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As we here at Peak Personal Finance have stated repeatedly, there are lots of great tidbits of personal finance advice out there that are great in theory, but not so great in the real world (with bills to pay, mouths to feed, and unexpected expenses). We know, many of these can seem daunting at first, but here are 3 things you can start with little nibbles to get on the right financial path:

1. Three Months of Emergency Savings

For most people this sounds so difficult to do that they never really start trying. Yet, in these days when some creditors are going out of business and/or reducing their credit lines without advance notice to customers, having an emergency fund set aside is more important than ever. But remember, you don’t have to have all three months of savings at once.

We suggest starting today and setting it up electronically so that your online banking account automatically sends funds to your savings account at each payday — this makes it less painful. You can start with a small amount (maybe $20) and then bump up that amount once you find that you can manage without it, and at the very least bump it up every time you get a pay raise. It is fun to watch the money start to add up.

2. Max Out Your 401(k)

Yes, the market is down now, but if you still have a decade or more left before retirement chances are that you can look at this as a good time to “buy low”. Again, the idea of setting aside around $16,000 may be daunting at first, but you can take baby steps here too.

First, if you are lucky enough to still have your company matching your 401(k) contributions to a certain percent, then you are leaving money on the table if you are not taking advantage of that. Next, though you don’t have that money, it is also not taxed now. And once you divide what you would have had after tax by the 24 or more paychecks it is spread out over, the sting each paycheck is not that bad. Again, just get started with a small amount, and bump it up every time you get a raise. Don’t worry so much about short term losses, as this is a strategy for the long haul.

3. Line Up Your Bills

This is probably less enjoyable than the first two tasks, but it is oh so crucial. If you have multiple credit accounts, line them up and form a plan of attack to “take out” the ones with the highest interest rates first by paying as much extra as you can each month. Try not to be distracted by “shiny things” like promotions, “special offers” or other incentives creditors might throw at you to try to keep you indebted to them. This is a polite war, you against them, over who gets to keep more of your money.

And the answer is “yes”, you should start all of these today. You will have to budget how much you can put into each task, but don’t wait to complete one before taking a small step on the others. As they say, every journey starts with one step. Why not take a small step on each of these personal finance tasks today?

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Online banking offers a number of benefits, whether you are banking with an entirely online bank, or whether you use the online banking options offered by your brick and mortar bank. Account access from almost anywhere is a big benefit, as is being able to check on your account.

Convenience

Online banking provides convenience. After all, you are able to transfer money, pay bills and check your account anytime. If you have direct deposit for your paycheck, it is easy to automate your finances. You can set up your account to automatically shift money into savings, and you know that your money is deposited regularly. Additionally, you can schedule bill pay. No more worrying about whether or not your mailed check will arrive on time.

Security

Another reason that online banking can be beneficial has to do with security. When you mail checks, it gives the unscrupulous a chance to pull your payment right out of the mailbox. Once that is done, a scammer has your bank account number and routing number. It’s fairly easy to use that information to access your account by making online purchases with the money coming right out of your bank account. Paying your bills online can be more secure. To improve the security of your online banking transactions, follow these steps:

  • Make sure you are on a secure page. A “padlock” icon should appear in the address bar, or you should see “https” instead of “http”.
  • Have a good password that doesn’t relate to your family or well-known dates. Your password should contain a mix of letters and numbers, as well as capital letters. If possible, include symbols like “@”, “#”, “$”, and “&”. Your password should be at least eight characters long.
  • Log out of the web site when you are done.
  • Empty the browser cache and close the browser window.
  • Make sure you keep your Internet security software up to date.

While you will never be completely protected, you can improve your security by being smart about your online banking.

Keeping Tabs on Your Account

One of the best reasons for online banking is that you can keep tabs on your account. With online banking, you can check your balance, and look at items that have cleared. This means that you can catch mistakes quickly, and report them. If someone is making fraudulent purchases with your debit card number, you will catch that person much quicker if you can check your account online, rather than always waiting for the account statement to arrive. Being able to keep track of everything is important if you want to stay on top of your finances.

It can also be a reality check to see what you are spending money on, and to see how much you have left in your account to help you get through to your next pay day.

Better Yields and Rewards

Finally, online banking offers you access to better yields and rewards. You aren’t limited to geography when you bank online. You can search for the best yields on savings accounts, or find rewards checking accounts that offer great perks. Look online, and you can find banks with fewer fees and requirements.

There are a number of benefits to online banking, and they can help you improve your handle on your money situation, and help you get the most bang for your buck.

 

With the end of summer approaching quickly, many families are looking to squeeze in one more family vacation before the school year begins. After all, there’s only one time of year when our demanding schedules are kept at bay and the weather is willing to cooperate with our whims. The summer months are the perfect time to make some lasting memories, so it’s wise to squeeze as much quality time as possible out of their final days.

But with the bills from the kids’ summer camp rolling in and back-to-school expenses looming, it’s a good idea to plan your last trip as frugally as possible. Take a look at the seven tips below to make sure that your family’s last hoorah for the summer is fun and cost-effective:

Fly mid-week

Flying with family can get expensive fast, so take advantage of one of the easiest money-saving tips out there: flying mid-week. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are the most costly days to travel, so take advantage of the kids’ time off from school and book your flights for one of the other four days of the week when it’s less pricey.

Be flexible with travel dates

It might sound strange, but moving your family’s flights just one or two days from your intended travel dates could make a big difference in how much they cost. When you’re sketching out the days you’d like to fly, be a little flexible with which exact days you plan to be in transit on; doing so could save you big bucks.

Research free attractions and events ahead of your trip

No matter which city you plan to travel to, there are bound to be free attractions and events to keep you and your family busy while you’re on vacation. Do some Internet research ahead of your trip to find concerts, museums, festivals, and other free entertainment you and your clan will enjoy. Not only will you end up having a great time, but you’ll be capitalizing on all the freebies summer has to offer.

Use public transit

Renting a car or taking cabs are both expensive ways to get around your vacation destination, and unfortunately, a lot of people don’t investigate more frugal options. Look into the public transit system in the city you’re traveling to – buses, subways, light rail, trolleys, etc. Again, this serves a dual purpose: you’ll see more of the city you’re visiting and save some money to boot!

Consider renting an apartment or condo

Hotels are convenient, but their ease of use comes at a serious price. A much less costly option is to rent an apartment or condo from a local who’s out of town, especially if you have a large family. Another bonus to renting a residence is that you’ll have access to a full kitchen, which will come in handy with our next tip:

Prepare your family’s meals and snacks at home

One of the biggest budget busters, when you’re traveling, is restaurant meals, so to minimize this expense, try to prepare as many meals and snacks at home as you can. If you’re worried that this strategy will detract from your relaxation time, make a plan ahead of time to eat out just a few times. This way, the experience will still be special, but you won’t be spending an arm and a leg. Many hostels and guesthouses even offer a shared kitchen, which you can stock with local groceries and use to prepare simple meals – major savings.

Befriend a local

Searching for frugal meals and entertainment on your own is always good fun, but it’s the locals who know where to snag the best steals and deals. Shortly upon arrival, try chatting up a full-time resident to get some insider information about what’s cheap – and fun! – to do and see in the area.

The takeaway: booking an enjoyable getaway for your family doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little-advanced planning, creativity, and the tips above, you can enjoy a relaxing end-of-summer fling with the people you love most. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

 

A lot of people made a great deal of money on bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in 2017. With values skyrocketing throughout the year, those who might have invested years ago (or even early in 2017 for that matter) had the opportunity to cash out and make large or even massive gains. Now, there is such a thing as a “bitcoin millionaire” or “cryptocurrency investor,” and some of them are starting to give advice about how much ought to be invested in bitcoin moving forward.

It’s a good idea generally to read some of that advice before making a decision to invest. Remember that bitcoin is a brand new commodity and there’s really no such thing as an expert at this point. It’s a difficult asset to predict, and even those who have traded successfully can’t be sure of what’s next – which is to say no one voice is fully trustworthy. But as with any other investment it’s vital to educate yourself on the different possibilities and the key factors involved.

Strategy aside however it’s also important to learn how to invest in bitcoin, since it isn’t exactly an ordinary asset or commodity. Buying bitcoin isn’t like buying a stock, or even trading in gold or oil. The buying and storing processes work differently, and require a little bit of education.

There are actually different ways to buy bitcoin, and one of the most comprehensive overviews actually comes from a gaming site (because bitcoin has become a preferred method for a lot of online gamers to pay for play). This overview is worth a read, but points out that there are several ways of acquiring bitcoin, including purchasing from friends or family, using a direct bank transfer, or perhaps most commonly, by registering with an exchange. You can also mine for your own bitcoin, meaning you’re acquiring it as soon as it goes into circulation, but this is a complex process that demands expensive, high-end computing equipment. The easiest way to buy bitcoin if you want to so it right away is to register with a popular exchange like Coinbase, which allows you to use bank transfers, credit cards, or deposited cash to purchase cryptocurrency directly.

As to how you actually store bitcoins, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the idea of crypto wallets, because they’re really the only way to do it. It’s important to recognize as you get into the process that bitcoin isn’t a tangible asset, and you never actually possess it in the traditional sense. It exists online, and what you buy is access to it, in the form of digital codes. Wallets store these codes in different ways. Bitcoin wallets can either live on your computer and/or mobile device, on a physical gadget, or on a piece of paper. Put more simply, there are software wallets (computer and/or mobile device), hardware wallets (gadgets like USB sticks) and paper wallets (literal pieces of paper that contain your digital keys). There are pros and cons to each option concerning security and ease of use. Some might argue that hardware storage is best for long-term investment because it store
s bitcoin offline and free of hacking concerns – but this opinion is subjective.

That explains the basics, regardless of actual strategy for whether or not it’s wise to buy in. It’s a different sort of investing practice, but one that’s actually reasonably easy to get the hang of once you understand the core concepts.