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Manage Money

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Since last September, I’ve been on a marathon of unhealthiness: my wedding, a week-long honeymoon, my birthday, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s—with football season running through it all until Super Bowl Sunday. Eventually, enough was enough, and I looked for a solution.


Two friends of mine found themselves in a similar predicament, so we’re working together. In a Biggest Loser-style competition, whoever loses the largest percentage of his body weight over a 75-day period wins a prize, courtesy of the third place finisher. We’ve been motivating each other with constant heckling and trash talk since we started on March 1.


The loser’s punishment isn’t steep, but the shame of losing to two close friends is driving me to diet and exercise as best I can. Unfortunately, smart choices for my body aren’t always smart for my bank account. Healthy stuff is expensive! I’m only 3 weeks into my journey, but that’s long enough to have some takeaways for keeping my waistline and my wallet in good shape.


1. Work Out At Home (Or Somewhere Free)


As dedicated as I am to sculpting my body, I won’t let myself spring for a gym membership. There’s a few reasons for that.


First, I work at a college and have access to their facilities. It certainly helps to have an employer with a benefit like that. It’s a luxury that may not be afforded to you, which is fine because there are alternatives.


I prefer to work out at home anyway. There may not be as much equipment or energy at home, but it is 100% free and all to myself (and my wife). If you like taking classes or need some direction, surf around Google, YouTube, and Vimeo. There are tons of free and easy classes and programs online, many of which require zero equipment.


2. Plan Your Meals


I’m not an organized guy, even when it comes to food—and I am madly in love with food. I have friends who spend their Sunday nights cooking food for the rest of the week. That level of prep is great, but it’s just out of character for me.


Planning for me is more about knowing what is for lunch and for dinner each week. I’ve switched to salads at lunch every day, which means either having ingredients on hand each morning to prep for that day or venturing into the world to pay for someone else to make me a salad. The latter can be a nice Friday treat, but financially, it is so much more advantageous to stock up on veggies each week and craft my own concoctions.


The same goes for dinners, especially on the weekend. Without a plan, or even an idea, weekend meals can often mean settling for takeout or worse.


3. Make A Sacrifice


The biggest factor in my weight loss so far is probably having gone sober for the time being. It’s a tough task, and I may have missed out on some fun, but the numbers on my scale and my bank balance are no doubt improving together. Even though standing in a bar or going out to dinner and only drinking water has been a choice I’ve made for weight loss, the collateral effect on my tab at the night has been a welcome change.


This has been my choice, though it doesn’t have to be yours. Find a burden on your health and wallet and try to eliminate it, even for a bit. Sugary drinks at Starbucks, weekly pizza orders, or big fancy brunches are all nice ways to cut spending and calories.


Have a budget-friendly diet idea? Sign up or log in with your Salt account to share with us!

I’ve officially decided that I pay too damn much in rent. I knew when I moved to San Francisco that rent would eat up the biggest portion of my budget (and choosing to live alone would only worsen that effect), but I saw it as just another life advancement: A big-boy apartment meant big-boy costs.


What I didn’t realize at the time was that really, this was just a justified form of lifestyle inflation. Did I need to pay a ton in rent to live alone just because I could? Definitely not. And the idea of it being “the next step in my life” and all that was pretty much just mumbo jumbo: People twice my age live happily with roommates, and after all, I was still renting.


So, moving forward, I’m imposing a rent ceiling on myself, where I don’t pay more than a certain amount of rent. Here’s more detail on why.


Expensive Rent Is Contrary To My Financial Goals


The “rent or buy” debate is a popular one—especially in my own head! For a while, I thought I would be OK never owning a place and always renting. It meant less hassle for me and more location and job mobility.


The cons of renting are well known. You basically pay off somebody else’s mortgage at a premium while building no equity of your own. Even the idea that renting provides more mobility has been challenged before—you can always rent out a house or condo that you own, after all.


Lately, as I grow to really, really like both California sunshine and my job, I’m thinking that buying a place and setting down roots could make sense. To even think about buying a house, you need to save for a down payment. The quickest way to not do that is to tie up your fixed monthly expenses, the largest of which is usually rent. If my endgame is to buy a place, renting an expensive studio is completely contrary to that goal. Hence, the need to put a cap on my willingness to pay for space.


I Want To Prevent Further Lifestyle Inflation


Over the past 6 years, my living situation has changed dramatically. At 18 and 19, I was living in the same room as somebody else, and I didn’t find it weird or stressful. At 21 and 22, I was living with a bunch of roommates in Boston and later New York. 23 was a brief spell at my parents, and 24 has brought me across the country to a San Francisco studio.


When it comes to living situations, I’ve nearly done it all at this point. And the thing is, never once—even when I was sharing a room—did my living situation make me completely unhappy or otherwise affect my life in a major way. I always adjusted, and arguably, more important things (the people I spent time with, the work I was doing, etc.) had a greater influence on my happiness. That’s something I want to maintain.


Living alone is scary to me because of the room (pun intended) it provides for me to get attached to more “stuff”: more personal space, more furniture, more things that shouldn’t matter to me. I want to get back to a place where I’m valuing the more important stuff, and I think returning to a roommate situation will help me do that.


There will be a time when living alone makes sense (i.e., when/if I buy a place), but until then, paying somebody else’s equity for something that has marginal impact on my happiness just doesn’t make sense.


  Do you have a rent ceiling for yourself? Sign up or log in with your Salt account to let me know in the comments!


3 Times I Felt OK Taking On Debt

Posted by josef Employee Mar 16, 2017

Debt has had a huge impact on my life. And while I cringe whenever I hear that word, I know that sometimes debt is unavoidable—and not all that bad necessarily. 


I’d never advocate for taking on debt when you don’t have to. But there is debt that that can help you go about your day and life. Here are three instances in which debt helped me succeed. 


1. School Loans


When I started college, my low ACT score did not qualify me for many scholarships. The only scholarship I got was $500 from my high school. I ended up paying the rest of my tuition through college loans.


If I had not taken out those loans, I would have had to work full time and go to school part time, which was not my ideal situation. Instead, I took on this debt, knowing that it would pay off in the long run.


2. Car Loan


Most personal finance experts would say that a car is not an asset but a liability. However, having a car in a town where public transportation is poor can make it not only an asset but also a necessity.


After living in Oklahoma for 7 years and having no car for 3 of those years, I realized that a car is a must to get around due to the poor public transportation system. I did not have the money to purchase a car outright, so I took out a car loan. Doing this was a smart investment, because how else would I get to work?


3. Credit Card


I’ve had both good and bad experiences with credit cards. The bad? Getting into $10,000 worth of debt.


After getting out of that debt, I think twice when swiping my credit card. However, there are times when using credit is must—especially when I travel out of the state or have to pay for an emergency. I’ve been in a situation where I needed cash and payday was a week away. So, I swiped my credit card because I knew I could pay off the bill in full when my paycheck arrived. If you cannot do the same, then that good debt can definitely turn bad.


Debt is an essential part of the economy and our life. Taking on debt is not a bad thing in some instances, but don’t let debt take over your life. What debts do you have that are assets? Sign up or log in with your Salt account to share in the comments. 

What do you do when you have to start filing your taxes? How do you react to the universally known news that your taxes are due April 15? Do you have a ritual? Some sort of superstitious way of tackling the tax prep?


For me, when I think about filing my taxes, I know that the process will go something like this:


1. There’s always a moment in February/March when I realize I have to do my taxes. The sensations that come with this realization are similar to the walls starting to close in. Temperature drops, but I’m sweating and I look like this:

disney doctor who excited pixar the big bang theory

2. Once I finishing panicking I gather my paperwork and materials, which brings out a lot of frustration and realizations that in spite of my best efforts, I‘m not the most organized human.

BBC season 3 work drama frustrated


3. Once I put all my materials together, I find a website that offers tax prepping services such as HR Block or Turbo Tax and begin filling out the forms with my personal information. Due to the amount of paperwork, I try to stick to one I’ve used in previous years so I can have some of it filled out already and cut some tax prep time.



computer office jim carrey working keyboard


4. A few hours into the process, I have to take a moment and walk away out of frustration. It’s probably my lack of patience, or the millions of forms I have to fill out because I’m a freelancer in different states, but taking a break is always part of the process.


computer parks and rec throwing computer away


5.Once I get back into it, I ask questions to an expert by calling my accounting friends or emailing the website’s customer service account, and make sure I’m getting everything done right and that I’m not missing anything. It also helps to talk to an expert for words of encouragement.

Satisfied Customer reactions retro coffee help

6. After that, all that’s left is to get to the finish line or, if everything else fails, take it to the nearest tax preparation service. The latter being what I will most likely do this year.

running run forrest gump run forrest

How does doing your taxes make you feel? Log in or sign up with your Salt account, and post the perfect GIF describing what you’re going through this tax season!

Recently, I started hanging out with a new friend. She is fun, active, and makes me laugh. The only problem? She always finds a way to not pay her fair share of the bill.


Over 3 months, I paid for drinks, covered her meal at a fancy restaurant, and bought tickets for a community event for both of us. At first, this was OK with me, as I don’t tend to penny pinch when I am out with friends. But by the third time, her behavior started to irritate me.


Her excuse (“I forgot my wallet”) was getting old, and I knew I had to say something if our friendship was going to last. Here are three things I kept in mind when I approached my friend on this sensitive issue. If you feel uncomfortable talking to friends about this topic, these tactics could help you break money silence.


1. Use Care And Concern


When I asked my girlfriend about her financial situation, I did it with empathy. I asked if she was financially OK, as I noticed that she didn’t have money the last few times we went out. She denied needing help, and seemed surprised by my question. I reassured her that I was someone who talked about money, and I was concerned for her wellbeing.


2. Be Curious And Listen


When I approached my friend, I started with a curious question about her situation instead of accusing her of taking advantage of me. While I had a theory or two, I kept them to myself. Instead, I asked a lot of questions such as “How do you decide where to spend your money and what do you do when you can’t afford to go out?” and let her do the talking.


3. Be Clear About The Action You Would Like To See


I let my friend know that going forward if she felt like she could not afford an invitation I extended to let me know. I was happy to adjust plans, have her opt out if that made more financial sense, or in some instances, pay her way. I just wanted her to communicate openly and honestly with me before I found myself in an awkward position. She agreed.


Since our money talk, my friend dropped a check off at my house to cover some of her expenses over the last month. Her action and our talk left me feeling better about our friendship. I know there will be other money talks in our future, but now I feel more comfortable speaking up, if and when there is another time when she utters the words, “I forgot my wallet.”


How do you deal with a friend who doesn’t pay their way? What actions would make you feel better about the friendship?


Log in or sign up with your Salt account to let me know.

During the winter, it’s hard for me not to eat tasty sugar cookies, load up on muffins, and forget about exercising. After all, who wants to run in the blistering cold—especially when the roads are icy or covered in snow?


Now that the weather is getting nicer, it means one thing: beach body.

To prepare, I’m getting back into my exercise routine. But I have another bad winter habit I need to break, too. With the holidays and Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to overspend during these months—and you’ll want to get your finances back in shape as soon as possible (definitely before beach season!).


Here’s how build a workout plan to achieve this:  


Know Your Goal


Before even walking into the gym, you have to know what your goal is. Are you working toward building muscle? Losing weight? A six-pack? Not knowing what your goal is will not get you anywhere.


The same is true with finances. You have to know what goal/s you want to accomplish. When I was $10,000 in credit card debt, I made it my goal to pay it off promptly. I stuck to my goal no matter the circumstances and paid it off.


This past year, I made the mistake of overspending on Christmas presents. My goal was to make up for that amount, and I achieved it by adjusting my finances to pay off that debt immediately.


Keep A Routine


After high school, I built a habit of working out at least three times a week to stay healthy. I mixed my workouts with cardio and weightlifting. Your financial workout plan should have a routine and a mixture of activities as well.  I would make it routine to “pay myself first” by putting a certain percentage of my paycheck into my savings. I also calculated how closer I was to paying off my credit debt on a monthly basis to make sure I was on track to paying off my credit card debt.


Check your credit score frequently, pull your credit report every year, put a certain percentage of every paycheck in your savings account, and balance your checking account every week. Keep the routine of checking your finances because losing sight of your finances can cause financial trouble in the future.


What do you do to keep your finances healthy? Log in or sign up with your Salt account to share in the comments!

To help buy my house last year, I was given a few monetary gifts. I also am gifting some money to a friend this year. As I’m getting ready to do my taxes, I’m wondering how this money is taxed.


Here are some questions I had and some answers I’ve found on the IRS website. (It’s probably wise to discuss this with a tax professional as well, if you have similar questions.)

What’s The Maximum Amount I Can Be Gifted Before Having To Pay Taxes?


You can receive (or give) up to $14,000 per person per year without having to pay tax on it. If you receive a gift from a couple (like your parents), that number doubles to $28,000.


Are Gifts From My Parents Still “Gifts”?


Money from your parents can qualify as gifts unless your parents claim you as a dependent. My parents don’t claim me as a dependent, so the money they contributed last year to my house-buying endeavor is a gift in the eyes of the IRS.


Are Gifts From A Spouse Still “Gifts”?


Gifts between spouses don’t count as gifts in the eyes of the IRS as they qualify for the marital deduction.


Are There Any Exemptions For Gifts?


Charitable contributions, gifts for medical or educational expenses, and gifts to political organizations are examples of gifts that don’t have an exclusion limit.


What Happens If You Exceed the Exclusion Limit?


If you exceed the exclusion limit for a gift, the person who makes the gift files the tax return and pays taxes on the amount that is over the exclusion limit. Example: If a friend gives you $20,000 then your friend would be responsible for paying taxes on $6,000 of that gift.

What are your experiences with gifts when doing your taxes? Are there any considerations I might be missing? Log in or sign up to let me know.


This post was prepared for informational purposes only and is not meant to be tax or legal advice. Please see your tax professional for additional guidance.

One thing I regret about my college years is never going on spring break. My reasons ranged from having to work to not wanting to spend any money on a trip. The truth was I wanted to go and have fun like my friends did, but at the time, I was too much of a saver to be able to loosen up and invest in a good time.


If this sounds like you, don’t let this happen. Instead, plan for your break now, so you can have fun later. Since graduating from college, I travel a lot, and the following five tips help me economize and enjoy great experiences with my friends.


1. Be Flexible On Your Location


Online travel websites run deals all the time. Be on the lookout for good bargains and stay flexible on your destination. This April, my girlfriends and are going on a trip. We wanted fun in the sun but decided to go to Costa Rica because that vacation package saved us over $500. Just one example of how you can save tons of money by being open to adjusting your location.


2. Buy Groceries When You Get There


It gets expensive to eat all your meals out on vacation. When I arrive, I buy groceries and stock the refrigerator in my room with food and snacks for the day. No refrigerator? No problem. I have been known to invest in a cheap cooler, fill it with ice, and then pretend I am camping in the room.


3. Poach Breakfast Food


If my hotel includes a complimentary buffet breakfast, I show up and enjoy it. On the way out, I grab a bagel and cream cheese to go for lunch. Two meals for the cost of one! It has saved my husband and I tons of money on our annual ski trips.


4. Look For Happy Hours With Free Food


Spring break bars and hotels run happy hours that offer inexpensive drinks and free appetizers. Show up, have one drink, and then eat enough to call it dinner. While I was never good at practicing this one, my husband tells me this is how he got through all his spring break vacations on a tight budget. 


5. Leave Your Credit Card At Home


Let’s be honest: It’s dangerous to go out with friends during spring break with a credit card in your wallet. Before heading out, I decide how much I can afford to spend each night, then carry that exact amount of money in my wallet. By leaving my credit/debit card at home, I save money for more important things like a T-shirt to remember my trip by.


Sticking to a travel budget can be challenging. But if you plan in advance, like I do, you can have wonderful experiences and not break the bank.


What is your best savings tip for spring break? Log in or sign up to let me knowand for a limited time, earn 50 bonus points for doing so!

I recently watched a movie, The Edge, from 1997 starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin (or as you may currently know him, the Donald Trump impersonator on SNL). The movie is about surviving against the environment, as well as the “enemy within,” and this is where I drew my inspiration for this post.


Early in the movie, our characters are involved in a plane crash and left stranded in the Alaskan Wilderness with just the clothes on their back and a few items in their pockets. Their situation is bleak, and their prospects for survival are non-existent. After the initial shock of the crash, one character addresses another and says: “You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame ...  Yeah, see, they die of shame. ‘What did I do wrong?’ ‘How could I have gotten myself into this?’ And so they sit there and they die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives ... Thinking.”


So, I was in the shower the other day (thinking, of course), and it occurred to me that this quote doesn’t just relate to surviving in the wilderness with no hope—this quote can apply to most of the financial curveballs that life throws at you!


I have been in situations like this, where you think that the whole world is against you, and bad and costly things keep happening over and over again with no rhyme or reason. For instance, I remember the “car crisis of 2014” when I purchased a used car off of craigslist. The car was in great shape initially, but six months in, it started sputtering and stalling out. I spent $1800 to fix that issue. Then a few months later, it happened again. This time I was in another state and had to leave my car with a local mechanic. This issue cost me another $600. Eventually, my car breaking down every few months for a year cost me thousands and caused me so much anxiety that I was afraid to drive my car anywhere, but even worse, I was racking up so much credit card debt that I feared I may go broke. I kept myself up at night wondering “How could this keep happening to me?” and “What did I do wrong?”


Honestly, I just spun my wheels and accomplished nothing doing that. I simply powered through these situations, and eventually things got better. However, what I wish I had done was sped things up by THINKING and coming up with a plan, or approach, to resolve these situations with practical and creative solutions.


For instance, if you are in financial hardship, think of ways to cut back on your regular expenses, or start working a second job, or do something from home that can generate extra revenue. If you are behind on your student loans, or similar debt, reach out to your servicer, or creditor, and tell them about your situation, and ask them what options are available.

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid to take action. That fear paralyzes people so often, and in the end, all you do is exacerbate the problem or, at the very least, extend it.


Have you been up against “the edge” financially? What actions did you take (or do you wish you had taken)? Log in or sign up to share your experiences in the comments.


Most days, I’m happy when I can pay my San Francisco rent, meet my savings goals, and have some money leftover to travel at the end of the month. That changed a few days ago when I heard some great news from a friend: He had just bought a condo in downtown San Francisco!


Truthfully, I was happy for him. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that hearing the news also made me feel financially inadequate. This person was only 7 years older than me, and he was buying real estate in one of the most insane markets in the country. Meanwhile, I’m renting a studio and forking out a ton of money for my student loans every month.


As you can imagine, I had a few hours of a nasty, downward cycle of negative thoughts. It took a few days, but eventually, I came to a resolution. 


What I was doing to myself was hurtful, silly, and not even accurate! I think most “keeping up with the Joneses” scenarios tend to be; here’s why.


We All Have Different Paths


Does this sound like new age self-help advice? Yes. But is it totally true? You bet.


You can’t accurately compare yourself to other people—financially or otherwise. That’s because we’re all such amalgamations of different choices, life situations, backgrounds, and circumstances that you’d never get a fair apples-to-apples comparison between you and somebody else.


Take my friend, for example. He never went to college, which means he has literally never even touched a student loan. He was fortunate enough to get into the tech industry solely based on his skills as a brilliant designer. That’s totally different than somebody like me, who got into the same field much earlier but is swimming in student loans. We had very different paths to get where we are.


Am I jealous or envious that my friend did it all debt free? No. In talking to him, I know it was not easy for him to get to where he is today: His career was full of hard learnings and struggle along the way. A college degree probably bypassed a lot of that for me, but it saddled me with debt.


There’s a cost and benefit to every choice, and yours will never be the same as somebody else’s. In the end, I think most of those choices tend to even out: There’s rarely a “right” or “wrong” choice—only different choices. 


Lifestyle Inflation And Ungratefulness Are Very Real


In retrospect, my bit of self-loathing was ungrateful. I was essentially saying to myself, poor me, ONLY renting a studio in San Francisco and not buying a house there instead! A year ago, I was living with my parents and had a goal to rent an apartment in a major city on my own. 


Was I serious with myself? Apparently, yes. The second I got my “goal” of living alone, I immediately invented a new goal for myself (home ownership in a major city) and was upset that I hadn’t achieved it after 4 months.


This kind of thinking is dangerous because some people act on it! If I didn’t check my own illogical thought process, and if I had anywhere close to the means to be able to do it, I may have strolled over to a realtor that day to start looking for houses. My friend has one, so clearly I need one too!


This kind of thinking can not only be a disaster for your finances, but it is also a moving target. You can never be happy and enjoy the things you do have if you’re constantly focused on what comes next.


Have you gotten over a similar situation recently? Login or sign up to let me know in the comments!

Most people associate February with Valentine’s Day or love. Not me. I think of February as “tax-prepping time.” During this month, I begin reviewing my important tax documents and tallying up my deductions from the previous year. So romantic, I know.


As a freelancer, itemizing tax deductions is the biggest part of my process. It is a detailed process but, with enough time and preparation, not that strenuous. I make an Excel sheet to keep track of my spending and possible deductions. One of my deductions is donations to charities. I donate clothes to a church and get a tax deduction. This year, I plan to do the same, but I also have something new to keep track of: monetary donations.


I’m not a tax expert (and you may want to consult one before taking any deductions). But to help with my taxes, these are the things I look out for when making my donations:


Make Sure The Organization Is Approved By The IRS

Donating money or a charitable item is a very personal thing, and everyone has a special cause they want to support. I donate to friends’ art projects, such as films they are producing or music projects they are crowdfunding. I expect nothing in return, but it still doesn’t hurt to check if these donations can get me a deduction. For this, the IRS has a website where you can check if the organization you are donating to can be deducted or not. It’s a simple process that could help you out in the long run.

Keep A Record Of Your Donation


Monetary donations need to have a receipt or proof of donation to count as a deductible. For this, the IRS recommends you “maintain a bank record, payroll deduction records, or a written communication from the organization containing the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution.”


Keeping these records, especially the date, is important in the long run. And in case you donate via text message, a telephone bill meets the record-keeping requirement needed to deduct your donation. Make sure you have a good tracking system for your monetary donations for when the time comes, you can make sure you can itemize the donation or not.


Know Your Limit Of Donations


There is a limit to how much you can donate and deduct. The IRS lets you deduct 50% of your adjusted gross income for the tax year the donation was done. Certain contributions have lower limits, but the 50% rule applies to most.


This means that the sum of all your donations cannot be more than 50% of what you earn. But don’t worry, in the case your generous heart gives more than 50% of your AGI, the excess donations can be carried forward for up to 5 years. You just have to make sure you keep your records up to date.


Do you deduct donations or itemize your taxes? What tips do you have for doing so? Log in or sign up to share in the comments—and for a limited time, earn 50 bonus points for doing so!!

This post was prepared for informational purposes only and is not meant to be tax or legal advice. Please see your tax professional for additional guidance.

Valentine’s Day is a wonderful holiday to show your family that you love them. Instead of chocolate, consider giving them the gift of financial literacy, with a sprinkle of fun thrown in. Here’s how.


Get Crafty

When any holiday rolled around, my mother was famous for saying, “I just want you to make me a card.” She was smart, as the cost of buying cards can really add up. What she didn’t realize was that she was teaching me how to compare prices.


You can do this with your children by having them calculate the cost of buying their classmates store-bought cards versus homemade ones. For example, a box of 24 cards at $2.89 a package equals 12 cents a card. Compare that to a pad of construction paper that costs $4.99 and can make at least 150 cards, costing 3 cents/card.


Discuss how your children can save money by making their own cards for the next holiday or the next birthday. Sweeten the pot and tell them that if they make cards for the next year of celebrations that you will deposit the money saved into a family entertainment account.


Let Your Kids Help

When I was 7 years old, I helped my dad balance the family checkbook. My job was to read out loud the dollar amount of the check, the person it was payable to, and the corresponding check number. My dad would then check off that number in the account register. By letting me help, my dad taught me an important financial skill.


This February, let your children help you sort through the paperwork you need to file your taxes in April. Assign tasks based on their age. For example, if your child is in elementary school, have them organize last year’s bills by type and then put them in folders. Or if you have a teenager, ask him or her to create an Excel spreadsheet that lists your charitable giving in 2016. Doing this as a family will make it much more enjoyable.


I-Spy A Money Message

When I was in elementary school and my family would go on long car trips, we would play the “I spy a license plate” game. The goal was to be the first person to see a license plate from all 50 states. Why not put a spin on that idea, and have your kids notice the money messages in advertisements they see or hear on the radio this February.


For example, if the song “Can’t Buy Me Love” by The Beatles plays, then say, “I spy a message about money and love.” Or if you see sign for roses at 20% off the original price say, “I spy a message about savings.” Every money message identified gets five points, and the person with the most points at the end of the month wins.


Teaching children about money doesn’t have to be boring. Instead, make it entertaining and fun by being a little creative.

What are some of the innovative ways or fun tools you have used to financially empower young people in your life? Log in or sign up to share in the comments!

Last month, I talked about the mistakes I’ve made in my career as a financial expert. This month, I’m dishing on the money mistakes I’ve made. Because, yes, even people who write about money for a living make mistakes.


Here are some of the mistakes I’ve made and how I’m bouncing back.


Forgot The Closing Date On My Credit Card


Because I’m all about racking up points for free travel, I pay for everything with credit cards. This means I plan stuff out according to billing cycles so I can budget properly.


Well, in early January, I got my closing date mixed up. I thought it closed on the 3rd when it actually closes on the 10th. I ended up buying a bunch of stuff that was meant for the following billing cycle, leaving me with a hefty, higher than expected credit card bill of almost $3,000. Ouch.


The good news is I run my own business so I can make extra money if I need to. I took on some extra work and was, fortunately, able to cover my bills without having to dip into emergency savings.


Didn’t Save For Emergencies


This is an old story, but it taught me a valuable lesson. Back in 2014, I needed immediate oral surgery. My dental insurance was still dealing with a waiting period, so it didn’t cover anything. I didn’t have nearly enough saved up in an emergency fund, so I had to slap it on a credit card.


I was already working for myself at the time, and it was the first time I had to really hustle to pay a large credit card bill. The good news is it taught me I could always make more money if I needed to.


Overspent On Beauty Products


I’m no longer allowed to watch beauty gurus on YouTube because I’ll end up spending a bunch of money on beauty products I won’t use. I actually purchased a night serum that cost $90, and although I love it, I don’t love it that much.


This was when I noticed lifestyle inflation creeping in. I’d finally started earning more money and had just experienced my first five-figure month, so I did what most people do—I started spending more.[LR1]


The bad news here is I haven’t totally kicked it. I wish I could say I’ve nipped this one in the bud, but the reality is I have to constantly keep my eye on it because lifestyle inflation is very sneaky.


We all make financial mistakes at some point. The important thing is that we learn to bounce back from it. What mistakes have you overcome? Log in or sign up to share in the comments!

Do you know how many online accounts you have? I didn’t, so I did something about it.


What started as one of my (several) New Year’s resolutions turned into a much larger, more involved project. When all was said and done, I had counted 42 online accounts (gulp), and I am pretty sure I missed a few. 


Of these, at least half contained some type of PII (personally identifiable information), such as my name and address and/or had a bank account/credit card linked to it.


Why This Resolution?


My primary motivation was knowledge. It has become second nature to create online accounts for every app, merchant, news source, etc. Over the years, I lost track of all the accounts I had created.   This “online inventory” got me back on track. 


A second (and more useful) motivation was protection. Identify theft is a growing problem that impacts millions of people each year. The more online accounts, the more exposure you have.


Having a better handle on all my online accounts will not guarantee my information is not stolen. However, when a company is (inevitably) breached, I will now know if I need to take any additional action.


What Did I Learn?


I have far too many online accounts that I never use and will never use (MySpace, anyone)? Those were an easy “delete.” 


I also have too many accounts with PII.  I was able to edit some of these; others, I could not.


Finally, I made some much needed security updates, like changing my password from my pet’s name (old Jonathan thought that was a great idea) to something a little more secure.


In the end, this was a good exercise. It forced me to organize my digital life and become more aware of the type of information I’m sharing. 


Now, onto the next aspect of my life to be organized …


What about everyone else? Do you know how many online accounts you have and the type of information included? Log in or sign up to share your number in the comments!


It’s OK if you have a lot of confusion surrounding credit and credit reporting. I find these to be the most mysterious of all the financial literacy topics, so you’re in good company!


The credit reporting agencies have also acknowledged inconsistencies in their practices and the difficulty in working with them at times. They have recently initiated some changes to assist you as their consumers, and I thought this would be the perfect time to go over some of these changes—especially if that New Year’s resolution was to clean up that credit report!


New And Improved Sites


Something not so new is that you can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies annually at, but this site now offers a little bit more than before, including expanded educational material.


Also, if you disputed information on your free credit report, and the report was modified as a result, you will now be able to receive a new free report without waiting another year. In the case of any dispute, you will also receive information about what you can do if you don’t think the dispute was handled well or didn’t result in a change in reporting.


The three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) also launched a new website last year that I don’t think has received much fanfare. The agencies designed to inform and update you about how they are dedicated to making credit reports more accurate and to correcting errors easier.


This site will also be where you can get updates on their progress of making things more transparent for you. Their overall plan is taking place over the course of 3 years and began last year.


Credit Reporting Changes


There will be some consistent changes to debt reporting across the board. The three credit reporting agencies will:


  • Not report medical debts until after 180 days to allow insurance payments to be applied. Previously reported medical debts will also be removed from credit reports that have been or are being paid by insurance.
  • Not report debts that you didn’t sign a contract or agreement to pay back, such as fines.
  • Reject any data reported that doesn’t include a valid date of birth to help cut back on incorrect reporting.


What questions do you have about the credit reporting changes or about credit reporting in general? Log in or sign up to comment now—and for a limited time, earn 50 bonus points for doing so!


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