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Date: Friday, 25 Jul 2014 13:29

US Bank is running a summer promotion for a $150 sign up bonus on their checking account. As part of the promotion, you can win a Tesla Model S or $100,000.

Even though giveaways are fun, we’ll focus on the $150 bonus since everyone can get it as our Free Money Friday offer this week.

How to Get Your $150 Sign Up Bonus

  1. Open a new U.S. Bank Consumer Checking Account by September 12, 2014.
  2. Use the code 150POWR.
  3. Make direct deposits totaling at least $500 OR complete three or more online bill pay transactions by October 31, 2014.
  4. Get a $150 cash bonus.

Terms and Conditions

  • Excludes student checking account.
  • The cash bonus will be deposited into your new Checking Account within 60 days of Direct Deposit or Bill Pay verification, as long as your account is open and does not have a negative balance.
  • Bonus will be reported as interest earned on IRS form 1099-INT and recipient is responsible for any applicable taxes.
  • Offer may not be combined with any other Checking Account cash bonus offers, is not valid if you have received a Checking Account cash bonus in 2014, or if you have an existing U.S. Bank Checking Account.

More on US Bank Checking

Opening the account. A minimum deposit of $25 is required to open the account.

Checking Fees. Depending on which checking account you choose (easy, silver, or gold) there is a monthly maintenance fee unless your monthly direct deposits are $1,000 or your average account balance is $1,500. If you choose the gold account you can avoid the fee with a U.S. Bank personal loan, line or US Bank credit card.

Stacking Bonuses. When I filled out the application, it showed that the silver and gold checking accounts qualified for the START program where you can earn $100 in rewards.

Credit Card. To avoid the monthly fee, I opted for the gold account using my credit card. However, if you don’t have one, an easy card to use is the U.S. Bank Visa Platinum Card since it has no annual fee.

Sign Up for US Bank

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Bonus Money"
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Date: Thursday, 24 Jul 2014 13:29

While watching Extreme Couponers one day, I was amazed at the amount of coupons they always have. Since I felt like I rarely come across that abundance of coupons, I decided to start making more of an effort to find coupons to save more money on my grocery bill.

How to Find Coupons for Groceries

Here are some places I look to find coupons for groceries:

  1. Product specific websites:
    Visit any specific product’s websites, and they may have a tab for coupons, promotions, or specials. You can find printable coupons right on their website.
  2. Social media pages for products:
    If you can’t print out coupons from a specific product’s website, check out their social media pages, like Facebook and Twitter. Many companies will post links for coupons if you “Like” them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
  3. Writing in to a company:
    Sometimes if you send a company a quick e-mail asking for coupons, they will send you some via e-mail or through the mail.
  4. Your local grocery store:
    From your grocery store, you can find coupons on their website, in the weekly sales paper, on their social media pages, and even throughout the aisles. Don’t forget to always join the rewards program at the grocery store to save money on all of your purchases.
  5. Check out coupon websites:
    Visit sites like Coupons.com, Couponmom.com, and Save.com to print off coupons from products you buy.
  6. Newspapers and Magazines:
    Your local newspaper will most likely offer coupons, especially on Sundays. You may even find coupons at smaller, more local publications. Before you toss your magazine, check for coupons. Especially with magazines like Good Housekeeping, Food Network, and Better Homes and Gardens, you can find coupons throughout the magazine. You can get a discounted subscription for your local newspaper through Discounted Newspapers.

What is your favorite place to find coupons?

More on Couponing

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal, coupons, groceries"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2014 13:45

The 2014 state sales tax holidays are almost here! If you’re lucky, your state will encourage you to shop on specific days this summer to avoid paying sales tax. The tax free weekends and sales tax holidays vary by state, but many are having the 2014 tax free weekend the first weekend in August for back to school shopping.

The tax free weekends will feature savings on clothes, computers, school supplies and books. Many of the states limit sales tax savings to $100 per item. However, computers typically have higher limits, anywhere between $750 and $3500 depending on which state you live in. Be sure to check with your specific state to find out the exact limitations for each item.

Tax Free Weekends 2014

Here is an overview of the dates and savings for each state:


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers, school supplies and books


  • Date: August 2-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes and school supplies


  • Date: August 17-23, 2014
  • Savings on clothes and footwear


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies


  • Date: August 1-2, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies


  • Date: August 1-2, 2014
  • Savings on clothes


  • Date: August 1-2, 2014
  • Savings on tangible personal property


  • Date: August 10-16, 2014
  • Savings on clothes and footwear


  • Date: July 25-26, 2014
  • Savings on clothes and footwear


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies

New Mexico

  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes

South Carolina

  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, computers and school supplies


  • Date: August 8-10, 2014
  • Savings on clothes, backpacks and school supplies


  • Date: August 1-3, 2014
  • Savings on clothes and school supplies

More Back To School Shopping Tips

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Tax Tips, sales tax"
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Date: Tuesday, 22 Jul 2014 13:29

I just finished opening my new Motif Investing account to take advantage of the Motif Investing $150 Sign Up Bonus.

Here’s an overview of how it went and how Motif Investing is different than the other online discount brokers we’ve reviewed.

Motif Investing Review

What is a Motif? A Motif is a portfolio of stocks (and ETFs). Trades are based on buying a Motif (or a portion of a motif) which can include up to 30 stocks. The trading commission covers all stocks in the motif.

Motif Account Details

  • Account Minimum: None
  • Account Fees: None
  • Trading Fees: $9.95 per Motif or $4.95 per Stock/ETF within a motif.
  • Minimum Investment: $250 per Motif.

Opening a Motif Investing Account

Application Process. The Motif application process was simple, but did have a few hurdles. After I opened my account, I had to wait for approval, which they said typically takes 1-2 business days. My account was approved 2 hours later, which was faster than promised. I got around to logging back in and funding my account a week later. However, in order to set up the ACH it takes 1-2 business days for the deposits for you to verify. While minor, it was another delay in being able to fund my account. It would be nice to streamline the process and set up the account completely in one sitting and transfer the money immediately to get the ball rolling.

Security. I also ran into a few problems every time I’d login; their security code system only gave me the option to call home for a security code. In the summer I spend a lot of time at the pool while the kids are at swim practice. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my code to login while away from home. (The Motif Investing app is only available for iTunes, not Android.)

Funding the account. Originally I was worried my $150 sign up bonus could be in jeopardy because of each of the delays. The terms originally stated: “New funds must be posted to the account within 10 calendar days.” This was hard to meet if you have other things going on in your life. Luckily, I see they’ve changed the terms to “The new funds must be posted to the account within 30 calendar days.” That’s a relief since it took me almost 10 days to fund my account!

Overall, opening and funding the account is easy, but you should be aware it will take a few days.

Buying Motifs

Once I was ready to trade, buying the Motifs was quick and easy. I planned to buy 5 Motifs to qualify for the bonus. (4 x $350 and 1 x $500). You can’t invest it all due to the buffer they require on market fluctuations.

I wanted to get this done quickly, so I started with the asset allocation motifs under investing classics. I bought the Classic 60 / 40 since it’s basically a mirror of our current asset allocation. Once you pick the motif, you can customize it before buying by changing the percentage of each stock or removing ones you don’t want.

I picked some other rather boring investments. They don’t fit very well together or integrate into our overall asset allocation, but I needed 5 trades.

The next two motifs I picked were:

  • Lazy 3 portfolio
  • Index Fans: I customized this one to remove the precious metals component (which actually ended up similar to the Lazy 3).

In addition, I wanted to give some commissions to others who created their own motifs and get referral money when people use their motif under the community created motifs. The last two motifs I selected were:

Motif Investing Details

Taxes. I’ll be interested to see how the statements come in. Because each motif contains various stocks, and I had to use a taxable account to get the bonus, I’m sure this will create a small headache at tax time.

Positions. You can download an excel spreadsheet of all your positions in your account for easier analysis.

Quicken. I track all of our investments in Quicken. However, there isn’t an automatic download. It will take awhile to enter all of these by hand! The transaction history does list each purchase with the ticker though, so once we pass the hurdle of buying 5, going forward it should be easier.

Referrals: You can refer your friends once you sign up. Referrals are $100 for you and $100 for your friends.

Motifs. I’d like to see some additional asset allocation based motifs similar to the 60/40 in other stock/bond ratios. Although, it’s very easy to customize the 60/40 motif and change the percentage.

Maximizing the Bonus

To meet your five trade bonus requirement, you could incorporate some sells. However, when I tried, I got a notice that “We are unable to process your order at this time. Your order for this transaction would classify you as a Pattern Day Trader. ” So it looks like you could use some sells if you spread out your buys and sells over multiple days. I wanted to finish up the requirements, so I just settled on 5 buys. To maximize your bonus with the least amount of money spent on commissions it would make sense to incorporate some buys and sells as you go and end up with just one motif to sell at the end.

Just don’t do what I did to get the five trades done. I now own 5 motifs and 18 stocks with lots of overlap. Luckily, it’s not a significant part of our portfolio, so I won’t need to bother rebalancing, and I’ll probably just let it sit there. Otherwise, I would have to shell out some extra money on commissions to unwind it.

My Thoughts

Motif has an interesting model. Since I’m a passive index investor, it’s not too exciting to use. But if you just want to buy one motif at your desired asset allocation, it works.

Going forward I’d like to see Motif offer a way to consolidate across motifs and give us the ability to sell stocks that are in multiple motifs. In the fees, it looks like the options are limited to selling by motif, or by stock in a motif. I can’t find anything about selling the same stock across multiple motifs.

When I have some spare time, I’d also like to explore the royalty creator program.

Sign Up for Motif

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Investing"
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Date: Monday, 21 Jul 2014 13:29

Amy Dacyczyn allowed her creative juices to flow when it came to frugal living. She began a newsletter, called The Tightwad Gazette, in 1990 and ran it until late December 1996. Her name became synonymous with frugality, cheap living, and being a tightwad, and her books have lived on (and probably will continue to do so well into the next century).

So, what does this frugal guru have to say about that most expensive of life events: the wedding?

To find the answer to this, I poured through three of her books, The Tightwad Gazette, The Tightwad Gazette II, and The Tightwad Gazette III to see if she could shed some light on saving money on weddings.

Potluck Receptions are Okay

Dacyczyn had her head on her shoulders when it came to weddings. She writes, “Weddings are one of the few experiences I feel justify financial investment. The objective is not to spend as little as possible or enough to impress royalty. Rather it is to spend enough to satisfy your reasonable expectations while not going into debt.”

She is well aware of the tackiness-factor many people have attributed to potluck weddings. But, this didn’t stop her from having her own potluck reception. She writes, “Before you gasp at this “tacky” suggestion let me make a case. Budget-catered meals tend to be very poor. Even the better ones offer only two predictable choices and rarely justify the cost.”

Dacyczyn suggests that you can play up the look of potluck dishes by serving them on elegant platters (borrowed, of course). To keep everyone from brining the same dish (and hopefully not tuna casserole), you can include a line on the wedding invitation where the guests can indicate what they will bring in lieu of a gift. You can also include a blank space next to “I will call for a suggestion”, and provide your phone number.

Contribution Wedding Gifts are a Great Idea

Dacyczyn talks about how weddings nowadays are much different from what they used to be. There are lots of people getting married at older ages, or getting married a second or third time, and so gifts of toasters and other household accessories that they likely already own are not appropriate. This is why she suggests holding a contribution wedding gift. Some examples she’s seen are a friend donating the use of a vintage 1920s Packard to transport her Uncle for his wedding as his gift, or friends playing music at the wedding and reception instead of purchasing a food processor.

Find Rings at a Pawn Shop

Instead of buying brand new jewelry, Dacyczyn suggests window shopping at jewelers to get an idea of what you want, and then looking at pawn shops to actually make your purchase. She points out that new rings quickly lose their shine and get a beautiful patina anyway, so you might as well buy used. Heirloom engagement rings are another great option.

If You Want to Go All Out, You Should get a Bridal Consultant

In the end, if you do want to spend lots of money on a first-class wedding, Dacyczyn suggests that you also spend money on a bridal consultant. She writes, “because [a bridal consultant] works regularly with suppliers she can steer you to the best values. You will very likely receive equal services for less than you can find on your own, making her services essentially free.” The fee is typically a percentage of your overall budget, such as 15%.

Consider the Date You Marry On

Most of us know that if you get married on a weekend, or off-season, you will save a lot of money. In fact, that’s what my husband and I did. We got married in April in PA, had beautiful weather, and shaved $2,000 off the cost. But did you ever consider getting married on a day most consider unlucky? Dacyczyn talks about getting married on Friday the 13th. Apparently she’s had readers do this and save lots of money because other brides did not want to be associated to the bad luck.

Finally, Dacyczyn is not shy about telling people to barter with businesses for what they need for their wedding. You could barter non-professional services (if you have a personal relationship with the business owner) such as babysitting or housecleaning, or you may be able to do part of the work yourself to decrease the cost. However, she is adamant that the bride and groom hold up their end of the bargain. She says, “If a business person has a positive experience he will barter with others in the future.”

More Frugal Wedding Tips

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Frugal"
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Date: Friday, 18 Jul 2014 13:29

We have covered the Amazon Visa credit card $30 Sign Up Bonus before.

I just noticed an alternative, the Amazon Store card with its own sign up bonus.

The bonus is our Free Money Friday offer this week.

How to Get Your $10 Sign Up Bonus

  1. Open a new Amazon Store card.
  2. A $10 Amazon.com Gift Card will instantly be loaded into your Amazon.com Account upon the approval of your credit card application.

How to Get Your $20 Sign Up Bonus

Once you click apply now and log in to your Amazon account, you can revisit the Amazon Store card page and it will show an updated offer. My husband’s account went from a $10 sign up bonus to a $20 sign up bonus. However, my account didn’t change the offer. Maybe there are other offers besides just $10 and $20? Let us know if you see something else!

Terms and Conditions

  • No annual fee.
  • The Amazon.com Store Card can be used for any purchase at Amazon.com with the exception of Amazon Prime memberships, digital newspaper and magazine subscriptions, and games and software downloads.

More on Amazon.com Store Card

0% Financing. The card comes with 0% financing on various purchases depending on the purchase price.

Amazon Rewards Visa. If you prefer the Amazon.com credit card, you can get a $30-$60 sign up bonus and cash back on your Amazon purchases using the Amazon Rewards Visa. The base offer is $30, but once again the offer increased when I logged in to our Amazon account.

Sign Up for Amazon Store Card

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Thursday, 17 Jul 2014 13:29

In life, there are few do-overs. Most of the time when you mess something up, it is what it is and you have to move on. But sometimes – and these times are wonderful – there is a way to sort of erase the bad that happened because of a mistake you knowingly or unknowingly made.

The one-time chance to rehabilitate a student loan is one such time. It’s sort of the federal government’s rare get-out-of-jail free card extended to people who previously defaulted on a federal student loan.

Let’s see why this is such a big deal.

Before we start, it’s important to note the difference between a defaulted and a delinquent federal student loan. Federal student loans are in default if you are 30-60 days late on a payment. They are considered in default if you are 270-360 days behind on payment.

The Effect of Defaulting on a Federal Student Loan

All student loans end up on your credit report, including the ones you are paying consistently on (this is good, as it helps to build your credit score). However, delinquent loans will be given what’s called a ‘derogatory mark’ (any negative mark on your credit report).

By law, the federal government can continue reporting a federal student loan as delinquent indefinitely (or until it’s paid back). This is significant, as other types of debts and derogatory marks can disappear from your credit report after so many years. And of course at some point (between 270-360 days) the loan goes into default if no payments have been sent.

Note: It’s important to know that the Department of Education can also continue collecting on federal student loans until they are paid (or indefinitely). They have various tools to help them, including wage garnishment, bank levy, or even property liens.

Opportunity for More Federal Aid

Aside from your credit score being affected by delinquent federal student loans, you also are not eligible to receive further federal aid. So if you’re in the middle of pursuing a degree and you are delinquent, then you may not be able to finish (depending on how you look at things, this could be a blessing in disguise, as you likely took on too many loans to begin with).

In order to regain eligibility for federal student loans, the borrower must make 6 voluntary, on-time (within 15 days of the due date), and consecutive payments on their loans.

How to Rehabilitate a Student Loan

If you have defaulted on a federal student loan – meaning you are between 270-360 days late on payments – then you have to rehabilitate the loan in order to continue making payments on it. This is the wonderful do-over I was talking about earlier, as it allows you to get the derogatory mark off of your credit score and essentially start fresh on payments.

In order to rehabilitate a defaulted federal student, you have to do the following:

  • Request the rehabilitation through your lender (if your loan has gone to collections, you can still rehabilitate it; if you’re not sure of the collection agency to deal with, then contact your original lender to ask)
  • Make consistent, on-time payments in accordance with the rehabilitation agreement (generally over 12 months)

Then, within 30 days after your last on-time payment under the rehabilitation agreement, the lender must return your borrower status to regular repayment status and instruct the credit bureaus to remove the default from your credit history.

Note: If a judgment is obtained on the defaulted federal student loan, then it cannot be rehabilitated.

How Much Does it Cost to Rehabilitate a Loan?

One of the downfalls of rehabilitation is that it is generally not free. Your lender generally has the option to sell your loan to another lender at the end of your rehabilitation period (if you’ve made all the payments per the agreement). It’s at this time that the lender may add a fee onto the cost of the loan, such as a collection cost. Lenders may add up to no more than 18.5% of the unpaid principal and accrued interest at the time of the sale of the loan. It should be noted that sometimes, if you pay the defaulted loan off in one lump sum, the Department of Education opts to waive the collection costs instead of adding it onto the loan amount at sale.

Remember, all this applies to federal student loans and not to private student loans. And of course the easiest way to avoid this mess altogether is to pay your student loans on-time. But it is nice to know that there is a do-over if necessary, right?

More on Student Loans

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Debt"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 13:47

Adrienne mentioned in How to Get Rid of Cable and Still Watch TV that they picked up a subscription to Netflix.

Meanwhile I’ve heard from countless friends that their new favorite shows are House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. However, since they are Netflix original series you can’t watch them without a Netflix subscription.

We still use DirecTV to access all of my husband’s favorite sporting events and we stream movies using Amazon Prime, so I wasn’t about to pick up an additional TV subscription!

Then I remembered the free trial from Netflix. We used a free trial back in 2009, but I figured it was worth a shot to see if we could get another free trial since the service has evolved. It worked!

If you want a month of Netflix to catch up on some favorite shows or if you dropped cable and want to try it out, here’s how:

How to Get Your Free Netflix Trial

  1. Start your new membership at Netflix.
  2. Register your email.
  3. Select a monthly plan and subscription rate and complete the enrollment process.
  4. Get a free 1 month membership.

Netflix Free Trial Terms and Conditions

  • Simply cancel anytime during your 1 month free membership, and you will not be charged.
  • No refunds or credits for partial months.
  • This 1 month free offer is available to new and certain former members of the Netflix service and cannot be combined with any other offer.

Netflix Details

Cancellation. If you decide you don’t want to continue the membership, you can cancel at anytime during the month and you won’t be charged. Just click on “Your Account” and follow the cancellation instructions. If you don’t cancel, your membership will automatically renew.

Membership. For complete membership details beyond the free trial, see the terms of use at Netflix.

Devices. Our main TV has a Netflix app installed to access the shows. However, one of our older TVs (that I plan to keep for a long time because it’s the perfect size for the armoire it sits in!) needed a device to access Netflix. We got a Roku player to solve the problem.

Free Trial from Netflix without a Credit Card. I was able to sign up using the gift cards I purchased when I went on my gift card spree to earn 8.5% buying Visa gift cards online.

Repeat Customers. The terms state the free trial is for “certain former members” and I fell in that category. I can’t find anything that explains who is eligible and who isn’t. It looks like we will have to operate on trial and error to see who is eligible to repeat the free trial.

Do you use Netflix? What are your thoughts on Netflix?

Written by Madison

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Madison" Tags: "Frugal"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Jul 2014 13:29

Investing in mutual funds can be a challenge when you take into account the fees that are associated with them. As time has passed, some mutual funds have become very sneaky in how they charge you fees. I say sneaky for two reasons:

  • First, they will claim that the fund doesn’t charge a fee when it really charges one on the backend when you sell. The “no fee” they are talking about is one when you buy the fund.
  • Second, since the fees are taken from your investment and aren’t spelled out for you on your statement, you never really know how much you are paying.

For these two reasons, you need a basic understanding of mutual fund fees. So grab a cup of coffee and take some notes. After all, it’s your hard earned money you are investing, don’t you want to know how to keep more of it?

mutual funds

Photo Credit: worradmu

The Basics: Load versus No Load Mutual Funds

The load vs no load concept of mutual fund investing is fairly straightforward. A no load fund does not charge you a fee to buy or sell a fund. A load mutual fund does charge you a purchase fee and/or a fee to sell. Let’s look at an example.

Fund ABC is a no load mutual fund. If you invest $1,000 all of your money goes into the investment and you have invested $1,000. Fund XYZ on the other hand is a load mutual fund. The load for the fund is 5.75%, which is fairly typical. If you invest $1,000, not all of your money is going into the investment. In fact, only $942.50 gets invested. The other $57.50 is the fee charged to you and that goes to the advisor/salesman.

In this day and age, there really isn’t any reason to invest in a mutual fund that charges you a load. When you are charged a load, you are already down 5.75% on your investment. If the market gains 5.75%, you are sitting at a 0% return on your money. Don’t fall victim to the trap that buying a loaded mutual fund is a good buy because of the fee. Many will try to get you to fall for the belief that the fund is so good, they have to charge a premium to invest in it. This isn’t the case at all. There is zero relation to a fund performing well and paying a load. None.

Early Redemption Fee

Of course, there are some other fees that you have to be aware of when investing in mutual funds. The biggest one is the early redemption fee. This is a fee you will find on many funds if you sell shares within two or three months of purchasing it. This is done so that the fund discourages people who plan on owning the fund for a short time.

For example, let’s say gold is hot right now and is only going up. Some investors might want to get into a mutual fund that invests solely in gold and then get out a month later, in the attempt to make some quick money. It might seem like there is no harm to this, but when a mutual fund has to buy and sell out of its holdings frequently, it drives the costs up for all investors. Therefore, many funds have instituted this policy to thwart short-term traders. Note that this fee goes to the fund itself and not to a salesman.

For most, this fee should not be an issue to you as you should be a long-term investor and buying and holding funds for the long haul, not for a few weeks at a time, also known as timing the market.

12b-1 Fee

One other fee to be aware of is a 12b-1 fee. More and more funds are charging this fee nowadays. It is basically a marketing fee and is usually around 0.25% annually. It gets lumped in with the management fee of the fund. Some argue this fee is OK to pay. I disagree. What does the mutual fund need to market itself for? If it does a good job and earns money consistently, others will take notice and invest in it as well. It is up to you if you are willing to pay an extra 0.25% per year for advertising. I am not one of these people.

Final Thoughts

There are all sorts of fees you can potentially pay when it comes to investing in mutual funds. I still like investing in mutual funds, but if you want a clear cut fee when investing, you should look into exchange traded funds (ETFs). There are no purchase or sales fees with these investments. For the most part, all you have to pay attention to is the management fee they charge you. For more see ETFs Versus Index Funds. But if you are mutual fund investor and plan on sticking with them as your investment of choice, do yourself a favor and pay attention to the fees that they can charge you.

More on Investing

Written by Don

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Don" Tags: "Investing, beginner, mutual funds, Retir..."
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Date: Monday, 14 Jul 2014 13:29

Saving money on food is a tough task since it’s a huge part of each day. While you may have reduced going out to eat at restaurants or stopped or limited fast food to save money, there is still the grocery bill to battle. Grocery bills can add up fast and be quite large, but if you’re creative, you can save at the store by using simple tricks. Previously, I wrote an article on 14 ways to save money on your grocery bill. While looking at the tips, I realized a few of the tips needed a bit of a makeover or extension to make them even stronger. Before you head out to the grocery store this month, check out the original article plus these five new tips for saving money on your grocery bill:


Photo Credit: buck82

Tips to Save at the Grocery Store

  1. Original tip: Look at the sale ads.
    New tip: Look at sale items NOT listed.

    Look at the sale ads to find what deals are advertised at the grocery store. You can find this ad online or when you walk into the store. You’ll find what’s on sale and possibly coupons, depending on the store. But to take it one step further, check items not listed in the ad as well. Some items may not be listed in the sales ad because it’s a spur of the moment decision from the store. For example, if a specific meat isn’t selling as quickly as anticipated and has the potential to go bad, you might see a “Manager’s Special” or “Discount” coupon on it that makes it cheaper. Chances are, this sale isn’t in the ad. The same is true for produce, bakery items, deli, and even packaged goods. Don’t just stick to the sale ads. Open your eyes, and see what else is on sale.
  2. Original tip: Clip coupons you need.
    New tip: Maximize your coupons saving potential.

    Using coupons is a great way to reduce your grocery bill and is almost like free money. While simply using coupons is great, there are ways to make them stretch even further. Contact local grocery stores to see if they offer a double coupon day, where they can double the amount you’re saving with that specific coupon. Use coupons for items already on sale to save even more. Many times a store will accept both a store coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item. For example, say your store has a coupon for a particular brand pasta sauce, you can try to find a coupon from the manufacturer of the sauce for additional savings. And as I mentioned in the original post, you can often find manufacturer coupons by visiting their website, following their page on Facebook and Twitter, or even writing to the company to ask for coupons.
  3. Original tip: Buy in bulk.
    New tip: Highlight expiration dates.

    Generally, buying in bulk is a great way to save money. However, if you’re not careful how you’re using it, buying in bulk can turn into wasted food. Whether it is a bulk item or not, label the expiration date of all of your food. This way you can clearly see when something is about to go bad so you can use it to avoid ripping up money. Also, if you’re reaching for chicken broth, you can opt for the one that expires first. When you’re loading your fridge or pantry, put the newer items behind the old so you’re using them first. Also, take regular inventory of what you have. This will help you create meals working with the ingredients you have on hand, avoids double buying, and allows you to use items before they expire.
  4. Original tip: Don’t throw away your receipt.
    New tip: Look carefully at your receipt.

    The receipt is the best way to get your money back for an item that is damaged or if you bought the wrong item, as I mentioned in the original post. But there are a few other reasons you should hang onto that receipt for a while. First, double check that everything rang up correctly, and you didn’t overpay. While I also recommended keeping an eye on the scanner to do this as you are being rung up, sometimes it is difficult to be unloading your cart and keeping an eye on every item that’s swiped. It’s not uncommon for produce to be mistaken for something different or items to get rung up a second time on accident. Second, some stores offer the opportunity to take a survey. Sometimes, this could get you the chance to be entered into a sweepstakes for a gift card. Even if there’s no sweepstakes, it’s a good place to express your views on anything you feel is overpriced, what types of sales you wish you saw more of, and what products you’d like to see coupons for. Next, sometimes a store offers something for shopping there. The Safeway chain stores offer rewards for shopping that reduces the price of gas at certain gas locations. One more reason to keep your receipt is the back. Some stores have coupons on the back of their receipt for local businesses or products in the store.
  5. Original tip: Keep leftovers in mind.
    New tip: Package your leftovers correctly.

    In my original article, I recommended choosing your meals based on leftovers. Baked chicken one night can mean chicken quesadillas the next. Tacos one night can mean taco salad the next. One thing to keep in mind when dealing with leftovers, is to be sure to store it properly. You want to opt for packaging and containers that are air tight or use a Foodsaver. Label and date it to ensure you know what’s in the fridge and that you use before it goes bad.

What are your best tips for saving money at the grocery store? How do you stick to your budget for food every month? What is the hardest part about sticking to a budget when grocery shopping and how do you deal with it?

More Ways to Save on Groceries

Written by Kristen

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Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal, groceries"
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Date: Friday, 11 Jul 2014 13:29

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Sign Up for Capital One

Written by Madison

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Author: "Madison" Tags: "Credit Cards"
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Date: Thursday, 10 Jul 2014 13:29

With the volatility of the stock market and low interest rates, many investors are looking for ways to earn a decent return on their money and also keep their principal safe. While it is common knowledge that you cannot earn a high return unless you take on a higher risk, you can still earn a decent return while playing it safe. To do so, look no further than municipal bonds.

municipal bonds

3 Benefits of Municipal Bonds

Municipal bonds offer investors 3 great things: safety, income and tax benefits. But as with any investment, municipal bonds aren’t for everyone. Read on for each one of the benefits that municipal bonds offer and then you can begin to decide if there is a fit for them in your portfolio.

Municipal Bond Safety

Overall, municipal bonds offer investors safety. This isn’t to say that you cannot lose money when you invest in municipal bonds, but the odds of losing money are not high. This is due to the fact that they historically have had a very low default rate.

Of course, you can’t base all of you investment decisions on history. There are many communities in California that are bankrupt. In Michigan, Detroit recently declared bankruptcy. This means that bankruptcy and default on municipal bonds can and does happen. Before you invest in any municipal bond, make it a point to research the municipality of the bond you will be buying.

Some investors have made the mistake of thinking that municipal bonds are risk-free, meaning there is no default risk. This is not true. The only investments that are truly risk-free are US Government and Treasury bonds.

Municipal Bond Income

The next great feature of municipal bonds is the income they generate. While the income isn’t life changing, it usually ranges around 5% and is predictable.

Most all municipal bonds pay interest semi-annually. But you should be aware that many municipal bonds get called. This means that a municipality will retire a bond before it matures. For example, a municipal bond might mature in 20 years but have a call feature after 7 years. When the seventh year passes, the bond can be called by the municipality. You will receive your principal back, but you lose out on the future income payments. But, with your principal returned to you, you are free to buy other municipal bonds.

What happens when the community who issued a municipal bond defaults?
One more note about municipal bond income, in the case of a municipal bond defaulting, you will not earn the interest payments going forward as well. The municipality will simply suspend future income payments. It is rare for you to lose your principal when a municipal bond defaults.

Municipal Bond Tax Benefits

The third benefit of municipal bonds is the tax-free treatment of the income. Municipal bonds are tax-free on the federal level, meaning you won’t pay federal income tax or investment tax on the income. But, many states also offer tax-free treatment to their own municipal bonds as well. This means that if you live in Pennsylvania and buy a Pennsylvania municipal bond, you will not pay state income tax on the income either. In fact, you won’t pay local tax on it. This makes the income “triple tax-free”.

Note that not all states offer tax-free treatment on municipal bonds and that if you invest in municipal bonds from another state (for example, if you live in New York and invest in a municipal bond from Kansas), you will most likely have to pay state income tax on the income.

For many investors, the tax treatment of municipal bonds (along with the predictable income they provide) make them a wise choice for those who are retired. But, as with any investment, look into the tax treatment of the income for your state before you go out and buy any municipal bonds.

Final Thoughts

Of course, as great as municipal bonds sound, this doesn’t mean that you should rush out and buy a bunch of them. You have to determine if they fit within your investment plan. There is no point in buying something that doesn’t help you reach your goals. For example, a younger investor might not invest in municipal bonds simply because he or she needs a higher rate of return.

However, on the flip side, this same investor may want to invest in municipal bonds because they are in a very high tax bracket and want to limit income taxes. Before you do anything, you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of such an investment. Only after careful consideration can you make an informed decision that is right for you and your situation.

More on Municipal Bonds and Treasuries

Written by Don

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Author: "Don" Tags: "Investing, income, intermediate, Retirem..."
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Jul 2014 13:29

Summer is here and for many, that means getting away for a week and going on vacation. But let’s face it, vacations can cost a lot of money. What if you are living on a budget and don’t want to hand over all of your hard earned money just to get away? You could save your money and take a staycation instead, but who really wants to hang out at home all week? Luckily, I’ve come up with a handful of low cost vacation ideas for you to take advantage of. Read through the list and see if any are of interest to you!

low cost vacation ideas

Low Cost Vacation Ideas

  1. Book A Last Minute Deal
    If you subscribe to the daily deal sites or other travel sites, you can get a weekly email of last minute vacation ideas. Many times the provider of the vacation has deeply discounted the cost just to book a room. They are going on the idea of opportunity cost here: a room booked for half price is still better than no room. In other words, would you rather have $500 or nothing? Most would choose the $500 and that is what opportunity cost is.

    When you look through these deals be sure to keep in mind the real cost of the vacation. Sometimes they will not really knock the price down all that much but will make it sound like you are getting a once in a lifetime deal. Do your research first and then see if the price is actually a deal or not.

  2. Get Your States (Or A Neighboring States) Visitors Guide
    No matter what state you live in, there are many things to do. To find out about all of the fun activities, you can contact your state tourism board or visit them online. There you will find countless things to do. For example, did you know that Pennsylvania has a Grand Canyon of its own?

    Many people overlook these vacation spots in favor of the beach or something overseas. As such, you typically won’t find huge crowds of people. Plus, many states are still recovering from the Great Recession so you might be able to score some even better deals than you normally could.

  3. Check Out Fairs and Amusement Parks
    These are great ways to spend some quality family time together. There are fairs, carnivals and amusement parks all over the place. With a little work, you could map out a long weekend vacation where you visit various parks or fairs. Or, you could choose to do a staycation and break it up by attending some fairs for a day or two.
  4. Go Camping or Hiking
    There is nothing like getting out and seeing Mother Nature in all of her glory. A camping/hiking trip will do just that. There are plenty of state parks to choose from, you just have to figure out which one(s) offer the activities you enjoy the most.

    When it comes to accommodations, you can save money by camping out a few nights under the stars. It will be a fun and memorable experience for everyone to enjoy.

  5. Take a Group Vacation
    Maybe you still want to get down to the beach for a summer vacation but the prices are ridiculous. Have you thought of inviting other friends or families? By going on a group vacation, you can split the cost of the rental and save money. Just make sure you lay the ground rules so that everyone is on the same page.

    When we’ve done this, everyone pitched in for groceries and we cooked our meals since it was cheaper than going out to eat all of the time. Then we just rotated who did the cooking. We also made it known that there were no real group activities to do. We all did our own things and were back in time for dinner that night. It was a lot of fun being there with best friends.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways you can go away on vacation on a budget. All you have to do is think outside the box followed by a little research. You should try your hand at negotiating as well. You never know if you can get a lower price if you don’t ask. As I’ve shown with the idea of opportunity cost above, many would rather have something than nothing.

Where are you going for your summer vacation? Do you have any additional low cost vacation ideas to share?

More Travel Tips

Written by Don

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Author: "Don" Tags: "Travel, budget, frugal, Savings, spednin..."
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Date: Tuesday, 08 Jul 2014 13:29

You’ve probably heard it said a million times before that your student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Everyone is basically stuck with them no matter what happens later in your life (which is ample motivation to pay them off as quickly as possible). In fact, I paid off my student loans just five years after graduating college instead of the 11 years my lenders had earmarked for me.

But what if that is not entirely the case? Are there circumstances where your federal student loans can be paid off without you?

Here are several ways that you can get rid of those federal student loans without paying them all off yourself:

After 20 Years of Consistent, On-Time Payments

Thanks to the Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012, students who borrow money starting July 1, 2014 will be able to cap their student loan repayments at 10% of their discretionary income instead of 15%, which is the current rate. And then if they make 20 years of consistent, on-time payments, the rest of their loans will be forgiven.

After 10 Years of Consistent Payments Plus Service Work

If you have federal student loans (specifically federal Stafford, Grad PLUS, or consolidation loans as long as they are in the DirectLoan program) and work in certain public service positions, then you may qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Through this program, your federal student loans will be forgiven after 10 years of on-time and consistent payments. Careers include any job in government, military service, emergency management, public safety, law enforcement, public health, and public education, to name just a few.

Note: Only payments made after October 1, 2007 count towards the 10 years, and also only payments made while you were working “full-time” (an annual average of 30 weekly hours or more) in an eligible service position.

Work in High Need Areas

If you work in areas such as rural communities, schools and medical clinics serving low-income families and underserved minority groups such as Native Americans, then you may qualify for state and federal initiatives to pay off your debt. This is because it’s difficult to recruit people into these positions, so programs have been created as an incentive. Some examples of these types of programs are the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, and the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program.

Live in Certain Rural Communities

There are some areas in the United States that need residents so badly, they will help you out with your student loan debt for moving there. Two such places are over 73 counties within Kansas, and Niagara Falls, New York. In particular, Kansas’ rural opportunity zones will forgive up to $15,000 of student loan debt as well as exempt you from state income tax for five years, and Niagara Falls, NY will forgive $3,500 per year.

So if you work for yourself at some sort of web-based job, or you can find a job in one of these areas, then you might consider something drastic like relocating for a few years.

Become Part of Peace Corps or AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps members who complete a term of service (12 months, full-time) will receive an AmeriCorps Education Award. The amount of a full-time education award for national positions approved in the 2014 fiscal year is $5,645. You also may be eligible to put your federally-guaranteed loan in forbearance, which means you are not paying on them. It will continue to earn interest, and AmeriCorps may pay this interest for you.

With the Peace Corps, you receive an After Service transition fund of $7,425 after successful completion of 27 months of service. You could use this for your student loan debt, and of course for necessities such as rent deposits on an apartment. Volunteers with Perkins loans may be eligible for a partial cancellation benefit, and federal loans may be eligible for deferment or forbearance. Perkins Loans will partially be forgiven (15% loan cancellation for each of their first two years of service, and 20% percent loan cancellation for third and fourth years of service).

These programs may not be your first choice. However, if you are just coming out of college or have lost your job and are having difficulty reentering the workforce, then this is a great way to continue paying your student loans, cover living expenses, and gain experience (plus avoid resume gaps).

Are you still paying on student loan debt? Would you consider something drastic like the examples above in order to have part or of it forgiven?

More on Student Loans

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Debt"
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Date: Monday, 07 Jul 2014 13:29

Summer is here. Kids are out of school, and you’re bound to hear a few “we’re boreds” (or a few hundred) over the next several months. As a child, I can remember what a thrilling experience it was feeling the temperatures warm up, having exciting end-of-school-year dances and activities to go to, and fantasizing about the days to come. I grew up on a farm, and so our summers were spent around animals, out in the barnyard with nature, and periodically at my grandmother’s pool. This may not be what other children’s summers look like, but it certainly has the elements of a good summer vacation.

How to Keep Kids Busy This Summer

Here are some frugal ideas for how to keep your kids (and you) happily occupied during summer vacation.

  1. Go Camping at a Campsite, or in Your Own Backyard
    My husband and I just went camping with a group of adults and kids. It was a blast! The total cost was a tank of gas plus $24 for the campsite (can’t beat that!). If you don’t want to go away to a campsite, then why not let the kids pitch a tent in the backyard? We did this as children, and timed it for special nights when something in space was occurring (a lunar eclipse, meteors, shooting stars, etc.). We never actually saw anything because we fell asleep well before the actual time, but the memories are very dear to me.
  2. Roast Dinner over a Fire
    Building a fire can be a lot of fun. What is even more fun is being able to cook your dinner over one with your children! Aside from dessert—which we all know is going to be s’mores (who can resist?)—try cooking the main dish on a stick so that your kids can do it themselves. This can include roasting hot dogs, kebabs, fish, mushrooms, pineapples, bananas, refrigerated biscuits, etc.
  3. Museum Crawl
    Here in Houston there is a monthly free day at the zoo, and a weekly free day to the Museum of Fine Arts. Many museums have free days, so be sure to check with your museums and see if they offer something similar.
  4. Free Story Time
    Check with your local library and bookstore for their story times. Also, stores like IKEA offer free story times (called Sagosund) and sometimes even a free snack.
  5. Give Them Projects to Do
    There are a large number of activities and projects that you can set up for your kids to do. Some of these include creating a bird feeder, causing a soda geyser eruption, creating a tornado in a bottle, making crazy putty, etc. Do you know someone who has a metal detector? My stepmother found one of these for very cheap at a yard sale, and you can only imagine the amount of fun it caused when given to a group of kids.
  6. Geocaching
    Grab your GPS (or borrow a friend’s) and get in on the fun of finding a “hidden treasure”. On the Geocaching website you can look up locations in your area. Set aside an afternoon to take your children outside to find containers with surprises inside.
  7. Hold a Kid Olympics Competition
    One of the most fun childhood activities I can remember is when my Uncle Andy held a Kid Olympics for me, my sister and brother, and the neighborhood kids. Basically you create several challenges including things like an egg and spoon walk, a timed race with a finish line, jump roping, or really anything where you own most of the materials. You can even give out prizes, or purchase big tubs of ice-cream that everyone can enjoy afterwards.
  8. Free Bowling
    You can register your kids to receive two free bowling games everyday this summer at participating bowling centers. AMF is also offering two free bowling games per day this summer for kids up to the age of 16. Note that typically shoe rentals are not included.
  9. Dollar Movies
    A few summers ago I discovered that several movie theaters have free or dollar movies during certain weekdays in the summertime. This makes going to the movies quite affordable! Regal Cinema offers $1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at 10:00 a.m. at participating movie theaters. Proceeds will partially go towards the Will Rogers Institute. Titles include: Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Three Stooges, African Cats, and Rio. Cinemark offers a Summer Movie Clubhouse. Tickets are $5 for a pass card to all of the summer movies if purchased in advance, or $1 per movie if purchased at the box office. Day, times and weeks of the series are determined by the local theatre.

More Frugal Fun This Summer

Written by Amanda

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Frugal"
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Date: Thursday, 03 Jul 2014 13:29

Tourist attractions may be jam packed with visitors, but these places are attractions because, for one reason or another, they’re definitely worth seeing. Whether it is history, tradition, or entertainment, these places have something to offer everyone. These attractions are popular destinations with people heading out of town this summer. You’ve probably heard the term “tourist trap”, which means it can be costly. Between overpriced dining, lodging, admission fees, parking, and souvenirs, it can easily add up pretty fast. One way to combat the over-priced destination is to choose camping opposed to a pricey hotel.

Tourist_Bridge_by Shelley Powers

Photo Credit: Shelley Powers

Places to Camp Near America’s Most Popular Tourist Destinations

Camping is the best way to visit these popular tourist attractions across America. Camping is a more affordable option to save extra money. Generally, camping is less expensive than the hotels you’d find around these attractions. Plus, you’ll skip other hotel related fees like parking, resort fees, and the more expensive dining options around these areas.

In addition, it’s a much needed break from the huge crowds that tend to surround these attractions. It’s a unique way to combine an iconic destination with an outdoor, relaxing, simplistic experience. Here are six of America’s most popular tourist attractions and the best campground nearby:

Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco, California): Stay at the Golden Gate National Park

The Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco so it only makes sense that the city’s national park is named after the massive, red structure. The Golden Gate National Park is 60 miles around the entire San Francisco Bay Area, and it brings in 17 million visitors annually. The park offers four campgrounds throughout, and they all offer something different than the next. Check out which campground would be best for you and your group. But the Kirby Cove Campground and Picnic Area offers the best views of the Golden Gate, so keep that in mind. You’ll also find a nearby beach, barbeque grills, and wildflowers throughout.

Times Square in New York City: Stay at the NYC North KOA

Only 90 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the NYC North KOA is a good choice to unwind after the bright lights of Times Square. Besides spending money on pricey hotels in Times Square, and pretty much all over NYC, most of the time you will also have to pay for parking if you have a car with you. The campground offers a Big Apple Tour that provides an escort that can show you around the city. If you want a break from the city, there’s plenty to do on the campground including free pancake breakfasts, two swimming pools, fire pits, an outdoor cinema screen, fishing pond, hiking trails, and designated areas for volleyball, basketball, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and mini-golf. While there’s amazing food in the city, it’s also nice to alternate between more affordable options at your campsite.

Las Vegas Strip (Nevada): Stay at the Red Rock Conservation Area

Vegas can easily become a very expensive getaway. But the colorful, glistening lights of the Vegas strip are replaced by a unique landscape of red rock and endless desert just 25 miles west at the Red Rock Conservation Area. All of that energy and noise is replaced by the serene surroundings of the Mojave Desert. Thousands of party goers and tourists are replaced by 200 types of mammals including burros, red tailed hawks, golden eagles, hummingbirds, wild horses, bob cats, and even mountain lions. While it’s a pretty far jaunt from camp to the strip, it could be welcome break from souvenirs, pricey meals, tempting shops, and of course, gambling.

National Monument (Washington D.C.): Stay at the Cherry Hill Park

Visiting the Nation’s capital is a wonderful way to learn about our country’s history, and Cherry Hill Park is a perfect option for camping if you want to skip the expensive hotels. The campground is a peaceful place to unwind after sightseeing with plenty to do such as a pool and game area. Best of all, there is transportation available right at the campground to and from the city which make getting there a breeze and an affordable option. For a true taste of the area, the campground serves Maryland style crab cakes at the Star Café with lump crab meat.

Niagara Falls (New York): Stay at Niagara Falls Campground and Lodging

When visiting Niagara Falls, you’ll pay a fee for parking, and you can expect pricey hotel room rates coupled by a lot of overpriced souvenir shops. But just 6 miles away from the massive, flowing waterfalls, Niagara Falls Campground and Lodging is the closest campground to the falls, which will allow you to skip the expensive hotel rooms. Right next door to the campground’s office, you’ll find information of the daily guided tours to the falls. These tours pick you up right at the campground and drop you off at the end of the day. For this tour, children under 5 are free and under 12 are at a reduced price. You can even take a tour to the Canadian side of the falls if you have proper identification including a valid passport.

Mount Rushmore (South Dakota): Stay at Custer/Mount Rushmore KOA

The Mount Rushmore National Monument depicts four men that greatly influenced the history of our country. You’ll enjoy scenic views of the area and plenty of things to do outdoors. When you’re visiting the monument, stay at the nearby Custer/Mount Rushmore KOA. Besides Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial and the Jewel Cave National Monument are all within 20 miles from this family-friendly campground.

Which of these tourist attractions have you visited? Did you ever camp in any of these areas? If you’ve visited any of these attractions, tell us your money saving tips or any other travel tips for checking out these attractions.

More Travel Tips

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Travel, budget vacation, camp, travel"
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Date: Wednesday, 02 Jul 2014 13:29

Many times when someone is trying to save money or get out of debt, they instantly think that their social life will have to suffer. But if you just get creative with things to do and places to go, it doesn’t have to limit your fun at all. Dating does not have to be cut from the list. This is especially important for married couples or couples that have been together for a long time. Often we get so stressed in our everyday lives and worrying about finances that we forget to have fun with our partners. Here are some great free date night ideas.

Free Summer Date Night Ideas

  1. Have a picnic.
    If you have nice weather at this time of year pack a lunch, grab a blanket, and have a simple picnic together. Find a scenic park or area that makes a nice spot to set up for the afternoon. If you’ve been together for a while, for a special twist, find a place the means something to you such as a park you used to walk in together. If it’s a first date, pick a place that shows a little bit about yourself like a place you used to visit when you were young or a place you take your niece, nephew, or your own children.
  2. Go to the beach.
    Just like with a picnic, pack a cooler with drinks and snacks and head out to a nearby beach. Ditch your usual beach entertainment of a book, magazine, or headphones, and stick to things you have to do together. Grab a volleyball, beach ball, Frisbee, or just some chairs to sit, talk, and watch the waves. See 15 Frugal Ways to Enjoy the Beach for more ideas.
  3. Take a bike ride or hike.
    Getting physical activity together is a healthy and great way to have fun as a couple. If you have bikes, find a bike path and head out. If not, look into nearby parks and forest preserves for good hiking trails that match your skill level.
  4. Go for a walk.
    Even if your fitness level isn’t up for a hike or if you don’t have a bike, just take a stroll together. You can go to a local park, nature or forest preserve, or simply walk around your area. Make a pact not to talk about anything stressful the whole time.
  5. Go camping together.
    Camping doesn’t have to be a huge event. No matter where you live, you can find a campground just a short trip away. If you’ve never camped before, you’ll discover a new adventure that you may even enjoy. Even though it is already inexpensive, there are many ways to save on camping including packing your own meals and borrowing any equipment you don’t already have.

How do you save money on your dates?

More Ideas for Frugal Fun This Summer

Written by Kristen

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© My Dollar Plan

Author: "Kristen" Tags: "Frugal"
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Date: Tuesday, 01 Jul 2014 13:29

Insurance is one of those necessary expenses in life. Perhaps we don’t like to see hundreds of dollars every month go towards premiums that we may not have submitted a single claim on (I don’t know about you, but I am grateful to not have submitted a claim on several types of the insurance we carry!), but if we want to keep our standard of living as well as protect others, we need to carry a multitude of insurance policies. At last count, our own insurance costs each month come to approximately $600, which includes health insurance (dental and vision), homeowner’s insurance, auto insurance for two vehicles, long-term and short-term disability.

Shopping around for comparable insurance offers is a great way to cut expenses in this area of your budget. I typically do this once per year, and while it does not always work out, it does leave me satisfied that I am getting the best market rates at the time.

Insurance Scams

It turns out that there are real scams out there when it comes to insurance, scams that I had no idea about until I started to do some research. These scams come from both consumers—which means that all of our premiums are raised to cover the costs—as well as insurance businesses themselves. Here are some insurance scams you should watch out for:

  • Being Sold Unauthorized Insurance Policies: Typically it is illegal to sell insurance without a license. Unlicensed companies are more prone to sell you phony insurance that does not meet the state minimum financial requirements and the company itself may not have the financial resources to pay any claims. In this scheme, the company generally will pay out a few small claims (if you ever have any), but once you submit for a larger claim or several claims at once, the company vanishes and leaves you with no coverage and potentially expensive bills to pay.
  • Swoop and Squat Car Scheme: This one involves two cars that essentially make you get into an accident. There are two partners in two separate vehicles; one behind you, and one in front of you. The “squat” car slows down in front of you, and the “swoop” car speeds up to swerve in front of the squat car (to make it appear that there is a reason for the swoop car to slam its brakes, causing you to rear end them). The swoop car flees the scene and you are stuck with insurance claims to deal with or worse, damage/deductible to pay out of pocket.
  • Sale of Unauthorized Health Insurance to Your Business: Small businesses, and businesses that are hard to insure are open to fraud by health insurance companies. The health insurance provider may be unlicensed, or claim that they are exempt from state regulation because they offer “self-funded” or “ERISA” (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) federal plans. ERISA plans are exempt from most state laws, but they are typically created by a business itself and not from an outside company or agent.

Avoiding Insurance Scams

To avoid falling for an insurance scam use the following tips:

  • If your insurance premiums are significantly lower than those being offered by other companies, then do some due diligence. Premiums are based on the pool of unique insurers each company has, so you will see fluctuations in the market (which is to your advantage!). However, large fluctuations, or policy premiums that seem too good to be true should be questioned.
  • Check the license of your insurance company. Make sure you know the precise name of the company, as unlicensed companies will generally use very similar names to familiar insurance agencies to thwart suspicion from consumers.
  • Ask for an itemized bill when you visit the doctor or go to a hospital (our insurance company sends this into the mail to us, so yours might as well). Go line-by-line to see if anything suspicious has been billed, or tests ordered for which you never had done. If you have questions, call the doctor/hospital accounts department. Also see How to Save Money by Fixing Health Care Errors.
  • Pay by check or credit card so that the payment can be traced somehow (the date, name of the company, and amount paid). In the event of fraud, using a credit card could get you a refund from your credit card company (subject to its terms and conditions).
  • Verify a company’s physical address, specifically if they are selling policies over the phone or door-to-door to you.
  • Be wary of insurance policies being offered to you through unsolicited emails.

Have you ever been a victim of insurance fraud, either from a person or from a company?

More on Insurance

Written by Amanda

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Author: "Amanda" Tags: "Insurance"
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Date: Monday, 30 Jun 2014 13:29

This month we focused our finances on generating passive income, cutting our electric bill, following up on the Nest savings, picking up a Motif bonus, and reviewing questions couples should ask before marriage. If you missed the most popular finance tips this month, here’s a quick overview:

This Month’s Most Popular Tips: June

7 Passive Income Ideas to Make Extra Money. Amanda highlighted ways you can get started earning passive income. Did you try any of them?

Nest Thermostat Review of Savings: One Year Later Find out how much we saved after a year of using our Nest Thermostat!

5 Ways to Save Money On Your Electric Bill this Summer. Not interested in a Nest? Here are other ways to cut your electric bill.

8 Financial Questions Every Couple Should Ask Before Marriage. Kristen put together a guide for couples to discuss their finances. Even if you are already married, it’s worth a read.

Motif Investing $150 Sign Up Bonus. The Motif bonus was the most popular free money offer this month. Did you get your $150?

More Popular June Articles

Written by Madison

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Author: "Madison" Tags: "popular"
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Date: Friday, 27 Jun 2014 13:29

We recently covered the Capital One 360 $25 Sign Up Bonus for adults. Something that sets Capital One apart from other online savings accounts is the ability for kids and teens to earn a sign up bonus.

Kids can earn a $25 sign up bonus when they open a savings or bank account. We opened these accounts for all three of my kids as soon as they were born!

The $25 Capital One Kids account bonus is our Free Money Friday offer.

How to Get Your $25 Sign Up Bonus

  1. Open a new Capital One Kids account.
  2. Add a new customer (your child) to the bank.
  3. Earn a $25 bonus.

Terms and Conditions

  • Bonus starts earning interest upon account opening, but is unavailable for withdrawal for 30 days.
  • Kids Savings Accounts cannot be used for business, power of attorney, beneficiary or individual retirement accounts.

More on Capital One

Access for Kids. Once you set up your account, your kids can get their own user name and pin to login and view their balance and activity on their account. It’s a great way to check off one of the 4 Financial Lessons to Teach Kids During Summer Vacation!

Fees. The Capital One savings account has no minimum balance and no fees.

Online Deposit. Your first deposit must be from a personal checking account belonging to the adult listed on the account. You’ll link your checking account and transfer the money electronically.

Add a Money Account with a Debit Card. Teens can earn an additional $25 bonus if you open a MONEY account and make 1 debit card purchase. The debit card uses Allpoint ATMs for free.

Referrals. Kids can also earn referral money. Each of my kids referred a sibling to earn additional bonuses. The current bonus is $20 (normally $10) for referring your friends right now.

Sign Up for Capital One

Written by Madison

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Author: "Madison" Tags: "Quick Money"
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