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Still Haven’t Booked Holiday Travel? 6 Ways to Save Now
We try to fit a lot into our holiday budgets, and travel can account for a pretty big slice of the pie. But even if you’re just beginning to think about the costs of visiting loved ones this holiday season, it’s not too late to save.
About half (49%) of American adults plan to spend money on flights and/or hotels this holiday season — that’s 123.5 million travelers, according to a new NerdWallet study.
And though 36% of these travelers say they’d skip buying gifts for friends and family if they were spending a lot to visit them this year, that level of sacrifice may not be entirely necessary.
If you’re scrambling for last-minute ways to save on holiday travel, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Start watching rates, like, yesterday
Those who travel over the holidays book their flights 7.7 weeks before their departure date, on average, the NerdWallet survey found. You may be able to beat other travelers to the punch by buying before that peak booking time.
Also, set up alerts through popular booking sites like Kayak or Google Flights to keep an eye on rates. If they start creeping up as your travel dates near, you’re better off buying earlier than holding out for a last-minute deal and getting caught with astronomical fares.
2. Get serious about freeing up more money
More than 7 in 10 (71%) people who travel for the holidays start saving in advance, the NerdWallet study found. But even if your budget is tight and your travel dates are coming up soon, you can still look for easy ways to free up money.
Limit all optional expenses, such as meals out and entertainment, for several weeks. After all, holiday travel is one big optional expense; sacrificing drinks after work with friends for a few weeks could cover the price of your checked bag and a rideshare or two.
3. Make your credit card work for you
Three-fourths (75%) of holiday travelers will put some or all of their travel expenses on a credit card, according to the survey. Depending on their card and how long it takes to pay off those expenses, they could be earning as they spend — be it cash on a cash-back card or points toward future travel on a travel rewards card. Also, they could be using already-earned points and rewards to help pay for this year’s travel.
Use the card that stands to benefit you the most — one with decent rewards rates or other travel benefits like trip protection or no foreign transaction fees.
4. Don’t pay interest
Credit card interest can quickly negate any benefits from using a rewards card and can make your travel even more expensive. Still, 5% of people who put last year’s holiday travel on a credit card are still paying for it today, according to the survey.
If you know it’s going to take a few months to pay off your holiday travel, make a plan to minimize the impact of your credit card transactions. Opening a card with an interest-free introductory term is one option. But if time or your credit doesn’t allow for a new card, budget for higher-than-mandatory-minimum payments until you can pay it off.
5. Keep shopping after you book
After you’ve booked your flight, your deal-hunting doesn’t have to end. Most airlines will issue a full refund within 24 hours of purchase, even on nonrefundable tickets. The specifics vary by airline — so read up on your airline’s 24-hour cancellation policies — but you may be able to cancel and rebook if you find a lower rate within that first day.
A similar strategy can be used on hotels: If you make a cancellable reservation, keep checking rates. If they go down, you can cancel and rebook at the same hotel (or a different one, if the opportunity arises). Again, know the specifics of your reservation — if you try to cancel too close to arrival you could lose money.
6. Let your presence be their present
If travel is your top priority and you’ve done what you can but are still coming up short, don’t be afraid to skip traditional gift-giving. You wouldn’t be alone — 36% of travelers said they’d consider doing the same thing if they were spending a lot to visit friends and family. You’ve worked hard to get there; maybe they can come to you next holiday season.
A Crash Course in Finance for College Students
Whether you’re just starting college or about to finish up, it’s good to know how your finances work and how to make the most of your banking experience. With all of the options out there, it can be tough to decide which financial institution
to choose and which one will best fit your needs as a student. Here are some tips to help you thrive financially during college.
Many young adults will open an account at the same credit union or bank their parents use. But what happens when you move away from home? Be sure to check if there is a branch, credit union service center, or surcharge-free ATM close to both your hometown and school. There will be plenty of times when you need cash and want to be close to a location that won’t charge extra fees when withdrawing money or making a deposit.
Numerous websites compare brick-and-mortar credit unions and banks to online financial institutions. Research before opening an account with any establishment—there could be hidden fees or minimum balance requirements, and these minimums could be hard to meet as a college student. To get the best deals and best interest rates, consider opening a checking account in one place and a savings account in another. As long as you can keep up with your earnings
and pay your bills on time, separate accounts shouldn’t
be an issue.
Save Money Now
If you’re taking out student loans, don’t wait until you’re earning a real salary to pay them off. Open a savings account with high interest rates and no fees. There will be plenty of expenses throughout your college years, so there may not be a lot of money to save up. However, a little savings here and there will eventually add up and help pay off those pesky loans in the future. Or, better yet, start chipping away at your loans while in school—this can save you money in interest in the long run.
Get a Flexible Job
You may think there isn’t enough time in the day with classes, studying, activities, and sports, but there is always time to get a flexible job. Even if it doesn’t pay much, it’s better than having no income. Some schools offer student work programs or federal work study and have jobs that will work around your class schedule. Some schools will even give you free housing or cut down on housing costs if you become a resident assistant. If you feel comfortable sharing your car, you could become an Uber or Lyft driver and work for yourself whenever you have the time. There are also plenty of odd jobs worth considering. Ask your parents if they know anyone who needs house sitting, dog walking, or babysitting. These don’t take up much time and are relatively easy ways to make money without making a full-time commitment.
Create a Budget
Even if a job is out of reach, talk to your parents, guardians, or whoever is helping pay for school about setting a budget and sticking to it. College is about new experiences, so make sure to factor in a percentage for entertainment and spending money. Make a list of expenses like books, supplies, groceries, bills, etc., along with other things you may need money for, like events, shopping, and eating out. Although, if you do have a job, put a percentage of your paycheck aside into a savings account—you’ll thank yourself later.
Furry Finances: 5 ways to care for your pets without overspending
We know that most people treat their pets like part of their family. Those little fur babies give unconditional love and acceptance and can bring incredible joy and companionship into your life. Heck, they don’t care what’s for dinner, if the house is clean, or if you’re still in your pajamas at noon. They think you’re the best person in the world, no matter what.
Spending time with your pet and taking care of them is how we reward them for their friendship. You have to admit it, though. It can get expensive. Those antler chews aren’t cheap, and that gourmet dog food isn’t gonna pay for itself.
Here are a few money-saving tips for keeping your pet happy, healthy, and fit!
1. Adopt from a shelter
If you’re interested in adding a four-legged friend to your family, check out the local shelters. Plan your visit so you can spend time getting to know any of the pups you might consider for adoption. All dogs in the shelter will be spayed or neutered and be up to date on all their vaccinations before they leave the facility, which can be a significant savings. Adult dogs are likely to be potty trained and maybe even micro-chipped.
The staff is especially helpful, too, with details about a potential pet’s personality and preferences. And, because the shelters deal with veterinarians in the area, many will also gift you with a coupon for a discounted or free first visit to the vet.
If you’re looking for a particular breed of dog, some rescue organizations are breed-specific. Petfinder is also a good option since you can search for a certain breed and even set up an alert when one becomes available.
In the end, you can adopt a pet for significantly less than purchasing one from a breeder. Whether they’re full bred or a mix, they’ll love you forever.
2. Keep your pet happy and healthy
Many dogs (and cats) are overweight, which can increase their chances for developing health issues and diseases like cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. Make sure Fido gets enough exercise, eats right, and goes easy on the treats!
It’s also important to stay current on any vaccines or medications, like flea and tick and heartworm prevention. Be proactive with vet visits, and you’re more likely to avoid costly health issues and big medical bills down the road.
If your pup does get sick, some minor illnesses can be treated with over-the-counter medications that you already have in your medicine cabinet, like Imodium, Benadryl, and antibiotic ointments. Always check with your vet first, but here‘s a list of common OTC medications that are safe for pets.
3. Be picky with your food purchase
Feeding your pet can take a big bite out of your budget! You don’t need to be eating PB&J when your dog is licking his lips after chowing down on a juicy T-bone steak. Be a smart shopper and hunt down some bargains.
High cost does not necessarily mean high quality. Sometimes you’re paying extra just because the word premium is printed on the bag. Check the list of ingredients and choose a brand of food that includes the least amount of filler, which provides little or no nutritional value for your pet. Compare prices among big box pet stores, grocery stores, and online companies. Combine a coupon with free shipping and consider subscribing for additional savings. Many online pet supply stores offer digital coupons and a 5% discount when you auto ship throughout the year. The best part? They deliver it to your front door, so you don’t have to lug that big bag home from the grocery store!
4. Groom at home
When Rover needs grooming every month, it can really break the bank! If you’re not too keen on tackling a wet dog at home, try a DIY self-service wash. Many grooming facilities provide large, elevated tubs and all the dog wash supplies. It’s less expensive than the full-service option, and there’s no mess at home!
If your pooch needs a haircut, opt for the shortest style so you can stretch the time between visits to the salon. If you’re up for the challenge, you can even learn to groom your own dog. You’ll need to buy the necessary tools, but you’ll save more than their cost with your dog’s first new do.
5. Get routine services at a discounted price
All dogs need to visit the vet for an annual exam, but be sure to call around and compare prices. Some offer a free initial exam, a discount on your first visit, or monthly specials on different services.
For vaccines and medication at a more reasonable price, opt for a mobile vet clinic that travels to different locations – like your favorite groomer’s salon — on a standard schedule. Without the overhead of a traditional vet, they’re able to charge less for the same services. Take proof of your vaccines to your primary vet so they always have an updated record.
You can love your pets to the moon and back, but that’s no reason to spend more money on their care than necessary. When you’re able to trim a few dollars off your monthly expenses, it can make a big difference in your budget. It might even free up a few extra bucks for a special treat!
High Fashion, Low Budget: 7 Tips for Frugal Fashionistas
Style is a funny thing…one day it’s in, and the next day it’s out. Pulling off chic and trendy can be expensive, especially if you’re keeping up with the Kardashians. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be.
If you want to be a fashionista but still need to pay your rent, read on. We’re giving you tips that will help you fill your wardrobe with affordable styles that are nothing short of fabulous.
1. Visit consignment, thrift, and vintage clothing shops
Consignment shops are popping up faster than Starbucks coffee houses these days and for a good reason: there’s a big market for pre-owned, well- cared for clothing and accessories that are still current. Shop early and often in the more affluent areas and you might just find those to-die-for leopard print mules you drooled over last winter. In terms of quality and condition, consignment shop owners can be quite selective when choosing which items to accept, but you should always inspect items for imperfections.
Thrift store shopping is en vogue right now and a goldmine for the bargain fashionista. But, you have to be a person who enjoys the thrill of the hunt. From t-shirts to designer handbags, from chinos to ball gowns, they have it all. Items arrive in various conditions, so inspect your purchases carefully.
Vintage shops are trending lately, especially because the look is really timeless. Vintage clothing is unique and often one-of-a-kind. Fancy buttons, interesting fabric combinations, and hand-sewn embellishments are their trademark, which is what makes them so fabulous. Sometimes the clothing can take you back to another time or, combined with a modern look, it can add that pop of interest that ultimately makes the outfit.
2. Don’t discount the resale sites
Poshmark, Depop, eBay, ThredUp, Swap…they all offer pre-owned stylish pieces at deeply discounted prices. The secret, though, is to be specific about what you’re looking for. Search NWT (new with tags) or EUC (excellent used condition) and don’t be shy about asking the seller to post more pictures. Look for tried-and-true brands that always fit you well. Before you make a purchase, be sure to review the site’s return policy since you’re basing your purchase on how you imagine it will look. Accessories are a less risky purchase since they always fit!
3. Connect on social media
If you thought Facebook was just for catching up with old classmates and posting pictures of little Johnny’s first birthday party, you’re living a sheltered life. Facebook Marketplace sells everything from futons to fur coats, clothing to crock pots, all at rock-bottom prices. Usually, clothing items are those that sellers think could earn them a few extra bucks, especially the ones with designer labels. Join your local Facebook garage sale groups and you never know what you might find.
Love the Stitch-Fix personal shopper concept, but not crazy about their prices? There’s a Facebook group that resells new and gently worn items from the Stitch-Fix family of labels, and another that finds the same or comparable styles on sale at local stores. Are Anthropology, Free People, and Urban Outfitters some of your faves? Yup, they’re there, too! Go ahead. Use that search button and go wild.
4. Shop discount stores
Discount stores like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Marshalls, and Saks off Fifth are ideal for the savvy, designer-minded shopper who doesn’t want to pay full price. Generally, these stores negotiate the lowest price on overstock and end-of-season inventory from other companies and then sell it at 20-60% below retail prices.
Discount stores are less concerned with purging last season’s inventory with end-of-season sales but they’ll usually markdown items twice a year, in January and July. At TJ Maxx, a price tag with a red dot means the item has been discounted only once, and a yellow dot means it’s been marked down to its lowest price. You might have to buy your winter coat in July, but it’ll be a steal!
Head to your favorite discount store and find out which days of the week they receive new inventory or when the next clearance sweep is scheduled. There’s no big secret; all you need to do is ask. Plan ahead and get there early for the biggest selection.
5. Plan a swap party
If you have friends that are the same size and have similar tastes in style, host a clothing swap party. Each season, head to your closet and choose items you haven’t worn, are bored with, or don’t fit your shape quite right. Swapping clothes with your friends can boost your wardrobe and bring new life to unloved and neglected pieces that are perfect…for someone else.
6. Take on the department stores
Department stores are not the worst places to find your style, but don’t buy anything without a coupon. Macy’s will price match Macys.com and you can still couple it with a discount code. They’ll also honor online prices for the same item from a list of competitors like Belk, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, and Lord & Taylor.
Love the superior customer service of Nordstrom? Join their rewards club and earn points for every purchase. When you reach 2,000, they’ll send you a $20 Nordstrom note to use on a future purchase. While their sales may be few and far between, they offer free personal styling and free alterations. Price matching is standard policy as are ten-day price adjustments.
7. Love it or leave it
We all have our favorite stores and brands. The key to scoring the best deals is to know the opportune time to shop–when shipments arrive, at the end of a season, before your coupon expires, or during a promotional event. It’s also important to buy pieces that you love when you see them, not merely when you need them. Ever try to find a dress to wear to a holiday party during your lunch break? You’d pay double for one that simply doesn’t make you look like you’re wearing a trash bag just to get out of there.
Your wardrobe should also be versatile, lend itself to be easily mixed-and- matched, and include enough neutrals to balance the other colors and patterns. Wear a vintage embroidered blazer with a pair boyfriend jeans, or change it up and pair it with a pencil skirt. Match that navy tunic with a pair of white capris and a shabby chic denim jacket. Replace the tunic with a striped t-shirt and grab some tennis shoes for a whole new look. Maximize the possibilities and it’ll seem as if your outfits are endless.
Tips for 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 is what keeps it running every time you step on the gas. Why then, do most people stall when it comes to caring for their vehicle?
Car maintenance does not come cheap, and most times, especially in our hectic lives, it’s somewhat inconvenient. Think about it, though. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, it’ll likely be a whole lot more expensive and ill-timed that the alternative.
It’s a smart idea to add a line item to your monthly expenses and start planning your car’s recommended maintenance schedule. Now, all maintenance doesn’t need to be done at the dealership—mostly because it’s cost prohibitive for most people—but you should make friends with your local mechanic. And don’t underestimate your own skills, either.
Here are some auto maintenance basics that could use your attention:
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 suggests an oil and oil filter change between 3,000 and 7,000 miles.
Check out area high schools or technical schools to see if they offer free or reduced price oil changes performed by students. You could try and tackle it yourself, but it does require some upfront costs, like an oil drain pan ($10), a jack ($40), a jack stand ($30), a funnel, and some towels. Going forward it would save you some cash, but there are some concerns and environmental issues to think about, and it does make a mess. If you’re not too keen on DIY projects, don’t go to a drive-through oil change shop without a coupon—or a Groupon.
If you’re a Marietta or Cobb County school employee, check out this staff appreciation deal at Ed Voyles: Free Oil Change
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 you’re having your oil changed, but it’s much less expensive if you do it yourself. Check out YouTube for one of the many quick tutorials and an easy 15-minute DIY project that’ll save you some cash.
Change your brake pads
Now, this sounds a lot harder than it actually is. It requires an initial investment to buy the tools you need, plus about $30 for the replacement pads. It might take a few extra hours to figure out exactly how it’s done, but after the first time, you’ll be an expert. In the future, one afternoon is all it will take, and you’ll save hundreds of dollars over the life of your car.
Replace your own windshield wipers
Worn out windshield wipers are not only frustrating, they’re dangerous. But having them professionally replaced is just downright silly. It’ll cost between $20 and $53 including parts and labor and depends on the type and length of the blade. You can easily replace them yourself, or head down to Pep Boys or Advanced Auto Parts and they’ll have a technician install them for free. No kidding.
Flush the radiator
Flushing the coolant in your car’s radiator keeps metal engine components at their best, prevents rust and your car from overheating. It ultimately helps the engine perform at its optimum level. A flush removes the old coolant that is no longer effective and replaces it with a fresh dose. The DIY version will cost significantly less than a mechanic. The only things you need to purchase are new coolant, a flushing agent, and distilled water. Money wisely spent…and saved.
Repair your own flat tire
If you’ve got a spare and some elbow grease, you’re all set for the moment, but don’t 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 twenty bucks at a minimum and maybe the cost of a new tire. Better yet, if your tire is underinflated and is leaking air, or is even completely flat, take it to Goodyear, Kauffman Tire, Tires Plus, Discount Tire, Pep Boys, and many others who fill fix your flat for free.
While we’re on the subject of tires, make sure they’re always properly inflated to the appropriate pressure and rotate them 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 from 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 important to find out why, but paying $75 -$100 for a technician to hook it up to a computer and spit out a report just adds 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 all 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 in need. An inexpensive repair can grow into hundreds or thousands of dollars when they’re 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.
Class of 2018: 8 Ways to Prep for Financial Adulthood
Whether you’re graduating from high school or college, a diploma and a job represent the beginning of your personal — and financial — adult life. It’s an exciting, sometimes overwhelming time.
When you have the inevitable “I have no idea what I’m doing” freakout, remember these tips:
Set clear financial priorities
You probably can’t save, invest and pay off debt all at once, so prioritize in this order:
- Save $500 for emergencies, because there will be emergencies
- If your employer offers a 401(k), contribute at least enough to get any “employer match” — it’s free money
- Pay down high-interest debt, like credit cards
Learn a simple budgeting strategy
Identify your after-tax income on your pay stub, then use the 50/30/20 rule as a budgeting guideline:
- Use 50% for necessities like rent, groceries, transportation, utilities and minimum loan payments
- Put 20% toward savings and debt repayment
- Spend 30% on nice-to-haves like restaurants, travel and entertainment
If 50% isn’t enough to cover living expenses, dip into your nice-to-haves bucket.
Learn how credit works and why it matters
Credit is adulthood’s currency. You need good credit to qualify for travel rewards credit cards, get the best rates on loans and insurance and eventually buy a house.
To have a good credit score, you generally must:
- Use credit by taking out loans and opening credit cards. You don’t need to carry a balance on them, though
- Consistently make payments on time
- Use less than about 30% of your available credit. If you have a card with a $3,000 limit, for example, charge no more than $1,000
Check your credit score to see where you stand. If you have bad credit or no credit, consider getting a secured credit card or credit-builder loan to boost it.
Do some money multitasking
In fact, credit-builder loans can help establish credit and save money at the same time.
You can get credit-builder loans through some credit unions, community banks or the online lender Self Lender. Borrow a small amount — say, $1,000 — and repay in installments over a year or two. The lender holds the cash until the loan is repaid. Then you’ll get the money, minus some interest.
Assuming you make full, on-time payments, you’ll get some positive credit history under your belt — and have cash on hand for that emergency fund or retirement account.
Leverage your youth to build wealth
Speaking of retirement, saving for it is one of the best uses of your cash now. Compound interest over decades is like magic: A small amount invested today will be worth more than a larger sum you invest 10 years from now.
For example, every $1,000 you invest at age 22 becomes nearly $20,000 at age 72, assuming a 6% rate of return, according to NerdWallet’s compound interest calculator. If you put off starting by a decade, you’d have to save almost double to have the same amount by age 72.
Start saving for retirement
We didn’t use age 72 by accident — that’s the age at which the class of 2018 can expect to retire, assuming they contribute 6% of their incomes to a 401(k) and have a 50% employer match, according to a 2018 NerdWallet analysis.
If your employer offers a 401(k) with a match, sign up and contribute at least enough to get the match. Increase your contributions annually or whenever you get a raise.
If you don’t have an employer-sponsored retirement account, open a Roth IRA through a credit union, brokerage, or robo-advisor and contribute up to $5,500 yearly. The account’s earnings will be tax-free.
Make a plan for your student loans
Student loan payments typically come due six months after you leave school, giving you time to get a job before payments begin. But interest accrues during this grace period — except on federal subsidized loans — so begin making minimum payments sooner if possible.
Once you have very good credit and a job with a steady income, consider refinancing your student loans to save money by lowering your interest rate.
If payments on your federal student loans are overwhelming, review your options carefully. Income-driven repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness may offer relief, but both require meticulous attention to detail and annual maintenance to pay off.
Research your job’s market value
Advocating for yourself can be a particularly challenging part of adulthood. As your career progresses, you’ll feel empowered to negotiate your salary if you back your ask with hard numbers.
Research the going rates for similar roles in your field, at your skill level. Then, reference your findings during the negotiation conversation. Even if the employer declines, they’ll likely respect your preparedness and confidence.