Category Archives: Articles

Don’t Be a Data Breach Victim.

Dont be a data breach victimIt’s a scary time out there, and we’re not talking about Halloween.

Between Target, Goodwill Industries and Home Depot (and those are just in the last 8 months) the grim reaper is not after your physical life, but your online life. Those three retailers plus countless others have fallen victim to wide-spread data breaches, affecting thousands or even millions of consumer information.

So what in the heck is a mere mortal to do?

Here’s a few things to get you through a data breach nightmare, courtesy of the Better Business Bureau:

It’s not your fault.
If you used a credit card, you are not responsible for fraudulent charges. So keep calm and carry on…

Monitor.
Check your card account immediately and monitor. And by immediately, we mean online. Right now. Don’t wait for a full moon, or for your paper statement to arrive. If you see charges that you didn’t make, call your credit card issuer pronto! And request a new card.

If your debit card was compromised, review your charges and call your financial institution immediately. Consider getting a new card issued or put a spend freeze on your card. Because debit cards are tied directly to your checking account, the trolls and gremlins can drain your account faster than you can say “hocus pocus.” Be aware that debit cards do not carry the same financial protection as credit cards.

Visit the retailer’s website.
Visit the retailer’s website by typing it into your browser. Most will have information about the breach, and what you can do. Both Target and Home Depot offered free credit monitoring for affected consumers.

Be wary of scammers and phishing attacks.
DO NOT click on links you receive in emails or see on social networks. Many times, hackers not only gather credit card information, but email and home addresses too. So they can send a fake email that looks so much like an authentic big brand retailer, that even you might be tricked. And that’s no treat.

And by all means, don’t fall victim to a phone scam either! These spooky scammers disguise themselves to be from your financial institution and tell you your card has been compromised. Then they conveniently offer to “fix” the problem…after you answer a few personal questions.

Put an alert on your credit report.
Another smart idea is to put an alert on your credit report with the three credit bureaus. This means no one can access your credit report or take out new loans, including you. Be sure and lift the freeze if you need access to your report.

Passwords.
Use strong passwords (we like this infographic) and change your online banking password for sure. Goblins are hiding in the shadows waiting to access your accounts. If your email address was collected, change your email address password too. Better yet, change all the sites which you use your email address to log in. We know…it’s a hair-raising task, and enough to make you want to scream.

Short of using cash only, there’s no magic wand spell that can ensure your data is safe. Taking these precautions can keep you your money from getting lost in the dark or worse yet, vanishing into thin air.

Turn $100 Into $1000

100 hundred dollar bills rolledDaily Finance has a nice little series about saving a Grand by cutting $100 per month. It’s called the $1000 Savings Challenge and you can see all the posts here.

Cutting $1000 is about as easy as losing those last five pounds. It’s going to take time, effort and sacrifice, something we Americans seem to lack. And there’s no one size fits all solution either.

According to the article,  “Go after your biggest categories to find the most spending, and concentrate on monthly bills so that you’ll be saving money each and every month. Go over every bill, methodically, one at a time, category by category. Cut out what you don’t use, don’t really need, and then look for less expensive alternatives to what’s less….all you have to do is start now, start small and don’t try to be perfect.”

We have been saying all along that to become financially fit you must DO SOMETHING. Start somewhere. Make a change. No one else is going to do it for you. It is up to YOU.

Here is the list of posts. Read them all, or just read the ones that will benefit you the most.

  • Part 10: When the Refi Fails, Rethink Repairs
  • Part 9: Nibbling Away at the Family Food Bills
  • Part 8: Life Insurance You Can Live With
  • Part 7: Spending Smarter on Entertainment
  • Part 6: Find Big Savings in Small Purchases
  • Part, 5: Cutting the Hidden Costs of Work
  • Part 4: Cutting the Cost of Kids
  • A $1,000 Challenge Bonus: How to Buy a Car and Save a Bundle
  • Part 3: Shrinking Your Car-Related Costs
  • Part 2: Turning Down Your Utility Bills
  • Part 1: Cleaning Your Financial ‘Junk Drawer’

Tips include looking through your bills with a fine tooth comb for “fees” or other things you didn’t sign up for. Research your credit card bill for those recurring items, and if you don’t use the service (gym membership?) get rid of it.

To save at work, consider talking to your employer and see if you can re-arrange your schedule to save on child care costs. Buy things like diapers in bulk at wholesale warehouses, but don’t get distracted by those “shiny non-essential items” like barbecue grills.

To put a stop to unnecessary spending, trim your bank ATM fees by switching to a credit union (with a network of surcharge free or low fee ATMs nationwide) or simply reduce the number of times you use the ATM by taking out more than you need. Of course, that only works if you can limit your spending, and don’t suffer from “Have Cash, Must Spend” syndrome.

There’s some advice about flexible spending accounts, reducing entertainment spending, buying a car and a bunch of other stuff, too. Some of it may not be for you. Some of it may be right up your alley.

Still don’t know where to start? Get help at a credit union or non-profit agency like Consumer Credit Counseling Service. And there’s always the Money Possible Workbook, which doesn’t take any time, effort or sacrifice. Just click the link. If that’s not an easy way to start, we don’t know what is.

20 Things Kids Should Know About Finances

dollars and coinsWe ran across two great posts about what you can teach your kids about money. Remember, they watch you and many times your habits become their habits, and you want them to become super star money managers, right?

Our friends at Go Girl Finances wrote 10 Things You Should Teach Your Kids About Money, and 10 More Things You Should Teach Your Kids About Money.

These aren’t the tired “have your kids save earnings in a piggy bank” or “create a budget with your child.”

These are better, and quite frankly, more relevant in today’s society.

Things like

  • Very Few Things in Life Are Free
  • Credit Cards Are Not Play Money
  • If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is
  • Money Cannot Buy Happiness (or Friends)
  • Advertising Is Not the Same as News
  • Uncle Sam Demands His Share

Head on over to the posts to read them in their entirety.

10 Things You Should Teach Your Kids About Money
10 More Things You Should Teach Your Kids About Money

 

A “C” in Financial Literacy

One room schoolhouseSchool is so lame. Having to do what teacher says, all those dumb assignments, and who looks at your grades anyway?

April is Financial Literacy month, and a recent survey shows adults give themselves a “C” or lower when it comes to their financial knowledge. Not exactly making the honor roll, are we?

Here’s what the survey revealed:

  • Forty-one percent of adults gave themselves a grade of C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance.
  • More than half of respondents (61 percent) admitted to not having a budget. This is the highest percentage in six years.
  • About a third (34 percent) carry credit card debt month to month, and 15 percent roll over more than $2,500 in debt per month.
  • Top concerns are not enough in emergency or retirement savings.

So basically, we are AT BEST a “C” student. We don’t have a budget. We carry credit card debt and we don’t have money for emergencies or retirement. And here’s the best (worst) part: Adults are spending MORE than in previous years, with only 29 percent saying they spent less than last year.

People: Get a hold of yourself!

First, watch this:

Financial education is what this campaign is all about. Our participants are learning that with proper budgeting, mindful spending and saving, and financial organization, you can beef up savings, pay down loans, stop impulse buying….and be on your way to financial health. The result of this knowledge? Living with less stress.

Here are a few more tips:

Spend less than you earn.
Period.

Make goals.
Goals can create actions plans that help you stay on track.

Be realistic.
Start small. Eliminate one lunch out and save $10 a week. Trim $20 from your grocery bill. Then SAVE that $30 or apply it to one of your debts.

Consider your financial institution.
Kansas credit unions can save you $30,000 over your lifetime simply by using them as your primary financial institution. Most offer seminars or classes, some even have a person right on staff to help you. Credit unions are local establishments with a fierce loyalty to the their communities. Search here for a Kansas credit union, or visit asmarterchoice.org to find one nationally.

You can do it. We know you can. Make a commitment now to get control of your finances.
Download the Money Possible workbook. Call a financial counselor. Google it. Watch a video.

Strive for that “A” … that spot in the National Honor Society. Don’t you want your own “I’m an honor roll student” bumper sticker?

Controlling Impulse Spending.

Hot Deal! Best Sale!Impulse spending will wreck your budget faster than the Ellen selfie went viral at the Academy awards.

Impulse spending (or impulse buying) is an unplanned decision to buy a product or service. Stores are notorious for placing items “just so” to increase your impulse spending.

Fredica knows that she is an impulse buyer. She knows she buys things she doesn’t need, just because it might be on sale or she has a coupon. She’s not alone.

The lure of impulse spending.
Did you know 90 percent of the time you go shopping you end up buying something that wasn’t on your list?

Yes, 90 PERCENT!

A survey showed that impulse buyers waste an average of $200 per month on items they don’t need.

But who can resist the lure of temptations like this: “Buy a bag of chips and get a jar of salsa for free.” Neither items are on your list, but hey, free salsa!

Or this: “Buy three 12 packs of soda for $12 OR one for $5.” NO ONE really “needs” soda. But here in ‘Merica, we do!

Retailers know that 88% of impulse buys are made because something is on sale. And 14% of impulse buys are food items, but something you probably didn’t need in the first place.

Impulse spending creates cluttered houses, busts our budget and packs on the pounds.

Plan to shop.
Retailers, especially grocery stores, rely on consumers to make impulse purchases. That’s why it’s super important to PLAN to shop. In fact, impulse buying increases 23% if the trip itself was unplanned!

Make a list and (this is the important part) STICK TO IT.

Planning to shop and sticking to only the items on your list can reduce impulse spending.

Take control.
We know it’s hard to control spending. Here’s our favorite ways to take three tips to help:

Give it 48 hours. If you still need that item, you can go back and get it, but only if it is in your budget. Chances are, you won’t.

Calculate how many hours you have to work to buy that item (really only works for larger purchases).

Go on a spending freeze. A spending freeze is where you don’t spend any money for a designated amount of time. Before you freak out and think you can’t do it, even a few days can help. A two-week spending freeze is common, but some people even try a month. Just Google “spending freeze” and you will find plenty of resources to get started.

Controlling your spending is hard, especially when it looks like everyone else is throwing money around like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. The ability to purchase things online doesn’t help either. Click, click, done! Congratulations! You just spent $78 on shoes you don’t need.

Take control now. The only person who can change your behavior is you.

Just Say No.

Just Say NoThe word “No” kinda gets a bad rap. Parents of young children grow weary of saying it. “Just say no” was the 1980s ad campaign for the war on drugs. We feel bad sometimes when we say it; like when you are asked to do something you really don’t want to do, or don’t have the time, yet feel obligated to say yes.

Saying no is no fun.

The word yes is much more positive, like that Home Alone Macaulay Culkin fist pump YES!

But when you are talking about your finances, saying “yes” can be much worse than saying “no.”

Just ask Lisa and Bryan. They want to reduce their debt and save for retirement. They are saying “yes” to things, when they should be saying no. Especially to family and friends.

It’s hard to say no to those close to us, or even our co-workers and neighbors. But if you are trying to stick to a budget, save for retirement or whatever, “just say no.”

No to Sonic runs. No to that new movie that just opened today. No to the soda at the ball game. (By the way, if you said no to just those three things, you’d have an extra $20 to save.)

But how do you come across without sounding like a Debbie Downer or a Party Pooper?

It’s simple. Tell people you are trying to stick to a budget, save money, save for retirement, whatever. People who care about you, won’t put you through the ringer for wanting save for a rainy day.

You’ve got to stand your ground. And don’t you dare feel guilty about saying no. It’s like peer pressure for adults. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. There will also be someone with the newest gadgets, eating at the fanciest restaurant, taking the coolest vacations. Get over it. Just say no.

Here are three ways to say no:

  1. Keep it simple.
    You don’t need to explain the heck out of why you can’t (or don’t want to) go the latest flick. Just say “another time.” Or “I’m busy that night.” Even a casual “It’s not in the budget this week” should do the trick.
  2. Offer something else.
    “Instead of going out to a movie, let’s rent that one we’ve been wanting to see, and have a movie night at my house.” You are still spending time with them, just in a different way.
  3. Say “I don’t” instead of “I can’t.”
    “I don’t go to movies in the theater,” is different than “I can’t go to movies in the theater.” A change in terminology can be the difference between staying within your budget, and blowing it to bits.

A couple of good hardy “nos” and you’ll be a pro at it. You’ll feel better about your decision, and your budget will be saying YES!

The Payday Loan Trap

The Payday loan trapDid you know there are more payday loan establishments in the United States than McDonald’s and Burger King fast food restaurants COMBINED? Welcome to America, where we swipe our cards, spend our money and stuff our faces.

12 million Americans take out payday loans each year. That’s a lot, but it’s less than half of the 27 million Americans who eat McDonalds EVERY DAY! That’s a lot of burgers.

Raquel, our young mother, admits she stepped into the payday loan trap.

Payday loans are meant to be a quick fix, but consumers are finding these loans (or cash advances) are causing debt to become the next four-letter word. These loans are typically $500 or less and carry hefty fees. The problem is, most consumers, 80 percent of you, can’t pay off the first loan, so its rolled over or renewed within two weeks, turning that initial $500 into $1,500 before you can even say “super size it!”

Don’t despair. Try these alternatives to get you by in a pinch.

Credit unions.
Credit unions put people before profit, and as not-for-profit financial cooperatives (read: not-for-profit bank) they can offer low or no fees on some of their services. The credit union philosophy is “people helping people” so you can be sure that they won’t pull a fast one on you. Credit unions promote financial literacy too, and many have a financial counselor on staff that can help you re-evaluate your finances and put you on a path to smart money management skills. Many also conduct money management workshops for their members, free of charge.

You have to become a member first, which is easier than understanding what is said through a drive-thru speaker. Find a credit union near you at asmarterchoice.org.

Credit counseling help.
A financial counselor can’t help you if you need cash NOW, (kinda like an apple won’t satisfy that craving for chocolate), but if you are using payday loans, it’s probably a good idea to seek help with your financial situation, and eliminate the need for future payday loans. So join the crowd of roughly two million people who sought the help of a financial counselor last year.

A non-profit agency like Consumer Credit Counseling Service usually offers free money management help such as budget counseling, debt management planning, and mortgage default or rent delinquency counseling. In fact, our Money Possible participants are all meeting with a counselor from the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Wichita.

Reduce spending in other areas.
If you stop hitting the McDonald’s drive-thru, wait until that epic movie is on pay-per-view and hold off buying that new iPhone, you might be able to take that quick cash place off speed dial. Don’t be fooled…it’s hard work, just like eating a salad instead of a Big Mac. But you’ll soon find that some of your “needs” are actually “wants” and you can go without them.

Negotiating your bills.
Talk to your credit card companies. Beg your utility company. Negotiate a payment plan. Most would rather keep you as a customer than lose you, and are willing to work with you. At least it’s worth a try.

Cash advance from a credit card.
We usually don’t condone using your credit card for cash, but the 25 to 30 percent interest rate you’ll be charged is far less than the fees and 300 percent to 500 percent interest on a payday loan. Yup…pay day loan places charge 300 to 500 percent interest plus fees!

Think on that for a minute. It’s not uncommon for a consumer to be charged $10 or $20 on every $100 borrowed. So, if you borrow $300, and the fee is $20 per $100, you’ll actually owe $360. Then, if you can’t pay that loan in two weeks, you’ll roll it over and pay another $60. So now you’ve paid $120 in fees to borrow $300. That equals 520 percent interest rate!