Holiday Gift Giving Is About Creativity, Not Made For TV Moments

Today I am proud to present a guest post by Brock, who writes at Clever Dude, one of my favorite personal finance blogs. Brock has done a great job of writing about clever ways to save, spend, and budget, all while keeping a personal spin on his topics.  I hope you enjoy his post.

If you haven’t seen one yet, I’m sure they’ll be popping up during commercial breaks everywhere before you know it.  You know what I mean, those commercials where a person opens their front door to find a luxury SUV sitting in their driveway with a big red bow draped across the hood.  Or how about the scene where a woman holds a hand over her mouth in complete surprise as she opens a jewelry box to find a ring with a diamond big enough to use as a piece of sidewalk chalk?

Do these things really happen?

If I were the receiver of one of those gifts I would be absolutely livid because there’s only a couple of ways that such a gift could have been paid for:

  • The giver just committed them to a hefty monthly payment for a significant amount of time.
  • The giver paid cash and drained a huge amount from the couple’s savings
  • The giver somehow accumulated and hid a large amount of money

The realization of any of these scenarios would ruin any made for commercial moment, don’t you think?

Couples who do their finances together, such as my wife and I, have to find an alternate way to accomplish holiday gift giving. We agree to a limit as to how much we can spend on each other for Christmas presents based upon our budget and the funds we have available.  It’s never a huge sum of money, last year it was $100.  For us it’s not about the amount of money spent, it’s about how creatively we can use the amount designated.

Here’s what my wife had waiting for her under the tree last year:

Electric blanket:  She LOVES to snuggle up under a blanket while watching TV.  She used to have one of these years ago, but it broke.  She mentioned on in passing on a cold November evening, so I picked one up for about $25.

Cooling Pillow:  We were walking through Costco and she saw a pillow that claimed to stay cool as you used it.  She thought it was the “coolest” thing ever.  I went back and got one for $20.

Head Phones:  Just prior to Thanksgiving we switched cell phone carriers and she got her iPhone.  She put her music library on it (she had an iPod touch previously) and began taking it to the gym.  She talks on her phone a lot while on the treadmill, so I bought her a new set of headphones with a built in microphone for $20.

Earrings:  My wife’s Jewelry box is a complete disaster area.  I’m constantly untangling necklaces and looking for earring matches.  She eventually concluded she had lost the mate to her favorite medium sized hoop earrings.  A new pair added about $15 to the total.

mb-201311giftsThe rest of my funds were spent on little trinkets and her favorite chocolate to go into her stocking.

My gifts weren’t as mindblowing as a brand new SUV parked in the driveway.  They weren’t as romantic as a sparkling new diamond.  But they were things my wife wanted, AND the best part was that she had no idea that I had really noticed she had these things on her wish list.

Have YOU ever had a commercial worthy gift opening moment? How do you and your significant other handle holiday gift exchanges?

Editors Note: I agree 100% with Brock, and the ones that make me really shake my head are the ‘brand new car’ gift commercials.  You know that most people who buy a car for a gift can afford a down payment at best, so it’s likely a gift that comes with years of car payments.  No thanks!

Get The Best Software For An Online Store

The following is a guest post.

Often when you set up a store online, you have different expenses than a local brick-and-mortar store might have. You have no building that you must pay rent or taxes on, no electric bills, and often you don’t have employees you must pay if you run the site by yourself. However, this doesn’t mean you don’t still have expenses. When you run a business online, it’s best to make sure you have electronic software that can help make your job easier.

There are many factors you need to consider before purchasing software like whether you want to keep track of sales, the number of hits to your website, if you need to order more product, or to keep track of invoices. Knowing what you need and how much you should pay for it can make or break your business, and must be thought about carefully.

Know the Different Types of Software and Programs

The kind of business you’re running will determine the kind of programs you’ll need. A good example would be pos system hardware, which is best for sale websites with specific merchandise. If you sell articles of clothing, electronics, toys or other physical items, a POS would be a good investment to keep track of your sales. Alternatively, if you sell more abstract merchandise like insurance or mortgages, and your work is more invoice related, a conversion rate system would be more your speed since it keeps track of how many hits you have had, and how many sales you’ve made.

Shop the Market

Never be afraid to do some research concerning what you want to buy.  Before you even think about spending any money, figure out what your needs are. Make a list of what you want to have and rate the importance of each point. When you’ve done that, start looking around and compare what you find. Don’t get something that won’t do everything you need, and alternatively, don’t spend a lot of money on something that has features you won’t use. Find a good balance between too cheap and too expensive and you should be able to find something suitable. Also, don’t ever let yourself stay with an outdated product. Often, after a few years, systems won’t work as well as when you first bought them. Keep your eyes open for new products or new updates. This will help you know about systems in advance before you find you absolutely must update. It will save you a lot of frustration and effort down the road so you can instead focus your time on your website, products, and profit.

Additionally, you should always keep yourself aware of potentially free programs. Just because it can help you with your business doesn’t always mean it will cost money. Often there are programs that help you keep track of your business that are 100 percent free. Always be willing to take advantage of that if it is what you need.

What You Need to Secure Your Golden Years

How is your retirement looking? Could you add more to the pot?

I’m a firm believer that you can never have too much stashed. For this reason, I also feel it’s important to plan for multiple income sources in retirement. Of course, everyone has their own ideas of what is a good amount of income. But one thing’s for sure: once you are retired, you can’t go back in time and undo mistakes.

Right now, the goal should be securing your golden years. How can you achieve this?

1. Build your liquid savings. Although a regular savings account doesn’t earn much interest, this type of account should be included in retirement planning. Having liquid funds on hand can be a godsend if you deal with emergencies, such as car and home repairs or medical expenses. Most retirees live on a fixed income and without a liquid savings account, meeting certain expenses can be challenging.

Deposit a percentage of your current earnings into your savings account. Do not touch this money–watch it grow. If you are not happy with the rate on your savings account, explore other options, such as a high-yield savings account or a money market account.

2. Employer retirement options. There is no rule that says you have to invest in your employer’s 401(k). But why wouldn’t you? Contributions are automatically taken out of your check and invested, and in most cases, you won’t even miss the money. It is literally one of the easiest ways to grow your retirement. Plus, you can choose how much to contribute.

3. Individual retirement account. Do not get too comfortable with your 401(k).  Yes, this is an excellent way to get started, but add other retirement accounts to the pot.  For example, opening a Roth IRA account can become a source of income during retirement. Since IRA contributions are made with after-tax dollars, withdrawals in retirement are tax-free. It does not take much to get started, and unlike a 401(k), you can choose your investments.

4. Mortgage-free. It is not the kiss of death to retire with a mortgage loan. But if you can pay off your house before retiring, that’s one monster expense you do not have to worry about. Plus, when you own your house free and clear, there is the option of borrowing against your equity if you run into financial hardship (cash out refinance, home equity loan or reverse mortgage). Not that you want to, but it’s always an option.

Take a look at your personal finances. Can you presently afford to increase your home loan payments? This move can knock years off your mortgage term. Additionally, if you are looking to buy a new home, can you afford a 15-year or a 20-year mortgage?

Nobody wants to worry about money after retiring. If you plan early, learn your options and make wise financial decisions, you can sail through your retirement years with very few financial worries.

Information in this post was provided by Amanda G, a frequent contributor to Money Beagle.

Saving Money with Seasonal Lifestyle Deflation

This is a guest post from Edward Antrobus. Edward is a construction worker, blogger, tinkerer and a househusband. He writes about frugality and occasionally rants about what he thinks the personal finance community gets wrong.

Recently, I embarked on a quest.  Instead of getting ideas from other personal finance bloggers, I wanted to get the opinions of average people on the topic of frugality. I started asking friends and coworkers one simple question: what is your favorite way of saving money? When I asked Peggy, her answer was cutting back on quality.

At first glance, that seems like a bad thing. Skimping on quality; doesn’t that mean it will break or wear out sooner and have to be replaced more often? That should make things more expensive in the long run. But that’s not what Peggy meant. What she was actually referring to would be lifestyle deflation.

People are pretty familiar with the concept of lifestyle inflation where you let rises in your income get spent with rises in your purchases. When you made $12k per year in college, you lived on ramen. When you graduated and scored a $40k per year job, you upgraded to steak.

Lifestyle deflation would be just the opposite. In the summer time, we work 60+ hours and can make $1000 per week or more. But in the winter, hours get scaled way back and most of us don’t make $1000 in an entire month. While a lot of that summer money gets saved to make it through the winter, lifestyle fluctuates a lot between those seasons as well. In the summer, Peggy likes corned beef sandwiches. In the winter, she’s eating bologna.

If you experience money getting tight, look through your expenses and see what you like having but can live without. Maybe you can switch to a cheaper lunchmeat. If you prefer Starbucks but don’t mind 7-11, drink that for a while. Or better yet, invest in a $10 coffee maker and brew it at home.

A lot of people are going to have stable income throughout the year, but expenses can vary wildly throughout the year. If you have a big family, like I do, Christmas can be an expensive time of the year, even if you give frugal gifts. Between my wife and I, we have to buy 6 birthday or anniversary presents for family members in the month of September. And of course, even keeping the thermostat low, we use a lot of heat in the winter. All told, fall and winter cost a couple thousand dollars more than spring and summer do.

So we cut back on our meat consumption, and what meat we do buy is cheaper cuts. Chicken three times per week and the occasional steak get replaced with hamburger and lots of pasta. New releases at the theater fade off in favor of the discount theater and Redbox.

The beauty of seasonal lifestyle deflation as opposed to living it year round is that you can cut tighter than you might be willing to full time. There’s no way I could give up meat year-round, no matter how expensive it is. But going a week is no problem. There is also no reason to limit it to just times when money is tight. You could decide to have a “No-spend November” or give up meat for lent and accomplish the same thing – extra money in your bank account at the end of the year.

For more posts from the Saving Money Series, check out

Car Insurance: What is it, Exactly?

Car insurance is the agreement between an insurance company and an insured individual, with the latter paying premiums to the company in exchange for compensation should there be an accident on the road.

Finding A Deal On Car Insurance

There are several kinds of car insurance, some of which are required by law in order to legally drive. Policies are always specific about what damages are covered and how far the company will compensate the holder. Finding the best deal is can be as simple as getting a free quote from a reputable website.  Go online and find a review site to narrow down the best options for car insurance in your area.  Shopping around for car insurance is a great idea to make sure you find the best deal.

The most basic function of car insurance is to help handle the damages that a vehicle undergoes in an accident, which is known as collision coverage. This is not required by law but if you purchase a vehicle with a loan, then the lien holder will often want it. There is always a coverage limit with this insurance, with most companies starting at $100,000.

It is possible to change this amount, and there is often a deductible. This is the amount you need to pay out of pocket before the insurance company pays. This is typically $500 but can also vary.

Other Features Of Car Insurance

Comprehensive coverage is another feature. This covers the damages of a vehicle if something happens outside of an accident. This includes people or weather damaging it or if someone steals it. This is also not required by law, but the lien holder may prefer it if you lease it or use a loan. There is also a deductible and a coverage limit here, which is often $500 and $100,000 respectively. As with collision coverage, this can be changed.

Liability coverage is generally always required, and this covers damages that a person inflicts on another person. This pays for lost wages or medical bills when you injure someone using your vehicle. The property damage aspect will repair objects you damage as well. This will also pay settlements or legal bills if you are sued. While there is a coverage limit, there is no deductible.

The amount you pay for car insurance depends on the kind of coverage that you want and who is going to be insured. The rates for coverage and deductibles can be adjusted with comprehensive and collision policies. If the deductible is lower and the coverage is higher, then you will be charged higher for the premium. Age, gender, history and vehicles will also dictate your rates.

Apply for Student Loans: Use a Financial Aid Advisor for Federal and Private Student Loans

Consider Using a College Financial Aid Advisor for Federal and Private Student Loans

Financing higher education can be overwhelming, especially if you are going through the process for the first time. Everything from your family’s financial status to your education plans will play a role in determining how much college financial aid you are eligible for in the way of grants, scholarships and federal and private student loans . If you are applying for student loans and other types of tuition support for the first time, consider building a relationship with a financial aid advisor who is familiar with the process.

The Role of an Financial Aid Advisor as you Apply for Education Loans

Your financial aid advisor will be there to guide you through the entire college financial aid process, from financial planning through application and award acceptance. They can help you make sure that you are taking full advantage of federal college financial aid options by correctly filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and making sure you remain aware of important student loan deadlines. Additionally, they can help you to understand you options for private student loans if needed.

Once you have submitted the FAFSA and your Student Aid Report (SAR) is distributed, an advisor from your college’s financial aid office will present you with your student reward package and work with you to make important decisions about accepting it. They can help you to understand the different forms of financial aid you have been offered and also help you make decisions between different education loans where applicable.

Choosing a College Financial Aid Advisor

When it comes to financial aid advisors, you generally have two options. You can choose to work with someone in the financial aid department at your college or university, or you can seek a private loan advisor. The decision will most likely be made in relation to your level of need at the beginning of the process.

A private advisor may be able to get involved with your family earlier in the process, providing more personalized support and walking you through the process of applying for student loans and other aid. They will also be able to provide a single point of contact, available at all times for your family.

If you are working with your college financial aid office, you may end up talking to multiple representatives and will have to share time with many students going through the same process, but this option shouldn’t be overlooked. It is a free service, and the advisors are very knowledgeable and accustomed to working with families through the process. If you are looking for general guidance, your school’s advisor may be all the help you need.

Content was created and provided by RBS Citizens Financial Group.