Travel Hacks 1 of 12: 6 Ways to Save on Airfare

If you’re planning a trip overseas, airfare may be your largest vacation expense. Even when flying relatively close to home, the cost of your airline ticket can take a big bite out of your vacation budget. Fortunately, there are loads of ways to save on airfare and leave you with more to spend at your destination. Here, we’ve compiled a list of six ways to save on airfare.

  1. Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible on dates and the destination of your flight, you can potentially save hundreds on your airline ticket. Instead of choosing a date and destination for your vacation and then searching for the best prices, select a date and destination based on the best available deals. If you’re set on going to a particular destination, you may be able to save a boatload of money on the ticket by flying to a nearby airport and then driving to your vacation spot. 

  1. Shop smart online

Harness the power of technology to score the best price on airfare. Searching sites and apps like Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline is like using multiple travel agencies to find the best flights for your vacation. Kayak, another popular travel app, plugs your preferred dates into its search engine and searches airline sites and agency sites to provide you with all the prices and options available. 

  1. Act quickly to snag mistake fares

The best deals on airfares happen by mistake. When an airline accidentally discounts a ticket, you can snag a flight for as much as 90% off its conventional price. Mistake fares get snatched up quickly, so you’ll need to check your favorite airlines and flight apps often so you don’t miss a deal. If you haven’t worked out your child care and/or work arrangements for a date with a heavily discounted airfare, it’s best to grab it anyway and work out the details later. By federal law, airlines must allow 24 hours for free cancellations of all flight tickets. 

  1. Consider booking with a foreign currency

If you’ll be flying a foreign carrier, it may be cheaper to pay for your ticket with the local currency of your destination. Before paying for your flight, check to see if it’ll cost less if you don’t pay in dollars. Sometimes, it can actually cost more this way, but oftentimes, you can save a significant amount by simply changing your location from the U.S. to your destination.

  1. Book early

You’ll typically find the best deals on international flights 3-6 months before the departure date. If you’ll be traveling during peak times, like summer or during a holiday season, you’ll want to search for tickets even earlier. Flights are updated constantly, so check often to get the best deal.

  1. Watch out for sneaky fees

Too often, an economy flight will actually cost a lot more than its listing after the airline tacks on all sorts of extra fees and surcharges. For example, you may need to pay a fee for every bag you check during each leg of your journey. Other airlines charge a fee for choosing seats, which may be a necessity if you’ll be flying with young children or an elderly person in need of assistance. Make sure you know exactly how much you’ll be paying before you book a ticket – it can sometimes be cheaper to upgrade your ticket or switch to a direct flight and avoid some of these fees. 

Airfare can be the biggest item on your vacation budget, but there are so many ways to save on this expense. Use the tips outlined here to get the best deal on your tickets and keep your vacation budget intact. Happy travels!

Your Turn: Have you scored a low price on an airline ticket? Share your best hacks with us in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in January

What’s your January shopping style–all shopped out, or ready to hit the mall again as soon as the last guest leaves? Whatever it is, we’ve got you covered! January begins with a bang, but there are no major shopping holidays once the new year gets underway. Of course, you can still pick up great bargains this month, or find that you’ve overpaid on items that get price drops just weeks after you’ve purchased them. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in January.

Buy: Winter clothing

Were you given a ton of gift cards to retailers over the holidays? If so, you’re in luck! Prices will start dropping on all winter apparel this month so retailers can make room for the new spring line. You can pick up warm-weather wear that’s discounted by as much as 85% and still have lots of time to enjoy it this season.

Skip: Spring clothing

The worst time to purchase an item is generally right before it’s in hot demand. With spring wear landing in inventory this month, prices will be high, so don’t plan on picking out a springtime wardrobe just yet. You’ll start seeing the first round of discounts on spring clothing in April. And of course, as the season deepens, so will the discounts. 

Buy: Fitness gear

The new year is here and it’s time to make good on that resolution to shed some holiday pounds. Retailers know this well, so they’ll slash prices on yoga mats, fitness balls, resistance bands, weights and more. You can also find athletic wear on sale this month, and sometimes exercise machines as well. Shop multiple retailers to score the best deals. 

Skip: Mattresses 

Is your deep winter sleep getting disrupted every night by a lumpy mattress? Hold on just a bit longer before springing for a new one. Online and brick-and-mortar mattress retailers will be dropping prices on their merchandise by as much as 60 percent next month during Presidents Day sale events. As always, look up prices at several online and in-store retailers for the best deal. 

Buy: Linens and soft goods

While you’ll want to skip the new mattress this month, you can still upgrade your night’s sleep without spending a bundle in January. The first month of the year is famous for its white sales, with soft home goods like blankets and pillows seeing discounts as deep as 70%.  

Skip: Snow gear

While winter apparel will see slashed prices this month, snow gear, which includes skis, skates, snowshoes and the like, tend to retail at full-price until the end of the season. Wait just a few more months for steep discounts on all things snow.

Buy: TVs

The football post-season is the perfect time to give your flatscreen an upgrade. Retailers will be competing for your business and offering up promotions on their TVs with discounts that rival those of Black Friday. 

Skip: A new car

Car prices tend to rise and fall throughout the year, so you usually don’t have to wait long for a discount on a new set of wheels. But, if you are shopping for a new car, you don’t want to finalize your purchase in January. According to Edmunds.com, January is the least discounted month of the year for car prices. If you’re not in a rush, you can wait for the big sales that run from fall through the end of the year. Otherwise, the next time you’ll see discounts on cars will be on Presidents Day next month. 

Buy: Holiday decor and gift baskets

The bargain-priced holiday leftovers you found on the shelves at the end of December will be selling at even lower prices this month. Get started on next year’s holiday prep by stocking up on wrapping paper, decor and even small gift baskets for those last-minute presents you frantically shop for each year. You can also pick up these small gifts to have on hand whenever you need one for any reason throughout the year.

It’s a new year, and a great time to pick up a fantastic bargain. This guide can help you learn what to buy and what to skip in January.

Your Turn: Have you picked up a bargain buy in January? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Get Caught in a Charity Scam

Sharing your blessings through charity is a truly wonderful way to give back. Unfortunately, though, scammers are out in full force to hijack the kindness of charity-givers everywhere to get at their money and their information. Here’s what you need to know about charity scams and how to protect yourself. ` 

How the scams play out

In a charity scam, a scammer or scam ring will target victims via phone call, by advertising on popular social media platforms and websites or by sending out mass emails with embedded links. The scammer pretends to represent a well-known charity, such as Make-A-Wish, or a popular cause, such as emergency relief funds for victims of a recent natural disaster. They’ll ask the target to make a donation toward their organization, and sometimes to share personally identifiable information as well. Sadly, though, instead of these funds going to help a charity, they only go to line the scammer’s pockets.

Red flags

Look out for these red flags, which can alert you to the fact that you may be, or have been, targeted by a charity scam:

  • You’re asked to share personal information, like your Social Security number, when making a donation.
  • You’re pressured into making a donation now.
  • You’re thanked for a donation you’ve allegedly made in the past, which you know you’ve never made.
  • When asked how your donation will be used, you’re given vague, evasive responses that don’t really answer your question.
  • You’re guaranteed to win a sweepstakes if you make a donation.
  • The “charity’s” website is full of typos and grammatical errors.
  • An organization with a name that closely resembles a well-known charity solicits a donation from you.
  • The alleged charity will only accept donations via prepaid debit card or gift card.
  • When you ask that the charity not call you again, they disregard your request.

Give with caution

Don’t let talk of scams hold you back from giving. Instead, learn these basic rules for giving safely:

  • Give to established charities you know and trust. Be wary of “charities” having names that are very similar to well-known organizations.
  • When donating to a new charity, verify its authenticity on a charity-vetting site, like Charity Navigator, GuideStar or CharityWatch. You can also Google the charity along with the word “scam” to see if there’s anything suspect about this organization.
  • Never click on embedded links or open email attachments from an unverified contact. 
  • Contact the charity you wish to donate to on your own instead of clicking on an ad or link.
  • Check the URL of the charity’s website for accurate spelling, and note that most legitimate charities have a URL ending in .org; not .com.
  • When planning to make a donation by phone, visit the charity’s website to make sure you have the correct number.
  • Don’t share personally identifiable information via email, phone or in any other way with an unverified contact. 
  • Be super-wary of social media posts soliciting donations. If using text-to-donate, verify the number with the charity before making your donation.
  • When donating to a charity, it’s best to use a credit card for optimal purchase protection.

If you’ve been targeted

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a charity scam, there are steps you can take to help various law enforcement agencies catch the scammers. First, report the scam to the FBI at tips.fbi.gov. Next, you can alert the FTC at FTC.gov. Finally, if the scam involves financial aid for a recent natural disaster, you can report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud.

Charity scams vilify a beautiful deed, but you don’t have to let them ruin it for you. Use the advice offered in this guide to help recognize a charity scam and give safely.

Financial Lessons You Can Learn from Fantasy Football

As summer winds down with autumn creeping closer, it’s time to start thinking fantasy football! Drafting the best team and guiding them toward the championship takes knowledge, dedication, skill and real talent. Do you have what it takes to be a fantasy football champ?

Whether you do or do not, know that fantasy football is so much more than just a super-absorbing hobby. You can actually learn a lot about money management and growing your wealth from the game. Here are five financial lessons you can learn from fantasy football.

  1. Do your research

Every fantasy football aficionado can tell you that your team’s performance throughout the year significantly depends on that one day (typically) in August: Draft Day. Knowing which NFL players to “draft” to your team is crucial to its success. If you sail into this uber-important day unprepared, you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure. Instead, in the weeks leading up to draft day, the true fantasy football pro knows to listen to podcasts from training camps, research potential trades and learn about past performances of various players. Come prepared for draft day and you will make better decisions. 

In personal finance, the rules are similar. When choosing a place or company to “draft” for sinking your money into, you’ll want to do as much research as possible and ask lots of questions: Is this investment secure? Is this company projected to experience growth over the next few years and beyond? What kind of annual gains can I expect to see from this stock? What values drive this company’s culture? Find out as much as you can about any potential investment before forking over your money.

  1. Diversify

In fantasy football, it’s important to diversify your team and to draft players who excel at various positions in real life to ensure the most wins. In finance, diversification is even more important. You’ll want to spread your investments over a mix of whole-market funds, securities and savings accounts. The more exposure your portfolio has among various asset classes and markets, the more protection it has against market volatility and inflation.

  1. Keep your investments private

To a true fantasy football manager, there’s no conversation topic as exciting as the team they’ve drafted and the wins they’ve scored. But to the uninitiated, there’s no conversation topic that can put them to sleep faster than your fantasy football league. Find like-minded fans to talk shop with, but otherwise, you’re best off keeping your observations and insight on the game to yourself.

Investments are similar. You don’t want to be the drag of the party, the office or the block. Talk about your stock performance with your partner, your financial advisor and maybe your mother. Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

4.   Don’t let personal biases impact your investments

It’s hard to leave your personal feelings and opinions behind when drafting players for your fantasy football team. You might want to pick your favorite quarterback, even though there may be one that’s more likely to put up massive stats available to draft. Or maybe you’ll plan to pick players from your favorite team, no matter what they are likely to produce during the season. Or maybe you’ll pass on a top-tier player simply because he’s on the rival team of your favorite. However, the real fantasy football pro knows to ignore personal biases like these and to focus on the skill of each individual player when drafting your roster. 

This rule parallels perfectly in the world of investing. Investors sometimes let their own biases get in the way of making sound financial decisions. For example, they may choose to keep their money in a stock that’s performing poorly because they’ve always loved the company. Or, they may feel personally invested in a stock they’ve purchased, but have a hard time letting go when it is clearly time to sell. To be a successful investor, it’s crucial to leave all personal biases behind when making decisions. 

  1. Assess your financial health throughout the year

While the decisions you make on draft day will have the biggest impact on your team’s performance throughout the season, the fantasy football pro knows how important it is to continuously monitor the performance of each player in real life. There will always be players who get injured, teams that change their strategies or don’t use your chosen player much and players who simply have unproductive seasons. You’ll need to keep an eye on what’s happening so you can make the best decisions regarding potential players on the waiver wire (players who are not on anyone’s team and generally available for any team to add) going forward. 

Financial health is never a set-it-and-forget-it affair. To achieve and maintain true financial wellness, you’ll need to monitor your budget, savings, spending habits and more throughout the year. It’s not enough to give your financial wellness a check-up at year’s end; review and assess your money management every few weeks for the best results. 

Fantasy football–it’s so much more than an addictive hobby! Fantasy football can teach you financial lessons for life. 

Your Turn: Which financial lessons have you learned from fantasy football? Share them with us in the comments.

Cash, Credit or Debit–How Should I Pay?

Q: With inflation soaring, I want to spend my money in the best way possible. When paying for various everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit or debit?

A: There’s a time and place for everything. Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card, and others with a debit card. Your lifestyle and personality may influence this choice as well. Let’s take a closer look at each payment method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Between P2P payment platforms, mobile payment wallets and the growth of cryptocurrency, the world of commerce is becoming increasingly cashless. In fact, some consumers barely touch cash at all. 

However, there can be times when you’d be better off using cash. First, some gas stations charge less per gallon when the driver pays in cash. The difference is usually modest, up to 10 cents a gallon, but with gas prices soaring, it can add up to substantial savings over the course of a month. Next, if you have trouble sticking to your budget when you shop, it can be helpful to take only the amount of cash you need and leave your cards at home. This way, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. Finally, some small businesses, like food trucks or independently owned stores, only accept cash payments or offer discounts for paying cash.

On the flip side, there are many disadvantages to using cash. First, cash provides no purchase protection. Consequently, it’s best not to use cash for very large purchases. Next, cash leaves no paper trail and it can make tracking expenses difficult. It’s best not to use cash if you’re trying to get a clear picture of where your money is going. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. On the one hand, credit card debt is one of the leading causes of consumer debt in the country. On the other hand, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of one’s financial health. 

In addition to the impact to your credit score, responsibly used credit cards offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Using a rewards card for purchases you’d need to make anyway, such as paying utility bills or subscription fees for a service, can help you earn cash back, airline miles or another reward. The second big advantage to using a credit card – the purchase protection it offers – makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases or when buying something from a newer retailer. Knowing you can always dispute the charge or even cancel it if the product turns out to be different than expected, can help you shop with confidence. In addition to these advantages, paying with a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments, such as monthly bills, and for purchases you know you can pay for in full when the bill becomes due. It’s never a good idea to swipe your card for a purchase you cannot pay for today or within the next few weeks. Use your cards responsibly to ensure a healthy credit score and to stay out of debt. 

When should I use my debit card?

In many ways, debit cards offer the best of both worlds. You can always track your spending by reviewing your checking account statement, and you generally can only spend what you have. This helps minimize the risk of falling into debt. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the associated account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. However, since they  typically don’t offer rewards or the same level of purchase protection as credit cards, they may not be the best choice for large purchases, or for paying for products from a new retailer. 

Life is expensive, and you want your money to go as far as possible. Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

Your Turn: When do you use cash, credit and debit? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Don’t Forget to Follow Up on Your Home Inspection!

If you’re under contract for a new home, you’ve likely had an inspection conducted on your new home. This inspection is an important part of the home-buying process, and is generally required by the mortgage company. It can help you find any major defects in the home, such as a faulty roof or dying HVAC system, which may prompt you to walk away from the deal. Alternatively, the seller can choose to repair any areas needing major work before the closing. 

In addition, a home inspection often reveals other, smaller recommendations the seller is not required to fix. This can include a long list of items that need minor repairs or replacements, such as a leaky faucet, overstuffed gutter, or an insecure stair railing. Often, in the rush to close on the home and all the tasks that must be tended to before the big move, these repairs are forgotten about and never get fixed. 

Some homeowners mistakenly assume that it’s no big deal to leave some repairs on their newly purchased home unfixed. Unfortunately, though, nothing will fix itself. Instead, the longer you wait to make a repair, the more likely it is that you will need to make more extensive and expensive repairs or replace the faulty system, appliance or part. Consequently, it’s best to make any necessary repairs on your home as quickly as possible. 

Here’s what you need to know about following up on a home inspection.

Hold onto the list of recommendations

Most inspectors will leave the potential buyer with a list of items that need repairs. While some will require urgent attention, the less-important items on the list can be forgotten about and never tended to at all. You may not have the time or resources to fix everything on the inspector’s list before you move, but it’s a good idea to hold onto that list for future reference. File the list in a safe place so it won’t get lost during the move. You can also snap a photo and upload it to a digital storage space so you can always find it if the original document is misplaced. 

Categorize repairs according to urgency

Once the dust has settled after your move and you’re ready to tackle the household repairs you haven’t yet gotten to, dig out your list and categorize repairs by urgency. Look for repairs that can cause extensive damage if left unfixed, such as a leaky pipe, faulty exterior drainage or the presence of mold or mildew. These should be tended to as soon as possible. Cosmetic repairs, on the other hand, can be delayed without major consequences. Create a new list with all the repairs written in order from most to least urgent. 

Identify what you can do on your own

It’s almost always cheaper to do home repair projects on your own. However, there are some areas that are best left to the experts. In addition, if you will need to spend a lot of money on supplies you will use just for this one-time repair, it can actually be cheaper to call in the experts. Keeping these two factors in mind, look through your list carefully to see what you can realistically do yourself.

Start working through your list

Now that you’ve sorted your list according to urgency and you’ve identified which repairs you can do on your own, you’re ready to start tackling the repairs. Start with the most urgent repairs, and set aside time on weekends for the repairs you plan to do on your own. When hiring professionals, be sure to do your research carefully and to ask for references of past clients. 

Uphold general household maintenance

It may be a while before your entire list of repairs is complete. To help prevent further damage, and to keep your home in the best condition at all times, follow these tips for general upkeep and maintenance:

  • Make sure faucets and showerheads are completely turned off when not in use.
  • Keep the air clean by vacuuming and dusting regularly.
  • Look for discolored spots on ceilings and walls, which can indicate an internal leak.
  • Keep your home heated in very cold weather, even when you’re not home, to prevent freezing pipes. 
  • Drain your outdoor sprinklers completely before turning off for the winter.
  • Keep all trees and shrubs near your home well-trimmed. 
  • Control moisture levels with a dehumidifier or humidifier, as necessary.
  • Clean your dryer vent and all heating vents regularly.

A home inspection is an important part of the home-buying process. Don’t forget to follow up on the list of recommended repairs!

Your Turn: Have you followed up on your home inspection recommendations? Tell us about it in the comments.

What to Buy and What to Skip in September

Get ready for savings on big-ticket items this month! Retailers are looking to bring the crowds back after the big back-to-school storm has passed, and bargain prices are always a great way to attract shoppers. They also need to clear shelves before the holiday season blows in with its shopping frenzy. Add in the Labor Day sales that kick off the month, and it means big savings during September – but not on everything. Here’s what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Buy: Mattresses and bedding

Mattress sales practically give Labor Day its awesome name, and for good reason. You can find crazy-deep discounts on mattresses this month at almost any retailer that sells them. Top off the deal with some bedding and bath supplies, which are also selling at bargain prices. Be sure to start comparison-shopping at least a week or two before Labor Day to snag the best deal. After all, if you snooze, you lose. 

Skip: Halloween costumes and decor

Retailers might have you thinking Halloween is tomorrow, but you still have plenty of time to prep for Oct. 31. Though Halloween costumes and decor will hit the stores this month, it’s best to hold off on these purchases until October rolls around, as that’s the earliest you’ll start seeing scary-low discounts. 

Buy: Airfare

Since the days are getting shorter, it’s time to think winter! The holidays will be here before you can blink, and if you’re looking to grab airline tickets at a great price, you may want to shop for them now. The best deals on plane tickets usually show up eight weeks before the travel date, and for Thanksgiving, that means you’ll need to buy tickets in September. Look out for deals on tickets at the end of the month to save big on your travel plans. 

Skip: Autumn wear

It’s too early in the season for slashed prices on clothing. Pick up some essentials if you must, but you’re best off waiting until October or November to shop for your complete autumn wardrobe at sizzling-hot prices.

Buy: Plants

Hold onto summer a little bit longer with some vibrant greenery. All summer plants, trees and shrubs will be retailing at dirt-cheap prices this month as garden centers make room for autumn and holiday plants. This can be a terrific time to upgrade your property’s landscaping with some well-placed perennials. You can also find some fabulous deals on summer flowers, though you may not have much time left to enjoy them.

Skip: Electronics

Labor Day might bring some incredible deals on big-ticket items, but electronics aren’t among them. Instead, TVs, headphones, audio systems and more tend to see their lowest prices during Black Friday sale events. Wait just a little bit longer and you can snag a fantastic deal on an electronic item you’ve been eyeing for months. 

Buy: Denim

Jeans are a hot item during back-to-school shopping. Come September, retailers will slash prices to unload their unsold inventory. Cash in on a great deal by shopping these sales for a new pair of denim jeans this month. 

Buy: Beauty and skincare products 

Early autumn is a great time to stock up on beauty and skincare products. As college students pack up to head back to the dorm and consumers pick up skincare routines, prices may have dropped over the summer. Look for price cuts on products like shampoo, body wash, moisturizer and all kinds of cosmetics from Labor Day and on. 

It’s back to school, back to work and back to savings this month! Use this guide to know what to buy and what to skip in September. 

Your Turn: Have you picked up any great bargains in September? Tell us about them in the comments. 

6 Ways to Pay Less at the Pump

Just when you think they can’t possibly jump any higher, gas prices start rising again. They’ve long passed the $5 mark in much of the country, and in some areas they’ve even gone beyond $6 a gallon. This means it’ll cost the average American close to $100 just to fill a 16-gallon tank. With prices peaking on so many other goods, the pain at the pump is real.

There isn’t much you can do about the cost of gas, but there are ways you can pay less at the pump. Here are six ways to save on the cost of gasoline.

  1. Use cash

Lots of gas stations offer a discount for cash payments, sometimes up to $0.20 per gallon. This can quickly add up when pumping a full tank. Just be careful to have the cash handy when you need it, as you don’t want to lose all those savings to ATM fees when using machines that are not connected to your credit union.

  1. Use a rewards program or credit card

If you don’t like the idea of carrying around a lot of cash, but you still want to save at the pump, consider signing up for a rewards program or credit card. Tread carefully, though; not all of these programs actually benefit the consumer. Ask these questions about any rewards program or credit card you’re considering before signing up:

  • Is there an annual fee? An annual fee can easily offset any savings you might incur from rewards.  
  • Is there a cap on rewards? Some programs limit the amount of rewards that can be accrued per quarter or year. If the cap is not sufficient for your needs, the program might not be for you.
  • What is the redemption value for each reward point? Actual rewards can vary tremendously by program. Be sure to find out exactly how much a rewards point is worth  to see if it’s actually a good deal.
  • Is this card only good for purchasing gas? Some rewards cards allow you to rack up points with any purchase at a gas station, while others are strictly for fuel only.
  • What are the membership requirements for this rewards card? Make sure the requirements aren’t so rigid or restrictive that you can’t earn enough points to make it worthwhile.

In addition, consider your personal track record with credit cards before signing up for a gas rewards credit card. If you already find it challenging to pay off your balance in full each month, it may not be the best idea to open another credit card. 

3. Check your tire pressure

According to the US Department of Energy, a  well-inflated tire can save you $0.15/gallon by boosting your gas mileage by 3%. Check your tires regularly to ensure they’re always inflated. To make this easier, consider springing for a tire pressure gauge that will automatically monitor the health of your tires.

  1. Use a gas-tracking app

In 2022, there’s no need to search for the gas station offering the best-priced gas. There’s an app for that! Popular gas-tracking apps include GasBuddy, Upside and Waze. Using the gas station conveniently located right near your home or workplace might be easier, but taking the extra time to find one that sells fuel for less can save you a bundle.

  1. Purchase a club membership

If you don’t already have one, this may be the time to buy a club membership. Costo, Sam’s Club and Walmart Plus all offer discounted gas exclusively to members. Of the three, Costco tends to feature gas for the lowest price, up to $0.34 less per gallon than a typical gas station. In today’s gas-crazy climate, that’s a huge difference. Of course, you’ll want to find out how much a club membership will cost you before signing up to join any of these or other club stores to ensure it’s worth the price. Also, be prepared for long lines at the club store’s gas station, especially with spiking gas prices. 

  1. Buy gas at the right time of day

Did you know there’s an ideal time of day to fill your tank? And no, we’re not talking about shorter lines, or even the time of day before prices will change yet again. You can get more bang for your buck if you buy your gas in the early morning or late evening hours, when it’s generally cooler out. If you pump gas during the midday hours, after the sun has been beating down on the gas reservoir all day, the gas has likely expanded. This means you’ll be paying the same price for a less-dense gasoline, which will not last as long. Pump when it’s cooler outside for the densest gas.

It’s sticker shock at the pump these days, but there are still some ways you can save on gas costs. Use these tips to get started.

Your Turn: How do you save at the gas pump? Share your best tips and hacks in the comments.

Back-to-School Shopping Hacks

It’s back-to-school season, and that means you’ve got a list of stuff a mile long to buy. The good news is that you don’t need to break the budget during the second-biggest shopping season of the year. There are lots of ways to save, and if you plan your shopping well in advance instead of frantically rushing to get everything done at the last minute, you can save a lot of money. Below, we’ve compiled seven back-to-school shopping hacks to get you started.

  1. Take inventory

Don’t set foot in a single store without first checking to see what you have at home. You may have stocked up on lined paper in the spring, or maybe you bought some autumn wear for your child at the end-of-season sale last year and you’ve put it in storage until you’d need it. Keep a running list of everything you find so you know exactly what you have before you spend a dime on new supplies and clothing. 

  1. Shop tax-free

Many states offer a sales-tax holiday sometime during the summer, and if you use these days to shop for big-ticket items, like a new laptop or pair of school shoes, you can shave a significant amount of money off the final price. You can find a list of sales-tax holidays by state here.

  1. Shop with a list

And we’re not talking about the list of required supplies your child’s school or teacher has sent home. When shopping for anything, especially with kids and teens, it’s best to start out with a clear goal of what you plan to buy. This way, you’ll be less likely to overspend and come home with bags of stuff you don’t really need, along with lots of buyer’s remorse. Make a list before hitting the mall, the school supplies store and even before shopping online. 

  1. Divide and conquer

The circulars are packed with specials on school supplies all summer long. The problem is that, while one store is offering a crazy-low deal on crayons this week, another store is running a super sale on pencils – and the stores are across town from each other. You don’t want to spend all weekend hunting down supplies, and you don’t want to lose all your savings to fill the tank of your car either. Keep your savings, and your sanity, by teaming up with another school mom. Divide the school supply list between the two of you, pooling costs and paying back as necessary. This way, while one of you can go pick up the crayons at half-price in Walmart, the other can load up on marked-down pencils in Staples. 

  1. Let your kids choose some items on their own

Teach your kids a lesson in budgeting by allowing them to shop for one or more of the costlier items they need now on their own. For example, you can have your middle-schooler choose and pay for their own backpack. Set a reasonable budget together, but let your child do the actual choosing and paying on their own. They’ll learn how to make responsible money choices and so much more. To encourage thriftiness, you can offer to allow your child to keep the change. 

  1. Save some stuff for later

Yes, your child will be starting school soon and they’ll need some supplies and clothing before the big first day. But the stores won’t be going anywhere, and there’s no need to purchase a complete autumn wardrobe before Labor Day. Waiting a bit for the mid-season sales will save you a ton of money. As a bonus, shopping without the pressure of having everything ready for the new school year will help you make better money choices. 

  1. Scan receipts to get cash back

Put more money back in your wallet by scanning or uploading your receipts to cash-back sites or apps. Some popular cash-back apps include Coupons.com, Dosh and Ibotta. It’s like getting paid to shop!

It’s back-to-school shopping season, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend yourself broke! Cash in on savings with these hacks and get your shopping done without breaking your budget. 

Your Turn: How do you save on back-to-school shopping? Share your favorite hacks in the comments. 

12 Steps to Financial Wellness Step 7: How to Pay Yourself First

[Now that you’re managing your money well and you’ve even learned to share the gifts you’ve been given, it’s time to start perfecting the art of saving.]

“Pay yourself first” is a catchphrase that means prioritizing your personal savings above other expenses. Savings should not be an afterthought or an extra that only happens if there’s money left over at the end of the month. Putting aside money should be a fixed line on your budget that happens every month without fail. 

Here’s how to successfully pay yourself first.

  1. Review your spending

Take a clear look at your spending. If you already have a budget, this will be as easy as reviewing the column that lists all of your expenses, including your discretionary spending. If you don’t already have a budget, track your spending over several months to identify your primary expenses and to find the average amount of money you spend monthly. A budgeting app, like Mint or YNAB, can make this step super-simple.

  1. Set short- and long-term saving goals

Before you start setting aside money each month, you’ll want to have a clear picture of your saving goals. 

Short-term savings, or funds you want to be able to access in the near future if necessary, can be allocated to an emergency fund. Experts advise having three to six months’ worth of living expenses set aside in an emergency fund in case of a sudden, large expense and/or loss of employment. Some people also build a rainy-day fund, or a slush fund that can be used to pay for anything at all, such as a spontaneous vacation or a large discretionary purchase like a new phone. 

Long-term savings should include funds you can afford not to touch for several years or more. Your long-term saving goals can include funding your retirement, as well as a downpayment on a home, a new car, a sabbatical from work or any other super-big expense.

Narrow down your short- and long-term goals until you have a realistic picture, then attach a number to each savings category.

  1. Set a timeline for each savings goal

Now that you have a number for the amount of funds you want to save, you’ll need to determine a realistic timeline for meeting those goals. You’ll want to give first priority to your emergency fund, but at the same time it’s best not to neglect your future and to start saving for retirement today. This allows time to let compound interest work its magic. To that end, you may want to allocate the bulk of your monthly savings to your emergency fund until you meet your goal. Once your emergency fund is full, you can divide your savings more evenly between your short-term savings and long-term savings. 

While you work through this step, you may want to reach out to an HR rep at your workplace and/or your accountant to discuss your options for a 401k, IRA or another retirement plan. 

  1. Calculate how much you’ll need to save each month 

You’re ready to determine how much money you’ll need to put into savings each month to reach your goals by their deadlines. Take your total for each goal, and divide it by the number of months in your timeline. For example, if you’ve decided you want to have an emergency fund of $24,000 set up in four years’ time, you’ll divide $24,000 by 48 months to get $500 a month. This is the amount you’ll need to set aside each month to reach your goal in time. Do this for each of your goals. 

As you work through this step, don’t forget to account for any interest you’ll accrue for your long-term savings. Also, remember to prioritize your short-term savings for emergencies and adjust your savings allocation once your emergency fund is set up. Without the funds to get you through an emergency, your savings can be depleted as soon as any unexpected expense crops up.

  1. Automate your savings

Once you’ve got your savings plan ready to go, it’s best to make it automatic. You can set up a monthly transfer from your credit union checking account to your credit union savings account [or share certificate]. This way, your savings will grow even when you forget to feed them. Think of this money like taxes – it’s not actually part of your take-home pay, because it gets skimmed off the top before it even hits your wallet. But unlike taxes, all of this money (and the dividends or interest it earns) will land in your pocket one day, with some extra, too!

  1. Monitor and tweak as necessary

Life is dynamic, and your savings plan should be, too. If you find the system you’ve set in place is not working anymore, you can always tweak and come up with one that better meets your lifestyle. If you find that you’re short on the funds you need for paying yourself first, consider trimming your discretionary spending in a budget category or freelancing for extra cash before lowering your monthly savings goal.

Congrats–you’ve mastered the art of paying yourself first!

Your Turn: Do you pay yourself first? Share your best saving tips and advice with us in the comments.