How To Make Thanksgiving Dinner Less Stressful With Proper Planning

The holiday season is upon us and that means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. For many people, this holiday is all about spending time with family and friends, enjoying good food and reflecting on all that they are thankful for.

However, for some people, Thanksgiving can be a stressful time. There is the pressure of cooking a big meal, hosting family and friends, and making sure everything goes off without a hitch.

If you are feeling stressed about Thanksgiving, there is no need to worry. With a little bit of planning, you can make this holiday a breeze.

Here are some tips on how to make Thanksgiving less stressful:

1. Start planning early

The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving is to start planning early. This means getting organized and making a list of everything you need to do. Once you have a plan, it will be much easier to execute and you will feel more in control.

2. Delegate tasks

You don’t have to do everything yourself. Delegate tasks to family and friends to help lighten your load. This can include things like setting the table, cooking side dishes, or cleaning up after the meal.

3. Simplify your menu

Don’t try to make an extravagant Thanksgiving feast. Stick to simple dishes that you know how to make. This will make cooking less stressful and leave you more time to enjoy your guests.

4. Set the table the day before

One of the biggest Thanksgiving stressors is setting the table. Get a head start by setting the table the day before. This way, you won’t have to worry about it on the day of the big meal.

5. Don’t forget to relax

It’s important to remember that Thanksgiving is supposed to be a fun and relaxing holiday. So, don’t forget to take some time for yourself. Take a break from cooking and cleaning to watch football, take a nap, or just relax with family and friends.

By following these tips, you can make Thanksgiving less stressful and more enjoyable. So, kick back, relax, and enjoy the holiday season.

Is College Really Worth It?

The question of whether college is worth it is a fairly new one in the scheme of things. When you’re looking at payment options so you can afford college, you have to deal with the fact that tuition has gone up by 296 percent since 1995. A price increase of this magnitude is hard to deal with when post-collegiate employment options don’t look promising. It’s not that there aren’t any jobs available. It’s that wages are low and the cost of living is high, making it hard to pay off student loans.

A recent poll found 47 percent don’t think college is worth the cost, while 49 percent do. Young people between 18 and 34 were especially negative, with 57 percent giving college a thumbs down, while 39 insisted college is worth it. These numbers have changed drastically over the course of four years. In 2013, 56 percent of young people were optimistic and 38 percent weren’t.

This graph shows the breakdown of opinion:

Where do you stand on the efficacy of college? There are, of course, studies that show college graduates earn a lot more. But it’s not my intent to trot these studies out for you. Instead, I’m going to focus on the current state of the US economy, and show why it indicates college is indeed worth the cost.

Jobs Numbers and Wages

Wages have stagnated for the bottom 20 percent of workers since the 1970s. By and large, the bottom 20 percent of earners are those who only have a high school diploma, or less. A college degree prepares you for a job in the upper 80 percent. And there may be good news on the horizon for wage growth.

The unemployment rate is currently 4.4 percent, the lowest it’s been since before the Great Recession, and maintaining full employment is the key to raising wages. As the economic argument goes, the more people are employed, the more demand there is for workers. Greater demand for workers translates into higher wages as employers have to do more to attract qualified employees.

At the current rate, barring unforeseen catastrophe, there’s no reason the unemployment rate won’t continue to fall.

A lower unemployment rate also means more job openings. The more people are employed, the more productivity and growth for businesses, which means employers need to increase the number of positions as they grow. Again, businesses want to attract qualified employees, and they view those with a college degree as being more qualified.

The current economic picture points toward more job opportunities and higher wages. This means people with college degrees will not only be able to find a job, they’ll also be able to pay off student loan debt faster than they can now.

And when it comes to finding a job, nothing beats personal connections. College gives you the chance to make plenty of personal connections that could last for the rest of your life.

A Matter of Degrees

There are other added bonuses. Some degrees prepare you to help people in ways you never could without the degree. A master’s in social work allows you to provide therapy to clients who sorely need it, and the US Bureau of Labor expects social work careers to grow 19 percent by 2024. That’s a low estimate. The median salary for social workers is $46,890, but you can expect that number to rise too. Careers that require empathy, such as social work, are among the low risk jobs when it comes to automation. You won’t find a robot giving anyone therapy anytime soon.

The same applies to nursing jobs. Nurses need empathy, something artificial intelligence will never have. There are nursing school scholarships available to help ease the cost of tuition. You’ll earn a Bachelor of Science in anything from Therapeutics to Microbiology to Pathophysiologic Foundations. Aging baby boomers are going to need great care from qualified nurses. You’ll be well-equipped to help, and there will be no shortage of jobs available.

Once robots take over, it will be an incredibly competitive market when it comes to scoring social work jobs and nursing jobs. But if you get in on these fields now, you’ll be ahead of the pack.

Furthermore, degrees in high paying fields today are becoming easier to get. Health administrators earn an average of $63,414 a year. To get a master’s degree in health administration, you don’t need to take the GRE, you can do it online, and it only takes two years.

College Is Worth It

Given the fact that low-paying jobs such as cashier, toll booth worker, and fast food worker will be automated in the coming years, from the job availability and money perspective, it’s definitely worth it to go to college. And college is an eye-opening experience. If you have to take out loans, just prepare yourself by studying as hard as you can. Meet as many people as you can and look into good jobs before you graduate.

iEntrepreneur featuring Tip Whip, LLC

If there is one thing it takes to succeed in small business, it’s determination.

And Spencer Wood has a lot to show! His relentless pursuit of his goal led him to opening his own business, Tip Whip, LLC. The business runs successfully with seven volunteer drivers, giving FREE rides to students in the Orono area within a three mile radius of the heart of the University of Maine.

But financially, how is it possible? In Spencer’s interview, he shares his strategies on how he leads his business to the next level. Check it out, and share your thoughts on running a successful business in the comments.

Tweet this! 

“Believe in what you have in terms of your idea, and relentlessly pursue it.” Spencer, @Tip_Whippen207 @YoungFreeME

Show Notes: 

  • Determination is essential in small business.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask any questions.
  • If you don’t know the answer, ask until you find the missing puzzle piece.
  • Business doesn’t have to be complicated if you are determined to make it work.

Spencer’s Aha! moment sparked his idea! He saw that students needed rides around campus, and that responsible drivers could make tips. He took action, and pursued his goal.

Spencer made Tip Whip happen by entering business competitions and applying for grants, receiving family money, and reinvesting 20% tip money into business operations.

Do you have what it takes to pursue your ideas?

If you have the determination to pursue your ideas, your credit union will give you AWESOME financial advice, and will point you in the right direction! If you have big ideas, or lots of questions, they can help get you moving toward success. Sometimes, making the decision to pursue something won’t happen until you dive in and take action!

Wedding Cost Cutting Tip: Skip Live Cocktail Hour Music

Our first wedding cost cutting tip is a pretty well known one to anyone who has even though about weddings and that is you should cut out live cocktail hour music, if not cut live music all together. If you want live music, don’t get it during the cocktail hour because your guests will be chatting it up for that time anyway so their music will fall on deaf ears. Instead, play a Frank Sinatra CD (Try The Very Best of Frank Sinatra, a two-disc set of Frank’s very best) and save yourself a few extra dollars.

As for the rest of the wedding, skipping live music all together will not save you as much as you think because the alternative is a disc jockey, which aren’t cheap themselves, but will save you a couple dollars in the long run. Also, you can avoid tricky audio issues like feedback (since the microphone won’t be used too often) and bad singing (since it’ll be pre-recorded!).

A Life Less Taxing: Understanding Taxes

I had to ask myself, “How could I make a chapter about taxes fun?” I don’t think anybody actually looks forward to paying taxes. That’s not to say we don’t do it, but it just takes away a large part of what we earn. I don’t know if I can really make taxes fun, but I can at least take some of the mystery out of the tax code and make the whole process seem much less scary.

We have many different levels of taxation. The first portion of taxes we notice are the federal taxes that come right off the top of our paychecks. You may also notice your state income taxes (unless you live in one of the states that do not have income taxes), and then there is social security. By the way, your social security taxes are about the same as your state taxes in many cases. Just think, so much of your hard earned tax dollars are right now being fed into some slot machine in Vegas by a retiree. Anyway, all of these are called payroll taxes. We will discus them more deeply in just a moment.

We also pay other taxes, which are called use taxes. When you purchase an item in most states you will pay a sales tax. Sales taxes are essentially use taxes. You pay taxes because you used something. You also pay plenty of taxes on your telephone bill, electric bill, gas bill, and so on. The gasoline that you buy at the pump already has taxes built into the price, so even though it doesn’t seem like you are paying taxes on your gasoline, you are. You have probably heard the expression that the only two sure things are death and taxes. Now you know why. Someone once said, “If you can see it, touch it, feel it, taste it, hear it or even think of it, they can tax it.” Consider it a cost of doing business in the United States.

Understand Your Taxes to Make Them Less Scary

For most people just starting out, taxes are not that complicated. All you have to do is report how much money you make and fill in about four or five other lines on your tax return and pay your taxes. You don’t even have to calculate how much you earned because your employer sends you a statement in the mail at the end of the year that says how much you earned and how much you have already paid in taxes (the form is called your W-2). Now, if you want to learn how to minimize the amount you pay in taxes, that’s where it starts to get a little tricky. Not to worry, because we’ll go through just about every step you need in order to complete your tax return.  We will also discuss ways to minimize your tax liability.

The first question most people ask is, “do I have to fill out a tax return.” The answer: “Hopefully.” If you do not need to fill out a tax return, it would be because you did not make enough money that year. How much is enough? Well, that too changes each year to account for inflation, or any tax law changes. Visit or refer to the “Do You Have to File” section of the Form 1040 Instructions.

The next question people ask is, “Do I have to file a tax return if the government owes me money?” The answer: “Yes.” The IRS is not interested in keeping your money (just their fair share). Regardless of whether you owe tax dollars or if you are eligible for a refund, you have to file your tax return, and you have to file it on time (by April 15th). There are exceptions to filing your return on time, but you have to file an extension (IRS Form 4868). However, even if you are granted an extension, you still have to pay any taxes owed. Your payments are not extended, only the filing of your return. Now, you may ask, “How do I know how much I owe if I haven’t completed my tax return.” The answer: “You don’t.” Kind of funny isn’t it? You should have an estimate and pay accordingly. Your best bet is to over estimate so you won’t pay any interest (or penalties in some cases). In that case, when you do file, you will get back any over payments.

So, when should you file your taxes? Before April 15th. If you are owed a refund, I suggest you file your return as soon as possible. The sooner you get your money back, the better. While you’re at it, you should request a direct deposit so you’ll get your money even faster, within two weeks in some cases. There is space at the bottom of your return to fill in your bank information. You can refer to the sample check in Chapter 4 if you need help with the routing and bank account numbers.

If you owe money, hold off as long as possible before sending any money. If you file electronically, you can file your return whenever it is convenient; yet specify the exact date that the money should come out of your account. In other words, you could file in late January, but not have your money sent to the IRS until April 15th. Just don’t forget to make a note of that in your checkbook. You don’t want the IRS to get an “insufficient funds” notice when they go to get your tax money from your account.

For the record, your employer has until January 31 to send out your W-2. The W-2 is the form that shows how much you made for the year, how much you paid in taxes, how much you put in your retirement account, etc. If you work as an independent contractor, and are not actually an employee of the firm that pays you, they will send you a Form 1099 instead. In most instances, if you are receiving a Form 1099, the firm you worked for was not taking any taxes out of your paycheck (hopefully you were setting money aside or making estimated quarterly payments).

You cannot file your taxes until you have all of this information. Notice that I said they had to send it by the 31st of January. That means you might not receive your W-2 until the second week of February (hopefully it won’t take that long). If you changed jobs at any point during the previous year, you will receive one from each employer. If you have not received your W-2 by the second week of February, you should contact your employer. It is your responsibility to have the information and to file your taxes on time.

While you are waiting, if you have your last pay stub of the year (it may have been received in January) you can see in the “Totals” column how much you made, and how much you paid during the year. If you have contacted the employer at least twice and the April 15th deadline is approaching, use the information from your final pay stub and include a letter to IRS explaining that you contacted the employer on such and such a date (or dates) and they still have not provided your W-2. All of this applies to your bank or brokerage account statements as well. They should have sent something that indicates how much you made in interest or dividends for the year. You will have to include this information on your tax return as well.

DIY Tips to Save Money on Your Car

Anyone who’s ever owned a car – particularly one that’s been “pre-loved” – knows what an awful sink of time and money a motor vehicle can be. No single purchase, short of buying a home, will consume more of your resources over its operational life.

It’s important to make sure you are getting the best mileage out of your car – literally and figuratively. With that in mind, start with the biggest cost of a vehicle – gas.

The easiest way to save gas is to buy a more efficient car, but if you’re already rolling in a ’73 Chevelle, that’s not really an option. However, no matter what kind of car you drive, taking it easy on the throttle and the brakes will save gallons a year. There’s no need to get a Grand Prix start if the next red light is 100 yards away.

In addition, high-octane gas is a waste unless you have a high-boost, high-performance engine. Chances are, your cylinders won’t “knock” on the basic stuff.

Learning how to change your own oil, air filter and other basic parts can save you a lot of money as well, though oil in particular requires a decent amount of time and space.

Similarly, monitor and fix your tire pressure – tires are expensive, and keeping them at the optimum pressure reduces wear and tear while improving mileage.

Finally, take a couple of nice spring and summer days to wash and wax your own car – it’s relaxing and you save yourself some cash. Plus, odds are you’ll do a better job than the carwash.

Debt Free in 60 Seconds

Imagine it, you being debt-free. No more annoying calls from the credit card companies, “reminding” you that your bill is past due (as if you’d forgotten) and no more giving your entire paycheck over to debt that you accumulated last semester.

Does it seem like a dream? It doesn’t have to be. You can make it your reality! Here’s how to do it – in just about a minute.

0:60 It’s simple – spend less than you make
OK, I know it’s simple, even if it’s not always so easy to do. But following this rule could have a serious impact on your financial health and peace of mind. The truth is if you can’t pay for it today then you probably won’t be able to afford it tomorrow either. So don’t put any unnecessary pressure on yourself to come up with money in the future that you can’t guarantee you’ll have today.

0:50 Bad Debt vs. “Good” Debt – know the difference
Good debt generally has an interest rate of 10% or less and will appreciate in value. Home mortgages and student loans are examples of money borrowed that will be well worth the investment in the future. Car loans are somewhat on the fence, true, they meet the low-rate rule, but cars almost never go up in value. Bad Debt (also known as consumer debt) is everything else – yup, that even includes your platinum-all-star-VIP-rewards card that you’re paying 29% interest on.

0:40 Pick a card & stick with it
I know that “settling” down is probably far from your mind with all the dating choices that you have, but when it comes to credit you’re better off going “steady” with just one major credit card. Choose one with the lowest annual interest rate possible (check out your options at Cancel and cut up any other cards, including all department store cards – you can even use the little pieces of plastic to make some cool wall art. Now that you’re exclusive to just one card, treat it with respect and you’ll have a great and long-term relationship.

0:30 It’s time to face the music
This won’t be fun at first, but it’s necessary to get you closer to not being afraid that “someone is after you” every time the phone rings.   You’ve gotta pay to play, so pull out all of your credit card bills and line ‘em up on the floor. Find the minimum monthly payment for each one and then total them all up to get an overall monthly minimum payment amount. Make a commitment  to pay the total minimum due PLUS $100 more to the highest outstanding balance every month (or at least enough to make a dent in it) If you can’t pull this off right away, then come up with a plan that will make it possible within the next three months. It might not be fun, but it’ll be worth it.

0:20 Ready. Set. Attack.
Get angry, I mean fighting mad. Your future is on the line and it’ll be a bright one as long as you’re not strapped with debt. So the next step is to identify which of your credit cards has the highest annual interest rate and apply the $100 more (above the minimum amount due) to the highest interest rate account(s) first. Repeat this process monthly until the last Bad Debt account is paid in full.

0:10 Pretty pleeze?!
Grab a bill from any creditor that’s charging you more than 15% interest. Call them up and with all the Academy Award winning acting skills you can muster ask that your rate lowered to 11%. Tell them that you’d really like to keep your account open with them, but that you’ve gotten “offers” for much-much-lower-rate cards (at this point let your voice trail off for dramatic effect).They’re gonna try to break you, but don’t let ‘em see you sweat, because to them, you’re not just a customer you’re a cash register (they hear cha-ching every time you charge something and don’t pay your balance in full). What do you have to loose? Just try it. It’ll be fun and you stand to save a bunch of money.

0:01 Go ahead…Get your dance on
When the Bad Debt is 100% exorcised go ahead celebrate – heck, when you’re halfway there start doing the “happy dance” – life is meant to be enjoyed and you’ll feel more carefree today when you’ve paid off your bar tab from spring break two years ago. Now that’s something to cheer about!

Aldi anyone?

Yes, we’ve had Aldis across the US for some time now. With their new rollout in TX, again with the questions… Will we have a LIST for Aldi?

Aldi is EDLP, off brands, and limited offerings. But I don’t mean to dis-qualify Aldi. It may have its place, but not for most Grocery Gamers. Or at least not as first place in the race. Here’s why…

For value, we could talk about quality differences vs. name brand, etc. But I’m honing in on what I love best, the numbers! I just reviewed some comparison #s for the DFW area for this week’s offerings at the big three: Albertsons, Kroger, and Randalls. Yep! We’re still in the game (wasn’t worried). Aldi is not the one stop shop for savings.

I have to be a little tight lipped about further details for the moment, as there is some press in the percolator! But once that’s out, I’ll reveal! In the mean time, TX shoppers, hang on to your hats (cowboy hats if you have ‘em). And Aldi lovers, I won’t take your beloved away from you. Just want you to consider some new relationships!

Offer To Pay Cash for Discount

Money talks and cash speaks the loudest, so when you’re talking to a vendor or the reception hall, ask them if they offer any sort of discount for paying with cash and most places, if they aren’t huge outfits like a Marriott or a Sheraton, they will offer a bit of a discount.

Why are they willing to do this? Well, with a credit card they have to pay interchange processing fees which can run somewhere in the neighborhood of 3% – cash has no associated fee. If you pay with a check, while there are no fees, there’s always the risk that the check will bounce – cash won’t bounce.

Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Credit Cards, Part 2

In part 1, I discussed setting up your business to do e-commerce and accepting credit card payments. In this installment, I’ll discuss personal and business credit cards for the young entrepreneur.

For some, “credit card” is like a bad word. For the young entrepreneur, it’s a necessity. Without a credit card, you have to siphon personal spending money directly from your business the minute you make a profit. Yet, at the outset, profit can be hard to come by. I’m not advocating for you to go into debt. I’m saying that using credit cards the smart way can help keep your head above water as you navigate the beginnings of a business.

Personal Credit Card Versus Business Credit Card

Some solid advice from Entrepreneur Magazine: “If you think you won’t be able to pay off purchases in a single billing period, it might be better to charge them on the personal plastic, rather than a business card.”

Business cards come with incredibly high interest rates, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that every $1,000 of credit card debt your business accrues will make you 2 percent more likely to fail.

In other words, take on $10,000 in debt, and your chances of failure are 20 percent higher than they would have been otherwise. And that’s just due to credit card debt alone. There are countless other issues that can throw a wrench in the works, such as staffing issues, ineffective marketing, and inventory problems.

For the most part, keep business expenses and personal expenses separate when you’re paying with credit cards. But think hard about whether you should burden your business credit with expenses over a certain amount.

Establish a set baseline figure you can afford to put on the business card—it should not exceed revenue. Fill out a cash flow statement. Look at projected expenses, revenue and profits, and charge basic expenses on the business card. Then, charge additional expenses onto your personal card. If you can’t pay it off right away, your creditor can’t raise the interest rate like they can with a business card.

Consider tried-and-true methods of stacking savings—for you, the number one piece of advice here is to use a cashback credit card.

You won’t be able to get a cashback credit card unless your credit is good enough as is. Once you’re able to get one, use business profits, your own savings, as well as investor funds to pay off the card immediately. Try to pay your entire balance each month. You’ll make extra money that can go right back into the business. And you’ll build your own credit.

Building Business Credit

Your own credit score is extremely pertinent to your business credit. Before you even begin looking for a business credit card, check your FICO score and dispute any claims you think may be in error. Next, review your options for your business credit card.

Noobpreneur points out that the best option may not come from a major company. Rather, talk to the bank you’re using for your merchant account. They may be able to offer you a card more tailored to your specific business needs, and since they want to be competitive, they could give you a better interest rate.

Think about the nature of your business. If a lot of travel is involved, look for a card that earns you frequent flyer miles. If you’re confident you can pay off the card at the end of the month, find a rewards card, even if it has a higher interest rate. This is a gamble, but those rewards can really pay off. Ignoring them is one of the big mistakes small businesses make with credit cards.

Another mistake is paying interest. Again, if you can’t pay in full or miss payments, your credit issuer can immediately raise interest rates. But your credit issuer may initially give you a deal in which you pay no interest on purchases and balance transfers. For the new entrepreneur, it’s a wise idea to take advantage of those offers.

Make sure to protect your business against fraud by keeping your financial docs in a safe place, and only allow your most trusted employees access to the card for business expenses. Monitor the account and make sure no large, unfamiliar charges pop up, and be careful when you’re exchanging any sort of financial info with clients.

Watch your cash flow carefully and only charge what you can afford to the business card. Regular payment will build your business credit.

At the outset, do your best not to rack up credit card debt. Use any other means you can to finance your business. Small business loans are more forgiving than credit card debt, and your friends, family, investors, and personal savings are better sources of funding than credit cards. Once your business is on stable footing and you have good data to plug into your cash flow doc, you’ll be able to reasonably predict expenses, revenue, and profits. Then, make smart charges to your business credit card as you continue building credit.

Generation Debt: Hope for Echo Boomers in Trouble

The children of Baby Boomers have many nicknames: Echo Boomers, the Millennial Generation and Generation Y. With birth dates ranging from 1978 and 1994, Generation Y makes up 60 million of America’s 300 million population.

They’re demanding, technically savvy, ambitious, question everything and, as a group, are in financial trouble. No group has ever started adult life so deeply in the hole, thanks to mounting college costs, dwindling financial aid and credit-card debt. Here’s how Generation Y became Generation Debt, and how they can turn things around.

1. Cushy Upbringings
Raised by Baby Boomer parents who wanted a better life for their children, Generation Y was pampered, nurtured and given everything they needed or simply wanted. It’s no wonder they grew up with a sense of entitlement.

2. Easy Access to Consumer Credit
Consumer credit companies handed out cards to Generation Y like candy, allowing them to instantly gratify their desires with the latest iPod, laptop or phone upgrade. As a result, Generation Y now faces a median credit-card debt of $8,200.

4. College a Must
Many Baby Boomers were the first in their families to earn a college degree. It was only natural they expected their children to follow in their footsteps. A recent survey found 70 percent of Generation Y felt a college degree was a necessity to compete in the shrinking job market.

5. Financing College
Many entered college just as tuition inflation set in and college loans became more difficult to secure, resulting in an average college debt of $20,000.

6. Poor Financial Skills
While they’re technically savvy, many of this generation are financially illiterate. The education system hasn’t kept pace with the increasing complexity of financial products and the easy availability of consumer debt. This attitude is reflected in the 52 percent of Generation Y who say, “Loans were always expensive; I’ll worry about them later.”

7. Necessity of a Degree
High school graduates face fewer jobs and a more-qualified workforce than ever before. Many employers, faced with an overwhelming number of applicants for each job posting, weed down these numbers by requiring a minimum of a BA or BS for even rock-bottom entry positions.

8. Unemployment Statistics
Roughly one-in-five young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 is unemployed, compared with a 7 percent unemployment rate for those over age 30.

9. Poor Debt Financing
With an entire generation facing underemployment or unemployment, many have turned to the bank of Mom and Dad or borrowing from friends to keep their heads above water.

10. No Bail Outs
Recession recovery programs rarely address Generation Y financial concerns. 80 percent of those still in college think the financial bailout won’t provide help with tuition or student loans.

11. Taking the Easy Out
When debt payments become insupportable, many Generation Y members think bankruptcy will provide an easy out. People between ages 25 and 34 make up 22.7 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies. Unfortunately, college loans aren’t forgiven through bankruptcy.

So what’s a generation to do? For those trapped in debt and struggling to get on top financially, Coupon Sherpa offers the following five strategies.

1. Adjust Expectations
Although the challenges facing young people are real, out-sized expectations are a large part of the problem. For example, most people historically don’t buy their first home until they’ve reached financial stability, in their late 20s and early 30s, yet many GenYs took on mortgages at a much younger age.

2. Track Expenses
There’s a reason the rich are rich. They treat their spending like a business and know exactly where each penny is spent. Create a budget and record every expense according to category. Are you eating out too often? Cell phone carrier bill too high? Tracking expenses allows you to see where it’s possible to cut back.

3. Use Online Financial-management Aids
• Yodlee helps you create a budget, track spending, monitor online accounts, create expense analysis charts, and track your net worth.
• Mint is a free money-management tool that allows you to analyze spending, savings and other financial habits. Best of all, Mint offers suggestions for improvements, including showing users how much money they could save or earn by using a credit card with a lower interest rate, earning higher interest from a bank account, buying a less expensive cable service, and more.
• Wesabe combines social networking with money management and tracking capabilities. Users can join groups, set financial goals, and share tips and information with each other.  Wesabe also allows users to create tags for expenditures and automatically label store purchases.

4. Finance College With Minimal Debt
The recession has made it more difficult to obtain private student loans, but government loan programs now offer more loans, more money, and better rates, while increasing tax breaks for parents. An expanded tuition credit for households with up to $160,000 in adjusted gross income could trim as much as $2,500 in taxes. Go Frugal offers five public and private ways to finance college.

5. Face Up to Collectors
Avoiding collectors’ calls or letters will just delay the inevitable and usually make things worse. It’s important, however, to know your rights. Collector may not harass you; falsely imply they represent the government or that you’ve committed a crime; or suggest you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay up.

6. Chip Away at Debt
Aggressively pay down your highest-rate balances while making on-time minimum payments on the others. Your budget will dictate how much you can devote to paying down your balances each month. If possible, use any savings, bonuses or overtime pay to buy-down debt.

7. Educate Yourself
There’s a lot of free help on the Internet. Financial Guru Suze Orman, MSN’s Money Central,, and, of course, Young Money are excellent, unbiased resources that don’t push specific products.

8. Don’t Give Up
You didn’t get into debt overnight and you won’t be able to climb out quickly. It takes time and patience, but you’ll find it worthwhile in the long run.

The Future of Shopping

It’s happened to all of us. We’re trying on clothes in the dressing room and we want to try on another size. You have to put your clothes back on and go out and look for it.

Not for long.

Someday soon you will be able to type what you need: color, size and style, into a hand held device which will notify a sales assistant who will be able to find it for you and bring it to you.

Certain stores, like the Gap, are already installing “call” buttons. Stores are trying to make dressing rooms more pleasant, making them larger, serving food and drinks, and placing couches, chairs and more in the room. While comfort in the dressing room is important, the next step is completely interactive dressing room.

Interactive dressing rooms can suggest complimentary products—matching accessories, shoes, or even shirts and pants. These dressing rooms can also convey useful information; including, price, materials and care instruction.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

What we really need is a mirror who tells the truth. A mirror that cannot lie and say you look good when you don’t. What we’re going to get are responsive mirrors. These mirrors will be able to show you how an article of clothing or an outfit looks, from every angle. They will also record everything you try on. If you can’t remember how the first thing you tried on looked, a responsive mirror will allow you to simultaneously see everything that you have tried on. All that’s missing is the mirror to tell you honestly which thing actually looks good.

These mirrors aren’t far in the future; some high-end retail stores are already implementing them.

If you need a friend to offer her opinion before you buy you might appreciate being able to send an image of you trying on clothes from the dressing room to your friends phone or email. Shoppers can connect live with friends and family members and get instant feedback, just like they were in the room with you.

Personalized shopping

Online shopping is easy and you can often find better deals. However, it is often nothing more than a guessing game. You see something you like, you choose the size that you most often wear, enter your payment information and cross your fingers. Now, with, that’s already changing. is a personalized shopping site. You enter your exact measurements, find the clothing that you like, and the site uses your measurements to find the piece of clothing that will fit you best. You can also set up a list of things that you want and your husband or boyfriend can easily pick out a gift—with no fear of buying the wrong size.

Automatic checkout

Years ago I walked into a discount store somewhere in the state of California. It took me a few moments to realize that there was something very different about this store: there was almost nobody working there. I saw a total of two employees wandering the aisles.   The checkout lines were all automated, and people simply walked through, scanning their groceries and bagging them, then heading straight out the door. It looked like a shoplifter’s paradise. It also looked extremely cold. It was quiet; the fluorescent lights seemed to bounce off of the floor and walls without people and talking to buffer them. Somehow, it felt wrong. I guess I wasn’t the only one to think so as I haven’t seem completely automaton stores everywhere and part of me hopes I never do. If we let computers do everything we could, in a sense, make ourselves obsolete.

However, I don’t think that completely automatic checkouts are that far away. We will be able to roll an entire grocery car through sensors which will quickly add everything up and deduct the amount from a card (or by that point a chip in our necks). What if we have coupons? Will the scanner read those too? What if it makes a mistake? Where will we complain? How will we know? Finally, is this even a good idea? Teenagers are facing record-high unemployment rates, they are also often employed in retail jobs. Will this hurt them even more?  Most likely, we won’t have to wait too long to find the answers to these questions.

Customize everything

We can already customize an assortment of products on our computers. You can design your own Nike’s, put your initials on M&M’s and even design your own Kleenex boxes (if you simply must have your tissue box match your living room). Shopping is moving toward more user-generated or bespoke products. It won’t be a question of searching high and low to find the perfect pair of sneakers; we can now simply log in and create our own. Better yet, they aren’t going to cost and arm and a leg. Most of us think of Keds as the most basic of sneakers, now, we can customize our Keds to represent our personalities. You can even upload your own image. If you want to walk all over your ex-boyfriend just upload his photo to your shoe and now you literally can. What makes these customizable Keds different than other high-end customer created products? They only cost $60.

In today’s world of big box stores that offer just about everything for a low price, people are searching for ways to save money and stand out. Customization of products is just one new way stores are giving customers exactly what they want. As technology makes it easier and cheaper for companies to produce customized products the prices are coming down. Soon you’ll be able to customize everything without paying premium prices for the privilege.

It won’t just be clothing and Kleenex that will be customized, furniture, alarm clocks and more will be able to be customized and created by the user. is a site that allows designers to upload their blueprints, designs and ideas so that anyone can modify, adapt them or use them. It hasn’t taken off yet but, again, as technology improves the amount of customized items consumers will be able to create will be limitless.

“Coupons are just for junk food”

A reporter just asked me what is the greatest deterrent to saving money on groceries… Being stubborn, being old fashioned, believing a cliché… “Coupons are just for junk food”.

If you believe that one, you haven’t taken a good look in a long time, probably years. Welcome to the 21st century. The world has changed in many ways, and the smartest people are changing with it.

“Well-Off and Well-Coiffed Adults Use Coupons More, New Research Shows Affluent, Educated and Metro Consumers Have Adopted a Couponing Lifestyle” as documented here:

Sure. If you run out and buy a Sunday paper, you’ll thumb through and find lots of things you won’t want to buy. Not everything in there is for my family either. But I’m sure you’ll also find lots of coupons for things you DO buy. So why throw out the baby with the bath? Of the 150 new coupons I get every week, I only redeem about 20-30 of them. And because I actually use those coupons, I save 67% on the average. Grocery Gamers do the same nationwide every week (avg. savings $512/month for a family of four).

There’s another reason not to get the Sunday paper just yet. You won’t see everything there. Far from it. “Nowadays”, a great portion of the best coupons are found elsewhere… on the internet, electronic downloads to your club card, etc. So how do you find them, and what’s out there for you? Take a quick, free, easy look right now. Our Coupon Tracker is the most comprehensive coupon database on the web. I just entered my zip code to bring up the info on 1650 coupons available to me right now, and where to find them, whether in the Sunday paper, internet, electronic, or whatever. Enter a keyword or browse categories to find coupons for things you buy.

So you found some free money?! But wait! Don’t buy a coupon file! Years ago, Grocery Gamers quit cutting and filing coupons. Watch this video and tutorial to learn how and why.

Now that you see there is money to be found in the world of coupons, you can continue to build your own shopping list and find coupons using our free coupon tracker. Or you can pay a professional $1.25 a week to build a strategically planned money saving shopping list. That’s membership to The Grocery Game, where we do the work for you by matching coupons to advertised and Unadvertised sales, tracking sales cycles for you, telling you when, how and where to buy at the lowest of lows. There’s a no obligation 4 week FREE trial, in which time you should save enough money to buy a deep freezer. And on your trial, you can access all supermarket and drugstore lists in your area. Enter your zip code in the red box here to get started:

For more info about what Grocery Gamers get with membership:

So whether you decide to pay the professionals or just use our free Coupon Tracker, let me leave you with this parting thought…

Leave your past, and embrace your future.

Financial Aid & Student Loans Gone, Now What?

Q: How does one go about getting education loans to help offset the cost of college after all financial aid and federal student loans have been issued?

To answer this question, Matt offered an excerpt from his new book Financial Planning for Your First Job.

A: Understanding Student Loans

If you’ve started researching student loans, you’ve probably already discovered the two main types—those that have strict borrowing limits, but offer low interest rates, and those that offer all the money you need (and then some), but charge very high interest rates.  So which type is right for you?  How can you make sure you select the best loan possible and not make a decision you’ll regret later?  It will take research and careful planning, but if you follow the outline provided, you’ll be able to find the right combination of loans to meet all your needs.


To start the loan selection process you first need to know about the two main types—federal loans and private loans.  Federal loans, also known as Stafford Loans, are provided by the US government and carry a fixed interest rate—currently 6.80 percent.  Federal loans allow the borrower to postpone making principal and interest payments until six months after graduation.  Private loans are not so generous.  They’re less regulated than federal loans and often charge high variable interest rates like credit cards, and the interest starts to accrue immediately.  You should use private loans sparingly, and only consider them when there’s a gap between what federal loans will cover and the final cost of your education.


For student loans, as with most debt, you want to select the loan with the lowest interest rate.  The national interest rate for Stafford Loans is currently 6.80 percent, while the average private loan interest rate is 8.00 percent.  Stafford Loans have fixed interest rates, while the rates on private loans will change over time depending on the lender and market conditions.  The low, fixed interest rates provided by Stafford Loans are an advantage that tips the scale in their favor over private loans.  Use a free website like to compare the interest rates for student loans in your area.


When the time comes to apply for a student loan, you should first meet with the financial aid officer at the school you’ll be attending to learn about all of your financial aid options.  The officer should help you determine if you’ll qualify for federal loans based on your current income and the value of your assets.  If you won’t qualify for federal loans, the officer should provide guidance on what loans you should turn to next, which will probably be a combination of private loans. 

If you’ve narrowed down your list of colleges but haven’t made your final decision yet, make sure you meet with the financial aid officer at each potential school to learn about the different financial aid packages available.  You’ll find that some schools are much more accommodating than others.  Once you’ve done your research, you can apply for a federal loan online by visiting  You’ll also be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.  If you’re applying for a private loan, you’ll need to communicate directly with the lender, which will usually be a bank or credit union.


If you’ve started researching student loans, you may have seen a few words over and over again, but you may not know exactly what they mean.  It’s important that you understand these words because they can potentially save you thousands of dollars.  The must know words are subsidized, unsubsidized, deferment, and forbearance.

Subsidized: Subsidized loans are loans that the borrower does not have to pay interest on while he or she is still in school.  Instead, a third party (usually the US government) pays interest while the borrower is in school and interest does not start to accrue until after graduation.  You should try to maximize your subsidized federal loans to the fullest extent possible, but beware; these loans are largely based on financial need so you may not qualify.

Unsubsidized: An unsubsidized loan is a loan where the interest starts to accrue immediately, even though payments aren’t due until six months after graduation.  The fact that interest accrues while you’re still in school makes these loans less desirable than subsidized loans.

Deferment: A deferment means the borrower can postpone making principal and interest payments on a student loan if certain hardship conditions apply.  For example, deferment is allowed if the borrower is still in school, unemployed after graduation, or experiencing economic hardship for up to three years.  Even though the borrower isn’t required to make monthly payments, interest continues to accrue unless the loan is subsidized.

Forbearance: A borrower may qualify for student loan forbearance if he or she has difficulty making loan payments on time.  Forbearance is similar to deferment, but it’s granted at the discretion of the lender and documentation is required to prove economic hardship.


If you’ve decided the pay-as-you-go strategy won’t work for your tuition bill and you need the help of student loans, consider using them in the following order. 

 1. Subsidized federal loans
 2. Unsubsidized federal loans
 3. Private student loans

Only consider these options after you’ve met with a financial aid officer and exhausted all possible grants, scholarships, and awards you might be eligible for.

Laid off? Five Things to Do Right Away

1. File for unemployment. See the Young Money article “Everything You Need to Know about Unemployment” for, well, everything you need to know about unemployment.

2. Start looking for a new job. Network—talk to everyone you know and tell them you are looking for work. Your job search should become your new full-time job. Set goals for yourself and keep them. Search the job sites daily, send letters of interest to companies that you want to work for, and keep a record of everything you do and every place you apply. This will help you from sending the same company your resume and when you do get an interview it will help you remember every correspondence you’ve had with that company.

3. Update your resume. Add your last job to your resume. Be clear, concise, and focused. Try to keep your resume one page—don’t go above two pages. Update your list of references and let them know they might be getting calls. Make sure you are ready for that new job. If you haven’t had to interview for a few years make sure that you have an interview suit that fits. If you have to buy a new one choose a classic cut that will never go out of style.

4. Get health insurance. If you had health insurance with your job then you should get papers for COBRA. COBRA is a continuation of your health care, except now you will be paying the full amount. However, it should still be cheaper then individual health care. And you don’t want to be without health care—one unexpected accident and you could burn through your savings and be accumulating debt in no time. While you have some free time start a new exercise program and begin eating healthy. This will help you deal with the stress of being unemployed and save you money—getting sick can cost a lot in medication and co-pays. For more information about COBRA:

5. Cut out the extras.
This means cancel what you don’t need. Cable TV is a good place to start (plus then you won’t be tempted to waste good job searching time in front of the television). Eat at home. Clip coupons. In short, cut every non-essential cost from your life.

Negotiate A Block of Hotel Rooms May Yield Perks

If you’ve ever been to a wedding you’ll likely have seen, along with the invitation, information that indicated that the happy couple has negotiated a special rate with the hotel on a block of rooms. Well, now it’s your turn to negotiate this block of rooms and it’s your job to make sure two things happen:

  • The deal is actually a deal and,
  • You get something out of it.

When you negotiate, be sure to have a general idea of how many rooms you will need and for how many days. Hotels hate having empty rooms and hotels that occur on weekends where that hotel won’t be jam packed (concert or convention weekends would thus be a bad weekend to pick) are great opportunities to negotiate a better deal for your guests. After you get a deal, check to see that you can’t beat (or even match) that deal through travel websites – it’s not a deal if anyone can get it.

Second, make sure you get something out of it like a free room for yourself or some other perk. It’s not uncommon for a hotel to throw in a free room if you hold the reception there or get a whole block of rooms actually reserved and used.

Ten Tips for Wedding Planning

When you start planning for your big day, remember these ten important tips:

1. Begin preparations as soon as possible – All the service providers you’ll deal with are seeing earlier and earlier reservations. Not only that, but getting reservations early means you’ll have more time to communicate what you want to fix any problems.

2. Know your providers – If you can’t use someone you’re familiar with (or that was referred to you by a friend), then do your homework and check out their reputation. The last thing you want is some shoddy operation providing your wedding cake!

3. Get it in writing – It’s a contract and so you should get it all in writing. Getting it in writing also makes sure that there’s no miscommunication and that you’ve captured every last detail.

4. Stay organized – Planning a wedding takes a lot of hard work and can at times become very stressful. If you stay organized and stay on top of everything, you won’t be as easily overwhelmed.

5. Follow proper etiquette – With many different age groups and perhaps different cultures at your big day, learning proper etiquette can avoid embarrassing situations.

6. Invite the right people – We all feel like we should invite everyone we know to our wedding out of obligation, but you should really stick to people who you know care about you.

7. Watch the budget – This is a very important tip because if you go over, it will hurt you for a very long time. It’s also hard to remember because you hope to only be married once, you want it to perfect, and there are a lot of nice things you can do for yourselves.

8. Compromise – It’s a partnership and this is the first big decision you’ll probably have to make. Compromise ensures everyone stays happy and their spirits are up for the big day.

9. Confirm and follow up – About two months before the date, follow up with everyone. This lets you make final changes (in case your schedule changes or you reached a compromise on something) and gives you another opportunity to make sure they have the details right.

10. Remember to have fun – I know it sounds silly to mention it but remember weddings are a happy time, don’t let the stressful planning process stop you from enjoy the big day!

The Frugal Rose: Ranunculus

Doesn’t that look a lot like a rose? Well, it’s a ranunculus and it’s not actually a rose but it sure looks a lot like an open rose doesn’t it? Well, it looks a lot like an open rose but is remarkably cheaper. For all you trivial buffs, the ranunculus has its origins in the Middle East and is commonly called a “Turban Buttercup”. As for colors, the ranunculus comes in three color groups: reds, pinks, and yellows. They’re also available during February and March when roses are the most expensive, making them an excellent alternative if you’re getting married in the Spring.

You won’t “trick” anyone into believing their roses, if that’s what you’re thinking, but if you don’t mind having something a little cheaper that looks similar, give the ranunculus a whirl.