is the last date that the manufacturer recommends you use the product.  Again, this is not a safety issue, but a quality issue.

Stock up when on sale.  It just makes sense that when you find a great deal on products that you purchase additional items and save them in your freezer.  You can even do this on milk — just pour a bit into a glass and then put the cap back on and it can be frozen!

 

MEATS / SEAFOOD

 

Shop in the early morning.  Many times, the meat items which are nearing the sell by dates will be discounted at this time of the day.  Even if you don’t plan on eating it right away, just take it home and freeze it.

Buy in bulk.  Many times, you can get your meat at a reduced price per pound if you buy a larger quantity at once.  You don’t want it to go to waste, so purchase freezer bags and break it out into smaller sized portions and freeze it.  Make sure you note what it is and the date frozen on it, so you make sure to use it up before it become freezer burned.

Purchase larger sizes.  If you buy a whole chicken and then cut it up yourself, you can often times pay less.  When I an item is cut up for you, you do pay more for that convenience.  Finding these items can save you money.

Check out your butchers.  Sometimes, you can find a lower price at these stores.  It never hurts to look into using them.

Avoid the Deli.  I’ve purchase both packaged and deli meats and to be honest, I can not tell too much difference.  Not only that, packaged items often have coupons whereas deli meats usually do not.

PRODUCE

 

Weigh everything.  When you’re buying product that is a set price for a package, like $1 for a 2lb bag of carrots, take an extra minute and weight 3 or 4 bags.  The suppliers can have a +/- of a certain weight on the package and still be within the guidelines to sell the product.  So if you weight the package you’ll be able to get more product for your money.

Check packaging.  Items are sometimes sold by a flat price in containers.  Check these and find those with more quantity inside (you can weight them as well).  Sometimes, you will get more bang for your buck.

Always buy in season.  When you try to buy an item out of season, you will pay more for it.  Therefore, plan your dining and meals around the items in season.

Forget the store completely.  Why not grow your own?  You can do a raised garden bed or perhaps even find a community garden where you can work with others to reap a great crop.  You can save money plus feel good about growing it yourself.

Check out canned or frozen.  If you are using your item as part of an larger entree, this can be a way to cut down on cost (and time).  Just double check the packaging content.

BREADS / GRAINS

 

Bread outlet stores.  Many brands of bread have outlet or day old stores.  The bread that is left on the truck at the end of the day that stores didn’t need, or that they pulled because it was within a day or two of the sell by date go to these stores and are marked down for quick sale.  You can typically find bread anywhere from 50%-75% off of the store retail price.  Many times, you can find items like specialty whole wheat breads for only $1 when they retail for around $4 at the stores.

Make your own. Bread is actually pretty easy to make. You can find great easy recipes in well known cookbooks like Better Home & Gardens.  Even without using coupons and stocking up on ingredients you can cut your cost by at least 50% on a loaf of bread.  Homemade bread can also be frozen, so you can bake 4-6 loaves in one day and freeze all but one and thaw them as needed.  A bread machine is an investment, but it makes the process of making bread take you about 5-10 mins and almost gaurentees a loaf everytime that comes out right!

Stock up when on sale. It just makes sense that when you find a great deal on products that you purchase additional items and save them in your freezer. Whether you make your own, find a good sale, or make a monthly trip to the outlet store you can freeze.

Stick with the store brand.  Just because it has your store name on it does not mean it is lower quality.  Store brands are in name brands in a different wrapper.  Try them – you just might be surprised that you can not tell the difference.

Make your own croutons.  Bread can dry out before you use it.  You can save that bread and make your own croutons – saving yourself money.  There are many recipes out there — here is one idea.

Rice in bulk.  Rice is one of those staples that you can find in most bulk food stores.  Whether it is a natural food stores, specialty asian food store, or in an Amish community, rice is a reasonably priced grain that you can buy in bulk to get the best price and it stores well for a long time.

Did you learn a few new tips or ideas?  Perhaps there are more you know of which are not listed here.  Please share with us by leaving a comment below!

How an Organized Pantry Can Save You Money

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

orgaqnize your pantry | www.pennypinchinmom.com #organize #save money

 

A couple of weeks ago, I went to get something out of our pantry and ended up finding a couple of items which were expired.  That meant — throwing away food.  I knew better than to let it get that messy.  You see, when your pantry is organized it helps SAVE you money!  Follow my tips below to find out simple things you can do to not only organize your pantry (or even cupboards) so you aren’t throwing money into the trash!

Here’s what my pantry looked like before I got started.  With 3 kids home all summer long, you can see it took it’s toll.

before

We had boxes shoved in sideways, empty bags, empty cardboard and items just lying losely.  This made it difficult to find what we wanted for a snack or even to see what I had on hand for planning my weekly menu and shopping trip.    I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to take some time to just organize it.   It wasn’t difficult, but if you don’t know where to start, it can seem like a daunting task.

Start only when you have a few hours.  If you try to rush this job, it will not end up being done the way you want, which can create more stress.  Allow yourself a couple of hours (at least) so you can do it the right way, which will pay off in the end.

storage containers

Have the proper storage.  The best way I find we save money is when food (like chips and crackers) in containers that we can see through.  Not only does it help my kids find what they want, but it also prevents it from going stale.  There is nothing worse than wanting some crackers and taking a bite, to find that they have gone stale because they were not properly stored.  BLECH!

I spent around $50 and picked up a few new containers.  Granted, I did already have several on hand, so I didn’t have to spend too much.  I know that this investment will pay for itself as I won’t be throwing away food that has gone bad.  These containers will last years and years, and so it was an investment which was important to make.

Take EVERYTHING out of your panty/cupboard.  As you do so, check for items which are stale and/or even expired and throw them away.  You may even find items that you purchased and will not use, which you could donate to your local food pantry.

Scrub the pantry/cupboard.  Before you consider starting to put your items away, make sure it is has been thoroughly swept and cleaned.  I find that it is easy for boxes to fall over and crumbs to empty onto the floor.  I’ve even found drips and other stains on our shelving.  By starting clean, you are also keeping away pests (which costs you money to eliminate and can also result in having to throw food away).

Fill your containers with items which are in boxes.  In our home, we keep all chips, crackers and cereal in containers.  That helps it all stay fresh for so much longer – and makes it easier for my kids to see what we have so they can find what they want for a snack or breakfast quickly (well, relatively speaking at least).

Make a shopping list as you put items away.  You may had to throw away items while cleaning, which means you need to purchase more.  You might also find that you are running low on a staple (i.e. rice).  If you make a shopping list as you put items back, you will help make sure you’ve got those items you need.  There is nothing worse than having to run to the store for one ingredient when trying to make dinner!  I HATE doing that!!!  By taking a few minutes to do this simple step, you will save yourself time!

Place like items together.  When putting things away, keep your cereals together and your chips in one place, etc.  We even put all of our noodles together, as well as our canned items, cereals and even snacks.  This helps us quickly find what we need.  So, if I am making spaghetti for dinner, I know I can look in the “noodles section” and the “canned/jarred” section to find those items I need to make dinner.  This not only helps me, but helps my husband too!  Rather than me having to help him find something, he can (usually) find what he needs because it is organized!  Ahhhh…..simple things that make me smile!

When you are through, you will have accomplished several things all at once:

  1. You are saving time by being able to find the items you need, when you need them.
  2. You are saving money by not allowing items to go stale.
  3. You are saving time by knowing what you already have on hand and can stock up next time you go to the store.
  4. Your family can find the things they want to eat (well, in theory, at least).

 

MAINTAINING YOUR PANTRY

 

There is nothing worse than spending hours to organize this part of your home, to have it trashed two weeks later.  Just like with everything else, you have to maintain it to ensure it doesn’t go back to being a disorganized mess.

What I find is best is to clean/organize each week when planning my menu and shopping trip.  I take a few minutes and organize items, sweep and wipe things down. When doing that, I have my shopping list on hand.  I jot down the items I find I need right then and there.  I can also check to see what I have on hand to fix the meals on our menu plan (or find what I have on hand in order to plan our menu).

This keeps my pantry organized AND helps me plan my shopping trip.   When I get home from the store, I immediately open all bagged items, such as chips, and place them into the containers.  I do this so that it is easier to grab when we need a snack — plus — my family can see it too!  I even do this with my snack crackers.  Everything goes right into containers and the boxes are broken down and placed into our recycling bin.

Little things, like an organized pantry, really can save  you money (and time).

How To Cut Your Budget — When There Is Nothing Left To Cut Out

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

How to Cut your Budget When there is Nothing Left to Cut | www.pennypinchinmom.com

One of the most common questions and even comments left on my site is “What more can I do to cut our budget – we’ve already done all we can!!”  I know this feeling all too well.  I remember when my husband and I were struggling after I quit my job to stay home with our first born.  It was tough and we all know you can’t get blood from a turnip!

Before you look at what you can do to save on your budget, you need to make sure you have one.  I’ve got some very helpful tips, including free forms, to help you do just that.  Read more about How To Create A Budget.

Here are things we ended up doing which helped us when we had problems with our own budget:

1.  Find ways to bring in more money each month.  Of course, you can’t give yourself a raise at your job, but there are other things you can do to bring in more money.  We ended up selling items, I found a part-time, work from home job with my prior employer and eventually, started this site.   You sometimes need to look inside and where your passion lies and you might find the perfect way to increase your income.

I’ve actually got an entire post dedicated to this topic — Ten Ways to Make Money from Home.  While many of them may not work for you, there might be an idea which turns on that light bulb and sends you off on a path you’ve never have thought of otherwise.

2.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Sit back for a minute and look at where you were before you knew about budgeting and stretching your dollar vs. where you are now.  Be proud of what you’ve done and the changes you’ve made.  Sometimes, just knowing that you’ve made positive financial changes.  Just celebrate the small victories.

3.  Don’t compare yourself to others.  This is a tough one.  You may see others who claim that they found a way to shave their budget by hundreds of dollars every month.  While we would all love to be able to do that, it may not be realistic for you.  You may have additional expenses others do not have.  Your income is different than them.  You have your own financial goals.  When you stop comparing yourself to others, the need to keep up and compete will stop and you can feel better about your own budget.

4.  Look at your needs vs. wants.  This is a tough one.  There are probably things you have in your life which are wants rather than needs (and vice versa).  Do you have both a land line and cell phone?  If so, do you need both or do you want both?  Why not drop the land line?

Take a look at your entertainment.  Do you need cable?  Why not try to use another way to knock down your cable bill (or eliminate it completely).  Do you need to eat dinner out once a week – or do you want to dine out?

When we were getting out of debt, we did not eat in a restaurant for more than a year.  I kid you not.  It was tough, but we survived.  The reason was that we determined that it was a want to dine out and not a need.  Instead, we took the money we would have spent having a dinner out and used it towards our debt instead.

5.  Seek assistance.  This may be the time when you need to reach out to get help.  There are times when you just can’t make it on your own and there are programs and services which are here to help.  You can check with your local government to find ways to get help with utility bills, apply for food stamps, locate a food pantry and even get assistance for child care.

Just because you ask for help does not mean you are not financially responsible.  We all have times when we need a hand and these organizations are here to help.  Once you get back on your feet, then that will be your chance to pay it forward to help someone else.

 

 

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

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Paying for College | www.pennypinchinmom.com

 

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

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

free Up cash to save for retirement | www.pennypinchinmom.com

 

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

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Save money on kids' birthday parties | www.pennypinchinmom.com  #parties #kids #budget #money

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!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Save Money Back to School | www.pennypinchinmom.com

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!