Should I Sell my Home in Winter? Tips from a NJ Real Estate Attorney

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Do the frigid temperatures and snowy weather turn you off from potentially selling your house during the winter season? Although spring and fall are the most popular times to sell a house, there are always going to be people searching for a new home in every season. With updated technology and on-the-go apps, homeowners are less likely to have difficulty in selling, regardless of the weather. Since there are less homeowners who attempt to sell in the winter, your market competition will sparse and buyers will have less options.


Putting your house on the market during the holidays doesn’t have to spell disaster.


Selling your house during the winter provides its own advantages; all you have to do is show off your cozy abode and create an enjoyable experience for potential buyers. Here are a few ways you can set up a welcoming environment despite the frightful weather that may be brewing outside.

1. Warm and cozy

A cold house will probably lead to a cold first impression for a potential buyer. Play to the buyer’s senses by heating up the house. Not only should the temperature be cranked up, but create an inviting mood. Add a warm touch to each room by adding an area rug in a cheerful hue, draping a blanket over the back of an armchair, or folding a comfy quilt at the end of a bed. Warm tones and a cozy mood will make all the difference in the prospective buyer’s showing experience. A few cookies out on the counter or warm apple cider cooking on the stove may be an invitation for the buyer to stay around and ask questions. If you happen to have a fireplace, be sure to get that fire crackling, as this will add ambience and heat!

2. Let there be light!

It’s perplexing to designers as to why the perfect lighting sets the mood for a house hunter, but it definitely makes a big difference. Areas in the house where the buyer is going to have a first impression, such as the entryway, should have warm, bright lighting. Roll up the blinds, open the shutters, and turn on all of the lights in every room. Because of daylight savings, darkness arrives sooner, and buyers are not going to want to see a dim house. If you do have a darker room, add a spotlight or two to give it some warmth. Winter days can be dreary, but with a warmly lit hearth, you’ll be sure that your house is a beacon of light.

3. The outside appearance matters, too

Yes, the indoor appearance of the house is crucial, but house hunters aren’t only going to be observing what’s on the inside. Begin by clearing all entryways of snow and ice. Make sure each path is clear so that the doors are easily accessible. Though your patio furniture may go into hibernation in the winter, buyers are going to want to see the potential of an outdoor patio or porch. Try adding a spotlight, taking your patio furniture out of hibernation, or placing a fire pit in the yard or on the patio to brighten up the outdoor space.

4. Emphasize specific spaces

If you have areas in your house that are more useful during the winter months such as basement playrooms, indoor exercise spaces, or a heated shed, be sure to bring attention to them. Clear the area of any unrelated items so that the room’s true purpose can be accentuated. Since winter is prime time for hosting parties and other festivities, whet the senses of potential buyers by setting up a holiday display. Decorate as you would to entertain so that guests can see the entertainment potential of a certain space in your home.

Trends in the New Jersey housing market are constantly varying, but as a home seller, it’s important to stay up-to-date on what will appeal to the most potential buyers. Obviously, you want your house to offer a unique look, but not so different that it turns off most buyers. In the winter, it’s easy to let things slide, such as keeping up with the cleaning, making necessary house repairs, etc., but you need to be sure to keep your house clean and inviting – even on the outside. By taking these tips and coming up with a few of your own ideas, you’ll be more likely to sell your house during the coldest time of year.

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5 Ways to Get Caught Up on Bills After the Holidays

 

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Just as a little too much partying on New Year’s Eve can leave you with a painful hangover — a little too much spending during the holiday season can result in a financial hangover. Unfortunately, the latter can’t be cured by drinking plenty of water and getting some extra rest.

When your out-of-town loved ones have gone back home and the decorations are starting to come down, credit card debt and crumbling finances can be a cold, unwelcome reality check. While we want our holiday memories to last a lifetime, holiday debt is something we’d really rather not think about. Avoiding the truth about how much you really spent on gifts for all and sundry won’t make the problem disappear; what it will do is snowball the interest and late fees.

5 effective ways to begin tackling your excessive holiday spending:

 

  1. Assess the Situation/Make a Plan

Tackling excessive debt is anything but fun, but it can’t be avoided. Begin by looking over all of your banking statements and making sure that you agree with all listed charges. Then, make a list of your debts from smallest to largest (based on total amount) to get an idea of  how much you’re in the hole for. Next, create a list of their interest rates from highest to lowest.

Once you have a clear picture of what you’re dealing with, choose either the Snowball or Avalanche debt repayment strategy and start working on the plan of your choice ASAP.

 

  1. Return, Return, Return

Did you end the holiday season with scads of decorations, gifts, or other items that were never even opened? Perhaps you bought gifts for a friend’s significant other only to discover that they broke up in November. Maybe you lost self-control and brought home that ridiculously overpriced holiday decoration you’ve coveted for months.

Do not hesitate — GO NOW, this minute, to return any still-in-box, tagged items. If you are able to get your money back – put it to good use by making an extra credit card payment before you have a chance to buy something else you don’t need. Without a receipt? Use store credit to buy something you’d purchase anyway, like home goods or diapers.

 

  1. Work to Cut Regular Monthly Spending

If you have assessed your budget and concluded that there isn’t enough money left over each month to pay off your credit card debt, then reducing your monthly expenses is a must. Chances are, you have at least some recurring monthly payments that could be eliminated or decreased. Try calling your cell phone provider or cable company to see if they have any New Year’s offers or plans that would be cheaper than what you’re currently paying. Be sure to mention that you’ll have to change providers if they can’t lower your monthly bill.

Look around for a new (lower) quote on home and car insurance. Keep searching until you find a company that has the coverage you need and is willing to work with your budget.

Lastly, assess any larger loans you’re currently repaying (mortgage, home equity, education). Consider refinancing or modifying some or all of those more substantial loans. Every dollar you decrease your monthly payments by can go directly toward paying off credit card debt.

 

  1. No Credit Diet

Until you have that credit card debt completely paid off, we strongly recommend putting yourself and your family members on a “no credit diet.” When you purchase anything, use debit cards, cash or write a check (ancient, but still better than spending money you don’t have). Using these forms of payment will avoid racking up any more credit card debt.

 

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  1. Every Dollar Counts

Everyone has some expenses that could be considered “flexible” – grocery bills, clothing, entertainment, recreation, and more. Determine what items in your budget are ‘must-haves’ and what you or your family could go without.


In short: Evaluate your spending habits and start making better choices until they become habits.


Example: When you’re tempted to buy that five dollar cup of coffee, think about how quickly your coffee habit could put a dent in your debt. Bonus: Getting off caffeine (or reducing your intake) is good for your blood pressure!

We’ve given you a few ways to start lowering that holiday debt that you had so much fun charging last year. Take the tips that work for you and add your own debt pay-down tricks into the mix.


One caveat: If your holiday debt goes far beyond just the recent holidays, and you’re finding your monthly minimums are more than you can handle, regular debt pay-down strategies probably won’t get you very far. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.


When you’re so far behind on your bills that they just keep piling up, unpaid, on your kitchen table, it’s time to ask for professional help. Call Veitengruber Law. We will provide you with a holistic analysis of your debt and tailored solutions that will get you “back in black.”

The best part about reaching out to us for help?  The first meeting’s on us.

What Everyone Should Know About Black Friday (and Cyber Monday)

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Since its inception well over half a decade ago, the day after Thanksgiving has morphed into a spectacular affair for retailers across the country. As the unofficial start to the December holiday season, “Black Friday” sees merchants everywhere offering irresistible deals on desirable, giftable items in an attempt to attract as many customers as possible.

Store owners rely on big sale numbers on Black Friday because literal millions of shoppers brave the crowds that day, ready and eager to make purchases. The Thanksgiving four-day weekend also kicks off the biggest shopping season of the year. Last year, consumers shelled out a staggering $655 billion between Thanksgiving and the end of the calendar year!

With these mind-blowing statistics in mind, what will you be doing on Black Friday this year? If you have plans to shop in store(s), keeping the following things in mind as you do so will ensure that you get the biggest bang for your buck.

Plan ahead

Scour all of the advertisements that interest you and make a list of stores you want to visit, and in what order. A great way to get the most up-to-date special offers is to follow your favorite retailers on social media.

Do ample research

In tandem with planning ahead, be sure to research store hours, specific sale “start times,” and what part of the store your desired item(s) are located.

Limit purchases to “doorbusters”

Don’t get sucked in by other, much smaller sales while you’re out shopping. Stay focused on the deals that will save you the most money, and avoided the temptation to toss impulse buys into your cart.

Be aware of stores that price match

If you plan on visiting a retailer that offers price matching, be sure to bring along the advertisements from their competitor(s) that are relevant.

If shopping with credit, use a card that offers rewards

Racking up a ton of debt that you won’t be able to repay after the holidays is definitely not advised. However, if you have the cash to be able to pay off your credit card bill in full in the new year, be sure that you’re being rewarded for using credit. Use a card that offers cash back to make your Black Friday deals that much sweeter.

Keep all receipts

While it goes without saying, keeping receipts for all of your holiday spending is important for two reasons. First: you’re going to be gifting many (if not all) of the items you purchase on Black Friday – so be sure to ask for gift receipts where appropriate. Second: if you need to make a return for any reason, it’s always easier with a receipt. Since you’re doing more shopping than usual, keep all holiday receipts in a designated location.

When Black Friday ends, remember – that doesn’t mean the deals have to end. Most retailers are offering “Black Friday” deals that run all weekend long – and some last even longer. Cyber Monday will see another spike in awesome price drops online. In fact, many deals that are offered on Black Friday in stores will also be available online, too.

If you’re solely shopping online this year, be sure that you only shop on secure websites with the https prefix. Do not enter your credit card information on any site that isn’t secure or that feels sketchy in any way.

 

 

Hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on a Tight Budget

While everyone around you is hyped about the upcoming holiday(s), you feel an uneasy sense of dread anytime you so much as think about how much money the months of November and December are going to cost you. Living on a tight budget is particularly challenging when holiday festivities are in full gear, and you want desperately to join in on the fun.

While Thanksgiving isn’t quite as costly as the gift-laden holidays coming up in a month or so, there are without a doubt some hefty expenses that go into planning a family feast. If you’re on deck to host this year, your head is probably swimming with dollar signs and question marks.

Your best option here would have been to preemptively (and gracefully) bow out of hosting Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Most families would be understanding of your money struggles, and in general, there’s always someone eager to take on the task. With that being said, Thanksgiving is almost here, so if you’ve already committed to making the big meal happen in your kitchen, take the following tips to avoid spending more than you can afford.

Create a Thanksgiving budget

Take stock of what is most important to you and your loved ones on this holiday. Is it more important to be together and share quality time with those you may not see very often? If so, the food may be less of a focal point (and therefore less of an expense.)

On the other hand, if your guest list includes people who you see on the regular, maybe you’d all like to get creative this year and start some new traditions.

Once you’ve determined what is your main focus for the day, you’ll be better equipped to determine how much money you’ll need to make it a reality.

Become an even savvier shopper

Some grocery store chains offer a free turkey, ham or game hen when you spend a certain dollar amount there during the months preceding Thanksgiving. This is an easy, and somewhat obvious way to cut a nice chunk of money from your budget.

If you aren’t able to get your main dish free – consider going meatless. Meat is very expensive, and there are plenty of vegetarian options that are quite delicious. Even if you aren’t strictly vegetarian, it can be an adventure to try something new, while saving money at the same time.

Stock up on all of your sides and necessary ingredients over several months prior to the big feast. Only buy items that are on sale – this is why starting early is important. BONUS: If you hit some spectacular sales, buy two of everything non-perishable on your ingredient list (less expensive items like canned vegetables, bread crumbs, gravy, brown sugar, etc) and donate the extra items to a local food pantry or shelter.

Consider making your Thanksgiving a BYOD meal

Bring Your Own Dish meals, or potluck-style gatherings, can actually be really successful and fun. Not only does it take the financial pressure and performance anxiety off the table for the hosts, but it can also be an adventure for your taste buds.

Give everyone ownership of the meal by asking them what they’d like to contribute. What dish is their “specialty?” As the host, you can be in charge of several dishes as well, and you can all come together to taste test what everyone brings to share!

Did I Spend Too Much to File for Bankruptcy?

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Like so many Americans, you’re realizing that you overdid it yet again this Christmas season. “Over-gifting” has become commonplace, and leaves us feeling like we have to outdo ourselves year after year after year. Common lines of thinking include:

“I bought three gifts for each of my nephews but only two for my niece. She needs another gift!”

“Last year, the pile under the tree was so impressive. I want to do that again so my kids aren’t let down.”

If you’ve caved in to the pressure of over-gifting, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans spend more money than they actually have around Christmastime, charging hefty sums to their credit cards. For some, paying off their excessive December expenditures in the new year will be doable.

However, if you were already struggling to make ends meet before this year’s holiday season rolled around, you had an error in judgement if you decided to go ahead and over-gift anyway. The Veitengruber Law mantra for all of our beloved clients is: “Do not spend more money than you have.” Keeping up with the Joneses is so….expensive.

Can I file for bankruptcy? I can’t possibly pay back what I charged to my credit cards this season!

December is often the tipping point for debtors. Once January blows in and those credit card bills materialize, panic emerges. Looking back and forth between your bank account and your credit card bill(s), you realize that you can’t even pay your new monthly minimum payments. THAT is a scary moment, and it is completely understandable that you’re now reaching out for help.

Here’s the deal. Bankruptcy laws have been put into place to prevent debtors from racking up a ton of credit card debt that they actually have no intention of paying. Therefore, if you’ve charged more than $500* on a single credit card within the past 90 days, a bankruptcy judge is going to assume that you’re trying to pull a fast one. Any large sums charged recently (within the 3 months leading up to your filing date) are likely to be considered nondischargeable. That means you can’t wipe them out in bankruptcy, and you will need to pay them back in full.

Even if you never seriously thought about filing for bankruptcy until after you finished your holiday shopping, the bankruptcy court has no way of reading your mind, so they have to make presumptions in order to prevent bankruptcy fraud.

If I charged too much and can’t file for bankruptcy, what can I do?

The best course of action is to wait to file for bankruptcy until the presumption period (ask your attorney how the presumption period applies to your unique case and debt amount)* passes. If you charged an excessively large amount to any one credit card, it’s possible that the credit card company may still object even beyond the presumption period, but the chances are much lower that they will do so.

If you consulted with a bankruptcy attorney prior to your shopping spree, the court will take that as a sign that you intended to file for bankruptcy before you made the charges. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to wait until the presumption period ends to consult with a bankruptcy attorney and attempt to make at least some kind of payment(s) toward the debt. Taking these steps will lower the chances that your credit card debt will be deemed fraudulent and nondischargeable.

Image credit: Alberto Cerriteño

 

Holiday Shopping When You’re Flat Broke

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Regardless of what holiday(s) you celebrate in December (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hannukah), it’s traditional to exchange gifts with friends and family. It’s undoubtedly quite a magical time of year with gift giving adding to the excitement in the air. Finding yourself low on funds around the holidays can be stress-inducing, but you can enjoy the holiday season without spending a ton of money or ending up with a load of credit card debt.

First, it’s crucial to remember that the holiday spirit comes from within. Start the holiday season right by decorating your home while blasting Christmas music and drinking hot chocolate. If you don’t have a ton of decorations, you can create your own using recycled materials, which is another great way to get into the holiday spirit!

As many Americans have noted in recent years, Christmas has morphed into a new holiday called Giftmas, with a bright spotlight on way too many presents. To help your family take a step away from the materialistic focus, start a tradition (or several) that’ll be a great experience for your family without costing much.

Inexpensive or free holiday ideas include:

Volunteer to help those less fortunate than you. Not only is this an incredible bonding experience, it helps children (and adults) put everything into proper perspective. While your family may be struggling financially this year, there are plenty of others who are much, much worse off.

Do something, (anything) fun that doesn’t cost a lot of money. Have a Christmas picnic (if you live somewhere warm), have a movie night, play board games as a family, make holiday treats together, drive around town to enjoy all of the Christmas lights, go out for Chinese food, etc. You get the idea. Find a low-cost idea that makes your family happy, and enjoy the heck out of it.

Give homemade gifts. If your extended family members are also into the idea of saving money this holiday season, consider exchanging thoughtful presents that you each make by hand. You can use recyclable materials combined with some affordable supplies from the craft store. Not only does this save money, but these are often the gifts that people treasure above all others because they come from the heart.

Gift your services or expertise. If you possess a special skill (like knitting, woodworking, sewing or painting), give the gift of your services free of charge. Also consider offering your physical help to someone less able-bodied – (like help with grocery shopping, gardening, doing home repairs or walking their dog). Hiring someone to help out with these tasks can be expensive, so offering your services free of charge can mean a lot.

If you have some money in your budget and do plan to do some holiday shopping, save money by using DIY wrapping paper from materials you already have lying around. Stick to buying one gift per person when possible, but make it a meaningful gift, like a luxurious pen, personalized ear buds, a cozy blanket or a meaningful piece of jewelry.

Since it’s so easy to let holiday shopping get out control once you start, make a list of everyone you intend to buy a gift for and keep track of what you buy. In doing so, you won’t wake up one day in January to a massive holiday hangover without an easy cure.

Image credit: William Ross

Legal Help for NJ Veterans Facing Foreclosure

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As we honor those who served our country this Veteran’s Day, it’s important to know that there are thousands of homeless veterans in our country. Furthermore, there are over a million veterans who are in danger of facing foreclosure in the near future.

Why are so many veterans homeless?

This question is a good one, because many people in New Jersey and across the nation simply do not understand that so many veterans are struggling. The reason most homeless veterans lose their homes is due to a lack of affordable resources. Those veterans who are struggling financially need legal assistance to save their homes.

Sometimes, a veteran may face a seemingly smaller legal issue like the loss of a driver’s license. Studies show that veterans who lose their driver’s license end up with snowballing financial problems due to difficulty navigating the legal system in order to get their licenses restored. This leads to job loss due to the veteran not having a reliable way to get to work, which then in turn often leads to the loss of their home via foreclosure.

What assistance is available to struggling or homeless New Jersey veterans?

Across New Jersey, people are taking action to help homeless NJ vets. In South Jersey, a project entitled Operation Safehouse has volunteers building 60 cabin-like homes where veterans can live for up to two years while they are also given access to mental health assistance and work skill training so that they can eventually support themselves and move into their own permanent homes.

A similar program in Central Jersey, Community Hope, has been providing veterans with temporary housing for over a decade now, with an outreach program (Supportive Services for Veteran Families [SSVF]) in 15 NJ counties. Even though Community Hope helped over 750 veterans avoid homelessness last year and other programs like Operation Safehouse are popping up throughout the state, the number of  NJ veterans who are struggling continues to rise.

Veterans who fought the war on terror after 9/11 are feeling the effects of their time in combat and are dealing with severe PTSD that is preventing many of them from staying gainfully employed. Additionally, many post-9/11 vets living in New Jersey were so traumatized by their time on the front lines that they even struggle with keeping friendships and families together.

While the community organizations like Operation Safehouse and Community Hope are doing all that they can to support the emotional and physical needs of veterans, there is still a need for legal assistance that many NJ veterans simply can’t afford.

Are there any government programs or special considerations for veterans at risk?

If you are a veteran and you are at risk of losing your home to foreclosure, take the time to reach out to NJ foreclosure defense attorneys who are ready and willing to help you. Also, do your research on the special rules and exemptions you may qualify for as a US veteran.

You may be able to save your home from foreclosure if you’ve been able to maintain your employment but are still struggling with heavy debts that you simply can’t keep up with. In New Jersey, your VA benefits are exempt from the bankruptcy means test. This gives veterans a leg up when applying for bankruptcy in NJ.

In fact, in New Jersey, many disabled veterans are excused from even taking the means test. Filing for bankruptcy will push the pause button on your foreclosure, if you’re dealing with one, giving you time to formulate a plan that works for your current financial situation.

Image credit: S. AR University

 

Cancelled Flight? Know Your Rights!

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While the blizzard of 2016 has a plethora of New Jerseyans looking forward to queuing up Netflix and eating snacks all weekend, there are some people who aren’t happy about the storm, not even one little bit.

It’s true that the bitter cold months of January and February are typically the most popular time of year to jet out of here and into a more tropical locale. After dealing with cracking skin and endless static cling, a week-long beach-side getaway sounds downright blissful. Not to mention, off-season rates for everything vacation-related can mean big savings for anyone traveling on a budget.

The risk of winter wanderlust, for those of us living in a seasonal climate region, is naturally that a gigantic snowstorm will roll into town just as you’re about to roll out. This can result in delayed flights, which may put a few kinks into your itinerary, OR  (cue horror music) cancelled flights.

Unfortunately, most people discover much too late that they just don’t have many rights when it comes to their flight being cancelled. In the United States, airlines are by law only required to provide passengers with food and water if they’re stranded on the runway for more than two hours. If your flight gets cancelled, you may get a voucher for a slightly discounted hotel room. You might also be pointed in the direction of the airport benches for the night.

What rights do you have as a consumer with a cancelled flight?

We all know that a discounted hotel room near the airport isn’t anyone’s idea of making up for lost snorkeling time and mai tais. However, the only thing airlines are required to do is to make sure you reach your destination at some point. It may not be until the next day; it may be several days later.

As you can imagine, this can royally mess up vacation plans, as hotels and resorts are not likely to hold room reservations when you don’t show up. This can very quickly derail your entire vacation.

In order to be your own best advocate, start calling your airline on your cell phone while you simultaneously stand in the ticketing line. Weather conditions may cause other travelers to ditch their travel plans, opening up plane seats that you can use! If your airline simply doesn’t have any open seats on any flights within a reasonable time frame, ask them to find you a seat on a different airline.

It’s up to each airline individually to determine how much help they want to be to their delayed travelers, however, persistence often pays off. If you absolutely can’t get a flight out in time, contact the hotel or resort where you’ll be vacationing. Alert them to your situation and ask if they can push your entire vacation back a few days to accommodate your travel troubles. You may be pleasantly surprised by how flexible some establishments will be – as long as they have openings.

You may have to make do with a few shifts in your overall vacation plan, but by being proactive you can almost always salvage most of your much-needed getaway. Preparedness and quick thinking will give you the best chances of reaching your destination even when weather threatens to ruin everything.

 

Image credit: Curimedia

Achieve Your Money Goals in 2015 With These Tips

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If you’re a New Year’s resolution maker – the time has arrived. As 2015 rolls closer and closer into view, you may be thinking about dropping the extra weight that you resolve to wave goodbye to every year. Weight loss, eating better, quitting smoking and generally getting into better physical health are popular goals that many people set for themselves year after year, only to end up making similar promises the following January without making much (or any) progress. Getting physically healthy is so important that it should become a year-round goal for everyone.

Another area that deserves some serious commitment is financial health. It may be true that money can’t buy happiness, but it definitely buys peace of mind. And as far as we’re concerned, happiness and peace of mind go hand in hand.

Start this new year out with the determination and positive mindset necessary to commit to getting fit financially. Try some (or all) of these tips to help you achieve the monetary triumph you deserve.

  1. Ba-ba-ba-Budget!  Ok, ok, we know you’ve heard this one a million times before, but there’s a reason for that. Much like avoiding the scale because you’re too afraid of what it will say, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and run the numbers. How else will you know how much is really coming in and going out? Paying off debt, putting money aside for retirement, saving for your kids’ education – all of these are impossible if you don’t have a realistic budget in place.
  2. Check yourself.  Once a year, be sure to take a detailed look at your credit report to check for any mistakes or surprises. Since your credit score affects so many different parts of your life, (getting a loan, renting an apartment, landing a job, approval for insurance, etc) it’s imperative that you stay aware of your score. Checking your score every year in early January will turn it into a very valuable habit.
  3. Buy a darn coffee pot. If coffee isn’t your thing, figure out a way to give up, or at least significantly modify, your most expensive habit. Millions of Americans spend $4-$5 every day on a beverage that they could be making at home for around 20 CENTS. By taking a closer look at your daily expenditures, you’ll definitely be able to find something you can cut out. By putting that $5 a day into a savings account, you could rack up nearly $2,000 by New Year’s Day 2016.
  4. Get EXTREME.  Or maybe not extreme, but at least familiar. With couponing, that is. We’re not talking about acquiring a stockpile that takes over an entire room of your house – usually filled with things like condiments, shaving gel and toothpaste. That’s not useful to anyone! However, learning to shop strategically can save you 50% or more on your grocery bill! Never pay full price without checking for coupons, promo codes, or sales ever again.
  5. Be Mindful. We wholly support being mindful in every aspect of your life, and making mindful donations can be a win/win situation for everyone involved. Research charities before donating in order to make informed decisions about where your money will go. If an organization qualifies, your donation may be tax deductible.

Finally, if your financial situation is in dire straits, you may need to seek professional help from a financial advisor or an attorney experienced in debt negotiation, loan modifications and/or bankruptcy.

Do you have a financial improvement plan for 2015? Share your tips with us in the comments!

 

Image credit: Clement127

Got Gift Cards? Spend them Wisely This Year

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Gift cards truly are the gift that keeps on giving. More gift cards were purchased this year than ever before – nearly $32 billion worth! When surveyed, 80% of shoppers had plans to buy and give gift cards this holiday season.

So, chances are good that you’re going to be on the receiving end of at least one of these little beauties.

You know that giddy feeling of suddenly having a bunch of “money” to spend in your favorite store(s). Gift cards give you the freedom to basically shop for your own Christmas gifts – and they’re slightly less tacky than giving cash, so more people are reaching for them. Consumers report feeling better about gifting someone with a gift card than with something totally useless.

Believe it or not, retailers absolutely LOVE selling gift cards, for several reasons. Oftentimes, the recipient forgets about the card altogether. Some people receive cards for stores that are simply too far away from their homes. Some gift cards have “inactivity fees” that gradually lower the card’s value over time. Unfortunately, some gift cards are lost or even stolen. All of these variables add up to bigger profits for retailers.

This year, if you’re the recipient of one or more gift cards, there are some things you can do to use your it wisely. First of all, make sure you register it as soon as you can. This will protect the balance if you do happen to lose it or it becomes stolen. If your gift card is stolen, report the theft directly to the issuer right away. If you’re lucky, they may replace the card. Sometimes this requires a small replacement fee.

Always treat a gift card just like cash money. Your best bet is to use them sooner rather than later so that you don’t end up losing them or forgetting about them.

What is an e-gift card?

Many retailers are now offering electronic gift cards. These are becoming more popular because they can be purchased online, allowing consumers to do even more of their holiday shopping from the comfort of their own homes. An electronic gift card works just like the plastic kind – the only difference being that they’ll be emailed and printed rather than purchased in a brick and mortar establishment.

E-gift cards can be used online or in stores, and they are much harder to lose since they will be sitting in your email inbox rather than – wait, where did you put that thing, again?

Over a billion dollars worth of gift cards go unused every single year. That’s a lot of money that’s just going straight back into retailers’ bank accounts. Just as you wouldn’t keep a fifty dollar bill in your wallet without ever spending it, don’t let your gift cards go to waste either. Happy shopping!

Image Credit: Kool Cats Photography