Should You Only Use Cash?

July 6, 2020

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Samuel Howe

Samuel Howe

National Training Director

1424 N. Brown Rd.
Suite 200
Lawrenceville, Georgia 30043

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July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse)
Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash
Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security
To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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June 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

All About Food Deserts

You’re hungry.

You just got home from work, you haven’t had anything since lunch, and you need a bite to eat ASAP. What do you do? Most of us just pop over to the local grocery store, pick up some ingredients, and prepare a meal. But that’s actually not possible for many Americans who live in areas without access to fresh groceries. It’s a phenomenon known as “food deserts”, and it affects millions of people throughout the country.

What’s a food desert?
Defining food deserts can be tricky. Roughly speaking, a food desert is an area where residents have limited access to healthy food options. But limited access doesn’t always look the same. The United States Department of Agriculture looks at things like distance from grocery stores, income, and access to vehicles when delineating a food desert.(1) Consider a few examples…

Let’s say you live in a densely populated, low income, urban area. You and your neighbors mostly take public transportation to work, and there aren’t many cars to go around. While there might be plenty of gas stations and corner stores nearby, the closest supermarket or grocery store is around a mile away. Technically speaking, you live in a food desert. You don’t have easy access to healthy food options.

But there are examples from the other side of the spectrum. Let’s say you live in a low income rural area. You own a vehicle out of necessity, but your closest neighbors are a mile away and the closest real grocery store is over ten miles away. Once again, you would technically live in a food desert. The settings and details are totally different, but getting healthy food is still a massive hassle.

Why do food deserts matter?
Remember that a food desert is all about access to healthy food. There might be plenty of fast food and processed food to be found in urban and rural food deserts. But living on junk food carries a steep price tag. The upfront cost of constantly eating out can add up quickly. That’s already less than ideal for a family in a low-income neighborhood. But consuming junk food may also increase your risk for obesity and other health problems. That could eventually translate into increased healthcare expenses. It’s a double whammy of problems; you pay more for bad food that will cost you more later down the road!

How many people live in food deserts?
According to a 2009 report by the USDA, there were roughly 23.5 million people who lived in food deserts.(2) About half of those people were impoverished.(3) Americans drive on average over 6 miles to go grocery shopping.(4) In the Lower Mississippi Delta, locals sometimes drive over 30 miles just to find a supermarket!(5)

We’re still trying to figure out solutions for food deserts. Some communities have formed local gardens that grow fresh produce. Grocery trucks have started to pop up throughout the country, bringing healthy options into neighborhoods. Only time will tell for the long-term effectiveness of these solutions!

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June 10, 2020

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

Food waste is a big problem.

Don’t believe me? Just check out these food waste facts:

- The average family throws away around $1,500 of food every year.(1)

- One recent study found that we toss around a third of all consumable food, with wealthy nations being the biggest culprits.(2)

- Cutting back our food waste just 15% would free up enough food to feed 25 million Americans.(3)

Those are incredible numbers. And they touch everything from the poor in other parts of the world to your own wallet! But what can you do? How can you not only combat a global problem but also look out for your own financial needs? Here are a few practical ways to reduce food waste and save some money while you’re at it!

Shop with a plan
The first step to not wasting food is only buying food you plan on eating. That means deciding ahead of time what you want to eat, making a list, and only buying those items at the store. Sure, it’s thrilling to walk down the produce aisle just waiting for an exotic veggie to catch your eye or buying extra meat just in case you want pork chops instead of chicken thighs. But you’ll quickly find that shopping without a strategy can lead to overbuying. This raises the potential that food won’t get prepared and will get thrown out. Always start with a list and shop from there.

Online shopping may help you stay on track with your list—and save you a ton of time! It’s fairly simple these days to log in to your favorite grocery store app, check items off, then click Delivery or Pick-up. (Keep in mind the store may charge a small fee for these services, but if it means not throwing out yet another unopened box of spinach, it might be worth it!)

Store wisely
Even the best planner will overbuy at some point. Maybe there’s a great sale on your kids’ favorite snack crackers, or you want to pick up a couple extra bottles of wine since they’re BOGO. You might stock up on Monday and then remember you have dinner plans with the in-laws on Friday. Don’t panic! Keeping your food from going bad is actually pretty simple. For many perishable items, just take a deep breath, open your freezer, and put your food inside. Close the freezer door. Your food should be safe from going bad until your schedule clears up. Just remember to dethaw your food before you try cooking it!

If you find you’re stocking up often on dry goods, you might want to invest in some quality containers (plastic, glass or metal) to help keep your food fresher, longer.

Reuse (safely)
But what happens if you prepare a ton of food for a meal only to discover that your stomach is smaller than you anticipated? Open up the trash can and dump all of that delicious, edible food?

Never!

The classic leftovers loophole is to put your food in proper containers and leave them in the fridge until you can get back to them in the next day or two. You can also freeze leftovers if you need. But why stop there? Those leftovers are just begging to be transformed into something fresh and delicious! Why not stir fry them with some rice or cook them into a casserole? Get creative and make something new and amazing!

Reducing food waste takes a little work and planning. But with the right attitude, it can be a fun way of contributing to your community, helping the planet, and avoiding a hunger strike by your bank account!

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May 15, 2020

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Buying in bulk is a no-brainer, right?

It seems cheaper and you can (hopefully) get all your shopping done for the family in one trip. What’s not to love?

But there are certain things to consider when shopping wholesale. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before buying in bulk

Can you afford the upfront cost?
Overall, buying in bulk at a big box store can be cheaper than normal shopping at your local supermarket. But it may not feel that way at the register. The upfront cost can be higher than you’re used to, so just make sure that you’ve budgeted that in. Remember, this is a long-term game where the savings can show up further down the line.

Will this product expire?
As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid perishable items when buying in bulk. Let’s say you go to the wholesaler and notice that you can get a bargain on chicken. Sounds awesome! Should you buy 45 pounds of chicken and slam it in your fridge? Probably not. You’ll have about a week to get through that amount of poultry. Whatever is leftover will have to go into the freezer (more on that later).

But that still means that non-perishable paper items and personal care essentials are fair game. Buying razors in bulk? Go for it. Party cups? Fire away. Canned foods, beans, rice, and spices are also excellent to buy in bulk. But there’s another factor to consider…

Do you have enough space?
Getting a good deal is amazing. But stuffing your house to the brim isn’t. Make sure you have enough storage space before you decide to buy something in bulk. That deal on toothpaste might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but will you have enough room to store it? You might be able to get away with buying perishable items and jamming them in a freezer, but how much freezer space do you have? Will you need to purchase an additional freezer? Just because you can afford a deal doesn’t mean you can afford to store it.

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. Just make sure you prepare and do your research before you start purchasing huge quantities of items!

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November 27, 2019

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year. By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality.

FamZoo is popular, offering prepaid cards with a matching family finance app for iOS and Android. Prepaid cards are a dime a dozen but FamZoo’s card and app do much more than just limit spending to the prepaid amount. Kids can earn interest on their savings (funded by parents), set budgets according to categories, monitor their account activity with useful charts, and even borrow money – complete with an interest charge. Sounds a bit like the real world, doesn’t it? FamZoo can be as simple or as feature-packed as you’d like, making it a good match for kids of any age.

Money habits are formed as early as age 7. If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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October 30, 2019

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

Handling Debt Efficiently – Until It’s Gone

It’s no secret that making purchases on credit cards will result in paying more for those items over time if you’re paying interest charges from month-to-month.

Despite this well-known fact, credit card debt is at an all-time high, rising another 3% this past year. The average American now owes over $6,300 in credit card debt. For households, the number is much higher, at nearly $16,000 per household. Add in an average mortgage of over $200,000, plus nearly $25,000 of non-mortgage debt (car loans, college loans, or other loans) and the molehill really is starting to look like a mountain.

The good news? You have the potential to handle your debt efficiently and deal with a molehill-sized molehill instead of a mountain-sized one.

Focus on the easiest target first.
Some types of debt don’t have an easy solution. While it’s possible to sell your home and find more affordable housing, actually following through with this might not be a great option. Selling your home is a huge decision and one that comes with expenses associated with the sale – it’s possible to lose money. Unless you find yourself with a job loss or similar long-term setback, often the best solution to paying down debt is to go after higher interest debt first. Then examine ways to cut your housing costs last.

Freeze your spending (literally, if it helps).
Due to its higher interest rate, credit card debt is usually the first thing to tackle when you decide to start eliminating debt. Let’s be honest, most of us might not even know where that money goes, but our credit card statement is a monthly reminder that it went somewhere. If credit card balances are a problem in your household, the first step is to cut back on your purchases made with credit, or stop paying with credit altogether. Some people cut up their cards to enforce discipline. Ever heard the recommendation to freeze your cards in a block of ice as a visual reminder of your commitment to quit credit? Another thing to do is to remove your card information from online shopping sites to help ensure you don’t make mindless purchases.

Set payment goals.
Paying the minimum amount on your credit card keeps the credit card company happy for 2 reasons. First, they’re happy that you made a payment on time. Second, they’re happy if you’re only paying the minimum because you might never pay off the balance, so they can keep collecting interest indefinitely. Reducing or stopping your spending with credit was the first step. The second step is to pay more than the minimum so that those balances start going down. Examine your budget to see where there’s room to reduce spending further, which will allow you to make higher payments on your credit cards and other types of debt. In most households, an honest look at the bank statement will reveal at least a few ways you might free up some money each month.

Have a sale. To get a jump-start if money is still tight, you might want to turn some unused household items into cash. Having a community yard sale or selling your items online through eBay or Offerup can turn your dust collectors into cash that you can then use toward reducing your balances.

Transfer balances prudently.
Consider balance transfers for small balances with high interest rates that you think you’ll be able to pay off quickly. Transferring that balance to a lower interest or no interest card can save on interest costs, freeing up more money to pay down the balances. The interest rates on balance transfers don’t stay low forever, however – typically for a year or less – so it’s important to make sure you can pay transferred balances off quickly. Also, check if there’s a balance transfer fee. Depending on the fee, moving those funds might not make sense.

Don’t punish yourself.
Getting serious about paying down debt may seem to require draconian measures. But there likely isn’t a need to just stay home eating tuna fish sandwiches with all the lights turned off. Often, all that’s required is an adjustment of old spending habits. If your drive home takes you past a mall where it would be too tempting to “just pick a little something up”, take a different route home. But it’s important to have a small treat occasionally as well. If you’re making progress on your debt, you deserve to reward yourself sometimes. All within your budget, of course!

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March 11, 2019

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Many of us may be chair-bound during the workday and may come home lethargic and sluggish – seeming results of a sedentary lifestyle and some potentially unhealthy habits of office life.

You might be itching to break this cycle and establish some healthier habits for yourself, but you don’t want to break your budget either.

If you’re interested in improving your healthy habits – but aren’t interested in spending a lot of money to do it – read on!

Getting more exercise
Many people equate maintaining a regular exercise regimen with an expensive gym membership, but you don’t have to have one to exercise. One can perform body-weight exercises just about anywhere, so getting in some sit ups, push ups, squats, and a brisk jog can be free of charge. Other body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, may require finding a place to do them, but all one needs is a horizontal bar. This can range from a sturdy tree limb to the monkey bars at the playground.

Not sure where to begin? There are a myriad of free videos and programs online for all ages, goals, and body types. (As always, get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.) If an exercise program is all new to you, you might want to start with only 10-15 minutes, then work up from there.

It does require forming a habit to establish a regular exercise routine. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build exercise into a part of your day. That way, a sense of something missing may arise when the exercise is not completed, which can be a motivation to get the workout in.

Eating healthy
This one may be a little harder to solve than the exercise issue, because saving money on your food bill may require a bigger time commitment than you’re used to, with additional shopping and food preparation. The good thing about fruits and vegetables is that many of them can be eaten raw with minimal prep time.

Internet shopping provides a myriad of resources for finding good deals for nutritious foodstuffs. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there may also be a local communal garden[i] in your area. Some apartment complexes offer their roofs to be used as gardens, and for those with no other options, growing right in your high-rise apartment is feasible[ii]. One of the best parts about gardening? It may give you some exercise in the process.

Unfortunately, most people can’t raise their own livestock, so for meat (and alternative protein sources) online delivery is an option, as well as shopping sales and using coupons at your local grocery store.

If all of this seems like too great of a commitment (admittedly it may take some extra work), there are other ways to start the journey without running headlong into an agricultural venture. Simply avoiding processed and fast foods is a start, as these options can be more expensive and may offer less in the way of solid nutrition. And if you find the “healthy” option too bland, make a pledge to yourself to stick with it until your taste buds become accustomed to the new foods, or experiment with spices and herbs to increase the flavor intensity.

Eating healthy and beginning an exercise program certainly demand a degree of attention and commitment, but they do not always require a lot of money. Regardless of what advertisers want you to believe, it is possible to stay in shape without a gym membership or expensive home gym equipment, and you can eat healthy without spending a week’s paycheck in the grocery store’s organic aisle.

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March 6, 2019

Back to the basics

Back to the basics

It seems many of us can over-complicate how to achieve good financial health and can make the entire subject much harder than it needs to be.

Despite what you might read in books, hear on television, or see on blogs and websites, good financial health can be simple and sustainable.

Some of the following basic principles may require a paradigm shift depending on how you’ve thought about finances and money in the past, or if you have current not-so-great habits you want to change. Hang in there!

Let’s start with frugality.

Retail therapy may not always be good therapy
One of the biggest financial pitfalls we may get into is believing that money will make us happy. To some degree, this may be true. Stress over finances can rob us of peace of mind, and not having enough money to make ends meet is a challenging – sometimes even difficult – way to live. Still, thinking that more money will alleviate the stress and bring us more happiness is a common enough trap, but it doesn’t seem to usually pan out that way.

Get yourself out of the trap by reminding yourself that if you don’t have a money problem, then don’t use money to solve it. The next time you’re tempted to do some indiscriminate “retail” therapy, think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Do you truly need three new shopping bags of clothes and accessories or are you trying to fill some other void? Give yourself some space to slow down and think it over.

Build a love for do-it-yourself projects
Any time you can do something yourself instead of paying someone to do it for you should be a win. A foundation of frugality is to keep as much of your income in your pocket as possible. Learning to perform certain tasks yourself instead of paying someone to do them for you may save more money.

Do-it-yourself tasks can include changing the oil in your car, mowing your grass, even doing your taxes. The next time you’re about to shell out $50 (or more) to trim the lawn, consider doing it yourself and saving the money.

Curb your impulse buying habit
An impulse buying habit can rob us of good financial health. The problem is that impulse purchases seem to be mostly extraneous, and they can add up over time because we probably don’t give them much thought. A foundational principle is to try to refrain from any impulse buying. Get in the habit of putting a little pause between yourself and the item. Ask yourself if this is something you actually need or just want. Another great strategy to combat impulse buying is to practice the routine of making a shopping list and sticking to it.

It may take some time and effort to retrain yourself not to impulse buy, but as a frugal foundational principle, it’s worth it.

Build your financial health with simple principles
Achieving an excellent financial life doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Mastering a few foundational principles will help ensure your financial health is built on a good, solid foundation. Remember that money isn’t always the solution, aim to keep as much of your income as possible and stay away from impulse buying. Simple habits will get you on the road to financial health.

A fresh perspective, a little commitment, and some discipline can go a long way toward building a solid financial foundation.

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January 21, 2019

Preparing to buy your first home

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford
One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying
If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home
Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork
Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage
Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework
With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

January 14, 2019

A quick reference guide to car insurance

A quick reference guide to car insurance

Been shopping around for auto insurance but you’re befuddled by all the options?

Auto insurance is a common type of insurance we purchase, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be confusing. Buying the right policy for your needs begins with understanding typical coverages.

Read on for a quick reference guide to auto insurance coverage.

Liability coverage is the basis
One of the most important types of insurance is liability protection. Liability insurance is what steps in to help protect you when you are at fault in an accident. Most auto insurance policies contain two types of liability insurance.

Bodily injury liability: Bodily injury liability coverage helps protect you if you injure someone in an accident. The coverage will contribute towards the injured person’s medical bills.

Property damage liability: Property damage liability works just like bodily injury, only it helps pay to repair the property you’re responsible for damaging. For example, the coverage helps pay to fix someone’s car if you rear end them or to replace a guardrail if you slide off an icy road.

First party physical damage coverage
So now you may be thinking, “That’s great, but what if my car gets damaged?” Good point. You may purchase coverage on your auto policy to help protect your car if it’s damaged. This would usually be referred to as physical damage coverage. There are two main types:

Comprehensive: Comprehensive should help cover your vehicle if it’s damaged in anything other than a collision accident. For example, if a tree limb falls on it, it has damage from a hail storm, is flooded, or stolen, you would make a comprehensive claim.

Collision: Collision coverage repairs your car if it’s in a collision accident. Also, you may use your collision coverage no matter who’s at fault for the crash. Physical damage coverages may come with a deductible. That’s the part you’re responsible for paying if you need the coverage, so choose carefully. Deductibles may range from $50 to $2,500.

Medical payments coverage
Medical payments coverage helps pay for you and your passengers’ medical bills if you’re injured in an accident. Typically, the coverage can be used regardless of fault. It’s usually primary to your health insurance, so it would pay out first in that case.

Other options
While those are the most significant and common auto insurance coverages, many companies offer add-on coverages that may be of some benefit. Two are:

Roadside assistance: Roadside assistance can be purchased from some insurers and will help pay for towing or emergency services such as a tire change or jump start. Each insurance company has different limits on coverage, so make sure you know what they are and what would be covered.

Rental reimbursement: Rental reimbursement coverage would help pay for a rental car for you up to a certain length of time and dollar limit. The coverage would kick in if your vehicle is in the shop due to a covered loss.

State requirements
Each state has different minimum auto insurance requirements for drivers. These are usually referred to as state minimums. While state minimum limits would get you on the road legally, they typically don’t offer the best option for coverage. Speak to a qualified insurance professional about getting the best auto coverage for your needs in your state.

Auto insurance needs differ among drivers
Everyone has different auto insurance needs. There are many factors to consider including how much you drive, the types of vehicles you own, and what kind of assets you need to protect.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain insurance products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a policy, seek the advice of a qualified insurance agent.

December 31, 2018

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

Top 10 ways to save more than last year

If you’re starting the new year resolving to save a little more money than last year – great idea!

A healthy savings habit is foundational to good financial health. But maybe you’re looking at your budget (you have a budget, right?) and wondering how you’re going to come up with that extra money to put away.

Maybe your budget is already pretty tight with very little wiggle room. Don’t despair! Read on for ten ways even the most financially strict households can save a little more this year.

Automatic savings from your paycheck
One of the easiest ways to stash some extra cash is to have it directly deposited into a separate savings account. Update your direct deposit to include a percentage or a dollar amount from your paycheck that will go directly into a savings account every time you get paid.

Cashback offers
If you use credit cards for household expenditures such as groceries or gas, find a card that gives you money back on the purchases you make. When it comes time to redeem the rewards, opt to deposit the extra cash right into your savings account.

Cut the grocery bill
Food for your household can often be one of the biggest monthly expenses. You can help cut your food costs by meal planning, buying what’s on sale, using coupons strategically, and shopping at farmers markets. Try to steer clear from pre-made foods and convenience frozen items. The least expensive way to buy food is often to purchase whole food items in bulk.

Make sure that if and when you fall under budget for groceries, you’re saving that leftover money. If this becomes a trend, try cutting your grocery budget by the average amount you’re falling under each month and officially allocating the surplus to your savings.

Shop the sales
Using coupons or buying items that are only on sale is a great way to save extra money. The challenge here is to avoid buying something just because it’s been marked down. Simply put, if you do need a new item, like a pair of glasses, try not to pay full price. It’s worth it to shop around for the best deal.

Eat at home
Whether you’re single or have a family, cooking and eating at home is probably going to be better for your wallet. No one could deny that eating out can be expensive, and the cost can quickly add up. Prep meals ahead of time and pack your lunches and snacks.

Make sense of your cents
What do you do with your pocket change? Most of us find a little of it everywhere – in our car, on the dresser, in the washing machine, and at the bottom of our purses. Pocket change is money, and it adds up. Treat your pocket change with the same attention you give to paper money.

Start by keeping it in one place, like a change jar or dish. Then, periodically deposit it into your bank account.

Take advantage of free entertainment
Learn where to look, and you’ll find free entertainment abounds. Instead of paying to see a local band, look for a free show. Craving a little café culture? Save the cost of a designer coffee and bring your homebrew to the city park.

Create an emergency fund
Creating an emergency fund doesn’t sound like a money-saving strategy, but it is. Why? Because when an emergency comes up, you’ll have money at hand to deal with it. An emergency fund keeps you from putting surprise expenses on a credit card and potentially incurring interest.

Stash the windfalls
Found money can boost your savings this year. Found money may include bonuses, gifts or inheritance. Any income that is not accounted for in your regular budget is found money. Stash found money and your savings account will grow. If you can’t bear not to treat yourself to something, go for it but commit to saving half.

Curb impulse buys
Impulse purchases may wreck even the most conscientious savings plan. If you want to save successfully, you’ve got to curb your impulse buys. Try using the 24-hour rule. For any non-essential purchase, wait 24 hours. This will give the impulse a chance to fade, and you might realize you don’t really need or want the item.

Reward yourself
Saving money isn’t easy, but with the right strategy, you can make your savings goals a reality. Good luck and here’s to a prosperous year!

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December 3, 2018

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

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October 15, 2018

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

Part of gaining financial literacy is becoming familiar with the lingo.

Like all subjects, finance has its own terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and slang.

If you’re just beginning to dip your toe into the pool of personal financial planning, here’s a handy guide to some terms that are likely to come up when learning about finance and investments.

ROI: ROI stands for Return on Investment. It’s an acronym usually used when referring to the performance of a stock. ROI can also refer to the performance of other investments, including real estate and currencies. In short, the term describes how much bang you get for your investment buck.

Compound Interest: Compound interest refers to the instance of interest collecting on interest. The best way to understand compound interest is with an example. Let’s say you invest $1,000 in a high interest bearing account. Over the course of one year, your savings collects $100.00 in interest. The next year you’ll earn interest on $1,100.00, and so forth.

Money Market Account: You may hear about money market accounts if you’re shopping for a savings account. A money market account is like a savings account, but it may earn higher interest rates – making it a better choice for some.

There are money market accounts that come with checks or a debit card, so your funds are easily accessible. If you’re planning on opening a money market account to hold your savings or emergency fund, pay attention to any minimum balance requirements and fees.

Liquidity: Liquidity refers to how easy it is for an asset to convert to cash. You can think of it as an investment’s ability to “liquidate” into cash. For example, real estate investments may offer great returns over time, but they aren’t considered liquid assets because they are not easily turned into cash.

A stock or bond, on the other hand, has high liquidity because you can sell a stock and have access to its cash value quickly.

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account. IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account”. A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions or deposits to fund your retirement. The contributions are made with taxed income, but when you take deposits from the account in retirement, the income is not taxed.

A few characteristics of a Roth IRA:

  • Your contribution is always accessible, tax and penalty-free at any time
  • It can help keep you in a lower taxable income bracket during retirement
  • You can contribute to a Roth IRA at any time if you have a job

Bear Market: A Bear Market is a term used to refer to the stock market while there are certain characteristics present. Those characteristics include falling stock prices and low investor confidence.

The term is said to originate from the way a bear attacks – swiping its arm downward on its prey. The downward motion illustrates falling stock prices as investors lose confidence, become pessimistic about the market, and they may begin to sell their stocks to try to prevent further losses.

Bull Market: A Bull Market is a period in which stock prices are increasing and investor confidence is high. A Bull Market mostly refers to stocks, but it can also be used to describe real estate, currencies, and other types of markets.

This term may come from the action of how a bull attacks, by swiping its horns upward.

Finance lingo is for everyone
No matter where you are on the personal finance spectrum – just beginning to create a budget with your first job or preparing to retire – there are special terms to describe financial phenomena, tools, and features. Learning some of the lingo is a great first step toward taking charge of your financial life!

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September 17, 2018

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Savvy savers know that if they look after their pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

So, if you’re looking for places to gain a few extra pennies, why not start by maximizing your savings account?

Granted, a savings account might not be a flashy investment opportunity with a high return. But most of us use one as a place to park our emergency fund or the dream car fund. So, if you’re going to put your money somewhere other than under your mattress, why not put it in the place that gets the best return? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your savings account.

Try an Online-only Account
Your corner bank branch isn’t the only option for a savings account. Why not try an online account? As of September 2018, several well-known banks are offering online savings accounts with rates of 1.85 (some even higher).[i]

With the help of technology, you can link one of these high-interest savings accounts directly to your checking account, making moving money a breeze. Say goodbye to the brick and mortar bank, and hello to some extra cash in your pocket!

Check Out Your Local Credit Union
A credit union offers savers some unique benefits. They differ from a traditional bank as they are usually not for profit. They function more like a cooperative – even paying dividends back to members periodically.

A credit union can also be beneficial as they typically offer a higher interest rate than your everyday bank. Membership in a credit union may also have other perks, such as low-interest rates on personal loans as well as exceptional customer service.

Money Market Accounts
A money market account is like a savings account except it’s tied to bonds and other low-risk investments. A money market can deliver the goods by giving you more for your savings, but there are often account minimums and fees. Before putting your savings into a money market account, check the fees and account minimums to make sure they’ll coincide with your needs.

Don’t Use a Parking Place When You Need a Garage
A savings account is a like a good parking place for cash. Its usefulness is in its ease of access and flexibility.

This makes it a great place to keep savings that you may need to access in the short term – say, within the next 12 months.

For long-term saving (like for retirement), it’s generally not a good idea to rely on a savings account alone. Retirement savings doesn’t belong in a parking place. For that, you need a garage. Talk to your financial professional today about a savings strategy for retirement, and the options that are available for you.

Shopping for a Savings Account
Just because a savings account doesn’t offer high yields, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it carefully. To get the most bang for your savings buck, search out the highest interest possible (which might be online), be aware of fees and penalties, and remember – any saving is better than not saving at all!

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August 13, 2018

3 Ways to Save Money (No Formulas Needed)

3 Ways to Save Money (No Formulas Needed)

When you’re ready to take control of your finances, it can seem overwhelming to get your savings plan going.

Every finance expert has a different theory on the best way to save – complete with diagrams, schedules, and algebraic formulas. Ugh. But saving money isn’t complicated. Here’s a secret: the best way to save money is not to spend it. It’s that simple.

Turn Off the TV
The act of turning off your TV to save money on electricity may not make much difference. Running a modern TV for as long as 12 hours per day probably costs about $8 per month. The real expense associated with your television comes from the advertisements. Look around your home and in your driveway and you’ll probably see some of the fallout associated with watching television. Advertisers have convinced us that we need the latest and greatest gizmos, gadgets, cars, homes, and that we need to try the latest entree at our favorite chain restaurant before the deal goes away forever! Skipping the TV for some time spent with family or enjoying a good book may not only cost you less money in the long run, it’s priceless.

The 30-Day Rule
Here’s how it goes. If you want something, and that something isn’t an emergency, make a note of it and then wait 30 days before revisiting the idea of purchasing that item. Your smartphone is perfect for this because it’ll probably be in your hand when you first find the item you want to buy. Use a note keeping app or a reminder app to document the date and details about the item. After 30 days, the desire to purchase that item may have passed, or you may have concluded that you didn’t really need it in the first place. If you still want the item after 30 days – and it fits into your budget – go for it!

The 10-Second Rule
The 30-day rule is useful in a lot of cases, but it may not work so well for some types of household spending, like grocery shopping. 30 days is too long to wait if you’re out of coffee or cat litter. Even so, the grocery store is a hotbed for impulse buying – sales, specials, and check-out aisle temptations may be too much to resist. Instead of dropping items into your cart on a whim, wait 10 seconds and then ask yourself for one good reason why you need to purchase this particular item right now. Chances are pretty good – that there isn’t a good reason. Ding! You just saved money. That was easy. (Hint: Always make a list before you head to the store.)

Now that you’ve gotten rid of the idea that trigonometry + calculus + geometry = financial independence, which money-saving tip will you put into practice first? (Quick note: The 30 Day Rule does not apply here – no need to wait to get started!)

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