Tag: Family

 

Money Traditions Celebrated for Lunar New Year

Growing up Vietnamese-American, Chinese New Year is important to me. Instead of busting out bottles of bubbly and watching a ginormous ball drop at midnight, festivities include dragon dances, lion parades, and offerings of fruit baskets and moon cakes.

The best part of celebrating Chinese New Year? The money traditions. And while the date changes every year (it coincides with the new moon of the first lunar month), here are a few ways the dollar is used to ring in every Chinese New Year.

Lucky Money

Fact: Money doesn’t grow on trees. But it does (sorta) during Chinese New Year. Red envelopes containing money are given to kids or unmarried folks. If you’re an established couple or are bringing in the Benjamins, you’re expected to gift grandparents and other respected elders with these red envelopes. If you live in China, your boss might even hand you a red envelope with a small amount of cash.

The color red symbolizes good things: energy, happiness, prosperity and good luck. And the dollars inside – which should be crisp – are a sign that you wish goodwill and success to the recipients.

So how much money should you give out if you celebrate this holiday? It really depends on your relationship with the recipient. If you just got married, for example, you’re typically not expected to include as much money in a lucky envelope as someone who has been married for two decades.

This is a favorite money tradition for obvious reasons. Who doesn’t like free money?

What it teaches you about money: If you are gifted with red envelopes of cash, figure out how this can help your financial situation. Maybe you can sock some money away toward your e-fund, or use it toward debt repayment. I typically spend part of the money, and the rest goes toward savings.

On the flip side, if you’re expected to dole out cash, make sure to save for it well ahead of time. Figure out how much you’ll need, and auto-save so you can meet your gifting goals. If you’re a Chime Bank member, you can automatically put aside a set amount on payday.

Games

We’re not talking about mind games or outdoor games or kiddie games. We’re talking about games of chance, like Blackjack or Mahjong. Vietnamese folks like me play Bầu Cua Tôm Cá, a gambling game involving three dice. It’s pretty common to play these games during Chinese New Year, and at least in my family, it’s certainly more about the camaraderie than winning.

What it teaches you about money: Gambling is a big no-no for obvious reasons. If you want more money, you’ll need to save it, perhaps by using a money-saving app. You should also earn it or maybe invest it. But the idea is: Do the right thing with your money, and you’ll be more apt to increase your net worth after many years.

The Year of the Pig and Money

While you’d like to think that your Chinese Zodiac year is going to be 100 percent awesome sauce, the truth is: It can go either way. This year – 2019 – marks the year of the pig in the Chinese Zodiac system. If you were born in the year of the pig, which is the twelfth year in the 12-year Chinese zodiac cycle, this means you were born in 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019 – you get the point. It also means you’ll want to be cautious with your money as those born in the year of the pig tend to stress about money big-time.

You may also experience a stroke of good luck and get a windfall of cash, perhaps in the form of a donation, inheritance or bonus. And if you had a bad time with investments in years past, things might turn around for you in 2019. If we’re talking about which periods are best for those born in the year of the pig, it’s February, March and July. The least favorable period is the month of May.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Whether you were born in the year of the pig or not, it’s always important to make the most of your money, and treat it right. After all, you can’t depend on the Chinese Zodiac, fate, or the cosmos to work in your favor. It’s up to you to take steps to boost your finances.

 

How to Host a Super Bowl Party on a Budget

The Super Bowl is right around the corner. It’s the one time of year where friends and family can gather together and watch the most exciting football game of the year.

While you may be heading to a bar or restaurant to watch the game, you may also decide to attend or host a super bowl party. If you’re going to a Super Bowl party, this can be cheaper than going to a bar, yet hosting your own party can cost a pretty penny – even if you’ve been saving up for the big event.

Luckily, we’ve come up with some tried-and-true ways to save money. So, if you’re having a Super Bowl party, check out these six tips to entertain your friends on a budget.

Buy Drinks in Bulk

Drinks can be just as expensive as food if you’re not careful. So, to save money, you’ll want to keep your drink selection limited. For example, perhaps you only offer one or two types of soda or serve lemonade, punch or iced tea.

From there, consider generic brands and buy drinks in bulk at warehouse clubs like Sam’s Club or Costco.

Getting a Costco membership is one of the best decisions I made last year. The wholesale warehouse offers two membership cards, so I split the membership fee with my mom. Now, we are both able to buy all kinds of foods and other items in bulk. When we have events at our house, I love to go there and pick up drinks and water bottles. We can easily find a 40-pack case of water for just three or four bucks.

Do BYOB For Alcohol

Offering non-alcoholic drinks at your Super Bowl party is a given, and you don’t have to provide the beer and other alcoholic drinks.

Instead, you can have everyone BYOB to save money. Alcohol is expensive and you’ll cut your costs significantly just by making this one simple decision.

Prepare Foods that Stretch

Pinterest-worthy football-shaped party foods look great and all, but if you’re trying to host a Super Bowl on a budget you’ll need to think about preparing more practical foods.

Consider serving food that you can make in large batches to stretch your servings. These meal and snack ideas are all easy to prepare in bulk and won’t cost you much at all.

  • Crockpot pulled pork or chicken
  • Loaded baked potato station
  • Meatball sliders
  • Nachos
  • Grilled hot dogs
  • Lemon pepper roasted chicken wings

For finger foods, you can serve popcorn, generic chips and pretzels. You can also bake your own sweets instead of buying them at the store. Keep in mind that supermarkets sell overpriced cookie platters and cupcake trays for the Super Bowl.

Instead of spending extra money on these desserts, make your own cupcakes or cookies with boxed mixes and decorate them however you wish. Get the whole family involved with this if you’re not a big fan of baking.

Have a Potluck

Another way to save money on your Super Bowl party is to have a potluck. You can prepare the main dish but ask guests to bring other foods and snacks to the party.

For instance, one person can bring drinks while another brings chips or dessert. This is a much better option than buying prepared fruit and vegetable trays, which will easily run you anywhere from $10 to $20 a platter. This isn’t so bad when you’re buying just one, but if you’re also paying for other party food, your out-of-pocket costs can quickly triple.

So, start divvying up items and ask guests to bring a few things so you can save money and still have great food on game day.

Buy Used Apparel or Borrow

You don’t have to buy new sports apparel for your Super Bowl party. Even if your team isn’t playing in the game, you can still wear football clothing you already have.

Or, check thrift stores for second-hand jerseys and shirts. You can also check with friends and see if they have anything extra that you can borrow.

Avoid Splurging on Decor

Decor can often be a hidden cost for Super Bowl parties because the main focus is the food and the game, of course. If you want to decorate your home for the big game, do it wisely and don’t splurge.

You don’t have to decorate with official NFL branded items for the team you’re rooting for. You can find general sports-themed decorations at your local dollar store and you can even decorate in your team’s colors as an alternative.

Feel free to also DIY some decor yourself. Want to create a photo booth with a nice backdrop? What to display a huge sign that guest will see right as they walk in?

Head to the craft store for materials or use what you have at home to do some DIY decorating. If you have kids, get them involved as well so they can take on some of the work.

Enjoy the Game and Don’t Overthink It

At the end of the day, the highlight of any Super Bowl party is the game itself. So long as you’ve got space for everyone to watch the game and you’re offering some decent food, your party will be a success.

Just remember to set a budget for the party to determine how much you’ll spend on expenses and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to ask other guests to pitch in as needed. And, of course, have a great time at your Super Bowl party!

 

21 Fun Things To Do In The Winter That Won’t Break The Bank

Winter can drag on – but you don’t have to let it get you down. In fact, even if you’re daydreaming about a tropical vacation, backyard barbeques, and other summertime activities, you don’t have to stay stuck inside.

There are plenty of ways to get out of the house and enjoy the winter – all while spending very little cash. Here are 21 fun activities you can do this winter that won’t bust your budget.

1. Go museum hopping

Museums are a great escape for the whole family. Whether you’re into art, music, history, or science, you can find a museum for almost everything.

Better yet, going to museums can be affordable. For instance, in Seattle, you can get free access to many of the city’s local museums through your city library card, which is also free. And you can always check out deal sites like Groupon to see if there are any discounted rates available in your area.

2. Find an indoor pool

Dreaming of summertime? A trip to the local indoor pool may be just what you need.

Check out your local school, gym, or YMCA to see if there is an indoor pool near you. While gyms often require a monthly membership in order to join and use the facilities, you may find other local pools that offer an open swim hour for a small fee.

3. Go sledding

Instead of avoiding the snow and the cold, dive right into it with some old fashioned sledding! What could be better?

You can find sleds at your local hardware store or supermarket, but you can also find cheaper DIY alternatives. For instance, pool toys, such as a tube floatie, or even a trash can lid often work just as well.

4. Volunteer

Perhaps the best way to get over your winter woes is to dedicate your time and energy to helping others. Plus, volunteering is free, and it’s a great way to get involved with your community.

To find charitable organizations near you, check out VolunteerMatch.org, which will evaluate your interests and help you find opportunities that interest you.

5. Bake some sweet treats

Baking is the perfect cozy-day activity when the weather is indeed frightful. So, stay inside and warm your home with a good, old-fashioned baking day.

To find inspiration for your baking adventures, check out this list of classic baking recipes from Taste of Home.

6. Take an art class

Take advantage of the abundance of indoor time by focusing on hobbies you’ve always dreamed about starting. Why not take an art class?

You can either sign up for local, in-person classes or you can find free options online. One great way to start learning the basics of any skill is to find lessons on YouTube. Nothing is better than free!

7. Read books

Is there anything more comfy than curling up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book on a cold winter’s day?

Dust off those old books you have laying around and crack them open. Of course, you can always hit up your local library as well. Or, you can check out ThriftBooks, which sells deeply discounted, gently used books.

8. Do household projects

Have a long household to-do list? Use the winter season to get caught up on indoor projects.

Whether you want to paint a room, or tackle a kitchen remodeling project, take the time to do it this winter. Not only can you stay warm inside, but you can cross these items off your to-do list before the weather changes and you want to spend more time outside.

9. Try painting

Do you have an artistic gift? Even if you don’t, painting is an excellent hobby to test out. Anything can be considered art – all you have to do is start.

Painting canvases is an affordable and fun hobby. Plus, you can use the finished product to decorate your house, saving big bucks on home decor. To stock up on supplies, you can hit up your local art store, or shop at discounted supply stores online, such as JerrysArtarama.com.

10. Get organized

Have clutter hanging around your household? Dedicate some time this winter to organizing.

If you only have a few minutes, start by organizing a single drawer or cupboard. If you have more time, commit to organizing an entire room. Toss any old documents or broken objects and donate the rest. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel when you don’t have to stare into cluttered kitchen cabinets!

11. Attend a fitness class

Winter blues have you feeling a bit down? Blast away the wintertime sadness by boosting your endorphins. A workout class is an excellent way to meet people, try a new activity, and boost your mood.

Not sure which class is right for you? Try using ClassPass, which is available in major cities. With ClassPass, you pay a monthly fee which allows you to try out classes in various fitness studios. If you aren’t sure whether to do yoga, cycle, or weightlift, ClassPass is an ideal solution.

12. Plan a summer vacation

Well, there’s no shame in admitting that winter just isn’t your favorite season. If you’re more of a summer-lovin’ kind of individual, then take this time to plan your dream vacation.

Whether you prefer to escape to a tropical island or backpack across Europe, planning a trip when it’s cold outside can be just the escape you need.

13. Bust out the board games

Board games may be old school, but they are reliable – and fun. Games are also a cheap way to kill some time.

Even if you don’t have classic board games in your house, you can always borrow them or download free game apps on your smartphone or tablet. Need some ideas to get started? Check out this huge list of iPhone games from TechRadar.

14. Go ice skating

Enjoy the winter with some family-friendly ice skating. Whether you are an expert skater or can barely stand up on your blades, you can surely have a good laugh and a memorable time. To rent skates, you can expect to pay around $15 to $20.

15. Clean out your home

Bored and stuck inside? Take advantage of the slower season and clean your house.

Host a neighborhood garage sale to get rid of the items you no longer need. Anything else can either be donated or sold online through sites like OfferUp and LetGo.

16. Visit friend and relatives

Most of us are guilty of not visiting family or friends often enough. So, if you have relatives or friends nearby, take time this winter to schedule a visit and catch up.

17. Take a winter hike

Hiking isn’t just for summer. There are plenty of winter hikes to take advantage of – if you have the right gear, that is.

Check out your local area to see if there are any winter-friendly hikes near you. The key is to find a hike in a lower elevation (where it isn’t super cold) that is well maintained and not too steep. Make sure you gear up with your hiking boots, winter coat, hats and gloves.

18. Plan a movie day

When the weather takes a turn for the worst, stay put and enjoy a movie day inside.

You can pick a winter classic or another movie of your choice. Whether you prefer action, romantic-comedies or another genre, a movie day is a great way to enjoy a day inside this winter.

19. Start your side gig

This winter season is an excellent time to start earning some extra cash on the side. Take this time to think about what you want to do for your side gig. Whether you’re dreaming of starting a blog, an online retail business, or something else, it’s time to get your creative juices flowing.

20. Try winter photography

Photography isn’t just a summertime activity. The snow and long winter days can make for some ideal photos.

So take your camera, trek out into the snow, and shoot some cool nature photos. For some inspiration, check out these tips from Outdoor Photographer.

21. Relax

There’s no shame in simply relaxing. Enjoy the darker days by spending ample time relaxing and recharging. Take plenty of time for self-care, too. Now is a great time to get in shape, eat right, and start other healthy habits.

Chime has your back this winter

Winter can feel endless, but with some frugal planning, you don’t have to fret. One easy way to kick off your budget-friendly winter activities is to open a no-fee savings account. For example, an online Chime account will help you save money easily – and automatically.

Are you ready to enjoy the winter season and save big bucks at the same time? We thought so.

 

What is a Good Credit Score to Buy a House?

So, you want to own a home and need to borrow money to buy it?

There are many factors that contribute to getting a home mortgage. For starters, you have to determine how much house you can afford given your current income and expenses. You then have to prove your income is reliable and that have enough money saved in your bank account to cover the down payment and closing costs.

You’ll also need a solid credit score to get approved for the loan. In fact, your credit score is the biggest factor when determining whether you’ll be approved or rejected for financing.

If you’re in the market for a house and are wondering if your credit is good enough to qualify for a mortgage, here’s what you need to know.

A Higher Credit Score Will Save You Money on Your Mortgage

There are quite a few perks that come with having a high credit score. One of those include qualifying for low interest rates.

Because home mortgages tend to be quite large – often in the six figure range – the slightest variance in your rate can make a huge difference when it comes to your monthly payments and the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

If you have a low credit score, lenders typically scrutinize your application more closely since they will have to rely on other aspects of your profile to qualify you for the loan. And, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for a mortgage with a low credit score, you’ll likely receive a higher interest rate to make up for the level of risk you potentially pose to the lender.

In short, if you have a great credit score, you can save big bucks over the life of your loan.

What Type of Credit Will Get You a Mortgage?

You now know that lenders are more apt to grant loans to borrowers with excellent credit.

Credit scores range from 300 to 850. Generally, these are the categories you can fall into as a borrower, depending on your credit score:

Excellent – 750 and up

Good – 700 – 749

Fair – 650 – 699

Poor – 550 – 649

Bad – 550 and below

Can you still get a mortgage if your credit score is “bad”? This depends on the lender and the type of mortgage you’re applying for.

A conventional mortgage is one of the most common mortgage types and the minimum credit score you’d need to qualify is typically 620. An FHA loan has more lenient requirements as it’s backed by the Federal Housing Administration, so you may be able to get this type of loan with a lower score.

Here are a few other types of mortgages and the minimum credit score you’ll need to qualify.

  • USDA Loans – 640 Credit Score
  • 203k Loans – 620 Credit Score
  • Jumbo Loans – 700 Credit Score FHA
  • Streamline Refinance – No Credit Check
  • VA Streamline Refinance – 640 Credit Score
  • HARP – 620 Credit Score
  • Home Equity Loan or Line of Credit HELOC – 680 Credit Score

Can You Get a Mortgage if You’ve Filed for Bankruptcy?

If you’ve filed for bankruptcy or had some serious negative marks on your credit, you may be wondering if you can still buy a home. The answer is yes – with some work on your end.

While filing for bankruptcy will damage your score, you can rebuild your credit and still become a homeowner. But, you may need to wait for a period of time depending on the mortgage you’re applying for.

For example, with a conventional Fannie Mae loan, you’d need to wait at least two to four years after you receive a bankruptcy discharge. The waiting period can be increased by another year if you’ve had a bankruptcy foreclosure.

How Lenders Check Credit for Co-Borrowers

Will you be applying for a mortgage with a co-borrower, like a partner or a spouse? If so, both of your credit scores will be considered in your loan application.

For a joint mortgage, the lender will pull each person’s credit scores from the three major bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Then, the lender will take the middle score and choose the person with the lowest middle score to use for the mortgage application.

For example, let’s say borrower #1 on the joint application has these three credit scores: 730, 720 and 695. Borrower #2 has these three credit scores: 690, 655 and 640. The middle scores are 720 and 655, respectively. The lowest score out of the two is 655, and that’s what the lender will go with.

Keep in mind that the 720 credit score may have resulted in a lower interest rate. This is why it’s important to review your co-borrower’s credit score ahead of time. From there, you can work to improve both of your scores before applying for a mortgage.

Aim Higher Than the Minimum

When it comes to getting your credit ready to buy a house, try to aim higher than the minimum credit score accepted. This may mean putting your goal of homeownership on hold while you work on improving your credit. But, in the end, it will be worth it.

Owning a home is probably the biggest purchase you’ll ever make. In turn, saving money on a mortgage by having excellent credit can make a huge difference in your financial life.

 

Make These 3 Money Moves to Protect Your Family in 2019

With a new year comes new goals. A new year is also an ideal time to reevaluate your financial situation. Whether you are looking to pay off debt, increase your savings, or create a new budget, there are plenty of ways to improve your financial situation in 2019.

But here’s an often overlooked financial consideration that you should take into account: insurance. Security is absolutely priceless, and you never know when tragedy can strike. Are you and your family prepared?

As we move toward 2019, take the time to research insurance options to protect you and your family, To get started, here are three essential money moves to position yourself for potential emergencies and life challenges.

1. Get term life insurance

No matter who you are or what your financial situation is, life insurance is important.

According to the Life Happens 2018 Barometer survey, over 35 percent of households would feel financial impact within one month if the primary wage earner passed away. But, according to the same survey, only three in five people have their own life insurance policy or a policy through their job.

And that’s not all. According to the Life Insurance and Market Research Association, it appears that even those who do have life insurance feel insecure with their overall coverage level. Nearly 40 percent of Americans state that they wish their spouse or significant other had more life insurance coverage. In addition, more than half of married millennials would like more life insurance coverage for their spouses or partners, according to the same survey.

Where to start? Think about purchasing term life insurance. This type of insurance is relatively inexpensive for most families. It’s also easy to understand. In a nutshell, term life insurance provides coverage for an agreed-upon period – or term – of time. For example, if you should pass away during your policy period, your insurance company pays out the benefit to your designated beneficiaries. With term life insurance, you choose how long you want your policy to last. Common term lengths are 10, 20, or 30 years. Also important to note: Once the term is over, the policy expires. Yet, for an affordable price, term life insurance provides peace of mind and a financial security blanket for your family.

TIP: Check out Ladder

If you don’t currently have term life insurance, there many ways to purchase it, including through life insurance companies and insurance comparison sites. One option is the term life insurance company Ladder. Ladder makes life insurance easy because you can apply for it directly online without having to deal with insurance brokers. Ladder offers life insurance at affordable rates with a price lock guarantee. And, best of all, it only takes five minutes to apply to get insured!

2. Purchase renters or homeowners insurance

Tragedy can strike home at any time. Are you prepared?

You never know when a pipe could unexpectedly break, or your neighbor sets off the sprinkler system in your apartment building, ruining everything. Be prepared and protect yourself and your loved ones by getting homeowners or renters insurance today.

TIP: Check out Lemonade

For starters, check out Lemonade, a new type of renters and homeowners insurance that prides itself on transparent payment options and quick payment of claims. Renters insurance rates start at just $5 per month, and $25 a month for homeowners insurance. Plus, any money that you pay that doesn’t get funneled into claims will be donated to a charity of your choice. Pretty sweet (no lemonade pun intended!)

Lemonade currently offers renters, condo, and homeowners insurance in New York, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Michigan, Connecticut, and Washington D.C. They offer renters and condo insurance in Texas and Rhode Island, and renters insurance only  in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, and Arkansas. Additional states and coverages are rolling out every year.

3. Don’t forget auto insurance

Bad things happen to car owners all of the time – and it can cost you an arm and a leg, even if you are not at fault. Even one small accident, like getting rear-ended, can cost you thousands of dollars if you don’t have the appropriate insurance.

Fortunately, car insurance can put your mind at ease during or after an accident. It can also be expensive. In fact, the average annual cost of car insurance paid in the United States was more than $941 in 2018, according to a study by ValuePenguin. And, depending on where you live, your state could be one of the more costly ones. Louisiana takes the medal for the state with the highest car insurance rate, costing insured residents an average of $152 a month. That’s $1,824 a year – ouch!

TIP: Check out Root

Luckily, insurance companies like Root are on a mission to make car insurance more cost-effective. Instead of just basing your rate on your driving record, Root uses an app to track your driving. Your real-time driving habits then determine your rate. If you are a responsible driver, you’ll receive a better quote. Because of this, you can save as much as 52 percent on car insurance with Root.

Give yourself the gift of security

You certainly can’t put a price-tag on security. You also shouldn’t have to spend a ton of dough to feel financially stable. So, this year, save money and protect yourself and your loved ones by making sure you have insurance.

 

Money Manners: Should you Stage a Money Intervention for Your Family?

Talking about money with trusted pals and your boo may be hard enough. But, envisioning a holiday sit-down for a mature pow-wow with your family over finances? Well, that may feel like a far-fetched, unicorn scenario.

But, what should you do if you have a relative who is royally screwing up his finances, especially if you know this mess may have a ripple effect on other loved ones? You may need to step in and intervene.

Take a look at our tips for determining whether you should stage a money intervention with the fam bam during the holidays, and our shortlist on how to proceed.

Assess the Gravity of the Situation

Communicating about money matters is well, extremely complicated. Add to the mix deep-rooted resentment, history and family dynamics, and you may feel like you’re precariously tip-toeing over landmines.

To gauge whether you should set up a money intervention, figure out exactly how serious the matter is. Is someone committing an act of financial infidelity, such as running up credit card debt, hiding bank accounts, or keeping a huge sum of student loan debt under wraps from a significant other? Or, maybe you have a teenage cousin who has no idea how to manage her finances and constantly spends everything she has. This can turn ugly once she hits college.

If it’s a serious matter, think about what would happen if nobody stepped in to intervene. If doing nothing can lead to debilitating, long-term consequences, a money intervention may be in order.

Figure Out If It’s Appropriate to Stage an Intervention

On the flipside, let’s say your sister has been complaining about how her money habits don’t align with her boyfriend’s. Perhaps she’s a saver and he never puts enough in a savings account. This would perhaps be considered a minor “flare-ups” and may be better handled between the two of them. While you feel inclined—or may have even been asked —to have a “little talk” with the couple, it may heighten feelings of tension and cause resentment.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries around the types of money matters you’re comfortable discussing with your relatives. And, perhaps you can simply suggest resources such as a money management app or a mobile wallet that can help them with some of the issues they’re facing. Maybe this is all that’s needed to point your family members in the right direction.

Determine If You’re the Right Person

Let’s say that you’ve looked at the facts at hand, and determined that a money intervention is appropriate. If that’s a given, it’s time to decide whether you are the right person to facilitate this type of discussion.

Ideally, the facilitator should be an unbiased person who can remain calm throughout the intervention. Maybe a family friend who knows both parties would better suited. Or, you may want to bring in an experienced, trained professional, such as a financial therapist. Someone like this has no emotional ties to your family and may be the best person for the job.

If you’re the one handling the intervention, here are a few dos and don’ts to get started:

Don’t: Make Assumptions

Most of the time you only know one side of the story. For example, you may only hear from your Uncle Bill about how his wife Jane neglects to pay the bills on time. But to be fair, you may not have gotten wind from your Aunt Jane that Bill is no money saint, either.

It’s tough to do, but leave your assumptions at the door. Go into the situation with an open mind, and get the facts and details from everyone involved. If you take an unbiased, balanced perspective, you can then stage a more effective intervention.

Do: Time It Well

Just like it’s a major faux paus to ask for a loan during someone’s birthday party (yes, I’ve been guilty of this), a holiday gathering is not be the best time to stage a money intervention.

Instead, choose a time that works for everyone involved, and pick a private space so you can discreetly discuss touchy matters.

While the holidays are one of the few times during the year when all your family members may be in the same place, avoid discussing money matters over the dinner table. If you must have an intervention the day of a holiday gathering, schedule it before or after the festivities in a separate location.

Don’t: Go for the Jugular

While you may know what the main issue is, consider starting out by having a general conversation about money. This can lead into deep-seated matters, such as financial infidelity, debts that have remained long unpaid, issues with gambling or bouts of overspending.

The key here is to harbor healthy and respectful communication. Otherwise, it can escalate into a shouting match and reflexive rounds of pointing and blaming.

Do: Defer to a Professional If Necessary

As I mentioned above, it may be easier to bring in a pro, such as a licensed therapist or maybe even a money coach who works with couples or groups.

A money intervention can cause tension, and dredge up deep-seated, bad feelings. Without proper training, a well-intended conversation can quickly go south.

Handle the Situation Gently

When trying to decide whether staging a money intervention is appropriate and necessary, just keep this in mind: For every action, there is a reaction.

Do your best to create a safe space before bringing out the elephant in the room. And whatever you do, tread with care. If executed properly, facilitating a family financial intervention can shift your family’s money situation in a positive direction. It can also foster deeper communication and trust.

 

6 Money Lessons Your Parents Taught You That Were Plain Wrong

Earlier this year, my partner and I were at the tide pools at a beach in Southern California. As we peered into the shallow pools with burgeoning ocean flora and fauna, we were joined by a mom and her two kids.

“Look at the clams!” she said, examining a cluster of shelled sea creatures on the side of a rock. “They’re mussels, not clams!” my partner said, correcting her.

The point of this story: Parents try to educate their kids, yet sometimes they inadvertently steer them wrong. And, whether you like it or not, your parents served as your first role models when it came to life and money lessons. As a result, you may have picked up some incorrect money messages from your parents and other family members. As you grew up, these money lessons became ingrained in you and may have turned into not-so-healthy money habits.

Take a look at some common money lessons that you may have learned from your parents – and why they need to be debunked right now.

Talking About Money Is Taboo

Growing up, Alex Whitehouse learned that money is private and personal, and therefore considered to be a taboo topic.

Reality Check: By all means it’s important to discuss money matters. That’s how we learn how to make better decisions.

“I had to learn about money through trial and error,” says Whitehouse, the founder of FinHealthy.com. “I made mistakes and had to dig myself out of debt, repair my credit, and learn to save.”

Talking about money helps you develop a better relationship with your money. It also helps foster honest communication with those you love.

“Discussing personal finance with friends, relatives, and colleagues can help you learn and avoid mistakes. It helps you become comfortable and confident in your finances, and it can inspire others to do the same.” says Whitehouse.

We Were Poor, and You Will Be Too

Maybe your parents had the attitude that they were never rich, and this means you’ll never be wealthy either. Perhaps they think life is an endless grind, and it’s pointless to dream about wealth and financial independence.

For Jaime Donovan, this came as a surprise because her parents taught her a lot of things about money —how to write a check, open a savings account and save for emergencies. They also taught her how to pay for used or new cars with cash, and how to avoid debt.

Reality Check: Donovan wishes her parents went beyond the basics and taught her that it’s absolutely possible to build wealth.

“For some reason, in their minds, they thought that it was impossible to become wealthy,” says Donovan, a blogger at Young Modern Money.

“I’m happy to say that they’ve changed their attitude about this, but it took years for them to come to an understanding that normal people can build wealth.”

Yes, normal people can certainly build wealth. It starts with understanding what wealth is and that building wealth is about growing your net worth, not accumulating material possessions. More importantly, financial independence is not just about how much money you earn, but what you do with that money.

Money Is a Source of Pain

Perhaps your mom told you that nobody likes their job, and that earning money would be a grind.

This was the case for Evan Sutherland. “With all the bills and all the expenses that come up, my parents taught me that it’s going to feel as though you can never make enough money,” says Sutherland, co-founder of Budgeting Couple.

Reality Check: When Sutherland and his wife started out together and began earning an income, they were pleasantly surprised by how simple money was to manage.

“We always had enough money to pay the bills and buy the things we wanted,” says Sutherland. “How? We used a budget to spend less than we earned, every month. By spending less than we earned, we never experienced money stress, we were happy to pay our bills, and we loved spending money!”

I experienced the same thing. When I started making my own money and learned to create a spending plan, I turned frugality into a fun game. I also used apps to help me track and save money, experiencing very few problems saving a portion of my paychecks.

Never Spend More Than You Need To

My father is the ultimate cheapster. And while he definitely has no problem socking away money, he still buys the absolute cheapest item on the list. No matter what it is. No matter how much joy a fancier option might bring him.

Reality Check: “Sometimes it makes sense to spend the least,” says Jim Wang, the founder of Wallet Hacks. On the other hand: “Sometimes it makes sense to pay more for higher quality, better service, or some other reason outside the item itself.”

I would gladly pay more for a set of tires, and this past year I splurged in a pricey pair of leather boots, trench coat, and so forth. But these are items I value, use a lot, and really enjoy. And I was able to afford each of them.

Talking About Money Is Impolite

It’s imperative to talk about money. You talk about money when you ask for a discount, or when you ask for a raise at work. And you talk about it when you budget with your spouse.

You can also do this when you set financial goals by sharing those goals with others – maybe even asking people you care about to hold you accountable.

Reality Check: You know what is impolite? When you don’t talk about money. Because when you don’t learn about financial problems that your friends and family are dealing with, how can you help them? And, if you’re a freelancer or work for yourself, how do you know what’s considered a competitive rate from clients if you don’t discuss this with colleagues in the same field?

No Need to Worry About Your Credit Score

Maybe your parents were cash-focused and told you to pay your bills on time and everything will be fine. Or, perhaps they told you to keep a balance on your credit cards in order to build credit, or that closing a card won’t impact your score (the truth: it really depends).

Reality Check: Yikes. Sure you won’t have to worry about your credit score if you pay for everything in cash. Otherwise, your credit score is a huge part of your life as a consumer. You’ll need a solid score to finance a car or house, get the best terms and rates on credit cards, or to get financing for a new business endeavor.

Be Your Own Money Teacher

While your parents had the best intentions, it’s important to be your own money teacher. By understanding these money myths, you can start to form healthy money habits and reach your financial goals. Remember: It’s your life, not your parents’. Are you ready to create your own successful money story?

 

How to Save on Utilities (and Still Have Fun) Over the Holidays

How to Save on Utilities (and Still Have Fun) Over the Holidays

The holidays are all about spending quality time with those you care about and spreading good cheer.

There’s just one little snag. Between stringing up lights, baking your favorite holiday treats and turning up the heat to fight off the winter chill, your utility bills can easily skyrocket. This may leave your bank account feeling the pinch, especially when you’re also spending money on things like gifts, entertainment and holiday travel.

In fact, the average person plans to spend $1,250 on holiday-related expenses, according to PwC’s 2018 Holiday Outlook. What to do? As you head into the holidays, try these tips to help you lower your utility costs.

Go LED for Holiday Lighting

Instead of sticking with your traditional outdoor holiday lights, consider making the switch to LED this year. Compared to regular incandescent bulbs, LED lights use at least 75% less energy, which means a lower electric bill for you.

“Set the lights on a timer, that way it’s one less thing on your plate,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trend expert at coupon and deal site RetailMeNot.

You can also use LED lights to save money inside your home when you’re hosting holiday get-togethers.

Arthur Smith, editor of LEDwatcher.com, a solar and LED lighting blog, says smart LED bulbs can save you money and set the mood for holiday entertaining.

“Smart LED bulbs are extremely versatile, because you can not only change the color of the light they emit, but also the intensity of the light, and when hosting a holiday party, bright lights aren’t always the best way to go,” he says.

And, here’s another pro tip: Skirboll says you can always skip the lights altogether and use candles for interior lighting.

“You get the same glow but at no additional cost to you, a win-win situation,” she says.

If you plan to do this, just make sure you are familiar with basic candle safety rules so holiday celebrations don’t turn into a fire hazard.

Invest in a Programmable Thermostat

Managing utility costs over the holidays and the winter months can be tough if you’re dealing with fluctuating temperatures or entertaining more often.

Josh Savage, owner of Hero Heating, Plumbing & Cooling in Minneapolis, Minnesota, says installing a programmable thermostat is one of the best ways to save on heating costs. You can set the thermostat to turn the heat down automatically at night or during the day when you’re at work or doing your holiday shopping.

Programmable thermostats can cost between $20 and $150, while smart models that connect to your smartphone can run upwards of $300. If you don’t have the cash in savings to swing it, try to get into the habit of turning the heat down before you go to bed or head out for the day.

Savage has a bonus tip for saving on utility costs during the holidays: “Turn the thermostat down before any holiday gatherings or parties.”

This works particularly well if you have people coming over and you’ll be doing a lot of cooking that generates heat, he says.

“Oftentimes people will end up opening a window to cool things back off, and that can be a waste of heat and money,” says Savage.

Use Smart Power Strips

If you’re plugging your Christmas tree and holiday lights into a power strip, consider upgrading to smart versions to save on utility costs.

“Most electronics use electricity even when they’re turned off,” says Jill Caponera, consumer savings expert at PromoCodes.com.

This creates a “vampire load” effect, which adds up to an average cost of $200 per year.

“Smart power strips turn off the power to electronics when they’re not in use, and can be set to turn off at specific times or during times of inactivity,” Caponera says.

Opt for Potluck When Planning Holiday Meals

Matthias Alleckna, an energy industry analyst and creator of energy cost comparison site Energyrates.ca, says that if you’re planning a holiday dinner, make it a group effort.

“The less time you spend cooking, the more money you save,” since you’re not running your stove, oven or other appliances as often, says Alleckna.

To make coordinating potluck dinners easier, use an app like Perfect Potluck or Meal Train to keep track of who’s bringing what. If you need to reimburse anyone for last-minute purchases, like a couple of bottles of wine or extra napkins, you can use the “Pay Friends” feature through your Chime mobile banking app to pay them back.

Simply log into your Chime app, select the “Move Money” tab, click “Transfers” and select “Pay Friends”. Plug in your friend’s name, phone number or email, the amount you want to send and complete the transfer.

Know Your Peak Energy Hours

Your electric company may rate your energy use differently throughout the day, so check with your utility company to see if they have a time-of-use schedule, says Sophie Kaemmerle, neighborhood expert for background check platform Neighbor Who.

You may be charged more for energy during peak hours so it pays to know when the cheapest times of day are.

“Most utility companies offer discounts if you run major appliances, like washers, dryers and dishwashers at off hours,” Kaemmerle says.

Typically off hours are after 7 p.m. This means that waiting until after dark to turn on holiday lights, do the laundry or bake up a batch of gingerbread cookies can help you save money on your electric bill.

Spread the Energy Savings

While you’re cutting down your own energy use over the holidays, give your friends and family a hand as well by purchasing energy-efficient gifts, says Alleckna. If you’re not sure whether a gift is energy-efficient, check for the Energy Star sticker. You can find it on things like computers, appliances, DVD players, TVs and phones.

“Energy Star-rated products use up to 60% less energy than standard ones, which can represent a lot of money at the end of the day,” says Neighbor Who’s Kaemmerle.

Bank on Lower Utility Costs During the Holidays

High utility bills can lead to a holiday hangover and that’s not how you want to start off the new year.

Using one (or all) of these tips in your daily routine can help you cut down on your energy usage during the holidays and beyond. And remember: The more money you save on energy, the more cash you’ll have to spend on holiday fun.

 

10 Ways To Save Money Now For 2018 Holiday Shopping Season

The holiday shopping season is rapidly approaching and this may leave you feeling just a tad bit stressed about everything you need to buy. With a mounting list of gifts for your partner, your nieces and nephews, and of course, those white elephant presents for the company holiday party – it’s enough to make your head spin.

“How can I afford all this?” you may wonder. One way to ease the stress is to sock money away now for your holiday shopping. Here are 10 ways to start saving money today.

1. Automate your savings

Don’t rely on willpower alone to get you started. Instead, automate your savings and set up automatic withdrawals from your checking account to your savings account. This way you’ll grow your savings account every time you get paid. Even if it’s just $20 a month, this will still help you boost your savings. Plus, if you’re a Chime member you can automatically save 10 percent after every payday, and you can save even more by taking advantage of Chime’s round up program.

2. Create a budget

A lot of overspending and holiday debt happens because consumers haven’t created a budget and adequately prepared for the holiday season. So, come up with a holiday shopping budget and work backwards on meeting that goal. For example, if you need to save $1,000 and have two months to do this, try to save $500 per month.

3. Use coupons

Before you buy anything, you should always check to see if there are any coupons you can use to lower the price. But don’t worry, you don’t need to scour the newspaper and get out the scissors! You can use Honey, a program that automatically applies coupons to your online shopping cart. You can also check out sites like RetailMeNot to find coupons and deals.

4. Look for holiday bargains

During the holiday shopping season, retailers often tout great deals and sales. You can check out sites like UncommonGoods.com, Overstock.com and OrientalTrading.com for some sweet holiday deals, as well as unique gift ideas. For other sites, it can pay to do your research ahead of time to see what holiday bargains you can score. A little research can go a long way to helping you save money!

5. Cut out one thing

One of the best ways to save money is to eliminate something from your budget. If you’re saving money for holiday shopping, you may think you need to take drastic measures. But that’s not realistic and can backfire! Instead, focus on one thing you can cut out until the holidays roll around. For example, can you give up Starbucks from now until the holidays? Can you go on a restaurant ban until Christmas? Find something in your budget that is a “want” and cut it out. It’s only temporary. This will free up some money for you to spend on your gifts.

6. Save on shipping

Shopping online can certainly make your life easier. But shipping costs can add up quickly. Before buying anything online, check out sites like RetailMeNot to see if there are free shipping codes available. Of course, you don’t want to spend extra money just to get free shipping, but if you have a large shopping list, these free shipping codes make sense.

7. Use cash or your debit card

After creating a budget for your holiday shopping, this will give you a sense of how much you can afford to spend. In order to stick to this budget, consider using cash or a debit card when shopping. This way you can avoid holiday debt and spend only what you have available in your bank account.

8. Start early

When you’re rushing and things are last-minute, it’s easy to make mistakes and pay for convenience. Yet, aside from budgeting money, it’s important to budget time too. Going to the mall on December 23rd, for example, can lead to stress and you may end up paying more just so you can quickly get out of the stores. And, if you’re shopping online, you may be forced to pay a lot more for express shipping, instead of paying a fraction of that for standard shipping. So, give yourself the gift of time so you can save money.

9. Put it off the ‘gram

You know all those great group photos you took and put on the ‘gram? Get it off the ‘gram and go to your local Walgreens to print out those photos. You can get an affordable frame and voila: affordable gift. For about $5, I got a photo printed and a frame at the local dollar store and had a cute gift for my family. It was meaningful and a nice keepsake. Remember, sometimes simple is better!

10.  Buy gift cards at a discount

A 2017 survey by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics found that gift cards continue to be popular gifts. The survey found that 59 percent of consumers planned to give a gift card, and gift card spending was projected to be a whopping $27.6 billion dollars. One of the best tips to save money on gift cards is to buy them at a discount. Check out sites like CardPool.com and Raise.com to score gift cards at discounted rates.

Bottom line

Want some of the best ways to save money during the holidays? Use these 10 tips to help you stay on track. These money saving ideas will help you stick to you budget and avoid holiday debt.

And remember: While the holidays can be stressful, starting to save and prepare now can help you get through the season without the added financial stress.

 

10 Ways to Protect Yourself Against Fraud This Holiday Season

Ah, the holidays: a time for stockings, menorahs, cookies… and fraud?

If you’re not careful, then maybe. And, you certainly don’t want anybody stealing your hard-earned savings. Right?

While Juliana Gruenwald of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says this time of year “doesn’t necessarily pose a bigger threat,” she admits that the sheer volume of holiday shopping does “present more opportunities for scammers.” During the 2017 holiday shopping season, for example, ACI Worldwide reported one out of every 85 e-commerce transactions was a fraudulent attempt — an increase of 22% over the previous year.

What to do? To ensure this holiday season is full of cheer rather than chicanery, take these 10 steps today.

1. Update Your Passwords

The time to update your passwords is now – not when you’re in the throes of a Cyber Monday bargain frenzy.

“The most basic — and also most ignored — cybersecurity practice is maintaining strong passwords,” says Idan Udi Edry, CEO of Trustifi.

He urges you to create unique passwords for every site, and to update them every 30 to 90 days. Passwords should never include important names or dates, he says, but rather “a series of random numbers, upper and lowercase letters, and special characters.”

Although this sounds like a hassle, it’s super easy with a password manager like LastPass or 1Password. No more trying to come up with secure passwords you can remember (an oxymoron, if you ask me); LastPass does it for you for free.

2. Turn on 2-Step Verification

Take a few minutes and turn on 2-step verification for major accounts like Google, Facebook, and Apple. You can usually find this option under “security” or “settings.” Once you set it up, the site will require additional verification every time you attempt to sign in from an unfamiliar device.

Edry says a text or call to your phone is more secure than emailed codes or additional security questions. But anything is better than just a password, as he says that even one “additional verification step encourages cybercriminals to switch to an easier target.”

While you’re at it, update your computer and Internet browser, too. And before making any online purchases, make sure the site is secure by looking for “https://” at the beginning of the URL (the “s” stands for secure).

“Cybercriminals seek vulnerabilities in dated software to carry out their attacks,” adds Edry.

 3. Use Your Bank’s Security Features

Although credit cards generally offer more consumer protections than debit cards, you can make debit cards safer by taking advantage of your bank’s security features.

The Chime banking app, for example, allows you to easily block debit card transactions. All you have to do is turn off “allow transactions” or “allow international transactions.” Some users actually keep it that way until they’re about to make a purchase. Since it’s just a quick toggle, it’s easy to switch when waiting in the checkout line.

4. Don’t Save Your Details

I know, I know: It’s a pain to type your card details into every site. But it’s better than getting hacked, right?

“Even if you’re using a site that you trust, keep your details secure,” says Jennifer McDermott, a consumer advocate for finder.com.

“It may be annoying to re-enter it every time you want to make a purchase, but it’s a small price to pay for additional security,” says McDermott.

Taking it a step further, you can also employ a virtual credit card number. These cards serve as proxies for your regular cards by using disposable account numbers. This means if a thief gets ahold of your virtual number, you won’t have to cancel your regular card. Ask your card issuer for more details on this service.

5. Avoid Clicking Links

An email or text arrives from your favorite department store, announcing that everything is 80% off — for today only. Is this an early Kwanzaa gift or what? Though most of us would be tempted to click that link, experts advise proceeding with caution.

“Links or attachments may be infected with malware designed to steal your data,” says Adam Levin, the founder of CyberScout and author of “Swiped.”

“Or they may direct you to a clone website that looks legitimate, where you’re prompted to enter personal information that’s sent to the fraudster,” says Levin.

Even if an email looks real, don’t click the links — and instead go directly to the retailer’s official website. If the deal is legitimate, it’ll be advertised there.

Robert Siciliano, CEO of Safr.Me, says you should also be wary of gift cards that arrive via email. If the card comes with a code that allows you to claim the gift, it might be real — but if it asks for your credit card information, it’s probably a scam. He says typos are a good indicator that there’s something fishy going on.

6. Send Encrypted Emails

Not only should you pay attention to what’s coming in over email; you should also pay attention to what’s going out.

“Consider the types of attachments commonly sent over email,” says Trustifi’s Edry.

“Legal records, driver’s licenses, W4 forms, real estate records, corporate financial records, credit card information, addresses, health records, social security numbers, etc. These sensitive pieces of data and information are exactly what hackers target.”

To keep yourself safe, Edry recommends sending encrypted emails, a service which his company offers. For more email encryption options, check out this article from Consumer Reports.

7. Don’t Shop Over Public Wifi

You’re at an airport or a coffee shop, and even though you know it’s not a good idea, you buy something over the public wifi. You need to get that holiday shopping done, after all!

While we’ve all done it, Edry says this is a big mistake. You should never access your bank account or use a credit card over a public network.

“Only complete those transactions when you’re on a safe network, like your house,” he says. “That includes using any passwords you’re worried a hacker might compromise.”

If you really need to complete a transaction, then use your phone’s hotspot instead of the public wifi. As Edry says: “It won’t be very fast, but it will be more secure.”

8. Watch Out for Job Scams

Whether you’re working at your local UPS or as a mall Santa, getting a holiday side gig is a fantastic way to afford gifts and holiday parties. According to Levin, however, it’s also an easy way to get swindled.

“Beware of work-at-home and mystery shopper ads, as these are usually scams,” says the Cyberscout CEO.

“The key to landing a real seasonal job is to start early, then research the company by going to their website or checking with the BBB. And never give out your Social Security number to unsolicited callers,” says Levin.

9. Use Coupons With Caution

I’m all about using coupon codes and shopping portals to maximize rewards when buying gifts online. But, as Safr.me’s Siciliano says: “If [a coupon is] too good to be true, then it’s too good to be true.”

He says that coupon sites that request personal information, or have typos, poor punctuation, or pop-up windows, should “send you running.”

However, this doesn’t mean avoiding all coupon sites. Personally, I love RetailMeNot and Honey.

10. Monitor Your Accounts

According to a finder.com survey, the majority of fraud victims (54%) didn’t find out their information had been compromised until a retailer declined their card. Not only is that embarrassing and inconvenient, it also means you’ve given a thief plenty of time to rack up charges.

“You can’t rely on your credit card issuer to notice fraudulent behaviour,” says McDermott, who works for the site.

“Make checking your statements a regular habit and ensure you can vouch for every transaction made, even if it’s small. Often thieves will make a small transaction first as a test, and then when it goes unnoticed, a larger one,” says McDermott.

If you notice any suspicious activity, report it immediately to your bank or card issuer. Though you’ll probably need to get a new card, it usually takes no more than a few days to arrive.

Sit Back — and Drink Some Cocoa

While securing your finances and personal information might seem like a lot of work, it’s important to take these steps so that you can minimize your chances of becoming a victim of fraud.

“The holiday season is the season of giving — and also a season for criminals looking to steal your cheer. Be proactive and remember that staying cyber-safe means having a fraud-free holiday!” says Levin of Cyberscout.

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