We're only a few short weeks away until Christmas and if you have everything done, then congratulations. For the rest of us this is a hectic time and any quick tips can help, so here are a few of our favorite last minute tips for Christmas.
Keeping kids busy during the break can be a challenge and this first suggestion will probably not get a lot of enthusiasm. Chances are your kids may have received some homework to complete over Christmas break. Encourage them to do it early and get it out of the way as to avoid scrambling to do it last minute. If they don't have homework they can still do activities that will educate them but still be fun at the same time.
Red and green apples can be used as last minute decorations because they are conveniently colored in the popular colors of the season. You can even carve out the top of the apple to make a candleholder. Squeeze lemon juice on the exposed part of the apple to prevent it from turning brown.
A quick decorating idea is to take bottles you have and spray-paint them holiday colors. If you add candles you have very festive looking candle holders. You can also take vases and fill them with festive things like cranberries, pine tree clippings, or even shredded holiday colored construction paper.
Take ribbon or wrapping paper and decorate your lampshades. Pin ribbon along the borders or wrap the outside of the shade in your favorite holiday wrapping paper. You can also pin your Christmas cards to the outside. Just make sure the lamp doesn't get too hot.
Though a working fireplace is great for this time of year, there are plenty of people who have a fireplace that may not work for whatever reason. That doesn't mean you can't have fun decorating it. You can arrange Christmas decorations or fill with Christmas ornaments that can create a great décor to your home.
A standard classic is stringing popcorn. Fishing line and a bag of popcorn will cost you very little to decorate with. You can hang around the tree or string along the wall. There are even ways to dye the popcorn to add a little extra holiday pizzazz!
Many communities have holiday themed parades. You can pack your own snacks and fill a thermos with hot chocolate and enjoy the beautiful festivities. Save money by avoiding anything that they may sell at the parades or festivals.
Load up the kids in the car and take a scenic drive through town to look at Christmas lights. Many newspapers will feature a list of addresses for homes that participate in the communities "house decorating contests".
Instead of trying to bake cookies for everyone, invite friends and family over for a cookie party. Everyone can bring a recipe or pre-made batter to cook. You then can separate all of the different types of cookies and share them with everyone at the party.
For last minute shopping, it's probably a good idea to figure out what you want to buy before you go out and get it. Call the store to see if it's even available so you don't waste your time driving to the store only to find out they don't have it. When in doubt or running out of time, grab a gift card!
Don't forget to buy the accessories. Check the packaging on any toys or electronics that you bought. Make sure you make a list of all the types of batteries that you will need. Try buying them in bulk from a warehouse store. You may even look into buying rechargeable batteries. The up front cost may be more but you will save by not having to replace them as often.
Another quick tip is to remain calm and try to be as patient as possible. It seems that the more people are in a hurry the more angry they are, so it's important to be the bigger person in the situation and try and remember the real meaning of the season.
Christmas is a great time of year and often hectic, so be creative to find ways to spend less time running around and more time enjoying the season with your loved ones.
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Nothing bails out a last minute shopper like a good gift card. With so many options it can help take all the work of finding the perfect gift. Even though some may debate the sincerity of gift cards they are more popular than ever and will make up a large portion of holiday shopping this year. But before you buy a stack of gift cards, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation's consumer protection agency, wants you to know that there are two types:
Retail Gift Cards: which are sold by retailers and restaurants, and can be used only with those merchants. Retail gift cards may have expiration dates or a fee for inactivity that sometimes is called a "dormancy fee."
Tips for Buying Gift Cards:
Buy from sources you know and trust. Avoid buying gift cards from online auction sites, because the cards may be counterfeit or may have been obtained fraudulently.
Inspect the card before you buy it. Verify that none of the protective stickers have been removed, and make sure that the codes on the back of the card haven't been scratched off to reveal a PIN number. Report tampered cards to the store selling the cards.
Consider the financial condition of the business and whether it has filed for bankruptcy.
If you buy a card from a company that goes out of business or ultimately files for bankruptcy, the recipient may end up with a card that's worth less than the face value.
If the business closes stores near where the recipient lives or works, they may not be able to get to another location to redeem their card.
A company that files for bankruptcy may honor its gift cards. A competitor may also accept the card. Call the retailer or competitor to find out. Even if a company currently is not redeeming gift cards, check with them periodically; they may resume doing so later.
Tips for Using Gift Cards:
Read the terms and conditions when you get the card, and check for an expiration date or any fees.
If you didn't get the card's terms and conditions, the original purchase receipt, or the card's ID number, ask for them from the person who gave you the card, and then keep them in a safe place.
Treat your card like cash. If your card is lost or stolen, report it to the issuer immediately. You may be out the entire amount on the card. Some issuers don't replace the cards, but others do if you pay a fee. If an issuer charges for a replacement card, you'll most likely need to document the purchase and provide the ID number on the card. Most issuers have toll-free numbers to report lost or stolen cards.
Use your card as soon as you can. It's not unusual to misplace gift cards or forget you have them; using them early will help you get the full value. However, should your card expire before you've had a chance to use it or exhaust its value, contact the issuer. They may still honor the card, although they may charge a fee to do that.
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So you already went a little overboard for the Holidays. That's OK, we forgive you. But now that you are a little stretched this month, you are going to have to jump start your finances in order to rebound and get back to a healthy checkbook. Here are some ways you can spend January cutting costs.
First thing you will want to do is quit spending. Avoid all the post holiday sales and the temptation to use those gift cards at the mall. Even with gift cards you may still be tempted to take advantage of some sales. Wait to use those gift cards when you know that your finances are back on the level.
Use any money that you may have received as a gift to help pay bills, even if it was given to you for the intention to buy something nice for yourself. Not having to deal with angry creditors and being able to sleep at night is a lot better gift than a new outfit.
If you used credit cards make sure that you can make the minimum payment and that you pay it on time to avoid more fees. It would be best to make more than the minimum. Many credit card collectors are not very sympathetic towards those whose excuse is that they spent too much for Christmas.
Pay your most important bills first like rent/mortgage, utilities, and car. Other bills you may have to adjust your payments or try to negotiate a better payment plan until you get ahead.
Volunteer for any overtime that is being offered at work. Use the extra income to catch up from the previous month's overspending.
Push back any appointments until next month, unless the appointments are for an infant or sick child. If you had a regular check-up or dental cleaning and visit, you may want to try and reschedule for the next month to save yourself some money. Of course, if you have really good insurance than this is a non-issue. Also, if your deductible reset at the beginning of the new year you may want to squeeze in any appointments if you have reached this years deductible.
If the credit card bills are just too overwhelming and you can't get anywhere with the company's representative, you may want to contact a Certified Credit Counselor. They may be able to negotiate with your creditors for a lower monthly payment that can help you get back on the right track.
There are plenty of things in January that you can plan for and begin to do now to help you have a better 2011.
Taxes are still five months away, but there is a reason you get your W-2s in January. Start getting everything ready now so you don't have to go into panic mode in April. This will also prevent you from making mistakes that are caused by hurrying through your taxes. Take a big manila envelope and write TAXES '10 across it. Place everything that you receive in January in it. Make sure that you store this in a place that you will not forget.
Depending on your last name, you may have to get your vehicle's new registration this month or a few months down the road. Why not put that money away right now and not have to worry about it. By taking care of it now you won't have to worry about forgetting it in a couple of months.
Many people who have insurance will have their deductible reset. Plan accordingly for checkups and visits. Some dental plans provide a certain amount of free cleanings per year and these will also reset in January. Any visits that you were putting off from last year should be planned sooner.
Some of you may have property taxes due at the beginning of the year. These payments may have to be made in full or be added to your mortgage payment already. It can't hurt for you to contact your mortgage company to find out what you need to do.
January is a great time to set your new financial goals. Start by starting a new budget. Review where you have been saving, and take a look at where you have been spending a little more. Within the past year you may have had some changes in your income. If you already haven't done so, this would be a good time to adjust your budget accordingly.
Even though you may still be recovering from the holidays, January is a good time to make your 2011 agenda. Getting a head start and being prepared is going to make it easier for you to adjust your budget and keep you on task this year.
READ & WIN CONTEST!
1. What's another name for a gift card inactivity fee?
Two ways to enter:
Mail answers to:
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The start of the new year is a great opportunity for you to try a new budget strategy. There are a lot of people who abandon credit cards or balancing a checkbook and just use cash for everything. The most popular form of cash budgeting is the envelope system.
You may have heard or come across someone that has used this system. Cash goes into category specific envelopes to pay for items in that category. Popular categories are Bills, Groceries, Entertainment, Gas & Car Maintenance, Home Improvement, Savings, Clothes, and Kids. A benefit of the envelope system is that you can have as many categories as you need. You can separate your monthly bills individually. You can either include your bills in the system or use envelopes for everything after bills are paid, since your monthly bill payments will need to be paid completely.
Then take the rest and budget cash amounts to each category. Then you use that cash and that cash only for the specified category. So if you budget $250 a month for groceries you will take that envelope with you every time you go to the grocery store and draw from that envelope to purchase your groceries. Guess what happens when your grocery money is gone? You don't get to buy any more groceries.
Ok, so no one is going to physically stop you from buying more groceries if you run out too soon. But you will then be drawing from another budgeted category and hurting your budget overall. So you will either need to readjust your budget to account more for groceries or you will need to monitor how you shop for those groceries.
Once you have the system figured out you may be finding that you are not using all the money in each category. This is where the benefits of a good budget come into play.
You now have some options for the excess cash. You can roll it over to next month in the same category and extend that categories monthly budget.
You can take all of the extra money and put it into your savings account.
You can set up another envelope for extra money and use it for a vacation or even better, use it to make extra payments to eliminate your debt.
There are some things to consider about the envelope system. Carrying around wads of cash can leave you less than secure. Plastic provides security if your card is lost or stolen, while cash does not. You do not want to carry all of your cash with you at one time. For instance, you may budget $100 for gas a month, but only keep $20 at a time locked in the glove box instead of the whole envelope full. Keep envelopes that are not in use at home in a safe.
Hold onto your receipts to keep track of where the money is specifically going. Just place the receipts in the cash envelope. The receipts should add up to the amount of cash that was spent.
If you eliminate all credit from your financial life it may hurt your credit score. You may want to consider a low interest line of credit to protect your score.
You may want to have a debit card linked to either a checking or savings account. That way if you do happen to run short on cash at the grocery store you can save time and embarrassment of having to remove items. Just make sure to account for the extra and note the amount that was taken from the account.
The envelope system requires strict self-discipline. It can be a real eye-opener to see how close or how far you are from your budget when you run out. If you are new to a cash only system it may take some time to get used to and adjust for.
Honestly, this may not work for everyone for whatever reasons. If you try it and are not comfortable with it or you find it hard to keep track of then you will want to find another way to budget. No matter how you budget, becoming less dependent on credit cards will leave your finances better off and your credit cards dusty.
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Scammers Exploit the FTC's Good Name, Promise Phony Sweepstakes Prizes
"Hi, I'm calling from the Federal Trade Commission to tell you that you have won $250,000…"
Someone who claims to work for the Federal Trade Commission calls to inform you that you have won a lottery or sweepstakes. To receive the prize, all you have to do is pay the taxes and insurance. The caller asks you to wire money or send a check for an amount between $1,000 and $10,000. What should you do? Don't send money or account information, and immediately report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
The FTC is the nation's consumer protection agency. It investigates fraud and provides free information, but it never collects money directly from consumers. FTC staffers don't have any involvement with this sweepstakes scam, and they want you to avoid it.
The caller might suggest that the FTC is supervising the giveaway. He or she might even use the name of a bonafide FTC employee. Your Caller ID might display the Federal Trade Commission's name or a Washington, DC area code. Don't be surprised if you receive repeated calls and follow-up faxes.
No matter how convincing the impersonation, never send money to claim a prize. No FTC employee will ever call to ask you to send money. Legitimate sweepstakes companies won't either. Nevertheless, many consumers and their families have sent money and lost it before recognizing this as a scam and reporting it.
Taking a few precautions can help you minimize your risk of falling for the lure of sweepstakes scams:
* Don't pay to collect sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you haven't won. Legitimate sweepstakes don't require you to pay "insurance," "taxes," or "shipping and handling charges" to collect your prize.
* Hold on to your money. Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies like Western Union because wiring money is the same as sending cash. If you discover you've been scammed, the money's gone, and there's very little chance of recovery. Don't send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, either. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you've been cheated.
* Look-alikes aren't the real thing. It's illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with — or an endorsement by — a government agency or any other well-known organization. Disreputable companies sometimes use a variation of an official or nationally recognized name to try to confuse you and give you confidence in their offers.
Insurance companies, including Lloyd's of London, do not insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
* Phone numbers can deceive. Some con artists call using Internet technology that allows them to disguise their area code: although it may look like they're calling from Washington, DC, or your local area, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free,
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I was thinking of calling this month's edition "How to Enjoy Las Vegas Frugally", the thing is I'm not a very good liar. I'm sure I'm not the first person who planned a trip to Vegas with a responsible number in mind and failed to stand by it. It's not that we went crazy and spent a ton or gambled all our money away. Being from a moderately sized city in South Dakota it can be a bit of a shock when it comes to prices of everyday things. A drink and a sandwich can be close to $20 a person so when there are 2 of you it doesn't take long to spend the amount you saved for.
So for a 3-day weekend in Vegas that didn't include an expensive dinner at an exclusive restaurant, a Vegas show, or much (if any) gambling we did a pretty good job of spending plenty of money. Now for the good news; we had plenty of time to save the money to go there and it didn't affect our daily budget, which I'm sure made my kids happy given the fact we are so close to Christmas and I didn't spend any of their "Santa" money. I must have had a look of giddiness on my face when I went to the bank to cash in a year's worth of change before the trip started.
I will end this section on a positive note and that if you plan accordingly Las Vegas is a fun town and can be a great time. My wife and I had a tremendous time with friends, celebrating a life long friends' great wedding among the lights and entertainment of chaotic Las Vegas.
Now on to the fun part of the year! Christmas is around the corner, which means time to head out into the cold and fight the crowds and go from store to store to find the perfect gift for the best price. Or I can sit at home, fire up the laptop and get everything done in an hour or so. I've said it once and I'll say it again; I love Christmas shopping online and honestly don't know why more people don't do it.
Well, there are obvious things like security and delivery, but when you go through a reputable site and make an effort to get it done early these are usually not a problem.
Another criticism of online shopping is that it takes away important income from the local economy. I think it's important to support local businesses and they certainly do get more business around this time of year. Places like restaurants and grocery stores will see more business from me and there will be a couple of things purchased from local stores, but the majority of my shopping will be online because I can get it at a better price without the hassle.
This year we are trading in the expense of hosting Christmas and are hitting the road to visit the in-laws. It will be a quick Christmas trip but is always a good time. We are really hoping for decent weather to travel, as I'm sure many of you are. I think if we broke it down there isn't much difference in the cost of whether we stay home or whether we visit my wife's family. That's nice when it comes to planning on expenses around this time of year.
I'm hoping/pleading that this Christmas will be a bit tamer for the kids. We have reached a point where we have too many toys for the kids, and many of the toys don't get played with anymore. I'm hoping to find some time over the break to get rid of some of the unused toys and donate them or take them to a consignment shop. The key is to not replace them with new toys that take up a lot of space. So I'm hoping for maybe one smaller toy and then books or other learning materials, and socks, because everyone loves socks for Christmas.
So at the beginning of January I will be turning the big 3-0 and I've really been thinking about how the last 10 years have gone by so fast and how much has changed in my life. 10 years ago I was a sophomore in college racking up credit card debt and sleeping in as late as possible and didn't have to many things to worry about. Today I'm a married father of 2 kids with a career and a house and doling out financial advice. Quite the progression for just 10 years if I do say so myself. Very much looking forward to the next 10 years and what fantastic changes await.
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