Helpful Hints for Holiday Shopping

No! That time is here again isn’t it? The giant yard decorations in Wal-Mart, the garden section has become inundated with Christmas trees and decorations, and this month or next, the Christmas Club money that you’ve been saving up is now in your checking account! A lot of people are done with their Christmas shopping by now, but what if you’re not?

Now, before you run away screaming in terror, please wait and listen to me for awhile. Some people live for the early sales. Others wait till the last minute when your local store of choice is a royal mess. Does the thought of holiday shopping give you a case of hives when it comes to mind? It used to do that to me too, until I started following some friendly advice that I’m going to share with you today.

One thing that you should always do is hold out. If some of the gifts on your list are items that are bound to be popular this coming year, try to wait as long as you can. The sales will only get better as the holidays get closer. Now, if you’re like me, the crowds just get to be too much as people rush to holiday sales. What do you do if that’s the case?

Two words: The internet. The internet has come to the rescue of the socially anxious, the easily stressed out, and the last-minute shopper alike. The only issue you may have to deal with is lag and the very rare delays at the Post Office, and neither of those things are half as stressful as holiday lines, upset kids, and angry parents. Amazon even offers free shipping, which makes it cheaper than the gas and pretzel you need to go to the mall. What, you don’t need a pretzel to go to the mall? I totally do.

Another great idea is to get creative. If you’re especially good at something, why don’t you utilize that skill or talent in order to give your family and friends unique gifts that are also cost-efficient? If you’re good at baking, make your friends baked goods; who doesn’t like them? I have a friend who cross-stitched some different things for her friends to hang on their walls one year. Another friend made miniature scrapbooks. Remember, gifts don’t have to be extravagant to make the recipients happy; they just need to be from the heart.

Lastly, always be sure to look for sales, compare prices, and to utilize coupons and rebate offers. If you want something, start looking for coupons for that specific item. Go to their company website or the websites of places that may offer that item and see if you can find those killer discounts you may be looking for.

What hints and tops do you have about holiday shopping? Have you started already? Are you done? Are you laughing at me because you haven’t even started yet? Share some thoughts, have a great weekend, we’ll see you here next week!

3 Tips for Beginning Investors

Investing is a scary word right now. An unstable stock market, decreased value of the dollar, and political unrest all around the world make investing a big risk. Do you still want to attempt to be part of the solution? Then take a couple of risks and consider investing in stocks.

But how do you start? What can you do to be part of the solution without plunging into unknown waters unawares? Today, we’re going to look at three things that all wise investors take into account when planning their investments.

  1.  “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This is probably the age-old investment tip. Basically, it means that you shouldn’t put every dollar that you invest into one stock or even the same category or stocks. Heck, it means you shouldn’t put it all in the stock market, either! This is referred to as diversification and its one of the best strategies out there to help your portfolio have the least amount of risk. Many experts suggest that you diversify between standard savings accounts, the stock market, and bonds. How much you put in each of these three things will depend on how much risk you want to take; the more you have in “safe” investments (savings accounts and bonds which cannot lose money), the less overall risk you have.
  2. Do some research, both before you invest and while you have money in the stock market. Don’t just go on your whims. Get out there, read about the companies you’re considering putting money into, see what their patterns have been for the last year, and compare them to other companies in the same industries. No, eeny-meenie-miney-mo does not work. Please don’t try it; the results will not be what you’re looking for.  After you put money into stock, keep an eye on it. It’s not like a crock pot; you cannot ‘set it and forget it.’ Continue to read up on the industries you’ve invested in and on the market as a whole. Staying “in the know” will help in further reducing any risk you have.
  3. Don’t play it too safe. Now, these first two tips were about risk and reducing it. But any knowledgeable investor knows that there has to be some risk involved in your portfolio or your profit will be minimal. If your intention is just to set some money aside that you can come back to later with accrued interest, then this doesn’t apply. But if you want to be successful and get ahead, take a couple risks. Don’t be stupid with taking risks, but be willing to lose a little to potentially gain a lot.

This definitely isn’t everything that you need to know in order to invest successfully, but it’s a great start. What other tips and hints do you have to start investing? Have you invested, or are you too nervous to take the leap? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Think you can Eliminate Your Cable Bill?

In 2010, the residents of the city of Raleigh, NC, spent more than any other American city on cable and satellite TV to the tune of $1,033 a year. And that was an average. Did everyone get premium packages in Raleigh or what? The average American household that same year spent around $550. For some people, that’s a nice chunk of their income.

That brings up an important question: Is there a way to reduce or eliminate that sometimes overbearing expense? I think so, considering I’ve been without cable for a couple of years now. Here are a few ways that I’ve coped with not having cable in my home.

-        The Internet. The internet is quite a good alternative for cable. Between finding silly videos on YouTube, playing games on various websites, and using Hulu and station websites to watch my favorite shows, I’m highly entertained for much less a month. I also listen to baseball games on there for $20 a year, satisfying my sports fix as well! Do some research, and you can find some great alternatives online.

-        Netflix. Netflix and Blockbuster Online are both high-quality services that offer both movie rentals and online streaming. I don’t use the rental service, I only use online streaming, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Newer movies aren’t on there, but I’m not a huge movie watcher. So I’m satisfied watching all of the great options they have… seasons upon seasons of various TV shows make me quite happy.

-        Digital Converter Box. I have said I was going to invest in one of these for a really long time. I still haven’t, for one reason or another. It’s just like the old rabbit ears you used to be, but in a little box you hook up. You get like 5-7 channels, depending on what’s available where you live, and it’s only for the cost of the box (approximately $50).

-        Books. Some of you are going to look at this and say that you don’t like to read. I understand… but everyone does like a good story. If you prefer audiobooks over sitting down and reading a book, then join an audiobook club like Audible. For less than a month of cable, you can get tokens for 1-2 books a month that you can listen to. It’s TV for your ears!

-        Radio. One of the biggest reasons that I watched TV in college was to create background noise while I was studying or writing a paper. After college, I realized that that same thing could be accomplished by something that I could get for free… the radio. Whenever I do work or chores, I turn the radio on, and all it costs is the minute amount of electricity it takes to run it.

If you’ve ever considered dumping your cable, these are some solid options for you. It’s worked for me thus far, maybe you should consider it in order to save some big bucks. Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Revving Up for Black Friday

Okay, was anyone else really confused when they looked at the calendar this week and realized that Thanksgiving is next Thursday?  Yeah, I was a bit confused too. It’s earlier than it has been the past 3-4 years. Throws you off a bit, doesn’t it?

Anyway, this picture reminds you of what happens on Thanksgiving night (since a lot of stores are starting to open their doors at 10 PM on Thanksgiving Day) or on Black Friday morning, doesn’t it? In our country, Thanksgiving is often a kick-off to the craziest shopping weekend of the year.

But, along with great deals, we sometimes end up with stress, frustration, or a general feeling of “meh.” How can we make Black Friday a more enjoyable experience while still getting great deals? Here are some tips for your Black Friday expeditions.

1. Get the retailer’s ads early. Guess what? Most retailers have jumped on the boat and, instead of having to dig up spoiler ads, they’re printing them early! Target has been poking at me lately with teases of their Black Friday deals, and Amazon has all sorts of stuff ready to roll as well. So, just search online and you’ll be able to find exactly what you want. Just Google “Black Friday Sales” and a bunch of useful websites will be at your fingers in minutes. Then, make a list and check it twice.

2. Get a good night’s sleep. Before you go Black Friday shopping, take advantage of the tryptophan in the turkey that makes you sleepy and sleep. Many people in the stores are grumpy just because they haven’t gotten enough sleep. So, take a nap the day before and wake up early, or go to bed early. Yes, I know there’s football. But sleep, and you’ll feel much more awake when chasing those early morning sales.

3. Consider the sister movements to Black Friday: Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Is Black Friday a little too crazy for you? Then why don’t you consider the other things that happen the weekend after Thanksgiving? Small Business Saturday started a few years ago as an effort to push more people to buy from local businesses. And Cyber Monday was created by the companies who are primarily online (Amazon, eBay) for more shopping goodness. Some brick-and-mortar retailers are in on Cyber Monday too, offering deals you can’t get in stores.

4. Start earlier! It seems that we’re moving toward a trend that the two months before Christmas are meant for great deals. Now, obviously, it’s a little late for that now, but maybe next year you’ll want to consider starting to look at deals as early as mid-October. Yes, thinking about Christmas before Thanksgiving. I know. It’s crazy, but it’s the trend!

Do you go crazy on Black Friday, trying to get those awesome sales before everyone else does? Or do you sit at home and enjoy the madness that ensues from your television or on the web? Share some thoughts and tips in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Why Does an Election Boost the Stock Market?

I woke up at my usual time today and forced myself to get out of bed even though I haven’t been feeling the best lately. Why? Because then I warmed up my car (we got frost this morning), drove to my polling place, and performed my civil duty of voting. I’m definitely not going to tell you who I voted for, because I will likely make someone angry, but I am going to tell you that this election is important for a lot of reasons. Obviously things like women’s rights, same-sex relationship rights, and other things are coming up all over the place, but the primary topic on a lot of people’s minds is the economy.

I was poking around this morning and reading some articles about the economy and the election. As it always does, the stock market is rising on election day and makes things look like they’re going to get better. Seems weird, doesn’t it? It’s not like a decision has been made first thing in the morning! Now, I have read a couple of articles that say that Wall Street is set for another 4 years with President Obama; incumbents are often reelected for a second term, even if the economy is poor. Something really messed up has to happen in order for an incumbent to have an upset.

So, if that’s the case, why is the stock market up? Aren’t people saying that it’s too close to call? Why would this impact the stock market today? I think there are a couple of reasons.

- The perception of a better future. No matter what way you voted, you still think that there’s a better future ahead. Because a lot of the stock market is based on psychology, the perception of a bright future pushes people to take more risks in the stock market. Those risks make prices go up, and prices going up means that the market looks like it’s bouncing back. Does that mean that it’s going to stay up? Maybe, depending on who actually wins, but we’ll see.

People are more active in general on election day. If you vote on election day, you’re also likely to do other things, like watch the stock market and other news stories. If you’re watching all of the positive things happening (or negative things), you’re more likely to jump on the bandwagon and make more of them occur. This goes hand in hand with the last one, merely because it’s a domino effect. A good domino effect, at least for a few days, can help the economy a bit.

Do you think the election results will affect the economy? Do you think four more years will end up being a disaster? Or will it be better than Romney winning? If you haven’t done it yet, go vote! Your vote counts, even if you don’t feel like it does. This year especially. So, now that I’m off my soapbox, have a great week, and we’ll see you next week!

4 Questions to Ask When Considering a Credit Card

Credit cards can be incredibly useful; all through high school I had one with a small ($500) limit that I was to use “for gas only.” Now, needless to say, my family never taught me good money management skills (sadly, my mom was almost $15,000 in credit card debt at one point), so I had to learn on my own, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s taken a long time to get from point A to point B, but I feel like I finally have a grasp on how to properly use a credit card. Took long enough, right?

Credit cards are a finicky subject for a lot of people. Some people say you should get one to establish credit; others shun them off entirely. Some people think that they can help with teaching responsibility, others think that they open the door to being irresponsible.What kinds of questions should we be asking when it comes to getting a credit card?

So, here are some tips and tricks for choosing whether or not you should get a credit card, and if so, then what you should be looking at. Today, we’re going to look at 4 things you should ask yourself before getting a credit card.

  1. What am I getting it for?
    Am I getting the credit card to establish credit? For emergencies?  To just get something that I want right now instead of waiting until I have the cash? Make sure your reasoning is the right reasoning; if it is more based in materialism than necessity, you may want to reconsider getting a credit card at all.
  2. What is the interest rate?
    Interest rates will make or break you. Some companies charge as much as 25% interest. Some companies will also offer 0% interest for a certain amount of time. You should ALWAYS read the fine print and see how long this period is for.
  3. Are there any fees or hidden costs involved?
    Some credit cards make you pay a certain fee monthly or annually. This is another case of “read the fine print.” You may be getting roped in to something you’re not ready for.
  4. Can I afford to make monthly payments/Can I pay more than the minimum?
    Can you afford another bill, or will it burden you to have that other bill? Also, I ask if you can pay more than the minimum because you could pay up to twice as much as you originally paid for anything you put on a credit card if you only pay minimum payments. These are important to think about.

These are just a few things to think about when considering a credit card. The average American is at least $5,000 in credit card debt, because Americans allow their spending to get out of control and don’t keep track of what they are spending. So, keep these things in mind when applying for any credit card.

What have you asked yourself when looking for a credit card? Have you ever gotten a credit card and then later regretted it? Share your stories in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Planning For A Holiday Road Trip

road trip

So, I do some crazy things at times. You can blame it on the fact that I’m young, you can blame it on the fact that I have a bit of a wanderlust in me, you can blame it on a whole lot of things, but I do crazy (and fun) stuff. This year, my crazy thing is going on a month-long road trip for the holidays. It’ll be the first period of time that I’ll have free time for more than a month, so I will be seeing family and friends that I haven’t seen in a long time.

Anyway, I started planning for this trip yesterday, and it’s always a fun experience. I was the one that my friends wanted to plan trips, so it’s definitely something that I enjoy doing. Here are some ways that I keep my costs for trips low.

Look at your gas mileage… and overestimate what you may need. I know this doesn’t sound like a way to save money, but it really is. Why? Because if you overestimate how much gas will be, then you’ll be sure to save too much, which means you’ll have a little extra for a night out on the town or something like that. Gas prices change, too, so it gives you some breathing room in terms of that.

Stay with friends or consider a hostel. My whole trip involves visiting family and friends, which ends up saving me a lot of money in the long run. Make sure to bring some stuff to compensate (like I plan on bringing food and such to the places I’m staying), because that’s just good manners, but overall, it’s a great idea. Hostels are a fairly cheap overnight option too; most run $30-$40 a night and have most of the stuff you’d need. They’re pretty cozy too; I stayed in one on my trip on the Appalachian Trail last September.

Try not to eat on the road. It’s hard. Food is tasty, and fast food is a great option, but don’t eat it all of the time. Not only is it absolutely horrible for you in terms of calorie consumption; it’s going to drive up those costs that you really don’t need. Pack car-friendly snacks and meals, consider using one of those travel coolers that plug into a power source in your car, anything to save on the dent that food on the go can put in your wallet.

Take advantage of Triple A and other discounts. I love Triple A. It’s the best thing ever in my opinion. I’ve saved money on everything from prescriptions to oil changes. If you don’t have an AAA membership, get one. Also, consider finding Groupons for the places you may be going…. you can get some great deals you may not find otherwise!

How do you reduce the cost of your trips? Are you getting ramped up to do some major holiday traveling? Do you have any other thoughts? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week.

4 Tips About Retirement

Retirement. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily think about retirement until they’re in their thirties or forties, which is probably a bit of a mistake. I know some people who are working toward their retirement with eager anticipation, whereas others try to ignore it until they absolutely have to deal with it. Saving for retirement may seem like a burden now, especially in this economic climate, but it’s definitely something that we should be thinking about. You don’t want to be penny pinching until the day you die, do you?

So, what are some things that we can do in order to start thinking about retirement? Today, we’re going to look at four tips that may help you while making your decisions about retirement.

1. Even if you don’t have a “career,” start something. If you’re younger, like I am, you still need to be thinking about retirement. A lot of people are having a hard time finding a steady “career.”   But even if this is the case in your life, you should consider starting some sort of retirement account, even if it’s something small. Talk to an investment professional or family and friends about how they got their retirement accounts started.

2. Don’t go by set “save this much” rules. There are some people that say you need to save 4% of your income per year, others give dollar amounts to shoot for. But a lot of times, these don’t account for inflation or other factors that could affect your final retirement balance. Save what you can afford to save, and do the math with a financial professional. The numbers may be more or less than the “set rules.” If you don’t have access to a financial professional, they are good starting points, but you need to consider a lot more factors than just that.

3. Plan for a long life. Americans’ lifespans are getting longer. Apparently the average now is 78; and don’t only save till 78, that’s an average. Some people are retired for 20+ years easily; my stepdad’s father is 78 and has been retired for 15 years, I think, and his health is great. So he’s going to be retired into that 20+ years. Are you saving enough, or are you of the “I’ll only be alive 10 more years” mindset?

4. Make sure you talk about it. Retirement can be scary! It’s not easy to talk about the stuff that’s going to happen later on in your life. But, you really need to sit down with the people you love and talk about it. They want the best for you at the end of your life, and you should want the best for yourself too. Take the stress off and let your friends and family help you out.

What other tips do you have about saving for retirement? Are you working toward your retirement, or is it something that you really don’t think about? What other concerns do you have about retirement? Share your thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

 

Interesting Mindsets of the Wealthy

It’s no secret that I do a lot of reading in order to write the articles I bring you every week. I’m not any sort of financial professional or money genius. Heck, I’m nervous to do investments. So, I depend on the knowledge of other people in order to learn about all of the things I bring you here. Today was no exception; I was looking through my normal websites and I came across this article while I was reading through stuff today.

Wealth is something that a lot of people in the United States strive for; at the same time, many others are just trying to get by. I’m a sociologist at heart, and you always have to wonder how much psychology plays into financial success; considering that most of our financial system is based on psychology, it’s no wonder that we it likely does.

Did you read the article? There were a few things that stood out to me that I thought were worthy of mentioning here.

Average people believe you need money to make money. Rich people use other people’s money.” This is something I found interesting. How in the world do you achieve this? I understand loans and such, but sometimes people don’t have the wiggle room to do those sorts of things. And of course, that leads to my next question for the author…

When is the right time to risk? See, my worry with all of the statements about risk is that people in the middle class don’t have room to take risks. I know I don’t. When you already have money, you can take risks. I guess I see that as common sense, but maybe I’m wrong.

Average people let money stress them out. Rich people find peace of mind in wealth.” This made me cringe inside. Even though it wasn’t likely the intention, it makes it sound like money brings happiness. I know plenty of people who are “well-off” but don’t necessarily have peace of mind. There are a variety of other things that bring peace of mind; wealth can play into it, because then you don’t have to fret as much, but it can’t be the only thing or we end up miserable.

Several of these are mindsets that I, and people I know, have. And I’m certainly not rich. I know that the market is driven by emotion, I know that having money can help me stay healthy because I can afford the health care that I need. Maybe I’m above average? But being above average doesn’t put money in my pocket.

What do you think? Do you think that people in the middle and lower classes are trapped in the mindsets described in the article and that that is what is keeping them from becoming more wealthy? Or do you think that it’s a true lack of resources that prevents all of us from getting a little chunk of the wealth? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Life Insurance Facts

Life insurance is one of those things that no one likes to think about unless they absolutely have to. It’s stressful to think about the end of your life, and a lot of people use the excuse that they are “too young” or “too healthy” to think about such a thing. But, let me tell you, it’s never too early to think about the preparations for the end of your life. My mom passed away about 2 and a half years ago now, and she was in her mid-forties.    So, you can’t use excuses anymore; there are financial and personal reasons to think about life insurance and other end-of-life preparations way ahead of time.

Today, we’re going to look at a few facts about life insurance that people may or may not know.

Singles need it too. I’m single and I have some pretty basic life insurance. It’s not a ton, but I have it. Why? Because even if I don’t end up with any beneficiaries, I still have to be buried and such. No one may be getting my money, but I still have to deal with end-of-life expenses. So, please, even if you’re single, have at least minimal life insurance to make up for those kinds of important costs.

There’s never really too much life insurance. Life insurance really isn’t that expensive if you get it early enough in life and you’re in relatively good health. Some people go by the “twice my yearly salary” rule, but if you have things like a mortgage payment or some other sort of excessive debt, you may want to consider getting more than that. My mom wanted money to leave my brother and I, even though we were likely going to be adults when she passed away (I was, my brother wasn’t). That money doesn’t replace you, but it can ease some strains on your family members if you leave them a little extra than what’s needed. Consider these things when you’re trying to figure out exactly how much life insurance to get.

Make sure your beneficiaries know your information. Please do this. When my grandmother was sick and dying (a year and a half before my mom passed), my mom had to dig around in order to find the information she needed. We didn’t even really know about the life insurance policy until my grandma had enough clarity one day to tell my mom where the stuff was. If you don’t know about insurance policies, the insurance company is not likely to contact you about it. Your loved ones need to reach out to the insurance agencies in order to get your benefits. Do everything you can to make that process as seamless as possible.

Have you thought about life insurance? What are some of your plans for your end-of-life money dealings? Do you struggle with talking about this, or have personal stories about life insurance flub-ups? Share some thoughts in the comments, have a great week, and we’ll see you back here next week!