50 Ways to Leave Your Debt

February 4, 2016

It doesn’t matter whether you have a sweetheart or are unattached, it’s hard to escape the Valentine’s Day ads touting expensive roses, chocolates, and more.

“…Make a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Roy. Just set yourself free…” 

If you’ve heard Paul Simon’s song, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” then consider this version for today’s economy: Instead of leaving your sweetie, make a plan to abandon your debts this month…“and set yourself free…”

“…Don’t need to discuss much….just hop on the bus, Gus…” 

But, if you just can’t pass by the coffee store, Gilmore, try these debt-busting tips…

 Save over and over again, Jen

  • Learn a new skill—handyman repairs, refinish furniture, haircuts for kids, sewing
  • Kick a habit—cigarettes, alcohol, Sunday doughnut stop, lottery tickets
  • Maintain your home—fix leaky faucets, winterize, change filters
  • Maintain yourself— Eat healthy, get regular checkups, brush teeth, stay lean, exercise
  • Do-It-Yourself—wash your own car, clean your own house, groom your pet
  • Barter or trade services with neighbors—gardening, window washing, babysitting
  • Lower dry cleaning costs—use a steam iron, hand wash when possible
  • Borrow books and movies from libraries or friends, recycle yours to used book store
  • Wait a week longer for haircuts, highlights, manicure (drop 2 haircuts/year=$50)
  • Claim bottle refunds, rebates, store discounts, price adjustments

Get a better buy, Guy

  • Stock up on supplies strategically—after holidays, after summer, after school starts
  • Check ads or online sales and ask for price match—fatwallet.com
  • Watch sales tax and shipping on mail order—may be free shipping at certain times
  • Use something until it wears out or is used up
  • Look for some things at second-hand stores—sports or baby gear, books, movies
  • Lend tools among neighbors—not everyone needs to buy the tall ladder, rototiller, etc.
  • Hold a garage sale—get cash for slightly used clothes and goods
  • Save on generic brands of toiletries, paper goods, even prescriptions
  • Replace old appliances and light bulbs with energy saving ones
  • Read magazines at the library or wait for ultra-low subscription offers (publishers must maintain circulation #s for advertisers)

Reduce food costs, Josh

  • Plan meals—make meals ahead, make your own convenience foods
  • Take your lunch to work
  • Make your own snacks: granola, trail mix, bags of nuts for on-the-go eating
  • Eat out? Use coupons, watch for specials (early bird)
  • Drink water at restaurant meals instead of pricey beverages
  • Buy in-season foods (farmers’ markets are great)
  • Buy in bulk, such as canned goods when on sale or 1/4 side of beef for freezer
  • Instead of buying cookbooks, look for free recipes, particularly using seasonal food
  • Organize potlucks with neighbors or friends for “dining out” treat
  • Reduce number of trips to the store, avoid impulse purchases

Cut transportation & utility needs, Reid

  • Group your errands for efficient travel
  • Drive slower (lower mph), and no jackrabbit starts
  • Keep tires inflated and do regular maintenance too
  • Use toll-free phone numbers and free directory assistance numbers
  • Don’t pay for extras or services you don’t use on land lines or cell phones
  • Adjust thermostat when you aren’t home, boost up in summer and down in winter
  • Keep hot water heater at reasonable temp for sanitizing but not too hot
  • Turn off lights and unplug electronics not in use—tvs & chargers draw energy
  • Get an energy audit from your utility company and follow the recommendations
  • Consolidate cable, phone and internet services for reduced costs

Save on banking and financial biz, Liz  

  • Eliminate pesky fees: use your bank’s own ATMs, don’t overdraw, pay bills on time
  • Get financially organized, especially for tax time
  • Take the correct deductions on W4s, so you aren’t loaning money to the IRS
  • Group charitable contributions, medical expenses, misc. tax deductions for a year
  • Scrutinize insurance policies and eliminate unnecessary coverage
  • Pay bills on-line or by auto-pay and save the stamps
  • Shop for best interest rates on savings accounts, CDs, loans
  • Start a savings jar and collect pocket change every night
  • If you need a loan, boost your credit score to get a better rate
  • Make savings an automatic deduction—large or small-take it out of your paycheck before you see it

So,there you have it….50 ways to build a bigger nest egg, Greg.

Do you have other creative savings strategies?

 


You Can Slice Your Food Budget

January 2, 2016

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four (two adults, two kids) spends almost $1300 for food every month, not counting food they eat away from home.

That totals over $400 for food each week, and it’s highly likely some of that food goes to waste if you don’t use it quickly enough. In fact, a survey by the American Chemistry Council showed half of 1,000 adults surveyed pitched food weekly, food they bought but never used.

So if you can avoid tossing even a small amount of the food you buy, you’ll save money. Save with these 12 tips as well:

  1. Tailor your menus to take advantage of weekly grocery ads.
  2. Make use of items when they’re in season and plentiful.
  3. Buy fewer “convenience” foods and ingredients – do your own slicing/dicing/shredding/washing.
  4. Use what’s in your fridge & pantry, get creative with items you have.
  5. Think ahead of expiration dates, try freezing items before deadlines.
  6. Limit your grocery shopping trips, and don’t go when you’re hungry.
  7. Make a grocery list, using it to avoid impulse buying.
  8. Try the store’s private label items instead of popular name brands.
  9. Compare sizes. “Economy size” might not be the best price per unit.
  10. Use coupons.
  11. Stock up on basics when on sale. (They’re eventually on sale.)
  12. Ask your store if a competitor’s price can be matched.

Need menu planning tips and recipes? Check the Iowa State University Extension site, Eat Smart, Spend Smart .

 

 


Lost Your Savings Mojo?

November 24, 2015

The power of saving is underestimated today.

True, several years of dismal interest rates on savings accounts has caused many consumers to ignore the benefits of learning to be a saver. Even some who regularly socked away something have abandoned their steady savings habit. We’re thinking….what’s the point?

But whether you are a student or retiree, young or old, employed or not, don’t under-estimate the power of habitual savings. Developing a savings mentality makes impact far beyond that meager percentage the banker pays in interest. Here’s why:

  1. Savers learn to allocate resources differently.

Those who learn to save money to reach a goal often look at their overall spending in a different light. Many consider the trade-offs, or opportunity costs. When saving for a car and a vacation, for example, they might decide they can be happy with less expensive choices for both items and enjoy both sooner. Yes, they refine their choices.

  1. Savers develop skills in delayed gratification.

Think of saving as delayed spending. There is value in having an end goal for saving, whether it’s short-term (like new shoes or to buy holiday presents) or long-term (a retirement nest egg). What’s the point of saving if you never are able to use the nest egg?

  1. Saving in one area begets saving in others – it’s a mindset.

Once you start saving, the habit can extend beyond stockpiling pocket change. For example, you might be more inclined to look for ways to reduce your costs by changing grocery shopping habits, borrowing books (and e-books) from the library, reducing electricity use, recycling, or re-using.

  1. Saving becomes a lifestyle, one passed onto your children.

Even simple money-saving acts become habitual—such as emptying your pocket change into a savings jar, using coupons, buying items only on sale, using a budget. Not only do these become part of your ordinary routine, but they are also a routine your kids (and grandkids) will model.

  1. Saving encourages investing – a key to financial success.

Many savers typically become investors too. Once saver see how their money can compound, they want that compounding to happen faster. That’s when investing becomes a possibility, even though with greater rewards comes greater risks.

  1. Lacking that savings mentality costs you even more.

Sadly, those who do not learn to save, pay more for almost everything. This comes in the form of

  • Paying bankers or others to lend you money
  • Paying credit card fees
  • Racking up interest on debt you can’t pay off
  • Lacking an emergency fund, so borrowing money for the unexpected
  • Not having money in your bank account, so paying overdraft fees
  • A lower credit score resulting from overusing credit cards and revolving balances, which translates to paying higher interest rates for mortgages and car loans
  1. And yes, even small sums add up.

The magic of compound interest should never cease to amaze. Left alone, even saving $5 a week can multiply into a nice nest egg and keep you away from the brink of financial disaster. Plus, the interest rates that banks pay savers will eventually rise, and it’s nice to have a nest egg to take advantage of that.

Once started, both good and bad habits are hard to break. You, too, can start the savings habit. What would you do with that nest egg?!

 


What You Need to Know Before Purchasing a Franchise

November 17, 2015

Entrepreneurs: Here’s a look, from a legal perspective, at what to consider if you think a franchise might be a way to start a business.

Your Lawyer

  1. Why a consider purchasing a franchise
    1. Proven business model
    2. Market recognition
    3. Advertising strength
    4. Might be easier to finance

  1. A “Franchise” is an oral or written agreement, either express or implied, which provides all of the following[1]:
    1. Grants the right to distribute goods or provide services under a marketing plan prescribed or suggested in substantial part by the franchisor.
    2. Requires payment of a franchise fee to a franchisor or its Affiliate.
    3. Allows the franchise business to be substantially associated with a trademark, service mark, trade name, logotype, advertisement, or other commercial symbol of or designating the franchisor or its affiliate.

  • What a franchise is not
    1. A guaranty of success
    2. A job
    3. A recipe (but it might include recipes)
  1. Due diligence on Franchisor
    1. Check their financial capability
    2. Check their reputation
      1. Ask other current franchisees
      2. Ask business rating services like Better Business Bureau and/or Iowa Business and Industry
  • Ask FORMER franchisees

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Why Aren’t We Smart About “Smart” Cards in U.S.?

October 8, 2015

You probably got credit card replacements in the mail recently.

To combat data and identity theft, the payments industry (merchants and card providers) were supposed to change over to “smart” chip cards by October 1. Many have not.

The new cards have an embedded chip that replaces the outdated magnetic strip used to process a sale by credit card. But it appears the new cards just aren’t a big deal. Why?

  1. Consumers don’t understand how to use them – you don’t just slide your card like before, but insert it so the terminal reads the chip. A merchant can walk you through a sale.
  2. Small merchants aren’t ready – they aren’t using the new point-of-sale terminals because it’s expensive.
  3. Card providers went halfway – they rolled out chip-and-signature cards and not the chip-and-PIN cards used in Europe and other countries. The American Banker estimates only 70% of cards have chips, and most are chip-and-sig.
  4. New ways to pay – electronic wallets, mobile payments, direct debits – are becoming popular alternatives for consumers who don’t want to risk identity theft.
  5. Chip cards protect on-site purchases, not on-line shopping. E-commerce (and other “card not present”) fraud is a larger problem. In fact, industry experts estimate “card not present” fraud is a $3-billion problem that’s expected to double by 2018.

What’s the point?

Consumers: It’s more difficult to steal the data stored in the chip, thereby making chip cards more fraud resistant and hopefully deterring some identity theft. Learn to use the new cards to protect yourself!

Merchants: If credit card fraud happens at your business and the card provider uses the chip technology and you do not, you must cover the cost of the fraud. Are you willing to risk it?


How One Little Habit Can Save You $45,000…Really!

August 27, 2015

Chances are, it’s not one major financial decision you make in your lifetime that will seal your future. It’s about the small choices you make everyday.

Those everyday choices become habits. Habits become a lifestyle…a lifestyle to which you become accustom easily.

I’d like to share a true story about a friend of mine who just retired. Early in his career, he made a choice of going to the nearby gym over his lunch hour, and ate his brown bag lunch after exercising. This was his routine five days a week, 50 weeks a year. Oh sure, he would occasionally go out for lunch with colleagues, but generally, he packed his lunch so he could fit in his exercise regime. He really didn’t think much about the savings he would reap from his  brown-bag lunches, since he didn’t skimp on eating what he wanted.

But the results were remarkable…He conservatively figures he saved about $45,000 on lunch costs over his career. Wow!

Do you have a habit that packs a wallop like that? Let me know!


Spending Shift: More Buying at Moment of Need

August 20, 2015

Consumers are showing signs of shopping for items as they need them instead of buying a month or two ahead, as evidenced by a recent survey on back-to-school apparel shopping.

Contrary to shopping the traditional peak month of July, the shoppers surveyed said they are waiting until August or September, according to a survey conducted by The NPD Group market research firm. Roughly 55 percent of those surveyed said they will finish back-to-school shopping in August and 19 percent said September, making September the second largest buying month for back-to-school.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, added, “When so many consumers are planning to do their back-to-school shopping in the months not traditionally considered part of the season by retailers, it’s time to break with tradition and change the way we market and measure this shopping season.”

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