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How to set a budget for holiday spending
You might have pumpkins on your porch, but it’s time to make room for the year-end holidays in your budget. The average American spends approximately $1,000 on Christmas, with 71% of budgets assigned to gift purchases. That’s a chunk of change, and overspending could impact your finances going into the new year. Here’s how you can set a budget for holiday spending and keep your finances in check.
Start planning early
The earlier you start saving for holiday shopping, the better. The holidays are stressful enough—and racking up credit card debt to pay for gifts is the last thing you need to worry about. Save yourself the headache and start saving as early as possible. Consider using a holiday savings account—funds are automatically transferred to your primary savings each year on November 1st, just in time to start making your list and checking it twice.
Your past holiday spending is the best indicator of what you’ll spend this season. Look at your credit card statement from last year and determine what you spent on presents, travel to visit long-distance relatives, or other holiday-related spending.
Once you’ve estimated past expenditures, create a baseline for this year that includes what you can reasonably save over the next few months. Set a total and divide it by the number of people on your list, then prioritize. For example, if you plan to spend $1,500 and have 15 people on your list, you may want to spend more on some or less on others.
But, presents likely aren’t all you’ll buy. Account for decorations, travel, donations, and more. Don’t forget to build in a miscellaneous category, too. It’ll give you extra cushioning if a co-worker gives you an unexpected gift and you feel compelled to reciprocate. It’s always better to have some wiggle room—and whatever you don’t use can go back into your savings.
Setting a spending limit is just the beginning—budgeting requires discipline and regular check-ins. Set a weekly reminder on your phone to review how much you’ve spent thus far and how much you have left to spend. Overshot the budget on a gift? Make an adjustment to other gifts or expenses for the particular month.
Always keep your budget’s ultimate goal in mind. It might be focused on the months of November and December, but it will affect your finances well into the new year. If you blow your budget and don’t have additional funds set aside, what’s going to happen? You’ll be pulling out your credit card and racking up more debt.
That doesn’t mean you have to pay for your presents in cash, but you should have plenty of money to pay it off. If you pay with a credit card, use one that offers cash back or other rewards so you can at least gain something in return.
Shop around for deals
Browse the internet for gifts you need to find the best deal. An easy way to compare prices across multiple platforms is through Google Shopping. Simply search for the item you want, and Google Shopping will present listings. You can filter by price, brand, online or in-store availability, and more.
Shopping online is also a great budget-saving tool. Sure, you might be paying a little more for shipping in some cases. But, it’s easier to eliminate impulse purchases compared to shopping in-store.
If your budget is being stretched thin, consider non-monetary or hand-made gifts this year. Could your parents’ yard use some TLC? Offer to mow their lawn for free. Do you have a grandparent whose recipes are scattered on notecards? Compile them into a book for easy access! Whatever it may be, gifts from the heart are always appreciated—and an easy way to save some cash.
While you’re thinking about all the gifts you’re going to give this year, plan ahead and budget as a gift to yourself. Setting a budget for holiday spending is a great way to avoid overspending and financial stress in the new year. By following the tips above, you can create a budget that works for you and your family and still enjoy the holiday season.
How to maintain your car without breaking the bank
When you purchase a car, new or pre-owned, you don’t necessarily factor in the cost of maintenance or repairs. Ensuring your car is in good, working condition helps keep you safe and extends the life of your ride. Routine maintenance keeps it running every time you step on the gas. So why do most people stall when caring for their vehicle?
Car maintenance isn’t cheap, and it’s somewhat inconvenient—especially in our hectic lives. Think about it, though. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’ll likely be more expensive and ill-timed than the alternative.
It’s smart to add a line item to your monthly budget and start planning your car’s recommended maintenance schedule. All maintenance doesn’t need to be done at the dealership, unless you have a new car with a warranty—those services must be completed by your dealership at the required intervals to maintain coverage. If you’ve purchased a used vehicle, or your car is no longer under warranty, it’s time to make friends with your local mechanic or even test out your own skills.
Here’s how you can maintain your car without breaking the bank:
Change your oil
Changing your oil is one of the easiest care requirements to follow. Check your owner’s manual to see the manufacturer’s recommendation, but the majority suggest an oil and oil filter change every 3,000 to 7,000 miles.
Consider checking out local high schools or technical schools that offer free or discounted oil changes carried out by their students. While you could attempt to do it yourself, it requires certain initial expenses, such as an oil drain pan, a jack, a jack stand, a funnel, and towels. Although doing it yourself may save you money in the long run, it poses environmental concerns and can get messy. If you prefer not to engage in DIY projects, use a coupon or Groupon before visiting a drive-through oil change shop.
Replace your air filter
Your air filter keeps dirt and debris out of your engine and should be changed every 15,000 miles. A technician will almost always ask you if you want it done while changing your oil, but it’s much less expensive to do it yourself. YouTube offers quick tutorials, and it’s an easy 15-minute DIY project that’ll save you some cash.
Change your brake pads
Now, changing your brake pads sounds a lot harder than it is. It requires an initial investment to buy the necessary tools, plus the cost for replacement pads. It might take a few extra hours to determine the process, but after the first time, you’ll be an expert. In the future, one afternoon is all it will take. You’ll also save hundreds of dollars over the life of your car, and you can put the money you would save into a high-yield savings account, like a CD or Money Market.
Replace your windshield wipers
Worn-out windshield wipers are not only frustrating, but they’re also dangerous. The cost to replace your wipers will vary depending on the type, length, and number of blades—don’t forget your rear wiper blade if your car has one. If you prefer, you can replace them yourself or visit an auto parts store and a technician will install them for free rather than having them professionally replaced. While you’re there, you may also want to refill your windshield wiper fluid. It’s a simple process and is as easy as pumping gas. Open the hood, locate the windshield wiper reservoir, and fill it until it reaches the full or max line.
Most cars have an indicator informing you when you’re low on fluid—if you don’t have this feature, you’ll need to show extra caution. Avoid activating windshield wiper fluid when the reservoir is empty. If there’s no fluid, the pump could overheat and fail, resulting in a not-so-cheap repair.
Flush the radiator
Keeping your car’s radiator coolant fresh is essential to maintain optimal performance and prevent overheating. Regularly flushing the coolant prevents rust build-up and keeps the metal engine components in top condition. You can perform a DIY flush at home using a flushing agent, new coolant, and distilled water. This will save you a considerable amount of money compared to taking it to a mechanic. It’s a smart investment in the long run.
Repair your flat tire
If you have a spare and some elbow grease, you don’t need to run out to buy a replacement tire or even pay for a tire repair. If you have some tools and a patch kit, you can save yourself at least $20 and maybe the cost of a new tire. Better yet, if your tire is underinflated and leaking air or completely flat, take it to a tire shop that will fix your flat for free.
Ensure your tires are always inflated to the appropriate pressure and rotated as recommended by the manufacturer. You’ll get greater fuel efficiency, and the tires will wear more evenly and extend their useful life. Check the shop where you purchased them since many offer free tire rotations. If you have a jack, it’s an easy DIY, too.
Diagnose your car for free
Is your check engine light on? When it is, it’s critical to find out why, but paying $75 -$100 for a technician to hook it up to a computer and spit out a report will only add to your frustration. Head to AutoZone or Advanced Auto Parts, and they’ll happily diagnose it for free. If it’s a fix that you can handle, you’re already at the store, so pick up the parts you need and get to work. It’s an answer and a solution in a matter of minutes.
At the end of the day, it’s important to keep up with scheduled maintenance and make the necessary repairs to your car as soon as they’re needed. An inexpensive repair can grow into hundreds or thousands of dollars when not addressed. With tons of information and DIY tutorials, there are many things you can do to save money, but don’t sacrifice the safety or the quality of your ride.
10 ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a budget
Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic days of the year—and it’s also the third priciest holiday with people shelling out a total of $23.9 billion each year. Love or hate this holiday, there’s no denying that Valentine’s Day impacts your budget. But, there are still plenty of fun options that won’t break the bank. Keep reading for 10 ideas to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a budget with your special someone:
1. Cook dinner at home
Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, making it difficult (or expensive) to score reservations. Skip the overpriced dinner and enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner at home! There’s no better way to bond than by making a home-cooked meal with the one you love the most—all while saving a few bucks. You don’t need to be a world-class chef, either. There are plenty of online cooking classes that will guide you both along the way.
2. Have a game night
Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition? Break out your favorite board game and have a game night in with your Valentine. Make it nostalgic with some classic games, or if you’re feeling bold, try a game neither of you has played before. To make it more fun, designate a prize for the winner.
3. Volunteer together
Save money and help out your favorite charity? We call that a win-win—and an excuse to skip out on the cliché giant teddy bear. Not only does volunteering feel good, but research shows that special bonds often develop while volunteering with others. It provides couples with a shared experience that both of you can enjoy. Stuck on what to do? Volunteermatch.org allows you to search for opportunities in your area based on your interests, including working with animals, homeless and housing initiatives, working with immigrants and refugees, and more.
4. Create a scrapbook
Scrapbooking is a fun hobby that can bring out your creative side and preserve your favorite memories. Collect your favorite photos, whether it’s from a memorable trip or your daily life, and tap your inner artist. Take a trip to your local craft store, grab some supplies, and start scrapbooking! If you’re unsure where to start or need some inspiration, there are various step-by-step guides that will walk you through from start to finish.
5. Take a hike
There’s nothing better than exploring the great outdoors—and Georgia has plenty of it. If the weather is nice, take a hike this Valentine’s Day and spare your budget. Not only will you have a fun day that will end in some amazing views, but you’ll also reap the benefits of hiking as a couple. It encourages you to solve problems together, communicate effectively, and unplug from your daily life—all for as little as $5. Bring along a camera to capture the memories (scrapbook idea!). You can even pack a picnic to enjoy when you get to the top.
6. Rent a movie
The average cost to see a movie (not including snacks!) is nearly $30. Coupled with long lines, noisy people, and the possibility of only front-row seats being available (hello, neck pain), you’re better off staying home. Instead of trekking to the movie theater, rent a movie at home—and no, we don’t mean re-watching the same movie you both have seen a billion times on Netflix. Spend a few dollars and rent a new release you’ve both been dying to see.
7. Ride bikes
Is there anything sweeter than riding bikes with your sweetie? Rent some bikes and explore your city. Bike rentals cost as little as $10/hour, making it an affordable and fun date. If you’re in the Metro Atlanta area, the Beltline is a perfect spot to start. If you’re feeling adventurous, try riding a tandem bike instead of a regular bicycle!
8. Go on a scavenger hunt
Create a scavenger hunt with riddles that must be answered to advance to the next clue. The scavenger hunt can be completed at home, the park, or any other location that is special to you. If you’re stuck on riddles, there are dozens of free, printable scavenger hunts to choose from.
9. Take a dance class
Put on your dancing shoes and take a dance class. A dance class is a fun way to surprise your partner and learn something new together. Check Groupon or your local dance studio—most will offer low-cost (or even free) one- or two-hour classes.
10. Try the TikTok “Target Challenge”
The Tiktok “Target Challenge” has taken the internet by storm, and for good reason. It’s a fun (albeit silly) date that you can make as cheap as you want. You’ll visit your local Target (or Walmart, or any other store closest to you), and each person picks out items based on certain parameters. The list varies, but below is an example:
- Favorite drink
- Favorite snack
- Favorite color
- Something that reminds you of them
- Something to try together
The beauty of this challenge is you can make it as inexpensive as you want, making it a great Valentine’s Day on a budget, and it’s fun to see what the other person picks. It’s an entertaining and adorable way to see how well you know each other!
Celebrate National Financial Awareness Day
August 14th is National Financial Awareness Day—a day dedicated to preparing for your financial future and building financial stability. It’s crucial to take the time to review your finances because sound monetary decisions can make a huge impact in the long run. Try to complete one of the five items below so you can take control of your finances, and celebrate National Financial Awareness Day.
1. Check your savings
Take a look at your savings account—in the event of an emergency, do you have enough funds to get you through? If not, use today to set goals to ensure you’re saving for the future. Calculate your monthly expenses and develop a plan of action to ensure you have the recommended three to six months’ worth of savings. Don’t have a savings account? Georgia’s Own offers various savings accounts to safely store your money.
2. Reevaluate your budget
Have you found yourself not sticking to your budget lately? Take the time to reevaluate your spending and make changes where you see fit. Periodically reviewing your budget is a crucial step that is overlooked. Make it a habit to frequently assess your budget and see what should be adjusted.
3. Brush up on your financial literacy
Financial literacy is key to being confident in the monetary decisions you make, and it can be easy to forget the basics. Take the time today to brush up on your financial literacy. There are dozens of free tools to help, like ACHIEVE, a free financial literacy program from Georgia’s Own. ACHIEVE offers various topics and videos on essentials like owning a home, financial caregiving, planning for retirement, and more.
4. Take steps to improve your credit
Your credit score is a critical representation of your financial past, present, and future. You need good credit for just about anything, like owning a home, applying for an auto loan, or applying for a credit card—your credit score can even determine the price of your auto insurance. Look at your credit score and see where you can improve. If you don’t know your score, visit the federally authorized site annualcreditreport.com to receive a free copy of your credit report.
5. Get a head start on taxes
It’s never too early to get a head start on taxes. Begin gathering necessary documents, like receipts, expense records, and donations, then put them in an organized folder, so you have them prepared for when you’re ready to file. Preparing paperwork beforehand will save you time—and sanity—when tax season begins. If you want to take it a step further, you can even organize your tax records from the past few years, so you have those prepared if the IRS ever needs to conduct an audit.
We hope these tips help you take control over your financial future. Georgia’s Own is always available to help every day of the year—even when it’s not National Financial Awareness Day. Click here to find more resources to help you make smart money-related decisions.
Saving money with cellphones: how to get the best deal
Cellphones: we love them, we hate them, we can’t live without them. Choosing a new phone or carrier is about as fun as a trip to the dentist after you spend time haggling over price points and service levels. But soon that will all be a distant memory, because we have some great ideas on ways you can get the best deal for your cellphone—frustration and screaming are now totally optional.
Purchase an older cellphone model
We’d all love to have the latest iPhone, but have you ever compared the iPhone 11 to the iPhone 13? The truth is, they aren’t all that different. You can certainly expect some small changes from model to model, and even more so when those models are years apart. But since so many companies are churning out new models every year, you can go with an older option that doesn’t sacrifice function. That means you can safely choose the Galaxy 20 without worrying that it will be obsolete in minutes—and that means you can save a little money right up front.
Consider the auto-payment plan
Did you know that a lot of mobile carriers offer auto-payments that are often less money per month? This is a great way to get savings that stay around for a while. Ask your carrier what switching to automatic payments would do for your monthly bill. Of course, it’s important to remember when the payment will hit your bank account so you can budget accordingly. But with just a small amount of extra planning, you can reap the benefits of lower costs without giving up great service.
Don’t just look at big names
While there is nothing wrong with the bigger cellphone competitors of the world, you might consider looking at a smaller company that can meet your needs, like Cricket Wireless or Republic Wireless. These companies are usually able to offer you a better deal, both on your phone and your service costs. It’s important to note that lower costs mean you may not always have the service you want—not all companies have equal coverage. But if you just need the basics for your daily life, these lesser-known providers can be a game-changer.
Split it up
Many cellphone companies offer discounts for multiple lines. If you are single or your kids aren’t old enough for a phone, this may seem like a silly idea. But splitting a plan with even just one or two more people could make a big difference in your monthly bill. Talk to your extended family or some close friends about the types of phones and service you all need—if you can make it work, it’s worth the time and effort of adding multiple lines to one plan and splitting the cost between you.
Switch it up, too
We know; change is the worst. But a lot of cellphone companies offer discounts for switching to their service, which means you can cash-in just by changing your carrier. While hopping back and forth between different providers may seem like a confusing way to live, it may also make a huge difference to your bottom line each month. Be smart about it—you want to ensure that your potential new carrier can still meet all of your needs, like service areas and data streaming. But if you find a good deal that works for you, we recommend making the switch.
Say goodbye to your old cellphone
You can bring that final bill cost down even further by turning in your old phone to the same people who sell you your new one. This is a win-win—cell phone companies can resell your old phone, and you get a better deal on a new phone. Don’t worry about your contacts, photos, and even your messages and apps, because your cell phone provider should be able to port those right over to your new phone. You don’t lose anything but a little bit of time for the transfer, and, of course, your outdated phone.
Much like buying a car, purchasing a new phone or service is all about the negotiation. Often team members of cellphone providers have a little wiggle room on what deals they can offer you, so be sure to ask for the lowest rate they have. This might mean you name an outrageously low rate that they can’t meet but that they can work towards with you. Do be wary of scams—if the deal sounds way too good to be true, it probably is, so read all of the fine print and take your time before signing your contract.
Look for special discounts
While we’re on the negotiation train, this is a great time to mention discounts that may apply to your unique situation. People who serve or who have served in the military, for instance, may be entitled to discounts that others can’t ask for. Your job might also get you some discount points, because first responders, teachers, and others can often find discounts with various providers. If you’re not sure, ask—the worst that happens is you are told no to a discount, but the best that happens is you do qualify and now get to enjoy a lighter cellphone bill each month.
The possibilities for cellphones and service providers may seem endless, but you can find a method that works for the madness. Figure out what you need from your cellphone, look for the best deals and special discounts, and remember that a smartphone that’s only two years old is still pretty smart.
With all that money you saved, it’s important to have a place to store that cash. A savings account with Georgia’s Own is a smart, secure way to store your hard-earned money. From basic savings accounts to CDs and money market accounts, there’s no shortage of ways to make your money grow. Click here to open a savings account today!
5 checking account mistakes you don’t want to make
For most people, their checking account is the heart of their personal finances. It’s where they deposit their paycheck, how they pay their monthly bills, and where they go to withdraw cash for the weekend. And, since their monthly statement details every financial move, it’s an efficient and easy way to keep track of spending and saving.
Although most checking account activity is processed electronically, it’s critical not to employ the out of sight, out of mind mentality. Check out these common checking account mistakes and how to avoid them:
1. You’re loyal to a fault
According to a survey conducted by Bankrate and MONEY, the average adult has had the same primary checking account for about 16 years. Why so long? People stay for convenience and quality customer service, which are important. But what about making sure they’re getting a good deal?
If you’ve been loyal to the same bank since you were a tween or a teen, it’s time to do a little comparison shopping. Checking accounts come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re all not created equal.
They have different features, expenses, and rates of return. In today’s competitive market, many financial institutions are wooing consumers with lower fees, more conveniences, and quality services, all of which are important to consider. Sticking with the same bank out of loyalty sounds honorable, but it doesn’t do much for your account balance.
2. You disregard the minimum balance rule
Many banks or credit unions offer no-fee checking accounts—as long as you maintain a minimum balance. Others require you to use your debit card a specific number of times per month or receive direct deposits into your account. Heck, sometimes you might even earn a tiny bit of interest. But, if you don’t comply with the requirements, BOOM! Your no-fee just jumped to high-fee and you’re out more than a few hard-earned bucks.
These checking accounts can be a smart choice for some consumers, but it’s critical that you keep track of your activity and always meet the requirements. We’re all not detail people, so if that’s too much for you to manage, move to another option. There’s nothing worse than watching your money fly out the window every single month, especially when you can avoid it.
3. You maintain a higher than necessary balance
First it’s not enough money, now it’s too much? Yep, the art of managing your money is all about striking the optimum balance.
Not all checking accounts are interest-bearing, but if they are, they traditionally offer the lowest rates. As such, you should keep enough money in your account to pay your monthly bills and cover your spending, plus a little more that can serve as a buffer. Put the rest in a higher-yielding savings account so you maximize your interest earnings.
Be sure to monitor your balance, and if you’re running low, initiate a transfer. Because most banking is done online, it’s quick and easy to move funds from your savings account to your checking account when needed.
4. You use any nearby ATM
Regardless of which banking institution you use, there are ways to avoid the notorious ATM fees. Some have large networks so an ATM is always nearby. Use your bank’s app to locate other branches or free ATMs so you don’t incur the most dreaded of all account fees. If you’re using an online bank, they’ll likely have a smaller network of ATMs, but many will offer a monthly ATM fee refund.
Using an out of network ATM should be your last resort. You’ll be charged twice—once from each bank. And, with ATM fees at a record high, it could easily cost you between $5 and $10. That’s especially painful when you’re only withdrawing a few bucks at a time.
When you’re in a pinch, you might want to be a little more creative and avoid the ATMs altogether. You can pay for your purchase with your debit card and choose the cash back option, withdraw cash less frequently, but in higher amounts, or even arrange for a friend to pay and use a money-sending app like Venmo to repay them.
5. You don’t fully understand the checking account overdraft protection plan
In 2017, Americans paid more than $34 million in overdraft fees. Today’s average overdraft fee is more than $33 per transaction, and it’s on the rise.
While an overdraft protection plan can be a benefit, it can also be a detriment. Without it, any charge or check that would cause your account balance to fall below $0 would be declined or returned. If you’re enrolled in the plan, you’re home free, right? If you’ve mistakenly swiped your debit card for more than what’s in your account, you’ll be covered and you can breathe a sigh of relief. Until, of course, you see the overdraft fee—or maybe it’s fees.
Once the first transaction crosses the $0 threshold, every transaction that follows also incurs an overdraft fee. It’s especially unfortunate when a large charge hits your account before three smaller transactions, for example. In that case, you would incur four overdraft penalties at roughly $33 each. If the three smaller transactions hit first, you would only incur one fee.
Overdraft protection will help you avoid returned check fees and maybe a little embarrassment when your card is declined, but you can rack up some hefty fees pretty quickly. If you opt for this feature, be sure to read the fine print. Some banks will offer you a grace period that allows you time to make a deposit and avoid the fees, but others may not. Be sure you thoroughly understand the overdraft plan feature before you decide whether or not to opt-in. Otherwise, it could be a costly mistake.