Preparing Now for Holiday Shopping on a Budget

Holiday Shopping on a Budget

‘Tis the season to… go broke buying gifts for your friends and family?! We certainly hope not!

The holiday shopping season is coming up, and it can get pretty expensive. You don’t want to have a reputation as a stingy gift giver, but you also don’t want to rack up credit card balances or take out an expensive personal loan to pay for your holiday spending.

That’s why we talked to the experts so you can get your holiday shopping done without doing in your bank account.


Don’t wait until the night before.

Start planning right now. The sooner you start preparing, the better off you’ll be. Then you can sit back and enjoy a big glass of eggnog while everyone else is scrambling.

As Sean Potter, the writer behind My Money Wizard (@moneywizardblog), told us: “Like anything else related to personal finance, managing your holiday shopping spending is all about planning. The time to allot for your holiday spending is now, rather than a last-minute budgetary surprise on Christmas Eve.”

Making a list, checking it twice…

How should you start? Just like Santa would: make a list.

“Make a gift list,” advises Kendal Perez (@HassleFreeSaver), savings expert with Coupon Sherpa (@CouponSherpa). “Know what you want to buy before it goes on sale (or sells out) by creating a gift list for everyone on your list. Download an app like Santa’s Bag (iPhone) or Christmas Gift List (Android) to keep the list and your budget at your fingertips.”

And speaking of budgets, that should be your very next step.

Create a budget for all your holiday expenses.

Perez walked us through her budget process:

“Gifts are not the only expense associated with the holidays, and the only way to get a clear understanding of how much you could spend is to review how much you did spend during the previous year. Review bank and credit card statements during last year’s holiday season and note how much you spent in each category, including food, travel, gifts, events, etc.

“If you want to spend less this year, start chatting with friends and family to establish expectations so there are no surprises. Now is the time to suggest that gifts only be purchased for kids in the family, or to organize a Secret Santa swap so you’re only responsible for one gift instead of multiple gifts.

“Once you calculate your potential spending and set expectations for the upcoming holiday, create a budget for this season. It can be an overall, not-to-exceed number, or it can be individual budgets for people on your list plus other expenses, like groceries, travel, etc.”

If you need help with a budget, check out the OppLoans Personal Finance App Directory! We have an entire category of smartphone apps that are specifically for budgeting!

Make sure your accounting “accounts” for everything.

Karen Hoxmeier, creator and owner of My Bargain Buddy (@MyBargainBuddy), also supports starting off with a list and budget: “The key to not wasting money is figuring out how much you can comfortably spend before you start spending. A holiday budget for everything from entertaining to gifts is the way to go, and a simple Excel spreadsheet will do the trick.

“Once you’ve determined how much money you have in your holiday budget, make a list of all the people you need to purchase a gift for and assign each person a maximum dollar amount for their gift. If you are hosting a holiday party, set the maximum amount you can spend on food, beverages, decorations, etc. The total for gifts and entertaining cannot exceed the amount you set for your holiday budget. Every time you make a purchase, log it on your spreadsheet.

“It’s okay to get creative when it comes to budgeting. Cut back on entertaining costs by making it a potluck. Instead of buying a gift for every adult in your family, suggest a ‘white elephant’ gift exchange. For friends and family that live far away, order their gifts online from stores that offer free shipping.”

Save paycheck to paycheck.

Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, money coach and founder of The Fiscal Femme (@TheFiscalFemme) broke down her ideal method for holiday shopping preparation:

“Make a plan. You may not know exactly how much you will want to spend come November and December, but you can make a realistic guess. How much did you spend last year? Are you throwing any parties? What gifts would you like to buy? Write it all down, and don’t forget to include the professionals in your life like your hairdresser, doorman or mailman!

“Think about when you’ll need the money. Your party might not be until mid-December, but you might want to purchase things ahead of time. Perhaps you can snag a deal in November for a gift you’re planning on buying anyway. Look through your holiday expense plan and estimate when you want to make each of the purchases.

“Map out your paychecks. How many paydays do you have from now until you plan to make each of your holiday purchases? Considering your overall earnings for the rest of the year will help you to figure out your budget.

“Make some calculations. Going to need $500 for your holiday plans and have 5 paychecks until it is time to spend? Start by putting away $100 per paycheck. How much do you want to put aside per paycheck to hit your holiday spend plan?

Create a holiday fund.

Gerstley says that the best way to way to save for the holidays is to keep the money separate from your regular accounts:

  • Create a holiday fund. If possible, make a separate account in your online savings accounts specifically for holiday spending.
  • Automate. Have the amount you calculated per paycheck transfer over automatically to your holiday fund each paycheck. This’ll save you a lot of stress during purchase time.”

Gerstley isn’t the only one who recommends creating a holiday fund. “Set up a Christmas fund and put money away each month,” recommended Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer at BeenVerified (@BeenVerified).  “It will be easier to budget if you give yourself 12 months of planning as opposed to just trying to pay off a big credit card bill in January.”

Lavelle is also in favor of getting an early start: “Start shopping now. Spreading out the gift buying will allow you to spread out the cost of shopping. Do a little gift shopping each month and you can even out the bills so you avoid that big shock in the New Year.”

But you don’t just want to shop all willy-nilly.

Save money by shopping smarter.

Starting early means you’ll have a lot of time to keep an eye out for the best deals. No one on your list will appreciate a gift more just because you had to spend additional money on it, so why should you?

Natasha Rachel Smith, financial expert at TopCashBack (@TopCashBackUSA), told us some tips for saving:

  • Shop smartly. Do research prior to going shopping. Identify the items you need to buy, head online, and check out where you can score them at the cheapest price. It is senseless to pay more for the same item at a different store!”
  • When shopping online, make sure you get free shipping! Competition online is fierce during the holiday season, so plenty of retailers will be offering free shipping that you can take advantage of. Remember, every dollar counts when budgeting!”
  • Shop for deals on Groupon. Groupon has awesome deals – at least 50 percent off the standard price – on goods, pampering, and local experiences. Providing someone with an experience or service can be cheaper than a traditional gift. Consider shopping for discount massages or tickets to a concert, show or museum.”
  • Use cashback sites. In addition to shopping during sales, use a cashback rebates site to stack savings such as TopCashback.com. You can shop at popular merchants such as Walmart, Toys R Us, Target, Groupon, Macy’s and more to receive cash back on all your purchases. Cashback sites have holiday sales too, including double cashback days, so keep your eyes peeled for additional shopping incentives to sweeten the savings!”
  • Use your credit card reward points. Don’t forget about your credit card rewards! If you aren’t going to redeem your rewards for travel options, tap into your accrued points to score gift cards to stores you plan on shopping at or for gifts.”
  • Hit the dollar store. Don’t splurge on expensive wrapping paper, cards or holiday decorations. Visit your local discount dollar stores to purchase decorative holiday items. You will save more money in the long run and your wallet will thank you!”

You can also take advantage of Raise (@RaiseMarket), an online gift card marketplace.

“One-way consumers can save big this holiday season is using the Raise Mobile App to purchase discount gift cards and use at their store of choice to buy gifts for everyone on their list,” Raise’s Chief of Staff Meghan Fox told us.

You could also think outside the gift box.

Dashing through the snow, with unique gift ideas.

There are all kinds of alternative ways to get your shopping list handled without expensive purchases. It’s a bit cliched, but it’s the thought that counts.

Amy Maglia, a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America (@TCAsolutions), gave us a list of alternate ideas for gifts:

  • Make handmade gifts. There’s something meaningful about a gift with a personal touch. Try decorating a picture frame and printing a photo of you and a family member or baking a sweet treat. Pinterest has great ideas for DIY gifts. You’ll save a few bucks and may discover your hidden crafty side!”
  • Give the gift of time. Gifts don’t always have to be material things. Volunteer your time to cook dinner, babysit, or take a loved one on a hike.”
  • Secret Santa. If your family or friends are also on a budget this holiday season, suggest a Secret Santa gift exchange. Each person draws a name and purchases a gift for that person within a set amount of money. This way you’ll all save—and the secrecy adds to the fun!” You can read more about being the office hero in our blog How to Win at Office Secret Santa.
  • Check out thrift stores. Gifts don’t have to be brand new to be well received. Thrift stores and antique shops often have unique goods for a fraction of the new cost, and can be a great place to locate hard-to-find items.”

Perez also suggests DIY gifts:

“Review your gift list and identify candidates for homemade gifts, whether it’s a platter of baked goods or a Pinterest-inspired craft like ‘brownie in a jar.’ These gifts are inexpensive and thoughtful while getting you into the holiday spirit.”

I’m dreaming of a disciplined spending habit.

Once you have a plan, the most important part is sticking to it.

“Prepare yourself for temptation,” Gerstley warned. “With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other holiday sales, it is easy to get caught up in the madness. Make a plan and stick with it to avoid impulse purchases and things you don’t need.”

With proper budgeting, saving and deal-finding, you can steer clear of predatory bad credit loans and no credit check loans that will leave you singing the “holiday shopping debt” blues.

At the end of the day, though, the holiday season isn’t about the gifts. As Potter eloquently states:

“In a snow-globe’s whirlwind of cars with giant red bows on top of them, diamonds expressing Santa’s love for Ms. Clause, and otherwise constant holiday ads, it’s easy to lose sight of the most important part of the holidays. Time spent with loved ones is what the holidays are really about – not diamonds, or phones, or whatever else the TV tells you to buy.”

Get your holiday shopping done as soon as you can, and enjoy the extra time with your family.

From all of us here to you: an early happy holidays!

Do you have any great tips affordable holiday shopping? We want to hear them! You can email usor you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
J_BisestoAshley Feinstein Gerstley (@TheFiscalFemme) is a money coach and founder of the Fiscal Femme where she demystifies the world of personal finance and money in a fun and accessible way so her clients achieve their financial goals.
R_FaidaAs a stay-home-mom, Karen Hoxmeier took up couponing and bargain hunting to keep her family’s finances in order. She turned her love of frugal living into a blog in 1999. Over the last 18 years, she has helped her readers save millions of dollars with her tips.
S_HorowitzJustin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.
A_MaligaAmy Maliga is a personal finance consultant with Take Charge America (@TCAsolutions), a national non-profit credit counseling and debt management agency. She specializes in educating consumers about a wide variety of financial lifestyle topics. More at www.takechargeamerica.org.
I_MeitisKendal Perez is the Savings Expert for CouponSherpa.com, a popular source for online, in-store and grocery coupons. Her money-saving tips are often featured on Bankrate, GOBankingRates, US News & World Report, Wisebread and more. Kendal can be found on Twitter @HassleFreeSaver.
Money_WizardSean Potter is the 20-something writer behind MyMoneyWizard.com (@moneywizardblog), a website where he shares his plans for reaching complete financial independence by his late 30s. His approach to saving over half of his income has been featured in several publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. When he’s not writing, Sean can be found cycling, skiing or traveling the country.
Natasha Rachel Smith (@topcashbackusa) is a personal finance expert at TopCashback.com. Natasha’s background is in retail, banking, personal finance and consumer empowerment; ranging from sales to journalism, marketing, public relations and spokesperson work during a 17-year career period. She’s originally from London, UK, but moved to Montclair, New Jersey, USA, several years ago to launch and run the American arm of the British-owned TopCashback brand; a global consumer empowerment and money-saving portal company.
RaiseRaise (@RaiseMarket) is an online gift card marketplace where consumers can buy discount gift cards or sell their unwanted cards for cash.

Cheapest Ways to Travel, Part Two: The Destination

Cheapest Ways to Travel

Here’s how to save precious moola on local transportation, lodging, and food.

When planning a vacation, the first thing you should do is make a plan to pay for it. And that doesn’t mean just putting the entire trip on your credit cards and worrying about it later! Doing so will put you in some pretty exclusive company; according to a study from LearnVest, 74 percent of Americans borrow money to pay for their travel.

(And if you absolutely must borrow money to travel, be certain to avoid dangerous bad credit loans and no credit check loans.)

But traveling affordably doesn’t just mean saving up to pay for it, it also means spending less on the stuff you do pay for. Our last Cheapest Ways to Travel blog post told you about the most affordable ways to get to a vacation (or business) location. Today we’re going to cover how you can keep saving money once you arrive.

The experts are back, and they’re (still) here to save you money!

Going public… again!

In our previous post, we talked about how you might want to consider public transportation to get where you’re going. But once you get there, you’ll have even more public transportation options!

Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for Travel Pirates (@TravelPiratesUS), weighed in on taking the public route: “Although taking a cab or Uber to and from the airport is convenient, it can also be costly. I recommend looking into the public transportation options available as they’re a great way to save money and see more of your destination city. Buses, trains, and ferries are fantastic means of transportation that will allow you to save big bucks on your next vacation.”

Award-winning author Shel Horowitz (@shelhorowitz) offered his own similar suggestion: “Instead of taxis, investigate walking, public transit and municipal bike rental services ahead of time.”

Even if you’re not big on public transportation, you can still keep your costs down, as Alex Reynolds of the Lost With Purpose (@lostwpurpose) travel blog advised us: “Of course, not everyone wants to deal with the hassle of finding a bus station or deciphering train schedules. That’s okay! If public transport isn’t your thing, carpooling is the next best option. Whether you’re sharing rides with friends, or finding rideshares through sites like Craigslist, carpooling isn’t just a cheap way to travel—sharing rides is more environmentally sustainable, too.”

Where to crash.

Unless it’s a camping trip, you’ll also need a place to stay. You don’t need a mansion (though you wouldn’t turn one down) but even reasonable lodging can get very expensive. You might be better off avoiding hotels entirely if you can manage it.

“Consider staying in someone’s house,” advised Horowitz, “through a homestay network like Servas or Couchsurfing, rather than in a hotel (great way to meet people, too).”

Roni Faida, of RoniTheTravelGuru (@RoniTravelGuru), also suggested skipping the hotel: “Stay in an apartment rental as opposed to a hotel. Most of the time the amount of space you get in an apartment rental is much bigger than a hotel room. Staying in an apartment also allows you to be able to cook some of your own meals which also helps with the travel budget.”

Bisesto is also on the alternative lodging train: “While luxury hotels can be desirable, they can also be expensive. For travelers looking to save money, explore different types of accommodations such as AirbnbVRBO, and HomeAway. What better way to dive into your next destination than by living like a local?”

If you do decide to go with a hotel, you should look carefully at the location. “Stay just outside of big cities,” Isar Meitis, president of Last Minute Travel (@LMTTweets), told us. “You’ll find more upscale hotels for around half the price and parking will be much more reasonably priced.”

However, if you want to go with the “renting a house idea,” Meitis supports that too: “If traveling with a small or large group, look into renting a vacation home. Splitting the cost of a three or four-bedroom home where you aren’t forced to eat in a restaurant for three meals a day can make a huge difference to your budget. In many cases, you can book a shared transfer or private transfer at a lower amount than taking a taxi. Instead of waiting in line, paying a high rate, and driving in a crummy car, you can have a designated driver waiting with your name, saving you a lot of time and often money.”

Watch what you eat.

One of the best parts of traveling is getting to try all of the local delicacies. But you need to make sure you have enough money to eat when you get back to your regular life!

As mentioned above, if you’re staying in a house or apartment with access to a kitchen, you can just cook for yourself as you would at home. “Bring your favorite oatmeal packs,” Faida suggested. “This will help you save money on breakfast while also giving you a hearty meal to start off the day.”

But even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, there are ways to save money on food. “A hotel offering a free breakfast saves you the price of a morning meal, and it makes you less likely to splurge on lunch,” Sean Potter, the writer behind My Money Wizard (@moneywizardblog), offered up as advice for hotel-goers. And that wasn’t all! “Don’t forget about Groupon deals when looking for places to eat, and a lot of destinations offer dining coupon books that can pay off quickly.”

Horowitz offered his own methods for saving on food and drink costs: “If the water is safe to drink, drink tap water. Optionally, buy—and bring—a reusable travel cup with a built-in filter. Bottled water is hugely unsound both economically and environmentally. Did you know that 3x as much water is wasted as gets in the bottle? Then there’s the petroleum impact, etc.”

And food? “Eat in restaurants only once a day. Buy picnic food from local farmers markets and grocery stores, or specialty shops (fruit, cheese, bread, etc.)”

Take the advice in this post and the previous one, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a traveling money saving master!

Do you have any great tips for traveling on the cheap? We want to hear about them! You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
J_BisestoJessica Bisesto is a senior editor at the travel deals and inspiration hub TravelPirates.com (@TravelPiratesUS), where she hunts for the best travel deals available online and educates readers about how to see the world on a budget. She’s an avid traveler herself, and has recently backpacked through Southeast Asia, Central America, Iceland and Australia.
R_FaidaRoni Faida (@RoniTravelGuru): Some people travel. Roni  IS travel.  For over 25 years she has been traveling the world and now shares her unique travel lifestyle and insight with her worldwide audience on her blog, www.RoniTheTravelGuru.com . Whether you have never gotten on a plane or are a seasoned traveler, the expertise and insider knowledge she shares on her blog will help you see how to turn your vacations into a lifestyle.
S_HorowitzAvid traveler Shel Horowitz (@shelhorowitz) works with business to create and market profitable products that turn hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. His award-winning 10th book, Guerrilla Marketing to Heal the World, is available at his website, http://goingbeyondsustainability.com
I_MeitisIsar Meitis is the President of Last Minute Travel (@LMTTweets) and oversees the e-commerce branch of the B2C sites of Travel Holdings. He graduated with an MBA in International Marketing from the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College and has 15 years of international experience in travel, business development, and marketing.
Money_WizardSean Potter is the 20-something writer behind MyMoneyWizard.com (@moneywizardblog), a website where he shares his plans for reaching complete financial independence by his late 30s. His approach to saving over half of his income has been featured in several publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. When he’s not writing, Sean can be found cycling, skiing or traveling the country.
A_ReynoldsAlex Reynolds (@lostwpurpose) is an American travel writer, photographer, and full-time backpacker whose work has been featured on the likes of the BBC and Lonely Planet. She’s scrambled up dusty fortresses in Afghanistan, watched gods dance in South India, followed spirit dogs through the Caucasus mountains, and called fairies with a shaman in Pakistan. Her travel blog, Lost With Purpose, helps others do the same.

Meet Our Latest OppU Achiever: Nicole Bratcher-Bouyer!

giveaway2

Nicole

Name: Nicole Bratcher-Bouyer

College: Howard University

Expected Major/Concentration: Media, Journalism, and Film Communications

Expected Degree: Bachelor of Arts

Expected Graduation Date: 2018

We’re thrilled to announce the latest recipient of the OppU Achievers Scholarship, Nicole Bratcher-Bouyer! She blew us away with an introspective, searingly honest essay that detailed her path to financial literacy.


In some ways, Nicole’s story is a familiar one—hard-learned lessons about the need for money management. However, in many ways, it’s not. When she was in the 10th grade, her mom suffered a debilitating stroke, and Nicole became her sole caregiver. She faced daunting financial and personal hardship, including periods of homelessness, but overcame it all to gain admission to one of the nation’s leading historically black colleges.

Now entering her senior year at Howard University (@HowardU), Nicole is a budding community advocate who co-founded an organization that helps her classmates pay down their student loan debt. She also led an initiative to deliver water to homeless persons during a late-summer heat wave, volunteered as a tutor for middle schoolers, travelled to New Orleans to alleviate a food desert in the 9th Ward, and ran a job training program for homeless persons that provided work clothes, resume workshops, hot meals, and access to personal records needed for applications. Whew!

And Nicole has big plans for the future. A communications major, she hopes to create a television network that promotes positive images of under-represented persons. Not stopping there, she wants to use her profits to fund homeless shelters, initiatives for children with disabled parents, and safe homes for orphaned kids.

The OppU Achievers Scholarship is awarded four times a year through OppU (@OppUniversity), our online financial literacy program. (If you ever wanted a little help creating a budget or figuring out ways to save, the interactive video lessons are a great way to get it. They’re free and available to all, so check them out!) Scholarship applicants submit an essay, and if they’re selected, they receive $2,500 for education costs.

We wish you the best, Nicole! With all of your hard work, tenacity, and heart, we know you’ll make your dreams come true!

You can read her winning essay below.


How Not to Ruin Your Credit In College: From A Bad Credit Expert

There are many things I was not prepared to do in “adulting,” and managing my money correctly is definitely number one on the list. When I applied for college, all I cared about was getting into my top-choice school. As teachers and counselors drilled us on the cost of tuition, loans, and interest, I daydreamed about my first days on the yard. It’s too late to go back and pay attention to those lessons now, so instead I’m starting a journey of financial literacy. Without financial literacy, college students are heading into adulthood at 100 miles an hour with a tank near “E” and no brake pedals. We’re just in for a disaster!

As a senior in college, I am coming to realize that I will be in the “real world” in less than a year. I will be expected to take full responsibility for my taxes, loan repayments, bills, and credit. Although all of the wonders of “Adultland” sound fun, I know it’s going to be tough if I don’t understand how all of these things work. I have had a repeated history of ignoring financial literacy tips—skating by with poor financial management learned from watching adults around me poorly manage their money too.

My freshman year of college, I received my first job within a week of being on campus. It was a canvassing gig making $50 a day and I was averaging six work days a week. So bi-weekly I was making $600, which isn’t bad for an 18-year-old. Guess how much of that money ever touched a savings account though? $0. I had no understanding of the importance of saving money at the time, and even though I knew that the job was only for election season, I just assumed the money would always be there because I was too financially illiterate and naive.

After Election Day in November, I began running out of money. Credit accounts that I started while I had the job were becoming too expensive and I began paying bills later and later until I eventually didn’t pay them at all. I made it down to my last dime and soon my account was empty. Bills kept coming in and with no money to pay, my account was in the negative and my credit was eventually destroyed. I had to constantly borrow money from family and friends which landed me in more debt. Too bad none of that taught me my lesson the first time. Stressing over wanting to get out of debt quick, I looked into getting loans to pay off my debt and my new tuition bill. Thankfully, my credit was so terrible that I wasn’t allowed to accumulate any more unnecessary debt.

Lacking financial literacy influenced me to make too many financial decisions out of ignorance and desperation. Feeling so unsure in my financial literacy I buried the burden of my financial debt to the bottom of my priority list for the past three years and continued my bad money management habits. However, with graduation coming in nine months, I’ve realized that it’s time for me to take full responsibility for my financial health.

I have been doing more research on how to pay off debt, how to save, and monthly budgeting. I drafted a long-term financial goals plan that has been broken into short-term weekly and monthly financial goals. As well, I have been purging credit and auto-pay accounts that no longer serve me personally or financially. Reducing my weekly spending has allowed me to take better control of my finances already. And sharing this knowledge with my friends has been even more enjoyable in my journey to financial freedom because I want them to be able to control their financial health as well.

Lack of financial literacy and the lack of interest in financial education is stifling to college students. We see life as something we can always get together “later.” However, showing college students the importance of sowing the seeds of financial freedom now so they may reap the harvest of healthy savings accounts and credit scores later should be a top priority in higher education.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+

Cheapest Ways to Travel, Part One: The Journey

opploans-cheaper-travel-part-1

The shortest route between two points is always a straight line. But is it always the cheapest?

Ah, the open road, sky, and water. All different ways to travel, all of which can get pretty expensive. Everyone needs a vacation, but not everyone can afford it. That’s why it’s important to save money wherever you can.

We talked to the experts to find out what the cheapest ways to travel are and how you can cut down the cost of each method even further. In this post, we’ll be talking about the journey, or the cheapest ways to get where you’re going, and then we’ll have another post later this week about how you can save money once you get there.


Going public.

In general, the cheapest form of travel is walking. But if you’re planning to go anywhere beyond a mile or two, you should probably consider something more… efficient. And, when possible, public transportation is likely to be one of your most affordable choices.

“If you’re looking for the cheapest way to travel—short of sticking out your thumb on the side of the road—public transportation is the way to go,” Alex Reynolds of the Lost With Purpose (@lostwpurpose) travel blog told us.

“Which mode you choose depends on where you are; Amtrak operates some routes through California at subsidized rates, while Megabus rides are a budget traveler’s best friend in the eastern United States.”

But public transit may not be enough to get you where you need to go in every situation.

IIIIIIIIIIIIII just want to fly.

Flying is one of the most effective, and, unfortunately, expensive ways to travel. But there are a lot of ways you can cut down on costs.

Kathy James, who writes about her travels at Walkabout Wanderer (@KathyWanderer), wrote a whole article about how you can save on flights. One tip she offers? Be sneaky in your searches: “When I am researching flights I always clear my cookies. Ever wonder why the price of your flight has gone up on your second/third search for a particular route? Clear your cookies and reduce the risk of this. See how to click your cookies.” She suggests using your browser’s incognito mode if it has one.

James also recommends being “flexible” about when and where you decide to fly, and she’s not the only one!

Sean Potter, the writer behind My Money Wizard (@moneywizardblog), also stressed the importance of being flexible with your flight days: “Where possible, fly on the slower travel days. Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday are the cheapest days of the week to fly, and flying on these less busy days can save up to 50% on airfare compared to the usual Sunday/Monday/Friday choices.”

Your destination also matters. Brett Graff (@BrettGraff), writer at The Home Economist and author of Not Buying It: Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids, suggests going to a place when others aren’t: “The cheapest way to travel by far is by choosing locations at off-season times. Sure, Miami is known for its tropical weather in winter but that’s only one of the local offerings. You’ve never had Cuban food like this, plus the museums and bars are open year-round. And water sports are more available. Aspen peaks in winter and summer, but those hiking trails are gorgeous with fall foliage. Go against the grain and get great deals.”

Jessica Bisesto, senior editor for Travel Pirates (@TravelPiratesUS), also advised flying on less popular days: “Traveling over holiday weekends and during the summer months are much more expensive than vacationing other times of the year. Whenever possible, explore alternative dates to save money when planning your next trip. Often times, it’s cheapest to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and staying at hotels is also less expensive during the week. If you normally work a Monday-Friday schedule, you can add a few days to your trip by incorporating the weekend—this also allows you to save two whole vacation days for your next trip!”

Although if you don’t need to fly there, Bisesto suggests looking into alternatives: “Depending on where you’re traveling, taking a 3-hour train ride may be cheaper than taking a 1-hour flight. Airports can be a hassle and are often times located outside of their respective cities. Trains, on the other hand, provide more space, different views of the city, and might even drop you in the heart of town.”

Expert tips for flying on a budget.

But perhaps you do need to fly wherever you’re going. Which means you might need a huge list of flying budget tips. Well then you’re in luck, because Grainne Kelly, inventor of the BubbleBum (@BubbleBumUSA) inflatable booster seat, gave us a whole lot of tips on how you can save on flights:

“Today’s travelers expect to score low-cost plane tickets whenever and wherever they fly. Budget carriers willingly offer more routes around the world with the lowest prices. We can also compare the prices of flights with the many different websites available to travelers. With a discounted flight, we assume there will be less perks and passenger services, and we’re typically fine with that for the reduced fare. But did you know that there are tons of hidden costs behind cheap plane tickets? Below are a few insider secrets and the hidden costs behind these discounted tickets:

  • Fly.com recommends booking flights on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, as those are the days of the week airlines release sale prices. Traveling on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday will also provide the best prices. As always, the longer out you book the flight, the better deal you will find. Don’t sit on a good deal if you find it. Take advantage of ‘too good to be true’ prices the airline might have made when posting flights.
  • Poise yourself for an upgrade by dressing in business casual. If your flight is oversold, you could potentially get upgraded to first-class, but your attire will play a part in the airline’s decision. If you’re on your honeymoon, show proof of your status and if there is space to upgrade, you might just get a boost into first-class seats. If you’re a doctor or medic, airlines like Lufthansa will offer upgrades. Late check-ins can also increase your chances of getting upgraded. Avoid asking for an upgrade at the ticket counter, as service staff are bombarded with upgrade requests and this might actually hurt your chances.
  • Print your boarding passes at home. Some airlines now charge to print boarding passes at the airport. Save yourself the fees and print them at home. Confirm every letter is correct and reconfirm the travel dates. Changing even the smallest item can result in an additional charge.
  • Confirm that the rate includes taxes. It’s never fun to realize the quoted online price does not include taxes until after you hit the purchase button. Taxes can tack on several hundred dollars, resulting in your ‘discounted’ ticket not being as discounted as you assumed.
  • Bring along snacks. Most discounted carriers no longer include meals in their flights and expect you to pay for them onboard. The standard soft drink and bag of pretzels will most likely not be included either. Plan ahead and pack yourself plenty of snacks and other food to tide you over until you reach your destination. Remember that you can’t bring liquids through security, so you’ll need to purchase them near your gate or onboard the flight.
  • Seat assignments not guaranteed. Not seeing a seat assignment on your ticket? Most discount carriers do not offer seat assignments, but rather operate on a first come, first serve basis. So plan to be at the gate early to queue up for a decent seat next to your family or travel companion.
  • Prepare for a long route. Many discounted flights include at least one layover, sometimes two (depending on the destination). So it will take longer to get to your end point and may include layovers that are lengthy. Many discounted flights are also offered at off-peak times, departing at a very early hour or late at night.
  • Always read the fine print. Always read the fine print for the terms and conditions for your carrier. There could be charges for baggage, carry-ons, dimensions/weight of your baggage, snacks/meals, and more. Be prepared ahead of time so you’re not hit with sticker shock at the airport. This is how the airlines make up for missing revenue. Try to just travel with a carry-on bag so you don’t have to pay for a checked bag.
  • Travel on the off-season, as you can get better deals for flights and hotels. Excursions and local sites also offer cheaper prices. Another perk is that you don’t have to fight as many tourists and can experience a private beach or more entertainment options.
  • When to book and fly: The best time to buy domestic airfare is on Tuesdays around lunchtime. The airline sales typically only last three days or less and tend to publish on Tuesdays. Also, the best days to travel are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. You’ll almost always pay less if you accept a connecting flight.
  • Try to get a bag checked for free. If you have a larger carry-on and later decide after you go through security that you would rather check it, try to get it checked for free at the gate. Wait until everyone else boards the flight with their carry-ons, as the plane will likely run out of room for bags and the attendant will then check your carry-on suitcase for free for you. Always ask at the gate if there is a room or if they should check your bag, as they are usually happy to check it. It makes it easier for them to ensure everything else fits in cabin storage.”

Finally, the experts at Priceline.com (@Priceline) offered us some secret tips to help you get the best flight deals:

  • “Thanksgiving travel is cheaper than Christmas travel based on average ticket price.”
  • “The cheapest day of the week to book holiday travel is Friday followed by Thursday, despite the majority of tickets being purchased on a Tuesday.”
  • “The initial descent in price begins around September and continues to decline as the holidays become closer.”
  • “Mobile has the cheapest prices by approximately $75 compared to desktop”

Let’s make a deal

No matter what form of travel you’re taking, it’s important to keep your eye out for deals. Sites like Priceline will offer deals on not just flights, but cruises and entire vacation packages. You can also check out Groupon (@Groupon) for “Getaway deals” deals that can include both travel and lodging, and sometimes even more. There’s also the aforementioned Travel Pirates, which lets you search and book travel deals using technology from Kayak and the Priceline Partners Network.

The deals can be worth waiting for, as Roni Faida, of RoniTheTravelGuru (@RoniTravelGuru), advises: “Wait for the travel deals before you book. There are always travel deals that can get you around the world or across the USA for extremely reasonable prices. Wait until the deals come out and base your plans on those destinations. This will help save money and still allow you to travel.”

But it’s not just about the journey. Now it’s time to start planning for your destination, so keep an eye out for our next “Cheapest Ways to Travel” post!

*Note: When you’re looking to travel, always start by saving! According to a LearnVest study, 74 percent of Americans borrow money to travel. Needless to say, this can be risky! If you are going to borrow money to travel, be certain to avoid dangerous bad credit loans and no credit check loans. Before you borrow money, check out the OppLoans Guide How to Protect Yourself from Payday Loans and Predatory Lenders for your financial safety tips!

Do you have any great tips for traveling on the cheap? We want to hear about them! You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
J_BisestoJessica Bisesto is a senior editor at the travel deals and inspiration hub TravelPirates.com (@TravelPiratesUS), where she hunts for the best travel deals available online and educates readers about how to see the world on a budget. She’s an avid traveler herself, and has recently backpacked through Southeast Asia, Central America, Iceland and Australia.
R_FaidaRoni Faida (@RoniTravelGuru): Some people travel. Roni  IS travel.  For over 25 years she has been traveling the world and now shares her unique travel lifestyle and insight with her worldwide audience on her blog, www.RoniTheTravelGuru.com . Whether you have never gotten on a plane or are a seasoned traveler, the expertise and insider knowledge she shares on her blog will help you see how to turn your vacations into a lifestyle.
PIGBrett Graff (@BrettGraffhas been seen writing and reporting on money and personal finance in The LA Times, Yahoo! Finance, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and the Fiscal Policy Institute, to name a few. Brett also provides her insight in the column, The Home Economist, which is nationally syndicated and published in newspapers all over the country. Her book “NOT BUYING IT: Raising Happier, Healthier & More Successful Kids” is now available!
K_JamesLast year, Kathy James (@KathyWanderer) quit her job as a nurse to set off on a trip to discover more of the world as she hated ending her trips to go back home to work. She discovered her passion for writing and loves helping other people pursue their dreams of traveling. Her travel blog, Walkabout Wanderer, was born.
G_KellyTravel Expert Grainne Kelly is a Child Passenger Safety Technician and the founder of BubbleBum (@BubbleBumUSA), the world’s first inflatable booster seat. BubbleBum is a fantastic alternative to the bulky and inconvenient plastic booster seat and is perfect for everyday carpooling, school drop offs and pick-ups, road trips, fly in’s with car rentals, and taxi cabs. Weighing in at less than one pound, BubbleBum can deflate in minutes, making it simple to throw in a backpack or large purse when not in use.
Money_WizardSean Potter is the 20-something writer behind MyMoneyWizard.com (@moneywizardblog), a website where he shares his plans for reaching complete financial independence by his late 30s. His approach to saving over half of his income has been featured in several publications, including Forbes, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. When he’s not writing, Sean can be found cycling, skiing or traveling the country.
A_ReynoldsAlex Reynolds (@lostwpurpose) is an American travel writer, photographer, and full-time backpacker whose work has been featured on the likes of the BBC and Lonely Planet. She’s scrambled up dusty fortresses in Afghanistan, watched gods dance in South India, followed spirit dogs through the Caucasus mountains, and called fairies with a shaman in Pakistan. Her travel blog, Lost With Purpose, helps others do the same.

Teaching Your Children How to Use Credit and Debt Responsibly

Teaching Your Children How to Use Credit and Debt Responsibly

Teaching your kids how to handle money is one of the most important things you can do to prepare them for adult life and responsibilities. 

As a parent or guardian, you have the heavy responsibility of preparing your child for the big world outside the home. You have to show them the things they should put in their mouth and the far larger number of things they shouldn’t. It’s up to you to teach them the danger that strangers can present. And you’ll be the one to teach them about finance, especially about credit and debt.

There’s a decent chance they won’t learn about these topics in school, and it’s knowledge they’ll need for their adult life. Without it, they might themselves buried with payday loans, trapped in a never-ending cycle of high-interest debt. 

As Paul Vasey, founder of CashCrunch Games (@CashCrunchGames), told us: “Money habits are useful at any age and are basically the same whether you are 7, 17, or 70. Therefore, the earlier you learn something, the better you are at grasping your money and making smarter decisions.”

So how can you teach it to them? We’ve spoken to Vasey and other experts to learn exactly that. Read on, and educate yourself on how to best educate others.

(Oh, and by the way, if you’re looking for some financial education on the go, check out OppU—OppLoans’ free and easy online personal finance curriculum.)


Set your curriculum

Before you can start teaching your kids about finances, you have to know what you need to teach them. Other than “it’s good to have it,” what should you be teaching your kids about credit?

Katie Ross, Education and Development Manager for American Consumer Credit Counseling (@TalkCentsBlog), outlined some of the important lessons kids should learn about finance:

  • Identifying Needs vs Wants – It is important that children learn the difference between wants and needs. Children should be taught to think and identify if what they are looking to buy is a need or a want, and if the purchasing can be postponed for when the money is available. As part of this process, children can be encouraged to assess their financial goals to determine if they are realistic, achievable, and worthwhile.
  • Save and Plan – Children should learn how to keep track of their spending so they can plan their financial future. If your child has a job, explain the importance of putting a portion of the check into a savings account. Working age children should learn how to choose a bank and prepare for their financial future.
  • “The Value of the Dollar – It is important that children learn the core concepts about money and finances early on. Children should be introduced to the concept of money during preschool. Learning about money can be fun. Take advantage of casual trips to the grocery store as an opportunity to introduce new money concepts.
  • How to Budget – Budgeting is key. Children must know that they cannot buy everything when they want it. They must plan out how they can save the money to make the purchase without causing a financial disaster. Parents can introduce a budgeting worksheet that shows income and expenses so they can learn what money is being earned and spent.”

The basics of credit and debt

Natasha Rachel Smith, financial expert at TopCashBack (@TopCashBackUSA), told us what you should tell your kids about credit cards and debt:

Teach your kids while they are young that credit cards aren’t just magical pieces of plastic that pay for things. Credit cards have due dates and, if you misunderstand the rules, you can be penalized by having to pay more money.

“My parents also stressed the importance of good debt versus bad debt. It is OK to accrue debt when it is good debt. Investing into a mortgage – provided the property was purchased at a reasonable, affordable price – is good debt. Where you can account for precisely and exactly where the money was spent is usually good debt. Frivolous spending is bad debt. Do not buy things you simply want, focus on the things you need alongside sometimes treating yourself to the items you want.”

Personal finance expert and motivational speaker Debbi King (@DebbiKing) offered her own take on what you should teach kids when it comes to debt and credit: “The first thing to let them know is that if they make positive financial decisions, their credit report will reflect that. Your credit score is your financial reputation. It shows others how you handle money.

“Then you need to make sure they know the difference between debt and credit. You can build credit without ever going into debt. For example, you can have a credit card and no debt as long as you pay it in full every month. Debt is owing more than you have. And credit is a form of payment. The best possible thing you can ever do for your finances is to build credit without debt. I know people who take out auto loans even though they have the money in the bank. They use the bank’s money at, say, 4% instead of using their money at an investment rate of 10%. Just because they have an auto loan doesn’t mean they are in debt. They have the money to pay the bill at any time that they choose.

“I would also suggest teaching your kids what makes up their credit report and how their decisions affect their score. Use a free website such as Credit Karma to look at this information. It will not only give you a free credit score, it will break down each category and how you fare in each one. Knowledge is power. You can also use this site or www.annualcreditreport.com to look at your credit report to find errors which can be disputed and help your score.”

Teach by example

“I learned about credit the hard way,” Michael Doane (@medoane) writer and marketing expert with CadmiumCD (@cadmiumcd), told us. “After college, I ate ramen every night for a year so I could put every penny to pay off my student loans. I lived in a basement with a cement floor and drove a car that barely ran. To me, the money I was making wasn’t mine, it was my creditors.

“It took about 15 months, but I eventually paid off my loans. I kept at it, living in the same conditions, until I had a decent chunk of change saved up to buy a house. The thing is, I didn’t have a credit card during that time and eventually my credit score dropped off entirely. I didn’t realize it until my then-girlfriend (now-wife) and I went to purchase a home. They told me I couldn’t get the loan because I essentially couldn’t prove my worth as a debtor. All my tradelines had disappeared.

“So, I had to start from the bottom — someone who valued paying off their loans far ahead of schedule, someone who proved that they had what it took to take and pay off a loan. 5 years later I have great credit (780+) simply buying gas every month on a single card and paying it off. I have a home with a very small mortgage for what it’s worth, and a car that’s paid off.

“My case is pretty radical, but I watched my parents lose everything during the recession and I told myself I’d never go through that again. I’d never put other people that depend on me through that.

“The point is, good or bad, your kids will learn through the example you set. Might as well set a good example and teach them through experience rather than observation.”

April Lewis-Parks, Director of Education for Consolidated Credit (@ConsolidatedUS) also emphasized the importance of setting a good example:

It’s important to remember that no matter how old your children are that being a financial role model is an important part of parenting. Setting a good example can help kids be successful with their money.  Here are three tips I recommend:

  1. Don’t get swamped with credit card debt. Taking on too much credit card debt can lead to financial difficulty. You’ll be damaging your own finances and your children could be more likely to take on debt in the future because they saw their parents do it. To avoid credit card debt, make sure you practice the best credit card behavior – i.e. always paying on time – and teach the same things to your children.
  2. Allow your children to learn from your mistakes. While you may feel as though hiding your financial mistakes from your children is a good idea, it is better to let them learn from them so they don’t make the same mistakes when they are older, according to U.S. News & World Report. For example, if you find yourself falling short on some bills due to overspending, be sure to let your children know, as it could be useful information for them once they are in charge of their own finances.
  3. Sit down and talk with your child about money. Sometimes, a simple talk goes a long way in helping them. Many teenagers feel as though their parents don’t talk to them enough about budgeting and money, so don’t be afraid to sit your child down and have the talk. Be sure to touch on topics such as savings and long-term planning to help set your child up for a successful financial future.

Use real world experiences

At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than learning first-hand. You might have to toss your kids into the deep end of the financial pool so they can learn to swim.

(Editor’s note: DO NOT ACTUALLY TOSS KIDS WHO CAN’T SWIM INTO POOLS.)

“The reason I had strong financial discipline was because my mom let me fail with money at a young age,” explained Phil Risher, founder of the Young Adult Survival Guide (@yasurvivalguide).

“When I was 16 she gave me a debit card and would load $100 each month so I did not have to ask her for money. One day I was out to eat with my friends and my card was declined. Talk about embarrassing. I came home and complained that the card did not work. We looked up the balance, and I had overdrafted the account.

“This was a life lesson that I am glad I made in my teens when I did not have any real bills because I started to learn how to use self-control with money.”

“Part of financial education for kids is helping them understand the value of a dollar,” Ross told us. “The best way to do this is for them to earn their own money and learn money management skills through practice. Some parents choose to do this through allowance, while others have their children earn money outside of the house. You can also do a combination of both. Consider helping kids divide earnings into threes – one part for saving, one part for spending, and one part for a charity of their choice. This shows kids the valuable skill of saving and the importance of charity.”

Baby’s first credit history

Ross offers a guide for helping your kids build their own credit history:

Building a credit history is important. A consumer’s credit history can affect their insurance, ability to rent an apartment, get a job, or get a cell phone plan. Credit history is needed to get all types of loans, from mortgages to department store cards.”

“To start building a positive credit history, individuals should acquire and positively manage small lines of credit. The following are credit options for individuals who need to begin building a positive credit history:

  1. Make a child an authorized user on a parent’s card.
  2. Co-sign a credit card with your child. Co-signers on an account are equally responsible for the loan. Therefore, the loan is on their credit report as well, making a positive or negative impact depending on how the credit is managed.
  3. Have your children open a secured card. Secured cards and loans typically require a cash or collateral security deposit to ensure payment of the debt. The larger the security deposit or collateral, the higher the credit limit granted. The cash security deposit is returned when you close the account with the balance fully paid back
  4. Have your child establish a checking & savings account to build a good banking history.
  5. Make small purchases and pay off balances monthly (Do not apply for too many cards at once).”

If your kid is able to build a maintain a good credit history, this will mean steering clear of bad credit loans and lowers their chances of encountering a predatory lender. While it is definitely possible to fix a damaged credit history, avoiding one in the first place is always the better option.

Start small with household chores

As has been the case for a decade, chores can be something of a “starter job,” as Smith advised:

Start off simple with weekly chores. Pay your children based on chores they do around the house. Once they understand that money is earned, not given, you can start separating it into jars–one for saving and one for spending. It is important kids learn the fundamentals of saving vs. spending early on so understand saving is a normal thing to do.”

Vasey also suggests putting money into kids hands to practice with:

“If a parent buys them something, the child can work off their debt by doing extra chores and meeting certain expectations. For example keeping their room tidy, cutting the grass, washing the car etc. That, to them, would be working off debt.

“Parents can agree to ‘loan them money in advance’ if it is needed. This allows the child to understand that they have the money available to use if it is needed, but they need to be prepared to work the debt off. This can apply for nearly every trip to the shops, the latest product, or even as gas money for when they want to be driven around.”

Use everything in this guide and come up with your own tricks, and your kids will be financial whizzes before you know it. Teach them well enough, and maybe they’ll be supporting you down the line! You can also learn more about credit in our ebook Credit Workbook: The OppLoans Guide to Understanding Your Credit, Credit Report and Credit Score.

How have you taught your kids about money, credit, and debt? We want to know! You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
M-DoaneMichael Doane (@medoane) is an author and marketing strategist who learned how to manage money the hard way during his formative years in college at the University of Maryland. In his spare time he reads, hikes, and writes novels about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. He currently lives in Jarrettsville, MD, with his wife and 3 pets. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.
D-KingDebbi King (@DebbiKing) is a personal finance expert, motivational speaker, and the author of two award winning books, “The ABC’s of Personal Finance” and “26 Weeks to Wealth and Financial Freedom”. She is also the host of a weekly radio show, “The ABC’s of Personal Finance”. Debbi has been featured in numerous media outlets empowering others to win in the area of money. In addition to her work, she is the founder and President of Lovell Ministries and is happily married with a beautiful 19 year old daughter, 4 step children and 5 wonderful granddaughters.
AP-ParksApril Lewis Parks. Prior to joining Consolidated Credit (@ConsolidatedUS) Ms. Lewis-Parks was the public relations manager for a Boston based event firm and before that, she was employed by John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. where she counseled employees on 401K and IRA accounts. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.
PIGPhil Risher is the founder of YoungAdultSurvivalGuide.com (@yasurvivalguide). Phil paid off $30,000 in student loans in 12 months making 48k. After, he saved up and bought his first place with cash at the age of 25. Phil now speaks with college students and young adults around the country about his 5-Step Guide to help them on their financial journey.
SammelKatie Ross joined the American Consumer Credit Counseling (@talkcentsblog) management team in ’02 and is currently responsible for organizing and implementing high-performance development initiatives designed to increase consumer financial awareness. Ms. Ross’s main focus is to conceptualize the creative strategic programming for ACCC’s client base and national base to ensure a maximum level of educational programs that support and cultivate ACCC’s organization.
RainbowNatasha Rachel Smith is a personal finance expert at TopCashback.com (@topcashbackusa). Natasha’s background is in retail, banking, personal finance and consumer empowerment; ranging from sales to journalism, marketing, public relations and spokesperson work during a 17-year career period. She’s originally from London, UK, but moved to Montclair, New Jersey, USA, several years ago to launch and run the American arm of the British-owned TopCashback brand; a global consumer empowerment and money-saving portal company.
P-VaseyPaul Vasey is the founder of CashCrunch Games (@CashCrunchGames). Originally from the UK, he taught Business Studies for 12 years, and holds a Business Education Degree from Nottingham Trent University.  Since deciding to leave the classroom and start walking the walk, Paul has dedicated his time and energy to teaching personal finance concepts to kids and teens through active, engaged gameplay. He currently lives in California and is affiliated with Centsai.com.

How to Avoid Scam Contractors and Fake Charities Post-Natural Disaster

Avoid Scam Contractors and Fake Charities

Both victims and those looking to help are at risk of falling prey. Here’s what to look for.

As the victims of Hurricane Harvey start returning to their homes to assess the damage and rebuild, it’s time for a sad but necessary conversation.

Not only have thousands of these people lost their homes or suffered massive amounts of flood damage, but they are right in the crosshairs for scam artists looking to profit off their misery. Fake contractors, scammy bad credit lenders, and regular petty street criminals will all be looking to take advantage.

But they’re not the only ones who have to watch out for con artists and criminals. The same holds true for the millions of other folks nationwide who were horrified by the damage that Harvey wrought and who just want to help. Their eagerness to donate money towards a good cause, unfortunately, makes them a prime target for scams.

And with a state of emergency being declared in Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma, these types of hustles aren’t going away anytime soon.

Luckily, there are ways to protect yourself from con artists and others looking to take advantage. Here’s some expert advice for how people in both groups can stay one step ahead of the scammers.


Disaster Victims: How to Avoid Scam Contractors

Justin Lavelle(@Justin_Lavelle_) is the Chief Communications Director of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified), a leading online background check platform. He’s an expert in scam prevention and identity fraud.

“In regard to Hurricane Harvey, there will be plenty of work to rebuild and this will bring in many out-of-state companies to help with the work.” says Lavelle. “Most may be legit, but there will be plenty of scam artists who will be trying to prey on the weak and vulnerable, so don’t be one of them.”

He has two big pieces of advice for avoiding scam contractors:

Check credentials: “Anyone claiming to be a contractor should be licensed and bonded and be willing to show you documents establishing those claims. Make sure that you follow-up before you give over your money.  If you are not sure, do a background check.”

Inspectors and adjusters don’t ask for money: “If your property was damaged, then you are likely to have many people assisting with your claims. Don’t be fooled by imposters. If you are unsure, call the agency or insurance company you are working with and check them out.”

Lavelle also advises that scams aren’t the only thing a person has to watch out for:

“The over-committed construction company is not as much of a scam as it is a nuisance–but still it is something to look out for. Make sure that the company you hire or work with has the resources to do your job in a timely manner.

“Sure, certain delays will happen, but make sure that you are scheduled and your work is to be done timely. This is probably most effective with large established companies that have the personnel and resources for the work they do.

“Shy away from a few guys in a truck with out-of-state plates that claim they can rebuild your house in a week.”

Lastly, if you want to avoid scam artists, don’t work with anyone who insists on being paid in cash.

If you have more questions about how to handle hiring a contractor to fix your home–and also want to see verified customer reviews for different companies–check out this awesome (and free!) Restoration Guide from ConsumerAffairs.com (@ConsumerAffairs).

The Four Post-Disaster Home Renovation Scams

It’s rare for con-artists to create an entirely new routine. In fact, most of them are all working from the same shopworn playbook.

The reason they do it is that these scams work. But it also means that you can more easily identify them.

To better help you recognize these warnings signs, Lavelle has helpfully broken down the four basic kinds of scams that con artists run in a post-natural disaster scenario:

Scam 1: “I have extra materials!”

“A contractor knocks on your door and claims to have extra materials from a job he just completed down the street. Not wanting to take a loss on the supplies, he offers to pave your driveway or patch your roof for a smoking good deal.

“As tempting as a good deal is, don’t be fooled.

“The con artist “contractor” will start working and then claim to find an issue that makes him raise the price of the job. Then if you object, the contractor might walk away, leaving you with a half-finished project.

“Or he or she may also take your money and run.

“Another way this situation could go: He paints your driveway with black paint instead of paving it with asphalt. Then you watch it wash away the next time it rains and cry.

“How to protect yourself: Never hire a contractor on the spot. Read reviews and make sure they do quality work before making any deals.”

Scam 2: “I have a special offer today!”

“This home improvement scam usually starts from a newspaper ad or mailer that advertises a home service for a ridiculously low price. After you call and request services, they’ll quote you for a slew of “problems” your house has.

“Worried that they need to get these fixes done, unsuspecting homeowners empty their pockets and the contractor leaves without finishing or doing any work at all.

“How to protect yourself: Confirm that the contractor’s business is legal, licensed and registered. Request to see a business license and proof of insurance.”

Scam 3: “I’ll need the money upfront…”

“A conning contractor will tell you that he’ll need a percentage of the project cost upfront. He might tell you the reason is that he needs to order materials or rent supplies.

“But once you pay him, he’ll disappear. Or he’ll do a poor job, thinking you can’t fire him because you’ve already paid him hundreds, or thousands.

“How to protect yourself: Down payments are a standard practice, but should never be unreasonable. Check the rules in your state regarding down payment limits. Some states limit down payments to 10 percent of the project price or $1,000, whichever is less.

“Also, before hiring any one contractor, get at least three different estimates.”

Scam 4: “Take my word for it.”

“While talking with your contractor about the repairs you’d like made, you add in a couple ideas. He gets excited about the ideas and even makes his own suggestions.

“You don’t put these ideas into your contract agreement because you think you had such a clear verbal understanding.

“Then you’re surprised when the contractor says those upgrades weren’t included in the price – and that you’ll have to fork over more money for them.

“How to protect yourself: Always get everything in writing. A legal contract is your safety net, should any issues arise. Be sure to review every detail before signing.  If you are not comfortable, ask an attorney to review it before you sign. It’s a worthwhile investment to avoid problems on the back end.”

Non-Victims: How to Avoid Fake Charities

According to Robert Siciliano (@RobertSiciliano), CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, “Internet criminals follow a similar editorial calendar as newspaper and magazine editors, coordinating their attacks around holidays, and the change in seasons. They further capitalize on significant events and natural disasters.”

“Right now,” says Siciliano, “there are 24-hour news reports focusing on the tragedy and people are understandably getting sucked into the drama of the events.

“This is a prime time to reach out to those same people who are enmeshed in the reports and get them to donate to fake organizations.”

Here are Siciliano’s tips for avoiding scammers and making sure that your donation gets into the right hands:

  • Do not donate cash: “Anyone asking to come to your home or office and pick up cash is a scammer. Any phone calls or emails received requesting cash or to wire money transfers is a scam.”
    • Be suspect of all emails requesting donations: “I would never click on a link in an email, especially short urls. Always manually enter the domain name into the address bar. The best thing is to go directly to the organization’s website.”

Read more about protecting yourself from scam emails in our post Don’t Let a Phishing Scam Lead to Bad Credit!

  • Check with the Better Business Bureau: The first thing you should always do prior to making a donation to any charity is to check their credibility with the Better Business Bureau. Go online to the BBB’s charity tracker, Give.org, and search out the charity.”
  • Give only to charities, not individuals: “Any communication from someone requesting money because of their hardship is an obvious scam. But some people are saps for an emotional sob story. While you may be savvy enough not to fall for these scams, someone in your life who may be naïve could.”
  • Give soon and consider the Red Cross: “The American Red Cross is the most known and credible organization on the planet for helping out those in despair. Give now and give as much as you can.”

Additionally, Siciliano advises that you refrain from giving out credit card numbers via to an unsolicited email and never give out your PIN or account numbers “to anyone for any reason.”

Don’t let scammers make a bad situation worse. Just follow these steps and you can leave them in the dust.

Have you encountered a Hurricane Harvey-related scam artist? Please let us know so that we can help get the word out. You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
M-DoaneJustin Lavelle (@Justin_Lavelle_) is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.
D-KingRobert Siciliano (@RobertSiciliano) is a #1 Best-Selling Author and CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com which is funny, but serious about teaching you and your audience fraud prevention and personal security. Robert is a United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla Staff Officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security whose motto is Semper Paratus. His programs are cutting edge, easily digestible and provide best practices to keep you, your clients and employees safe and secure. Your audience will walk away as experts in identity theft prevention, online reputation management, online privacy and data security.

Six Personal Finance Forums You Should Join Today

Personal Finance Forums

You can comb through Google search results all you like looking for the perfect answer to your financial query, but sometimes it’s better to just ask another person.

And if there’s no one in your life who has the answers, no worries, you can just join a personal finance forum online and ask the people there!

Plus, who knows, you might end up having the perfect answer to someone else’s personal finance question.

If you’re looking for an online personal finance forum, here are six that can’t be beaten.


GetRichSlowlyGet Rich Slowly Forum

If you need some classic personal finance advice or inspiration, then check out the Get Rich Slowly Forum (@getrichslowly). You’ll find general discussions about finance, success stories, and even a personal development section focusing on self-improvement and success strategies for everyday life.

myFICOmyFICO Forum

The myFICO Forum (@myfico) is a great resource for anyone looking for information about credit scores, or anything else personal finance-related. This forum covers a wide range of topics from mortgages and auto loans to rebuilding your credit and advice on bankruptcy. And if you don’t find what you’re looking for, check out the myFICO blog!

BiggerPocketsBiggerPockets Forum

The The BiggerPockets Forum (@BiggerPockets) has over 12,000 posts and over 1,000 discussions about all things personal finance. According to BiggerPockets, “The personal finance forum is for the discussion of issues revolving around personal finance, including other non-real estate investments such as stocks, budgeting, credit, bankruptcy, saving, and retirement.”

Stacking Benjamins PodcastYNAB Forum

If you’re familiar with YNAB (@ynab), then you know that it stands for You Need A Budget, and it’s a popular budgeting tool used by many. What you may not know is that they also have a great forum to help answer any questions you might have about budgeting and finance!

BogleheadsBogleheads Forum

For anyone looking to learn a little bit more about investing, the Bogleheads Forum may be for you. Based on the teachings of Vanguard founder John Bogle, topics are geared toward teaching investing strategies and concepts, but they also offer a forum for general personal finance questions as well. If you’re new to investing, or even just considering getting started, check out the Bogleheads Forum.

FatWalletFatWallet Forum

The FatWallet Forum (@fatwallet) covers a multitude of topics. Basically, if it has anything to do with money or affects your wallet, you’ll probably get an answer in the FatWallet Forum. You’ll find advice on what credit card to get, the best mortgage rates from reputable lenders, and good 401k plans.

What personal finance forums do you use? You can send us an email by clicking here or you can let us know on Twitter at @OppLoans!

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+

Flood Preparedness: 10 Expert DIY and Low-Cost Tips

Flood Preparedness

Extensive damage from a flood can turn your life upside down. Here’s what you can do to keep that damage to a minimum.

The Hurricane Harvey images coming out of Houston are pretty terrifying.  Between 14 and 15 trillion gallons of water have been dumped on the city already. Tens of thousands of people are seeking temporary shelter and hundreds of thousands of more have had their lives upended.

In situations like these, it’s natural to look at your own home and wonder what would happen if a flood hit your area.

Well, if you’re in a place that’s expecting Harvey-level kinds of water, there, unfortunately, isn’t much you can do besides pony up for flood insurance and start seriously considering a move. No amount of duct tape and plywood is going to stop four feet of rainfall.

But with lower levels of flooding, there’s plenty you can do to prepare your home and avoid mega-costly repair bills. That’s why we reached out to a whole host of home experts to get their best tips for DIY and low-cost flood prep.

That list of experts includes:


1. Get air conditioner covers and rain guards

Intense, wind-driven heavy rains can throw a wrench in the works, carrying projectiles and debris that can lodge inside your air conditioning system, making it essential to give your system a professional inspection post-storm. If you live in an area that frequently suffers heavy storms, you may wish to consider an air conditioner cover or rain guard. Designed or recommended by your manufacturer, these protective covers are created specifically to work in conjunction with HVAC systems, offering the proper amount of air circulation via ventilation holes.” —Richard Ciresi, Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning

Note: Ciresi strongly recommends that you go ahead and buy the actual equipment for this instead of trying find a DIY solution:

“If you’re thinking you’ll save a couple bucks and ‘do-it-yourself,’ think again. Covering your system with a makeshift board, plastic wrap, or garbage bag creates a hostile operational environment, voiding your warranty and allowing moisture and condensation to build-up and become trapped inside the system, where it can corrode and rust metal components, rot wire and rubber, and offer an attractive home for insects and critters.”

2. Find your shut-off valve

“Before the storm hits, make sure you know where the main shut-off valve is in your home and make sure it operates properly. Being able to turn off your water in an emergency is very important, as it will help prevent potential leaks and damage.” —Glenn Gallas, Mr. Rooter Plumbing

3. Take care of your backyard clutter

“Take time to trim trees and bushes of dead limbs or branches that may become airborne and cause damage to your house, pool equipment or screen enclosure. Patio furniture, toys, canvas awnings, patio umbrellas, grills, telescopic poles, and even some pool equipment can become dangerous projectiles. These can cause severe damage to surrounding property in heavy winds.

“Remove all possible unsecured items and store them indoors until the threat passes. Do not throw these items into the pool, where chemicals could damage the item and removal is difficult.” —Greg Sammel, Pinch A Penny Pool Patio & Spa

4. Cover your windows with plywood

“Plywood is an easy, affordable and protective solution for those who do not have shutters. Purchase 1/2-inch thick plywood for each window. Always make sure the plywood you purchase complies with any state inspection standards. Once you have the plywood in hand, you’re ready to start boarding up your windows on the exterior side of your house. Place the plywood over your window; it should cover your window adequately. Protect areas where wind can enter during hurricane season, plywood supplies go fast so be sure not to wait.” —Larry Patterson, Glass Doctor

5. Secure that plywood with steel clips

“Purchasing the plywood is half the battle. It is a common misconception that tape prevents windows from breaking. In order to adequately set the plywood into place carbon steel clips are recommended, which fastens the plywood inside your window casing. Carbon steel clips are available at any hardware store and take less time than drilling holes and securing the plywood with nails and screws. Clips give you a snug, solid fit and allow you to take down the plywood for storage and reuse later.

“The most popular brand of steel clips is Plylox. Simply cover the window with plywood, and then clip the plywood into the window casing. For windows that are 24×24 inches or smaller, only two steel clips are necessary.” —Larry Patterson, Glass Doctor

6. Clear your gutters and drains

“While you should always keep your gutters and downspouts clean, it’s particularly important to make sure nothing blocks flowing water during a storm. The water will want to go somewhere and if it’s not down and away, it’ll be in your roof and attic. Conduct a visual inspection of your gutters and downspouts to be sure nothing blocks the flow of water from your roof and away from your home. Also, all drains in your house should be kept clear to prevent basement or crawl space flooding.” —Glenn Gallas, Mr. Rooter Plumbing

7. Want to totally drain your pool? Think again

“Do not drain the pool completely. An empty pool is subject to “floating” or “popping” out of the ground due to lift pressure from excessive ground water. If you decide to lower the water level to help prevent overflowing, do not drain past the bottom of the skimmer, as running the pump dry can cause serious damage.” —Greg Sammel, Pinch A Penny Pool Patio & Spa

8. Install a surge protector to protect your appliances

“What most people might not realize when a storm hits is that kitchen appliances are at risk from electrical “surges” even though they’re located inside the house. A lightning strike, short-circuit, downed electrical pole or other causes can cause your home’s power voltage to soar to hundreds or thousands of volts. It lasts only a millisecond but can do some serious damage to your expensive kitchen appliances.  

“While unplugging some appliances may be an option, purchasing a surge protector may be a better choice. This is a device intended to help protect electrical devices from voltage spikes caused by surges. These come in two main types:

  1. A box that plugs directly into a wall receptacle
  2. A strip with a power cord and multiple plug-in outlets

“Using one of these devices is the most efficient option, and is more practical than trying to manually unplug all of your appliances ahead of the storm. Unplugging your appliances 24 to 72 hour in advance is not practical for all appliances, as the food in your refrigerator will likely spoil, and your frozen foods will thaw. In addition, dishwashers and ovens are often directly wired to the electrical supply, so a consumer may not be able to ‘unplug’ those devices.” —Doug Rogers, Mr. Appliance

9. Get insurance

Remembering to prepare your home insurance is a way to protect your future. Make sure your home has flood insurance, often a completely separate insurance policy than homeowner’s insurance. Every year, homeowners should make sure high-dollar items in the home purchased in the last year are added into their policy. Consider adding “guaranteed replacement cost” and increases in material costs to your homeowner’s policy.

“In addition to preparing an insurance policy, Rainbow International advises homeowners to also prepare their house in the event of a hurricane by checking for roof leaks, covering windows with storm shutters or plywood, installing straps to fasten the roof to the frame structure and reinforcing garage doors.” —Jeramy Sibley, Rainbow International

10. Insulate your water heater

“Hurricanes can cause leaks in your house that affect the consumption for your heating and air system, leading to high utility bills. Insulating your hot water heater saves energy by reducing heat lost through the sides of the water heater by 25-40%, which will help save you money on your energy bills. You can do this with an insulating blanket or insulation tubes.” —Glenn Gallas, Mr. Rooter Plumbing

Do you have some great ideas for DIY flood prep? We’d love to hear about them! You can email us by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
KR_NelsonRichard Ciresi is the owner of Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning of Louisville, Kentucky (@ASLouisville). Aire Serv is a global franchise company providing installation, maintenance, and repair of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and indoor air quality systems. With over thirty years of experience in both commercial and residential heating and air conditioning, Ciresi’s technicians now serve the communities of Indianapolis, Southern Indiana, Louisville and Lexington. His company is known for exceptional customer service, employing the most innovative technology and the widest selection of product lines to provide custom solutions with outstanding results.  
PIGGlenn Gallas began his career at Mr. Rooter Plumbing (@MrRooterLLC) in Feb. 2000, as a franchisee in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Because of his success and achievements, he was offered the opportunity to become a Franchise Consultant before being promoted to Mr. Rooter Plumbing, Vice-President of Operations.
PIGLarry Patterson is the owner of Glass Doctor (@GlassDoctorDFW) in Dallas, Texas. Glass Doctor is a global franchise company providing home and auto glass repair, maintenance and installation. Larry has been a franchisee/business owner of Glass Doctor since 2003, served on the company’s leadership council and was named Franchisee of the Year in 2011.
PIGDoug Rogers joined Mr. Appliance (@mrappliancecorp in March 2004 as the vice president of operations and was later promoted to chief operating officer in June 2005. He was named president of Mr. Appliance in June 2006 and president of ZorWare, also known as Z-Ware, in February 2007. Doug has received several awards throughout his professional career. He was twice awarded Outstanding Contributor at Whirlpool Corporation, once in 1999 and again in 2003. He was also awarded the Presidents’ Choice Award at Dwyer Group in 2007.
SammelGreg Sammel came to work at Pinch A Penny Pool Patio & Spa (@pinchapennypool) as a store clerk in 1985 and grew with the company. In 1998, he became a Field Service Specialist and holds a range of credentials including: APSP certified; APSP Business Leadership; National Swimming Pool Foundation CPO Instructor; and State of Florida Swimming Pool/ Spa Contractors license.
RainbowJeramy Sibley is the Sure Start Coordinator for Rainbow International (@rainbowintl), where he leads the business segment of the training program at the company’s headquarters in Waco, Tex.

Three Common Financial Emergencies (And How to Handle Them)

Financial Emergencies

Don’t let financial emergencies ruin your credit score—or lead you into the arms of a predatory payday lender.

Even the best financial plans can run into hiccups, bumps, and outright obstacles. If you’re not prepared to handle financial emergencies—with a plan for how to get through them—you could end up taking a huge hit to your credit score, which will put you in even greater financial danger down the line. Even worse, it could lead to you taking out a predatory bad credit loan from a payday or title lender

Think about planning for financial emergencies the same way you’d think about planning for a natural disaster. A well-prepared home has an emergency first aid kit, extra food, and family meet-up plan in case of an earthquake or similar disaster. Likewise, having an emergency fund ready to go in case of an unexpected expense will help ensure that you and your family make it through the worst unscathed.

If you want to keep the bad credit wolves at bay, then the time to start planning for future financial emergencies is right now. That’s why we spoke to the experts to learn what you have to look out for and how you can overcome it.


Medical emergencies: in sickness and in health

Some of the most common financial emergencies people have to deal with are, unfortunately, medical emergencies. It’s common enough that we’ve actually written about it before. Even if you have the shiniest medical insurance on the market, you can still get saddled with massive medical debt if you aren’t prepared (and even if you are).

Leadership coach Elizabeth McCourt (@ecmccourt) gave us her personal take: “A major unexpected financial emergency is illness, either of yourself or someone that needs you to help take care of them (partner, parent, etc.). Making sure you have insurance for yourself is especially important. If you’ve got to leave your job to take care of a loved one, that’s a big decision and does have financial ramifications. As much as your head is spinning, try to work out a plan, perhaps even confide in someone outside the situation, so you have some perspective and clarity in order to take care of yourself and your responsibilities.”

But humans aren’t the only ones who get sick…

Pet emergencies: furry friends in need

The feathered, furry, and scaled among us also run into medical emergencies. You care about pets as much as your children, or maybe more. We won’t tell. The point is, if they’re sick, you aren’t going to want to spare any necessary expense. 

Kendal Perez (@HassleFreeSaver), a savings expert with CouponSherpa.com (@CouponSherpa), told us about a medical emergency she went through with one of her pups:

When my two dogs were just 12 months old, we had to take one of them to the emergency vet because he wouldn’t eat and started throwing up blood. We had no idea what caused the issue and the vet couldn’t identify it, either. We spent most of the night at the emergency vet, and then another day at our regular vet, followed by one more night at the emergency vet until they finally realized what happened. Luckily they were able to treat him once they determined what happened, but not after two pricey nights and one expensive day at vet clinics.

“The timing of this emergency was ideal in that we’d just done our taxes and received about $1,500 in return. The total vet bill was around $1,700 and since we saved our tax return instead of spending it on something frivolous, we could easily pay the vet bill without going into debt.”

Aside from building up an emergency fund, you could also consider pet insurance. Yes, it exists, and yes, we wrote a whole article about it.

Unemployment Emergencies: Pink, the worst color of slip

Of course, unexpected expenses aren’t the only form of financial emergency. You could also lose your source of income.

“One major financial emergency that a lot of people have gone through is the loss of a job,” warned Alayna Pehrson, digital marketing strategist for BestCompany.com (@BestCompanyUSA). She went on to tell us how you can keep sudden unemployment from affecting your credit too negatively:

Although unemployment doesn’t directly affect a credit score, it can indirectly lower the score if there are late payments, high debt, and an increase in credit card balances. It is important to maintain a good credit score during unemployment because many employers perform credit checks before they hire. Without a good/decent credit score, there could be a loss of a potential job. Although it can be difficult to keep up a credit score and be unemployed, it is not impossible.

“A way that can help with keeping your score up during unemployment is to get in touch with creditors to discover if there are any programs or plans that can help you with your monthly payments while you are jobless. Typically, there are many options out there that people don’t know about.

“Another way is to pay the minimum amount due instead of the entire balance. This will help your money last longer and keep you out of credit trouble.

“Lastly, it is important that you don’t cancel your credit cards immediately after you lose your job. Although this may seem like a good idea to avoid debt and credit mishaps, in the long run, canceling credit accounts will drop your score. Your score is based on your credit card usage and ownership. If you decide to cancel cards, it is recommended that you keep at least one card to your name.

“Overall, the best way to prepare for an unexpected financial emergency such as unemployment is to make sure you have a good score to begin with. Cleaning up your report, making sure your credit is repaired as needed, and taking care of your debt beforehand will give you a major head start in case you are hit with unemployment.”

For more advice about how to manage the loss of your job, check out this article we wrote on the subject.

So how can you handle it?

You need a plan to start preparing for financial emergencies before they happen. Here’s what McCourt suggested, based on advice from her father:

There are many reasons that there’s a golden rule of having at least three months of expenses saved in a slush account. (Cars break down, roommates leave, phones break, relationships split-up, taxes must be paid, etc.).  My father, a math teacher, probably said it best: don’t live above your means. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have fun, but if there is more money going out then coming in, you might have the answer to your problem. Maybe just thinking about the question, ‘what happens if I have a financial emergency’ could help you in preparing for what might happen.”

Certified financial educator Maggie Germano (@MaggieGermano) offered a full guide on how to ready yourself for financial emergencies:

Financial emergencies include anything that requires an immediate solution in order for you to be safe, healthy, and provided for. This can be your car breaking down when it’s your only way to get to work, a leaky roof that is causing your home to flood, a medical emergency that requires you to go to the hospital, etc.

“The best way to deal with a financial emergency is to be prepared for them ahead of time. That’s why you need an emergency savings account to protect you. Experts say everyone should have 3-12 months worth of expenses saved in their emergency fund account. If you are self-employed, or have a family to support, you want to be on the higher end of that spectrum. And that amount can change depending on shifting circumstances.”

She even has a comprehensive guide to building up your savings:

1. Automate! The easiest way to save is to set it and forget it. Set up direct deposit from your paycheck, or have your bank make scheduled transfers. This way, you don’t have to think about it and you won’t miss the money. You’re way more likely to save when you do this.

“2. Choose a high yield savings account. These days, you don’t get much back in terms of interest, especially from brick or mortar banks. Open a savings account with an online bank like Ally or Synchrony, and you can get up to five times the typical interest rate. Before switching to Ally, I only earned 20 cents a month in interest and now it’s more like $15.

“3. Don’t connect it to your checking account. You need your emergency fund to be accessible when an issue arises. You don’t want it to be in a CD or the stock market, where you can’t get to it easily. However, you don’t want the money to be too easy to spend either. Put it in a place where you can’t transfer it to your checking account on a whim.”

You should also check out our new app directory, which has a whole section for apps to build your savings.

Be prepared, and have a plan in place, and you’ll be able to get through whatever may come.

Do you have tips for building an emergency fund or other stories about how you weathered a financial emergency? We’d love to hear from you! You can email us  by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
Maggie Germano (@MaggieGermano) is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women. Her mission is to give women the support and tools that they need to take control of their money, break the taboo of discussing debt and income, and achieve their goals and dreams. She does this through one-on-one financial coaching, monthly Money Circle gatherings, her weekly Money Monday newsletter, and speaking engagements. To learn more, or to schedule a free discovery call, visit MaggieGermano.com.
Elizabeth McCourt, (@ecmccourt) JD, MFA, CPCC, ACC is the President of McCourt Leadership Group.  She has been a financial services recruiter for 17 years and is also an executive coach, certified by the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), in addition to certifications in the Hogan Leadership Assessment and in Systemic Team Coaching. Prior, she was a trial lawyer in New Mexico with a JD from Loyola University and an undergraduate degree in Finance from the University of Maryland.
Alayna Pehrson is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Credit Repair Specialist at BestCompany.com (@BestCompanyUSA).
Kendal Perez is the Savings Expert for CouponSherpa.com (@CouponSherpa), a popular source for online, in-store and grocery coupons. Her money-saving tips are often featured on Bankrate, GOBankingRates, US News & World Report, Wisebread and more. Kendal can be found on Twitter @HassleFreeSaver.

5 Great Rewards Apps To Get You Free Money

5 Great Rewards Apps To Get You Free Money

Have you heard about the OppLoans Personal Finance App Directory? It’s the hottest new tool all the hip kids are using to find the money apps that best meet their needs. Recently we gave you a breakdown of the Budget category and now we’re back to take you through another great series of apps. This time we’re talking Rewards!

What’s a “Reward app” you ask? It’s an app that lets you earn free gift cards, offers, or straight up cash.

Here are five Reward apps we’ve featured in the database that you should try out.

1. appKarma

Do you like playing phone games and trying new apps? Well, it’s your lucky day: When you open appKarma (@mobileappkarma), you’ll be given a choice of games you can download and play to earn points towards gift cards and other rewards. You can even earn “achievements” by accomplishing certain in-game goals to increase your points.

Andrew Lin is the co-founder of Darkfield Software, the publisher behind appKarma. Here’s what he told us when we asked him what feature he believes sets the app apart from other reward apps.

“Our Karma Play reward feature. A typical reward app like ours rewards users one time for installing the app. We are the only reward app that, in addition to rewarding users for installing an app, also rewards them for keeping the app and playing with it each day.

“This helps us by increasing our retention, helps our users by giving them an additional means to earn rewards, and also helps the advertisers by giving their apps additional opportunities to retain the users (reduce uninstall rate).”

Check out the rest of the interview and learn more about appKarma on its database page.

2. cashKarma

Like the idea behind appKarma but don’t love playing phone games? Then cashKarma, another Darkfield offering, may be for you. Instead of downloading and playing phone games, you earn points by taking surveys. You’ll only qualify for certain surveys based off your personal attributes, so you may not be able to haul in quite the same hoard of points, but there’s no reason you can’t use multiple Reward apps. In fact, you could try all of these at once to maximize your reward earning potential!

Check out cashKarma’s database page by clicking on the link riiiiiiiiiiiiiight here.

3. Sweatcoin

Exercise comes with all sorts of health benefits, so it’s really its own reward. But what if… it also came with a monetary reward? That’s the idea behind Sweatcoin (@SweatCoin), an app that tracks your steps and turns them into a virtual currency that you can spend on all manner of products, services, and even charitable donations. Sweatcoin uses proprietary software to keep you from cheating by putting your phone in the dryer, or whatever.

We got the chance to speak to the cofounder of Sweatcoin, Anton Derlyatka, and he told us about some of the philosophy that went into its creation:

“Oleg and I, friends for longer than we’d care to admit, are both successful entrepreneurs passionate about fitness, health and making the world a better place. I was thinking about a way to tackle the HUGE problem of lack of sustainable motivation to be more active and Oleg was recovering from 3 years of inactivity due to an incredibly stressful time driving his previous business forward. We decided to go for a run in Richmond Park, London, one of the most beautiful places on Earth and a fantastic place for running. I explained my ideas and Oleg supplemented it with a crypto-currency foundation. This is how Sweatcoin was born.”

Derlyatka also told us about their plans for the future: “We are working on a Peer-to-Peer Marketplace where our users, like you and me, will be able to create their own products and services and offer them for Sweatcoins.

“Also, we are in talks with a London Council to deliver a program that would motivate a disadvantaged social group to be more active. To do so, they would be allowed by the Council to pay part of their Council Tax (local tax) in Sweatcoins.”

“The long-term vision for Sweatcoin is to become an independent virtual currency that can pay taxes or buy health insurance.”

Don’t sweat! Read the rest of the interview and find out all the info on Sweatcoin on its database page.

4. AppBounty

Once again, there’s no reason you can’t have most of these apps at once to maximize your reward potential. AppBounty (@AppBounty) is another app you can use to try out games for points you can exchange for rewards. Unlike many of the other apps, however, you can exchange the points for in-game currency, which is great if you’re a mobile game addict. Better to spend imaginary points on imaginary currency than real currency on imaginary currency.

Find out more at—you guessed it—the AppBounty database page.

5. FreeMyApps

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: FreeMyApps (@FreeMyApps) is an app that lets you try out new apps to earn points that you can exchange for rewards. All of these apps are free, so there’s nothing for you to lose from trying one, two, or heck, all of them out.

Look up its page right over here.

There’s rewards in them hills, and now you know how to claim them!

Visit OppLoans on YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIN | Google+


Contributors
Anton Derlyatka is an entrepreneur and investor in behavior change, digital health, and people technologies — the industries ripe for innovation. He is the cofounder of Sweatcoin (@SweatCoin).
Andrew Lin is the co-founder of Darkfield Software, publisher of appKarma (@mobileappkarma) and cashKarma.