Tips to Save Money on Moving Expenses

Whether moving across town or across the country, relocating can be difficult and expensive; often riddled with unexpected costs. A little planning can go a long way to help keep costs down and reduce financial stress. Here are nine tips:  

Decide on Movers: Hiring a mover can be risky. There are many consumer complaints in this industry. If you need professional help, research three movers with the Better Business Bureau each carrying an A rating. Get estimates and compare.
Sell or Donate – The more you move, the more you will have to pay, especially if you’re hiring a professional or renting a truck. Take a hard look at your stuff and decide if it really needs to be moved, or if you can sell or donate it. Consider hosting a garage sale or using sites like Craigslist.org to sell items.
Examine Your Appliances – If you’re taking major appliances, account for professional servicing or installation costs. It may not be worth the cost of moving old appliances needing frequent repairs.
Eat Up – Leading up to your move, eat foods in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Restock after the move.
Don’t Buy Boxes – Check grocery, warehouse stores or recycling facilities for boxes, or ask friends and family for spares.
Consider a Pod – If you’re moving far, a pod may prove cheaper than a moving van or professional moving company, especially when considering the cost of gas.
Select “Off” Days – Saturday is the most popular day to move. It’s also the most expensive. Prices for truck rentals or professional movers are higher on weekends. Consider moving mid-week to avoid the premium cost.
Manage Utilities & Services – Contact your phone, cable and utility providers well ahead of your move to set a discontinuation date. This will ensure you’re not paying for services after you move. You may also need to cancel or transfer other subscriptions, such as gym memberships, pool maintenance and periodicals.
Get Insurance in Order – Make sure your auto and home or rental insurers are aware of your move so they can adjust your premiums or transfer coverage.

 
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Is a Reverse Mortgage Right for you?

Seniors are living longer than ever before. Medical advances and a focus on healthy living have dramatically improved longevity, but living longer presents a complication: the potential to outlive savings.
Older adults often do not anticipate the high costs of health and long-term care, or the uncertainty of Social Security and Medicare. As a result, many are exploring reverse mortgage loans.A reverse mortgage, also referred to as a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), enables homeowners 62-years and older to convert part of their home equity into tax-free cash.
If you or a family member are considering a reverse mortgage, it’s important to first evaluate the following:

Loan fees: Borrowers are tasked with paying upfront mortgage insurance, origination fees and closing costs. It’s critical for seniors to read the fine print and understand the fees they’re paying.
Taxes and insurance: With a reverse mortgage, seniors borrow money against the equity of their homes and are not required to make loan payments. However, they still must pay property taxes and homeowners insurance, or they risk foreclosure.
Home maintenance: Seniors are responsible for home maintenance, but cannot take out a home equity loan or second mortgage to cover repairs.
Home equity: The borrower’s home equity is reduced by the amount of the reverse mortgage. The estate will receive whatever equity hasn’t been borrowed.
Loan repayment terms: The loan is due when the borrower sells the home, lives away from the home for 12 consecutive months, fails to pay property taxes or insurance, or passes away. The principal, interest and closing costs are repaid from the proceeds of the sale of the house. If the heirs elect not to sell, the money is paid from the estate.

To obtain a reverse mortgage, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires seniors to undergo reverse mortgage counselingfrom an approved third-party organization.
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Gift Cards: How to Make the Most of Them

Since 2007, gift cards have been the most requested gift – you probably have received gift cards also. And what is not to love about gift cards? They give us the chance to shop, dine out, or enjoy activities guilt free, whenever we wish. But surprisingly, more than $2 billion dollars’ worth of gift cards went unused in 2012. Don’t let your gift cards fall into that statistic. Here are some times to make the most of your gift cards throughout the year.
Keep it Close-A gift card will not do any good sitting in a drawer or filing cabinet. Place it in your wallet immediately when you received it so you have it with you when you need it. But remember, gift cards should be treated like cash and aren’t replaceable if lost or stolen, so keep them secure.Know the Terms-Fees and terms of use vary widely among gift cards. Some cards are assessed a fee for non-use after a period of 12 months. A few months of these fees can quickly diminish or eliminate a gift card’s balance. If you’re not sure of the card’s terms, it is best to use it right away.
Sell or Trade-So you got a gift card for the best steakhouse in town but you are a vegan – what do you do? Sell or trade it for a card you’ll actually use. You can do it informally by trading with a friend, co-worker or family member. Or sell fit cards you won’t use to a site (like Gift Card Granny) for up to 93% of the face value. Granted, you’ll lose a few dollars, but it’s better to have the cash than let the card go to waste.
Keep Track of the Balance-If you don’t use the gift card’s full amount in on go, keep track of the balance. You can always check the balance over the phone or online. But the easiest way is to simply wrap the receipt listing the remaining balance around the card and keep them together in your wallet.
 
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Throw a New Year’s Eve Party on a Budget

Ringing in the New Year surrounded by family and friends is always a fun way to wrap up the holiday season. But by the time December 31 rolls around, most people’w holiday budgets are all but maxed out. Does that mean you have to sit home alone and hit the hay before midnight? No! It is possible to host a memorable New Year’s Eve party without spending a lot. Here’s how:
Repurpose Holiday Decorations- If your home is already decorated for the holidays, you’ve got a head start. New Year’s Eve decor is all about sparkle and shine, so anything silver, gold or shinny can stay. Minimize the red and green and put away anything with an obvious Christmas theme. If you’re not convinced the environment is festive enough, add some groupings of inexpensive white pillar candles and sprinkle metallic confetti on surfaces. They’re simple, affordable ways to add elegant ambiance. Hit the Dollar Store- Shop the dollar store for cups, napkins, paper plates and plastic cutely. (You’ll probably find party favors like poppers and noisemakers, too.) It’s cheaper than the party store and since they’re going to be used once and thrown away, no one is going to judge the quality. Skip anything with the year stamped on it and go with solid colors instead. If you have any leftover you can use them during the year or save them for next New Year’s Eve. 
Start the Party Later- Starting the party later in the evening, perhaps 8 or 9 pm, means your guests will have eaten dinner before they arrive. This allows you to serve light snacks and dessert, rather than a full meal, which will help you save big. Cheese and crackers, chips and dip, a fresh veggie tray and something sweet are all most people need to feel satisfied. 
Bring Your Own… Bubbly- The big moment of any New Year’s Eve party is the champagne toast at midnight. If you’re concerned about buying bubbly for a crowd, ask everyone to bring a bottle of sparkling wine. You’ll end up with more than enough and everyone will have a chance to try a few different varieties. 
Take Advantage of Good TV- This is one party where it won’t be considered rude to have the TV on. Tune into any of a number of specials for coverage of celebrations from around the world and build up the excitement for when the ball drops at midnight. 

Is Financial Stress Affecting Your Health?

It is no secret that excessive stress of any kind can take a toll on your health. But financial stress can be especially damaging as it can have a number of secondary effects across all facets of life.
Take a look at the potential health risks of financial stress and start taking steps to manage them.
Cutting Corners on Food- Trying to make ends meet often means healthy eating takes a back seat to buying food that is cheap and filling. Unfortunately, this can lead to long-term health issues caused by too much processed food and not enough frest fruits and vegetables.A Better Way- You can stretch your food budget to include healthy, fresh foods by:

Shopping with coupons and money saving apps
Establishing and sticking to a food budget
Cooking meals at home
Getting involved in a local co-op or CSA share

Using Negative Coping Behaviors- Drinking alcohol, smoking, or overeating as responses to financial stress are not uncommon, but they are unhealthy. All of these so-called stress relievers are only short term fixes that make the real issue. Plus, they can be expensive and cost you more in the long run in the form of higher insurance premiums and health care costs.
A Better Way- Try Healthier outlets for stress management, such as:

Exercise- Even a quick walk around the block can calm your nerves and clear your head.
Conversation- Talking things out with a supportive friend or family member can help you determine your options.
Get Creative- Try writing in a journal, sketching, painting or other creative pursuits to channel excess stress

Losing Sleep- There are a few things that can keep you up at night, like wondering how you are going to pay all of your bills this month. Not getting enough sleep can have a number of negative side effects, including weight gain, inability to concentrate and weakened immunity.
A Better Way-  Get free help to get back on track. NBP credit counseling will help you:

Determine the total amount of debt you owe
Develop a budget and stick to it
Make a plan to pay off debt
Avoid incurring additional debt

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How to Save When Dining Out

One of the most effective ways to save money and stick to your budget is cooking meals at home. But there will be times when you want to dine out to celebrate a special occasion, meet up with friends for a bite, or just take a break from cooking. Not to worry. You can still enjoy a meal out now and then and stick to your budget by keeping these tips in mind.
Plan Ahead- Arriving at the restaurant ravenous and unprepared is a sure recipe for overspending. Do a little restaurant reconnaissance before you get there so you can have a game plan in mind. Spend a few minutes reviewing the menu online and get an idea of what you’d like to order. As with all spending decisions, decide on a budget for the meal and stick to it.Stick to Water- No, it’s not the most exciting drink on the menu, but it is the only one you will get for free. Drinking water with your meal won’t only save you money, it will help keep you hydrated and counteract the effects of the added salt often used in restaurant meals. If you need another reason to skip that bottle of wine, a Food Network survey of professional chefs revealed that wine at a restaurant can cost more than double what you will pay retail.
Choose Appetizer Over Entrée- Restaurant portions have gotten so large that appetizers are now the perfect size to have for your main meal. Choose one or two plus a side salad and you’ll have a perfectly satisfying meal that rings in less than the cost of an entrée.
Make it Worth Your While- If you do decide to order an entrée, make sure it is something special that you can’t or won’t make for yourself at home. Things like pasta with red sauce, roasted chicken, steamed vegetables and hamburgers all have a huge markup when ordered in restaurant. Choose something unique that you can easily replicate on your own to make it worth the expense.
Go Halvsies- If the restaurant you are going to is known for its large portions; make a plan to split the entrée with your dining companion. You can also ask your server to box up half the entrée before it is plated. You’ll enjoy  a just-right portion for your meal and have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
Ditch Dessert- Unless the restaurant is home to an award-winning pastry chef or know for one special dessert, just say no when the inevitable question arise. Just like beverages, desserts are some of the highest-margin menu items. You’ll be better off waiting until you get home to have a little something sweet for a whole lot less.
Use Coupons and Apps- If you are having a casual meal with friends or family, don’t forget to check for coupons or use an app like Out to Eat with Kids to find the best deals- even freebies.
 
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Stock Your Pantry to Save Money

There’s a persistent myth that healthy eating is too expensive or time consuming. Many assume a quick stop at the drive-thru for selections from the “dollar menu” is an easy way to save money on food. It is not. Preparing your own food at home is always going to be less expensive and a much healthier habit.
Whether you are an experienced home cook or just starting to pan and prepare meals at home, a well-stocked pantry will make meal planning much easier and help you stick to your food budget. Start with this list of pantry staples and modify it to match your family’s tastes and dietary needs.Dry Goods:

Brown or white rice, quinoa or couscous
Dry pasta
Cereal
Crackers
Popcorn
Nuts and seeds (don’t overbuy, high oil content can cause them to turn quickly)
Dried beans

Canned and Jarred Goods

Pasta sauce
Canned tuna, salmon or chicken
Peanut, almond or other nut butter
Tomatoes (keep paste, sauce and diced on hand for different uses)
Canned vegetables
Canned beans
Canned soup (for quick meals)
Chicken or vegetable broth
Canned fruit
James and fruit preserves
Pickles

Baking Needs

All-purpose flour or whole wheat flour
Sugar/Brown Sugar/Powdered Sugar
Baking powder
Baking soda
Cornstarch
Old-fashioned oats
Chocolate chips
Raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit
Pure vanilla extra
Honey, maple syrup or agave nectar
Yeast

Condiments and Spices

Ketchup
Mustard
Mayonnaise
Soy sauce
Oils
Barbeque sauce
Vinegars
Salt
Black pepper
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Cinnamon
Ginger
Nutmeg
Cumin
Chili Powder
Oregano
Basil
Parsley

 
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How to Shop Smart at Warehouse Clubs

Shopping at warehouse clubs such as Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s can be a great way to save money. Maintaining a well-stocked pantry and keeping household basics on hand can help reduce those in-between shopping trips that end up costing more than you planned. But you have to shop warehouse clubs wisely. If you don’t, you can end up wasting more money than you save.
DO:
Stock up on the household basics, including toilet paper, paper towels, laundry supplies and cleaning supplies. Unless you are an extreme couponer, these items will almost always be cheaper at a warehouse club rather than buying smaller quantities elsewhere. Remember to store the items in an area that is protected from pests and extreme temperatures.Load up on dry goods with a long shelf life, including dry pasta, rice, flour, sugar, dry beans and other staples. Be sure to store them in airtight plastic, metal or glass containers to maintain freshness and mark the containers with the purchase date.
Set a spending limit and shop with cash. This will help you stick to the list and avoid adding in extras just because they look like a good deal.
Split large quantities with a friend or family member. If there is something you need but you know you won’t use it all before it goes bad, see if you can find someone who wants to split the cost and share the item.
DON’T:
Overbuy perishable products. Always check the expiration dates on meat, fresh produce, dairy products, prepared salads, refrigerated juices and other perishables. The low prices may seem irresistible, but if the food goes bad before you have a chance to use it, it is money wasted.
Get tempted by samples. It wouldn’t be a trip to the warehouse club without enjoying the samples, just don’t be tempted to buy them all. Unless it is something you or your family already loves and you had planned to buy it anyway, just enjoy the sample and move on.
Pay with a credit card- don’t even bring one with you. It will be too tempting to add extras you didn’t plan on buying. Plan to pay with cash and keep track of your total as you shop so you don’t go over your pre-determined spending limit.
Forget to factor in the annual membership fee.  If you only shop the warehouse club a few times a year, it might not be worth the annual fee you have to pay.
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It’s TIme to Cut the Cord and Save

You have heard about it, you have ready about it, maybe even someone you know has even done it (and brags about it all the time). But can you do it? Would you ‘cut the cord’ and get rid of cable or satellite TV as a way to save money?
As streaming services gain more and more content and the promise of forthcoming standalone apps for HBO, Showtime, ESPN and Nickelodeon offer additional freedom of choice, the idea of deciding on your own terms what media to consume is more appealing than ever. And just imagine never again having to wait on hold for a cranky cable company customer service rep. Sounds good right?Here are some things to consider when deciding to cut the cord:
Initial Investment- If you don’t already have one, you’ll likely want to invest in a streaming device such as Roku, AppleTV or Amazon Fire TV, that allow you to watch streaming content directly on your television (rather than a computer or other device). They all ring in around the $100 range and are often available at a discount. You will want to do a little research to find out which one plays the best with all of your other devices for a maximum versatility.
Monthly and Annual Subscriptions-  Once you have a streaming device, you need something to stream. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime video are the big three players in the streaming business. Netflix and Hulu charge monthly, while Amazon Prime Video is one part of an annual subscription that also includes other benefits. Even if you subscribe to all three, your monthly charges will still be far less then cable or satellite.
Less Exposure to Advertising- Most streaming content is delivered commercial-free, which limits how much advertising you will see. This is especially beneficial with children’s programming and can help minimize kids getting a case of the ‘I wants!’ just because they saw a commercial for something on TV.
Less Wasted Time- Not having 200+ channels to flip through means less time wasted mindlessly channel surfing, looking for something worthwhile to watch. Your viewing habits will become much more specific and intentional, and chances are you will log less screen time overall.
Don’t Get Discouraged-  Cutting the cord requires making some adjustments, but any initial inconvenience you experience is worth it when you begin to reap the savings in both money and time. Once you get used to this new way of consuming content, you will wonder why you waited so long.
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Financial Resolutions for 2017

The first of the year always brings with it the promise of new beginnings and the burden of self-improvement. Fueled by the nostalgia of the holidays, armed with a year’s worth of regrets, and unleashed by the ceremonialism and ritual of the calendar’s turn, some 45% of Americans decide to make New Year’s resolutions each January. They are, it seems, taken by the spirit that led Benjamin Franklin to write that one should, “Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each New Year’s find you a better man.”

We all certainly have our fair share of vices, especially as they relate to money. Financially-themed promises for improvement are, unsurprisingly, always among the most popular resolutions made each New Year. Unfortunately, only about 8% of resolution-makers are ultimately successful in their endeavors – a statistic that does not fare well for money management improvements.

Neither historically low odds of success nor uncertainty about the best resolutions to make should discourage you from improving your financial habits in 2017, however. We have come up with the following list of Financial Resolutions for 2017, along with some helpful pointers for bringing them to fruition.

-Get Reacquainted With Your Finances and Reassess Your Priorities: The first step toward financial improvement is to get the lay of the land. That means carefully reviewing at least one of your major credit reports, in addition to checking the status of all your financial accounts, taking stock of your assets and debts, and evaluating your monthly cash flow.

Going over your fiances at the account level will enable you to identify spending trends that need adjustment as well as determine whether a new account would save you money. Not only are your financial needs bound to change from year to year, but there are also a number of interesting market developments that you would do well to take advantage of. For example, credit card companies are offering extremely lucrative sign-up perks – such as $625 initial bonus or 0% for the first 21 months- to new customers with above average credit standing. Online- only bank accounts now offer vastly superior terms to branch-based accounts as well, and you can still save a lot of money by refinancing your mortgage in the current low-rate environment.

-Sign Up for Credit Monitoring: IT’s quite stressful to be a consumer in this day in age, with our new digital economy spawning unfamiliar financial threats and extending the time frame for vigilance well beyond traditional banking hours. But new tools have also emerged to ease our transition to this new 24/7 personal finance environment, and credit monitoring is among the most helpful.

Credit monitoring is essentially a surveillance system for your credit report, notifying you anytime key information on your file changes. It therefore, increases the odds that you will find out about any administrative errors or suspicious activity before it can cause much damage. The biggest thing to watch out for is the frequency with which the underlying reports that are being monitored get updated.

-Make a Strategic Budget: Only about 40% of adults have a budget, according to survey data form the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. The fact that we’re on pace to rack up nearly $68.5 billion new credit card debt during 2016 is perhaps a bit less surprising as a result. But those statistics also signal the need for greater urgency on our part. We, as a country, need to cut back if we want this prolonged economic recovery time to continue.

The best way to make a budget is to gather together all of your bills from the past few months and then make a list of all your recurring expense in order of importance – with true necessities like housing, food and health care obviously taking precedence. You can then compare the cost of these expenses against your monthly take- home and eliminate any outlays that would outpace your spending power. After that, just make sure to compare your ensuing monthly spending to your planned budget to make sure you’re abiding by it.

-Implement the Island Approach: The Island Approach is a personal finance technique based on the theory of comparmentalization that encourages consumers to isolate different financial needs on different financial products- as if they are a chain of related islands. For example, this might entail getting one credit card for everyday purchases that you can pay off in full by the end of the month and another for revolving debt.

Doing so will enable you to get the best possible terms on each card (i.e. great rewards earning rate on your everyday card and an extended 9% term on your debt card) rather than compromising for middling terms on a single card. It will also help you to reduce the cost of your debt, since everyday purchases won’t be inflating your average daily balance, and garner valuable perspective on your finances – if you ever incur interest on your everyday card, you know you have spent too much that month.

-Automate ad Much as Possible: One of the most easily avoidable mistakes that people make in regards to their finances is missing due dates. Often due to pure forgetfulness, tardiness can have a serious ramification on your financial life – such as missed credit card payments fostering credit score damage.

Luckily, avoiding such a negative event is as simple as setting up recurring monthly payments from a checking account. You can do so for your full balance, the minimum amount required or a customized amount, and this applies to a variety of different types of bills – from credit cards to cable. Of course, you will have to remember to review your monthly statements in order to avoid being overcharged or missing a sign of fraud, but you’r not on the clock for that like you would be with a manual payment.

– Build an Emergency Fund: Roughly 56% of Americans do not have a rainy day fund, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s National Financial Capability Study. Like someone without insurance, folks who lack an emergency fund are merely tempting fate and putting themselves at risk of financial catastrophe in the event of prolonged job loss or significant emergency expenses. Building up some monetary reserve should therefore be one of the first orders of business for any financial makeover.

While we recommend ultimately building a fund with about 12-18 months “take-home income, it’s important to understand that won’t happen overnight. As a result, you needn’t put the rest of your financial life on hold until your emergency fund is complete, but rather chip away at it over time. That is key because we actually recommend creating a 6-month safety net before beginning to even pay down your debts in earnest. Doing so will help ensure that you do not end up right back where you started upon finally reaching debt freedom.

“Just as you might dress for success, spend for failure.” said Scott C. Hammond, a clinical professor of management at Utah State University. “Assume you will go 6-12 months every ten years without a pay check. Save accordingly. Live on a budget. Store a little food. Have a solid savings account with liquid assets.”

-Get Out of Debt: We clearly have a problematic, sordid love affair with debt. After curbing our enthusiasm for over leveraging during the struggles of the Great Recession, we have reaffirmed our affinity for it as the economic skies have cleared. We racked up an average of $41.1 billion in new credit card debt – a useful indicator of consumer spending habits – each year from 2011 through 2013, in addition to $57.4 billion in 2014 and a projected $68.5 billion in 2015. something must change.

Some of the steps mentioned above – including budgeting, automation and the Island Approach – will obviously help in terms of reducing your future reliance on debt, but the problem of what to do about existing balances still remains. The combination of a 0% balance transfer credit card and a credit card calculator can help the average household save more than $1,000 in finance charges and get out of debt months sooner than they would otherwise. Taking aim at your highest- interest balances first, while attributing only minimum payments to the rest, is also a strategic way to pay off what you owe at the lowest possible cost in terms of both money and time.

“I think credit card debt is one of the most difficult obstacles that people face,” says Deena B. Katz, associate professor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. “It’s very easy to pull out a card and buy, particularly online or during the holiday seasons when you want to do special things for your family and it doesn’t need to come out of your pocket today. I believe that if you were buried in debt that a priority resolution would be to pay off your debt as quickly as possible to avoid overpaying for the things you bought on credit.”

-Improve Your Credit Score: In case you weren’t aware, the annual difference in cost between good and bed credit is roughly $650 in credit card payments, $1,400 on your auto loan and $2,300 on a mortgage. The savings inherent to good credit extend well beyond that as well, considering that your credit standings impact your insurance premiums, your ability to buy a car, rent an apartment and the types of jobs you can get – in addition to the loans you’re eligible for.

The best way to improve your credit is to maintain an open credit card account that is in good standing. The card will then report positive information to the major credit bureaus each month, either building out your thin credit profile or helping to devalue mistakes from the past. You don’t have to get into debt to benefit from the credit building capabilities of a credit card, unlike with a loan, and you don’t even need to make purchases with your card. If you don’t have the credit standing necessary to qualify for a normal credit card, you can always place a refundable deposit on a secured credit card and benefit from what’s tantamount to guaranteed approval.

– Save 16% More Than You Normally Would:  Most people are pretty good at wasting money. Many of us don’t have budgets or emergency funds; we rack up expensive credit card debt by the billion; and we prioritize short-term desires over long-term needs. After all, 1 in 4 people nearing retirement age have absolutely no money saved up, according to the Federal Reserve.

Retirement obviously isn’t your only savings need. You also need to save for college, weddings, vacations, ect. The best approach to meeting all of these savings needs is to establish separate accounts for each, which you fill with automatic monthly contributions from a bank account. This gives you some useful perspective on each of your goals and enables you to better track progress. Your goal for the year should be to boos the value of each of your accounts by 15%. This will obviously take hard work and sacrifice, but figure out how much you’ll need to put away each month in order to meet that goal and get cracking.

-Give Back to Charity: Charitable giving is beneficial in terms of self-perception, tax liability and basic humanity. Perhaps that is why monetary donations totaled more than $358 billion in 2016, according to data from Giving USA and Indiana University. Even though that represents a 60-year record, we should make it our mission to be even more benevolent in 2017, with special emphasis on donations involving money rather than time.

Why? Well, most people can actually make a bigger impact on charities by spending extra time at work and donating cash than by volunteering. More specifically, the average America – who earns $30,176 annually and volunteers one hour per week – would be able to donate more than 8,350 meals to hungry children, provide roughly 2,040 measles vaccinations or give nearly 170 refugees a year of clean water just by working an extra hour instead of volunteering, and than donating the proceeds. Unless you’re the Iron Chef, you’re probably not going to cook over 8,350 meals in 52 hours.

-Do Your Taxes Early: Up to 25% of Americans wait until April to file their taxes each year, according to the IRS. As with anything else, procrastination breeds mistakes and 2.6 million people made math mistakes on their taxes in 2015 – the most-recent statistics available. Many people also end up filing late and underpaying, incurring expensive penalties along the way. Starting your tax prep early is the best way to avoid these unfortunate events, not to mention lowering your stress levels. Not only can getting organized take a considerable amount of time, but foresight will also enable you to adjust your with holdings in order to avoid a tax deficiency as well as ensure that you are not over- or underpaying.

-Make Financial Literacy A Family Priority: While gradually improving in many ways, financial literacy levels in this country are still rather anemic. In fact, the U.S. ranked 14th globally for financial literacy in a 2015 survey by Standard & Poor’s, behind the likes of Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany – Just to name a few. What’s more, roughly 41% of Americans grade their financial know-how at a C-level or below, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

This is important not only as it relates to our finances, but also in terms of how our children will manage money once they mature. children tend to learn by example, which means yours are likely continuously internalizing how you handle money – information that will serve as the foundation for their future relationships with finance. You therefore need to do your best to improve your own financial performance in order to impart beneficial lessons upon your children.

You should also take steps to give your kids hands-on monetary experience while they’re young. This should begin with games – like Financial Football or Savings Spree – that are designed to teach kids about the value of money and encourage positive habits like saving regularly. Then, as your children age, you can provide them an allowance on a series of financial vehicles – starting with a prepaid card, progressing to cash and a checking account, and ending with a student credit card – while requiring them to pay some of their own discretionary expenses.

This will confer a range of practical benefits, from building account management skills to encouraging budgeting – especially if you actively participate and make the process fun.

-Change Your Email Password Every 3 Months: Cybercrime has become a major theme for both the modern consumer and corporate America, with a number of notable banks, retailers and entertainment companies getting hacked in recent years. In fact, there were roughly 750 data breaches in 2016 through mid-December, resulting in the exposure of nearly 188 million personal records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. And while there is only so much you can do if your credit card information gets pilfered from a store- all credit cards offer $0 fraud liability guarantees anyway – there are a number of steps you can take to otherwise make yourself a much harder target for fraudsters.

Perhaps the most important, yet underrated measure you can employ in defense of identity theft is a strong password for your primary email account that you can change on a regular basis. You can also add your cell phone number to your account contact information and enable two-factor authentication to take things to the next level. Protecting your email is essential because it is likely what you will use to reset passwords for other accounts, and thus serves as a gateway to your finances.

Robust email security doesn’t, however, represent the extent of the simple changes you can make to improve your anti-identity theft protections. For instance, shredding sensitive financial documents before throwing them away and putting a lock on your mailbox when you’re out of town will shield you from opportunistic criminals targeting your trash or correspondence. Making a credit card your primary spending vehicle and only signing for debt card purchases (rather than entering your PIN) will confer the most robust fraud liability benefits on you as well. Checking your credit report every few months will also enable you to spot fraudulently opened accounts before they do too much damage.

-Shoot For Top Physical & Financial Fitness: There is a clear connection between physical, emotional and financial health. Not only are health care expenses the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S., but they also comprise a great deal of our annual spending between insurance premiums, out of pocket costs, gym memberships and more. Money, work, the economy and family responsibilities – all financial concerns in one way or another – are also the most commonly reported causes of stress, according to the American Psychological Association.

This all serves to underscore the importance of getting our financial houses in order as well as getting regular exercise and engaging in the other healthy practices aimed at keeping our health care costs low. It won’t be easy, but this is one resolution that will certainly pay dividends across the scope of your life.

-Help Other Consumers: We consumers need to stick together. After all, it’s hard enough trying to lead a financially responsible lifestyle in this era of economic turmoil, political obstinacy and unbridled spending without some support. One of the best ways to aid others in the pursuit of financial responsibility is to share your experiences with different financial products, companies and professionals.

Reviews have the power to drastically improve transparency in the personal finance space – as has been the case with the hospitality industry -enabling people to avoid the bad apples, gravitate to the best deals and ultimately save money. That is especially true now that the Securities and Exchange Commission is allowing financial ad visors to interact with consumer review for the first time. The financial industry is rip for disruption in the regard, as there are likely more review for the dog walkers that for the professionals managing our retirement plans.

-Stress Test Your Finances: People are generally optimistic in nature, which means it can be difficult to imagine and prepare for the worst0case scenarios. Responsible financial management is all about preparation, though, which means it is very important that you put your personal finances through the paces – much like banks and other financial institutions are required to do in order to verify their stability.

For example, you may wish to determine if your finances are equipped to handle job loss or the death of the family’s breadwinner. This clearly isn’t an uplifting exercise, but it will enable you to determine if you have the savings, insurance policies and contingency plans necessary to overcome potential hardship.
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