6 Reasons to Avoid Black Friday

Ah, the great American tradition of Black Friday shopping. Leaving your boring home and family early to spend time with those who really matter: the herds of anxious strangers elbowing one another in the mouth to score that off-brand flatscreen. Truly, it’s a noble American tradition. Just like Norman Rockwell envisioned it. 

Just kidding. Black Friday is terrible. Between waking up at the crack of dawn to rush to the mall, dealing with the stampeding crowds, and maybe, just maybe, getting to take home one piece of electronics that you don’t really need, Black Friday can be a waste of time, money and energy.

That’s why we at OppLoans recommend that you and yours spend time with family and save your money. Here are the top six reasons why we recommend you avoid Black Friday.

1. It’s not a holiday.

The first “Black Friday” didn’t have anything to do with giving thanks. Quite the opposite. The first use of the term “Black Friday” referred to September 24, 1869–a particularly infamous day in financial history: A gold buying conspiracy unraveled and sent the stock market into a tailspin. Fun stuff.

Over the years, the story behind the retail tradition has evolved. There are some pleasant, but inaccurate, versions of the story involving the first day of the year in which a retailer finally turns a profit and some really dark versions involving slavery, shoplifting and near-riotous conditions at city retailers in Philadelphia.

Whichever Black Friday origin story you chose to believe, in its current form Black Friday is a modern marketing event designed to separate you from your money and your family.

2. It’s not great for the employees.

Black Friday used to start in the very morning hours of, well, Black Friday. But sometime around 2009, retailers began to open their doors earlier and earlier, and today, most Black “Friday” sales actually start around dinnertime on Thanksgiving Day. That means if you want to get the doorbuster deals listed on all those exciting Black Friday circulars, you’re going to have to skip out on your annual wine-fueled political fight with Uncle Joe and head right to the mall instead. But what about the employees? They get even less Uncle Joe time.

All kidding aside, the demands on employees’ time (not to mention the apocalyptic in-store conditions) aren’t anything to celebrate. And the public agrees! 63 percent of respondents to a Deloitte survey said they were against stores being open on Thanksgiving. Retailers are recognizing this; there are nearly 60 big box companies who won’t be open at all on Thanksgiving. Cheers, @PetSmart!

3. The “doorbusters” are a scam.

Those in-store-only doorbusters aren’t usually worth it. When it comes to electronics—the super-discounted items you’ll need to wait in a physical line to buy aren’t exactly top quality.

Often they’re from a little-known or no-name brand (called ‘Derivatives‘), which are hard to find solid customer reviews on—and on top of the quality issue, most stores will only have a limited amount in stock.

This means you can stand in line for hours and still come away empty-handed, which is a colossal waste of your time.

4. It’s irresponsible.

Phuong Vuong, of Empower Finance, gave us her opinion on Black Friday and we couldn’t agree more.

Black Friday creates a herd mentality that encourages people to buy things that they don’t want or don’t even love that much because of the perceived scarcity of the deals. We’re not against deals because it is savings if you truly derive value from the purchase. We suggest a better way to do Black Friday is to cozy up at home with your loved ones and scour deals on editorial sites.”

While we’re at it, remember that avoiding Black Friday is one financially responsible action you can take this year, but don’t forget the rest of the calendar.

Phong adds, “Set a shopping budget for a month in our app and we will remind you every week or 2 weeks, how you are tracking against it, so you can course-correct. Our users love the tracker as a way to gradually over time learn about their shopping habits and the minimum required changes that need to be made.”

(For more personal finance apps that might bring you value, be sure to check out our OppLoans App Directory for reviews and developer interviews!)

5. It’s easy to get scammed online too.

Nick Johns of ConsumerSafety.org reminds us that whether you’re shopping online or in-store, Black Friday is ripe with scams, rip-offs, and spoofers looking to take advantage of shoppers. “Black Friday really does seem to get treated as its own holiday, and hype can certainly get out of control. With injuries or deaths reported almost every year, shopping in brick and mortar stores during peak deal hours can be a dangerous affair. Online shoppers may run into the lion’s share of scams, with digital trickery evolving every year.

  • Don’t shop on public WiFi (or better yet, stop using it altogether). These open networks are accessible by anyone, and as a result, any information you access can potentially be collected by someone else on the network. Reduce risk by using your phone as a private mobile hotspot or wait until you get home before transmitting any sensitive data.

  • Keep an eye on the news for new reports – criminals are inventing new forms of scams every day.”

6. You can shop smarter and just feel better.

Anxiety. Overspending. In-store injuries???

You just straight up don’t need this faux-holiday to save real money.

Let’s be honest. No matter what your financial situation, there are simply better, smarter, safer and more enjoyable ways to spend your time and money this holiday weekend. Skip the commercial nightmare and you’ll likely have much more to be thankful for–like money saved and more time with Uncle Joe (you know you love him).

Check out other OppLoans blogs for related info like:

What’s your favorite alternative to shopping on Black Friday? We want to know! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Nick Johns brings years of experience informing consumers about technology trends and security risks to his role as Technology and Digital Safety Investigator for ConsumerSafety.org (@ConsumerSafetyO). An avid believer in proactive cybersecurity, Nick provides actionable advice about improving digital safety and protecting your most sensitive information.
Phuong Vuong leads Marketing and Growth at SF-based Empower Finance (@empowermeapp), a consumer finance app company that combines the most sophisticated technology with fiercely independent financial advice. She came from a rich financial services background that includes sales and business development and asset management. Phuong holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Are Cheap Tires Safe Enough to be Worth the Savings?

Are Cheap Tires Safe

Cheap tires can be a great way to save money, but you’ll need to be extra careful.

A smart blog once said “cars need tires.” And you know what? They were right! A car without tires is just a tiny toilet-less house. But having tires is a trade-off. Sure, they make your car not be useless, but they can also get expensive to repair and replace.

You’re going to want to find cheap tires, but how can you be certain they’re safe? Other than the brakes, the tires are probably the part of the car you’d least like to have fail on you.

That’s why we talked to the experts to make sure you can safely burn rubber without burning too much cash.

Are your tires tired?

Before we get into how you should replace your tires, it’s important to know when you should replace your tires. Obviously, you’ll need to replace or repair any tires that get a flat or a blowout, but they’ll also need to be replaced after enough regular wear and tear.

The experts at RepairPal (@RepairPal) came up with a handy guide to tell you when you should replace your tires:

“Tires are considered legally worn out when the tread depth reaches 2/32 of an inch. Sure, you can purchase an inexpensive tread depth gauge to help you measure your tires, but there are also two easy ways to inspect your tread depth.

“First, most tires have ‘wear bars’ on them. These bars are spaced periodically into the grooves of the tire. They are raised to 2/32″ so that when the bars become level with the remaining tread, you know it’s time to replace your tires.

“Second, you can use a regular United States penny to get an idea of how much tread you have left. First, take a penny and pinch Lincoln’s body between your fingers. Find a spot on the tire where the tread seems the lowest and put Lincoln’s head down into the groove. If any part of Lincoln’s head is obscured by the tread, you’re okay. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s hair, or where it says ‘In God We Trust,’ it’s time for you to get new tires.”

Additionally, they suggested a time-based consideration: “You should also replace tires when they approach five years old. As tires age, they become susceptible to dry rot and cracking, which increases their risk for failure.”

Safety dance

Now that you know when to replace your tires, can you get safe tires on the cheap? Well, as Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com (@CARiD_com), explained, first, you have to specify exactly what safe means:

“What is a ‘safe’ tire? If we are analyzing new tire choices for your car or truck, it might be easier to first define what is an ‘unsafe’ tire. An unsafe tire is NOT properly sized or rated to adequately support your vehicle for the loads and speeds of which it is capable. Buying smaller tires to save money is never recommended.

“Tires must be able to support a vehicle’s gross weight, defined as the weight of the vehicle itself plus the maximum weight of its cargo capacity. A two-seat convertible with a small trunk has a much smaller carrying capacity than a seven-passenger minivan with room for three suitcases in its storage area. All vehicle manufacturers specify the minimum load that each tire must be rated to carry.

“So, at a minimum, a ‘safe’ tire is the same size as the original factory tire and meets the same load and speed requirements. Where does the owner find this information? It is molded into the sidewall of the tire. The size is a series of alpha-numeric characters, like this example: 215/50R17.

“Rather than define each of those characters, we will again emphasize: the new tires should be exactly the same size. Do not let the tire store salesperson tell you that he has ‘205/50R17’ in stock, and that size is ‘close enough.’ It’s not.”

Let’s hit the road!

So now that we know what it means to have a safe tire, we can finally determine whether you can get them for a discount.

Reina believes you can make some price comparisons as long as you’re keeping an eye on the specs: “If the goal is to purchase the least-expensive tires without sacrificing safety, then as long as the size, load, and speed ratings meet factory specs, you can shop based on price. Also, remember that a cheaper tire may not last as long, so the buying decision should also consider how long you plan to keep the car.

“If you drive 12,000 miles/year, and you purchase a ‘cheap’ set of 4 tires for $400, which wear out in 20,000 miles, those tires cost you 2 cents per mile and will need replacing in 1 2/3 years. If you purchase a ‘less cheap’ set for $600, and they last for 40,000 miles, they cost you 1.5 cents per mile (25% better), and you will drive on them for 3 1/3 years (twice as long). Do the math before you buy.”

Other experts were even more cautious about going the cheap route. “If you do not have money to buy good quality car tires, and you have no choice to go cheap, then go cheap, but I guarantee you will regret your decision after a short time,” warned Jill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill), director of the automotive group at RepairPal.

“Cheaper tires are made with more inexpensive materials that can affect the braking distance, the handling, and the overall longevity. Tires are the one thing that you shouldn’t skimp on; they are the cushion between you and the road. Do your research and know what you are buying before you install it on your vehicle. There are some off brands that will come at a lesser cost than the major brands but overall investing money in your tires is something you won’t regret.”

Comparing tires

Car Coach Lauren Fix (@laurenfix) offered some tips to help you comparison shop: “ Look for deals online. There are incentives for buying 4 tires. Online sellers like tirerack.com can ship tires to your mechanic or to certified shops. Compare prices and make a deal for the proper size, load rating and type of tire.”

Like our other experts, however, she warned against being too reckless: “Each tire type offers a grading on the sidewall. The Uniform Tire Quality Grading, commonly abbreviated as UTQG, is the term encompassing a set of standards for passenger car tires that measures a tire’s treadwear, temperature resistance, and traction. Buying cheaper tires is not a wise idea. You get what you pay for. There are ONLY four things that touch the ground no matter what vehicle you drive – that’s your tires! This is NOT an area to cut corners.”

As long as you’re careful and have the time, you can try and compare your options when it comes to tires. But at the end of the day, the cheapest tires right now may end up more expensive in the long run, especially if they increase your risk of an accident.

Do you have any tricks you use while shopping for tires? We want to hear! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter

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Lauren_newLauren Fix (@laurenfix) lives life in the fast lane–literally. When this automotive expert, author, spokesperson, keynote speaker, TV personality, ASE certified technician, race car driver, wife, and mother of two roars past, head’s turn. Lauren Fix is an award-winning author of three automotive books, was the National Automotive Correspondent for Time Warner Cable and has appeared on Oprah, TODAY, 20/20, Regis & Kelly, The View, CNBC, CNN, FOX News, HLN and MSNBC, to name a few. Whether she’s perfecting her new line of automotive products, sharing her CAR SMARTS®, reporting live from one of the world’s top auto shows, test driving the latest hot ride, or debating an industry crisis in front of multiple cameras, Lauren Fix is never finished reinventing the wheel.
CparksRichard Reina is the Product Training Director at CARiD.com (@CARiD_com) and a life-long car enthusiast.
john pic hpJill Trotta (@RepairPal_Jill) is an automotive professional with over 25 years of professional experience. ASE Certified technician and consultant. She is currently working on the Automotive Professional Team at RepairPal. They do the hard work of identifying technically qualified, customer friendly auto shops and presenting them to consumers. They are working to develop transparency in the Automotive Industry. They also have a very accurate automotive repair price estimator that is available to shops and consumers.

The ABC’s of Saving


26 alphabetical tips for cutting your costs and building up your savings! 

Building up your savings isn’t always easy, especially if you’ve never tried to do it before. But it’s very important, as it might be the only way to build up your credit and protect yourself from the worst consequences of a surprise financial emergency, like predatory no credit check loans.

That’s why we spoke to the experts to create 26 saving tips, one for each letter of the English alphabet. We considered a tip for every character in the Mandarin dictionary, but we ran out of Internet.

A is for Apps

Living in the future means we don’t have to rely on abacuses or bark with numbers written on it to manage our savings anymore. We have apps and computers with numbers written on them!

“One of my favorite savings tools is Digit.co, which analyzes your bank account and spending patterns,” Chad Parks, CEO of Ubiquity Retirement + Savings (@ubiquitysavings) told us. “The software looks at your daily checking account balance, learns your spending habits and automatically moves small funds to your Digit account to increase savings. The amounts vary depending on your checking balance and spending habits for that day/week/month. I notice they tend to pull smaller amounts between $5 and 10.”

In fact, Digit is one of the apps included in our ever-expanding app database. We’ve got a whole category of apps just for building your savings, so you should really give that a look.

B is for Budget

Before you start saving money, it’s important to figure out how much you’re actually spending and where it’s going.

“Top advice I give for new savers is knowledge,” advised John Savin (@savinwealth), owner of Savin Wealth Management. “The simple concept of money in vs. money out will give monetary clarity. A budget listing where you spend will expose the holes in your finances, so you can lean up, and put more money back in your pocket. Cable, happy hours, dining out, throwing out groceries, shopping sprees, pet outfits, etc are all areas to give a hard look at and trim back. You’d be shocked at how many thousands a year you can free up to save.”

Lucky for you, we’ve also got a section for budgeting apps in our database.

C is for Cutting back

Once you’ve made your budget, it’s time to figure out where you can start shrinking it. One of the most obvious places to look is food, but we’ll cover that when we get to F and L. Coffee is another big place you can cut back. Obviously making your own is better than buying, but if you don’t have time to make your own, you can still be a smart saver at the coffee shop. You might like your latte, but getting a black coffee and adding the sugar and milk yourself can save you a few bucks each day which will add up quick. And it turns out a screen saver isn’t just something that appears on your computer screen. It’s also something you can be!

“Cut the cord on your streaming sites’ bill,” advised Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com (@MyCorporation). “You probably don’t need (or have enough time to watch) Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO GO, and Hulu every month.”

D is for Deals

“Look for sales, deals, and coupons,” suggested Amber Westover, digital marketing strategist for BestCompany.com, (@BestCompanyUSA). “Then, contribute the money you saved to your savings account.”

And when it comes to finding deals, there’s an app (category in our directory) for that!

E is for Earn rewards (from properly using credit cards)

A lot of people think that credit cards keep you from properly building your savings. But if used correctly, credit cards can help build up your credit score as well as your savings. One way is by building up your rewards. Many credit cards earn you points every time you use them, and then you can use those points to purchase things you would have had to spend money on otherwise. Of course, you should still be paying your entire bill on time each month and you shouldn’t make purchases just to earn points. But if it’s something you were going to purchase anyway, the points will let you save in the future.

Bestselling author Pamela Yellen (@PamelaYellen) offered some outside-the-box advice on how to use your credit cards wisely: “Some financial advisors tell you to leave your cards at home to avoid temptation…I prefer to wrap my cards in my goals. Every time I take a card out, I see a picture or some words that represent a goal that’s important to me. I get the opportunity to stop and decide whether what I’m about to purchase is more important than that goal.”

F is for Food

Eating out may be delicious, but it adds up fast. As Sweeney told us, “Do not go out to eat for lunch. Instead, plan your lunch in advance using weekly meal prep plans or by putting aside a little extra dinner for lunch the night before.”

We’ve even got an post on meal planning to help you get started.

G is for Growth

Growing your savings takes time and dedication, but the rewards will be worth it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about making the right choices, over and over again, day after day, month after month, year after year. But the more you do it, the more your savings will grow, and the more you’ll grow as a saver.

Yellen gave us an example of how learning about your own spending habits can keep you making the right choices going forward: “Do you feel driven to buy extravagant gifts? When you have a rough day at work, do you crave some retail therapy to feel better? Are you triggered to overspend in a bookstore, hardware store, or swap meet? ‘Know thyself’ – and especially know your spending triggers so you can outwit them.”

H is for “Happies”

Spending makes you happy in the short term. But proper saving can make you happy in the long term.

“The Big Happy for most of us is having memorable experiences and being with the people we love,” Yellen advised. “That other stuff we chase? That’s usually Little Happy – fleeting and not very fulfilling.”

I is for Interest

The interest you get from savings accounts may not be much, but every bit counts. And you’ll want to keep an eye on your credit score, because if it’s too low and you end up with a financial emergency, the interest from the loan you take out may wipe out whatever savings you had started building (if the emergency hasn’t done it already).

J is for Joint account

Do you and your significant other share an account? You’re going to have to both be on board or else the saving plan won’t work. Talking to your loved one about finances can be awkward, but thankfully we’ve covered the subject before, so you can read up before you talk it over.

K is for Keep up with your bills

“Pay your bills on time,” Sweeney warned. “By doing this, you can avoid penalties and interest — all of which accumulate if you don’t pay on time or don’t pay in full.”

And paying your bills on time consistently will also help your credit score, which, as we mentioned above, will keep your savings from being totally wiped out by interest if you ever need a loan.

L is for Learn to cook

We already mentioned meal planning, but if you don’t know how to cook, you’ll probably need to work on that.

But don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what Sweeney said: “Learn to cook! Start making meals at home with the help of budget-friendly food blogs to help save money on eating out each week.

M is for Making comparisons

Sometimes putting in a little more legwork can lead to more savings, especially when it comes to bigger purchases. “Rather than falling for some marketer’s value comparison, how about setting up your own?” suggested Yellen. “Put a price tag on some things you really enjoy and value.”

N is for Needs

Saving money means sometimes you can only purchase what you really need. As Yellen told us: “What do we really need? Stop and think about it and get clarity for yourself. And if you have children, teaching them the difference between needs and wants will empower them for life.”

O is for Open multiple accounts

One way to keep yourself from dipping into your savings account too soon is to make it harder to dip into.

“Use a different financial institution for your checking and savings accounts,” advised Westover. “If your savings account is more difficult to access (you have to wait a few business days for money to transfer to your checking account) you are less likely to make lavish impulse purchases. A built-in wait period will help you make premeditated financial choices. In addition, the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle will help you build savings. Make all regular purchases from your checking account and keep your savings account off limits.

P is for Picking your purchases

We’ve already said this a few different ways, but it’s important enough to be said again: you’ll have to put some thought into your purchases. Small, mindless purchases can start to add up quickly, so it’s important you think carefully about everything you’re spending money on.

Q is for Quotes

Have a repair you know you’ll need to have made on your house or car? Be sure to get multiple quotes so you can compare and find the best one. Obviously, if it’s an emergency you may not have much time, but if you can afford the time to find the more affordable option, your savings will thank you.

R is for Recurring expenses

Stuff like rent, electricity, gas, train fees, and any other regular, non-negotiable expense can be a real dig into your savings. That’s why it’s always a good idea to find ways you can save on these sorts of expenses, whether it’s shopping around for a cheaper electricity provider, or changing your internet package.

S is for Saving

It’s what this whole list is about!

T is for Transfer

Setting up an automatic transfer into your savings account each month is a great way to guarantee money is getting put in there.

“Pay yourself first and set-up an automatic transfer between your bank account to a separate savings account or investment account to save before you even have time to spend that money,” advised the couple behind OurFinancialPath.com (@myFinancialPath). “You can start small and gradually increase your savings rate. The important part is to start.”

Westover also suggested an automatic transfer and used her own experience as an example: “The secret to saving is automation. Making the saving process easy and simple is the best way to be successful long-term. Schedule recurring automatic transfers, many banks include this feature. You can schedule transfers weekly, monthly, or even on a specific day of the month. I schedule savings transfers for the day after I receive my paycheck. Once the money is gone there is less temptation to spend it.”

U is for Unexpected expenses

Unexpected expenses will always come up. But if you have your savings built up, you’ll have a cushion you can work with when the worst happens. Ideally, you could have an emergency fund in addition to your savings fund so you don’t have to dip into your savings if something bad happens, but we know for many people building up any savings at all can be difficult.

V is for Vacation

A vacation is one of the many possible rewards diligent saving can reap.

W is for Wants

As we mentioned earlier, you have to separate your purchases into wants and needs. No one reasonable would expect you to give up all of your “wants,” but cutting them down can be a great step for raising your savings and can make the “wants” you still do get all the sweeter.

X is for Xylophone

Unless you’re a professional xylophone player, a xylophone is likely a want, rather than a need, so keep that in mind.

Y is for Years

Build up your saving habits over many years. Your future self will thank you for it.

Z is for Zoos

Many zoos are either free or have free or discount days. It could be a good activity to do without negatively affecting your savings!
With all of these tips and your own dedication, we know you’ll become a savings master in no time!

What are some ways you’ve cut spending and made saving easier? We want to know! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter

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Our Financial PathThe husband and wife behind OurFinancialPath.com (@myFinancialPath) write about life, finances, and investments. They most enjoy helping young professionals start off on the right path financially.
CparksChad Parks is CEO and founder of Ubiquity Retirement + Savings (@ubiquitysavings), a flat-fee 401(k) provider that’s helped savers contribute over $2 billion towards their retirement since 1999. Chad started as a broker at Piper Jaffray. Driven by a desire to phase out the traditional and antiquated broker model, Chad left the company to obtain his CFP designation and launch his independent financial planning practice.
john pic hpJohn Savin (@savinwealth), is the owner of Savin Wealth Management  in Boca Raton, FL.
Deborah Sweeney (@deborahsweeney) is the CEO ofCEO of MyCorporation.com (@MyCorporation). MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and Twitter.
Amber WestoverAmber Westover is a Digital Marketing Strategist and Debt Specialist for BestCompany.com, (@BestCompanyUSA). She is passionate about learning and researching. Amber enjoys studying personal finances and sharing strategies to overcome debt.
Pamela YellenPamela Yellen (@PamelaYellen) is a financial investigator and the author of two New York Times best-selling books, including her latest,”The Bank on Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future.”

How to Prep Your Home for Winter on the Cheap

Winterizing Your Home

Don’t let the winter frosts crack a hole in your budget.

The summer weather may be lasting longer this year, but the cold shall come again. And when it does, you want to be ready for it. If you have a family, you don’t want them to be freezing through the season, and even if you live on your own, you still shouldn’t want to freeze. It’s very bad for your health.

Of course, you can always run up huge heating bills and take out a high-interest loan to pay for damage from winter storms. That’s one way to get through to spring—although your savings might not make it. Being broke isn’t as bad as freezing to death, the former can certainly lead to the latter, so it’s really better avoided.

That’s why the time to start winterizing your home right now. The sooner you get prepped, the better chance you’ll have to avoid serious bills and the predatory bad credit loans and no credit check loans that follow in their wake. That’s why we spoke to the experts to find out how you can get your home ready for winter for less. Read on to learn how to prepare your home for winter weather and save cash!

Get an audit (the good kind)

The first step in spending less on heating your home is figuring out how much you’re actually spending on heating your home and energy in your home in general. And the best way to do that is with an audit.

“I just bought a home that is quite old, and I’m worried about the energy costs I will accrue,” financial expert Maggie Germano (@MaggieGermano) told us, sharing her personal experience with preparing her home for winter. “This is especially true in the master bedroom, which was built into what used to be the attic. There are clearly some insulation issues, and I don’t want to go broke paying my utilities. One solution I’ve found is to get a home energy audit. There is a local company that teams up with my state’s environment department in order to cut energy use and spending. They assess your home and recommend any changes or updates you should incorporate.

“To make it better, they tell you about any tax benefits you can get from the state by implementing these changes. So not only will you save money on energy costs, but you’ll also likely get a tax break for doing so. I’m really looking forward to my energy audit, and can’t wait to make my home as sustainable as possible.”

Award-winning author Shel Horowitz (@shelhorowitz) advised how not to spend too much on your audit: “Get an energy audit from your local electric company. Power companies are under instructions to encourage conservation, so they typically do energy audits for free or for a $10 or $20 fee.”

Of course, if you want to be sure you’re getting your energy audit for free, you can always perform your own version. “One way to prepare your home for winter is to review your electricity bills and address how much you’re actually paying for electricity,” suggested Kelly Bedrich, co-founder of ElectricityPlans.com (@shopelectricity). “If your home uses an electric heating system, electric hot water heater, or if you pull a Clark Griswold and like to go crazy with the holiday lights, you may benefit from shopping for a lower electricity rate.”

Bedrich even offered some specific ways you can lower your rate in a previous article about keeping your house cool for less during the summer.

But, of course, there are changes in behavior and home you can make to really rack up the savings while staying warm.

Insulate, insulate, insulate

A properly insulated house can be as warm as a little furry fox wrapped in a blanket licking hot cocoa from a small dog bowl by a roaring fire surrounded by a family telling it how much they love it.

To that end, Ali Wenzke (@AliWenzke) of The Art of Happy Moving told us two essential insulation goals. The first targets one of the more obvious ways that the cold air cold air can leak into your house: the windows.

“For under $10, you can make a huge impact on cutting down your winter heating bills by using a window insulation kit. If done properly, you won’t even notice the plastic wrap on your windows. If you’re not crazy about the look, then compromise and only insulate windows that you see less often or that are usually covered by window treatments.”

The other location is a little bit spookier: “Even if there’s a layer of insulation in your unconditioned attic floor, the problem is that the heat will rise to fill the cold area created by any leaks or holes. Namely, the heat you’re trying to conserve in your home will sneak its way up through the attic door. To save yourself some money in the long term, invest in an attic insulation tent or a box that fits over the opening of your pull-down stairs.”

John Bodrozic, co-founder of Homezada (@HomeZada) gave us even more advice for keeping the heat from leaking out of the attic:

“Check the attic for spots or areas where the insulation is a bit thin. This could be over an access door, or in areas around pipes, and equipment that go through the attic floor and into the house. Adding a few layers of insulation there really helps warm air from escaping the house.

“Check your ductwork in the attic. Most ductwork in the attic is hung, and therefore develops a sag over time. This sagging can create a situation where a smaller piece of the ductwork has disconnected from a bigger part. This creates a lot of waste as hot conditioner air is blowing into the attic and not into the house/room where the disconnected duct is.

“In addition, you should consider insulating the ductwork and making sure as much of each duct is wrapped in insulation. This is another area where heat escapes and thus the house not being as warm as it should.”

But that’s not all!

Finding an outlet

It turns out there might be heat leaking out of your house in nearly every room. Here’s what Horowitz told us to look out for:

“Put your hand over an electrical outlet on an outside wall on a cold night and you’ll feel the rush of frigid air! Insulate your electrical outlets, switches, and phone jacks on outside walls.

If your energy auditor didn’t give them to you, most hardware stores sell inexpensive foam outlet and phone jack insulation pads; just unscrew the faceplate, slip the foam pad on, and put the faceplate back.”

Now let’s climb up onto the roof!

The roof, the roof, the roof being on fire isn’t an advisable way to keep your house warm

Let’s head all the way to the roof of the house now, or as nobody calls it, the hat of your home.

“Your roof is integral, keeping your house warm, dry, insulated and protected from the outdoors,” Sage Singleton, home maintenance expert at Safewise (@SafeWise), advised. “Just like a car needs a regular oil change, your roof needs a regular inspection to make sure it is in good condition. Don’t wait for the harsh winter months to see if the roof is leaking or has ice backup. Ice backup forms in winter and is caused by poor ventilation or inadequate insulation in the attic.”

And Singleton also had some advice for the roof’s sideburns, the gutters: “Gutters control water flow, away from your roof, walls, and foundation. When they get clogged with leaves and debris throughout the year, they no longer function properly. If your gutters are clogged, they can cause water to overflow and flood your basement. Clean out your rain gutters, ideally each spring and fall. Cleaning your gutters in the autumn ensures they are clear of debris and will function properly in the cold, wet months to come.”

And what are gutters, really, but…

The time is pipe

…pipes that have been cut in half. And when it comes to getting your house ready for winter, it’s important to get the pipes ready.

“During winter, outside water can freeze and burst exterior pipes,” warned Singleton. “Rather than letting this happen, take precautions to prevent frozen pipes by disconnecting all garden hoses and draining any water left in outdoor spigots. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, drain it as well.”

“If the temperature will drop below freezing overnight, leave exterior faucets trickling to avoid the pressure buildup that causes burst pipes. You can also avoid frozen and burst pipes inside your house by insulating your home and pipes. Use foam, heating cables, or pipe sleeves, and seal any cracks in your home’s exterior.”

When you winterize around the house, you winterize AROUND the house

And now, before we go, we’ve got some more general tips you can use to keep your house warm on the cheap.

Carson Yarbrough, personal finance and savings specialist for credit cards at Offers.com (@Offers), gave us three different winter prep tips.

The first was about your water heater: “Get free savings with this simple trick. Hot water heaters are typically set at around 140 degrees. Lower the temperature on yours to 120 for savings on thermal energy costs. You’ll also lessen the chance of accidental burns, and the water will still be hot enough for showers, laundry and doing the dishes!”

Next she offered us a way to insulate one of the few places in the house we hadn’t told you to insulate yet: “You can install a door sweep to stop chilly winds from entering your home under an outside door. A door sweep is a flexible piece of rubber or plastic that’s held to the door’s lower edge by a strip of aluminum. You can find cheap door sweeps at home improvement stores anywhere from $6-$40.”

And your furnace filters? Yeah, Yarbrough told us you’re going to want to replace those: “Dirty furnace filters reduce furnace efficiency and raise heating utility bills. They also shorten the life of a furnace! Check and replace the furnace filter monthly in winter to see savings on your monthly bill. If you’re unable to see through the filter, it’s time to replace it. You can find a 4 pack at Walmart for just $15 – $3.75 a filter – well worth it for those added winter savings!”

Jeffrey Weldler, Marketing Director and Interior Decorating Expert at Vänt Wall Panels (@VantPanels), gave us a couple tips of things to keep an eye on around the house: “Keep closet doors closed and close off rooms you don’t use. Close vents in unused rooms so you don’t pay to heat space you’re not using. Look for cracks in your exterior or foundation. You can seal them with caulking to keep the draft out. Also check the roof for missing shingles or tiles to make sure moisture doesn’t get in your attic and cause mold.”

Finally, Kelly McClenahan, decluttering expert for Price Self Storage (@PriceStorage), told us a way to winterize your home while making it even homier: “This time of transition is a good time to spruce up your home and organize your things for the coming cold seasons. Arrange blankets on couches, chairs, and beds throughout the house so they will be within reach when the chill starts creeping in.

“Make your bedroom ready for the cold by switching out your light summery bed linens for cozier fabrics and richer colors. Flannel sheets are great for cold nights. Layer blankets or even a faux fur throw to add richness and warmth. Slippers are the best way to keep your feet warm in the winter. A basket of slippers by your front door for visitors to don after taking off their muddy or snowy boots would be a nice touch.”

Take all of this advice, and your home will be as warm as our appreciation for you! And without breaking the bank!

How do you prepare your home for winter? Let us know! You can email us or you can find us on Facebook and Twitter

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

Kelly Bedrich is Co-Founder and President of ElectricityPlans.com, an innovative electricity shopping experience focused on quality electricity providers, straightforward plans, and data-driven tools to help customers find their perfect electricity plan.  He is also President of Cypress Capital Ventures LLC, a website portfolio company focused on addressing consumer needs in renewable energy. He is an IT entrepreneur, energy conservation advocate, and loves to help others reduce their energy usage through awareness and education.
John Bodrozic is a co-founder of HomeZada, an online and mobile home management solution. HomeZada strives to educate and provide resources for homeowners in all areas of home management, including home inventory, home maintenance, home finances and home improvement projects.
Maggie Germano, 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.
K_McClenhanKelly McClenahan is a storage industry professional, marketing manager for Price Self Storage (@PriceStorage) and editor for the Live Uncluttered Blog. She enjoys finding and sharing creative solutions to home decluttering and organization challenges.
Jeffrey Weldler is the Marketing Director and Home Design Expert at Vänt Wall Panels. Vänt Wall Panels are the most innovative and user-friendly wall décor system ever created. Vänt is inspiring living at its finest. They’re perfect for every room in the house, from the kitchen and bedroom to the living room and office. Learn more about Vänt by visiting Vänt Wall Panels.
Ali Wenzke, Moving Expert, moved 10 times in 11 years. Now she’s helping the millions of people who move each year by providing practical tips on how to make moving a happy experience at The Art of Happy Moving. After calling seven U.S. states home, Ali is now happily settled in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and three children. She doesn’t plan on moving anytime soon.
C_YarbroughCarson Yarbrough is a Consumer Insights Specialist for Offers.com (@Offers), and loves finding a good deal. She covers all things shopping, spending, and deal-hunting. Carson is passionate about discovering the best finds and sharing insights with consumers. In her free time, she loves finding free shows, music festivals and spending time around the beautiful city of Austin.

How to Enjoy Fun Fall Activities for Less


There are plenty of ways to enjoy yourself this autumn season without cracking open the piggy bank.

The leaves are changing color and there’s a slight chill in the air. Yes, folks, fall is here once again. Fall is filled with fun activities and many of them can be done on the cheap!

The Classics

First, let’s get some of the most obvious options out of the way. These are the timeless fall traditions. We’re pretty sure it’s illegal to not do at least three of these before the season is over.

Here’s a nearly comprehensive list that Lisa Richmond of Making Life Richer (@makingliferich) shared with us:

  • “Visit a pumpkin patch – There are many free pumpkin patches that allow families to partake in fall fun.”
  • “Decorate your house together – Pull out fall decorations and decorate the house together.  The kids love to take part in making the house festive.”
  • “Jump in a pile of leaves – All you need is a rake or a walk along a tree lined street!”
  • “Go to a chili cook-off – These generally have an entrance fee or tasting fee.”
  • “Visit a local farm for apple picking – Fruit you pick tends to be less expensive than fruit in the grocery store and you get lots of memories from the outing.”
  • “Have spiced apple cider – Buy different brands of spiced apple cider and do a taste test.  You can always add in pumpkin flavored goodies to the taste test and make an event of it.”
  • “Watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – Pop some popcorn and make a family movie night of it!”
  • “Have a pumpkin decorating contest (you can just draw or use real pumpkins).”
  • “Bake monster shaped cookies – Cost would depend on what ingredients you have on hand and how fancy you make the cookies.”
  • “Write notes for family and friends of why you are thankful for them.”
  • “Make Thanksgiving crafts to pass out at a nursing home.”
  • “Watch your local high school football game together.”

But in addition to the classics, additional fall activities have arisen over the years.

The fall future is now

We are living in times our ancestors could have only dreamed of. We may not have jetpacks or flying cars or transporter machines, but we have coffee makers that need firmware updates, and well, that’s something!

That also means there are more fall activity options than ever before. Michael Banks founder of FortunateInvestor.com (@FortunateInvest), offered a possibility the pilgrims could have only dreamed of:

“Another fall activity for non-families is Fantasy Football. It’s typically free, and a great way to get more out of football Sundays. You can meet up to discuss results or watch the games, and it’s a great reason to have a party!”

But even if Banks is living in the future, he’s also a fan of the classics: “Fall staple, pumpkin patches are a great, cheap way to have a classic fall day. Especially popular with families, you can spend time picking out pumpkins, and later (safely) carving them up at home!”

If you’re a photography fan, fall is a great season to add to your Instagram account. Take a walk through a nearby forest and check out all the pretty leaf colors. Visit a farmers market and take pictures of your haul as well as whatever you make with it. Got a dog? The entire internet would surely love to watch them frolic through the fallen leaves. Get enough followers and likes, and maybe you can even get an apple pie company to send you some free samples.

You could also have friends come over for a scary movie festival. As long as someone has access to a Netflix password, there will be a lot of options to choose from. You may not be able to plan out specific movies without purchasing them, but Netflix has a big range of weird and esoteric horror movies. Half the fun is putting on something you’ve never heard of and seeing what happens. (Sadly, for finance nerds like us, there isn’t a movie about the dangers of predatory payday loans and title loans … yet.) There are also a lot of anthologies, or movies made up of multiple smaller films, which can be a great choice. That way you aren’t watching any one thing for too long. Be sure to have some spooky snacks like… scary popcorn!

And the most important free activity

We touched on this above a bit, but spending time with friends and family is one of the most important things you can do. And they won’t even charge you for it! There’s a reason there are so many holidays around this time of year. Humans have always tried to keep together when the weather gets colder and the sky gets darker earlier. And the activities we didn’t say you should do with family and friends? Well, you can still do those with friends and family anyway!

Have yourself a wonderful harvest season without messing up your bank account!

What are some cheap fall activities that you enjoy? Let us know! You can email us or you can shoot us a message on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Michael Banks is a seasoned finance professional and founder of FortunateInvestor.com (@FortunateInvest). With 20 years of professional experience in the financial services industry, he uses his expertise to turn simple lessons on money into lifelong habits that form the basis for a successful financial future.
L_RichmondLisa Richmond is the blogger/writer at Making Life Richer (@makingliferich) since May 2017. She is a busy wife and mother of 3 children. Originally from Southern California, Lisa now makes her home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lisa worked in marketing as a Digital Marketing Program Manager for over 9 years prior to staying home to care for her family.

7 Cheap Halloween Costume Ideas

Cheap Halloween Costume Ideas

Why break the bank for a Halloween costume you’ll wear a grand total of once?

Hello BOILS and GHOULS! As the leaves on the trees begin to turn to BOOtiful SHADES of yellow and DEAD, it’s GRIME to start thinking about what costume you’re going to SCARE for Halloween!

You want to have a spooky great look, but you also don’t want to wipe out your entire GRAVE-ings account.That’s why we’re FEAR with some suggestions for CREEPER Halloween costumes.

1. With “It”

This year’s biggest horror movie is the remake of Stephen King’s It. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been told. We’re too scared to actually see it. (But we hear good things!)

A full Pennywise the clown costume might be a little expensive, but there are cheap alternatives! Just get a friend to do the face makeup, and then cut a rectangular hole in a sheet of cardboard.

Color it to look like a storm drain, staple a string that you can tie around your head, and you can recreate (spooky spoilers) this iconic movie moment  without getting a full body costume together. Bonus points for having a little paper boat.

2. Going batty

What animal is most associated with Halloween?

That’s right: any animal with a skeleton because skeletons are spooky. But bats are a close second. And the Evil Mad Scientist (@EMSL) site has brilliant instructions for an affordable bat costume.

Just cut up one of those cheap umbrellas as the instructions describe and attach it under your arms in a plain black outfit. Or attach it to fancy clothes and wear some cheap fangs if you want to be an aristocratic vampire.

3. [Cheap TV reference]

Cheap TV references can make for cheap costumes. And they don’t have to be current! In fact, it’s almost better if they’re older, because then you can make a new friend every time someone recognizes your costume. Do you like The Office? You could make yourself a version of Jim’s three-hole punch costume for under a buck. For a bit of a throwback, Wilson from Home Improvement just takes a fishing hat and a section of fence you can make out of popsicle sticks or cardboard. Like 30 Rock but hate putting effort into costumes even more than Jenna hates things that aren’t about her? Well just cut a little “TGS” out of paper, tape it to a grey sweatshirt, put on some glasses, and you’re Liz Lemon at work! If you’re a couple who likes Parks and Recreation, consider dressing up like Agent Burt Macklin and Janet Snakehole. Whatever TV show you love, there’s probably a super cheap costume you can make to honor it.

4. Skeleton of fun

As mentioned above, the spookiest animal of all is the skeleton. And Martha Stewart has a video showing you how to make a very cheap version of one. All you’ll need is a white shirt and a slightly bigger black shirt that you’re willing to cut slits into to act as the ribs. You can get some face paint too, but we’ll leave that up to you.

5. Berry good

What’s the spookiest fruit? Dragonfruit, obviously, but we haven’t seen any tips to make a costume for that. So instead, you could try dressing up like a strawberry with this simple costume. The site, Studio DIY, also has a pineapple version, so you and a friend can go as a preassembled edible arrangement.

6. Brands brands brands

Brand mascots are like TV characters, except they’re much more explicit about trying to sell you things. Carbon Costume (@carboncostume), a site for DIY costumes, has an easy Brawny Man attire as well as a suggestion for a Vince, the Shamwow Guy get-up.  Something like the Hamburglar or the Sun-Maid Raisin girl also makes for an easy project. Maybe you can even get one of those companies to sponsor it! Or at least send you free stuff after you tweet a photo of yourself.

7. DIY not

Natasha Rachel Smith, financial expert at TopCashback (@TopCashBackUSPR) offered her own DIY recommendation:

“If you are crafty, consider making your costume! Having DIY skills is beneficial to creating a fun and frugal costume, and DIY costumes are usually the most memorable! From a gumball machine to your favorite Nickelodeon characters, the possibilities are endless when you are crafty and creative.”

She also had tips for the less creative among us:

“If you aren’t crafty and want to buy a costume from a store, make sure to shop for the best deals. Try waiting until the last minute to purchase your costume, to receive a bigger discount. Buying your costume the day before Halloween (or the day after and save it for next year) can save you at least 50 percent off the original price because retailers want to get rid of their remaining inventory.”

Members of the TopCashBack team even shared some of their own DIY costume creations with us:

  • The Spice Girls, the cheapest costume ever! We purchased poster boards and drew spice names on them!
  • Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy from SpongeBob. I repurposed clothes I already owned and purchased dish gloves, rain boots, and the hat. I think I spent $30 total. My friend had to purchase a couple additional items such as green leggings, slippers and craft supplies to make the belt and bra, but she only spent $30 as well.
  • Gumball machine. I was two versions of this and both were very cheap. I repurposed the same red skirt for both. I hot glued pompom balls to the top, and the other we inflated dollar store balloons and shoved them into a trash bag. The only downsides are it took a couple of hours to glue everything on and inflate the balloons.”

At the end of the day, as long as you have some sort of costume prepared, you’ll be better off than the person who forgot to think of one until the morning of.

Enjoy, stay safe, and have yourself a SCARY holiday!

Do you have a great idea for an affordable costume? Let us know by entering The OppLoans #Halloween Budget Sweepstakes on Facebook and Twitter and you could win $100! 

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Natasha Rachel Smith is a personal finance expert at TopCashBack. 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.

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+

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 One: The Journey


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+

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.

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+

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.

Affordable Phone Plans to Avoid Bad Credit

Affordable Phone Plans

Smartphones are more essential than ever these days. You might even be reading this article on one right now! Unfortunately, they can also get pretty expensive.

And if you don’t pay your phone bill on time, it can actually end up making your credit score worse. So how can you get the vital phone services you need without risking bad credit?

Thankfully, there are likely affordable phone plans within your budget, but you have to be careful! Some potential providers may attempt to take advantage of your situation. That’s why we spoke to the experts to make sure that your phone plan isn’t a PHONY plan (sorry) (just kidding, we’re not sorry).

Consider lesser known carriers.

You probably see a lot of ads from the major cell phone carriers. Your Verizons and Sprints and AT&Ts, if you will. But what about the carriers that might not be able to afford massive advertising budgets? The ones who never had the chance to ask if you could hear them now. When comparing pricing possibilities, it can be worth looking at the carriers less often considered. That’s what Gabe Lumby of Cash Cow Couple (@CashCowCouple) did.

We really like Republic Wireless as a cheap phone plan option and have written a detailed review on our site about the service,” Lumby told us. “I’ve personally used the service for over 3 years and outside of some occasionally spotty coverage, I have no complaints. We only pay $31 and change for both my wife and I’s cell phone plans. Here is a link to their pricing page.

“Regardless of which carrier is chosen, it is smart to look at some of the new players in the space when looking to save money. Some other options include Straight Talk and Virgin Mobile.

“There are other competitors as well, but my advice would be to look at some of these lesser known options instead of your large carriers.”

Cut down on data usage.

This is a pretty obvious tip, but it’s still important. Unless you have an unlimited data plan, which can be a huge expense in and of itself, you have to be very careful about not going over your data or you’ll face grim punishment (in the form of higher fees). But you don’t need to take our word for it. Here’s what Lumby said: “Also, try hard to curb your data usage. Many people have large data plans when they could be using free wifi at their work, restaurants, etc. Data is the huge money drain.”

Beware the “free phone”.

There’s no price better than free, which is why you should be immediately suspicious of anyone offering you a free phone. We aren’t experts, but we’re pretty sure there are all sorts of expensive electronics and tiny computers that go into the creation of a phone, so no one is going to be giving you one unless they’re expecting to get something out of it.

Brett Graff (@BrettGraff), The Home Economist and author of “Not Buying It,” offered this warning: “If the phone is for an elderly person, you can apply to the FCC for a credit towards a landline or a cell phone. Otherwise, don’t fall for the free phone. God it’s tempting, I know. But prices for cell phone and wireless services are dropping constantly and you’re in a better position to negotiate without a contract.

“Many times, that ‘free’ phone isn’t free at all, it’s divided into monthly payments tacked on to your bill. What’s more, if you want to really save, you can buy an inexpensive phone that matches your plan almost anywhere. Then you must shop around to find the lowest prices but remember what those prices include and always—always—check your bill. Third party providers are excellent at slipping fees on, so look for anything unusual such as ringtones or horoscopes that you didn’t order. The most common cramming fee is for $10.99, so if you’re charged that amount for a service you don’t want, call and complain because you’ve likely been scammed.”

Curtis McCoy, CEO of BestCellular.com, (@BestCellular) had his own list of hidden dangers “free phone” providers can try and trick you into:

“In the United States, smartphone plans can range upwards of $100/mo. Many companies advertise a great price or ‘free phones’ but it has become almost an industry standard to charge hidden fees (on top of what the customer knowingly agreed to when signing the contract).

“Some of the common hidden fees can include:

  • Finance charges on ‘free’ devices.
  • ‘No contract’ cell phone plans that lock the customer into an ‘agreement’ when financing the new phone.
  • Many larger carriers charge up to $40/mo. in what they call a ‘line access fee.’ This is literally an additional fee to have a phone number (above and beyond the advertised price).
  • Many prepaid wireless stores are now charging a ‘Service Convenience Fee’ to pay your bill in-store with a live agent.
  • Other carriers and Mobile Virtual Network Operators offer, ‘Unlimited Data’ that is capped or throttled when you hit the LIMIT a.k.a. ‘Reasonable Usage Policy CAP.’”

McCoy also offered some additional tips for saving on your cell situation:

“Tips that can save you a LOT of money on your phone bill:

  • If at all possible, save up and pay cash for your phone instead of making payments. If you’re convinced that you must have a new phone but can’t afford it, even a high-interest credit card is cheaper than financing through a cellular retailer.
  • If you can make due with a used/refurbished phone, you can save a lot of money as well.
  • If you have a working phone from another carrier, some companies let you bring your own phone or activate online: https://BestCellular.com/Activate
  • Just connecting to WiFi when you’re at home, work, school or the local coffee shop can save you money!
  • Mobile Data is the most expensive part of your phone bill. Use these tips to Save Mobile Data and you can also save a lot of money: https://BestCellular.com/SaveData/”

You should also read about and see if you might qualify for the Lifeline Program, which offers subsidized phones based on need. Remember that getting some help is never wrong if you need it, especially if it keeps you from getting bad credit or turning to payday loans.

Take all of this advice together, and you’ll be talking on the phone, without losing your home!

Do you have some tips of your own for finding an affordable phone plan? We’d love to hear about it! You can shoot us an email by clicking here or you can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.

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

Brett Graff (@BrettGraff), has 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!
Gabe Lumby is the CMO at Cash Cow Couple (@CashCowCouple) where he helps get the word out on how readers can build their best financial life. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and crappie fishing the local waterways of Southwest Missouri.
Best Cellular (@BestCellular) is a Quad-Carrier Mobile Virtual Network Operator that uses Every Tower from Every Major Carrier in the USA. This allows us to offer the best possible prepaid wireless coverage to almost every customer in America. Extensive technical resources and cutting edge developments like these allow us to offer unmatched service to dealers and customers alike!