30 Days to Financial Freedom: Take Advantage of Free Entertainment

I grew up at the Public Library. Both of my parents are avid readers, and as a kid, my siblings and I spent evenings, weekends and a good portion of our summer break scouring the racks of our library looking for the next great adventure. The free access to books was a staple of entertainment in our household.

Now that I am a parent, I am always on the lookout for free (and cheap) versions of entertainment for our family. The Public Library offers just that. In addition to books, public library systems have DVDs, CDs, audio books, magazine subscriptions, Wi-Fi access, story time, research centers, e-books, comfy chairs and tables for gathering, art displays, meeting rooms, lecture series, arts and crafts, puppet theatres…all for FREE. I am in awe that I have access to this multitude of education, culture, literature, history and creativity right in my community.

If you don’t have a library card, then what is stopping you? There are activities and resources for people of all ages. You may find that you enjoy what the library has to offer instead of paying for satellite or cable tv – but we’ll save that discussion for another blog post.

Let’s Have the (Money) Talk – Part 2

I was waiting for a meeting to start recently when I engaged in a “get to know you” conversation with two ladies.  We exchanged the usual pleasantries of names, and then our occupations.  Upon finding out that I worked for a financial institution, they started peppering me with questions.  I was a bit surprised, but very thankful that they wanted to engage in a “money talk” for the few minutes we had before the meeting started.

Here’s what they asked me:

1. What is a good interest rate on a car loan?

2. How can I build my credit?

3. Is it good to take out student loans to further my education?
These were all great questions, and got us talking about personal finances.  My first question back to them was: when was the last time you looked at your credit report?  I got two “deer in the headlights” looks.  I kind of figured!  I shared with them that the first step in getting a hold of your finances, and building credit to get a great rate on something like an auto loan is to know what credit you have.  By law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year and this will not effect your credit score.  The best website to look up your report is www.annualcreditreport.com  This website will not give you your credit score, but will show you all of your open lines of credit (loans) and most importantly, allow you to see if you have been the victim of fraud or identity theft.

A few years ago, I applied for a car loan and was asked by the loan officer if I knew about a $250 judgement on my credit report.  What!?!  Prior to applying for this auto loan, it had been a few years since I checked my credit report.  To my astonishment, this judgement (from a past job in insurance sales, where the policy was cancelled and the commission was “charged-off” to me) had made its way onto my credit report and negatively effected my score.  I was glad to have this knowledge, and immediately contacted the insurance company, paid the judgement and requested it to be removed my report.  If I hadn’t taken the time to look at my credit report, that $250 judgement would have stuck with me for years, and pulled my score down enough to not qualify for the best rates I was seeking.

The power of personal finances is in your hands.  There are a multitude of resources available to help you, including your local Credit Union.  Do your homework before obtaining a new checking account, credit card or other loan.  That fine print can mislead you into a rate you are not comfortable with, and terms that you didn’t think you were getting at first.  Arm yourself with knowledge, and don’t be afraid to speak up, as these two ladies did.

Let’s Have the (Money) Talk

Money comes and goes out of our lives in an instant each and every day.  If you are employed, each hour (or portion thereof) you are on the clock, you are earning.  On paydays, you get to reap the rewards of your hard work, and spend what you have stockpiled in your bank account.  The feeling that money provides most of us is something along the lines of: power, control, and the ability to make (more) choices.

Why does money affect us in this way?  We always want more than we can afford, and we tend to spend more than we have.  Can you feel the power, control and variety of choices without money?

I am a mother of two, and have been discovering over the past few years that my children’s perception of money is vastly different than my own.  When we are at the store, I frequently have to field the question of “Mom can I have ___?”  It frustrates me to the point that I want to scream “NO!” and deny them of any future gifts.  They just don’t get the value of money, but why should they?  They see me buy things without deliberation, and haven’t yet witnessed our family discussing large financial decisions.

I decided to try a spending experiment with my oldest child recently.  The two of us spent the day together.  That morning, I gave her $20 to spend any way she chose.  She was ecstatic.  Since we hadn’t started an allowance system with her, the $20 was a way to kick start her work at home helping out.  We set off for the mall, and her eyes lit up at everything she saw.  The stuffed animals, candy, rides on the merry-go-round…it was all so enticing!  She wanted it all.  I told her she was in charge of her money, so she went into the first store to purchase a toy.

She quickly discovered that her $20 wouldn’t cover a stuffed animal, and all of the clothes and accessories that went with it.  As she put her items on the counter to pay, she had to make some tough choices.  If she wanted a ride on the merry-go-round later, and possibly a piece of candy, she would have to put some of her purchases back.  But which ones?  She carefully deliberated over her choices, and asked me several times to help her figure out the difference in the prices.  I think we drove the salesperson nuts in that store, but my exercise in making money decisions was achieved.

At the end of the day, we both were satisfied.  My daughter felt empowered by having control over her money and her choice on how to spend it.  I felt like we made a great first step in teaching her the value of money, and its limits.  If you only had so much, and not a penny more (or access to credit), would you choose to spend it differently?

Do You Have a Financial Disaster Plan? – Part 2

If I asked you to tell me right this second to list out everything that was in your wallet, could you do it without looking?  Many of us put a lot of our life into our wallets, purses and vehicles, and we don’t think twice about the need to access that information should it suddenly disappear.  Here are some tips to help you prevent a financial disaster if your wallet, purse or car was stolen:

 Take an Inventory

 Make it a habit of cleaning out your wallet, purse and car on a monthly basis.  Go through the receipts that are stuffed into those handy pockets and either file them away or shred them.  Decide what is necessary to have in those areas, and eliminate everything else – either by relocating it to another place (like inside your home) or get rid of it.  This goes for other items as well.  The goal is to create a clutter free area where you can easily find and recall the important elements.

 Minimize and Photocopy

 Pretend like you are leaving on a dream vacation to Europe.  Would you take every single thing that is currently in your wallet and/or purse?  My advice to you is to take as little as you can.  Tourists attract all kinds of attention, especially by pickpockets.  Consider utilizing travelers checks instead of cash, and only take one major credit card.  For everyday use (when not traveling) you don’t need to have your wallet stocked with every credit card you own.  Most store cards will allow you to look up your account number at the register if you need to make a purchase.  The same goes for checkbooks.  Most retailers take and prefer debit cards over checks, which are easier to carry, and can be tracked and payments stopped easier than checks.

 Once you’ve pared down your items, take a photocopy of everything and store it in a safe place (and not in your wallet or purse). I even store the toll free number to VISA in my phone for such emergencies.  By making a photocopy of your important items, you can more easily shut down credit cards, and get new identification issued.

 Have the Talk

 Many households have one person who handles all the finances.  This person may be you, your spouse / partner or roommate.  Whatever the case, have regular conversations about the “what ifs.”  This means sharing how to access bank accounts, pay bills, and where important documents are located (like insurance policies, Wills, etc.).  If you are single, consider creating a Power of Attorney where someone you trust can handle your finances should you become incapacitated.  In my former career as an insurance agent for a mortuary, I worked with families who had to dig through filing cabinets, basements, and more to try to find documents pertaining to the deceased’s estate.  Even if these documents were found, access to claim benefits was also a struggle if the deceased hadn’t made proper provisions.  My hardest conversations were with surviving family members whose hands were tied financially.