4 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Gift Cards

using giftcards wisely

There’s no question that at some point during your life you’ve struggled to come up with a gift idea for someone in your life. Whether that person is a loved one or someone you barely know, the go-to gift in this case is usually a gift card. They’re quick and easy to purchase, versatile, and satisfying to most gift recipients.

Some years, you yourself may feel inundated with gift cards. If this year was one of those years and you’re buried in a heap of gift cards, we’ve got some tips for you. If your free money is burning a hole in your pocket, read through to the end of our blog post before you give in to that spending temptation.

According to the National Retail Foundation’s holiday projections, over half of all consumers surveyed reported that they expected to give at least several gift cards as Christmas presents. The average person has approximately $300 worth of gift cards in their possession immediately after the holiday season. When that’s the case, self-control and intelligence comes in handy in order to get the most bang for your buck.

Tip #1: Check the balances. Before you launch into a spending frenzy, make sure you know the exact balances on each gift card. This helps prevent overspending and surprises at the checkout counter. After the holidays, the last thing you need is an expense you weren’t expecting. There are various ways you can check your gift card balances:

  • Call the number on the back of the gift card.
  • Search the company online and visit their website. Most stores will have link to check your gift card balance, like this one at Kohls.com.

Tip #2: Wait for the sales. Just as you should when using your own money, wait for a sale when preparing to use your gift cards unless you need an item ASAP. If it’s a pleasure item you’re coveting, like that fresh pair of sneakers you’ve had your eye on or a new smart watch, wait until the price drops.

While there are some companies and certain products that rarely (if ever) go on sale, many items will go on sale regularly. The key is to muster up enough self control to wait for deals like “buy one, get one free” or a percentage off. Your patience will pay off when you’re able to get the most out of your gift card(s) and are able to avoid spending any of your own money.

Tip #3: Trade, sell, or exchange. It’s rare that you’ll receive a gift card that doesn’t suit your personal taste, but if you don’t expect to ever use a card you’ve been gifted, there is a growing market wherein you can sell or trade your unwanted gift card. You probably won’t get 100% of what the gift card is worth, but the more popular the store and gift card, the more your card will be worth in trade. On sites such as Card Kangaroo and CardCash, you can trade or exchange electronic gift cards and even partially used gift cards. Right before the holiday season begins is the prime time to unload the gift cards from your hands, but immediately after the holidays is a close second.

Tip #4: Stock up for next year. If you aren’t a planner, here is a good opportunity to get a jump start on next year’s gifts, whether for birthdays, house-warming, baby showers, Christmas and more. If you aren’t fond of the gift card that you were given, you can easily re-gift it to someone else. Just make sure it’s not back to the same person or someone in the same family.

Gift cards can easily burn a hole in your pocket until you have given in and spent them all. This is where wisdom, self-control, and patience are key. Be intelligent about when and how you spend your gift card(s). By taking your time waiting for the right sale, you’ll be able to get the biggest bang possible out of any gift card(s) you received!

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10 Clever Ways to Save Money in the New Year

save money in 2019

By the time the Christmas season passes us by, people are ready to pull out their hair – which may contain a few extra grays after the stress of the holidays. It’s easy to let stress get the best of us, and truthfully, it’s not uncommon to feel like life is a tad unorganized. Thankfully, we get a chance to wipe the slate clean, pull our scattered lives back together, and set an ambitious goal for the coming year. For many people, that means sorting out money matters. In order to adapt a “tabula rasa,” mentality, it’s important to commence the New Year on the right financial path, with a solid budget in place, and your consumer mind in check.

The December holidays can put us in the consumer mindset, provoking the typical American to drop money on anything and everything. Before you know it, you may have racked up debt as high as Mount Everest! Here are a few tips to getting off the debt mountain and back on solid ground.

1.      Budget Build

This may seem like an obvious starting point, but it provides the foundation from which all other money matters flow. A budget’s “job” is to create a sense of financial order. Here’s a piece of advice that just might save you a spike in blood pressure: don’t attempt to draft, edit and finalize your budget in one sitting. Instead, once you’ve collected all necessary financial details (money income and outflow), break up the work into a few manageable sessions. After completing an organized budget table, closely search for places where you can either decrease debt or augment your savings goals. Don’t forget that you should be saving more than you’re spending!

2.      Home-Cooked Helpings

Going out to eat is one of the ways in which many American families spend a significant amount of money. Because money that is spent on items outside of the home is the most flexible, it is the primary category where substantial saving can take place. Preparing more home-made meals is easier said than done, mainly because of the time commitment. There are different strategies that you can use to cut down on time and money spent at the grocery store. For example, make a 10 week meal plan, and every 10 weeks, start the plan over. You won’t get tired of the meals, but it helps keep you prepared for the week ahead as well as knowing what groceries you will need well in advance.

3.      Smart Shopping

Coupons are your best friend. The mail, apps, and grocery stores’ flyers are just a few places where coupons can be found. Apps such as RetailMeNot and BradsDeals make it easy to compare prices at retail stores to guarantee that you’re getting the best buy. You’re right, comparing ticket prices for expensive items is crucial, but check for discounts on more affordable items, too.

4.      Sustainable Solution

Helping the Earth is incredibly important, but so is saving a couple bucks on your heating bill. Consider setting your thermostat just a few degrees lower this winter, especially when you’re not around. A few degrees may not seem like it would make much of a difference in your heating bill, but remember, every little bit helps.

5.      Air Leak Atrophy

Similar to the money-saver listed directly above, any air leaks in your house will contribute to an increase in your heating bill. Slowly leaking air may not be at the top of your list of things to fix in your household, but it’s an easy job that will produce a ROI.

6.      Starbucks Self-Control

“Sleep-deprived and busy, busy, busy” – we often hear these words when we ask someone how they’re doing. It’s true, Americans are busy, but we seem to rely on caffeine to replenish our energy. Caffeine isn’t the worst thing to be addicted to, but it does hit the bank account hard, especially when your coffee stop becomes a daily habit. Try cutting your coffee stops in half, or just stop on Fridays. Let that be your motivation to get you through the week.

7.      Show the Library Some Love

Rather than spending money on movies, books, or magazine subscriptions, drop by your local library to see what they have to offer. Many libraries provide free checkouts for countless books, various magazine subscriptions, and DVDs.

8.      Stop Subscriptions

Do you have random magazine or other subscriptions that you just don’t use? Save a few dollars and cancel it as soon as you can. It’s easy to bite on the “one month for free” bait, but if you forget to stop the subscription, you’ll be a quarter of the way up Mt. Everest before you realize that you don’t even read half of the magazines that arrive at your door.

9.      Exercise Economically

Naturally, exercise has a myriad of benefits, from keeping your weight in a healthy range to boosting your mental health and even improving your body’s health at the cellular level. Humans were created to move! Unfortunately, the cost of gyms and personal trainers can be outrageous. Instead, make a habit out of grabbing a friend to do an activity that doesn’t revolve around food or drinks. Try hiking, biking, taking a walk, or any other activity that gets you moving.

10.   Sidestep Shopping Online

Simply scanning your email inbox can be a slippery slope, especially if you’re one to get sale alerts from your favorite stores. Avoiding these promotions and sales can save you a lot in the long run. Using email filters, you can automatically send all of your promotion and sale emails to a special folder, limiting your temptation to see them right when they come through.

Saving money is a challenging task when everyone around you falls prey to the lure of retail. There are countless ways that you can save money in 2019, but it will take some discipline. Start with our tips and add a few of your own. Before you know it, your holiday debt will be reduced to dust and your savings account will start to grow.

9 Smart Money New Year’s Resolutions for 2019

money new year's resolutions

Everyone looks forward to the New Year as a fresh start. This year, use your New Year’s Resolutions to benefit your wallet! From big goals to small changes, these 9 tips can get your finances on track in 2019:

 

  1. Eliminate/Reduce Credit Card Debt

If your credit card debt has gotten out of control in 2018, plan to make paying down your credit card balances a priority in 2019. With the Federal Reserve likely to increase interest rates this year, credit card debt is only going to become more expensive. Set a specific goal for yourself, (for example:  pay down 25% of your current debt). Focus on paying down the debt under the highest interest first to avoid income-draining interest rates. If you are struggling to make credit card payments, do not hesitate to reach out for help from Veitengruber Law.

 

  1. Pay Down Student Loans

For a lot of people, student loan debt is a heavy financial burden. It’s a great idea to take 2019 as an opportunity to make a huge dent in your student loans. Start by reviewing your loans and determining which ones have the highest interest rates. Making extra payments on those loans will save you money on interest in the long run. Paying more than the minimum due each month is also a great way to make sure you are not spending more than you should on interest. If your interest rates are high or you have a lot of different loans, consolidating your loans may allow you to get a lower interest rate and create more manageable monthly payments.

 

  1. Emergency Fund

In 2018, 39% of Americans paid for an unexpected $1,000 expense with their savings.* Many Americans end up in debt trying to cover unexpected costs. Most experts recommend having at least six months’ worth of expenses in savings, but if you are starting an emergency fund from scratch, make your goal something you think is reasonable to achieve. Even having a few hundred dollars in savings is better than nothing. You may want to consider setting up automatic transfers from your paycheck into a savings account so you are not tempted to spend this money.

 

  1. Improve Your Credit Score

The first step to improving your credit score is to know what it is in the first place. Signing up for free and reliable credit score monitoring through services like Experian or Mint will help you see how healthy your credit score is now. Good credit scores range from 700-749 and scores of 750 and higher are considered excellent. If your credit is not where you want it to be, make raising it your priority in 2019. Small things like paying your bills on time, keeping credit card balances low, and setting up automatic payments right after you’ve gotten paid can help reduce your debt and improve your score.

 

  1. Do Taxes Early

Filing for your federal income tax returns as soon as you can is a great way to start the New Year. Not only will you get your refund faster, it can give you extra time to pay taxes you may owe or help you avoid needing a tax extension. If you are expecting a big life change in 2019—like returning to college or buying a home—filing early will help you get a head start on this paperwork. For instance, students can use the information on their 1040 form to apply for financial aid. Plus, the sooner you apply for your refund, the less likely it is that you will be the victim of tax return identity theft.

 

  1. Cook More

Americans spend thousands of dollars a year eating out. A big way to save money in 2019 is to spend less time eating out and more time making your own food. Use 2019 as a chance to get more comfortable in the kitchen. Bring lunch from home, meal prep on the weekends, and spend some time researching quick-to-make meals. The more frequently you eat food bought from the grocery store, the less money you will spend—and the healthier you will be, too!

 

  1. Retirement Savings Plan

It is important to start saving for retirement as soon as possible. There are many options for creating a savings plan for retirement and you can determine which one is best for your specific circumstances. Maybe your employer provides a 401(k) plan, but if not – you can open an IRA or, if you are self-employed, a Simplified Employee Pension IRA. If you already have a retirement plan in action, reassess the plan in 2019. Could you be saving more? Are you on track for retirement?

 

  1. Home Improvements

While some home improvement projects will cost big and add value to your home, sometimes it’s the small projects that can have a big impact on your finances. Investing in energy-saving appliances in 2019 could allow you to save money every month on energy costs.  Energystar.gov has recommendations for energy efficient products and other home improvement ideas to get you thinking about ways you can save money on energy this New Year.

 

  1. Focus on Your Health

The average American spends over $4,000 a year on health care. Make your health a priority in 2019! Join the gym, focus on eating well, and take the time you need to relax. Go to the doctor at the first sign of illness instead of waiting until your health has been severely diminished. Preventative healthcare measures can save you big in the long run.

 

 

 

*From Bankrate