Who needs a budget anyway?
If you’re always wondering how you’re going to pay the next bill, feel guilty when you indulge in overpriced treats and you can’t seem to find money to put into savings, then you probably need a budget.
A budget is not a magic potion that will automatically solve all of your money problems, but it will help you gain financial awareness. That, in turn, will help facilitate more responsible decisions.
Lots of people think budgeting is overly tedious, and that living within a budget means never indulging in a $6 latte or a pair of designer jeans again. The reality, though, is almost the complete opposite. A well-designed budget may initially take time to create, but once it’s up and running, it shouldn’t take you long to maintain. You’ll then sleep better at night knowing you can comfortably cover all your expenses. And, perhaps most shockingly, a good budget allows for the occasional treat—without the guilt.
Here’s how to create a budget in 6 easy steps:
Step 1: Gather all your financial information
Collect all of your financial documents and receipts for three consecutive months. This includes all account statements, bills, pay stubs, receipts and more. You can save all these documents over the three months, or you might be able to access this information online, especially if you’re a heavy card user who rarely uses cash.
Step 2: Tally up your totals
Divide your documents into expenses and income. Then, list the corresponding numbers on a spreadsheet. As you work through these lists, include occasional and seasonal expenses, dividing these expenditure groups by 12 to spread them evenly throughout the year.
When you have your numbers, take a look at how they match up. In the best-case scenario, your income will exceed your expenses. If the numbers are too close for comfort, or your expenses outweigh your income, you’ll need to trim your spending and/or look for ways to boost your income so you don’t end up deeply in debt. You can also review your fixed expenses to see if there’s any way to bring those values down, such as refinancing your mortgage to a lower rate, switching to cheaper car insurance policy or cutting out a monthly bill you don’t really need.
Step 3: List all your needs
Take a look at how you’ve spent your money in the recorded time and weed out all the actual needs from your list. This will include fixed expenses like mortgage/rent payments, savings, insurance premiums, car payments, minimum loan payments and childcare costs; as well as fluctuating but necessary expenses, like groceries, clothing and other dry goods. To keep it simpler, list your fixed expenses first, followed by your non-fixed expenses.
Separating your needs from your wants can get a bit tricky, and you’ll need to use your common sense. For example, you need to eat, but do you really need to eat organic? If this is an important value to you, the answer may be yes, but if it’s something you’d only prefer if possible, it may be more of a want.
As you list each need, write down its corresponding cost. When you’ve finished creating this list, add up the total.
Step 4: List your wants
Your next step is going to be all about the stuff you love to spend money on but can really live without. Include entertainment costs here, as well as eating out, gifts, expensive hobbies and anything else that costs money, but is not an absolute necessity.
Here too, jot down the monthly cost of each item on your list and tally up the total when you’re done.
Step 5: Assign dollar amounts to your expenses
You’re now ready to do the nitty-gritty work of budgeting. Open up a new spreadsheet and copy your lists of expenses, starting with the fixed-cost needs, then your non fixed-cost needs, and finally listing your wants. Remember to include your occasional and seasonal expenses here as well. Assign a fixed amount to each of these costs and plan to have that amount automatically transferred into a special savings account. This way, when you need to meet that expense, you have the money on hand to cover the cost.
There are several schools of thought when it comes to creating a budget. To keep things simple, we’ve outlined just two of the most popular budgeting methods for you to choose from.
The traditional budget involves assigning a specific dollar amount to each expense category. If your budget allows, simply use the average amount you’ve spent in each category for the last three months to set the cap for that expense. For example, if you spent an average of $600 on groceries, jot down that number near this category in your budget. Continue until every dollar is accounted for and you have enough money in your budget to cover every need, want and occasional expense. If your expenses outweigh your income, you’ll need to trim some expenses for your budget to work.
The 50/30/20 budget is simpler but requires more discipline. Set aside 50 percent of your budget for your needs, 30 percent for your wants, and the remaining 20 percent for savings. If you want to use this kind of budget, divide up your numbers accordingly to see if it can work for you. Does 50 percent of your income cover the total amount you listed for your needs? Is 30 percent enough for your wants? If it can work, this type of budget allows for more individual choices each month and less accounting.
Going forward, be sure to spend only the assigned amounts for each expense category.
Step 6: Review and adjust as necessary
Review your budget each month to see if you’re staying on track. If you consistently overspend in a category, move some numbers around and spend less in another area so you have more money available to meet your needs. Remember: A budget should be freeing, not restrictive. If yours is not working for you, adjust and tweak it until you can stick to it easily.
Your Turn: Do you stick to a strict monthly budget? Share your best budgeting tips with us in the comments.
Making the transition from high school to college isn’t easy. You need to deal with a whole new set of rules, adapt to dorm life and get to know your new classmates, teachers and roommates. Then there’s the financial aspect: applying for financial aid, grants and scholarships; paying for school supplies, electronic devices and textbooks. And don’t forget about budgeting for food costs, clothing and more.
Unfortunately, scammers are making this transition even more challenging than it already is. There’s recently been an uptick in fake check scams targeting new college students.
Young adults make excellent targets. In fact, according to the BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust, consumers ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than seniors to fall prey to a scam. In addition, the BBB’s ScamTracker Risk Report of 2018 found that 41.6% of students reported a loss when exposed to a scam as compared to 28.3% of non-students.
Don’t be the next victim! Here’s how you can recognize a fake check scam and take steps to keep yourself safe.
How does the scam play out?
There are several variations of the fake check scam, but all of them ultimately lead to the victim cashing an extra-large fake check and returning the difference to the scammer.
In one scenario, the scammer will send a bad check to a potential new roommate. The check allegedly secures the renter’s spot in the room, and will be made out for an amount that is greater than the requested holding deposit. The victim will be asked to deposit the check and send the extra funds back to the “renter.” Unfortunately, the check won’t clear and the victim will never see that money again.
In another variation, a young college student will be offered a remote position working for an alleged business. The student will receive a check to use for purchasing supplies or to cash as their paycheck. Here, too, the check will be made out for more money than necessary, and the victim will be instructed to send back the difference to the scammer. Again, the check will ultimately not clear and the student will be out the money they sent.
In yet a third variation of this scam, students will receive phone calls or messages from companies promising to lower their student loan payments. After applying for this “service,” the student will be sent an extra-large check. The rest of the scam will follow the same script described above.
How can I spot a fake check scam?
Watch out for these red flags which likely indicate a scam:
If you suspect a scam, cut off all contact with the scammer and report it to the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov and to the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org. It’s also a good idea to warn your friends and classmates that this scam is circulating so they don’t fall prey to it.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your credit. As a young student, you are a primary target for scammers. If your financial information has been compromised and a scammer is helping themselves to your credit file to open loans or lines of credit in your name, you may not learn about this fraudulent activity until extensive damage has been done. You can monitor your credit via a free service like CreditKarma.com, and by requesting your annual complimentary credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Review your monthly credit card statements as well and check for suspicious activity on your accounts.
Adjusting to college life is hard enough without dealing with scams. Proceed with caution and be wary of anyone offering you more money than you’re expecting for whatever reason.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a fake check scam? Tell us about your experience in the comments.
6 MISLEADING ADVERTISING PLOYS TO BEWARE OF THIS BLACK FRIDAY
Here at Ingersoll-Rand FCU, we hate to see your money go to waste, so we’ve put together a list of misleading advertising schemes you may come across when hunting for deals this Black Friday.
Be an informed consumer and shop smartly!
1. Very limited quantities
That $200-off supersized TV screen on the front page of the big-box circular that just landed in your mailbox looks like an incredible deal-until you show up at the store on Black Friday, only to find it’s sold out. Of course, no deal lasts forever, but when a store that has only been open for the day a few hours claims it’s already run out of an item, you can assume it only stocked a very limited quantity. The heavily marked-down and heavily advertised item was a ploy to get you into the store to shop.
When checking out the ads for Black Friday, look for an “In-Stock Guarantee” or a “1-hour In-Stock Guarantee.” This will allow you to take a rain check for a sold-out item as long as you show up sometime on Black Friday, or in the case of the 1-hour guarantee, as long as you show up within the first hour of opening.
2. No discount
This one is a bit harder to spot, but it’s no fun when it happens to you.
In this ploy, retailers take advantage of the Black Friday craze to deceive shoppers into thinking a product is on sale. They’ll list an item in a Black Friday circular so you’ll assume it’s being offered at a discount when the it’s actually being sold at its regular retail price.
You can easily outsmart the stores here by doing a quick check of an item’s standard selling price online or pricing app like Shopular or ShopSavvy before running out to buy it on Black Friday.
3. Full price with a store gift card
A favorite Black Friday deal that may not be worth its hype is the item that sells at its regular price and comes along with a store gift card. For example, you might find a $699 laptop being sold at its full price at Best Buy, and rewarding buyers with a $100 store gift card. At first glance, this seems like a fantastic deal. However, some research might reveal that this same laptop is being sold elsewhere on Black Friday for just $550. Also, if you’re not a regular customer at Best Buy, you may end up blowing that $100 on stuff you don’t need just because the gift card is burning a hole in your wallet.
While gift card deals may be a great way to save on your purchases, think twice before rushing to grab a “with gift card” item on Black Friday.
4. Sales based on a dishonest manufacturer’s price
It’s easy for an item to appear to be significantly marked down when the manufacturer’s price is grossly inflated, but it’s also awfully unfair to the less-wise consumer.
When retailers advertise their sales, they’ll often post the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, for customers to compare. However, this number can be theoretical at best and simply dishonest at worst. If the item was never actually sold at the listed MSRP, the number is essentially meaningless.
Kohl’s was actually sued for claiming items were being sold at discounted prices when they were never offered at a higher price to begin with. The retailer has since discontinued this practice, but many other stores continue to advertise inflated or irrelevant MSRPs along with their sale prices.
Avoid getting pulled in by this deceptive advertising ploy by checking out an item’s retail price online.
5. Stripped-down or downgraded versions
When shopping for new technological devices, especially computers and TVs, make sure to read up on every feature offered with the product. A common Black Friday ruse is to advertise a discounted item that offers the very minimum in features and accessories. While it’s great to walk away with a brand-new computer at $200 less than its usual selling price, it’s not exactly the deal you thought it was if you end up having to pay through the nose to buy all those features and accessories that weren’t included. These “add-ons” are often essential features whose lack can make the device almost useless until you buy them.
Read through the listed features of every advertised computer and TV before running out to buy it this Black Friday.
You deserve to find fantastic deals this Black Friday. Look out for these deceptive advertising techniques so that you only walk away with actual bargains.
Your Turn: Have you ever been taken in by a misleading ad? Tell us about it in the comments.
It’s the bargain-hunter’s favorite season-or is it? Before you brave the crowds this Black Friday, take a few minutes to read through our list of what to buy and what to skip so you come home only with true bargains.
Skip: Large home appliances
While you may find markdowns on large household appliances, like dishwashers and refrigerators, on Black Friday, you’ll find even better deals on long holiday weekends throughout the year, including Memorial Day, Labor Day and President’s Day. If your appliance is still working well and you’re just looking for an upgrade, you’re better off saving your purchase for a later date.
Buy: Small home appliances
You can score fantastic Black Friday deals on small household appliances like coffee makers, toaster ovens and blenders, which may see discounts of up to 65%.
If you’re planning on buying a special someone a gift that truly sparkles, don’t buy it on Black Friday. While some jewelry companies will offer slight discounts on their merchandise after Thanksgiving, prices on jewelry will fall significantly in December and even further in January. If you’re not in any rush, you’re best off waiting until July, when jewelry prices are at their lowest point of the year, thanks to the usual summer slump.
Crazy-low prices on electronics are a Black Friday basic. In recent years, supersized TVs were marked down by several hundred dollars by retailers like Walmart and Amazon. Discounted Apple products are another Black Friday favorite, with shoppers waiting for this day to buy their MacBooks, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TVs.
While you might find fantastic bargains on electronics this Black Friday, be sure to read the fine print before finalizing purchases. Some deals may require you to sign up for a pricey phone plan to qualify for the purchase. Others may depend on a store gift card to net you the full bargain; if you don’t typically frequent this store, it may not be such a great bargain after all.
Don’t count on finishing up the gift-shopping for the little ones in your life this Black Friday. You’ll get much better prices on toys and children’s games in the weeks leading up to Christmas, when the shopping season is already winding down and retailers are looking to clear out inventory.
Buy: Online doorbusters
In an effort to attract customers, major retailers for years have been offering bargain Black Friday doorbusters. Many stores have recently started offering these deals online as well, so there’s no longer a need to camp out Thanksgiving night in Walmart’s parking lot to get the best picks, or to fight your way through crazed crowds. You can now shop at your leisure from the comfort of your home. The best items will still get grabbed quickly, so be sure to move fast!
Skip: Fitness equipment
It’s always a good season to stay fit, but in the world of retail, the prime season for fitness equipment is January, when New Year’s resolutions are still fresh and relevant. Push off the purchase of exercise gear until after the holidays for a better deal. You’ll score even steeper discounts if you wait until February, when the post-holiday inspiration for getting into shape starts wearing off and prices start falling.
Buy: Travel deals
If you plan on traveling for the holidays, or for a mid-winter getaway, look for markdowns on Black Friday and Cyber Monday on airfare, hotel reservations and car rentals. Make sure to check popular travel sites multiple times over the weekend, as the best travel deals are usually only live for a limited time.
Is your bedroom in need of a facelift? You’ll have to wait for January’s legendary “white sales” for the year’s steepest discounts on bedding and linens.
Buy: Video games
If you’ve got a serious gamer on your holiday gift list, you’ll want to shop for discounted video games on Black Friday. You’ll find deals on the newest games at the big-box stores and online at Playstation.com, Nintendo.com and Xbox.com.
Skip: Winter clothing
You’ll always get more bang for your buck when you purchase clothing toward the end of the season or even mid-season, and winter is no exception. You’ll see lots of splashy sale ads from your favorite clothing stores in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, but these are typically modest markdowns of 30% or less. For the real steals on winter apparel, you’ll have to wait until the calendar hits January.
Now that you know what to buy and what to skip this Black Friday, you can go ahead and hit the stores knowing you’ll walk away with the best deals.
Your Turn: What do you shop for on Black Friday? Share your best buys with us in the comments!
Thanksgiving prep stressing you out? Wondering how you’re going to get everything done in time for the big day and stick to your budget at the same time?
We’re here to help! Whether you’re travelling home for the holiday or hosting a houseful of guests, we’ve got you covered. Ingersoll-Rand FCU is proud to present 15 clever Thanksgiving hacks to save you time, stress and money as you prepare for Turkey Day.
1. Book your flight early
If you’re flying home for Thanksgiving, book your flight as early as possible – preferably in September. According to travel app, SkyScanner, booking a Thanksgiving flight in September can save you 4 percent off the ticket price. (Remember this tip for next year!!)
2. Travel light
You likely won’t be gone for long. Plus, if you’re going home, you can always dig up something to wear if you haven’t packed for every occasion. Why waste all that time packing and pay for extra bag-checking?
3. Get an accurate guest count as early as possible
If you’re hosting, this should be your first step – even before you start thinking menus and recipes. Find out exactly how many guests you’re expecting for Thanksgiving dinner so you don’t overcook or need to run out at the last minute for more groceries.
4. Plan your menu early
Draw up an exact menu as early as possible before you start stocking up on ingredients. This way, you won’t pick up random food items just in case you may end up needing them.
5. Take stock of your pantry and fridge before shopping
Don’t buy a thing until you know what you already have at home, this way you won’t be unpacking three cans of pumpkin filling from your grocery bag only to find you already have four cans sitting in your pantry.
6. Shop early and shop the sales
Most supermarkets spread their sales weeks before the big day.. Save big by picking up what you need, as it gets marked down in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. As always, be sure to monitor coupon sites like Coupon.com, Flipp.com and RetailMeNot, as well as local circulars, to see what’s on sale before hitting the stores.
7. Use a cooler as a fridge
As you cook your way through your menu, refrigerator space will become a precious commodity. Make room by using a cooler to store bottles of salad dressing and condiments you don’t need for Thanksgiving. Fill the cooler two-thirds of the way with ice so your banished foods don’t go bad, and keep it in the garage until your fridge is roomy once again. Use the space these items leave behind in your fridge to store the dishes you’ll need for the great feast.
8. Use pennies instead of pie weights
You need to pre-bake your pie shells before filling them, but you don’t want the shells to puff up and crack. Professional bakers recommend using a pie weight to keep this from happening, but there’s no need to waste money on yet another kitchen gadget. Instead, line your pie shell with foil and then fill the center with pennies or dried beans to keep the dough weighed down as it bakes.
9. Keep your mashed potatoes in your slow cooker
No one wants cold and lumpy mashed potatoes with their turkey, but how do you keep yours soft and smooth when every burner on your stove top is occupied in the hours leading up to Thanksgiving dinner? With this hack, of course! After preparing your potatoes, spread some butter on your slow-cooker insert, add some heavy cream or milk and then pour in the potatoes. Keep the temperature on low and stir occasionally to keep the spuds soft and creamy.
10. Use aluminum foil instead of a roasting rack
There’s no need to rush out and buy a pricey roasting rack so your turkey can cook evenly. You can get the same results by fashioning a rack out of aluminum foil. Twist some foil into thick ropes and weave them across the bottom of your roasting pan until they’re strong enough to hold your bird.
11. Spray-paint plastic fruit instead of springing on expensive décor
You can find fake fruit for super-cheap at dollar stores-or you may already have some at home. Spray-paint the fruit in gold, silver or any colors that match your décor for a festive look that doesn’t break the budget.
12. Buy a frozen turkey
Frozen turkeys are a lot cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and if you prepare it well, no one will be able to tell the difference.
13. Buy in bulk
You can save a ton on your ingredients by buying in bulk. If you can’t see yourself using up a mammoth sack of potatoes or an enormous amount of cranberry sauce, find a friend who is also hosting Thanksgiving dinner and ask about splitting the cost and the item. You’ll still save a ton off the regular price.
14. Skip the appetizer
Appetizers can take a ridiculous amount of time to prepare, and you don’t want your guests filling up on miniature fried wontons before you bring out your turkey with all the trimmings. Consider skipping the appetizer this year and just starting with a tossed salad.
15. Cook most things from scratch
Convenience is important, especially when your to-do list outpaces your available time, but some shortcuts are just not worth the cost. Instant mashed potatoes and store-bought gravy don’t come close to the authentic version and can be a real waste of money.
Sometimes, though, if preparing something yourself means purchasing a pricey item for a small end-product, like pumpkin pie filling or cranberry sauce, you’re better off going with the premade stuff.
If you don’t think you can possibly do it all without buying as much premade as you can, split the smaller items on your to-do list with a neighbor or a friend who is also hosting dinner, and share the goods. We promise not to tell your guests.
Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday from all of us here at Ingersoll-Rand FCU.
Your Turn: Do you have any genius Thanksgiving hacks? Share them with us in the comments.
Don’t let a Halloween scam spook you! Stay a step ahead of those crooks by looking out for these four scams this season.
1. The shipping scam
The internet is brimming with Halloween-themed stores in the months leading up to Oct. 31. Lots of these retailers offer an impressive selection of costumes, accessories and decorations at great prices.
Unfortunately, though, some of the retailers that own such sites will never deliver the ordered goods. That’s because, though the company may exist, and will appear legit, at the end of the day there was never a real intent to ship the item(s). The delivery date may be postponed until after Halloween, or the order might get canceled without notification. Sometimes, the shopper will receive the promised package on time – only the package is empty!
Before placing an order with a seasonal store, look for the company’s physical address and phone number. Check what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has to say about it and look for information about return and refund policies in case things go south. Finally, as always, be careful about sharing your credit card information with an unsecured site. Look for the lock icon near the URL and the “s” after the “http” in the web address; both indicate you’re on a secure site.
It’s also a good idea to order your costumes and décor in September. This way, you’ll have time on your side if you need to return a costume or a product that didn’t turn out as expected. You’re also less likely to purchase goods from iffy retailers and vendors you don’t recognize when you aren’t pressed for time. Finally, you won’t be forced to spend a ton of money on last-minute shipping costs when you make your purchase early in the season.
2. The fraudulent offer
In this scam, a bogus company advertises a “Super Special Deal” for “Today Only” offer, or something similar. It will offer amazing Halloween goods for prices that are too good to be true and lure lots of unsuspecting customers into the trap. Unfortunately, the company is bogus and the offer doesn’t actually exist. If you purchase the advertised product, you’ll never see the product – or your money.
As with all potential scams, check out a company’s authenticity and a website’s security before purchasing.
3. The fake ticket scam
Planning to take a trip to an amusement park, attend a concert or take in another event on Halloween? Be wary of the fake ticket scam, in which third-party vendors sell bogus tickets to unsuspecting customers right before an event. They’ll also tack on an exorbitant commission, claiming that they need to charge extra because of the last-minute purchase. Of course, the ticket is bogus and they’ll pocket the ticket money, plus the commission.
Make sure to get your tickets to any event you’d like to attend well in advance. Contact the event organizers directly to make sure you’ve reached the right address. If you find tickets being sold online near Halloween time, do a quick online search to see if the event has already sold out. Check for spelling mistakes and erroneous information about the date and time of the event on the ticket, as well.
4. The bogus purchase scam
In this scenario, scammers try to convince you that you ordered something you have no recollection of purchasing just to get you to share your personal information. Once the scammers have this data, they’ll do anything from emptying your accounts to taking out loans in your name or committing full-blown identity theft.
If you receive any emails, phone calls or text messages asking you about a costume you never ordered or a ticket you never purchased, do not engage with the sender or caller. Delete the emails or flag them as spam. Also, block the contact from calling or texting you again. With any luck, the scammer will get the message that you’re not an easy target and leave you alone.
Here’s wishing you and yours a safe and frightfully fun Halloween from all of us here at Ingersoll-Rand FCU!
Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a Halloween scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
When disaster strikes, so do the scams. It’s the season of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and more. If you live in an area that’s prone to storms and flooding, or you volunteer to help the victims of natural disasters, beware of these four post-disaster scams so you’re not taken for a ride.
1. Bogus charities
As soon as a major natural disaster hits, fake charities spring up like dandelions after a spring rain. You might get solicitations for donations via email, social media posts, text messages or phone calls. These appeals are usually accompanied by a tear-jerking story designed to play on your emotions and get you to loosen your purse strings. Unfortunately, these scams are often successful at swindling victims out of thousands of dollars.
Never take a request for monetary aid at face value. Check out the charity’s authenticity at Charitynavigator.org and see what the Better Business Bureau has to say about them. If you find the charity does indeed exist and is a reliable organization, double-check that the website address (URL) is correct so you can be sure you’re not handing over money to a copycat site. If you want to be absolutely certain that your donation is going to the right address, you can simply contact the charity or The Red Cross on your own.
2. FEMA imposters
The days following a natural disaster can be chaotic, as victims try to put their lives and their homes back together.
Devious scammers capitalize on this misfortune to impersonate FEMA representatives to collect victims’ personal information and/or their money. They’re counting on victims being too preoccupied to check their legitimacy.
If you applied for FEMA, stay one step ahead of the scammers by remaining alert and cautious. If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to represent the federal organization, only share your FEMA claim number over the phone, keeping all other personal details to yourself. If the caller is legitimate, they should already have any other information they need.
If a FEMA representative shows up at your home, ask to see a FEMA-issued photo ID badge. The “representative” may promise to speed up your claim if you pay a deposit, but this is completely false, as FEMA does not offer any such arrangement. Do not give the “FEMA rep” any of your money – or any of your personal information.
3. Shady repair contractors
Many so-called contractors will make the rounds of neighborhoods that have seen storm damage to offer their services to homeowners seeking repairs. They may ask for upfront payment for any work you need and then do a sloppy job or never complete their task. You won’t realize you’ve been conned until the worker has left your home with your money in their pocket. To avoid getting caught in this scam, carefully research any contractor you’d like to use before hiring, and never agree to pay for all or most of the repairs before the work is done.
In a different variation of this scam, someone may show up at your door claiming to represent a utility company you use. They’ll threaten to shut off your service if you don’t provide immediate payment for any repairs you might need. Ask to see proof that they indeed represent the company they claim to work for and do not make any upfront payments until you have checked out their authenticity.
4. Damaged cars
It’s not only homes that can be heavily damaged by storms; vehicles can get hit hard, too. Sometimes, a car that’s been in a flood or hurricane can be fixed up so it looks fine on the outside despite a heavily damaged interior. Shady car salespeople might try to sell these vehicles to unsuspecting consumers who have no idea the car has been in such a storm.
If you’re shopping for a car in an area that has recently been hit by a natural disaster, be sure to check out the car’s history on sites like Carfax.com.
Don’t let scammers make a natural disaster more difficult than it already is. If you suspect fraud, let the FTC know at FTC.gov.
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a natural disaster scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
Did you know there were 14.4 million victims of identity theft in 2018?
According to Javelin Strategy, each case cost the victim an average of $1,050 – and that’s only the cost in dollars. When an individual’s identity is stolen, the thief wreaks major havoc on the victim’s financial health, which can take months, or even years, to recover from.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent yourself from becoming the next victim. Here is your complete guide to identity theft protection.
1. Monitor your credit
One of the best preventative measures you can take against identity theft is monitoring your credit. You can order an annual report once a year from each of the three credit reporting agencies at AnnualCreditreport.com. Check your score for any sudden hits and look through your reports for suspicious activity. It’s also a good idea to review your monthly credit card bills for any charges you don’t remember making.
2. Use multi-factor authentication
When banking online, or using any other service that utilizes sensitive information, always choose multi-factor authentication. If possible, use your thumbprint as one means of identification. Otherwise, use multiple passwords, PINs or personal questions to make it difficult for a hacker to break into your accounts.
3. Use strong unique passwords
Never use identical passwords for multiple accounts. If you do so, you’re making yourself an easier target for identity thieves. Instead, create strong, unique passwords for every account you use. The strongest passwords use a variety of letters, symbols and numbers, and are never mock-ups or replicas of popular phrases or words.
4. Only use Wi-Fi with a VPN
Did you know you are putting your personal information at risk every time you use the free Wi-Fi at your neighborhood coffee shop (or any other public establishment)? When using public Wi-Fi, always choose a Virtual Private Network (VPN) instead of your default Wi-Fi settings to keep the sensitive information on your device secure.
5. Block robocalls
Lots of identity theft occurs via robocalls in which the scammer impersonates a government official or the representative of a well-known company. Lower the number of robocalls reaching your home by adding your home number to the Federal Trade Commission’s No Call List at donotcall.gov. It’s also a good practice to ignore all calls from unfamiliar numbers, because each engagement encourages the scammers to try again.
6. Upgrade your devices
Whenever possible, upgrade the operating system of your computer, tablet and phone to the latest versions. Upgraded systems will keep you safe from the most recent security breaches and offer you the best protection against viruses and hacks.
7. Shred old documents
While most modern-day identity theft is implemented over the internet or through phone calls, lots of criminals still use old-fashioned means to get the information they need. Dumpster-divers will paw through trashed papers until they hit upon a missive that contains personal information. It’s best to shred all documents containing sensitive information as soon as you don’t need them.
8. Keep personal information personal
Be super-cautious about sharing sensitive data, like your Social Security number and banking PINs, with strangers – and even with friends. It’s also a good idea to use the strongest, most private security settings on your social media accounts to keep hackers out. Regarding social media sites, be wary about how much personal information your put out there.
Identity theft can be an expensive nightmare. Be proactive about protecting your identity and keep your information and your money safe.
Your Turn: Which safety procedures do you follow in order to protect yourself from identity theft? Share them with us in the comments.
It feels like you just packed away the holiday decorations yesterday, but believe it or not, 2019 is already half over. As we sail into the season of barbecues and beaches, take a few minutes to give yourself a mid-year financial checkup.
A small investment of time can spur important changes that can affect your financial wellness for the rest of 2019 or even for years to come.
Use the seven steps detailed below to guide you through your checkup.
Step 1: Revisit Your Budget
Remember sitting down in December and crunching all those numbers? There’s no need for such a detailed job again, but take some time to review your monthly budget. Are you sticking to the planned budget for every category? Are you overspending in some categories or under-spending in others? Do you need to adjust your allotted budget in some areas or maybe trim your discretionary spending across the board?
Review your spending over the last few months and make any necessary changes so your budget can continue working for you. Be sure to account for any significant life changes that may alter your financial needs, such as a marriage, the birth of a child, a divorce or a job change.
By reviewing and adjusting your budget, you will avoid falling into the mindless spending trap and you will be taking proactive steps toward staying on top of your finances for the rest of 2019.
Step 2: Anticipate Large Expenses
Now that you’ve updated your monthly budget, take a moment to list any large expenses you anticipate having in the next six months. This can include household appliances that may need replacing, expensive car repairs that will likely become necessary or an anticipated medical expense that is not fully covered by insurance.
Once you have this information in hand, determine which spending category you will take the money from to cover these expenses. Do you have a rainy-day fund that can pay for one or several of these costs? Can you use the money in your emergency fund? Make the decision about sourcing this money now so you don’t make the wrong choices when you’re stressed and pressed for time in the future.
If you do not have enough money set aside for these expenses, build a savings plan into your monthly budget now so you have the funds available when you need them.
Step 3: Review Your Tax Withholdings
Review your tax withholdings to see if they need any adjusting. If taxes and numbers are not your thing, ask your accountant for assistance with this step. Your goal here is to pay the perfect amount so you’re not hit with a huge tax bill at the end of the year but also not lending the government your money interest-free.
Step 4: Check Your Credit Score
Your credit score is like your money grade, indicating the degree of your financial wellness and responsibility. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com for your free credit report from any of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
If your score has gone up in the last six months, you’re doing great! Keep up the good work.
On the flip side, if your score has dropped, review your report in detail. Are there any errors you’ll need to contest with the Federal Trade Commission? Is there a credit card bill or another line of credit you’ve been neglecting that is dragging your score down? Are you having trouble remembering to pay your monthly bills in a timely manner? Take the necessary steps to fix your score today, whether that means contesting a charge, setting up an automatic payment on some of your bills or lowering your credit utilization rate by paying with plastic less often.
Step 5: Review Your Investments
Now is the time to review and adjust all of your investments. This includes your contributions to your retirement funds, any stock investments, bonds, trust funds or savings certificates at IRFCU. Make sure you are maximizing your contributions when possible and that your other investments are performing according to plan, making adjustments as necessary.
Step 6: Tackle Your Debt
List every single outstanding debt you carry, including credit card debt and loans. Designate one debt to tackle first, either choosing the one that carries the highest interest rate or the one with the lowest balance. Next, work on a plan to get rid of your chosen debt, being careful not to neglect the others. See if you can trim your budget or boost your income in any way to increase your payments on this debt. Once you’ve paid it off, move to the next one on your list so you’re on your way to a debt-free life.
Step 7: Review Your Financial Resolutions and Long-term Goals
Which financial resolutions did you jot down at the end of 2018? What are your dreams for the future? Did you want to start socking away another $200 a month? Is your goal to retire comfortably at 55?
Take some time to review these goals and to determine whether you are indeed taking the steps necessary for making them happen. If you’ve been neglecting them for the first half of 2019, create a plan for working toward them for the rest of the year. Remember: With determination and proper planning, nearly any financial goal is possible!
Now that you’ve given yourself a thorough financial checkup, you can kick back and enjoy the sweetness and the sunshine of the season, guilt-free. Happy summer!
Your Turn: What’s on your list for your mid-year financial checkup? Tell us about it in the comments.
It’s Murphy’s Law: The landline will always,always ring when you’re clear across the house. You leap over furniture and make a grab for it, only to find the caller has already hung up—after just one ring. You thumb through the Caller ID, poised to give your mysterious caller a ring back when you note the strange area code. You hesitate. Should you, or shouldn’t you, make this call?
Let’s play out the end of this story in two different ways:
In Scenario 1, you flippantly hit the Call Back button and wait until someone on the other end of the line answers the phone. However, instead of a live person picking up, you get a recorded message that says something like, “Hello? Can you hear me? Hello?”
Or, you might hear a recording like this: “You’ve received a song from someone who loves you. After listening to this song you will find out who sent this song as a gift.”
Both recordings are designed to keep you on the phone for as long as possible. Unfortunately, you’ve just called a foreign country and you’ll be hit with a sky-high phone bill for your overseas call.
Worse, the bad guy who conned you into making this call will walk away with most of that money.
In Scenario 2, you stand with the receiver in hand, deliberating. After a moment, you shrug and return the phone to its base. You walk away, mildly curious about who has just called you, and blissfully unaware that you’ve only narrowly missed being targeted by an ugly scam.
The FTC is warning of a recent surge in one-ring scams. As detailed above, scammers lure victims into placing overseas calls by targeting them with one-ring phone calls.
When the victim returns the call, the scammer will employ any of a number of means to keep them on the phone for a while, thereby extending the length of the call. Sadly, the victim will be hit with sky-high international rates and other connection fees, much of which will end up in the scammer’s hands.
Here’s how to spot these scams and protect yourself if you’re targeted.
The primary clue that you’re being targeted by a one-ring scam is, quite obviously, a phone call that only rings once. If you get a call like this, by all means do not call back.
You can also be on the lookout for foreign area codes, particularly those of countries in the Caribbean, including the following: 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849 and 876.
Sometimes, scammers will spoof a local number, including those of recognized businesses, to get you to place a return call to foreign shores. They may even get your own name and number to appear on your Caller ID screen. Ignore these calls, as well. If you unknowingly return a scammer’s phone call, look for a plus sign to appear ahead of the area code. This is your clue that you’re placing an international call.
If you see a plus sign, hang up immediately.
If you’re targeted
If your phone rings once and then stops, follow these steps to protect yourself from this scam and help the authorities close in on the bad guys.
Together, we can put the bad guys out of business!
Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a one-ring call scam? Tell us about it in the comments.
12 THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOUR SUMMER GETAWAY
Your bags are packed, your itinerary is set and you’re counting down the minutes until you take off for your dream summer getaway. Before you head out to the airport, though, read through this checklist of important things people tend to forget before leaving for vacation.
1.) Let us know
Give us a call at IRFCU before you set off on your vacay. Let us know your vacation destination so we know to honor any card transactions you make while in another state or abroad. If you’re traveling overseas, ask us about any foreign transaction fees and the best practices of using cash or debit/credit cards. We’ll help you make the best decisions for managing your money while you’re away. Plus, we’d love to hear all about your awesome travel plans!
2.) Check your auto insurance plan for coverage
If you plan on renting a car when you land, check with your auto insurance provider first to find out if rental cars are covered in your plan. If they’re not, you may want to purchase travel insurance, just in case.
3.) Pay all your bills
Before heading out on your trip, make sure all of your monthly bills are paid up. You don’t want to be busy paying bills when you’re sunning yourself on the beach or take a chance of getting hit with late fees.
4.) Set up an automatic email response
Your boss might know that you’ll be away this week, but potential and existing clients will not. Set up an automatic response that lets people know you’re out of the office to avoid appearing unprofessional or negligent.
5.) Put your mail on hold
An overflowing mailbox is an open invitation to thieves. If you’ll be gone for more than a few days, ask the USPS to put a hold on your mail. They’ll happily keep your mail at the post office until your return, at no cost to you. Alternatively, ask a neighbor to collect your mail and hold it until you return.
6.) Unplug your electronics
Don’t pay vampire charges for electronics you’re not using while you’re away. Pull the plug on all small appliances and electronics before you leave.
7.) Clean your home
Before your departure, give your house a thorough cleaning so you’ll be greeted by a spotless, clean-smelling house upon your return. Plus, you’ll avoid an invasion by ants and other critters. Here’s a quick list to get you started:
8.) Let your mobile service provider know about your travel plans
If you’re travelling abroad, you’ll want to check with your cellphone company about possible overseas service plans that allow you to use your smartphone for calls, texts and internet access when on vacation.
9.) Shut off your main water supply
Avoid coming home to a flood by turning off your water supply before leaving on your vacay. A small, unnoticed leak can easily turn into a huge problem when left unattended for days or weeks on end.
10.) Adjust your thermostats
If you have the AC blasting throughout the summer, you’ll want to adjust your thermostat before leaving. Turning it off completely is not a good idea, because you’ll want some air to circulate for keeping the humidity under control and to avoid mold. Instead, turn it a few degrees higher than you usually keep it. You can also program your AC to go on and off while you’re away. Also, set your hot water heater to its vacation setting so it’s heating the same water less often.
11.) Invest in a timer
Keep the prowlers out by setting your lights to go on and off in different rooms and at different times of the day throughout your vacation. It’s a small investment when weighed against the money and aggravation it can save you.
12.) Confirm your reservations
It’s a good idea to confirm your flight, hotel room, car rental and attractions before setting out on your trip. You may have booked some of these reservations months ago, and you don’t want any unpleasant surprises ruining your vacation.
A cybersecurity breach in Facebook’s WhatsApp app last month left users vulnerable to spyware attacks via voice calls. As a result, an undetermined number of the 1.5 billion users of the messaging app may have had malicious spyware installed on their devices.
Here’s what happened, and what you can do to protect yourself.
A government-grade intelligence collection tool was employed to target WhatsApp users via voice calls. The spyware had the ability to seize control of affected smartphones and to access private information stored on the device.
The spyware utilized in the attack was allegedly created by the NSO Group, an Israeli cyber surveillance company that developed this technology for the express purpose of allowing government agencies to infiltrate terrorist groups and fight crime.
The WhatsApp breach was made possible because of a loophole in the app’s code that allowed hackers to transmit spyware onto smartphones by calling targets through the app. The malicious code could be injected into the device whether the user picked up the call or not.
Who was affected?
The security vulnerability affects both iPhone and Android devices, but not every version of WhatsApp. To check if the version you have on your phone was one of those impacted by the breach, check out Facebook’s official advisory confirming the vulnerability and outlining which versions were affected.
What do I need to do now?
Since the breach was discovered, WhatsApp engineers have been working hard to close the app’s security vulnerability. The company has started installing a fix to servers and to private customers. It has also created an updated, safer version of the app and has urged all users to deploy onto their devices as soon as possible.
Here’s a quick guide for updating your WhatsApp.
For iPhone users: Open the App Store, choose updates, select WhatsApp and then click Update.
For Android users: Open the Play Store, click the three lines in the upper left-hand corner, choose My Apps & Games, select WhatsApp and then hit Update.
If you haven’t yet updated your device, do it now. It only takes a few seconds to make sure your WhatsApp is operating at its safest level.
Your Turn: How do you keep yourself safe from security breaches? Share your tips with us in the comments.
It’s the season of gauzy canopies, lacy gowns and stiff penguin suits. That being the case, and with wedding invitations flooding your mailbox, you might already be booking your weekends with weddings through the end of August.
Celebrating a new marriage together with your friends is great fun, but all those wedding invites can put a real strain on your budget. Between wedding attire, travel costs and gifts, each wedding can add up to a pretty penny. In fact, according to the most recent research by Express Spending & Saving Tracker, the average wedding guest is out $673 for each wedding they attend. That’s enough to make you go broke by the time wedding season is through!
If these numbers are scaring you, take a deep breath and relax. You don’t need to go into debt just to attend your friends’ weddings. Just follow these hacks for simple ways to celebrate in style--and within budget.
1.) Save on airfare
Get the best deal on your flight with these hacks:
2.) Think outside the registry
Jump off the registry bandwagon and get creative instead! You can gift the couple with a more personalized gift, like a themed breakfast basket for the morning after, tickets and reservations for a dream date night or a customized kitchen package complete with quirky mugs and whimsical gadgets. No one has to know how much (or how little) you spent. But, your gift is sure to be memorable and treasured by the couple.
If you’re part of a bunch of friends who are attending the wedding together, you can also choose to purchase a group gift. Do some detective work to find out the couple’s secret luxury gift wish, like a top-of-the-line grill or a leather sectional sofa, and then let each friend contribute to a pot until you have the full amount. You’ll save on your gift costs and you’ll know you’ve given your friends a wedding present they’ll be thrilled to receive.
3.) Don’t buy a gown
Don’t feel pressured to spend hundreds of dollars on the dress you’ll wear to your friends’ weddings. Chances are, you won’t want to wear the same gown twice in a season. Also, the dress that perfectly matches one wedding color can horribly clash with the décor at next weekend’s wedding. Instead of dropping a ton of money on a dress you might wear once, rent a gown for a fraction of the price from rental services like Rent the Runway. You can also borrow from a friend or purchase a gently used gown on sites like OnceWed.com or PreOwnedWeddingDresses.com.
4.) Invest in a good suit
Tux rentals can run you up to $150, so if you’re looking at several weekends of weddings over the next few months, it might be worthwhile to invest in a staple suit or tux you can wear again and again. Make sure the suit is of decent quality and will make it through hours on the dance floor with its seams and buttons intact. Once you’ve got your suit in the closet, you can change up the outfit to match different wedding colors and themes by swapping the shirt and tie or the cummerbund and bowtie.
5.) Use AirBNB instead of booking a hotel
You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a hotel stay for every destination wedding you attend. Instead, check out AirBNB for affordable lodgings in the area. You can save even more by booking a full apartment or an entire house with a couple of friends and splitting the cost.
Here’s to a season of affordable and joyous wedding celebrations from all of us here at IRFCU!
Your Turn: How do you save money on wedding expenses? Share your best ideas with us!
We all grow up hearing the same financial advice: Spend less, save more and invest early. While most of these words of wisdom ring true, there are lots of widespread money management tips that are actually false.
Read on for 7 money myths that might be causing you more financial stress than benefit.
Myth #1: Debit is always better than credit.
Do you automatically reach for your debit card when making a purchase? While it’s true that paying for your expenses with money you already have in your account is often the best choice, there is a time and a place for credit cards as well.
The real deal: Credit cards get a bad rap for the debt trap they represent, but they should be your payment method of choice on occasion. First, many credit cards offer rewards in the form of travel miles, cash-back systems and other bonuses. Second, building and maintaining a strong credit history is crucial for your financial wellness; the only way to achieve this is by using your credit cards and paying your bills on time. Lots of credit cards offer purchase protection, which makes them the smarter payment method for big-ticket items. Finally, credit cards can be a safer method of payment when shopping online.
Myth #2: Buy a home at all costs.
It’s part of the American Dream: Go to college, land the perfect job, get married and buy a house, complete with white picket fence and two cars in the driveway.
Unfortunately, though, too many people are fixed on that dream without realizing that owning a home might not be in their best financial interests.
The real deal: For many people, including those who are not yet ready to put down roots or who anticipate a career change that necessitates moving across state lines, renting a home or apartment might be the better choice. It can also be a financially expedient option if you live in a super-expensive area.
Myth #3: Investing is only for rich people.
Investing is for people who drive luxury vehicles and have homes in three different states.
Or is it?
The real deal: Anyone with a small pile of money squirreled away can get a foothold in the stock market. A smart investment strategy can be the best way to let your money grow and put you on the track to financial independence. If you’re a beginning investor, look into passively managed index funds for an easy way to start building your wealth.
Myth #4: My partner manages our finances, so I don’t need to think about
money at all.
Are you living in blissful financial oblivion, confident that your partner is managing your money?
The real deal: Every adult should have a handle on their family’s finances, regardless of their partner’s involvement. While it is fine for one partner to actively manage their money, it is crucial for both partners to be aware of the state of the family finances and to be capable of managing the household expenses and investments if something happens to their partner.
Myth #5: Credit cards will get me through any financial crisis.
Why would I need an emergency fund? I have credit cards!
The real deal: Depending on credit cards to get you through a financial emergency is the perfect way to dig yourself into a deep pit of debt. Thanks to interest, you’ll be paying back a lot more than you spend. You’re also more likely to overspend when you pay with plastic.
Credit cards should not be relied upon for a real financial emergency, such as a job loss, divorce or illness. It’s best to build an emergency fund consisting of three to six months’ worth of living expenses so you’re completely covered for the unexpected.
Myth #6: I’m so young; I don’t need to think about retirement.
Who can think about retirement when it’s so far down the road because they’re just starting a career? Besides, who can afford to save for retirement when they’re bogged down with more pressing expenses, like saving for a house and putting kids through college?
The real deal: There’s no better time to start planning and saving for your retirement than right now. The younger you start building your retirement fund, the less you’ll have to put away each month, and the more you’ll save by the time you’re ready to retire. Gift yourself with a comfortable, stress-free retirement by maxing out your 401K contributions, and/or opening an IRA or another retirement fund. Start today and let compound interest work its magic!
Myth #7: I have enough in my account to cover my expenses so I don’t need to budget.
Budgeting is for people who are barely squeaking through the month. I have enough money; so why budget?
The real deal: Budgeting is for everyone. Without a realistic budget in place, someone pulling in a salary in the high six digits can easily spend their way into debt. A budget will force you to make responsible money choices and to be fully aware of the state of your finances at all times.
Your Turn: Which money myths have you bought into in the past?
Tell us all about it in the comments.
The buds are sprouting—and so are the scams. Watch out for these common parking lot scams as you attend baseball games, outdoor concerts, and other events this spring and summer!
1.) The bogus parking attendant
In this scam, you arrive at an event where an attendant points you to a nearby lot. You pull in, pay for your parking spot and get a payment stub as proof of purchase. But, when the event is over, you look for the attendant who took your payment and they’re gone. And, unfortunately, so is your car.
How it went down: The attendant was no attendant. A clever scammer, who might look like the genuine article thanks to a bogus uniform, simply collected your money and then ran off. Your car was parked illegally in the lot, and the lot’s real owner had it towed.
The fix: Only entrust your car to a parking lot attendant with an official logo, a real sign and a contact number. If you’re suspicious, do a quick search on the company.
Also, be sure to examine the “payment stub” before leaving the lot to attend the event. It should appear authentic, and at the very least contain some information about the parking service as well as actual proof that you paid.
2.) The trick-it ticket
This scam starts much like the other. You’ll attend an event, pay for parking and return to your car when the event is over. Only this time, instead of finding that your car has been removed, you’ll find a ticket stuck on your windshield for illegal parking. You’ll also find a helpful note informing you about a lawyer who can help you lower the ticket, or about an online site through which you can pay the fee.
How it went down: Sometimes, the ticket you find on your windshield may be authentic. However, it’s sometimes just a slip of paper that was stuck on by scammers. In both scenarios, though, the helpful note about a lawyer or an online platform for paying the ticket is bogus. The “lawyer” is usually a scammer hoping to milk you for some cash and the online site is riddled with malware, which can infect your computer.
The fix: Avoid tickets by only using official parking lots. Look for real signs instead of just a “Park Here” notice slapped onto a pole.
If you’re ticketed, look for an official police department logo along with contact information. If you’re still in doubt, you can check the authenticity with your local police department.
If you need the assistance of a lawyer, contact one on your own. Skilled lawyers won’t need to beg you for their business, and those sticking notes on your cars are either scammers or incompetent.
Finally, never share your personal information on a random site. Only pay a ticket online if you’re absolutely sure it’s a police site.
3.) The phony mechanic
In this scam, you’ll return to your car after an event only to find that the car won’t start. A “helpful” bystander will offer their assistance—for a price. They may even claim to be a mechanic or an expert in cars. After extorting you for an enormous amount of cash, they’ll gladly pop open your hood and “fix” your car.
How it went down: The “mechanic” knows enough about cars to disable your vehicle without popping the hood while you were gone. They’ve immobilized your vehicle in an easy-to-fix way, like disconnecting the distributor or an electrical cable. This way, they can appear to “fix” it in seconds.
The fix: If your car suddenly won’t start and some super-helpful mechanics just happen to be passing by, refuse their offer for “help.” Call AAA or another auto service instead.
4) False accidents
You’re backing out of a parking space, careful to check your rear-view mirror and backup camera to make sure the coast is clear before you hit the gas, when there’s a sudden, sickening bump. You’ve hit someone. You rush out of your car and find that you’ve hit a pedestrian who promises to make an insurance claim against you unless you pay them off.
How it went down: The accident “victim” was hiding out of your line of vision and then leapt behind your car as soon as you started driving.
The fix: If this happens to you, look for a closed-circuit video camera and ask the lot’s security guard if you can review the tape. With any luck, you’ll see the con artist pulling their ruse and then you can turn the tables and threaten to press charges if the scammer doesn’t scram. If you’re in a deserted area without no surveillance nearby, don’t pay any fees until a doctor examines the “victim’s” injuries.
Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a parking lot scam? Tell us all about it in the comments.
We all the know true meaning of Memorial Day is remembering and honoring those who have given their lives in service of their country. In recent years, retailers have taken advantage of the extended weekend by offering loads of sale events in stores and online, and each guarantees to save you heaps of money.
But that’s not always the case.
Let’s look at what to buy and what to skip this Memorial Day weekend.
Buy: Outdoor essentials
Welcome summer with outdoor gear like grills, lawn mowers, ladders and more, which are marked down as much as 50% at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. Online retailers, like Wayfair and Overstock, host similar events and may offer free two-day shipping in honor of the summer kickoff.
You’re going to see crazy-low deals on gaming consoles, laptops, and tablets around Memorial Day weekend. But, unless you need one now, wait it out. You’ll find even better deals on electronics during the Black Friday season.
Snag a great deal on a fully loaded patio set, pick up a marked-down comfortable sofa, and swap your old mattresses for inexpensive new ones at Memorial Day sale events.
Most marked-down TVs you’ll find around Memorial Day are older models with outdated features. Find better deals for newer models in November or January.
Buy: Wedding registry gifts
Department stores, like Macy’s and JC Penney, offer discounts on household essentials, such as coffee makers and blenders, in anticipation of the wedding season.
If you’re looking for a new set of wheels, wait until after June. You’ll find the hottest deals between July and October.
Preparing the family car for a summer road trip? You’ll find the year’s best prices on tires around Memorial Day weekend.
Don’t splurge on swimwear and other summer apparel just yet. Wait until June, or even mid-summer, for the steepest discounts.
Buy: Spring apparel
Retailers have been displaying their warmer-weather line for months, which makes the end of May the perfect time to stock up on spring-wear.
Skip: Power tools
You’ll only have to wait a few weeks for the hottest deals on power tools. Father’s Day sales usually start at the beginning of June, and offer deep discounts on power tools and other outdoor power equipment.
Buy: Appliances and home décor
Retailers and manufacturers mark down large household appliances, like refrigerators, dishwashers and ovens at the end of May. You can also score deals on home décor, like light fixtures, flooring and kitchen essentials, at Memorial Day sale events.
Now that you know what to buy and what to skip this Memorial Day, kick off the season of poolside barbecues and aimless road trips by snagging a great deal!
Your Turn: What was your best Memorial Day find ever?
Tell us all about it in the comments!
Q: I’m hearing lots of talk about early retirement and I’ve been wondering about this concept for a while. I love my job, so I don’t really see early retirement as a goal. To me, life without work while I’m still in my physical prime is boring and meaningless. But how can so many popular influencers be wrong?
A: While it sounds like a dream to be able to retire before you hit 40 and to be financially secure enough to walk away from your job without worrying about paying the bills, early retirement is not all sunshine and butterflies. There are many challenges and pitfalls associated with early retirement that you won’t read about in the romanticized accounts of popular bloggers who have achieved their goal of FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early).
Also, as you correctly assume, early retirement is not for everyone. Here’s why:
1.) Boredom breeds discontent
There are some personality types that loathe the corporate world and a typical 9-5 job. These people hate being told what to do and feel stifled or constricted by a traditional work setting. They have loads of outside interests and hobbies they’d pursue, if only the majority of their waking hours weren’t spent at the office. For these employees, a responsible early retirement can indeed be a path that leads to fulfillment and happiness.
Lots of people, though, are perfectly content with their day jobs and feel fulfilled and productive when engaged in their work. For these employees, leaving the structure and social configuration of the workplace while they are still in their productive prime can lead to depression and a physical decline well before old age sets in.
Where do you stand? An early retirement might be an interesting idea if you’re a highly creative and independent sort who feels stifled at work. Similarly, if you have dozens of interests you would pursue without the structure of a typical workday, early retirement may be an attractive path. But, if you know you’d be bored after a few months of retirement, you’d be best sticking around your job as long as you can.
2.) You’ll miss your years of peak earning potential
Why bail out of your career just when you’re hitting your peak earning potential?
Using data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series business and investing website, Visual Capitalist found that the biggest jump in salary across all levels of income earners happens between ages 30 and 40, with those who are pulling in higher salaries seeing the greatest increase closer to age 40. If you pull out of the workforce in your early 30s, you stand to miss out on the years in which you reach your peak earning potential. Also, even if you retire at age 40 or 50, each year you are out of the workplace means a higher loss since you’ll likely have reached your highest income level during that time. And, if your employer has a 401K match, that means missing out on a lot of free money.
Where do you stand? If you’ve already hit your peak earning potential, and you have enough stashed away to keep you going, this may not concern you. However, if you feel you haven’t yet hit your best earning years, you may want to stick around the workplace for a while longer.
3.) You likely don’t have enough money to retire early
Some financial bloggers like to boast about their frugal post-retirement lifestyle, but how many of us can honestly look forward to off-the-grid living for more than a few years, or even a few months? If you can’t hack the super-cheap life for long, can you really afford to retire early?
Consider these numbers: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends nearly $46,000 a year post-retirement. A survey by GOBankingRates found that 42 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and 14 percent have nothing saved at all. Even if you have a handsome retirement fund, it may not be enough to keep you going for half a century or more.
Keep these two factors in mind when you crunch the numbers:
Where do you stand? If you’ve worked out the numbers and you know you’re financially secure enough to retire early, you can keep the option on the table. However, if you’re not sure you’ve put away enough money for retirement, you may want to push it off until you can afford to retire comfortably. Once you leave the workforce, it will be that much harder to re-enter.
4.) You won’t be contributing to society
Life is most meaningful when we’re working to make the world a better place. Whether you’re a heart surgeon, an estate lawyer, a florist or an electrician, your job is likely helping to change people’s lives for the better. Once you bow out of the workforce and spend your days chasing endless thrills or pursuing the ultimate in relaxation, you’re no longer impacting the same way. Like boredom, living selfishly can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Where do you stand? If you have a plan in place for volunteer work, or for contributing to your community in a meaningful way once you’ve retired, this may not affect you. However, if you plan to indulge in years of pure pleasure and relaxation, you may come to regret an early retirement.
Your Turn: Do you believe that early retirement is a good idea? Why, or why not?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Who wouldn’t love some extra pocket money? These freelance jobs don’t require any experience and can be done by practically anyone. Plus, some of them might pay you for tasks you’re already doing! Read on for eight easy side hustles and to find those that may be right for you.
1.) Play with dogs
This job is for true animal-lovers. Why not earn some extra cash watching your furry friends? When you offer your services as a dog-walker or pet-sitter, you can charge as much as $25 an hour, depending on the going rate in your area. To get the word out, you can hang up flyers to advertise your services or sign up with Rover, an Uber-like service that matches up pet-owners and sitters for a small fee.
2.) Social media guru
Yes, your Facebooking talents and clever tweets really are marketable skills. You can offer your services to local and remote businesses as their social media brander. Depending on your skill set, you can write the company blog posts, manage their Facebook page, post new pics on Instagram and send out their tweets. You’ll need to get a feel for the core values and mission statement of the company you represent, but otherwise, it’s just doing what you love on your favorite social media platforms!
3.) Yard work
Do you wield real power with a weed-whacker? Are you an expert lawn mower? Get paid for tending to people’s yards. You can charge by the hour or per job. You may also want to do a survey of other local yard workers to get a good idea of fair asking prices.
4.) Take online surveys for pay
Make the time you spend online count by taking surveys on sites like Survey Junkie, Inbox Dollars and Swagbucks. Most of these sites are easy to use and will pay you as soon as you complete a survey. It’s a quick, easy way to pad your wallet with extra cash.
5.) Turn trashed items into treasure
If you’re crafty and love working with your hands, this one’s for you!
Late spring is the perfect time for finding discarded pieces of furniture in the trash. Take a spin around the neighborhood, scouring each block for curbside furniture in decent condition. Haul your finds home and get to work, refinishing, painting, changing drawer pulls and more to give the tossed piece of furniture new life. When you’ve finished glamming up your treasure, put it up for sale at a local flea market, sell it to a second-hand or consignment shop or market it online through eBay or Craigslist. If you really work at it, you may be able to turn a trashed piece of furniture into several hundred dollars.
6.) It’s fair time!
Summer is the season for local fairs of all kinds. Spend some time researching community fairs in your town and the surrounding areas. Is there one scheduled that features a special talent of yours? If you know you can bake a mean pie or you’ve been told your caramel fudge is to die for, try your hand at competing in a fair that features these competitions. You can earn hundreds of dollars in award prizes just for doing something you enjoy. Plus, there’s no limit to how many fairs you can enter each summer, so you can do this over and over again.
7.) Teach and tutor
Are you a geometry whiz or a genuine science buff? Offer your services as an individual tutor for school-aged children this summer and you’ll have a meaningful way to earn extra money. You can help a struggling student work through summer homework or pass makeup exams so they earn their promotion to the next grade. You’ll be using your brains to make a difference in a child’s life while making good money on the side.
If you’ve got a spectacular talent outside the classroom, you can use it to make money this summer by teaching it to students who want to learn how to do it, too. Specialized instructors like guitar teachers or art coaches can charge a pretty penny per session.
While it helps in some cases, you don’t need special training or credentials for earning extra pocket money. Use this list to find the side hustle that works for you and start boosting your income.
Your Turn: Do you have a side job you love? Tell us all about it in the comments.
The arrival of spring and the deep house cleaning it inspires means more people are putting their old furniture, devices, sports equipment and clothing up for sale. That’s why the amount of items like these on sites like Craigslist swells considerably during this season. If you have the time and patience to sift through the offerings, there are wonderful treasures to be found. Conversely, if your own spring cleaning unveils hordes of sellable stuff you don’t use anymore, you can make good money selling them online.
Unfortunately, though, when there’s money to be made, the scammers are never far behind. Craigslist is riddled with scammers looking to make a quick buck off people’s naivety. Stay one step ahead of scammers and keep your money safe by following these eight tips when using Craigslist.
1.) Be familiar with Craigslist and the services it offers
Lots of Craigslist scams can be avoided by knowing basic information about the site. Before using Craigslist, make sure you know the following:
2.) Deal locally.
The “barely used” couch that’s up for sale a couple of states over might be better-priced than the one being sold just a 10-minute drive away, but it’s always safer to deal with locals on Craigslist. According to the site’s advice on avoiding scams on their platform, you’ll avoid 99% of the scams on Craigslist by following this rule.
Keeping your transaction local will enable you to finalize a sale in person. Plus, there’s less of a chance of there being a language barrier blurring the details of the deal.
3.) Examine the product(s) before finalizing a sale.
Never rely solely on pictures to get the full scope on what you’re buying. Ask to look at the item in person. If you’re purchasing an electronic device or something else that needs to work in order to be valuable, ask to try it out as well.
4.) Don’t accept or send a cashier’s check, certified check or money order as payment.
Fraudulent checks can be impossible to fight. Also, a bad check can seem to clear on sight, so you’ll agree to the sale and use the money that’s supposedly in your account. A few days later, though, you’ll realize the check bounced. By that time, the buyer has vanished with your goods, leaving you responsible for covering the funds you used while presuming it cleared.
On the flip side, if you pay for an item with a money order or wire transfer, you’ll have no way of recouping your loss if the seller fails to come through with the goods.
5.) Use cash—safely.
Meet sellers at a safe, neutral location to make any cash transaction. Avoid going alone if possible. Insist on receiving some form of payment confirmation or receipt.
When accepting cash for a sale, bring along a counterfeit detector pen (which can be found at most office supply stores and online) to be certain you’re not getting scammed with bogus bills. These retail for as little as $5, but they can save you from big losses.
6.) Never share your personal information with a buyer or seller.
As always, when online, keep your personal information to yourself. There’s no reason a buyer or seller needs to know your checking account number, your date of birth or even your mother’s maiden name. If a contact is asking too many questions, back out of the deal.
7.) Be wary of fake escrow service sites.
Escrow services, in which a company holds onto a large sum of money for two parties in the middle of a transaction, can be super-convenient when buying and selling things online. However, they can also be a clever trap for unsuspecting victims. Scammers often create bogus escrow service sites to lure victims into dropping their money right into the scammers’ hands.
The site will be a copycat of a reputable escrow service site, with some slight deviations you wouldn’t notice unless you looked for them.
When using an escrow service site, it’s best to find the site yourself instead of following a pop-up ad or a link. Check the site carefully for spelling mistakes and poor syntax. Also, make sure the URL is secure and matches the site of the service you intend to use.
8.) Create a disposable number.
When conducting business on Craigslist, you may need to share a working phone number. You can create a cost-free, disposable number on Google Voice instead of giving out your real number. Your Google Voice number will be untraceable and will expire within 30 days of non-use.
Your Turn: Have you ever been targeted by a Craigslist scam?
Share your experience with us in the comments.
As spring deepens and vibrantly colored flowers blossom everywhere, you might be dreaming about a garden of your own. You’ll till the soil, pat the fertilizer into place and plant your young shoots with tender care. You’ll make sure they get just the right amount of sunlight and water, and you’ll be careful to keep out unwanted pests with strong fences and natural pesticides. And you’ll be rewarded with beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables, straight from your very own garden.
But when you hit the stores to start shopping for your garden, the sticker shock can be alarming. There’s so much to buy—and it’s all so expensive! There’s specialized equipment, must-have tools, frequent runs for seeds and fertilizer and a steady supply of weed killers and animal repellents. You might be wondering: Can I really afford to have the garden of my dreams?
Yes, you can! Save on gardening costs this year with these six creative hacks:
1.) Share equipment
You won’t be able to care for your yard and garden without the proper tools, but that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to get all that equipment. Instead, speak to your neighbors about sharing some of your gardening gear. Let your neighbor use some tools you own, like your weed-whacker, trimmer and spreader, in exchange for free use of your neighbor’s gardening tools. If you dare, consider sharing your larger, more expensive tools like a lawn mower and rototiller as well.
To make it easier, consider tending to your gardens and yards on different days of the week so you know you’ll have your equipment available when you need it.
If you and your neighbor both need to purchase a new tool or machine, talk about splitting the cost and then sharing the tool.
You can also work out a bartering system with your neighbors, exchanging extra gardening supplies, like leftover seeds and fertilizer.
2.) Purchase used gear
You can save big on gardening equipment by looking for second-hand tools and machines. Check out sites like Craigslist, Freecycle and eBay for quality equipment at bargain prices. Be sure to give the pre-owned tool a test run before finalizing a sale.
3.) Rent equipment
Instead of shelling out big bucks on expensive tools you’ll only use once or twice a season, consider renting them as you need them. Home Depot rents out a wide variety of gardening tools at excellent rates, and lots of smaller hardware stores have a similar garden tool rental service during the spring and summer months, too. You’ll have access to quality equipment when you need it at a price you can afford. Plus, you won’t have to worry about storing bulky gardening tools all year long.
4.) Shop the dollar store
Before hitting the big chain stores, like Lowe’s and Home Depot, for gardening supplies, check out your local dollar store. You’ll find loads of gardening supplies, like seeds, markers, buckets and planters, at rock-bottom prices in stores like Family Dollar and Dollar Tree.
5.) Shop the sales
Like every retail product, gardening equipment and supplies have their season for markdowns and sales, and the wise consumer knows how to time their purchase in order to save big.
Larger gardening equipment, like mowers and tillers, usually sees steep discounts at Memorial Day sale events, making the start of summer an excellent time to stock up on pricey garden tools.
Flowerpots, garden décor, lawn furniture and select plants will retail at blowout prices during the clearance sales at the end of July. If you’re hankering after a new set of Adirondack chairs for your garden, or you want to spruce up your yard with some garden gnomes, this is the time to buy them.
You’ll also see some wilting flowers on sale now; don’t let those drooping leaves scare you. If you find a marked-down perennial past its blooming window, check for strong roots and stems. A firmly rooted perennial planted late in the season might not bring you colorful blossoms this year, but if it’s well cared-for, it will likely recover by next spring and reward you with beautiful, healthy flowers.
Whenever you decide to buy your tools and supplies, be sure to check coupon sites like RetailMeNot and CouponCabin before making a purchase.
6.) Buy seeds
Purchasing young transplants is a lot easier and a lot quicker than starting from scratch, but the difference in price can be enormous. You can pick up a packet of flower or vegetable seeds for less than a dollar in many nurseries and through gardening catalogues. You’ll also have a much broader choice of plant when you buy seeds instead of being limited by the store’s pick of transplants. Finally, raising a plant from seedling to vegetable or flower is a uniquely rewarding experience.
Tending a garden and watching it grow is one of life’s last remaining pleasures that remains unaffected by the encroachment of technology. Use these tips to bring your dream garden to life without draining your wallet.
Happy gardening from all of us here at IRFCU!
Your Turn: How do you save on gardening supplies? Share your best tips and tricks with us in the comments.