Declutter and Save!

How Can Decluttering Save You Money?

What is the current state of your closet? Is it stuffed to the brim with clothes, shoes, suitcases, cleaning supplies, your high school yearbook textbook, etc., or can you do cartwheels in there? Is every horizontal surface covered in piles and piles of stuff or is almost like a guest room?

A clutter-filled house can lead to increased entertainment costs; you don’t want your friends to see the mess (or are sick of seeing it yourself), so you go out. Duplication is another way that clutter can cost you. Have you ever spent money on something you already had because you had no idea where it was, and did not want to spend hours looking for it?

If the thought of actually having to go through all your stuff makes you sweat, don’t worry. Here are some tips that can help make the decluttering process as painless as possible:

Do a little at a time: You are less likely to get discouraged and give up if you set a series of small goals spread out over time instead of trying to clean up the whole house at once.

Take a picture of sentimental items: Do you have some items that you never use but can’t throw out because of their sentimental value (such as the doll you bought for your daughter who is now 25)? Taking a picture can make it easier to part with. You will have a reminder even if it’s no longer collecting dust in your closet.

Donate or sell: While some of your items may be worn out and only welcomed by the trash bin, there may be many things you can sell to a consignment or thrift store, or donate to charity. Think of your cleaning as putting money in your pocket or helping others, instead of just a chore.

Use the “one in, one out” rule: After you go through all that effort to get rid of what you don’t need, you probably don’t want the house to revert back to its former messy state a few months from now. A good solution is to get rid of something whenever you purchase something new. You buy a new t-shirt at the mall—when you get home, go into the drawers and get rid of an old one.

By taking the time to declutter, you’ll be cleaning all the way to the bank.

 

 


Have fun on a budget!

4 Ways to Avoid Over Spending During the Weekend

If you are smart with your money, chances are you don’t spend much during the week. However, it all gets turned upside down when the weekend comes. You may feel the urgent need to go out, buy new outfits, and have a few drinks with friends, which leads you to spend all you saved up during the week. This is not terrible unless it becomes a habit. Lucky for you, we have some tips that will allow you to have fun during the weekends without overspending.

  1. Make good use of free recreation.

Living in Florida gives you the advantage of having beautiful outside areas where you can have fun, build memories, and relax. Take the beach for example- if you’re smart all you have to pay for is parking. Bring a cooler with some waters from home, food, and a beach ball and enjoy. If you want some drinks, buy them ahead and add them to the cooler. You will be saving a lot more money buying drinks ahead, than buying them at local hangout spots.

If you aren’t a beach person, you can try the same concept at a pool, or even a park. The outdoors can be really fun and not terribly expensive. Take advantage!

  1. Don’t go shopping out of emotion

We know you probably own a million outfits, so that millionth and one is probably not necessary. Get creative! Change accessories, do something different to your hair, make it work. Unless you absolutely need it, try to avoid it. If you do give in, look for sales and make sure it is something you will wear more than once.

  1. Take your credit cards out of your wallet.

Yes, budget yourself ahead of time by planning out your weekend. The rule of thumb is to spend the money you have in the bank only. Not the imaginary money you can have by buying extra with your cards. That is a big NO.

  1. Have a get together at home

If going out to watch the game is where your money goes, try to invite your friends over and watch the game at home. Everyone can contribute food and drinks and you can have just as much fun.

Remember, you can have fun without breaking the bank.  Use your member discount if you can. Have fun, just do it in a smart way.


Don't let your medical bills be a burden!

4 Ways to Manage Medical Debt

Unfortunately, when you get sick or injured, getting better is often not the only concern. Even if you have health insurance, hefty medical bills can hang over your head like an ominous raincloud. Many people feel that they have no choice but to ignore the bills or eventually file for bankruptcy. However, these are not the only options. There are many ways you can make paying your medical bills more manageable.

1. Check the bills
Often people are so shocked over how much they owe when they first open their bills that they forget to look at them in detail. However, since medical bills are frequently inflated, looking over them carefully could save you money. Maybe you were billed for a four-day stay in the hospital when you only stayed two or charged twice for the same medication. If you see that you were billed in error, contact the medical provider to have the charge removed.

If you have health insurance, it is also a good idea to make sure your insurance company paid for everything covered in your plan. If an insurance company denies a claim, the medical provider will just bill you, even if the treatment is covered under your plan. How easy is it to get an insurance company to pay a denied claim? If it was merely a clerical error, it should be simple. If you are dealing with a stereotypical penny-pinching insurance company trying to wiggle out of a commitment, it could be harder—but not impossible. Most insurance companies allow you to appeal decisions, and if you submit evidence to support why the treatment should be covered, like a letter from your doctor, you may be able to have the denial overturned.

2. Ask for a repayment plan
Even after billing errors are corrected, the amount you owe may still seem frighteningly large. However, there is no need to panic if you cannot pay a bill in full. Most medical providers will allow you to make smaller payments until the bill is paid off and, in many cases, won’t even charge interest. Think about how much you can afford to send each month, and let the medical provider know.

If the medical provider does not accept your proposal, should you not send any money? Not necessarily. Few people will actually refuse money, regardless of how small the amount is. That does not mean you are immune from being sued or having the account be sold to a collection agency, but all you can do is send what you can afford to pay. Not paying your mortgage or other important expenses to get more cash for your medical bills is usually not a good idea.

3. Look for assistance
If you have medical bills from a hospital, you are probably well aware of how high hospital bills can be. Luckily, many hospitals get government funds and donations to cover the bills for patients who cannot pay them themselves. (Other types of medical providers typically do not get such funds but may give you a discount if you describe your hardship.) Talk to your hospital’s billing department or financial counselor about its programs. Remember to find out what the application procedure and qualifications are; often assistance programs are restricted to people who owe above a certain amount, have income below a certain limit, and/or have no medical insurance. Even if you ultimately do not qualify, it does not hurt to ask.

Hospitals are not the only places where you can get financial assistance with your medical debt. Many nonprofits provide the same service. Like with hospitals, nonprofit programs are often restricted to limited income and/or uninsured individuals. To find out what programs are available in your area, contact your local United Way or dial 211 (an information referral service available in most communities). You may also be able to get information from relevant disease support groups.

4. Create a plan for the future 
While your current concern may be the bills you need to pay now, chances are, you will have more medical bills to pay in the future. Getting sick is just a part of life. However, if you start saving today, it will be easier to pay whatever bills come your way tomorrow. While you can put your savings in a savings account, you may also want to make use of one of the tax-advantaged accounts available for medical expenses.

If your employer offers it, one option is to set up a flexible spending account. At the beginning of the enrollment period (which if often, but not always, January 1), you tell you employer how much you want withheld from each paycheck and sent to your account. You typically must pay for the costs out of pocket first and then get reimbursed after submitting a claim form. While the money sent to a flexible spending account is not taxed, there is one drawback: you lose any money that is not spent by the end of the year. Thus, you should not contribute more to a flexible spending account than you reasonably expect to spend.

Another option is a health savings account. Like with a flexible spending account, the money contributed to a health savings account is not taxed. However, you do not lose the money that is left over in the account at the end of the year. So, why would anyone choose a flexible spending account over a health savings account? Health savings accounts are not available to everyone. In order to qualify, you must be enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (a plan with higher deductibles and lower premiums than traditional plans). If you have a traditional plan, you are out of luck.

Medical bills can linger long after an injury or illness has been treated. While the amounts owed can seem unbelievably large, remember, there are many things you can do ease the pain of bill paying.


Save money and refinance.

5 Ways to Cut Your Monthly Expenses

Save money and refinance.
Little changes make a difference!

Ever notice how your monthly expenses always seem to equal whatever salary you’re making, even after you get raises? The phenomenon is called “lifestyle creep” and it can keep you from reaching all kinds of financial goals, from paying down debt, to saving for retirement. One way to get lifestyle creep under control is to have any future raises you get direct deposited into savings – like a 401(k) account through your employer, or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). But here are five things you can do right now to cut your monthly expenses.

  1. Make a Budget
    The first step toward cutting expenses is to make a budget, so you know exactly where your money is going. Start with major categories, like rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, meals, clothing, and entertainment. Then break it down even further to ferret out items that are ripe for reducing. Many people, for example, are surprised to learn just how much they pay for pricey lattes and snacks from restaurants and vendors that would cost a fraction of that amount if they were made at home or purchased at a grocery store.
  2. Lower Your Mortgage Payment
    The biggest monthly expense for many people is their home mortgage. If you haven’t examined that loan since you bought your home years ago, it’s quite possible that you could save a lot of money – both now and over the life the loan – if you refinance at a lower interest rate. To know whether refinancing makes sense, you’ll need to add what you’ll spend on closing costs into the calculation of your new monthly payment.
  3. Get an Insurance Checkup
    If you have a car, you absolutely must have car insurance. But it pays to shop around periodically to make sure you’re getting the best deal. If you have a decent emergency fund on hand in case of an accident, one way to lower your premiums is to increase your deductible. Also be sure to examine your policy for “extras” you may not need. For example, you could be paying for roadside assistance both through your insurance policy and through AAA.
  4. Examine Your Auto-Payments
    Putting your regular bills on auto-payment can be a really smart way to protect your credit rating by ensuring you’re never late with a payment. However, if auto-pay causes you to keep paying for items or services you don’t really need or use, it’s no bargain. A few common culprits include unused gym memberships, subscriptions to magazines that aren’t read, and cable or satellite TV plans that include loads of premium channels that are rarely watched.
  5. Cut the Cord
    If you’ve already ditched your land line, good for you! If not, doing so is one of the quickest and most pain-free ways to trim your expenses. Most all of us have our cell phones with us all the time anyway, and if you really like the feel of a traditional phone in your hand, a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) plan that provides phone service over the Internet is a lot cheaper than traditional land line service.

Is leasing right for you?

Read This Before you Break Your Lease!

Many tenants find themselves in a situation where they need to or want to move out before the end of the lease term. If you are breaking your lease, it is important to keep in mind that a lease is a legally-binding document, and if the remaining months’ rent is not paid, the landlord can sue you and obtain a judgment (which may allow them to garnish your wages or take other collection actions against you). Losing your job, taking a new job in another location, not liking the place, or buying a house does not allow you to be released you from your lease. However, there are a few exceptional circumstances in which you may be able to have your lease invalidated, including:

 

  • The landlord lied about a fact that he or she knew played an important part in your decision to rent the unit, and the fact could not be easily verified by you in advance.
  • The landlord failed to keep the unit in safe and habitable condition.
  • You are a victim of domestic violence or stalking.
  • You or your spouse is in the military and received orders to move or deploy.

 

Rental laws vary by state, so it is a good idea to do research or speak to a lawyer or tenant organization about whether your situation allows you to invalidate the lease before you move out.

 

While breaking your lease does not release you from the responsibility to pay rent, you may not actually have to pay it all. You should talk with your landlord as soon as you know you will be moving out. In most states, the landlord is obligated to look for a new renter for the unit. You can also look for a new tenant yourself. Generally, the landlord cannot refuse to rent the unit to a qualified applicant and still hold you responsible for the rent. Once a new renter is found and starts paying rent, you are off the hook—with a caveat. If the landlord can only rent the unit for less than what you were paying, you can be held responsible for the difference in rent until the lease expires. For example, if you were paying $1,100 a month and broke the lease with 6 months left, and the landlord could only rent the unit for $1,000 a month, the landlord is entitled to $600 from you.

 

Some landlords also allow tenants to be let out of the lease by paying a fee. Landlords are generally only allowed to be compensated for what their actual loss is, so they cannot demand that you pay an arbitrarily-determined fee. However, if your apartment is located in a soft rental market and it is unlikely that a new tenant will be found soon, it may be to your advantage to pay the fee if it is offered. You may want consult with a lawyer or tenant organization before signing a lease-breaking agreement and paying the fee.

 

If you choose to break your lease, you will likely have some financial loss. However, careful planning on your part can help you keep the loss to a minimum.


Establish good credit

5 Ways to Establish Credit

Establish good credit
Establish good credit today!

When it comes to getting a credit card, qualifying is actually one of the easiest parts of the process. Establishing a positive credit record, however, requires dedication and patience.

Whether you are new to credit or are trying to “clean up” past mistakes to reestablish a favorable record, you may encounter a frustrating paradox: you must have and use credit to create a credit history, yet many financial institutions are reluctant to extend credit to someone without an established record. But don’t despair – there are several good remedies for both situations.

A Secured Card
An excellent start is a secured credit card. You are granted a credit line based on a percentage of a cash deposit you make to your financial institution. Because deposits are usually low, so too will be your credit limit. Application and annual fees for secured cards are often higher then those associated with unsecured credit cards.

The Retailer’s Card
Consider a local retailer’s credit card. Their criteria is often less rigorous than larger credit issuers. Be sure they subscribe to the major credit reporting agencies though – if not, you won’t be establishing a credit history.

A Co-Signer
Another option is having someone with a positive credit record co-sign an account for you. This requires a great deal of trust on the part of the co-signer – if you fail to pay, he or she is responsible. You could end up jeopardizing a relationship as well as a credit record.

Review Your Credit Report
Finally, if you have damaged credit, you might need to rectify the past as you’re building your future. Paying old debts and correcting errors on your credit report as soon as possible might be the way to go.

Pay off Your Debts
Once you have a credit line, establish a good history by using it responsibly. Keep balances low, always pay on time, don’t pursue unnecessary credit, and stick with a few good credit instruments of various types.


Buying Vs. Leasing

Buying Vs. Leasing a Car

Buying Vs. Leasing

 

There are big differences between buying and leasing. Typically, if you were to purchase a new car, you would make a down payment and finance the remaining cost. At the end of the term, the car would be yours. Leasing is essentially renting, with your payment going towards the car’s depreciation. If the lease includes a purchase option, you may buy it at the end of a specific time period.

So which is better? That depends on your individual situation and needs. You will have to decide for yourself by analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of each:

Leasing Advantages 
There are short-term cost advantages to leasing. The monthly payments on a leased car are usually far less than on a loan – even for a luxury model. The down payment usually works out to be less than what you would pay for a bought car as well. Because the typical lease is for three years, most repairs are covered by factory warranty. Sales tax is cheaper too, as you only pay it on the financed portion.

An attractive feature of leasing is the ability to drive a new car every few years. You never have to go through the hassle of selling it; you just turn it in at the end of the term.

Leasing Disadvantages 
While the payments are often reasonable, you never gain equity in the car. If you were to buy it at the end of your contract, it would cost you a lot more than if you had just bought it in the first place.

Leases are restrictive. If you exceed the yearly mileage limit you can be assessed an extra charge. You must take good care of the car as well, as any nicks or dings can be considered “wear and tear” and could cost you.

Comparing lease offers can be very confusing, making it hard to know if you got a good deal. And you will find it difficult to get out of your lease early if you want to – a problem if your driving needs or financial circumstances change.

Buying Advantages 
When you buy a car, it’s yours. You can customize it and drive it as hard and far as you want, penalty-free. Rather than having infinite payments, buying means you will eventually pay the car off. Once paid off, if you want to sell it you can do so at any time, as Erik Fortier you are not locked into a contract.

Buying Disadvantages 
Down payments on bought cars can be substantial. Monthly payments are usually higher than a leased car, and once your warranty expires, you will be responsible for the maintenance costs. When you want to sell it (or trade it in) you will have to go through the hassle of doing so. And, as an investment, new cars depreciate rather than appreciate.