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Save Money on Halloween…

Are you ready for Halloween? Before you hit the party supply store, we have some great tips to  help you save money on Halloween this year.

Last year the National Retail Federation reported that Americans were spending almost $3 billion on Halloween costumes and just over $2 billion on candy! As part of our #LiveFreeBankFree movement, we think there’s a better way, and wanted to share some scary good ways to help you reap some serious Halloween savings without eliminating an ounce of fun.

Decorating

Want to turn your home into a haunted house for a night? Sure you do! Get crafty and DIY your own décor to save. The best way to keep it simple is to pick a theme for your Halloween decorating, so everything from your candy to your costume and party supplies will look cohesive. We found an awesome blog post on savvysassymoms.com that has some simple, cheap Halloween decorating ideas (our fave is the boo-tiful marshmallow ghosties made from a lollipop and marshmallows). And if you’re not into DIY, we recommend checking out Oriental Trading’s Halloween Sale for some cheap party supplies and Halloween decorations.

Food

Every great Halloween party needs some frightful food and drinks. But food and drinks can eat up your budget rather quickly if you’re not careful and fearful of getting creative. To help you out, we found a great post that features 24 wicked good Halloween appetizers and breaks down the cost per serving of each. Need even more inspiration? Check out this Halloween Food Ideas Pinterest board for some spooktacular recipes. We hope you’re starting to get a taste of all the Halloween savings available to you!

 

Music

No Halloween is complete without some spooky sounds and songs. For Apple users, check out the Halloween Spooky Sound Box app, which gives you a variety of tunes for Halloween. You can also find some frightfully awesome sounds on YouTube to play from your mobile device or laptop, like this one that has 75 minutes of old school Halloween sound effects.

Costumes

One of the best parts about Halloween is figuring out your Halloween costume, and you don’t have to buy a ready-made costume to make an entrance. Our first Halloween costume tip is to take advantage of all of the unused costumes that may be filling up the closets of your friends and family members and do a swap. If that’s too much of a hassle, here are a few budget-friendly Halloween costume ideas you can make on your own:

  • Mummy: Just wrap yourself with toilet paper…over and over and over.
  • Ghost: Grab an old sheet and cut a few holes in it. Done.
  • Nerd: You could grab most of these supplies at a thrift store or dollar store: bowtie, button down shirt, tight pants, and glasses – don’t forget the tape!
  • Housewife: Grab an apron, a dress, and a headband.
  • Old School Hip Hop: Some cool sunglasses, a gold chain, some gear and kicks and you’re good to go!

Need some more ideas? Check out these cheap and easy last minute Halloween costume ideas from Buzzfeed.

 Candy

Halloween is one of those times that procrastination can work in your favor. If you wait until the last minute to buy your Halloween candy supply, you may get lucky with the stores marking down their Halloween candy a few days before to make it move so they can get ready for the next set of holidays. Opt for bulk buys to save money and check your local newspaper for some coupons. When your cute ‘lil trick-or-treaters ring your bell, don’t let them reach in and grab a handful of candy. Instead – pass it out yourself.

Trick-or-Treat Bags

Do you remember going out trick or treating with a pillowcase? Why not bring that concept back and remix it with a new school twist by decorating an old pillowcase together as a family! Bust out the glitter and paint and go to town before you hit the streets.

Stick to Your Halloween Budget

Halloween doesn’t have to be scary expensive. And if you need a way to save for this holiday, consider opening up a free high-yield savings account and transferring some money over each week to build your Halloween fund. Having a dedicated fund will help you stick to your Halloween budget.

If you have some of your own spooky ideas, share your tips in the comments below. Happy Halloween!

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Ash Exantus aka Ash Cash is one of the nation’s top personal finance experts. Dubbed as the Financial Motivator, he uses a culturally responsive approach in teaching financial literacy. He is the Head of Financial Education at BankMobile and Editor-in-Chief at Paradigm Money. The views and opinions expressed are those of Ash Cash and not the views of BankMobile and/or its affiliates.

Dropping Digm (How-to)

5 Tips for Holiday Break

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

Like most students, you’re probably looking forward to spending time with family and friends over the holiday break. But before you relax, take a little time first to size up your finances for next semester. Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Review Your Spending from Last Semester

Not sure where all your money went? Now is a good time to examine your spending from last semester by reviewing your bank account statements, check register, credit card statements and receipts (if you saved them). One way to do this is to make two lists: one with all your unavoidable expenses, such as tuition, rent, basic food costs and insurance payments, and another with everything else—in other words, purchases you wanted at the time but did not necessarily need. Now take a look at that second list. Bet you’re surprised at how many things you spent money on that you could have done without, or don’t remember why you purchased in the first place! Make a pledge to cut back on some of those items and watch your savings grow.

Save Your Cash Gifts

Did you get some cash in your stocking? You might be tempted to blow it on those irresistible post-holiday sales, but take a moment to think about your needs for next semester. Will you have enough money for books, school supplies, gas and other school-related needs? At the very least, plan to save 10-20 percent of your extra cash for unexpected expenses like car repairs or medical emergencies. Knowing that you have a little nest egg set aside will give you some peace of mind and allow you to focus on your studies.

Budget Your Anticipated Financial Aid Refunds

If you will be receiving a refund from your financial aid award next term, keep in mind that a good portion, if not all, of these funds may be from student loans that you signed up for. These funds will have to be repaid when you graduate or leave school, so it is important to budget and spend them wisely, and make sure you have enough money to last the entire semester.

Re-apply for Financial Aid

Remember, you must re-apply for financial aid every year. You can submit the federal FAFSA form beginning January 1, 2015 for the 2015-16 academic year. Your state and school may also require you to re-apply or update your information, so be sure to visit with your school’s website or contact the financial aid office for information on deadlines and other requirements. Also, check out Mary’s article in the Huffington Post for more information and tips on applying.

Look for Part-time Job Opportunities

If you think you’ll be running low on money next semester, start looking for some part-time job opportunities or increasing your hours at your current job. The best place to start your job search is right on campus. There are lots of jobs available, from library clerk to food service worker—check with the employment office or website. You might also want to consider capitalizing on your own talents to make some extra cash by offering services such as tutoring, babysitting, dog walking, or repairing cars or electronics.

Following these tips will allow you to enjoy your much-needed break and put you on a path to financial peace of mind for next semester—so start today!

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The Perfect Traveler: 10 Ways to Plan a Trip Like a Boss!

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” This is true in anything that you do in life. When the weather is nice, travel is an activity that experiences an immediate uptick. Whether it’s travel for business, pleasure, or both—know how to travel like a boss! Having the right travel plan will not only save you time, but also save you money as well. The following are 10 ways to become the perfect traveler:

1. Book online.

Many airlines charge fees for booking in person or on the phone, so avoid those costs by booking online. Be careful, though—even websites sometimes charge booking fees, often for certain types of tickets, such as those that include more than one carrier. Read the fine print before you click “Purchase.”

2. Choose your website.

All the airlines have their own websites for booking, and there are dozens of independent sites that let you check fares across all airlines (or almost all—Southwest doesn’t participate in third-party booking sites, so if you want to fly on Southwest, you have to go to Southwest.com). Good options for searching across multiple airlines are Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Hipmunk, Routehappy and Momondo. They all have their own feel and features, so shop around to see which one you like best. Once you have an idea of what your preferred flight costs on the aggregator sites, check the airline site to make sure you can’t get it cheaper.

3. Avoid high-traffic travel times.

The busiest (and most expensive) days to travel are Friday and Sunday, so consider flying on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. If you have a choice of flight time, pick the first flight of the morning (it’s usually the cheapest and least likely to be delayed), or the red-eye.

4. Book at the right time.

When you book makes a difference. There’s no magic formula and airline ticket prices are notoriously unpredictable, but good air travel deals are likely to appear in the morning, so set your alarm. Also, be sure to book well in advance of your trip—in general, the more last-minute the ticket, the more it’ll cost you. Again, there’s no one right answer, but those in the know say a good time to book is six weeks before your trip (or, if you believe the Airlines Reporting Corporation, which is owned by nine major airlines—57 days). Experts say you’ll find the best deals when you book on a Tuesday or Sunday.

5. Be spontaneous.

Several airlines let you sign up for last-minute deals that can save you a bundle. You’ll get an email early each week listing the available destinations for the coming weekend—all you have to do is book, pack a bag and go.

6. Be careful about baggage.

Airlines are increasingly adding fees for things that used to be free, including baggage. Each airline has their own charges and rules, so make sure you check with the airline before you book, because those charges (typically $25 for the first bag) add up fast.

7. Make friends with the airlines.

Some of them are experimenting with targeting Twitter followers or Facebook friends for special deals, so it’s worth adding them to your social circle. Not to mention, it takes two seconds to click that “Like” or “Follow” button.

8. Sign up for fare notifications.

Several sites, including Airfarewatchdog, FareCompare and Kayak will let you sign up to receive an alert if the fare for a flight you’re considering drops, so you don’t have to keep checking.

9. Be flexible.

Many travel booking sites let you search for fares over a range of dates rather than exact dates. Often, you’ll find that changing your travel dates by even one day can save you hundreds. Also, be sure to check alternate airports—Baltimore Washington instead of Washington Dulles or Reagan National, Long Beach or Burbank instead of LAX, Love Field instead of Dallas/Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, etc. A few extra minutes of driving could mean significant savings.

10. Don’t make changes.

We know, things happen—but try to avoid making changes to your tickets once they’re booked. Most airlines charge at least $75 to change your flight, and some charge up to $450 for changes to international flights. But here’s a hot tip: If you must cancel your ticket, airlines are now required by the Department of Transportation to issue a full refund if you request it within 24 days of making your purchase, provided your departure date is more than a week away.

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Your Easy No-Regrets Holiday Spending Plan

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Helloooooo ho ho, holiday season! Oh yeah, anddd guilt and regret. Well the guilt and regret part usually arrives after but, since we’re friends and all, we wanted to bring this to your attention today in case your financial rationale is already starting to diminish due to the effect that all of the holiday music you’re hearing everywhere is having on your brain.

You know, so you don’t do what you did last year around this time to wind up feeling like you did during the 1st week in January—when it finally dawned on you that maybe you should check your bank account and credit card statements during lunch at work [gasp]… Yup, we can already hear you saying, “Oh please let there be some leftover champagne from New Year’s when I get home (NO, scratch that… that bottle was $200 and the thought just makes me sick on multiple levels)!”

Here’s your reality check, my friend… Gifting your heart out is great and all, but not at the expense of all the nasty guilt you’ll feel IF you haven’t taken the time to get a No-Regrets Holiday Spending Plan together.

Cue the heavenly angel sounds as we provide you with a simple solution.

Holiday Spending Budget (Hold the Guilt and Regret)

Follow along…

1. Set a REALISTIC Spending Limit:

It’s simple. Just ask yourself, “When it comes to the amount that I have left over AFTER all of my expenses are taken care of, how much am I willing to put towards gifting?” (You may wish to consider cutting back on doing things for yourself this month, you know, in the spirit of giving to others!)

2. Create a “Naughty” and “Nice” List:

Seriously, get out that pen and paper or open up a new note on your phone—put your “realistic spending limit” at the top. Then create an “Important” section (i.e. immediate family, significant other, best friend—cap it at 5-7) and an “Everyone Else” section (all those people you care about on some level that didn’t make the important list).

3. Divvy Your List Like So:

FIRST, for the “Important” people on your list… Start divvying up that “realistic spending limit” among these folks—go ahead, write an amount next to each person. When done, add up all amounts under “Important” and make sure that total is less than or equal to your “realistic spending limit.” And for all you overachievers out there, start brainstorming the gifts for each person that fall into the amount next to their name. (Stuck for an idea? Google: “Gifts for _____ under $X”)

SECOND, for “Everyone Else” on your list… Don’t be a scrooge and totally forget about these peeps. Gift simple, gift cookies!

…About Those Cookies

Here’s a great no-bake cookie recipe that we love right now and don’t forget to put the delicious morsels in some festive packaging (save here by buying in bulk). Done, and done!

Have tips and tricks that you use to manage your spending during the holidays? Share them in the comments below. Happy Holiday Shopping!

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