Tag: Pop Culture

 

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.

 

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.

 

How to Spend Your Money Based on the Love Languages

We all prefer to give and receive love in different ways. However, this isn’t always apparent, and can result in conflicts.

Have you ever received a gift — and it’s nice, but not necessarily how you would show love and appreciation? This can make the gift-giver feel bad and you feel unsatisfied. For situations like this, it’s helpful to know your love language, as well as the love languages of those you care about.

Read on to learn more about the language of love, and how you can spend your money based on someone else’s love language.

What are the love languages?

The book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman outlines five different “love languages” that express how we prefer to receive love. These languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Knowing your love language (take this free quiz to find out or get the book) can help you communicate how you prefer to receive love. It can also help you do a better job of showing others that you love them.

According to the book and the many quizzes you can take online, everyone has a primary and secondary love language. For example, my primary love language is acts of service and my secondary love language is words of affirmation.

Whether it’s gifts for the holiday season, your anniversary or birthday, there are specific things that you can spend money on that can relate to a person’s love language. Zeroing in on this language can help you purchase appropriate gifts and show the recipients that you love them in the ways they prefer to be shown love.

Words of affirmation

The words of affirmation love language is all about using the power of words to affirm someone else. Simply stated, it’s a way to show people you love them through your words.

For example, someone with this love language appreciates a nice card with a handwritten inscription. So, make sure the card and your written message is thoughtful and personal. A book can also be a good choice. Inside the cover of the book, write a note about why the book is special and why it’s a good fit for the recipient.

Another idea for a gift is artwork or decorative signs with empowering or loving phrases. Something like “You make this house a home.” Remember, the power of words should be at the forefront of these gifts.

Quality time

In today’s frantic and busy world, it seems our attention is always divided. Someone with quality time as a love language wants your undivided attention and to spend time with you in a meaningful way.

For quality time folks, consider booking a weekend getaway — with no screens. This means no phones. No computers. Just the two of you. If it’s a friend or family member, go out for dinner or to a botanical garden and catch up. Make sure you carve out the time — so that you’re not rushing or feeling like you have to check your phone.

You can always make more money but you can’t make more time. Time is a finite resource we all have, so for people whose love language is quality time, give them the gift of your presence and time.

Receiving gifts

Another love language is receiving gifts. For these people, receiving gifts is the way they prefer to be shown love. If you know someone in your life who has this love language, don’t shortchange them when it comes to birthdays, holidays, etc.

As you get older, gifts can fall to the wayside, and you may only buy gifts for kids. That’s okay, but not if someone’s love language is receiving gifts!

If your loved one has this love language, spend your money on a gift that is important to him. Buy something that is special and has significance in your relationship. Pay attention to any hints this person may drop. Really zero in on a gift that is meaningful.

Once you’ve selected something special, wrap it up and don’t forget the card. The whole spectacle of getting a wrapped gift, unwrapping it, and enjoying it is part of the process. For these people, a gift card won’t do and a little effort goes a long way.

Acts of service

This is my primary love language and can be quite different from something like receiving gifts. In fact, once I learned my love language, I understood why lavish gifts didn’t impress me. It’s not because I’m a jerk. It’s because that’s not how I prefer to be shown love.

I prefer acts of service. For people with this love language, it’s all about the nice things that you can do to serve them. How can you help out? How can you make their life better or easier?

For example, consider booking a housecleaner or some other service that directly frees up your loved one’s time. Consider making a nice homemade meal and do all the planning and preparing. You can also book a babysitter or indulge in a savory and extravagant Postmates order. Or, perhaps create coupons for your loved ones like “good for doing the dishes” or “complimentary babysitting services”. The key to satisfying this love language is to really focus on how you can serve the person.

For me, I much prefer this to material gifts. It frees up mental space, time, and even the emotional labor of planning and doing everything myself.

Physical touch

If someone’s love language is physical touch, she prefers to be shown love through physical touch and intimacy.

For these people, a good gift may be a massage or a manicure. Another option may be to clear the schedule completely and just cuddle in bed watching Netflix with some hot cocoa. You can also consider a getaway for some much-needed alone time. Additionally, getting items that have a nice texture like silk pajamas, a velvety soft robe or cozy slippers could all be good options.

It’s important for those with this love language to feel loved through the power of touch. So if your partner has this love language, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, etc. isn’t just an extension of your relationship, it’s how they receive love from you. So even just a simple hug and kiss goodbye before you leave for work can make a huge difference in their day.

Getting the right gift for your loved one

When you spend money on someone else, you want that person to be happy, right?

By learning the five languages of love, you’ll be able to hone in on the particular languages that your loved ones relate to. And, by understanding these love languages, you’ll be on your way to giving meaningful gifts and showing just how much you care.

 

Money Lessons from Your Favorite Holiday Movies

The most wonderful time of the year is almost here. You’re bound to see holiday cheer spread everywhere, especially in the movies.

It seems like everywhere you look, there are holiday movies. These fan favorite films are repeatedly played on television, in theaters and even used in advertising. But, we bet you didn’t realize that there are valuable money lessons in your favorite holiday movies. It’s true.

From tidbits about the importance of saving extra cash to curbing your spending habits, you’ll get a kick out of the financial lessons these holiday movies can teach you. Take a look at some of our favorite holiday films – and the lessons they continue to teach us.

Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”

Lesson: The holidays remind us to be kind and not materialistic

Dr. Seuss’  classic book was turned into both an animated and live-action movie. While you can argue all you want about which version is your favorite, there is no doubt that both movies can teach viewers a valuable lesson: Be kind.

The main character, The Grinch, alienated himself from Whoville, the community where he grew up. He ends up pretending to be Santa but instead of delivering gifts to the village of Whoville, he ends up stealing gifts and decorations. The Grinch was then shocked to see Whoville bond together to celebrate the holiday, even when they all lost a great deal. Eventually, The Grinch has a change of heart, and ends up celebrating Christmas with the others in Whoville.

The lesson learned here is that you don’t have to get caught up in the materialism of the season in order to celebrate. According to the National Retail Federation, the average American spent over $967 on holiday spending in 2017. That’s a whole lotta dough! The Grinch serves as a good reminder that the holidays are about more than gifts and decorations. The holidays are about being together and being kind to others.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas”

Lesson: You can enjoy the holidays without splurging

Ah, Charlie Brown. Poor Charlie is a character who constantly finds himself going against the status quo. During the Christmas season, all of his friends (and his beloved dog Snoopy) are writing their extensively long Christmas lists.

Instead of focusing on himself during the holiday season, Charlie volunteers to direct the Christmas play. To set the scene, Charlie must purchase a Christmas tree. After spending an evening looking at expensive, trendy (at the time) aluminum trees, he ends up purchasing a sad, tiny fir tree. He brings it back to the play and all of his friends laugh and ridicule Charlie for picking out such a pathetic, sparse tree.

But, after bonding together and getting creative, Charlie and his friends are able to turn the tree into a big, beautiful holiday centerpiece.

Charlie Brown reminds us that we don’t have to succumb to trends and buy the shiniest new toy. With a little elbow grease and love, you can turn even the strangest item into something beautiful.

“A Christmas Carol”

Lesson: Be generous

“A Christmas Carol,” originally a book by Charles Dickens, outlines the life of Ebenezer Scrooge, a classic character who is downright pessimistic, selfish and rude. A business owner, he makes harsh decisions and pushes everyone away.

After a series of strange dreams, Scrooge is haunted by Christmas past, present and future. Ultimately, he awakes to a new perspective on life, and becomes extremely cheerful and generous. He turns a complete 180, and his life is improved for the better.

“A Christmas Carol” goes to show you that focusing on just yourself won’t get you far. Generosity wins – time and time again.

“White Christmas”

Lesson: Always save for a rainy day

The story of “White Christmas” includes two ex-army men turned singers and dancers: Phil Davis and Bob Wallace. Davis and Wallace find themselves following two potential love interests to Vermont, where they all stay at a failing ski resort owned by their former Army general. The ski resort is failing due to a lack of snow, which ultimately results in a decrease in guests.

The rest of the movie goes on to show their attempts to save the struggling resort by performing their singing and dancing act.

Fortunately for us, the story of “White Christmas” reminds us of the importance of an emergency fund, particularly if you are a business owner. Don’t fall into the statistics. A survey by BankRate states that just four in 10 Americans have savings to rely on in the event of an emergency.

Emergency funds are vital for your overall financial wellness – whether you own a failing ski resort or not. Furthermore, “White Christmas” serves as a reminder to get creative when times are tough. You might just surprise yourself by doing so.

All in all

No matter what your financial situation is, it’s possible to enjoy the holiday season without spending a huge wad of cash. Remember, material gifts will soon be forgotten, but the memory of the holiday season can last a lifetime.

 

How to Avoid Black Friday Fails

It’s no surprise that heavy-duty spending over the holidays is a major budget-buster. In fact, in 2017, Americans racked up an average of over $1,000 in holiday debt, according to a survey by MagnifyMoney.

And, perhaps the biggest contributor to this debt hangover is Black Friday. While seemingly innocuous, if you’re not careful, going overboard with end-of-year deals can put a serious dent in your bank account. Plus, you run the risk of spending more than you can afford or buying something you simply don’t need.

Take it from us: Going on a sales-fueled spending spree during Black Friday isn’t the best way to kick off the holidays. Here are some ways to avoid Black Friday fails:

Check the Money in Your Account

I personally avoid Black Friday like the plague. There’s no better sale than not spending money in the first place. But I get it. Let’s say you’ve been holding out for that shiny new laptop or gadget all year long. Black Friday or its equally evil cousin, Cyber Monday, may be the best time to purchase it.

If you must spend on these deal days, start by checking on how much money is sitting in your bank account—and how much you can safely spend. Look for surprise pockets of savings, such as money you have stashed away in your automatic savings account via a mobile banking app, or cash you’ve put into a savings goal bucket on your money saving app.

Stick to a List

Just like sticking to a list while grocery shopping can help you stay within your budget, you’ll want to create a shopping list before Black Friday. Otherwise you’ll be lured by the mountain of promotional emails landing in your inbox.

If it helps, make two separate lists: items you’ll purchase for gifts, as well things you’d like to buy for yourself.

Create a Budget

Next, gauge how much you can reasonably spend on Black Friday. Will you be purchasing stuff just for you, or for holiday gifts?

Figure out how much you have available to spend over the holidays. And don’t forget to factor in your expenses like holiday-related travel, attire for holiday work parties, gift wrap, gift cards, food for gatherings, and presents.

Do Your Research

Before you click “buy” during Black Friday or Cyber Monday, make sure you’re actually getting a good deal.

A lot of retailers may use “anchoring,” which shows the discounted price against the actual price. This gives consumer the illusion that an item is a bargain, when in fact it isn’t. To avoid bogus deals, do a bit of price comparison beforehand. There are a handful of price comparison websites, like PriceGrabber and Cyber Monday, that can help you find the best price for practically any item in existence. You may discover that the “killer mega Black Friday deal” you’re excited about isn’t actually netting you the best price. Bottom line: Shop smart.

Figure Out the Value Add

If you’re buying something for yourself, make sure the item adds value to your life in some way. This way you’re not spending money frivolously.

My partner said it best when he said that commitments are easy to fall into, but hard to get out of. And whether you like it or not, you have a commitment to the stuff you buy. So, let’s say that you buy a guitar at a huge discount. Once you do this, you’re held accountable for playing that thing. Or else you’ll just hear a nagging voice inside your head whispering “you should probably pick up that guitar.” That’s a slight mental anguish you’re probably better off not dealing with in the first place.

Figure Out the Cost-Use Ratio

When I’m quibbling over whether to buy something or not, I figure out how many times I need to use that item for it to be worth the price. For instance, let’s take a $50 pair of shoes purchased last year as an example. In my book, if I wore those shoes at least 10 times, they would have paid for themselves.

While there’s no perfect science to this, it’s important that you place a value on your item and make sure it’s worth purchasing to begin with. For instance, I could care less how many times I use a dish sponge before it goes into the trash. But for high-value items? I care. I spent $300 on a pair of boots last year. While this seems pricey, I wear them practically everyday. I got my money’s worth.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Time is money. And what’s more important, your precious time is a finite resource. You could be spending your time side hustling, with the fam bam, or having a leisurely, “do-nothing” afternoon.

So, if you see an inexpensive item you want to buy, just do it and don’t feel stressed out or guilty about it. Why shop around for a better price on two dollar dish towels? Um, not worth it.

Avoid Major Fallout

To avoid major Black Friday fails, you just need a little forethought and prep work. Sure, spending is a lot of fun, but you need boundaries – otherwise you may suffer from a regrettable case of holiday debt hangover once sale season subsides.

Instead, take a look at the tips here and shop wisely. You’ll be surprised by how much money you’ll save when you just make a few simple changes.

 

5 Real-Life Money Horror Stories

This Halloween you’ll hear plenty of scary stories about ghosts, goblins and witches. But do you know what’s even scarier? Money problems. Yup, this can get your heart racing as fast as the fictional boogeyman.

To help you understand just how frightening financial issues can be, we sought out people with real-life money horror stories. Thankfully, these frightful stories generally have happy endings. Better yet, you can learn from these folks and then avoid these situations yourself. Read on to learn more.

Waking up to an Extra $100,000 of Debt

Imagine finding out your new husband or wife comes with a bit more baggage than you anticipated. This is exactly what happened to Rachel Smith in 2015.

“My husband found out very shortly after we were married that he underestimated the amount of student loans he had – by over $100,000,” says Smith, who blogs at Budgets and Kale

To throw extra monkey wrenches into the equation, Rachel was also just graduating with her own student loan debt. Combined, they both owed $185,000 in student loans. That’s a far cry from the $85,00 they expected to repay.

The final coup de graĉe? Rachel was expecting her first baby. “It all just felt like a huge mess,” she says.

To get themselves out of this financial bind, the couple scrimped and saved, living on less than half their combined income. Then, a short while later, Rachel’s grandmother and father both passed away, leaving them with an unexpected financial gift.

“While I’d do anything to have him back, that is how the remainder (of debt) was paid,” she says. “I used to avoid telling this, but it’s my reality.”

Thankfully, Rachel and her husband are now debt-free, and the experience has brought them even closer.

“Ultimately a question I had to ask myself was: ‘‘If I had known how much debt my husband had, would I have still married him?’ The answer is 100% yes. That mental shift is what helped build back my trust and our relationship.”

Waving Goodbye to Your $2,152 Cruise Vacation

Last summer Deborah Rogers from The Gifted Rat was looking forward to an amazing Royal Caribbean cruise vacation to Cuba with her family. She thought she had everything in order, right down to the travel documents that everyone needed.

Rodgers flew to Miami with her family and showed up at the dock with visions of sipping mimosas on poolside decks in her head. Instead, she was in for the shock of a lifetime: She hadn’t received an important notice from Royal Caribbean saying that her children also needed passports for the journey. She didn’t have these passports and this meant her family could not go on their much anticipated cruise.

“We cried while we watched the ship sail away,” Rogers says.

Instead, the family spent their time at a beachside resort in Miami. “Our family joke is one vacation for the price of two!”

Rodgers is still fighting to get her money back from the cruise line. As for next time, she says she will not rely solely on the cruise company’s customer service department. Instead, she will book future travel through a travel agent who can offer personal service.

House Poor and One Step Away From Disaster

You have probably heard that owning a home is the American Dream.

Yet, buying a house is a major decision that can affect your finances for years to come. Take the case of Lisa, also known as Mrs. Mad Money Monster. The financial blogger bought her current home in 2010.

“When I walked away from the settlement table, I only had $200 remaining in my bank account,” she says.

“I was afraid to turn the heat on in the winter or the A/C on in the summer. Even though I was able to purchase the home and move in, I couldn’t really enjoy it because I was living in a constant state of fear over not having enough money to cover all the bills.”

Over time she started making wiser money decisions and earning more money at her job. Yet she wasn’t able to saving significant amounts of money until 2015.

If “Mrs. Mad Money Monster” could go back in time, she would tell herself to “delay the home purchase until I had a 20% down payment and an additional three to six months worth of living expenses set aside to lessen the financial blow and maintain my peace of mind.”

This is sound advice.

Losing Your Eyesight After a Full-Time Leap Into Freelancing

Picture waking up one day and not being able to see. Now, picture that same scenario, but imagine it happening right after you’ve cut ties with your day job.

That’s what happened to freelance writer Jackie Lam a few months after she started working for herself full-time. Suddenly, she found herself with an eye injury that needed medical attention, stat.

“I ended up going to the ER twice. One was by accident. I am ashamed to say I thought I was going to urgent care, but it was the ER,” Lam says. “That, along with several follow-up appointments with eye specialists, medication – on a health care plan with high premiums – was pretty terrible. I think it cost about $2,300.”

Another byproduct of her eye injury was that she had to take four weeks off work, right after she took a scary leap as a full-time freelancer. Thankfully, Lam had a robust emergency fund to carry her through her financially-challenging times.

The moral of the story? “Save, save, save for an emergency, especially if you’re a freelancer,” says Lam. “You never know when you (and your eyeballs) will need it.”

Real Estate Flip Gone Wrong

Tyler Weinrich has a dream: to help people out while running a profitable real estate business. This is why he purchased a home from a nice couple in 2017.

“Instead of focusing on the objective numbers, I looked at buying the home and helping some great people move onto the next chapter in their life. I may have been too lenient in my calculations.”

What followed was a nightmare saga that any real estate flipper dreads. Weinrich bought the home for $140,000, paid $25,000 to remodel it, and expected to sell it for $220,000. Things were looking bright as he listed it on the market, but that’s exactly when the problems started piling up.

First, it was a broken HVAC line that cost $1,000 to repair. Then, it sat on the market for months with nary any interest, forcing him to lower the price by $25,000. When he finally did get an offer, an inspection revealed another $1,500 worth of repairs. The appraisal came back and valued the house at $13,000 less than the selling price. Then, he found out that the potential buyer needed help with the closing costs — lots of help.

When the dust finally settled, Weinrich ended up paying $10,500 out of his own pocket to sell the house.

“I still flip houses and have made money on almost all of the other ones I’ve bought,” says Weinrich. “But this just goes to show that you can easily lose money in this business. It isn’t as glamorous and easy as the HGTV shows make it out to be.”

Final Word

Do you have goosebumps yet? Do any of these stories sound familiar to you? Or, maybe you have your own money horror story that’s even more cringe-worthy than these.

In each case here, there’s a common thread: Sometimes scary financial events happen. But just like each of these people have learned, there’s a good way to prepare yourself: Know what you’re signing up for and keep your eye on your long-term money goals. And, most of all, save your money so you are prepared for emergencies and unexpected expenses.

Once you’ve got those things covered, your financial life will be a little less scary.

 

Halloween Costumes From Your Favorite Books

Do store-bought Halloween costume prices send you screaming in fear? If so, the DIY route might be for you.

By now you may be thinking: How can you scare up a unique and affordable costume? Luckily, we’ve got a bright idea for you: Dress up as your favorite literary figure. This will make you look smart and boost your savings – double win!

Here are 14 affordable, literary-inspired costume ideas, broken down by categories. Book lovers everywhere can now rejoice!

Well-Loved Children’s Books

An excellent children’s book never goes out of style. These kid-lit faves make perfect costume choices:

1. The mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.

This one is easy as the main thing you need to imitate the lovable mouse from Numeroff’s series is a pair of overalls. You can then make mouse ears by gluing grey paper or felt semi-circles to a headband. If you have long hair you can also put your hair into two top buns for ears. Then, make a giant cookie with construction paper or carry around a bag of cookies.

You can also make it a family affair by dressing up as characters from the author’s other books. For example, you can dress as a pig and take along a box of pancake mix, or dress up as a dog carrying donuts.

2. Camilla Cream from A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.

Camilla Cream is plagued with rainbow stripes after trying too hard to fit in with her peers. To create your own Camilla Cream, you’ll need to cover your face, neck, and arms with different colored paint stripes (make sure you get body paint!) From there, wear a black dress or shirt to make your rainbow skin pop.

3. Amelia Bedelia from Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.

If you don’t have a maid’s costume hanging around, a black dress and rectangle-shaped piece of white lace will do. Adorn a black hat with faux daisies and then seal the deal by carrying around a fake chicken or a string of green beans.

4. Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.

For this easy costume, all you need to do is draw a creative scene with purple marker on a white shirt. Then, walk around holding the purple crayon. Nailed it!

5. Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole.

Ah, Ms. Frizzle: The science teacher we all wish we had! To transform into Ms. Frizzle, all you need to do is tease your hair or wear a big, bright orange wig. Then, pick a science theme and tape pictures relating to that theme to a dress and leggings.

YA Favorites

Young adult books may be promoted as a teenage category, but let’s be honest. You probably geek out on the following characters more than your younger cousins. Take a look:

6. Harry Potter from the namesake Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Did you really think we could put this list together and leave off Harry Potter? The classic circle glasses, lightning scar, and stick wand can all be yours for an affordable price. You can even use a black graduation robe (check the thrift store or borrow one from a recent grad). Voila! You’re Harry Potter!

7. Count Olaf and others from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

You can expect more love for your Lemony Snicket-inspired costumes this year thanks to the Netflix mini-series. There are so many interesting characters to choose from. For example, slap on a mustache and wrap a stuffed snake around your shoulders to become Uncle Monty.

Of course, Count Olaf provides enough costume ideas himself. For bonus points, don’t forget to sing out: “I’m handsome and I’m talented and love your bank account.”

8. Characters from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Yes, you can become Katniss by rocking a bow and arrow as well as a dress that looks like fire. However, dressing up as Effie Trinket is where the real fun is at. From her ever-changing wigs and outlandish outfits, there are many looks to choose from. May the odds be ever in your favor.

9. Become an Ugly from The Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

For this costume idea, focus your efforts on your makeup with a flash tattoo from the Uglies trilogy. Tally Youngblood’s tattoo may be the most fun to replicate. She has Celtic swirls above her eye.

Adult Books

Love to read? Take a look at a few of our favorite literary costume ideas – inspired by popular adult books.

10. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Can you be any cooler than Lisbeth Salander? Luckily you can become her by coloring your hair black (if it’s not already black naturally) and slicking it back. Then, dress in black skinnies and a black jacket, and don’t go light on the fake tattoos, piercings, and metal jewelry.

11. Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Can’t choose between awesome period clothing and zombie makeup? You can have both if you dress as the undead Jane Bennet. Splatter red paint over a white regent-style dress, pin up your hair, and paint on your zombie face. You’re good to go!

12. Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is another classic series with so much costume inspiration to draw from. Frodo Baggins may be the easiest and cheapest to pull off. You’ll need a brown cape, a ring on a chain, and furry feet. For the cape, you can tie brown cloth or a brown towel over your shoulders. For furry feet, glue sections of a wig to flip-flops.

13. Fifty Shades of Grey from the namesake book Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

This costume is always good for a laugh. All you have to do is dress in grey tones and attach grey paint swatches to your outfit. Handcuffs are optional.

14. The old man from The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

For this literary-inspired costume, you can take a trip into your dad or grandfather’s closet for some fashion choices. Add a white wig, facial hair and cane. You are now a literary genius. You’re welcome.

Be Inspired by Your Favorite Books

If none of these ideas suit your fancy, then be inspired by your favorite book. Look for ways to dress up as the title character. Or, if the book’s main characters have been overdone, try going for another character. Whatever you do, have fun with it. And, remember: By being a little creative, you’ll save a lot of money. What’s not to like about that? Happy Halloween!

 

Is an iPhone Worth Going into Debt?

An iPhone is a common purchase for people all over the world. Around 223 million Americans have a smartphone, and 43% (around 96 million) have an iPhone, according to Statista. The fall 2018 iPhone lineup includes a flagship iPhone XS Max with a top $1,449 price tag. That is a ton of money for a phone! But a recent study found that a large percentage of Americans would happily go into debt for a new iPhone. Do you think an iPhone is worth going into debt for? Let’s take a look at the hard numbers to decide.

The cost of an annual new iPhone

Apple fanatics line up every time a new iPhone comes out to get the latest and greatest from their favorite phone manufacturer. Many consumers are excited about the new iPhone XR with a $749 price tag, giving it a better price point for the average consumer. If you were to buy one of these every fall for ten years, you would pay $7,490 for phones in a decade.

If you were to invest that $749 every year at a 5% rate of return, you would have about $10,000 at the end of ten years. The full opportunity cost of a new iPhone is a lot bigger than the price tag. That is why it is important to keep in mind that a phone can last more than 12 months. Your phone should last at least two years. I’m getting ready to upgrade my 35-month-old Android phone (which cost a lot less than an iPhone) when it turns 3 next month. (My phone is the same age as my oldest child!)

Who would go into debt for a phone?

Just to be clear for iPeople out there: both in the US and worldwide, Android phones are more popular and generally more affordable. You don’t have to buy a $1,000 phone. You certainly should not buy an expensive phone on a credit card. If buying a new phone would put you into debt (or greater debt), you have more important things to spend your money on.

In its 2018 Credit Score survey, WalletHub asked a lot of questions about phones. For someone who lives a relatively thrifty lifestyle, I was shocked to see how many people think it is worthwhile to go into a debt for an iPhone. Nearly 28 million people say an iPhone is worth going into debt. 5x more millennials felt this way than Baby Boomers.

Even more shocking, 19% would rather have an unlimited data phone plan than an excellent credit score and 44% of millennials think their phone has a bigger impact on their life than their credit score. It looks like millennials have a lot to learn about credit and money!

Good credit and well-managed finances make a smartphone more affordable. But in no way is one particular model of phone a need. Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses, friends, or Kardashians. Just focus on costs, features, and needs. That should lead you to make the right financial decision when it comes time to replace your mini pocket computer that also makes phone calls.

Make smart money choices with an iPhone and beyond

Whether you are in the market for a new smartphone or something else, let your budget be your guide. Your personal finances are too important to let any one purchase or want, particularly a luxury or a vice, dictate how you spend.

On the flip side, many people can afford an iPhone within their means without worry. If that sounds like you, and you would rather have an iPhone, you can certainly buy one. Just don’t put this type of purchase on a credit card unless you can pay it off in full before your next statement is due. If you put a $1,000 purchase on a credit card with 20% interest and pay $50 per month toward the debt, you’ll pay $226 in interest, about 25% of the cost of the phone, in interest expense.

The moral of the story: focus on your budget and long-term goals first. Phones are not as important as your financial well being.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

Hygge Hacks for Healthy Finances

Have you ever heard of hygge?

The concept of hygge has been around for centuries, but it has recently resurfaced as a popular lifestyle trend. In fact, the word hygge was on the short-list for Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016.

So, what does hygge mean? While it can’t be directly translated into English, this well-known word in Denmark loosely means “coziness.” It’s the practice of slowing down and prioritizing time spent with the ones you care about and doing more of the things you love the most. Incorporating hygge into your life can help you find more joy, but it can also improve your finances.

Read on to learn more about how practicing hygge can help you can spend less, save more, and prioritize your financial future.

Does hygge lead to happiness?

Hygge is a Danish concept (pronounced hoo-ga). According to Visit Denmark’s website, hygge is described as “creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.” Visit Denmark goes on to say: “The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Cozying up with a loved one for a movie – that’s hygge, too. And there’s nothing more hygge than sitting around with friends and family, discussing the big and small things in life. Perhaps hygge explains why the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world.”

And they must be onto something. Denmark has been named one of the happiest countries in the world for the last four years, according to studies done by the World Happiness report.

So, it certainly doesn’t hurt to incorporate some hygge into your daily life.

What does hygge have to do with your finances?

The concept of hygge means trying to find joy in the little things in life – and usually those things are cheap or even free.

You don’t need a fancy lifestyle in order to be happy. You don’t need an enormous house, expensive cars, or luxury vacations to find joy or peace. You can find hygge by slowing down, taking in the moment, and spending more time doing the things you truly love.

How to embrace the concept of hygge this year

There are dozens of ways you can incorporate hygge into your life – for free. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Stay in instead of going out

You can have just as much fun spending an evening at home as you can going out to a fancy and expensive restaurant. So, try having a hygge-ful evening by lighting the fireplace, baking some cookies and reading a book.

By staying in, you won’t just sneak in your fill of hygge, but you could save a good chunk of change simply by not going out on the town.

  • Give hygge-related gifts

Gifts can not only be expensive, but can often be forgotten after a year or two. Maybe it’s time for you to give the folks you care about the gift of hygge.

Gifts like candles, cozy socks, books, and gourmet coffee make great gifts and these presents also give the gift of well, presence. These gifts won’t break your budget and your loved ones will also get the chance to incorporate hygge into their lives.

  • Enjoy a home-cooked meal

What could be more hygge than a home-cooked meal? By cooking at home more often, you’ll get to regularly enjoy the benefits of hygge.

Not only can you eat dinner in your favorite and most comfortable clothing, but you can create a warm and inviting ambiance by lighting candles and dimming the lights. As if this isn’t enough, you’ll save a boatload of cash.

So, instead of going out, invite your friends and family over for a home-cooked meal. Or, lower the cost and increase the hygge even more by hosting a potluck, where everyone can bring over their favorite, home-cooked dishes to share.

  • Decorate with frugal, hygge decor

With winter just around the corner, now is the perfect time to invoke a sense of coziness in your home and practice hygge while you’re at it. Fortunately, home decor doesn’t have to be pricey – there are plenty of frugal ways to liven up your home.

You can decorate with candles, family photos and plants. From there, get creative. These items are easy to find, don’t cost much money, and up the hygge level of your home.

Prioritize time with family and friends

The bottom line: the idea behind hygge is to spend time doing more of the things that are truly important to you.

As you can see by the examples here, you don’t have to plan extravagant get-togethers or even leave the house in order to enjoy time with your loved ones. In fact, most people can claim that the best memories spent with family or friends are the times spent just sitting around, catching up at home.

Now it’s your turn to up your hygge ante. So, invite guests over, crack open a bottle, and enjoy shared plates around the fireplace this winter. By doing so, you’ll save money while creating memories that will last a lifetime.

 

What is Paid Off?

You know the student loan debt crisis has reached a new level of insanity when a new television game show is designed to help borrowers pay off their college debt.

TruTV’s “Paid Off,” airing on Tuesdays at 10/9 central, aims to help contestants win money to pay down their student loan debt faster. Perhaps this is a good time for the new game show as, according to Student Loan Hero, the average student loan balance for Class of 2017 graduates hit $39,400.

Read on to learn more about the show and find out how you can better manage your own student debt.

How “Paid Off” Works

The trailer for the first season of “Paid Off” includes hopeful contestants sharing their student loan balances and answering Family Feud-style questions. Other episodes feature other questions of different styles.

There are four total rounds, three of which pit contestants against each other. The final round offers one contestant a chance to eliminate his student loan debt entirely. In that round, the contestant must answer eight questions correctly in under a minute. However, it isn’t an all-or-nothing prize. Instead, the contestant gets credit for each correct answer.

Those who don’t make it to the final round don’t leave empty-handed, though. The first and second contestant eliminated receives $1,000 and $2,000, respectively. According to Forbes, the makers of the game show hope to give away roughly $500,000 during its inaugural season to over 60 student loan borrowers.

As with any game show, contestants are required to pay taxes on their winnings, even if they use the earnings to repay debt.

How Effective Will “Paid Off” Be?

Handing out half a million dollars to help student loan borrowers will undoubtedly make a difference for each person who wins money on the show.

But, unfortunately, that amount barely scratches the surface. Americans carry more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt, according to March 2018 data from the Federal Reserve. So, while the game show does some good, college students and graduates need other solutions to fix the growing problem.

What’s more, incoming freshmen typically don’t get a crash course in student loans or how to use them wisely. The idea of getting what they need today and putting off payment for later is appealing. And, once you graduate, it’s not always easy to get relief. For instance, it’s virtually impossible to discharge student loans in a bankruptcy.

Three Smart Tips on Taking out Student Loans

When planning for college, it’s important to reduce your reliance on student debt. You can do this by looking at ways to graduate without borrowing a ton of money. Read on for three smart options.

Reconsider Your School Choice

You don’t need to attend a college with a household name to enjoy a long and lucrative career. Once you’re a few years into your career, your work record will likely speak louder than your degree. As such, you may be better off attending a less expensive school with a good track record than spending more for a degree that might not offer much more value in the long-run.

Learn About How Student Loans Work

There’s no college class that explores the ins and outs of student loans, but you can find out more about them on your own.

There’s a wealth of information online about student loans, including federal and private student loan options. If you still have questions, set up an appointment with a school’s financial aid office to get the answers you need.

Remember, you may be making student loan payments for as long as 30 years after you graduate, so it’s imperative that you understand what you’re getting yourself into from the start.

Consider Student Loans as a Last Resort

Instead of looking to student loans first, consider other ways you can pay for college. Here are just a few ideas:

Scholarships: Websites like Scholarships.com and Cappex.com can match you with thousands of scholarship opportunities. If you apply for a bunch of scholarships, you may get some cash that you won’t have to pay back.

Grants: Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year before the school year starts. This form helps the U.S. Department of Education determine how much financial aid your family is eligible for.

Also, check to see if the schools you’re interested in offer grants for your major.

Part- or full-time work: By working just 15 hours a week and earning nine dollars an hour, you can earn more than $28,000 in a four year period.

Even after taxes, this can make a huge difference in your need for student loans. If you can manage to work more hours or get a better-paying job, you could reduce your dependence on student loans even more.

Paying Off Your Student Loans Without the Help of a Game Show

If you’ve already graduated and are trying to figure out how to pay down your student loans, winning a game show sounds like an easy solution. But unless you’re fortunate enough to get on the show and win the cash, you’re on your own. Here are some ideas to pay off your loans faster:

Look Into Loan Forgiveness Programs

If you have federal student loans, you may qualify for one or more loan forgiveness programs. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, for example, requires you to work for 10 years for a government agency or eligible nonprofit organization.

Keep in mind that these programs have strict requirements and you typically need to commit to a specific number of years of service. But if that’s already part of your career plan, you could be well on your way.

Consider Refinancing Your Student Loans

The lower your interest rate, the more you can save on interest over the life of your loans. Several student loan refinancing companies offer low fixed and variable interest rates that can make it easier to pay down your debt.

Just keep in mind that if you refinance federal student loans, you lose access to income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness options.

Boost Your Cash Flow

Whether or not you choose one of the other options we’ve discussed, cutting back on other expenses and earning more income is a straightforward way to save money to eliminate your student loan debt.

If you have a hard time saving, consider getting help from an app or savings tool. Chime’s automatic savings program works by rounding up every transaction you make with your Chime Visa debit card to the nearest dollar. The round up amount is transferred to your Chime savings account. This kind of savings tool can help you set aside more money for debt repayment without even thinking about it.

Next Steps

Depending on where you are in your student journey, there are ways to reduce how much student loan debt you take on or to eliminate that debt more quickly.

As you consider these tips, the important thing is that you have a plan. The sooner you get rid of student loan debt in your life, the easier it will be to achieve your other financial goals. That’s what we call winning the game.

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