September 11, 2010

Make Money Online

One of the ways to make our family budget work is to increase our income. When looking for ways to increase your income don't forget to look at the internet. There are a variety of ways you can make money on the internet. The important thing to remember when looking to make money on the internet is to avoid any get rich schemes. Always follow the basic rule "if it sounds to good to be true, then it probably is". None of our ideas will turn you into a millionaire but they will give you some opportunities to increase your income.
  • Display and sell your artwork. If you are an artist there is a wide variety of sites where you can post and sell your art online for free. We have a complete list here of reliable sites. My husband has listed artwork at all these sites so I know they are trustworthy.
  • Add Revenue ads to your website or blogs. Adding revenue ads to your blog or website gives you an opportunity to make money off your site. How much money you make varies greatly and depends on how many visitors you get on your website. Website Creations has some great informative pages on how to increase your website traffic.
  • Sell items online. We all know about eBay but there are other places to sell your unwanted or created items on the web. If you have books, you may want to sell them on Amazon. You can set up a free account and sell your books or other items through Amazon. On Amazon you set the price and shipping amount. When someone purchases your item, you will get an email with the buyers name and shipping information. Amazon collects the money and it is deposited into your banking account. Etsy is another great site to sell items. For only a fraction of the cost of eBay you can sell any homemade item or craft.
  • Start a website or blog for your offline business. Having your own website or blog is low cost and you can make money in a variety of ways from your site. Some sites may be created to highlight a business you already have. These sites can increase your visibility in the community, which will help you increase sales. Fewer and fewer people are using the phone books now and if you have a business you need to have a website. A great free feature of having a website is adding your business to Google Local Business. They will add a map to your business and you can add any information about your business that you want. This is a free service and can get your small business lots of extra notice!
  • Create an online store- if you have a special hobby or skill you can create a website and trying selling your wares online. The cost of an online store is almost nothing and you can use Google or PayPal checkout for free. My daughter in law starting her jewelry online store " A Plus Creations" and with no overhead she is able to enjoy a nice second income. Website Creations can give you complete information on setting up a website or blog.
  • Join Mr. Rebates and then get other to join. Mr. Rebates is a great site for saving money online, but you can also make money by recruiting more people to sign up. Mr. Rebates offers a cash-back rebate at over 1000 popular stores like Best Buy, Dell, JC Penney, and more.  Second, Mr. Rebates staff adds daily money-saving coupons and special sales/price drops on hot products.  The combination of the Mr. Rebates cash-back rebate plus coupons/sales insures that you will save money on your online purchases. You can earn 20% of your referred friend's cash-back rebates on every purchase they make through Mr. Rebates (at no cost to them).  You get that extra 20% for every purchase your referred friend makes.  You just can't lose on a deal like this! Mr. Rebates will track your referrals in your account automatically and any bonus cash will be posted to your account on the My Account Page.  Some Mr. Rebates members make hundreds of extra dollars per month by simply referring a large network of their friends!  It's a win-win for everyone! Mr. Rebates offers variety of ways to to refer friends, including emails, banners for websites and social bookmarks, like Facebook or Twitter.

Saving Money at the Grocery Store

Everyone nowadays is looking for ways to save money. We have already listed great ideas on how to save money online and simple ideas to save money. This section of Financial Health will offer you a variety of ideas for saving money at the grocery store. One of the keys to saving money is to realize the difference between our wants and our needs. Buying off brands and using coupons is a good start but just the tip of the iceberg. Not all these ideas may work for everyone but by following just a few of the ideas you can start saving money today.
  • Start a garden. Even if you live in an apartment you can start a small garden and grow herbs, fruits and vegetables. Many plants can be grown right on your windowsill. Not only will you have fresh herbs and vegetables you can save a bundle at the produce department. Learn to freeze or can and you enjoy your produce year round. Be sure and read our section on growing a vegetable garden.
  • Cut back on the convenience foods – fast foods, microwave meals, and so on. Instead of eating fast food or just nuking some prepackaged food when you get home, try making some simple and healthy replacements that you can take with you. An hour’s worth of preparation one weekend can give you a ton of cheap and handy meals that will end up saving you a lot of cash and not eat into your time when you’re busy.
  • Make a quadruple batch of a casserole. Casseroles are nice, easy dishes to prepare, but on busy nights, it’s often still easier to just order some take-out or eat out or just plop a prepackaged meal in the oven. Instead, the next time you make a casserole, make four batches of it and put the other three in the freezer. Then, the next time you need a quick meal for the family, grab one of those batches and just heat it up – easy as can be. Even better, doing this allows you to buy the ingredients in bulk, making each casserole cheaper than it would be ordinarily – and far, far cheaper than eating out or trying a prepackaged meal.
  • Plan your meals around your grocery store’s flyer. Instead of just planning your meals based on a cookbook or whatever you can dream up, plan all your meals around what’s on sale in your grocery store’s flyer. Look at the biggest sales, then plan meals based on those ingredients and what you have on hand, and you’ll find yourself with a much smaller food bill than you’re used to.
  • Do a price comparison – and find a cheaper grocery store. Most of us get in a routine of shopping at the same grocery store, even though quite often it’s not the one that offers the best deals on our most common purchases.
  • Don’t fear leftovers – instead, jazz them up. Many people dread eating leftovers – they’re just inferior rehashes of regular meals, not exactly enjoyable to the discerning palate. However, there’s nothing cheaper than eating leftovers and with a few great techniques for making leftovers tasty, you can often end up with something surprising and quite delicious on the other end. My favorite technique? Chaining – using the leftovers as a basis for an all-new dish.
  • Invest in a deep freezer. A deep freezer, after the initial investment, is a great bargain. You can use it to store all sorts of bulk foods, which enables you to pay less per pound of it at the market. Even better, you can store lots of meals prepared in advance, enabling you to just go home and pop something homemade (and cheap) in the oven.
  • Eat less meat. For the nutritional value, meat is very expensive, especially as compared to vegetables and fruits. Simply change around your regular meal proportions to include more fruits and vegetables and less meats – eat a smaller steak and a bigger helping of green beans, for example. Not only is this a healthier way to eat (saving on health costs), it’s also less expensive.
  • Buy staples in bulk. We buy items we use a lot of in bulk, particularly items that don’t perish – trash bags, laundry detergent, diapers, and so on are purchased in the largest amounts possible. This cuts down on their cost per usage by quite a bit and, over the long haul, begins to add up to some serious money. Even better, we don’t have to shop for these items very often, saving time and a fraction of the cost of a trip to the grocery store.

Investing Basics

Managing your personal finances and growing your hard-earned money by investing is crucial. If you're clueless on what to do with your money, or want to invest and just don't know what to invest in or how, then this is the article for you.

Investing in Bonds- Bonds are loans. This means whoever issues the bond, is receiving a loan from the purchaser and promising to pay that loan back over time with interest.  There are three main types of bonds, government, municipal and corporate bonds. Government bonds are the simplest form of bond investment. They can be acquired from a broker or from the government directly online. There are different time frames for purchasing government bonds. For instance, any government bond with a maturity of one year or less is a treasury bill, any government bond from two to ten years is a treasury-note and anything longer is called a treasury bond. Municipal bonds are similar to government bonds. If a city needs to raise capital on top of the taxes they issue bonds. If a company needs to raise capital on top of the stocks they issue, they may issue bonds. Depending on the situation of the company, corporate bonds can be much riskier than government bonds because the government has never defaulted on a loan. If a company needs to raise some money quickly and choose to issue bonds, those bonds will be ranked on their reliability. The best kind of corporate bond is a AAA bond. Then there is a  BBB bond, etc... The lower the grade of the bond, the higher the interest. This attracts more people wanting to purchase that bond, however, anything lower than a BB bond may have a high interest but is risky. These are called junk bonds. Usually when a company has an extremely high return rate (10%+) on their bond, they are probably on the verge of going bankrupt.

Investing in CDs- Another option for simple investing besides savings is putting your money in a Cd, or a certificate of deposit. A Cd is similar to a savings account with a few differences. So let's say you go to the bank, and decide to put $1,000 in a 12 month Cd yielding 3.25% interest. What this means is in one year, your $1,000 investment will have appreciated 3.25%. That's it, simple investing. There are a few catches, however. You cannot touch your money for the period. If you withdraw early for any reason, there is a penalty. Cd's come in many intervals. You can get them in a 3 month, 6 month, etc... Like Savings, Cd's are backed by the FDIC which means they are guaranteed.

Investing in Mutual Funds- A mutual fund is when a very large group of investors pool their money together and give it for someone to manage. This manager then invests their money mainly in stocks and bonds. Mutual funds are great for beginner investing because you can invest in them without having to worry about always doing your research. Another advantage to the mutual fund basics is the immediate diversification. Mutual funds are relatively low risk, yet can still average around 10-12% interest on your investment per year. They are low risk because of the diversification. Also, mutual funds must comply with rules and regulations of the SEC. This insures and protects you the consumer. Like bonds, there are graded mutual funds. The only homework you have to do with mutual funds is which fund to pick since there are so many to choose from.

Investing in Stocks- Stocks may be the most important and profitable investment out there. A stock is a share in a company. When a company wishes to generate money on top of their profits from revenue, they may issue private stock. If you purchase stock in a company, you gain partial ownership in the company. Depending on the stock and the company, you will be taking small risks to big gambles. Stock research is very important. You must do your research before you purchase stock in a company. Analysts are very important when it comes to useful information and stock research. Look under the Analyst estimates to see where the company ranks now, and where they are predicted to go in the future. You can see the growth percentage for Google now, next year, and 5 years from now.

Avoiding Home Foreclosures

Has your financial situation changed due to a mortgage payment increase, loss of job, divorce, medical expenses, increase in taxes or other reasons?
 - Is your credit card debt becoming unmanageable?
 - Are you using your credit cards to buy groceries?
 - Is it becoming difficult to pay all your monthly bills on time?
Foreclosure is expensive for lenders, mortgage insurers and investors. HUD/FHA, as well as private mortgage insurance companies and investors like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, require lenders to work aggressively with borrowers who are facing money problems. Every year a million families face losing their homes to foreclosure. The best time to act to stop a home foreclosure is before you  miss your first payment. Communicate with your lender as soon as you know you'll miss payments or be late. According to lender Freddie Mac, nearly half the people who have their homes foreclosed never have a conversation with their lender. Try to negotiate repayment plans. You may be allowed to delay payments or add past due amounts to the balance of your mortgage and extend it over a longer period of time. Don't put it off, be embarrassed or ignore letters from your lender because those responses will make the situation worse, not better. It's better to be proactive and call your lender then to hide from their letters and phone calls

Information To Have Ready When You Call:
  • Your loan account number
  • A brief explanation of your circumstances
  • recent income documents such as pay stubs, Social Security benefits statements, disability, unemployment, retirement, or public assistance. If you are self-employed, have your tax returns or a year-to-date profit and loss statement from your business available for reference)
  • List of household expenses
Expect to have more than one phone conversation with your lender. Typically, your lender will mail you a "loan workout" package. This package contains information, forms and instructions. If you want to be considered for assistance, you must complete the forms and return them to your lender quickly. The completed package will be reviewed before the lender talks about a solution with you.

After healthcare, keeping your house should be your first priority.  Review your finances and see where you can cut spending in order to make your mortgage payment.  Look for optional expenses-cable TV, memberships, entertainment-that you can eliminate. Delay payments on credit cards and other "unsecured" debt until you have paid your mortgage.

If any firm claims they can stop your foreclosure immediately if you sign a document appointing them to act on your behalf, you may well be signing over the title to your property and becoming a renter in your own home!  Never sign a legal document without reading and understanding all the terms and getting professional advice from an attorney, a trusted real estate professional, or a HUD approved housing counselor.

Avoid scams by contacting a HUD-approved housing counselor. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds free or very low cost housing counseling nationwide.  Housing counselors can help you understand the law and your options, organize your finances and represent you in negotiations with your lender if you need this assistance. Find a HUD-approved housing counselor near you or call (800) 569-4287 or TTY (800) 877-8339.

Bankruptcy Guide

Bankruptcy is a way to temporarily suspend (during the course of the proceeding), and later prevent, all debt collection actions for debts you had at the time you filed your bankruptcy petition. Once a person files for bankruptcy, the federal court grants an "automatic stay." This prevents creditors from attempting to collect on any outstanding debts. Creditors may petition the court for relief from the automatic stay. Often, creditors whose loans are secured by property are permitted to take possession of that property.
Individuals may choose several different types of bankruptcy based upon the amount and nature of the debts, the exemptions available, and the types of assets they own. The different bankruptcies are named after the corresponding chapter in the code.

Chapter 7 is referred to as "straight" or "liquidation." In a liquidation, the debtor turns all of their assets over to a trustee. The trustee then liquidates (sells) all the assets and distributes the proceeds to the creditors. The person is then discharged of all debts, except those which cannot be discharged. Creditors must look solely to the assets held by the trustee for payment. Creditors can’t come back later and try to collect their claims from the discharged debtor. A debtor can receive a Chapter 7 discharge once every seven years.

Chapter 13 debtors pay their debts through future income rather than liquidation of their current assets. This chapter usually allows the debtor to keep much of his or her property. Under Chapter 13, the debtor presents a plan for repayment, which is reviewed by the trustee, the creditors, and the Bankruptcy Court.

Chapter 11 is a reorganization proceeding, usually involving corporate debtors. It’s also available to individuals who have engaged in commercial enterprises. This chapter is used when the owner desires to stay in business, restructure existing debts, retain assets, and attempt to reorganize under court supervision. 
The most dramatic benefit to declaring bankruptcy is creditors must immediately cease collection actions pending the outcome of the bankruptcy. This applies once you, or the Court, have notified them that the filing has taken place. Anther major benefit  is that the bankruptcy  allows you to start over from scratch without burdensome debt, and with some assets to minimize the risk of your being bankrupt again. Filing bankruptcy is drastic but can also be the fresh start you need.

A negative effect of declaring bankruptcy is the negative impact on your credit record. Once you file bankruptcy, it stays on your credit report for 10 years. Filing bankruptcy can make it more difficult for you to obtain credit, buy a house, car, or get other financing. However it isn't impossible to get financing, just harder, and your interest rates may be higher than someone who had never resorted to filing. On the other hand, creditors know you can't file for another 7 years, and many are quite happy to extend credit to you right away after filing.

Bankruptcy is really the very last resort for debt relief. If you can't afford to pay your bills, you have no savings, and have tried credit counseling, then consider filing. Only you can answer the question of whether bankruptcy is right for you or not. Review your finances, talk with an attorney, and then weigh your options. If your budget won’t sustain the ability to payoff your debts within 5 years, you need to consider bankruptcy.  If you have options for reducing your debt, or increasing your income then you should try and work through your financial obligations. You can obtain a free legal consultation on bankruptcy and your options from local attorneys and it's always a good idea to seek legal advice on such an important matter.

Tips For Saving

Everyone nowadays is looking for ways to save money. We have already listed great ideas on how to save money online and ways to save energy in the home. This section of Financial Health will offer you a variety of ideas for saving money. One of the keys to saving money is to realize the difference between our wants and our needs. Saving money means making some small sacrifices but good financial health is well worth it! Not all these ideas will work for everyone but by following just a few of the ideas you can start saving money today.
  • Master the thirty day rule. Whenever you’re considering making an unnecessary purchase, wait thirty days and then ask yourself if you still want that item. Quite often, you’ll find that the urge to buy has passed and you’ll have saved yourself some money by simply waiting. If you want, you can even keep a “thirty day list” where you write down the item and the day you’ll reconsider it, but I prefer just to keep this one in my head – that way, I often just forget about the unimportant things.
  • Call your credit card company and ask for a rate reduction. Take any of your credit cards that are carrying a balance, flip them over, and call the number on the back. Tell them that you want an interest rate reduction or you’ll take your business elsewhere. If the first person you talk to won’t do it, ask to talk to a supervisor. If you have a $5,000 balance, even a 3% rate reduction saves you $150 a year.
  • Give up expensive habits, like cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Those habits cause money to flow away from you with nothing in return. Call up your fortitude and work hard to kick the habits and you’ll find that money staying in your pocket instead of burning up and floating away.
  • Clean your car’s air filter. A clean air filter can improve your gas mileage by up to 7%, saving you more than $100 for every 10,000 miles you drive in an average vehicle. Plus, cleaning your air filter is easy to do in just a few minutes – just follow the instructions in your automobile’s manual and you’re good to go.
  • Do a “maintenance run” on your appliances. Check them to make sure there isn’t any dust clogging them and that they’re fairly clean. Look behind the appliances, and use your vacuum to gently clear away dust. Check all of the vents, especially on refrigerators, dryers, and heating and cooling units. The less dust you have blocking the mechanics of these devices, the more efficiently they’ll run (saving you on your energy bill) and the longer they’ll last (saving you on replacement costs).
  • When shopping for standard items (clothes, sports equipment, older games, etc.), start by shopping used. Quite often, you can find the exact item you want with a bit of clever shopping at used equipment stores, used game stores, consignment shops, and so on. Just make these shops a part of your normal routine – go there first when looking for potential items and you will save money.
  • Give a gift of a service instead of an item. For new parents, give an evening of babysitting as a gift. If you know pet owners, offer to take care of their pets when they travel. Offer up some lawn care as a gift to a new homeowner. These are always spectacular gifts for anyone – I know that, as a parent of a toddler and an infant, I love receiving a babysitting gift, probably more than any “stuff” I might receive.
  • Switch to term life insurance. Repeat after me: insurance is not an investment. Switch to term insurance instead and use that difference in cost to get yourself out of debt and start building some wealth. Universal and whole policies are much more expensive and offer a sub par investment opportunity – you’re much better off getting yourself free of a debt burden than spending extra on such things.
  • Brown bag your lunch. Instead of going out to eat at work, take your own lunch. Lots of people think that this means “nasty lunch,” but it doesn’t. With some thoughtful preparation and just a few minutes of time, you can create something quite enjoyable for your brown bag lunch – and save a fistful of cash each day, too. After my husband starting brown bagging we saved almost a $100 a month. Bring your own coffee too and stop those stops at Starbucks!

Creating a Budget

Creating a family budget is one of the primary key to good financial health. A budget allows you to see a realistic snapshot of your financial responsibility. Whether it is grocery shopping or paying the monthly electric bill, we're faced with family budget decisions all the time. It's always difficult to deal with financial planning matters such as family budgeting.  No matter how people might try to deny it, we make decisions all the time that affect our ability to stay out of debt. The key to success is taking a proactive approach to handling our debts and making informed choices on how and when we spend our money. Unfortunately, for many of us budgets are a reality check that we try to avoid.

No matter how hard you think you can make a budget work, family income must be greater than family expenses. Families that find themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, or in debt, are in that situation are in that situation because they chronically break this simple rule.  If you don't have the right balance, then you can do two things:
  1. Increase family income
  2. Decrease family expenses
If you start the year or create a family budget that is not balanced then you are only kidding yourself.  Don't plan on hitting the lottery, plan on paying your bills. By taking a close look at your sources of income and where all the money goes each month, you'll generate better ideas on ways you can save money each month.

You can spend money on software or other programs but the easiest and most cost effective way to start a budget is to simply use a spiral notebook. This site has a really nice (and free) budget form that is very simple to use, The first step in creating a solid family budget is listing all your  monthly income. Paychecks should be listed by the net pay and only count funds that you know you are getting. If you have commissions or other income that varies, you will have to go back and look at the last 6-12 months and come up with an average. Remember fudging the numbers will greatly reduce your ability to stay on budget!

Once you have your income complete, start a second page listing the fixed expenses. fixed expenses are items that you are unable to reduce and are the same amount every month. They may include:
  • Mortgage payment or rent
  • Utilities
  • Insurance
  • Car payment and  scheduled maintenance.
The third section is your controllable debts. this is the area where you have the most flexibility on your budget to lower lower your expenses. Items to include are things like clothing, food, leisure spending and such.

The more detailed you make your budget, the more accurate it will be and the better you'll be able to track your expenses and find areas to cut.

Don't forget to take a little off the top each month for savings – think about setting up an automatic transfer from your paycheck. Don't count on saving whatever's left over at the end of the month because expenses routinely expand to consume available income. Think of the family budget as your road map to financial independence. Read our article on ways to save money online, savings tips, and saving energy at home to help reduce costs!

Credit Cards Dos and Don'ts

By learning how to shop for a credit card and learning what the benefits and drawbacks are, you'll be able to find the best deal and avoid a high credit card debt. A basic knowledge of credit cards is important for using them responsibly. Learn the key credit cards terms, the different types of cards, and how to choose a card.

Credit cards charge a fee on balances that you carry beyond the grace period. The interest rate on your credit card affects how much you pay in finance charges when you carry a balance. The higher your interest rate, the higher your finance charges will be. It is important to understand the interest rate you will be charged on a credit card before you sign up for the card. Some credit cards have a fixed interest rate and others have a variable rate.  A fixed rate is a set interest rate that you agree upon when you sign up for the card. Some credit cards may offer an introductory rate which is usually much lower than the normal rate. Be sure to read the fine print and find out how long the introductory rate lasts and what your new interest rate will be.

Starting February 22, 2010, new credit card regulations limit fixed interest rates increases to certain circumstances.
  • If you are more than 60 days late on your credit card payment
  • You had a promotional rate that has ended
  • You’ve just completed a debt management program
  • You have a variable interest rate and the underlying interest rate has changed
The credit limit is the maximum balance you are allowed on your credit card. If you go over that limit you will probably be charged an over-limit fee. it is important to know your credit limit and avoid any extra fees because they can really add up! Even without reaching or going over your credit limit your actual credit score is hurt by carrying too high of a balance on your credit cards. A large part of your credit score - 30% to be exact - is based on how much of your available credit you're using. This ratio of credit card balances to credit limits is known as your credit utilization. The higher your credit utilization, or the close your credit card balances are to your credit limit, the more your credit score is hurt. Maxing out one credit card is pretty bad for your credit score. Maxing out all your credit cards is much worse.

When you make a purchase on your credit card, you have a grace period. If you pay your balance in full during the grace period, you won't have any finance charges on your balance. Your grace period is typically listed on the front or back of your billing statement. Your statement may even include a disclosure stating the date by which your payment must be received to avoid finance charges. If you leave the balance on the credit card beyond the grace period, you'll see finance charges on your next billing statement.

Department store and gas credit cards are acceptable for starting out because they help you establish good credit. You should have no more than two department store and gas credit cards in your wallet at any time. It's a good habit to only use your department store or gas credit card when your balance is at $0. Otherwise, you could easily find yourself with an out-of-control balance that can take months, or years, to pay off.

Having an emergency fund keeps you from having to use your credit cards in case of a financial emergency. If you don’t already have one, you should build an emergency fund rather than making new charges on your credit card.

Will you be applying for a mortgage or car loan in the near future (six months or less)? If so, the only thing you should be doing with your credit cards is paying off the balance. Mortgage and auto lenders don’t want you taking on any new debt before approving you for a loan. So, if you’re going to be applying for a loan soon, leave the credit cards in your wallet at least until after you’ve been approved.

401k Basics

A 401k is a company or employer sponsored retirement plan that allows workers to deduct a portion of money from their pay check, and have the money transferred into a retirement plan account where the money earns interest tax-deferred. Tax-deferred means this saved income is not taxable until you withdraw it at the age of 65 or more. You decide how much money you want deducted from your paycheck and deposited to the plan based on limits imposed by plan provisions and IRS rules. Your employer may also choose to make contributions to the plan, but this is optional. A 401k is a retirement plan, not a savings account. Money placed in a 401k is not easy to access in an emergency. Some plans allow loans and hardship withdrawals, but the rules governing them are restrictive.

Don't put off participating in your 401k, even if you think you can't afford to. Time is your best guarantee that you will make your retirement goals, so the sooner you start contributing the better off you are going to be in retirement. Even just one or two percent will make a big difference. It is your responsibility to decide if you want to participate in the 401k, and if so, how much you will contribute each pay period. If you earn $750 each pay period and elect to defer 5% of your pay, $37.50 is taken out of your pay and placed in the 401k plan. These contributions are deducted from your salary on a pre-tax basis. This means that by contributing to a 401k, you actually lower the amount you pay in current income taxes. For example, instead of being taxed on the full $750 per pay period, you are only taxed on $712.50 ($750 minus your 401k contribution of $37.50 equals $712.50). You don't owe income taxes on the money contributed until you withdraw it from the plan.

It is your employers responsibility to administer the plan in accordance with laws and regulations, they will also determine who is eligible for the plan, how much they can contribute, whether those contributions will be matched and so on. Because of this the 401k is a very easy way to begin preparing for retirement, it really requires very little effort on your behalf.

Many employers contribute to your 401k by matching some or all of your contribution. That means you could put in 3% of your pay, and your employer agrees match that 3% for a total of 6% of your wages going into the 401K. Stop and think about this for a second. You have $5000 and put it into your 401K account, your employer matches your $5K and now you have $10K in your account. This is a 100% instant gain for you! By participating in your company sponsored 401K you turned $5000 of retirement income into $10K instantly, with no risk, no work, nothing. That is something you just can't turn down, and is probably the most important reason to put money into your company sponsored 401K at least up to the point that they offer to match it.

By investing in your 401K retirement fund you you have a reduced income tax bill the year that you do it, since any money you contribute is not counted as income that year. This effectively reduces your income, and your income tax due, so more money stays in your pocket and not in Uncle Sam's. Another plus for investing in your 401K fund is the money in your 401K account is allowed to grow tax-free as long as it is in there, letting it compound and grow faster. You don't pay taxes on the money when you earn it, you pay deferred taxes on the money when you eventually retire and take it out and begin spending it. Hopefully when you retire and your regular income drops significantly, you will find yourself in a lower tax bracket when it comes time to pay taxes on this deferred income - maybe 25% instead of 40%.

When investing in your company sponsored 401K program, employees should do their homework and be proactive with their savings. Important questions to ask your employer about your 401K account include: How much will the company match on my contributions? What is the vesting schedule on the company matched funds? Can I choose how the money is invested? Is it possible to get a loan on my 401k earnings?

Saving Money Online

We all want to save money. Here are some great places on the web where you can save money when shopping online. Whether it's shopping through a special website or adding a code to your order, these sites can save you money. The best part is you can use the coupons at your favorite sites.

Mr. Rebates: 
My Favorite money saving site on the web is Mr. Rebates. When I first came across the site it sounded too good to be true. But I have used the site for over two years and they have sent me over $600 in cash for shopping at stores I was using anyway, and buying items I was going to buy with or without the discounts. Here is how Mr. Rebates works:  First, Mr. Rebates offers a cash-back rebate at over 1000 popular stores like Best Buy, Dell, JC Penney, and more.  Second, Mr. Rebates staff adds daily money-saving coupons and special sales/price drops on hot products.  The combination of the Mr. Rebates cash-back rebate plus coupons/sales insures that you will save money on your online purchases.  This adds up to big savings every time you shop with Mr. Rebates! Some people might ask "How is Mr. Rebates able to give cash-back from so many online stores?".  Simple, the stores that you see on Mr. Rebates pay them a commission on each sale that is generated.  Most shopping-based websites keep that commission for themselves but Mr. Rebates refunds a good portion of that commission to you!  Mr. Rebates consistently supplies their shoppers with online coupons, discounts and cash-back rebates to make shopping via Mr. Rebates economical and fun. When I use Mr. rebates I will search the web and find the item I am looking for  then I will check and see if that store is on Mr. Rebates. Sometimes you will find the same item that may be the same price or even slightly more but after the rebate and possible coupons from Mr. Rebates you can turn a good deal into a great deal.

Coupon Cabin:
Another great website for saving money is called Coupon Cabin. This website offers coupons and codes to a wide variety of stores. When I am shopping online I always check this site to see if they have any coupons for the store I want to shop at. Coupons vary from free shipping to a discount on your order. This site offers coupons for both online sales and printable coupons to use in stores.  They also have links for free samples. I use the handy feature at the top that lets you search by the store name. You can combine Mr. Rebates with Coupon Cabin. Check through the Mr. Rebates link, but add any coupon codes from Coupon Cabin during checkout and get double savings!

Register with Sites:
Another potential way to save money online is to register for email updates from your favorite merchants. You may want to have a separate email address for this project, since the emails can add up. I use a yahoo account for all my newsletters and store accounts. On a regular basis, many merchants will send out special emails to customers who are registered with them. Often times these emails include pretty great savings opportunities. Occasionally, some of the offers can be as high as a fifty-percent discount or more! I found that most stores will send you a coupon code after you purchase an item form them. Use this to your advantage during the holidays and try shopping in waves, purchasing an item from the store then waiting for the coupon code and then finish your shopping list.  Sign up for newsletters at restaurants and fast food places. I get a monthly coupon from Sonic , Applebee's and Subway. Try your favorite restaurants and see if they have a spot to sign up for a newsletter or special offers. At the very least you will probably get a coupon for your birthday.

Check Before  You Shop:
Check out websites before you leave the house. There are some really great deals out there. Stores often have online coupons that you can use in stores also.