Step 12 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Celebrate!

Two men bumping fistsIs your debt shrinking? Have you gotten rid of one of your outstanding loans or lines of credit? Well, then it’s time to celebrate!

Take the time, this month, to celebrate every small goal you’ve reached on your journey toward paying down debt. You don’t need to spend much to celebrate an achievement; find inexpensive or even cost-free ways to reward yourself.

Celebrate big. You deserve it!

Your Turn:
How do you celebrate achievements without blowing your budget? Share your best ideas with us in the comments.

How To Recognize And Protect Yourself From Scams

Excited young woman reading a phamplet that says "You won!"Scammers are always trying to con victims out of their information and money. They are, unfortunately, often successful. Scammers are expert impersonators, using sophisticated technology and their best acting skills to convince you they represent a business, institution or government agency you may trust. They also tend to prey on the most susceptible victims, including those who are down on their luck or are exceptionally naïve and trusting.

Here at Advantage One Credit Union, our biggest priority is your financial wellness, and that includes keeping you and your money safe. To help you achieve it, we’ve put together this guide about recognizing the signs of fraud and protecting yourself from scams.

Five red flags of scams
While the details surrounding the way a scam plays out can vary greatly, most follow a similar theme. They try to get victims to share personal information or to pay for a service or product that doesn’t exist. Here are five ways to spot a scammer:

They demand detailed information before agreeing to process an application. A favorite ploy among scammers is asking for sensitive, non-public information like your date of birth, Social Security number and login information for online accounts. They will typically do this before processing any application for an alleged product, service or job.
They insist on a specific method of payment. If an online seller or service provider will only accept payment through a wire transfer or a prepaid debit card, you’re likely looking at a scam.

They send you a check for an inflated amount. Another favorite trick among scammers is to overpay a seller or “employee,” and then ask the victim to return the extra money. In a few days’ time, when the original, inflated check doesn’t clear, the victim realizes they’ve been conned but it’s too late to get back the “extra” money they returned.
You can’t find any information about the company the caller allegedly represents. A scammer representing a bogus business can easily be uncovered by doing a quick online search about the “company.”

You’re pressured to act now.
Scammers are always in a rush to complete their ruse before you catch onto their act.

Who are the targets?
Scammers usually cast a wide net to ensnare as many victims as possible. However, lots of scams focus on a subset of highly vulnerable targets. Here are some of the most common targets of scams:

  • The unemployed. The internet makes it easy for scammers to learn that you’re looking for a job. If you’re job hunting, be careful not to respond to any emails offering you a “dream position” you never applied for or even knew about.
  • The aging. Older people are another favorite target for scammers. Retired individuals often spend lots of time online, making them more vulnerable to scams. Also, as relative newcomers to the online world, they may be less aware of the dangers lurking on the internet.
  • Children.
    Sadly, the youngest members of society are another huge target pool for scammers. Children are naturally trusting and will more readily share information with strangers, which can then be used to steal their identity. Small children will likely not be checking their credit for years, which means a stolen identity can go unchecked until the child grows into a young adult. By that time their credit can be wrecked, almost beyond repair.

What do scams look like?
Here are some of the most common scams:

  • Cyber-hacking In this scam, hackers gain remote access to your computer and proceed to help themselves to your personal information.
  • Phishing scams Scammers bait you into sharing personal information via a bogus job form, an application for a service they allegedly provide or by impersonating a well-known company or government agency.
  • Mystery shopper A bogus company will “hire” you to purchase a specific item in a store and then report back about the service experience. Before you get started, though, you’ll have to pay a hefty fee, which you’ll never see again.
  • Job offers Scammers “hire” you for a position and then scam you by sending you an inflated check, as detailed above.
  • Sweetheart scams A scammer pretending to be an online lover will con you into sharing your personal information and/or sending them money and gifts.
  • Fraudulent investments Scammers reach out to potential investors with information about lucrative investments that don’t exist.

10 ways to protect yourself from scams
Keep yourself safe by following these rules:

  1. Never share personal information online.
  2. Don’t open unsolicited emails. If you already have, don’t click on any embedded links.
  3. Never send money by insecure means to an unknown party.
  4. Protect your devices by using the most up-to-date operating systems, choosing two-factor authentication and using strong, unique passwords for every account.
  5. Choose the strongest privacy settings for your social media accounts.
  6. Keep yourself in the know about the latest scams and learn how to protect yourself.
  7. Educate your kids about basic computer safety and privacy.
  8. If you have elderly parents who spend time online, talk to them about common scams and teach them to protect themselves.
  9. Don’t take the identity of callers at face value, even if your Caller ID verifies their story. If a government agency, utility company or financial institution reaches out to you and asks you to share personal information, tell them you’ll contact them on your own and then end the call.
  10. Never accept a job or agree to pay for a purchase or service without thoroughly researching the company involved.

Above all, remember the golden rule of scams: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

Once an individual falls prey to a scam, there is very little that can be done to mitigate the loss. Full financial recovery can take years. It’s best to protect yourself from scams before they happen by educating yourself and asking Advantage One Credit Union for help.

Your Turn:
How do you keep yourself safe from scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

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

All You Need To Know About Home Loans

Close-up of a mortgage application on a desk with a pen and keys on top of the applicationHere at Advantage One Credit Union, we provide a variety of products and services to meet your specific financial needs and in the most ideal ways possible. One such example is our home loans. Let’s take a closer look at this product and how its application process works.

What is a home loan?
A home loan, or a mortgage, enables you to purchase a home without having to foot all the cash out of your pocket when purchasing. You will, however, need to make a down payment, which is typically between 3.5-20% of the home’s appraised value, along with closing costs and some other fees. The lender then finances the rest of the purchase. You’ll repay the loan, along with interest, over the course of (generally) 15 to 30 years.

Are all home loans alike?
Before you get started, you’ll need to choose a mortgage type. A conventional loan will necessitate a 5-20% down payment on the home. There’s also an FHA loan, which only requires a down payment of 3.5%, but necessitates mortgage insurance. If you’re a military veteran, consider obtaining a VA loan, which lets you buy a home with zero down payment.

Once you’ve chosen the kind of loan which is best for your scenario, you may be given a choice of repayment arrangements for that loan. Here are the three common types of mortgages:

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage
    The interest rate on this 30-year mortgage will remain fixed no matter the changes to the national rate.
  • 15-year fixed-rate mortgage
    This mortgage will also have a fixed interest rate, but the term lasts just 15 years. The monthly payments will be higher, but the overall interest paid over the course of the loan will be significantly lower.
  • Adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)
    An ARM gives the borrower a lower interest rate in the early years of the loan, and then a gradual increase (adjustment) in rate over the rest of the life of the mortgage.

What do I need to know before applying for a home loan?
A home is likely to be the largest purchase you will ever make. To qualify for one, you will need to prove that you are living a financially responsible life and that you can afford the monthly payments.

The primary way lenders gauge your financial responsibility is through your credit score. This number is like a grade that tells lenders how you’ve handled your past credit card accounts and other debts. It will include the length of time you’ve had your credit cards and loans open, the timeliness with which you’ve made your payments, the trajectory of your debt and the amount of available credit you might use. Most lenders will only grant a home loan to borrowers with a credit score of 650 or higher. You can check your score for free on Credit Karma. You might also consider ordering a free credit report from all three major credit bureaus once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.

During the time leading to your mortgage applications, make sure to pay all your bills on time, don’t open new credit cards and work on paying down overall debt. A higher credit score will help you get approved quicker and it will net you a lower interest rate on your loan.

Another crucial factor in determining your eligibility for a mortgage is your debt-to-income ratio, or your DTI. Lenders want to know how big your collective outstanding debt will be in relation to your income if you receive the home loan. Most lenders will only allow a maximum DTI of 36%. Here at Advantage One Credit Union, we allow our members to take out a home loan with a DTI of [XX%].

When should I apply for a home loan?
While you won’t need the loan until you are ready to close on a house, it’s a good idea to start the process before you begin house-hunting. Your lender will let you know whether you can expect to be approved for a loan and will provide you with an estimate of how much house you can afford so you don’t face disappointment later.
When initially applying for a home loan, ask your lender for a letter of pre-approval. This letter confirms you are pre-approved for a home loan up to a specific amount. Having this letter in hand shows real estate agents and sellers that you are serious about buying. Most pre-approvals are only good for 60-90 days, so make sure you’re ready to start house hunting before you get yours.

How do I apply for a home loan?
To apply for a home loan at Advantage One Credit Union, stop by and ask a representative to help you get started. Make sure all of your financial paperwork is in order and hold onto all important financial documents in the months leading up to your application.

To make it easier, we’ve created a list of the information and documents you’ll need:

  • Name of current employer, phone and street address
  • Length of time at current employer
  • Official position/title
  • Salary including overtime, bonuses or commissions
  • Two years’ worth of W-2s
  • Profit & loss statement if self-employed
  • Pensions and Social Security check stubs
  • Proof of child support payments
  • Copies of alimony checks
  • Statements for all checking and savings accounts
  • Investments (stocks, bonds, retirement accounts)
  • Proof of any gifted funds from relatives
  • Car loan information

You will also need to explain any blemishes on your financial record; including bankruptcies, collections, foreclosures and delinquencies.

If you’re ready to apply for a home loan, stop by Advantage One Credit Union today. We’re completely committed to your financial success.

Your Turn:
How did you prepare for a home loan application? Share your tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
rubyhome.com
thelendersnetwork.com

Don’t Get Scammed At The Gym!

Personal trainer in a gym reviews the exercise & diet with her clientAs soon as the calendar hits Jan. 2, the gyms are packed with people who are eager to make good on their New Year’s resolutions. If you’re one of the thousands of newbies making your way to fitness centers this month, beware of these five subtle scams that can end up thinning your wallet more than your physique.

The free trial
Free trials at fitness centers are super-popular right after the holidays. It sounds like a no-brainer: no money, and you get to try out the gym for free! Unfortunately, though, free trials can ultimately end up costing you a pretty penny. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns against sharing your credit card information with a gym that’s offering a free trial because many will start automatically charging you a monthly fee unless you remember to cancel your “membership” by a certain timeframe. You may even find yourself committed to a full year!

The fix: Read the fine print carefully on any free trial offer. If possible, only take advantage of a free trial offered without asking for any financial information.

The no-cancellation policy
Gyms depend on strong membership numbers. This can sometimes translate into high-pressure sales tactics-or worse. Lots of fitness centers will not let you out of a contract until a full year is up, no matter what. You’ll be stuck paying that membership all year even if you find the gym is not the right fit for you, if you develop a medical condition that makes use of the gym impossible or you end up moving out of town.

The fix: Before signing up for a gym membership, ask about their cancellation policy. If it’s too rigid, look for another gym.

“Certified” personal trainers
Another way gyms get you is by charging you extra for the service of an on-staff personal trainer. The catch? Lots of these “trainers” have not completed their certification process, or may even be completely untrained! This means you’re essentially paying through the roof to have a glorified coach help you work out. You can also end up getting injured if the trainer puts you through a workout that is overly strenuous for your personal capacity.

The fix: Before signing up to work with a personal trainer, ask to see their certification. Look for NSCA, ACSM, NASM and ACE.

No health-history form
In our litigation-happy society, every business and service provider is deathly afraid of being sued. Gyms are no exception. To help them avoid getting dragged to court for injuries incurred while using their machines, many fitness centers have stopped making new members fill out a health-history form and/or a PAR-Q-a standard questionnaire for exercise readiness. This way, instead of reviewing members’ health histories and lifestyle details so they can direct them toward appropriate machines and workouts, gyms have effectively absolved themselves from exercise-related injuries.

The fix: Be wary of signing up at gyms that don’t ask any questions about your medical history or personal lifestyle.

Equipment-maintenance fees
Many fitness centers have started charging members a quarterly or monthly equipment-maintenance fee on top of their membership dues. This practice begs the question: If you’re paying a fee for the upkeep of the exercise equipment, why are you also paying a membership fee?

The fix: Ask about any additional fees before signing up for a gym membership.

Get fit without the gym
If you’re looking to shed some pounds and build muscles this year, you don’t need a gym. You can download some great workout tutorials online, invite some friends over and exercise at home! There are also lots of exercises you can do without any expensive equipment, like squats, lunges, T-handle swings, push-ups, pull-ups, dips, stretches and more. For an aerobics workout, you can bundle up and go for a walk, sprint or jog outdoors instead of running nowhere on a treadmill in a noisy gym. You can get fit without paying a small fortune!

If you need the commitment to working out that a gym membership can give you, go for it, but proceed with caution. Avoid getting scammed at the gym by looking out for the less-than-savory business practices, and by doing extensive research on any fitness center you might want to join.

Best of luck on your fitness quest in 2020 from all of us here at Advantage One Credit Union!

Your Turn:
Have you had an unsatisfactory business relationship with a fitness center? Share it with us in the comments.

Learn More:
joe-cannon.com
nattyornot.com
witn.com

Don’t Get Scammed By Santa!

Close-up of Santa's face and glove as he peeks into the mailbox that you are in.Someone’s been naughty this year-and we’re not talking about you! Those awful scammers don’t take time out for the holidays, and if you don’t know what to expect you can be their next victim.

One of the oldest holiday scams, which is even more prevalent in the age of the internet, is the letter-from-Santa scam. Here’s all you need to know about this Christmas-themed scheme.

How it plays out
In this ruse, scammers set up bogus websites where parents can order legitimate-looking letters from Santa for their children. The cost is less than $30. All they need to do is share some details about their child along with their credit card information, and the letter is supposedly as good as mailed.

Except that it’s not. Unfortunately, anyone who follows the instructions detailed on the site has just fallen prey to a scam. They’ll never see that promised letter, or the money they paid for the privilege of receiving a note from Santa. Worse, the ring of scammers now has the children’s information and their parent’s credit card details.

This set of circumstances can have all sorts of unhappy endings, from identity theft to emptied accounts. Sometimes, the scammers will go after the child’s credit, which will likely go unchecked for years. When the children are grown and try to open a credit card or take out a loan, they may find that their credit score has been destroyed by these scammers over the years, all without their knowledge.

Some sites will even offer to send the letter at no cost. All you need to do is share some details about your child, like their full legal name, date of birth and home address. Of course, this is also the work of scammers looking to steal your child’s identity.

How can I tell it’s a scam?
There are legitimate websites where you can order a letter from Santa for your child at no risk of identity theft or a ruined credit history. But how can you weed out the phony sites from the authentic services?

We’ve made it simple. Look for the following red flags, which should alert you to the fact that a site is created by scammers:

  • The fraudster reaches out to you repeatedly
    Promotional emails and ads are one thing; targeted marketing that is so aggressive it borders on harassment is another thing entirely. If a company doesn’t stop sending you emails or alerts about its services, you may be dealing with a scam.
  • The site is not secure
    As always, check for the lock icon and the ‘s’ after the ‘http’ in the URL; both indicate a site’s security. Also, look for security badges on the bottom of the webpage and click on them to see if they’re actual links to the security company they allegedly represent. Scammers often post static images of well-known security badges, which do fool people into thinking the site is safe.
  • You need to answer too many questions
    Yes, a service sending your child a letter from Santa will need to know your child’s name and mailing address. They may even ask your child’s age so they can send an age-appropriate letter. But there’s no need for them to be privy to your child’s exact date of birth, and certainly not their Social Security number. If the questions in an online form are making you uncomfortable, opt out.
  • You can’t reach a representative by phone
    Most websites will have the company’s toll-free contact number on the site’s homepage. If you suspect fraud, try the number. If the company is bogus, the number will likely be a fake.
  • You can’t find any positive reviews about the company online
    An online search on a legitimate service should bring up basic information and some positive reviews about the service. If a search turns up empty, and of course, if it turns up any reports of past scams, the “company” is run by crooks.

If you’ve recognized a company as a scam, be sure not to click on any links that are embedded in their emails. Flag their emails as spam, and delete every email, message and alert it sends you.

You can still send your child a letter from Santa. Try a legitimate site like Portable North Pole or or better yet, create and send one yourself!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a letter-from-Santa scam? Share your experience with us in the comments.

Learn More:
consumeraffairs.com
news.yahoo.com
aarp.org

Take Caution Before You Borrow Someone’s Charging Cable

Young black male teen enjoys content on his phone that is plugged into a wall charger.You know the feeling. It’s like a bona fide coffee addict running low on caffeine, or like a hiker almost out of drinking water. You’re travelling and your phone is running low on juice. Frantic, you’re searching for a place to plug in and recharge. The last thing you want is to be completely stranded in a strange place with no way to order an Uber or pay for your dinner. In one last desperate move, you search through your bag for the charging cable you always keep there – and then you remember you lent it to your friend and never got it back.

What to do?

And then, like an angel, a stranger appears out of nowhere with a friendly smile on their face. They’re holding a wonderful, beautiful charging cable in their hands.

“Do you want to use this?” they ask.

What do you do?

A. Smile your thanks, grab the cable and plug in your phone.
B. Say “No, thank you,” before walking away, dead smartphone and all.

If you chose B, you made the right decision. Cybersecurity experts are warning against using a stranger’s charging cable or even borrowing one from an airport official or front-desk concierge at a hotel.

“There are certain things in life that you just don’t borrow,” says Charles Henderson, global managing partner and head of X-Force Red at IBM Security. “If you were on a trip and realized you forgot to pack underwear, you wouldn’t ask all your co-travelers if you could borrow their underwear. You’d go to a store and buy new underwear.”

Henderson heads a team of hackers that clients privately hire to break into their computers to identify vulnerabilities before blackhat hackers do. Henderson’s team will often send clients a compromised iPhone cable in the mail to see if the client will plug it in or if they’ve learned to be more cautious by discarding the charger instead.

Henderson warns that cyberhackers can easily implant charging cables with malware that can be used to hijack mobile devices and computers. This can spell complete disaster for the desperate traveler who graciously accepted the spare cable from their fellow passenger and plugged in their device.

At the annual DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas, a hacker known as MG showed the attendees how he had modified an iPhone lightning cable to serve as a hacking device. MG used the cable to connect an iPod to a Mac computer and then remotely accessed the cable’s IP address to take control of the Mac. These compromised cables are available on the Darknet for just $200 each.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that charging cables left over by previous guests in the front desk of the hotel are any better than a cable offered by a stranger.

“If the front desk had a drawer full of underwear,” says Henderson, “would you wear those?”

Unlike most scams aiming for as wide a target base as possible, using a charging cable to hack a victim’s device can only be pulled off on one victim at a time. Lucky for us, this means the charging cable hack isn’t as popular or widespread – yet. Henderson warns that the relatively inexpensive technology required for the hack and the fact that it is so easy to make the cable look completely innocent could mean an upsurge in these scams in the near future.

For now, it’s best to be aware of this threat and to practice caution when travelling.

Henderson adds that using public USB charging stations is currently a larger threat than compromised cables. These stations can easily be compromised and open your device to all sorts of malware and vulnerabilities. It’s best to use your own charger at all times.

“In a computing context, sharing cables is like sharing your password,” says Henderson, “because that’s the level of access you’re crucially conveying with these types of technology.”

To avoid falling victim to this hack, always pack an extra charging cable in your handbag. If you forgot to take one along or you can’t seem to find it, purchase a new one to use while you’re away. You can find charging cables in almost any convenience store for under $10 – a small investment for your safety.

The next time you’re running low on juice and a stranger offers you the use of their charging cable, make the safe choice!

Your Turn:
Have you ever been targeted by using a borrowed charging cable? Tell us about it in the comments.

Learn More:
forbes.com
headtopics.com
frnews.ng

Step 10 Of 12 Toward A Debt-Free Life: Make It Automatic

Young black woman manages her finances and checks her credit card balances on a laptopNow that you’re maximizing your payments toward the debt you’ve prioritized, make sure it happens by automating your payments. Set up an automatic transfer in your designated amount from your checking account or your savings account to that debt each month, and it will be well on its way to disappearing!

Your Turn: How much time can you save each month by making all of your payments automatic? Brag about it in the comments!

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

6 Ways To Keep Your Finances Intact This Holiday Season

Middle aged black woman holiday shops online from the comfort of her cozy living room‘Tis the season to shop until you drop-or until you go broke. But you don’t have to overspend. There’s no need to rack up a huge credit card bill or go into debt just to cover your holiday expenses. Enjoy a stress-free season by keeping your spending in check with these six tips:

  1. Create a detailed list of all your expenses
    Don’t leap into your holiday shopping armed with nothing but a credit card. Before you hit the mall or start browsing, sit down and draw up a complete list of every holiday expense you can anticipate. Include all gifts, holiday décor, travel expenses, charitable donations and food costs. Try to keep this list as trim as possible by cutting out any non-essentials and using stuff you may already have in storage from previous years. Bonus points for any homemade gifts!
  2. Determine how much money you can spend
    Once you have all of your expenses written out, work on finding a magic number that will cover everything on your list and that you can realistically afford. Ideally, this money should come from funds you’ve set aside just for this purpose.
  3. Divide and conquer
    Next, assign specific amounts of money in your budget for each expense category and for every person on your gift list. For example, you can decide to spend $300 on your preteen daughter’s gifts and to donate $100 to charity this season. Again, make sure your numbers will work from both a financial and practical perspective.
  4. Track as you shop
    You’re ready to hit the mall! As you shop, keep a careful account of exactly how much money you’ve spent for each person and in each expense category. It’s best to use cash or a debit card when shopping, and to review your budget often to make sure you’re staying on track. This way, you’ll know how much you’re spending and you won’t be hit by awful “Santa shock” come January when you need to pay those credit card bills.

    To make this job easier, use an app designed for this purpose. A common favorite is one called Santa’s Bag. The app allows you to set a budget for each person on your list and then makes tracking the amount you spend super simple. It will even warn you when you’re nearing your preset spending limit or when you’ve gone over budget.

  5. Shop smartly and spend less
    Keep your spending to a minimum by following these hacks:

    1. Use shopping apps
      Use the Coupons App and Shopular, to get your favorite retailers’ best deals and coupons delivered right to your phone.
    2. Follow the 24-hour rule
      Before purchasing anything on the expensive side, wait 24 hours. Sometimes, after sleeping on it, you’ll find that you don’t need to buy that pricey gift after all. Or, you might find the same item somewhere else at a lower price.
    3. Shop online on Tuesday morning
      Research shows this time of week is when you’ll find the hottest online deals.
      Shop with a friend. Take advantage of BOGO sales by splitting the cost of a single item with a friend and each of you taking one item home.
      Shop late. Everyone likes to get an early start on holiday shopping, but prices actually drop in the weeks leading up to Christmas as retailers seek to clear out their holiday inventory.
  6. Let Advantage One Credit Union help
    If you’re having trouble covering your holiday expenses, or you want to get a head start on next year’s costs, let Advantage One Credit Union help! Here are three ways we can take the financial stress out of the holiday season:

    1. Skip-a-Payment
      We get it. The holidays are crazy expensive. That’s why we allow qualifying members to skip a payment on a qualifying loan this time of year without hurting their credit or defaulting on their loan. It’s extra breathing room, just when you need it most!
    2. Personal Loan
      If you can’t come up with the funds you need for the holidays, consider taking out a Winter Loan. Our fantastic terms and affordable rates make it a no-brainer!
    3. Christmas Club Account
      Spread the cost of the holidays across the year with an account created just for that purpose. You’ll set aside a little bit of money each month into your Christmas Club Account, and next year, when the holiday season rolls around, you’ll have all the funds you need on hand.

Don’t let financial stress ruin your holiday cheer this year. Follow our tips to keep your spending down, and stop by Advantage One Credit Union to see how we can help!

Your Turn:
How do you get through the holidays with your finances intact? Share your best tips with us in the comments.

Learn More:
thebalance.com
investopedia.com
mentalfloss.com