How Much Money Should I Keep In My Checking Account?

Young lady pulls money from her wallet for a cash purchase.There’s lots of talk in the world of personal finance about how to best manage a savings account. You might read up on financial experts who recommend keeping three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your savings account, or maybe you’ve seen a tip about socking away enough money to cover larger expenses. Either way, there’s lots of discussion about the ideal amount of money to keep in a savings account.

But what about our checking accounts? Most of us use these accounts on a daily basis. Every swipe of a debit card, every bill we pay and every personal check we write takes money out of our checking account.

How much money should we be keeping in these super-convenient accounts? Let’s find out.

What’s your magic number?
According to a 2019 NerdWallet survey, the average American checking account balance is approximately $2,900 but this number may not be right for you.

Everyone’s financial realities are different, and because of that, we have different answers to the question of how much money we should be keeping in our checking accounts. The general rule of thumb is to try to have one or two months’ of living expenses in it at all times. Some experts recommend adding 30 percent to this number as an extra cushion.

To determine your exact living expenses, track your spending over several months, including all bills and discretionary spending. Be sure to include seasonal and occasional expenses as well.

Why keep that much money in your checking account?
Your checking account is your transactional account. This is where you’ll draw the money for all of your spending throughout the month, so you’ll want to be sure you have enough funds to cover those expenses. But it goes deeper than that. Here are three reasons you want to keep your checking account well-padded at all times:

1. Avoiding overdrafts. Even high-income earners can miscalculate their spending and end up with an overdrawn account. Why risk being charged overdraft fees for every transaction when you can easily avoid this mistake? [Here at Advantage One Credit Union, you can sign up for overdraft protection to ensure you never again pay a fee for an overdrawn account.]

2. Providing a cushion for pre-authorization holds. Some merchants, including those that operate gas stations, hotels, and car rentals, will place a pre-authorization hold on your debit card until you complete a transaction. Pre-authorizations can reduce your available checking account balance by up to $100 per hold. Once your transaction clears, the hold is released and the funds are available to you again. However, until then, the money is tied up. Keeping your checking account well-funded allows you to comfortably agree to pre-authorization holds without fearing an empty or overdrawn account.

3. Keeping liquid funds available. A robust checking account means access to cash is just an ATM transaction away. While most vendors accept various forms of payment, it’s helpful to know you have cash available if and when you need it.

Can I be keeping too much money in my checking account?
While it’s great to keep your checking account well-padded, taking it to the extreme is not recommended. Having an overstuffed checking account means you’re possibly missing out on the higher returns you can earn if you were to keep those same funds in a Advantage One Credit Union Money Market Account or in a Savings Certificate.

Once you’ve determined exactly how much money you should be keeping in your checking account, look into other options for the rest of your funds. You can speak to an FSP at Advantage One Credit Union to learn about our available options and other high-yield options to find the one that’s right for you.

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we take the stress out of money management. Optimize your Advantage One Credit Union Checking Account by learning the ideal amount of money to keep in your account at all times.

Your Turn:
How much money do you keep in your checking account? Tell us what works for you in the comments.

money.com

nerdwallet.com

fool.com

11 Ways To Save On Back-to-School Shopping

Mom and young boy shopping for school clothes at a department storeAh, summer! It’s the season of fireworks and fireflies, road trips and rocky road ice cream, baseball and beach balls, flip-flops and ice pops.

But, just as you’re settling into the laid-back summer routine, retailers start rolling out their back-to-school displays, which may open that pit of dread into your stomach. Supply lists. New clothing. Backpacks, jeans, laptops and school shoes: It’s endless. And it’s so expensive!

In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, the average American parent will spend upward of $700 per child this shopping season.

If that’s enough to put a damper on your summer plans, take a deep breath and relax. You don’t need to spend yourself into debt just because everyone else seems to be doing it. Instead, take a proactive, mindful approach when shopping for the new school year and spend hundreds less than the national average. Let Advantage One Credit Union show you how!

Here are 11 creative ways to save on back-to-school shopping costs.

1. Go crazy for coupons
Why pay full price when you can get it for less? Use coupon sites like RetailMeNot.com, CouponCabin.com and Coupons.com for percentage-off or money-off coupons that will help you save big.

2. Shop the dollar store
Before hitting the big-box stores and their big-box prices, scour your local dollar store for school supply treasures that will only cost a buck.

3. Get backpacks at Hollar.com, eBags.com or 6PM.com
Don’t spend a fortune on your child’s bookbag without checking out these sites. If your child is set on having a character backpack this year, check out Hollar.com for a great selection at crazy-low prices. Does your little one have designer taste? Try eBags.com or 6PM.com for brand-name bags at a fraction of their regular price.

4. Shop tax-free
Many states offer tax-free holidays on clothing, footwear, and/or school supplies during the back-to-school shopping season to ease the financial burden of cash-strapped parents. Take full advantage by shopping during these days.
Here are the tax-free dates for back-to-school season, 2019:

Alabama: July 19-21
Arkansas: August 3-4
Connecticut: August 18-24
Florida: August 2-4
Iowa: August 2-3
Maryland: August 11-17
Mississippi: July 26-27
Missouri: August 2-4
New Mexico: August 2-4
Ohio: August 2-4
Oklahoma: August 2-4
South Carolina: August 2-4
Tennessee: July 26-28
Texas: August 9-11
Virginia: August 2-4

5. Shop on Sunday and Monday
Weekly sales on school supplies will go live at the beginning of the week – and the hottest items will be grabbed up first. Shop early in the week to score the best deals.

6. Utilize in-store price matching
Many stores you may be visiting this season offer in-store price matching or will even match/beat a competitor’s lower price.
Read through this list so you know when to ask for a better price:

  • Staples will match a lower price on an identical item and throw in an additional 10 percent discount.
  • Kohl’s will offer you the same price as a competitor as long as you bring in the competition’s ad.
  • JCPenney will give you back 5 percent of your purchase price if you find an identical item with a lower price elsewhere.

7. Use discounted gift cards
Don’t start your shopping until you check out Raise.com or GiftCardGranny.com for gift cards that give you more monetary value than you paid for them. It’s a super-easy way to save!

8. Coordinate with friends
If you’ve got a bunch of friends who are also slogging through an endless list of school supplies, see if you can work together to save more. You can divide and conquer, letting each friend shop a different store for their best offerings and picking up enough supplies for the entire group, or even offer to swap supplies you already have at home. This way, you’ll be making fewer trips and keeping more money in your wallet.

9. Follow stores on Twitter and Facebook
Your smartphone is going to be your BFF this season. Use it to follow your favorite stores on Facebook and Twitter and you’ll be gifted with notices about sale events, plus coupon links to help you save more.

10. Compare prices
When shopping for big-ticket items, like laptops, don’t buy until you’ve done a thorough comparison-shop. You can use an app or a website like ShopSavvy, Price.com or PriceGrabber to help you compare prices with just a quick barcode scan.

11. Time your shopping
For the best budget mileage, learn the markdown cycle of your favorite stores, especially clothing shops. For example, Target offers discounts on children’s clothing every Monday, TJ Maxx posts new markdowns on Wednesdays, and you’ll want to hit Kohl’s between 3 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday to take advantage of their “Power Hour” super-deals.

Your Turn:
What’s your secret back-to-school shopping hack? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
businessoffashion.com

thekrazycouponlady.com

goodhousekeeping

moneycrashers

How To Save On Your First Set Of College Textbooks

Young woman searches through shelves of books in a large bookstore or libraryPurchasing every textbook you need for class can take a big bite out of your budget. We’re talking huge amounts here: According to the National Association of College Stores, the average college student spends upward of $80 on each new textbook and can sometimes drop as much as $175 on one volume.

No worries though; you can get your hands on all the books you need for class while also keeping your budget intact!

Read on for 6 ways to save on textbooks this semester.

1. Skip the college bookstore
If you’re looking for an overpriced place to pick up your textbooks, be sure to hit the on-campus bookstore. Otherwise, stay as far away as possible. You’ll be paying through the nose just for the convenience of getting your books on campus.

2. Shop for used books online
Anything new will always cost more, and unless you’re shopping for a math book with specific page numbers and examples, you can usually get away with an older, used edition of the textbook you need for class.

Shop online for the best prices on the books you need, using popular platforms like Amazon, eBay, book.ly and Chegg to get the hottest deal.

3. Rent
If you only need to use a textbook for a short amount of time, or you know you’re going to toss it after the course is over, look into renting instead of buying the book. You can save up to 90 percent off the cost of a new textbook this way, and 50 percent off what you’d pay if you’d purchase it used. Check out sites like Textbooks.com and CampusBooks.com to get started.

4. Share
Are you and your roomie taking the same course? Why not buy one textbook and split the cost?

This arrangement can work well if your prof doesn’t ask you to bring the textbook to class and you only need to occasionally reference it for homework and supplemental reading.

5. Go digital
If you have an e-reader, you can save a tidy sum by choosing to download your textbooks in ebook format. You’ll find ebooks available for many works of fiction, historical texts or essays you might need for class. Just make sure the ebook you choose is easy to navigate or you might wind up regretting the purchase.

6. Hit the library
Before spending a penny on textbooks, check out the school library to see what they have in stock. You might be pleasantly surprised at the broad selection of books available for students, especially works of fiction and non-fiction for liberal arts classes.

Don’t blow your budget on textbooks! Use our hacks to save a bundle on the books you need for college.

Your Turn:
How do you save on textbook purchases? Share your tips and tricks with us in the comments.

Learn More:
money.usnews.com
creditkarma.com
clark.com

All You Need To Know About The Capital One Data Breach

Capital One bank Hq buildingIn late July, Capital One Bank announced that 106 million of its card holders had their data compromised in a massive breach that stretched over four months. Among the victims, 140,000 customers had their Social Security numbers swiped and approximately 80,000 had their linked checking account numbers stolen. No credit card numbers were reported to have been lifted in the breach.

The company fixed the vulnerability immediately and promised to alert all victims of the breach about their compromised data. The alleged hacker has been apprehended and steps are being taken to ensure a breach of this magnitude doesn’t happen again.
The Capital One issue was hardly the first of its kind to hit the news in recent years. Factors like online data and sophisticated hacking tools have spawned a wave of data breaches that have hit all kinds of businesses and service providers, from police departments to eateries, major retailers and online search engines.

In light of the multiple and wide-reaching data breaches over the past few years, experts recommend that everyone, even those who are not Capital One credit card holders, take the following 5 steps to protect their information from hackers:

Freeze your credit – Placing a freeze on your credit is the first and most crucial step you can take to stop scammers from making use of your information. A credit freeze will not affect your credit score, but does serve as a red flag for lenders and credit companies by alerting them to the fact that you may have been a victim of fraud. Consequently, hackers will not be able to open a new line of credit or apply for a loan in your name.
You can now freeze your credit at no cost at all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You’ll need to provide some basic information, including your date of birth and your Social Security number. You’ll receive a PIN for the freeze that will need to be used for lifting the freeze should the need arise.

Enable two-factor authentication – If you haven’t already, change all of your logins to two-factor (also called “multi-factor”) authentication. Whenever possible, choose a non-password authentication, like face recognition or thumbprint sign-in. This will provide an extra layer of protection against hackers and scammers trying to access your account.
Sign up for credit monitoring – Capital One is offering free credit monitoring for all victims of the data breach. You can find out more about this offer and general information about the Capital One data breach here.

Even if you’re not a Capital One card holder, you might want to consider signing up for credit monitoring to prevent being a victim of a data breach in the future. The service will immediately notify you about any suspicious activity on your accounts so you can stop potential hackers in their tracks. Credit monitoring will run you $10-$30 a month, but you’ll have the security of knowing that the company is on the lookout for any signs of trouble with your credit.

Use strong, unique passwords – Always choose strong passwords for all your accounts and use different passwords for each login. Your passwords should be at least eight characters long, and use a variety of numbers, letters and symbols. Vary your capitalization use as well, and never use your name, phone number or a common phrase as your password.

If you’ve been using your current passwords for a while, consider changing them up now. You can make this task easier by using a password aggregator like LastPass or Sticky Password.

Strengthen your security and spam settings – Never answer emails asking you to share sensitive data, even when they appear to be from legitimate companies. Make sure your devices are fully updated, and keep your spam settings on their strongest levels. It’s also a good idea to keep your social media accounts as private as possible to keep scammers from finding out personal details about your life which they can use to crack open your passwords.

Hackers never stop trying to get at your data, but with the right protective measures in place, you can keep them from seeing success.

Your Turn:
Have you been affected by the Capital One breach? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
cbsnews.com

usatoday.com

upi.com

capitalone.com

Step 7 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Create A Debt Snowball

hipster man checks finances on computer while at trendy eateryYou’ve organized your debt, you’ve set up an emergency fund and you’re working on spending less. You’re now ready to start getting rid of that debt…for good!

Choose the debt you’d like to pay down first. Financial expert Dave Ramsey suggests starting from the smallest debt and working your way up. You can also choose to start with the debt that carries the highest interest rate. Either way, once you’ve paid down the first loan or line of credit, you’ll move onto the next and continue to work your way through all remaining debt until you’re completely debt-free.

For now, paying off this debt will be your top priority. Be sure to pay the minimum payments on all other debts, but any extra money you have at the end of the month goes towards the first one. Start with the minimum payments you were making anyways, and add the money that was previously going towards setting up your savings account to create your debt snowball. Whenever possible, try to add money to your snowball to accelerate your progress.

Doesn’t this feel great? You’re on your way to a debt-free life!

Your Turn:
Did you choose to start with your lowest debt or the one carrying the highest interest rate? Share your choice and your reasons with us in the comments.

Note-Taking Apps

You aren’t seriously still scribbling your to-do list on plain paper, are you? Get with the times and choose one of these popular note-taking apps to help you do the job. Your scrawls will never be the same.

EverNote logo, stylized elephant head on white backgroundEvernote
Stop misplacing your to-do lists by moving all your notes to the cloud with Evernote. This note-taking app is a favorite among 200 million users worldwide, thanks to its impressive array of features.

Evernote’s incredible versatility appeals to all kinds of note takers. If you’re the fastidious type, you’ll love Evernote’s notebooks, which allow you to group your thoughts into 250 self-divided categories. You’ll also rejoice in the tagging feature, which lets you sort notes, crosslink them and insert your own checklists and tables into your notes.

Are you more of a verbal sort? Get your thoughts on file using Evernote’s audio recording feature, which is available for both desktop and mobile.

If your note-taking involves lots of research, use the app’s web clipper to attach any link.

Evernote makes collaboration easy, with the option to share notebooks via email and a handy chat feature for live communication.

Evernote has three different plan options. The Basic plan is free, but places bandwidth limits on monthly uploads and can be insufficient for some users. Subscriptions to paid plans start at $3.99/month and go up to $7.99/month, with significant savings offered for a full year’s commitment.

Best Features: While Evernote has many distinctive features, the software really shines with its notebooks and note tags, making organizing your thoughts a breeze. Another nifty feature, called optical character recognition (OCR), sets Evernote apart by allowing you to search for text in both your written notes and inside of images.

Glaring Glitches: Evernote features fall short by lacking a built-in video note capability. There’s also a monthly bandwidth limit of 60MB of uploads a month on the free version and a 250 cap on the number of notebooks you can open on the app. Another downfall is the lack of an ink-to-text conversion feature.

Evernote is a somewhat clunky piece of software with lots going on. New users will need to invest a good chunk of time learning their way around the app before they can start creating, saving and sharing notes.

 

OneNote logo File folder icon with N on purple backgroundOneNote
Microsoft’s contribution to the world of note-taking tools comes close to Evernote’s versatility and convenience, even topping it in some areas.

The app allows you to create and store text notes, voice notes, pictures and more. Unlike Evernote, OneNote includes a video note feature. You can also create as many notebooks as you’d like—or at least until you run out of storage space. OneNote integrates seamlessly with most voice-recognition software, so you can speak and let the app transcribe your notes for you. You can even have the app change “ink” notes, such as a handwritten note or even an entire whiteboard of notes, into plain text.

Like Evernote, OneNote allows you to clip web pages using a browser add-on tool for assistance in compiling research. Unlike Evernote, though, the app also allows almost unlimited flexibility when creating your notes, including rich formatting options and the ability to add diagrams, scribbles and more. You can also share notes directly from the application, choosing to share them via email or by creating links.

Best Features: Unless you want to pair the software with Microsoft’s Office 365, OneNote is completely free. As another plus, OneNote allows you to organize your notes in any way you’d like, exactly as you’d be able to do with an actual paper notebook.

Glaring Glitches: OneNote’s biggest shortcoming is its lack of at-rest encryption for consumer accounts. This means that anyone who gains access to the cloud server can access your notes without an encryption key. This can be worrisome for anyone who’d rather keep their private notes private.

Some users also complain about OneNote’s basic functionality, claiming it constantly crashes, does not sync properly and consequently causes users to lose their precious notes.

 

Google Keep logo, white lightbulb on goldenrod fieldGoogle Keep
Google’s digital notebook, Google Keep, is miles behind Evernote and OneNote in available features, but it still deserves recognition for what it is: a completely free note-taking tool that does its job well.

You won’t find a plethora of formatting tools and organizational features, like notebooks, on Google Keep, but the app offers unlimited notes that won’t eat up your Google Drive space. The notes themselves do have a 20,000-character limit, which comes to approximately 4,000 words. There’s also no ink-to-text conversion capability.

Google Keep is not completely without fun features. You can use the app to create bulleted lists; attach reminders to notes; add “collaborators” to notes and assign them tasks; add images and drawings using a pen tool and label notes to sort them.

You can also utilize the Chrome extension embedded in the app to clip web content; however, you’re limited to clipping select text and images. Google Keep integrates with all of Google Suite, so you can import your notes directly to Google Docs, Sheets and more.

One of the best features you’ll find on Google Keep is the ability to dictate notes and allow the app to transcribe them for you. Since Google’s speech recognition software is considered better than average, you’re more likely to be satisfied with the results than frustrated.

Best Features: The no-frills app is simple and can be learned and operated in just a few minutes.

Glaring Glitches: Since Google Keep’s notes are uber-simplistic, there are almost no formatting options at all.

But most concerning is Google’s notorious lack of security. Since Google’s main revenue stream is advertising, the company’s practices of scraping information from search histories and email content to compile data used for target marketing is fairly common knowledge. While Google has not confessed to doing the same with information stored on Google Keep, it’s not that far of a stretch from its current practices. If this sounds worrying to you, you may want to give Google Keep a miss.

 

How they stack up

App NameGenerous Free VersionVideo NotesInk-to -Text ConversionEasy to LearnSecurity Issues
EvernoteNoNoNoNoNo
OneNoteYesYesYesNoYes
Google KeepYesNoNoYesYes

 

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite note-taking app? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

SOURCES:

https://evernote.com/

https://www.cloudwards.net/evernote-vs-onenote/

https://www.cloudwards.net/evernote-review/

https://www.cloudwards.net/google-keep-review/

https://beebom.com/evernote-alternatives/

https://www.cloudwards.net/onenote-review/

https://www.onenote.com

Do My Monthly Bill Payments Affect My Credit Score?

Calculator and papers with credit rating on deskQ: I’m working on improving my credit score, so I’m being extra careful about paying my bills on time. But, since I don’t see these payments reflected in my score, I’m wondering: Do my monthly payments, like utility bills, count toward my credit score?

A: It’s commendable that you’re working toward improving your credit score, because building and keeping a strong credit history is crucial for your long-term financial wellness. However, unless you’re delinquent on a monthly utility bill, these payments will not affect your credit score.

However, there is a way out. Read on for four steps that can help your on-time monthly payments boost your credit score.

1. Use a Rent-Reporting Service
Your monthly rent payments can reflect positively on your credit score, but only if the credit bureaus know you’re paying your rent on time. They won’t accept this information from consumers, but you can sign up for a rent-reporting service, which will pass on this information to one or two of the three major credit bureaus. Some of these services are free, though most charge for the service, with fees of up to $100 a year.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the more popular rent-reporting services:

  • Rent Reporters: For a one-time enrollment fee of $94.95, your rent payments will be reported to TransUnion and Equifax for two full years. If you want to continue with the service after the initial two-year period, the cost is $9.95/month.
  • Rental Kharma: You’ll pay $25 for the initial setup and then $6.95/month. Rent reporting through this option is shared only with TransUnion.
  • RentTrack: Fees vary for this option, and it’s dependent on whether your landlord also uses the service. RentTrack, though, reports to all three credit bureaus.

2. Sign up for Experian Boost
Since early 2019, the Experian credit bureau has offered consumers the opportunity to have utility bills reflected on Experian credit scores. To sign up for the service, Experian requires access to your checking account information so the agency can identify your bill payments. Once it’s found the relevant information, Experian will ask you to verify the details and to confirm that you want this information included in your credit report. Once consent is received, your credit score boost will happen instantly.

Experian Boost only accepts on-time payments and, consequently, can only improve your score. However, if you neglect to pay any reported bills for three consecutive months, the change in your score will be reversed and will fall back to its previous level.

It’s also important to note that Experian Boost only increases your Experian score and does not affect your Equifax or TransUnion scores.

3. Use SimpleBills
SimpleBills is a service that currently reports utility bills to Equifax, with plans to include TransUnion and Experian in the future. The credit-reporting service charges $2.99/month and can be helpful for those who want to improve their score for building a credit history to qualify for a credit card or a loan payment.

Unfortunately, while your Equifax number may see an increase through SimpleBills, major score algorithms, like FICO and Vantage, might not consider this data when calculating your score.

4. Go Off the Beaten Track
If none of these options sound attractive to you, consider going the unconventional route by seeking an alternative score.

Alternative scores, like the PRBC or the FICO XD Model, will include information like your cable, rent, insurance, phone, utility and student loan payments, when calculating your credit score. Some alternative scores will integrate this data on their own, while others will allow you to self-report these payments, sometimes for a nominal fee.

While alternative scores can help individuals appear responsible for prospective employers and landlords, they won’t do much to build your real credit history or to make you eligible for a large loan.

If you’re serious about improving your score, you can take one or all of the steps outlined here to help your on-time bill payments boost your numbers. For the biggest impact on your score, make sure you are paying all your credit card bills on time, preferably in full. Don’t open any new cards while working on improving your score, and keep your credit utilization low.

If you need help managing debt and staying on top of your credit score, look no further than [credit_union]! Give us a call at [cu_phone] or drop us a line at [cu_email] to see how we can help. Your financial wellness is always our priority.

Your Turn:
Do you self-report your utility bills to any of the three major credit bureaus? Use the comments section to tell us how you do it and how it’s impacted your score.

SOURCES:

https://www.thebalance.com/add-positive-credit-history-to-your-credit-report-960100

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/credit-report-rent-payments-incorporated/

https://www.www.bankrate.com/credit-cards/boost-credit-score-by-self-reporting/amp/

https://www.prbc.com/how-it-works

https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/does-paying-utility-bills-help-your-credit-score/

https://www.creditkarma.com/insights/i/experian-boost-allow-utility-telecom-payments-credit-scores/

https://www.growingfamilybenefits.com/paying-bills-build-credit/

https://simplebills.zendesk.com/hc/en-us

Meet The Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living

Meet the Frugalwoods book coverUnless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few decades, you’ve no doubt absorbed society’s message that you can buy your way to a happier life. From the minute we wake up until our eyes close at bedtime, we’re bombarded with splashy ads and commercials promising us the world—for a price, of course.

Elizabeth and Nate Thames were an archetypical couple of our consumerist world. In 2014, this pair of professionals was holding down high-powered jobs, living in the city and pulling in big bucks. The world was theirs for the taking.

But one day, they decided they’d had enough of that lifestyle. They were sick of wishing away their workdays and desperately counting down until the weekends. They wanted to start living genuinely and enjoying each day to the fullest.

Together, they hatched a plan: They’d sock away as much money as possible to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. They called themselves “the Frugalwoods,” and as soon as they put their plan into action, starting by saving more than 70 percent of their income, Elizabeth began documenting their progress on the couple’s popular blog. In less than three years, the Thameses had achieved their goal and reached financial independence at the age of 32. They are now living on a 66-acre homestead in Vermont, together with their little girl.

In her book, Meet the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth retells the eye-opening story of how her financially comfortable family disengaged from the race of keeping up with the Joneses and drastically scaled back their spending to live their dream life. The book is a compelling read that will make spenders of any level stop and think about the choices and financial habits that direct their lives.

You don’t need to be harboring a secret dream of quitting your day job and moving to the woods to enjoy this book. Most of us can stand to cut back on our consumerism for living with a bit more frugality. Meet the Frugalwoods encourages readers to examine their possessions and physical comforts, as well as to determine which of those add genuine joy and value to their lives. Only things that are truly valuable to you are worth holding onto. As Elizabeth says, the process of cutting back and bowing out of society’s peer pressure is enormously liberating.

Thousands of readers have found Meet the Frugalwoods to be an inspiring and motivational tale, but many others find it to be preachy and condescending. A widely-voiced complaint is that the couple is still pulling in a handsome salary and cannot comprehend what it means to truly struggle. Nate works from home and earns over $200K a year, while Elizabeth authors their personal finance blog. While it’s admirable that they were able to pull out of the spending trap and now wear second-hand clothing, knowing they have a huge financial cushion to fall back on greatly diminishes their “sacrifice.”

However, lots of readers find it truly inspiring that a couple who can afford to live large has managed to untangle themselves from the web of consumerism that ensnares most of society.

You may not want to live as frugally as the Thames family, but by reading their story and incorporating some of its lessons into your own life, you, too, can learn to lead a simpler and more meaningful life.

Your Turn:
Do you think it is possible to be truly happy and fulfilled while living a life of excessive consumerism? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

SOURCES:

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/articles/best-personal-finance-books-to-read

https://www.amazon.com/Meet-Frugalwoods-Achieving-Financial-Independence/dp/0062668137

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35068719-meet-the-frugalwoods

Beware Emergency Scams!

collefge age girl shares a meme on her phone with her grandmother while they have lunch at a cafe“Grandma? Is that you?”

“What’s the matter, honey?”

“Grandma, you gotta help me! They’re going to arrest me if I don’t pay the fine — and I lost my wallet! I don’t have a penny on me or any ID. Can you wire me some money?”

Does this sound like a phone call that can really tug at your heartstrings? It’s actually more like a diabolical plot by devious scammers. There’s no emergency, no imminent arrest and no lost wallet. In fact, it isn’t even your grandchild on the line; you’re speaking to a criminal who wants to get their hands on your money.

Family emergency scams, often referred to as “grandparent scams,” are some of the most nefarious around. They prey on the elderly and take advantage of the natural affection a grandparent has for their grandchild. They’re usually pulled off in the guise of a frantic phone call, though they sometimes show up as an urgent email, text, or social media post using the same panicky message.

Don’t be the next victim of this ruse! Read on to learn how to identify an emergency scam and what to do if you’ve been victimized.

3 ways to spot an emergency scam:

1. The caller will insist upon absolute secrecy
Once your “grandchild” has had their say, the scammer will then take the phone, impersonating an authority figure who is out to make the arrest and demanding that payment be made immediately. They’ll stress the importance of keeping the entire business hush-hush so nobody gets hurt. But, of course, the real reason behind their need for secrecy is to keep you from doing too much digging and identifying the scam for what it is. Any true law enforcement officer would have no request for such secrecy.

2. The “authority figure” will only accept certain means of payment
If you ever receive a phone call insisting that you wire money, send a prepaid debit card, cashier’s check, or certified check in return for helping your grandchild from a distressing situation, you can be certain it’s a scam. Criminals love these payment methods because they provide the victim with very little recourse once they’ve discovered the scam.

3. Your “grandchild” does not know basic information about themselves or family
It’s hard not to be duped into helping out your grandchild when they sound so stressed on the phone. It can also be hard to recognize your grandchild’s voice over a phone that has iffy reception, or from an overseas phone call if your grandchild is abroad. To make it even more complicated, scammers will use any information they can find about your grandchild’s life to appear legitimate. If the scam is carried out through email, they may even hack your grandchild’s email account so their missive appears to be coming directly from your grandchild.

If you ever receive a call or an email like the one described above, simply ask the caller about some personal details that a stranger would not be able to scrape off of your grandchild’s social media accounts. Ask about specific family memories or even jokes that will immediately let you know who you’re really dealing with.

If you’ve been scammed
If you’ve gotten a frantic phone call from your grandchild and you believe it to be true, don’t react just yet. You’ll be urged to act quickly, but take a minute to call your grandchild on your own to verify his or her whereabouts. You can also call the grandchild’s parents to ask where they might be at this time. You may be surprised to learn that your grandchild is safe at home!

If you’ve fallen for the scam and you’ve only recognized the ruse after you’ve sent your money, you may still be able to reclaim some or all of your funds by reporting the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). Even if you can’t reclaim your lost funds, you’ll be doing your part to help the authorities put those crooks behind bars.

Grandparenting is a wonderful experience. Don’t let scammers abuse your relationship with your grandchild by pulling the wool over your eyes. Stay one step ahead of them by being alert and knowing how to spot these scams. Show them that no one messes with grandma!

Your Turn:
Have you been targeted by an emergency scam? Tell us all about it in the comments.

SOURCES:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2018/07/scammers-create-fake-emergencies-get-your-money

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0204-family-emergency-scams

https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/family-finance/articles/most-common-phone-scams

7 Steps To A Mid-Year Financial Checkup

middle-aged man checking finances on a laptop while sitting by the poolIt 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 Advantage One. 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.

SOURCES:

https://money.cnn.com/2016/07/28/investing/financial-checklist/index.html

https://onebiteblog.com/its-time-for-your-mid-year-financial-checkup/