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.

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

Cheapest Ways to Travel, Part One: The Journey

opploans-cheaper-travel-part-1

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

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

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


Going public.

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

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

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

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

IIIIIIIIIIIIII just want to fly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expert tips for flying on a budget.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s make a deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

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Contributors
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!

Avoid Payday Loans By Staying Healthy: A Wellness Guide

Wellness Guide

Medical debt continues to be a big problem for many people in the United States. According to a survey released by the Kaiser Family Foundation, over a quarter of Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills.
And it’s not surprising. Healthcare can be incredibly expensive. Just one night in the hospital can cost almost $2,000, and if you aren’t insured or your insurance doesn’t cover the stay, that’s all coming out of your pocket. If your credit isn’t great, you may even be tempted to turn to a payday loan to handle the costs.
With these tips from the experts, you can lower your chances of running into costly medical issues, saving yourself a lot of money in the long run.

Rethink the gym.

Gym memberships are costly, and it’s hard to find the time to actually go there. If you’re paying for a membership but not actually using it, then you’re just throwing money away. And if you can afford to just throw money away, then why are you reading this website when you could be racing helicopters around your top secret private island?

Here’s what health and wellness expert Audrey Christie (@Audrey_C_Mcl) had to say about gym memberships:

“I love to tell people to get rid of the gym membership. It often does more harm than good. Especially if you are simply trying to move more or lose weight. You can’t outwork overeating and trying to outwork it leads to a serious decrease in the happiness department. Instead, think back to what you liked to do as a child… ride bikes, play a particular sport… these can be clues as to how you might like to move your body as an adult. Once you figure out how your body wants to move and play… aim for thirty or so minutes a day.” Check out Christie’s website AudreyChristie.com for more of her advice:

You should also consider some kind of strength training. “Due to the natural process of sarcopenia, we all begin to lose muscle mass around age thirty at a rate of one percent per year,” nutrition expert Dr. Caroline Apovian (@DrApovian) explained to us. “This process accelerates at age forty. This is a health problem for many reasons, but one of the main ones in regards to weight is that our basal metabolic rate is primarily determined by the amount of lean muscle mass we have. So, as our muscles shrink, our metabolisms slow down.”

How can you avoid the worst effects? Dr. Apovian has the answers:

“While this process happens for everyone, weight gain and weakness are not inevitable side effects of aging. With the combination of a high protein, whole foods diet and strength training, many of my patients become stronger and healthier than they ever have been. Strength training will also provide people (of all ages) with the following health benefits: lower stress levels, improved cognitive abilities, less bone loss, and reduced risks for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.”

And Dr. Apovian assures us you can get these benefits without a costly gym membership:

“Studies have shown that lifting weights just twice per week for about thirty minutes is enough to rebuild lean muscle mass. I advise beginners to start slowly, maintaining proper form with lighter weights.  Increase weight and intensity as you progress. Make sure to work all major muscle groups in the body.

“Using free weights at home is an excellent alternative to joining a gym, or there are many gyms that offer lower costs for community members. As long as you are consistently challenging yourself, working out at home with a pair of dumbbells can do the trick.”

Registered dietitian Kim Melton (@NutritionPro_1) joined in the “quit the gym” chorus: “Workout at home. There are several apps that you can download onto your phone that have a variety of workout routines at various levels and use little to no equipment. There are also hundreds of great workouts for free on YouTube from yoga to strength training to cardio. This eliminates the need for expensive gym equipment and/or a membership to save you money.”

If you do have some money for fitness but don’t think the gym is your speed, Calli De La Haye, co-founder of Kalimukti Yoga (@Kalimuktiyoga), has an alternative suggestion: “Making yoga part of your lifestyle optimizes your health and it doesn’t need to be expensive. You can roll out the mat and practice on your own, anywhere for free or if you’re not sure where to start and prefer to have a teacher, our site offers you yoga classes for £8.99 a month [about $11 USD], which is cheaper than attending one yoga class at a studio. Here’s the site so you can check it out and there’s even a free 14-day trial to get you started.”

Sleep well.

Some wellness tips won’t cost you anything. For example, getting more sleep. Of course, just because you don’t have to spend money on it, doesn’t mean it’s always easy to make the time to get a good night’s sleep, but if you can, the benefits are worth it. Dr. Apovian is here to explain exactly what those benefits are:

“A lack of sufficient sleep not only stimulates high cortisol levels but also interrupts the balance between our satiety and hunger hormones. Two important hormones, ghrelin and leptin, are brought into balance while you sleep. Ghrelin signals the body to replenish energy stores and is experienced as hunger and cravings. Leptin helps us to feel full and satisfied. The day after a less than optimal night of sleep, ghrelin levels remain high and leptin levels drop, regardless of what we eat.

“Studies also indicate that getting less than the optimal amount of sleep regularly negatively impacts memory and the areas of the brain associated with rational decision-making. This makes our decisions (like whether or not to have a doughnut for breakfast), more impulsive.

There are some reasons why getting a good night’s sleep in middle age is more challenging than before. Shifting circadian rhythms, a natural decrease in melatonin, and the hormonal side effects of aging, especially for women, can all interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. I offer many tips on my blog for reversing this trend, but in a nutshell, keep a consistent sleep schedule, blockout seven to nine hours for sleep every night, and be aware of the lifestyle habits that encourage sound sleep (limited screen time, healthy, protein-rich diet, cardiovascular exercise) and the ones that interfere with sleep (inconsistent sleeping and eating schedule, added sugars, foods high in fat, sedentary lifestyle).”

Shop smart, eat smart.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could eat whatever you want and stay healthy? Sadly, the world isn’t always nice. BUT you can eat healthy without setting your wallet on fire.

Brett Graff (@BrettGraff), The Home Economist and author of NOT BUYING IT: Raising Happier, Healthier & More Successful Kids, gave us the rundown on planning your meals:

“There’s one ingredient to healthy and inexpensive eating: planning. If you wait until one hour before dinner to plan dinner, you’ll grab whatever is available and it will never be the healthiest or cheapest option. When you sit down for just 45 minutes or less a week on, say, Sunday, you can map out healthy meals using seasonal (that means cheaper) ingredients and sale items.

“You can, for example, cook a big pot of black beans to eat with chicken on Monday, rice on Tuesday, and you can add light sour cream, cilantro, and puree to use as a sandwich spread by Friday. You can stock up on healthy, whole grain breads to have with turkey on Monday and as a side to a salad on Wednesday. Plus you can incorporate sale items into meals. During my planning, I look up recipes and then type the ingredients into one of the online delivery services so I don’t forget anything. Even with a fee, you can feed a family for a fraction of what takeout or last minute restaurant meals cost. If you buy sale items, you’ll lower your costs. What’s more, planning once a week eliminates having to plan every single day, so you cut your emotional and stress costs as well. That’s healthy.”

Graff also told us which foods to buy to get the healthiest bang for your buck:

“It’s actually cheaper to live a healthy lifestyle. You don’t have to buy organic vegetables. There’s a great debate about synthetic vs. natural pesticides. It might seem that natural pesticides are safer but guess what? They’re still toxic and created to kill bugs. There are plenty of natural substances you wouldn’t want in your bloodstream, snake venom and arsenic, for example. Buy fruit and vegetables with skin and always check the Environmental Working Group’s website for the “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.” They’ll tell you the conventional produce with the least pesticide residue.

“Also, you don’t need bottled water. The Natural Resource Defense Council found that most of it comes from the public water supply anyway. Most municipal water is completely safe, so fill from the faucet with reusable bottles and keep them in the fridge for when you’re on-the-go. When it comes to money, you’ll find that fresh produce is cheaper than takeout. Skip prepared foods and buy a bag of lettuce and a rotisserie chicken if you don’t have the patience to cook.”

Melton also advocates meal planning. “Plan ahead and take food with you to school, work or when you will be gone from home,” Melton advised. “If you have healthy food available when hunger strikes, you will be less likely to spend money and make less healthy choices. As someone once said, never shop when you’re hungry. That’s good advice!”

And what sort of food does Melton recommend you buy? Or more accurately, avoid buying? “Eat less sugar. Research has shown that a major population eats more sugar than they should.  Look for recipes online that use less sugar or simply use less in your favorite recipes. By cutting back on this ingredient, you will not only save money but your health will be better.”

More affordable pharmaceuticals.

Pharmaceuticals are one of the most expensive, regular medical costs people face. Whether it’s pills, insulin, or inhalers, it’s all costly and it can be even more expensive if you aren’t able to take the meds you need. That’s why Joseph Sanginiti, President and CEO of FamilyWize (@FamilyWize) gave us advice on how you can keep your pharmaceutical bills more affordable:

“Always talk to your pharmacist. Your pharmacist, like all healthcare professionals, cares about your health and wants to best help their customers. Get to know your pharmacist so they can help you find alternatives if you are having trouble affording your monthly prescriptions. Don’t be afraid to do a shop comparison on your prescription and tell them if you find a better price.

“Compare prices with your local pharmacies. There are ways to compare prices that are as easy as the tap of a finger. For example, the FamilyWize app for iOs and Android has a Drug Price Lookup Tool that shows the different pricing for your medications across local pharmacies. It helps you identify the most cost-efficient option. Pharmacies just a few miles apart can have different prices for the same drug, saving you big in the long run.

“Opt for generic drugs over brand names. According to the FDA, the average cost of a generic drug is 80-85 percent lower than its brand name counterpart. Generic drugs have the same ingredients, dosage, intended use, side effects, and strength as the original drug.

“Use the same savings strategies for your prescriptions as you do for other purchases. Check out the pharmacy counters at big-box and club stores – they may offer better discounts than you can get through insurance. Or, see if your insurer has a preferred pharmacy to get the best prices.

“Download prescription drug savings cards and apps. Prescription savings cards are easy to use and can get you major discounts. The FamilyWize Free Prescriptions Savings Card and app have no eligibility requirements and save people on average 43 percent off of their prescription medications! Whether you’re insured, uninsured, or underinsured, you can download the app or print the card, show it to your pharmacists, and see the savings.”

It’s important to look after your health every single day. And with this Wellness Guide, you can do it without going broke.

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Contributors
Dr. Caroline Apovian (@DrApovian) has worked in weight loss and nutrition for over 25 years.  She currently serves as Director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at the Boston Medical Center, a professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and vice president of The Obesity Society. She lives in Boston, MA.
Audrey Christie (@Audrey_C_Mcl) is a holistic wellness practitioner that helps to empower her clients to wellness. Her richly developed background and training includes Registered Nurse, Reiki Master, Certified Clinical Master of Aromatherapy, Yoga Teacher, Homeopathics and Epigenetics. She draws on all of this (plus infinite universal knowledge) to work with her clients via one-on-one sessions or group classes and courses. Recently Audrey has begun sharing her how her lifestyle allows for major financial savings too.
Calli De La Haye (@Kalimuktiyoga) is an RYT500 qualified and experienced yoga teacher, having established a busy yoga studio in Jersey with 25 weekly classes Calli expanded online to share her mission of helping people find freedom through yoga. She is Co-Founder of Kalimukti (www.kalimukti.com), an online yoga platform offering classes for all levels of ability across a range of different yoga styles, that can be practiced anywhere anytime.
Brett Graff, 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!
Kim Melton (@NutritionPro_1) is a consulting and media Registered Dietitian specializing in health,  fitness and weight management. She has a passion for teaching others how to implement sound nutrition and healthy lifestyle principles into their lives. Check out her website nutritionproconsulting.com for recipes and articles that can help you reach your health goals!
Joseph Sanginiti (@FamilyWize) is President & Chief Executive Officer of FamilyWize, which improves people’s lives by providing access to affordable prescription medications. He has spent more than 25 years with several Fortune 500 organizations. As a senior executive in the pharmacy benefit management industry, Joe was responsible for both the integrations and management of pharmacy operations nationally. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of a number of companies and non-profit organizations.

How to Throw a Fun and Affordable Birthday Party for Your Child!

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It’s easy to overthink throwing a kid’s birthday party. What if this is the moment that locks in their popularity with their friends for the rest of their school years!? Is the only way to be safe to throw the most lavish party in history?
Of course not! You can throw a fantastic (but still affordable) party that your child and all of their friends will enjoy. We spoke to the experts to get you the tips you need to throw a cheap party that won’t feel cheap. So dust off your mantle, because you’re about to get a “Best Parent Ever” award!

Pick a theme and stick to it.

A cheap but matching outfit is always going to look better than the most expensive clothes thrown together all willy-nilly. The same principle applies to parties. A cheaper party with a strong, committed theme is going to be better than dancing horses weaving in between robot butlers. As interesting as that may sound, it’s going to lead to a lot of frightened horses and broken butlers. Instead, choose a theme to build the party around, like Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim (@AmyCooperHakim) did. Here’s what the founder of the Cooper Strategic Group told us:

“It’s easy to make a nice party without breaking the bank. It’s all about balance. Simply focus on an inexpensive (yet really fun!) hobby as the theme. When my daughter, Adina, turned 10 she wanted to have a ‘girlie’ science party. We had the party at home, and she helped to plan it. She chose three science experiments that she found online. We printed out the directions and ordered enough supplies. Then, we picked up hot pink mixing bowls and glittery confetti for the tables.

“On the big day, Adina was the star. She led the girls in each experiment. With a little help from some grownups on hand, we moved the party along and helped children who needed extra assistance with their experiments. We ended the party with a piñata filled with yummy candy! The girls took home their completed science experiments, as well. It was a home run! And, some of Adina’s friends even grew inspired to do their own science experiments as a result of the party.”

Hanging with friends can make some of the best parties.

When you think of your favorite parties you’ve gone to as an adult, how many were out at a big fancy event? Maybe you’re a social butterfly, but some of the best nights can happen just hanging with a few close friends, and the same can be true for kids. That’s what Jennifer Bright Reich, publisher of the Mommy MD Guides (@MommyMDGuides), told us: “I’m a single mom of 11- and 10-year-old sons. We’ve been to plenty of pricey parties at party places, such as trampoline parks. My boys prefer to have simple playdates and sleepovers with close school friends instead.”

“The cost is low—not much more than a regular sleepover,” Reich told us, before getting to the menu. “I usually buy pizza and some snacks and a cake. The next morning, we often all walk to Dunkin Donuts down the block and I treat the kids to donuts.”

And Reich doesn’t let the kids leave empty-handed: “We put together generous, but low cost,  party favor bags, containing maybe a Pokemon card pack, small bouncy ball, and another small treat. I probably spend less than $100!”

Leah Klein (@bffoodie), of the Leah’s Life blog, shared her experience creating fun parties at home:

“We are all about saving on birthday parties. There are a few ways to do so that make the party better too. One is to keep the numbers down. Sometimes a party with a few good friends is a lot more fun than one with the entire neighborhood. When we do have a large party. We have it outside and get a bouncy castle to put in the driveway. If you can pick up and drop off the bouncy castle yourself that will save on delivery fees. Set up some art supplies at a little table and a rug with some toys and it’s a party. Often parents go crazy for things that are just showy. The kids just want to play and have fun.

“For older children, we get creative. My daughter has had a chef come and cook with her friends. A sleepover with some good food and a movie is all the older kids really need. Instead of catering a party or renting a party room, taking the kids to a diner or inexpensive restaurant can be just as fun especially if they have their own table to sit at and the chaperoning parents sit separately.”

Klein wrote about one sleepover scavenger hunt party she threw here.

Shop smarter, not… harder.

Like with so much else in life, an affordable party comes down to your shopping abilities. Spend your money in the right places and you won’t have to spend as much of it.

Randy Fuhrman, who has decades of experience putting together parties through Randy Fuhrman Events (@RandyFuhrman), gave us his tips for party shopping smart:

“Being a great shopper is the way to get your money to stretch and not look shabby. I have been using the 99 Cent Only Store, The Dollar King, and The Dollar Store for years. You have to really go up and down the aisle as there are treasures to find in every aisle – you just have to keep your eyes OPEN.

“I have found The Dollar King Store seems to be the best as they have everything in color order and have an amazing holiday section where you can find incredible things. They also have a BIG birthday section with balloons and favors for the kids.

“It is about being creative and thinking outside the box. Using Ralph’s Bakery or your local store’s bakery rather than going to a regular bakery will save you money. The grocery bakery departments now do specialty cakes for half the price of getting it done at a regular bakery.

“Being organized saves time and money so have a list of what you are looking for with the design and decor and what your menu will be. Let your fingers do the walking before you do the driving to make sure where you are going to buy what you need has what you want.

“If you are doing all the food yourself, a fun thing to do that does not cost a fortune is call your local bakery and see if they will do colored or swirl breads for you if you are making sandwiches which is a great way to pull your color and make a wow factor without spending a lot. The kids love this (I find that Jewish bakeries are normally the ones I can find to do this).

“Online you can find incredible things that are being discounted and great deals without having to even leave your home. Just type in what you are looking for and see the treasures that will show up.”

Follow these tips and you’ll throw your kids a truly epic a birthday party for the ages without an epic price tag to match!

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Contributors
Randy Fuhrman (@RandyFurhman) threw his first party for 500 guests at the age of 17. A few months, later he landed his first BIG event and first corporate client, A&M Records. Forty-five years later, a true entrepreneur, Randy Fuhrman has produced everything from an intimate dinner for two to events for thousands for some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D. (@AmyCooperHakim) is an industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert. She is a speaker, author, and the executive consultant and founder of The Cooper Strategic Group. Her book, Working with Difficult People, provides clear strategies to effectively handle the ten types of difficult bosses, colleagues, and subordinates. The book recently hit #1 in sales at Amazon for Business Etiquette books and was highlighted in Parade Magazine. Dr. Hakim has been featured in numerous publications and has also been a guest on the KRTH Morning Show, Think KERA Radio, the WBEZ Morning Shift, the Boca Voice, and Business Radio on Sirius XM.
Leah Klein (@bffoodie) raises two kids in Cambridge, MA. She is a former 1st-grade teacher and is all about mixing the frugal with the luxurious. She writes the blog Leah’s Life: Pearls & Oysters (Leahslife.com) and shares a love for her city on Instagram @Bostoncityliving.
Jennifer Bright Reich (@MommyMDGuides) is cofounder and editorial director of  Momosa Publishing LLC, publisher of the Mommy MD Guides books, featuring tips that doctors who are also mothers use for their own families—and more, in Allentown, PA.

Tips to Make Your Electronics Last Longer

Tips to Make Your Electronics Last Longer

We live in the future. That means relying on electronics. Our phones are literally (figuratively) tied to our hands and you’ve probably got a nest of cables somewhere in your home that could support an entire family of robot birds.

Replacing those electronics can be a real pain in the wallet. Sure, you could go without a TV, but if your phone or computer breaks, you’ll probably have to replace it immediately. And if you don’t have the funds or credit to do it, that means you’ll need a bad credit loan, and things can get tough quickly. If only there was some way to make sure your electronics lasted longer.

Well, there are multiple ways, and we’ve gathered them right here! Plug in and get ready to make your gadgets go the extra mile! OppLoans shows you how!


Clean them well.

You know you need to clean your house and you obviously need to clean behind your ears, but did you know you should also be cleaning your electronics? It’s true!

“Overheating will kill your electronics in no time,” warns Karen Hoxmeier of MyBargainBuddy (@MyBargainBuddy), “Always make sure fans are clean. A $5 can of compressed air is a worthwhile purchase.”

You need to be careful, however, since different electronics have to be cleaned in different ways or else you can risk damaging them. Be sure to look online to find out how to clean any specific device.

It’s also worth “cleaning” your digital devices by deleting unnecessary apps or data. That should lower the risk of your device crashing or stalling.

Plug into the right places for the right amount of time.

Not every electrical outlet is the same, and choosing the right outlet to plug your device into can be the difference between life and death (of your device).

“A power surge can fry a TV or computer,” Hoxmeier told us, “Make sure those items are plugged into a surge protector.”

The amount of time you leave your devices plugged in is also important. As Michael Banks, founder of FortunateInvestor.com (@FortunateInvest), told us, “Don’t keep your laptop plugged in. It over-stresses the battery. Instead, unplug it when it’s charged to 70 or 80% to get the most use out of your laptop.”

It might also be worth getting a better plug. Here’s what the experts at Z-Wave.com had to say:

“Using smart home devices like a smart plug can help you extend the life of everyday electronics and save overall energy usage. Smart plugs give average devices like lights, coffeemakers, toasters and TVs connected features and allow you to see the status of that device and control it remotely. With a Z-Wave smart hub, you can set up schedules or automations to turn off devices or appliances when certain rules apply. Some hubs allow you to see the energy drain of each outlet and adjust your usage accordingly. Whether home or away, a smart plug can help cut down your energy consumption and extend the life of the electronics in your home.”

Treat your devices with care.

This seems obvious, but it can be the difference between constantly replacing your electronics and bragging to your friends about how you haven’t had to buy a new phone in years.

“Dropping a cell phone once is enough to crack the screen or make it inoperable,” says Hoxmeier, “Protect it with a sturdy case.” She also offered this advice when it comes to batteries and cables: “If the electronic device runs on alkaline batteries, check them every month or so to make sure the batteries haven’t leaked. To prevent damage from leaking batteries, always remove dead batteries from your devices.

“Avoid coiling cables tightly on phone chargers, laptop chargers, and headphones. This speeds up wear and tear and can cause a short in the cord.”

When you need to store any of your electronics for an extended period of time, be sure to use the original packaging. If that packaging is long gone (and let’s face it, it probably is) then you should still try and cushion the object with packing materials or some other sort of insulation. You also don’t want anything with a screen to be stored lying down on the floor, and you should make sure not to keep anything on top of it, either.

Finally, you should read the manual that came with the product.

What?! But isn’t reading the manual for nerds? Who doesn’t know how to use a TV?

We hear you, but reading the manual will tell you the best way to handle any specific electronic device so that you make sure to get the most out of your purchase.

Follow all of these tips, and you’ll be able to squeeze all the use you can out of your devices. You’ll be SHOCKED at how well proper care for electronics can save you money!

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


Contributors
Michael Banks is a seasoned finance professional and founder of FortunateInvestor.com. 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.
As 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.
Z-Wave.com is an online resource for consumers that provides resources including tips, facts, how-tos, FAQs, and blog posts about smart home technology.  Z-Wave is the leading wireless home control technology in the market today, with over 1700 certified interoperable products worldwide. The Z-Wave standard is a key enabler of smart living solutions for home safety and security, energy, hospitality, office and light commercial applications. Z-Wave.com helps consumers learn about connected home technology.

How to Avoid a Payday Loan: Savings Strategies

Savings Strategies

Nobody wants to take out a payday loan. They’re seen as—at best—a necessary evil. A way for people without credit to borrow money in a hurry. People don’t look forward to them any more than they look forward to going to the dentist…

But the problem with payday loans is that they’re often worse than that. These short-term, high-interest loans trap borrowers into a cycle of never-ending debt. If they were a dentist, they’d be a guy working out of a back alley with one rusty drill and a baseball bat for anesthesia.

That’s why it’s best to avoid payday loans altogether if you can! And that means building up your savings so that, when a financial emergency does arise, you can take care of it on your own.

Easier said than done, right? Well, here are nine great tips from real experts to help you build an emergency fund—and stay away from payday loans altogether.

1. Follow the 50/20/30 rule

Natasha Rachel Smith, a personal finance expert at TopCashback (@TopCashBackUSA) says that you should, “Review your spending and ensure you’re allocating the right amount to savings and emergency funds. You should have at least six months’ salary saved in an ‘emergency fund’ as, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average duration of unemployment in the US is 27 weeks.”

“In order to build this up, it’s best to follow the ‘50/20/30’ rule,” says Smith. “You should spend only up to 50% of your after-tax income on essentials, such as housing and food; 20% on financial priorities, such as debt repayments and savings; and 30% on lifestyle choices, such as vacations.”

2. Automate your savings

Robert R. Johnson (@BobAmericanColl) is the president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services (@TheAmerCol). He says,“Making savings automatic is a key to success.

“A disciplined approach is the key to success, and automating savings is the key to discipline.  Out of sight, out of mind is the operative philosophy here.”

One way to do it? “[Have] a specific amount taken out of each paycheck and deposited directly into a savings or money market account.”

3. Get out of debt

Smith has a couple great tips for tackling debt repayment.

“First,” she says, “ensure you’re paying the lowest interest rates on any credit cards or loans by transferring existing balances to 0% interest credit cards.

“Once you’ve done that,” she continues, “ensure you’re allocating at least 20% of your income to debt repayments.”

According to Smith, “Focusing on the most costly borrowing first is the fastest way to get out of debt as the overall interest charge is reduced more greatly in lesser time, though some people find they are more motivated by paying off the smallest debts first to lessen the total number of creditors they have.”

4. Get rid of cable

“One of the best ways people can save for an emergency fund is to cut the cord,” says Chris Brantner, also known as Mr. Cable Cutter (@CutCableToday). “With the average cable bill sitting at over $100 per month (not to mention those bills with expired promotions that skyrocket), the average person can easily save $50 or more per month when they get rid of cable.”

(If you visit Brantner’s website, CutCableToday.com, you can walk step-by-step through exactly how you can cut the cord and keep the programming you want.)

According to Brantner, “Most people already pay for Netflix, which gives you a ton of programming. The average person also subscribes to Amazon Prime, which also has a Netflix-like library full of older HBO series and more. You can get all the local stations you want with an antenna for free.”

“Now if you need more up-to-date programs,” he says, “you can opt for a live streaming service like Sling TV which starts at $20 per month, or go with Hulu, which airs many shows the day after they air, starting at $7.99 per month. Whatever the case, you can still save big. 

“You’ll still need internet, but you can likely find a good connection for $40—60 per month,” says Brantner. Luckily, his site “has a tool that will help you find and compare internet provider promotions in your area.”

5. Save your tax refund

“According to a recent study by BankRate.com,” says Smith, “a surprising number of millennials (39%) plan to save or invest their refund, 28% plan to use it to pay for necessities and 24% say they’ll use it to pay down debt.”

“While it is tempting to splurge on a vacation or a big purchase, saving the refund for emergency situations will be more beneficial to you in the long run,” she says.

For more on how you can use your tax refund more wisely, check out our blog post: 5 Smart Ways To Spend Your Tax Refund.

6. Use apps

“There are financial apps that help people save money,” says Johnson. “One popular app is called Acorns. You tie Acorns to your debit card and it rounds the purchase up to the nearest dollar, effectively allowing you to invest your spare change.”

Johnson even lays out how it works:

“If your Starbucks latte costs $4.29, when you use your debit card $5 will be taken out of your account with $4.29 going to Starbucks and $0.71 going into your investment account. This allows you to save money as you make everyday purchases.”

7. Turn your clutter into cash

Smith suggests that you should “Have a clear-out and sell anything you don’t use – or genuinely don’t even want – anymore.”

“Two questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to keep something or not is: ‘have I used this in the last year?’ and ‘is it sentimental?’ If the answer to both questions is ‘no’, then sell it and collect the cash,” she says.

According to Smith, “There are plenty of websites that can help you, eBay being one of the most notorious. However you pay less fees with Bonanza and eBid. If your goods are designer, it’s worth checking out Tradesy.com or Poshmark.com. BuyBackWorld.com is great for electronics and Raise.com will, in many cases, actually pay you $1.50 per gift card you list for sale through TopCashback.”

8. Invest your raise

“Another idea is to ‘invest your raise’ for retirement,” says Johnson. “That is, act as if you didn’t receive a raise and have the after tax amount of the raise deducted directly from your paycheck into a retirement fund. You don’t give anything up other than the opportunity cost of the raise.”

Johnson points out that “You are already accustomed to living on the current amount you make.” When you invest your raise, “You simply continue your lifestyle as if you didn’t receive that raise. Now, mind you, you don’t need to do this every time you get a raise, as the results are cumulative and compound over time.”

9. Maximize your rewards

Smith advises that you should “Make sure you’re being rewarded for your spending.”

“Use credit cards that give you air miles, points or money back on your purchases,” she says.  “Shop through free cashback websites such as TopCashback.com to earn a percentage of your spending back as a cashback rebate (think of it as effectively getting a sales tax refund 30 to 90 days after the transaction).”

Smith says that you can also “sign up to free loyalty schemes that give you access to discounts and free shipping.”

Do you have some savings strategies that have worked really well for you? Let us know! You can find us on Twitter at @OppLoans.com.


Contributors

Chris Brantner is the founder of CutCableToday.com, where he shares his knowledge on saving money by getting rid of high priced cable bills. He’s also a contributor for Business Insider, TechHive, and other publications.

Robert R. Johnson, Ph.D., CFA ® , CAIA ® , CLF ® , is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The American College of Financial Services. Bob is the author of multiple books and scholarly articles. He is co-author of the books Invest With the Fed, Strategic Value Investing, The Tools and Techniques of Investment Planning, and Investment Banking for Dummies. His articles have appeared in The Journal of Finance, Journal of Financial Economics, Financial Analysts Journal, and Journal of Portfolio Management.

Natasha Rachel Smith, Personal Finance Expert at TopCashback.com, is based in Montclair, NJ. 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.

Couponeering in 7 Easy Steps

Couponeering in 7 Easy Steps

Long ago, in the days of our ancestors, saving money meant hours bent over a kitchen table, scanning through newspaper inserts and snip-snip-snipping until your hand cramped up.
Then the internet came along.

Now, getting a coupon is as simple as a few taps on your phone. But are you truly maximizing your savings? Are you squeezing every last penny you can from these deals?

If you’re doing everything on this list, you just might be…

1. App it up

Kendal Perez (@HassleFreeSaver), savings expert with CouponSherpa.com (@CouponSherpa) says that “A big complaint among would-be coupon users is how time-consuming they are to find, clip, and store, and how frustrating it is when you inevitably forget them on the kitchen counter.”

Perez advises that “Downloading a coupon app like Coupon Sherpa ensures you never leave home without savings, whether you’re shopping at a national store like Kohl’s or Macy’s, or looking for local savings from your favorite hair salon or auto repair shop.”

To learn more about some great deal sites and apps—including Coupon Sherpa—check out our blog post: 8 Great Deal Sites to Save You Money Today.

2. Get Googling

Benjamin Glaser, Features Editor with DealNews (@DealNews) recommends that you “Always do a web search for coupons for the store, brand, or item before buying something online. For example, if you’re buying a Craftsman saw at Sears, Google ‘Craftsman coupon’ and ‘Sears coupon’ to see if any are active.”

“I often find active coupons that apply to items I was going to buy anyway,” says Glaser. “Don’t forget that DealNews has more than just sales and price drops—we list thousands of coupons too.”

3. Newsletters are the future

“If you are having a tough time finding coupon codes for your favorite stores or brands,” says Glaser, “be sure to sign up for their newsletters and follow them on social media for exclusive coupons, and download the apps of stores you shop often. Certain stores will send you a coupon right away if you sign up for their emails.”

Not signing up often means missing out on these offers altogether, as “some of the coupons sent to email subscribers may be one-time use codes, which means the code is generated to be unique to that subscriber and can only be used once,” he says.

“At other times,” Glaser adds, “clicking through a link in the store’s email is the only way to get the discount. As such, you generally won’t see these offers listed on coupon and deal sites.”

4. Price match to the max

Nationally-recognized consumer and money-savings expert, Andrea Woroch (@AndreaWoroch), urges people to “Always make sure to compare prices whether shopping online or in-store, using sites like PriceGrabber or the ShopSavvy app so you never overpay.”

Woroch also points out that “Some stores will even price match a competitor’s coupon so make sure you keep it handy and ask customer service about their policy.”

5. Get tricky

“Most retailers, restaurants and service providers offer new-member sign-up coupons and freebies,” says Perez.

But what if you’ve already signed up and gotten that new member discounts? It’s pretty much a one-time thing, right?

Not quite.

“If you want 15% off your purchase from West Elm but are already on their e-newsletter, sign up with a different email address for access to the discount. You can use Gmail to filter all your email accounts into one interface so you never miss a deal!”

6. Read the fine print

It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a coupon or taking out a loan, this advice is always, always something you should take to heart.

“Make sure you know the rules before you use a coupon,” says Glaser. “If a coupon isn’t working, make sure you have entered it correctly.”

He also says that you should “Make sure your order is eligible. If the coupon is something like ‘30OFF30‘, it might be 30% off purchases of $30 or more, so your $25 order might not apply.”

Lastly, Glaser advises that “If multiple coupons are available, consider which is the best for your order. For example, if one coupon provides free shipping, and another cuts 10%, figure out which will save you the most on that particular order.”

“Better yet,” he says, “try to find coupons that ‘stack’, or can be applied at the same time.”

Speaking of which…

7. Get your stack on

“Many stores allow you to apply coupons on sale merchandise,” says Woroch, “and consumers overlook this extra savings opportunity assuming the discounted prices is the best deal available. Stores that frequently promote sales on sale items with coupon codes are Pottery Barn, The Children’s Place and many others.”

Woroch adds that “Some stores even let you use two coupons on the same purchase so it’s always worth trying to save more with double deals. For instance, you may use a free shipping code along with a 20% off offer. Use these with sale merchandise and you’ll score a triple discount!”

According to Perez, “One of the sneakiest ways to deepen the discount of coupons is to combine them with discount gift cards. You can purchase gift cards to retailers, restaurants, service providers and everyone in between for less than face value, with savings ranging from 2% to over 25%.”

For example:

“I can currently buy two $50 Kohl’s gift cards for $88, or 12% off. My $99 order of women’s sandals (with aforementioned promo codes) would only cost me $88!”

Have some tips or apps that help you coupon better? We’d love to hear about them! Let us know on Twitter at @OppLoans. And while you’re at it, give our contributors a follow as well—their feeds are great resources for savings tips and personal finance advice.


Contributors

Benjamin K. Glaser is Features Editor for DealNews, covering the intersection of culture, media, and technology. He joined the company in April 2013 and is based in Brooklyn. Responsible for long-form content ranging from product-buying guides to market-trend analysis, Benjamin maintains the DealNews brand’s distinctive, reliable voice.  In his free time, Benjamin loves binging on Netflix comedy series and finding the best burgers and pizza in New York.

Kendal 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.

Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized consumer-savings expert, writer and TV personality who is dedicated to helping Americans find simple ways to spend less and save more without sacrificing their lifestyle. She is a regularly-featured contributor for popular shows like Today, Good Morning America, FOX & Friends and KTLA Morning News. In print and online, her advice has appeared in popular media such as New York Times, USA Today, Money Magazine, Cosmopolitan, People, Consumer Reports, Reader’s Digest and many, many more. Read more about Andrea at AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter.

How to Save Money on Spring Cleaning

Save Money on Spring Cleaning

The sun is coming out, the snow is finally melting for good. You know what that means … Hey wait! Come back!

Yes, it’s spring cleaning time. Everyone’s favorite list of sweaty, back-breaking chores, like “scrub the bathroom”, “empty the garage”, and “finally go and see what died in the attic.”

But just because you’re breaking a sweat doesn’t mean you have to break the bank, too. We reached out to a whole bunch of experts to get their advice on how you can get your spring cleaning done without also cleaning out your checking account.

Enjoy!


Getting Your Supplies

If you’re trying to save money on your spring cleaning, it starts with buying supplies. Here are some tips from Victoria Heckstall (@wahmjourney91), CEO of Unique Words & Giveaways 4 Mom (@Giveaways4Mom), for getting all your cleaning supplies from Dollar General for only $40-$45.

First, Heckstall says that you should “Check for their free shipping codes. Right now they have a spring code that allows you to get free shipping when you spend $40 or more.”

Next, says Heckstall, you should “Go to the cleaning section on the website and select the categories that you need products from (i.e. all-purpose cleaners, cleaning tools, bathroom cleaning). Sort by price so you will see the cheaper items first.”

She advises that you shouldn’t “go for the name brands. It’s the label you’re paying for, the cheaper cleaning products work just as good as the big box names.”

Here some examples she gives of all-purpose cleaning products that are just as effective as the big name brands for a fraction of the cost:

  • LA’s Awesome Cleaner – $1.00  “I usually like to get two to three of these so I won’t run out quickly – and before use them I like to add a few drops of essential oil to the cleaner to tone down the chemical smell.”
  • Mean Green – $2.15  “I usually get about two of these since I only use it for those tough stains.”
  • Fabuloso $1.00  “I also get two to three of these and it works great on floors as well.”
  • PineSol – $2.00  “I purchase two of these to make sure I have enough.”
  • DG Home Disinfectant Wipes – $2.00  “I suggest two of these as well since they can be used for a variety of things including cleaning dressers, televisions, and bedroom electronics.”

“In just this one category that’s potentially 12 products for $18.30, which also can cover the majority of your spring cleaning,” she says.

Fixtures & Glass

Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing (@MrRooterLLC) has some great tips and strategies for cleaning your metal fixtures:

Rust

“If you catch rust early in your kitchen or bathroom, you can create a thick paste out of salt and lemon juice. Using equal parts, you’ll get a solution that’s acidic enough to scrub away the rust without scratching your metal surfaces. When it comes to chrome fixtures, most rust can be removed with light scrubbing from a rag that’s been dipped in cola.”

Lime

“Limescale builds up when your fixture is routinely in contact with hard water, so a prime problem area is the shower.

“For shower fixtures made of stainless steel or chrome – or those with coated metal – turn to white vinegar. The easiest solution is to fill a sealable, plastic bag with the white vinegar and place your showerhead or faucet in the bag. Seal it as best you can and secure it with rubber bands. After approximately an hour, remove the showerhead from its vinegar bath and polish it gently.

“If you have a brass or bronze shower head, get ready to scrub. These finishes can be damaged because of their delicate nature, so start by rubbing them with a soft cloth and some warm water. Bronze is especially finicky, so always carefully check any cleaners before you use them. If you’re having trouble with a brass fixture, the secret may be in your fridge.”

Soap Scum

“This is another bathroom maintenance problem, but with the right solution, your chrome no longer needs to look dingy. The easiest way to break down soap scum is to simply scrub the fixtures with a dryer sheet. Whether the dryer sheet is used or unused, they should start cleaning immediately. Another option is to try putting a small amount of cooking spray on the fixture. However, look for plain cooking spray options that don’t have a lot of add-ins. Coat the chrome fixture in your cooking spray and then wipe it clean with a gentle cloth.”

Glass

“Most people think newspaper is best for cleaning windows and mirrors but a clean, dry microfiber cloth is actually better,” says Larry Patterson, franchisee of Glass Doctor (@GlassDoctor1) in Dallas, Texas. “Newspaper quickly deteriorates when wet and can leave newsprint spots on your mirror frame and window sills (not to mention your fingers).”

Patterson says that “If you’re looking for a DIY solution to clean your glass shower doors, mix one cup of warm vinegar with one cup of a dishwashing liquid in a spray bottle. Then, spray the mixture directly onto the door and wipe with a soft sponge. If there is any residue left on the glass, use a glass cleaner to give the doors a final wipe.”

Stains

According to Nicola Croughan, Fabric Expert at Custom Curtains (@InteriorGoods), “Every kitchen contains an array of natural remedies for tackling dirt and dust, which means you needn’t part with lots of cash.”

She advises that “When it comes to stains on your curtains, cushions, and blankets, use salt to soak up the mess soon as it happens. This also works for larger pieces of furniture.”

“For older stains, I recommend rubbing with a solution of white vinegar (2 tablespoons), washing up liquid (1 tablespoon) and warm water (700ml),” says Croughan. “Blot dry before putting in the wash on your standard setting. If it’s the fabric on your furniture, use a steam cleaning after applying the solution.”

But Croughan also warns that there are limits to the DIY approach. “Of course, if the stain is particularly stubborn and your soft furnishings were very expensive, it will be worth just biting the bullet and taking them to the professionals!” she says.

Jack White, vice president of technical services for Rainbow International (@RainbowIntl) has some great ways for you to tackle a wide-variety of common carpet stains:

Gum

“The most crucial ingredient when removing gum from carpets is patience. Scrape away as much of the gum as possible, using a dull object like a spoon, and apply a dry-cleaning solvent such as Goof Off. After allowing time for the solvent to soften the gym, use a white cotton cloth to pull or wipe away the gum from the carpet and repeat this process until the gum is completely removed.”

Ketchup

If there are large amounts of ketchup (whether fresh or dried-on), remove it by scraping lightly with a spoon, and use a white cotton towel to blot any residual ketchup. Next, mix a solution of one teaspoon dishwashing detergent and one cup of water, and apply the mixture to the stained area. Starting at the outer edge and working inward, work the solution into the stain and rinse by dabbing with water. If the stain remains, you can attempt to remove it with a three percent hydrogen peroxide solution, but be sure to first test it on an inconspicuous part of the carpet to ensure it’s safe to use.”

Nail Polish

“Whatever you do, don’t rub the stain, as rubbing will not only cause the stain to be driven further into the carpet, but it could also cause damage to the carpet’s fibers. Wipe or blot the stain from the outside in using a non-acetone nail polish. If the stain remains, you’ll need to call a cleaning professional.”

Lipstick

“Start by removing any excess lipstick by lightly scraping it with a dull object. Then, working from the outer edges of the stain and moving toward the center, apply a dry solvent to the stain, blotting with a white cotton towel. This may take multiple attempts but the dry solvent should do the trick. Once the stain is removed, rinse by dabbing the area with a dampened cloth and blot with a dry cloth to remove as much moisture as possible. To speed up the drying process, you can use an electric fan.”

Crayon

“First, as with most of the previously mentioned stains, scrape away residual crayon with a dull object, and then cover the remaining crayon mark with a white paper towel. Next, heat the area with a blow dryer, which should melt the crayon and help it absorb into the paper towel.”

Appliances

If you aren’t planning on cleaning out your dryer vent as a part of your spring cleaning plan, then it’s a task you should definitely add to your list.

“Did you know that dirty dryer vents cause 15,000 home fires a year?” says Valerie Stewart, owner of Mr. Appliance (@MrApplianceCorp) of Littleton, Colorado, adding “Yikes!”

In addition to that risk, it’s costing you money to dry clothes twice just because you haven’t had your vent cleaned in awhile,” says Stewart. “On average, if a homeowner whose dryer typically takes two cycles to dry clothes has their dryer vent professionally cleaned, they can save nearly $150 a year.”

Another appliance that you should keep clean as a matter of safety is your oven, as a greasy oven is a common cause of kitchen fires.

Stewart advises that “an easy way to clean your oven and avoid this danger: sprinkle baking soda over the bottom of the oven then spritz it with water from a spray bottle. Let it sit overnight and then remove it easily in the morning with a damp sponge.”

Richard Ciresi, owner of Aire Serv of Louisville, Kentucky (@ASLouisville), says that “Blocked airflow reduces your air conditioner’s efficiency, so make sure you spring clean your outdoor unit, as well.”

Here’s his advice for cleaning it out:

“Using a soft broom, gently clean off the fins on your outdoor condensing unit. (That’s that big metal box outside with the fan in it for those of you scratching your heads.) Clear away weeds, plants, leaves, and other accumulated debris to increase air flow.”

Overall, says Stewart, you should make sure to “Take care of appliance and keep them clean to keep them working efficiently.”

“The harder an appliance has to work to do its job,” she says, “the more energy is wasted in the process.

For example, failing to clean the coils on your refrigerator, which can become covered with dust and dirt, will force your appliance to work harder to keep the temperature stable and prevent food from spoiling, costing you in the long run,” she says.

Lastly, Stewart also advises that switching to cold water washes could save you up to $60 a year.

Getting Organized

Sarah Giller Nelson (@LessIsMoreSarah) is a professional organizer and the founder of Less is More Organizing Services. Here are some of her tips for using spring cleaning to get rid of excess home clutter:

  1. “Find space in your kitchen by discarding mismatched food storage containers. If it doesn’t have a lid or a bottom, recycle it. Use your largest container to store the lids. Stack the remaining containers inside each other.”
  2. “Raid the recycle bin: Glass jars with or without lids can be used to store almost any small collection of items, including craft materials, cotton balls, pens and pencils, dried beans, grains, or buttons. Use warm water and a scouring pad to loosen the glue residue left once labels are removed.”
  3. “Shoeboxes are an ideal, inexpensive solution for corralling undergarments, socks, and tights inside messy drawers. Place them on a shelf in your linen closet to organize medicines, bathroom supplies, and other personal care items.”
  4. “Make your bed every morning. It only takes about two minutes! The bed is the central focus of your bedroom. When it is made, the whole room will seem more serene.”

Have some spring cleaning tips of your own that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear ‘em! Let us know on Twitter at @OppLoans.

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Contributors

Richard Ciresi is the owner of the Aire Serv of Louisville, Kentucky (@ASLouisville). Aire Serv is a global franchise company providing installation, maintenance, and repair of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and indoor air quality systems. With over thirty years of experience in both commercial and residential heating and air conditioning, his technicians now serve the communities of Indianapolis, Southern Indiana, Louisville and Lexington. His company is known for exceptional customer service, employing the most innovative technology and the widest selection of product lines to provide custom solutions with outstanding results.

Interior Designer and Fabric Expert Nicola Croughan has 10 years’ experience in buying, design and interior styling. She has worked with a diverse range of clients and boasts an impressive portfolio of both commercial and home projects. Nicola now works as an in-house fabric specialist at Custom Curtains, advising the purchasing department and providing assistance and after care to clients.

Glenn Gallas is the Vice President of operations for Mr.Rooter Plumbing (@therightroad). Glenn began his career at Mr. Rooter Plumbing beginning in Feb. 2000, as a franchisee in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Because of his success and achievements, he was offered the opportunity to become a Franchise Consultant before being promoted to Mr. Rooter Plumbing, Vice-President of Operations.

Victoria Heckstall is the CEO of Unique Words & Giveaways 4 Mom. She is also a mom of three messy boys, which is why she is always trying to get the maximum amount of reach from her money

Sarah Giller Nelson is the founder of Less is More Organizing Services, LessIsMoreOrganizers.com. Less is More has been organizing busy families in Miami and Chicago since 2010. Before becoming a professional organizer, Sarah was a curator and art historian.

Larry Patterson is the owner of Glass Doctor in Dallas, Texas. Glass Doctor is a global franchise company providing home and auto glass repair, maintenance and installation. Larry has been a franchisee/business owner of Glass Doctor since 2003, served on the company’s leadership council and was named Franchisee of the Year in 2011.

Valerie Stewart is the owner of Mr. Appliance of Littleton.  Mr. Appliance is a franchise providing expert residential appliance repairs.  Valerie’s mission at Mr. Appliance is, “To create encore experiences that customers can’t wait to share with others.” Prior to opening her business in 2015, Valerie enjoyed a career in Human Resources.  She held several strategic executive leadership positions in a variety of industries, including gaming, insurance, commercial real estate and manufacturing. Valerie is a member of the BNI chapter Higher Ground, in which she holds a leadership position.  Valerie graduated from Adams State University.

As Vice President of Technical Services, Jack White is responsible for training, technical services and support, as well as, research and development for Rainbow International.