Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to manage money in your 30’s. Also in the news: Student loan holders catch a home buying break, why you should get to work building an unemployment fund, and the 10 best entry-level jobs for 2017.

How to Manage Money in Your 30s
Taking the longview.

Student Loan Holders Catch a Home-Buying Break
It’s about to become a little easier.

Get to Work on Building Your Unemployment Fund
Preparing for the worst.

The 10 Best Entry-Level Jobs For 2017
We all have to start somewhere.

Let’s be careful out there

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailIt’s going to be a zoo at the stores the next couple of days, the last full weekend before Christmas (next Sunday) and Hanukkah (which starts the night before). Plus, today is the last day for ground delivery from UPS and FedEx deliveries if you want your packages to arrive by Christmas.

If you feel like the shopping season is shorter this year, you’re not alone. The Wall Street Journal says the election kept people distracted and more retailers put off promotions until closer to Thanksgiving.

The crush of stressed, rushing people can lead to all kinds of financial fallout, from overspending inside the stores to fender-benders outside them. Some things to keep in mind if you’re venturing out:

Make that list before you go. So basic and so easy to forget. Specify who you’re buying for, and the budget. Put it on your phone, tattoo it on your forehead, whatever it takes.

Use a credit card (or two). Many credit cards offer protection if your purchases are stolen or damaged. Some double manufacturers’ warranties, and all can serve as a middleman if you have a dispute with a merchant. Just don’t use cards as an excuse to go wild–credit card balances should be paid in full. (One reader treats his credit cards as prepaid cards by sending an extra payment in advance to cover his holiday shopping.)

Maximize your rewards. Using the right card at the right venue can boost your rewards. If you have a card with changing bonus categories, know what those are before you leave home. Chase Freedom, for example, is offering 5 percent cash back on wholesale clubs (including Costco and Sam’s), department stores and drugstores. Discover It has a 5 percent cash bonus on department stores and Amazon. Many cards have ongoing bonuses for certain purchases, such as gas or dining out. NerdWallet has other tips on maximizing your rewards.

Go early. Getting there when the doors open may give you a few moments of less-crowded shopping.

Keep your phone handy. Check prices on the fly. Resist the urge to snap up extra “bargains” that might not be. But:

Watch out for fake shopping apps. Yup, they’re a thing, even in the supposedly-safer Apple App store. These apps can steal your credit card and personal information. Go to the retailer’s site and use the links there to download its mobile app.

Hide it, lock it, keep it. Don’t leave your purchases in plain sight in your car and try to avoid parking in dimly-lit or poorly trafficked areas.

Beware in-store pickup. It sounds great: shop online, pick it up in the store. Except when it doesn’t work, which can be often, since many stores’ inventory tracking isn’t all it could be and they may not have enough staff to get your stuff off the shelf. (Target stores in my area can’t seem to consistently fulfill in-store pickup orders even with normal traffic.) Have a plan B in case your order gets canceled or never fulfilled.

And speaking of Plan Bs:

There’s always Amazon. The online chain is offering one- and two-hour delivery all the way through midnight on Christmas Eve with its Prime Now service.

 

 

 

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

teen-creditToday’s top story: What it takes to succeed on a debt management plan. Also in the news: How to stash cash and still eat well in college, using price matching to save, and how to prepare your finances for a layoff.

What It Takes to Succeed on a Debt Management Plan
Staying on track.

5 Ways to Stash Cash and Still Eat Well in College
You don’t have to live on ramen.

Use Price Matching to Avoid Leaving Money on the Table
Getting the lowest price available.

Prepare Your Finances for a Layoff
Preparing for life without a paycheck.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

imagesToday’s top story: Simple ways to teach your kids about money. Also in the news: Investing tips for those in their 20s, the best things about buying a house in the fall, and why you should look at frugality as a method instead of a lifestyle.

Simple Ways to Teach Your Children About Money
It’s never too early to start.

5 Investing Tips for Your 20s
Taking the longview.

The 7 Best Things About Buying a House in the Fall
Timely tax deductions.

Think of frugality as a method, not a lifestyle, to avoid wasting your time
It’s not just about saving money.

Q&A: How to start saving

Dear Liz: I have credit card debt, federal student loans and a car loan. I’m trying to save for a house, but I also know I should save for retirement. How do I figure out what to tackle first?

Answer: If you have a 401(k) with a match at work, take advantage of it first. That’s free money that typically equals an instant 50% to 100% return on your contributions. Then pay off the credit card debt. You normally don’t need to be in a rush to pay off federal student loans. Your car loan is probably OK to pay off as scheduled too, assuming you got a decent interest rate.

After the credit card debt is vanquished, beef up your savings. Eventually you’ll want a separate emergency fund, but for the moment you can earmark the money for your down payment, knowing you can raid it in an emergency.

If you don’t have a 401(k) match or even a workplace plan — about half of workers don’t — you should still save something, but your priority will be to pay off the credit cards as fast as you can. Once that’s done, you can open a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. The traditional IRA will give you a tax break, but withdrawals will be taxed and may be penalized. If you contribute to a Roth, you don’t get to deduct your contribution but you can withdraw your contributions at any time without taxes or penalties. This makes a Roth a kind of emergency fund-slash-house fund. Ideally, you would leave the money alone until retirement, but it’s good to have a Plan B until you can build up your emergency and down payment funds elsewhere.

Is Saving Pointless?

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailRaise your hand if you’ve ever tried to build an emergency fund, then gave up after an unexpected expense drained away everything you managed to save.

If that’s you, then you’re likely part of the 47% of Americans who recently told the Federal Reserve that they wouldn’t be able to pay an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling something. Some said they wouldn’t be able to come up with the money at all.

In my latest for NerdWallet, how your savings is what stands between you and the financial shocks that could send your life into a tailspin.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Student-LoansToday’s top story: How to decide if you should refinance your student loans. Also in the news: Credit card scams to watch out for, money-saving tips for the holidays, and hidden perks in your credit cards.

This Infographic Helps You Decide If You Should Refinance Student Loans
Refinancing could give you some breathing room.

3 Credit Card Scams You Need to Watch Out For
Protect yourself.

5 smart money-saving tips for the holidays
Especially if you’re still paying off last year’s holiday shopping.

8 Perks That Might Be Hiding in Your Credit Cards
What you could be missing out on.

7 simple steps to wise charitable giving
Donating strategically.

Saving money aboard a Disney cruise

Mom Dad Daughter beachIn a previous post, I covered ways you can save money when booking your Disney cruise. Here are a few more ideas for saving money while aboard.

Keep it simple. A friend who took the western Caribbean cruise booked an excursion at every port—and regretted it. Excursion costs tend to be high, particularly if you book with the cruise line, and they often aren’t necessary to have a great time. We booked just one real excursion, a day-long snorkel trip, that we found using TripAdvisor. We also bought the “extreme getaway” package for Castaway Cay (a “stingray adventure” and rental of snorkel equipment, bikes and floats) which turned out to be extreme overkill. I was the only one to ride a bike, and nobody took advantage of the floats. The stingray encounter was cool, though, and Disney’s snorkel garden is not to be missed.

Another option at most ports is to simply wander off the boat and try to arrange an excursion, but our experience is that the best providers are often booked up by the time the ship arrives.

Don’t save at another’s expense. Disney adds $12 per person per day to cover tips for the people who clean your stateroom, serve your meals and keep the ship looking tidy. That added up to $336 for our party of four. You can add to this tip amount—we did—plus you’ll also need tip money for:

  • porters who help you with your bags at the port,
  • your guides on excursions and
  • the waiters who bring room service and who serve you at the adult-only restaurants.

Don’t like to tip? There’s a simple solution: don’t cruise. There are plenty of do-it-yourself vacations where you can reduce or eliminate tipping. When you cruise, though, tips are part of the package and an essential supplement to the low wages most cruise workers earn.

Beware the budget busters. Unlike most other cruise lines, Disney doesn’t charge extra for sodas at meals—but it does charge for alcohol, and that can add up fast. Visits to the spa can add several hundreds of dollars to your bill, as can professional photography and Disney souvenirs.

You can choose to eschew these extras or budget for them in advance. For example, we set a $15-per-day limit for spending for our tween daughter and her friend that they used for popcorn (movie snacks are extra), stuffed animals and pins (trading Disney pins on board with cruise employees and other guests was a favorite activity). My husband and I also bought week-long passes to the spa, which was well worth the charge of about $100 per person. We ate at the adults-only restaurants Palo ($35 per person supplement) and Remy ($85 per person) and enjoyed them immensely.

You can use your stateroom key to charge just about anything you want to buy to your room, which is convenient and dangerous at the same time. The guest services desk will give you printouts of your bill any time you ask so that you won’t be surprised by how very much these add-ons add up by the end of your trip.

Thinking about a Disney cruise? Read this.

Mom daughter cruise worldIf your kids aren’t bugging you about taking a Disney cruise, then either you don’t have kids or they can’t talk yet. The idea that any child would be immune from Disney’s marketing might is hard to fathom.

Disney cruises are pricier than most others for good reason, as I explained this week in my Reuters column “How to get a Disney cruise for less.” Disney markets to families but aims for a luxury experience several cuts above the bargain brands. The company also uses demand pricing, so fares tend to go up over time, not down.

We took our first Disney cruise last month after (of course) extensive research and reading just about every “tips and tricks” article I could find. We scored a decent deal on our fare, but we also made a mistake or two—so I hope you can learn from those as well.

Here’s what we learned:

Go when others can’t. Most families have to book during school breaks. If you can go later or earlier, you can get lower fares. Our fare for two adults and two tweens in a stateroom with a balcony was about $6,000 for a 7-night eastern Caribbean route at the end of August, when many kids are already back at school. The Dec. 19 sailing for the same cruise costs twice that. (Actually, fares currently range from about $9,700 for an inside stateroom to about $31,000 for a one-bedroom concierge suite).

Inside is okay. While the veranda was nice, Disney’s inside cabins may be a better deal since you’ll spend far more time outside of your stateroom than in it. Inside cabins are usually the first to sell out, though, so you’ll need to plan in advance.

Check for deals. Mousesavers, an excellent tip site for all things Disney, keeps a running list of “Great Dates” that offer especially good fares.

Consider shorter cruises. The per-night cost tends to shrink when you take longer cruises. But the 3- and 4-night itineraries can give you a taste of Disney cruising for less overall. The Caribbean and Bahamas routes include a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas that’s a real highlight.

Take the bus (or a limo). Disney figured out that one of the biggest downers of cruising (and traveling in general) is dealing with the luggage. So if you book their transfer service, they’ll whisk your bags from the airport baggage claim to your stateroom while your family rides to the port on a luxury bus. The cost is $70 per person, though, so I tried to save a few bucks by renting a car. The one-way rental cost was less than $75, but picking up and dropping off the vehicle would have been a major hassle even if I hadn’t run into a massive traffic jam caused by a brawl at another rental car company. If bus travel isn’t your thing, another option to consider is a private sedan or limo. (Again, Mousesavers has recommendations.)

I have a few more tips for saving money once you’re on the ship that I’ll post later this week.

 

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Big changes are coming to your credit report. Also in the news: Excuses for not saving for retirement, how your social life changes when you’re saving money, and what to do as you approach retirement.

Big Changes to Credit Reports Are on the Way: What It Means for You
A new way of handling disputes.

5 Poor Excuses People Have for Not Saving for Retirement
No excuses!

Why Saving Money Means Changing, Not Eliminating, How You Socialize
No reason to become anti-social.

5 Things to Do Now if You’re Near Retirement
Start getting ready!