Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Alternatives to Payday Loans

Super smart alternative to payday loans!

Ever had a car break down with no other way to get to work?

How about an unexpected medical expense?

Want to fly home to help out in a family emergency, but don’t have the cash on hand for a plane ticket?

In all of these instances, you should turn to your emergency fund. Ideally, you already have one that holds enough money to cover 3-6 months of expenses.

Realistically, though? Only forty-one percent of Americans turn to their savings account in a time of financial emergency. That means that over half of us are using alternative methods to get through rough fiscal periods, and all too often we look at high-interest financing as the solution.

In these situations, one of the better solutions is a personal loan. They can be used for just about any expense you may incur and the interest rates tend to be significantly lower than other financing options. Let’s compare.

Credit Cards vs Personal Loans

If you have a line of credit available to you, it really can be a lifesaver. Charging your emergency is only viable, though, if you can pay it off in full before it accrues any interest.

Many credit cards charge 15.99%-24.99% APR. Currently, PenFed Credit Union offers personal loans for rates as low as 9.99% APR.  That’s a major difference in interest rates.

On top of that, when you take out a personal loan, you’re paying a fixed balance. Every month that you pay your fixed monthly payment, your balance will go down and a set portion of your payment will go towards interest.

Credit cards have no fixed monthly payments. While minimum payments are required, these amounts are dependent on your balance. If you can pay your balance off quickly, you’ll pay less interest than if you only chipped away via minimum payments. But if you could pay it off quickly, you probably wouldn’t be charging an emergency in the first place.

Cash Advances vs Personal Loans

Sometimes you may not be able to charge your next big expense. Let’s say you spent $1,000 on your latest emergency, but now you need to pay rent. It is also $1,000, and because of your own series of unfortunate events, you don’t have the cash on hand to write the landlord a check.

In these situations, there is a common temptation to yet again pull out the credit card—this time for a cash advance. This is even less advantageous than charging your card. Cash advances typically come with associated fees.

They also charge interest. While the rate is usually the same as for traditional purchase, you don’t have the luxury of waiting for your statement to close and become due before interest accrues. On cash advances, interest starts building up the day you make your purchase.

So to review, with a cash advance, you’ll start incurring interest right away, making it more expensive than charging something to your credit card as a purchase. In many situations, you’ll also have to pay cash advance fees, making it even more expensive.

Because the personal loan in our example is cheaper than purchasing on a credit card with minimum payments, it is most certainly cheaper than doing the same with a cash advance.

Payday Loans vs Personal Loans

If it is ever at all humanly possible, stay away from payday loans. Their interest rates are usually significantly higher than personal loans offered by credit unions or banks. Also, the computed interest rate could be triple digits.

For example, you may see rates advertised as a “low 15%”, but what these companies don’t advertise is that the interest is charged weekly. That makes your effective APR 400%.

Four hundred percent.

Exhaust the personal loan option first. Remember in our example that the effective rate on a PenFed personal loan is as low as 9.99% APR, and the payment structure is far more reliable than payday loans, which often balloon even higher with excessive fees that are unfortunately easy to accrue.

Note: If you need to borrow less than $500, you may not qualify for a personal loan. That does not mean you should turn to a payday lender. Check out this alternative.

Build Your Emergency Fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund, you’re obviously not alone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start to improve your financial situation today.

Even if you live paycheck-to-paycheck, you can start socking small amounts of money away quickly. If 3-6 months’ worth of expenses sounds like too big of a number, set a lower goal. Maybe $500. Maybe $1,000.

Once you’ve reached your goal, by all means keep going. But by setting something achievable from the start, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Fun fact: If you set aside $25 every other week, you will have a $650 emergency fund after twelve months—not bad!

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.

To receive any advertised product, you must become a member of PenFed Credit Union

Rate and offers current as of April 21, 2017 and are subject to change. Federally insured by the NCUA.

 

Frugal Ways to Teach Your Children Literacy

Number one is such an awesome freebie! Can't wait to implement these five frugal ways to teach literacy.

Literacy–and education in general–is very important in our house. We’ve been reading books to our kids since before they could sit up. We’ve been encouraging them to practice writing their letters since before preschool.

And it’s paid off. My kids can now either read or sound out words, depending on the child and their age. It’s an amazing thing to watch. One moment you have this tiny little baby who can’t do anything for themselves, and a few short years later they have the skills they need to consume any bit of knowledge they seek after. I’m simultaneously proud and awestruck.

Along the way, we’ve used some tools that have been super helpful. They just happen to be pretty darn frugal, too.

ABCmouse

ABCmouse.com has been one of our favorites since toddlerhood. It’s a curriculum disguised as a computer game, built by educators. The kiddos actually beg me to play it.

Not only has it been a huge help in teaching them how to read, but it’s also been great for teaching them computer literacy. A year-long subscription is affordable as far as I’m concerned, but you can check and see if it’s a good match for your kids by trying it for free for 30 days.

Super Why

Super Why: Puppy PowerTrue story: sometimes our kids watch TV. We noticed that after they started watching Super Why their interest in reading in general skyrocketed. It’s not like they weren’t interested at all before, but they started working harder at things like writing their letters and learning what the heck a “rhyming word” was.

We did this for $0 through Netflix, but the program will likely get rotated out eventually. You can also find episodes at Barnes & Noble.

Alphabet Magnets

Uppercase and Lowercase Magnetic LettersBefore they could write, we would practice “writing” their names on the fridge with their alphabet magnets. As they got older, we started using them to sound out words. Today, we’re using them to sort out when to use a capital and when to use the lowercase.

We got ours for free at the library, but you can find an affordable set via Discount School Supply.

Magnetic Doodle Board

The Doodle Pro SlimOur magnetic doodle board was the number one thing that encouraged our kids to work on their fine motor skills–which enabled them to write letters. While we’re definitely going to work on writing more legibly with lined paper, this device is what sparked interest at all.

Our first was a hand-me-down, and the second was a birthday gift. You easily find one for under $25, though, if you’re buying new.

The Library

Frugal tools to teach your kids literacy

The library, of course, has been our number one tool to teach our kids literacy. Every time they go, they have the freedom to pick out a book that meets their current interests. When they were younger, we did weekly story time. Every year, we participate in the summer reading program. As a reward, the library gives them a book to take home for keeps.

The best part of the library? It’s absolutely free, and odds are, there’s one near you.

Getting the Most Out of Pregnancy Health Insurance

Holy shoot. I wish I had gotten more out of my pregnancy health insurance now. Spent so much of my own paycheck unnecessarily!

There are a lot of health care costs to manage when you’re expecting. If you have purchased short term disability to cover income while you’re on maternity leave, or hospital indemnity insurance to cover things like hospital admission or NICU costs, you’re likely paying even more.

These policies’ premiums generally aren’t too insane, and it’s common for employers to bring in a salesman once a year to try to sell them to you as a benefit. Depending on your near-future plans they can be a good price/value ratio.

While you’re paying out insurance premiums, make sure you’re taking advantage of every last benefit.  Here are a couple ways to get the most out of your pregnancy health insurance that most expecting mothers don’t think to ask about.

Get Your Breast Pump Through Health Insurance

The ACA requires insurance companies to cover breast pumps. TRICARE and most state’s Medicaid plans also cover this benefit. There are a few private insurers that are still trying to catch up with the law, but odds are your policy should be paying instead of you.

If your pregnancy health insurance policy doesn’t cover a breast pump for you to own, odds are it will cover breast pump rentals.  Especially while you are in the hospital, and especially if you and baby are having feeding problems or any other health issue that is preventing breast feeding.

While it’s great to have coverage, filing even more insurance paperwork while you’re pregnant doesn’t exactly sound like a fun time. Luckily, medical equipment providers will often handle the insurance and prescription nightmare for you. I was so glad for this when I had my kids.

One such medical equipment provider that operates in almost all of the contiguous United States is Aeroflow Breastpumps. They make the process super easy–all you have to do is fill out a single, one-page form.

This video shows you what they do on the back end from there. The fact that they take all of this work off of your plate is a beautiful thing:

Pregnancy Rewards Programs

Many insurance policies also come with rewards programs. These programs are usually set up so that if you’re taking good care of yourself during pregnancy–by doing things like taking your prenatal vitamins and going to all of your doctor’s appointments–you get some type of baby gear.

The three most common things I’ve seen are:

  • a free stroller.
  • a free pack ‘n’ play.
  • a free car seat.

Call and ask your provider if they offer anything like this.  Any one of these items can easily set you back at least $100 if not more, and none of them are the greatest things to buy used.

 

Want more? Check out other potential hidden benefits in your health insurance plan.

 

This post originally aired on Femme Frugality on January 11, 2013. It has been revamped to reflect changes in health care law with the support of Aeroflow Breastpumps.

Free Entrance to National Parks in 2017

This is incredibly useful and is going to save me some money! It tells you how to get into national parks for free--in the US and Canada.

Over four hundred of America’s national parks are free everyday.  But 118 of them aren’t.  Luckily, the park system does offer free days, so you can go enjoy our beautiful country while remaining completely and totally frugal.

National Park Free Entrance Days for 2017

This weekend is one of those times. On Saturday and Sunday, you can get into any national park for free. Here are the rest of the free days for 2017:

April 22-23, 2017

All of the free days in April are in celebration of National Parks Week.

August 25, 2017

Parks will be open for free in recognition of the National Park Service’s Birthday.

September 30, 2017

Admission will be free in honor of National Public Lands Day.

November 11-12, 2017

Enjoy some of that free fall foliage on Veterans’ Day Weekend.

Which National Parks require an entrance fee?

I’ve been lucky to travel a good bit in my time. National parks always bring such a sense of awe and wonder. It’s one thing to wander around in the wood in your backyard. It’s a completely different thing to spend time in pristine, protected wilderness.

Some of my favorites national parks that will be waiving their fees on free days are:

There’s a ton of others, too. I was surprised to find the ones in my own back yard that I never knew existed. To find some near you, you can check out the National Park Service’s website.

Free National Park Admission in Canada

If you happen to be visiting our neighbors to the north, you should know they have some pretty amazing national parks, too. Canada is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year, and in honor of that fact, they are giving away national park passes for free.

The only catch?

You have to get your pass in advance.

 

We’d love to hear about your national park experiences! Tell us about them in the comments section.

Why Lake Louise Ski Resort is a Great Deal

Wow..these mountains for that much?! Lake Louise Ski Resort really IS a great deal! Can't believe they're open till May 7, too!

Long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of skiing. It’s a sport that makes me feel simultaneously at one with nature and myself. It forces me to push myself and make myself better.

You’ll also remember that I’m all about scoring a great deal when I go skiing, because it can be an expensive hobby.

Last week I had the opportunity to go up to Alberta. As in Alberta home of Banff. Alberta home of the Canadian Rockies. Alberta home of the Big 3.

While I was there, I was fortunate enough to visit one of the Big 3: Lake Louise Ski Resort. While I was super psyched to ski the Rockies, as any Eastern skiier would be, I was even more psyched at how much value the resort offered.

The Lake Louise Lift Ticket is an Amazing Deal

Lake Louise has 145 marked runs plus back bowls that cover three mountain faces. For a comparison, the biggest local ski resort around here has 33 runs. That’s more than 100 less.

Yet if I wanted to go skiing after a week of hard work, an all-day pass at Lake Louise costs $99CAD, and an all-day pass here at home costs $85USD.

You might be thinking that my home resort costs less money when you look at those numbers, but that leaves out a very important part of the equation: the exchange rate. As of this moment, $99CAD is equivalent to $74.14USD, making this an even better deal for American skiiers.

That’s right. On any given weekend, the resort in the Rockies with 145 trails is less expensive to ski than the course in the Appalachians with only 33.

It’s insanity. In such a good way.

PRO TIP: Lake Louise is inside a national park. You will need a national park pass to get in. However, because it’s Canada’s 150 birthday, you can get them for free in 2017. Just make sure you have it before the drive up.

The Instructors at Lake Louise are Patient

Ski lessons Lake Louise

When we went up, my husband took a ski lesson as he had never been before. He struggled, to be sure, as most of us do on our first attempt. But he said the biggest motivator was the fact that he wanted to succeed for his instructor–who just happened to be extremely patient and one heck of a motivator.

Which is pretty much everything you could want in a teacher ever.

I had the same experience with my guide up on the mountain. So much patience. So much kindness. Such great people there to help you as you do such a fun thing.

The Mountain that Defeated Me

Before we left on our journey, I knew there were two major disadvantages I’d have to deal with as I skied the Rockies.

  1. I’m from the East. While I can confidently ski almost all of the slopes and trails at home, they’re inherently easier than what you find out West.
  2. Real talk: I’m not in the best shape of my life. I expected to be incredibly sore when the day was done, but I wasn’t too worried about it as I haven’t ever really considered downhill skiing a cardio strain since the skis do much of the work. (I understand that science may disagree with me.) Besides, I could do those runs back home…

I’m a pretty determined person. When things are hard, it makes me even more motivated to conquer the task. So even though I knew I had some things working against me, I was confident I’d be all right.

I should have thought something was off when I had to get boots two sizes larger than normal. I didn’t, though, and we hopped in the gondola, watching the dramatic wonders of the Northern Rockies out the window.

Lake Louse lift ticket

By the time we got up to the top of the mountain, I was thinking I should have gotten a size bigger. By the time we started our first run (which was freaking gorgeous by the way–both in scenery and in snow quality,) I was in an incredible amount of pain.

It turns out my biggest enemy that day was one I hadn’t accounted for, and one I couldn’t defeat through sheer determination. It was the altitude.

It made my feet swell like crazy. I sat down for a minute, thinking that by taking some pressure off of them the swelling would magically go down. As I was sitting there, I started to get a little bit dizzy.

I wish I were able to insert an, “And yet she persisted,” meme at this point. But I can’t. As much as I wanted to push on, it became clear that it would have been a very bad idea. I reluctantly gave it up.

Apparently I’m not the only person this happens to. When people come in from lower altitudes, many of them will stay in the mountain town of Banff for a couple of days prior to hitting the slopes. It gives your body some time to adjust.

Newbie mistake on my part.

Not all was lost, though. Thankfully, there are tons of entertainment options at Lake Louise.

Tubing at Lake Louise

The resort is incredibly family friendly. They have kids’ skiing lessons, a daycare and a tube park.

The latter is what we tried out with the remaining part of our day. Tubing is a lot like sledding only they have an amazing course built for speed complete with some friction mats at the end to slow you down and keep everyone safe.

So much fun! We went down solo, together, spinning, for speed…

I can just show you, though. This video will be best viewed through VR goggles. If you don’t have them, you can use the mouse on your PC or your finger on your phone to change your POV.

If you are viewing through goggles, look up to see straight in front of you. This is my first action 360 video–promise I’ll get the orientation right for you guys next time.

When you get to the bottom of the course, if you look to the right you’ll be able to see one of the lodges. There are two that host dining options with a total of six restaurants. They have everything from ready-made burgers and fries to a sushi bar so you can eat according to your tastes–or budget.

Lake Louise dining options

More Fun at Lake Louise Ski Resort

There’s so much to do that we couldn’t do it all in one day. On top of skiing and tubing, you can take a snowshoe tour through some pretty remote places to some breath-taking vistas. Interested? Make sure you grab this coupon for 15% off.

On our way in, we also checked out the wooded entrance to the trail leading to Skoki Lodge. It’s a backcountry lodge, which is admittedly something I had never heard of before.

We saw people headed into the wilderness on their cross-country skis to the luxe cabin in the woods. They had a journey of about seven miles to a location picked for it’s idyllic views. In the summer, I learned, you can hike it.

Literally removed from civilization, Skoki Lodge is a hidden B&B that includes three square meals for its up to twenty-two guests. It looks gorgeous and is a priority the next time we go back.

Recommend?

For sure. The sheer value of Lake Louise in and of itself is overwhelming. Add to that the awe-inspiring views and it becomes a must-see for every skiier, snowboarder or person who wants to try snowshoeing. They’re open through May 7 this year, so you still have some time this season.

Like I said, I’m going back. Mainly for the reasons I just stated. On top of that, though, I’m not about to let a mountain defeat me.

Lake Louise Ski Resort*Our tickets and rentals were comped for the purposes of facilitating this review. Regardless, all opinions are 100% honest and 100% my own.*

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