Chances are that you understand that you need to invest if you want to build wealth for the long haul. However, it can be difficult to feel confident about investing when you feel like you don’t have enough money to get started. It’s true that you can start investing when you have as little as $25, and can spare as little as $50 or $100 a month. But what happens when you don’t think that you have enough to do even that?

Acorns is a relatively new investing site that helps you start investing with your spare change. It’s an interesting idea that suggests that you can use your spare change to add up to something serious over time. It’s kind of like putting your spare change in a jar at the end of the day. However, rather than waiting for a coin jar to fill up, you can be earning compound interest on your change from the very beginning.

How Acorns Works

Basically, Acorns sets up as a fee-based account. You can open an account with as little as $5, and there are no minimums. If you withdraw and end up with a $0 balance, Acorns won’t charge you a fee, which is kind of cool. The fee structure is very straightforward. You pay $1 a month if your account balance is less than $5,000, and you pay an annual fee of 0.25% on accounts with more than $5,000. It’s fairly inexpensive, although once you get to a really large account, other similar services might charge less. For example, Betterment only charges 0.15% a year when you have an account balance of $100,000 or more.

You can choose to have a set amount of money put into the account each month, helping it add up over time. Or, if you want, it’s also possible for you to arrange so that your purchases are rounded up to the next dollar and the spare change is deposited into your Acorns investment account. Either way, it’s automatic. No matter how small an amount you have, you can start investing — and do it automatically.

Who Acorns Works Best For

Acorns works best for those who want to get started investing, but don’t feel like they have a lot of money to get going. It’s a good way to get your feet wet.

You can also get a lot of benefit from using Acorns if you want to use it as an emergency fund. I keep my emergency fund money in an investment account, and it’s worked out well for me. If you are looking to build up your emergency fund, with a small amount of money, this can be a great way to do so. However, you want to make sure that you are aware of the implications that come with doing so. I like using an investment account like this because it provides you with a way to boost your returns (better than a traditional savings account), while at the same time providing you with a tax deduction if you happen to end up selling at a loss when you need the money for an emergency.

Overall, Acorns is a great tool for those hoping to get started investing and who hope to start with a small amount of money.

Do you think that you are too broke to save money? One of the excuses I often hear about why someone can’t save revolves around the idea that they don’t have enough money to make it happen. In fact, I used to be one of the people who insisted that I didn’t have enough money to save.

The truth, though, is that you probably do have enough money to save — at least a little bit. The key is in making it a priority.

Americans Think They Can’t Afford to Save

According to a recent report from GOBankingRates, 37 percent of Americans are setting a goal to save this year, but many of them don’t think that they will be able to meet the resolution. Essentially, many Americans are already admitting defeat — before January is even over.

So, why do many Americans feel like they can’t save? According to the survey, the number one reason that consumers say they can’t save is that they have insufficient income. The next biggest reason is unemployment. While a case can be made that it’s difficult to save when you are unemployed, the reality is that insufficient income probably isn’t the best reason not to save. Rather than assuming that you don’t have enough money to save, the best thing you can do is to start creating a better habit of savings.

How to Start Saving — Even If You Don’t Have Much Money

So, if you don’t have much money, what can you do to start saving? The important thing is that you just get started. Too often, we get hung up on the idea that we don’t have enough money to start saving, we throw up our hands, and we do nothing. I know. I’ve been there. However, it is possible to change your outlook.

In order to start saving, the first step is to identify your expenses. Are you spending on things that you don’t need to spend on? How much money do you waste each month? Be honest about the way you use your money. If you have enough to go out to eat four or five times a month, you can cut back and find a few dollars to set aside.

One good way to start is to look for small ways to start saving. Can you set aside $1 a day? What about $5 a day? It doesn’t seem like a lot, but every bit helps, and the idea is to start identifying ways you can either cut your spending or make more money (or do both) so that you can save. It also helps you build a good habit. Make setting aside money a priority, and you’ll be in better shape going forward.

As you get used to saving, you can gradually increase how much you set aside until you are setting aside a more significant amount of money each month.

Don’t get caught by the myth that you are too broke to save. Even if you only set aside $10 a week, you are making progress. Long-term you’ll have to boost that, but as a starting point, any small amount is better than nothing.

One of the hardest situations that many consumers face is trying to deal with debt collection. Not only is having the debt stressful, but it can be even more stressful when you aren’t able to repay the debt, or if the debt is the result of a financial catastrophe, such as a lost job or a medical condition. Adding to the stress of having the debt might be the phone calls from debt collection agencies and others. While you might feel hopeless in these situations, the good news is that you have hope. You do have rights, and it’s a good idea to know them.

Phone Calls to People You Know

Sometimes, when you aren’t answering the phone or the mail, a debt collector might call your relatives, work, and friends. First of all, there was a time when debt collectors would tell people you know about your debt, embarrassing you and possibly hurting your standing in your community. Now, though, thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), collectors can’t tell others about your debt. However, they can still call and ask how to get a hold of you, without mentioning the debt.

When it comes to work, you can tell debt collectors not to call you at that location. Additionally, it’s possible to ask them to stop contacting you by phone. Send a request in writing, and they are supposed to contact you via mail. You can even ask them to stop contacting you through the mail. When you do that, they can only send you information related to a legal proceeding (if that’s what they decide to do).

While it’s hard to think straight when you have all these calls and letters coming, you still have rights. The debt collectors shouldn’t be telling others about your debt, and they shouldn’t keep calling your workplace after you tell them to stop.

Threats and Demeaning Language

The FDCPA also has regulations against what debt collectors can say to you. First of all, watch out for those who try to intimidate you by saying that you could be arrested. You can’t be arrested for failing to pay a debt, and it’s against the law for collectors to make those threats. Other threats against you, as well as demeaning language, are also forbidden by law. Debt collectors also can’t lie and pose as someone else (such as an attorney or credit counselor) to convince you to pay the debt or share information.

If you are being treated rudely by a debt collector — and this includes calls outside the mandated times of between 8 am and 9 pm local. So if you are getting calls early in the morning or late at night, someone is violating the FDCPA.

When you are subject to unfair practices, you can report the debt collection agency. Keep track of when these abuses occur, and what happens. Then, you can hire an attorney and sue in your own turn, or report to the right federal authorities. If you want more information about your rights when it comes to debt collection, you can visit the FTC web site.

It can be difficult to feel good about your financial situation, and even the rest of your life, when you are in debt. Unfortunately, debt itself can be difficult to get rid of. If you have debt, you might have a hard time paying it off if your finances are strained. Concerns about a financial situation can bring you down, especially if you feel like you won’t get out of debt.

Recent research from CreditCards.com indicates that an increasing number of consumers are concerned that they will never be able to get out of debt. Indeed, a report finds that 18 percent of Americans with debt think that they won’t be able to get rid of it. The last time CreditCards.com asked about getting out of debt, in May 2013, only 9 percent responded that they would never be able to get out.

It’s clear that, even though the economic news is improving, there are still plenty of Americans still feel as though they can’t get a leg up when it comes to paying of their debt.

When Will You Be Debt Free?

Of course, there are those who are optimistic about getting out of debt. However, even so, many of them feel as though it will be a long time before they can get out of debt. On average, Americans expect to be debt free by the time they are 53, according to CreditCards.com. However, 43 percent of those in debt think that they will be 61 or older before they manage to be debt free.

This is an indication of how pervasive debt has become in our culture. Many of us expect to use debt as part of our lives, whether we get a loan for a car, or whether we use credit cards for other purchases. It can be easy to get into debt, but it isn’t as easy to get out of debt, since you have to pay interest. The interest charged to loans means that not every dollar of your payment goes toward reducing what you owe. You might make a payment of $100, but $15 of it might go toward interest, so your debt would only drop by $85. The higher your interest rate, the more you pay — and the less your debt is reduced by.

If you want to be debt free sooner, it’s important to make large payments so that you can reduce your debt faster. You might also want to see if there is a way to reduce your interest rate so you can pay off your debt faster.

Without a plan, it’s hard to pay off debt. One of the reasons that some consumers might feel as though they won’t be able to pay off their debts is due to a lack of planning. A plan that involves reducing your spending and earning more so that you can put more money toward your debt. With the right plan, there is no reason to be in debt forever. You might even be able to get out of debt sooner than you thought.

I remember the days when I was a struggling student without much income, and without much savings. I also had a great deal of debt. If a $500 car repair came up, I had to ask my parents to lend me the money. Now, things are a little more different. I’m more fortunate in that I have savings built up, I’ve paid off the credit card debt from college, and my husband and I are building a retirement nest egg. If I needed to come up with money for that car repair, or for a $1,000 visit to the emergency room, I could.

Unfortunately, not all Americans are in that position. In fact, according to a recent Bankrate survey, most Americans wouldn’t be able to handle such an unexpected expense. The survey finds that more than 60 percent wouldn’t have the money available. Are you among that more than 60 percent of Americans?

Where Do you Get Your Emergency Money?

When you run into an unexpected expense, where does the money come from? According the survey, the top three ways that Americans would raise the money for an unexpected expense are:

  1. Reducing spending in other categories (26 percent)
  2. Borrowing from family or friends (16 percent)
  3. Using credit cards (12 percent)

All of these methods come with their own pain. Of course, using credit cards comes with the most expensive long-term consequences, especially if you can’t pay of the debt quickly. In my case, I used to borrow from my parents. And, truth to tell, if I’m in a sticky cash flow spot, I’ve asked my parents for a little help — and then promptly paid them back.

However, that doesn’t negate the fact that I should be working harder to make sure that I have the money available for emergencies without turning to other sources. It’s also a disappointing commentary on our society that even $500 is likely to undo many households.

One of the more interesting items in the survey is that not even those many of us would consider “well off” have enough set aside to cover unexpected expenses. According to the Bankrate survey, only 62 percent of those who make more than $75,000 a year have enough. It might be time for a priority switch if you make more than $75,000 a year, but don’t have $1,000 in a savings account, ready to be called into service for a car repair or to buy a new appliance if your old one breaks down.

As we start a new year, stop a moment and think about whether or not you could handle an unexpected expense. Can you pay the $500 deductible required by your homeowner’s insurance? Would you be able to handle $800 for the purchase of a new refrigerator? If the answer is no, think about making it a goal to build your short-term emergency fund to $1,000 this year. If you set aside $100 a month, you could meet that goal in 10 months. That’s about $5 every weekday. You can do that by cutting your cable, brownbagging your lunch, or taking any number of small steps to cut unnecessary expenses.

What do you think? How do you pay for unexpected expenses?

Ad Matching: Know the Policies

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

Advertisement matching with competitors is one way retailers keep you, the customer, in their store and not somewhere else. With the popularity of this kind of savings, more retailers are jumping on the bandwagon and broadening their ad-match policies to better accommodate their customers. While this is a win-win situation for consumers, it’s important to remember that ad-match policies vary widely from one retailer to the next, and this will affect your savings potential. Here are a few nuances from a few of the major retailers you probably shop with on a regular basis.

Ad match to another competitor’s price. This is the most basic form of ad matching, and is fairly universal from one retailer to the next. The main difference lies in whether or not the competitor requires you to present proof of the advertisement in a flyer or on your smart phone. Wal-Mart, for instance, no longer requires you to present ads at the register. You can even use a new feature they call Savings Catcher to scan your receipts and let them do the ad matching for you. Other retailers such as J.C. Penney are still old school and want you to bring in the paper flyer or email showing the advertisement price. Because this varies from one retailer to the next, it’s always a good idea to have some proof of the sale price with you when you purchase the item or request a reimbursement.

Retroactive price drops. Sometimes you notice something goes on sale after you’ve already purchased it, or is featured at a discounted price at another store. The good news is that you can still take advantage of the savings. Some retailers retro-actively honor competitor (or changes in their own) pricing for a period after your purchase, such as two weeks to a month. Keep your receipts and some proof of the price difference if you notice an item cheaper somewhere else after you’ve already purchased it.

Ad match an online price. This is where it gets tricky. Few retailers used to offer ad matching to online prices, but with the increasing presence of major retailers online, and the trend of shoppers towards online purchases, this category is opening up. For instance, Best Buy offers ad matching for specific online competitors, including themselves; Wal-Mart honors its .com pricing as well as major online-only retailer Amazon.

What you can’t price match. In spite of the increasing range of ad matching, some situations still aren’t accepted at most retailers, such as buy-one-get one offers without a retail value,  clearance or closeout pricing, or specific offers such as gift cards or other incentives. While these are understandable, it never hurts to ask, since policies changes continually.

Additional perks. Some competitors really go the extra mile with ad matching, such as Home Depot’s promise to match and beat their competitors’ prices by 10%. This has some restrictions, such as in-store shopping only, but is still a great way to save.

The key to successful ad matching is to know the policies (if you don’t, simply look them up online) since many employees aren’t thoroughly versed on them. In any case, it never hurts to ask for the lower price, because they might just give it to you anyway.

With the recent recession fading in memory, many consumers are getting ready to buy again — helped along by the holiday spirit. In fact, credit spending is also on the rise, according to a recent report from Experian. With the recession and the financial crisis firmly in the past, and the economy recovering, a number consumers are feeling more comfortable about taking on debt again.

Even though Black Friday shopping revenues were down this year, consumers are getting comfortable with the situation in other ways. First of all, one in 17 consumers opened at least one new bankcard this year, according to Experian. This is an increase from one in 21 consumers last year. This brings the average number of bankcards up to 2.18 — an increase of 4.2 percent.

Now that consumers are getting more bankcards, and it’s likely to change some of the shopping behaviors of many.

Debt is on the Rise Again

Not only are more consumers opening bankcards, but debt is on the rise again. Just after the financial crisis, many consumers paid down their debts, especially their credit cards. However, that’s changing now that confidence has returned. Instead of cutting up their cards, consumers are opening new cards and adding to their debt. The average debt, according to Experian, is up to $28,496 per person, which is an increase of 2.3 percent over last year.

However, even though consumers are in a buying mood, they aren’t quite ready to purchase homes. I found it interesting that, even though consumers are ready to put more on their credit cards, they aren’t ready to commit to a mortgage. Mortgage originations are down by 39 percent this year. This is somewhat surprising, since home prices remain relatively low, and mortgage rates are near historic lows. However, it seems as though a mortgage is a much bigger commitment than putting a few holiday gifts on a credit card. Some expect mortgage activity to pick up — although modestly — next year.

Are You Spending More?

Now is a good time to look at your own spending habits. Are your expenses creeping up, like the credit card use in general among consumers? What is your situation with regard to buying? Take a step back and consider where your money is going in order to avoid getting too wrapped up in the current trend.

While you might feel a little more secure in your financial situation, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea to get back into spending habits. Instead, it makes sense to see if you need to cut back a little. If you have started carrying a balance again, make an effort to reduce what you owe. If you’ve reduced your efforts to build an emergency fund, redouble the attempt. After all, if you don’t you could find yourself in trouble. The good economy won’t last forever, and there will be another down cycle at some point. The best way to prepare is to save up ahead of time, and keep debt low. That way, you won’t have as much to worry about during the next economic difficulty.

Beverage choices are a matter of personal preference, but evaluating them by their cost and health impact reveals a clear idea of which one is the absolute best for you: water. We live in a world of choices, and beverages are no exception. Who wants to drink plain water when there are so many other tastier and colorful options? We all know that sugar-laden carbonated beverage are some of the worst for us, containing empty calories and artificial flavorings. Water is the obvious choice for your health. But are soft drinks really any more expensive than drinking bottled water? That’s a good question, because honestly, many brands of bottled water are just as expensive (and in some cases, more!) as soft drinks. Beverage companies are very aware of the consumer trend toward healthier options such as vitamin-infused (but still sugar-laden) waters as well as good old-fashioned  water. With that in mind, here are some practical ways I’ve learned to save both money and my health while drinking the most natural beverage of all.

If you must drink bottled water, be a smart shopper. Some people insist that different brands of water taste superior to the tap they have at home, although I have yet to experience this. Some people do have poor-quality drinking water at home with a taste that isn’t improved by filtering. If this is you, keep in mind that you are a target for consumerism. The water that’s packaged in a slick-looking bottle with a cool brand name is essentially the same water that fills the cheap store-brand varieties. Save yourself a few dollars and buy cheap water. If you insist on being a water snob, at least look for coupon deals on large packs of it instead of buying singles every day. When you purchase water from a vending machine, you’re paying for the convenience, so keeping a pack at home in the fridge and bringing one to work with you will save you a lot of money in the long run.

For optimal savings, filter your own water at home. The best option for saving money, the environment, and your health is to filter your own water at home. It really isn’t that much work to carry a water bottle with you wherever you go. It’s become such a habit of mine that now I feel lost without it! If you don’t have filtered water at home, there are even filter-bottles you can buy that only require cheap replacement filters every few months, based on how often you use the bottle. If you have a water cooler or fountain at work, refill your bottle up there.

Make it interesting. If you find drinking plain water a chore, add some flavor without the calories or chemicals by squeezing in fresh lemon or lime, other fresh fruit, or sprigs of mint. Again, retailers are catching on to this trend and creating bottles with fresh fruit diffusor compartments. If you enjoy iced or hot tea, this is another easy option to prepare at home inexpensively. Learn to enjoy the fresh flavors of the herbs in your tea instead of adding sweeteners, or if you must, add just a touch of honey.

I cannot begin to calculate the savings and health benefits drinking water almost exclusively the last ten or so years has awarded me. Water is the best possible beverage choice for your health, and one of the few beverages you can enjoy almost anywhere absolutely free.

Most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and that means that many Americans worry about paying their bills and meeting basic living expenses.

Indeed, a recent survey from Bankrate.com indicates that 41 percent of Americans say that their number one financial priority is getting caught up on bills or staying current on living expenses. If you are living paycheck to paycheck, and trying to figure out how you can get out of your rut, here are some of the steps you can follow that might help:

Acknowledge Your Current Position

The first step to making any sort of change — including a financial change — is to acknowledge your current position. It’s not always easy to see where you are, and admit to your mistakes. Figure out where you are, and how you got here. If you are in debt, consider the actions that led to this point. No matter your situation, you can find something to improve upon. Be honest about your current and past shortcomings so that you can see what you need to address. The first step to making a good plan for the future is to know your starting point.

Know What You Can Do to Move Forward

Now that you know where you stand, you should take the time to figure out what you can do about the situation. You want to be able to move forward, and leave the past behind. Take a look at your options. Are there places where you can cut your expenses? Do you have the ability to make more money?

Combining cutting your expenses with making more money is one of the best things you can do for your financial future. Stop spending on things that you don’t need, or that you don’t like. Get your priorities in order. You should also see if you can make more money on the side, whether it’s through picking up extra shifts, starting a business, or selling things you no longer use.

Consider Making Arrangements with Creditors

If your situation is especially dire, it makes sense to prioritize your bills. Identify the bills that need to be taken care of first, and talk to your other creditors to see if there is a way to work out a payment plan. It’s hard to get on your feet when you are stuck in a vicious cycle. Sometimes, making the right arrangements with creditors and service providers can help you get to a point where you can move forward.

Changing Your Habits

None of this matters, though, if you don’t change your overall financial habits and your approach to money. The idea is to make changes that you can carry through with. This might mean a little longer getting to the point that you are no longer living paycheck to paycheck, but the long-term result should be favorable. The last thing you want to do is return to the habits that got you in trouble in the first place.

Make it a point to change your habits, and improve your situation, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the result.

Have you ever suddenly lost your job? In the recent economy, many people have found themselves robbed of life-long careers, and still a long way from retirement. This situation can leave you confused, depressed, worried about your finances, and uncertain of what to do.

First of all, don’t panic. This is easier if you’ve been setting aside a part of your income as an emergency fund for just such situations. Ideally, you should have at least one month’s worth of your basic expenses (house payment, car payment, utilities, other bills, and groceries) set aside in a format that’s not easy for you to dip in to. A ‘rainy day’ fund is not the same as an emergency fund. That being said, what if you don’t already have an emergency fund, or haven’t been able to save much yet? There are still things you can do to make ends meet until you find a new job without maxing out your credit cards. Sit tight and don’t make any rash decisions — the mental state you’re in after losing  a job isn’t ideal for making important choices that can haunt you for years to come.

Focus on your immediate financial concerns. Where are you at? Are you set financially for a little while, or do you need to quickly come up with some money? It might take crunching some numbers (don’t be afraid to ask for help!), but the first step is to determine how much of a shortage you’ll have over the next few months so you can formulate a plan for making up the difference. Keep in mind that while you may qualify for unemployment compensation, it can take up to a month to process, and will only be a fraction of your former salary. Knowing you’ll be okay for a few months (with our without unemployment insurance) will free your mind to focus on your plan for putting yourself back on the job market, starting a new career, or going back to college.

Solve your need for quick cash. If you determine you’ll need more than you have to cover your basic needs over the next few months, find ways to cut back on your expenses or liquidate some assets. One quick way to do this is to cut subscriptions, monthly clubs, satellite television, Netflix, or other unnecessary expenses. Contact your cell phone provider and see if they can cut down your plan for a few months, but keep in mind you might be using it more for job hunting. All of these changes are temporary and usually involve few if any penalties, but can quickly free up the cash you need to cover more necessarily bills and expenses while you’re out of work.

Think about items you can sell quickly that you won’t regret missing lately, such as items you were already planning to get rid of. One big check from selling something could be enough to hold you over for a while.

Put yourself out there right away, but consider your new path carefully. If you’ve learned anything about how to land a job,  you know the importance of updating your resume, utilizing social networking, getting in touch with old colleagues and mentors, handing out business cards, and following up on job leads. While all of these are important, it’s also a good time to stop and think. Instead of rushing into another dead-end job with the same threat of loss, consider the job market. Is it time to change careers? You might not even need to go back to college, but simply change the focus of your skills. You might discover you want to do something new, and losing your job, although devastating, creates an opportunity you might not have otherwise pursued.