Thanksgiving on a budget

There is so much to celebrate this time of year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s! But when you’re in charge of the budget, festivities can quickly get expensive. Here are 15 ideas to reduce costs so you can focus on what really matters—gratitude.

The best bet: Think outside the box

Don’t let tradition limit your creativity. Who said you have to cook a huge turkey or dress the table with fancy china and cutlery. Think out of the box!

Ideas to consider:

  • Potluck Thanksgiving: Ask each person to bring a dish to share. Everyone contributes to create a meaningful sense to the celebration.
  • Modern twist on tradition: There’s no need to cook a whole turkey. What about turkey sausages, turkey slices, turkey burgers or even turkey tacos.
  • Share the cost: Discuss splitting expenses with your family and friends in advance. Your gift could be the cooking while everyone chips in on the budget.
  • Give back: Volunteer at a soup kitchen or retirement home in your community. Some organizations even welcome children and give them special roles setting the table or decorating the room.

Setting the mood:

  • Decorate with nature: Create a festive centerpiece with colorful autumn leaves or pine cones.
  • Feel cozy: If you’re in the mood for a fire but don’t have a fireplace, you can stream this eight-hour fire on your TV, complete with crackling noises.
  • Repurpose Halloween: Do you still have a pumpkin from Halloween? Turn the carving against the wall to enjoy the smooth side during Thanksgiving.
  • Double up on décor: Choose decorations that will work throughout the holiday season.
  • Dress to impress: Everyone could dress a little nicer, wear a Fall color or a tacky sweater for laughs. This can give your celebration a vibe that sets Thanksgiving apart from other days.

Thanksgiving feel-goods

Consider activities that make the holiday special

  • Create a Thanksgiving trivia contest or quiz on the history of Thanksgiving.
  • When everyone is seated, go around the table sharing what you are most grateful for this year.
  • Cut out leaves from construction paper and have guests hang them from a branch after writing something they are grateful for on each one.
  • Take advantage of being together to plan a gift exchange for the holidays. Write each person’s name on a piece of paper and everyone draws a name (or use DrawNames.com). Set a spending limit on the gift.

After the celebration

  • Thanksgiving leftovers are delicious: Invite your guests take home what you won’t be able to eat in your household. Make new recipes out of the old, including turkey sandwiches, tacos, and enchiladas.
  • Be careful on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Focus on the spirit of Thanksgiving and being grateful for what you have instead of giving into the desire to spend money on things you don’t really need.

Last wish: Enjoy Thanksgiving and remember… be thankful for what you have!

Tips before buying a used car

In most parts of the US, having a car is a must. For most families, it is also one of their biggest expenses, along with housing and health insurance. That’s why it is important to invest time in researching all of your options, both online and in your general area, to find the best deal, which very well might be a used car.

First question… New or used?

While the idea of a new car is fun, let’s be honest, we have other priorities in life, right? Also, new cars lose their value faster than used ones. The good news: You can find high quality and reliable used cars nowadays.

For families or individuals on a budget (aka all families!), especially one with other important needs, used cars are a great choice. Keep these thoughts in mind before buying yours!

Narrow your options

There are so many options available. To help you narrow down the selection and make the right choice, consider the following:

DAILY USE:

Ask yourself: “What will I use it for?”, “How often?”, “What roads will I drive on?”, “Do I need extra space for kids?”, “How often do I transport or store stuff in my car?”, “Will anyone else need to drive it?”, “How often will I need to take it on long trips?”. Be honest about your primary needs so you can determine:

  • How many miles should be on the used car already? You’ll want a car with fewer miles if you need to drive long distances or have the car last longer.
  • Do you really need all-wheel-drive? If you live in the snow belt, consider getting an extra set of wheels with snow tires mounted instead. It could end up being the same or lower cost, and offer better gas mileage as well as better traction.
  • How many passengers will you be transporting on a regular basis? How many doors and seats do you need?
  • How much “stuff” needs to fit?  Do you need a big trunk or will a small one do? If you only need to haul large loads occasionally, can you borrow or rent a larger vehicle for those times?
  • How important is good gas mileage? The environmental impact?

MONEY:

Think about the maximum budget you can afford and how you might get the money you need. Will you need to take out a loan? If so, ask yourself these 3 questions before choosing a lender. Also know that dealers and retailers have relationships with banks and might be able to help you get a loan.

If you want to pay for the car in cash, how much would you need to set aside each paycheck and for how long, in order to buy the car?

How to find a used car worth your money

Start with an online search to learn about available options on websites for used car retailers, like Carmax, used car dealerships, or through private sales found on Craigslist or eBay.

Check reviews about retailer / dealership businesses online to see which ones seem trustworthy and if other people have had good experiences. In the Google search bar, simply type the name of the company followed by “review”, to find customer opinions.

If you opt for a private sale, try to figure out if the seller is a reliable person. You could also consider buying from a trustworthy friend, a friend of a friend, co-worker, or neighbor.

With a private seller, you might have a better chance to negotiate the price, but it could be riskier in terms of liability, since retailers and dealers might offer warranties.

Once you see that dream car…

No matter how in love you might be with a car, don’t forget to take these precautions before making the commitment to purchase:

  • Safety comes first! Always keep that in mind.
  • Inspect the car by closely looking at windows, seats, tires, suspension, car body, lights, controls, trunk, roof, engine, etc.
  • Take it for a test drive on a highway and in traffic, and in conditions similar to those in which you drive most often.
  • Ask for an independent inspection from a professional mechanic (you should be willing to pay for this). If the seller does not agree to an inspection, think twice before buying it.
  • Look at the miles driven and age of the car.  A car with 12,000-15,000 miles could last many years. If it has more than 100,000 miles driven, it may need repairs more often, but could also still last years. Keep that in mind.If you do decide to buy this car in a private sale, take a picture of the dashboard for a record and in case of any oddities during the pink slip transfer
  • Check if it is a fair price: Using the mileage and year, check the value on Kelley Blue Book’s website.
  • Do internet research to find out if this particular kind of vehicle is affordable to maintain. Look at fuel consumption, for any typical breakdowns, cost of maintenance, etc.
  • Does the car have a warranty? If it does, the seller should show you a written document saying so.

Your car insurance costs could change depending on the auto. Check it out before buying!

Finally: “finance” steps

  • Negotiate. Do not be afraid to discuss the price and conditions. Remind yourself that you are in control and that you must feel convinced about the deal before you take it. If not, push back and leave. It is as simple as that.
  • Ask for the real final price, including registration fees, to avoid surprises.
  • Dealerships sometimes offer extended warranties. Check what the warranty on your car choice covers and double check that your car insurance doesn’t already cover it.
  • Finally, sign the deal and…

LET’S RIDE!

More info and sources at: Federal Trade Commission

4 Benefits of Saving Money in the Bank

Do you save your money at home? Have you wondered if you should open a bank account or join a credit union? Here are some of the benefits of saving money in an account.

1. Keep track of your finances

It can be hard trying to remember whether you paid a bill, how much you paid for groceries, or how much money you have left. Banks and credit unions keep track of all your deposits and expenses, so having a record of your finances can be as easy as checking the banking app on your cell phone. Checking accounts come with debit cards, and when you use your debit card, the bank or credit union even keeps track of each expense and where you spent it!

2. Safety of your money

The money you put in U. S. banks is insured by the U.S. Federal government – up to $250,000 — even if the bank burns down or is robbed, your money is backed up and safe.

3. Earning interest

Whether it’s with your local credit union or a national bank, some banks will pay you a small percentage to keep your money with them. Check who has the best interest rates to grow your money over time.

4. Easy access

Most banks and credit unions have ATM access all over the country. So, wherever you are, no matter what time of day or night, you can access your money.

Did you know? During the loan application process, Oportun accepts bank statements as proof of income if you don’t receive or have any paystubs from your employer.

Putting away money for your future is always a good idea, and where you decide to store it is just as important. Keeping it at home may feel safer, but it won’t be safe in case of a flood, fire or a burglary. Keeping your money in a bank or a credit union will help you save for your family’s financial future.

This blog is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to provide personal financial advice. Please speak with your accountant or financial advisor for personal financial advice.

Does Halloween “scare” your pocket? Here are some money-saving tips for this year

The season has changed. Stores seem possessed by the Halloween spirit, with aisles full of decorations, costumes, and special candies conspiring to get you to spend money!

Resist the temptation.  You do not have to spend a lot of money to enjoy Halloween. Here are some terrific ideas that won’t “terrify” your pocket!

Set a maximum budget

Do the math and decide how much you can spend for Halloween. Then, figure out which items are worth spending on…Costumes? Candy? Décor? Set a budget.

If you have older kids and plan to buy or make a costume, let them know what the maximum budget is for the costume or the materials to make one. Let them know you expect to stick to it.

Halloween costume: Use your creativity

Halloween is an opportunity to be creative. Try to use old clothes or recycled materials to create something from scratch. You’d be surprised by what you can make out of paper, cardboard boxes, paper roll, duct tape, egg cartons, cans, plastic bottles, etc.

Need ideas? Go online and look up “costumes from recycled materials”, “handcrafted costumes”, or “costumes made from boxes”… There are a lot of fun ideas out there!

Another option: Swap costumes with friends or family.

If you want to buy a costume, try to shop early since prices go up as October 31st draws near. You can also buy small accessories online, at dollar stores, or places like Walmart or Goodwill. Or plan ahead and buy next year’s costume when it goes on sale on November 1!

Look for fun events and activities that are free (or nearly free!)

Spending time with friends and family is what’s important.

  • Check to see if there are free events in local libraries, parks, children’s museums, schools, or community centers. They often organize craft workshops, jack-o-lantern contests, special exhibits or parades.
  • Some neighborhoods go all-out in decorating their homes. Find one near you and walk around enjoying the décor.
  • Visit a pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin for carving. If your kids are too young to carve, go online to find other ideas for decorating pumpkins.
  • Take advantage of the “Early Bird” price in movie theaters to watch a horror movie.
  • Enjoy learning about other traditions, like Día de los Muertos. See if there are related events or exhibits near home.

Have fun at home!

There are countless Halloween activities you can do at home (great if the weather is bad!). Some ideas:

  • Scary movie marathon! Check the TV guide for special TV shows or horror films. Popcorn, blankets and low lights will add to the spookiness. Here are some movies to watch for each age group.
  • Have fun painting faces, playing hide-and-seek with the lights off, handcrafting Halloween decorations, or dancing to the rhythm of Halloween songs… and so many other options.
  • Use that pumpkin: Practice your carving skills, roast the seeds on the skillet for a little Fall snack, and cook delicious pumpkin recipes.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have a great Halloween!

Tips to save money in your back-to-school budget

We hope you enjoyed at least a few days of relaxation this summer! But now…let’s get back to reality and schedules. We know it can be tough, but it does not have to be tough on your pocket with this back-to-school budget plan.

Planning, planning, planning

NOTEBOOK AND PEN (OR A COOL BUDGETING APP ON YOUR MOBILE!)

Start by writing down a list of all expenses the school year involves. It may include supplies (pens, crayons, notebooks, binders…), backpacks, clothes, extracurricular activities, lunch money, field trips…

CHECK WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE

Can you re-purpose anything? Maybe you have an old backpack that needs a washing and some cool patching designs, so your kid can be excited to use it. Look for supplies/clothes in those boxes or drawers you haven’t opened in a while. Sometimes we buy new items only to discover we already had them, hiding in unexpected places.

FOLLOW A MONTHLY SCHOOL BUDGET

Plan the amount of money you can afford and make a list of what you will buy with it each month. Think about seasonal sales. For example, most stores offer school supplies in August at a discount, while other items, like shoes, might go on sale in December.

Consider hosting a costume “trade” with other families, looking for easy-to-make costumes online, or buying Halloween costumes the year before since they tend to go on sale right after Halloween. Goodwill is a great place for Halloween shopping!

Month  Budget What Where
August $80 Backpack

Pens

Binders

Goodwill

Discount Grocery Store

September $50 Art class fees

Swimsuit

School

End of summer sale

October $50 Halloween costume

Sports fee

Walmart

School

INVOLVE YOUR KIDS IN THE PROCESS

Education is one of the most important things in their lives, and you can teach them to follow a monthly budget so they can help you stay within yours.

Now yes! Let’s go shopping!

While trying to find the best school bargain, you could consider these tips…

SHOP DISCOUNTS AND SALES!

Dollar stores are a great option, and only buy what you really need. Sometimes “Just $1” is very appealing, but as you know, dollars can add up and get you off budget! Check discount grocery stores, too, since they dedicate full aisles to “back to school” items and sometimes have good deals as well.

PLAN SEASONAL SALES

At the end of August-September, you can find sales on summer clothes that can be used in the transition to Fall (maybe just in warmer states). Planning a few seasons early will save you money next summer.

CHECK IF YOUR STATE CELEBRATES TAX HOLIDAY

(Not all states apply). You will not pay the taxes on certain, important items. For example, On August 10-12, Texan residents don’t pay taxes on clothing, backpacks and school supplies up to $100! If you live in one of these states, take full advantage by gathering coupons.

SHOP USED CLOTHES

You can find pretty cool clothes for your kids at thrift stores. Swap stores even allow you to bring in your clothes in exchange for some new (to you) used clothes, a perfect situation for growing children. Remember as well to check Craigslist, Facebook Market, and other webs/apps where people in your community offer good prices or even items for free!

THINK IF IT IS WORTH TO BUY IN BULK

This could saves you money long term if you have the money to make the purchase and the space to store extra items. Or you could plan bulk purchases with other families. For example: kids need 4 notebooks a year. You can buy a pack of 12 notebooks for 12 dollars. That pack could be divided among 3 families (3 kids) and each family pays just 4 dollars.

EXTEND THE LIFE OF THE ITEMS

Remember your childhood when your parents bought you that large t-shirt saying “Bigger the better! It should last all year and you grow too fast”. The story is the same generation after generation. Also, for any jackets or other goods your kids might lose, help your kids form the habit of always double checking for items through constant reminders. (Label them just in case.) Consider second-hand jackets, either hand-me-downs from older friends and cousins or inexpensive ones from Goodwill or thrift stores.

And now that you are ready with these tips… Let’s rock that school year, family!

The Perfect Gift for Father’s Day on a Budget

Love is in the Details, not the Dollars

While you may want to show your dad your appreciation with a great gift, there are other things to consider – such as sticking to your budget and not adding to personal debt. This year, make it all about the little details. Follow these tips for a meaningful gesture on a budget.

Custom-made card instead of store-bought

No need for a store-bought card. Show off your creative skills (or lack thereof) and hand-make a card using printer paper. You could even fold it up to make it fun, check out the video tutorial at the bottom of this page on making a paper bow.

Food is the key to the heart

Live with your parents or close by? Start the day sweet by surprising your dad by making his favorite breakfast. Can’t make it over in the morning? Homemade lunch or dinner are just as impactful. Make it an event by also making their favorite dessert!

DIY caring coupons

Give Dad DIY coupons for nice deeds from you: An offer to do some chores around the house, like doing the dishes or fixing something broken. Remember you’re having Father’s Day on a budget, so feel free to go overboard with these free and thoughtful actions… and don’t forget to follow through!

Whether you’re saving up to upgrade your car or paying off your debts, remember that you don’t need to spend a ton to say a whole lot. It’s the little things that count (and they usually don’t come with a price tag).

Idaho’s and Wisconsin’s residents can now apply for Oportun loans online!

Imagine this: You’re in need of some quick money to cover a new battery for your car; you have to drive 25 miles every day to get to your job. Your friends or family can’t lend you the money, you don’t have a credit score so a bank won’t lend to you, and you don’t want a high-cost payday or pawn loan.

One of your friends from Illinois tells you about Oportun, which offers responsible loans that come with affordable, fixed payments that can even help you establish a credit history. And even better, you can apply from just your smartphone, computer or tablet. No traveling to a retail office or applying by phone.

This has been the reality for people in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. And now this moment has arrived for residents in Idaho and Wisconsin!

Oportun launched their mobile loan application in both states this May

That means that Idaho and Wisconsin’s residents can apply online, get a decision and, if approved, sign their loan agreement electronically and receive money through a mailed check or direct deposited to their bank account!

How to apply for a loan with our secure mobile application

To apply from your phone or computer, make sure you have access to cellular data or a secure internet/Wifi connection. After that, open the browser and type “Oportun.com” to get to our website, or click the Oportun logo in the top right of this screen.

Click the “Apply Online” button and start the mobile application process, following the instructions. If you cannot complete the process because you do not yet have all documentation required, do not worry. The system will save your application and you can return later to finish the loan application, just remember your login username and password!

What makes Oportun different

Oportun’s mission is to provide inclusive, affordable financial services that empower our customers to build a better future. Oportun has figured out a way to evaluate these borrowers and is able to make loans to people that traditional banks and financial institutions won’t lend to. Not only that, Oportun reports accounts and payment histories to the credit bureaus so that customers can start establishing credit history, and hopefully one day enable them to access more credit options. Oportun’s loans are designed for borrowers to build a better future.

All loans are on approved credit. Oportun reports account payment histories to credit bureaus. Late or missed payments may have a negative impact on credit history or credit score. If you do not have a Social Security number, the credit bureaus may not be able to report your credit history completely and accurately. 

This blog is an advertisement and is not meant to provide personal financial advice. Please speak with your accountant or financial adviser for personal financial advice.

What is a Credit Score and Why Does it Matter

Building your family’s financial future is a labor of love. One important aspect is your credit score. Here we can help you understand what a credit score is and why it matters in your daily life.

What is a credit score?

A credit score is a number assigned to you by a credit bureau that is designed to “predict how likely you are to pay back a loan on time,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a U.S. government agency.

Your credit scores are based on factors such as your “bill-paying history, your current unpaid debt, the number and type of loan accounts you have,” and other factors in your credit report, as explained by the CFPB.

Why does your credit score matter?

Many lenders use credit scores to decide whether to approve credit applications, such as a loan or credit card. In fact, your credit score is used to make several types of decisions that may affect your family’s life:

  • Personal loans, auto loans, home loans: Lenders (like banks and credit unions) may consider your credit score when deciding whether you qualify for a loan. It can also affect how much you qualify for and what the interest rate will be.
  • Insurance (for example, auto and home insurance): Insurance companies may look at “credit-based insurance scores”. These special scores include many, but not all, elements of the common credit scores. Lower scores are associated with more claims, so insurance companies could charge a higher insurance rate.
  • Utility companies: They can consider your credit score “to decide if a new customer has to make a deposit for service”, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
  • Cell phone companies, landlords: Cell phone companies and landlords can also look into your credit score before giving you service or renting an apartment to you.

A good credit score can provide you with better rates on loans and credit cards. It can also help you with many aspects of your daily life and with planning your family’s finances.

Tips from Oportun:

  • Before you choose a loan, ask whether the lender reports customer accounts to the credit bureaus. That way, your on-time payments may help your credit history and credit score.
  • Checking your credit report enables you to see your credit history. You should report any incorrect information that could affect your score. By law, you can get one free copy of your credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Transunion. Request your free credit report at https://www.annualcreditreport.com.

This blog is for informational purposes only. It is not meant to provide personal financial advice. Please speak with your accountant or financial adviser for personal financial advice.

Some Do’s and Don’ts to Save Money

Follow these simple tips and creative ideas to save money

If one of your goals is to improve your finances, you’ve come to the right place! Forget the usual food diet and go on a ‘money diet’ to save money and get your budget back on track.

DO: Envelope budgeting: Set apart to save money

The envelope budget is a simple way to save money to pay bills and keep a personal budget. Take one envelope for one spending category and write the name and how much you will spend for that month. For example, in an envelope write “Groceries” and write $150, and that’s how much you will be able to spend for that month. Do that with every category you need to spend on and don’t spend over that amount. Your bills will be fully paid, and you won’t have to be cut short of your budget.

DON’T: Keep paying a subscription service you can go without

Did you sign up for a cable & phone “bundle” but hardly use the phone or watch TV? You might want to reevaluate your needs when it comes to such services – over time it all adds up! You can even call your cable company to find out if they will lower your rate, or you can drop cable and just use a lower-cost streaming service.

DO: Tap into your creative skills and DIY

Save money by looking for new ways to entertain yourself and create fresh, fun or functional new items! Search online for DIY tutorials, such as WooHome’s 34 insanely cool and easy DIY project tutorials!

DON’T: Go overboard with gifts or celebrations

You don’t need to spend a lot to have a fun get-together. If you want to decorate, paper cards, party hats or paper globes will make a big, low-cost impact. You only need a marker and tape to play a round of home-made Heads Up that the whole family can enjoy. Lottery is another low-cost option that will guarantee a lot of laughs. Parties only really need one thing: fun guests!

Determination and creativity are key in cutting expenses and establishing healthy spending habits. And don’t forget, it’s important to reward yourself for meeting your goals!

Credit Reports: What are They and Why Do I Need One?

According to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal government agency, a credit report is a statement that shows financial information about you and how you have used credit. Credit reports are generated by credit reporting companies, also known as credit bureaus.

Financial companies like banks and creditors, and some utilities and landlords provide information about your finances and payment history to the credit bureaus so they can create the credit reports about you.

There are three major credit bureaus: EquifaxExperian and TransUnion. You are able to obtain a free credit report from each of these credit bureaus each year to double check the information about you for accuracy, reporting errors, or fraud such as identity theft. According to the CFPB, there are other reasons that you might be able to get additional free reports, such as being denied credit or insurance. You can also check your credit score – a number that represents the information in your report. Learn more.

Oportun reports customer accounts to Equifax and TransUnion so you can establish a credit history (the information inside your credit report about how you have used credit). Making your loan payments on time and in full can help you establish a good credit history, which could help you obtain other credit, such as a car loan or credit card, or rent an apartment! Missed or late payments can have a negative impact on credit history and credit scores.

You can request free credit reports:

The CFPB says that credit reports contain other information such as:

PERSONAL INFORMATION:

  • Your name and any other name you use or may have used in the past in connection to a credit account.
  • Current and former addresses
  • Birth date
  • Social Security number
  • Phone numbers

CREDIT ACCOUNTS:

  • Current and past credit accounts, including the type of account (such as mortgage, auto loans, student loans, installment, revolving, etc.)
  • Credit limit or amount
  • Account balance
  • Payment history
  • The date the account was opened or closed
  • The name of the creditor

COLLECTION ITEMS:

  • Outstanding debts that were sent to collections

PUBLIC RECORDS

  • Liens
  • Foreclosures
  • Bankruptcies

INQUIRIES

  • Companies that accessed your credit report (a prospective lender, employers, and your own request for an annual report).