Thursday, June 26, 2014

Test Your Skills - Financial Soccer

Has your enthusiasm for the game of soccer been kicked into high gear with the recent excitement of the World Cup?  Now you too can join in on the fun of getting away from the sidelines and onto the playing field online, while also stretching your financial knowledge muscles!
Take a timeout from your regular routine and get your head in the game - Play a round of Visa's "Financial Soccer" and see how you score!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Make the Right “BIG” Decisions – Healthy Lifestyle Decisions (pt. 5 of 5)

By Olivia Sandham 

If you’ll recall, the very first post in this series pointed to the idea that financial and lifestyle changes to improve overall wellness seemed similar because they can appear more like sacrifices and they probably wouldn’t stick in the long run.  The post concluded that trying to implement “BIG” financial and lifestyle decisions might be more worth the effort.  Since we have covered all of the financial “BIG”s in the last few posts of this series, let’s finish out the series by summarizing the “BIG” lifestyle decisions that could be made to improve your overall health.

1. Plan and Prepare Ahead:  Set aside a couple hours every few days (I use Sundays and Wednesdays, for example) to put together a healthy shopping list, buy the groceries, and portion/prepare snacks and meals in advance.

Benefits:  No more eating out because “there’s nothing in the fridge”, no more missing snacks/meals, no more microwave meals, no more worry and hassle trying to feed yourself and your loved ones (the stress alone makes me want a brownie). You can eat more healthy and more frequently, which will keep your metabolism going.  You could have more time to enjoy the meals with your loved ones, more energy from eating better, and you might even lose some unnecessary pounds.

Effort:  Planning and preparing does take some time, and certainly some effort at first if this is new to your schedule, but just like anything else you do on a continued basis, it easily becomes a habit and part of your weekly routine.  By having snacks correctly pre-portioned, vegetables and fruit already washed and cut, and meals prepared and ready to cook, you will ultimately save time and stress, which means having more free time and energy for other things.

2. Remove and Replace:  Figure out what food items are holding you back from your goals (i.e. aforementioned brownies) and remove them from your diet by replacing them with a better alternative.  You’ll be looking for less calories, less fat, less sugar, less carbs, and more protein, fiber, and vitamins.  Make small changes in your replacements so it doesn’t seem like such a leap or sacrifice.  Keep trying new and different healthy choices to see what works for you.  If you drink regular soda, try drinking juice or tea, and work your way to unsweet tea and water.  If you drink 2% or whole milk, try drinking 1% and work your way down to skim milk.  If you have a sweet tooth, replace those brownies with fruit and chocolate sauce, and eventually work your way down to eating just the fruit.  Replace your red meats with poultry by preparing them in the same fashion at first, such as using a chicken or turkey patty on your cheeseburger, or using ground turkey in your chili.  Add vegetables where you can, even if you have to add extra seasoning at first.

Benefits:  You can try new and different foods, plus fuel your body with better choices which will result in better health, focus, energy, and possibly even put you in a better mood.  And of course, you might lose some weight by choosing better food alternatives.

Effort:  This might take a little research on which foods work as good replacements and how to prepare them.  You should also pay more attention to nutrition details of items, which could take a little longer when deciding what to buy/order.  But you will be amazed how quickly your body will adapt to eating healthier food items, how little you will miss the old items, and how much better you will feel every day.

3. Focus on More:  When you think about being healthier, do the words "restrict" or "limit" or "diet" come to mind?  Why must we immediately go to the negatives when we think about being healthier?  Instead of thinking about what you could be missing or sacrificing, focus on what you WILL be getting.
  • Eat more frequently
  • Try more types of foods
  • Get more sleep
  • Drink more water
  • Do more physical activity
  • Have more energy
  • Have a more positive attitude
  • Feel more accomplished and in charge of your life
  • Possibly encounter more opportunities along the way
Benefits:  Changing your attitude, although listed as the third item in this blog, should probably be your first focus.  By focusing on MORE, everything you decide to do from here forward will be easier and seem less like a sacrifice and more like something you GET to do, GET to eat, or GET to achieve.

Effort:  This is such a simple change, but it might not be that easy.  Pay attention to your attitude when you hear that little voice inside your head, when you talk to others, and when you respond to others.  Catch yourself if you veer toward the negative or the less, and steer yourself right back on track to the positive and to the MORE.

And with that, our blog series on Making the Right Decisions concludes.  We hope you enjoyed the series and look forward to hearing how you have started making better decisions toward achieving your finance and health goals!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Make the Right “BIG” Decisions – Earn More Money (pt. 4 of 5)

By Olivia Sandham
Last week, we took a look at how renegotiating rates could be a “BIG” decision to improving your financial situation.  This week, we will conclude our discussion on “BIG” decisions by covering the final financial “BIG” and summarizing the lifestyle “BIG” decisions you could make.
E A R N   M O R E   M O N E Y
If your wallet has been feeling light or you look at your financial accounts at the end of every month and see less than you would like, you may want to consider trying to earn more money.  Here is a compilation of some of the many ways you could earn more money on a regular basis:
  • If you are paid hourly, ask your boss how you can earn more hours or overtime or what you can do to earn a raise.
  • Find a part-time job or become a temp.
  • Rent a spare room in your house.
  • Offer your own services such as  dog walking, babysitting, house sitting, running errands for the elderly, cleaning, landscaping, maintenance, carpentry, tutoring, coaching, photo/videography, graphic/web design, and more.
  • Sell your own products such as handmade crafts/jewelry, up-cycled garage sale items for resale, and fruits and vegetables from your garden.
  • Sell direct sales products such as Avon, Mary Kay, Scentsy, Tupperware, and others.
  • Become a blogger, mystery shopper, write product reviews, or complete surveys.
  • Get paid to wrap your vehicle in advertisements.
  • For more ideas on how to make money, check out this fairly comprehensive article I found while doing some research, titled “52 Ways to Make Extra Money”.
Benefits:  Obviously everyone wants to earn more money so they can have more money to spend right now, so they can worry less about expenses and bills, and have a better current lifestyle.  But many of these particular methods to earning more money also include other underlying benefits, such as:
  • You could invest more money toward your savings/investments, which could mean having a better lifestyle during retirement.
  • Since you will be working a little more for your money, you may be inclined to make better decisions with how you choose to spend/invest it. (cue music “You work hard for the money, so hard for it honey!”).
  • Using your free time wisely to earn more money might keep you from filling your free time by spending it.
  • Many of these activities may result in broadening your professional and social network, which could lead to even more opportunities to earn more money.
  • Many of the ways to earn more money could be intellectually and emotionally exciting and rewarding, since you could challenge yourself, learn something new, explore your creative side, help others, and more.
  • Some of the methods could also increase your level of physical activity and wellness, such as is the case with dog walking, landscaping, etc.
Effort:  Yes, earning more money takes a little more time and energy than some of the other financial “BIG”s explained in this blog series, but depending on how you go about earning the money can determine if the benefit is worth it.
  1. First, decide which method(s) of earning more money seem most appealing and get started on a plan for each.  For instance, if you’re going to talk to your boss, set up a meeting and prepare what you are going to say; if you want a part-time job, update your resume; if you’re going to offer products/services, make sure you have all the necessary supplies.
  2. Next, implement your plan of action by applying for jobs, notifying others of your available services/products (by using word-of-mouth or online sites like Craigslist, Etsy, Ebay, Fiverr, Facebook), signing up for direct sales programs, mystery shops, surveys, or whatever it takes to get your method actually started.
  3. Finally, when it comes time to get out there and “earn that dough”, give it your best effort.  For example, perform better at work than you ever have; impress your boss and co-workers at your new part-time job; be the best dog walker, baby sitter, landscaper, or graphic designer you can be; push yourself to sell more products; explore new and creative ways to earn more money.  When it comes time to actually earning the money, if you (as they say) “hit the ground running”, then you will be well on your way to earning more and more money as time progresses and your endeavors continue to succeed.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which will wrap up our series by summarizing the three lifestyle “BIG” decisions you could make!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Make the Right “BIG” Decisions – Renegotiate Rates (pt. 3 of 5)

By Olivia Sandham

Last week, we covered how to get started making “BIG” decisions by automating payments. This week, let’s discuss our next financial “BIG” decision that can be made with little effort and sacrifice, but can also have “BIG” results.

R E N E G O T I A T E   R A T E S

More often than we may be aware, we are charged with paying many one-time fees or paying an on-going monthly or annual rate for a service. However, with a little time, patience, and a dash of gumption, you might be able to lower or completely waive fees, or you may be able to negotiate lower rates. Here is a list of some of the fees or rates you may be able to negotiate:
  • Banking fees – Maintenance fees, transaction fees, processing fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees
  • Credit card fees – Annual fees, balance transfer fees, cash advance fees, over-the-limit fees, late fees
  • Credit card interest rates
  • Vehicle – Insurance rates, maintenance/service fees
  • Home – Rent/Mortgage rates, cleaning services, construction/renovation services
  • Cable/Phone/Internet services
  • Getting fees lowered or waived will add up in the long run.
  • Getting recurring rates lowered will save you money so you can invest or spend it elsewhere.
  • Looking into fees and rates requires paying a little attention to your accounts, statements, and bills, which can be beneficial if there are more fees or higher rates than you were previously aware.
  • Addressing fees and looking into rate changes also compels you to research what competing banks or companies are offering. No matter the outcome of the negotiation, you can make an educated decision if you want to stick with your bank or company or if a competitor might be a better fit.
  • Feeling like a "winner".  Sometimes, the smallest successes can bring that little bit of extra joy to your day, and who doesn't want a little of that?
Effort: Negotiating and saving money could happen all the time if we paid enough attention to know when the opportunity arises. For example, if you have ever talked to your server at a restaurant about poorly cooked or seasoned food, and they accommodated you somehow (remade the food, brought you a new dish, took the dish off your bill), making other negotiations is not much different.
  1. First, be prepared with the information you will need for the negotiation.
    • Know what you want changed or waived.
    • Review your account terms and have your account information handy.
    • Have a few leverage points, such as how long you have been a good customer, in what ways you have been a good customer (always paid on time, never missed a payment, always paid more than the minimum, never had xxx fees before, brought friends and family to the company), and very importantly, know what competing banks or companies are offering relevant to the item you want to discuss.
  2. Second, contact the right person to talk to about the negotiation. Usually, it’s as simple as contacting a customer service representative. Make sure to write down the date and time you called, and the name of the representative who helps you.
  3. Next, when speaking with the representative, be polite and friendly but direct. Keep your conversation simple and ask your questions clearly and straightforward. Use the following conversation tactics as examples:
    • “I see that I was charged an xxx fee, and I would like to have that waived” or “I am curious if I am eligible for a lower rate than what I am currently paying”.
    • If the rep says no, don’t give up! This is only the start of the conversation.
    • Use one of your leverage points and ask again, “I haven’t been charged any xxx fees in the xxx years that I have been a loyal customer,” or “I have paid my monthly rate on time for the xxx years that I have been a loyal customer,” and finish with the question “So, is there anything that you can do for me?” Continue using leverage points in this manner while staying calm and straightforward, always focusing on asking if there is something THEY can do for YOU.
    • Save the last bit of leverage information you have on competing companies for your final attempt, if the conversation even gets that far. “I am still wondering if there is anything you can do for me, because xxx company doesn’t charge for that type of fee at all” or “xxx company only charges xxx rate for that service.”
    • Throughout the conversation, try not to show any signs of anger or frustration. Negotiating is about being persistent while portraying confidence and knowledge, and as good as you may or may not be at it, sometimes they will simply have to tell you “no” in the end. Then at least, you can make an educated decision of whether this is the right bank or company for you.
  4. If you get the fee or rate lowered or waived, the final bit of effort is to check your online account in a few days and look on your next statement to make sure the fees were waived or the rates have been changed.
Tune in next week, where we will finish up our financial and lifestyle “BIG” decisions that can have “BIG” results with little time and effort!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Make the Right “BIG” Decisions – Automate Payments (pt. 2 of 5)

By Olivia Sandham

Last week, our blog discussed how making small financial and health decisions and changes might not work, because many small changes are either sacrifices in disguise, or the effort outweighs the outcome.  So this week, let’s take a look at the first and most extensive financial “BIG” decision that can be made with little effort and sacrifice, but can have “BIG” results.

A U T O M A T E    P A Y M E N T S

Setting up automatic payments for any type of recurring financial debit or credit can be a very beneficial decision for your financial situation.  Here is a list of many of the types of payments you could automate.

Directly deposit your wages from your employer into your bank account
Automatically pay:
- Rent/Mortgage
- TV/Cable/Internet/Cell
- Utilities
- Subscriptions
- Insurance
- Credit Cards
- Savings
- Investments (such as an Individual Retirement Account)

  • No more missing payments or making mistakes on payments.  Set up automatic payments correctly and your payments will be on time and in the exact amount you want.  With direct deposit, your money will be in your account around the same time every pay period.
  • More time for the other aspects of your life.  The amount of time it takes to set up and monitor an automatic payment (which you only have to set up the ONE time) will most likely be less than what it takes to collect, open, sort, and file the bill you receive in the mail (a process that occurs every month), and that doesn’t even include the time it takes to write the check, tear off and fill out the payment stub, stamp and fill out the envelope, and put the envelope in the mail (whew!).  Also, setting up a one-time direct deposit or automatic savings/investment payment can save time and hassle of frequent visits to the bank to deposit checks or transfer funds.
  • Save money.  You could save on checks, envelopes, ink, stamps, and the cost of fuel used for trips to the store for these items, or the bank to make your deposit.  Plus, some institutions offer better account options, waive certain fees, or supply rewards or other benefits for having automatic payments/deposits or emailed statements, because it saves on their bottom line since less paper and less labor is needed.
  • Making full payments - on time, every time - will help your credit score.
  • Eliminating all that paper and driving saves on the environment.
  • Finally, automatic payments have the flexibility to update, change, or cancel your payments with just a brief phone call or a few clicks of a button online.

  1. If you are interested in direct deposit from your employer, talk to your Human Resources department.  For most companies with direct deposit, all you need to do is fill out paperwork and supply them with a voided check, deposit slip, or letter of authorization from your bank.
  2. In order to set up automatic bill and investment payments:
    • You will first need the information for accounts you wish to automate (found on your bill or statement).
    • Next, you will want to either 1) Contact your bank and set up online bill pay, or 2) Contact the companies through which you have recurring payments and set up automatic bill pay.
    • Any of these steps can be accomplished by making a call to customer service, or setting up automatic payments online.
  3. Where possible, you may want to consider switching to companies which DO allow automatic payments.
  4. Of course, you should monitor automatic payments to make sure they are the correct amounts occurring at the correct time.  Log into your online account and look at the most recent transactions.  Remember to watch your balances, because you wouldn’t want to overdraft your payment account, or overpay a bill.
  5. For the savvy and experienced auto-payer, you could consider using a rewards credit card to pay your bills, and then pay off the full credit card balance every month.  This allows you to earn points/rewards while also making a few monthly payments from your checking account.  Again, this is ONLY recommended if you pay off the credit card balance in full every time you make a payment, because you DO NOT want to build up any more debt.
Next week, we will take a look at more of our financial and lifestyle “BIG” decisions that can have “BIG” results with little time and effort.  Stay tuned!