Posted by: Ryan | June 11, 2012

Saving Your Change Makes Cents

Throughout my high school years, I had a large glass vase in my room that collected all the change leftover from purchases I made. When I moved away to college, the vase was nearly full so I decided it was time to cash in my change. I ended up with $320. I was astonished at how much I ‘earned’ just from cents.

There are services, such as CoinStar, that allow you to dump your change in and you will get money in return. I’ve never used these before, because there is a fee to use the service. I took my change to a casino, where they cashed it for me for free. That was almost 10 years ago, so that policy may have changed. However, you can buy a bag of coin rolls from the store or even get some for free from your bank, then start rolling those coins. Once you are finished, just take the rolls to the bank and ask to trade them in for cash. Make sure the coins are rolled, or else the teller will have to take on that responsibility, which can be frustrating, speaking from experience.

Nowadays, I mainly use plastic instead of paper for my purchases. This has greatly decreased the amount of change I accumulate. But, I still have something to collect any change that I or my wife receive. Because I use plastic, I have enrolled in a program with my bank that essentially does the same thing I did in high school: for every transaction I make with my debit card, $1 gets automatically transferred into my savings account. I like that for a couple reasons. One, I’m not someone who makes an effort to save, so this program makes me save whether I want to or not. And two, it is only $1/transaction, so I don’t really miss ‘losing’ a dollar from my checking account.

We all know the saying ‘A penny saved is a penny earned’, but are we actually taking that adage seriously or simply letting change go by the way side? Don’t expect to get hundreds of dollars in change after only a few months. It took me nearly 4 years. Even if you can’t wait that long, you can count on having a little extra cash on hand, which is nice for a date night, a milk shake, or whatever. Do you have a piggy bank or something to collect change? How much have you ‘earned’ from collecting? I would love to hear your stories.

Photo Credit: iHeartDaily

Posted by: Ryan | June 1, 2012

A Smartphone Can Make You Financially Smarter

As of February of 2012, smartphones accounted for 49.7% of all US mobile phones. That number is only expected to go up. Because of this saturation, more and more apps are being added to the already huge selection for iPhones, Android, and other smartphones. When the first iPhone came out in 2007,  you couldn’t even get third-party apps. But now, there is a myriad of apps you can download, anything from art to zoo apps. I will admit that when I got my first iPhone, it was a glorified game playing machine. Fortunately, I have since matured and realized that there are other apps out there that can benefit me in different ways.

I love technology. I enjoy finding the newest piece of technology and how I can use it. I also love making my life more simple. So when it comes to my smartphone, I am constantly searching for the next app that I can tinker around with and that will make my life easier.

In an earlier post, I mentioned Mint.com. The Mint.com app is a must have for any smartphone user looking to keep track of all their finances. The app is very similar to the website, allowing you to view multiple bank accounts, loans, credit cards and more. You can check your budget, set goals and other cool things within the app.

If you want to keep track of an account with any major bank, there is an app for that. Since I have my bank’s app on my phone, I check my accounts at least once a day. Doing this keeps me current with how much money I have and where it’s gone. A couple weeks ago I found out that there was an app that allowed me to check my hometown credit union account, which made me very happy. TouchBanking is available for many credit unions that otherwise wouldn’t have their own app.

Many companies have apps for their customers to make handling their bills and payments easier. ATT and other phone carriers have apps that let you pay your bill, modify services, find wifi spots and more.

One nice thing about all of the apps I’ve discussed is that they are free. There are a few paid-for financial apps out there. I personally haven’t tried any, just because the free ones do plenty for my needs. They do go on sale every now and then, so keep an eye on them.

Having all of these apps and others will help you become more financially aware and successful. What financial apps do you have on your phone? Let me know! I may be missing out on a great one.

While many people go online and find that – between updating their Facebook status and watching funny cat videos on YouTube – time slips away, there are several free online resources that can help you streamline your shopping to get it done more efficiently. Enjoy these tips to shop smarter so you can save time and money:

  • Before you open your internet browser, plan out your shopping. Create a list in Word or using a pen and paper as you think about what you need to buy and where to make each purchase. This is not only helpful with buying groceries and household items (which you can do online, by the way), but it helps when you are shopping for anything else online; simply stick to your list. Just use a retail site’s search feature to quickly find what you need, add each item to your cart, cross it off your list then move on to the next item. This small step prevents you from buying things you do not need, wasting time browsing and spending too much money.
  • Whenever possible, get all your shopping done online (even grocery and household items, which you can get from stores like Wamart and Peapod). For many reasons, you’ll save by doing this. Here are a few:
    • You avoid any wasted time and gas by driving to the store. It’s frustrating when you get there and you forgot why you went there or you are unable to find what you went there for.
    • When shopping online there’s no pressure from the staff to purchase additional items when you shop online as there is so often when you shop in stores. We never need the extras we pick up along the way to the checkout. That goes for impulse buys at the cash register and shoes to match a new dress.
    • There is no embarrassment when you decide to put unnecessary items – or ones that do not fit into the budget – back. Nobody can see when you empty items out of your electronic cart on the computer. Another helpful tip: The electronic cart during online shopping is a helpful guide for you since the automatic total helps you keep your budget in check throughout your shopping.
    • You can save more money online: It takes less than a minute to free coupons online with a simple search. If you find yourself shopping at the same stores again and again, you can sign up for email alerts through a savings site and you’ll be notified when there are new opportunities to save at your favorite stores.
    • In addition to online coupon codes, you can save more by earning cash back for free when you shop through a savings website. It only takes a few extra clicks. Cash back means that you earn a percentage of your transaction in a free account then receive a check when you are ready to get paid.
    • There are times when you go need to run to the store. In these instances, you can still use online resources to be more efficient:
      • Before you head out to the store, go online to check for savings opportunities using the shopping list you made.
        • Scan through the weekly ads online for grocery stores and retail stores to identify what is on sales at the store near you.
        • You can also look for printable grocery or retail coupons.
  • In addition to your routine shopping, there are online tools such as free calculators that can help you make smart spending decisions about bigger purchases like vehicles and vacations. A few minutes with one of these tools can help you save thousands of dollars.
  • Bonus tip: To get the most savings when you shop online, in addition to using coupons and earning cash back, pay with your rewards credit card so you can accumulate points or earn more cash back on the same transaction.

This is a guest post by Jon Lal, founder of coupons & Cash Back website BeFrugal.com, which offers online coupons in addition to free Cash Back at 3000+ online stores. Join now! 

Posted by: Ryan | May 10, 2012

Your Daily Starbucks Coffee is Costing You

While working at a bank across the parking lot from a Starbucks, I saw many customers come in with a coffee in their hand. Some of these customers I saw on a daily basis, and a few had a coffee every day they came in. Our district manager enjoyed Starbucks so much that she had a special card given only to people who consume a ridiculous amount of coffee.

Being the accountant that I am and dealing with money all day, I decided to find out how much a daily coffee, or a daily whatever, costs someone. Since I have never bought coffee from Starbucks, I don’t know how much it costs, so I just used an estimate of $5 to make it easy.

Let’s say you buy a coffee every weekday before heading to work. When looking at the small picture, $5 doesn’t seem too much at all. But getting a coffee every weekday leads to 5 days every week, and 52 weeks every year. That comes out to $1,300 every year, all from just one small cup of coffee. I don’t know about you, but $1,300 is quite a bit for me. That could be 5 car payments,or 1 1/2 rental payments, or 7 months of student loan payments.

Now I’m not saying that you should do away with your coffee fix entirely; it is OK to buy things you want sometimes because you earned that money. But I think that a financial review of your wants vs. needs is definitely important, especially if you are struggling to make ends meet. Even if you cut back to getting coffee every other day, that would ‘save’ you $650 every year.

Posted by: Ryan | April 30, 2012

Making Personal Finance Personal

Unless you specialize in finance or accounting, personal finance can seem really boring. When learning about personal finance, a lot of people focus more on the ‘finance’ part of the phrase: the numbers, the analysis, the sacrifices, the things that aren’t fun. What most people tend to forget, though, is the ‘personal’ part of the phrase. Once people focus on the personal aspect of personal finance, they will come to enjoy becoming financial successful.

When I create a family budget, it is so I can make priorities for money because I know that I can’t have everything that I want. It is not because I enjoy creating Excel spreadsheets (even though I do enjoy that).

When I put away money into a savings account, it is so my daughter can have a little nest egg when the time comes for her to leave home. I don’t do it thinking it is just money that I am losing.

When I set aside 3% of my paycheck for a 401K, it is so I have a nice retirement where I can enjoy time with my wife and spend time with grandchildren.

Making personal finance personal for me has helped make what is usually a chore, fun. What are some ways that you make finances ‘personal’? Let me know in the comments.

Posted by: Ryan | April 28, 2012

What Are You Saving For?

No, really. What are you saving for? Is there something specific that you are saving for? A new car, a vacation, retirement? If you are just saving with no specific goal in mind, chances are you won’t save very much. This is because people focus too much on the short term and not enough on the long term and therefore will tend to use money for something in the here and now.

I’m a visual person, like many others. I have found that when I have a goal to achieve, such as graduation or exercise, I do better when I have a picture relating to the goal that I see everyday. This can definitely be applied to savings. Hang a picture of your savings goal on your mirror, use it as the desktop wallpaper, or place it on your desk at work. Seeing the picture day after day will help you focus on what you are saving for.

Some people are saving up for more than one item. For those people, I recommend using more than one savings account. That way, you know exactly how much money is for item A and how much is for item B and so on. You can go with a traditional brick and mortar bank, or you can open an account online. MoneyNing has a great list of different online savings accounts you can apply for.

So back to my question: what are you saving for? Make sure you have something specific in mind. Let me know what your savings goal is in the comments.

Posted by: Ryan | April 23, 2012

Financial Literacy Month

Since 2004, after the Senate passed Resolution 316, April has been officially recognized as National Financial Literacy Month. During the month of April, many government agencies, education organizations, and bloggers increase awareness of personal finance topics.

According to Money Management International, “Americans carry more than $2 trillion in consumer debt and 30 percent of consumers report having no extra cash”. These are frightening statistics. So that is why MMI has started the website Financial Literacy Month. “No matter what day or month of the year a consumer begins their 30 step path to financial wellness, it will help them to create a successful strategy to better their overall financial position.”

The website has a step for each day of  the month. Theses steps discuss a variety of topics, such as goal setting, debt, savings and much more.

Financial Literacy Month is very popular among bloggers. Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents started the Roth IRA Movement this year, which has had over 140 bloggers writing about their own stories about Roth IRAs.

One of my favorite financial bloggers, Carrie Smith of CarefulCents, has posted every Friday of this month great roundups of financial topics with articles and blog posts.

Even though the month of April is almost over, I agree with MMI in that it doesn’t matter what month people educate themselves about finances. Being financially literate will help people be happier and will ease stress.

Posted by: Ryan | April 21, 2012

The Allowance Debate

Every person that raises a child eventually has to decide whether or not they will implement an allowance. Children grow up before you know it, so it is important to have a plan ready before the time comes.

There are some experts who recommend that children shouldn’t get an allowance at all; they argue that giving kids an allowance is the equivalent to welfare – kids get money for free. While I agree that getting money for free is a terrible idea, I feel that with the right rules and discussion, an allowance is actually a great way to get children financially literate.

When I was growing up, my parents gave each of us kids an allowance. This allowance was tied to the chores that we were assigned to do each week, such as doing the dishes, taking out the trash, vacuuming the floor, dusting and others. The younger kids were assigned chores that were easier, while the older kids were assigned harder ones. Because of this and our ages, the youngest kid, myself, received $2/week while the oldest received $6/week.

My parents offered additional chores that we could do to earn money. Mowing the lawn earned a kid $12 (our lawns were quite big). Cleaning the pool was another additional chore. On the refrigerator was a chart where each child would tally their allowance for the week and any additional chore income. My parents didn’t give us money at the end of each week, rather they gave us money when we wanted to spend it. Then we would subtract the money we used from the running total on the chart.

While I agree with my parents that an allowance is a good idea for kids, I have a different opinion in one area. I think that children shouldn’t get an allowance for doing regular chores around the house because I feel they need to learn that pitching in with household duties is part of being in a family. If they want to earn money, they can do the not so common chores, like mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, etc.

An allowance is a great way for children to learn about finances, budgeting and the value of working to earn money. What are your thoughts on an allowance? Let me know in the comments.

Posted by: Ryan | April 19, 2012

Family Fun that won’t Break the Bank

Now that tax season is over, many Americans have received or will receive a refund from the IRS. A lot of families will put their refund money in a savings account, while others will put it towards debt and bill. By choosing either option, families will forgo using the money for their own enjoyment. Although money is needed for many activities, I want to remind people that there are plenty of activities that require very little or no money that both parents and children can enjoy.

I personally love to read. When I was in high school, I would visit the library almost weekly, to check out a new book. Not only do libraries have books, but they have DVDs as well that you can borrow. Many libraries also offer classes for children and adults regarding many things.

My daughter is only 20 months old and her favorite thing to do is go to the park. Here in the Truckee Meadows area, many parks, such as Rancho San Rafael, offer many different activities all family members can enjoy. You can join a community baseball league, play disc golf, go hiking in the foothills, watch the fish and turtles, and much more.

Bike riding kills two birds with one stone, exercise and family time. The Sparks Marina is a great place to ride your bike, or you can just ride around your neighborhood.

One thing I love about living in Reno is all of the events that go on here, and a lot of them are free to attend. Coming up in a couple of weeks is Cinco de Mayo festival. In August, the classic car event Hot August Nights goes for about a week. Then in September is the Great Reno Balloon Races.

These are just a few ideas for activities that won’t stretch your budget. If you just give it some thought, you can come up with some creative ideas. What cheap activities do you like to enjoy with your family?

Posted by: Ryan | April 16, 2012

Which Tax Documents Should You Keep?

Tomorrow is the big day. Tuesday is the last day to file your 2011 tax return, unless you file for an extension. Once you have submitted your return, there is still one more thing to be dealt with that pertains to taxes: what to do with all of your tax documents. Most people feel they need to hang on to every single piece of information regarding taxes for quite some time. However, there are documents that aren’t needed at all once the tax return is filed.

The tax return itself can take up quite a lot of room in a person’s file cabinet. If you are like me, you use tax software to complete your tax return. Therefore, you have a copy of the return on your computer. This copy can be printed at anytime; for that reason, I do not have a physical copy of my 1040s clogging up my file cabinet.

For information that is used to determine how much you owe, such as back-up documents from receipts, you should keep them for three years. So any information before the 2008 tax return can be tossed.

Forms that relate to income, such as 1099s and W-2s, should be kept for six years. That is the length of time the IRS has if they want to audit returns they believe gross income is under-reported by 25% or more.

For the most part, previous year household bills are not needed once the tax return is submitted. But if you have a bill that is for a tax-deductible expense, it becomes a tax document, and therefore needs to kept for three years. And any noteworthy bills, ones that show a dispute with a company for example, should be kept just in case.

If, during the year, your employer paid you what they said they would and you don’t have any qualms with your pay, then you trash those pay stubs. I will admit that I have pay stubs going back six years. I definitely need to cleanse that part of my cabinet.

Technology has made it easier to access bank statements. Some banks hold copies of statements up to seven years. Like my tax return, I don’t have a physical copy of my bank statements. If I really need it, I can just go online and print it out.

Hopefully this post has inspired you to partake in a financial spring-cleaning and make some room in your file cabinet.

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