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

Consumer

How to Save $500 a Month: Saving money doesn’t have to hurt. We’ve developed a plan to help you save an extra $500 a month without sacrificing your lifestyle.

Even when you’re good at managing your money, it’s surprisingly easy to let things get out of control.

When you’re young and broke, you can be incredibly creative in finding ways to save. Or maybe when you first catch the “get out of debt and save money bug” this happens to you. You take on roommates to reduce your living expenses. You live without a car, cable, and dining out. And when you start getting out of debt and finally investing, it’s all worthwhile.

But then your income starts to increase. And you may let your expenses inflate along with it.

Maybe it starts with some reasonable moves, such as moving into a more expensive, but more comfortable, home or apartment. Maybe you then buy a cheap car because it’s so much more convenient than public transit. Or maybe you start taking on more expensive hobbies and interests on the side.

None of these things is bad, in and of themselves. But over time, you might find that your new lifestyle is more expensive than you want it to be. Luckily, when you find yourself in this place, getting back to the basics may be easier than you think.

Even if you think you already live quite frugally, chances are likely that you can reduce your monthly expenses. Maybe you can even reduce them by $500 or more per month. Think that’s crazy? Start with these steps, and see how much you could save.

Step One: Shop Around for Insurance

All too often, consumers don’t take this step seriously enough. But you really should shop around for insurance–homeowner’s/renter’s and auto, at minimum–on an annual basis. You just never know what you could save by switching your policies. This is especially true if your financial or property situation has changed recently. For instance, as your car ages, you should pay less for insurance. And if you paid off your car and have money in savings, you might consider dropping the requisite comprehensive coverage. This can save you a bundle!

But even without major changes, you could save on insurance by switching companies. So be sure you’re shopping around at least once per year. And be sure to shop all of your property insurance policies at once, since most companies offer hefty discounts for carrying more than one policy with the same insurer.

Step Two: Optimize Your Life Insurance

Most people, even single people, ought to have a life insurance policy. But if you do have a policy, you may want to be sure you have the right amount of coverage. If your children are older or you have significantly less debt than the last time you purchase life insurance, you may be able to downgrade to a smaller policy. This could save you significantly each month or year, depending on how often you pay your life insurance premiums.

Step Three: Refine Your Food Spending

Too many people spend too much money on food. It’s easy to do, especially if you eat out often. But you can often tweak your food spending slightly to save big bucks.

According to the most recent USDA figures, there’s a huge variance between frugal and liberal food spending plans. As of August 2017, a family of four with two school-aged children could spend $642 per month on a frugal food plan. A liberal plan, on the other hand, could cost over $1,200 per month. There’s your $500 in savings, right there!

Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, though, and maybe you don’t want to spend time clipping coupons and taking other steps to get your grocery budget down to the “frugal” level. But there are some simple ways to save on food spending, which could save you $500 or more per month with barely a thought. My top tips include:

  • Plan your meals. If you’re not great at meal planning, check out online meal planning services. They cost just a few bucks a month and can help you save hundreds by being more frugal with your food.
  • Shop your pantry and fridge. It’s easy to over-buy food. This isn’t as much of an issue with nonperishables. But check for fruits and vegetables or other perishable items you need to eat before your next grocery store trip. You might be surprised what you can make out of what you already have!
  • Look for sale items. You don’t have to clip, organize, and use coupons to save. You can do it automatically by shopping for items that are on sale. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck by planning meals around on-sale meats and fresh products.
  • Switch to a cheaper store. My family loves the Aldi chain of grocery stores. They offer generally high-quality off brands, and we automatically spend way less when we shop there as compared with other local stores. Find the cheaper grocery store in your area, and buy everything you can there first.

Step Four: Optimize Your Services

If you’re like most modern consumers, you have a huge variety of services that you use every month. This could include basics like your trash and recycling services or optional items like internet and cable service. You can easily save $100 or more per month by optimizing these services. Here are some service-specific tips to try:

  • Shop around for trash and recycling. If your area offers more than one service, they’re competing for customers. You can use this to your advantage by shopping around. Before you switch services, though, be sure to let your existing provider know what the new offer is. They might just beat it and save you even more money!
  • Consider a different cell phone planWhen you’re in an area with good cell phone coverage, switching to a cheaper provider can make a huge difference. If you’re in a less-covered area, Verizon probably still has the best coverage. But you can often save on your plan by cutting out data you don’t use, downgrading to a cheaper phone, or just calling to ask for discounts.
  • Try a lower internet speed. Unless your family is consistently streaming with multiple devices, you may be able to get by with a slower, thus cheaper, internet service.
  • Get away from cable. With all the online options available today to get your favorite television programs, there’s not much excuse to have cable. If you have to have it, go with the lowest-paid subscription you can.
  • Review your subscriptions frequently. From magazines to apps to other services, we all have a lot of subscriptions these days. Some may be well worth your while. If you read a lot, Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription could actually save you money, for instance. But subscriptions that you don’t actually use will just waste your money.

Step Five: Pay Off Your High-Interest Debts

The first four steps could very easily get you to the $500 per month savings level. But what if they don’t get you quite there? Then use the money that you have saved and pay off your credit card debt.

Right now, the average American family owes just over $8,000 in credit card debt. If you’re paying 15% interest on that debt, that’s about $100 in interest every month! So you could save 1/5 of that $500 per month just by paying off your credit cards. And, of course, on $8,000 in debt, your monthly minimum payments could very well cost $500 per month of itself! Sure, it might take you a while to pay off your credit cards, but each month you save on other expenses could be a month closer to this goal.

Another option, of course, is to transfer your high-interest credit card debts to 0% introductory APR credit cards. This can help you pay down your balances more quickly since your payments won’t be eaten up by interest each month.

{ 19 comments }

Your ChexSystems Report is a record of how you’ve managed checking and other bank accounts. Here we cover everything you need to know about ChexSystems.

Have you ever wondered about your relationship with your bank? Strange question, right? What about your relationships with your ex-banks? That’s a bit bizarre to think about. But once a year, it should be something you examine using ChexSystems.

What is ChexSystems?

Great question! ChexSystems is a consumer reporting agency that gives information to banks and credit unions when they’re deciding how risky a potential customer could be. Think about your current and any former banks you have held accounts with. Did you have any history of bounced checks or outstanding overdraft fees? Or maybe you simply stopped using the account due to a zero balance but never officially closed the account? Those are examples of negative behaviors that banks would report to ChexSystems. An unfavorable report on ChexSystems may prevent you from opening a new bank account or savings account, thus delaying your journey to financial stability.

What should I do now?

Visit ChexSystems.com to familiarize yourself with the tools available to you. One of those is the option to request a free consumer report. Every twelve months, you may request the free report from ChexSystems by clicking on the Free FACTA Report link on the ChexSystems homepage. FACTA, which also gives consumers the right to one free credit report each year, refers to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act. While you are visiting the website, you may find it helpful to view the short videos available under the Education tab on the home page menu bar. There you will find video tutorials on the following subjects:

If you decide to request your ChexSystems report online, follow the steps below:

  1. Agree to the terms and conditions listed on the site.
  2. Indicate if you have been declined an account by a financial institution within the last 60 days and if ChexSystems was a factor in that decision.
  3. Verify you are 18 years or older. In that step, you will also see further instructions on how to request a ChexSystems report on behalf of a minor and how to request a report on behalf of another individual that is not a minor.
  4. Fill out the required personal information, including your name, date of birth, Social Security Number, current address, and previous addresses you have lived at in the last five years.
  5. Enter the security code provided, and click “Submit.”

It is important to note your ChexSystems report will not be available right away, even if you order the report online. ChexSystems will mail your report within five days of your submitting your request.

You may also request your ChexSystems report the following ways:

Chex Systems, Inc.

Attn: Consumer Relations

7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100

Woodbury, MN 55125

What you should know

ChexSystems’s practice is to keep information on file for five years from the report date. It is important to review your ChexSystems consumer report each year, as you do have the right to dispute any information you believe is not accurate or that should be removed. Reporting a dispute to ChexSystems will launch an investigation by ChexSystems that usually takes 30 days to resolve. For residents of Maine, disputes will be completed within 21 days.

Any information or documents provided by you to support your dispute may require an additional 15 days of investigation so ChexSystems can properly review the information. Upon completion of the investigation, you will receive the results of the investigation by mail. If the results of the dispute are not in your favor, you may choose to submit a consumer statement explaining your dispute. The statement will then be sent, along with your consumer report, to financial institutions requesting your ChexSystems information.

How to maintain a healthy relationship with ChexSystems

  • Before closing a bank account, be sure to stop any automatic payments/withdrawals well in advance. Keep in mind, some companies may take up to two weeks to process this payment change.
  • Always contact the bank to officially close an account. Letting an account balance drop to zero could result in fees or overdraft charges.
  • When depositing checks into your account, allow three to five days for the check to clear before using those funds.
  • Beware of co-signing an account for someone. Any misuse by the other person could reflect on you as well.
  • Guard your PIN, and never give that information to another individual. Otherwise you risk your account being unknowingly accessed and possibly depleted.
  • Beware of post-dating checks. If the other party cashes the check early, the bank may take funds from your account regardless of the date, causing an overdraft.
  • Check your bank statements monthly. Be sure your address is up to date with your bank and that you are receiving and reviewing your monthly statements.
  • You should promptly address any bank errors you spot in your monthly statements or bank receipts. Do not hesitate to contact your bank with questions or concerns.
  • Be sure to report lost or stolen checks to your bank immediately in order to stop payment.

If you only have a limited amount of time to review the ChexSystems website, you may want to start with watching their video tutorials. Each one is brief, about two to three minutes in length. If you have at least five minutes to spare, start with the Requesting Your Consumer Disclosure Report and the Reviewing Your Consumer Disclosure Report tutorials. They’ll give you a quick walkthrough of what to expect with your ChexSystems report.

Remember, your relationships with financial institutions affect your overall financial wellness. These relationships are worth investigating and investing your time into!

{ 1 comment }

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 }

Comment Policy: We love comments! However, the comments below are not provided or commissioned by this site or its advertisers. Comments have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by this site or its advertisers. It is not this site or its advertisers' responsibility to ensure all comments and/or questions are answered.

A Complete List of Sales Tax Holidays in 2017

by Abby Hayes

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 […]

9 comments Read the full article →

Are Cash Back Websites Really Worth the Hassle?

by Adam Luehrs

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 […]

1 comment Read the full article →

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 →

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 →
Page 1 of 3212345···Last »