All posts by Amy Maliga

Amy has been researching and writing about smarter ways to save and spend money since 2013. She is always on the lookout for practical tips and information she can share to help people get organized, save money and reach their financial goals.
Child and her tutor celebrating success with a high five

5 Ways to Save on Tutoring

Tutoring is a great way to help your child catch up in one specific subject, learn effective studying skills or keep up with homework and projects. The only problem is, it can be an expensive addition to the family budget. But it doesn’t have to be. There are many resources available to make tutoring more affordable — and possibly even free. Take a look at these easy ways to save on tutoring:   Working with a teacher in training is a great way to save on tutoring

Start at the Source

Talk with your child’s teacher(s) to see if they agree tutoring will be beneficial. If you’re all on the same page, ask if the school offers any tutoring services. They can include one-on-one tutoring, peer-led study groups or subscriptions to online resources. Additionally, the teacher may be willing to offer your child additional assistance at recess or after school. And be sure to ask for tips on how you can tutor your child yourself at home.

Check out the Library

Public libraries remain an excellent — and often untapped — resource for any number of things, including tutoring services. Many offer access to subscription-based online tutoring, as well as one-on-one assistance with volunteer tutors who have been fully vetted. Not surprisingly, libraries are also a great resource for structured reading programs to help encourage reluctant readers.

Look into Nonprofits

An easy way to save on tutoring is to work with a nonprofit. Many nonprofits, such as the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs offer tutoring and other academic assistance such as workshops on effective study skills and test taking. Don’t forget to also check out online profits, such as the Khan Academy, which offers tutoring and instruction on a number of subjects, with curriculum for all grade levels.

Establish a Study Group

Talk with the parents of other children in your kid’s class to find out if any of them are considering tutoring for their children. If you find they are, you may be able to put together a study group and hire a private tutor, which becomes much more affordable when you’re splitting the cost among several families. Sharing the cost of a tutor is an effective way to save on tutoring.

Try a Teacher-in-Training

If you live in a university town, there are sure to be education majors who are eager to get real-life teaching experience (and a little extra cash) through tutoring. As a first step, contact the school’s College of Education to see if they have any formal tutoring programs set up. Also consider seeking out subject matter experts; an English major if your child is struggling with writing basics or a math major if Algebra just isn’t making sense.

Helping your child excel through tutoring doesn’t have to break the family budget, but if you need a little help making some spending cuts, talk with one of our Credit Counselors. They can help you work out a budget that includes funds for tutoring.

Commercial clothing rack filled with neatly hung clothing

What You Need to Know About Retail Credit Cards

SaveonClothingIt happens all the time. You’re buying something at a store and as you’re getting ready to pay, the cashier asks if you’d like to open the store’s credit card to save 10 (or 15 or 20) percent on your purchase — then they mention that it takes just a few seconds to apply, right there on the keypad. In some cases, you will still get the discount just for applying, even if you’re not approved. It’s certainly tempting. After all, who doesn’t want to save a little extra and go home with a full wallet? But it’s almost never a good idea. Here are several things you need to know about retail credit cards:

They Have High Interest Rates

Interest rates on retail credit cards typically run 20% or more. If you were to pay the balance in full each month, that’s not an issue. But if you were to carry a balance for even a few months, the high interest rate would negate any of the additional savings you received when opening the card.

They Have Limited Use

When you open a store credit card, that card can only be used at that store, or in some instances, one or two more sister stores. Some larger retailers offer branded traditional credit cards — such as a Target Visa — which may be a better option since it would offer more flexibility. Be sure you know exactly what you’re applying for before you enter all your information.

The Inquiry Can Affect Your Credit Score

Every time you apply for new credit, it’s going to impact your credit score. Even if it’s only a temporary drop of a few points, it’s not a good idea. And it can be especially damaging if you’re in the process of applying for a mortgage or buying a vehicle, when every point really counts toward getting the best interest rates.

They Typically Have Low Credit Limits

At first glance, this might seem like a good thing. A low credit limit means there’s less chance to overspend, right? While that might be true in some cases, running up a low-limit card to the max will still affect your credit utilization (the percentage of available credit in use), which is one of the key components of your credit score. It can also cause you to exceed your limit if you’re not careful, causing you to incur over-the-limit fees.

They Can Lead to Overspending

If you’re someone who shops for recreation or stress relief, store credit cards can spell disaster. Even if they have low limits, having multiple retail credit cards is one of the most common ways for credit card debt to become unmanageable. Juggling all those due dates for multiple credit cards can easily lead to missed payments and late fees. If you’re already in a situation with multiple retail credit card bills to pay every month, we want to help. Free Credit Counseling can help you get back on track and make a plan to pay them off quickly.

Couple looking concerned as they work on a budget and pay bills

Lessons to Learn from Financial Setbacks

We all do our best to avoid them, but financial setbacks are an unfortunate fact of life. They can be events on a national scale, like the 2008 housing crisis, or something more personal such as job loss, major illness or excessive credit card debt. And they can strike at any time, even if you’ve been financially stable for years. But no matter when or why they happen, the important thing to remember is they can lead to some valuable lessons. Here are several things we can learn from experiencing financial setbacks.

Prioritizing

There’s nothing like a financial challenge to help get priorities in order. Suddenly, the differences between wants and needs become much more clear and frivolous spending has to stop. If you’ve never kept a budget before, it’s the perfect time to start one. Knowing exactly how much money you have coming in and going out is critical during times of financial stress.

Couple looking concerned as they work on a budget and pay billsGoal Setting

Working through a financial setback takes dedication and perseverance. Setting goals will help you see the situation more clearly and formulate a plan to get back on your feet. Whether it’s getting a new job, paying down debt, selling assets, or other strategies, setting specific, measurable, time-driven goals will keep you on track.

Sacrifice

Overcoming a financial crisis can seem like all work and no play, but what you have to give up now will be worth it for the peace of mind you’ll achieve in the long run. Missing out on vacations, new cars, or the latest iPhone isn’t fun, but if it’s what you need to do to achieve your goals, your sacrifice will pay off.

Making Do

From fast food to fast fashion, we have grown accustomed to the instant gratification of getting everything we want, the moment we want it. Overcoming financial struggles means getting back to ‘making do.’ Instead of calling for takeout delivery, make a meal from food you have in the pantry or heat up some leftovers. Rather than buying new clothing or shoes because they look a little worn, do some mending, cleaning and polishing to extend their usefulness.

The Importance of Savings

If you didn’t believe it before, a financial setback proves without a doubt the importance of having money set aside for emergencies. While everyone’s emergency savings goals will vary based on their unique circumstances, a good rule of thumb is to work toward having 3-6 months of living expenses saved. Having that cushion to fall back on can help prevent a setback from becoming a crisis.

Asking for Help

Financial setbacks make it easy to want to withdraw from the world, but being isolated from people who care won’t help the situation. Reach out to friends and family you trust and let them know you’re struggling so they can offer support and motivation when you’re feeling down. We can help, too! Our free Credit Counseling is the starting point to figuring out an action plan to get back on your feet.

Mother and daughter unpacking dorm room essentials

7 Ways to Save Money on College Dorm Room Essentials

Sending your college student to live in a dorm or college apartment for the first time is exciting, emotional and expensive. But it’s possible to set up a miniature home-away-from-home that’s comfortable and functional without breaking the bank. Check out these tips for saving money on dorm room essentials.  Mother and daughter unpacking dorm room essentials

Find Out What’s Included and Allowed

Standard dorm room amenities vary widely. Find out what is included with room and board and what you need to supply. Also find out what students are allowed to have in their rooms. Some dorms allow small appliances such as toaster ovens and coffee makers, while others forbid them. If you buy items they can’t use, you’ll have the hassle of bringing them back home with you and returning them to the store.

Create a Budget and Action Plan

As with all major expenditures, it’s best to set a budget when shopping for dorm room essentials. It will help you stay focused and look for the best deals, rather than buying the first things that catch your eye. Be sure to reach out to your student’s future roommate to find out what they plan to bring and coordinate your shopping so you can avoid repetition on items the roommates will share.

Shop with Discounted Gift Cards

It takes a bit of planning, but shopping with discounted gift cards is an easy way to stretch your dollars. Check out Cardpool, CardCash or Gift Card Granny to buy discounted gift cards for big box stores and other retailers. If you’re not familiar with discounted gift cards, these sites sell gift cards at a discount off face value. As of this writing, Gift Card Granny is offering 9% off Target Cards and 15% off Kohl’s cards. When you combine that with sale prices, it adds up to impressive savings.

Get the Student Discount

So many popular retailers offer student discounts of up to 20% with a valid school ID. Some of the stores that offer student discounts on dorm room essentials include:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Dell
  • Sony
  • Amazon
  • Sam’s Club
  • JOANN Fabric (perfect for room décor)
  • Goodwill (fun finds and furniture)

Don’t Overbuy

You want to set up your student with everything they need, but there’s a fine line between just enough and too much. You’ll want to make sure to get enough dorm room essentials for the first few weeks, but keep in mind space limitations and storage restrictions. You can always send a care package with additional supplies in a few weeks.

Look for All-in-One Deals

Inclusive deals, such as Bed-in-a-Bag sets, are almost always a good value and will save you money over buying items individually. Plus, they’re easier to pack and help ensure you don’t forget any key items. Look for money-saving inclusive sets of bed linen, towels, dishes, glassware and toiletries.

Compare Prices and Price Match

It’s increasingly common for Amazon to beat other retailers on price. But did you know that many major retailers will now price match Amazon? It takes a little bit of preparation and research, but it’s worth it for the potential savings. Here are several stores that will price match Amazon (be sure to check each store’s specific policies regarding price matching):

  • JC Penney
  • Target
  • Bed Bath & Beyond
  • Lowe’s
  • Home Depot
  • JOANN Fabric
  • Nordstrom
debt settlement vs. debt management

Debt Settlement vs. Debt Management—What’s the Difference

Dealing with high levels of credit card debt can be stressful and overwhelming. Simply making minimum payments on multiple accounts every month means a consumer will be paying off that debt for years to come. Fortunately, there are options that can help borrowers get out of debt more quickly. But not all options have a positive effect on consumers’ financial futures.

Many people think debt settlement programs and debt management plans are the same thing. But that’s not the case. While both can help consumers get out of credit card debt, debt settlement plans can actually leave a consumer’s credit in worse shape than when they started. Let’s take a look at debt settlement vs. debt management.  debt settlement vs. debt management

How Does a Debt Management Plan Work?

  • Clients on a debt management plan work with a nonprofit credit counseling agency, which provides objective guidance and support, and is focused on the client’s financial wellbeing.
  • The agency negotiates with creditors to achieve reduced interest rates and eliminate fees on a borrower’s behalf.
  • Clients pay off more of their principal balances with each payment, allowing debts to be paid in full in five years or less.
  • Clients make one monthly payment to the agency, which then divides it up and pays each creditor. This simplifies the bill-paying process and eliminates additional late or missed payment fees.
  • Debt management plans also include continuing financial education to help clients avoid accruing problem debt in the future.

How Does a Debt Management Plan Impact My Financial Future?

Unlike other options to eliminate debt – such as debt settlement or bankruptcy – many people on a debt management plan find their credit improves as they progress. When their plan is complete and credit card debt paid is in full, they are able to pursue other financial goals, including saving for retirement, purchasing a new vehicle, or even buying a home. And because the debt is paid in full, there are no tax implications.

Borrowers who opt for settlement may be hindered from achieving these financial goals because their credit was negatively impacted during the process. Lenders may not be willing to give them a second chance for several years or longer.

How Does Debt Settlement Work?

Debt settlement, on the other hand, works quite differently. It is appealing to consumers because it allows them to pay back only a portion of the total debt they owe; but that comes with consequences.

  • To start, debt settlement is offered by for-profit companies, which means their focus isn’t on consumers’ true financial well-being. They are incentivized to generate a profit for the company.
  • Consumers who choose debt settlement make regular deposits into a savings account, until there is enough for the debt settlement company to negotiate lump-sum payments.
  • During this process, the debt settlement company may advise the client to stop making payments to their creditors as a tactic to get them to accept a lesser amount to settle the debt. This can have serious negative consequences on a borrower’s long-term financial outlook.
  • Once the lump sum payments are accepted, accounts are considered paid off. Yet in many cases, the drawbacks can outweigh the short-term relief.

What are the Drawbacks of Debt Settlement?

Allowing accounts to fall behind during the negotiation period can lead to aggressive collection efforts and cause clients’ credit scores to drop significantly.

Additionally, clients may be required to pay taxes on the full amount of the forgiven debt.

Choosing between Debt Settlement vs. Debt Management

When choosing debt settlement vs. debt management, it’s important to think about long-term financial plans, rather than what’s most convenient in the near future.

While each consumer must make the decision that’s best for them, the advantages of a debt management plan are clear: accounts are paid in full in five years or less, with no tax implications and the chance of a steadily improving credit score.

To learn your options for paying off debt, contact a credit counselor for a free, confidential financial assessment.

Couple planting flowers for a budget date

Top 10 Budget Date Night Ideas

Who doesn’t love date night? It’s time to relax, recharge, and have fun together. Whether you’re just getting to know someone new or a married couple taking time to reconnect, these budget date night ideas let you have a great time without overspending.     Couple planting flowers for a budget date

Free Local Events

From concerts in the park to outdoor festivals, free local events are made for date night (even if it’s during the day). Go online to search the upcoming events for your area and start planning what you’ll attend.

Volunteer for a Cause

Find a cause you’re both passionate about and spend a few hours volunteering together. Whether it’s cuddling pups at an animal shelter or preparing a meal at a soup kitchen, the great feeling you get from helping others is sure to bring you closer.

Experience Culture

Most museums have free or discounted admissions on certain days of the week. Even just browsing through your town’s local historical society can bring up some interesting conversational topics.

Go to a Game

You don’t have to see LeBron or Tom Brady in action to have fun at a sporting event. In fact, watching a local farm team or college game can be even more fun and a whole cheaper (maybe even free!).

Take a Hike

Lace up your hiking boots and hit a local trail. If your hiking partner is new to hiking, be sure to choose a simple trail that won’t leave them struggling.

Trade Hobbies

If you both have a signature skill (baking, playing the guitar, throwing a perfect spiral, etc) spend some time teaching the other person how to do it. You’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for one another.

Take a Tour

Chocolate, cheese, wine, beer—they all have to be made somewhere. Find a local factory, brewery or winery and take a tour. You’ll learn something new and enjoy free samples while you’re at it.

Plant Something

You don’t need a huge plot of land to get back to nature. Get a few pots, some potting soil and some herb seeds or succulents and create a small patio or window garden. You can chart the plants’ progress as your relationship grows.

Get Touristy

We’re all creatures of habit. Break out of your rut and explore beyond your zip code. Take in the local attractions with a tourist’s eye. Or simply go for a long drive and discover new neighborhoods and restaurants.

Host a Couples Potluck

Invite two or three couples over for a potluck for a double- or triple-date night. After the meal, break out the board games. Everyone will appreciate a budget date night that doesn’t break the bank.

When it comes to budget dates, these are just a few ideas to get you started. Use your imagination and get creative on coming up with your own budget date night ideas. Remember, the goal of a great date isn’t how much you spend, but the quality of the time you spend together.

credit repair

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Credit Repair

When it comes to strategies for improving your credit, you’ll hear many terms used interchangeably and often, incorrectly. One of these misunderstood terms is ‘credit repair.’ Let’s take a look at what credit repair really is, and whether it’s something you can do yourself, or if it requires professional assistance.     credit repair

What is credit repair, exactly?

When performed by for-profit companies, credit repair is a process during which the company will dispute negative entries or errors on a consumer’s credit report. The company reviews reports from all three major credit reporting agencies, since each report may contain entries from different creditors, including credit card companies, collection agencies and other lenders.

You may need to provide documentation.

Simply saying something is an error on a credit report isn’t enough. In some cases you will need to provide proof that you are not responsible for the debt. For example, if a consumer has been through a divorce and their former spouse’s debt shows up on their report, they would have to provide the paperwork showing how the debts were divided.

The results may not be permanent.

While credit repair may ultimately yield a higher credit score, there’s a chance it won’t last. The credit reporting agencies remove items that are in dispute from the consumer’s credit report while the dispute is active. This may cause the credit score to rise. However, if the item in dispute is found to be valid and not permanently removed from the report, the score will go back down.

There are many credit repair scams.

While legitimate credit repair companies do exist, it is also a category that attracts numerous scams. Beware of any company promising immediate, dramatic and permanent results. For example, there’s no legitimate way to get a credit score to rise 100 points or more in a very short time. Additionally, a company shouldn’t make guarantees of success since the whole process depends on whether or not there are legitimate errors on a consumer’s credit report.

You can attempt to repair your credit yourself.

Credit repair companies don’t perform any services you can’t do on your own. You can request and review copies of your credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. If you find errors or inaccuracies, you can initiate disputes by phone, online or by mail. This article offers helpful information about handling errors on your credit report, including links to each agency’s dispute page.

Remember, there is no instant solution to repair credit. Regaining a good credit score is a matter of time, patience and positive habits, such as achieving a history of on-time payments and maintaining an appropriate debt-to-income ratio.

Woman saving on beauty by applying her own makeup

5 Ways to Save on Self Care and Beauty Products

Whether your look is carefree and natural, classically groomed or all-out glam goddess, beauty products and treatments can take a big bite out of your budget. But we’ve uncovered tips, tricks and insider secrets that will keep you looking your best for less. Let’s see what they are:     Woman saving on beauty by applying her own makeup

Dive into DIY

There are many beauty and self-care treatments you can do at home, for a fraction of what you’d pay to have them done professionally. Some of the easiest and most cost-effective are:

  • Giving yourself a manicure or pedicure
  • Coloring your own hair (as long as it doesn’t involve bleach)
  • Doing an at home-facial

Performing these treatments at home saves you money and allows for splurges on things you really can’t do yourself, such as getting a massage.

Discover Dupes

In the world of makeup and skincare, the term ‘dupe’ is short for ‘duplicate.’ And it means a more affordable version of a popular high-end, expensive product. So, if you have your eye on that pricey, celebrity-endorsed item, do an online search for its dupe. You’re sure to find a long list of beauty influencers who have tried, tested and found the best lookalikes for less.

Choose a Signature Look

It you’re a beauty junkie, it’s fun to imagine putting on a full face of makeup every day. But really, who has the time? Find your signature look and stick to it day-to-day. You’ll save time, money and cut down on clutter by keeping only the products you use most often. When a special occasion comes up, treat yourself to something new and fun like a shimmery eyeliner or bold lip color.

Find Your Beauty Guru

Beauty remains one of the fastest-growing segments of content on YouTube. These ‘beauty gurus’ test products, do ratings and reviews, and provide tutorials on mastering everything from basic makeup application, to applying false eyelashes, to Kardashian-level contour. While not every influencer will be your cup of tea, find one whose style is close to yours. You’ll be able to find out how products perform and learn new techniques at home without the high-pressure sales pitch at the beauty counter.

Practice Healthy Habits

Like Mom always said, true beauty comes from within. Practicing healthy habits such as drinking plenty of water, eating a well-balanced diet, and getting plenty of sleep and regular exercise will go a long way toward achieving the healthy, vibrant glow you’re after.

Pregnant woman thinking of ways to save money

5 Ways to Save Money During Pregnancy

When the initial shock and excitement wears off, it hits you. Being pregnant is expensive! Of course, you’ll have plenty of reasons to spend money once the baby arrives. But the months leading up to the big day bring their own new expenses, too. Here are some ideas to help you save money during your pregnancy.   Pregnant woman thinking of ways to save money during pregnancy

Don’t Buy, Borrow

If you have friends or family who recently had a baby, there’s a good chance they have pregnancy essentials they’re willing to lend to you. They’ll have everything from baby books to maternity clothing Taking advantage of hand-me-downs means you can put aside more money to help with other expenses.

Find the Freebies

Brands that cater to moms are eager to earn your loyalty, and they’re happy to give you the freebies to prove it. From free diapers and wipes to baby leggings and shoes, there are loads of free things waiting for you to try. For example, sign up for a baby registry at Target, and you’ll receive a gift bag loaded with free samples and high-value coupons. Simply do a Google search for “free stuff during pregnancy” and you’ll find a long list.

Join the Clubs

Similar to offering free stuff, many brands have loyalty clubs that allow you to earn discounts, free products and redeem points for baby toys, books and more. Pampers and Huggies diapers have rewards programs. Similac has their Strong Moms program and Seventh Generation has Generation Good. Register for these and other programs during your pregnancy so you’re set up and ready to go when the time comes.

Adopt a Minimalist Wardrobe

Depending on how your body changes, you might need to wear maternity clothing sooner or later than you expected. When you start shopping for it, start with the basics. Some black pants, a pair of jeans and a few fun tops are a great place to start. Many women are able to continue wearing their regular clothing for a while, with a few adjustments. A belly band or tummy sleeve lets you wear your regular pants or jeans unbuttoned to accommodate your bump. Sometimes simply sizing up from your usual size, rather than buying maternity-specific items, works well, too.

Start Stocking Up

During your third trimester, start stocking up on household essentials like paper products, cleaning supplies, and pantry staples. You want to have everything you need in the house when the baby arrives so you can avoid running out and relying on expensive trips to the convenience store or having items delivered.

Stressed out woman surprised to see an unexpected expense

Tips to Help You Handle Unexpected Expenses

No matter how well you budget or how skilled you are at stretching a dollar, everyone is hit with unexpected expenses from time to time. Recent statistics suggest that approximately 57 million Americans don’t have money set aside to pay for an unexpected expense. But whether or not those expenses are the start of a downward financial spiral is up to you. Here are some tips for handling unexpected expenses.     Stressed out woman surprised to see unexpected expenses

Evaluate the Expense

Not all unexpected expenses are created equal. For example, there’s a big difference between getting a necessary car repair and hopping on a flight to go to your college roommate’s bachelorette party. In other words, you decide what’s worth it and what isn’t. If the expense is truly urgent and unavoidable, the following tips can help you put together the funds necessary to pay for it.

Sell Some Assets

Direct selling apps such as Let Go and Offer Up make it easier than ever to sell items for quick cash. Look around your house for unused electronics, exercise equipment, tools and other items you no longer need or use. Get them listed and before long, you’ll have offers rolling in. Just be sure to follow these tips for avoiding scams on those platforms.

Freeze Your Spending

Cut back on spending as much as possible until you get past this financial emergency. Purchase only the bare minimum of necessities to free up money to pay for the unexpected expense. Make meals from pantry staples and food you have in the freezer. It might not be gourmet cuisine, but it will help you get by until your finances can stabilize.

Develop a Strategy to Pay it Off

If you end up using a credit card to pay for the expense, make a plan to pay it off quickly to avoid racking up interest charges. And don’t let it be the start of a charging spree. You many think that a few hundred dollars more won’t matter, but it can kick off a cycle of revolving debt that could take years to pay off.

 Plan Ahead for Next Time

When it comes to unexpected expenses, it’s not a question of if they will happen. It’s simply when. Appliances will break down. Vehicles will need repairs. Do your best to be prepared for them by starting an emergency savings account. Even if you have to start small, setting aside money from each paycheck will begin to add up and eventually, you’ll have a sizeable cushion to fall back on when you need it.

Many people think they simply don’t earn enough to set aside money for emergencies, when it’s really a matter of not budgeting efficiently. When you complete our free Credit Counseling, you’ll receive a complete budget that includes a line item for emergency savings.