Going Organic on a Budget

Going organic is a great way to improve your personal health and the health of the environment. Fortunately, it does not have to mean spending big. Here’s how to go organic on a budget.

Prioritize your purchases 

If you’re on a strict budget, you likely won’t be able to go completely organic all at once. Start with what’s most important to you. You can move on to another area as the budget allows until you’ve completely embraced the lifestyle.

Buy in bulk

Look for bulk bins at your local natural grocery store for steep savings. If you can’t finish all your bulk organic purchases before they’ll go bad, partner with a friend and split the costs.    

Shop the seasons

In-season produce generally tastes better than off-season fruits and vegetables, and it’s cheaper. Choosing organic produce grown locally while it’s in-season can really bring down your grocery bill. A quick Google search can tell you what’s in season now in your area of the country.

Grow your own

If you have the time and space, consider growing your own organic greens and herbs. This way, you’ll have access to inexpensive produce that’s fresh and ready to eat. 

Shop the farmers market

Your local farmers market is a great place to find fresh, locally grown produce at affordable prices. Plus, it supports local business. 

Stalk your favorite organic brands on social media

Brands will alert followers to fantastic deals and discounts that may otherwise be missed. As soon as you find an organic food brand you love, follow it on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. This way, you’ll never miss a sale.

Look for store brands

Lots of grocery stores now offer their own line of organic products. These tend to be cheaper than companies that are not affiliated with a specific store. 

Shop smart

Finally, follow the basic rules for smart shopping to save on your purchases. Plan your menu around the sales, shop with a list and take a smaller cart, or even a basket. If all else fails, shop with cash. 

Follow these tips to make the switch to an organic lifestyle without breaking the bank. 

Travel Hacks 1 of 12: 5 Ways to Save on Airfare

Planning a trip overseas? Airfare will probably be your largest vacation expense. Fortunately, there are many ways to save on airfare to leave you with more to spend while at your destination. Here’s a list of five ways to save on airfare.

1.      Be flexible with dates and destinations

If you’re willing to be flexible about the dates and destination, you can potentially save hundreds on your airline ticket. Instead of choosing a date and destination for your vacation and then searching for the best prices, select a date and destination based on the best available deals. 

2.      Shop smart online

Harness the power of technology to score the best airfare price. Searching sites and apps, like ExpediaOrbitz and Priceline, is like using multiple travel agencies to find the best flights for your vacation. Kayak, another popular travel app, plugs your preferred dates into its search engine and searches airline sites and agency sites to provide you with all the prices and options available. 

3.      Act quickly to snag mistake fares

When an airline accidentally discounts a ticket, you can snag a flight for as much as 90% off its conventional price. Mistake fares get snatched up fast, so check your favorite airlines and flight apps often so you don’t miss a deal. 

4.      Consider booking with a foreign currency

If you’ll be flying a foreign carrier, it may be cheaper to pay for your ticket with the local currency of your destination. Before paying for your flight, check to see if it’ll cost less if you don’t pay in dollars. It can sometimes actually cost more this way, but you can often save a lot by simply changing your location from the U.S. to your destination.

5.      Book early

You’ll typically find the best deals on international flights 3-6 months before the departure date. If you’ll be traveling during peak times, like summer or during holiday seasons, start your ticket search even earlier. Flights are updated constantly, so check often to get the best deal.

Use the tips outlined here to get the best deal on your tickets and keep your vacation budget intact. Happy travels!

Don’t Get Caught in a Non-Delivery Scam

With the holidays coming up, and online shopping reaching its annual peak, scammers are out to get at your money and your stuff. There are loads of scams to watch for this time of year, from online “retailers” phishing for information as you shop to thieves swiping delivered packages from doorsteps and so many more. The non-delivery scam can be particularly difficult to spot, and recovery is nearly impossible. Here’s what you need to know about this scam.

How the scam plays out

In a non-delivery scam, a shopper makes an online purchase, often at a deep discount. Unfortunately, though, the promised package never arrives. After weeks of waiting, the shopper may try reaching out to the seller, only to find that the seller’s gone AWOL,

along with the victim’s chances of recovering their money and/or their purchase.

Protect yourself

Here’s how to protect yourself against non-delivery scams:

  • Never click on links or open attachments of unsolicited emails or on social media.
  • Keep your device’s security at its strongest settings. 
  • Opt-out of websites that are full of typos and/or grammatical errors.
  • Check each website’s URL for authentic spelling and signs of security, like the “https” and padlock.
  • Research every new seller when shopping before sharing any information or making a purchase.
  • Avoid making payments by prepaid gift cards or wire transfer. When shopping online, it’s best to use a credit card.
  • Stay away from sellers who advertise as if they are residents of the U.S. and then respond to questions by claiming they are out of the country.
  • Be wary of items with prices that are too good to be true–they probably are!

If you’re targeted

If you believe you’ve fallen victim to a non-delivery scam, there are steps you can take to mitigate damage. 

First, if you’ve paid by credit card, call the company to dispute the charge as soon as you recognize the scam. Next, alert the FTC about the scam so they can do their part in catching the crooks. If the alleged retailer is on the BBB website, you can let them know, too. 

Shop smartly this season and follow the tips outlined here to avoid getting scammed. Stay safe!

Last Minute Holiday Hacks

The holidays are nipping at your heels and there’s still a lot to do! It probably seems like your stress levels keep rising while the money in your wallet keeps dwindling. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of planning and by following these holiday hacks, you can enjoy a stress-free and affordable holiday season. Not buying what we’re selling? Well, continue reading to find out how:

Clear the clutter for cash

Before the holidays, browse your closets for clothing in good condition you no longer wear. Sell these on resale sites like eBay and Craigslist. You’ll make room for any incoming gifts and give your holiday budget a little wiggle room at the same time.

Shop small businesses

Avoid crowds and enjoy a wider selection of gift items by shopping small businesses this holiday season. Independently owned stores are more likely to be fully stocked, even late in the season. As a bonus, you’re more likely to land unique gifts, and you’ll be helping local businesses stay afloat during these trying economic times.

Suggest a Secret Santa exchange

If the gift-shopping is getting to be a bit much, consider cutting back by suggesting a Secret Santa gift exchange. You’ll only need to buy one gift instead of one for everyone in an entire group, and the surprise factor makes it super-fun. 

Round up your change

It’s never too late to start saving for the holidays! As you shop, use a money app like Acorn to round up your charge to the nearest dollar, and save the change in a specific account. Small change can add up quickly and help offset the amount you’ll need to come up with in your overall budget.

Delegate

If you’ll be hosting events this holiday season, delegate jobs to your guests. Everyone will appreciate the opportunity to pitch in, and it’ll be more helpful for you if you can assign specific jobs to each guest, instead of having three different people show up with apple pies. 

Shop during non-peak hours

Peak business hours, which start in the early afternoon and run until evening, will have the biggest crowds and emptiest shelves. If you can get to the store early in the day, you’ll enjoy a full selection that you can peacefully browse before crowds show up. Stress-free shopping also means you’re more likely to make responsible spending decisions. Win-win!

Use the tips outlined here for a stress-free and budget-friendly pre-holiday season.

How Can I Save on Holiday Shopping?

Q: The holidays always have me worried about money. With inflation soaring, I’m more stressed than ever. How can I save on my holiday shopping this year?

A: If you’re worried about making it through the holiday shopping season in the midst of record inflation, you’re not alone. A recent survey shows that 59% of American shoppers are stressed about buying holiday gifts due to higher prices this year. With some careful planning, though, you can enjoy stress-free holiday shopping. Here are seven easy ways you can save.

1.      Shop early

Experts are urging shoppers to hit the stores earlier than normal this year to take advantage of early-season sales. Lots of big-box stores are struggling with a supply surplus thanks to an inflation-triggered decline in demand. This will likely lead to sales events to make room for more current inventory. Shop these sales for big savings.

2.      Set a budget

Before you start shopping, build a reasonable budget for your holiday shopping. Make your budget easier to keep by allocating a specific amount for every gift, shopping with cash and/or reviewing your budget often. 

3.      Shop with a list

Instead of blindly hitting the stores, make a list of every gift to buy for friends and family. You’ll be far more likely to stay within budget when your purchases are pre-planned. 

4.      Leave some last-minute shopping for Green Monday

While it’s best to do the bulk of your shopping early in the season, you can leave some last-minute gift-shopping for Green Monday on Dec. 14. This is when retailers make their final pre-holiday markdowns. 

5.      Think outside the box 

If ever there was a holiday season to get creative with gifting, this is it. Retail inventories are full of products that were backed up during the post-pandemic supply-chain disaster. Think furniture, home decor and more. While these items may not be typical holiday gifts, there’s no real reason you can’t delight a loved one with a new office chair, exercise bike or coffee organizing station.

6.      Give gift cards

Protect your gift list against inflation by giving some gift cards. You can find discounted cards on sites like GiftCardGranny and CardCash, or use cash-back apps to earn them at no cost. Gift cards are easy to shop for, easy to budget for and appreciated by the receiver.

7.      Use apps to save

In 2022, there are so many apps that can help you spend less on your shopping, and even put money back into your pocket. Try coupon-scanning apps like Honey, cash-back apps like Ibotta and points apps like Drop to save this season.

Use the money-saving tips offered here to shop for the holidays without breaking your budget. 

‘You Better Watch Out’ for Holiday Shopping Scams!

The Holiday Season is quickly approaching, and scammers ‘see you when you’re shopping’ online and know how to trick you out of your money! Here are some quick tips that will help you avoid fraudulent retailers and ensure that you get what you pay for.

1. Maintain Your Account Awareness

Set up appropriate E-Alerts for your accounts and monitor your activity regularly. It’s especially important to monitor your accounts if while using your account information you notice anything abnormal while performing online payments.  If you haven’t already, set up E-Alerts by logging in to your E-Teller Online Banking account at OleanAreaFCU.org.

2. Don’t Purchase Anything Via Social Media Links

While you can find legitimate advertising on social media, it’s best to research the sale yourself via your browser, on the retailer’s official website. This way you avoid potential fraud, as scammers can easily copycat legitimate websites and advertisements.

3. Don’t Click on Links in Email or Text Messages

Even if you’ve subscribed to a particular retailer to stay up to date on sales, that doesn’t mean the ad you just received is legitimate. Scammers can duplicate or closely imitate advertisements from trusted companies. Your safest bet is to visit the official website of the retailer and look for the sale there.

4. Only Use Gift Cards on Trusted Websites

If you have a gift card you’d like to use for holiday shopping, be sure to use it with the retailer it’s associated with. If it’s a gift card that can be used anywhere, only use it on trusted websites. Do not use it in places like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. If the seller is a fraud, you won’t be able to get your money back.

5. Don’t Pay with Cryptocurrency or Wire Transfer

These forms of payment are nearly impossible to trace, so if you pay a scammer, you’ll likely never see that money again.

6. When in Doubt, Use Your Credit Card

Any legitimate online retailer will accept credit cards. If you’re interested in purchasing from a company you’re unfamiliar with, first do your research to see if anyone has complained about the company. If there are no red flags, make the purchase with your credit card and save the order confirmation. This way if there are any issues with your order, you can dispute the charges.

7. Be Extra Suspicious of Deals that are Too Good to be True

If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t fall prey to scammers looking to steal your information and ruin your credit. Validate the deal by navigating to the sale directly through the retailer, not through the link or ad you received.

8. Report Scams Immediately!

If you make a payment to a fraudulent retailer, call your financial institution right away. You can contact Olean Area FCU by calling 800-854-6052. Then, report the scam at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and at IC3.gov. And lastly, inform your friends and family! If you were tricked into a holiday shopping scam, then someone you care about could be next.

Cash, Credit or Debit – How Should I Pay?

Q: When paying for my everyday and occasional purchases, should I be using cash, credit, or debit?

A: Some purchases should be paid for with cash, some with a credit card and others with a debit card. Let’s take a closer look at each method and when they should be used.

When should I use cash?

Some retailers offer discounts for paying in cash, making it the wise go-to. Also, if you have a tough time sticking to your budget when shopping, it can be helpful to only take along the cash you plan to use. Finally, some small businesses only accept cash payments. 

On the flip side, cash offers no purchase protection and should not be used for large purchases. Also, cash leaves no paper trail, so it may be difficult to track expenses. Finally, cash always carries the risk of being lost or stolen. 

When should I use my credit card?

Credit cards are the double-edged sword of personal finance. Credit card debt is a leading cause of consumer debt. However, owning credit cards and using them responsibly is a crucial part of your credit rating

Credit cards also offer two primary advantages: rewards and purchase protection. Many credit cards can earn rewards as you spend on them, so it earns you something for your use. The purchase protection a credit card offers also makes it the ideal choice for paying for large purchases. In addition, using a credit card and making on-time payments can help boost your credit score while also making expense tracking easy. 

Ideally, credit cards should only be used to cover fixed or steady payments and for purchases you know you can pay in full when the bill is due. 

When should I use my debit card?

Debit cards allow you to track your spending and help you stay within budget since you can generally only spend what you have. In addition, if your card is lost or stolen, you can cancel it and/or close the connected account. 

Debit cards can be a great choice for everyday purchases of any kind. At Olean Area Federal Credit Union, you can actually earn rewards with your debit card if you have a myRewards Checking account! Learn more here: https://www.oleanareafcu.org/personal-accounts/checking-accounts/rewards-checking/

Use this guide to help you choose the right payment method in every situation. 

Back-to-School Shopping Hacks

It’s back-to-school season, but that doesn’t mean you need to break your budget. Here’s six back-to-school shopping hacks to get you started.

1.      Take inventory

Don’t set foot in a single store without first checking to see what you have at home. Keep a running list of everything you find so you know exactly what you have before you spend anything on new supplies and clothing. 

2.      Shop with a list

And we’re not talking about the list of required supplies your child’s school or teacher has sent home. When shopping for anything, it’s best to start out with a clear goal of what you plan to buy.  This way, you’ll be less likely to overspend and come home with stuff you don’t really need.

3.      Divide and conquer

The circulars are packed with specials on school supplies all summer long. The problem is that, while one store is offering a crazy-low deal on crayons this week, another is running a super sale on pencils – and the stores are across town from each other. Keep your savings and your sanity, by teaming up with another school parent. Divide the school supply list between, pooling costs and savings.

4.      Let your kids choose some items on their own

Teach your kids a lesson in budgeting by allowing them to shop for one or more of the costlier items they need on their own. Set a reasonable budget together, but let your child do the actual choosing and paying. To encourage thriftiness, you can offer to allow your child to keep the change. 

5.      Save some stuff for later

There’s no need to purchase a complete autumn wardrobe before Labor Day. Waiting a bit for the mid-season sales will save you a ton of money. 

If your kids are in need of some bigger ticket items this year, consider applying for a low-interest loan from Olean Area Federal Credit Union!

Use these hacks to cash in on savings this back-to-school season. 

Don’t Get Caught in a Shopping Scam!

When shopping moved online, it created a wave of new scams. Many of them can be difficult to spot and offer no way for the victim to reclaim lost funds. Here’s how to recognize an online shopping scam. 

How these scams play out

There are several variations to the online shopping scam

In one version, a shopper decides to purchase an item online and completes the transaction. Unfortunately, the item will never show up. If it does, it’s a cheap knockoff of the product, instead of the item that was purchased. 

In another variation, a shopper finds an item online and tries to make a purchase. They’ll be asked for sensitive info, such as their checking account number. The shopper will be unable to complete the transaction and will run into repeated site errors. Unfortunately, the scammers now have their information and can empty their accounts, or worse.

In a third version, a seller clicks on an ad, or on a site that came up in a Google search for one of their favorite stores. They’ll proceed to make an order, not knowing they’ve clicked into a scammer’s fake site. The rest of the scam will follow one of the scenarios described above. 

Red flags

Watch out for these warning signs that you may have stumbled upon a shopping scam:

  • Prices are too good to be true. 
  • The offer urges you to act now. 
  • The seller demands a specific means of payment
  • The website is full of typos. 

Stay safe

Follow these tips to keep yourself safe from online shopping scams:

  • Only shop on safe, secure sites. 
  • Check the URL for proper spelling of reputable sites to ensure you haven’t landed on a look-a-like site. 
  • Avoid clicking on high-pressure pop-up ads. 
  • Pay with a credit card when shopping online.
  • Never share personal information with an unverified contact.

If you’re targeted

If you’ve fallen victim to an online shopping scam, take these steps to fix the damage:

Call the company to dispute the charge if you paid by credit card. At this point, you may want to place a credit alert on your name. Next, alert the FTC . Finally, let your friends know about the scam.

Stay safe!

4 Ways to Stay Financially Fit this Summer

Ahh… summer! The season of flip-flops and sunscreen, of lemonade and baseball. What’s not to love?

Unfortunately, summer can also be the season of overspending for some of us. When the sun is blazing across a cloudless sky and the day stretches on with endless possibilities, purse strings are looser and cards are swiped with abandon. But nothing kills summer fun like a busted budget and a mountain of debt. So how can you stay financially fit this summer?

Keeping your finances intact throughout the summer is possible if you’re ready to plan ahead and make responsible choices. Here are four tips for a financially fit summer. 

1.      Prepare for a possible change in income

If you’re a freelancer, business owner or get paid per diem, expect to see a drop in income during the summer. Business is notoriously slower across many industries at this time, so it’s best to be prepared for this reality. To avoid dipping into savings or going into debt, trim your discretionary spending and use the extra funds to cover non-discretionary expenses. You can also choose to find a side hustle for the summer to cover the gap in your income. 

2.      Get your budget summer-ready

Your budget will see some changes in the summertime, and it’s wise to prepare it in advance instead of being caught unaware. Here are some changes you might expect:

  • Higher utility bills 
  • Increase in fuel prices 
  • Travel expenses
  • Increased activities for kids

3.      Create a vacation budget 

Build a workable budget for your summer getaway to avoid overspending. Attach a dollar amount for your hotel stay, car rental, food costs, transportation, entertainment and outings as well as any other costs you expect to encounter during vacation. 

4.      Review and adjust as necessary

Blowing a budget is never an excuse to go all out and overspend without considering the consequences. To avoid falling into this trap, review your budget and your overall spending on a regular basis throughout the summer. Being aware of the state of your finances will make it easier to make responsible choices going forward. 

Follow these tips to keep your finances intact throughout the summer. 

10 Fun Gifts for Dad that Don’t Break the Budget

It’s Dad’s time, a day to go all-out to make your all-time favorite hero happy. But, Father’s Day doesn’t have to drain your wallet. You can make Dad’s day and keep your budget, too. Here are 10 fun and low-cost gifts that’ll make Dad smile.

1. Apple charging dock

This awesome charging dock can juice up an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods all at the same time. Get Dad’s 3-in-1 charging station for just $19 on Amazon

2. BenShot pint glass with real golf ball

Does Dad love to golf? Surprise him with this unique pint glass with a real embedded golf ball. Just $26 on Amazon.

3. Classic charades

The classic game of Charades, just $12 at Chroniclebooks.com, will help create warm family memories way beyond Father’s Day.

4. Open bottle wine rest

This adorable mountain-shaped wine bottle rest is the perfect gift for the outdoorsy dad who loves to enjoy a good glass of wine and save the rest for later.

5. Rainbow socks pizza socks box

The pizza-box packaging of these socks make them a super-fun Father’s Day gift. Just $26 on Amazon

6. Bluetooth speaker beanie

With its built-in Bluetooth speakers and a super-warm design, Dad won’t want to take this beanie off all winter! Just $28 on Amazon.

7. Fitness dice

At-home workouts are fun again with this innovative fitness dice set. Every roll gives you one of 45,000 possible routines, all are equipment-free. Only $19 at uncommongoods.com.

8. Bean Box coffee subscription

If Dad likes his morning cup of Joe, he’ll love a regular delivery of fresh bags of whole bean coffee from artisanal brand Bean Box. Subscriptions start at just $16.50.

9. Chillsner

Dad will never have to wait for his drink to chill again when he has this nifty little gadget. Keep the Chillsner in the freezer and pop it into any drink for an instant chill. $10 at uncommongoods.com.

10. Marvel’s greatest comics

Let Dad dive into an anthology of the greatest Marvel comics of all times, including favorites like Iron Man, Captain America and more. Get the collection here.

Use this guide to find the perfect gift for Dad that doesn’t break the budget.

The Ultimate Grad Gift Guide

Celebrate with your grad and show them how proud you are of their accomplishments with these low-cost, awesome gifts!

1.      ID lanyard

Make it easy for your grad to carry their ID and wallet around campus or workplace. Super-cute and durable, these lanyards are the perfect graduation gift. 

2.      ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’

You can’t go wrong with this Dr. Seuss classic! Whimsical, yet inspirational, it’s a great read for the older teen setting off into the big world of adulthood. 

3.      College survival kit

Hit the dollar store to scour the aisles for a big basket, filling it with all sorts of stuff to make a college survival or house/apartment warming kit. Include essentials, like flip flops and hair ties, kitchen utensils and hand soap. Have a bit of fun with extras, like Bluetooth speakers, wall decals and more!

4.      “Open when” letters

Pen some letters for your grad to open at key milestones and/or more challenging times, such as after the first round of final exams, when feeling homesick, when needing a laugh, etc. Your letters will be the gift that keeps on giving throughout their first year outside the nest.

5.      Picture collage

Help your grad have the most awesomely decorated room in college with a fantastic homemade picture collage! Check out their social media pages for their best snapshots and put together a low-cost, meaningful gift they’ll always treasure.

6.      Laundry essentials

Spring for an adorable laundry hamper and fill it with all your grad needs to master the wash. Think detergent, dryer sheets, stain-remover and more. Add a cute note, like “Have LOADS of fun in college!” to complete the gift. 

7.      Chef’s special

Fill a big mixing bowl, Bundt pan or other large basin with all they need to master the kitchen. You can load it up with spatulas, measuring cups and spoons, a cute apron, oven mitts, a skillet and more. You can also add one of the many college cookbooks you’ll find on sites like Amazon.

Use these ideas to find the perfect low-cost gift for your grad. 

Step 5 of 12 to Financial Wellness: Practice Mindful Spending

Creating and deciding to stick to a budget is easy; actually carrying through on your plan is the hard part. For many people, a big part of the gap between what they want to do and what they actually do is caused by their failure to spend mindfully. When every buy is just a swipe away, it can be super-tough to rein in that spending instinct – but it is possible. Here’s how to learn the art of mindful spending

Find alternative ways to de-stress

Choosing to go shopping to reduce stress, deal with challenges or just to escape real life for a bit makes it difficult to make smart, responsible choices. In addition, the bills or extra debt you’re creating will just power-up your stress levels in the long run. Instead, find another way to lift heavy moods. Find someone to talk to, take a long, hot bath, go for a jog while zoning to your favorite pick-me-up playlist or take up a forgotten hobby again. 

Consider disabling the one-click feature for online shopping

If you’re big into online shopping and often end up buying more than you’d planned, consider disabling the one-click feature on sites like Amazon. You can also choose not to have your device “remember” your payment information, so you have to input it whenever you shop, so there is more resistance for your purchases. It may give you just enough pause to reconsider.  

Put large purchases on hold

One of the best ways to avoid buyer’s remorse is to put all large purchases on hold. Set your own dollar threshold for what you consider to be a large purchase and resolve to wait a while before completing any purchase in this amount. This, too, will give you time to think about it and allow you to consider whether you really want to spend this money now. 

Avoid temptation

It’s hard to keep telling yourself no when temptation is constantly flashing across your screen. Opt out of social media accounts that get you to spend more than you should and unsubscribe from email lists. Avoid browsing on brand sites that trigger overspending and only visit when you need to buy something. 

Mindless spending can be the undoing of the most carefully crafted budget. Follow these tips to learn how to spend mindfully.

How to Save Big Bucks by Brown-Bagging Your Lunch

Did you know that choosing to bring your own lunch to work each day can save up to $3,000 a year? Each takeout lunch can easily cost $12 more than a homemade meal. If you’d put that money into an index fund and contribute to it for 25 years, you can save $500,000! 

Unfortunately, too many people end up buying out each workday because they don’t realize how much it costs them, or they simply fail to plan ahead. Others may think it would be too much of a hassle to shop for, prep and bring along lunch from home.

You can use this handy calculator to determine how much you can personally save each year just by brown-bagging it to work each day. And, if you find the idea of prepping lunch five days a week a bit overwhelming, you can choose to bring lunch from home on specific days of the week. 

Here are some hacks for brown-bagging it to work with all the savings and none of the hassle. 

Plan your menu and shop for it early

Don’t get stuck staring at the contents of your fridge and wondering what to take to work seven minutes before you need to leave in the morning.  Plan your lunch menu early in the week and add whatever you’ll need to your grocery list. To save even more, shop the sales and the seasons, and then base your lunch menu around those items. 

Marathon-prep at the beginning of the week

The thought of prepping lunch at the end of a long workday when all you want to do is veg out on the couch can be daunting. Instead, hold a marathon session at the beginning of the week to do as much labor-intensive lunch prep as you can. Slice and dice all your veggies for the week, split dressing into small containers, cook your pastas, wash fruit and tackle any other prep that can be done in advance. This way, you’ll only need to grab what you need each day from the fridge instead of facing an entire meal to prep and package. 

Partner up

It’s never easy to be the odd one out, and if you set yourself up to be the only one pulling out a homemade lunch while the rest of the office packs out to pick up lunch or orders in, you can end up giving up and joining the crowd. Try to find a like-minded partner to brown-bag it with you on the days you choose to bring lunch from home. Eat your lunches together; the companionship will make it easier for both of you to stick to your convictions.

Love your leftovers

Save even more money, and make lunch prep easier, by bringing dinner leftovers with you for lunch. You can repurpose a leftover protein to serve as a salad-topper or sandwich-stuffer, bring along a container of soup to warm up in the office microwave, or beef up your work lunch with some leftover rice, quinoa or another side dish. 

Brown-bagging it to work when everyone else is ordering takeout isn’t easy, but by using the tips outlined here, you can save a boatload of money on work lunch without the hassle. 

5 Gifts for Mom that Don’t Break the Budget

It’s time to show Mom how much she means to you! But… if the idea of Mother’s Day fills your brain with ideas of pricey chocolates, flowers and other gifts, along with a busted budget, you may be going about this the wrong way. Don’t fret, though. We can help! Here’s five ways you can show your mom how much you care without draining your wallet. 

1.      A customized journal

A beautiful notebook for journaling can make a wonderful gift for Mom. You can turn it into a more personalized gift by adding inspirational quotes she’ll enjoy, gluing dried and pressed flowers onto random pages and even adding some of your favorite snapshots of you and her. 

2.      For the coffee-lover

If your mom can’t start her morning without her favorite cup of Joe, which is always iced when it’s warm outside, consider purchasing a Cold Bruer for $80. For a less expensive gift, which can also be perfect for the coffee-loving mom, consider an adorable pair of coasters from Etsy or a mug with a snappy mom message, like this one from Amazon

3.      A day to remember

Why not gift Mom with the best gift of all: a day in the company of everyone she loves? Plan a family day with Mom at the center and include all of her favorite things, from delish meals to her favorite parks and walking trails. 

4.      Peace and quiet

If you’ll be presenting a gift to your partner and you’ve got some little ones at home, consider giving their mom a day to herself. Take the kids out for the day so she can enjoy a rare afternoon alone in a quiet, clean house. 

5.      A homemade creation

No one is as proud of the things you can create as much as your mom. Make something for her this Mother’s Day to show her just how much she means to you. It can be a homemade bath kit to help her relax, a full, nicely packaged meal of her favorite foods or even a scrapbook of your best shared moments. 

Use the ideas shared here to help the mom in your life celebrate the best Mother’s Day without spending much money at all. 

Don’t Get Caught in a QR Code Scam

Scammers are always dreaming up new ways to con people out of their money. Recently, they’ve figured out a “quick” way by hijacking QR codes. Here’s what to know about QR code scams and how to avoid them. 

What’s a QR code? 

Before we explore this scam, let’s get the skinny on QR codes. A QR code is a square barcode that can be scanned using a smartphone. It goes directly to a website or app. Businesses use QR codes for many reasons, like posting online menus, scanning coupons, processing payments and more. 

How the scam plays out

In a QR code scam, a scammer replaces a legitimate QR code with their own. A target scans the bogus code thinking it’s legit. They make a payment for a transaction and, unfortunately, the target has sent their money right to the scammer. Often, the scam also gives the scammer access to the victim’s phone and information

How to avoid a QR code scam

When scanning a QR code, practice basic safety measures. Check the URL that the QR code directs you to for common signs of a secure site, including a lock icon and an “s” after the “http”. If the webpage or app seems suspicious, get out. You can access the merchant’s payment portal by visiting their app or website directly. The FBI also advises against downloading an app from a QR code and/or downloading a QR code scanner app. 

When using a QR code, look for these red flags:

  • The URL is different from the home site.
  • The QR code is posted on a public sign or notice that looks tampered with.
  • The site or app the code directs you to is full of typos. 

If you were scammed

If you’ve used a QR code to pay for a transaction and then received an email from the company claiming you’ve never completed the payment, or that the payment failed, you may be the victim of a QR code scam. Let the real company know its QR code has been tampered with, call your financial institution, and alert the FTC

Stay alert and stay safe!

Beware of Sport Ticket Scams

Sport ticket scams can make the best game go foul. Here’s what to know about these scams and how to avoid them. 

How the scams play out

In a sport ticket scam, a target clicks on an online ad to buy tickets to a live sporting event. They enter their info and choose seats. Next, they’ll input their credit card info, complete the payment, and wait for confirmation. But the wait never ends! Unfortunately, the virtual tickets aren’t coming, and the seller has ghosted the victim. To make matters worse, the scammer now has the personal info and card details for more scamming shenanigans. 

In another version of the sport ticket scam, the victim gets an e-ticket after completing the transaction. But this ticket is useless. It is either counterfeit with bogus barcodes and logos or a copy of an actual ticket that has already been sold to other buyers.

The dos and don’ts of purchasing sport tickets:

Do:
  • Buy the tickets using a credit card rather than a debit card, gift card, or cash.
  • Check out the seller before agreeing to the purchase. 
  • Buy tickets at the venue box office.
  • Buy tickets from authorized brokers and third-party sellers after verifying their contact information. 
  • Research the seller by looking for a safe website and a legitimate physical address and phone number. 
  • Do a quick online search for negative reviews about the seller. 
  • If the site requires a login and password, be sure to use a unique password.
  • Verify that the tickets have the correct date and time before confirming your purchase. 
Don’t:
  • Don’t wire money to pay for tickets.
  • Don’t pay for a ticket from an unknown reseller before seeing it.
  • Don’t meet a private ticket seller alone or in a low-traffic area.
  • Don’t trust online search results for ticket sellers without researching each one well.  

If you’ve been scammed

If you believe you’ve been targeted by a sport ticket scam, there are steps to take to mitigate the damage and to help stop the scammers. First, if you’ve paid with a credit card, be sure to dispute the charge, cancel the card and ask to be issued a new one. Next, report the incident to the FTC. Finally, let your family and friends know about your experience to help them avoid becoming a victim. 

Stay alert and stay safe!

What to Buy and What to Skip in February

Are you looking to snag some bargain buys this month? We’ve got you covered! Here’s what to buy and what to skip this February. 

Buy: TVs

Whether you’re a diehard football fan or love to binge watch, you can pick up fantastic deals on big-screen TVs in February. These sales often continue through President’s Day and may even run until the end of the month. 

Skip: Flowers

Flowers have their big day in mid-February, but that doesn’t mean fresh blooms are discounted this month. In fact, you’re better off skipping flowers in February and finding another way to express your love.

Buy: Winter gear 

Retailers generously mark down winter gear this month as they make room for the spring stock. Prices on sporting equipment, like skis and snowboards, can be slashed by up to 30%. You can find winter clothing discounted by as much as 80%!  

Skip: Electronics

Aside from TVs, you’ll want to skip all major electronic buys this month. You’re better off purchasing them during Black Friday sales in November. If you can’t wait that long, you can also pick up great deals on electronics during “Black Friday in July” events.

Buy: Furniture

Pick up some beautiful new furniture at great prices during Presidents Day sales, which can run for a full week or two. Be sure to check out prices at several stores before splurging on a big-ticket item since prices on furniture can vary between retailers.

Skip: Fitness equipment and gym memberships

Fitness equipment and gym memberships are at their lowest in January to attract the hordes of people seeking to get fit in the New Year. By February, markdowns on workout gear and promotional offers on gym memberships are gone – and you won’t see them again until warmer weather sets in. 

Buy: Jewelry

During the second half of February, prices on jewelry plunge up to 80%. Hold onto your bargain-priced jewel buys until Mother’s Day, your love partner’s birthday or your shared anniversary. 

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How Can I Save on Super Bowl Sunday?

Q: How can I save big on costs when hosting a party for the big game on Super Bowl Sunday?

A: Super Bowl parties are always great fun, but hosting costs can add up just like Jonathan Taylor piling on the rushing yards. So, we’ve put together some hacks to help you pull off the party of a lifetime without breaking your budget

Don’t fumble the decor

Keep the decor simple with free printables of your team’s logo from sites like Pinterest, and by choosing party goods in your team colors instead of branded items. You might also hit the dollar store to score some fun football-themed party supplies. 

Tackle the food together

Ask your guests to help with the food coverage. You can go potluck and have everyone bring one dish, order takeout and split the bill or set up a spreadsheet with all the menu items and have each guest choose one to bring along. 

Skip the Super Bowl platters

Fast-food chains and grocery stores aggressively advertise “game day platters” ahead of Super Bowl Sunday, but these are rarely worth the cost.  Instead, make your own for a fraction of the price and just a few minutes of work.  You can slap together some extra-long hero sandwiches and cut them up for an easy sub platter.  For your health-conscious guests, slice up everyone’s favorite veggies and add a dip for a low-cost veggie platter.

Save on pizza

If you’re going with a pizza party, consider doing it partially homemade by picking up some frozen pies at a great price from your local grocery store. Just pop them in the oven before the party. If you want it hot-from-the-pizza-store fresh, reach out to a few local pizza places ahead of time to see if they’ll be offering any specials, and see who’s offering the best deal. 

Consider your lineup

When setting up your buffet, place more affordable items at the head of the line. These are typically grabbed first, and putting them front and center, with the pricier stuff in the back, will help to ensure you don’t run out of any buffet item too quickly or blow your budget on one pricey food. 

Use the tips outlined above to keep costs down while throwing a Super Bowl party that’s fit for champions. 

12 Steps to Financial Wellness – Step 1: How to Track Your Spending

Tracking your spending is the first step toward greater financial awareness and overall financial health. But mastering this skill is easier said than done. How can you track every dollar you spend when you make multiple daily purchases?

We’ve outlined how to track your spending in 3 easy steps. 

1. Choose your tools

Tracing every dollar’s journey isn’t easy, but with the right tools you can make it quick and simple. Choose from one of the following money-tracking techniques: 

  • Budgeting apps. If your life happens on your phone, download a budgeting app like YNAB or Mint to help track your spending. Both apps allow you to allocate a specific monthly amount of money for each spending category and enable you to track your spending with just a few clicks. 
  • Spreadsheet. If you like to see everything spelled out clearly, a spreadsheet might be a good choice. You’ll need to record every transaction, but if you prepare the sheet with all the spending categories you think you’ll need, it shouldn’t take long. 
  • The envelope system. If you’re a big cash spender, consider withdrawing the cash you think you’ll spend in a month and keeping it in an envelope for each category. When you need to make a purchase, just use money from the envelope. 
  • Receipts. Hold onto every receipt from the purchases you make this month to help you track your spending.
  • Pencil and paper. Recording each purchase the old-fashioned way can help you make more mindful money choices throughout the day.

2. Review your checking account and credit card statements carefully

Along with one of the tools listed above, you can track the purchases you make with plastic by reviewing your monthly checking account and credit card statements. You can access these online by logging into your account and downloading. 

3. Review and categorize your purchases

At the end of the month, use your chosen tool to review all the purchases you’ve made throughout the month. When completing this step, don’t forget to include any automated payments you rarely think about, such as subscription fees and insurance premiums.

Use the tips outlined here to successfully master the skill of tracking your spending

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