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for getting smarter about money

We're bringing together independent experts to share their strategies for achieving financial goals. Watch. Learn. Ask questions. And even suggest topics you'd like to see here in the future.

We're bringing together independent experts to share their strategies for achieving financial goals. Watch. Learn. Ask questions. And even suggest topics you'd like to see here in the future.

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  • luke landes img

    Anna Newell Jones

    Anna is a photographer who racked up substantial debt from credit cards and loans from family. In 2009, she began her Spending Fast® and Spending Diet plan, and managed to pay off almost $24,000 in debt in 15 months. She started the blog And Then We Saved to share her strategies with others. She has been quoted in publications including Self, US News and the Chicago Tribune, and has appeared on CNN Money and the HLN Network. She lives in Denver with her husband Aaron.

    Sessions: The Spending Diet, Set Goals to Save More
    See blog posts by Anna Newell Jones
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    David Ning

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing, a personal finance site with more than 500,000 unique visitors per month. He also posts regularly for MoneyNing on Twitter and Facebook. His other online properties include Investing School and Personal Finance Buzz—a bookmarking site that features the best in personal finance and money articles. Before becoming an entrepreneur, David had a successful career in information technology and sales. David is the father of two young children, and lives in Irvine, California, with his family.

    Sessions: Creative Ways to Build an Emergency Fund, 5 Good Reasons to Budget
    See blog posts by David Ning
  • luke landes img

    Galia Gichon

    Galia is a personal finance expert with 18+ years of professional experience, including nearly 10 years on Wall Street, and an MBA from Fordham University. Her company, Down to Earth Finance, offers individual sessions and seminars to address personal financial needs. Galia created the My Money Matters Kit, with tools including affirmations, tips and workbooks. She regularly guest lectures at universities, speaks at conferences and corporate events, and has been quoted by CNN, The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money and more.

    Sessions: Get More Comfortable with Investing, Maximize Your Retirement Savings
    See blog posts by Galia Gichon
  • luke landes img

    Luke Landes

    Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary, a blog about personal finance, money management and investing, and has been cited as a must-read blogger by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Consumerism Commentary was listed as one of the most useful blogs by MSN Money and has received mentions in publications including The Wall Street Journal and Money magazine. Luke has also written for publications including US News & World Report and PCWorld, and his stories have been syndicated on Yahoo Finance.

    Sessions: Get the Mortgage You Want, Improve Your Credit Score
    See blog posts by Luke Landes
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    LaTisha Styles

    LaTisha started the blog, Young Finances, to help college students and recent graduates build a solid base of knowledge in personal finance. Graduating in 2010, she worked her way through multiple jobs and has now landed a career working for an investment consulting firm. LaTisha enjoys helping young adults write a flawless resume, invest with confidence and budget for future wealth.

    See blog posts by LaTisha Styles
  • adrianna domingos-lupher img

    Adrianna Domingos-Lupher

    Adrianna is the founder of the blog, Military Money Chica. She is an Air Force spouse, mother and an accredited Financial Counselor with over 6 years of experience in financial education and counseling. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of NextGen MilSpouse, the online destination for today's military spouse. Adrianna lives in Tampa with her husband and two daughters, who she refers to as "La Rubia y La Grande".

    See blog posts by Adrianna Domingos-Lupher

THE SPENDING DIET
Brought to you by PNC Virtual Wallet®

Are your spending habits building your debt or keeping you from reaching other goals? Learn how to get things under control.

THE SPENDING DIET

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    Being on a Spending Diet means cutting back on everything.

    • True

    • False

    What's the main purpose of a "Wants and Needs" list?

    • To see where you can cut back on expenses

    • To see how much of a raise you should ask for

    • To see what items you should sell at a garage sale

    • To keep track of the things you want to buy

    For every month of The Spending Diet, you should allow yourself a two-day Spending Feast.

    • True

    • False

    The recommended "Wants" allowance is:

    • $100 a month

    • $200 a month

    • 10% of your monthly salary

    • As much as you want it to be

    How long should you be on a Spending Diet?

    • A year

    • 18 months

    • At least six months

    • As long as you need to be

    CORRECT

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  • Do a One-Week Spending Diet

    How much could you save in one week? Do a Spending Diet and find out. Decide on a modest budget for "Wants." Take that much in cash out of the bank, then spend it on what you really want until it's gone. If the system works for you, think about how much you could save on a more long-term basis.

    Need a little help with your will power? Download Anna's "Should I Buy It" decision card.

  • Session Q&A

    Is the Spending Diet a replacement for a budget?
    The Spending Diet does a lot of things a budget does, like help you see where you spend money and where you can cut back. It can also help you spend less and save more. But it doesn't necessarily replace a budget, which can help you manage your finances in many other ways.
    What if my partner and I have different perspectives on "Wants and Needs"?
    "Wants and Needs" are a very personal thing, so if you and your partner are both trying to cut spending, it's important not to be judgmental about their choices. It can get tricky when you want to reduce spending on something that both of you do, like eating out or going on vacations. Try to compromise by cutting back instead of eliminating things completely. You can still cut back on your personal expenses. Who knows? Maybe you can inspire each other with your individual successes.
    It's challenging to maintain a social life without spending money. What can I do?
    Let your friends and family know what you're doing, and make sure they know how important it is to you. If they're supportive, they'll understand when you have to make hard choices like saying no to a dinner out or bringing a card instead of a gift to a birthday party. If they see your success, they may even jump on The Spending Diet bandwagon.
    I've cut down my spending before, but after a few months, I start overspending again. How do I stay on track?
    Any diet is hard to stick to. But there are lots of things you can do to stay on track. Remembering why you started The Spending Diet in the first place can really help. Picture how you'll feel when you get rid of your debt or finally save for something you want. If you've been doing it for a while already, tally up how much you've saved or not spent, and celebrate your success. And if you haven't made your commitment public, tell your family and friends about it. You'll be surprised at how supportive and encouraging people can be.
    I've cut out every "Want" I can think of, but I want to save more. Any ideas?
    Some things are easy to cut out of everyday spending—like skipping coffee or not buying gifts. But other ways to save might require a little more effort. Go through your monthly bills for inspiration on ways to save, such as switching to a cheaper phone, Internet or cable TV plan, or even trying to cut down on your water or electricity use. Transportation costs can be another good source of savings. Walk, ride your bike or take the bus instead of driving everywhere. You'll save money and get in better shape too.

CREATIVE WAYS TO BUILD YOUR EMERGENCY FUND
Brought to you by PNC Bank

Do you have money put aside for a rainy day? Get some creative ideas to help make building your emergency fund a little easier.

BUILD YOUR EMERGENCY FUND

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    How much money should the average person have in an emergency fund?

    • Six months of salary

    • Six months of living expenses

    • As much as you can afford

    • One year of expenses

    Which of the following qualifies as an emergency fund expense?

    • Major car repair

    • Kitchen remodel

    • School tuition

    • Vacation

    The only way that you should save for an emergency fund is to treat it like a regular expense.

    • True

    • False

    You should save at least $100 a month for your emergency fund.

    • True

    • False

    It's a good idea to have a separate account for your emergency fund.

    • True

    • False

    CORRECT

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  • Jump Start Your Emergency Fund

    For the next month, throw every $5 bill that lands in your hand, pocket, purse or wallet into a jar. How much do you think you'll save? At the end of the month, take the money to the bank to open a savings account. Voila! Your emergency fund is born. Do it again the following month, or just set up a monthly transfer to your emergency fund, and watch your savings grow.

    Want to know how much you should be shooting for? Use our Emergency Fund Calculator.

  • Session Q&A

    Do I really need six months of expenses?
    Six months is a good rule of thumb. However, there are some circumstances where you may want to put away more. If you are the only earner in your family or have a job that may take a while to replace, consider saving up to a year of expenses. But if these don't apply, it might be better for you to pay off debt or contribute to other savings goals, like saving for retirement or a college fund. It all depends on your personal situation.
    Can I put my emergency fund into a short-term CD or bond fund?
    It is a good idea to keep at least a few months of living expenses in a very liquid account, like a traditional savings account, so you can get to it in the event of an emergency. If you do decide to invest part of your fund, make sure it's in a conservative, short-term investment, such as a short-term CD or a short-term bond fund, and be aware of any penalties you may face if you need to withdraw funds early.
    I have a general savings account where I keep money for emergencies and for things I'm saving for. Do I really need a separate emergency fund?
    Having a separate emergency fund is a good idea for many reasons. First, you'll know exactly how much you have and how much you still need to save. Second, you'll be less likely to dip into the funds if you need a little extra for things like a vacation or new furniture. Third, an emergency fund is something that you build, and then leave alone. It's a lot easier to forget it if it's in a separate account.
    Should I put off saving for retirement or paying off debt until I have my emergency fund fully set up?
    Saving for retirement and managing debt are both important financial goals that you should try to include in your regular budget. Then you can figure out how much you can realistically put toward your emergency fund each month. You may have to find expenses to cut back on in order to accomplish all three goals at once, but it is possible. Remember that saving even a small amount toward your emergency fund each month can be beneficial.
    What basic expenses should an emergency fund cover?
    Review your monthly expenses and add up the things you absolutely have to pay for each month. Your mortgage, minimum payments on credit cards, monthly bills like car payments and basic utilities. Other expenses people often forget are tuition, taxes and insurance payments. You'll also need to account for groceries, gas and other variable expenses. If you were in a bind, you could cancel extras like cable or a gym membership, so you can choose whether or not you want to include these in your figure. Once you've got your monthly amount, multiply it by six. That's the number you're shooting for.

GET MORE COMFORTABLE WITH INVESTING
Brought to you by PNC Investing and Retirement

Investing doesn't have to be intimidating. Learning just a few key points may help boost your confidence.

GET COMFORTABLE INVESTING

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    A moderate investing approach could be appropriate for:

    • A family trip to Europe next summer

    • Starting a small business in five years

    • Income for retirement in 25 years

    • Your ongoing furniture replacement fund

    The appropriate asset allocation depends on:

    • Your goals and time frame

    • How much money you have to invest

    • Other assets like property and jewelry

    • Your personal preferences

    Which of the following is considered the most aggressive investment vehicle?

    • Money Market Accounts

    • Bonds

    • Index funds

    • Annuities

    Which of the following can help you diversify your investments?

    • Purchasing multiple index funds

    • Buying mutual funds from different companies

    • Using an aggressive investment strategy

    • Investing in individual stocks

    How often, at minimum, should you review your investments?

    • Once a month

    • Once or twice a year

    • Every few years

    • Every time you change jobs

    CORRECT

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  • Do an Investment Inventory

    Do you know what's in your portfolio? Whether you've got a retirement plan at work, an individual IRA or other investment accounts, you should know what's in them. You can use a site like Morningstar.com to check the performance, ratings and top holdings of your mutual funds. If you have any issues or questions, contact your plan administrator or the company that holds your investment accounts.

    Go to Morningstar.com

  • Session Q&A

    Should I invest on my own or use an advisor?
    There are lots of opinions about this, but it all comes down to personal choice. If you have the time and inclination to manage your own investments, there are many information sources that can help you do it. You can purchase investments on your own from a bank or investment firm, both of which provide additional investment guidance and services. If you're less inclined to do it yourself, you can hire someone to help. Some advisors are paid on an hourly basis, while others take a percentage of your money to manage your investments. Whichever route you choose, it's a good idea to get recommendations from friends and family, and talk with several advisors to find the right fit.
    How much money do I need to start investing in mutual funds?
    You can start investing in mutual funds for as little as $1,000. While about half the funds tracked by Morningstar require an investment of $25,000 or more to establish a new account, around 25% require only $2,500.
    What's the difference between a load fund and a no-load fund?
    Load funds are mutual funds you purchase from an advisor or broker, which have a fee that compensates them for their time and expertise. There may be other fees associated with load funds as well. No-load mutual funds can be purchased directly from a mutual fund company. Many investors seek out mutual funds with lower expenses because they believe such funds will perform better over time and because fees won't eat away at the overall return.
    Will having stocks in my retirement portfolio help me beat inflation?
    It depends on how you're invested. Stocks can produce higher returns that may help offset inflation. However, they fluctuate with the market and may even lose value in the long term. You should make sure you have a well-diversified portfolio that matches your goals, time frame and risk tolerance.
    What account can I use to save for college tuition?
    529 savings plans offered by individual states are a good way to save for college. They offer tax-free growth and investment options, and there are no federal taxes on withdrawals if the money is used for higher-education tuition, room and board or other expenses. Other tax-advantaged options include a Coverdell Educational Savings Account, or a custodial account, which has more limited tax advantages. You can also save in a taxable account that invests in stocks, bonds and mutual funds.

MAXIMIZE YOUR RETIREMENT SAVINGS
Brought to you by PNC Investing and Retirement

Whether you plan to retire in two years or twenty, there are things you can do to get your retirement savings on track.

MAXIMIZE RETIREMENT SAVINGS

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    Which of the following is not a type of IRA?

    • Roth

    • Traditional

    • SEP

    • 401(k)

    You can't contribute to a 401(k) and an IRA at the same time.

    • True

    • False

    If you have multiple IRAs or 401(k)s from previous employers, what are your options?

    • Consolidate them into one or two Rollover IRAs

    • Roll them over into a new employer's retirement plan

    • Cash them out

    • All of the above

    When can you make a catch-up contribution to your retirement accounts?

    • Any year you missed the deadline for contribution.

    • Before April 15th

    • When you rollover your retirement plans

    • When you are 50 or older

    Your investment focus should change when you're nearing retirement.

    • True

    • False

    CORRECT

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  • Get Retirement Ready

    Whether it's six months away or 20 years down the road, you can do something today, or at least this week, to get ready for retirement. Just one thing. If your employer offers a retirement plan, join it, or increase your contribution just a little bit. If not, open an IRA or contribute to an existing one. That's it.

    Want to do even more? Check out the Next Step Guide to Retirement and we'll make some suggestions.

  • Session Q&A

    When should I start saving for retirement?
    NOW. It's never too early to start investing for retirement, no matter how much you can afford to put away. If you start investing just a small amount in your 20s, you could wind up with more money than someone older who saved much more over a shorter period. The point is to start as soon as you can, and invest as much as you can. Even if you're struggling with other obligations, try to set at least something aside for retirement.
    What's the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA?
    Both retirement vehicles offer tax-deferred accumulation and have the same contribution limits. The main difference is that with a Roth IRA, you'll pay taxes on the amount you contribute now, but qualified withdrawals will be tax-free in retirement. With a Traditional IRA, your contributions are tax-free, but you'll be charged taxes when you withdraw the funds in retirement. Also, with the Roth IRA, you don't have to start withdrawing funds when you reach a certain age, but with a traditional IRA, you are required to start withdrawing a percentage of your savings at age 70½. Finally, while anyone can contribute to a Traditional IRA, your income must not exceed a certain limit if you want to make contributions to a Roth.
    How does a company 401(k) matching program work?
    Different companies have different programs, so you should ask your employee benefits contact person to explain the specifics of your plan. There are two types of matching plans. Some employers will match a percentage of your contribution, while others match dollar for dollar. Both matches will have a specified limit (usually three to six percent of your salary). Either way, you should try to contribute enough to get the full match. Otherwise, you're missing out on free money.
    What kind of investments should I have in my retirement accounts?
    That all depends on when you plan to retire. If you have 20 years or more left until retirement, you'll want to create a fairly aggressive portfolio to maximize your returns. With five or 10 years to retirement, a more balanced approach is recommended. And as you get closer to retirement, your key goal will be preserving your principal. Age-based or target-date funds are an easy way to get the mix of investments you need to meet your goals.
    What are my options if I'm self-employed?
    If you are self-employed, you may have more options than you think. If you work for yourself, consider setting up a SEP IRA, one of the most basic ways to invest on a pre-tax basis for retirement. With a SEP IRA, you can contribute as much as 25 percent of your eligible compensation, subject to IRS annual limits. Alternatively, a Solo 401(k) lets business owners set aside a significant portion of their earnings, because you can make contributions both as an employer and as a business owner, again subject to IRS annual limits.

GETTING THE MORTGAGE YOU WANT
Brought to you by PNC Mortgage

If you're in the market for a home, learn more about what lenders are looking for so you can get the best possible rates and terms.

THE MORTGAGE YOU WANT

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    Before you start looking at houses, you should know:

    • How many acres of land you want

    • How much you can afford

    • How many bedrooms you want

    • How long you plan to live there for

    A small percentage difference in mortgage rate doesn't really matter.

    • True

    • False

    Lenders will look at your income to see whether:

    • You're a safe bet or not

    • You pay your taxes

    • You're good at your job

    • It's big

    Using lots of credit is a warning sign for lenders.

    • True

    • False

    Lenders are going to be concerned about the appraised value of your house.

    • True

    • False

    CORRECT

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  • Calculate Your Dream Home

    Are you dreaming of owning your first home, moving into a bigger one or finally getting that vacation house you've wanted? Take the first step by calculating how much home you could afford. Consider how much you've got for your down payment. Use our calculator to figure out the price range that's reasonable. Then start shopping.

  • Session Q&A

    What should I do if I get rejected for a loan?
    Getting your loan application rejected can be surprising and disheartening. But you can turn it into a valuable experience. Under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, all lenders and credit providers are required by law to tell you in writing within 30 days why you were denied. Rejections can be based on a lot of things. Your income, your down payment or a poor credit score. Based on what you find in your letter, you can make some adjustments. Maybe you need to reevaluate how much you can afford, or clean up your credit. At least you'll know what you need to do to increase your chances of success. For more info, see the Improving Your Credit Score video.
    Does it matter to a lender whether you are going for a 15- or 30-year loan?
    Getting a 15-year loan has certain advantages. Not only will it be paid off sooner, but typically the interest rate is a bit lower and you'll save an enormous amount of interest over the life of the loan. However, all these benefits are at the expense of a higher monthly mortgage payment—usually hundreds of dollars more per month. A lender will want to be certain that you can afford it. So they'll be looking at your qualifications a little more carefully, especially your income and how confident you are that it will be steady or continue to rise.
    What is a rate lock, and should I get one?
    Most lenders will let you lock in an interest rate as soon as you locate a property and start the loan application process. They're usually valid for anywhere from seven days to several months, and you may be able to pay a fee to extend for a longer period. If you're thinking about it, you should ask your lender for an estimate of how long they think it will take to process your loan in particular. Then you have to decide whether you think interest rates will rise or fall before you close on your house. No one can predict for sure, but you can do some research before you decide.
    Are some lenders more lenient than others?
    All lenders have different approval standards. Banks and mortgage lenders use different criteria for application approval based on their business objectives. And the Federal Housing Association runs programs that let people who have a smaller down payment qualify for a loan. If you've got steady income and decent credit, there's a good chance you'll be able to find a loan for you.
    I filed for bankruptcy five years ago. Will I ever be able to get a loan?
    A bankruptcy will make it much harder to qualify for a loan, but it's not impossible. The record of your bankruptcy will stay on your report for 10 years, but most traditional mortgage lenders will start to consider you for a loan with market interest rates four years after the bankruptcy filing. But they'll want to see that you've taken steps to repair your credit. You could also apply for a Federal Housing Administration-backed loan two years after a bankruptcy filing, but you'll pay slightly higher interest rates.

CREDIT SCORE MYTHS & FACTS
Brought to you by PNC Bank

Having a good credit score can help you get the best rates when you borrow money. Make sure you know what can impact your number.

CREDIT SCORE MYTHS

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    Which of the following people could NOT ask to see your credit report.

    • A potential landlord

    • Your doctor

    • Your employer

    • An insurance agent

    It's very important to keep your credit score high because:

    • You won't be able to get a mobile phone if it's low

    • It will save you money in the long run

    • It will help you qualify for the best interest rates

    • All of the above

    A credit score of 680 is considered excellent.

    • True

    • False

    Credit repair companies can improve your credit score.

    • True

    • False

    Closing your credit cards can:

    • Increase your credit score

    • Harm your credit score

    • Help you to be more careful with money

    • Increase your total available credit

    Checking your credit score every quarter will:

    • Harm your credit score

    • Help you keep a check on your credit score

    • Deter lenders

    • d) Cost you a lot of money

    CORRECT

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  • The Credit Check Challenge

    If other people are checking your credit, why shouldn't you? After all, you're entitled to get one credit report every year—absolutely FREE—from each of the three official credit bureaus. Go to annualcreditreport.com and get your first one now, then put reminders in your calendar to get the other two at later times in the year, so you can keep an eye on your credit reputation all year long.

    Get Your Free Reports

  • Session Q&A

    Will a negative "mark" on my credit report be there for seven years, or is there a way to get it removed?
    If there is a delinquency on your credit report, such as a missed payment or bankruptcy, there is nothing you can do about it. Typically, a missed payment will remain on your credit score for seven years and certain bankruptcies as long as 10 years. A delinquency will only be removed from your credit score if it was an error. Errors do happen, that's why it is a good idea to get your three free credit reports—one from each bureau—every year. To correct an error, follow the instructions on the bureau's website. Once you have proven that it was a mistake, it can take 10 or more days for the error to be removed from your score.
    My partner has a poor credit score. Should we leave them off the mortgage?
    The advantage of a joint mortgage is that you get to double up your income, which could increase your chances of getting a loan. However, if you're going to borrow money, you should make sure that you qualify for the best interest rates. The first and most important consideration for lenders is your credit score. When you apply for a joint mortgage, the bank will evaluate both your credit scores. If one of you has a low score, depending on the lender's underwriting policies, the lender may balance out the scores or focus on the low score. You need to figure out whether doubling up your income or going with the best credit score will be the best option for you.
    How long will it take for my credit report to be updated after I pay off a credit card or settle a collection account?
    It depends. Most lenders report account information to the credit bureaus around the close of a customer's billing cycle. The credit bureaus have your information in a database, and when someone requests a credit report, they generate it using the most current information. This means that you don't actually have a credit score until it is requested, and it could easily change from one hour to the next.
    My credit score has improved a lot since I got a loan for my house. Does it make sense for me to refinance?
    Your credit score has an impact on many different areas of your life, including some areas that you wouldn't think have anything to do with borrowing money. It's the first and most important consideration for lenders. If your credit score has improved, it's a good idea to check and see if you can lower your interest rates across the board. You don't want to be handing over more money each month than absolutely necessary.
    Is it worth it to get a monthly credit monitoring service?
    A credit monitoring service can alert you immediately if you are a victim of identity theft, but generally it's not worth it, emotionally or financially. Constantly monitoring your credit score can make you paranoid about the slightest dip and while the monthly cost of credit monitoring may seem to be small, it can add up over a year. It's a better idea to get the three free credit reports – one from each bureau – that you are entitled to every 12 months at annualcreditreport.com. This way you'll be able to keep an eye on your credit without obsessing about any fluctuations.

SET GOALS TO SAVE MORE
Brought to you by PNC Virtual Wallet®

What do you want to save for? Whether it's a new computer or a down payment, learn a simple system that can help make it happen.

SET GOALS TO SAVE MORE

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    When you are writing down your savings goals:

    • List only the most important ones

    • Be as specific as possible

    • Always start with the smallest goal

    • Start with some general ideas

    You can only save for one thing at a time.

    • True

    • False

    Setting a time frame for your goals will:

    • Distract you from your main objective

    • Make it seem harder

    • Give you an end date to look forward to

    • Get your friends and family on board

    What should you do if you experience a savings setback?

    • Go back to square one

    • Take a break from saving

    • Try to make up the difference next month

    • Keep going

    When it comes to saving, what's a foolproof way to combat wavering willpower?

    • Set up an automatic monthly transfer to your savings account

    • Let yourself splurge on something small

    • Cut up your credit cards

    • Call a friend

    CORRECT

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  • The "Do It Free" Challenge

    Saving money doesn't mean you have to give up your life. Sometimes it just takes a little ingenuity. Think about things you like to do and spend money on--whether it's trying new foods or going out to hear live music. Then find ways to do them for little or no money. Check out Anna's "56 Free Things to Do" for inspiration. You'll be surprised at how creative you can get.

    Read Anna's List

  • Session Q&A

    Should I be saving for a vacation if I have debt to pay off?
    Remember, it is possible to save for multiple things at once--including paying off debt. It all depends on your priorities. If you have a high interest rate on your credit cards, are carrying a substantial balance or even if your debt really bothers you, you may want to consider paying it off first. On the other hand, if you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to a faraway land, you might want to take it. Write down the pros and cons and make a decision. You may decide that you can find a way to do both.
    What kind of savings account is best?
    If you're saving for short-term goals (things that you'll accomplish within a year or so) you'll probably want to keep your money in a safe, liquid account. Look for one that pays at least a little interest, because every little bit adds up. Some savings and money market accounts offer a higher rate if you keep a higher balance. But be sure to find out about any fees and any minimum balance requirements. CDs are another option for short-term or long-term savings goals. They pay a fixed interest rate based on the terms, which vary from 7 days to 10 years. But if you want to get the money out early, you may pay a penalty. So check the terms.
    When is it appropriate to invest my savings?
    If you're saving for a future goal--like opening a business, a down payment on a house or even retirement--you may want the potential to grow your savings by investing. Just make sure your investments are appropriate for your goals. See the Get More Comfortable with Investing video for some tips.
    How does saving for retirement fit in with my other savings goals?
    Its true what they say. The earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. So saving for retirement should always be one of the goals you are working on. Make retirement savings part of your regular budget. Then work your other savings goals around it. For more thoughts on retirement savings, check out the Maximize Your Retirement Savings video.
    Should I link my savings and checking accounts?
    There are many benefits of linking your checking account to your savings account. You can set up regular automatic transfers from checking to savings--every month or every paycheck, for example. Plus, if you ever have extra money in your checking account, moving it to savings couldn't be easier. On the other hand, your money can go both ways. Just make sure you can resist the urge to transfer money from savings to checking to pay for things you don't really need--like a nice dinner out or a pair of shoes you can't resist.

5 GOOD REASONS TO BUDGET
Brought to you by Virtual Wallet®

Tracking expenses and keeping a budget does take some effort. But the control and confidence you'll gain could be worth it.

5 GOOD REASONS TO BUDGET

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    If you don't spend all your income each month, you don't really need a budget.

    • True

    • False

    A budget can help your family:

    • Identify who is spending the most money

    • Talk more easily about money issues

    • Track expenses

    • Pay your bills on time

    Having a budget gives you:

    • More freedom

    • Less freedom

    • More money

    • Less money

    Having a budget can help eliminate:

    • The need for a checkbook register

    • Stress

    • The need to keep receipts

    • Credit card fees

    Having a budget can help prevent financial crises.

    • True

    • False

    CORRECT

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  • Track Everything Challenge

    What's the first step to maintaining a monthly budget? Tracking expenses. Not just your monthly bills, but small, everyday expenses like coffee, magazines and movie tickets. Don't judge yourself, simply keep track. Record everything. After a month, plug the numbers into our worksheet, and you've got a budget.

    Get the Worksheet

  • Session Q&A

    How can you budget if your income changes month to month?
    Even if your income varies, many items in your budget will stay the same from month to month, like rent, car payments and utility bills. Create your budget around these fixed costs, adjust for variable expenses like groceries and entertainment when you need to, and try to build up your savings to manage months when your income isn't enough to cover all your expenses.
    If a sudden major expense comes up, how do I work it into my budget?
    This is why it's important to have an emergency fund. But if you don't have one set up yet, start by looking at the variable items in your budget to see how much you can cut back to cover the unexpected expense. If you can't cover the expense in one month, you can borrow money or, as a last resort, put the expense on a credit card, then allocate a monthly amount into your budget to pay it off as quickly as possible. While we are on the subject, check out the Creative Ways to Build Your Emergency Fund video.
    What's the best way to get my family on board with a monthly budget?
    A budget is a tool to help you make better financial decisions. So don't just use it to identify problem areas. Show your family members how tracking expenses regularly can help you feel more confident about how much and when you can spend on things that you all want--like family vacations. The more involved your family members can be, the more they'll understand that budgets can be a good thing.
    How do I account for bills or expenses that aren't regular, like my property taxes or insurance premiums--even things like haircuts and Christmas presents?
    You can and should budget for irregular expenses, but it takes a little extra work. Make a list of every irregular expense that comes up over the course of a year. Sometimes thinking about the seasons helps. For example, you may pay for snow removal in the winter, or tree-trimming in the summer. Ask your family to help, and look over old credit card statements or check registers to jog your memory. Once you've got your list, total it and divide it by 12 to create a monthly figure. Set aside that amount each month, whether you get a bill or not. When the bills do come in, you'll have the money ready.
    How often should I review my budget?
    Your budget is a tool that helps you manage your money more effectively. You'll be surprised at how often you can use it to help you make more confident decisions. You might look at it daily, or weekly. But as a rule of thumb, you should take a look at least once a month to make sure it's updated with any changes in income or expenses.

INSTRUCTOR BIO

  • instructor img instructor img

    Anna Newell Jones

    Blog | Facebook | Twitter

    Anna is a photographer who racked up substantial debt from credit cards and loans from family. In 2009, she began her Spending Fast® and Spending Diet plan, and managed to pay off almost $24,000 in debt in 15 months. She started the blog And Then We Saved to share her strategies with others. She has been quoted in publications including Self, US News and the Chicago Tribune, and has appeared on CNN Money and the HLN Network. She lives in Denver with her husband Aaron.

    Sessions: The Spending Diet, Set Goals to Save More
  • instructor img instructor img

    David Ning

    Blog | Facebook | Twitter

    David Ning is the founder of MoneyNing, a personal finance site with more than 500,000 unique visitors per month. He also posts regularly for MoneyNing on Twitter and Facebook. His other online properties include Investing School and Personal Finance Buzz—a bookmarking site that features the best in personal finance and money articles. Before becoming an entrepreneur, David had a successful career in information technology and sales. David is the father of two young children, and lives in Irvine, California, with his family.

    Sessions: Creative Ways to Build an Emergency Fund, 5 Good Reasons to Budget
  • instructor img instructor img

    Galia Gichon

    Blog | Facebook | Twitter

    Galia is a personal finance expert with 18+ years of professional experience, including nearly 10 years on Wall Street, and an MBA from Fordham University. Her company, Down to Earth Finance, offers individual sessions and seminars to address personal financial needs. Galia created the My Money Matters Kit, with tools including affirmations, tips and workbooks. She regularly guest lectures at universities, speaks at conferences and corporate events, and has been quoted by CNN, The Wall Street Journal, MSN Money and more.

    Sessions: Get More Comfortable with Investing, Maximize Your Retirement Savings
  • instructor img instructor img

    Luke Landes

    Blog | Facebook | Twitter

    Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary, a blog about personal finance, money management and investing, and has been cited as a must-read blogger by Kiplinger's Personal Finance. Consumerism Commentary was listed as one of the most useful blogs by MSN Money and has received mentions in publications including The Wall Street Journal and Money magazine. Luke has also written for publications including US News & World Report and PCWorld, and his stories have been syndicated on Yahoo Finance.

    Sessions: Get the Mortgage You Want, Credit Score Myths & Facts

OTHER SESSIONS

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