Don’t Sign a Lease Without Asking Your Landlord These 8 Questions

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Getting a new place can be an exciting process. It can also require some savvy thinking and careful planning.

It’s important for renters to take steps to protect their own interests and financial reputations. This is especially true when dealing with landlords and leases. The truth is that what’s written in the fine print really can turn your living situation into a nightmare if you don’t know what you’re getting into.

Nobody wants to pay good money for an apartment that doesn’t allow them to enjoy their environment, feel safe, or host friends. So, how can you make sure your new apartment or rental home is a good fit and also protect your rights as a renter?

Here are eight key questions to ask the landlord before ever touching your pen to a lease.

1. What Methods of Payment Do You Accept?

There was a time when paying by check was really the only way to take care of your rent. However, many apartment complexes now offer electronic payment options.

Electronic payment options are a secure and convenient method for paying your landlord. You may even be able to set up automated payments to avoid missing a month, especially if you’re routinely out of town or have a lot on your plate.

You should definitely avoid a landlord that only accepts cash payments. That’s a sign that something isn’t quite right.

Also, never under any circumstances provide a payment before you’ve viewed your apartment and signed a lease. There are actually a ton of online scams on popular websites, intended to lure in and take advantage of renters. They often hinge on collecting payment up front. So if any landlord asks for payment before you’ve signed the lease, beware.

2. What Is the Guest Policy in This Complex?

The complex you want to live in may have a great pool area, tennis courts, and a state-of-the-art gym. However, there is the chance that you may not be able to bring friends to enjoy these activities if a complex has a strict guest policy.

Sometimes, amenities are only open to leaseholders. This might disappoint you if you’re not a big fan of the idea of paying extra for fancy perks that you can’t share with guests occasionally.

In addition, you may be restricted from even letting friends crash on your couch for more than a few nights if your lease has a policy against long-term guests.

3. What Could Cause Me to Lose My Security Deposit?

Some renters receive an unpleasant surprise when they turn in their keys at the end of a lease term because they didn’t fully understand the conditions attached to their security deposit when they moved in.

You probably already know that damages that go beyond general wear and tear could cause you to lose some or all of your security deposit. However, every landlord has different expectations. Some require a professional cleaning and/or carpet treatment (with receipts) upon move-out, so you can’t even do that yourself. You might get your security deposit back, but you’ll have spent much of that money cleaning your apartment!

Resource: Why I’ll Never Be a Landlord

Be sure to ask about the specific types of damage that could result in your potential landlord withholding your money. This is also a good time to ask if you’re allowed to personalize your apartment without forfeiting your security deposit.

4. What Is the Parking Situation?

The parking situation at your apartment can have a big impact on your life. A simple trip to the grocery store can turn into a complicated juggling act if you’re constantly forced to park far from your front door.

Be sure to ask if the parking lot has reserved spaces. You’ll also want to inquire about guest parking. An apartment complex that doesn’t offer a decent amount of guest parking could prevent you from ever being able to host gatherings at your new place, even if it’s technically allowed.

5. Am I Allowed to Sublet My Apartment?

Being able to sublet your apartment is a big deal if you have the type of career or lifestyle that could require you to relocate temporarily or on short notice. You’ll need to know if subletting qualifies as a breach of contract before you sign a lease.

6. How Does Lease Renewal Work?

It’s important to start thinking about the end of your lease the moment it starts.

Be sure to ask your landlord if month-to-month leasing options are available once a lease is finished. Living in an apartment complex that offers a month-to-month option following the end of a lease is beneficial because you’ll have some extra time if your next lease doesn’t start exactly when your current one ends.

Learn More About Renter’s Insurance

7. How Do You Handle Repairs?

Waiting around for your landlord to take care of repairs is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a renter.

You could lose time and money if you sit around waiting for a maintenance visit that never happens. Be sure to ask about the protocols for both routine and emergency repairs. You should also ask what the typical turnaround time is for a repair like a clogged toilet or broken heater.

8. What Is Your Policy for Entering a Tenant’s Apartment?

The way a potential landlord answers this question will be a big indicator of what to expect if you do commit to a lease. You should always feel safe and comfortable inside your apartment.

Landlords need to give tenants proper notice before they are legally able to enter their apartments for things like inspections or repairs. The state you live in has its own minimum notification requirement. Make sure your potential landlord gives you a clear answer regarding the policy of entering your apartment.

Related: The Hidden Savings In a Rent Payment

No matter how great that new place may seem, be sure to ask as many questions as possible before signing on the dotted line. These eight will hopefully save you from potential heartache (and lost money!) that could come from a bad lease agreement.

Everything You Need to Know About Second-Chance Checking Accounts

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Is there really such a thing as a second chance in the world of personal finance?

Some banks seem to think so. In fact, certain institutions are willing to help people with troubled credit histories start to build up their financial futures by offering second-chance checking accounts.

Of course, these accounts don’t come with all the features of traditional checking accounts. You may have to jump through some hoops to get back into the good graces of the banking world.

However, a second-chance checking account could help you to build a brighter future and erase some unfortunate or irresponsible behaviors that have left marks on your banking history. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about second-chance checking accounts.

Why Second-Chance Checking Accounts Are Necessary

The traditional banking world could shut you out for a number of reasons.

Banks often deny applications for new accounts from people with checkered banking histories. It’s impossible to hide a poor banking record when applying for a new account. In fact, every negative thing in your account history has been reported using something called the ChexSystems Network.

A person with a closed bank account in their history instantly sets off a red flag during the application process. The reality is that if you have an account closed due to unpaid overdraft fees, you may not be able to obtain a traditional banking account from a reputable institution.

Related: How Automation Has Helped Me Reduce Debt and Save

Why They Are Worth the Effort

Some people might say that jumping through hoops just to open a bank account simply isn’t worth the effort. Those people might just decide to use prepaid debit cards or pay a cash checking service to cash their paychecks.

However, those options can both become quite pricey over time when you consider all of the fees that are attached. What’s more, people who rely on those service can’t enjoy the convenience of online banking or around-the-clock ATMs. Plus, more and more employers are moving to deposit-only paycheck methods. If you don’t have a checking account, you might have trouble getting paid. Beyond that, your bank account situation can impact your ability to apply for a loan or mortgage in the future.

With all these considerations in mind, it’s worth your while to tackle some extra paperwork in order to obtain a legitimate bank account.

How Long Will You Have to Stick With a Second-Chance Account?

The promising thing about second-chance accounts is that they are only meant to be transitional. Most people can actually look forward to upgrading to a traditional account after just six months of showing exemplary performance. This means you will have to avoid creating a negative balance or accruing fees for at least six months if you want to take the fast track to a traditional bank account.

Things to Keep in Mind

Second-chance checking accounts should never come with predatory fees or practices. When in doubt, compare the second-chance account’s fees and restrictions to those of a traditional bank account. If they’re significantly higher or more restrictive, you may want to look elsewhere.

However, you may have to deal with some restrictions as you go through the process of applying for and opening an account.

Banks are all over the place when it comes to what they are willing to offer to customers. The reality is that you really are at the mercy of a bank when you ask for a second-chance account.

Some institutions will charge you a monthly fee for the privilege of having a second-chance account. Many institutions don’t give out free debit cards or checks to holders of these accounts. You may also have to deal with daily or monthly maximums on your transactions.

But it is possible to find banks that don’t require any fees. Some banks even offer access to debit cards, online payment options, and checks right off the bat.

The bottom line is that banks want to make sure you can demonstrate the ability to be responsible with your account. They will do this by imposing restrictions on you. They’ll safeguard their own interest by attaching fees to deter you from making poor choices with your account. In fact, you may even be required to participate in a personal finance class in order to open the account!

Where Can You Obtain One?

Only a handful of major banks and financial institutions offer second-chance accounts.

The good news is that most community banks and credit unions do. The best place to start is your local bank or credit union. You may get the best service if you’re able to connect with a credit union that is associated with your employment field.

Resource: Bank on the Advantages of Credit Unions

The Big Thing to Remember

While it can be unpleasant to have to jump through some hoops to please a bank, obtaining a second-chance account is definitely worth the effort. This type of account can help you to restore your financial integrity and set you on the path towards building up your credit.

If you’ve gotten into some bad banking habits, chances are you’ve also gotten into bad credit habits. Creating a better banking record will allow you to access products like secured credit cards that can help you rebuild your credit.

Financial institutions don’t often offer anything as forgiving as a second-chance account. So if you need this option and it’s available to you, you should definitely take advantage. Just be sure you check out the institution’s reputation, and look for predatory account practices before you sign up for this account.

Are Extended Car Warranties Really Worth the Expense?

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Car repairs always seem to come at the wrong time. What’s more, one single problem with a vehicle could cost you thousands of dollars straight from your pocket.

When you first purchase a car, it can seem like the clock is ticking down to that manufacturer’s warranty expiration date with lightning speed. That timer starts as soon as you drive away from the lot. And, really, that warranty doesn’t cover your car for very long. So maybe you’re wondering if an extended car warranty really pays off in the long run.

An extended warranty certainly does look like an attractive option. This is especially true for people who don’t want to be surprised by high repair costs when a major component of their vehicle breaks down.

So, should you also grab a warranty when you grab the keys to your new car? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of signing up for extra protection when you buy your next vehicle.

What Is an Extended Car Warranty?

Many people are confused about how an extended car warranty differs from actual auto insurance.

An extended auto warranty is essentially a service contract designed to offset the cost of repairs unrelated to a car accident (that’s what your auto insurance is for!). You can obtain an extended warranty for either a new or a used vehicle.

An extended car warranty shouldn’t be confused with a manufacturer’s warranty. The extended plan is designed to kick in and provide coverage only after a manufacturer’s bumper-to-bumper warranty has expired.

Typically, dealerships offer extended warranties when you purchase your vehicle. But most of the time, third-party companies are the ones actually administering the warranties. This means they may or may not actually be backed by the automaker behind the particular car you’ve purchased.

The Positives

What’s good about an extended warranty? For one thing, it can be a lifesaver if your car experiences an issue with a main component like the engine, transmission, or air conditioner. These are big repairs that come with hefty bills. Unless you’re saving up separately for unexpected auto expenses, a blown transmission could destroy your emergency fund in a single afternoon.

Learn More: Rebuilding Your Savings After An Emergency Expense

Plus, an extended warranty is typically easy to pay for. It’s usually added to the cost of a vehicle when you make the purchase. This means you will pay a simple lump sum instead of dealing with monthly or annual payments.

It is a good option if you don’t mind paying a little bit more at the front end to potentially avoid a big expense when you’re not expecting it a few years down the road.

What It Covers

Here are some of the repairs an extended warranty could potentially cover:

  • Major engine components
  • Fuel components
  • Electrical components
  • Braking components
  • Steering components
  • Suspension components
  • Heating and cooling components
  • Air conditioning
  • Front and rear drive axles
  • Transmission

Some comprehensive plans even offer benefits like 24-hour roadside assistance and payouts to cover the costs of rental vehicles or public transportation. Of course, what you actually get with your warranty will depend on how much you’re willing to pay for it.

Be sure to really read over your coverage information before purchasing the policy; they can carry a lot of fine print.

The Negatives

Will an extended warranty really pay off when you inevitably do need a repair done on your vehicle? The answer depends on the specific details of your warranty and the exact repairs your car needs.

A recent Consumer Reports survey revealed that 55 percent of car owners who purchased an extended warranty never actually used the warranty for repairs during the lifetime of their vehicle.

That same survey showed that the median cost customers paid for coverage was just over $1,200. However, the median out-of-pocket savings on repairs covered by extended warranties for all was just $837. This means that the average person can expect to lose about $375 when purchasing an extended warranty.

Extended warranties can be like a safety net with some pretty big holes. There’s no guarantee that the specific repair you’ll need will be covered. And most warranties have specific requirements for where your car can be serviced. This can make an extended warranty look like an unnecessary expense.

As mentioned, these policies often have a lot of fine print that could impact coverage. For instance, simply having your vehicle serviced at a place that is not approved could cause your warranty to be invalid. You may also need to seek approval from your warranty provider before you are able to make repairs on your vehicle.

Resource: How Much to Budget for Car Maintenance

Some people don’t want to deal with such a lack of autonomy just for the sake of potentially saving a little bit of money on repairs.

Going Bigger Might Be Better

While basic warranties are pretty inexpensive, they also don’t cover much. Paying a little bit more money for your warranty when you purchase your vehicle might be worth it if you really want peace of mind.

Most basic warranties only cover specific types of repairs needed for your engine or transmission. A top-tier warranty will cover more components throughout your car and provide perks like roadside assistance.

The pain of paying more at the time of purchase could turn into a big relief as soon as car problems begin piling up down the road.

Related: How to Save Money on Car Insurance

The Bottom Line on Extended Car Warranties

An extended car warranty is a good option to consider if you’re the type of person who prefers to pay now instead of paying later.

However, it may not be the best choice if you’re only planning to own a vehicle for a few years. You could actually end up paying for a warranty that you never use if you sell your car soon after the manufacturer’s warranty expires.

On the other hand, purchasing an extended warranty could be a really good option if you’re buying a used vehicle with a history of repairs.

The bottom line is that you’re always playing the odds a bit when it comes to purchasing an extended warranty. Is peace of mind worth the gamble to you?

Five Ways to Get Your Credit Report for Free

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I’ve talked at length in the past about how your credit score is determined and why it’s important. Aside from paying your bills on time, one of the biggest things you can do to protect your credit score is to keep a close eye on your credit report.

While you’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus, sometimes that just doesn’t cut it. Take, for example, our run-in last year with a wayward collections agency.

When we first discovered the problem, we burned through our free credit reports trying to figure out what was going on. We then needed to monitor the situation until it was resolved, so we ended up using free trial of a credit report service to figure things out.

Given the above, I thought I’d put together a list of options for getting your credit report for free:

1. Get it The Old-Fashioned Way

You can go to to get one free credit report once per year from each of the three major reporting bureaus. You don’t have to get all three reports at the same time. So, a good option is to pull one credit report every three or four months, to space them out over the course of the year.

Sure, your TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian reports can include different information (or mistakes!). But most major issues will show up with all three bureaus.

Resource: Reviewing Your Credit Report — 5 Potential Problems

This is especially true if you’re on the lookout for fraudulent accounts opened in your name. If a thief opens an account with a major credit issuer, it should show up on all of your reports.

Of course, this sort of lax monitoring isn’t ideal if you’re at real risk of credit fraud. If you’ve recently noticed something fishy or have been the victim of identity theft, check out option 2.

2. Place a Fraud Alert (or a Freeze) on Your Credit Report

If you do think you’ve been a victim or target of credit fraud, put a fraud alert on your file. To do this, just call one of the three bureaus. They’ll notify the other two.

This alert stays on your report for about three months. During that time, potential lenders will ask for additional identification for someone attempting to open an account in your name.

Plus, when you place a fraud alert, you may be entitled to a free hard copy of your credit report. Check out the quiz on this website to see if this applies to you.

Another option is to place a freeze on your credit. This is something you’ll need to do with each of the three bureaus separately and often involves a fee (around $10-15), but really locks up your credit. In order for a lender to pull your information to open a new account, you will have to lift the freeze.

To learn more about freezing your credit and see whether it’s what you need, check out this guide.

3. Check with Your Credit Card Issuer

More and more credit card companies are offering their customers a free monthly credit report and credit score. Currently, twelve companies offer their customers this perk. If you’re in the market for a brand new credit card, this is one benefit to be on the lookout for.

One thing to keep in mind here is where the credit score comes from. Many credit card issuer programs use your FICO score, which is still the one that lenders are most likely to use. But some use alternatives, like the VantageScore. And each program uses your credit report information from one of the three bureaus.

Resource: Why Credit Scores Differ

If you’re simply trying to monitor your overall credit picture, it doesn’t matter much. But if you want to keep tabs on all three bureau’s credit reports, look into this information.

4. Try a Free Score Estimator Site

Credit score estimators were once known to be largely inaccurate and not that useful. Plus, simply estimating your score doesn’t always tell you exactly what’s on your credit report. (They’re not the same thing!)

With that said, many of these sites, including Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle will give you an accurate estimation of your credit information. These sites will pull your most recent credit report, and they’ll give you a large chunk of that information (for free).

You’ll be able to see your account balances and more as they appear on your credit report. Then, they give you your credit score, too. You can even track your credit score over time, or get advice on how to improve your score.

5. Check with Credit Reporting Bureaus

The FACT act may allow you to get a free copy of your credit report in certain extenuating circumstances. For instance, if you lost your job and are getting ready to job hunt, you might be eligible. Some states also have free credit report programs with varying eligibility requirements.

Learn More: Six Reasons You Should Review Your Credit Report

These free credit report options may or may not provide you with your current credit score. But it’s increasingly easy to get your hands on a copy of your score, too. So, whether you’re keeping an eye out for fraud or just looking to improve your credit, getting your report and score for free has never been easier!

Bankruptcy and Marriage: Should You Marry Someone Who Went Bankrupt?

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Here’s an email about marriage and money that I recently received from a reader:

I have a question about marrying someone who will go through bankruptcy BEFORE marriage. Other than having difficulty with getting a loan, what other effects should I expect in the future?

The bankruptcy had to do with a prior divorce, and ownership of more properties than one should own at any one time, so I’m not worried about his spending habits. What do you think?

This is a great question, and needs to be addressed from two different angles.

Potential Credit Affects

There’s one major myth about a spouse’s bad credit history: that it affects your score.

It doesn’tYour credit score is completely separate from your potential future spouse’s.

So, why does this myth refuse to die? Probably because spouses who choose to completely share finances often have overlapping credit reports.

Related: How to Combine Finances

If you’re both on the mortgage, the credit cards, and the car loans, those will all show up on both of your credit reports. So, unless one spouse also maintains personal lines of credit, the scores may mirror one another.

But your scores aren’t automatically linked just because you’re married. And you can keep your finances largely separate on an everyday level, as well.

Sharing Credit Could be Problematic

It’s pretty easy to keep your checking and savings accounts, retirement accounts, credit cards, and even car loans completely separate from your spouse’s. In fact, many couples take this route, especially if they come into the marriage with widely different income levels, assets, or money management styles.

Still, even couples who keep their finances mostly separate may want to get a mortgage together. When you apply for a mortgage together, you can often qualify for a bigger loan, since both incomes count.

In this case, however, it may be better to apply for a mortgage on your own. You’ll get a better interest rate than if you add your fiance’s bad credit to the mix.

Interesting Read: In Sickness and in Wealth: Why Today’s Couples Keep Separate Accounts

Other Problems with Sharing Assets

Maybe having to apply for a mortgage on your own isn’t a deal breaker. But here are some other situations where it may be better to keep your assets largely separate:

  • Let’s say he ends up with a tax lien from the bankruptcy. You file a joint return. In this case, the IRS will get its money before you get your tax return.
  • What about paying student loans or government loans affected by the bankruptcy? In this case, your assets could be at risk if you mingle them with your spouse’s. This could be especially dangerous if you’re in a “community property” state like Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin.
  • Let’s say you own the home, but you use common funds to pay property expenses. Your husband deposits money into a joint checking account to help pay for these expenses. In this case, your commingled property could be considered partially his. In this case, his creditors could come after your property.

How to Protect Yourself

This isn’t to say that you should break off an otherwise great relationship. But you should take steps to protect yourself.

The best way to probably do this is to wait to tie the knot until his bankruptcy judgment is final. Then, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into.

Related: Effects of Foreclosure, Short Sale, and Bankruptcy on Your Credit Score

If your soon-to-be-groom goes with a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, his debts won’t be discharged. He’ll still be paying them up after the bankruptcy is final. And even if he qualifies for Chapter 7, not all his debts are likely to be discharged.

Once the judgment is final, you’ll know exactly which debts he’ll still be dealing with. And you’ll know how those debts are likely to affect his take-home pay and ability to contribute to your household.

If you’re already living together, you should go ahead and consult and attorney now to determine if it’s possible to commingle your property while keeping you out of his financial mess. If he still has significant debt post-bankruptcy, having this conversation with a lawyer is definitely worth your while.

The Bigger Conversation to Have

Here’s another thing to think about: financial boundaries moving forward.

While some people file bankruptcy for reasons beyond their control, it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here. It sounds like your fiance has made some serious financial errors in the past.

Learn More: Take a Hard Look at Your Financial Habits — Are They Sustainable?

He likely overextended himself to purchase too many properties. And he failed to plan for the future.

This may not be a deal breaker, either. Especially if you think he’s learned his lesson. But you should be careful about letting him get involved in your finances until he’s proven himself.

Consider keeping your finances almost completely separate for a few years. Once he has rebuilt his credit and made consistently good choices, you can consider going the joint finances route, if that’s your preference. In the meantime, you should hold the reins on most of the major financial decisions for your family.

Also, make sure you’re in the loop on the bankruptcy process. You should know exactly what steps your fiance is taking to complete the bankruptcy process. And you should get to see the paperwork afterwards with the record of his current debts and payment plans.

This will help ensure you know exactly what’s going on with your fiance’s financial life before you decide to tie the knot.

If you were in her shoes, what would you do? Would you consider marrying someone who is going through extreme financial difficulties, up to and including bankruptcy?

If you or someone you know is considering bankruptcy, here are 24 resources that may help you decide (as well as ease the process if you move forward).

How Much are Your Vices Really Costing You?

This website receives compensation for products or services you obtain through the links on this site.

Do you drink beer? Smoke cigarettes? Do you love your morning latte on the way to work? Maybe you really enjoy lunch out with your coworkers a few times a week?

Of course you do. However, these little habits may be costing you more than you think. More importantly, they could be doing serious damage to your financial future.

I’m not knocking your vices. We all have them. But many of us also make the mistake of not realizing just how much those vices actually cost us. Those packs of cigarettes and cups off coffee can really add up, and fast.

Calculating the true cost of your vices over the course of a year (or more) may help you put your habits into perspective.

Lattes… everyone’s favorite expense to victimize

Ever since David Bach wrote about the Latte Factor in his bestselling book, The Automatic Millionaire, gourmet coffee has been vilified by everyone from financial planners to frugality zealots. The theory is that instead of spending money on a daily latte, you could save a small fortune by brewing your coffee at home.

Granted, you’ll miss out on the ambiance, professional baristas, and other factors that go into your morning latte. But, with all the high quality coffee makers on the market — such as this one, which can even make cappuccinos with the touch of a single button — and the availability of an incredible array of coffees, home brewing has never been closer to the coffee shop experience.

While purchasing a cappuccino at your favorite coffee shop will set you back about $4 on average, brewing it yourself at home can cost you significantly less than $1 per cup.

If you were to brew your own instead of buying a cup of coffee on your way to work, your savings could be about $700 per year. And that doesn’t even factor in the savings associated with not picking up that blueberry muffin on the side or the extra bit of gas your coffee shop detour used.

Learn More About Setting a Budget

Energy drinks are the new lattes

Coffee is no longer the beverage of choice for today’s younger workers. Nowadays, young consumers are latching onto energy drinks, which seem to have enjoyed incredible growth in popularity since their introduction over a decade ago.

Despite having slowed to a modest 4% annual growth rate, according to Beverage Spectrum Magazine, the energy drink industry has continued to grow. In fact, it’s now an industry with $4.8 billion in annual sales. Products in this niche include energy shots and relaxation drinks, as well.

I never realized how much energy drinks cost until I saw the price of a case on the shelf at my local warehouse club. Energy drinks are far from cheap to purchase, with a typical price tag of $2 or more for a can. If you drink several cans throughout the day while at work, you’ll put a serious dent in your wallet — on the order of $1,000-$1,500/year.

Two packs a day can smoke your budget

When you do the math, the costs of smoking can really add up.

A pack of cigarettes can cost $5-$6 (or more!), depending on where you live. So someone who has a two-pack-a-day habit could easily be spending $240 per month, or $2,880 per year.

Even cutting back to one pack per day can significantly increase your cash flow. If you were to quit smoking completely and invest that $2,880 per year (and it grew at 8% annually for 20 years), you could amass over $104,000.

That’s one heck of a nest egg, especially when you also take into account the health, life insurance, and health insurance benefits to quitting, as well.

Related: How to Save Money on Life Insurance

Lounging around can be a double whammy

Are you a television addict? With all of the exciting new shows available today, and the ease with which we can access them (hello, binge-watching), it’s no wonder that Americans are watching more TV than they were 10 years ago. So, what does this mean for the budget?

Well, the more shows you get hooked on, the higher the likelihood that you’re paying for those channels or services. If you’re hooked on a prime time series (or seven), you’re probably forking over as much as $20/month per channel for access. HBO, Showtime, Starz… this can really ramp up the cable bill quickly.  On top of that, many folks also combine their cable with streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu. (Of course, the really smart ones are finding ways to replace cable with these services.)

If you’re paying $100 a month for cable and streaming show access, you’re shelling out $1,200 a year just to watch TV! Ouch. Of course, this vice is also a double-edged sword.

As mentioned in the survey above, the average American is watching 2 hours and 46 minutes of television a day. That’s just shy of 1,010 hours a year spent plopped in front of the television. Imagine if you just devoted half of that time to working extra hours, establishing a side hustle or passive income source, or simply enriching your life by reading more books.

You could not only boost your budget by spending less on the TV bill, but you could also earn more on the side and lead a happier life!

Putting your vices all together

These vices can have a real impact on your finances when viewed separately.

Just think how much damage you could be doing if you add two or more of them together. For example, if you smoke two packs per day and stop for a drink at your local pub a couple nights each week, you could easily burn through several thousand extra dollars every year. The costs tend to sneak up on you before you realize it.

Do I really think that you’re going to give up on your morning coffee run? No, of course not. But I’m hopeful that you’ll at least be honest with yourself about how you spend your money. I know that I’m personally not saving enough for retirement, and I often justify it in my mind by saying that I simply don’t have enough money.

Resource: Does Your Budget Need a Tune-Up?

When it comes right down to it, though, the truth is that I’m choosing to spend my money on other things instead of saving it. Your vices can really become a budget buster if you’re not careful with your spending. Luckily, they also give you an easy place to start if you need to go bare bones for a while.

So, tell me: what are your vices? Have you done anything to reign in your spending on these things? Or have you decided that they’re worth the cost?

5 Shrewd Ways to Adjust Your Portfolio As You Near Retirement

This website receives compensation for products or services you obtain through the links on this site.

Life was good at the end of 2007 for Bill and Mary.

Bill, at age 60, had enjoyed a successful career with Walgreen’s, one of the largest retail companies in America. His career, begun 28 years previously, enabled Mary to be a stay-at-home mom and paid for their two kids’ college education. It also enabled the couple to build a $1 million position in a Fidelity New Millenium Fund through consistent investments over the years.

During the previous decade, Bill had been the beneficiary of annual stock options, which he faithfully exercised, maintaining the common stock with the faith that the company would continue to grow in value. By 2007, the stock was worth more than $300,000. The couple was looking forward to Bill’s early retirement in 2010. They hoped to travel to make up for all the trips they’d foregone during the early years of saving for retirement and college.

Then disaster struck.

With the Great Recession, the S&P 500 fell more than 800 points, a 55% decrease. While the New Millennium Fund did better than the general market average — losing only 48% of its value — the value of Bill and Mary’s portfolio dropped to slightly more than $150,000. The Walgreen’s stock also suffered, falling from $48 per share in September to $23 in 2009.

The options Bill had yet to exercise were underwater. Their plans for an early retirement were no longer possible.

What Could They Have Done?

Yes, it would have been difficult to avoid the economic tsunami that hit the world in those waning years of the last decade. However, Bill and Mary could have taken steps to reduce their vulnerability and limit the damage to their retirement portfolios.

Keep yourself out of Bill and Mary’s position. If you anticipate retiring within the next five years, it is time to work with your financial advisor and accountant. Your priority? To adjust your portfolio to avoid a similar circumstance.

Portfolio Adjustments

When you are nearing retirement, you are nearing the finish line of the investment portion of your life.

At retirement, you’re more likely to liquidate (rather than make) investments, reducing risk and shifting into investments that generate income. The pace of your transition depends upon your individual risk tolerance, the time remaining until retirement, and the existing capacity of your investments to provide the income desired when you are no longer working.

Related: Want a Successful Retirement? Reduce Your Expenses Now

By using the following strategies, you can reduce your vulnerability to economic downturns and bear market calamities:

1. Reduce Individual Stock Positions

If you’ve purchased individual market securities, received your company’s stock through a stock purchase plan, or exercised company stock options, consider replacing your individual stocks with a portfolio of investments. This will help to reduce your investment risk.

Betting your future on the performance of a single company is akin to going all-in on a flush in a high-stakes poker game. Five cards in a single suit is a good hand; the odds say you will win 83% of the time. But your opponent could still have a full house, four-of-a-kind, straight flush, or royal flush. Similarly, a business downturn, the entry of a new competitor, or a technological break-through can turn the fortunes of a single business upside-down.

Reduce your risk by selling all or a majority of your single company stock. Then, invest the proceeds into a pool of securities, whether managed as in a mutual fund or unmanaged as an ETF. This strategy can help make you less vulnerable to market downturns.

2. Reduce Equity Risk Exposure Generally

According to a report by Towers Watson, defined-benefit pension plans have consistently out-performed 401k plans. Experts claim the reason is that pension plans are more heavily diversified. They tend to have investments in fixed income, real estate, and emerging markets equity and debt.

Of course, pensions are hard to come by these days, and younger generations likely won’t have this safeguard to fall back on. So, what can they do to have the same performance?

Robert G. Capone, executive vice president of the BNY Mellon Retirement Group, stated that the secret is applying the strategies of pension managers. By doing so, private investors can reduce equity risk and home country bias, all while increasing diversification, return potential, and downside risk management.

3. Ladder Your Fixed-Income Investments

As your risk tolerance declines over the years, a greater portion of your assets should be in fixed income securities (40% to 60%).

For example, you might initially invest a portfolio of $1 million with $400,000 in bonds and $600,000 in stocks. To create a bond ladder, you might invest $40,000 (10%) of the intended portfolio in 10 different bonds. One bond could mature at the end of year one, with another maturing at the end of year two, and continuing as such for the next 10 years. As each bond matures, you would reinvest the proceeds in new bonds each maturing in 10 years.

This example illustrates an “intermediate-term” ladder. A “short-term” (or “limited term”) ladder has average maturity of three to five years, while a “long-term” ladder would have an average maturity greater than 10 years.

Related: How to Build a CD Ladder

The primary goal of a laddered fixed income portfolio is to achieve total return over all interest rates cycles similar to the total return of a single bond, but with less market price and reinvestment risk.

When investing in bonds and determining the length of your ladder, recognize that the longer the duration (the average length to maturity) of your bond portfolio, the more risk and volatility that you assume. This is due to changes in interest rates.

Simply stated, the market price of a bond with a maturity of one year varies less than a bond of 10 years. As bonds approach maturity (the principal being repaid), the closer the market price will be to the face value of the bond. As you are preparing for retirement, you should determine whether you have the stomach to endure the wide price movements associated with holding long-term bonds.

4. Move 10% to 15% of Your Portfolio Into High-Quality, Short-Term Investments

For most retirees, the first two to three years after retiring is a period of great activity and expense. You may be traveling, moving into a new home, taking up or indulging in hobbies. All of this is stimulated by the lack of a regular schedule and the seemingly-unlimited opportunities before you.

Common wisdom has been that retirees (overall) spend about 75% of what they spent while working. However, the reality for many is that the first years can be more expensive. This is usually due to the following:

  • The loss of benefits previously paid by their employers. These include company cars, meals, travel, and computers. Each of these must be replaced to maintain the same lifestyle you had when working.
  • Travel costs that are higher than anticipated. According to some financial planners, retirees underestimate their costs by 10% to 20%.
  • Healthcare costs. Medical costs are increasing every year, and Congress is constantly reviewing strategies to reduce the federal government’s costs of Medicare. Retirees will be responsible for any shortfall.

Keeping a greater proportion of your assets in near-cash equivalents may cost some income, but you will avoid having to liquidate assets at losses due to short-term needs.

5. Limit Withdrawals to a Maximum of 4% of Portfolio Value Per Year

A study by Fidelity Investments — of a $500,000 balanced portfolio with 50% stocks, 40% bonds, and 10% short-term investments — calculated that an investor could make withdrawals at a 5% rate for 24 years, even in an extended bear market, and for 36 years at a 4% rate before funds are exhausted (zero balance remaining).

Their work included a similar analysis for a hypothetical couple retiring in 1972 with a similar portfolio. During the 40-year span, the economy witnessed two of the worst bear markets in Wall Street history, five recessions, two wars, and the great bull market of 1982 to 2000. A 5% withdrawal rate would have depleted the fund by 1997. A 4% rate left almost $1 million remaining in principal at the end of 2011.

Unless your personal conditions — health, family responsibilities, and availability of other retirement income —  dictate otherwise, limit your annual withdrawals to 4% of your portfolio or less.

Rather than distributing a fixed percentage of your portfolio, you could choose another option.

A study by Ibbotson Associates recommends a strategy similar to that required by the IRS for required minimum distributions (RMDs) from a qualified retirement plan. The percentage of the principal withdrawn is based upon mortality tables and one’s expectation for living beyond his or her expected death age.

For example, if at age 65 one had the expectation of living an additional 22 years, the rate of withdrawal would be 4.54% (100/22). The following year, life expectancy would decrease, effectively increasing the rate of withdrawal (100/21, 100/20, and so on). If the beneficiary felt that he or she would live longer than expected, the rate of withdrawal should be decreased. If he guessed less than the mortality tables project, a higher rate of principal could be withdrawn.

Final Thoughts

Bill and Mary’s plan for retirement was, understandably, postponed. Bill continues to work, and he has been actively involved in Walgreen’s effort to adjust to a new competitive environment, driven by changes in healthcare delivery.

Their portfolio has largely recovered from the depths of 2009. Ironically, their financial position is better today than had Bill retired as planned at age 62. Even though Bill is not sure how much longer he will work, he has implemented a number of the above strategies to avoid a repeat of 2009, and to better position both himself and his wife for a secure retirement.

What other tips can you suggest to properly adjust a retirement portfolio?

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Review – 1.5% Cash Back on ALL Purchases

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One of the most important aspects of personal finance success is spending responsibly.

Some experts preach that avoiding credit cards altogether is a terrific way to make sure you’re never in debt. Others suggest leaning on credit cards as often as possible to improve your credit and earn rewards. I personally espouse the latter advice. That’s why the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is one of the credit cards I use.

Learn more about this and other cash back credit cards and apply online at

$100 Sign-Up Bonus

Free money is free money; we all know. Well, new cardholders of the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card will earn some. In fact, they’ll get $150 after spending $500 in the first 90 days of opening an account. Two important points to make about this up-front bonus:

  1. Take a second to consider just how many things you can purchase with a credit card. If you’re like me, spending $500 in three months is no daunting task. As a father of two in a family of four, one month of groceries would get me to $500. Electricity, phone bills, cable and internet bills, gas, and a half dozen other routine monthly payments add up quickly. In all reality, that $500 minimum could be $5,000 and I’d probably still get there easily.
  2. A $150 cash bonus is not something to scoff at. This is amplified when considering that the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card has no annual fee. One of the ways a credit card company lures in new business is by offering a large initial bounty. Then, they sneakily back-load the contract with a high annual fee. While $150 is not the 100,000 points you could have received from applying for the Chase Sapphire Reserve earlier this year, you’re also not saddled with a $450 annual fee.

Perhaps the most important feature on the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is the 1.5% cash back rate. This rewards rate is provided for all purchases with no tiers, limits, or expiration dates to worry about. Cash back can be credited to your account, deposited into your bank, or sent in the mail via paper check. Compared with its competition, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card comes out somewhere around “upper middle class.”

Card Name Cash Back Rate Up Front Bonus
Citi Double Cash
Barclaycard CashForward
Chase Freedom Unlimited
Capital One Quicksilver
Discover it
Chase Freedom
Bank Americard Cash Rewards

Capital One Quicksilver Pricing Details

Adding to the initial benefits, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers a 0% intro APR. This period lasts for 9 months on both purchases and balance transfers. There is a 3% balance transfer fee, so I would not recommend this card for a balance transfers unless you cannot qualify for a top balance transfer credit card. After the introductory rate expires, the standard APR becomes 13.74%, 18.74% or 23.74% based on credit history. Keeping a running balance at these interest rates can add significant debt to your bottom line. Always do your best to pay your credit card balances in full every month!

Related: 5 Reasons You Got Denied for That New Credit Card

There is no foreign transaction fee on the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card. This makes it a great card to use abroad. The cash advance APR is 23.74% variable, and there is a 3% fee (or $10, whichever is greater). Cash advances are one of the largest money makers for credit card issuers, as they bank money twice. They get your money both with an up-front fee and then a high interest rate. I would urge you to find almost any other alternative method for acquiring cash.

Quicksilver World Elite Mastercard® Benefits

Also included in ownership of the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card are World Elite Mastercard® Benefits. They include:

  • Travel Protection – Mastercard can reimburse you up to $1,500 when booking your travel and then having to cancel for things such as sickness or injury. Non-refundable airlines tickets and hotel stays come to mind here, especially. Using your Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card can offer some protection against poor circumstances.
  • Price Protection – There are few greater pains in my personal finance life then making a purchase and finding it somewhere cheaper soon after. Price protection allows for reimbursement of the price difference, which is great for me. You just have to find the same item you bought at a lower price within 120 days.
  • Extended Warranty – Some of the purchases you make using your credit card can be covered by an additional Mastercard warranty. It’s important to review the link above for this, though. There are a number of cans and cannots when it comes to utilizing the extended warranty offer.
  • Identity Theft Resolution – If you feel your identity has been stolen, call 1-800-MC-ASSIST, and Mastercard will help in taking care of the problem. You’ll be assigned a Concierge Level Certified Restoration specialist that can provide you credit reports, documents to assist in a prosecution, or general help and assistance in fixing your credit report.
  • Travel Upgrades – When booking your hotel stay, you can always check with the hotel to see if you qualify for travel perks. These include room upgrades, early check-in/late check-out and access to a portfolio of Luxury Hotels and Resorts.
  • Concierge Service – Any hour of the day, cardholders of the Quicksilver World Elite Mastercard Benefits can call a hotline and get help with booking travel, dining reservations or assistance in purchasing hard to find items.

For a limited time only (expires April 2018), after applying and being approved for the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you can save 50% on your Spotify premium. The current Spotify premium is $9.99 per month, so you’ll save $5 per month on top of the 1.5% cashback savings.

Top to bottom, left to right, and front to back, the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a very strong cashback credit card to own. No, it does not sport the highest cashback percentage in the industry. However, the wide variety of perks and features keeps this card in my wallet at all times.

8 Ways to Boost Your Resume While Still In School

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Whether you’re still in high school or just finishing up college, work experience is key to landing on your feet when you graduate. The job market, especially for younger workers, is still pretty tough, with employers reporting a fairly flat number of new graduate hires projected for 2017. Now more than ever, recruiters want to take on new team members who are not only book smart, but also bring real world experience to the workplace.

Getting said work experience is not only a great investment for the future, but a potential route to earning cash in the interim. Here’s how to find (and make the most of) the opportunities out there if you want to boost your resume while still in school.

1. Know what employers want

Before you start looking for work experience, it’s important to have an idea of the type of skills and experiences you even need. Figure out what might be useful in the career to which you aspire.

There are some skill sets which are needed in a broad range of jobs. These are typically known as ‘soft skills’, which are more about how you can manage your own work, get on with others, and pick up new things. The top soft skills employers value include:

  • being a team player
  • showing flexibility
  • accepting feedback
  • communication skills
  • problem solving
  • confidence

It’s worth having these in mind when you arrange work experience. That way, you can make sure you find opportunities to develop these universally saleable skills.

Related: How Your Next Cover Letter Can Get Your Foot In the Door

Outside of the soft skills, you will also need some ‘hard skills’ — which are more likely to be aligned with the career area you’re looking toward. For example, if you want to work in a tech role, honing your IT skills is essential and learning to code could be a real bonus. But if you want to work as a chef or a teacher, being a computer whizz might be less of a big deal. Think about the skill set needed for your dream job, and when you are arranging work experience, look for exposure to the hard skills you need to pick up.

2. Understand your options, and get some support

Your first stop when considering work experience alongside your studies should be your school or college.

If you have a career counselor or personal tutor, ask them how the school can support you in finding work experience. You may find that formal work experience opportunities already exist, or you might be able to tap into an alumni network who can help you find a job or work placement that interests you. There might even be work opportunities on campus, in your library, for example, which could help to grow your resume without even leaving the building.

Read More: Which Type of Resume Is Right for You?

3. Get a work placement or shadowing opportunity

If your school does not arrange work placements on your behalf, it’s worth considering setting something up for yourself after school or on vacations. Work placements are typically a week or two long and allow you to be part of a work environment on an unpaid basis. You can get involved with daily team tasks and learn more about how the company works. This is especially useful if you’re still considering your future options or struggling to make a decision about where to take your career.

An alternative is to ask someone working in the industry you’re interested in if you can ‘shadow’ them for a day or two. In this case, you can join in meetings and get a sense for the daily work of one individual doing the job you aspire to. Your school might be able to put you in touch with someone who can help, although you shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people yourself, too. Many professionals would be delighted to know you’re interested in their field of work and will be happy to help.

4. Find a part time job or internship

If you’re old enough to work, according to the law in your area, a part time job is a perfect way to build workplace skills and also earn a bit of cash. You might be lucky enough to find a job through an ad, online, or in your neighborhood. However, don’t forget that many jobs go unadvertised, and a little hustle will go a long way if you want to find the perfect job for you.

Perhaps holding a permanent part-time role alongside studying is too much for you. In this case, you could also consider working seasonal roles during school breaks, such as in a supermarket at Christmas or at a tourist resort in the summer. Holding a few different, short-term roles gives you a chance to see various types of work and potentially develop some complementary skill sets.

On the other hand, if you’re already in higher education, an internship (or several) is a very strong selling point for employers. In fact, if you have done an internship while you’re in college, you’re 20% more likely to receive a job offer upon graduation, according to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. There are plenty of online resources to help you find an internship opportunity, with career fairs and job markets another good route.

Related: Unpaid Internships: A Graduate’s Dream… or Nightmare?

5. Volunteer

A fantastic way to get broad experience is to volunteer for an organization or cause that matters to you. Any sort of volunteer work is a good way to show that you’re a responsible team player and can plan and organize yourself. It’s even better if you can use the chance to build some hard skills, too.

So, if you want to work in PR or communications, maybe you can offer to help a local charity develop their social media strategy. If you want to work in a teaching role, you could volunteer as a youth sports coach or scout leader.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to highlight your most impressive achievements when you write your first resume.

6. Start your own Business

Arguably, the best possible experience you could have is to start your own business while you’re still studying. This way, you get to take an idea from planning to execution, covering all different aspects of business development. You’ll become familiar with customer service, marketing, finance, and even accounting. The best part is, you don’t even need to consider something elaborate.

Perhaps you have a specific skill you could sell, such as website design. By taking on a few freelance gigs through a marketplace such as Fiverr, you can learn a bit about how to market your skills and develop client relationships. Once you have a good view of what you do well, you can start to sell your services independently by connecting with potential customers directly through your own website or direct mail.

Check out our list of 75 great ideas to kick off your own side hustle.

7. Develop your skills independently

So, maybe setting up a business isn’t your thing. You can still find ways to develop the skills you need — and build the ‘work’ experience — to give your resume a boost, without turning it into a money spinner.

For example, you can start an interesting and professional-looking blog. This gives you exposure to research and writing, web design, and community building. Pick the topic based on something you’re passionate about. This will help employers see a bit of the real you, while still presenting an ‘official’ persona. Writing about the books you love to read, or your favorite travel destination, is probably more appropriate than reviewing your city’s best nightclubs, for example.

Other ways to build skills include taking advantage of online learning opportunities like Khan Academy, joining a TEDx event as a speaker or organizer, attending professional seminars or conferences as a delegate, or writing for industry publications. All of these demonstrate your motivation and help you pick up core skills which boost your employment chances.

8. Think laterally

Finally, don’t forget that you can think completely out of the box on this one. Transferable skills are what matters, and these don’t necessarily have to come from a job.

If you’re struggling to find direct work experience, look at other options to grow and showcase your skills. You could take on a position of responsibility at your school, organizing events or working to promote access to higher education. You might decide to found an entrepreneurs’ group and lead a team of young business people to develop their company ideas. Even playing school sports, organizing the yearbook, or getting involved in debate club all show that you’re a well-rounded individual with the potential to shine in the workplace.

Learn More: How to Invest In Yourself (Without Spending a Lot of Money)

Whatever stage of education you’re in, you’re sure to be busy. Still, investing some time in getting work experience and building some career skills is a smart way to make sure that you find your dream job when you graduate.

By showing you are driven enough to gather new experiences, your resume will stand head and shoulders above those of others. Employers know that a candidate who demonstrates ambition and hands-on experience makes for a better team member than someone with a flawless GPA but no history of working in a team. What’s more, if you find a job or volunteer opportunity that is meaningful to you, you might even earn some cash and have some fun, too!

8 Ways to Stretch Your Vacation Dollar

This website receives compensation for products or services you obtain through the links on this site.

There are plenty of well-known ways to save money on your vacation, such as booking flights and hotels online, cashing in credit card rewards, or eating the free breakfast in your motel. But there are also some less obvious ways to save money on your family vacay… many of which you might not have considered.

Here are a few of our favorite tips, so you can make every dollar stretch just a little bit further on your next getaway.

Keep track

Simply keeping track of your outgoing cash flow is a surprisingly effective way to save money. All you have to do is keep a notebook and write down how you spend every dollar immediately after you spend it.

This practice does two things. First, it helps you stay on your budget because you will no longer estimate how much money is left in your wallet. Second, you will quickly see how much money you’re frittering away on worthless claptrap. These two effects are purely psychological, but you’ll be amazed at how well they work.

Put the kids (and yourself) on a souvenir budget

You probably enjoy indulging your kids when you’re on vacation. But rather than whipping out your wallet every time the kids ask, give them a budget for souvenirs. It will force them to make better choices, and it will limit the nick on your budget. Let them “save up” the budget if they want something big on the last day of your trip, of if they’d rather carry the cash home.

To be honest, though, you might also like the idea of picking up special little mementos along the way. For instance, my mom always used to get us keychains whenever we went to a new ski resort as children. Maybe you’re the type to grab a snow globe to remind you all of that trip up Mt. Rainier. But think about it for a moment… where are those knick-knacks going? Will those really be the things that spark memories of your family travels, or is there something less commercial (and cheaper) that will have more nostalgic value?

Put your hard-earned money away, and try to only spend it on the truly special keepsakes. Set a budget for yourself, and don’t go over it, no matter how enticing that tchotchke may be. (However, definitely splurge for that overpriced photo at the entrance of Disney — how often do you really get your entire family in one picture, smiling and wearing mouse ears?)

Learn More: Teaching Kids About Money

Go for the free souvenirs

Completely eliminate the souvenir budget by collecting the countless free souvenirs you can find on nearly every vacation. These can be as simple as you want, and are often the things that we look back on fondly anyway when revisiting our travel memories. Some great (free) ideas include:

  • restaurant menus
  • ticket stubs
  • brochures
  • hotel room key cards
  • hotel soap
  • foreign currency
  • drink coasters
  • labels from local foods
  • receipts
  • seashells or neat stones
  • other local flora and fauna, etc.

These little things will carry much more meaning than that cheap roadside t-shirt anyway. And imagine how fun it will be to stick these mementos next to your vacation photos in your scrapbook or on your dresser. (Just be sure that you have permission to take these items before you tuck them in your fanny pack!)

Pack a lunch

Yes, when you’re on vacation, you’re going to eat out. But you don’t have to do it for every meal!

If you pack sandwiches for just one meal a day, you can cut your food budget by a quarter. Even if you’re staying in a hotel room without a refrigerator, pack one daily meal of fruit, granola bars, and other non-perishables. You’ll save money, and each restaurant meal will be more special.

Save at the restaurant

Most restaurant meals are big. When you eat a big restaurant meal in your hometown, you take the leftovers home in a doggy bag. You can’t always do that on vacation, though.

With that in mind, here are two money-saving restaurant tips. First, consider eating just two meals: a big breakfast and dinner. You’ll be plenty full, and on vacation you’re busy enough that you probably won’t even miss lunch. Second, consider splitting those giant entrees. Growing teens will clean their plates, but most younger kids and adults would be perfectly content with half a meal, especially when they eat the bread and other stuff that precedes the meal.

If you’re staying in a hotel, check with the front desk to see if they have coupons for local eateries. Check Groupon before picking your restaurant, as hot spots may have discount offers available online. Oh, and if you’re military, a student, or senior citizen, you can probably swing other deals, too.

Get Rewarded: Best Cash Back Credit Cards for Restaurants

The best things are free

What do your kids remember most from your last vacation: the $250 visit to the run-down amusement park, or the day you spent on the beach for free? How many times have you heard about the kid who remembers the hotel pool way more fondly than the endless museum?

The bottom line: sometimes, the best things about a vacation cost you nothing. The memories and time spent together are the most important part.

If you’re in a big city, check out free cultural events such as parades, art festivals, and concerts in the park. Or, you can just walk through the funky neighborhoods or ethnic areas. If you’re in a resort community, take advantage of public beaches, state park hiking trails, and hotel ping-pong tables.

You’ll have fun, and your wallet will be fatter on the return trip.

Think minor

Major League baseball games are expensive. Minor league games are not, and they can be loads more fun. Similarly, Broadway shows can break your budget, but storefront theaters produce some of the most fascinating, cutting-edge drama anywhere… for way less money.

Wanna hear a concert? Skip the big-name reunion tour at $250 a ticket, and hear the best local garage band in an intimate atmosphere for a $10 cover. Unlike the owners of major sports teams and theaters, the owners of minor league sports teams, small theaters, local music venues, and similar cultural institutions know that they need to treat the customers well in order to win their business.

Pay in advance

There’s no better feeling when you’re checking out of the hotel than to hear the clerk say the bill is already covered. And you will almost certainly get a better deal on anything you order if you pay in advance (theme park tickets, for example, are almost always cheaper in advance than at the gate).

Best of all, if you pay for your car and hotel room from the comfort of your home six weeks before your trip, you are much less likely to get hit with surprise, budget-killing extra fees.

Related: How to Budget for Family Vacations

These are just a few ideas to get the conversation started. What’s the best low or no-cost deal you’ve found on a family vacation?

For the money you do spend on vacation, make sure you’re using a great travel rewards card to start earning points for your next holiday: