Don’t Get Caught in a Non-Delivery Scam

With the holidays approaching, and online shopping reaching its annual peak, scammers are out in full force to get at your money and your purchases. There are many scams to watch for this time of year, from online “retailers” phishing for information as you shop to brazen porch thieves who swipe delivered packages from doorsteps and so many more. The non-delivery scam can be particularly difficult to spot, and recovery is nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about this scam and how to protect yourself.

How the scam plays out

In a non-delivery scam, a shopper makes an online purchase, often at a discounted price. They may have chanced upon this “sale” through a social media ad, an unsolicited email or a banner ad on their favorite website. Unfortunately, though, the promised package is never delivered. After weeks of waiting, the shopper may try reaching out to the seller, only to find that the seller’s gone AWOL, along with the victim’s chances of recovering their money and/or their purchase.

Protect yourself

The best way to protect yourself against non-delivery scams is to practice online safety measures and to shop smartly. Here’s how.

  • Never click on links or attachments in unsolicited emails or on social media, regardless of how amazing the offer may be. If an ad looks promising, look up the alleged associated retailer directly and on your own. 
  • Keep your device’s security at its strongest settings and mark all suspicious emails as spam. 
  • Opt out of websites that are full of typos and/or grammatical errors.
  • Check each website’s URL for authentic spelling and signs of security, like the “https” and padlock icon. Recheck each landing page as you shop. 
  • When shopping a new seller, do some research before sharing any information with the seller. Look for a phone number and street address associated with the seller or company, dig up some online reviews and ratings and Google the retailer’s name along with the word “scam” to see if anything comes up. 
  • When shopping a private seller on an online marketplace, like Jiji or Etsy, check the seller’s profile carefully. Be extra wary if the profile is new.
  • Avoid shopping at retailers who insist on payment via prepaid gift cards or wire transfer. When shopping online, it’s best to use a credit card.
  • Stay away from sellers who advertise as if they are residents of the U.S. and then respond to questions by claiming that they are actually out of the country.
  • Always ask for and save the tracking numbers of online purchases. Monitor the shipping process so you can dispute the charge if the process seems suspect.
  • Be wary of items with prices that are too good to be true; in all likelihood they are.

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a non-delivery scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. 

First, if you’ve paid via credit card, call the issuing company to dispute the charge as soon as you recognize the scam. If you believe the account has been compromised, you may want to close it and place a credit alert and/or credit freeze on your name as well. Next, be sure to alert the FTC about the scam so they can do their part in catching the crooks. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. Finally, let your friends know about the scam so they know to be aware.

Online commerce makes holiday shopping so much easier–but scams are everywhere. Shop smartly this season and follow the tips outlined here to avoid getting scammed. Stay safe!

Your Turn: Have you been targeted by a non-delivery scam? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Gen Z Money $ense: A Personal Finance and Investing Guide

Title: Gen Z Money $ense: A Personal Finance and Investing Guide

Author: Ella Gupta 

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: New Degree Press 

Publishing date: May 22, 2021

Who is this book for? 

  • Gen Z readers trying to navigate the financial landscape. 
  • Readers of any age looking to broaden their financial knowledge and to learn how to grow their wealth or manage money more effectively.

What’s inside this book?

  • A comprehensive guide to the world of finance, complete with down-to-earth analogies and fun facts on every topic.
  • Pragmatic financial tips on filing taxes, robo-advisors, cryptocurrency, investing and more. 
  • Expert insights from financial experts, including Karen Finerman, JJ Kinahan, Ahdrew Ross Sorkin and Jill Schlesinger. 

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. How to take charge of your financial future.
  2. Why it’s best to start investing at a young age.
  3. All about the blockchain and how it works.
  4. How to understand trending financial topics like ESG investing.

4 questions this book will answer for you:

  1. Why does Gen Z have a unique relationship with money?
  2. How can I start investing?
  3. Why is Gen Z positioned to achieve substantial wealth?
  4. How can I learn to manage my money as naturally as I drive a car?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Ella Gupta is money-wise beyond her years. It’s remarkable that someone her age has the interest and knowledge to write this book, but that speaks to just how intrepid Gupta is. With a dearth of financial literacy among young people, here is a book to address that problem.” – Andy Serwer

“A wise read not just for Gen Z but for all generations. Ella Gupta does an excellent job explaining the fundamentals of investing in a clear and fun way, while offering practical and immediately actionable advice.” – Burcu Esmer

“In Gen Z Money $ense, Ella Gupta provides a financial roadmap that should be required reading in every high school in America.” – Tim Ranzetta

“Ella has put so much thought and passion into this book. Investing your time reading it will surely pay dividends that will be hard to measure.” – Lauryn Williams

Your Turn: What did you think of Gen Z Money $ense? Share your opinion in the comments. 

Step 9 of 12 Steps of Financial Wellness-Build and Maintain an Excellent Credit Score

Your credit score is a crucial part of your financial health. The three little numbers measure the capacity of your credit, the proficiency of your money management and your fiscal responsibility. An excellent credit score can open the door to large loans with better interest rates, as well as employment opportunities and more. On the flip side, a poor credit score can be a strong impediment toward building wealth, funding large purchases and finding gainful employment.

Let’s explore the best ways to build and maintain an excellent credit score. 

Have several active credit cards

Many consumers mistakenly believe the path toward great credit is through swearing off all credit cards. However, building and preserving a healthy credit score requires owning a card or two and keeping them active. If you’re just starting out, consider signing up for a beginner’s card, which generally features easy eligibility requirements and very little available credit. Otherwise, be sure you have a minimum of three open cards and that you use them on a regular basis. 

To keep your cards active without having an open balance, you can pay one fixed monthly bill, such as a subscription or monthly membership fee, with each of your credit cards. Set up an automatic monthly payment for the bill by linking your credit card, and then set up an automatic monthly payment for the credit card, too, by linking your checking account to the card. Choose to have the money transferred before the bill is actually due. This way, your cards will be open and active and you’ll never have a late payment, which would negatively impact your credit score. Several months of using your cards responsibly will generally help move your credit score upward.

Work on paying down debt

If you’ve landed deep in debt and can’t find a way out, now’s the time to work on kicking that debt for good. 

First, choose your debt-crushing method: The snowball method works by putting all available funds toward paying off the smallest amount of debt first, and then the next-smallest, until all debts are paid off. The avalanche method works the same way, but pays off the debt with the highest interest rate first, and then the next-highest, until all debts are paid off. With the snowball method, you’ll see results quicker, but may ultimately pay more in overall interest. Choose the method that works best with your personality, goals and lifestyle. 

Next, list your debts. If you’re going with the snowball method, list in order from lowest amount to largest. If you’ve chosen to use the avalanche method, list your debts in descending order of interest rate. 

You’re now ready to pay down those debts! Review your monthly budget to find a way you can trim your expenses, or look for a side hustle, and use the extra cash to maximize your payments toward the debt you’re working on first. Keep at it until you’re debt-free.

It may take a while to crush a mountain of debt, but showing the credit bureaus that you’re on track to pay off that debt can do wonders for your score. 

Pay your bills on time

Paying credit card bills when, or before, they’re due is a major factor in determining your score. Carrying an outstanding balance, and/or owing lots of interest, shows that you are not timely with your bills and can’t be counted on to repay loans responsibly. As mentioned, you can set up automatic monthly payments for your bills so you’re never late. Just make sure you keep the account you are paying from well funded to cover your payments as they come out.

Bring down your credit utilization ratio

Another crucial factor contributing to your score is your credit utilization ratio. This refers to the amount of available credit you have and use. It’s best to keep your utilization under 30%, or even 10% if you can. To that end, make sure you’re using just a bit of your available credit each month. In addition, consider accepting offers for increased credit – as long as you know you won’t rack up huge bills by having all that additional credit.

Keeping an excellent credit score is a key factor in financial wellness. Use the tips outlined here to build and maintain a great score.

Your Turn: Do you have an excellent credit score? Tell us how you do it in the comments.

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.

Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom

Title: Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way to Wealth and Freedom 

Author: Sam Dogen

Hardcover: 336 pages

Publisher: Portfolio

Publishing date: July 19, 2022

Who is this book for? 

  • Financial Samurai fans looking to learn more.
  • Readers of average economic status who want to learn how to build wealth and achieve financial freedom.

What’s inside this book?

  • The Financial Samurai’s unique approach to money management, which has been absorbed by an audience of 90 million over the past 13 years.
  • The Financial Samurai’s innovative 70/30 framework for optimal financial decision-making.

4 lessons you’ll learn from this book:  

  1. How to tell the difference between good debt and bad debt.
  2. The best way to invest on your own terms.
  3. How to create your own rules for spending.
  4. How to take the guesswork out of financial planning.

4 questions this book will answer for you:  

  1. Can I invest in real estate if I can’t afford to buy property?
  2. How can I build passive income streams that work with my goals and risk tolerance?
  3. What’s the best way to pay down debt?
  4. How do I optimize every dollar I earn so I can maximize my wealth?

What people are saying about this book: 

“Financial Samurai and this book have prepared me for life after basketball! A straightforward guide to live a balanced, financially free life. – Shaun Livingston

“A no-nonsense guide to living your best life now while also ensuring a financially independent future.” – Emily Chang

“A one-of-a-kind book! Bold advice from someone who’s not just done the math, he’s lived it. A must read!” – Kumiko Love

“Step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter, Sam shows how to make optimal money choices that focus on wealth building—not just saving for saving’s sake, but for living life on your terms.” – David Mcknight

Your Turn: What did you think of Buy This Not That? Share your opinion 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.

Step 8 of 12 Steps to Financial Wellness-Know When and How to Indulge

[Now that you know how to spend mindfully, pay it forward, and regularly set aside money for savings, you’re ready to learn how to indulge in the occasional expensive treat–responsibly.]

Many people equate financial health with a life of deprivation, but this is far from the truth. In fact, living a life of true financial wellness means being happy with a lifestyle that is within your means, but does not leave you feeling like you are lacking. Like an overly restrictive diet, an overly tight budget is more likely to become broken.

On the flip side, financial wellness means spending your money wisely and learning how to treat yourself for less – or for free. It means money choices are governed by discipline, and not by emotion. And sometimes, it means telling yourself no.

How, then, do you strike a balance between the two?

Here’s how to indulge responsibly. 

Live with a budget

The first step to financial wellness is knowing where your money is going and how much you actually have to spend. The best way to always have this information is to create and stick to a budget. 

[If you’ve been following all the steps to financial wellness until this point, you’ve already developed and live with a budget. So you know how to stick to it. Let’s take a quick review of this crucial money management tool.]

Create your budget by tracking your spending for three months. Make a list of all your expenses, including fixed, non-fixed and discretionary expenses, and list your income in a parallel column. Tally up your totals and assign a realistic dollar amount to each expense. Going forward, be sure to only spend within the allocated amount for each expense category each month. 

Leave room in your budget for “just for fun” purchases

As you work on building and sticking to a budget, be sure to leave room in your spending plan for the occasional treat. The exact amount will vary by income level, lifestyle and personal choice. However, choose an amount you can easily afford without feeling deprived. 

To ensure you don’t overspend in this area, you can borrow an idea from the money-envelope system and withdraw the designated amount from your checking account at the beginning of the month. Place this cash in an envelope, and use it as necessary. When the money is gone, so is your “allowance” for pricey treats this month.

It’s important to note that the indulgences referenced here are spontaneous buys, or small purchases that aren’t part of your normal budget. Large purchases you have planned for and saved toward for months, or even years, are in an entirely different category. 

Review your savings

Before giving yourself permission to indulge, make sure you are setting aside a percentage of your monthly income to savings. Savings should be an item line on your budget, with short-term savings like an emergency fund in a savings account, holding enough to keep you afloat for 3-6 months if you have no source of income. Long-term savings should be sufficient to support your retirement and any long-term savings goal you may have, like saving for a house or a luxury vacation. 

Choose your “treats”

Everyone’s got their personal vices and their guilty indulgences. Take a look at where your non-discretionary money went during the last month or two. Highlight the more expensive impulse buys and hold them up to these questions:

  • Did this purchase bring me happiness or positive energy the day I bought it? Did that feeling last until the next day? The next week?
  • Did this impulse buy blow my budget?
  • Does thinking about this purchase now fill me with joy, guilt or something else?
  • If I found myself in the same circumstances today, would I make that purchase again?

Here, too, the answers to these questions will depend on your personal set of circumstances and lifestyle. Use the insight you’ve learned about your indulgences to help you make better money choices in the future. 

Lose the guilt

Once you’ve decided how much you want to spend each month on indulgences you can afford, it’s time to let go of the guilt. If you’re spending responsibly and you’ve already fed your savings as well as your future, there’s no need to eat yourself up over an impulse buy you could have done without. As long as you’re keeping these just-for-fun purchases within your budget, and your choices fill you with happiness or positive energy, you can still maintain your financial wellness.

Your Turn: How do you indulge responsibly? Share your best tips 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. 

Step 6 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Pay it Forward

[Now that you’ve started paying down debt, you and your partner have tackled big money issues, and you’ve mastered the art of spending mindfully, you’re now ready to think beyond your own needs by learning how to pay it forward.]

Money management can sometimes feel inherently selfish. You’re earning, budgeting, saving and investing, all so you and those you love can enjoy a worry-free life on your own standards. But there is so much more you can do with the money you’ve been blessed with – as well as with your time, talents and possessions. Let’s explore five different ways you can make the world into a better place by paying it forward. 

  1. Donate funds to your favorite cause

The classic way to pay it forward can also be the simplest. Find a charity or two that speaks to your heart and make a donation that fits your budget. Ideally, it is substantial enough to make a difference, but any amount you are able to responsibly commit adds value and is appreciated. Be sure to verify the authenticity of the organization on a charity-vetting site like, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator or CharityWatch. Don’t forget to save your receipt so you can claim a charitable-giving deduction on your taxes. 

  1. Commit to do one random act of kindness each day

Kindness doesn’t have to be big or loud to make a difference. It doesn’t even have to be costly. Small things that mean a lot can really make someone’s day. You can offer to make a coffee for your coworker, feed a parking meter that’s about to run out for a stranger’s car, remove a branch or rock from the middle of a busy thoroughfare or walking trail, or let someone go ahead of you at a checkout counter. There’s so much you can do when you look to give. 

  1. Write thank you letters 

When was the last time you thanked your child’s teacher for doing such a fantastic job on providing your child with an education? When was the last time you thanked your parents for giving you life, a happy childhood and their ongoing love and support? When was the last time you thanked your mailperson? Pick up a nice set of thank you cards and spend 20 minutes writing thank you cards to the people in your life; those who do so much for you, but aren’t always thanked for everything they do. Your letters will likely be cherished by the recipients for many months to come. 

  1. Donate your time 

Unfortunately, there are numerous people in this world who are suffering from sickness, poverty, loneliness, mental health challenges or other hardships. With just a small donation of your time, you can help alleviate some of their suffering. You can volunteer at a soup kitchen, help bring cheer to hospitals, offer to babysit for a couple who is going through hard times so they can have a night out to themselves or make a habit out of visiting a lonely person. You can brighten someone’s day with your presence alone!

  1. Share what you have

Aside from money and time, there are so many ways you can use what you have to bring cheer into someone else’s life. You can donate old clothing to Goodwill or gift a friend or neighbor with a full set of your child’s outgrown clothing if it’s still in great condition. Offer to lend out your books to your bookworm friends. Run a low-cost, or even no-cost, yard sale for all the toys, furniture and other items in your home that you don’t use any longer. Share your unused sports equipment with children who are less privileged than yours.

There are so many ways to pay it forward and make the world into a better place. And when you give to others, you’re really giving to yourself by learning how to be a better, kinder person. 

Your Turn: How do you pay it forward? Share your best ideas with us in the comments. 

4 Ways to Stay Financially Fit this Summer

Ahh…summer! The season of flip-flops and sunscreen, of lemonade and baseball games. What’s not to love about summer?

Unfortunately, though, summer is also the season of overspending for many. When the sun is blazing across a cloudless sky and the day stretches on with endless possibilities, purse strings are looser and cards are swiped with abandon. But nothing kills summer fun like a busted budget and a mountain of debt. So, how can you stay financially fit this summer?

Keeping your finances intact throughout the summer is well within reach if you’re ready to plan ahead and make responsible choices. Here are four hacks for a summer of financial fitness. 

  1. Prepare for a possible change in income

If you’re a freelancer, business owner or you get paid per diem, you can expect to see a drop in income during the summer months. Business is notoriously slower across a wide range of industries during the summer, so it’s best to be prepared for this reality. To avoid dipping into savings or going into debt, you can trim your discretionary spending and use the extra funds to cover non-discretionary expenses. You can also choose to find a side hustle for the summer to cover the gap in your income. 

  1. Get your budget ready for summer

Your budget will see some changes in the summertime, and it’s a good idea to prepare in advance instead of being caught unaware. Here are some changes you can anticipate:

  • Higher utility bills. With the AC blasting, your energy costs will likely be higher. Water costs can rise, too, especially if you water your lawn and any outdoor plants and flowers on a regular basis. 
  • Increase in fuel prices. Just when you thought it couldn’t go any higher, the price of fuel is likely to jump again in the summer. 
  • Travel expenses. Of course, if you’ll be traveling this summer, it’s going to cost you. If you haven’t yet budgeted for your getaway, start saving up and/or trimming costs from other categories in your budget now.
  • Social events. It’s wedding season, and they don’t come cheap, even if you’re not the one in the white gown. You may also receive invites or host other events during the summer months, such as family reunions, block parties, anniversary celebrations and more. It’s best to budget for gifts, the travel costs of attending these events and of course, for the expense of hosting, if applicable.
  • Activities for kids. School’s out, and the kids need to be kept busy. Aim for free activities whenever possible, but you may want to set aside some funds in your budget for occasional activities that have a price tag attached. 
  1. Create a vacation budget 

Aside from adjusting your monthly spending plan, you’ll want to build a workable budget for your summer getaway to avoid overspending. Money choices are nearly always better made in advance, so plan for every conceivable expense during your vacation. Attach a dollar amount for your hotel stay, car rental, food costs, transportation expenses, entertainment and outings, gifts, and any other cost you might have. Leave a bit of wiggle room for miscalculations, but try to keep your budget as close to the actual cost as possible. While on vacation, be careful not to go over budget and be open to a last-minute change of plans if some expenses end up being substantially higher than expected. 

  1. Review and adjust as necessary

Like going off a diet, blowing a budget is never an excuse to go all out and overspend without sparing a thought to the consequences. To avoid falling into this trap, resolve to review your budget and your overall spending on a regular basis throughout the summer. You can choose to do this weekly, or bi-weekly, but be sure to take a careful account of every dollar in and every dollar out. Being aware of the state of your finances in real-time instead of waking up after the damage has been done will make it easier to make responsible choices going forward. 

The temptation to overspend is especially strong during the summer. Follow these tips to keep your finances intact throughout the summer. 

Your Turn: How do you plan to stay financially fit this summer? Share your tips with us in the comments.