Author Archives: femmefrugality

Tips for Moving with Children

Last month I got to sit down with my friends at Northwood Realty for a Think Tank session on moving with children. To be honest with you, it’s something I haven’t done yet–partially because our current housing situation is affordable, and partially because Holy Overwhelm.

I have moved a lot, though, in my pre-kid life. It was great to sit down with a bunch of other moms who had been through the ringer, and real estate agents who had done it themselves as parents and helped their clients through the process more than a few times.

I feel a lot better about the whole thing now, and better prepared for next year when we take the plunge.

What we came up with was a treasure trove of knowledge gained from first-hand experience. Here’s some of the best of it:

Such a wealth of knowledge on how to move with kids! Actually feel prepared now!

Smart Prepping for a Frugal Move with Children

We’ve been saying we’re going to move “next year” for a couple of years now. But this time we mean it.

How do I know?

We’ve actually started going through our stuff. Doing so early means we won’t have to move as much–which will save us money. It also means that we’re able to list and sell all our extra stuff before the big day.

It’s a smart move, too, because it means as the seasons roll around, we’ll be able to pack progressively. Once those winter coats are off for the last time, they’ll get packed up. That’s one less box we’ll have to worry about come late Spring.

I picked up some additional tips about moving prep from the fine mothers and real estate agents at our Think Tank, too:

  • If you don’t know where to donate something, especially kids’ toys, clothing or gear, think Women’s Shelters. They often have women and children rotating in and out and always have a need.
  • Pack smaller boxes so everyone can help with the move. I always packed larger boxes and went into beast mode on moving day so it wouldn’t take as long, but now that we’ll have kiddos along for the ride I see the value in going small.
  • Get free boxes at the grocery store or other retailer that frequently receives shipments. They’re typically really strong and most places just break them down at the end of the night. You might have to come after close, but usually if you ask a manger if you can take some off their hands they’ll be more than happy to help.
  • Label and color code. It’s smart to label each box according to which room it will go into. That way, if you have friends coming to help, they won’t be guessing as to which room “Johnny’s Trophies” should end up in. But if you have preliterate children, using colored tape to coordinate with each room can be super helpful, too.

Buying a Home with Children

One thing that really surprised me was that, at least in the South Western PA market, it doesn’t really matter financially when you move. The price difference in housing is negligible, so you should do it whenever works best for your family.

Helping Kids Transition

If you want to move in the summer, though, it was advised that you start looking early. And if you want to move in the summer to help your kids transition, there were some great tips to make things run more smoothly:

  • Enroll your children in sports in their new district–and do it early. This helps them get to know people so they have some friendly faces on their first day.
  • Involve your kids in the house hunt. This can help them feel involved–and also alert you to safety hazards you may not have noticed. I will note that when my parents did this, they picked what I thought was the wrong house. And I still hold it against them. Kidding! Kind of.
  • Hire a sitter to come with you on the house hunt. This way the kids can stay involved, but the show can go on if there’s a meltdown. Pay the babysitter per house–it’s more motivating for them to stay on that way!
  • Get the children’s bedrooms set up first. It will help make their new surroundings more comforting.

Get Your Money Straight

Many of these tips go for any house hunting endeavor–it’s important to have your budget straight. When you’re figuring out how much you need to have saved before buying a home, don’t forget to look beyond the down payment and monthly mortgage payments. You’ll also need money for:

  • Closing costs
  • Home inspection
  • Escrow
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Any applicable HOA fees
  • Hand money

It’s important to be honest with your real estate agent about your financial situation, too. Many of the agents at the Think Tank said this is hard for people, because money and pride go hand-in-hand. But your agent is there to help you, and has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests. If you’re not completely forthcoming, it will all come out anyways–potentially messing up a deal or resulting in lost time looking at houses you can’t truly afford.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR PA BUYERS: You cannot receive gifts to cover costs in the home buying process in the state of Pennsylvania. If you live in another state, be sure to check your local laws before banking on any gift money.

You’ll also want to get pre-qualified before shopping. In markets like the one we have in Pittsburgh, sellers won’t even look at your offer if you want a contingency clause added while you try to find financing.

Selling a Home With Children

Keeping your house ready for last-minute tours is stressful. Keeping it clean and ready with kids? That’s panic-mode stressful.

Here are some top-notch tips I gleaned for prepping your house to move:

  • Keep all the toys in one room. And make sure it isn’t on the ground floor if at all possible. While in reality your children may have taken over the house, no one wants to buy that reality–even if they have kids themselves. Let them fantasize.
  • Get some laundry baskets ready. Got a call from your agent saying that someone wants to come see the house in an hour? As in one hour? As in sixty minutes from NOW? If you have a couple of laundry baskets ready to go, you can round up all the toys, books and other odds and ends your kids have taken out of that dedicated room, throw them in the basket, and then throw them in the trunk of your car as you get ready to leave.
    Last-minute showings can be inconvenient, but staying flexible is key in helping your home sell quickly.
  • Don’t worry about seasonality. At least in our local housing market, there is no best time of year to sell. In fact, the agents we spoke with said the holidays were one of their favorite times to sell because the houses were done up so beautifully for the festivities. (January is also when a ton of companies do relocations, so there are generally plenty of buyers.)
  • Animals are more of a distraction than children. If you have pets, you may want to temporarily house them somewhere else. If the buyer isn’t a dog person, they may have a hard time overlooking your German Shepard while they’re trying to fall in love with your house. Or the litter your cat spilled outside the box after you meticulously cleaned it up before loading your laundry baskets into the car.
    Temporarily housing with a friend or family member is also less stressful for your furry friend, too. Strangers can be scary–especially when your pet doesn’t fully understand what’s going on.

Protect Yourself

Again: strangers can be scary. While you hope the buyer’s agent is looking out for you, you simply don’t know who is going to be in your home. Be sure to lock up any:

  • Cash
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards/Banking information
  • Jewelry
  • Firearms
  • Medication
  • Anything else of value or potential harm

Ready to List!

Ready to list? Here’s some things you can do to help get your house off the market quickly:

  • Have an open house immediately after you list. This helps create pressure.
  • If you can coordinate listing with your vacation, you’ve got an ideal situation. You clean your house before you leave and have nobody to mess it up for a week–or however long you’re gone. The realtors cited many examples where the home sold before the family was even back in town!
  • Continue promoting even if you have a contract. Because, unfortunately, contracts do sometimes fall through.

Have you moved with children?

Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

 

 

 

*I have been compensated for my time at this event and the writing of this post.  Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*

LEGO® Brick Fest Live! Review

This looks so cool! Glow-in-the-dark legos at LEGO Brick Fest Live!

Did anyone take advantage of that promo code to go to LEGO® Brick Fest Live! this past weekend?

If you didn’t–you missed out! It was such an incredibly fun day with so much to do. In the days leading up to the event, I got an earful about how cool the races were going to be, and how I better be ready to take pictures of the crashes. (Because that’s the coolest part of racing, I suppose!)

Obviously, when we arrived, that was the first thing we did. They had pre-made platforms which you built your car on top of–in four minutes. It was intense.

Racing cars at LEGO Brick Fest Live!

To  be honest, I wasn’t sure how well that vehicle was going to do. It didn’t look hyper aerodynamic even though it was super cool looking. Much to my surprise, watch who comes in first in the second race!

We also got to contribute to a couple of large-scale LEGO cities–including one that glowed under black lights–at the Inspiration Stations.

LEGO Inspiration Station at Brick Fest

These LEGOs glow under blacklights.

There were so many vendors there. I was a little bit oblivious to how many groups and businesses are built around the LEGO industry.

One that my kiddo was immediately attracted to was this station with remote control car bases that could be controlled through an app on your phone. I told them we might have to wait and ask Santa for this one if they still want it around Christmas time (it was $50), but we did get to try it out while we were there. It was pretty darn fun.

While we were there, we got to see some fine art and learn a little history:

I never knew the history of the Rosie the Riveter poster! Super interesting, and cool LEGO rendition.

And play in ALL the brick pits:

Brick pits at LEGO Brick Fest

To top it all off, we played nine holes of LEGO mini golf and got to contribute to the mosaic wall. There were patterns you could use to make a variety of cool images. We picked the Poke Ball:

LEGO Pokeball pattern

One thing to note: we were finishing up our mosaic at quarter to close. If you’re going to do any collaborative projects, I’d recommend doing them earlier in the day as they were starting to tear down right as we were putting ours up. We didn’t have any tantrums or anything over it, but I can see how something like that may happen.

This is our second year running attending a LEGO event. They’re so fun, and you get a lot of bang for your buck with the tickets. We did get our tickets for free in order to facilitate this review, but I’d be happy to pay the ticket price for a day full of fun like this one. Can’t wait to see what next year may hold!

Cities Where You Can Still Catch LEGO Brick Fest Live!

The event’s over in the Steel City, but you can still catch it if you live in any of the following areas. Click here for exact dates.

  • Scottsdale, AZ
  • Austin, TX
  • Denver, CO
  • Portland, OR
  • Pasadena, CA
  • Las Vegas, NV
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Richmond, VA
  • Houston, TX
  • Baltimore, MD

What is a Good Credit Score?

This post has been compensated by CreditRepair.com.

I never knew you had more than one credit score! After reading this, I realize I have some work to do so I can have a good credit score.

Any time you apply for credit, the lender is going to take a look at your credit history and credit score. A good credit score can be the difference between abysmal interest rates and manageable interest rates. Better rates can save you a ton of money over the course of repayment.

You don’t just have one credit score, though; you have many. There are several systems your lender may use to compute your score. On top of that, you have different scores depending on which product you’re applying for. For example, when you apply for an auto loan, your history with auto loans is typically weighted more heavily than if you were applying for a mortgage.

What is a good credit score, then? Well, today we’ll delve into the answer. We’ll be looking exclusively at FICO scores, though you should note that some creditors will pull your Vantage score. Most run off of the FICO model, though.

What is a good credit score when buying a home?

When you’re taking out a mortgage, a Good credit score usually falls between 680 and 699.

You’re likely to be offered even better interest rates if you have a Very Good credit score, which is typically in the 700-759 range.

But the best rates are usually reserved for those with an Exceptional credit score. The magic range for this rating is between 760 and 850. (Eight-hundred fifty is the highest credit score in the FICO model.)

What is a good credit score for auto loans?

Thinking about taking on a car note? In the auto lending industry, a good credit score is referred to as “Prime.” There is also a “Non-Prime” category, and finally a “Subprime” category. If you’re in the latter, you either want to work on getting your score up or buy in cash—the interest rates will be crushing.

A prime credit score usually falls between 661 and 850.

While non-prime scores are in the 601-660 range, you’re going to have a hard time getting approved by a traditional lender with a bearable interest rate if your score is below 620.

What is a good credit score when applying for a credit card?

Many lenders will pull something called your FICO Bankcard score when you apply for a credit card. This score actually goes all the way past 850 up to 900.

A Good Bankcard score is traditionally considered to be between 680 and 749.

An Excellent Bankcard score will help you get approved for even more exclusive cards. These are usually the ones that have mega rewards benefits. You typically fall into this category if your Bankcard score is 750 or above.

NOTE: Read this before applying for a credit card!

How to Find Your Credit Score

There are a lot of services out there offering “free” credit scores. Typically, you have to sign up for advertorial emails in order to access this score. Be careful, though. If you read the fine print, these scores are typically estimates, and may not be accurate.

They may also be based off of your Vantage score, which, as we’ve already established, only a small amount of lenders actually use.

If you want to get your FICO score and already have a credit card, odds are you can easily access it simply by logging into your account online.

If you don’t already have a credit card, you can find it for free through Discover.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Not happy with your number? There are a few things you can do.

First, you need to check your credit report to make sure all the information on it is accurate. You are entitled to get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—once per year.

If you find inaccuracies, you can go through the process of cleaning it up yourself, or you can get a trusted third-party who cleans up inaccurate credit reports for a living, like CreditRepair.com, to do it for you.

If you’ve checked your credit report and everything’s accurate, there may still be something on there that you’re not happy about. Maybe a hospital sent your medical bill to collections without notifying you. Maybe you lived through a natural disaster and were too busy trying to put your life back together to remember the due date on your latest credit card statement.

If something like this happened to you, you can try writing a Goodwill Letter to get the negative line item removed. It’s not guaranteed to work, but it is a fairly simple process.

If the information is all accurate and you don’t have an extenuating circumstance that would justify removal, you just have to work on establishing good credit habits moving forward. Building your number back up can take some time, but if you’re consistent, it should work. Negative information only stays on your report for seven years max.

Here are three of the big things you can do to show you’re a responsible borrower:

  • Pay on time. If you’re more than 30 days late on a bill, that can show up on your credit report. If you’re dealing with medical debt, consider applying for financial assistance. You should also request to be put on a payment plan you can afford.
  • Keep your debt burden low. A big factor used to determine your credit score is your debt-to-credit ratio. If you have a $14,000 limit on your credit cards but you only owe $1,000, your debt-to-credit ratio is decently low. If, however, your limit is $1,000 and you’re carrying that same $1,000 balance, your ratio is incredibly high. This does not bode well for you when calculating your credit score.
  • Pay off debt, but don’t close your cards. If you have debt, pay it off. If you’re paying off credit card debt, it can be tempting to close them down after you’ve achieved your goal. Don’t. If you only had one credit card with a $14,000 limit and paid it off, your debt-to-credit ratio is looking pretty awesome. If you shut it down, you now have $14,000 less in credit, which is going to raise your ratio—not a good thing.

 

Do you have experience improving your credit score to get it into the “good” range? Leave your story in the comments!

An Economic Appreciation of Lord Stanley

Reasons why you should respect the Stanley Cup and the team who won it in 2017--the Pittsburgh Penguins!

I’ve got to be completely straight with you: I am not the world’s biggest hockey fan.

Being from Pittsburgh, this is all but a sin. I’ve tried–truly. I will say that I enjoy the games much more when they’re live. We went to a scrimmage in 2013 near the end of the NHL lockout. When we were in Calgary this winter we even caught our hometown team play against the Flames.

FRUGAL TIP: Hockey games are waaaaaayyyyy cheaper in Calgary!!!

Live games are kind of fun, but I don’t know the rules and don’t mind if I miss a few minutes when I get stuck in the refreshment line.

Hockey’s Economic Contribution

What I really appreciate about the Penguins is all the good they do for our city. Unlike other sports, they don’t employ thugs. Their players are constantly giving back to our local community. And that lockout? It proved that the NHL is a major contributor to Pittsburgh’s overall economy.

In the recent past, the Pens have brought people in not just from out of town, but from out of the suburbs. You can frequently watch away games at the big screen in front of PPG Paints Arena, bringing more spending dollars downtown. And don’t even get me started on those insane victory parades—over 600,000 people downtown this year from what I heard!

My Kid is Every Other Pittsburgher

It also brings a lot of joy to my family. I’m pretty sure my eldest is with me and couldn’t care less about the sport itself, but my youngest has now watched the Penguins score their winning goal for the Championship two years running. It’s a fond memory with their father.

Tweeting n’at

One great thing about all this hockey success in 2017 is that fans can always stay connected, tweeting out pictures of Crosby with the cup and streaming the joy-filled madness on Facebook Live. Because we had oh, so many people staying connected downtown this year, though, we needed a little tech boost.

Verizon, who is particularly committed to the fans and the community, added eight small cells surrounding PPG Paints Arena this year. These permanent mini cell sites help bring additional speed and capacity not just for things like the victory parade, but also for any Pittsburgher who travels downtown.

Viewing the Stanley Cup

As a thank you for their generosity, the Penguins brought the cup to the Verizon offices so their employees could touch the challis that has bathed the babies of champions. In turn, Verizon was kind enough to invite my family out to view the cup, too.

It was really cool to be able to see my youngest, who has now seen legends hurl this very trophy above their heads after back-to-back victories, reach out and touch the cup, tentatively at first, and then giggling with glee after they realized this was the real thing.

Thanks to the Pens for boosting Pittsburgh’s economy and helping the least of us through your charity work, and thanks to Verizon for helping us tweet about it!

 

3 Tips for Moving on a Tight Budget

Saving this for our next move! Great tips on how to move on a tight budget.

Moving house is stressful for a wide number of reasons.

One, you may have to start packing while you’re still working a full-time job and taking care of a family.

Two, you may have a lot of things to pack, but no clear idea of how to go about it.

Three, you may have fond memories of your current home and circle of friends and feel a little depressed about leaving it all behind.

And four, you may have to do things in a hurry, perhaps because of a job relocation.

There are lots of things to consider when moving house. Fortunately, there are also plenty of simple, effective strategies to help you get things sorted out quickly so that your move will go smoothly. Here are 3 big ideas to make your move easier:

1. Figure out how you’ll move.

It’s important to figure out the logistics of your move before you take any action. A clear idea of how you’re going to move will make it easier for everything else to fall into place.

Deciding on how to move usually boils down to figuring out whether you should do-it-yourself or hire a reputable professional business like the North American moving company. If you’re thinking of spending as little as possible to move, you might assume that it would be more labor intensive but less expensive to do it yourself. While you might be right about how much work is involved in doing everything yourself, you could be wrong about it being cost-effective.

The only reason making your own move appears cheaper is because you don’t see all of your costs totaled up ahead of time. Instead, you’re dealing with multiple costs that occur over a stretch of time. For instance, there are the costs of hiring a moving van, buying your family and friends’ thank-you lunches and dinners for volunteering to help you move, the cost of moving equipment and materials, checking in at weigh stations, increased tolls and so on.

Since these costs accumulate in a random, often unpredictable way, they could add up to more than you had reckoned. By comparison, professional movers usually have a streamlined process that often results in large cost savings for the consumer.

Besides the financial costs, you also have to consider the cost of time and labor. If you’re planning on a DIY move you have to ask some hard questions.

  • How much time do your family and friends have available to help you with your move?
  • Will you be coming home exhausted from work in the evening and then start packing until midnight for weeks on end?
  • Will your family and friends have enough time to come over and help you out with everything that needs to get done?
  • Will things get packed properly and loaded safely or will hasty packing result in plenty of breakages of some of your best stuff?
  • Will you be able to find enough strong people to move the large, heavy appliances and furniture into the truck?

Many of these problems could be alleviated if a professional moving company sends over some able bodied people to help you pack your stuff.

2. Minimize how much stuff you have to move.

If you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you’ve probably accumulated a lot more stuff than you realized. When you look around your apartment or house, you might be surprised to come across things you no longer like or need. You’ll discover clothes that just don’t fit anymore and electronic gadgets that are now obsolete.

You should consider decluttering as much as you can. It’s a total waste of time and money to pack and transport all this excess to your new home.

Here is a simple strategy for decluttering:

  1. Empty out a room so that you have plenty of free space.
  2. Go around the house and collect everything that you don’t want to take with you and dump it into the empty room.
  3. Use four large boxes to sort through what you now have in the spare room. You will need a box for trash; a box for recycling; a box for donations to family and friends; and a box for putting everything you can’t make a decision on in the moment.

3. Avoid spending more than necessary.

Don’t buy boxes, but simply collect boxes from local stores who throw or recycle their boxes after they have received a shipment of new products. Also, cut off all your utility bills before your date of departure because many utility companies won’t pro-rate your invoices. Otherwise, you might be paying for an extra month of services.

These 3 big tips will help mitigate some of the stress of moving. Moving houses is often considered a major life stressor, exhausting both physically and emotionally. In fact, it’s considered as difficult as relationship breakups, divorces, and starting a new job. And, of course, it becomes even more stressful if you have a limited budget and a tight deadline to meet.

 

 

This post is contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker.

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