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Essential Saving Tips for College Students

It’s no secret that college students often struggle financially. Whether they have to save money for rent or make ends meet for food, college students notoriously have a hard time saving money. However, with a little bit of creativity, students can go from hungry penny-pincher to well-fed collegiate. Read on for the best money saving tips for college students.

Stick to Used Textbooks

One of the biggest expenses students face is having to purchase textbooks for class. Instead of buying a brand new book for a couple of hundred dollars, students should always buy used books. Students can find used textbooks online with Amazon.com or they can rent textbooks from Barnes & Noble’s or Chegg. If they prefer reading their books digitally, iFlipd is always a good option.

Save Money When Buying a Laptop

Don’t buy the first laptop on the shelf–be sure to shop through tax-free and discounted days. Always search for companies that offer discounts for college students, like Adobe, Apple, and Dell. If possible, buy a used laptop to save money instead of buying a brand new laptop.

Play it Safe with Credit Cards

There’s a reason credit card companies target college students. While it’s easy to get a credit card, students may find that they have trouble paying it off. If a student does get a card, it’s important to find one with a lower interest rate and only to use it when if it can be paid off in time. Then, be sure to pay the whole balance each month to prevent any late fees. This is the best way to use a credit card and will help build credit.

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Reasons People Don’t Donate To Charity

Donating to charity is one of the best things you can do. Many people are in need of food, water, clothing, shelter, and other necessities, and donations are the easiest way to give to those in need. However, some people refuse to donate to charity for quite a few reasons. Today, I will take some of those reasons and explain why they are not good excuses to avoid giving back.

I don’t make enough money.

Giving back to your community is not about the amount you give, but the fact that you care enough to give. Many people who are struggling to make ends meet think they can’t donate. However, consider this: how often do you eat take-out? Do you buy coffee on the way to work every day? Cutting out even one small expense saves you money that you can then pass along to people who may not have the ability to work or eat every day. Anyone who makes money has enough to give, even if it is pennies.

I don’t know where my money will go.

While it is true that there are far too many organizations who pay executives before the people who need help, it is typically quite easy to find out which charities are legitimate. Try looking up “[the charity’s name] scam” on Google and you will quickly find all the information you need. Furthermore, if the cause itself sounds suspicious, try reading more information from third-party sources, such as news sites or scholars who study these problems. If there is no other information out there, you may want to consider donating to a different cause.

I don’t get anything out of it.

Anyone who believes donating gets them nothing should reevaluate their mindset. Donating can give you joy, just knowing that you have done something to save someone else. However, donating can also give you physical rewards as well. Many donations are tax-deductible (which should be stated on the charity’s website), which is a nice bonus come tax season. You can also donate to charities on crowdfunding websites, where there are often rewards dependent on how much you give. Finally, if you have thousands of dollars to donate, try looking into Charitybuzz, which auctions off once-in-a-lifetime experiences and gives all of the proceeds to charity.

I don’t know how to donate.

Today, there are many options for how you can donate. The most common way is online through a charity’s website. Still, many charities accept checks in the mail or phone donations. Even if you are uncomfortable entering your bank information online, there is still a way for you to donate.

Ultimately, every excuse for donating comes down to just that — an excuse. If you have any reservations about donating, I suggest researching solutions to your problem. You will find that any issue out there has a resolution. After reading this, I urge you to take out your wallet, research a charity you feel passionate about, and give.

Originally posted on SylvesterKnox.org

Three Systems To Help You Budget, Part 2

Three Systems To Help You Budget, Part 2 Sylvester Knox.png

Recently, I wrote an article about the envelope system of budgeting. While that may be the right system for some, others find that maintaining numerous envelopes is more work than they expected. Plus, keeping money in cash can be annoying or unsafe for some. If you think enveloping is not the right fit for you, I am going to walk you step-by-step through Mint and how it can help you maintain financial health.

Mint is a web and mobile application developed by Intuit (the creators of TurboTax). It comes in the form of a web and mobile application that can be connected to your financial accounts to track your habits. For example, if you have two checking accounts, two savings accounts, and an investment account, you would log in to your accounts through Mint so that it can monitor your activity.

Once you have your accounts in there, you can use them like normal to set a baseline. Mint will track how much you spend in different categories — from food to auto to bills. You can also break down the categories further. Because Mint uses the transaction code (which they interpret for you as the merchant’s actual name), they can easily identify similar transactions. For example, you could visit two separate McDonald’s and Mint would categorize them both the same.

Speaking of the translation Mint does for you, it can actually be a big help in two ways. Many times on bank statements, you’ll see something like “POS PUR MCD 0125”. This is saying “Point of Sale Purchase at McDonald’s #0125”. However, you don’t need all of that information, and it can slow you down when trying to budget and categorize. Mint standardized this text to just “McDonald’s”, which makes categorizing much faster.

Another way this can help is with fraud. Let’s say there is no McDonald’s within 10 miles of you, so you rarely eat there. If Mint shows that you have make several trips in the past week, you can identify this fraudulent activity and contact your bank. Mint also alerts you of any suspicious activity (including large deposits or withdrawals) for this reason. If you were afraid of someone hacking into Mint and stealing all of your info, they take high security measures to encrypt everything, so there is no more secure place to track your finances digitally.

Along with the actual tracking that Mint does, it also has many other features to help you financially. You can set budget goals for different categories and Mint will alert you if you are getting close or if you go over budget. Furthermore, Mint gives you a free look at your credit score (which may vary from official credit score readings or other free sites, such as Credit Karma) and will suggest credit cards that may benefit you. Finally, you can also track and pay any bills you have directly through Mint.

If you prefer to have your finances right at your fingertips and want to utilize some of the extra features Mint has, I encourage you to give it a try. It is free and easy to sign up and begin tracking. However, if the envelope system and Mint are both not the right way for you to track your finances, come back soon to see the third and final system I suggest you try to maintain good financial health.

Originally posted on SylvesterKnox.net

How to Tell a Charity from a Scam

In the wake of four destructive hurricanes, Americans are rallying together to help the thousands of people in need. Although there are tons of charities whose only goal is to help others, there are many scam artists using tragedies for personal gain. With this in mind, I will give you some tips on how to do your research and find legitimate charities that work to support others.

Transparency

There are many charities who operate transparently, and the reason should be obvious. If you give your money to an organization, you might like to know what the money is going toward. Charity Navigator, a website that ranks charities’ legitimacy, has created a chart of metrics they look at to rank charities’ accountability and transparency. This can be a great place to start, although some charities seem to have disproportionately positive scores, despite public criticism. A good charity should release enough financial information that its donors will understand what their money is going toward.

A Plan of Action

Charities without a plan of action are not worth your money. Good charities always have a plan for what to do next (even if the plan is to meet to decide where to spend their money), but great charities are constantly providing good work to the community. Sure, your local church or soup kitchen may not have volunteers flying to aid Puerto Rico, but if you ask the people in charge, they will likely give you an idea on what they are putting their money toward and when.

Non-Monetary Donations

Scam charities are going to ask only for monetary donations. To save yourself from falling victim to these scams, look for charities that accept physical donations, such as blankets, food, or medical supplies. You can donate money to those charities, but knowing they accept more than just money is a good sign that they are trustworthy.

Local Charities

Local charities are often more reputable than online charities. Look up organizations in your neighborhood to find nonprofits to research. The reasoning behind trusting local charities is the community aspect; if people heard that local charities were misusing their funds, they would likely no longer exist. Also, be careful that any local charities you look into are not chapters of a national organization. They may still be legitimate, but they are not the same thing.

Charities to Watch Out For

Over time, there have been many charities who offer great service, but still manage to exploit both donors and victims. The American Red Cross has been scrutinized for several years over their lack of assistance to Haitian victims of the 2010 hurricane. PETA, another heavily criticized organization, has come under fire for euthanizing many animals, some of which are not given the opportunity to be adopted. These two charities are widely publicized, yet they still mismanage their money.

If you are still not sure where to start looking for a good charity, check out Charity Watch’s page of top-rated charities. You are sure to find a charity worthy of your support.

Originally published on SylvesterKnox.org

Teaching Teens Financial Responsibility

Teenagers seem to care about one thing: what their peers think of them. In a world where teens are more concerned about their social media presence than their college decisions, it can be tough to navigate parenting. However, you should never skimp on teaching your children financial responsibility. With more teens in crippling financial debt than ever before, parents need to begin teaching the next generation that mismanaging money has serious consequences.

If you’re not sure where to start, begin with an allowance. Many parents give their children a weekly allowance, but it is more useful to pay them by the chore. This gives them an understanding of “more work = more pay”. The best part about paying by the chore is this can start way before your children become teenagers. Just keep in mind that not all chores are age-appropriate for younger kids.

The next step is to help your teen understand budgeting. Again, this can begin when they are younger, but it will not have as much of an impact until they are older and working outside of the house. Explain the concept of saving an emergency fund, which could be used to fix a car or buy a replacement phone if theirs is damaged. Then, allow them to decide what they should spend their money on. Make sure they account for 100% of the money they have, even if the categories are as simple as spend and save.

While you’re sitting down with your teen, take time to choose a long-term savings goal together. It may be buying a car or a laptop, or even saving for a day-trip. Whatever it is, make sure they have a set date they want to achieve this goal by. Calculate how much money they need to save each month in order to reach this goal. If your teen reaches their goal by the set date, reward them for their determination.

As teens get older, debt and credit suddenly become very important. Explain to your child the negative effects that debt can have on them (including the extra money paid to interest). Then, consider opening a joint credit card with your child. Allow them to use it, but make it their responsibility to pay, and explain the importance of maintaining a healthy credit score by paying in full and on time. If they neglect to pay their debt off every month, explain to them that you will pay up front, but you will take the money out of their allowance until you are paid back. Help them understand that poor credit can negatively impact them for decades, and help them bring their credit score to a fair-to-good level.

Teenagers may not be the most receptive to hearing about financial responsibility, but they know it is useful to understand. Although it can be easy to micromanage every aspect of your teen’s life, allow them to make some financial mistakes while they are under your roof. Encouraging them to become proactive in thinking about money will give them the confidence they need to manage other areas of their life as they transition from being a minor to being an adult. When they are able to handle tough financial situations, they will thank you for sharing your knowledge with them.

Originally posted on: SylvesterKnox.net

Rest Easy: Saving for Retirement, Part One

This blog is the first in a series on saving for retirement and is based on this blog.

Finance is complex. There are dozens of ways to reach your financial goals, but many are unsatisfactory. To help you with the very basics of finance, I have compiled a step-by-step process to ensure your financial success.

Step One: Determine Your Goals

Before you can begin to make good financial decisions, you must understand what good decisions look like. Saving up for education is different than saving up for a vacation. The process will differ slightly, so it is crucial to acknowledge these differences and plan accordingly.

If you do not have a specific purchase that needs saving for, you can focus on debt erasure, retirement, or investing. These each come with their own tailored plan. For example, individuals looking to eliminate debt will not save as much as those planning for retirement. People looking to invest should seek out a financial advisor to help craft a plan that suits their needs.

Step Two: Calculate Your Bills

Once you’ve determined your goals, you need to know how much money you have to utilize. Create a budget worksheet that allows for each regular expense (i.e. groceries, gas, utilities) and add them up. Then, subtract the total from your monthly take-home income and you will be left with your free money for the month. This will go toward any nonessential purchases and your goals.

Step Three: Make a Game Plan

Ask any athlete and they will tell you it is impossible to reach victory without a game plan. Write down the steps you want to take to achieve your goal. If you’re looking to save a $10,000 emergency fund, consider your expenses and determine how much you are able to afford to save each month. It could be as little as $5, but each cent counts.

While savings goals are typically open-ended, saving for a car or a vacation may be more time sensitive. You should, no matter your goal, estimate how long it will take you to complete. This will give you a good idea of how close you are to accomplishment. However, if you have six months to achieve your goal, you must factor this in. This may mean cutting expenses elsewhere, which leads me to my next point.

Step Four: Reevaluate Your Expenses

If you spend $5 on coffee every weekday, you may be able to cut that down to $3. That $2 difference will save you $10 per week, or $520 per year. Walking or biking to work can save on gas. Cancelling the gym membership that you’ve never used can save hundreds. Cooking more often, rather than eating out, can potentially save thousands. Keep a detailed list of each transaction you initiate, as well as your reasoning. Visually seeing why you bought an item can help you combat overspending, jog your memory for unusual purchases, and show you spending patterns to eliminate.

Step Five: Hold Yourself Accountable

As with any goal, there needs to be a reward for success and a punishment for failure. The reward can be any special treat you deem appropriate. Punishments should be realistic, as you may fail more than once. However, they do need to remind you that your goals are not being met by engaging in poor financial behaviors.

Along with the rewards and punishments, it may also help to share your goals with someone else. This holds you accountable not only to yourself, but to them as well. Finally, you should keep in mind that failure is not the end of your goal. Unexpected expenses may arise and you may not be able to recover in a month or two. You could impulsively buy a new pair of shoes. You are human, so you will probably make a mistake at some point, but you are able to pick up where you left off and complete your goal.

Originally posted on SylvesterKnox.net

How to Prepare for Retirement from Day 1 of Your First Job

Planning for retirement is something many people feel overwhelmed by. Younger generations, in particular, are often left out of the conversation and told to “figure it out”. However, there are a few great ways to take charge of your future from the first day you begin at a job.

Create a Budget

Budgeting is a wallet’s best friend. Understanding, realistically, how much you spend per month on bills, necessities, and recreation (prioritized in that order) is essential to planning for your future. It can also help you determine how much extra income you have to save for emergencies and your future.

Open a Savings Account

One of the easiest ways to save money is opening an account. However, opening the account is the easy part; stashing money into it is more important. Set yourself a monthly savings goal that works with your budget, and transfer that amount from your checking to your savings as soon as you get paid. If you are forgetful or don’t want to be held responsible for this, many banks set up automatic transfers that will immediately activate on a set date. This can be incredibly helpful for those just starting out since it takes the saving out of their hands.

Invest in a Roth IRA

Are you in a low tax bracket? Many recent college grads are, which makes them perfect candidates for a Roth IRA retirement plan. You get taxed up front, based on your tax bracket, and your future withdrawals are tax-free. This means that Future You will get exactly the amount of money in that account to use.

Save Your Tax Refunds

Instead of splurging on a vacation or an expensive gadget you don’t need, set aside those tax returns for retirement. Even if you don’t put them into a dedicated retirement account, you can still save them in a secondary savings account. The caveat is, if you save this money, you absolutely cannot spend it unless it is a legitimate emergency. Sometimes things happen, but emergencies are relatively rare, and if you’re budgeting wisely, you shouldn’t have to dip into your savings too often before your retirement. Even with unexpected costs cropping up, you should still be able to save a few thousand dollars before you retire.

Although investing in your future may not allow you to live as luxuriously in the present, you will thank yourself down the road. Preparing for retirement means you’ll have more comfort down the line, and you might not need to work after you retire. It’s better to be proactive about your future, so from the first day you get your first “adult” job, follow these steps to ensure future success.

Originally posted on SylvesterKnox.net