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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.

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.

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Controlling the Craze: 9 Ways to Financially Survive Black Friday

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The holidays are supposed to be a time to kick back and relax, but dealing with one of the busiest travel days of the year and cooking a feast for the family can make Thanksgiving stressful.

And it doesn’t end on Thursday evening. Just as you clean the last dirty dish and put away your leftover turkey, there’s a whole other stress to deal with: Black Friday (and Cyber Monday).

While it’s a great day to score some deals and get a jump-start on holiday shopping, it can also be overwhelming and leave you feeling out of control when it comes to spending. Have no fear… We are here to help. The following are 9 ways you can take control of your wallet on Black Friday (and Cyber Monday):

1. Make sure you can afford it.

There are many people who are living paycheck to paycheck who can’t afford to pay their basic necessities comfortably but still figure out a way to go shopping on Black Friday. Don’t! Make sure that if you are going shopping on Black Friday that you are not behind on any bills and you are not using your credit cards to finance your splurging.

2. Use a list.

Now that you know that you can afford to spend on Black Friday it is important that you go in with a plan of what you are going to buy. What do you need? What do you really want? Write them down so you know what you are aiming for. Black Friday will have many deals including that 75 percent off of _______________ (insert the name of something you’ll probably never use). But, the key is to stick to your list because any money spent on something you didn’t really want or need becomes money wasted no matter how much you think you’re saving

3. Set a hard budget.

Before you even begin shopping figure out a set amount that you can spend and stick to that amount no matter what. No if, ands or buts! Setting a budget will allow you to not go into debt on Black Friday.

4. Use cash.

Despite your preparation there will be many tempting deals that may cause you to go temporarily insane and with access to money at your fingertips that can be a dangerous blow to your finances. Keeping your cards at home and using cash removes the ability to fold to temptations.

5. Set your kids’ expectations.

Kids can be a very big drain to your finances especially during the holiday season. It is important that you set their expectations early on so that they are not disappointed about the gifts nor do you feel guilty for not giving them what they want. Letting them know where you stand financially will be an important part of making sure that they are satisfied.

6. Give your kids a budget.

Giving your child a budget is a great way to help set expectations if they know how much you’re willing to spend they will ask for gifts that are within that price range. If you leave it open they will use their wildest imaginations to ask for gifts.

7. Get your kids involved.

Getting your children involved in the whole gift buying process will give them an idea as to what you can afford and not afford. Let them know how many other gifts you are buying for others will make them less likely to be selfish and asked for the most expensive things.

8. Skip Black Friday.

While Exantus’ tips above are super helpful for navigating the treacherous store aisles, there are some other options like skipping Black Friday all together. You read that right. One company, REI, is actually encouraging people to stay out of their stories and instead spend the precious day off outside. Their #OptOutside campaign is in full force again this year and their website makes it easy to find local spots to go hiking, skiing, biking and more rather than waiting on line.

9. Give to charity.

We know about Black Friday and the newer Cyber Monday for shopping days, but there is one other day that will make you feel good about your purchases: #GivingTuesday. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, individuals, families, organizations, businesses and communities are encouraged to support causes they believe in. Whether it is raising money for local nonprofits, running food and clothing drives, teaching children about philanthropy, or encouraging acts of kindness, the day is all about giving back.

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Scary Good Ways to Reap Halloween Savings

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Photo credit iStock by Getty Images

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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Real-World Ways to Avoid Online Scams

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You may think that people who get scammed online are the ones who respond to those crazy emails from a foreign prince, but online scams happen to millions of innocent people each year.

The Bureau of Justice reported that identity theft cost almost 17 million Americans roughly $25 million in 2012—and that’s just one of many types of online scams.

That my friends equates to 7% of people in the U.S. over 16 years old! And college students specifically are a population at risk because they may not necessarily take the steps to protect their personal information from being stolen from their laptops and mobile devices or even their dorm. So what exactly do these online scams looks like and what are some ways to avoid those online scams?

Beware of These Types of Online Scams

  1. Phishing:No – we’re not talking about catching that big fish – but phishing is quite similar in the realm of online scams. The phish scammers are trying to catch you – and they do it by sending you spam or getting you to click on pop-up messages online (the bait) so they can get your personal info if you bite (giving them their big catch).
  2. Identity Theft:Online scammers use stolen captured personal information, like your Social Security Number, to open credit cards or create new bank accounts in your name. They also use it to withdraw money from an established account, go on shopping sprees, apply for loans in your name or even rent apartments or storage units!
  3. Smishing:A close cousin to phishing, smishing is a newer scam via text/messaging. Often times the text/message is something alarming and contains threats of awful consequences if you don’t reply ASAP. And what do they want? Your confidential information.
  4. Keylogging:Another online scamming term is keylogging, which is a way thieves use malware that records your keystrokes to capture your personal information right as you type it in. This could be your online banking password. Yikes.
  5. Flipping money:This is an older scam that’s been repurposed via social media. Messages are being posted via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to entice you into making BIG MONEY quickly. Some of these tweets and posts have a photo of someone holding up a huge check or tons of cash. If you contact them about this amazing opportunity, they will ask you to buy a pre-paid card and give them the PIN so they can take the money and run – without any paper trail.

How to Avoid Scams Online

While no one is impervious to online scams, there are ways you can lessen your chances of becoming an online scammer’s next victim. Here are some helpful ways to avoid scams online:

  1. Don’t post too much personal information online or via social media. Love getting those birthday wishes via Facebook each year? We do too. But don’t post your actual birthday, including year, as this is one of those pieces of personal information that online scam artists are after. Also be cautious about posting your travel plans or sharing pics while you’re not home. You don’t want to tip off any crooks that your house is fair game for a week. Other things to avoid posting – your pet’s name, your address, your mother’s maiden name – basically anything you use to create a security question for your online banking can be sourced via your Facebook page.
  1. Make your passwords strong and keep changing them. Did you know that a 4 digit number password can be hacked in just 0004 seconds and a password with 10 characters containing letters, some of which are capitalized, digits, and a symbol (like a comma, period, or exclamation point), can take 17,000 years to hack? The lesson here is to make strong passwords and change them often. Read our post to learn how to make a strong password that’s easy to remember. Don’t use information like your birth date or phone number either – it’s too easy to guess. And don’t ever share your password. You also should avoid allowing your computer to remember your username and/or password.
  1. Safeguard your computer and mobile devices.Make sure to keep your computer updated with the most current anti-virus and anti-spam software. You’ll also want to install a firewall and anti-spyware software to be safe. To keep your mobile phone safer, make sure to update your apps, especially your financial and mobile banking apps, and only install apps that are from trusted marketplaces.
  1. Be careful with Wi-Fi.Don’t do your online/mobile banking or send personal information over public Wi-Fi. Others on the network can intercept it and use your info in an online scam.
  1. Never give your personal information to random people.Please never give out your sensitive, personal information through email, over the phone or via text. Make sure the company you are communicating with is legitimate, and if you’re ever unsure, call them instead. Only share personal information with those you trust.
  2. Be prepared. Keep a record of your account numbers and their expiration dates. Also make sure you have your bank’s phone number in case you need to report any weird or fraudulent activity.
  1. Don’t hand over your debit or credit card. Never give out your debit card to anyone—not your children, friends or roommates. Also don’t get in the habit of leaving your receipts or bank statements lying around where anyone can see them. When it’s time to throw these out, always shred. (Yes, people have been known to dumpster dive to get this type of info!)
  2. Keep tabs on your credit. Check your credit report annually – it’s free at annualcreditreport.com. Check over these reports and look out for any errors – that could be a sign of identity theft.

FTC’s Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

The Federal Trade Commission recommends these tips below for protecting yourself online:

  • Only bring the card you need with you, and don’t put your debit and credit cards in your wallet. If someone steals your purse or wallet, it will help minimize your loss.
  • When making a purchase, keep tabs on your card and get it back before you leave.
  • Don’t sign a blank receipt. If there are any blanks, cross them out.
  • Save your receipts and compare them with your bank statements.
  • Open your bills quickly, or look at them online regularly, then reconcile them with the purchases you’ve made.
  • Report any questionable charges or transactions to the card issuer ASAP.
  • If you’re going on vacation or moving – call your bank, whether it’s a branch bank or an online/mobile bank  and card issuers so they don’t keep sending your statements for someone else to view.
  • Don’t write down your account number on the outside of any envelope.

How to Report Online Scams If You’re a Victim

If you think you are, or may be, a victim of an online scam, contact your bank, credit card and other financial institutions ASAP. Additionally, if you believe you’ve been scammed online, reporting online scams by filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is recommended. A good resource to visit is IdentityTheft.gov – they have information on where to file a report, and how to begin the recovery process.

Online Banking Scams Happen

As a branchless bank, we want you to understand that online banking scams are a reality in our world today and you should take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

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