What Does The Retail Apocalypse Mean For America?

Retail store with a "Going Out of Business" banner in front of it's nameIt’s become a familiar and depressing sight: the shuttered doors, the “Going Out of Business” signs and the empty storefronts. And it’s not just happening to the mom-and-pop shops of our neighborhoods. In fact, dozens of major, national brands we’ve grown up with are disappearing from the country’s retail landscape.

What’s happening to the retail world in America?
Is there any way to stop the mass wave of corporate bankruptcy, or will we soon be stuck buying every item we want or need, from groceries to mattresses, on the internet? And most importantly, what does it all mean for the future of the economy?

The retail apocalypse: What’s really happening
The steady vanishing of major retailers across the country has been dubbed the “retail apocalypse” by mainstream media, with the finger of blame pointed squarely at the explosion of online shopping. But a deeper look reveals another story.

Yes, dozens of retailers have filed for bankruptcy since 2010 and more than 12,000 physical stores have closed their doors. But there’s a crucial detail the media has missed. A recent report by the IHL Group finds that, for every retailer that is closing some or all of its stores, 5.20 are opening new locations. In other words, there are more companies opening stores than closing them in every sector of retail, from department stores to mom-and-pop shops. Data from the Census Bureau further supports these findings: In 2018, the overall number of retail stores in the U.S. increased by 3,100.

The report stresses that the retailers declaring bankruptcy only account for a surprisingly small number of brands. To illustrate, at the halfway point of 2019, 16 retailers had filed for bankruptcy, but those 16 were responsible for 73% of the year’s retail store closings across the country.

Among the new stores establishing themselves in place of those who have gone out of business, the trend seems to be moving toward smaller stores that already have a strong online presence. This reflects the evolving needs of today’s consumers: Customers are more likely to visit a brick-and-mortar store for getting a feel for the company’s product, or to try out an expensive item, and then go home and make their actual purchase online.

While the media might have you believing that shopping malls are an endangered species, in truth there are thousands more brick-and-mortar stores in the country today than there were a decade ago.

What kinds of stores are still thriving?
Despite the wave of bankruptcy among chain retailers, there are some segments of retail that are thriving.

One such sector is the bargain department store, including Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and Home Goods, where shoppers enjoy the thrill of finding a steal of a deal they can walk home with that same day. Budget-priced fast-fashion brands, like Old Navy, H&M and Zara’s, are doing surprisingly well, too. Another thriving sector is the warehouse club, like Costco and BJ’s, for similar reasons.

The world of retail may be undergoing a massive shift toward digitization, but finding a bargain never goes out of style.

What do all these closings mean for the economy?
While it may be true that there are more stores opening than closing, this reality does not necessarily reflect well on the country’s level of employment. Retail is one of the largest sources of U.S. employment, accounting for close to 16 million jobs nationwide. As mentioned, most of the stores replacing those going bankrupt are smaller stores, many of which hire fewer than five employees. Consequently, when a major retailer, like Forever 21, announces that it plans to close 178 of its stores by the end of the year, this means thousands of workers will soon be jobless. In fact, the retail sector has lost a whopping 200,000 jobs since January 2017.

The good news, though, is that most of those laid-off workers seem to be finding new jobs before their joblessness can adversely affect the economy. The national unemployment level continues to linger at a half-century low, and consumer spending remains strong. Unfortunately, though, many economists anticipate a recession within the coming year. If their predictions are accurate, consumer spending will likely plunge and accelerate retail bankruptcies and layoffs. In a recession, credit availability tightens and interest rates increase, which can negatively impact the retail sector as well.

“Brick-and-mortar retailers are already in recession,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “They’ve been laying off workers coming up on three years. And this is a time when consumers are out spending aggressively. If the broader economy is in recession, there is going to be blood in the streets.”

While there’s not much you can do to change the tide of the national economy, you can help support your own community by shopping at local retailers and choosing to frequent brick-and-mortar shops, instead of making the internet your first stop for all your shopping needs.

Let’s do what we can to keep our local economy strong.

Your Turn:
Do you think the economists are right, and we’re headed toward a recession? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
businessinsider.com
fool.com
cnn.com
ihlservices.com
cnn.com

Gaming Apps: Time Killers And Thrillers

Fortnite (Android)Blonde male fortnight character
If you’re an erstwhile arcade aficionado, you’ll love Fortnite. The wildly popular game is equipped with arcade-like aesthetics and unveils new weapons, challenges and game modes each week. Plus, you can pick up a game you started on your mobile device and continue it on your desktop computer for non-stop fun.

Knight Brawl (Apple)Knight Brawl logo, cartoon warrior getting bonked on his helmeted head with a mace
This one is for the secret medieval hero inside you. Use your weapons and shields to fight opponents and boast about your big wins to other players while in the game’s characters’ inn. Aside from the basic battles, the app also offers super-challenging missions for the diehard knights out there.

Kazarma (Android)kazarma logo
Are you ready for an out-of-this-world adventure? Prepare for takeoff! This game will really take you places as you zoom along Kazarma, an ancient bridge connecting all human colonies within the galaxy. Ward off aliens with your neon zapper, and enjoy a new game each time with the app’s procedurally generated levels. You’ll only need your thumb to play Kazarma, making it a perfect choice for mobile devices.

Shadowgun Legends (Apple)futuristic warrior faces off with giant deadly robot
With super-sophisticated visuals and a first-person perspective, Shadowgun Legends is a top-rated app for good reason. Navigate the game easily with both thumbs, and get drawn into a fast-paced world of danger and intrigue. It’s a perfect adventure for the braver soul.

Beach Buggy Racing 2 (Android)Beach Buggy cartoon character
Travel back in time to a world of dinosaurs, gigantic sea creatures, fire-breathing dragons and dinky old wagons. Your dilapidated vehicle is your lifeline, and you’ll need to find shortcuts, use power-ups, blast your enemies to the heavens and maintain top speed so you reach the checkered flag before your opponents. Beware: This game is addictive!

Asphalt 8: Airborne (Android)rendering of a yellow and black supercar
Asphalt 8: Airborne, gives a slight nod toward realism with true-to-life locations, and will have you devouring miles of road at dizzying speed. A thrilling racing game, this app lets you blast through volcanoes, soar into the air and blaze through rocket launch sites as you make a mad dash for the finish line.

PinOut! (Apple)glowing chrome pinball in a futuristic grid environment
Get ready for some old-fashioned fun! PinOut is what happens when iconic arcade gaming meets 21st century visuals. It’s pinball reinvented, with extra challenges forcing you to find the most efficient way to the next table, grab some dots and beat a ticking timer before your game is up. With incredible graphics and sound effects, PinOut is your ticket to a nostalgic trip back to the ’90s.

One Tap Rally (Android)Rendering of a blue & green rally car on a dirt track
With a single finger, you can join the race of a lifetime! One Tap Rally lets you steer, brake and own that racetrack until you beat your opponents to move up to the next level. Mix speed and strategy in this beauty of a racer, perfect for your mobile device.
With so many free apps to choose from, it’s a world of nonstop fun and adventure in gaming land!

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

Learn More:
macworld.co.uk
techjury.net
cnet.com
techjury.net

Distraction-Blocker Apps

Do you find your daily to-do list is no match for the distractions of the internet? Are you constantly pushing off tasks so you can check your Facebook page or see what’s new on Pinterest for the 10th time this hour? If this describes you, consider a distraction-blocker app. These apps are the mobile age’s way of fighting back. Or, as Cold Turkey, a leading app of this kind cheekily says, “Meet your match, Zuckerberg!”

We’ve done the research for you, dishing you the details on three of the most popular distraction-blocker apps on the market.

We’ve given you the info on how to choose the one that suits you best, and stop (okay, pause) your internet addiction today!

Cold Turkey logo, cartoon turkey on grey/blue background

Cold Turkey

This top-rated app is a favorite for people looking to reclaim their free time as their own. As its name implies, the app makes it easy to quit wasting time on apps and websites by allowing you to stop frequenting them-cold turkey. For complete control, have a friend set your passwords.

Cold Turkey offers a free “Basic” version with limited features as well as a “Pro” version for a one-time fee of $29.

Best features
Cold Turkey’s blocking features are highly customizable. You can choose to block specific apps and websites, or even block the entire internet-or your entire computer! If you need limited online access for your work, such as access to Google Docs, just white-list the sites you need. Set your own blocking schedule in advance so your work or study hours are always distraction-free. Best of all, once you start a block, there’s no turning back. If going cold turkey is too intense for you, you can build timed breaks into your preset blocks.

Cold Turkey will also track your internet usage and let you know exactly how much time you’re wasting on Instagram or YouTube each day so you know better which sites and apps to block.

Glaring glitches
While the paid version offers an excellent array of features, users find the free version of Cold Turkey to be severely limited. You won’t be able to block apps or specific web pages without paying the subscription price. The free version can also be difficult to uninstall.

FocusMe logo, stylized clock at two o'clock with hour hand that forms a dynamic pointerFocusMe
FocusMe offers features similar to those found on Cold Turkey; however, FocusMe offers even more customization and harder-to-break controls.

Best Features
Users love FocusMe’s extremely detailed customization options. The app lets you block specific programs, block keyword phrases in internet searches and schedule breaks with reminders into your time blocks. Create your schedule, and it will automatically kick into gear when you boot up your computer; there’s no need to open the app to turn on the block. Once a block has started, you can’t turn it off, even if you restart your computer.

There’s no cheating with FocusMe!
This app is great for students looking to boost their grades. It even offers a special discount for the cash-strapped student to make it more affordable.
Users are also quick to highlight the incredible customer service FocusMe offers. Emailed inquiries are answered promptly and company reps are super-helpful.

Glaring Glitches
Some users complain that, while FocusMe offers an impressive array of customizable options, it can be difficult to learn your way around the app. Setup and installation can also take up a large chunk of time.

Also, there is no free version of FocusMe, and the cost of a subscription at $6.99 a month (or $2.50 per month if you commit to a full year) is a bit on the pricey side. You can also sign up for life by paying a one-time fee of $119.

Small green carton sapling sprouting in fertile soil over a green to yellow gradient backgroundForest
If you need visual motivation to keep you focused, this is the app for you. Forest takes the classic distraction-blocker app and turns it into a game with its unique interface and graphic design. The app isn’t free, but at $1.99, it’s extremely affordable.

Best Features
Every time you open the Forest app, you start planting a virtual tree. The tree will continue growing until you leave the app or complete your block. Once your timer is up, you’ll have a fully grown tree. The app will store a virtual forest of every tree you plant, serving as a great visual reminder of all the time you spend away from your phone. Become an expert “Forester,” by planting an entire forest!

This innovative app works by motivating the user to keep the Forest app open on their device. Once it’s open, all apps are blocked unless they have been white-listed by the user. While the user’s tree is growing, the app encourages the user to leave their phone alone and go do something productive, like catch up with family or get back to work.

Earn virtual coins for every tree you plant within the app and then spend them on real trees: Forest partners with Trees for the Future, an authentic tree-planting organization. To date, 535,815 trees have been planted through this unique arrangement. Instead of wasting time online, you can help make the world a more beautiful place.

Glaring Glitches
The app’s unique approach to distraction blocking is also its greatest disadvantage because it offers very little customization. There’s no way to plan built-in breaks, create a weekly schedule or even set a password for your block.

How they stack up

AppFree VersionStudent DiscountHigh CustomizationVisual Motivation
Cold TurkeyYesNoYesNo
FocusMeNoYesYesNo
ForestNoNoNoYes

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite distraction-blocker app? Tell us all about it in the comments!

Learn More:
focusme.com
alternativeto.net
cisdem.com
commonsenemedia.org
forestapp.cc

8 Ways To Beat Holiday Stress

Young black woman sits pensively in front of festive decoreated tree and fireplace‘Tis the season to be merry-except sometimes, it’s not. While the entertainment industry would have us think the holidays are always full of good cheer, lots of laughs and warm feelings, the reality can, unfortunately, be otherwise.

Sometimes, all that frenzied consumerism, party-hopping and crazy schedules can bring out the worst in the people we love. Other times, a challenging life situation, such as a recent divorce, death in the family or financial struggles, are painfully magnified when everyone around you seems to be in such wonderfully high spirits.

No one wants to be the Grinch on Christmas. So, if you tend to feel stressed or down when the holidays roll around, here are eight tips to help you turn that frown into a genuine smile.

  1. Watch the buck
    Nothing kills the holiday cheer like a mountain of debt. Stick to a budget when doing your holiday shopping and only spend what you can actually afford. Be extra careful not to overspend as the holidays draw near, and you’re experiencing pressure to finish your shopping in time. If you find yourself running low on funds, consider arranging a gift exchange, like a Secret Santa, or giving some homemade presents this year.
  2. Give back
    The holidays can sometimes leave us feeling down because of all that emphasis on the perfect gifts. Opening up a present is always a thrill, but giving to others creates lasting joy. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, one of the best ways to reduce stress is to give back to your community.

    Beat the stress this season by sharing holiday cheer with those who are less fortunate. There are so many ways to spread joy! You can bring some toys to the children’s ward at the local hospital to brighten up a sick child’s holiday. Use your time off from work to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Dress up your family in their ugliest Christmas sweaters and holiday hats before visiting the closest nursing home to put a smile on the residents’ faces. When you give, you always give most to yourself.

  3. Stick to a schedule
    Part of the holiday experience is enjoying late nights and/or early mornings. Sometimes, though, all that lazing around and lack of quality sleep can make stress levels soar. There’s no need to be a stickler for your regular routine on the holidays, but it’s a good idea to keep some sort of schedule. Make sure you’re getting enough shut-eye, and if a physical workout is part of your daily routine, don’t neglect it over the holidays. You’ll always feel better when you’re taking care of your body. And, if you’re mindful about your habits, you may not even have those extra pounds to work off in January!
  4. Party smart
    Cheers! Can I pour you another glass of … soda?
    If you like to party, you can end up getting sick over the holidays. All that heavy drinking and loading up on refined carbs can really do your body in. Do yourself a favor this year and watch what you imbibe. Enjoy a glass or two of your favorite alcoholic beverage, but try to keep the drinking to a minimum. Similarly, it’s OK to break your diet over Christmas, but it’s best not to go overboard. You don’t need to feel bloated and sick to enjoy the holidays. Keep the stress out by treating your body well.
  5. Delegate
    Are you hosting a crowd this Christmas? Guests can be great fun, but all the extra work can bring your stress levels through the roof. Here’s the good news: You don’t have to do it all! There’s nothing wrong and there’s everything right with asking for help. Don’t feel bad about having your guests and family members pitch in with cooking and cleaning. They’ll feel better, too, when they’re sharing the workload. Plus, everything is easier when there are more hands on deck.
  6. Take some “me” time
    Whether you’re a closet introvert or you just need some time alone each day, the nonstop partying and a house full of guests can get to you after a while. It’s always a good idea to take care of yourself, and in the chaos of the holidays this need is often neglected. Consider running out to get yourself a manicure, taking a solitary half-hour walk or just locking yourself in your room after a long and loud day to savor the peace and quiet. You’re not being an antisocial snob if you need your “me” time; you’re just being human.
  7. Give up the guilt
    If you tend to over-analyze every interaction you have with family and friends, you can really beat yourself up over the holidays questioning everything you’ve said. Try to relax and to let go this season. So long as you’re reasonably pleasant and agreeable, you can give yourself a break.
  8. Lower your expectations
    A common cause for holiday stress is unrealistic expectations. It’s best not to build huge castles in the air by keeping your expectations to a minimum. There will probably be some minor, or even major, stressors this holiday, and not everything will turn out exactly as planned. All of that is OK. If you don’t expect perfection, you won’t be struggling with mountains of disappointment this holiday.

Beat the blues and put the cheer back into the holidays this year!
Here’s wishing you a Merry Christmas from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union.

Your Turn:
How do you beat the holiday stress? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
psychologytoday.com
symptomfind.com
huffingtonpost.com
apa.org

Everything Is Figureoutable By Marie Forleo

book cover of Everything is Figureoutable with text in front of author Marie ForleDreaming up big goals is easy; it’s finding a way to achieve them that can sometimes feel impossible. Maybe you decided this is the year you kick that addiction, double your contributions to your retirement account or finally pull yourself out of debt. Whatever your big dreams may be, Marie Forleo’s new book Everything is Figureoutable will show you how to make them happen.

Forleo describes her mom as a woman with the tenacity of a bulldog and the language of a truck driver. The author’s chief philosophy, and the primary principle of her book, is centered on the wise words her mom shared with her, “Nothing in life is that complicated. You can do whatever you set your mind to if you just roll up your sleeves, get in there, and do it. Everything is figureoutable.”

Forleo’s book shows readers how to achieve any goal, whether they want to launch a business; get their finances under control; leave a dead-end job or learn how to tap dance. With her trademark blend of candor and wit, the award-winning TV host, entrepreneur and public speaker breaks through the barriers that hold us back and inspires readers with the overpowering message that they can achieve anything they dream up. All it takes, she claims, is retraining your brain for ultimate productivity and achievement.

Forleo draws on real-life anecdotes from guests on her podcast and show, MarieTV, to highlight the success rate of her theory. She also backs up her claims with academic research and surveys that are sprinkled throughout the book.
Everything is Figureoutable is a quick, engaging read that may just change your life. Readers will discover:

  • A simple practice that can make you 42% more likely to achieve your goals.
  • How to overcome a lack of time and money.
  • What to do if you’re multi-passionate.
  • How to handle criticism, haters and imposter syndrome.
  • How to differentiate between fear and intuition.
  • A fail-proof test to guide you in making the right decisions, especially in high-stakes situations.

One point of criticism readers have with Everything is Figureoutable is Forleo’s broad promise that her book and philosophy can help people move past any problem, including mental health issues. These readers claim that issues like depression, addiction and trauma, require the help of professionals trained in the mental health field. At the very least, they believe Marie should have made mention of seeking professional help under such circumstances, in addition to following her philosophy.

However, readers who enjoy mental equilibrium are finding the book to be incredibly inspiring and life-altering. As Forleo says about Everything is Figureoutable, “It’s more than just a fun phrase to say. It’s a philosophy of relentless optimism. A mindset. A mantra. A conviction. Most important, it’s about to make you unstoppable.”

Your Turn:
Do you agree with Forleo’s premise that everything is truly figureoutable? Why, or why not? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

Learn More:
booksamillion.com
goodreads.com
amazon.com

Thanksgiving Hacks To Save Time, Stress And Money

View from inside of oven - young man removes perfectly baked turkey from oven.Thanksgiving prep stressing you out? Wondering how you’re going to get everything done in time for the big day and stick to your budget at the same time?
We’re here to help! Whether you’re travelling home for the holiday or hosting a houseful of guests, we’ve got you covered. Advantage One Credit Union is proud to present 15 clever Thanksgiving hacks to save you time, stress and money as you prepare for Turkey Day.

1. Book your flight early
If you’re flying home for Thanksgiving, book your flight as early as possible – preferably in September. According to travel app, SkyScanner, booking a Thanksgiving flight in September can save you 4 percent off the ticket price.

2. Travel light
You likely won’t be gone for long. Plus, if you’re going home, you can always dig up something to wear if you haven’t packed for every occasion. Why waste all that time packing and pay for extra bag-checking?

3. Get an accurate guest count as early as possible
If you’re hosting, this should be your first step – even before you start thinking menus and recipes. Find out exactly how many guests you’re expecting for Thanksgiving dinner so you don’t overcook or need to run out at the last minute for more groceries.

4. Plan your menu early
Draw up an exact menu as early as possible before you start stocking up on ingredients. This way, you won’t pick up random food items just in case you may end up needing them.

5. Take stock of your pantry and fridge before shopping
Don’t buy a thing until you know what you already have at home, this way you won’t be unpacking three cans of pumpkin filling from your grocery bag only to find you already have four cans sitting in your pantry.

6. Shop early and shop the sales
Most supermarkets spread their sales weeks before the big day.. Save big by picking up what you need, as it gets marked down in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. As always, be sure to monitor coupon sites like Coupon.com, Flipp.com and RetailMeNot, as well as local circulars, to see what’s on sale before hitting the stores.

7. Use a cooler as a fridge
As you cook your way through your menu, refrigerator space will become a precious commodity. Make room by using a cooler to store bottles of salad dressing and condiments you don’t need for Thanksgiving. Fill the cooler two-thirds of the way with ice so your banished foods don’t go bad, and keep it in the garage until your fridge is roomy once again. Use the space these items leave behind in your fridge to store the dishes you’ll need for the great feast.

8. Use pennies instead of pie weights
You need to pre-bake your pie shells before filling them, but you don’t want the shells to puff up and crack. Professional bakers recommend using a pie weight to keep this from happening, but there’s no need to waste money on yet another kitchen gadget. Instead, line your pie shell with foil and then fill the center with pennies or dried beans to keep the dough weighed down as it bakes.

9. Keep your mashed potatoes in your slow cooker
No one wants cold and lumpy mashed potatoes with their turkey, but how do you keep yours soft and smooth when every burner on your stovetop is occupied in the hours leading up to Thanksgiving dinner? With this hack, of course! After preparing your potatoes, spread some butter on your slow-cooker insert, add some heavy cream or milk and then pour in the potatoes. Keep the temperature on low and stir occasionally to keep the spuds soft and creamy.

10. Use aluminum foil instead of a roasting rack
There’s no need to rush out and buy a pricey roasting rack so your turkey can cook evenly. You can get the same results by fashioning a rack out of aluminum foil. Twist some foil into thick ropes and weave them across the bottom of your roasting pan until they’re strong enough to hold your bird.

11. Spray-paint plastic fruit instead of springing on expensive décor
You can find fake fruit for super-cheap at dollar stores-or you may already have some at home. Spray-paint the fruit in gold, silver or any colors that match your décor for a festive look that doesn’t break the budget.

12. Buy a frozen turkey
Frozen turkeys are a lot cheaper than their fresh counterparts, and if you prepare it well, no one will be able to tell the difference.

13. Buy in bulk
You can save a ton on your ingredients by buying in bulk. If you can’t see yourself using up a mammoth sack of potatoes or an enormous amount of cranberry sauce, find a friend who is also hosting Thanksgiving dinner and ask about splitting the cost and the item. You’ll still save a ton off the regular price.

14. Skip the appetizer
Appetizers can take a ridiculous amount of time to prepare, and you don’t want your guests filling up on miniature fried wontons before you bring out your turkey with all the trimmings. Consider skipping the appetizer this year and just starting with a tossed salad.

15. Cook most things from scratch
Convenience is important, especially when your to-do list outpaces your available time, but some shortcuts are just not worth the cost. Instant mashed potatoes and store-bought gravy don’t come close to the authentic version and can be a real waste of money.
Sometimes, though, if preparing something yourself means purchasing a pricey item for a small end-product, like pumpkin pie filling or cranberry sauce, you’re better off going with the pre-made stuff.

If you don’t think you can possibly do it all without buying as much premade as you can, split the smaller items on your to-do list with a neighbor or a friend who is also hosting dinner, and share the goods. We promise not to tell your guests.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union.

Your Turn:
Do you have any genius Thanksgiving hacks? Share them with us in the comments.

Learn More:
foodnetwork.com
makinglemonadeblog.com
moneypantry.com

Can I Buy A House When I’m Paying Off A Student Loan?

A young couple sits on the lawn of their modest home watching their two young children play in the yardQ: I graduated college with a huge student loan debt. Since then, I’ve landed a decent job and I’ve been making steady payments toward paying down my loan. Is it possible for me to buy a house while I’m still paying off this debt?
A: Student loan debt that is managed responsibly should not hold you back from purchasing a house. There are several important factors to consider before making this choice and steps you’ll want to take before you start house-hunting.
Are you really ready to buy a house?
Before you take a look at your finances to determine if you can pull off this purchase, make sure this goal is in your best interest.
For starters, do you really know which city or neighborhood you’d like to live in at this point in your life? You are likely just starting out in your career and you might be better off with the flexibility that comes with renting. This way, if an excellent employment opportunity requiring a move arises, you’ll be free to accept it. You also may or may not have settled down in terms of a life partner. It generally does not pay to buy a home you’ll only live in for a few years before selling.
Next, think about the financial ramifications of this purchase. Are you really comfortable taking on another huge loan right now? Also, you will likely have to live with a bare-bones budget to meet your mortgage payments without neglecting your student loan debt. Do you really want to live with a no-frills spending plan in the foreseeable future?
Consider these questions carefully before making your decision.
Getting started: Boost your credit
Once you’ve determined if it would be beneficial for you to purchase a home right now, you’ll want to start improving your credit. Your credit wellness is the primary factor that home lenders consider when deciding if you’re eligible for a mortgage. It also figures into the rate they will offer you.
Here are some ways you can boost your credit score in the months leading up to your mortgage application:
  • Pay all your bills on time. Set up automatic payments to make it effortless.
  • Keep your credit utilization at less than 30 percent.
  • Pay your credit card bills in full, and before they’re due.
  • Don’t close old accounts or open new cards. You want your credit history to be lengthy, and both of these steps can significantly bring down your average.
How high is your DTI?
Lots of young college graduates think it’s impossible, or difficult, to obtain a mortgage when carrying student loan debt. In fact, a 2018 Student Loan Hero survey found that 43% of college-educated Americans with student loans postponed buying a home because of their student debt.
Lucky for you, there is very little truth to this concern. As mentioned above, a student loan that is handled well should not be a deterrent to getting a mortgage. To make sure you’re managing your student debt responsibly, set up automatic monthly payments on your loan so you never miss a payment or a due date.
In addition, make an effort to pay your student loan back as quickly as possible so it doesn’t reflect badly on your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Since taking out a mortgage means accepting more debt, lenders are careful to check that you aren’t carrying too much other debt. Ideally, your total debt payments, including your mortgage, should account for less than 36 percent of your income.
If your DTI is on the high side, you may not be eligible for a mortgage just yet. Consider refinancing your student loan to a loan with lower interest rates so you can pay it off sooner and then apply for a mortgage when your DTI improves. You can also look for ways to increase your income to tilt your debt ratio in your favor.
If you’re carrying any other debt, such as credit card debt, you’ll want to pay it down as quickly as possible as well.
Determine how much house you can afford
Before you start shopping for a home, find out how much house you can actually afford. The best way to obtain this information is by applying for a preapproval from a home lender. This will tell you exactly how high you can go while showing sellers that you’re serious about buying.
If you won’t need your pre-approval just yet, but you’d like an idea of how much you’ll need to save for a down payment, you can use an online mortgage calculator to get your magic number.
Start saving for a down payment
Once you have your numbers worked out, you’ll need to save up for a down payment. Trim your budget in any way you can and look for side hustles to boost your income and make saving simple. Then, set up an automatic monthly transfer to your Advantage One Credit Union Savings Account so your money can grow while you sleep.
At this point, you may want to look into a local down-payment assistance program or a federal loan program, such as an FHA loan, which only requires a down payment of 3.5 percent. If you live in a rural area, you might qualify for a USDA loan, and if you’ve served in the military, you’re likely eligible for a VA loan.
[When you’re ready to take this step forward, call, click, or stop by Advantage One Credit Union to find out about our home loans. Our rates and hassle-free pre-approval process make a Advantage One Credit Union home loan an excellent choice!]
Your Turn: Do you think it’s a good idea for college graduates to buy a house while they’re paying off a student loan? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
Learn More:

5 Apps To Download Before The Holiday Shopping Season

Before you start making your lists and checking them twice, check out our list of free apps that can help you save boatloads of money and stress this holiday season. It just may make holiday shopping fun again!

The Coupons App
Look up deals, coupons and special online promo codes from over 100,000 retailers on this nifty, free app. You can also find thousands of exclusive deals and offers at local chains and restaurants; sign up for alerts so you can be the first to know when your favorite stores and eateries are holding sale events or offers and get calendar reminders when your saved coupons are about to expire. Sign up now to find out why millions of happy users have trusted The Coupons App to help them save more since 2008.


Shopular
Another favorite coupon app, Shopular, gives you the latest scoop on deals and coupons as well as location-based notifications. The app prides itself on getting you the best price wherever you are, and will alert you to a retailer’s trending deals as soon as you walk into the store. Redeem coupons and deals on your phone, and join the Shopular community to share savings tips and tricks with thousands of cost-conscious shoppers.

 


Santa’s Bag
Kick off your holiday shopping this Black Friday with Santa’s Bag, a handy Christmas gift list app. This free app allows you to create and store your lists, monitor your holiday budget, track your purchases and count down the days remaining until Christmas. Never forget a gift or go over budget again with this popular ad-free app!

 

 


Price Cruncher
Love saving on gifts but hate the math it takes to figure out which deals are worthwhile? Try Price Cruncher, the app that does the dirty work for you. For a one-time fee of just $1, Price Cruncher compares different sales to let you know which is actually the better deal; helps you calculate the price per product when purchasing items in bulk and tells you what the final price of a for-sale item will be after all discounts and coupons are applied. Use the app’s integrated shopping list for an all-in-one experience that makes shopping easy!


Slice
If you hate elbowing your way through crowded shopping malls and you do most of your holiday shopping online, this is the one for you! Slice will organize all the receipts that land in your inbox and track your packages so you know exactly how much you’ve spent. The app will remind you of Groupons and other deals or coupons you might want to use based on your online spending habits, and will also send you alerts about price adjustments for products you’ve been searching for. Best of all, the app safely stores all of the order numbers, tracking information and descriptions of your purchases so you can easily pull them up when you want to check an order’s status or delivery time. No more digging through dozens of emails to find out when that gift will arrive on your doorstep!


Download these apps and start saving on your holiday shopping today!

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

Learn More:
nerdwallet.com
shopular.com
paypath.com
slice.com
thecouponsapp.com

 

Do My Child’s Activities Really Need To Make Me Go Broke?

man standing with three young kids on a soccer field sidelineIt’s back-to-school season and you’re just about ready to zip that backpack closed before tossing that supply list into the trash. You’ve been shopping for weeks to get the right pencils and pens, binders and the dozens of other must-haves. This, of course, is in addition to the perfect school shoes and autumn wardrobe. But now you’re done, done, done! Your sanity and your budget are ready for a breather – at least until the holiday shopping season starts.

But then your darling daughter comes home breathless from school telling you she’s made it onto the school’s soccer team. She’s thrilled and can’t wait to start attending practices and games! Oh, and did she mention she’ll need some money for her uniform and equipment?

Before you can finish digesting this piece of news, your son barrels through the door and announces he’s decided to take drum lessons. It’ll only be, say, $600 for the drum set, plus the price of lessons. But that’s not a big deal for you, is it?

Extracurricular activities are an important part of a child’s development. They allow students to shine in ways that may not be possible for them in the classroom. Plus, it helps kids step out of their social circles to forge new and lasting friendships. They serve as a creative outlet and can improve your child’s physical and cognitive health. If you have a real prodigy in your family, they may even be your child’s gateway to a college scholarship, and possibly a lucrative career.

But there’s no getting around the truth: Extracurricular activities are expensive. If you’ve got several school-aged children at home and each one wants to participate in two activities, you can be looking at an investment as high as $10,000 or more because of fees, equipment, uniforms, instruments and supplies.

No worries, though; you don’t have to choose between your budget and your children’s happiness. Here are some ways you can save on your kids’ extracurricular activities this year:

1. Limit the number of after-school activities you allow for each child
If you’ve got several over-ambitious young ones at home, consider limiting extracurricular activities to just one per child. You’ll actually be doing your children a favor by forcing them to pick one activity of focus where they’ll be channeling all their energy in one direction.

They’ll also be more dedicated to perfecting their game or hobby when they own their choice. Plus, it’ll be easier for them to keep track of just one practice and performance schedule – and a lot easier on your carpool calendar, too! Finally, you’ll help your children avoid taking on too much so they are less likely to wind up neglecting their schoolwork or not having any time to spare for family and friends.

2. Register early
Lots of children’s’ sports programs offer discounts of up to 30 percent just for signing up early. Speak to your children about after-school programs and sports teams months before the official season launch so you can register early and snag those early-bird specials. You might also be able to net a discount by pre-paying for the entire season instead of paying on a monthly basis.

3. Purchase used equipment
Save big on sports gear by purchasing gently used equipment from sites like PlayItAgainSports and SidelineSwap. Some of these sites also allow you to sell your own used equipment.

4. Swap equipment
If you have friends with kids who are (or were) also into sports and music, see if you can swap equipment and instruments from year to year. Maybe your friend’s son was into guitar last year and baseball this year, while your daughter’s interests ran in the opposite direction. Swapping with friends allows you to save on expensive equipment while putting your own unused gear to good use.

5. Rent musical instruments
If you’ve got budding musicians at home, consider renting the instrument they’ve taken up this year. There’s no way to tell if that burst of passion they’re currently nursing for the oboe is just a passing phase or the beginning of a hobby that will last a lifetime. Why blow hundreds of dollars on an instrument only to see it lying forgotten in the attic in a few months time? Some instruments, like the French horn, can cost as much as $1,000 but can be rented for as little as $50 a month.

If your child is convinced they’ve found their instrument of choice or you’ve already been renting one for a while, you can purchase gently used musical instruments from resale sites like Craigslist and eBay or through Reverb, a site devoted entirely to selling musical instruments.

6. Volunteer your time
If you’ve got the time to coach or manage a team, or even just to walk around selling refreshments during games, you might be able to nab a discount on the program’s fees and equipment.

Don’t let a tight budget stand in the way of your child’s creative and physical development. By making smart, frugal choices, you can turn your children’s dreams into reality without draining your wallet.

Your Turn:
How do you save on your children’s extracurricular activities? Share your own tips and tricks with us in the comments.

Learn More:
goodhousekeeping.com

moneycrashers.com

parents.com

PlayitAgain sports

Sideline

Step 8 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Boost Your Income

Increase your income this month to help you pay down debt.

Young woman checking job posts on a bulleing boardThere are a handful of practical ways to accomplish this. For instance, consider asking for a raise or promotion at your current workplace or seeking employment elsewhere if you feel you’ve reached your maximum earning potential at the company. You can also freelance for hire, take on a side job on weekends or a seasonal job for just a few weeks a year. You might also consider offering consulting services in your particular field.

Remember:
any extra money earned goes straight towards your debt snowball!

Your Turn:
How did you boost your income this month? Share your success story with us in the comments!