Tag: Life Hacks

 

5 Coupon Websites That Will Save You Money

Who doesn’t want to save a few bucks? Ever consider couponing?

Luckily, the days of clipping and sorting through coupons is over. Nowadays, you can simply search online for insane coupon deals. Plus, coupon sites are easy to use and allow you to keep more of your hard-earned cash so you can meet your savings goals.

Ready to give it a try? To get started, here are 5 of the best coupon sites to help you save money.

1. Ibotta

What is it?

Ibotta is both an app and a website. While it doesn’t provide traditional coupons, it does give you cash back on groceries and other goods.

Ibotta works closely with retail chains to offer cash back on everyday items, like milk, produce, meat, frozen foods and more. Most regional supermarkets accept Ibotta offers, as do many big box-stores, like Best Buy, Target and Walmart.

Here’s how it works: Once you login, you will see a variety of digital coupons and offers. You then click the offers you want. After you go shopping, you simply scan your receipt with your phone so that Ibotta can verify that you bought the products eligible for cash back. Once verified, you will see the cash back hit your account. Once you have earned $20 in cash back, you can then deposit this cash into your bank account.

What kind of online coupons does it have?

When Ibotta first came out, it primarily offered cash back on grocery items and some other goods. Nowadays, Ibotta has expanded to offer cashback on Amazon purchases, electronics, pharmacy items, restaurants, and even travel.

Coupon examples

2. Ebates

What is it?

Ebates is also a cash back site. You simply log into the Ebates website and find offers there. Ebates partners with most major retailers, including Amazon, Nordstrom, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s, Ann Taylor, Loft, Gap, and Petco.

Here’s how it works: While you do have to login to the Ebates website at least once, you can install a simple toolbar app that will automatically find cash back offers whenever you visit a participating retail site. If you make a purchase, you will then receive cash back through Ebates. Depending on the purchase, you will receive between one and 40% cash back (based on your total purchase price). Ebates is free to use.

What kind of online coupons does it have?

Once you download the Ebates toolbar, you don’t have to do anything else – the toolbar will automatically notify you of any cashback offers available to you.

Coupon examples

3. RetailMeNot

What is it?

RetailMeNot is one of the original coupon websites and has been around since 2006.

Here’s how it works: You can either use the website or download the app to find coupons prior to making purchases at leading retailers. Whether you shop online or in-person, RetailMeNot has coupons available for download. Once you find a coupon that applies to you, you can either take it to a store or go to the retailer’s website to shop. If you’re a first-time user, you will need to supply your email address in order to use the coupons.

What kind of online coupons does it have?

RetailMeNot offers a wide array of coupons at businesses ranging from Ulta to Hotels.com. No matter what you’re buying online, RetailMeNot makes it easy to do a last-minute search for coupons to see if you can save a little bit of cash.

Coupon examples

4. Honey

What is it?

Honey is one of the newer online coupon sites available. Once you sign up on the site, you can install Honey’s toolbar on your web browser of choice. Then, every time you shop online, the Honey extension will work to find you discounts and cash back offers automatically.

Here’s how it works: Simply download the browser extension. When you go to purchase an item online, you don’t even have to think twice – you can automatically receive a discount, even if you forget to search for coupons.

What kind of online coupons do they have?

Honey boasts a wide variety of coupons, including deals to eBay, Macy’s, Coach, Microsoft, AT&T, and more. Honey is the perfect extension to use when shopping online as it can scan for any coupons before you buy a product.

Coupon examples

5. Coupons.com

What is it?

If you like the idea of traditional coupons, then check out Coupons.com. With this website, you can search and “clip” for coupons for free. Coupons can be used at most major retailers.

Here’s how it works: You can print out coupons from the Coupons.com website or you can apply the coupons to your online orders. You can sort coupons by category, making it easy to find a discount for the specific product you’re looking for.

What kind of online coupons does it have?

Coupons.com is a great resource. Before you pack up to run to the grocery store, be sure to check out the site to see if you can save a few bucks on products you need. Coupons.com can help you save money on pet food, kitchen paper products, canned goods, toiletries, and more.

Since it’s free and easy to use, it never hurts to check for money saving opportunities before you go shopping.

Coupon examples

Couponing made easy

With the rise of online coupons, it has never been easier to save money on your everyday purchases. All you have to do is sign up for a couple of sites, and you’ll be on your way to putting more money back into your pocket.

Who knew saving money could be this easy?

 

How to Throw Your First New Year’s Eve Party on a Budget

As the year winds down, you may be ready to ring in the new one with a bangin’ celebration. What better way to do that than by hosting a party at your place? Except there’s one little wrinkle in your plans: You don’t have a lot of cash to spend.

Not to worry. You can still throw an amazing New Year’s Eve party, even with a tiny budget. Take a look at these 6 tips to help you pull off a successful soireé.

Create a Dedicated Party Account

Keeping track of your spending over the holidays can get crazy and having a separate bank account just for party purchases can make it easier.

“If you know you’re going to be hosting a party for the new year, start a party fund as soon as possible,” says Jacob Lunduski, financial industry analyst for Credit Card Insider.

You can easily do that with a Chime Spending or Savings Account. It takes less than 5 minutes to open a free bank account with Chime. You can fund your account by setting up a direct deposit through your employer or transferring money from an existing bank account. From there, you can manage your account through the Chime mobile app.

Once your account is open, you’ll need to add something to it.

“Consider putting aside a small amount from each paycheck towards your party,” Lunduski says.

He says budgeting $20 to $50 per payday is a good rule of thumb to follow, depending on how big of an event you’re planning.

Nail Down the Guest List Early

A party isn’t a party without guests and as you plan your New Year’s Eve blowout, think about who you’d like to invite. You might want to call up everyone you know but that can add to the cost. On the other hand, capping the guest list at a certain number can help you manage your costs.

Another tip: Clue in your invitees and tell them you’re planning a party. “Ask them to tentatively RSVP whether they can make it or not,” Lunduski says.

“This will give you a general idea of how much food, seating and alcohol people will need, and the cost associated.”

This step is important for planning your budget. For example, if you have $300 to spend and you want to invite 30 people, that breaks down to $10 you can spend per person. Paring the guest list back to 20 people bumps your per-person spend up to $15. You can then decide how that $15 should be divvied up between food, alcohol and other party supplies.

Buy in Bulk (and Ask for a Deal)

If you’re planning to hit a party supply store or shop online for cups, plates, napkins or even wine, buying in bulk can be a money saver. Finance expert and founder of Fiscal Nerd Stacy Caprio says getting to know your local party suppliers can work in your favor if you’re able to negotiate a bulk discount.

“Often, the owner of a small shop or business will be happy to accommodate a loyal customer as well as encourage bulk purchases, since that can be the bread and butter of their business,” she says.

“This makes them more willing to give you a discount when you ask.”

Consider BYOB or Potluck to Save on Food and Drinks

Food and alcohol can eat up a big chunk of your party budget. Greg Jenkins, partner and co-founder of event planning company Bravo Productions, says you can make party planning less stressful — and less expensive — by asking guests to contribute something for dinner and drinks.

For example, you might supply beer and cocktail mixers but ask attendees to bring a dish or a bottle of wine for everyone to share. If you’re planning to prepare food, Jenkins says it’s always better to keep it simple.

“Sit down dinners cost more to host,” he says. Even with just appetizers, you could overspend if you let the menu get away from you. So, stick with basic, inexpensive choices like ham sliders and mini desserts. Most importantly, “don’t waste money on things guests won’t eat,” Jenkins says.

Repurpose and Reuse Party Items Whenever Possible

Your first New Year’s Eve party is a big deal and while you may be tempted to go all out, your wallet will thank you if you think practically instead. Repurposing things you have around the house for your party or thinking about how the items you’re purchasing can be useful beyond New Year’s Eve can help you make smarter buying decisions.

For instance, say your favorite grocery store is running a sale on wine. If you drink wine year-round or if wine is something you can gift to friends and family, stocking up on it while it’s on sale might be a good move.

Also, consider what you plan to do for decorations to make the party complete. Jenkins says you can save money by using things you already have around the house. Fitted sheets, for example, can double as tablecloths. Or, you can leave up holiday decorations and lights and think about adding in some inexpensive paper streamers or confetti to capture the party mood. If you don’t have any twinkle lights handy, candles can create a similar effect.

If you’re planning to buy plastic or paper plates, cups, party hats, whistles or similar items, you can scoop those up at a dollar store. Stick with solid colors instead of ones that have “New Year’s Eve” printed on them and stash away any extras to reuse for your next party. If you need an extra table or chairs for seating, check your local thrift stores for low-cost finds.

Serve Up Affordable Entertainment

While you’re waiting for the clock to countdown to midnight, you’ll need to keep your guests entertained. Since it’s your first New Year’s Eve party, hiring a band may not be feasible, but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy yourself as the hours tick by.

For example, you could set up a DIY photo booth for your guests. You just need a plain sheet or a curtain for the backdrop, some party props and a camera. The props may be things you’ve already purchased — think silly glasses, paper top hats, bead necklaces and noisemakers. Toss everything in a shoebox or a plastic bin and let your guests snap away.

Other low-key, low-cost options include board games, cards, charades or taking turns sharing your New Year’s resolutions. If you’re stumped for suggestions, poll your guests to see what inexpensive ideas they have for the big night.

All the New Year’s Eve Fun, Without the Financial Hangover

While you still may need to spend something on your first New Year’s Eve party, you don’t need to spend everything.

The more you plan your spending ahead of time and follow these 6 tips, the easier it is to keep your budget locked down. And when the ball drops, you can enjoy the moment knowing that you won’t be starting the new year off with money regrets.

 

How to Rebuild a Damaged Credit Score

There are many avenues that lead to damaged credit. You might have missed a few payments on an important loan. You might have opened too many credit cards. You might have even defaulted on a mortgage or car loan.

However you got here, your personal credit score is damaged, and it’s likely affecting your life in several negative ways; you might find yourself turned down for loans, getting worse rates for mortgages, and/or being rejected for apartment applications. Fortunately, you don’t have to stay in this situation forever. With the right techniques and the proper commitment, you can rebuild your credit score from the ground up.

How to Rebuild a Damaged Credit Score

Step One: Understand Your Score and Look for Errors

First, you need to understand what affects your credit score, and how those factors manifest in your final number. There are actually a few different types of credit scores, but your FICO score is by far the most common. Your FICO score is affected by the following factors, in order of most important to least important:

  • Payment history. The biggest percentage of your FICO score depends on your payment history—in other words, do you have a long history of making your payments on time? Late and missed payments can accrue quickly, devastating your credit score, while consistent, on-time, in-full payments can strengthen it.
  • Amounts owed. Your credit score will also consider how much money you owe, across all your accounts, including your mortgage, car loan, student loans, credit cards, and other sources of debt. The more you owe at any given point, the lower your credit score will be, especially if you have a high debt-to-income ratio.
  • Length of credit history. Though less important, credit reporting companies still want to know how long you’ve held your various sources of credit. The longer you’ve had your accounts active, the better, because it sets a precedent for your patterns of behavior.
  • Credit mix. Your credit mix is also important. In other words, what types of credit do you have open, and how many accounts do you have open? Having 12 credit cards doesn’t look too good while having two credit cards, a mortgage, and a student loan looks much better balanced.
  • New credit. What percentage of your credit is “new” (i.e., opened within the past several months)? The newer your credit mix is, the more inherently risky or volatile it will be considered.

You can check your credit score once a year from each of the three major credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) at AnnualCreditReport.com and see a breakdown of how you’ve performed in each of these categories. With that information, you’ll know which areas you need to improve on most.

While you’re doing this, be sure to check for any errors that may be negatively and unfairly affecting your score, such as lines of credit you don’t remember opening up, or missed payments that were erroneously recorded.

Step Two: Commit to Avoiding New Credit (and New Debt)

Your first real step in making a better credit score is stopping the bleeding—in other words, not making your credit score any worse than it already is. Try to keep most of your current accounts open (especially the oldest ones), since account history plays a role in shaping your credit score, but make it a point not to open any new accounts unless absolutely necessary. This will help you keep your ratio of new credit low, and decrease your temptation of tapping into those new loans or credit cards.

While you’re at it, avoid taking on new debt, if possible. Don’t buy a new house or a new car, and don’t rack up new debt on your credit cards. This is a relatively easy step to take, so long as you can make ends meet, and it will set you up for success when you start rebuilding your credit score.

Step Three: Set Up Reminders for Payments

The most important factor for your credit score, unfortunately, takes the longest time to build or repair—your payment history. If you want your credit score to increase, you’ll need to make all your due payments on time, and preferably, in full, for several months to a few years. The best way to do this is to set up automated reminders, to let you know when a payment is coming up, and when that payment is officially due. That way, you won’t have to worry about remembering to make those payments—you’ll get a handy prompt to do so.

Step Four: Start Reducing Your Debts

So far, you’re not opening new credit or taking on new debt, and you’ve got your payments covered. Now, your job is to start reducing your current debts:

  • Consolidate what you can. Debt consolidation isn’t always a good idea in pursuit of a better credit score, but it could be valuable in reducing your monthly payments. For example, if you have one credit card with an interest rate of 30 percent and another with a rate of 20 percent, transferring to the 20 percent card can save you a ton of money, especially over the long term. It can also make your payments much simpler and easier to remember.
  • Negotiate your rates. Take the time to renegotiate some of your interest rates, especially on credit cards. If you’re trying to take a proactive role in eliminating your debts, you’ll be surprised to learn how much you can reduce your interest rates and monthly payments just by asking. The worst they can say is “no.”
  • Restrict your budget. Start a budget if you haven’t already, and take a good, long look at it. Chances are, there are several items you don’t truly “need,” such as trips to restaurants and bars, entertainment purchases, and ongoing subscriptions. If you want to get serious about paying off your debts, you’ll need to treat these with a scrutinizing, minimalistic eye. Cut everything you don’t need, and find lower-cost alternatives for what you do need.
  • Focus on high-interest debts first. Interest rates compound over time, forcing you to pay far more money than you need to when paying off a debt. That’s why it’s important to focus on your highest-interest debt first, paying that down before moving to your lower-interest debts. This won’t improve your credit score faster, but will reduce the total amount of money you spend to eliminate your debts.
  • Acquire new sources of income. If you still need help paying off your debts, your best option is to acquire a new source of income (or two). Depending on your skill set and current sources of income, that could mean anything from taking on a new part-time job to starting a side gig selling crafts on the internet.

Step Five: Establish Better Long-Term Habits

After you’ve eliminated or reduced the majority of your debts, you can start building better long-term habits, to keep your credit score inching higher and prevent another disaster:

  • Pay everything you can on time. Never take on more credit card debt than you can feasibly handle, and pay all of your bills on time. If you set up automated reminders when establishing better payment habits, keep them on, and do your best to never miss a payment.
  • Keep a good mix of credit. You might be tempted to close out your credit cards if you’ve been frustrated by credit card debt in the past. However, it’s better to keep those accounts open. Keep a good mix of credit, and use those lines of credit on an occasional basis so the activity can contribute to your new credit score. Good sources of debt, like student loans and mortgages, can get you something truly valuable and give you payments you can use to build your score at the same time.
  • Establish an emergency fund. Many people end up in debt because they can’t afford to pay for an emergency, such as a car repair or a medical bill. Proactively prevent this by creating an emergency fund of several thousand dollars, or a few months of expenses, and only tap into it when you really need it (replacing it as soon as the emergency is over). That way, you can avoid going into more debt, and make your finances more consistent.
  • Check your credit score periodically. You can check your credit score for free once a year, but you can also get your credit score for a low rate from other providers. Checking your credit score won’t affect your credit much, but it’s still not something you should do weekly, or even monthly (especially considering your score won’t change that fast). That said, it’s good to keep an eye on your score to check for inaccuracies and see how it’s progressing—so consider checking in once or twice a year to monitor your progress.

Damaged credit doesn’t mean you have to give up a reasonable lifestyle, and it doesn’t mean there’s no hope for your financial future. It may take months, or in some cases years, to get your credit score back in good order, but your efforts will be worth it whenever you apply for a loan, make a major purchase, or attempt to make a major life change.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

6 Cable Alternatives: The Best Streaming Services to Cut Your Cable Bill

Saving more money is one of the best ways to ensure a lucrative financial future. And, with a new year looming, now is a great time to take actionable steps to reach your money goals.

A good first step is to set up an automatic savings plan and lower some of your monthly expenses to free up money. Where to start? Try cutting out cable. Cutting the cable cord doesn’t mean you have to give up the TV shows and movies you love to watch. In fact, you can still watch your favorite shows – thanks to streaming services.

Here are 6 of the best streaming services to replace your cable service, and help you save money.

1. Netflix

You’ve probably heard of Netflix by now. It’s one of the most popular streaming services for movies, television shows, documentaries and more. Netflix is a monthly subscription service that gives you access to their entire library of content.

The basic plan is $7.99 per month: Watch on one screen at a time in standard definition. Download videos on one phone or tablet.

The standard plan is $10.99: Watch on two screens at a time. HD available. Download videos on two phones or tablets.

The premium plan is $13.99 per month: Watch on four screens at a time. HD and Ultra HD available. Download videos on four phones or tablets.

Netflix doesn’t always feature the most up-to-date episodes for TV shows, but they have an awesome line-up of original shows including Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and House of Cards. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial here.

2. Hulu

Hulu is a streaming service that has an affordable monthly subscription rate. You can watch movies, TV shows and now even live television.

Hulu has a great TV show collection including their own original series. New users can get a free 30-day trial. After that, the cost is just $5.99 per month for the first year. For the second year, the monthly fee goes up to $7.99. Hulu does show ads on streaming shows, but if you want an ad-free experience, you can update your plan to $11.99 per month.

Hulu also allows you to stream 50+ of the top TV channels, and you can add on content from networks like HBO®, SHOWTIME®, CINEMAX® and STARZ®. This membership is $39.99 per month.

3. DIRECTV NOW

DIRECTV NOW is a no-contract streaming service with four service plans, ranging in price from $40/month to $75/month.

This option is great for someone who likes to watch live TV as DIRECTV NOW provides access to over 65 channels for the basic $40 monthly plan and more than 125 channels for the top tier $75 monthly plan.

The best part is that you don’t have to commit to a contract or hidden fees, and you can cancel any time. You can sign up for a free 7-day trial of DIRECTV NOW here.

4. Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service that’s similar to DIRECTV in that you can stream live TV channels to your devices instead of paying for cable.

Sling TV is great for sports lovers and there are three main packages: Orange ($25/month), Blue ($25/month) and both ($40/month). Sling TV even offers a $5 kids add-on package with family-friendly networks.

The one downside is that while Sling TV allows you to stream movies from the site, not all of them are free. Yet, you can try out the service for seven days before committing to a paid subscription. Get more details here.

5. Amazon Instant Video

If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll have unlimited access to Prime Video. This allows you to stream TV shows and movies from various devices.

This service makes sense to have if you like to watch movies and Prime originals, like the award-winning The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Since Prime Video comes with a paid Amazon Prime membership, this is a great perk for those already taking advantage of other membership benefits, including fast and free shipping on more than 100 million items. Get a 30-day free trial here.

6. YouTube TV

YouTube is one of the most-used websites to date. Some of the video content can be addicting and it’s great to support up and coming content creators. While I can watch free YouTube content all day, a paid streaming service is also available.

YouTube TV – touting itself as cable-free live TV with no cable box required – is just $40 per month. For that price, you get access to more than 70 different channels covering everything from news and sports to entertainment and scripted shows. You can have up to six different accounts per household and use the personalized DVR service.

This streaming service is only available in select areas right now but you can check to see if your city has it and sign up for a free trial here.

Cut the Cord and Save

Imagine how much money you can save by cutting the cord and getting rid of cable. Better yet, take action and actually cancel your cable subscription. Then start adding up the savings when you switch to one of these more affordable television streaming services.

 

6 Year-End Money Moves: Salary vs. Hourly

It’s that time of year again – the time when everyone focuses on the holidays. This includes buying gifts, planning holiday travel and preparing for all those holiday parties.

Yet, this is also the time of year when you can easily let things fall to the wayside, including your own finances and career. So, before you let yourself get carried away with holiday spending, it’s time to take an inward look at your own money matters.

A good place to start is to answer this question: Are you paid by the hour or are you salaried? The answer to this question is important because how — and when — you earn your money can make a big difference in the year-end financial actions you take. For example, if you are a salaried employee, you may already have company-sponsored insurance and a retirement plan in place. If you are hourly, however, you may have to set up your own retirement account and purchase insurance. On the other hand, if you work an hourly job, you may have the opportunity to earn extra money by working overtime hours.

So, with one month left to go in 2018, take a look at these 6 financial housekeeping moves for salaried versus hourly employees.

Contribute to a Retirement Plan

Regularly saving money in a retirement plan is one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for retirement. And one of the best ways to do that is by contributing to a 401(k), a tax-deferred retirement plan offered by many employers.

You’ll often hear about 401(k) plans coming with a “company match.” Matching contributions are when your employer will deposit a dollar amount or certain percentage into your retirement plan. It’s basically free money from your job – which you can get just for contributing to your retirement account.

“Perhaps the worst financial mistake someone can make is turning down free money,” says Robert Johnson, a professor of finance at Creighton University.

“If one doesn’t contribute enough in a 401(k) plan that has a company match, one is basically turning down free money.”

Here’s how you can maximize your investments if you have an hourly or salaried job.

Salary:

  • Max out your allowable retirement account contributions by adjusting your limits through your employer or investment portal.
  • If you’re already spreading yourself too thin financially, aim to contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) to get the maximum company match.

Hourly and self-employed:

Review Your Insurance Policies

“As the year comes to a close, it’s important to review insurance policies to make sure your coverage still fits your life,” says Lingwe Wang, co-founder of life insurance provider Ethos.

Take a look at the suggestions below.

Salary (and hourly, where applicable):

  • Thoroughly review your insurance policies, to include health, auto, homeowners and life – particularly if you anticipate a major life change in the upcoming year, like a marriage, birth or relocation.
  • Open new policies and close old ones. Make this move by determining if you may need more or less coverage, depending on your individual situation.
  • Monitor insurance rates. Keep an eye on insurance rates all year, but make sure you conduct a full scale review at the end of each year.
  • Pay attention to your deductibles. Here’s a good example: “If you have an expensive (medical) procedure coming up, and have reached or nearly reached your deductible, you could consider scheduling the procedure this year, rather than next, to maximize your benefits,” says Kevin Gallegos, senior vice president of client enrollment for Freedom Debt Relief.

Hourly/contract/self-employed:

  • Pick a plan. Now is the time to select the health insurance coverage right for you. Open enrollment for healthcare coverage on the health insurance marketplace lasts from November 1 to December 15. Make sure you don’t miss this window!

Utilize an FSA (if applicable)

A Flexible Spending Account, or FSA for short, is a tax-exempt way to save money to pay for certain qualifying medical expenses that may not be covered by your health insurance. This may include prescription medications, co-payments, or even portions of your deductible.

Salary:

If you’ve been making deposits into an employer-sponsored FSA plan, start using those dollars. According to HealthCare.gov, you’ll generally need to spend your FSA funds within your plan year. So, if you started coverage at the time of open enrollment, this leaves just two short months before the money you’ve socked away goes to waste.

“There is still time to make relevant purchases to use the money,” says Gallegos.

“Many kinds of products and services apply, so if it’s too late for a doctor’s appointment, determine if you need other qualifying items.”

Hourly/contract:

If you don’t have an FSA in place, now is the time to open one for more flexibility within your health insurance coverage. You’re allowed to deposit up to $2,650 per year, per employer, into an account.

Check Your Credit Report

Ensuring your credit is in good standing is important no matter whether you’re salaried or hourly.

With that, make a habit of checking your credit report at least once a year, and now is a great time to start. Your credit report is available for free at annualcreditreport.com and by reviewing your report, you’ll be able to spot signs of identity theft, which can adversely affect your report and credit score.

If you find anything that looks suspicious or errant — such as a loan listed as delinquent that you paid off, an unfamiliar looking credit account, incorrect spellings or dollar amounts, or other information that’s amiss  — you can dispute your findings with the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Checking your credit report gives you the security and control you need over your financial situation, regardless of your employment status: full-time, part-time, salaried, hourly or contract.

Prep Your Taxes

Before you know it, the holidays will be over, a new year will have begun, and tax time will be here. April 15, 2019 is the next deadline for filing taxes, so make sure you prepare ahead of time.

Salary and hourly:

  • Check your tax withholdings. “Depending on your preference and your salary, some tax withholdings are better than others,” notes McCall Robison, chief editor of Best Company.

“Look at this year’s finances and tax withholdings, and determine if your current tax withholding is working with your budget. If not, you may want to change your tax withholding choice to better work with your financial situation.”

Hourly only:

  • Calculate any extra pay you earned throughout the year. For example, if you worked overtime or earned tips, include that in your total annual income. To learn more about how to report tips on your tax return, you may want to access IRS Form 4070.

Build Your Budget

Salaried and hourly employees may be paid differently, but making an effort to start a budget or make changes to improve your current budget is a great way for everyone to save money.

“Take into account your budget for the current year and think of where you could improve,” advises Robison.

“Did you eat out too much this year? Are there some bills you could cut down on? Do an expense audit, making a list of all of your bills and other expenses, and see where you can improve next year. This will give you a great start in the new year.”

A Fresh Financial Beginning at the End of the Year

The end of the year is an opportunity to make positive financial changes in the upcoming year. No matter what kind of work you do, how much you’re paid, how you’re paid, or what your unique work situation is, this is the time to make some smart money moves.

 

New Year’s Prep: Give Your Bills a Makeover

New Year’s resolutions get all the glory when it comes to planning out next year’s money. But, we’d like to highlight another less-talked-about way to help your money situation in the new year: lowering your bills.

The beauty of going this route is that you just have to make the switch to a cheaper option once, and then reap the savings month after month. Remember, though — savings are only really savings if you actually…well…save that money instead of spending it on something else.

It’s easy to think of bills as a fixed expense that you can’t change. But, believe me — you can. Don’t think it’s possible? Here are three different money-saving apps and websites you can use to give your bills a fresh makeover before the new year starts.

Bill Shark

Believe it or not, it’s totally possible to negotiate your bills. It can also suck to try to negotiate better deals.

We get it: Not everyone is comfortable playing the negotiation game. At the same time, if you’re unwilling to negotiate your bills yourself, you shouldn’t be penalized by paying high bills forever. This is where Bill Shark comes in.

Bill Shark is a unique new company that employs real, flesh-and-blood expert negotiators to haggle your bills with your service providers on your behalf – sort of like a personal consumer advocate. All you have to do is upload your bills through their online portal or take a picture with their app. They can then start negotiating on your behalf.

The service isn’t entirely free, but it has a consumer-friendly pricing model. Plus, if their expert negotiators can’t lower your bills for you, you pay nothing. Nada. And if they are successful? You’ll owe 40% of whatever savings they get for you for a maximum of two years. This amount will be due after they’ve finished their negotiations.

Say, for example, Bill Shark is able to permanently lower your Internet bill by $20 per month. This will save you $480 over a two-year period. The fee for this would then be $192, leaving you to come out ahead by $288. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask us.

Metromile

The cost of car insurance depends a lot on which state you live in. In 2017, residents of Ohio had the lowest estimated annual car insurance premiums at $926. Michigan residents, on the other hand, clocked in at a whopping $2,551 annually.

That’s a big chunk of change. And if you don’t drive very much, car insurance can cost you way more than it should. If this is the case for you, it may be worth your time to get a quote from Metromile.

Metromile actually charges you a per-mile rate based on how far you drive. It knows this because the company requires you to plug in a tiny device into your car’s OBD-II port (it’s not hard to find; we promise) that records and transmits your actual mileage to the company’s billing department.

Another handy money-saving feature of using Metromile? Since the device plugs into your car’s diagnostic system, if that pesky “check engine” light pops up, you can use the app to see what the exact problem is and research the cost before taking it to a mechanic.

Right now Metromile is only available in certain states: Arizona, California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington. But keep your eyes out for Metromile to expand into more states.

Lemonade

Lemonade is a new type of insurance company offering policies for urban homeowners and renters. It’s based on a different business model than typical big insurance companies.

Lemonade is a public benefit corporation, which means that while it is still driven by profits (a flat fee is taken out of your premiums), it also gives back any other excess “profit” at the end of the year to a charity that you select. Since the company doesn’t operate on a never-ending quest to drain the contents of your wallet, insurance premiums for your home or rental can be less expensive than traditional insurance policies.

Filing claims and getting paid is also much simpler with Lemonade. The company expedites this process and pays claims super fast.

How much can you lower your bills for next year?

We’ve given you three different options for lowering your bills and starting the new year with a fresh makeover for your budget. Yet, you’ve got plenty of other options as well. All you need to do is research ways to lower your bills and then commit to making this a priority.

Here’s what we suggest for maximum impact: Start by going through your budget one line item at a time. Ask yourself: Is there any way to lower this? By switching to a lower-cost phone carrier, for example, you could save $30 per month or more. Over the course of a year, that’s an extra $360 in your pocket!

Now, we challenge you: How much can you save on your bills in the new year? And how much of that can you save into your bank account for your future?

 

How to Use the Holiday Lull to Shine at Work

It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with the holidays, especially on the job.

According to a 2017 Accountemps survey, 32% of workers said balancing holiday events and work obligations was a major source of stress.

And, due to this often anxiety-ridden time of year, you may put your work and career aspirations on hold until January. If you do this, however, you may be missing out on an opportunity to get ahead when everyone else is slowing down and mired in holiday to-do lists.

If advancing your career is one of your goals for the New Year, check out these tips to up your game during the holiday season.

Be the Go-To Person

Chances are, at least some of your co-workers are taking time off during the holidays. In fact, in a 2017 Robert Half survey, one-third of employees planned to be away from work the entire week of December 25th.

If your holiday plans don’t include an extended break, you can instead use that time to fill in the gaps at work.

“Volunteer to head a deadline-driven project around the holidays if you know you can be available,” advises Robin Schwartz, PHR and HR director at career resource site Career Igniter. “That will get you noticed and show how dedicated you are.”

Just don’t overdo it, says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at personal care brand Maple Holistics. While working overtime can be great for your bank account, it might not be realistic once the holidays end.

“You don’t want to go overboard and set the bar too high for your future self,” Backe cautions. “Do that little bit extra, but know where to draw the line.”

Network, Network, Network

If you normally skip the holiday office party, plan to attend this year.

“Holiday parties are often a chance for you to rub elbows with higher-level executives you rarely get to see,” Schwartz says, adding that this isn’t the time to be a wallflower.

She recommends politely introducing yourself to higher-ups and other key players in your company that you might not have a chance to talk to ordinarily.

Another pro tip: Unplug from your phone for the night so you can give people your full attention, and don’t let an open bar steer you off-course from your networking mission.

“Save your party animal self for your party with your friends, not your colleagues,” says Backe.

Prioritize and Establish Clear Goals

You might be used to working as a team but over the holidays, you could end up a team of one if everyone else has flown the coop. Planning ahead can help you be productive instead of getting bogged down.

Schwartz says it’s smart to connect with co-workers ahead of time and before they go away away for the holidays. This way you won’t run into any communication snafus when you’re working on joint or group projects.

“This will allow you to determine what your priorities are and allow you to continue handling your workload (mostly) uninterrupted,” she says.

Planning out a daily list of to-dos and goals can help you stay focused on your most important tasks. Ultimately, you don’t want to “allow the chaos of the holiday season to distract you from your workload,” Schwartz says.

Show Your Appreciation

Unless everyone you work with is a total Scrooge, they probably like getting gifts over the holidays. If you don’t have extra cash in your savings account to cover gifts for everyone, or your office has a no-gift policy, send thoughtful cards. This is a simple, low-cost alternative.

That’s what Matt Dodgson, director of U.K.-based recruiting company Market Recruitment, does each year.

“We are a small office and very busy, so a personal touch such as a handwritten card relays how important our relationship is to me,” he says.

Schwartz says there’s one time you may want to make an exception to the no-gift rule. “If you have a direct administrative assistant who helps you throughout the year, I don’t recommend skipping their gift,” she says. “Oftentimes, these positions are overworked and underappreciated.”

Whatever you decide to do, staying on good footing with your coworkers and supervisors matters, not only at the holidays but all-year round. And, being likable at work can help position you for a promotion down the line.

Plan to Take a Time Out

In your quest to prove yourself at work, don’t let the holidays pass you by altogether.

“While it might seem counterintuitive to take time off as a means of staying productive over the holidays, scheduling time off may be exactly what you need,” Schwartz says.

Schedule a day to get caught up on personal errands or chores that might have gotten pushed to the backburner. Get together with family and friends to indulge in old holiday traditions or create some new ones. Spend a few hours thinking about your personal, professional and financial goals for the coming year. For example, you might want to take up slacklining, learn to code or finally get around to switching banks.

“It’s crucial that you take time off during the holiday season to indulge in a little self-care,” Backe says. “Know when to take a break, and when it’s okay to reply to a work email or make that phone call.”

It’s all about practicing work/life balance, Backe says. Giving yourself a breather in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle can help you recharge for maximum productivity once you’re ready to get back to work.

Look at the Holiday Season as a Gift

Getting ahead at work won’t necessarily happen overnight, but putting these tips to work can help you set the tone for your professional success in the new year and beyond.  In the end, it’s up to you to take full advantage of this time and use it wisely. Happy holidays!

 

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.

 

6 Ways to Reuse Your Halloween Decorations

October is a festive month, especially as neighborhood houses are often decked out with cool Halloween decorations. In fact, maybe you’re that person who goes overboard and creates a scene from the Halloweentown movie in your front lawn.

Yet, even if your idea of Halloween consists of a simple pumpkin on your doorstep, you know that the frightful holiday will likely put a dent in your budget.

So, how can you get by this Halloween season with your savings intact? One thing you can do to get more bang for your buck is to repurpose your Halloween decorations. Here are 6 creative ways to put your Halloween dollars to use all year long.

1. Repurpose Owls

If you have owl decorations for any occasion, you can easily incorporate them into your general home decor instead of just using the items to spook friends and family members around Halloween.

Owl decor can be placed on an end table or ceramic pieces can even go on a bookshelf and serve as bookends.

2. Refill Old Candy Dishes

If you had glass or plastic dishes around the house that were filled with Halloween candy, simply refill them with something else after all the trick-or-treating is finished.

You can refill your jars and dishes with Christmas candy or candy canes. You can even go for a more neutral theme and fill them with colorful beads or pebbles to match your home’s decor. For another idea: Place some fresh or faux flowers or even potpourri inside the dishes.

I like to buy glossy decorative pebbles from craft stores or even the dollar store. It’s an easy, budget-friendly way to spruce up your home decor.

3. Use Your Pumpkins For Indoor Home Decor

If you purchased a few pumpkins for outdoor Halloween decorations, clean them off and bring them inside to create new home decor for fall. Or, leave them outside until Thanksgiving. Pumpkins don’t just signify Halloween. They are also appropriate decor for the fall season. You can even create an autumn scene by placing a pumpkin on top of colorful fall leaves and pinecones. Volia! Free fall decorations!

For more ideas, you can paint over old Halloween themes on your pumpkin, turn your pumpkin into a vase, or use mini pumpkins as centerpieces for Thanksgiving. You can also add a cornucopia to adorn your pumpkin centerpiece.

And, here’s yet another idea: Carve your pumpkin and roast the seeds for a delicious and nutritious snack!

4. Use Hay Bales for Outdoor Displays

Hay bales are commonly used for Halloween decor to house scarecrows, spooky skeletons, or carved pumpkins. But, you can also use them to display other types of outdoor decor on your porch. For example, you can add greenery, mums, or flower pots to reuse the hay bales for outdoor home decor throughout the fall season.

When you’re done decorating with the hay, recycle it by using it to mulch your garden.

5. Candles and Lights Always Come in Handy

Don’t ditch your decorative candles and lights after Halloween. Odds are, you’ll need them in the future. Small candles, whether real or electronic, can be great decoration pieces for your home during the holiday season or even afterwards.

You may even want to use string lights to decorate your child’s bedroom or to put up during a party you’re hosting. If you have colorful lights or even orange and white tea lights, you can still decorate the interior or exterior of your home for Christmas by adding some additional colors. All you need to do is get a little creative.

6. Upcycle Your Plastic Pumpkins or Trick-or-Treat Buckets

Almost everyone has either had or seen those basic plastic pumpkin buckets. Maybe you or your kids have even used them for trick-or-treating.

Instead of just putting them in storage until next year or throwing them away, you can reuse them as storage buckets in your house or upcycle them for home decor by painting the plastic pumpkin buckets a new color or adding fabric to the exterior. See an example here.

You can also use the buckets to help organize your kids’ rooms. For example, perhaps you can use them to store arts and craft items, books or small toys.

Halloween Decor Can Have a Longer Shelf Life

Halloween decor can be fun to buy, but it almost seems like the season flies by too quickly. When you repurpose your Halloween decorations to use in your home throughout the year, you’ll stretch your dollar and get more bang for your buck. Plus, you’ll feel less wasteful if you’re using items more than once a year.

Have you started putting up your Halloween decorations yet? How much did you spend and can you make that spending last throughout the year? Think about it: You can save a ton of money by getting creative and reusing your Halloween decor!

 

8 Things to Do in the Fall That Don’t Cost Money

After a summer filled with fun activities like concerts, festivals, and travel, you may be looking for ways to lower your spending and get back on a budget this fall.

While you may have less temptation to spend money after the summer, the drop in temperature also means it’s getting closer to Christmas and the end of the year. Yup, it’s time to start automating your savings so you can have enough money set aside to enjoy the holiday season while going into debt.

With an eye toward saving money, you’ll also have to keep a close watch on your spending habits during the fall season. To help you get a jump-start, here are 8 things to do this autumn that won’t bust your budget.

1. Attend a Fall Festival

Some fall festivals have entry fees, but many are free, especially if they are hosted by a community organization. Plus, vendors know that you will often buy food once inside – making it worth it to waive a hefty admission cost.

You can stretch your dollar even more by packing lunches. From there, you can enjoy a low-cost or free day filled with live music, crafts, games, and activities for the kids.

2. Go For a Scenic Hike

Fall foliage can be breathtaking in many parts of the United States. Why not go for a hike, enjoy the crisp air and take in the scenery – all at the same time?

Hiking is free and also helps you and your family stay active. To start, choose a hiking trail that is easily accessible, perhaps in a forest preserve or state park. You may even want to try riding your bike or inline skating on a smooth trail to switch things up.

3. Watch a Parade

Halloween is right around the corner, and many municipalities offer parades and other Halloween-themed events for the whole family to enjoy. Check to see if your town or neighboring city is hosting a Halloween parade, hayrides, corn mazes and other fall favorite activities.

4. Roast Pumpkin Seeds and Watch Scary Movies

Roasted pumpkin seeds are a delicious and cheap fall snack. Plus, you can make roast the seeds right at home. All you need is a fresh pumpkin.

You can cut the pumpkin open and also use the filling to make blended pumpkin puree for pies and other treats. Once that’s done, you can remove all the seeds, clean them, season them and throw them on a baking pan to roast in the oven.

Spend a lazy Saturday with the family snacking on the roasted seeds while watching your favorite scary or Halloween-themed movies.

5. Collect Colorful Leaves

This is a fun activity to do with kids. Go outside and pick up different colorful leaves and then categorize them by type. You can also teach kids the names of the different trees that the leaves have fallen from.

Then, take the leaves inside and paste them on a piece of paper. You can also trace them on colored construction paper. And, voila! You’ve got yourself some beautiful fall decorations to adorn your refrigerator.

6. Attend a Halloween Party

Attending a Halloween party can be a great way to catch up with friends and meet new people. You can also make your own costume by using materials you already have at home and borrowing anything else you may need.

7. Have a Bonfire

If it’s not that cold yet in your area, host an evening bonfire in your yard. Fix up your outdoor space and invite friends over for a relaxing evening by the fire. You can even turn it into a potluck, make s’mores and play games. If you can play guitar, even better. Have a sing-along!

8. Tailgate at a Football Game

Don’t forget it’s tailgating season. This may cost a little money if you’re not in college, but you can still make it a frugal activity if everyone pitches in with the food and drinks. If you’re a student going to a game at your college or university, keep in mind that your ticket to the game may even be free.

Fall Fun Can Be Affordable

No matter what your financial goals are for the remainder of the year, you can always curb your spending while saving more money. The fall season is the perfect time of year to start spending less as there are so many different ways to have fun on a budget. So, take some time to revamp your fall budget and commit to it.

And, we’ll leave you with this pro tip: When it comes to monitoring your spending and savings right before the holidays, you’ll need a flexible way to manage your money. With Chime, you can bank with no fees and manage your cash flow easily.

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