As featured in The Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, and more!

Consumer

A flavorful life doesn’t have to cost a fortune. People who enjoy cooking and baking can often feel overwhelmed by the cost of groceries. Millennials get a lot of flak for their love of pricey avocado toast and other expensive culinary habits. However, the reality is that even just buying groceries for simple meals can add up quickly if you don’t pay attention to what you’re grabbing in the store aisles.

How to Save Money on Groceries

The good news is that there are some very simple tips you can follow to bring down the cost of groceries. Thinking outside the box can help you to put more food in your grocery bag without going broke. Take a look at four unconventional and creative ways to cut your grocery budget without skimping when it comes to flavor or quality.

Install a Calculator App on Your Phone

Do you hate being surprised by your grocery bill once you get to the register? You can add up your spending as you go if you download a simple calculator app to your phone and start tallying your bill while you shop. This will give you a good idea of how much is left in your budget to splurge on some extras while you’re shopping.

It will also give you the opportunity to put things back or shop for bargains while you’re at the store if you discover that you’re filling up your cart beyond your budget. This may help you to get creative with putting items in your cart that can make some tasty, satisfying meals that don’t cost a small fortune per plate.

Coupons Still Have their Place

Couponing is still in, and some shoppers can pay almost nothing for a cart full of groceries. If you buy the Sunday paper, you can clip your way to hundreds of dollars of savings. But remember, you should only clip coupons based off your shopping list, and don’t buy items just because you found a coupon. If you don’t want to buy the Sunday paper and clip coupons all day, you now have a high-tech option. There are plenty of coupon apps available for iPhone and Android users.

With coupon apps, you will never forget your coupons at home, and you can organize them with ease. One such app available with Android and iPhone devices is Coupon Sherpa. Available for Android devices, Grocery Smarts Coupon Shopper allows you to cross-reference all available coupons with current circulars, which allows you to get the best deal.

One popular app for Android, Shop Calc, allows you to create a pre-set budget and generate a realistic shopping list. iPhone owners should check out the Our Groceries Shopping List. The app allows shoppers to easily share shopping lists with others in the household, and organize items by category.

Avoid the Middle Section of the Grocery Store

The path you take through the aisles of your grocery store can actually determine how much you spend and how much you eat. The perimeter of a grocery store is where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, dairy products and freshly baked goods. These are the areas you’ll want to focus on if you need to purchase foods that will give you the biggest benefits for your bucks.

The middle of the store tends to contain more processed foods. It’s also where you’re likely to stock up on some sweets and impulse purchases that might not contribute to your plan to eat well on a budget. Only dip into the middle section if you need specific dry goods.

Knowing how to navigate your way through the interior aisles of a grocery store once you do step foot in them can also help you to save money. For instance, spices are often less expensive if you grab them from the ethnic food aisle of a grocery store instead of from the actual spice aisle.

Shop for Batch Cooking

Focusing on buying ingredients for making just two or three really good meals per week could help you save money. Batch cooking involves making big batches of meals you like and enjoying them throughout the week. You will typically make all of your meals at the start of the week and slip them into the freezer to be available throughout the week.

For instance, you could purchase ingredients to make lasagna that will stretch for two or three days. This often ends up costing much less than trying to invent a new meal for everyday of the week. What’s more, you’ll save so much time because you’ll be cooking all your meals at once.

How long one meal will last will depend on how many people you need to feed in your household. You can expect to save money whether you’re cooking for one or feeding a large family when you shop for batch cooking.

Go to the Store Less Frequently

You can’t be tempted by impulse purchases at the grocery store if you’re not at the grocery store every day. While the idea of stopping at the store every day to pick up fresh ingredients for meals sounds good, the reality is that it can easily lead to overspending.

It might be a good idea to change your habits if you’re the type of person who always pops into the grocery store after work to pick up ingredients for dinner. It’s hard to actually get a grasp of what your total weekly or monthly grocery budget is if you’re constantly making small purchases here and there.

Try to get in the habit of setting aside one day per week for grocery shopping for a little while to see if it becomes easier to manage your food spending. You can even make a habit of stockpiling specific ingredients when they go on sale to ensure that you always have what you need to make meals.

Use the Right Credit Card

Using the right cash back credit card can also help you save. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, for example, pays up to 6% cash back on groceries. If you shop at Costco or Sam’s Club, they both offer cards with excellent cash back on purchases at their stores. You can find a complete list of the best cash back cards here.

{ 0 comments }

Getting out of debt is key to financial freedom. Being debt free gives you great financial flexibility. Paying off those debts, however, can be a struggle. Here we provide a comprehensive guide on how to get out of debt for good.

CLIMB DEBT

Along with losing weight, getting out of debt is probably the most popular goal in the United States. It’s almost always one of the top three New Year’s resolutions made each year. In fact, 42% of people vow to make better money choices. With the average American’s credit card debt once again on the rise, debt freedom is surely on many of our minds.

This goal, though — like so many others — tends to be forgotten within weeks of New Year’s Day. We get overwhelmed with managing a bare bones budget. We have to field unexpected expenses. Or we simply lose motivation when it seems like there’s no way out.

It’s time to stop the cycle. If you have resolved to get out of debt this year — whether it was for New Year’s or because you simply got fed up on a random Tuesday– here is how to finally meet that challenge, once and for all. To help, here are some ideas for not losing sight of the goal.

Related: Which Comes First: Paying Down Debt or Building an Emergency Fund?

Financial Freedom > Zero Debt

At worst, debt is slavery. At best, it’s willful indentured servitude.

Say your family takes home $2,500 per month from your job after taxes. Now imagine your credit cards, loans, and rent/mortgage total $2,000 each month. This means that you work only one-fifth of your hours for yourself.

The remaining four-fifths of your time at your job is exclusively for your creditors. You might as well just hand your paycheck over or work off your debt directly for the credit card companies. Depressing, right?

Unlike slavery, though, you are free to leave this arrangement (your job) at any time. You just need to simply quit and look for another job with a pay increase. However, that is not always a simple or practical solution.

Learn More: My Two Best Financial Decisions: Leaving My Jobs

If it motivates you, think about what you would do with your freedom from debt. Without having to pay credit card companies, you would have the freedom to choose where your take-home pay goes. Then, use those dreams to fuel your motivation. For instance, if you want to save up for a vacation, place pictures of your favorite getaway spot around your house.

Replace Bad Habits

Excessive shopping can be a habit. Many compulsive shoppers find shopping helps them deal with difficult emotions like anger, frustration, and stress. The excitement of shopping helps to temporarily improve a person’s mood.

But you can replace this habit with healthier alternatives.

If starting a shopping trip helps you deal with difficult emotions, replace shopping with jogging, running, or another physical activity.

While the act of spending money improves the mood of habitual shoppers, physical activity improves anyone’s mood. This is due to endorphins — natural, mood-altering chemicals the body releases in both situations.

And what about the bad habit of wasting time watching television? This could be costing you actual money if you’re paying a fortune for cable. But you could also be missing major opportunities to make money. Instead of watching TV, spend time working on a side hustle or listening to podcasts to further your career (and make more money).

It may sound crazy, but just try to find a different habit that better serves your goals.

Make Getting Out of Debt Fun

The concept of “fun” is subjective. What one person finds fun, another might find mundane.

For example: when I was in debt, I liked watching the colorful monthly reporting graphs in Microsoft Money get close to crossing the x-axis of $0 net worth. I fully understand that might not motivate everyone the same way.

Related: How and Why to Track Your Net Worth

Rewards can be great motivators, too — just make sure they aren’t big rewards that will impact your finances negatively. Paying off a student loan and then blowing $200 on a steak and lobster dinner, for example, isn’t very smart.

Do something small, yet still enjoyable. You could treat yourself to a movie night every time you pay off a credit card, or plan that weekend hike that you’ve been meaning to do.

Celebrate at every possible milestone to keep up your motivation, but choose reasonable rewards.

Visualize Your Debt Reduction

Losing weight is easy to visualize. Improving finances? Not quite so easy.

I’ve seen videos posted online involving time-lapse photography to illustrate weight loss over time. The person takes a photograph each week in the same location and same position. When the photographs are laid side by side in a video, the change is apparent.

You may not realize it, but you can do the same with your debt.

Here are a few visualization tips:

  • When you pay off a credit card, cut it up using a shredder. Save the plastic confetti in a bag. Watch it expand as you blow through card after card.
  • Look at your credit card statements before you go to sleep each night. Your bad dreams will subside when your statements are small enough that they don’t cause anxiety.
  • Here is an extreme option, for those who REALLY need a motivator: If you’ve paid off 20% of your mortgage, paint 80% of your house in a color you don’t like. Once a year, determine how much more you’ve paid off, and paint the corresponding amount in a color you do like. You’ll be encouraged to pay off your mortgage in full just so you can live in a house painted the way you prefer.

Learn More: Should You Ever Cancel a Credit Card?

Need some other ways to boost your motivation? Try these tips:

Do something positive every day.

The key to making a resolution stick is to keep it in front of you every day. If you can do it without additional fees, make a small payment on your loan or credit card every day before you go to work. Look at your net worth in Mint if that reminds you of your goal. Work an extra hour if it means you’ll get more money for paying off your debt.

Recruit your family and friends.

Having a support system is vital, but many people don’t want to let people know about their financial troubles. It’s important to have at least one person you trust to talk to about financial issues. It helps to share goals like this because goals often don’t seem real until you speak them aloud to someone. Plus, you can add some accountability just by telling someone about your goals

Consider your financial options.

To truly get started, you need to make some financial decisions. It is true that anything you do is better than nothing, but you need to have a plan. First, can you consolidate your debt onto one low-rate card? Call your credit card issuers and ask. Do you qualify for a loan through a peer-to-peer network? If you have a good credit score, you might find favorable loan terms.

Decide how fast you want to get out of debt and how much you want to pay. If you want to pay the least and succeed the fastest, you’ll want to examine the Debt Avalanche method. If you believe that a small success earlier on the path is important to keep you motivated, check out the Debt Snowball. Research your options and give it thorough thought. And if you aren’t sure which approach to take, check out this debt snowball vs debt avalanche calculator.

What tips do you have for keeping a resolution to get out of debt?

{ 12 comments }

Sales tax holidays are a surprisingly great way to save money, especially during the back-to-school shopping season.

On specific dates, states do not require merchants to charge customers sales tax. Even if sales tax seems like a minor line item in your budget, it can make a big difference.

Sales tax holidays are an excellent time to purchase big ticket items that are on your list, or to get the kids’ clothes for the school year. Retailers often make this time even more enticing by offering additional sales and discounts during these tax holidays.

Not all states offer sales tax holidays. The ones that do set their own dates and rules. For instance, in some states, only certain school supplies count. In others, weather preparedness items, Energy Star products, and more are eligible.

Before you go purchase a new fridge or school uniform, check this list to see if your state has a sales tax holiday this year:

StateDatesEligible Items and Limits
AlabamaJuly 21-23

  • Clothing - $100/per item

  • Computers, Software, and School Computer Supplies - $750/purchase

  • Noncommercial School Supplies - $50/item

  • Noncommercial Books - $30/item
ArkansasAugust 5-6
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item

  • Clothing Accessories - $50/item

  • School Supplies and Instructional Materials
ConnecticutAugust 20-26Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
FloridaJune 2-4Disaster Preparedness Items, Including:
  • Reusable Ice - $10

  • Portable, Self-Powered Lights - $20

  • Gas or Diesel Fuel Containers - $25

  • Batteries, Coolers, Ice Chests - $30

  • Tarps, Sheeting, Anchor Systems, Tie-Down Kits, etc. - $50

  • Portable Generators - $750
FloridaAugust 4-6
  • Clothing, Footwear, Wallets, Bags - $60/item

  • School Supplies - $15/item

  • Computers - $750/item

IowaAugust 4-5Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
LouisianaMay 27-28Hurricane Preparedness Items, Including:
  • Portable Light Sources
  • Portable, Self-Powered Radios
  • Tarpaulins, etc.
  • Anchors and Tie-Down Systems
  • Gas or Diesel tanks
  • Batteries
  • Nonelectric Coolers
  • Portable Generators
  • Storm Shutters
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • "Blue Ice" Products

Lowered state sales tax rate on the first $1,500 of the sales price of each item.
LouisianaAug 4-5Sales tax reduction on "most items of tangible personal property." Available for the first $2,500 of sales price of the item.
LouisianaSept 1-3Items Exempt from Local Tax and with Reduced State Tax Include:
  • Archery Items
  • Off-Road Vehicles Designed for Hunting
  • Airboats and Pirogues
  • Hunting Accessories
  • Animal Feed for Game
  • Hunting Apparel and Safety Gear
  • Other Hunting Supplies
MarylandFeb 18-20EnergyStar Items, Including:
  • Air Conditioners
  • Clothes Washers and Dryers
  • Furnaces and Heat Pumps
  • Boilers
  • Refrigerators
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable Thermostats
  • CFL and LED Bulbs
MarylandAug 13-19Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
MississippiJuly 28-29Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
MississippiAug 25-27Firearms, Ammunition, and Hunting Supplies
MissouriAug 4-6
  • Clothes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $50/item
  • Computer Software - $350/item
  • Computers and Accessories - $1,500
  • Graphing Calculators - $150/item
MissouriApril 19-25EnergyStar Certified Appliances, Including:
  • Clothes Washers
  • Clothes Dryers
  • Water Heaters
  • Dishwashers
  • Air Conditioners
  • Furnaces
  • Refrigerators
  • Heat Pumps
Up to $1,500 Per Appliance
New MexicoAug 4-6
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $30/item
  • Computers, Some e-Readers, Tablets - $1,000/item
  • Computer-Related Items - $500/item
  • Bookbags, Backpacks, Maps, and Globes - $100/item
  • Handheld Calculators - $200/item
Note: Not all retailers participate
OhioAug 4-6
  • Clothing - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $20/item
  • Instructional Materials - $20
OklahomaAug 4-6Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
South CarolinaAug 4-6
  • Clothing and Accessories
  • Footwear
  • School Supplies
  • Computers, Printers, and Printer Supplies
  • Computer Software
  • Certain Bed and Bath Items
TennesseeJuly 28-30
  • Clothes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $100/item
  • Computers - $1,500
TexasApril 28-30, 2018Less than $3,000:
  • Portable Generators
Less than $300:
  • Emergency Ladders
  • Hurricane Shutters
Less than $75:
  • Axes
  • Batteries
  • Can Openers - Nonelectric
  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • Coolers and Ice Chests
  • Fire Extinguishers
  • First Aid Kits
  • Fuel Containers
  • Ground Anchor Systems
  • Hatchets
  • Ice Products
  • Portable, Self-Powered Light Sources
  • Mobile Phone Batteries
  • Portable, Self-Powered Radios
  • Smoke Detectors
  • Tarps
TexasMay 26-28, 2018EnergyStar Products:
  • Air Conditioners
  • Refrigerators
  • Ceiling Fans
  • Incandescent and Fluorescent Light Bulbs
  • Clothes Washers
  • Dishwashers
  • Dehumidifiers
  • Programmable Thermostats
TexasAug 11-13
  • Clothing and Shoes - $100/item
  • School Supplies - $100/item
VirginiaAug 4-6School Supplies, Clothing, and Shoes:
  • School Supplies - $20/item
  • Clothing and Footwear - $100/item
Hurricane and Emergency Preparedness Items:
  • Portable Generators - $1,000/item
  • Gas-Powered Chainsaws - $350/item
  • Chainsaw Accessories - $60/item
  • Other Items - $60/item
EnergyStar and WaterSense Products:
  • Qualifying Products for Home Use - $2,500/item

{ 9 comments }

You’ve probably seen at least a few of your friends brag about their coupon-clipping triumphs and bargain-hunting victories all over social media throughout the years. However, it suddenly seems like everybody has moved past sales and coupons into the world of cash back websites. What’s the hype?

These websites offer a very tempting service by essentially combining the act of spending money with the promise of earning money. Users sign up to get a percentage of what they spend back in their pockets, if they shop using a specific member portal.

So, are these rewards websites worth the hassle? Discover what it really takes to get a few bucks back.

What Are Cash-Back Websites?

Unlike couponing, cash back shopping doesn’t require you to spend hours tracking down discount codes. That doesn’t mean you won’t still need to take a few extra steps, though.

By signing up, you willingly forgo the freedom of simply visiting the websites of the retailers you like and filling your cart… well, at least if you want to get cash back for your purchases. You will need to remember to sign into the account on your preferred cash back website, clink on a link that will take you to a participating retailer, and then complete the checkout process.

This added step may or may not be worth your time, depending on the cash you’ll earn.

The Pros of Using Cash-Back Websites

Most cash back websites promise a refund rate of between 1% and 15% on purchases. This is a great way to put some tax-free money back in your pocket.

Some of these sites offer you a straight cash refund, deposited directly into your bank account. Others offer you retail gift cards, which you can use on future online shopping buys.

Learn More: 10 Easy Ways to Save Money Without Much Effort

The good thing about the well-known cash back websites is that they are connected with many popular brands and retailers. This means that you are more likely to find what you’re looking for, no matter the type of shopping that you’re doing. You can typically make purchases from the major retailers — like Amazon and department stores such as Sears — when using a cash back portal to get deals.

The Drawbacks of Cash-Back Websites

You may have to jump through some hoops to get juicy rewards using cash back websites.

While most popular rewards websites do work with major retailers, they often only offer deals in limited categories. That means you may only be able to get cash back when you purchase beauty supplies on Amazon.com, even if what you really need is a new laptop.

In addition, cash back categories and percentages are constantly revolving. This can make you feel like you are changing your shopping habits or settling for less than what you really want just for the sake of making your purchases qualify for rewards.

Resource: 11 Ways to Start Preparing for the Holiday Shopping Pinch (Yes, Already)

As mentioned above, not every cash back company offers cash. Some only reward you with gift cards. This may be fine if they offer gift cards for a company you regularly buy from, but it does limit your options.

Another big drawback is that you don’t typically receive your earned rewards right away. Many cash back websites only offer quarterly payment periods or require a minimum account balance for earned dollars before you can get paid.

One way to get around the time-consuming nature of trying to earn qualifying cash back is to download an app. These apps work with many of the major cash back websites to automatically apply rebates when you shop. However, a tool like this still has its limitations.

How Much Can You Expect to Get Back?

You’re not likely to be disappointed by cash back websites, unless you’re expecting to make a fortune in rewards.

These sites are not designed to help you earn thousands of dollars per year. In fact, the average person probably won’t earn more than $100 during an entire year of shopping. However, how much you do earn back will depend on the types of purchases you make and the retailers you shop with.

Plus, free money is free money, whether it’s $5 or $500. Even getting back just $100 in a year could pay for 12 months of your Netflix subscription or a night at a nice bed-and-breakfast.

Related: The Best Cash Back Credit Cards of 2017

Things to Remember

It’s okay to be skeptical about situations that seem too good to be true, especially when hunting for deals online. Here are some tips to avoid being scammed or simply wasting your time while diving into the cash-back world:

  • Membership for a cash-back website should never come with a fee.
  • You should never have to recruit a certain amount of new members in order to qualify for deals.
  • A reputable website will have reasonable payout periods and conditions.

Try to stick with popular cash back sites like Ebates or Swagbucks if you want a safe bet. Companies that have been in business for several years and have relationships with major retailers will help you to get deals without worrying about scams.

Are Rewards Sites a Good Choice for You?

You really have to decide how much you value saving a few bucks here and there, versus saving a few minutes whenever you shop online.

A reputable cash back website certainly offers an honest way to walk away with some extra money in your pocket. You could easily save as much as $20 or $30 when buying a big-ticket item like a television or a kitchen appliance.That may very well be worth the additional minute or two that logging into a rewards portal would require.

The bottom line is that you have to decide whether the time and mental energy that you have to put into planning purchases to get rebates is really worth the effort. For those people who do most of their shopping online, and don’t mind putting a little bit of time into getting a deal, it’s a no-brainer.

Do you use cash back websites or apps? How much have you earned, and do you feel that the effort has been worth the return?

{ 1 comment }

Will the Fed’s Rate Increase Cost You More Money?

by Abby Hayes

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard whisperings of the Federal Reserve’s rate hike last month. This is only the third time since the Great Recession that the Fed has increased rates… and, well, it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. A Fed rate increase means that the economy is […]

0 comments Read the full article →

CiT Bank Offering Bonuses Up to $400 for New High Yield Savings Accounts

by Stephanie Colestock

Update – This promotion is now EXPIRED Banks continue to pay bonuses to attract new customers. The latest offer comes in the form of a CIT Bank bonus of up to $400. If you’re looking for a safe place to tuck away your emergency fund or vacation savings, Everybody needs a safe place to tuck […]

0 comments Read the full article →

How is the Country REALLY Doing With Its Credit Card Debt?

by Abby Hayes

National averages for credit card and other consumer debt can be a good barometer of consumers’ financial capacity and goals. For instance, when debt decreases, Americans, as a whole, may be spending less and saving more. Of course, that’s a good thing. So, when SmartAsset released its average credit card debt study recently, we took […]

0 comments Read the full article →

A Free Online Checking Account Earning High Interest: The FNBO Direct Checking With BillPay

by Stephanie Colestock

Have you been looking for a new online checking account? Preferably one with a higher-than-average interest rate? Then the FNBO Direct checking account may be the answer. I’m a bit particular when it comes to my checking accounts. I don’t like paying any monthly fees, regardless of how much money I keep in the account. […]

1 comment Read the full article →

How to Best Handle Old Credit Card Accounts

by Stephanie Colestock

One of the best things you can do to build awareness of your financial condition is to view your credit report. Your financial condition — as perceived by potential lenders — can cost or save you thousands of extra dollars throughout your credit repayments, such as the life of a mortgage, for instance. You can […]

21 comments Read the full article →

The Obamacare Mandate is Dead — Will There Be a Trumpcare Mandate?

by Michael Pruser

Former President Barack Obama signed an order into law back in March 2010, which later became known as Obamacare. He did so with the hope that it would revolutionize the way Americans handled their healthcare.  However, if Obamacare was to ever survive, it required a large number of healthy individuals to sign-up for healthcare. To […]

1 comment Read the full article →
Page 1 of 3212345···Last »