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7 Movies That Taught Me About Bank Robberies

 Photo by: Henry Burrows (Flickr)

Photo by: Henry Burrows (Flickr)

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Fun Fact: One of the biggest bank robberies in history occurred in 2003 when one billion dollars was stolen from the Central Bank of Iraq. That figure overshadows the largest U.S. bank robbery when thieves stole $18.9 million during the 1997 Dunbar Armored robbery. What would you do with all that money? Personally, I would buy a restaurant on the beach and an on-call yoga instructor (do those exist?). I guess I should invest some of that, too; but, I don’t plan on robbing any banks. These 7 movies, however, have taught me something about the crime of bank robbery that I feel would be helpful, should I need a change in career… 1. Be Prepared Before robbing a bank, you must think through every scenario, so you’re well prepared no matter what tactics the police use to deter the robbery. Robber Dalton Russell prepares for every scenario in the 2006 movie Inside Man, and he ends up successfully walking away from the bank with the prize he wants. 2. Get in and Get Out The ex-Presidents in 1991′s Point Break spend seconds gathering as much money as they can during their bank robberies. The last robbery they attempt includes a detour into the vault, which wastes valuable time and leads to the gang’s demise. For success, bank robbers must get in and get out quickly. 3. Reduce Distractions You can’t afford to be distracted. You must be able to walk away from any situation in under 30 seconds when they feel the heat approaching. Professional thief Neil McCauley falls in love and doesn’t follow this advice in the 1995 movie Heat, and he pays dearly for his mistake. 4. Take Advantage of Lax Bank Security Even the best security systems have flaws, and the robbers in Empire State capitalize on those security lapses. The 2013 film is based on the 1982 Sentry armored car robbery, in which $11 million was successfully stolen. The movie showcases how robbers can take advantage of flaws in bank security to get away with stolen cash. 5. Use Secure Communication Devices Released in 2008,The Bank Job fictionalizes London’s real 1971 Baker Street robbery. The lookout on the roof and the robbers who tunnel their way into the bank communicate via walkie-talkies. Their robbery almost ends prematurely when the police intercept the transmissions. Alternatively, a private network and secure line give the robbers more time to increase their haul. 6. When You’re Bored, Partner with a Bank Robber The 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde depicts waitress Bonnie Parker as bored and looking for some excitement. She finds just that when she joins forces with veteran bank robber Clyde Barrow in their infamous crime spree. Working together, the couple robs banks, kidnaps hostages, and ends up in a fatal shootout with police. 7. Make Sure Your Partner is Completely Committed Dog Day Afternoon demonstrates how not to rob a bank, and partnering with someone who isn’t 100% committed to the crime is a robber’s worst mistake. In the 1975 movie, crook Sonny Wortzik partners with his friends Sal Naturale and Stevie. As soon as Sal pulls a gun, Stevie runs away. The entire operation goes downhill from there, reinforcing the need for reliable crime partners. Banks do store tempting amounts of money, but keep in mind that the average bank heist yields only $4,330. You can legally obtain that much money in one year when you sign up for matching 401(k) funds from your employer, cut costs in the kitchen, and get a part-time job that brings in an extra $361 a month. Won’t you join me in finding bank robbery alternatives that boost your bank account? Share your best tips here!

21 Money Saving Tricks For Parents

Photo by: 401K 2012 Flickr

Photo by: 401K 2012 Flickr

If you’re like me, saving money does more than stretch your income. It also keeps your entire family well fed, clothed and entertained. 21 money saving tips help your family do more with less.

1. Pay Your Bills on Time

In addition to eliminating late fees and interest charges, paying your bills on time can improve your credit score. Use your good credit score to earn lower interest rates on consumer loans, decent auto insurance rates and a low-interest mortgage.

2. Save $5 Bills

Last winter, I enjoyed a weekend in Mexico thanks to all the $5 bills I had saved during the year. What will you buy with all the $5 bills you save?

3. Reuse Scrap Paper

Reuse junk mail, your kids’ school papers and even bank statements as a saving money tool. I use these scrap pieces of paper to write grocery lists, love notes and reminders.

4. Subscribe to the Sunday Newspaper

This one edition is packed with coupons and sales flyers, and it pays for itself. I regularly score free stuff at drug and craft stores thanks to the Sunday newspaper.

5. Buy Vinegar by the Gallon

Vinegar is one of the most diverse money saving tips. In addition to boosting the effectiveness of laundry detergent, I use it to disinfect surfaces, clean glass and remove mildew.

6. Line Trash Cans With Plastic Grocery Bags

Stop buying trash can liners and use plastic grocery store bags instead.

7. Start a Neighborhood Toy Exchange

Buying the latest toys and video games for your kids adds up to big bucks. Start a monthly neighborhood toy exchange to save cash and give your kids regular access to different toys.

8. Buy Generic

Toiletries, groceries and almost everything else is available in generic form. Saving money without compromising quality is possible when you buy generic brands.

9. Pay With Cash

Psychologists and other experts report that consumers spend less money when they pay with cash. Leave your credit cards at home as you spend less on everything from groceries to gadgets.

10. Stop Buying Gift Wrap

Making homemade gift wrap is an affordable and fun family activity. Instead of using gift wrap that’s expensive, use decorated fabric, plain craft paper your kids color or my personal favorite, the colored Sunday comics.

11. Prolong the Life of Your Shoes with Newspaper

After spending the day sweating in their sneakers or running around in the rain, your kids’ sneakers will be wet and stinky. Prevent mildew when you stuff wet shoes with newspaper. It sucks up the moisture, deodorizes shoes and prolongs the life of your family’s shoes.

12. Go Vegetarian

You don’t have to stop eating all meat to save money. Replace this protein with beans or lentils once or twice a week, however, and cut your monthly grocery bill by up to $40.

13. Invest in Do It Yourself Home Repairs

I taught myself how to fix leaking toilets, replace torn window screens and patch drywall holes. You can also check out online resources or borrow library books that teach you how to reduce home repair expenses.

14. Visit the Library for Free Local Attraction Passes

Find more than free books and videos at your local library. Ask about free passes to local museums, factories and other attractions.

15. Rethink Automatic Expenses

Your gym membership or magazine subscription may automatically deduct from your credit card or bank account, but do you use it? Cancel all the automatic expenses you don’t use.

16. Groom at Home

Haircuts, pedicures and waxing cost money. Groom at home when possible and save cash.

17. Buy Groceries Less Often

I schedule grocery shopping into my weekly routine, and I keep a running list of everything I need on the fridge. That weekly trip adds up financially, though. By stocking up on staples once a month and stopping at the store for milk and bread every two weeks, I save money on groceries and throw away less food.

18. Ask for Discounts

We don’t live in a society that barters, but you can save big bucks by smiling and asking for discounts. Call your phone, cable and electric companies, and ask for available discounts. Before paying for a major appliance or home repair, ask about available discounts. Your credit card company may even be able to lower your interest rate if you ask.

19. Clean Your House

House cleaning is a chore I do on Saturday, and it saves me money by prolonging the life of my furniture, carpeting and appliances. Equally important, cleaning reveals potential problem areas like broken window latches or leaky faucets before they become big and expensive problems. It also reduces allergens and helps me stay healthy. Work together with your kids as you clean your house and reduce household expenses.

20. Change Vehicle Fluids Regularly

A little preventative maintenance goes a long way toward prolonging the life of your vehicle. Edmunds recommends you check transmission, brake, radiator and windshield washer fluids regularly to reduce the cost of vehicle repairs.

21. Learn How to Sew

You don’t have to be a professional tailor or seamstress to save cash. Learn how to sew on buttons, repair hems and patch holes. With these skills, your family’s clothing lasts longer.

As a parent, you’re always looking for ways to reduce expenses. Try one of these 21 money saving tips. What’s your favorite money saving idea?

Improve Your Credit Score: Five tips, including paying bills on time, help you improve your credit score and financial future.

Vinegar Disinfects Surfaces: It is a staple in your housecleaning cabinet because it reduces pollution and toxins in your home while cleaning and disinfecting almost any surface.

Pay With Cash: Psychologically, consumers spend less money when they pay for items with cash instead of credit cards.

Money Saving Home Repairs: Information from Michigan State University assists homeowners in performing money saving home repairs.

Reduce the Cost of Vehicle Repairs: Maintaining proper fluid levels increases the life of your vehicle and reduces operating expenses.

17 Things You Should Not Do With Checks

Photo by: David Goehring Flickr

Photo by: David Goehring Flickr

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The world increasingly relies on credit cards for transactions ranging from paying rent to buying sushi. As I manage my personal finances, though, paper checks come in handy, especially when I pay utility bills and give people gifts. To practice check safety, I resist doing the following 17 things with checks.

1. Print all personal information on checks.

The majority of payees won’t accept your check unless it includes your printed name and address on it. However, you typically don’t need to include your phone number, so keep it off your checks as a way of helping to prevent identity theft.

2. Write a driver’s license number or social security number on checks.

Both of these numbers are assigned specifically to you. Never share them unless you’re communicating with the Social Security Administration or Experian, Trans Union or Equifax, the three credit reporting agencies. Otherwise, you risk identity theft.

3. Write in lowercase.

Your checks are less likely to be forged when you write in all capital letters.

4. Leave room in the amount box.

When you don’t fill out the amount box completely, someone can fill in a number for you, and $100 could quickly become $1,000. For safety, start the check’s amount as far to the left as possible and draw a line across the box after you’ve finished writing in the dollar amount.

5. Write with a pencil.

Basic Check Writing 101 reminds you to always write out checks using ink and not pencil. I’ve started storing a stash of pens in my office and purse so that I can reduce the risk of having my checks altered.

6. Sign your name a different way every time.

An inconsistent signature gives thieves an opening to forge checks, so always sign your name the same way.

7. Sign checks before writing in the payee or amount.

Forgetting to fill in the payee or amount leaves the check open for forgery by a thief. Always take a second look to ensure you’ve filled out the check completely.

8. Endorse the back of the check days before you deposit it.

Some days, I’m just too busy to stop at the bank before it closes. Maybe you can relate. Endorsing the back of a check before I get to the bank isn’t a good idea, though, because anyone could snag that check and cash it. I’ve learned to keep checks I receive safe and unendorsed until I’m standing in line at the bank.

9. Endorse the check for cash.

Anyone can cash a check endorsed for cash. Protect your personal finances when you write checks for cash while you’re standing in the bank teller’s line.

10. Accept checks from strangers.

The buyer from Craigslist might beg you to accept his personal check, but don’t do it. I always deal with cash when I sell on Craigslist or during a garage sale because checks from strangers could bounce.

11. Place personal checks in a regular mailbox.

Once you place mail in your home’s mailbox, it’s fair game for thieves. Drop mail with enclosed checks into the post office’s mailbox instead.

12. Ignore stolen checks.

If you lost your credit card, you’d panic, tear the house upside down in search of it and call the issuing bank immediately to cancel the card. Do you react the same way when you realize a check is missing? Prevent identity theft when you immediately report a stolen check to the bank and regularly monitor your account for suspicious activity.

13. Accept a check that’s made out for more than the required amount.

This classic case requires you to cash the check and send the excess amount to the person who issued the check. For safety, follow advice from Consumer Fraud Reporting and only accept and cash checks for the agreed upon amount.

14. Carry your entire checkbook.

Unless you plan to go on a spending spree, carry only one or two checks in your wallet. This practice promotes check safety and limits the chances of losing your entire checkbook and the money in your bank account.

15. Use see-through envelopes.

Security envelopes prevent prying eyes from seeing your check’s bank account and routing number, so spend a few cents more for thick envelopes.

16. Post-date checks.

Have you ever written a check without having enough money in your checking account to cover it? In effect since 2004, the Check 21 Act allows any business to treat your check like a debit card and withdraw funds right away. Additionally, the chances of someone stealing your bank account information increases the longer your check sits around before it’s deposited or cashed.

17. Share your bank account or routing number over the phone.

Asking for your personal banking information over the phone is a way ingenious thieves steal your identity. Play it safe and resist sharing this information unless you’ve initiated the call to pay a bill by phone.

Using checks is part of managing your personal finances. You need to keep your checks safe, though, as you protect your identity. What check safety tips do you follow?

Save Money With 13 DIY Halloween Costumes

Photo by: Pets Advisor (Flickr)

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Every year, I look forward to creating a unique Halloween costume that will wow my friends. While I definitely want to make an entrance at the annual party we hold, I also want to save money. This year, I found 13 DIY Halloween costume ideas, and one of them is sure to be my next go-to costume.

1. Minions

I’m in love with minions. If you share my sentiments, become one with a few craft supplies, a yellow hoodie and overalls. Loosely sew rather than glue the accessories onto the costume so that you can remove the decorations and wear the clothes after the holiday.

2. Medusa

Anyone who looked at the mythical Medusa turned to stone, but your friends won’t when they see you dressed up like the Greek goddess. Rubber snakes from the dollar Store, chenille stems, a white sheet and optional green makeup easily transform you into a classic monster everyone will want to see up close.

3. Glow in the Dark

You’ll be the light of the party when you wear a Glow in the Dark costume. Customize it with different colored glow sticks that are affordable when you buy them in bundles rather than individually.

4. Hula Girl

While I love a good costume party, I love candy too. In a Hula Girl costume, I can dance the night away and burn off all those tasty candy calories.

5. Headless Marie Antoinette

If creepy is your style, go headless. The upper half of a mannequin and a backpack are essential elements of this DIY Halloween costume that will turn heads.

6. Stick Figure

What do one white shirt, white pants, a paper plate and a few strips of electrical tape have in common? They make a cute stick figure costume that’s perfect for adults and kids.

7. Garden Gnome

Look too cute as a garden gnome fresh from the outdoors. A pointed hat, black belt, fake beard and rubber boots complete the Halloween costume that’s easy to pull together at the last minute.

8. Spider and Web

A family-friendly Halloween party offers the perfect chance to include your child in the festivities, so wear a web and dress your little one as a spider. No one will scream in fright when they see your spidery costume.

9. Rockin’ Sushi Roll

I can’t leave out my favorite food on this DIY Halloween costume list. The Rockin’ Sushi Roll looks good enough to eat, but its design is both simple and affordable.

10. Winged Wonder

Save money on your costume when you use wire clothes hangers to make a pair of diverse wings. Don them and become an:

  • Angel: Wear a white sheet and white wings.
  • Fairy: Pastel shirt, tutu and wings combine to turn you into a beautiful fairy.
  • Bumblebee: Wear a yellow shirt and black pants to go with your black bumblebee wings.

11. Raining Cats and Dogs

Animal lovers can’t resist wearing something that reminds them of their furry friends. I know I’m in love with cats and dogs, and the Raining Cats and Dogs costume gives me the perfect opportunity to surround myself with cuddly critters.

12. Gas Attack Survivor

A little DIY turns a simple two-liter bottle and a piece of elastic into a working gas mask. Just leave out the vinegar when you wear it as part of your Halloween costume.

13. Little Miss Sunshine

Sure, winter’s coming, but we can always find sunshine in the midst of the cooler temperatures. Dress as Little Miss Sunshine, and make your Halloween party a little brighter.

Halloween isn’t complete until I attend a costume party. This year, I’m sure to turn heads with my homemade costume. What’s your best DIY Halloween costume idea?

17 Tips For Living On A Freshman Budget

Photo by: Tax Credits (Flickr)

Photo by: Tax Credits (Flickr)

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When I entered college as a freshman, I never imagined how expensive it would be. In today’s world, the average college graduate must repay $35,200 in student loan debt, reports CNN Money. That’s a whole lot of burgers and fries, not to mention a new car or a huge down payment on a house. You’re not yet ready to buy a house, but my college years flew fast, and yours will too. Follow 17 tips that help you enjoy your college experience, anticipate the future and stick to your freshman budget.

1. Go to Class

The goal of college isn’t to party, play sports or date. It’s to earn a degree that will enable you to get a job and earn a living. So, go to class, take your college education seriously and don’t waste the money you pay for tuition.

2. Buy Used Books

New books are shiny, but you can skip them. Opt instead for affordable used books found at the campus bookstore or from students who recently took the class.

3. Be a Cheap Date

Impressing a romantic interest with a fancy dinner and roses wreaks havoc on your bank balance. Save money without sacrificing fun when you take dates on nature hikes, or play Monopoly together.

4. Open a Bank Account Nearby

Stop paying outrageous fees for using the nearest ATM or check cashing service. Money Crashers suggests you open your own account at the local bank or credit union and potentially save yourself hundreds of dollars in annual fees.

5. Attend Free Campus Events

Every campus offers free movies, concerts, sporting events and clubs. Get involved, and stay entertained without spending a dime.

6. Find Friends on a Budget

My second college roommate could afford to buy whatever she wanted. I felt pressured to keep up until I decided to focus on my budget-conscious friends. You too can find friends who live on a budget and stop feeling deprived or pressured to spend money you don’t have.

7. Skip the Car

As a college freshman, you want the freedom to drive wherever you want. Fuel, insurance, registration and parking fees are car ownership costs that add up, however. Instead, use the student shuttle to run errands or carpool with someone as you conserve cash.

8. Identify Wants Versus Needs

Yes, sushi every day is one of my wants, but is it a need? No. You too need to identify the difference between what you want and what you need.

9. Pay Cash

Even if you have a debit card from the bank, try to pay with cash. You’re more likely to stick to your budget and make wise purchases when you have to fork over bills instead of a plastic card.

10. Avoid Credit Cards

The credit card salespeople on campus are paid to sign you up. Because credit cards include high interest charges and are easy to overuse, avoid them and stick to paying cash.

11. Use the Envelope System

Using an envelope system to spend money is a simple process. It starts when you insert cash from Grandma’s care package or your paycheck into different envelopes labeled with your expense categories. When the money’s gone, your spending in that category ends until the next payday. I found that the envelope system helped me distinguish between wants and needs. It also helped me conserve cash and buy only what I needed rather than spending dozens of dollars on sushi and running accessories, my favorite splurges.

12. Save for What you Want

Like sushi calls my name, that new gaming system or laptop may call your name. Resist the urge to splurge or charge the things you want. Instead, save up until you can afford fun purchases.

13. Stay Home

Weekend road trips, paintball tournaments or movies are fun college activities. They cost money, though. Instead, stay home, sleep over in a friend’s dorm room, play Capture the Flag with your sorority or watch TV in the student lounge.

14. Eat on Campus

Your campus dining hall pass covers every meal and may even be used for snacks, depending on the plan you buy. Stop eating at restaurants around town and use your food pass to enjoy campus food instead.

15. Avoid Vices

Smoking is an unhealthy way to handle stress, and it’s also expensive. A colleague of mine started smoking in college and now spends $6 on cigarettes each day or $2,190 a year on his vice. Alternatively, save your money and take up yoga, running or medication to handle stress.

16. Pay Bills On Time

Even college freshmen get bills, so pay yours the day you receive them. That way, they won’t get lost in the mound of class work on your desk, you won’t rack up huge late fees and you build good credit.

17. Be a Great Employee

I worked in the campus mail room during my freshman year and hated it. However, I appreciated the paycheck and did my best to arrive on time and work with a smile. My boss rewarded me with a great recommendation to a job in the financial aid department. That job taught me valuable skills I use to this day. You too can be a great employee. It costs nothing, but the rewards are potentially huge.

Living on a freshman budget is possible. When you follow these 17 steps, you can also have fun. Which tip will you start using today?

7 Facts To Know Before Signing Up For A Rewards Card

Photo by: 401K 2012 Flickr

Photo by: 401K 2012 Flickr

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Do you love getting cash back as much as I do? I’m all for waking up early on a Saturday morning just so I can take advantage of a good sale, coupon or buy one get one free deal. Even the sound of the phrase “cash back” makes my heart flutter a little bit. So, when I hear TV commercials for a credit card that offers money back on purchases, my ears perk up. Yeah, rewards! Before signing up for a rewards card that offers free airline miles, free merchandise or free fuel, though, consider these seven facts.

1. What Rewards Will You Use?

I rarely fly because most of my family lives nearby, and I work in the area. However, I love to shop. Retail therapy makes me happy, even if I’m just browsing the mall and eating sushi. That’s why I don’t have a credit card that rewards me with airline miles. You, however, may want those miles so that you can visit your Grammy across the country or take exotic vacations. Before signing up for a card, choose which type of rewards you want and would use.

2. Can You Afford to Take on More Credit?

Your credit score allows you to qualify for a low-interest mortgage and affordable auto insurance. Too many credit cards, high balances and late payments, though, decrease your credit score. Order a copy of your free credit report and take a look at your overall financial health. Yes, shopping rewards or airline credits appear appealing, but an overall low score means you may not be able to afford a home or vehicle. In this case, I recommend you walk away from the rewards card in a hurry, no matter how generous the benefits are.

3. Is There an Introductory Offer?

You may not think of yourself as a fish, but credit card companies do. They offer a generous introductory rate of perhaps zero interest for six months or double cash back on purchases made during the first month. I love those generous terms, but they are hooks that ensnare you if you’re not careful.

Instead of being swayed by the shiny rewards, check the small print. Chart when the introductory period ends, how rewards are distributed and other details as you decide whether a particular card is a good or bad choice for your needs.

4. What is the APR?

I remember opening my first credit card in college. I felt important carrying around that piece of plastic because it signaled financial independence and gave me freedom to go out with friends and shop online. While I worked hard to pay off that card every month and used it to build my credit portfolio, I also learned a valuable lesson. The advertised Annual Percentage Rate or APR isn’t applicable to every user. Because I was new to the game and didn’t have established credit yet, I only qualified for the highest APR on that first card. The best interest rates were reserved for people with an excellent credit score, and even then, rates were subject to change based on payment history and card balance. The same fact applies to a rewards card today, so always check the card’s APR before signing your name on the dotted line.

5. Is There an Annual Fee?

Certain reward cards include a mandatory annual fee. It’s like paying a membership fee in exchange for permission to use the card. Even if you don’t charge a single cent, your account will be charged the fee, typically $39 or more. I try to stay away from a reward card with an annual fee because it’s wasted money. There are plenty of cards out there that don’t charge a fee. You too should do yourself a favor, read the fine print on the application and compare several different cards and their annual fees before you sign up for one.

6. How Much do the Rewards Really Cost?

Say you spend $1,000 on new furniture and earn $1 back. That’s not a good deal, but that’s how some reward cards work. Always do the math before signing up for a card so that you know whether the rewards are worthwhile. The best cards offer one point per dollar and include occasional bonus points on certain purchases like clothing, fuel or groceries. Even then, though, never charge more than you can afford or repay that month just to earn rewards. There’s no point in receiving a late payment fee of $40 or more and a bad mark on your credit score from a purchase that gave you $10 in rewards.

7. Do the Rewards Expire?

Earning cash back is an exciting prospect, and you want to actually use the rewards you earn. That means you’ll need to check the expiration date on rewards and use them before you lose them. Additionally, check if missed or late payments affect your reward balance because some cards cancel rewards as a penalty.

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about reward cards is that they are a tool you use. They aren’t free money, although I love free money, nor are they designed to replace cash. While there’s nothing wrong with opening a credit card account with rewards attached, always ask yourself these seven questions as you choose one that’s right for you. What will you buy with the rewards you earn?

How Your Credit Score Impacts Car Insurance Rates

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My friend went to the auto dealership the other week, and she found her dream car. It’s a cute little model that’s perfect for her and her dog. However, when she called her insurance agency to find out how much the insurance would cost, they asked for her social security number so they could access her credit score. She called me right away to complain, and here’s what I told her.

What is Your Credit Score and How is it Determined?

In a nutshell, your credit score is a summary of your financial past and a predictor of your financial future. According to myFICO.com, your credit score depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Payment history, including how often you’ve paid on time, paid late or missed a payment
  • Amount owed on your debts
  • How long you’ve had your credit accounts, loans and regular household bills like home rent and utilities
  • Type of credit you have

Why Does Your Credit Score Affect Your Car Insurance?

Insurance companies consider your driving record, vehicle type, marital status, education and commuting distance when they determine how much your insurance will cost. With all of that information, why do they need your credit score?

Your credit score tells lenders if you’re a good financial risk. If you’ve been able to pay your debts and household bills on time, you’ll probably pay your insurance premiums on time too. Additionally, a good credit score is typical of older, experienced drivers who are less likely than young, inexperienced drivers to be in an accident that results in a claim.

Contact your state insurance commissioner for information on whether your credit score is used to determine your insurance rate. If you know what the law is in your state, you can take an active role in improving your credit score and reducing your auto insurance rate. Using credit scores to determine insurance rates isn’t popular with a lot of people, but not all insurance companies use it.

How Can You Get a Better Insurance Rate?

Cleaning up your credit score will improve your car insurance rate. It won’t be quick, but taking four steps can save you money in as early as one to two years.

1. Pay your bills on time, pay down debt and refrain from opening new lines of credit. These three factors all heavily contribute to your credit score. I know it’s tempting to open credit accounts at all your favorite department stores because they come with a great discount the first time you use the card, but too many cards lower your credit score and could make your car insurance rates rise, so try to resist opening too many accounts.

2. Track your credit score by requesting your free credit report. Equifax, Experian and TransUnion offer free reports once a year, so I request a copy from a different company every four months. Then, I check my score, look for and correct errors and ultimately pay less money for car insurance.

3. Shop around for the best available car insurance rates. Every company uses slightly different criteria to determine rates. Even if your credit score isn’t perfect, you might find a more affordable rate with a different insurance carrier.

4. Check for more affordable car insurance rates at least once a year. Your credit score, driving record, marital status and other factors that determine your auto insurance rate may have changed, and you could be eligible for cheaper rates.

I know my friend is going to love her new car. And now that she knows how her credit score affects her insurance rate, she can look for ways to increase her score and lower her car insurance rate. You can use this information to save yourself money too. What’s the first step you’ll take to achieve better credit and cheaper auto insurance?

Budgeting And Tracking Expenses

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Photo by: Tax Credits Flickr

Photo by: Tax Credits Flickr

A lot of people know the mortification of going to buy sushi from their favorite restaurant and having their debit card declined. They can’t wait to disappear sheepishly out the door in embarrassment.

I can’t say I’ve never forgotten to deposit funds to cover a few automatic bill payments. To help avoid that embarrassment of having your card declines and risking overdraft fees, I’ve taken a bit of time to find some tools and apps that make expense tracking easy. Hopefully, the information I found can help you avoid embarrassment and costly fees.

Why do You Need a Budget?

Besides avoiding the embarrassment of a declined debit or credit card and missing out on favorite treats, a budget makes it possible for you to achieve your financial goals. Personally, I love going out for sushi every week, but I also want to pay all my bills on time, save up for retirement and fund a vacation with my parents and siblings next year. I can do that when I budget expenses.

Budget Basics

In a nutshell, a budget is a spending plan. It helps you control how much money you spend on everything from basic living expenditures to luxurious splurges. A budget also ensures you don’t spend more money than you earn, and it helps you save for the future or the cute pair of shoes you love at the mall.

To get started budgeting, add up your income for the month. If you spend more than that, you won’t have enough money to pay bills or save for the future. Knowing how much money you make is the first step toward successfully budgeting expenses, but you need to add up all your expenses too. Otherwise, you won’t know where your money goes, and you’ll continue to overspend.

Two Types of Budget Tools That Track Expenses

Paper budgeting tools like the pdf offered by consumer.gov help me track how much money I spend in categories like food, insurance and transportation. I can use that information to adjust my spending the next month.

While paper works great if you don’t have a smartphone, I prefer a virtual budgeting tool that immediately allows me to enter the amount of money I spend on everything from breakfast out with friends to gasoline for my car. Two budgeting tools that are easy to use include Cashbook and Expenditure.

Cashbook

Available for Android, the $5.99 Cashbook simplifies expense tracking. To get started, choose from common categories like rent, savings, food, entertainment and clothing or input customized categories. Then, regularly enter the amounts you spend in each category.

I appreciate that the app also allows users to take and store pictures of receipts. This feature, along with the GPS that records mileage, are especially handy features when I have to turn in expense reports for work, and my friends who frequently misplace receipts love this option too.

Compiling expense reports and tracking my spending take little time with Cashbook because I can import the information from the app to Quicken, CSV or an HTML file, forward it to email, Google Drive, or Dropbox and create diagrams or charts. Those charts show me when I’ve reached my goal for savings and my limit for spending. These Cashbook features all assist me in budgeting expenses and staying on top of my finances.

Expenditure

Budget expenses on your iPhone with Expenditure. It costs $1.99 and is super easy to use. Start by entering the amount of the transaction, whether it’s income or an expense and which category it falls under. You can’t scan receipts, but you can easily take a picture and add it to the notes section of the transaction.

I appreciate that this app allows me to track spending for the week or month and choose to sort the categories by the amount of money I spend. At a glance, I can use this feature to see if I’m spending more on clothes than I spend on rent, which is a huge eye opener for me when I want to go overboard at the outlet mall. I then use that information to adjust my spending.

Now that you know more about budgeting and expense tracking, are you ready to get started? It’s not as overwhelming as it seems. In fact, making an effort to use a paper or virtual budget can change your life. You now take control of your finances and discover the freedom that comes with saving more than you spend. What step will you take today to establish a budget and track your expenses?

Can You Afford Your Dream Wedding?

PHOTO BY: Kalle Gustafsson (flickr)

Weddings make me smile. There’s nothing like watching a glowing bride walk down the aisle toward her waiting groom before they vow to love and cherish each other forever. Then, the party starts. Dancing to the DJ, eating delicious cake and chatting with other guests are great ways to end the perfect day on a fun and celebratory note.

Throwing a wonderful wedding costs upwards of $28,000 as reported by the Huffington Post, and some of the expenses include:

  • Dress purchase, tuxedo rental and accessories
  • Invitations, bulletins and thank you notes
  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Engagement and wedding rings
  • Venue rental and decorations
  • Flowers
  • Photos and videographer
  • Reception food and cake
  • DJ
  • Honeymoon

I’m not ready to get married yet, but I’ve already started dreaming about my wedding, and I started a wedding fund. Some of my friends are lucky enough to receive a blank wedding check from Dad and Mom. However, my parents have already told me that I will get a set amount of money toward my nuptial celebration, and the rest of the cost will be my responsibility. Here are a few tips I’m using to fund my dream wedding, and these tips can help you afford your dream day too.

Save Every Penny

A small penny isn’t worth much on its own, but nonetheless, I save every single one I find because they add up over time. Paying with cash is one way I save pennies. In addition to accumulating no debt or interest on a credit card, I get coins back from most purchases. Those coins add up to hundreds of dollars every year.

I also look for small ways to save money around the house. I pack brown bag lunches and unplug appliances that use vampire energy. Before eating out with friends, I grab a granola bar or fruit so that I can spend less on food, and I drink water instead of soda or cocktails. These small steps reduce my living expenses and help me save as much money as possible toward my wedding.

Invest Wisely

My wedding fund is not stored in a low-interest savings account at the bank because I won’t be paying for a wedding any time soon. Therefore, I can afford to invest in a Certificate of Deposit. It offers a better interest rate when I invest in a 12 month or longer CD. I check CD rates at my local bank and online.

I definitely will not use credit cards, loans or my 401k as a blank wedding check for my wedding. Why would I want to start my new marriage in debt? Instead, I’ll adjust my expectations if I have to and look for ways to cut expenses without compromising my dreams. That strategy seems a lot wiser than taking on debt as my new husband and I anticipate buying a home and starting a life together.

Prioritize Expenses

Speaking of adjusting expectations, choosing priorities for your dream wedding makes financial sense. I’ve seen a few recent examples.

  • My former roommate asked her friend to bake the cake as a wedding present.
  • A cousin decorated the church with fresh flowers from her grandma’s garden.
  • My aunt held a pig roast in her back yard.
  • A co-worker bought a dress from a thrift store.
  • My sister’s friend printed her own invitations.

These suggestions might not fit your image of a perfect day, but prioritizing expenses makes paying for a wedding easier. Personally, I want a killer reception, and I already know that I’m willing to forgo decorations, an expensive dress and an exotic honeymoon in favor of an amazing DJ and delicious food.

You may have different priorities for your special day, and that’s okay. The beauty of a wedding is that it’s yours, and you and your fiancé decide the priorities of your perfect day and how much you’ll spend to make it a reality.

Make that reality come true whether or not you’re blessed with a blank wedding check. Save pennies, invest wisely and choose your priorities. These tips help you achieve your dream wedding, so get started saving for your happy day today!

You Have to Play to Win: How to & What to Do If You Win Big

Photo by: Ian Barbour (Flickr)

Photo by: Ian Barbour (Flickr)

Before I jump into this, I just want to take a minute to make clear that I don’t have the secret to winning the lotto – I wish I did – but, here’s my two sense on it anyway.

In 2012, Zippy Vonier won $50 million from a Quick Pick ticket after playing the same lotto numbers every day for years, and Clarence Seay ended up with winning lotto numbers on a scratch-off ticket worth $5 million. These and other lottery winners share fairytale stories of riches won, and I’m waiting for my own rags to riches story to take off! You might too; but, we have to play to win, and here are my thoughts on how to do it and what to do after you win big.

Buy a Ticket

It’s obvious, isn’t it? You have to play to win. So, run to your nearest grocery or convenience store and buy a ticket.

Every state has a different lottery system with a variety of games, and I’ve found that I sometimes have to sift through my options to find the one I’m looking for.

Remember that your chances of winning increase when fewer people play – forgive me if I don’t disclose all my playing tricks and preferences, protecting my odds, lol. Consider sticking to small jackpots; this strategy helps your budget too. The other day, I really wanted to buy tons of tickets for the big prize, but I needed to eat that week too! No one can afford to blow all their money on lotto tickets, no matter how big the payout is. Don’t lose your grip on reality, play smart.

Choose Winning Numbers

If you decide to play a daily six game, pick a lotto winning number combination. Some players let the lotto machine choose for them, but you may have a string of lucky numbers based on tips from a fortune cookie or a special birthday or anniversary. Other strategies involve:

  • Choosing numbers that make an X, M, diamond, cross, square or a zigzag pattern on the card.
  • Mixing high and low numbers.
  • Staying away from popular sequences that list numbers in a row or include all the same number.

Picking winning numbers is how to win the lotto, but you’ll also want to check your ticket before you leave the store. It must include the right numbers and date if you want to win.

Save Your Ticket

You can’t claim your lotto winnings if you don’t save your ticket. Store it in a safe place, and get ready to check the winning numbers. They’re posted on the lotto website, printed in the newspaper and sometimes televised during your local or national news. You can also take your ticket to a store that sells lotto tickets, and ask the cashier if you have a winning ticket.

Redeem Your Prize

When your lotto winning number choice is called, get ready to celebrate! For small prizes, simply sign the ticket and redeem it in a lotto sales store before the deadline expires.

Bigger prizes require a few additional steps that safeguard your winnings:

  • Sign your winning ticket.
  • See a tax attorney who will advise you on whether an annuity or lump sum distribution makes better financial sense.
  • Pay taxes. The IRS usually withholds 25 percent from prizes above $5,000, and you’ll owe state and local taxes too.
  • Arrange with your state’s lotto department to visit their headquarters. Here, your ticket is validated, and you redeem your ticket.

Enjoy Your Winnings

You can probably think of a million ways to spend your earnings – I’ve got my own all mapped out! First, I’d splurge on expensive sushi. I wouldn’t tell too many people about my winnings, though; they’d just want a piece of the pie, and I’d end up losing most of my winnings – I’m a softy, I know. After sushi, I’d meet with a financial advisor and prepare a plan that wisely invests the majority of the winnings. You might want to do the same. While it’s okay to indulge in a new car, repay debt or buy jewelry, remember that your money won’t last forever. Guard it carefully as you make it last. Make good, long term financial decisions.

Now that you know how to win the lotto, buy a ticket today. I know I can’t wait to try out my winning lotto numbers. Here’s hoping we all win big!