Spring Cleaning for Your Finances

This year I’m excited to be partnering with Discover to share many of the great programs they offer consumers. All opinions are my own.

It’s finally spring! Not only am I looking forward to warmer weather, but I’m also itching to start my spring cleaning.

This is the time of year when I clean out the kids’ closets, the kitchen cabinets, our garage, and any other place in my home that collects random items throughout the year.

In addition to my annual spring cleaning, this year I’m doing a little financial spring cleaning too.

After spending the last few weeks buried in paperwork for our taxes, I’ve decided that in 2016 I’m going to be a better CFO for our family.

Here are five ways I’m cleaning up our finances this spring.

This is the time of year when I clean out the kids’ closets, the kitchen cabinets, our garage, and any other place in my home that collects random items throughout the year. In addition to my annual spring cleaning, this year I’m doing a little financial spring cleaning too. After spending the last few weeks buried in paperwork for our taxes, I’ve decided that in 2016 I’m going to be a better CFO for our family. Here are five ways I’m cleaning up our finances this spring.

De-clutter

I tend to save every receipt, business and personal. But chances are I’m not going to need a receipt from the grocery store in a month and definitely not in six months.

I’m going through my bins of receipts and only keeping the ones that are important for record keeping and business.

I’m also making sure that all my bills are signed up for e-delivery and that I can set as many to auto pay as I can. The less bills I have to personally pay every month, the more likely I am to get it done.

Monitor your credit

My husband has a very common name. So common that other people’s bad debt shows up on his credit report every year. We’ve gotten into the habit of checking our report regularly to make sure it is accurate and our credit score stays high.

Discover provides cardmembers their FICO® Credit Score for free on monthly statements. A good credit score is very important if you are planning on buying or refinancing your home.

We have been able to secure ridiculously low mortgage rates with our last three homes because of our great credit score.

Double check current bills

Many of our bills are set to auto pay. I spend almost no time looking them over every month.  I’m now getting into the habit of looking over all the charges and making sure they are legitimate.

Also, remember that free trial you signed up for or the extra service you added to your existing bill? Are you using them? Are they totally necessary? Every few months I try to conduct a financial audit to make sure we’re actually using the services we are paying for on a regular basis.

Many of these services cost $10 a month or less, but if you aren’t using them you are throwing that money away!

Negotiate for cheaper services

Did you know that things like cable, cell phones and subscriptions are negotiable? When your contract is up, it is a great time to call your providers and negotiate lower rates.

You can find out how we cut our monthly bills (without spending tons of time) here.

Give yourself a financial tune up

The holidays are over, but many people are still caught up in that holiday spending frenzy. If you don’t have a plan for your money every month it will disappear and the next thing you know you will be struggling to pay your bills.

If you haven’t already, create a budget for 2016. I look at my credit card summary from the end of the previous year to find areas where we can cut and also to get a better idea of how we are spending our money.

Make saving automatic every month. It is much easier to build your savings when the money comes out automatically every month. You can set this up with your bank or even with your place of employment. This will allow you to build your savings without even thinking about it.

Challenge yourself to make three changes that will positively affect your financial future in 2016. This could be participating in your company’s contribution matching, making more meals at home, having a yard sale to get rid of unwanted stuff, shopping at the thrift store, or starting a vacation fund.

Make sure you are getting cash back on the items you buy every day. Rewards credit card like the Discover it® Chrome card gives you cash back to put toward future purchases. With the Discover it Chrome card, you can earn 2% cash back at gas and restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus 1% cash back on all other credit card purchases. I love it when I can double up my savings by finding great deals and getting cash back too!

Spring cleaning is not only for your home, it is for your finances too. This year I’ve committed to spend a half hour each week de-cluttering our finances, it doesn’t always take that long, but it keeps us on track financially and helps us reach our financial goals.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

How to Rebuild Your Credit

This year I’m excited to be partnering with Discover to share many of the great programs they offer consumers. All opinions are my own.

When I first got married I brought a closet full of shoes and a 1982 Toyota Celica into the relationship. My husband brought over $10,000 in consumer debt. Unfortunately, prior to meeting me, he lost almost everything in Hurricane Andrew. Since he was young (and a bit careless), he didn’t have renters insurance so when Andrew destroyed South Florida, my husband lost everything except a few pieces of silverware and a frying pan.

He also lost his job and the condo he was living in.

He was unable to pay his bills, made some other poor financial choices, and by the time I met him he had collection agencies calling on a regular basis trying to get the money he owed.

5 simple ways to rebuild your credit

After we got married, we decided it was very important to take care of this debt and clean up his credit. Since we knew that eventually we would like to buy a house (and get a mortgage), having good credit was important.

Here are the steps we took to clean up his credit after we got married:

Pay off the debt

We used a nonprofit credit counseling service to assist us in setting up payment plans. Most of the cards were in default so we needed to get our minimum payments reduced without having penalties on the interest rate to help get things under control.

It took us two years to pay it off and was a huge financial burden, but we did it.

Check your credit report

I didn’t even know what a credit report was until I got married. I quickly realized how important it was to monitor your credit report regularly. My husband’s credit report contained all the accounts in default, but it also contained numerous errors including debt that wasn’t his.

Twenty three years later we still have to check frequently to make sure he is not being penalized for someone else’s bad choices!

If you have a Discover card you can check your FICO® Credit Score for free on your monthly statements! This is a great way to see if anything changes drastically that you may want to look into more.

Create a budget

The reason my husband got into financial trouble was because he didn’t have a budget. When we worked with the nonprofit service they helped us set up a budget so that we only purchased what we could afford. When we paid off all the debt, a budget helped us stay on track and kept us from ending up back where we started.

Start saving

My husband got into financial trouble because he was young and made poor financial decisions. Many people I know today get into financial trouble because they aren’t prepared for an emergency, like car or home repairs, medical bills, or an unexpected decrease in income.

If you work hard to repair your credit only to find yourself in the same place a few years later, all your hard work is wasted. Make sure you have an emergency fund available for when the unexpected happens.

Rebuild your credit

Once we paid off our debt, we signed up for a secured credit card with a low limit.  A secured credit card is one where you put down collateral. Your credit limit is based on your income and the amount of your collateral deposit. Getting a secured card allowed us to charge items we could afford (and pay off every month) and helped rebuild our credit.

The Discover it® Secured Credit Card allows you to rebuild your credit and provides the same fantastic benefits as its other cards including:

  • No late fee on first late payment, and no increase to APR for late payment
  • Reporting to all three major credit bureaus
  • $0 Fraud Liability Guarantee means cardmembers are never responsible for unauthorized purchases on their Discover card
  • Freeze ItSM – an on/off switch that cardmembers can access on the Discover mobile app or website to prevent new purchases, cash advances and balance transfers if they misplace their card

After one year as a Discover it Secured cardmember, Discover will review the account to see if the cardmember can transition to an account that does not require a security deposit.

You’ll also receive Discover’s great CashBack Bonus® of 2% at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in purchases each quarter and 1% on all other purchases.

When I was first married, I was overwhelmed by the amount of debt my husband had. But after working hard to payback what he owed and then spending wisely, we were able to repair his credit. Now he has a credit score of over 800!

We did this during a period when he wasn’t making a lot of money and I was at home with two toddlers. It is possible to rebuild your credit and move forward financially. It just takes planning, responsible spending, and hard work.

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

How Rewards Can Allow You to Travel for Less

This year I’m excited to be partnering with Discover to share many of the great programs they offer consumers. All opinions are my own. Make sure you scroll down to read about their awesome winter promotion where you can earn 5% Cashback Bonus® on gas station and ground transportation purchases. Combine that with the falling gas prices for a tremendous savings!

For years my husband traveled all around the world for his job. In fact, one year he was gone 240 days out of the year and he wasn’t deployed!

While it was terrible to have him gone so frequently, we decided to make the best of it and maximize his frequent flyer and hotel points and use the points and miles earned on family trips.

A few years later, I met a guy who traveled everywhere and was able to do it on a very limited budget. He managed to find great deals on airfare and hotels and combine those great deals with miles earned from his credit card purchases.

Now this guy wasn’t extravagant, he was buying the things we all normally buy – groceries, gas, clothes, etc. He also wasn’t one of those folks who tried to hack the system, he simply found a credit card that gave him the maximum benefits and tried to fly on the same airline and stay at the same hotel chain when he traveled.

If you want to travel for less, you’ll want to find the best credit card to maximize your benefits.

Unlimited miles

If you read the fine print of many credit card promotions you’ll find that many of them have a cap on how much you can earn. If you use your card for everything and pay it off every month (like we do) you’ll end up hitting your benefit limit very quickly. Find one like the Discover it® Miles card that does not limit the amount of miles you can earn in a year.

Black out dates

I remember once I earned two round trip tickets to anywhere in the United States. When I tried to book a trip, there were only a few dates/ flights I could choose from and none of them worked with our schedule.

I was never able to redeem my free trip because there were so many restrictions on when we could travel. Make sure your card does not have any travel date restrictions so you can travel in the off season when lodging is cheaper.

Also, while many airlines and hotels offer their own credit card, I prefer a card that can earn benefits no matter who you fly or where you stay. Even better, the Discover it Miles card allows you to earn 1.5x Miles for every dollar spent, not just when you are paying for travel. That means you earn Miles on groceries, manicures, school books and anything else.

Spending requirements

Some rewards cards have spending requirements that you must meet before you can earn your points. Make sure the card you are using either does not have a requirement, or it is small enough that you can hit it easily.

You don’t want to spend money to save money, if you know what I mean.

No annual fee

I’m not a big fan of paying to use a credit card. If you aren’t either, make sure the card has no annual fee. Annual fees can be as much as $100 a year, so make sure you read the fine print before you apply.

Other perks

Make sure the credit card you use has additional perks as well. It could be online bill pay, better customer service, no foreign transaction fee, or double miles in your first year.

Compare these other benefits and make sure you are getting the best card for your needs.
The Discover it Miles Credit Card offers 1.5x Miles on every dollar spent, and you can redeem Miles on any airline or for other transportation purchases at any time, and new cardmembers automatically double all the Miles they’ve earned at the end of their first year on their Miles card.

DISCOVER_MILES_654_Card

The year my husband spent traveling for work helped me realize that we don’t need to pay full price for vacations anymore! In the past six years, we’ve paid for our family hotel rooms less than five times.

When you start planning your summer vacation, make sure you are getting the maximum benefits for your credit so you can travel for less too!

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.

Stay Under Budget This Holiday Season

This year I’m excited to be partnering with Discover to share many of the great programs they offer consumers. All opinions are my own.

Are you still searching for the perfect Christmas gift this season? If so, don’t buy a selfie stick! According to Discover’s Holiday Shopping Survey 2015, 55% of respondents intend on returning this gift after Christmas!

Holiday spending is up this year, after declining in 2014, and I’d love to share with you a few ways for students (and everyone else!) to stay under budget yet still give meaningful gifts this season.

Discover_2015_Holiday_Shopping_Survey_Infographic_3

Create a Budget

The best way to stay under budget is to have a budget before you start shopping. Figure out how many gifts you need to purchase this year and the total amount you can afford to spend.

Challenge yourself to find awesome gifts that are also great deals and commit to staying within your budget this year.

Shop Online

I’m a huge fan of getting all my shopping done from my living room and avoiding the traffic and crowds. When I shop online I’m able to price check all my items before I hit the order button and I always search for deals and free shipping.

Most major credit card issuers offer an online shopping portal, like Discover Deals, which gives you cash back when you shop at your favorite stores after connecting through the Discover Deals site. With Discover, you can redeem those credit card rewards for a statement credit or a direct deposit.

Getting cash back is one of my favorite ways to save.

Make it Yourself

Over the past four years we’ve featured hundreds of DIY gifts on this site. Even if you aren’t a glue gun ninja, we have gift ideas that are simple enough for a child to make.

Homemade gifts are meaningful and allow you to add a bit of your own personality to the gift. They are also a great way to stay under budget. Many of the homemade gifts we feature are under $5!

Remember Your Rewards

Don’t give up free money! If your credit card isn’t rewarding you for making purchases it’s time to get a new one!

If you have a student in the family, the Discover it® chrome for Students card gives cardmembers:

  •       2% Cashback Bonus® at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 of combined purchases quarterly
  •       1% Cashback Bonus on all other purchases
  •       The ability to pay with your Cashback Bonus on Amazon.com

It’s silly to not maximize your savings with credit card rewards! You don’t have to look for a coupon code, search for free shipping, or shop at multiple stores for the best deals. If you are spending you’re getting rewarded, it’s the easiest way to save!

The Gift of Time

Even though spending is up, for some, there might not be enough room in the budget for gifts for everyone on their shopping list.

The gift of your time could be the best gift of all. When my kids were younger, I would have LOVED for someone to offer to babysit so I could go to the grocery store alone!

Everyone has a special talent or skill that could help someone else this holiday season. Shovel snow, wash a car, weed flower beds, walk the dog, babysit, bring them a meal, fix something on their house, paint a room, or organize a closet, these gifts are truly appreciated and are free to give! They’re also my favorite gifts to receive!

Don’t forget the cards! I didn’t get around to sending Christmas cards out this year (again) but I LOVE receiving them! I love seeing pictures of friends and family from all over the world, it’s something I really look forward to receiving each year.

What is your favorite way to save this holiday season?

 

This post may contain a link to an affiliate. See my disclosure policy for more information.