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15 ways to save at the grocery store
It’s natural to waltz down grocery store aisles and add everything you see to your shopping cart. Strategically placed products catch your eye and make you think you need them immediately. Overspending at the grocery store is a habit that’s difficult to break—but, it can be done. Here are 15 ways you can save during your next trip to the supermarket:
Check your pantry
Before you head to the store, check to see what you already have. There are websites and apps, like Supercook or Cookpad, that allow you to find recipes based on ingredients. Depending on what’s in your pantry or fridge, you could make meals with what you have and avoid going to the grocery store altogether.
Make a grocery list
Compile a list to be sure you’re purchasing the essentials, and stick with it. Don’t stray from your list—you’ll spend more money than you intended.
While you’re determining your list, create a grocery store comparison chart. Pick your essential items, choose your stores, obtain the prices, and compare. It’s an invaluable tool that will ultimately save you money.
This seems obvious, but using coupons can help tremendously. There are dozens of websites, like coupons.com, that have free, printable coupons. Also, be sure to read your local store’s circular—it promotes items that are on sale. In addition to circulars, look for digital coupons that are store-specific.
Don’t shop hungry
The golden rule of grocery shopping: don’t shop hungry. According to Psychology Today, when you’re hungry, you overload your shopping cart with items you don’t need. Your brain focuses on finding its next food source, so you grab everything appealing within sight. To combat this, be sure you’ve eaten before you go. You’ll avoid the temptation of grabbing unnecessary items, and your wallet will thank you.
Leave the big spenders at home
Whether it’s your kids or your spouse, there’s always someone adding more than you need to your cart. It’s not always easy to say no, so avoid the situation entirely by leaving your big spenders at home, if you can.
Keep a running tally of your cart’s cost
Steer clear of the dreaded, “I spent how much?!” when you make it through the check-out line. As you add items to your cart, keep track of the running cost. It doesn’t need to be exact—just a rough estimate.
Avoid eye-level items
It may be easier to grab the first option you see, but scanning the shelves is critical. Stores use the motto “eye level is buy level” for a reason. We look at items that are eye level, so that’s where grocery stores place the most expensive items. Look for cheaper items on higher and lower shelves.
Don’t purchase pre-cut food
It’s often simpler to purchase ready-to-eat salad and fruit, but that’ll cost you more in the long run. You won’t receive as much, either, and pre-cut food doesn’t stay fresh for long. Trust me—just buy the head of lettuce and make your salad. It’ll take less than ten minutes, and you’ll save money.
Ask for a rain check
Did someone get too greedy during the BOGO sale? You can ask your store for a rain check on items that sold out during a promotion. If your grocer allows it, you can snag the item once the store restocks.
Don’t always buy in bulk
It appears cheaper, but buying in bulk isn’t always the best choice. Sometimes, depending on the unit price, it can wind up being more expensive. If you’re debating whether you should purchase items in bulk, it’s crucial to check the unit prices and compare them to see if you’re saving or spending more.
Try generic brands
Don’t be afraid to try the store brand. It’s often just as good as the national brand but a fraction of the cost. If you don’t like it, most grocery stores will allow you to return it and get your money back or swap for the national brand.
Shop in season
If you’re purchasing produce, be sure to buy items that are in season. Not only is it fresher and tastier, but it also costs less. It’s all about supply and demand. When produce is in season, there is an abundance—therefore, it costs less per pound. Compare that with something out of season—there is less of the product in-store, so it’s more expensive.
Pay with cash
When budgeting, cash is king. Paying for items with cash allows you to set a budget and stick with it—once your cash for an item runs out, that’s it. Finance expert Dave Ramsey swears by this method. Bring enough money to cover your groceries for one trip. If your total runs over, take items in your cart out. It’s hard but better than ruining your monthly budget.
Changing how you grocery shop can have a notable impact on your financial well-being. By shopping sensibly, you can stick to your monthly budget, as well as reach other money-related goals you may have. Try one, or some, of these tactics next time you’re at the grocery store—you’ll be amazed at how much you save!
What to do if you’re in real financial trouble
It’s a problem that no one likes to admit, but that happens to nearly every person at some point in their lives: a serious lack of funds. The current crisis has left many unsure if they will be able to make their next mortgage payment, or even get groceries for the week.
If you are in financial trouble and are looking for your next steps, read on for some of our ideas and tips on the best way to turn your struggles into success stories. Some of the best resources for help are right here in Atlanta:
United Way of Greater Atlanta: This organization is all about making connections to get you and your family everything they need, from a hot meal to polishing your resume.
The Salvation Army: There are several local locations of this group, which strives to help those struggling with homelessness, at-risk youth, financial issues, and the fight against human trafficking.
Downtown Atlanta: Don’t let the name fool you; this group serves all of Atlanta through their community service initiatives. Along with raising awareness for important global projects, Downtown Atlanta also has resources for those who need to get off the streets and into a stable residence.
CAPS: CAPS, or Childcare And Parent Services, is a program designed to help parents with low income find affordable, quality childcare so the parents can work or attend school. Their goal is to ensure that no child is denied education due to a financial strain.
National Foundation for Credit Counseling: The NFCC has long established a reputation of helping people across the United States figure out the next steps to manage their debt. Their website also offers a variety of tools and resources to aid you at any time.
You know where to go – now let’s talk about what you can do when you’re in real financial trouble.
Don’t ignore financial trouble
As we said above, no one likes to admit when they are in financial trouble. It may embarrass you, or perhaps you just aren’t comfortable with that level of vulnerability. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: Your money problems will not disappear, no matter how long you refuse to acknowledge them. In fact, they may just get worse.
You need a budget
You know how we feel about budgets – everyone needs one, and we mean everyone. Even if you know that there is no way your income covers your expenses, you need to make a budget to see where you stand financially. How can you plan to recover from a money crisis if you aren’t even sure how much you spend on gas every week?
See what you can trim or cut
We know that you have probably already started to cut back on the non-essential items. But have you looked at ways to save on some of the more necessary parts of your budget?
For instance, you can look for coupons at your local grocery store to see if you can save a few cents on your dinners for the week. Try consignment stores first when your kids need clothes for the spring. Saving a few cents and dollars here and there can add up a lot over time.
Consider talking it out
DJ Tanner of Full House said it best: You might not solve anything, but just talking about it helps. You don’t have to wait for the sappy violins to play, but if you are experiencing significant financial distress, it’s a good idea to talk to someone. They don’t have to be a professional – a good friend will work, too. Shouldering an emotional burden is an unnecessary stress you don’t need to add to your full plate.
Find good resources
There are organizations around Atlanta who want to help with everyday needs – but they can’t unless you tell them what you need. Places like United Way of Greater Atlanta, HOPE Atlanta, and the Atlanta Center For Self Sufficiency are just a few of the local resources that can assist you with housing and other basic needs. Reach out to them to learn what you need to do to take advantage of their resources.
Consult an expert
Once you get the help you need for the basics, it’s time to take charge of your finances. Check out free resources like the ones Dave Ramsey offers, or head to Udemy to take a class on creating and maintaining a budget.
If you want local referrals to an accountant who can help, dial 2-1-1 or text your zip code and need to 898-211, and the United Way of Greater Atlanta will reach out to you with the information you need. No matter what path you take, don’t try to go it alone – find the right people to help you succeed.
Get some credit counseling
Speaking of experts, have you considered seeking credit counseling to help you build your credit back up? Places like MoneyManagement International offer their expertise both in person and over the phone, for everything from managing debt to working through student loans. Getting this type of counseling will go a long way in shaping your future as you recover from this financial crisis.
Stick to your plan
You have the information you need from your financial advisor and other experts. Now it’s time to buckle down and follow the plan you made with them. Will it be difficult? Probably. But anything worthwhile is.
Take the steps outlined by your professional consultant, and do not vary from them, even a little bit. If you’re not sure how to proceed in a particular circumstance, give your advisor a call to see what they would recommend.
Let others know how to help
Asking for help, or even just accepting it, can be hard. We know that. But the truth is that everyone needs help sometimes. This can even be something as small as letting someone know what your financial limitations are so they can help keep you accountable. Or see if anyone you trust can give you more ideas for resources in your area.
Financial problems can be overwhelming, but they don’t have to dictate the rest of your life. Find the right help, take the right steps, and watch as you take control of your financial future.
What the Coronavirus Could Mean for Your Money
Among the many concerns that COVID-19, or coronavirus, has brought to Americans and people worldwide is that of finances.
With school systems shutting down and some states even enacting a state-wide policy that allows only certain businesses to operate during certain hours, those who are still able to go to work may be wondering what they should expect as far as their paychecks – while those who have already been called out of work are wondering how to stretch their paychecks as far as they can. Read on for information on what the biggest concerns are, and how you can combat them.
Overall financial concerns
There is good and bad news here. You’ve seen the stock market took a hit. Bad news. But as a result, the Federal Reserve is taking extra steps to keep the economy afloat as everyone tries to predict how long this crisis will change our daily lives, such as lowering interest rates for student loans and home loans. Good news.
Financial experts are all saying the same thing: Don’t panic-sell anything! Now is not the time to throw years of investments and planning away because things seem so dire right now. Eventually, this crisis will pass – and you will need your investments when it does.
Adapt to change
When changes like this occur, it’s smart to evaluate and take a fresh look at your budget. For instance, you may be working from home right now – but that means you are using way less gas than usual. Your grocery fund will go up, but your school activities will be at a standstill. Reallocate your funds as needed to get you through the next few weeks.
Stretch it out
This isn’t a comment on your time at the gym (please don’t go to the gym). You can find creative ways to stretch your dollars even beyond their usual point. Turn the week’s leftovers into a meal all its own. Buy off-brands instead of your usual store brand for groceries. If you can work from home outside of your typical job description (i.e., help the front desk send emails, do some digital filing, etc.), take the hours that you can so you can keep some cash flow coming.
Cut it out
How many digital streaming services do you have? Probably more than one – so why not stop subscribing to some of them for now? We know that having your kids home with no Netflix may sound like the worst idea ever, but split the difference and keep the one service your family uses most. Also consider reducing the level of service you purchase to save a few bucks.
Refinance student loans
Remember what we said about interest loans being reduced? Since you have a lot of extra time at home right now, why not look into refinancing your student loans to see if you qualify for a lower interest rate? That may not change your immediate situations, but it will certainly be useful down the line when we all return to our usual routines.
Save for emergencies
Again, we realize that you may be scraping by while things are uncertain. But as soon as you’re able, go ahead and start an emergency fund. A good rule of thumb is to have three months of your salary stashed away. But you can start small. That change from the gas station? Drop it in a jar. The next time you find a $10 bill in your wallet, put it aside. A little here and there will mean big changes later on.
No one can predict the future – but you don’t have to let it control your finances. Spend wisely, save daily, and remember that this is temporary.
Streaming Wars: Which Service Suits You Best?
Today we have 75’’ smart-4K UHD TVs strategically mounted every five feet throughout our homes. We can be entertained 24-hours a day by tens of thousands of shows on just as many channels, and we can watch them just about anywhere–inside, outside, poolside, in the passenger side, or projected on the side of our homes.
Now that Netflix has created—and now dominates—the new world of television, other TV providers can’t continue to sit back, relax, and enjoy the latest episode of Stranger Things. They’re launching their own platforms with their own original content in hopes of recovering their fair share of the bing-watching, couch potato market.
So many choices, so much confusion
In terms of new streaming services, Apple TV+ launched on November 1, Disney+ arrived on November 12, NBC Universal’s Peacock is scheduled to debut in April 2020, and HBO Max will hit the small screen in May 2020. But don’t be blinded by those shiny new pennies. You still have the seasoned veterans who have a decade or so of streaming under their belts like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and CBS All Access.
With the exploding popularity of streaming services, viewers have access to more shows and movies than ever before. You will, however, have to pledge your allegiance to one lucky TV provider. That decision, which we suspect will be strongly influenced by finances and FOMO, won’t be easy.
Not to add fuel to the fire, but if you’re a hard-core fan of a specific series, you might also have to track it down. Several shows could potentially move from one platform to another. For example, “Friends” is saying goodbye to Netflix and hello to HBO Max, and The Office will strut on over to the Peacock in 2021.
Tell it to me straight
The rush of new streaming services has many of us wandering around in a state of confusion. What’s more, they’re all trying to win viewership, and we’re stuck in the middle. Don’t worry–we’ve got your back. Here’s a break down of the who, what, when, and how much of it all:
Netflix offers a wide variety of commercial-free, award-winning TV shows, movies, anime, and documentaries that you can watch whenever, wherever you want. They offer three different plans based on the number of devices that can stream the service at the same time. It’s available on smart TVs, Playstation, Xbox, Chromecast, Apple TV, Blu-ray players, and more. You can even download your favorite shows and watch them on the go.
The monthly cost is $12.99, but take advantage of the 30-day free trial first.
With Hulu, you can watch thousands of shows—full seasons of your favorite series, hit movies, current episodes, and premium Hulu Originals–with plans that start at $5.99/month (after a free 7-day trial, of course). If you’re looking for more, you could also bundle Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.
Hulu’s newest feature is live television– sports, news, and entertainment. With access to their entire streaming library, the package is $44.99 per month.
You can stream Hulu online and on iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV & Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, Xbox, Samsung, LG, and Nintendo Switch.
Amazon Prime Video is included in the Amazon Prime membership ($119 per year). It allows viewers to stream thousands of movies and TV shows, including exclusive Amazon Originals. Without a Prime membership, Prime Video can be accessed with a standalone membership at a monthly rate of $8.99.
Viewers have the option to rent or buy select movies and TV episodes. They can also bundle 100+ premium channels like HBO, SHOWTIME, MLB.TV and STARZ for an additional cost of 4.99-14.99 per month.
Some Prime Video subscriptions include the Watch Live feature, which allows viewers to live-stream programming. Watch on the Prime Video app, on a compatible Fire TV, smart TV, streaming media player, game console, mobile phone, or tablet.
CBS All Access offers streaming of more than 10,000 episodes of your favorite CBS shows, classic hits, and exclusive, critically acclaimed CBS All Access Original Series. Viewers can also watch live sports, shows, and news at home or on the go via their local CBS station, CBSN, CBS Sports HQ, and ET Live. Streaming devices include Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Samsung Smart TV.
CBS All Access offers a Limited Commercials Plan for $5.99 per month and a Commercial-free plan for $9.99 per month. Opt for the annual plan and you can save over 15%, but take advantage of the free 7-day trial first.
Apple TV+ features Apple’s original ad-free and on-demand series and movies. Viewers will also find hit movies and shows available for rent or purchase, and access to other video subscriptions like Showtime, Starz and HBO. Watch it on your favorite Apple devices, on streaming platforms, smart TVs, and AirPlay‑enabled TVs. You can also access it on the web at tv.apple.com.
Most Apple TV+ series will release three episodes and then one new episode per week, so binge-racers take note. Apple TV+ doesn’t have a library of licensed shows or movies, and won’t release full seasons of your favorite shows all at once. Their current nine programs are soon to be expanded by another five in the coming months.
After a 7-day free trial, the service costs $4.99 per month, and subscribers can divvy up viewing privileges among six family members. Apple is also bundling Apple TV+ with its Apple Music student-discount plan at no extra cost. One cool perk–viewers who purchased an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch, or Mac as far back as September 10, 2019, qualify for a free 1-year subscription.
Disney+ launched its highly anticipated streaming service on November 12. Now viewers can get the best of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic all in one place—and it’s always ad-free. The entire family can watch new releases, classics, and exclusive originals on the go or at home on up to four different devices at one time.
After a 7-day free trial, you can start streaming for $6.99 per month. Want more? Bundle Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.
HBO Max is a new, soon-to-be-released streaming platform. It will bundle HBO with classic shows, documentaries, specials, and blockbuster movies from WarnerMedia’s expansive library, a selection of acquired series and movies, like Friends, for example, plus an exclusive collection of new programming under the Max Originals banner.
The new service is scheduled to launch in May 2020 and will be available on tablets, phones, PC and Mac browsers, game consoles, and streaming media players.
HBO Max will be available for $14.99 per month. Viewers who currently subscribe to HBO NOW through HBONOW.com and are billed through HBO, or subscribe to AT&T TV or U-Verse TV will have access to HBO Max at no additional cost. Subscribers of premium AT&T mobile and broadband services will also gain access to an HBO Max bundle at no extra charge.
Want more information about HBO Max before it launches? Sign up for updates at HBOMax.com.
With so many new streaming services, multiple viewing options, different pricing plans, bundles, and promotions, watching TV can be more stressful than ever. Your best bet is to make your best guess and go!
6 ways to make the most of your tax refund
You’ve finally received your tax refund! While it’s exciting to have some extra cash, it can be tempting to spend it on whatever, whenever—after all, it does seem like free money. However, it’s crucial you use your refund wisely, rather than spending it on frivolous things. Here are some ways you can make the most of your tax refund:
Pay off existing debt
It sounds obvious, but if you have student loan or credit card debt, use your refund to help pay it off. It might not sound fun, but putting money towards paying your debt gets you closer to financial freedom. Interest rates can snowball and make payments seem overwhelming, so any amount you put forward helps. Start by paying off debts with the highest interest, and then trickle down from there. Later on, once you’ve finally eliminated your debt, you’ll be thankful you were responsible and used that refund.
Save it for emergencies
Again, another obvious choice—save your refund! According to CNBC, 30% of households have less than $1,000 saved. That isn’t nearly enough to cover your costs if you were to have an emergency like your car breaking down or any unexpected medical bills. Ideally, you should have three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved. Open a savings account if you don’t have one already, and save your refund. Even if you can’t put away that much, use a portion of your refund—just a little is better than none.
Start home improvements
Have you been dying to give your home some much-needed improvements but had to put your funds elsewhere? Well, now that you have your tax refund, you can start your home renovation plans now! There are dozens of projects you can do for under $1,000—from painting to landscaping, those little improvements can all help your home drastically. Not only will it make you happier, but it will also add value to your home.
Use towards big purchases
Does your child need braces, or are you looking to buy a new car? Maybe even a home? Your tax refund is perfect for offsetting those costs. Use it to save for a down payment on a car or house. Every little bit helps when it comes to these purchases, so make your refund count where it should. Open a high-yield savings account, like a money market savings account, so you can earn the most from your money.
Donate to charity
Earn some good karma—donate part of your refund to charity. It feels nice to give back to the community, and using part of your refund to help your favorite organization is the perfect way to do so. Be sure to save your receipts, too, so you can write off the donation on your taxes next year.
Lastly, if you’ve done all of these things, help yourself! We all need self-care sometimes. Go on the trip of your dreams, or simply treat yourself to a new wardrobe—either way, don’t forget about making sure the most important thing is taken care of: you!
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.