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

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.

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

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/

Step 6 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Trim Expenses

Now that we have a budget, let’s slim it down!

a couple plan their finances in a journal

You’ve already practiced spending less thanks to Step #2 in this series. Now, it’s time to get serious about it.

Take a long, hard look at the money you spend each month and find your weak spots.

  • Where do you spend the most on unnecessary purchases?
  • What’s your particular vice? You may even have several spending traps.
  • How can you cut back on you daily expenses?

Any extra money you save goes toward your debt payments.

Your Turn:
What’s your spending trap? Share it with us in the comments.

 

Six Figures Under – Dig Out From Your Mounting Debts

Six Figures Under personal finance made publicWhen Stephanie and her husband found themselves looking at a six-figure student loan debt load in 2009, they didn’t know how to start freeing themselves. Their small family’s budget was just barely making it to the end of each month. How would they possibly pay off such an overwhelming amount of debt?

Fast forward to the end of 2016 and that huge, monstrous debt was completely gone.

How did they do it?
On her blog, Six Figures Under (SixFiguresUnder.com), Stephanie shares her family’s ongoing story, detailing the steps she’s taken and the changes she’s made in her family’s lifestyle for paying down their debt while continuing to live financially responsibly. She is brutally honest about her struggles and successes, sharing the mistakes she’s made along the way and the triumphs she’s celebrated. She also offers readers complete transparency into her family’s finances, posting actual numbers about the income her family earns, their fixed expenses, investments and the way they choose to spend their money on non-fixed expenses.

But Six Figures Under is not just about Stephanie’s story. Stop by the blog and you’ll find a large community of active followers joining in on a mission to pay down their debts and live a more financially conscious life.

For 2019, Six Figures Under is on a Debt Smash-athon charge. The blog’s community is invited to share the amounts of debt they’ve paid down each month. The numbers are then tallied and posted on the blog with the big wins singled out with special mentions. In March 2019, the Six Figures Under community paid down a total of $149,866.53 of debt, invested $31,202.12 toward retirement and put away $39,151.21 for big savings goals. The feeling of togetherness motivates members to boost their efforts in paying off their debts.

There’s more than numbers to Six Figures Under. Check out the blog for the following categories and topics:

  • Frugal Living Ideas – Here, you’ll find tips and tricks for saving money on everything from family road trips to grocery bills. Posts are always engaging and packed with actionable tips you can apply to your own life today.
  • Budgeting and Finance –  The blog advocates living on last month’s income—and shows readers how to live this way, plus creating a manageable and realistic monthly budget.
  • Debt – Read up on tips for increasing your debt payments and common mistakes people make when handling their debt.
  • Ideas for Increasing Income – These posts cover a broad range of money-making ideas, from running a killer yard sale to starting a thriving business on Etsy.

Members of the blog get friendly monthly reminders inviting them to share their progress with the rest of the community, as well as frugal living tips and ideas delivered directly to their inbox.

The Six Figures Under blog is an inspirational, friendly place that is packed with money management tips and strategies for doubling down on your debt payments. Check it out today and join the debt-smashing fun!

Your Turn:
Do you have a target date for paying down all debt? Or are you just chipping away at it, month by month? Share your debt-paying strategy with us in the comments.


SOURCES:

https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/

https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/our-story/

http://www.barebudgetguy.com/six-figures-under/

https://www.sixfiguresunder.com/family-budget-update-march-2019/

4 Ways To Finance A Home Renovation

family renovating their houseHome Equity Line of Credit
A Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) is an open credit line that is secured by your home’s value. HELOCs offer flexible terms and lower upfront costs than most other loans.

Home Equity Loan
A Home Equity Loan (HE) allows you to borrow a fixed amount of cash, which you receive in one lump sum. However, upfront fees can be high.

Credit cards
Credit cards can work for minor touch-ups, but funding bigger projects this way can leave you with steep interest payments and end up costing much more than planned.

Personal loans
Personal loans are short-term loans that sometimes have high interest rates and upfront fees.

Do your research and talk with us at Advantage One to help find the best option for your needs.

Your Turn:
How did you fund your home renovation? Share your choice with us in the comments!

Ways Your Credit Union Can Help You Fund Your Summer Vacation

womans legs and beatiful, tropical beach, water and mountains in the backgroundIf you’re like most Americans, as soon as you see ads announcing Memorial Day sale events, you start thinking summer. Summer means flip-flops and sandy beaches, sunscreen and baseball, fireworks and ice cream—and expensive vacations.

Perhaps you’re really needing to get away this summer, so you have the perfect vacation all planned out in your mind.

But how are you going to get around the steep price tag on your dream getaway? Do you pull out the plastic, make it happen and worry about paying your credit card bills only after you return home? Do you beg a loan off family and friends, putting your most important relationships at risk? Do you live off pasta in the weeks leading up to your vacation and use the money saved on groceries to cover the cost of your trip?

You don’t have to take extreme or irresponsible measures to fund the perfect summer vacation. As a member of Advantage One, you have access to a variety of convenient products that can help you cover the costs of your trip with minimal effort on your part.

Read on for ways Advantage One can send you packing for your dream summer getaway.

1. Vacation Savings Account

It’s easier to save up for a specific goal when you separate the funds you’re earmarking for that goal from all your other savings. When you open up a secondary savings account at Advantage One with the express purpose of using it to accumulate funds for your summer vacation, you’ll always know exactly how much money you’ve saved up for your getaway. Plus, your money will grow, so you’ll reach your goal sooner.

You may have already started saving up for summer expenses in your regular savings account. Move that money into your summer savings account now so your vacation funds are in one easy location.

To be certain you’re socking away enough money to cover your getaway, create a vacation budget now. Realistically, how much money will you need to cover the costs of your trip? Next, determine when you’d like to go and count the number of weeks or months left until your vacation date. Work out the exact amount you’ll need to save each week or month by dividing your total vacation budget by the number of weeks or months left to go before your trip. You can trim your budget, sell some stuff you don’t use anymore or take on a side hustle to come up with the necessary savings. Finally, link your checking account and your designated vacation savings account – and set up a direct deposit – so that your summer savings can grow almost effortlessly.

2.) Personal Loan

If you think you can’t possibly save up enough money to fund your vacation in time, consider taking out a Sunsational Summer loan instead.

When you take out a Sunsational Summer loan at Advantage One, you’ll get the funds you need to send you off on your dream getaway. And best of all, with our affordable rates, you won’t go broke paying it back! Speak to us today to find out more about this fantastic option.

3.) Skip-a-Payment

If you’re desperate for a vacation in more ways than one, consider taking a break from some of your financial responsibilities this summer. Advantage One allows qualifying members to skip one loan or credit card payment during this expensive time of year. By choosing Skip-a-Pay, you’ll get the break you need without hurting your credit or defaulting on the loan. However, your loan or balance payment plan will extend for another month, and the interest on the skipped payment will be integrated into the principal of your loan or bill.

Skipping a payment is not recommended for members who are struggling to get on top of their finances. But, if you’re in a financially comfortable place and just need some extra breathing room this time of year, skipping one monthly payment can be a great way to help you cover the costs of your summer getaway.

Get your vacation plans off the ground by stopping by Advantage One today. We have a broad range of products that can turn your dream vacation into a reality!

Your Turn:
Which Advantage One product helps you fund your summer vacation? Share your top pick with us in the comments!

SOURCES:

https://www.moneycrashers.com/save-up-fund-summer-vacation

https://www.theworkathomewoman.com/fund-your-summer-vacation/

https://www.fool.com/amp/retirement/2018/06/03/3-tips-to-save-for-your-summer-vacation.aspx

https://www.everydollar.com/blog/plan-your-vacation

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/skip_payment_mortgage.asp

Twitter:

Step 5 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Create A Budget

young woman writing financial information in a notebook and examining her credit cardThis month, you’re going to organize your finances. Hold onto every receipt, bill, paystub and invoice you produce throughout the month. Sometime during the last week of May, sit down with all of your paperwork and start crunching the numbers.

When you’re through, you should have all of these questions answered:

  • How much is my net monthly income?
  • How much are my monthly fixed expenses?
  • How much are my monthly non-fixed expenses?

Now that you have the numbers in front of you, work on creating a budget. Designate the necessary funds for your fixed expenses. Then, with the remaining money, determine how much you will spend in each non-fixed expense category; like groceries, clothing, entertainment, etc.

Put your minimum debt payments in the fixed-expenses category, with another category for extra debt payments in your column of non-fixed expenses.

Your Turn:
What was the most challenging part of creating your monthly budget?

Step 4 of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Create An Emergency Fund

Young caucasian woman working at modern deskYou may be feeling impatient to start more aggressively paying down debt, but it’s important to first create an emergency fund. If you don’t have money socked away for unexpected expenses, you’ll be tempted to use the money that’s already earmarked for your debt payments to fund this expense.

Experts recommend keeping three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund, but you can start with a modest $1,000. Set up an automatic monthly or weekly transfer from your [credit union] Checking Account to your Savings Account until you have a fully padded emergency fund. This may take several months, but no worries, you can continue following the next few steps towards a debt-free life as your emergency fund grows.

Your Turn:
Why do you think it’s so important to have an emergency fund? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.