Finance

Saving Money While Dining Out

Long ago, people rarely ate out. Mom would cook almost every meal at home. When they did eat out it was exciting and special. Times changed and eating out became an almost everyday happening. Times have changed again and we may have to revert to the old ways because dining out has gotten so expensive.

But, why should you? You work hard. You and your family deserve to eat out if that’s what you enjoy. Some read a menu from right to left checking prices first and then scan back to the left to see what it is. There are other ways to dine out and stay within your budget.

Select a restaurant you can afford. You may have eaten in restaurants where you feel the owner must be laughing at you for paying his exorbitant prices. You can get just as full in a reasonably priced café on quality food with friendly service. If you’re a big eater, an all you can eat buffet may be right for you. And, you can save on tipping.

Some restaurants offer specials on certain days and discounts for eating early. Do your homework by reading their ads or give them a call. If you’re a senior citizen they may have senior specials that offer smaller portions for a smaller price.

If you’re eating with no children in tow, try the happy hour lounge specials. For the price of a drink you can usually sample the heavy hors d’oeuvres. If you do have kids, some places have kids eat free nights.

For the two of you just order one dinner and perhaps an appetizer and share. Portions can be too large anyway. Most restaurants these days are happy to have your business and will be glad to bring you an extra plate at no charge. If you have leftovers take it home and eat it later getting two meals for the price of one.

Scan the newspaper and other ads for discount coupons but read the fine print and make sure it’s a bargain and not a come-on. Buying an Entertainment Book that usually offers buy one get one free can be real savings for the whole year.

Practice skipping when dining out. Yeah, that would be good exercise but try skipping a drink such as iced tea or soda and skipping dessert. Drinks can add more than four dollars to the check for just two people.

Order water instead and freshen it up with lemon and maybe a little sugar. Pick up a half gallon of ice cream on the way home for dessert the rest of the week. Fast food fare can be cheaper and if you’re careful it can also be healthy. Most fast food chains now offer salads and soups. For dessert try a container of fruit instead of fat-laden sweets.

Don’t forget to check your receipt. Some offer free meals or a reward if you take a survey about your dining out experience. Your experience should be fun and affordable. With a little planning and restraint dining out can always be special.

Finance Sponsored Content

7 Ways to Have Your Identity Stolen

When one hears the term “Identity Theft,” they usually think about criminals racking up thousands of dollars in bogus charges on their stolen credit or ATM card.

While this type of fraud is common, there are several other types of identity theft as well, and they could be happening to you right now, including:

  1.  Insurance – Someone uses your Social Security number to obtain the insurance they need, such as home, automotive, etc.
  2. Medical – Someone uses your health insurance to get treatment, costing you money while placing incorrect and potentially harmful information in your medical records.
  3. Criminal – A person gets arrested and is able to believably claim that they’re you. Then they jump bail, and the cops are hunting for you.
  4. Driver’s License – Someone steals your license and makes a duplicate with their image.
  5. Social Security – This gives thieves open control of your life, including buying houses in your name and then defaulting on the loans.
  6. Synthetic – A person uses information from numerous victims, creating a new bogus identity; this makes it extremely difficult to figure out what’s going on and how many victims are involved.
  7. Child – Most children have Social Security numbers, but we seldom check to see if they have a credit file. That means criminals can use their identity for years and never be caught.

Many of us now keep multiple credit cards, bank accounts and loans – meaning there is more and more for criminals to work with.  For many people, it’s not a question of if – but rather when their identity will be stolen. 

Little wonder then, that more and more people are starting to get identity theft protection. The leader in this field is LifeLock Inc

LifeLock has been helping protect people from many types of identity theft for more than 8 years.  LifeLock standard identity theft protection monitors your personal information and alerts you when they detect someone attempting to open a new credit line in your name,† or if your information is being sold on a black market website. 

LifeLock also offers a more robust protection service, LifeLock Ultimate™, adding features that protect you against more insidious forms of identity theft. It also monitors public databases for your personal information, so you know where it’s being used. Plus, they scan online court records in case arrested criminals attempt to use your identity.

LifeLock Ultimate provides alerts when new checking and savings accounts are opened using your personal information, and when they detect contact information changes on existing accounts.†

And when you suspect identity theft, nothing is worse than being told you have to call back during “normal business hours” to get anything accomplished. All LifeLock members can speak with a real human, standing by 24/7/365 to assist.

How It Works
In less than three minutes, you can be on your way to protecting yourself from many forms of identity theft.

Just Visit LifeLock, fill in your basic information, and their robust monitoring technology and tools get to work immediately.  You can also add as many family members as you want to ensure that everyone is protected.

The site’s dashboard gives you a snapshot of the pertinent information you’ll want to know—all your alerts and information, plus with LifeLock Ultimate, you’ll see your current credit score, annual reports and more. Simply give them an email address or mobile number so that LifeLock can alert you when there’s suspicious activity.

When it comes to identity theft, the world is becoming more and more scary.  While it’s impossible to stop all criminals, programs such as LifeLock Ultimate can alert you when it happens to you, helping you protect your identity in the most comprehensive way possible.

Click here to check out LifeLock Ultimate and how you can get instant protection.

Finance

What Everyone Should Know About Life Insurance

Do you have it or don’t you? Do you need it or don’t you?   Unfortunately, when it comes to life insurance, many people who need it – don’t have it.  One of the principal reasons is lack of understanding.  They think life insurance is expensive and complicated, so they simply don’t bother with it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  The following facts are key to understanding life insurance:

  • The primary purpose of life insurance is to help replace the income of one or more wage earners in a family so that, in the event of their death, the rest of the family can continue living the same or similar lifestyle without being financially devastated. In families with non wage earners, the financial impact of replacing the non wage earner’s services (child care, maintenance of the home, etc.) should also be considered.
  • Life insurance payouts are income tax-free1 to the beneficiaries so they can also be used an important part of a family’s retirement planning. If structured correctly in an estate plan, it may be a way to pass wealth from one generation to the next, minimizing estate taxes.

There are several types of life insurance on the market today. The cost and features of these policies can vary tremendously depending on the options selected and the company that provides the insurance.

The two main types of insurance are term and permanent:

Term Life Insurance

Term Life insurance covers you for a set period of time, pays benefits in the event of your death during this period, but term policies do not build up a cash value.  That means if you die after the term ends, your beneficiaries do not collect on the policy.

Term Life is typically the least expensive option for obtaining pure life insurance protection for a specific period of time.  The payout is income tax-free1 to beneficiaries, and, depending on your age, amount of coverage, and other factors, payments can be as low as a $10 or $20 per month. Usually, term policies give you the option of converting the policy to a permanent policy quite easily and without complicated medical exams and the like.  Some people get term life insurance to supplement their permanent insurance until their expected retirement age, when they will receive retirement benefits that could help support their family if they should die.

Permanent Life Insurance

Permanent life insurance provides coverage for the entirety of the insured’s life as long as the policy is in force.  As you pay in, it typically builds in cash value.  You can then access this cash value to take out a loan for emergencies, fund a major purchase, or finance college education for your children.   The death benefit amount is offset by any outstanding policy loans at the time of death.

Permanent Life Insurance Policies generally offer fixed premiums over the entire course of your life and, unlike term policies, the premiums generally do not go up after a certain amount of time.  The death benefit is income tax-free1 and the accumulated cash value is tax-deferred. However, due to the cash value feature of the policy, the cost of permanent insurance is usually more than term insurance.

 How Much Life Insurance Coverage do you need?

The best way to determine the amount of coverage you need is to consider, in the event of your death, what your loved ones will need in order to pay off the mortgage, handle other living expenses that you currently take care of, or cover future expenses such as college cost, that you would have taken care of.

How to find the best policy options?

Today, one of the best ways to find a term policy that meets your needs is to use an online quote service.  One option is a free service called Matrix Direct.

Matrix Direct works only with stable and respected premium life insurance companies.  It’s free online service is safe, secure, and you’ll be able to request multiple quotes in minutes.

Request your quote and reach out and let us know how your experience goes!

Finance

How Natural Gas Can Save You Money

Natural gas is one of the most versatile fossil fuels used in the United States with approximately 22% of energy consumption coming from natural gas. Most gas consumed in the U. S. is produced in the U. S., with some coming from Canada. More than 60% of U.S. homes use natural gas as their main source of heating. It burns cleanlier than other fossil fuels with demand increasing at about 6% each year.

Natural gas is a non-renewable fuel that’s odorless, colorless and tasteless. Then what’s that awful odor when you turn on a gas jet that some say smells like rotten eggs? It’s a chemical called mercaptan added before distribution as a safety device. Natural gas is moved from production fields to consumers and stored in large underground storage systems for use when needed.

Uses for natural gas include high efficiency furnaces and boilers, space and water heating, ranges, gas grills and fireplaces, spa and pool heaters. It’s also a major source of generating electricity.

Studies reveal many benefits of natural gas making homes more valuable and desirable. Natural gas furnaces last twice as long as an electric heat pump providing a more comfortable heat.

Water heating and clothes drying are done faster and more effectively with gas. When drying clothes, dry consecutive loads to take advantage of built up heat. Separate heavy clothes from light weight fabrics to reduce drying time and use the proper water level for your load size when washing.

Gas is safer to cook with since you can see the flame reducing the chance of getting burned. Adjust the flame to fit the bottom of your pan. If the flame goes beyond the bottom you’re wasting energy. Reach the desired temperature more quickly when heating food by using lids or covers.

Check and clean your furnace regularly to gain optimum benefits from natural gas. Have a professional tune up your furnace each year to save at least 2%. Turn off any pilot light if you’re going to not be using that appliance for a prolonged period. Caulk and seal doors and windows when drafts are detected to keep the cold out. Shut fireplace dampers and close doors and vents in unused rooms.

A gas radiator located near a cold wall is inefficient. Place a sheet of aluminum foil between the radiator and the wall to reflect the heat back into the room.

If you’re upgrading your appliances be sure and purchase the Energy Star models. With this program, you’re sure to get the most energy efficient appliance available. Rebates may be available when you switch from electric to gas on some appliances. Your dealer can usually help you with this.

More home builders and home owners are choosing to use natural gas, especially for heating. When you save money and increase your efficiency, you might say you’re cooking with gas.

Finance

To Save Big, Nix the Lunch Breaks with Co-Workers

You probably know the scenario. The office clock says noon and the guys and gals decide where to go for lunch. In many towns, the drive time to a restaurant eats up most of the lunch hour, not to mention the gas.

It’s hard to find lunch for less than ten bucks plus tip. You gobble down your food, share a few laughs with your co-workers and rush back to the office wishing you had time for a nap.

As you walk to your desk, you notice this guy putting away his brown bag. He appears calm, happy and ready to get back to work, some of which he did while eating his lunch. He’s thinking how delicious it was, how much money he saved and the hassle avoided.

Is it worth it to prepare and bring your lunch to work each day? Well, looking at some basic examples let’s say the cost to fix your own lunch costs about $3 a day. It’s probably much cheaper.

That’s $15 for a five day week. Eating out at approximately $10 a day comes to $50 for the week. You saved at least $35 not including drive time and gas. That’s more than $1,800 a year saved. Interested?

Here are some brown bag tips. Prepare it the night before so you’re not rushed in the morning. Keep it simple but be creative and think healthy. Sandwiches on wholesome bread are fine but include nuts, fruit or yogurt. Also, put in a little treat for yourself that you can look forward to, perhaps a health bar or your favorite cookie.

Plan ahead and buy in bulk with lunches in mind. Buy large chips and put them in smaller plastic bags instead of buying small individual bags. Don’t pay more for convenience.

Cook a big dinner and save some for lunch the next day or the entire week. If it’s home cooked you know it’s good, healthy and cleaner. Put it in individual containers that night so you can grab and go in the morning.

If you’re running late there’s nothing wrong with occasionally taking a can of soup or vegetable chili. Most offices have ovens or microwaves you can use for heating.

Bring your drink too. You can probably get a 12-pack of soda for $2.99 and that comes to about 25 cents a can. Compare that with expensive vending machine drinks or coffee and you’ve saved even more.

It’s up to you of course, but you can continue to work while you eat, catch up on your emails or other relaxing reading. It just might impress the boss and if you have to take off early, you don’t feel as guilty. Don’t be surprised if others ask you for tips on brown bagging.

There’s a lot to be said for brown bagging your lunch. You eat better, save time, money and you’re more productive. Now all you have to do is figure out where to invest all that money you saved.

 

Finance

How to Save Money on Wedding Gifts

It comes in the mail all too often. A large pristine white envelope hand addressed to you. The calligraphy is beautiful. You don’t have to open it to know what it is. It’s another wedding invitation to go with several others you’ve already received. Some of these people you barely know.

You know it means buying a gift and money is already in short supply. Where can you find a cheap wedding gift and not look cheap? How much should you spend? If you’re invited to one of the wedding dinners a good rule of thumb is to spend about as much as the dinner would have cost.

This could run between $50 and $125. You’re certainly not obligated to spend that much but polite etiquette also says you should not go empty handed. How can you afford to give something special yet affordable?

Select the gift early. Go ahead and get it over with and check the gift registry. With so many weddings, especially in the spring, registry items can quickly get picked over leaving you with little to choose or gifts out of your price range.

Many thoughtful brides and grooms are now adding a broad selection of gifts in all price ranges. Again, shop early for best (and cheapest) idea. With the distinct possibility of going to two or three weddings in the same year even an inexpensive gift could add up when multiplied.

Use your imagination and creativity to make or buy something that’s personalized for the newlyweds. Wedding gift baskets can be geared to their particular tastes and lifestyle. Most new brides need kitchen gadgets so a basket filled with kitchen basics, a few epicurean recipe ingredients and even a recipe book would be perfect. The groom could appreciate this more than you know.

Frame their wedding invitation. Make the frame yourself or buy one that can be personalized with their names and wedding date. Framing a favorite poem or readings from the ceremony itself is a very considerate gift.

Newlyweds are usually on a tight budget so give them a movie night out. You could spring for movie tickets and cash for the popcorn or buy them a romantic movie DVD and include a package of popcorn to pop. Put all this in a popcorn bowl along with two boxes of movie candy.

Give a bottle of wine with a note attached that the wine will be at its prime in 10 years and it’s not to be opened until their 10th anniversary. Decorate the bottle with bows or ribbons. You could also include ingredients for a romantic dinner such as pasta and a gourmet sauce. A couple of candles would round out the gift nicely.

A lavish expensive wedding gift will never trump the thoughtful personalized gift from their friend. (Well, almost never.) Be creative and give from the heart. If you run out of time and ideas, a little cash or gift card in any amount is always appropriate and appreciated.

Finance

How To Profit from the Real Estate Bust when Buying a Home

Buying a home is probably the largest investment you and your family will ever make. Unless you’re wealthy, few people buy homes and pay cash. Rather, they make a small down payment and obligate themselves to a financial lender for a term of usually 30 years. In this case, the lender determines the interest rate and gives you a thorough financial background check.

There are at least two other ways to buy the home of your dreams and probably save money: assuming the existing mortgage or owner financing. Either method usually saves you time, trouble and money.

If you’re trying to assume a mortgage first make sure it’s assumable and transferable. Many mortgages have a due on sale clause that states if the owner sells all or part of a house the entire balance becomes due and payable on demand. A lender may be willing to overlook a non assumable mortgage is you’re able to make good any overdue payments and agree to do further business with the existing lender.

If a house is selling for $100,000 and the owner still owes $60,000, you could pay the owner the equity of $40,000 and assume the debt of $60,000 with the existing lender. This is good for the buyer if the existing interest rate is equal or lower than the current rates for a home loan. A second mortgage may be needed for the equity payment.

There are different ways to assume a loan. You can, as a buyer, assume the legal obligation for payments and usually pay an assumption fee of 1% of the loan balance. Or, you could take over the payments leaving the seller still legally obligated for payment if you default. If this happens, you lose the property and the seller’s credit is harmed unless he makes payments as scheduled.

Seller (owner) financing is good if a buyer can’t qualify for a traditional loan and if the owner has had trouble selling and is in a hurry to unload the house. In this case, it would be wise to find out the need for the rush selling or why the home has not sold previously.

For the agreed upon price you would begin making monthly payments to the seller usually at a lower interest rate than is being offered at institutions. There is little risk as the home is collateral. If you default, the seller regains possession of the house.

The seller may also need to have an additional stream of income each month instead of getting it in one lump sum. And, he could save on some of the capital gains tax. With owner financing, you as a buyer can avoid some (not all) costly administrative fees and private mortgage insurance (PMI).

Assuming an existing mortgage or obtaining owner financing are two great ways to become a homeowner and save money at the same time. No matter what the current status of the real estate market is or if interest rates are high or low, there are always creative ways to obtain financing.

Now that you’re armed with creative means for financing, it’s time to find that dream home; but finding the right place can be the toughest part of the journey. Fortunately, CheapHomesBlowout.com has listings of over 487,000 homes all over the country that are in foreclosure or have owners looking to unload them. They can help you find the home that you’ve been dreaming about at a price well below market value. Click on the link below for more information and to get started:

Finance

Plug in Points to See How Your Financing Will Pay Off

One of the most innovative financial markets is the home mortgage loan sector. And, when you toss points into the mix it adds convolution to an already complicated process. Most buyers don’t understand the concept of points and hesitate to ask or go to the trouble to learn about the process. They become overwhelmed and can be at the mercy of whatever the lender offers.

It’s actually quite simple. Points are fees paid to a lender for a loan. The points are usually linked to interest rates with the more points you pay for, the lower the interest rate. You can view them as pre-paid fees. It’s sort of pay now with points or pay later with interest.

If you have the cash on hand to pay points and you still can’t decide if you should pay them to get a lower interest rate ask yourself what you would do with the money if not spent on points. If you’re buying a home you probably have many needs for the extra money but don’t be short-sighted. Invest for the long term.

Most lenders typically charge one point for the loan origination fee and additional points on loans that have interest rates under the current market rate. The lender gets some money up front in exchange for a lower interest rate. It’s a win situation for both parties. You can check the newspaper or the Internet for current rates and points being offered and their combinations, which are many and negotiable.

Some points will reduce the interest rate and some won’t. Discount points are based on how much money you borrow. One point equals 1% of the loan. For example, 1% of $100,000 would be $1,000. You can expect a reduction of about one quarter percent for each point paid. Paying points does not reduce the amount borrowed but how much you’ll be paying back. So, paying points depends on a lot of factors.

If you don’t have the cash to pay points then it’s a moot point. (No pun intended). The main thing to consider is how long you plan to keep your home. In other words, will you keep the home past the break-even point? That’s when your accumulated monthly savings exceed what you’ve paid in points to get the interest rate down.

Paying points is probably a good investment if you plan to keep the home five years or more. Points can be considered an investment when it continuously yields a savings the longer you stay in the home.

A chart can be prepared to show you the options and when the break-even point occurs. Ask the lender to quote points in dollar amounts so you can easily see how much you’re spending.

It’s thought the point system is used only in the United States. That’s probably a plus for the creators of our financial system which enables more families to purchase a home who otherwise would not qualify. Get the point?

 

Finance

How to get 0% interest on your credit card debt

Telling reporters that many people have gotten “trapped” because of the economic downturn that has turned family budgets on their heads, President Obama recently signed into law new rules to regulate the practices of credit card companies.

Consumers will now have to receive 45 days' notice and an explanation before their interest rates increase. Obama went on to criticize confusing fine print; unannounced shifts in interest rates even when payments aren't late; and payments directed to balances with the lowest interest rates rather than the highest.

Clearly, in the past few years it has been far too easy for the average consumer to build up a mound of credit card debt and then have extreme difficulty digging out from underneath.

Now, more than ever, the best thing many people can do to immediately lift the burden of too much credit card debt is to transfer their credit card balance to a card with 0% APR.

By transferring the balance of your debt from your current credit card to a new interest-free card, you can give yourself time (usually anywhere from 6 months to a year) where no interest is added to your principle. This allows all the money you make in payments each month to be poured directly into paying down your balance, shrinking the amount you owe much faster. This can greatly benefit your credit score and credit-to-debt ratio, both of which can make you much more attractive to lenders.

There are some things to consider before transferring your balance to a new card:

  • 1. Always take into account the length of the 0% APR period.
  • 2. Be sure you are able to pay off your balance within this introductory period, otherwise high interest rates often kick in when the period ends.
  • 3. Make a payment schedule and set aside money each month to pay towards your balance.
  • 4. Also, be aware of transfer fees that may be charged by the credit card companies. These can come as unexpected surprises and throw off the payment plan you have created.

Another factor to consider is whether or not the 0% APR offer applied to purchases as well as payments. If interest is charged for your purchases on the transfer card, this can leave you with lingering debt even after your principle is paid off. If interest is charged for your purchases try and limit use of the card to emergencies only to avoid this occurrence. Also, be sure and compare the rewards programs offered by a card, as these will be available to you once you have paid off your balance. Pick a card that rewards you the way you want in the future.

A 0% Balance Transfer can be a great way to get out from under a seemingly insurmountable pile of debt and greatly improve your credit score and spending power at the same time.

With Congress and the White House cracking down on bad practices of credit card companies – now may be the time for you to take advantage of this clever money saving tactic.

Click on the links below for some great 0% APR credit card offers:

Finance

5 Things You Should Know About Your Credit Score

By now most people are aware of the importance of their credit score and the huge financial costs and hassles that a bad score can cause.

However, there’re still many misconceptions regarding credit scores. We spoke to one of the premier credit reporting services, GoFreeCredit.com about the most common mistaken beliefs that people have:

Checking my credit score can hurt my score

You may have heard that the very act of checking a credit score can have a negative impact on your score.  Its true – completing a credit application can actually reduce your score by 10 points each time.  However, using a service such as GoFreeCredit allows you to access your credit ratings without affecting your score.

I checked my score and everything looked good – so I am fine

You actually have three scores because there are actually three credit tracking agencies; Experian, Equifax and Transunion.  It’s possible that you have a different score with each, as any one of them may have received incorrect or detrimental information about you. You should always check all three of your credit scores as you never know which one your bank or credit card company will use.  Reputable services like GoFreeCredit.com will always check all three of your credit scores for you.

If I am a victim of ID theft, I will be notified by my bank or Credit Card Company

Unfortunately many victims of identity theft discover far too late that they are victims.  If a criminal uses your identity to take out a loan you may only find out when the creditor contacts you looking for re-payment.  However, regular monitoring of all your credit scores is a great way to immediately spot when someone is attempting to illegally use your identity so that you have a chance to stop the crime takes place.

 

My credit card company can’t cancel my card without warning

Unfortunately they can and increasing they do. More and more credit card companies are tightening their risk profiles and eliminating customers that deem too risky.  They often mail out a cancellation notice at the same time as they pull the card, leaving many consumers embarrassed to discover what has happened when they try to use the card at the register. Ensuring that any negatives on your account are corrected or removed will ensure this does not happen to you.

 

Checking and managing my credit ratings is a hassle

 

The good news is there is a quick and easy way to view your official credit report and credit score online instantly.  Start by visiting GoFreeCredit.com.  The site not only lets you see your free credit report and credit score, but also offers a free 3 bureau credit monitoring trial. The service helps you keep an eye on your credit and protect against identity theft with instant alerts of any changes to your credit report or score.

So you can just sit back and let them do the work.