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  • 5 Basic Steps for Managing Household Debt

    This post is sponsored by Quick Cash Funding. Read CFO’s full disclosure here.

    Whether you’re just starting out on your own, or you’ve decided that it’s time to take control of your financial situation, one of the major things you need to do is manage your household debt. Here are the basic steps you’ll want to take:

    1. Make a list of your debts.

    I’ll admit, this is no fun. But to get to where you want to go, you first need to determine where you are. So, list your mortgage, car loans, student loans, credit card debt, and any other money you owe to someone else.

    2. Decide how you want to handle your debt.

    My hope is that you’ll want to pay off your debts quickly, because I know from personal experience how great it feels. But you may decide that you’re content to pay the minimum and carry the debt, at least for now. You have to decide what’s right for you, and no one else can tell you what that is.

    3. Prioritize your debts.

    Assuming you want to pay off your debts, the next thing you should do is decide the order in which you’ll attack each debt. You could attack them all equally at the same time, but it’s easier, more rewarding, and often cheaper, to pay off one debt at a time.

    The fastest and cheapest way to pay off your debts is by attacking the one with the highest interest rate first. You’ll pay the minimum on all of your other loans, and put all of your other debt payoff funds toward the debt with highest interest. Once that’s paid off, you focus on paying off the loan with the second-highest interest rate while continuing to pay the minimum on the rest of your debts. And you repeat this pattern until your loans are all paid off. This is what’s frequently referred to as the Debt Snowball, because you’re “snowballing” your money from one debt to the next.

    If your highest interest rate loan is large, and you have a lower interest rate loan that’s comparatively small, you may find it more psychologically rewarding to pay off the smaller loan first. You might pay a little more in interest in the long run, but the psychological benefit of eliminating smaller debts and the mental clutter they create should not be overlooked.

    And speaking of psychological benefits, if you have a personal loan from a friend or family member, it may be best to pay that one off first, even if it’s your lowest interest loan, because of the impact the debt may have on your relationship.

    4. Choose a method.

    I’ve already mentioned the debt snowball, and I’m proof that the debt snowball method works. But it’s most effective when you’re willing to commit to living well beneath your means so you can apply as much money as possible to the snowball. You should take a good look at your expenses and spending habits, and decide on how much of each paycheck can and will be used to pay off debt. I also recommend setting up a system for making that payment as automatic as possible, so you’re not tempted to spend the money in other ways.

    After you’ve got your snowball set up, consider the the Debt Snowflake, through which you direct any small amount of money you can toward paying off your debt. The idea is that every quarter you pick up from the ground, every monetary birthday gift, and all other small amounts can add up to chip away a big chunk of debt. In fact, once you’re on a roll, you’ll probably be motivated to find as many snowflakes as possible, by selling items (I used Amazon), earning extra money (I love Swagbucks), and more.

    5. Get accustomed to a new lifestyle.

    As you pay off your debts, think about making the mental adjustment to living without owing anyone money. For example, I was so accustomed to thinking that you get a loan when you buy a new car that I still remember my shock when I realized we didn’t have to get a loan. And so we’ve been saving so that we can pay cash for our next car. I’m still working on paying off the mortgage, but I am confident that we will get there, and in less than 30 years.

    Your new way of thinking will ensure that you don’t take on any additional debt. Be sure to allocate some of your income for an emergency fund, even if it means your debt snowball is a little smaller than it could be.

    Once you’ve discovered how amazing it feels to have your finances under control, you’ll have your debts paid off in no time!

    Energy Saving Changes that Actually Save

    The following is a guest post from Jenna. Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

    Whether you’re a family or an individual, finding and opting for new energy plans is indeed possible. With the new trends in green energy that have emerged, there has been a paradigm shift towards eco-friendly energy plans for home owners. The biggest reason behind this is that they are beneficial in the long run and allow for contribution towards a sustainable future.

    Certain states, like Texas, are passing bills which will help alternative energy companies enter the market. Not only will new power providers be able to set up with alternative energy sources but existing companies will also be forced to have a percentage of their output come from a greener power source. This promotes not only greener energy but also more competition for business from local residents – and that’s a win for the consumer.

    Tax Incentives

    If you opt for a clean energy plan, there are tax incentives offered by the Federal government. In the same way, people in different states like Ohio, Texas and Michigan can consult with their utility providers for green energy plans. Ohio residents recently got approved for tax credit on energy efficiency for the years 2013-2015. These have been collectively termed as energy efficiency programs and are known for promotion of renewable energy technologies.

    Practical Examples

    Homeowners can enroll in energy efficiency programs that are cost effective and ideally suited for their needs. For instance, as many as 50,000 people in the south Texas have been a part of an energy efficiency program.

    The government of Texas, as well as other state governments, have introduced LoanSTAR programs, which provide loans for installing energy efficient products like solar panels, and not just to homeowners. For example, school owners can cut down their electricity costs in a big way. Similarly, the Texas Cool Schools grant program provides schools with cheaper HVAC systems.

    Additionally, consumers may now receive tax credits for opting for a renewable source of electricity. And, there are more subsidies available if a solar panel is installed.

    Use of Smart Meters

    It is possible for people in states like Texas and Ohio to use smart meters. These are digitized and come with a pre-fitted Advance Meter System (AMS). The benefit of these systems is that consumers are able to monitor their consumption online.

    Shopping for electricity

    When looking to lower electricity costs, you first need to identify the type of consumption, whether it’s domestic or industrial. Subsequent to that, identify those electrical products that are necessary. Do not opt for services that aren’t necessary and are just a mere burden on the monthly bill.

    Then it is also important to notice which hours in the area are considered peak hours. Residents of Texas can visit www.shopelectricityratestexas.com. There are similar sites for other regions like Ohio.

    By enrolling in programs like those mentioned above, it’s possible for home owners to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a sustainable future.

    4 Healthy Snack Ideas For Families

    The following is a guest post from Jenna. Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

    Healthy snacks provide a steady stream of energy throughout the day. You don’t need to over-think these snacks – just make sure they provide the right amount of nutrients to keep your family members going without experiencing fatigue and mood swings. Processed foods are a bad choice to consider as snacks as they’re mostly filled with empty calories.

    Good choices include snacks that involve fruit. Fruit contains many essential nutrients and vitamins, and the sugar content in them is all natural. Five servings of fruit everyday are recommended as a part of a healthy diet, and snacks are a good way for families to fill up on them.

    Here are some great fruit snack ideas to consider:

    1.  Cinnamon Spiced Bananas

    Cinnamon spiced bananas can be made in just 10 minutes using the microwave, and are a delicious snack that can serve up to 4 people.

    Ingredients: 3 large sliced bananas, ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon butter, ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 1 cup low-fat ice cream (any flavor).

    Method: Take a microwave-safe bowl and place the bananas in it. Next, add the butter and top with vanilla extract, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover the bowl and place it in the microwave on high for 30 seconds or until the sugar melts. Stir only once. After the sugar has melted, take out the mixture and place it in separate bowls. Top with 1/4 cup ice cream and serve.

    2.  Mixed Berry Smoothie

    Berries are a top choice to consider as a snack, especially for the summer. The young ones in the family are going to love a delicious smoothie of berries.

    Ingredients: ½ cup strawberries, ½ cup blueberries, ½ cup raspberries, 1 cup ice cubes, 1 cup low fat yogurt, 1 multi-grain bar, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract.

    Method: Place all ingredients in a blender and mix for about 20-30 seconds, or until smooth.

    3.  Pinwheel Sandwiches

    Pinwheel sandwiches make for a perfect tropical snack that kids can take to school. Adults can also take them to work, or they can be eaten at home at any time of the day.

    Ingredients: 6 slices white bread with crust removed, 3 half slices prosciutto, 1 mashed avocado and 2 cups thinly sliced pineapple.

    Method: Divide the prosciutto, avocado and banana among the bread slices. Roll up each bread slice tightly, making sure the filling gets enclosed. Slice each roll into pinwheels.

    4.  Warm Apple Toast

    Warm apple toast is a great healthy snack idea to satisfy the craving for something sweet after dinner or to warm up on a cold night. It’s simple, super quick and easy to prepare. Only 4 ingredients are required.

    Ingredients: 1 tablespoon all-natural peanut or almond butter, 1 slice whole wheat or whole grain bread, ½ cup sliced apples and a pinch of ground cinnamon.

    Method: Preheat toaster oven to 350° F. Spread the nut butter on the bread, and top with apples and cinnamon. Bake in the toaster for 10 minutes.

    Investing is Easier than Ever with Online Trading

    This is a sponsored post; however, all opinions are my own. Read the full CFO disclosure policy here.

    When I was a teenager, my dad gave me a couple of books by Peter Lynch, who was famous for his success as a fund manager at Fidelity. His books were my introduction to investing in stocks, which back then seemed like an almost magical way of making money: Buy the right stock at a low price, sell it at a high price, and make a fortune.

    Of course, it’s not that easy, or at least, it’s not that easy to find “the right stock.” In fact, it’s almost impossible for the average investor. That’s why experts recommend investing in mutual funds, which spread your money out across multiple stocks – they reduce your risk of loss, and increase the likelihood that you’ll actually make money. Mutual funds probably won’t make you a fortune, but they do have their place in every investor’s portfolio.

    Back when I was a teenager, though, mutual funds weren’t touted quite the way they are now. It would have been very tempting to invest in individual stocks, if it hadn’t been so complicated. Back then, you had to open an account with a brokerage by filling out and sending in paper forms (or going in person to the brokerage to fill out the forms), fill out more forms for the actual investment, and send in or deliver checks in person to transfer funds.

    It wasn’t until I was nearly 30 years old that I discovered online trading, and became comfortable transferring money electronically. And it wasn’t until just over five years ago that I purchased my very first individual stock online!

    These days, online trading couldn’t be easier – in fact, in the last year, I’ve set up investment accounts for both of my kids and I regularly invest on their behalf, all online! To get started, all you have to do is sign up with an online brokerage and connect your bank account. Many traditional brokerages also offer online services, so you may be able to trade online with a company you already have an account with. If not, there are many online trading services, like E*trade Online Trading – ask a trusted friend or adviser for a recommendation if you’re not sure where to start.

    One thing to remember: Before you invest in stocks and bonds, you should have an overall financial plan so you know what place your investments have in the big scheme of things. If you’re not sure, consult an expert – your CPA may be able to advise you, or recommend someone to talk to, or if you work for a large company, the human resources department can tell you if there’s an employee assistance program to help you.

    America’s Spring Traditions and Rituals

    The following is a guest post from Jenna, a freelance writer who most often writes about personal finance, business, and investments. You can read more personal finance writing by Jenna at paidtwice.com. Consideration was received for the editing and publishing of this post.

    Spring may well be the most welcome seasonal change of the year. Depending upon where in the U.S. you live, you might see signs of spring as early as March or as late as May. In the southeast, there is always a slight chance of a late season snow storm, but typically the first week of March is the last of the cold weather.

    In the more northern states, the first of April is a more reliable indicator of spring. The Rocky Mountains and Greater Northwest sometimes see snow in April, but by May most of the U.S. has bid farewell to snow and hello to the bright green of emerging grasses and leaves. As the temperatures slowly climb and the days get longer, plants, flowers and farm animals are the most obvious signs of spring’s arrival. As trees begin budding, flowers start blooming in small waves of colors and shapes.

    Crocus are usually the first to poke through the earth, followed by daffodils, jonquils and dandelions. Next, the lilies, tulips and iris arrive, in a bright palette of colors, from white to yellow to orange and purple. Easter arrives in the midst of many blooms, and many of the seasonal flowers are associated with legends and symbolism of the resurrection of Christ.

    Probably the most symbolic Easter flower is the white Easter Lily, often shown in drawings to be growing at the foot of the cross. It is said that the lily sprang forth from the ground where Christ’s sweat had fallen in his final hours on the cross. There are other religious legends and traditions involving the Easter Lily, and it is popular in churches with dozens of potted lilies lining the altars and pulpits. For even the non-religious, the white Easter Lily symbolizes innocence, virtue, hope and the emergence of spring. Many families gather on Easter Sunday for a day together and a shared traditional meal of baked ham, scalloped potatoes and hot cross buns.

    Family members who might not be able to attend due to distance or other obligations may actually consider Proflowers for ordering an Easter dinner centerpiece to be delivered with their regrets, or to send a potted Easter Lily to their church in their absence. Many American children receive gifts of candy and toys in Easter baskets brought by the Easter Bunny.

    Many participate in Easter egg hunts and other festivities, either at churches, community centers or at home. Easter bonnets are another Easter tradition that has been observed for hundreds of years, surviving even the Great Depression. Women are able to take advantage of the end of Lent by buying luxury items like their Easter outfit, and new clothes are symbolic of renewal, the underlying theme of Easter.

    Most Easter hats for girls and women are fancy straw or felt based hats adorned with ribbons and flowers. Going shopping for a special Easter outfit was taken very seriously. The Easter dress for many was the fanciest dress they ever wore throughout childhood until they bought a prom gown in high school.

    Another Spring tradition is deep cleaning the home by dedicating several days to “Spring Cleaning.” This is especially important in homes with harsh winters. When the warmer weather allows opening the doors and windows, carpets, drapes and upholstered furniture is shaken or aired out. The house is scrubbed from top to bottom, closets cleaned out, and seasonal clothes are rotated.

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