5 Tips for Holiday Shopping on a Budget

The holidays are a time for gratitude, giving, joy, being with friends and family, but a big part of it is about spending money. And for those of us on a budget, it can be tricky to keep up with monthly bills and have enough left over to purchase presents for our loved ones. The following list of tips should help ease the burden of gift giving this holiday season:


1. Timing

You may plan on waiting until the last minute to buy gifts, but this type of rush-purchase can end up being more expensive than you had bargained for. Buying a few gifts here and there, as opposed to doing a shopping binge session will help you save in the long run. Check online stores for deals and use the "request alert" feature to see when particular items go on sale and buy them at that time. Many brick and mortar stores will honor online prices with price matching so be sure to check out weekly circulars and visit in person. 


2. In-Store Coupons

While you are at the store checking for deals, ask the people at the counter if they have any coupons available. Often times, stopping by the mall office before shopping is like hitting the lottery! Many outlet malls have promotions and rewards just for shopping in their building. A little known secret is that many stores have special coupons set aside for disgruntled customers, but they expire in December, so the employees are more likely to give them away during the holidays. 



3. Get Crafty

Homemade gifts are more acceptable than ever before. With the newfound popularity of DIY crafting videos, your loved ones will be thrilled to receive a little something from your artistic side. Even if you do not have a crafty bone in your body, there are plenty of ideas that can be created by anyone who puts their mind to it.


4. Re-Gifting

This practice used to be considered a faux pas, but it in a time where student loans and credit card debt are choking the life out of most people's bank accounts, now is a better time than ever to give away what you don't need. An example of a good re-gift item is when a non-drinker receives a bottle of wine; they can redress the bottle in a gift bag or with a bow and give it to someone who will appreciate a potent potable. 


5. The Whole Package

If you cannot afford to buy the most expensive gifts, dressing them up in fancier packaging can make you feel better about giving on a budget. Dollar stores have amazing items such as wrapping paper, bows, gift bags, glitter and anything else you can think of to make your presents look picture perfect. Handing someone an inexpensive mug in a box is okay, but why not decorate the box on the cheap for an extra dollar or two? 

Start an Emergency Fund Today!

Imagine everything in your life is going along fine, you are making just enough money to pay all of your monthly bills, and a little left over for spending - then tragedy strikes and you end up using your bill money to pay for it. Before you know it, you are behind on your rent or mortgage. You start receiving demanding late letters in the mail, phone calls from creditors, and your credit score takes a nose dive. All of that could have been avoided if you had set up an emergency fund in advance.

But how do you save when all you have is a few dollars left over for spending after you pay your monthly bills? It's actually easier than you think, and following three, crafty money saving tips could save you well over $200 per month. 

1. Only Buy Things That Are On Sale

Everyone loves a sale! But most of the stuff you WANT to buy is hardly ever marked down, which is why you must focus on what you NEED to buy, and only when it's on sale; this will also help you avoid impulse shopping. It takes a bit of work, and will require you to use store circulars, browse the web, cut coupons, and use shopping apps before heading to the store. In order to save money with sales, you will have to be okay with buying store brand items which use the same ingredients as the premium brands, or switching brands altogether. Buying things only when they are on sale, whether it's groceries, clothing or electronics, can easily save you over $80 per month.

2. Eliminate One Meal Out Per Week

Whenever we read tips about saving money, we are told to stop dining out - which is the most unrealistic advice given about the subject, and part of the reason why people often fail at budgeting. You will be hard pressed to find anyone okay with cooking every meal, every single day of the year. Instead of vilifying dining out, lets embrace it, yet curb the amount of times per week that we partake in this extravagance. Cutting eating one meal out per week can save $60-$80 per month.   

3. Give Up A Vice

This one is tough because vices are sometimes just the thing we need to get through a difficult month. Soft drinks, tobacco, gambling, even coffee can become addicting and cause us to spend way more money than we should be spending. Healthy alternatives can be the cost-saving solution you need to finally kick the habit. 

- Try sparkling, flavored seltzer water or fruit-infused ice water instead of soda. Not only will you save close to $50 per month, your body will feel better too. 

- Smoking is so twenty years ago. Not only is it out of style, it's very expensive and it's killing you! Try a cheaper alternative like vaping where you can create DIY e-liquids, or even taking up a fun way to exercise like hiking or belly dancing. The best part, saving over $700 per month! YES $700!

- Seeing a commercial for the latest Mega Millions Pick 6 is enticing, or maybe throwing a $20 in the slot machine seems harmless - at the end of the day, you have better odds for making real money by investing than playing the lottery. 

- The average American worker spends over $50 per month on coffee. And you're probably not ready to give up on this delicious lifesaver, but there are frugal alternatives that will help you save instead of spend.

By following the above mentioned tips, you will have the extra cash to start an emergency fund in no time. A good way to watch your fund grow is by meticulously keeping track of your savings and depositing that money into a high-yield, online bank account that is separate from your regular checking account. 

The New Way to Pay Off Debt and Invest!

We're sure you have heard thousands of times that you need to pay off debt and invest in order to get ahead. But the trouble is that you don't always feel like you have extra money to spare, and investing seems complicated; this is where technology gets super exciting! What if we told you there is a new way to become debt free and invest, and you barely have to do anything at all besides make normal, daily purchases? 


That's right! There are two mobile phone apps that will allow you to either pay off your bills or invest, or do both, all by spending money and living life. Let's start off with getting out of debt:

Qoins is an app that allows you to pay off bills while making purchases. The way it works is anyone 18 years or older links his or her credit card or checking account to the app. For each day that there is a spending transaction made; say you go to the grocery store, get a haircut, buy a donut and a latte, or even go see a movie, whatever you can think of - Qoins rounds each purchase up to the next whole dollar, deducts that amount, and once you meet your predefined threshold, the app withdraws the money and pays your creditor directly.

Let's say you want to your bills by the 15th of the month, and you set your Qoins "round ups" to the predefined threshold of $5, the app will withdraw it and hold it in a separate account from your checking account. When the 15th of the month comes around, however much you saved from the round ups of spending, is paid directly to whichever bill you have set to pay. 

When you buy a $3.45 latte, $0.55 goes into your Qoins predefined threshold amount. When you buy a $1.15 donut, $0.85 goes into your account, and so on. Every purchase you make goes toward your account, once it reaches $5 or whatever your predefined threshold is, it pays your bills! It's great for helping you to pay over the monthly minimum on things like credit card fees, or to pay off a pesky creditor that you don't find to be at the top of your list on pay day, but still need to keep up on in order to maintain your credit. 


What about investing money? The next app works much like Qoins, but instead of paying off a bill, you get to invest your rounded up money instead. 

Acorns is an app that acts as an automated portfolio management system. Sound complicated? It's not! The app allows you to invest utilizing your "spare change." Acorns rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, just like Qoins but instead of becoming debt free, this app makes you money, which can still ultimately lead you to being debt free. So win-win. 

In this scenario, all you have to do to make money, is to spend money! It's that easy. Get a haircut for $48.05, $0.95 of that purchase is invested by Acorns. The investment strategy is based on something known as Modern Portfolio Theory - and the app will also use information such as income, investment goals, risk tolerance, and other factors to determine your portfolio allocation. You can override this at anytime if you feel you need to become more or less dynamic with your portfolio compared to what Acorns recommends.  

There are five investment portfolios to choose from that consist of six index-based exchange traded funds (ETFs):

  • PIMCO Investment Grade Corporate Bond Index Exchange-Traded
    Fund (CORP)

  • iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY)

  • Vanguard Small-Cap Index Fund ETF Shares (VB)

  • Vanguard REIT Index Fund ETF Shares (VNQ)

  • Vanguard 500 Index Fund ETF Shares (VOO)

  • Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index Fund ETF Shares (VWO)

What's more, for each quarter of the year, the app automatically rebalances your portfolio to maintain the desired allocation. But that's not all! Acorns will automatically reinvest your dividends in a way that is consistent with your set portfolio allocation.

How do you sign up? Easy. Just like Qoins, you'll need a checking account to use Acorns. If you have an account balance of less than $5,000, you are charged $1 per month. After that, you are charged 0.25% of the account balance for balances over $5,000. And anyone under the age of 24, plus students of any age, can invest for free!

Smartphone phone app spare change pay off debt invest financial literacy

Smartphone phone app spare change pay off debt invest financial literacy


Need more advice on how to gain financial freedom, contact us today! 



You Can Save Money in Retirement With These 4 Tips

Retirement means that you have reached the ultimate goal in life; after all of the years working hard to get there, it is finally time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. No matter how much you have prepared for this moment, you may fear life without a steady income flowing in. There is hope in your new thrifty lifestyle, and having to keep an eye on spending does not mean that you cannot continue to save! 


The following 4 tips will help you to continuing saving money without feeling like retirement is a financial downgrade to life:


1. Online Selling

Sitting outside, relaxing by the pool or going to the beach is something everyone wants to do all day every day, but let's face it, you may find yourself getting bored after a few weeks. Why not spend a few hours per month making some extra cash that can add to your savings fund? 

If you are crafty by nature, creating an Etsy.com store is a great way to sell your unique designs. Start out by researching what is in high demand, check out other Etsy shops and see how well those sellers are doing. From baked goods, to art, to anything you can think of. If you can create it, you can sell it!

eBay.com and Amazon.com are great platforms for selling whatever you find lying around. From the basic to the obscure, there is a market for whatever you are interested in peddling. Selling on eBay or Amazon can be a once in awhile thing, like after cleaning out the garage. Or it can be something that brings in big bucks in your spare time, such as refinishing or repurposing cheap items found at Goodwill or a Yard Sale and reselling online.



2. Senior Discounts

Early retirement is a gift, but most folks are unable to stop working until after they have reached seniorhood. The magnificent thing about reaching that golden moment is the discount that ensues! Almost every business offers some sort of deal for your age-achievement, and while most will advertise that coveted money-saving bonus, others will require you to ask for it. Don't be shy - by asking, you can save hundreds of dollars every month in restaurant, clothing retailer, entertainment and travel discounts! 

Click here for an extensive list on discounts, age-limits, percentages, and other details. 



3. Adjust to Your New Lifestyle

Life before retirement may seem different - the fact that you had a steady paycheck coming in also meant you could probably go out to eat on a whim. While most people know that cooking at home is way cheaper than dining out, it is also time consuming and doesn't always feel as special. 

The senior discount mentioned above is a good way to start saving on trips to the restaurant. You can save 10% or more just by walking in the door as a senior, so be on the look out for advertised deals, or just ask if you don't see them! Restaurants also offer two-for-one meals, early bird specials and other "time of day" discounts so check their websites frequently for updates. Adjusting the frequency of when you eat out will save big. If you normally eat out four days per week, switch it up to two and put the money you have saved in the bank.



4. Prioritize

The focus of retirement should not be worrying about money. After all, you have made it this far because you were smart with savings! That being said, you still need to make sure that you aren't overspending. Making a list of things in your life starting with those you absolutely need to have down to those you could do without will allow you to feel better about monthly expenses. Once you have eliminated the things that do not matter, reassess those that do.

Almost everyone will have television and movies on their needs list, but it doesn't have to come from Cable TV. Cutting the cord and switching to streaming platforms can save you hundreds of dollars every month! Watching is easy, all you need is a laptop, gaming console, or smart TV and you are well on your way to controlling what you see, when you want to see it, for a fraction of the cost. 


Now get out there and enjoy your retirement!

3 Common, Yet Avoidable Financial Mistakes Most of Us Make

To hear or read the saying "nobody is perfect" sure makes one feel better after having made a mistake. The beauty in our imperfections is that we share many of them; knowing this allows us to commiserate with one another and work out new ways to make better choices. The 3 common, yet avoidable financial mistakes listed below are the type that most people experience! Whether you are currently affected by serious financial pitfalls, or are just looking to stretch your paycheck, allow this guide to help make things a little easier on your wallet.

1. Food and Drink

Are you avoiding grocery shopping which in turn causes you to spend money on fast food or dining out, or you are shopping for meals while you are hungry? Maybe you do not feel like making a list so you just meander around the aisles grabbing whatever looks good at the moment. 

Does bottled water appear to be really cheap bundled in those 24 packs at the store, but then you see most of them rolling around on the floor in your car half-empty or stacked up on your nightstand? Or maybe it is coffee that gets you - the fancy, expensive kind you purchase at the cafe down the street from the office. You swear you will just buy one per week, but find yourself there more often, like every day.

It is okay to make those types of mistakes since most of us do, but here are some ways to avoid them: 


  • ALWAYS make a shopping list based on what you are missing in your fridge and cupboards, otherwise you may double purchase things like produce and that food usually ends up in the trash.
  • USE grocery store circulars or apps to find what is on sale the week you are shopping.
  • SCHEDULE a time in your calendar for grocery shopping, so it does not become an afterthought but rather an important task. 
  • EAT a filling snack at home before you shop.
  • USE an online grocery delivery service if you are not disciplined enough to follow the above suggestions.
  • INVEST in a tap water filter for your sink. You can recycle those half-empty water bottles laying around your home for easy transport, or purchase an inexpensive hot/cold drink container, which can be used for coffee too!
  • MAKE coffee at home. It is ALWAYS cheaper and more time efficient than driving to the cafe and standing in line. And if you are too busy or lazy (let's face it, some of us are), you can still make it happen without depending on the coffee shop. 


2. Entertainment

Do you think you should still be paying for cable TV? Maybe you feel like you will be missing something if you cut the cord? How about ordering pricey appetizers before your meal on those special occasions when you dine out? Or indulging in happy hour at the bar because it seems like a better deal than "regular priced drinks." 

Does it feel like the movie you are watching at the cinema looks better at midnight on a Friday when it premieres? Window shopping with friends at the mall is fun and good exercise, but do you find yourself stopping off at the pretzel stand for a quick bite?

Many things related to entertainment have a marketing catch to get us to spend money. Here are some ways to save:


  • CANCEL your cable television subscription. Instead, switch to a service like HULU or SLING for your favorite TV shows, news, and specialty network programs. Use a cheap monthly plan like NETFLIX or AMAZON PRIME for movies new and old.
  • STOP ordering appetizers before your meal! Restaurant portions are huge these days, and you will more than likely end up taking half of your meal home and forgetting about it in the fridge anyway.
  • DRINK at home. Invite friends over for cocktail in your living room, you can even leave a cute tip jar on the counter to help cover the cost of providing the liquor.
  • WATCH movies in the theater the day after the release and during matinee time; doing this can save you over $5.00 per ticket in some cities. Also be on the look out for value cinemas that offer new movie releases a few weeks after the premiere for less than $3.00 per ticket. 
  • ALWAYS snack at home before window shopping. A box of 6 frozen pretzels costs the same as one pretzel at the mall.


3. Energy

You may think those small power strips used to control more than one appliance and electronics are just a gimmick. And does turning off lights that are not is use really save any money? Maybe you just leave your thermostat running the same temperature all year because it seems more balanced and cost effective. 

Are you perpetually turning the tap on and off, or worse, leaving the water running when you are brushing your teeth? Or maybe you are purchasing the cheapest lightbulbs because they appear to save the most money in the long run. 

You are not alone! Many people are making these types of financial mistakes. The good news is that there are solutions:


  • BUY a multi-plug power strip. Televisions, microwaves, speakers, and other gadgets are all energy vampires when not is use. Plugging them into a strip with an on/off switch allows you to cut the power to as many as you want in a split.
  • USE timers on your devices. Coffee machines, computers, even towel heaters can be set to turn on and off whenever you want, without draining energy. 
  • TURN your thermostat up or down (depending on the season) 10-15 degrees for eight hours per day to save 5-15% on your energy bill. 
  • BRUSH your teeth while you shower; this saves time and water!
  • AVOID incandescent lightbulbs; 90% of the energy they use gives off heat, while only 10% contributes to lighting. Purchasing a different type of bulb such as CFL or LED will not only save you a few bucks, but also keep your home cooler in the summer. And LED lights can be used in conjunction with daylight sensors. 


Mistakes are inevitable, but so is saving money if you learn how!



Majority of U.S. Bankruptcies Caused by Medical Bills

Nearly 56 million adults in the U.S. struggle with medical bills. And health-care bill related woes aren't just reserved for the uninsured; they continue to affect the 10 million INSURED adults who have accumulated debts associated with copays, deductibles, and other out of pocket expenses. With that information, it's no wonder that medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in America, as shown in recent findings by a division of NerdWallet - a price comparison site. 

"A lot of Americans are struggling with medical bills," said NerdWallet Health Vice President Christina LaMontagne. This type of analysis which looks at rising health costs is a first for NerdWallet. According to LaMontagne, "With an average American family bringing home $50,000 in income, a high medical bill and a high-deductible insurance plan can quickly become something they are unable to pay," he said. "If you have an out-of-pocket maximum of $5,000 or $10,000, that's really tough."

While many people assume that bankruptcies arise from poor money management such as credit card debt and overspending, it appears medical bills are the root cause. If not careful, health-related costs can actual create a credit card debt cycle in an otherwise financially healthy individual; this is due to credit cards being used to cover out of control medical expenses. In fact, more than 10 million average Americans will lose control of their finances because of medical related credit card debt. NerdWallet also found that 15 million people will resort to depleting their savings accounts in order to handle medical expenses.

People are being pushed to the point of bankruptcy after having to deplete their savings accounts and take on high-interest credit cards in order to ease the burden of health-related costs. Healthy people aren't immune from the issue either. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 83.6% of adults, and 93% of children, have had contact with a healthcare professional in the past year.  These percentages mean the majority of U.S. citizens are seeking some form of medical care.

While exercise and a healthy diet may prevent chronic illness, most people will fall ill despite good habits, and many will suffer from accident-related medical problems. Included in the Top 10 Reasons a patient may visit a primary care physician are things like injury, mental illness, and respiratory infections which can affect anyone in the U.S. regardless of the status of personal finances.

Overall, while medical insurance can help Americans ease the burden of inevitable health-related costs, there needs to be an all-inclusive alternative solution if people are to avoid bankruptcies caused by medical bills. For more information on how to take charge of your personal finances, and for classes on financial wellness, please contact the nonprofit organization Catalyst Academy.