Today, I’m pleased to share a guest post from Gary Dek. Gary Dek is a contributor to Gajizmo.com and is always looking for ways to make and invest money. Gary previously worked for an internet company on their M&A team, as well as investment banking and private equity firms in California.
If you have a credit card that allows cash advances, you have probably received credit card convenience checks and just don’t know what they are. Many credit card companies send these checks to their customers on a regular basis. Interestingly enough, I have an account with Discover Card and they send these checks on a monthly basis, despite the fact that I’ve never maintained a balance on any of my cards or even like using checks. While convenience checks can be used for any purpose and look exactly like normal checks, you should be aware of how they differ from bank checks before deciding to use them to pay bills.
How Do They Work?
Convenience checks look and work just like regular bank checks or drafts, but instead of drawing on money already in your checking account, convenience checks are treated like a cash advance on your credit card. The checks have expiration dates but within the time stated on the check, they are valid up to the available credit limit on your card.
However, unlike bank checks which are often issued with free checking accounts, convenience checks have fees. The interest rate on credit card cash advances may be as high as 29.99%, even if the rate of interest for purchases on your card is normally only 12.99%. The interest on cash advances begins to accrue the moment the money is borrowed, so interest charges apply even if you pay the full amount when the credit card bill becomes due. The standard transaction fee for cash advances is about 4% in addition to the interest charged by the credit card company.
Honestly, I did not know that last part, but when these offers come from a credit card company, you should just assume there is a catch. Thankfully, I’ve never needed to use them and finally decided to research it.
Why Use Convenience Checks?
The advantages of convenience checks are they can be used for balance transfers from one credit card to another. Low introductory rates on some credit cards allow consumers to save on interest payments on balance transfers for between 6 and 18 months. Furthermore, there is a balance transfer fee of 3% in addition to the fees associated with the convenience check. When deciding to transfer credit card balances, it is smart to consider all the associated fees to determine if transferring your balance will save money or not.
Additionally, some vendors do not accept credit cards. While this problem is increasingly rare in our global economy, it does happen sometimes. If a vendor does not accept a credit card and you do not have access to bank checks or wire transfer, you can usually pay with a convenience check. Obviously this can be an expensive alternative to purchasing items on your credit card or paying in cash.
It is also important to keep in mind that credit card companies apply payments to the balance with the lowest interest rate first, so if you normally carry a monthly balance on your credit card, you could be paying for the convenience check, at the higher interest rate, for months.
Disadvantages of Convenience Checks
Interest Payments. Convenience checks have the highest interest rates the credit company charges, even if you have excellent credit. If you cannot pay off the convenience check right away, the interest on the check may cost more than the initial purchase.
Fees. In addition to extremely high interest rates, fees can be as much as 4% of the total amount borrowed. If your advance is for a small amount, the company may even have a minimum fee which is greater than 4% of the total amount of your check.
Credit Score. Since convenience checks are loans, they increase your debt to income ratio and may have a negative impact on your credit score. Not only that, while bank checks allow you the option to protect yourself from overdraft fees, going over your limit with a convenience check means you will be charged a penalty plus fees for the returned check. Using convenience checks raises your credit card debt, which should not exceed approximately 50% of your credit limit or this can lower your credit score.
No Protection. The purchase protection plan that your credit card offers on items bought with the card do not apply when the items are purchased with a convenience check. The check is considered the same as cash, even though it is issued against your account by the credit card company. Cash advances do not fall under the Fair Billing Credit Act and companies do not have to offer the same guarantees that are offered on credit purchases.
Identity Theft. In today’s world, identity theft is a real threat and using convenience checks can increase the risk of someone stealing your credit card information. If you do not plan to use convenience checks, contact the credit card company and ask them not to send the checks in the mail. Never leave checks out and if you lose them, report the loss to the credit card company immediately.
Bank Checks Are A Better Deal
Using a bank check when credit cards are not accepted by a vendor is financially more responsible than using a convenience check. In most cases, if you do not have the money for the purchase in your bank account, you should not spend it. Checking accounts usually allow customers to apply for overdraft protection, which saves on fees and returned checks if you accidentally spend more than you have on deposit. This avoids the penalties and embarrassment of a returned check for exceeding your credit limit. Unless an expense is an emergency and you do not have the money to cover the cost, a personal loan is a better and cheaper way to pay for necessary items that you cannot afford immediately.
If there is no time to apply for a bank loan, check with family or friends to see if they can give you an immediate, temporary loan before resorting to a convenience check. You might also consider asking your employer for a cash advance. If being short on cash is a regular occurrence and you’ve done everything you can to stop overspending, then it may be time to explore ways to make money from home and create a side income.
While credit card convenience checks may have some advantages, consumers should be aware of all the pitfalls of relying on these disguised cash advances before opting to use the checks. It is smarter to use your credit card for purchases or your bank checks whenever possible to avoid falling into a serious credit trap. If you thought credit card debt was a nightmare, don’t experience worse with convenience checks.
We all know we need protect our children’s privacy and safety – both on and offline. As kids get more tencholigcally savvy at younger ages (my two year old knows his way around my Kindle better than I do!), they are increasingly more vulnerable to having their private information exposed – which may effect their financial future. Today Nico Sell, founder of Wickr and DEFCON Kids, shares with us her tips on how to better protect their information and online privacy with you!
Photo Source: Flickr
Q: What are some ways even non-techy moms can protect their families online?
A: There are a lot of simple ways that even the most un-tech savvy among us can implement strategies to protect their children and families online. One way is to communicate with your children about what content is and is not appropriate for sharing online. Another easy way to protect your children online is to make sure they are not using apps suited for adults thirteen and over (Facebook and Instagram are popular ones).
Q: What are some examples of “worst-case scenarios” of children having their personal information compromised?
A: There have been a number of instances in the media where underage youth have experienced serious repercussions for sharing inappropriate content online and through mobile apps. The best way to ensure your children are safe is to make them aware of these scenarios and why it’s important to share smartly and securely.
Q: What kind of financial implications can this have for them in the future?
A: In the short term, it’s important for children and adults to always make sure they’re using secure networks for online banking, shopping, and other financial transactions. It’s also important to ensure that your children know that the Internet is forever – the pictures, messages, and content they post online today can always findable by future employers.
Q: Do you think it’s a good idea for parents to block sites and downloads that might be a security risk?
A: I always advise parents to limit their children’s access to sites that aren’t secure or protected, and to also be transparent with their children about the security risks that do exist online.
Q: Is there any way we can monitor what they do online?
A: There are definitely options and software available that can be used to monitor what your kids do online, but ultimately the best way to protect your online identity is abstinence. XX Don’t participate in unprotects sites.
The old rule of thumb, friend your kids on Facebook, is no longer a useful option for moms. Any smart kid knows to create an alias parents can’t see. Duh. So, what is a mom to do? Teach your kids how to be a top secret super spy. Use Wickr to leave no Trace. Teach them about the Wayback Machine. At least then, you can protect them from the Internet. The Internet is forever. Your personal info, like your location throughout each day, shouldn’t be. It can be used to hurt you.
Another tip – teach your kids how to be aware of their digital footprint. Some part should be amplified and other parts should never exist on the Internet. Take control.
Q: What are some ways kids can tarnish their reputations online or via SMS? How can they avoid that?
A: While there are many instances where kids can tarnish their reputations, it is most important that children trust the recipient no matter what type of content they are sharing. Of course, sending encrypted messages is ultimately the best and most secure way to ensure that even if your child does send potentially compromising content, they are protected.
What practices have you implemented in your own home to keep your children safe online?
Hi everyone! The following is a guest post by Jon Haver of PayMyStudentLoans.com. After paying off 23k in student loans 3 years after he graduated, he started he website to help other graduates pay off their loans. His advice is useful to recent grads or anyone looking to pay off some debt or save up cash.
College graduation is a very exciting time! You have hopefully avoided the most common money mistakes in college and are now ready to look at starting a career. The world is open to you, and it’s full of possibilities. You’re ready to take all the knowledge you paid so much money for and put it to good use.
Certainly, you have things that you need to accomplish. You need to find a job. You want to buy a house and a car. Very soon, you’ll also have to start paying off those student loans. Where is this going to happen? All of these needs and wants are going to have to work together to help you decide where you want to live after college.
Where are the jobs?
There are two things to consider when choosing a place to live after college. The first of which is whether or not you will be able to get a job there. CareerBuilder and the Economic Modeling Specialists teamed up to figure out where the best job growth is right now. This list was obtained from Yahoo. The study looked at jobs created in the most populous metros from 2010-2012.
- San Jose, CA.
- Houston, TX.
- Austin, TX.
- Detroit, MI.
- Salt Lake City, UT.
- Oklahoma City, OK.
- Raleigh, NC.
- Dallas, TX.
- San Francisco, CA.
- Phoenix, AZ
Take a look at any of those cities and see if any of the job growth is in a market that you’re interested in getting into.
Photo From – Werner
10 Thriftiest Cities
The second consideration that needs to be had is whether or not you can afford to live in the area of your choice. Having a job is not enough by itself to ensure that you will be able to pay off your student loan. You’ll have to balance your monthly student loan payments with everything else that requires money for you to survive. There are many ways to be thrifty once you are living somewhere including cleaning everything with vinegar and making pizza at home instead of take out.
Forbes magazine released a list of cities where a paycheck stretches the farthest. This list is not necessarily an overview of the cheapest places to live, because it takes average income into consideration and balances that with the cost of housing and general living expenses.
Unless you’ve already scored a six-figure salary in the big apple, you should take that off your list of considerations. New York did not make this list.
- Houston, TX.
- San Jose, CA.
- Detroit, MI.
- Memphis, TN.
- Dallas, TX.
- Charlotte, NC.
- Cincinnati, OH.
- Austin, TX.
- Seattle, WA.
- Columbus, OH.
Don’t forget to put personal considerations into the mix. A decision as big as where you want to live shouldn’t just be a financial decision. Are there certain climates that you would be happier in? How close (or how far) do you want to be to your family and friends? How much of a social scene is there in the areas you’re considering? Will you still be able to participate in all of your favorite hobbies or pastimes? If you do your research, you should be able to find a good city (or suburb) that suits your needs.
Do you live in one of the thriftiest cities? Would you consider moving if it saved you money?
Have you heard about Mini Micro Kickboard Scooters? I hadn’t, until I was contacted by the company to try one out. Now I see them everywhere. And no wonder. They’re amazing. My two and a half year old loves his. He always asks to ride it whenever we go outside and will actually put on his helmet in order to ride it (which is saying a lot since he’s usually not a fan).
At first, I thought he wouldn’t be old enough to enjoy the scooter since it is recommended for ages 3 and up. I was quickly proven wrong as he jumped on and took off. At first, he He’s was a little shaky and wouldn’t go far without putting his foot down to steady himself, but now he takes off and glides. He’s even taken to bringing his foot up and doing a balancing act like he’s in the circus. Check out this video:
The quality of the Mini Micro is outstanding. It’s surprisingly lightweight and easy for my little one to steer. He’s obsessed with riding it everywhere we go. I don’t mind because it encourages him to get out there and exercise and there’s nothing better than that.
At $85 a pop, the Mini Micro isn’t cheap. However, if you’re looking for an investment that your kiddos will love for years to come, then the Mini Micro is just what you’re looking for. It’s simply an outstanding product.
Did you watch the Super Bowl last night? Great game! Though I have to say, that Go Daddy commercial was kind of… weird. And Beyonce was just awesome.
Over the weekend, in addition to watching the Super Bowl, I made my very first apple pie with lattice topping. Yum! It made me think of how football is such an American thing to do – especially a tradition like the Super Bowl where we’re all glued to the TV, whether it’s to watch the game, the commercials or the halftime show – and so is apple pie!
My pie turned out pretty well if you can go by the fact that my husband and son gobbled it right up. I only had red delicious apples and while I know you’re not supposed to use them in pies, it still turned out good. Here’s how I did it:
Mix the dough (recipe below) and stick it in the freezer for two to four hours. Meanwhile, peel and slice 4-6 apples
Toss the apples with lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Roll out one half of the dough to 1/4 inch thickness and press it into a pie plate. Roll out the other half of dough for the lattice topping. Cut into 1/2-1 inch strips.
Fill the pie crust with the apple filling.
Weave strips into a lattice pattern. Top with egg yolk and milk. Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and bake 40-45 minutes, until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.
Ingredients: (Yield: one 9″ pie)
8 cups peeled and thinly sliced red delicious apples (about 4-6 apples)
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 tbsp. butter
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. milk
2 1/2 cup all-purpose flours
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, diced
1/2 cup ice water
1) Whisk together flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
2) Stir in the ice water slowly. Stir until you have a uniform dough, but don’t over mix it. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
3) Divide the dough in half and roll out one half on a floured surface. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Gently press into into the pie plate and trim excess from the edges. Add filling (see below).
4) Roll out the other half. Use a sharp knife cut into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Weave the strips in a lattice pattern.
5) In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk and milk. Brush mixture over top crust.
6) Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F and bake 40-45 minutes, until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.
1) In a large bowl, mix the sliced apples with lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.
2) Fill pie crust with filling.
What is your favorite apple pie recipe? Are you a fan of lattice topping or brown sugar crumbs? (I like both!)
It seems like everywhere I go, everyone is talking about preschool recently. Apparently January is the month to start looking for preschools (who knew?). The thing is many schools start registration in February or March and the good ones fill up fast. We’ve decided enroll the little one in preschool in the fall and it’s a huge decision. I’m full of nerves – am I making the right decision? Is this decision going to affect him for the rest of his life?
While our family is all for being frugal, we’re willing to pay for our kid’s education – it’s just one of those things that we feel is worth it. But some preschools are just ridiculously expensive – there’s no way we can hack it. Besides, even if we could, we’d like to save that cash for, you know, college. So we’re in the midst of trying to find the best preschool at the lowest price. Here’s how we’re doing it.
Set your priorities
What are you looking for in a preschool? Do you want a specific learning approach (like Montessori or Waldorf)? Do you want something that’s right around the corner or are you willing to drive further for something really great. Determine what’s most important to you and your child and keep these priorities at the forefront in your search. For me, the specific style of school isn’t so important as long as I like the general vibe of the school. That’s why visiting the schools you’re interested in is key.
The best place to find preschools for less is your friends. All of the places I’ve looked at so far were at the recommendations of others. Moms really do know best! Chances are someone you know knows someone who has had experience with pretty every preschool in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask about prices. In my experience, moms aren’t shy about this kind of thing. If they found a great deal, they want to share that knowledge. If you’re new to an area, reach out to community services – like schools and libraries. They’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
Public schools are usually the least expensive around. One of my favorite preschools we’ve toured so far is connected with a nearby town’s recreation program. Since it’s a non-profit, the school is easy on the wallet. Plus, it’s a really nice school with a great educational program. We’re not 100% sold on this school, but it’s definitely a front runner.
Look for scholarships
While public preschools are usually the cheapest, some private schools offer scholarships or sliding scales for lower income families. I haven’t had personal experience with this, but friends of mine have saved thousands with tuition assistance. Churches also offer discounts to parishioners on their preschool programs – to the tune of 10 to 15 percent off.
What are some of the ways you save on preschool? Also, do you think every kid needs preschool? I’d like to do another post on this because long story short, I don’t.
Sorry about being MIA for the last few months. I’ve been busy, busy and unfortunately, this blog fell by the wayside. I promise I won’t do that to you again (if there are any of “you” still out there). I might not be able to post every day, but I’m going to try to stop by here a few times a week. I really enjoy blogging and I miss your sweet comments. Anyway, on to today’s post…
Here in New Jersey we’ve been spared the frigid cold of winter so far. It’s been hovering in the 30s and 40s and I haven’t been complaining. Well it’s not going to last much longer. There’s a cold front on its way and it’s about to get brutally cold. I’m not a fan of this time of year when it’s too cold to do anything outside. I don’t like being stuck at home, but the cost of fun indoor activities add up quick. Museums, aquariums, going to the movies – all are going to cost you. So today, I wanted to share a list of family activities that are (practically) free.
1. Make hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows.
2. Go to the library and check out some fun winter books.
3. If there’s snow, go sledding.
4. Make snow angles.
5. Act out a play.
6. Read a long book out together.
7. Try a new recipe.
8. Volunteer at a local animal shelter.
9. Plant seeds for spring.
10. Play board games.
11. Set your kids loose on an indoor scavenger.
12. Try a craft – the messier, the better.
13. Donate used clothing or toys to the needy.
14. Take a tour of your local fire department.
15. Build a fort with couch cushions and blankets.
16. Film a silly video and post it on YouTube.
17. Do a puzzle.
18. Visit friends or family who are out of town.
19. Take pictures of nature.
20. Host the winter Olympics – complete with gold, bronze and silver metals.
21. Bake cookies for family and friends.
22. Play dress up.
23. Build a gingerbread house.
24. Bundle up and go for a walk.
25. Rent a $1 movie, pop some popcorn and have a movie night.
Any other ideas? What activities does your family like to do when it’s chilly outside?
Have you ever dealt with a personal negotiator? I hadn’t – until I was recently contacted by Jim Herst, a personal negotiator with over 50 years of experience in the business.
What Jim does is try to save you money on the bigger purchases in life – like cars, home repair, wedding expenses, or reoccurring bills (like cable and telephone). We often feel locked into the prices we are offered, but that’s not always the case. Many of these companies are willing to negotiate and lower their prices in order to make a sale or keep a current customer. These companies want to win and keep customers just as much as you want to save money.
The problem starts when it comes to approaching these companies. It can be hard approaching them, not knowing what to ask in order to get yourself the best possible deal. That’s where Jim comes in. He negotiates with the companies in order to save you the most money. He has 50 years experience negotiating for small-business clients and individuals, so he knows how to broker the best deal. Even better, Jim’s service is risk-free – meaning you pay him nothing in advance. His fee is a small percentage of the savings he obtains for you if you opt to take that savings.
When Jim approached me to review his service for this blog, I decided to give his service a try. I’m not looking to make any major purchases in the near future, so I decided to see what he could do for my cable/internet/phone bill. Jim worked tirelessly on my behalf, but as it turns out, I already have the best deal (go figure). Although I personally didn’t see any savings (and that’s probably because Comcast likes to be difficult), I feel confident that Jim offers quality service that can save you big bucks – especially on big purchases like cars, boats, and home repairs.
If you are making a big purchase or just want to save on your monthly bills, I definitely recommend checking out Jim’s site. Since it’s risk-free, it’s definitely worth a shot!
I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are 100% mine.
I feel like every personal finance/frugal living is talking about Black Friday, so I wanted to jump on the band wagon. It’s just four days away, so you probably already have your plans set. But I wanted to share mine.
It’s all about online, folks.
First though, let’s back up a bit. I wanted to come on here railing Black Friday and all its assorted evils. Did you hear Target is opening their doors at 8pm Thanksgiving Day? Target is second in line at 9 pm. Which makes me wonder – what happened to Thanksgiving? You know, that holiday where you’re supposed to gather with friends and family over a wonderful meal and take the time to be thankful? Nah, forget that. We need to stand in line, out in the freezing cold, fight the crowds – all for the latest gadget (that they might not even have by the time you actually get inside the doors). People have actually died on Black Friday. Died! And now we have extended this national craziness to Thanksgiving day itself.
If you haven’t guessed, I don’t like Black Friday. It’s kind of like my theory on coupons – you’re only going to be saving on things you don’t need. Then, I started looking at some of the sales. And really? They’re not that bad. You can honestly save some serious dough on things you might end up buying anyway – toys for the kids, gadgets for the hubby, cozy slippers for your mom. I couldn’t consciously come on here and recommend staying the heck away from Black Friday when there actually are great sales out there. So, I came up with a compromise – online shopping.
Online retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy and Kohl’s are offering great sales on Black Friday in addition to Cyber Monday. A lot of these stores are offering free shipping. That means you’ll not only get a great deal, but your purchase will be delivered to your doorstep for free. So just take some time to look ahead for online deals instead of fighting the crowds Thanksgiving night.
It’s the best of both worlds. By shopping online, you’ll see some really great savings (provided you only buy things you would have anyway) and you’ll miss out on the crowds. Plus, you can spend Thanksgiving exactly where you should be – with your family (or friends).
What do you think of Black Friday? Do you brace the crowds or stay at home?
Earlier this week, I talked about creating a budget. Today, I wanted to talk about how to stretch that budget. Short of getting a part time job, or saving a little throughout the year (it’s a little too late for that), here are some ideas of how to make the most of what you’ve got this holiday season:
Give the gift of food. Bake your family and friends their gifts at home! Instead of purchasing gifts that your loved ones may never use, why not bake cookies, fudge or loaves of banana nut bread as a present?
Make homemade cards. Get your little ones involved in this one and craft your own holiday cards. They’re way more personalized than those generic photo cards. Purchase some inexpensive card stock, glitter and paint and let your kiddos go wild.
Spread the joy of cookies. Have a knock-out cookie recipe? Then spread the joy. Layer dry ingredients in a mason jar. Attach the recipe with a ribbon and there you go – practical and cute.
Offer to host this year. Instead of spending all your money on travel costs, offer to host the holidays at your house. You’ll save tons of money by foregoing expensive flights. You’ll also be able to create your own special traditions and spend the holiday exactly as you want.
Get the most out of price matching. During this tough economy, stores are making the extra effort to have you shop there. That’s why stores like Target, Walmart, and even Best Buy, are offering price matching. Make the most of it when purchasing big ticket items for your loved ones.
Have any more ideas on how to stretch your holiday budget?
Hello! Welcome to the home of practical parenting tips that save you money. I'm Rebecca, the creative mind behind this site.
I am also a professional writer... and I'd be happy to work with you on your next project.
ContactFeel free to contact me at doggonethrifty [at] gmail [dot] com. I'd love to hear from you!