Tuesday, July 28, 2009

5 Back to School Shopping Tips

Buying school supplies for your children to go back to school can be a stressful, anxious and costly task. Children want the latest gadgets and fads their friends have so they don't feel left out and because many can't say no to the peer pressure from their friends. Due to the recession, many stores are having great back to school sales. Take advantage of tax free days in your state to buy school supplies and school clothes for your children. My friend has two children and stated that she would only buy her children a few new outfits for school. Her children would have to suck it up and wear the clothes they wore last year.

Don't let your children pressure you into buying the latest fads or things they don't really need. Stick to your guns and only buy things that they absolutely need for school. This will also save you money. Talk with your children before going school shopping and set expectations. Let them know about your finances and what you are going to buy.

Have your children create a list of supplies that they are mandatory for school. Do an inventory to see if you have any school supplies left over from last year. Determine what clothes your children can still fit comfortably and make a list of things they need. Prioritize the list in three categories: Need Now, Need in 2-4 months, Need in 5-7 months, Need When School Ends. This will also help budget your money and help you find other ways to get supplies for school if you don't have the cash to get everything you need.

Here are 5 tips to save money when shopping for back to school supplies and clothing.

1. Sales: Go to yard sales and dollar stores during to find bargains on school supplies. Shop at wholesale stores like Costo, Walmart, Target, Walgreens or Sam's Club to get great discounts on school supplies.

2. Clothes. You can buy clothes from a thrift store, consignment shop or discount store such as Walmart or Target. Kids grow quickly and their clothes generally don't last or fit them throughout the entire school year. This will save you money and you kids will still remain fashionable. Buy clothes and shoes if possible at least one size too big so your kids can get more wear out of them.

3. Network: Mention to family, friends, co-workers and neighbors that you are going school shopping. They may be able to provide money savings tips for buying school supplies or may have extra supplies they can give to you for free.

4. Comparison Shop: Search the internet for reputable website that sell school supplies at a discount price and purchase items before school starts to get the best deals. Every few minutes of comparison shopping can save you $1-$9. Also shop at stores that honor competitor prices and coupons.

5. Budget: Create a budget for necessary school supplies (pens, paper, pencils, erasers, notebooks, composition notebooks, rulers, compass, etc.) and save some additional money for unexpected school expenses that may pop-up after school starts such as additional supplies need for classes, school trips, additional school supplies, etc.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Be Cautious During This Recession - Don't be a Victim

Crime is at an all time high due to the recession. You have to be even more cautious during these times. Many people who never thought they would be a victim have been robbed.

There is a theft crime that is occurring across the country where criminals scope out a particular area (gas stations, gym, grocery store, mall, etc.) and check cars to see if anything has been left in the car (purse, wallet, bags, clothing, phone, keys, etc.). They also check to see if a woman has left her purse in her car, puts it in the trunk of her car and if a man leaves his wallet in the car, etc.

Here are some tips to protect yourself:

1. Women you should carry your purse with you at all times

2. Do not put your purse on the seat or put your purse on the car floor

3. Lock your doors as soon as you get in the car

4. Lock your doors as soon as you get out of your car

5. Be aware of your surroundings

6. Don't talk to anyone who tries to lure you away from your destination (gas pump, store, etc.)

7. Don't leave your windows down in your car

8. If you are driving with the windows down be aware of your surroundings. Roll up your windows in your car and lock the doors if you are in a bad neighborhood or if you feel uneasy

9. Use your security club on your car ALL THE TIME

10. When you get in your car don't sit and fumble through your purse, make a phone call which sitting in a parked car, etc. Get in your car and drive off to your destination

11. Don't park your car in a secluded area or next to a truck, van or large vehicle.

12. If someone asks you to come over to their car for advise or to tell you something, don't go to their car. Stay near your car or call someone for help if something doesn't feel right.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Is Your Stubbornness Keeping You In Debt

Many people say that they don’t have any extra money to pay down debt and improve their financial situation because they are used to living a certain lifestyle and want to maintain that lifestyle. However, when they record all of their expenses or consult a financial advisor, financial coach or personal finance expert the picture changes.

Many people are in shock about how much money they actually spend and what they spend money on. The first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have a problem. The second step is developing a plan to overcome the problem. This is the step where many people have difficulty when it comes to finances because many people are stubborn and don’t want to make any changes.

Many people know they are in debt but don’t want to change their mindset or their lifestyle to do what it takes to improve their situation. Americans as so accustomed to instant gratification and buying on impulse it’s difficult to change that behavior especially when you were not taught about financial literacy in school or by your parents.

You can’t continue doing the same thing day after day expecting a different result. The only way to survive this recession is to make a change. It is a horrible feeling to be in debt, live paycheck to paycheck or be unemployed. I have experienced all of those and I vowed to myself not to be in those situations again or if I was, develop a plan to ease the burden during those difficult financial times.

Here are 5 tips to prevent your stubbornness from keeping you in debt:

Admit. Admit you have a financial crisis. Discuss with your spouse, partner and children about your situation, be honest. Once you admit you have a problem it is much easier to get or solve the problem.

Budget. Create a budget by recording all of your expenses and monthly income. List everything you spend money on during a month including variable expenses such as yearly or quarterly bills. Include monthly debt payments and loans in your budget. If you have 5% of your total income or less left each month you definitely need to adjust your spending.

Reduce. Reduce your expenses to free up extra money. Shop at discount or wholesale stores, get the cheapest cable, cell phone, satellite radio or internet services available or cancel them. Buy groceries in bulk. Shop for clothes at Target, Walmart, thrift stores or discount stores. Turn off lights and electronic devices if you are away from the room more than 20 minutes at a time.

Turn the tv off. If you or your family spends a lot of time watching tv, reduce the hours spent watching tv which will reduce your electricity bill. Go for a walk, play games with your family, read a book or find a new hobby.

Change your mindset. Many people have negative thoughts about money and this causes them to continue to be in debt and prevents them from being able to improve their financial situation. Eliminate the negative thoughts such as: “I will always be broke, I will always be in debt, I will die broke”, etc. These thoughts prevent you from being able to develop a plan to improve your financial situation.

Make one small change at a time and over a period of time your situation will improve. You will have less stress, less fights at home and you will be a role model to someone else by being able to give them advice on how to overcome a difficult financial situation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How to Save Money on Dry Cleaning

According to the Census Bureau, Americans spend approximately $7.8 billion each year on dry cleaning. It is best to have expensive items such as drapes or winter coats cleaned in January, July, or August which are the off-peak times for dry cleaners. Dry cleaners one men's shirt can cost $1.50 to $5.00 to clean per week which can range from $78 to $260 a year for one suit a year. One women's suit can cost $5 to $10 to clean per week which can range from $260 to $520 a year for one suit a year.

Dry cleaners and the products they use may be bad for the environment. Dry cleaners use a product called Perchloroethylene, also known as tetrachloroethylene, perc, or tetrachloroethene. It is a cleaning agent that is toxic and causes several harmful side effects such as dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sweating, and unconsciousness. Long-term exposure can cause liver and kidney damage or cancer. Here are four ways to save on dry cleaning are:

1) Do-it-yourself kits

2) Wash clothes with dry clean tags in cold water on a gentle cycle using Woolite and hang dry (do not twist or wring the water out from the clothes) unless it is suede, leather, or rayon

3) Don't take clothes to the dry cleaners after every wear, clothes can be worn 3 to 4 times if there are no stains or odors

4) Wash by hand

5) Purchase a home steamer with at least 1200 watts

Thursday, July 16, 2009

5 Social Media Marketing Tips

According to Sharon Harvey Rosenberg, author of Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money, “It’s not so much that we waste money. Rather, we spend money and don’t realize where we’re spending it". It will take more effort to gain new readers and buzz about your book due to the recession but done by using low cost promotional efforts such as social media marketing. Here are 5 tips to Maximize Social Media Marketing.

1. Create a Marketing Budget. Identify all your expenses, business needs and wants. Determine what things are needed to keep your business running and things you would like to get for your business but are not necessary to keep it running.

2. Reduce Spending. Participate in low-cost or free promotional services. Use free press release services, participate in free author promotions, discussion forums and message boards, and create a newsletter, blog, a website or page to promote your book.

3. Create a Book Fund. Use the fund to pay for unexpected business expenses which reduces credit card usage, keeps down debt and increases cash flow.

4. Generate Additional Income. Create different products such as teleseminars, downloadable audio files, an ebook, etc. based on your book and use your social media networks to promote them.

5. Treat your book like a business. Create a 30 second elevator speech, hire staff, create a slogan and logo, and identify the benefits of purchasing your book and post on your social media networks.

The current recession has reminded business owners how important it is pay down debt and keep a constant cash flow. Using these tips will help create buzz about your book and generate sales.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Helps for Home Owners

They are several mortgage programs available but you have to do your homework, find out the guidelines and don't take no for an answer. Be persistent and ask questions to get the help you need. Over 1 million Americans have filed for foreclosure thus far and millions more are facing foreclosure. Demand assistance by contacting the programs below or your state congressman for assistance.

Some of the programs available are:

1. The Bank of America Mortgage program offers a payment extension for a few months but depends on your lender, how much you owe and your current payment status. Repayment plans if you fall below on your payments you can catch up on missed payments
2. The Making Home Affordable Program
3. The National Homeownership Retention program which allows Countrywide customers to refinance through the FHA Hope for Homeowners program, or with a variable ARM. Call 800-669-6607 for more information.

When calling make sure you have your most recent mortgage statement because you may be asked to provide your loan number, loan balance and other information which will help speed up the process for processing your request.

Additional assistance is available with social agencies such as the Salvation Army, American Red Cross and Good Will which provides counseling, emergency cash and other social program.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Help for Disputing Credit Report Errors

Agencies that enforce the rules and regulations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have proposed new rules to promote the accuracy and integrity of information provided to consumer credit reporting agencies (CRAs or credit bureaus) and to allow customers to dispute errors directly with them.

Sometimes credit report errors can be major. Major errors can cause a consumer's credit score to drop anywhere from 50-150 points. Seventy-five percent of credit reports contain at least one major mistake. This will greatly help consumers who have been victimized by employers, mortgage companies and banking industry professionals due to errors on their credit report they were unable to get corrected.

Under the newly proposed rules, data furnishers to CRAs must develop practical policies and procedures to ensure that the information they are providing is accurate. The new rules outline instances when further details may be necessary to keep the information that CRAs provide from creating misleading impressions about a consumer's creditworthiness.

Under the new rules, instead of filing a dispute only with CRAs, consumers can now take their complaint directly to furnishers, and furnishers are required to investigate the complaint.

If you currently have errors on your credit report that you have not been able to resolve file a written complaint with the FTC against the CRA and data furnisher. Make sure you provide supporting documentation to support your complaint.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Student Loan Help is Finally Here

The Income Based Repayment (IBR) is a new program created by Congress which reduces student loan payments based on your income similar to the Sallie Mae graduated payment program and was a result of the College Cost and Reduction Access Act of 2007. Annual student loan payments under IBR are capped at 15% of the borrower's income (adjusted gross income minus 150% of the poverty level for the borrower’s family size).

The IBR went into effect on July 1, 2009. Graduating seniors of the Class of 2009 are eligible for IBR within 2 months of graduation. Those who previously graduated or graduated before IBR took effect will have to wait to become eligible for IBR.

All federal student loans are eligible for the IBR program including subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Stafford loans; Federal Grad PLUS loans and Federal Direct Consolidation loans.

Another option to help pay federal student loan debt is loan forgiveness. Only Federal Direct loans (including Federal Direct Consolidation loans) are eligible for student loan forgiveness for public service.

Beginning October 1, 2007, borrowers who have Federal Direct loans may begin counting time in public service. Borrowers who have already consolidated their loans outside of Federal Direct must wait until July 1, 2008 to be eligible to "reconsolidate" into Federal Direct and begin counting time in public service.

For more information visit the Finaid website or Department of Education website.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Are We Really in a Recession

I went to a few events this weekend and kept asking myself, are we really in a recession. In a recession how are people supposed to act. Should they live on a budget, stay at home all the time, only go out for special occasions, cut back on a few items, or live like there is no tomorrow and worry about the consequences later.

This weekend I saw many people spending lots of money and wondered, can they really afford to spend that money or are did they just get caught up in the frenzy of the 4th of July holiday and advertiser sales. How will they feel when reality hits and they receive that credit card bill or when they go to work on Monday and don't have any money to get to work or pay that unexpected bill that comes in the mail next week. These are just some of the things I pondered while I was out.

All of my friends and family know I am frugal, not cheap, I like nice things but if I can buy something at a cheaper price why not? I don't spend too much money on myself during the week, just $1.59 for grits Monday through Friday which equals to about $7.95 a week.

I also got caught up in the revelry and while out with several friends picked up the tab, not to show off, but merely as a kind gesture to those who have supported me with my business and who continue to support me and because I am blessed. I felt good knowing that because I live on a budget, only have my mortgage payment, my car is paid for, have a savings account and a retirement account I can at any time splurge on anything I choose because I live well below my means. I don't have to panic because when I receive my credit card statement because whatever charges are on there I can pay them off. I won't cringe on Monday morning because I still have money in my pocket and I don't have creditors calling my house harassing me.

I also have health, life and disability insurance which helps if you get sick or are unable to work for an extended period of time due to illness. This eases the burden of the high costs of medical care and ensures that you don't go into debt due to illness and prevents you from filing for bankruptcy due to high medical costs.

I hope everyone enjoys this holiday weekend. I wonder how you will you feel on Monday - depressed because you spent all of next week's money this weekend or will you feel happy because you are aware of your reality and spent your money wisely this weekend.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

5 Ways to Make Your Money Last

Forty-percent of Americans live above their means. Seventy percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Hopefully the recession has taught Americans a valuable lesson – you have to live below your means and plan for the future. Many Americans spend their entire paycheck within a week of being paid. Other Americans are financially immature and buy whatever they want and think about the consequences later. The only way to survive the recession and survive any future financial crisis is to change your spending habits. Here are 6 ways to make your money last.

1. Reduce. Reduce your expenses and live below your means. Buy more needs vs. wants. Don't buy something if you can't afford it or if you can't pay off the credit card balance within 3 to 6 months. Save your money to buy the item later or use lay-a-way.

2. Budget. Stop using your credit cards and pay cash for everything. If you do not have enough money to pay for necessary expenses such as food, clothing, shelter, healthcare create a budget for yourself to determine your total monthly expenses and your total monthly income. Reevaluate your spending habits. Shop at discount stores, outlets, use coupons, carpool, etc. to find extra money which can be used to pay down debt.

3. Direct deposit. Stop cashing checks. Cashing checks at a check-cashing store costs on average anywhere from 1% to 5% of the amount of the check. If you do this each payday this is money that you giving away and could be using. Use direct deposit for free and save yourself some money.

4. Savings. You should have enough money saved to pay at least 6-9 months worth of bills. Open a high interest online savings account such as Emigrant Direct or the ING Orange Account which earns you on average 2 to 3% interest on your money. Then develop long-term savings goals such as planning for retirement, college education, homeownership, etc.

5. Seek Help. Talk to friends, relatives or neighbors who have gone through similar situations. Go to the library or do research on the internet for various ways to reduce expenses, gain new skills, and shop on a budget. Some great websites are Budget Dial or The Stretcher. Some grocery stores such as Whole Food teach classes on how to shop on a budget.

If you want to make your money stretch you have to change your mindset. Watch financial shows on television or check out books at the library on personal finance, financial empowerment and other topics to help make your money last longer.