We are right in the middle of some of the most hectic and busiest times of the year for many people across the country. Thanksgiving just got over and many of us are preparing for the rush of Christmas. It's all too easy to scrap the plans we made or stray from our promises of being financially wise this season. A good plan is the best defense against abandoning smart financial decisions

Shortly after Christmas a New Year will bare itself and many of us will see another opportunity for a fresh start. Don't let the fresh start of the New Year let you be irresponsible in December. We share plenty of tips on how you can responsibly enjoy the holidays and still improve your financial state of mind for the year 2010.

 
 
 

You only have a few weeks until Christmas and there is a good chance you aren't done with all your gift buying. Here are some last minute ideas that are also more affordable.

Use LED Lights - For those of you decorating with Christmas lights this year, use the LED Christmas lights instead of the incandescent ones. Not only are LED solutions more environmentally friendly, they will help reduce that dreaded winter power bill.

Use the Secret Santa System - Instead of giving gifts to all of your siblings, or to every single one of your friends in your circle, how about using secret Santa system for each group instead? Implementing this system will help reduce the pressure and expense of purchasing so many gifts.

Re-Gifting - This seems to be a hot topic this holiday season as other bloggers have debated this issue. Personally, I have no problem with re-gifting. In fact, I think that it's a great idea! If you receive a gift that's not right for you, why not package it up and give it to someone who might enjoy it?

Give a Personal Gift - If you have the creative skills, how about baking a cake, making some cookies or creating a craft as a gift? Not only can this be economical, it's a gift straight from the heart.

Donate to a Charity - Lets face it, a lot of people that you know do not need another gift this holiday season, however, charities are always in need of contributions. Try donating to a charity in someone's behalf. The benefits? All parties involved will feel good about giving plus you'll receive a donation tax credit to boot!

Make a Shopping List - Write down everyone that you plan to buy a gift for and how much you plan to spend. It's not just to save money, it's so you don't miss anyone too!

Be Patient and Look for Deals - The bad economy means that all retailers are marking down their merchandise in a huge way. Shop around at different stores and chances are you will find what you are looking for at a lower price!

Plan Ahead - Make sure you call the store to see if the item you want to buy is in stock. Otherwise, you would've wasted your time and gas!

Organize Your Trip - Group your gift list into different categories and plan your route. Trust me, it will save you so much time!

Buy Online - If you still haven't bought anything online before, you are missing out because online retailers like Amazon often give huge discounts! Remember to also calculate shipping into the total price before committing (better yet, find one that offers free shipping).

Don't Buy More than You Need - Never fall for those offers that seem like a bargain but need you to buy additional products. If you need only one, never go for the Òbuy one get one freeÓ offers!

Clip Coupons - Go out of your way to find coupons. It might be a hassle but it is time well spent!

Find Alternatives - When a similar product goes on sale, try to see if the savings is worth the trade off. Sometimes, the product on sale might be selling for less and be even better than the one you were going to get!

An Activity Could Be Worth Even More - Gifts are not just tied to an item! It could be a favor, an event or an experience so use your imagination!

Gift Receipts - Always ask for one just in case!

Avoid Credit Card Advances - Always.

No Store Credit Cards - In fact, don't apply for any new credit card during the holiday season.

No Interest Till 2010 - Don't fall for this unless you already have the means to pay it off and you will pay it off immediately.

Find a Shopping Buddy - True shoppers will look in every aisle and find amazing deals. If you are one of them, you can save so much time and cover more territory by teaming up!

Don't Wait Until the Last Minute - Chances are you will be in a rush and all the budgeting tips will be forgotten!

 

 

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Once the hectic schedule of Christmas passes us by, many of us will start to look to next year to make resolutions that we hope will improve our lives. Many people in fact, choose financial resolutions to improve their new year.

Here are some things you can resolve to do for the year 2010 that just may help your financial well-being.

If you can only resolve to do one thing financially, start with establishing a budget. The best way to manage your finances correctly is knowing where all of your money is going and where it's coming from. That is essentially what a budget will tell you if done right. A good budget will allow you to find money that can be used in some of the following resolution ideas.

For those of you that already have a budget, resolve to re-asses it to make sure you are getting the most out of it. There may be a few places you can save or expenses to cut. Chances are something has changed for you financially within the year to allow you to take a new look at your budget and make adjustments.

Resolve to aggressively pay down or off one of your debts. Find a way to make bigger payments to a creditor and try to pay it off by the end of the year instead of the multiple years it would take if you just paid the minimum.

You can also resolve to not add any additional debt for the year. That means no new credit cards and no use of the credit card if you can't pay it off in the same month. This may be one of the hardest habits to break but you may be able to surprise yourself with a little self-discipline.

Resolve to focus on your retirement. The younger you are the better, but everyone can help boost his or her retirement plan. Contributing to your employers 401k plan is a great place to start. Already contributing? Then increase contributions. Even an increase of 1% can make a big difference and you may not even notice that amount missing from each paycheck.

Some resolutions can take care of two things you want to improve. By resolving to not eat at fast food restaurants at lunch you will save money by bringing your own lunch as well as stay healthy by choosing not to eat food that isn't as good for you. Replace one pizza night or night out at a sit-down restaurant a month with an opportunity to cook a new healthy meal and you will save money and pounds.

If you have kids you can resolve to plan for their future this year. You can start with writing a will or making any updates to your current will. Don't think that you don't need a will; they are for everyone, especially if you have kids. Your will allows you to appoint a legal guardian for your children. A will also informs everyone how to handle any assets you may have. Don't let others dictate your life if you pass.

You can also take care of your kids by starting a college fund for them. Look into starting a 529 College Savings plan. A plan that allows you to put a little away each month and have it grow as your child grows.

You can also resolve to look into your life insurance plan. If you don't have one, 2010 will be a great time start looking. It's important that the people you leave behind will be able to survive without the income you provide.

Finally, resolve to allow yourself a misstep or two without having to quit. Changing habits can be hard and there will most likely be a few times you revert to your old habits. Don't let that discourage you, learn from the mistakes and use them to improve upon yourself.

So when the last verse of Auld Lang Syne is sung you will be on your way to becoming a financial superstar.

 

 

 

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Most likely if you own a car you have car insurance. If you do drive without insurance you are gambling with your finances and breaking the law. Auto insurance does more than just protect your vehicle in the case of an accident. It covers the costs of bodily injury to others, lost wages due to injury, any lawsuits resulting from an accident, vehicle repairs to your car or other vehicles involved in an accident, and benefits to survivors if there was a death as a result of an accident.

There are many considerations when shopping around for auto insurance. There are certain factors that will affect the price of your insurance rates.

They can include:
Gender - Rates are less for younger women than for younger men.
Age - Rates are higher for drivers under 25 years old.
Type of Vehicle - New and nicer vehicle models will carry higher rates.
Driving Record - A cleaner driving record will result in lower rates.
Where you live - Rates are higher for urban areas than in rural areas.
How much you drive - The more miles you drive, the higher the chance you could be in an accident, which will leave you with a higher insurance rate.
Your Credit - Many insurers will use credit information to start an insurance risk score. They use this score to figure out the likelihood of you filing a claim.

If you decide to change insurers make sure that you cancel your current policy. Send the company a letter requesting the termination of your policy with the date that you want the coverage to end. Then follow up with them to make sure that they received it and it has been applied. Do not terminate your coverage by discontinuing to pay the bill. The insurance company will drop you, but it will be reported on your credit as a nonpayment. You may have to provide your former insurer with proof of the new insurance coverage. You will also want to double check when your new policy starts so there isn't a lapse that could leave you uninsured.

There are a few types of coverage that you can choose depending on your individual circumstances.

Required:
Liability - This is the minimal amount of coverage you need and it is required by every state. This is coverage for any damages or injuries that are caused by you while driving.

Optional:
Full Coverage/Comprehensive - Covers your vehicle, up to book value, for damage you cause. If you have an older vehicle, you may not want to have full coverage, as the monthly premiums are probably not worth the value of the vehicle.

Comprehensive also applies to other damage to your vehicle like natural disasters or vandalism.

Medical - Covers medical treatment for you and your passengers if you are in an accident.
Uninsured/underinsured drivers - This applies if you are in an accident with someone who does not have insurance or enough to cover all damage and injuries. This may be an easier way to collect money when an event like this happens. If not, it can cost you a lot more to try and take it to court to collect from the uninsured driver.
Here are a few other ways that you can save on your insurance. Contact your insurer to see if these or other discounts apply. You may be able to save if you drive a vehicle with better safety standards. Some examples may be automatic seat belts or air bags.

There are a few savings for teen drivers as well. Reporting good grades can save you on your insurance. If your child has taken and passed a driver training course they may qualify for lower rates. The best way to save money is to have a clean driving record. Avoid speeding, running stop signs, tailgating, and be a defensive driver. Always be aware of the drivers around you. You may consider yourself a great driver but there are plenty who are not and you can get caught up in their mistakes.

Even if you have had infractions in the past, if it has been a few years since your last incident you should ask if there are any discounts.

When finances are tight it may be easy to choose not to be insured, but the amount you pay monthly is easily justified if you are ever involved in an accident. So make sure that you have a good policy and don't be afraid to shop around to make sure that you are getting the best deals possible.

 

 

 

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There is a lot of highly anticipated football games on the horizon. The college football bowl games along with the NFL playoffs and Superbowl are watched by millions of people across the country and with the popularity of high definition broadcasts people are buying flat-screen high definition televisions to get the most for their experience. The problem is some people aren't waiting until they can afford to purchase a TV with money they have saved. Let me explain,

Let's say that you are the only one on your block without a high-def television. You go to a local rent-to-own store and agree on weekly payments of $35 a week for a year equaling $1820 for a television that may not even be brand new. The thing is, you can get a new model for almost half of that at a retail store. So why would anyone pay twice as much for any item? Convenience, some people can't come up with the total amount to buy a new television, but they can come up with smaller amounts every week. This doesn't just apply to televisions but an array of appliances and furniture.

Rent-to-own companies cater to those who don't have the best credit. Many stores will not check your credit, and will only check if you have a current job and have not been a previous delinquent customer. The amount of money that you agree to depends on the item you are renting and your pay schedule. They will most likely set up payment dates to coincide with your paydays to ensure that you will be getting money that day.

If you do sign a contract with a rental store it is crucial that you make your payments on time. It will only take one missed or late payment until the store sends over their repossession workers to come and get the items back from you. Many of the repo-men are persistent and will wait until you get home to get their merchandise. In some cases if you go back to the store the next day to make up the late payment and get the item back your payment process will start over. This means all the money you have already spent is essentially lost.

Making timely payments to the store cannot improve your credit, but not making payments will hurt your credit. Generally the only time a rent-to-own store reports you to the credit agencies is if they are having trouble collecting delinquent payments from you.

Some people try and assume that this is a way for them to rebuild their credit. They can make payments on time and slowly improve their score. If that is something you are considering you will want to make sure that the store reports its customer's payment history to the credit bureaus. Many rental stores do not. Besides, there are more affordable ways for you to improve your credit.

Another good idea is to try and make extra payments or add more to your payment in order to pay it off sooner and to save you money.

Make sure to thoroughly read the contract. You will want to understand what the penalties are for late payments or damage. The contract should also contain the length of agreement, the amount of each payment, and the total amount to be paid for the item. As always ask questions if you do not understand something and feel free to go somewhere else if you are skeptical of the agreement.

You should try and explore other options when planning on purchasing any items. Many department stores have financing and payment plans that rival the ones you get from the rental stores.

Even most credit cards have better terms than a rental store contract. The interest you pay on the credit card can still be less than the total amount you would pay at a rental store.

The smartest thing to do is to save that money up and pay for it in cash. Take the amount that the payment would cost you and save it. Since the retail price is cheaper than the rental price it will not take you as long to save for it as it would for you to make payments on it. Using the example above, you could put $30 away each week for 6 months and buy the same computer that would cost you twice as much and take you twice as long to pay off through the rental store. It is pretty simple math.

We understand that many people buy things that are more of a necessity than a wanted luxury. We recommend that you only consider rent-to-own stores for items that are more necessary. Items like a refrigerator and washer or dryer are more important than a TV or stereo speakers.

So before you head off to the local rent-to-to-own store be aware that you may pay three times as much as if you would save to buy it on your own.

 

 

There are approximately 8,500 Rent-to-own stores in all 50 states and Canada.

Rent-to-own stores serve 3.2 million customers (households) a year

Rent-to-own stores generated 6.3 billion dollars in 2007

 

 

 

 

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We survived through the end of summer and are excited for the fall. It was a little dicey there for a while with so many events to attend. I guess we underestimated the costs of all these events on top of having a newborn. It's definitely time to sit down and re-assess the budget and spending habits.

This is definitely not the time of year to try and figure out where the holes in the budget are coming from. With the holiday season approaching (as well as an anniversary and spouse birthday) we need to find a way to not only fix the holes but to plan for extra expenses the holidays bring.

It can be easy to get into a comfortable habit and think you will be fine without taking the time to look at your budget. I think that is the pattern we fell into before are son was born earlier this year. We had a comfortable amount left over after paying bills and setting some money aside in savings. So we assumed that the financial impact of having a second child would not affect us as much as we thought.

The child expenses haven't been too much of a surprise for us, but it just so happened during what I have been calling a "perfect storm". All the extra childcare expenses came at the same time where we have been very busy. We had a scheduled event just about every weekend this summer. When you have all these extra things to go to the costs can quickly add up. A few weddings a couple reunions and a couple trips to see family. With the birth of our son my wife didn't have any summer work that usually helps us get through the summer months.

I was irresponsible in not planning better. We could have watched our grocery budget a little better to account for the extra expenses. I could have done a better job of keeping the house cool and not having to run the air conditioner so much. There are plenty of things I could have probably done better if given the time to sit down and analyze it.

The good thing is I have full confidence we will rebound and get back on track. It may take a little trial and error, but that's nothing new to us, or probably most of you.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited for the cool temperatures and quieter weekends without so much to do. When we speak again, we will be on the verge of closer out the year and looking forward to the new one. It's amazing how fast the time goes. I hope you find some great tips in this month's edition. Remember, we all stumble at times but it's important to not get discouraged and rebound with a better game plan. Until next time, good luck and have fun.

 

 

 

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In the latest spin on debt collection deception, scammers pretending to be lawyers are calling consumers across the country, threatening imminent arrest unless their victims immediately pay up to $1,000 to settle a payday loan-a short-term loan based on the value of an upcoming paycheck or other expected income.

Although that threat is certainly frightening-and illegal-what's even more worrisome is how the phone-dialing phonies make their bogus claims look legitimate.

"These scammers have an incredible amount of personal information about the people they are calling. They have Social Security numbers; cell, work and home numbers; personal references, and even contact information of family members of the intended victims," notes Alison Southwick of the national Council of Better Business Bureaus, which issued a warning about this ruse.

"We don't know how they could have gotten that level of personal information unless it was obtained illegally, so we think these scammers may be behind some sort of security breach-possibly having stolen records from a payday lender or another company," Southwick says. In some cases, the BBB reports, the scammers even have their intended victims' bank account and driver's license numbers, as well as their employers' names.

Phony companies
Southwick tells Scam Alert that she personally has been receiving several inquiries a day from consumers who received these threatening phone Scammers and their cons do not hide from the holidays, if anything they are more prevalent. Scammers take advantage of you when you are flustered and hurried and more susceptible to making rash decisions. So this holiday season be on the lookout for these possible scams.

Shopping online is a great place to find deals, but around this time of year you may find websites that have really low prices on high-end products. Any site that is selling an item below cost is probably too good to be true. Many sites look reputable but it doesn't take much to set up a site that takes your payment but doesn't deliver on good. Either shipping you an item that is of much lower quality or simply not sending you your item at all.

Some websites that sell products for a lot less will have you fill out your contact information and complete the order. They will then contact you on the phone number you provided and try and pressure you into buying additional products that compliment the one you just purchased, these are often highly overpriced negating the savings. If you decline to purchase the additional add-ons they will simply cancel your order all together.

In similar cases, websites will be set up to sell products and when you use your credit card to ÒpurchaseÓ something; your credit card number will be essentially stolen.

The best way to avoid falling for this is to shop online with reputable online retailers. If you are unsure take a few minutes and investigate, you can find reviews of most sites by entering the name in your favorite search engine. Bad reviews or no reviews at all should be a red flag that you should shop elsewhere.

 

 
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Here are some of our favorite tips to help you save some energy and money during the coldest part of the year. Follow these quick tips and you may notice a decrease in your winter energy bills.

The first place where you can save is at the thermostat. It is recommended that you set your thermostat between 66 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. It is estimated that you can save up to 5% of your heating bill for every degree you lower your home's temperature.

You waste a lot of heat when you are not at home. You may want to look into buying a programmable thermostat that automatically controls your heating settings. During the day when no one is home you can program it to a lower setting, and then have it scheduled to warm up right before you get home. You can also set it lower during the evening where you can compensate the cold with more blankets on your bed.

You will want to examine any insulation issues your house may have. After a significant snowfall, go outside and observe if the snow is melting rapidly off your roof. If it is, this could be a good sign that heat is escaping from your house through the roof and you may need to add more insulation to your attic. Another sign of heat loss through your roof is the rapid formation of icicles after a storm if the outside temperature has not risen.

Examine the insulation on your attic floor. It should be the same thickness and spread out evenly. Watch for gaps in the insulation and make sure that the vapor barrier side is facing downward or towards the space you are trying to keep warm. You will also want to make sure all of your insulation is dry. If you find problems with your insulation, you may want to consult a contractor for an estimate. You may also be able to do it yourself. For more information on insulation, please visit this helpful website at: www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_01.html

Check your roof for ice dams that can cause melted snow to build up and possibly leak through your roof. Break up any ice dams with a roof rake or a push broom.

Another easy way for you to retain heat energy is to buy a hot water heater insulation blanket. These wrap around your hot water tank and helps you save money by reducing the amount of extra heat lost. You should also keep your water heater temperature dial set to 120 degrees.

One thing that you can do yourself is go around and find any leaks where cold air can come in and warm air can escape. You will want to caulk any opening or cracks where air can escape. You may also want to buy weather stripping and make sure that the top and bottom of your doors are sealed to prevent air from getting in or out.

If you have a classic fireplace (the ones that require wood and a match, as compared to the kind you turn on with a switch) you will want to make sure that you are taking the right actions to insure that heat is not escaping through it. Make sure that the damper is closed when not in use and consider replacing wire mesh screens with closing glass doors to keep heat from escaping.

Don't forget that ceiling fans are just as effective in the winter as they are in the summer. Most ceiling fans have a reverse switch that will help circulate warm air better. Warm air rises and the fan will redirect downward where it is needed more.

 
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