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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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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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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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Dropping Digm (How-to)

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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Dropping Digm (How-to)

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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