Money Management 101 for Single Parents Going it Alone

1. Determine What You Owe

As the head of the household, it’s up to you to make sure that your entire family’s needs are being met. In order to do that, you need to be extremely diligent when it comes to money management basics. This is not something that will happen by accident. Instead, you must plan for it and work toward it.

The first step is to set up your “office.” Gather all of your bills, a calculator, a pencil, and your checkbook.

I would also recommend that you grab an old binder that you can use to keep track of your financial data and a shoebox for storing paid bills.

Now you’re ready to begin:

  • Go through all of your bills, and pay anything that is due within the next week.
  • If you have bills coming due that you cannot pay, notify the company and ask them to set up a payment plan with you.
  • Print a copy of the chart “Paying Down My Debts” or make your own.
  • On the chart, list all of your debts, including any car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.
  • In addition, list the total balance left to be paid on all of these debts, and the percentage rate you are paying.
  • For now, leave the fourth column of the chart blank, and store it in your “Financial Data” binder.

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2. Eliminate Joint Debt

Before we create a plan for paying down your debt, it’s important to consider some special circumstances that may apply to you as a single parent. I asked LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, to share her expertise on handling joint debt:

Wolf: Let’s say a single mom still shares a credit card with her ex. What should she do?

Irby: Ideally, she would want her ex to transfer his portion of any joint balances onto his own credit card. That way, everyone is paying for their own debt.

Wolf: What about leaving both names on the account, and agreeing to pay part of the amount due? Is that ever advisable?

Irby: No. If you’ve made an agreement with your ex to split the debt payments on accounts that include your name, and your ex-misses a payment, it’s going to hurt your credit. If the ex-fails to pay altogether, the creditors and collectors will come after you. Not even a divorce decree can change the terms of a joint credit card agreement. In the credit card issuer’s eyes, you’re just as much responsible for post-divorce accounts as before.

Wolf: What about situations when a couple’s divorce decree mandates that one individual must pay off the joint credit card debt, but that person fails to do it?

Irby: You can always file contempt of court papers against him/her, but in the meantime, your credit score suffers. So I suggest paying off the debt to save your credit. If you can’t afford to pay the debt, at least make minimum payments to keep a positive payment history on your credit report.

Wolf: What about other accounts, such as utilities and cell phones?

Irby: The safest thing to do, if you have a service in your ex’s name, is to turn off the account and reestablish service in your name.

 

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3. Find Money to Pay Down Debt

Another thing we have to do before creating a plan to pay down your existing debt is to find money in your budget each month. To assist in this step, I contacted Erin Huffstetler, Frugal Living Expert.

Wolf: How much money do you think the average person can uncover just by being more intentional about spending and budgeting?

Huffstetler: The average person could easily uncover an extra $250 a month—and probably much more.

Wolf: What are the top 5 areas that you think people should look to first when they’re trying to cut their expenses?

Huffstetler:

  • Food spending (both groceries and eating out)
  • TV-related expenses (cable/satellite services, certainly; but also movie subscriptions and rentals)
  • Phone services (particularly extras like call waiting, caller id, long distance, and cell phones)
  • Insurance premiums
  • Miscellaneous spending (all those small amounts spent on coffee, vending machine snacks, and other indulgences)

Wolf: How can single parents, specifically, stretch their child support dollars and reduce child-related expenses?

Huffstetler: For single parents looking to stretch their child support dollars, creativity is the key. Look to children’s consignment shops and thrift stores to buy your kids’ clothes instead of department stores; sign them up for Parks and Rec-run activities instead of privately-run activities (which will always cost more); and don’t feel like you have to make up for being a single parent by buying them extra things—it’s you they need, not stuff.

 

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4. Pay Off Your Debt

The next step is creating a schedule for paying down your debt:

  1. Pay off the debts that charge you the highest interest first.Bob Hammond, author of Life Without Debt, recommends that you pay off the debts that are charging you the highest interest first since borrowing from those creditors is costing you the most money. “Concentrate on paying off the high-cost debts as soon as possible,” Hammond advises. LaToya Irby, Credit/Debt Management Expert, agrees. “Highest interest rate debts cost the most money, especially when those debts have high balances. So you’ll save money on interest charges when you pay off those high-interest rate debts first.”However, there are exceptions to this general rule. Irby notes, “If you’re likely to get discouraged because it’s taking a long time to pay off that high-interest rate debt, you can start with the lowest balance debt. Getting some small debts paid off will motivate you to keep going.”
  2. Pay more than the minimum payment. Aim for paying more than the suggested minimum payment, in order to pay off your debts as quickly as possible.Miriam Caldwell, Money in Your 20’s Expert, shares this advice:
    • Choose one debt to focus on.
    • Increase your payment on that debt by as much as you can.
    • Once you have paid off that debt, move all that you are paying on it to the next debt you want to pay off.
    • You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get out of debt with this plan!
  3. Meanwhile, continue to pay the minimum balance due on all of your other debts.Record what you intend to pay toward each debt on the debt chart you made in Step 1.

 

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5. Budget Your Monthly Expenses

Now that you know where you stand financially, and you’ve created a plan for paying down your debts, it’s time to make sure that you’re making any other necessary adjustments so that you can keep up with your plan. And this means creating a budget.

I know this can be intimidating, but I’m going to make a suggestion for you: Sign up for Mint.com. It’s a free financial software program available on the Internet, and it will basically do your budgeting for you. It will create a visual pie chart showing how much you’re spending each month on housing, gas, food, entertainment, and more. This way, if it turns out that you’re spending a lot more on food than you really should, you can begin to make the necessary adjustments to get your spending under control.

If you would prefer to create your budget the traditional way, allotting a certain amount of money to each spending category, I’ve created an online budget calculator you can use, which includes categories for child support and other details specific to your life as a single parent.

Finally, in taking a look at where your money really goes each month, it’s important to know approximately how much money you “should” be spending in each category. Generally speaking, your net spendable income (after taxes) should be allocated as follows*:

  • Housing: 30%
  • Food: 12%
  • Auto: 14%
  • Insurance: 5%
  • Debt: 5%
  • Entertainment: 7%
  • Clothing: 6%
  • Savings: 5%
  • Medical/Dental: 4%
  • Miscellaneous: 7%
  • Child Care: 5%
  • Investments: 5%

 

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6. Set Financial Goals

Now that you’ve worked out a plan to pay down your debt, and you’ve created a budget, it’s time to determine your needs moving forward.

Specifically, as a single parent, you need to ask yourself some questions, such as:

  • Do you need to file for child support?
  • Do you need to get a higher-paying job?
  • Is it time to think about going back to school?
  • Do you need to consider moving into a home/rental that would reduce your overall monthly payments?
  • Are there alternatives, such as taking on another job or splitting expenses with another single parent family, that you need to consider at this point?

One of the things that I want you to know is that the ball is in your court. You determine where this goes from here on out. But unfortunately, you can’t do that if you’re ignoring your financial health, right?

So the fact that you’ve come this far in the process of getting a handle on your finances tells me that you’re determined to make the changes you need to make in order to provide for your family’s future.

So go ahead and ask yourself these questions. So much of single parenting is learning to roll with the punches and be creative in the face of adversity. If, indeed, you need to make some pretty major changes, now is the time to do it. Don’t incur any more debt where you are. Be resourceful, follow through, and do what you need to do to turn your financial situation around.

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7. Increase Your Net Worth

The next step is to determine your net worth and begin adding to it.

Determine Your Net Worth:

Your net worth is what you own minus what you owe. Programs such as Mint.com, Quicken, and Microsoft Money will calculate your net worth for you, automatically.

You can also determine your net worth simply by adding up all that you own, including all of your investments, the equity you may have paid into your home, the value of your car, and any other assets you possess; and subtracting what you owe in remaining debts.

Set Up a Savings Account:

Once you know where you stand, you’ll be ready to set up a savings account. You can do this through your regular bank, or begin investing in a mutual fund that pays interest.

Even if you can only afford to set aside $25 or $50 per month, it will begin to add up.

Before you know it, you’ll have an emergency savings plan in place, to protect you in the event that your car breaks down, or your home needs a major repair.

In addition, this regular savings will help you increase your net worth over time.

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8. Become Even More Frugal

Unfortunately, all of the work you’ve already done in steps 1-7 will have little lasting value if you don’t change your attitude toward money. Now is the time to become even more frugal and learn to live within your means.

Practice Discipline:

Stop imagining that more money is going to pour in tomorrow—through finally collecting on unpaid child support, winning the lottery, or getting a promotion. If those things happen, great! You’ll be even better off. But living as if they’re going to happen is causing you to spend money you don’t have.

Instead, force yourself to make purchases with cash only. Do not continue to pay outrageous interest payments toward credit cards for purchases you don’t absolutely need. You can get by without that new furniture, right? What else could you skip, in the interest of spending only what you have right now in the bank?

Try These Ideas:

  • Check Freecycle before you make another major purchase. Someone else may be giving away the very thing you’d like to buy!
  • When you’re getting ready to buy something specific, look for it on eBay first. I buy a lot of my clothes, new-with-tags, through online auctions!
  • Forget trying to keep up with “The Jones’s.” You already know your value; don’t get caught up trying to “prove” your worth to others by having “just the right” house, car, or appearance.
  • Do not use shopping, ever, to appease your emotions.
  • Finally, when you do go to make a big purchase, step back and give yourself a few days–or even a week–to think about it. There’s no reason to suffer through buyer’s remorse and try to justify to yourself purchases that you really can’t afford. Think it over carefully and make those purchases, when necessary, with cash.

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9. Schedule Your Own Weekly Financial Check-In

Grab your calendar and schedule a weekly financial update meeting with yourself. This is an extremely important step in managing your personal finances, and it’s one that you need to continue each and every week. During your “meeting” time:

  • Pay any bills that are due.
  • If your bank statement has arrived, take the time to balance your checkbook.
  • Check the balances of your checking and savings accounts.
  • Update your debt list to incorporate any recent payments.
  • This is also a good time to write out your grocery shopping list and check what’s on sale at your local grocery store this week (either using the store’s Web site or the sales circular that comes in the newspaper).
  • Finally, also make note of any upcoming expenses you need to anticipate and plan for.

An attitude of gratitude and finances.

 

 

References:
Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008, 
Huffstetler, Erin. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
Sources:
Caldwell, Miriam. Email interview. 27 Oct. 2008, Hammond, Bob. “Debt Free Key: 10 Steps for Coping With Credit Problems.” Life Without Debt. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press, 1995. 31-32, Irby, LaToya. Email interview. 24 Oct. 2008. 
“Spending Plan Online Calculator.” Crown Financial Ministries. 11 Oct. 2008.

Written By: Jennifer Wolf

Source: thebalance

 

 

 

Raising Kids to Be Smart About Money

Young minds are programmed to absorb and copy the behaviors around them, which means the sooner you instill proper money management skills, the more prone your kids are to become mature and responsible stewards of their own cash-flow in the future.
“Becoming financially literate early in life is fundamentally important to your financial well-being as an adult,” says Micah Fraim, award-winning CPA and best-selling author.

“I was pinching pennies at five years old, calculating the cost of grocery items per ounce, refusing to buy expensive clothes unless they were on-sale and foregoing scoops of ice cream from the ice cream shop, so I could buy multiple gallons at the grocery store,” Fraim says. “Now as an adult, I still have that same mindset and live well below my means.”

The following kid-approved strategies help you teach the core tenets of being financially savvy; in terms they’ll understand and appreciate. Consider how you can use them to teach your little ones to be smart about money.

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Find Opportunities for Lessons

At some point, your child will inevitably deplete their allowance on impulse purchases, rather than holding out for the more expensive item they’ve been asking for. Instead of giving them more money, or buying it for them, use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that money is a finite resource, which must be allocated over an extended period. Once you spend, it’s gone until you can make more.

Have a conversation about what else they could have done with that money, or how much longer they would have needed to save to get the big-ticket item they wanted. Perhaps give an example of when you spent foolishly, or better yet, saved enough money to buy something important, like your house or car.

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Demonstrate that Income Is Earned

Chores are an easy way to teach children that money must be earned. This tangible incentive for contributing to your household shows them that have to work for what they want, and even do things they may not want to do—i.e. vacuuming and doing the dishes.

The concept of having to earn your money is a positive outcome of rewarding children financially for completing chores. However, some parents find that this method doesn’t necessarily teach money management, making it a bad way to teach children how to be smart about money. The key to avoiding the latter is the set-up.

Susan Borowski, mother and author for Money Crashers, shares how she set this up with her teenage son:

“As a contributing member of the family, my 13-year-old son is expected to do certain chores around the house for free. He can earn money for tackling larger tasks, many of which he can choose, some of which he cannot; the amount he earns depends on the difficulty of the task or how long it takes. This forces us to discuss money each time he takes on a larger task.”

This shows them that they have control over how much they earn, rather than it being a given.

Secondly, keep chores focused on money management with an app like Chore Monster so children can track what they’ve done and earned. This is an easy way to establish a record-keeping system, for both chores and allowance, seeing increases or decreases in money earned over time.

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Establish a Record-Keeping System

When your child is consistently earning allowance or money for chores, it’s important that they’re able to account for what happens with that money. The more emphasis you put on this piece of the earning, the more they’ll see the value of managing their funds. They’ll start to notice wasteful spending habits and identify which pitfalls to avoid during their next allowance payout.

Designate a folder where they can stockpile receipts and a notebook where they can track all purchases. This simple method of financial reporting is an ideal precursor to balancing a checkbook, analyzing bank statements, or creating a monthly budget.

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Use Visual Aids to Your Advantage

Although the “piggy bank” is a time-honored childhood favorite, this approach to money management doesn’t allow your child to see the positive outcome of their coin stashing. For a more functional alternative, use a transparent mason jar or clear plastic Tupperware container, both of which gives them an unobstructed view of the progressive financial increase that comes from diligent and habitual saving. This tool makes the abstract concept of saving easy to see and understand.

You can also open a bank account for older children. This gives them a chance to become familiar with bank statements, which act as a visual aid. Each time a new statement comes in, they can sit down and look at how much money was put into the bank account and how that’s changed month-over-month. Many banks now offer online portals, as well, where your children can see progress represented in bar and pie graphs; these may be easier to understand and digest.

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Encourage Them to Set a Savings Goal

There’s a sense of accomplishment and empowerment in reaching a goal with no shortcuts taken or assistance received. Channel this mindset when encouraging your child to practice economical behaviors. Next time they express interest in the latest gadget, suggest they purchase it themselves and develop a step-by-step plan together, so they feel equipped for the undertaking. This process of setting aside money with a specific goal in mind reinforces the gratification gained from being smart about money and purchasing the item without any help.

It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about how to be financially savvy. Too many people don’t learn about personal finance until it’s too late — like when they’re buried in student loans — so teaching these skills early on is important for setting your children up for success later in life.

 

 

 

Written By: Jessica Thiefels
Source: PBS

14 Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day

Having close access to ultra-successful people can yield some pretty incredible information about who they really are, what makes them tick, and, most importantly, what makes them so successful and productive.

“Whenever you see a successful person, you only see the public glories, never the private sacrifices to reach them.” – Vaibhav Shah

Kevin Kruse is one such person. He recently interviewed over 200 ultra-successful people, including 7 billionaires, 13 Olympians, and a host of accomplished entrepreneurs. One of his most revealing sources of information came from their answers to a simple open-ended question:

“What is your number one secret to productivity?”

In analyzing their responses, Kruse coded the answers to yield some fascinating suggestions. What follows are some of my favorites from Kevin’s findings.

1. They focus on minutes, not hours. Most people default to hour and half-hour blocks on their calendar; highly successful people know that there are 1,440 minutes in every day and that there is nothing more valuable than time. Money can be lost and made again, but time spent can never be reclaimed. As legendary Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller told Kevin, “To this day, I keep a schedule that is almost minute by minute.” You must master your minutes to master your life.

2. They focus on only one thing. Ultra-productive people know what their “Most Important Task” is and work on it for one to two hours each morning, without interruptions. What task will have the biggest impact on reaching your goals? What accomplishment will get you promoted at work? That’s what you should dedicate your mornings to every day.

3. They don’t use to-do lists. Throw away your to-do list; instead schedule everything on your calendar. It turns out that only 41% of items on to-do lists ever get done. All those undone items lead to stress and insomnia because of the Zeigarnik effect, which, in essence, means that uncompleted tasks will stay on your mind until you finish them. Highly productive people put everything on their calendar and then work and live by that calendar.

4. They beat procrastination with time travel. Your future self can’t be trusted. That’s because we are time inconsistent. We buy veggies today because we think we’ll eat healthy salads all week; then we throw out green rotting mush in the future. Successful people figure out what they can do now to make certain their future selves will do the right thing. Anticipate how you will self-sabotage in the future, and come up with a solution today to defeat your future self.

5. They make it home for dinner. Kevin first learned this one from Intel’s Andy Grove, who said, “There is always more to be done, more that should be done, always more than can be done.” Highly successful people know what they value in life. Yes, work, but also what else they value. There is no right answer, but for many, these other values include family time, exercise, and giving back. They consciously allocate their 1,440 minutes a day to each area they value (i.e., they put them on their calendar), and then they stick to that schedule.

6. They use a notebook. Richard Branson has said on more than one occasion that he wouldn’t have been able to build Virgin without a simple notebook, which he takes with him wherever he goes. In one interview, Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis said, “Always carry a notebook. Write everything down. That is a million dollar lesson they don’t teach you in business school!” Ultra-productive people free their minds by writing everything down as the thoughts come to them.

7. They process e-mails only a few times a day. Ultra-productive people don’t “check” their e-mail throughout the day. They don’t respond to each vibration or ding to see who has intruded into their inbox. Instead, like everything else, they schedule time to process their e-mails quickly and efficiently. For some, that’s only once a day; for others, it’s morning, noon, and night.

8. They avoid meetings at all costs. When Kevin asked Mark Cuban to give his best productivity advice, he quickly responded, “Never take meetings unless someone is writing a check.” Meetings are notorious time killers. They start late, have the wrong people in them, meander around their topics, and run long. You should get out of meetings whenever you can and hold fewer of them yourself. If you do run a meeting, keep it short and to the point.

9. They say “no” to almost everything. Billionaire Warren Buffet once said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” And James Altucher colorfully gave Kevin this tip: “If something is not a ‘Hell Yeah!’ then it’s a no.” Remember, you only have 1,440 minutes in a day. Don’t give them away easily.

10. They follow the 80/20 rule. Known as the Pareto Principle, in most cases, 80% of results come from only 20% of activities. Ultra-productive people know which activities drive the greatest results. Focus on those and ignore the rest.

11. They delegate almost everything. Ultra-productive people don’t ask, “How can I do this task?” Instead, they ask, “How can this task get done?” They take the I out of it as much as possible. Ultra-productive people don’t have control issues, and they are not micro-managers. In many cases, good enough is, well, good enough.

12. They touch things only once. How many times have you opened a piece of regular mail–a bill perhaps–and then put it down, only to deal with it again later? How often do you read an e-mail and then close it and leave it in your inbox to deal with later? Highly successful people try to “touch it once.” If it takes less than five or ten minutes–whatever it is–they deal with it right then and there. It reduces stress, since it won’t be in the back of their minds, and it is more efficient, since they won’t have to re-read or re-evaluate the item again in the future.

13. They practice a consistent morning routine. Kevin’s single greatest surprise while interviewing over 200 highly successful people was how many of them wanted to share their morning ritual with him. While he heard about a wide variety of habits, most nurtured their bodies in the morning with water, a healthy breakfast, and light exercise, and they nurtured their minds with meditation or prayer, inspirational reading, or journaling.

14. Energy is everything. You can’t make more minutes in the day, but you can increase your energy to increase your attention, focus, and productivity. Highly successful people don’t skip meals, sleep, or breaks in the pursuit of more, more, more. Instead, they view food as fuel, sleep as recovery, and breaks as opportunities to recharge in order to get even more done.

Bringing It All Together

You might not be an entrepreneur, an Olympian, or a billionaire (or even want to be), but their secrets just might help you to get more done in less time and assist you to stop feeling so overworked and overwhelmed.

 

 

Written By: Travis Bradberry
Source: Inc.

Are fitness trackers a waste of money?

Want to lose weight? Improve your cardio? Lower your blood pressure? Then don’t buy a fitness tracker. In fact, some experts claim they can “do more harm than good”. Wondering why you might have wasted money on yours? Read on…

 

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Now let’s just get one thing straight before we continue. I actually use a variety of wearable devices. I have an Apple watch which measures my daily activity, I use the Nike+ app when I go running and I use a Garmin & Strava for cycling. And it seems that I’m not alone with an estimated 20% of Americans wearing some form of tracker and around 3 million being sold in the UK each year. People use them in different ways and for a variety of reasons. Personally I want to monitor my performance and am fascinated with the data that they produce (I know, I’m a nerd). Consequently I love them all, so before you launch into a tirade along the lines of ‘this guy hates Fitbits’ in the comments section please remember not to shoot the messenger…

Now then, why have the boffins got such a downer on trackers? Well firstly, they pour scorn on the whole notion of the 10,000 steps. It seems that this has no basis in any robust scientific research. According to Dr Greg Hager who is a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University:

  “Turns out in 1960 in Japan they figured out that the average Japanese man, when he walked 10,000 steps a day, burned something like 3,000 calories and that is what they thought the average person should consume. So they picked 10,000 steps as a number”

In fairness, that hardly seems very scientific. Unless you are an average Japanese man who is still living in 1960. A relatively small sample size, I’m guessing.

Just last week Prof. Hager pointed out that we we cannot have a ‘one size fits all’ solution and every individual needs a bespoke fitness plan which caters specifically for their needs. He goes on to say:

“I think apps could definitely be doing more harm than good. I am sure that these apps are causing problems. Without any scientific evidence base, how do you know that any of these apps are good for you? They may even be harmful”

Harmful? Seriously? Isn’t that pushing it a tad too far? Well in support of his claim, Hager states that someone with an underlying medical condition may not necessarily be capable of achieving the 10,000 steps and it could be detrimental to their health to try.

So, is Hager out there on his own in his thinking? Well, it seems not. A 2016 study of 800 people with activity trackers was conducted in Singapore which discovered that there were no health benefits to the research subjects when compared to a control group who didn’t use a tracker. What’s more, they even added a cash incentive to increase the number of steps they took. It made absolutely no difference.

In the UK, Hager also has support from Simon Leigh, a senior health economist at Nexus Clinical Analytics who has published several studies on fitness trackers in the British Medical Journal. He said:

“Dr Hager is spot on. A GP, endocrinologist or other fitness specialist would unlikely  recommend 10,000 steps for most people. Especially given that the majority of those who download these apps are likely to be unfit and in need of improvement in the first place” 

I understand what these guys are saying but surely in a population with rising rates of obesity, we need to encourage people to do some form of exercise and activity trackers can be a strong motivator in the right hands (or should that be on the right arm?). After all, surely it is better to do 10,000 steps a day than none at all? It beats lying on the sofa eating double cheese deep pan pizza and watching The Kardashians.

Surely it also depends on what you are doing on your journey of 10,000 steps. If you are having a brisk walk around the park with your Cockerpoo then that must have some health benefits. For you and the dog. However, if it’s a pub crawl around town on a Friday night followed by a stagger down to the kebab shop then I don’t think that counts. It’s really all a matter of balance.

Depending upon the type of tracker you use valuable personal information can be measured and monitored over time including heart rate, calorie consumption and sleep patterns. The aggregation of all this big / smart data can be of use to a medical practitioner, an insurance company or even the advertising industry. The implications of this are not only fascinating but have huge business potential.

 

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A doctor could offer a prognosis on potential medical conditions saving both money and lives. Your insurance company could use your data to offer you improved premiums on health insurance in the same way that they use trackers for safe drivers on car insurance. And the ad industry can use programmatic to specifically target you with dynamic creative to offer you goods / services that are highly relevant to the individual (e.g. new running shoes in your size and favorite colors).

 

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Dr John Jakicic from the University of Pittsburgh, seems to be of the same opinion as myself. In his studies, he found that fitness trackers could form part of a series of behaviours to encourage people to lose weight or improve fitness:

“we need to be careful about relying solely on these devices. However, there is a place for these, and so we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion”

So are these trackers going end up gathering dust in the garage along with other defunct fitness gadgets such as the Ab-Cruncher and Thigh-Master? Well don’t be too hasty in ditching your Fitbit just yet. Accept it for what it is and use it accordingly. Figure out an optimum level of activity for your age, size and fitness level (if you are unsure, consult an expert or just Google it). Then simply incorporate it into your weekly workout schedule.

 

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What do you think? Are these trackers really useless or do they have some merit? Do you own one and now feel cheated or does the technology really work for you? As ever, I am interested in your viewpoint.

 

 

Written By: Steve Blakeman
Source: LinkedIn

5 Essential Products That Will Be Cheaper This Year

Pre-Packaged Bread/Peanut-Butter Department
Anthony Albright/Flickr

What better way to ring in the New Year than with savings at the checkout counter, especially when those potential savings are expected to continue throughout the year?

According to price predictions for this year, there are a handful of essential household items that will cost less in 2016 than they did in 2015.

“As the dollar continues to gain ground against other currencies and the price of oil maintains at low levels, companies from many sectors are able to keep their costs affordable for their customers,” according to the website Wise Bread.

Here are five common consumer buys that should be cheaper in 2016:

  1. Milk: It’s likely that you’ll continue to drink in some savings in the dairy aisle in 2016. After paying record-high prices for milk in 2014, Americans saw prices dip in 2015 and the “current trend of low milk prices is likely to continue until at least mid-2016,” according to Wise Bread.
  2. Gas: Americans enjoyed lower prices at the pump in 2015, as the average national gas price fell below $2 a gallon for the first time in seven years — a result of a drop in crude oil prices. The cheap gas trend is expected to continue this year. “The average annual price for gasoline in 2016 could stay the same as 2015 or possibly even drop 5 to 15 cents a gallon lower,” Christine Delise with AAA tells CBS Baltimore.
  3. Pork: This may be a good year to feast on bacon and pork chops. “According to an agricultural economist at the University of Missouri, a slight uptick in hog production combined with a low price for corn (the main feed used in raising hogs) will keep the prices of pork products affordable throughout 2016,” Wise Bread says.
  4. Bread: An abundance of wheat will likely keep bread prices down this year, which is great news for households like mine, where loaves of bread seemingly disappear overnight, used for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, morning toast with jelly and my husband’s sandwiches at lunch. “Unless wheat farmers experience an absolute loss in crops due to some freak event, you can expect more savings in your weekly bread purchases,” Wise Bread says.
  5. Heating oil: If you use heating oil to keep your home warm and toasty in the winter, this will make you happy. The price of heating oil is expected to dip to $2.52 per gallon this year, compared with $2.67 in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. “In the last four years, we have gone through an absolute revolution when it comes to energy,” Peter Kenny, independent market strategist, told CBS. “Those years of exorbitant prices paid by U.S. consumers have effectively come to an end.” Families that use heating oil are expected to spend about $570 less this winter than last to heat their homes.

Which predicted price drops will have the greatest impact on your budget?

Written by Krystal Steinmetz of MoneyTalksNews

(Source: MoneyTalksNews)

The Best Shopping Deals of Presidents Day 2016

President Day
Provided by U.S. News & World Report

Often somewhat overlooked as a holiday, Presidents Day may not evoke the same kind of excitement and anticipation as Valentine’s Day and the big game.

But the day observing George Washington’s birthday does have one leg up its fellow winter holidays. The first major shopping holiday of the year, Presidents Day boasts some of the best shopping deals of the season.

During Presidents Day sales, you can score deals on appliances, mattresses and a variety of products from major retailers. Many sales begin as early as Feb. 4, and run for days after the official holiday on Feb. 15. That means that even if you don’t get Presidents Day off from work, you’ll have plenty of time to shop the weeks-long sales.

To help you navigate the countless sales that are already beginning to pop up, we’ve included a guide to some of the best Presidents Day sales of 2016 below.

Target Presidents Day Sale

Target’s Presidents’ Day sale kicks off on Feb. 7, and will feature discounts on a wide array of home goods and furniture. Highlights include:

  • 25 percent off mattresses and bed frames
  • Up to 25 percent off home items
  • Up to 25 percent off dining and entertaining products
  • Up to 25 percent off furniture
  • Up to 25 percent off lighting
  • Up to 25 percent off décor

Best Buy Presidents Day Sale

If it’s a microwave you’re after, you’re in luck. Presidents Day is one of the best times of the year to find deals on appliances, and Best Buy’s Presidents’ Day sale is one of the best opportunities to buy them.

The Best Buy sale will run until Feb. 24, and feature up to 30 percent off major appliances. You can score great deals on everything from microwaves and stovetops, to refrigerators from top brands like LG and Samsung. In addition, if you shop with a Best Buy credit card, you’ll get 5 percent of your purchase back in the form of loyalty points.

Macy’s Presidents Day Sale

In honor of George Washington’s Birthday, Macy’s will offer 20 percent off storewide and online, as well as free shipping on orders over $75. Macy’s will also offer 40 to 50 percent off women’s clothing, including blouses, jumpsuits, jeans, sweaters and more from top designers.

Sears Presidents Day Sale

One of the most diverse sales, the Sears Presidents Day event will feature discounts on a wide variety of products, including brand-name appliances, mattresses, jewelry and fitness equipment. Some of the highlights from the Sears sale include:

  • Up to 40 percent off Kenmore and top brand appliances with free delivery
  • 20 percent off fine jewelry over $100
  • Up to 50 percent off select tools
  • 10 percent off patio furniture with free delivery on orders over $499
  • 30 percent off or more on featured fitness equipment
  • 15 percent off footwear

Kmart Presidents Day Sale

Kmart will release Presidents deals throughout the month, though the bulk of its best sales are to occur on Presidents Day weekend. Head to Kmart during the holiday weekend to take advantage of special offers on toys, appliances and more. Top deals from the Kmart Presidents Day sale include:

  • Up to 30 percent off major home appliances
  • 15 percent off fine jewelry
  • Buy one, get one pair of shoes at 50 percent off
  • Up to 25 percent off swing sets, trampolines and outdoor playsets
  • Up to 25 percent off baby gear, furniture and bedding

Overstock Presidents Day Sale

Shop online at Overstock.com, and you can find deals on a huge array of items. The online retailer is celebrating Presidents Day by discounting everything from watches to mattresses to apparel. Highlights include:

  • Up to 60 percent off mattresses and memory foam
  • Up to 30 percent off clothing shoes and accessories, with an extra 20 percent off
  • Up to 55 percent off bedding and bath items
  • Up to 30 percent off lighting
  • Up to 25 percent off kitchen and dining
  • Up to 55 percent of Palm Beach jewelry, plus an extra 10 percent off

Presidents Day Shopping Tips to Remember

When it comes to navigating any major shopping event, preparation and research are key if you want to land the best deals and avoid overspending. Before you head out to begin your Presidents Day shopping, review these tips to ensure you get the most out of the experience:

Make a list. Surrounded by so many great deals, it can be easy to spend more that you intended to. To avoid impulse buys, make sure you create a list of the things you need – and stick to it!

Do your research. Before making a major purchase, be sure to research reviews and product information. It’s a good rule of thumb to stick to trusted brands, rather than purchasing off-brand appliances and electronics.

Shop online. Many retailers offer exclusive discounts to their online shoppers, in addition to free shipping or in-store pickup. When shopping online, you also have to ability to search coupon sites to find coupons and codes that could multiply your savings.

Written by Maria Lalonde of U.S. News & World Report

(Source: U.S. News & World Report)

How to Save at Least 10 Percent on Everything You Buy

Savings
Tax Credits/Flickr

Coupons and sales make it simple to save big on purchases. But what about those times when you need to buy something and a coupon or sale is nowhere to be found?

Following are three simple steps that can help you save at least 10 percent off anything you could possibly need to buy.

Step 1: Find a discounted gift card

The first savings step is to buy a gift card, but not any old gift card. Instead, you want to head to a website specializing in reselling gift cards at a discounted rate.

Here are some of the biggest sites in the reselling business:

These sites let individuals with unwanted gift cards unload them by selling to others at a discount. While the sites advertise discounts of as much as 35 percent, you’re typically going to save less than 10 percent for most cards.

Step 2: Buy through a rebate site

In some cases, you can save 10 percent by simply using a discounted gift card for every purchase. However, we want to save you more.

If you’re buying online, make your purchase through a rebate site. These sites often offer another 3 or 4 percent off your purchase. You’ll pay the full amount when you buy, but receive the discount back in the form of a rebate.

These are some of the popular rebate sites:

Before shopping, check out the store availability and terms at the rebate sites. Some sites send checks automatically every few months, while others require you to request a payment once you hit a minimum amount in your account.

In addition, participating retailers and rebate amounts vary among sites.

Step 3: Use a cash-back credit card

The final step to saving 10 percent or more is to use your cash-back or rewards credit card.

Depending on the card, you could save anywhere from 1 to 5 percent on your purchase. As with rebate sites, you’ll pay the full price at purchase but receive the cash back as a rebate or statement credit.

Of course, using your credit card comes with the caveat that you must pay off your balance when the bill arrives. Paying interest on a credit card is a sure way to negate your savings.

Other ways to save

While these three steps should save you at least 10 percent off just about anything, don’t stop there.

Written by Maryalene LaPonsie of MoneyTalksNews

(Source: MoneyTalksNews)

5 Tips for Better Spending Habits

Spending
Provided by US News & World Report

While 2016 is in full swing, if you haven’t thought about a resolution yet, don’t give up. Maybe it’s time to make one that has the potential to stick. If you’re often wondering how money slips out of your wallet, consider becoming the crash test dummy for better spending habits. Test drive some of these ideas below to develop better ones.

Be your own cheerleader.

Patting yourself on the back after following through on a behavior you want to increase goes a long way to help cement a behavior. Ginger Dean, psychotherapist and website owner of GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds.com explains the power of rewards: “When making smart money choices, celebrate them by rewarding yourself. Yes, make rewarding yourself a habit. For example, when you make it through a pay period and adhere to your spending plan, treat yourself to something nice that doesn’t break the bank.” She points out that this creates what we call positive reinforcement, which helps you connect good decisions with positive rewards.

According to research by Wendy Wood, a social psychologist and provost professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California, a behavior only has to be rewarded initially to form a habit. So once the habit is established, you can relax and let momentum take over.

Cheat a little.

While it’s great to start the New Year off with a new idea, give yourself a lead and start with a familiar task. Repeat the task on a regular basis. Research shows you won’t have to train yourself to do the task, you just train yourself to do it repeatedly. For example, if you like drinking water when you eat at a restaurant, choose to do it more frequently. Set rules for yourself, like, “When I eat out, I will order water.” Before you know it, a small gesture will become a string of little actions that can have a big impact on how you spend. It can also do double duty for your bank account if you send the money you didn’t spend straight to savings. Once you establish one good habit, move on to another like trimming a little bit of your grocery budget every time you shop. Start with as little as five dollars and put that in savings, as well.

Keep using the Benjamins.

Let your dollars see the light of day and allow the real thing to get some exercise. Fans of carrying cash can do this more so in the New Year if it helps you control your spending. If you know you tend to do major dollar damage in just one swipe of a credit card, then this tip might work for you. Curtail the urge to go on a spending free-for-all when using a credit card as a short term loan and pay in cash whenever possible. Make using cash a habit if you find it keeps you on track. Choose a dollar amount to withdraw on a regular basis and challenge yourself to not to go beyond that amount.

Graduate from a spending spree.

Limit how much time you spend in a store. Research shows the slower you shop, the more you spend. Get what you need and go. Set a timer if you have to or have your eyes stay glued to your shopping list, then pay and skedaddle. This way you can avoid impulse buys and filling every nook and cranny of your shopping cart with items you didn’t plan to get. Side step a budget-busting aftermath and make it a habit to make short trips to stick with your spending plan.

Do a happy dance after checking out.

When you have carried out a small, smart money choice like spending less time in the store, celebrate it. As stated above, positive reinforcement can work wonders for habit formation. So if you accomplished all of your shopping in record time, celebrate your small win afterwards. So when you’re looking to applaud yourself for getting out of the store quickly, think of what Han Solo said in The Force Awakens when Finn and Rey reunited: “Escape now, hug later.”

If you originally couldn’t bear the thought of making a resolution, reconsider. Just know that people tend to stay with activities that are manageable. Consider following some of the ideas above to take a step in the right direction when it comes to spending this year. They can be beacons for long-term financial change and help you meet your goals. They can also help you shortcut your way to success by following research that gets results. Employ one of these tips to establish a money smart habit today.

Written by Karen Cordaway of U.S. News & World Report

(Source: U.S. News & World Report)

 

10 Best and Worst Deals at Wal-Mart

© Niloo / Shutterstock.com
© Niloo / Shutterstock.com

Wal-Mart has earned its reputation as a money-saving store by offering low prices on just about everything from car accessories to canned goods. And while no one will doubt Wal-Mart is a great place to save money, that doesn’t mean some items can’t be found elsewhere for less.

To help you maximize your savings, GOBankingRates.com asked a variety of experts to list items you should snatch up at Wal-Mart — and items you should steer clear of. Find out if you’re shopping smart at Wal-Mart.

10 BEST WAL-MART DEALS

The nationwide retailer has become synonymous with “savings” — and for good reason! With net sales increasing by 1.9 percent in the fiscal year ending on January 30, 2015, it’s obvious that many people are capitalizing on Wal-Mart’s low prices. Click through to see which 10 items are good deals at the retail giant.

1. LEGOS

While kids’ toys are a hit and miss at Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart is the place to be if your kid is into Legos, said Regina Novickis of Slickdeals.com. Members of the site post great deals they find, with the best of the best appearing on the front page. “Over the past year, our deal community of 9 million has front-paged more Legos deals from Wal-Mart than any other merchant, including Target and Toys ‘R’ Us,” she said.

2. DISPOSABLE RAZORS

If you’re not into paying a premium for smooth skin, Novickis said Wal-Mart can help with name-brand razors. And savings expert Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com said her site found Wal-Mart’s prices were up to 50 percent less drugstores’ prices. “For example, a three-pack of Venus Women’s disposable razors was $6.97 at Walmart and $12.99 at some drugstores,” she said. Pavini also added that Coupons.com offered a dollar off coupon, making the razors just $5.97.

3. ORGANIC FOODS

Eating healthy and organic food doesn’t mean you have to pay a high sticker price. Pavini said that Wal-Mart is actually making going organic affordable. “You can find many brand-name organic foods for less,” she said. Coupons.com found Organic Heinz Ketchup for $2.58 compared with $3.69 at the grocery store. And Amy’s Kitchen Soup was $2.25 at Wal-Mart and $3.69 at the grocery store.

4. PHOTO ANNOUNCEMENTS/CARDS

Want to make that birthday party or summer party announcement really personal? Lori McDaniel, senior content manager for Offers.com, said that Wal-Mart is a smart place to go for photo announcements. “You can get personalized photo invitations or cards for as low as 28 cents a piece, compared to about $1.27 a piece at a site like Shutterfly. That’s a 78 percent savings,” she said.

5. PHOTOS

You don’t have to throw a party to save on photo printing, said Pavini. Wal-Mart is also a smart choice for photos with 4-by-6 prints as low as 9 cents each, she found. “The trick to getting the best deal is choosing the home delivery option, which gets you the lowest price,” she said.

But even if you go for the one-hour photo, Pavini said you’re still only paying a few cents a photo. Her bonus tip: “Create a free account with Wal-Mart Photo, and you may receive a sign-up gift,” she said. “We got 25 free one-hour photo 4-by-6 prints.”

6. SIMPLE FURNITURE

Need a few practical furniture items for your home? Wal-Mart might be a smart stop, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews.com. “Wal-Mart consistently offers basic desks, shelves, futons and more for a lot less than most other stores,” she said. “Many of Wal-Mart’s furniture does include free shipping, which isn’t something you can say from most furniture stores,” she added.

McDaniel gave an example. “You can get a simple student desk for as low as $44 right now at Wal-Mart, versus $79.99 at IKEA,” she said. “That’s a 45 percent savings.”

7. BABY GEAR

While there is some conflicting input for name-brand baby items, like diapers — some experts touted Wal-Mart and some said these items are cheaper elsewhere — McDaniel said other newborn and toddler items, such as the Graco Pack ‘n Play Playards, are a go.

8. WAL-MART-BRAND GROCERY ITEMS

If you’re looking to fill that pantry with staple items for a little less money, Wal-Mart could help, said savings expert Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com. Wal-Mart has an extensive line of its own low-priced store brands that Nelson said are of comparable quality to supermarket brands.

“For example, I compared the cost of basics like rice, sugar, dried legumes, canned tuna, flour, sweeteners and condiments,” she said. “Overall, Wal-Mart’s store brand staples were 20 percent less than the supermarket options.”

9. COFFEE AND TEA

Brand-name coffee, tea and many other brand-name grocery store items that rarely go on sale can often be snatched up for far less at Wal-Mart, said Nelson. “For example, my favorite brands of coffee and tea are both 27 percent less at Wal-Mart,” said Nelson. And what’s even better, she added, is that Wal-Mart will also accept coupons on those items, making them an even better deal.

10. LAUNDRY DETERGENT

Wal-Mart is a pretty good place to keep your clothes clean for less, said savings expert Jon Lal, founder and CEO of BeFrugal.com. “You’ll find the lowest prices at Wal-Mart for name-brand laundry detergent when comparing prices at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers,” he said, noting that the savings can be as significant as a few dollars less.

Pavini found that you can save about 30 percent on detergent at Wal-Mart compared with online stores. The exception is when Amazon runs a sale, “but if there’s no sale going on, Wal-Mart is a safe bet not to overspend,” she said.

10 WORST WAL-MART DEALS

Like with every store, there are some items you should avoid at Wal-Mart. You might be better off buying products at some of Wal-Mart’s competitors, such as Target, Amazon, Costco or Ikea. Read on to find out which 10 items savings experts say you should skip at Wal-Mart.

1. HDTVS

It’s true that Wal-Mart has low prices on High-Definition TVs, but McDaniel said she doesn’t categorize them as good deals. “Wal-Mart’s HDTVs are at ‘low’ prices because they are the lower-quality versions than those sold elsewhere,” she said. “Get higher-quality at low prices at a warehouse store like Costco.”

2. NUTS AND SEEDS

It’s a given that nuts and seeds are healthy snack choices, but Wal-Mart’s might not be the healthiest for your wallet,” said Novickis. “You’ll find much better deals on nuts and seeds at stores like Aldi and Trader Joe’s.” She added, “On average, Wal-Mart is about $1.50 more per pound for whole almonds than Trader Joe’s, and mixed nuts are about $1 more per bag than at Aldi.”

3. GIFT CARDS

Gift cards can be a great way to make someone’s day, but Wal-Mart might not be the most savvy place to shop for them, said Novickis. “There’s no need to pay full price for gift cards,” she said. “Shop sites like CardCash.com to find discounted gift cards,” she said. While the discounts vary greatly depending on the merchant, they can be up to 27 percent off, said Novickis.

4. LAPTOPS

Avoiding getting your next laptop from Wal-Mart, advised Sakraida. “In the past two months, less than 1 percent of DealNews’ price-checked laptop deals were sold at Wal-Mart, which means your chances of finding a good price there are very slim,” she said. For better deals, she suggested Newegg or Microsoft Store, as well as directly from Lenovo, HP and Dell. Just remember to look for coupons, she added.

5. WRAPPING PAPER

Did you score a great deal on Legos at Wal-Mart for that upcoming birthday party? You might want to find the wrapping paper elsewhere, said Novickis. The quality of the wrapping paper you’ll find at Wal-Mart is comparable to the paper you’ll find at dollar stores for a lot less, she said.

6. APPLIANCES

If you need to replace your refrigerator, Wal-Mart might not be the place to find the coolest deal, said McDaniel. “You’re better off shopping at a store like Sears or Best Buy, which frequently run specials that include free disposals of old machines, or free delivery and installation,” she said.

7. BATTERIES

Batteries are pricey. In fact, they can make a decently priced toy suddenly expensive. So, it’s important to get the best deal — and that’s likely not at Wal-Mart. “Hands down, it’s best to buy these at a warehouse club store,” said Novickis. Move batteries to your Costco or Sam’s Club shopping list .

8. BEDDING

Ah, bedding. Just saying it sounds peaceful. And Wal-Mart’s prices might seem soothing as well. But if you’re at all worried about quality, said Novickis, you might want to give Wal-Mart’s bedding section a rest. “While the price might seem right, given how many hours are spent in bed, a better quality can be found at a comparable price at merchants such as T.J.Maxx, Ross, and Home Goods,” she said.

9. STRAIGHT TALK WIRELESS

Wal-Mart’s Straight Talk month-to-month wireless service for $45 for a 30-day plan might seem appealing, but Sakraida and DealNews strongly advise against it. “DealNews readers almost unanimously panned the quality of coverage, customer service and Straight Talk-compatible phones,” said Sakraida. “Many customers who tried to save with Straight Talk service and a phone ended up going back to their original carrier.”

10. MEATS, CEREAL, SODA

Many grocery items that seem like a good deal at Wal-Mart, you can get for less at the grocery store, said Nelson. “Some [grocery store] items are priced below the wholesale cost in order to lure customers into the store and are usually featured on the first page of the store ad,” she said. “These sale prices are generally less than Wal-Mart’s Everyday Low Price for the same items.” Her examples include 50 percent off chicken, beef, pork, cereal, packaged items like crackers and cookies, and soft drinks.

Written by Alaina Tweddale of GoBankingRates

(Source: GoBankingRates)