How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

How to Make Summer Camp Fit Your Family’s Budget

Last summer, the New York Times ran a piece about families who can’t afford summer camp or other programs for their kids. It highlights a problem for many working parents: Summertime care for kids is expensive.

This is especially true if your kids are in public school during the year. You suddenly go from paying nothing to have your kids cared for all day to paying a whole lot of money. Many parents may not have much choice but to find summertime childcare.

If this is the boat you’re in, here are a few ways to find a summer camp for your kid and options that may make it more affordable.

1. Check Online for Summer Camp Options

These days most states and major metropolitan areas have parent blogs or magazines devoted to the local area. In my local Indianapolis, for instance, we have Indy’s Child magazine and IndywithKids.com. Both feature a listing of local summer camp options.

Chances are you can find something similar for your area. If you can’t, there are national resources, too. The American Camp Association has a database for finding day and overnight camps in your area. It leans towards ACA accredited camps, though it will list some not accredited. When I ran it for our area, it turned up some but not all the options I know are available. Still, it could be a place to begin your search for a summer camp.

2. Choose a Less Expensive ‘Base Camp’ Option

One thing that makes summer camp expensive is the specialized options. I’ve seen sports camp, Lego camp, technology camp, horse camp and more. If your kid goes to these specialty camps for the summer, you’ll undoubtedly spend more money.

However, many local YMCAs, schools, daycares, churches and city parks programs offer more traditional summer camps. Our daughter’s daycare, for instance, offers a school-aged summer camp program where they hang out at the daycare for much of the day, but also take trips to local parks, libraries, and pools. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s safe, fun, affordable childcare.

If you can find an option like this, build your summer around it. Then you can splurge on a week or two of more expensive specialty camps for your kid.

Where do you find these less expensive options? Check out the following:

  • YMCA: The Y runs summer camps all over the U.S., and sometimes offers a sliding scale fee to make things more affordable. While they offer more expensive specialty camps, most local Y’s also offer traditional day camp options.
  • Churches and religious centers: Many churches and religious community centers offer summer-long day camp options that are quite affordable.
  • Schools: Local schools with before- and after-care programs may transition those into affordable summer camps with fun activities for kids.
  • Parks and recreation: City and county parks and rec departments also run summer camps, and these tend to be more affordable than other options.
  • Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: If your child is a scout, look into their summer camp options. These are often overnight options, but they tend to be very affordable.
  • Local businesses: Sometimes local businesses offer summer camp-like programs that are for mentoring older kids who may want to become entrepreneurs. These camps may be based on an application process, so be on the lookout well ahead of time.
  • Local colleges: Often local colleges and universities provide camps as a way to get their own students teaching, leadership and coaching experience.

3. Consider a Nanny Camp

Can’t find any affordable summer camp options in your area? Consider putting together a “nanny camp” with friends or neighbors. This is basically a summer-long nanny sharing program.

You’ll hire a nanny to take care of a reasonable number of kids — say four or five — and the nanny can do some summer-camp activities, like going to local parks and pools. This works best if the kids in the nanny camp are around the same age, and if you can provide the nanny with a safe way to get the kids around town.

4. Ask for Assistance

If you can’t afford even the least expensive camp option on your list, ask for financial assistance. Many summer camps offer scholarships for enrollment fees. Sometimes the information about these options isn’t easy to find, so ask about it. Even if you feel like you make too much money to qualify, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

You should also check for discounts. Some camps offer early registration discounts, and others will give you a reduced rate if you pay for the whole season at once. Tons of summer camps also have sibling discount options, which is why it often makes sense to enroll your kids in the same summer camp.

Making summer camp fit into your family’s budget can be tough, especially if you’re not already used to paying for full-time childcare. But there are plenty of excellent, affordable options out there if you just know where and how to look.

Cards for Camp?

You may be tempted to apply for a credit card to earn rewards for your summer expenses. If you do, be sure to check the terms and conditions so you know what you’re getting into. Also, make sure to check your credit to make sure you’ll qualify. You can view two of your scores on Credit.com.

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11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

11 Ways to Lower Your Cell Phone Bill

Cell phone bills can be expensive, on par with the monthly costs of powering your home or keeping your car gassed up. Of course, your cell phone can help you build your credit, but only if you aren’t strapping yourself with too large a bill every month.

So if you’re sick of shelling out a small ransom to call, text and watch YouTube cat videos on your smartphone, you should know there are ways to cut your bill. Here are 11 options:

1. Choose the Right Plan

If you’re signing up for a new cell phone plan, make sure you’re only paying for the plan you need. Unlimited texting, calling and data plans are nice, but you may use your phone less than you think.

Take a look at your phone usage over the past few months to determine if average usage is way under the allowances you’re paying for. If so, you can save some money by switching to a downgraded plan.

2. Keep Your Phone Longer

Many wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T dangle the carrot of a new phone upgrade every year or so. Of course, you like new devices, but you might end up shelling out hundreds for a new phone or rolling the cost into your wireless bill, which sounds tempting in the store but will add to your monthly cost.

If your current phone works, hold onto it to save money.

3. Skip the Insurance

Device insurance sounds appealing when you’re about to drop hundreds on a new phone. But in many cases, it isn’t worth the cost.

“At $11 per month from Verizon, you’d still need to cough up an additional $50 to $200 for the deductible, depending on your device. It’s more cost-effective to invest in a sturdy, protective case and screen cover and treat your device with care,” said Kendal Perez, Savings Expert at CouponSherpa.com.

It’s also worth checking with your credit card issuer to see what, if any, kind of extended warranty options they offer on new purchases made with your card, or if you pay your cellular bill with your credit card. Learn more about your options with this handy guide to getting your money back when you break or lose your phone.

4. Use Family Plans

If you need more than one phone line on your plan, you may want to check if your wireless carrier offers family plans. Family plans offer savings for additional phone lines, decreasing the average cost of each line. In some instances you may be able to split the costs with a friend or family member you trust.

5. Don’t Surpass Your Data Limit

Seriously, don’t do it. Wireless carriers often impose steep fees when you surpass your data limit, so if you’re regularly bumping up against your limit, you may want to comparison shop for an unlimited plan. It could end up being cheaper than going over your limit several times.

6. Reduce Data Usage

If that’s not an option, consider reducing your data usage. Use secure Wi-Fi wherever available, especially when you’re engaging in data-heavy activity like downloading podcasts or watching videos. If you can reduce your data, you can potentially switch to a plan that charges less.

“Unlimited data plans are making a comeback…however, it’s better to track your usage and pay for the data you actually use. Compare plans between carriers and read the fine print,” said Perez.

7. Do a Bill Audit

Many providers charge for things you’ll never use or already have, such as emergency roadside assistance or 411. Next time you get your bill, go through every fee and charge to make sure you know what you’re paying for. Some unused services could be removed from your bill.

8. Look for Employee Discounts

Many employers and jobs have discounts available with major wireless carriers. Examples may include active-duty military members or state government employees. Find out if your employer or wireless carrier participate in such plans.

“If your employer has a business plan with a carrier, employees are typically eligible for a discount,” says Perez. “Ask your supervisor or HR department about this benefit and the amount of the discount.”

9. Make It Tax Deductible

If you have a home business and use your phone to conduct business calls and emails, you can deduct some or all of the cost of your wireless plan at tax time. This will indirectly reduce the cost of your cell phone bill.

10. Cost Share with An Employer

You also may conduct business on your personal phone for your employer. This could include phone calls, email and any other work activity. Ask your employer if they participate in phone reimbursement or cost-sharing policies.

11. Negotiate With Your Provider

Like many other service providers, wireless carriers face stiff competition from other wireless giants and smaller providers. As a result, they may be willing to negotiate to keep your business. Call your wireless carrier, tell them your bill is too high and that you’re thinking of switching to another provider. You may want to be ready with offers from other wireless carriers, and you’ll have some negotiation power if you’re a long-time customer and always pay your bill on time.

Also, keep in mind, the better your payment history, the better chance you have of negotiating, so don’t wait until you’re making late payments to begin talking. If you’ve already made some late payments, for your phone or other bills, you can see how they’re affecting your credit scores by reviewing your free credit report summary on Credit.com.

Switch Wireless Carriers

Competing wireless carriers are constantly trying to lure customers away from each other. If you can find a better offer from another carrier that provides the service you need, you have a compelling reason to switch. You can even look for budget alternatives, such as prepaid plans.

“Prepaid, no-contract plans from Boost, Virgin Mobile, Ting and Page Plus are all cheap alternatives to big-carrier plans… compare costs between big carriers and no-contract providers before you buy.”

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A Monthly Guide to Setting and Reaching Your Financial Goals

A Monthly Guide to Setting and Reaching Your Financial Goals

New Year’s resolutions are fundamentally flawed.

The idea of doing something for an entire year is both daunting, unpractical and, frankly, a little boring.

So let’s try something new this year. We’re going to take a single resolution – getting your finances in order – and break it up into 12 easy-to-accomplish, month-long goals.

By setting up a series of manageable tasks, you’ll be able to make real month-by-month progress while staying motivated and mindful of the big picture. Because, really, what good is starting something if you can’t finish it?

1. January: Create Long-Term & Short-Term Financial Objectives

The beginning of the year is the perfect time to take stock of your financial past, present and future. Start by looking back at the previous. Was last year a success from a financial goals standpoint? Next, talk to your partner about where you want to be financially both today and tomorrow. Make sure your short-term plans are nested directly within your long-term view and both are leading to the same endpoint.

You should consider creating SMART goals for your finances. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based (SMART). You could make a goal this year to finally get out of debt or build a fully-funded emergency fund. Or, you could save for a down payment on a house.

A short-term goal could be paying for all of your Christmas gifts next year with cash. If that’s actually one of your short-term goals, now is the time to start. Look at how much you spent last year on Christmas gifts. Set a budget now of what you’ll spend in December and start saving each month for that goal.

Short-Term Goal — Pay for Christmas 2017 With Cash!

  • Specific. Set a specific dollar amount to save. The average American spends about $460 on gifts for family members.
  • Measurable. Look at what you spent in 2016 and use that figure to budget this year.
  • Achievable. If your budget is $600, you need to save $50 each paycheck.
  • Realistic. Yes, you can get it done in a year if you start now.
  • Time-based. You have 12 months to save for next Christmas.

2. February: Increase That Emergency Fund

It’s important to have at least three to six months of living expenses saved for the unexpected. Maybe even more if you have a large family to provide for. An emergency fund helps keep you out of debt or prevents you from increasing debt in the event of something unforeseen like the loss of a job or an unexpected home or car repair.

It’s usually best for an emergency fund to be liquid, which means it’s easily accessible from your regular old savings account. An emergency fund shouldn’t be used for any investing.

3. March: Get Serious About Paying off your Debt

Facing off with debt (credit card or otherwise) can be daunting. But not dealing with it can be crippling when trying to achieve your financial goals

Debt affects your credit and that, in turn, affects other aspects of your financial life, such as life insurance premiums, car insurance rates, job prospects, and more. (You can see how your debts are affecting your credit, for instance, by viewing your free credit report snapshot, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Take March and start a debt snowball There are two philosophies when it comes to paying off debt. You can either start your debt snowball by tackling your smallest debt first. Or, many financial experts recommend starting with the debt that has the highest interest rate first.

Starting with the smallest debt and paying that one off first (while making all of your minimum payments on your other cards) instead of the one with the largest interest rate has a psychological effect. It’s a quick win that will build momentum. It’s amazing to see yourself pay off debts. It’ll keep you motivated and hungry to pay off more.

Paying off your debts with the highest annual percentage rate (APR) is more cost-effective, since it can save you on interest.

4. April: Time for a Last Will & Testament

It’s not a pleasant topic to think about, but you don’t want to die without a will. It can often lead to your final wishes not being followed and put additional stress on your loved ones when they’re already suffering.

Having a last will and testament ensures that your desires are known and carried out correctly. Who will take care of your children if you die while they are still minors? Who will take care of them if you and your spouse die at the same time?

Children are just one of the many reasons that you should have a will. Whether you’re single, married, or have children, you don’t want the probate courts deciding important manners about your belongings and wishes.

If you don’t want to spend money on an estate attorney just yet, there are numerous online wills or forms that you can use. These resources can provide a solid starting-off point, and then you can hire an estate lawyer on an hourly basis to ensure you’ve considered everything.

Whichever route you choose for creating a will, just make sure you have a witness present and that you sign in front of a notary.

5. May: Assess Your Life Insurance Needs

Life insurance helps ensure that your family will be financially protected if you die. (Full disclosure: Haven Life, the company I work for, sells life insurance.)

If you have loved ones who depend on you for financial support and you don’t have a policy outside of work, then you’re probably not adequately covered.

Most employer-sponsored life insurance coverage only provides one or two years salary for a death benefit. That may seem like a lot to some, but the recommended amount of coverage is usually five to 10 times your annual income. And it’s important to remember that employer-sponsored coverage usually doesn’t go where you go, which means coverage usually ends when you get a new job.

Life insurance should help cover:

  • Day-to-day living expenses
  • A mortgage and other debts
  • College costs for children
  • Childcare costs
  • Future healthcare costs
  • Funeral and final expenses
  • Charitable giving
  • Any legacy you want to leave

6. June: Consolidate Your 401K Accounts

Young workers move around and take a lot of jobs. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 20% of Millennials have job hopped within the last year. But, with all of this moving, what happens to your retirement plans? Many workers simply leave their 401K retirement plans spread across their many former employers. If you’ve changed jobs recently, March is a good time to turn your attention to consolidating your 401K retirement plans. Roll over the old accounts into your new employer’s 401K or a Traditional IRA.

By keeping all of your retirement savings in single place, you’ll have better control and more investment options at your disposal. Consolidation will also help you maintain the right asset allocation based on your current risk tolerance.

7. July: Increase Your Retirement Contributions (But Not at Your Budget’s Expense)

You can boost your retirement savings without killing your budget if you increase your contribution with every pay raise earned.

If you get a pay raise of 2%, consider increasing your monthly contributions to your 401K or Roth IRA by 1%. It’s a sneaky way to trick yourself into saving more for your retirement without feeling the pain. Especially if you can time this increase in retirement savings before you even see the larger paycheck.

8. August: Open a 529 Account

A 529 College Savings Plan is a great tool to help you save for your children’s college education. As soon as your newborn receives his or her Social Security number, consider opening a 529.

Parents (and grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members) can contribute after-tax dollars to the plan, which typically offers a number of different investment options. Your contributions can grow over time, and earnings are tax-free as long as you use them for qualified higher education expenses when withdrawn. You can also receive a deduction on your state income taxes in many states for 529 contributions.

9. September: September Is for Shredding

Financial statements are like weeds. If left unattended, they can grow, multiply and before you know it, take over your desk completely.

Knowing which financial documents to keep and which to shred is key.

You can shred receipts for items you aren’t going to return as soon as the purchase has posted to your account. You can destroy credit card monthly statements after you’ve received them and reconciled your purchases.

Better yet: Consider switching to digital statements. Start going through your bank, credit card and investment accounts and opt for digital statements instead of paper copies. This way, you’ll help save the environment and keep desk clutter to a minimum.

Remember, it’s important to keep monthly investment statements until you receive your year-end statement. You should keep year-end statements for at least seven years in case you get audited. The same is also true for all tax documents. You should keep supporting tax documentation for at least seven years.

Shredding your financial documents or having a digital safe haven is one of your best defenses against identity theft.

And, hey, shredding a stack of papers never stops being gratifying.

10. October: Build Your Financial Team

We all need some help in our corner and trusted advisers we can turn to.

A financial team can be a sounding board for ideas and can help you stay on track with your financial goals. You may want to consider working with a financial planner, a tax professional, insurance agent, mortgage broker and/or real estate agent. If your financial life is an enterprise, this is your personal board of directors to assist you.

Get your team in place now and then turn to them throughout the year when you need help with things like filing your taxes, adjusting your investments or even insight on if it’s a good time to put your house on the market.

11. November: Stop Giving the Government an Interest-Free Loan

Your goal should be having little-to-no income tax refund each year. Having a small refund means that you’re getting the right amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck each month.

A large income tax refund is equivalent to an interest-free loan to the government. According to IRS records, the average income tax refund in America is $3,120. That equals $260 each month that you could add back to your monthly paycheck.

Too many Americans look at an income tax refund as a year-end bonus, but it’s an overpayment of your taxes every month. What could you do with an extra $260 each month?

Take some time in November to check in with your HR department about changing your withholding and updating your W2.

12. December: Rebalance Your Investment Portfolios

Many investors do not get a higher rate of return on their investment portfolio because their allocations get out of whack. December is the perfect time to rebalance your investments.

Investors should rebalance once a year to optimize their desired investing mix based on their investing timeframe, objectives and tolerance for risk. Rebalancing helps you stick to your investment plan and avoid potential anxieties as the market fluctuates. Many financial experts recommend rebalancing once a year either during the new year or in the investor’s birthday month.

Mix, Match & Reorder to Suit Your Needs

So, there you have it. Not all to-do lists need to be a mile long. The point is, where possible, divide your financial goals so that you feel like you’re making progress during the entire year versus a mad dash to accomplish everything this month.

Feel free to mix, match and reorder these tips to best suit your family’s needs. If you’re like me, while working on this, I decided to increase my retirement contribution by 1% now versus waiting longer into the year.

Ultimately, what matters most is that you’re working toward tackling your financial goals and setting yourself up for long-term success. A month-to-month to-do list could be the best way to keep yourself on track.

(Note: While we hope this information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation.)

Hank Coleman contributed to the reporting of this article.

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5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017

5 Ever-So-Simple Strategies for Paying Off Debt in 2017

Want to pay off your debt and save more money in 2017? You’re not alone! According to one survey of Google search data, searches for “Spend Less/Save More” were up 17.47% from 2016. Want to achieve your get-out-of-debt goal? If so, we recommend trying one of the five strategies here.

1. The Debt Snowball

This debt-payoff method, made famous by financial guru Dave Ramsey, has you pay off your smallest debts first. The idea behind the debt snowball is that you get a quick psychological boost from paying off some small debts from the get-go. This gives you the mental momentum to keep going when paying off debt.

To start a debt snowball, list your debts in order from smallest to largest. Use any extra money to pay off the smallest balance while you make minimum payments on your other debts. When your smallest debt is paid off, snowball that debt’s minimum payment, plus your extra cash towards paying off the next debt. By the time you get to the largest debt, you’ll be throwing a lot of money at it each month. (You can see how your debt is affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

2. The Debt Avalanche

This is similar to the debt snowball in that you pay off one debt at a time. But it’s actually the more economical method of paying off debt. Instead of paying off smaller balances first, the debt avalanche has you start by paying off the debts with the largest interest rate.

The debt avalanche is a smart method if you already have the determination to make it through a long debt payoff process without the boost of paying off a few smaller debts early on. It can get you out of debt faster since you’ll stop accumulating interest on high-interest debts much more quickly.

3. The Debt Snowflake

This is a method that can be combined with one of the above options or used to pay off debt in any order you choose. The idea here is that you find small ways to save a few bucks, and then transfer that money saved toward debt payments.

With the debt snowflake method, you’ll need to be exceptionally aware of your spending patterns. For instance, if you normally spend $10 on a lunch out at work, but pack your lunch one day, you could save $5. That $5 is a snowflake that can then go toward paying off debt.

The key to debt snowflakes is to make sure they don’t “melt.” Get into the habit of transferring “snowflake” money to debt accounts immediately, or at least on a weekly basis. Otherwise, you run the risk of that hard-saved cash being used for other purposes.

4. The Credit Card Transfer

If much of your debt is in the form of high-interest credit card balances, consider using balance transfer offers to pay off that debt more quickly. Since credit cards often have interest exceeding 15%, it’s not unusual for most of your minimum payment to go toward interest, even on a relatively small balance. If you can transfer that balance to a card with a 0% introductory annual percentage rate, you can put more money toward the principal balance each month, paying off your debts more quickly.

Be careful, though, to read all the terms of a credit card balance transfer. Most cards charge a fee for the balance transfer. If you’ll pay off the card’s balance quickly, the transfer may actually cost more than it saves. You can find more info on some of the better balance transfer credit cards here.

5. The Half Payment Method

What if you’re on such a tight budget that you can’t even squeak out some extra dollars to start on a debt snowball or avalanche? One option is to start making half of your minimum payment every two weeks. Bi-weekly payments, which may fall when you get a paycheck, can save you money over time on debts that are compounded daily or monthly based on the average balance.

The reasoning behind biweekly payments is somewhat complex. But, essentially, paying more often allows less interest to accrue between payments, which means more of your payment goes toward the principal. Plus, if you make a half payment every two weeks, you’ll actually have made a whole extra minimum payment by the end of the year!

Half payments can help even out your bank account balance and can help bring down your debt balances more quickly. Combining the bi-weekly payment method with another method for applying any extra cash you scrape together toward one debt at a time could be a powerful option for meeting your financial resolution this year.

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5 Helpful Apps for Families on a Tight Budget

5 Helpful Apps for Families on a Tight Budget

It’s hard enough to keep a budget for one, let alone get your entire family on track with their finances. Fortunately, there are plenty of apps out there that can help keep you, your spouse, son, daughter and 11-year-old pug (OK, maybe not that last one) from spending beyond your family’s means.

Here are some choice apps that can help with your household budgeting.

1. Goodbudget

Platforms: iOS and Android

Essentially a digital version of the envelope system — you know, where you put money allotted for a particular spending category in one and then don’t use any dollars beyond that — this app syncs up across household devices. That way, everyone in the family can know exactly what’s left to spend on groceries, entertainment and other categories each month. The free version lets you set up 10 regular envelopes and 10 annual envelopes across two devices. A subscription service with unlimited envelopes and device syncs costs $5 a month or $45 a year.

2. You Need a Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is another app that lets folks sharing finances sync their devices and work together. This app pairs with web software of the same name to help users implement the YNAB four big rules: give every dollar a job, embrace your true expenses, roll with the punches and age your money. You can try the latest version, launched in late 2015 and dubbed “The New YNAB,” for free for 34 days. After that, a subscription costs $5 a month or $50 a year.

3. Home Budget

Platforms: iOS and Android

This digital expense tracker from Anishu includes a feature called Family Sync, which — you guessed it — enables household devices to exchange income and spending information within a single, shared budget. There’s a free version (Home Budget with Sync Lite) which limits your expense and income entries, and a paid version (just plain ol’ Home Budget with Sync) that costs $5.99.

4. Wallet by BudgetBakers

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app lets your share selected accounts with family members so everyone knows what’s going on with the household budget. You can also choose to connect your bank accounts to the app to get automatic updates about their standing. Wallet has a free version with limited features and several paid subscription versions that vary in cost. Its top tier, called Master plan, allows up to 10 users, unlimited bank connections and customized financial analysis. It costs $5.49 a month or $44.30 a year.

5. EveryDollar

Platforms: iOS and Android

This budgeting app helps people apply the money management principles of budgeting guru Dave Ramsey. It syncs across devices so you can budget from your smartphone or your household desktop. There’s a free version and a Plus subscription, which lets you connect your bank accounts to the app and call for support. It costs $9.99 a month.

Balancing the Family Budget

Remember, you’ll want to read the terms and conditions of any app you’re looking to use so you know what it costs, how your data is protected and whether any information will be shared with third-parties. You can find more information for vetting mobile apps on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

And, when it comes to maintaining a household budget, it’s also important to keep track of your credit because a bad or even fair credit score can really cost you on everything from mortgage interest to your family’s cell phone plan.

If your credit isn’t in great shape, you can improve your scores by disputing errors on your credit reports, paying down high credit card balances and getting delinquent accounts back in good standing. And, as always, you can maintain good credit by paying all your bills on time, keeping debt levels low and adding a mix of new credit accounts over time. 

 https://youtu.be/_jh_PWEVEDU

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Single Mom Home DIY Project: Bathroom Grout Makeover

Single Mom Home DIY Project: Bathroom Grout Makeover

How to Get Your Grout to Look Brand New

Grout can be troublesome. While ceramic tiles are designed to resist stains, deflect grime and last for years, grout tends to absorb dirt and become strained all too easily. You might have tried many different cleaning solutions and homemade remedies on your grout, but nothing seems to get that dark brown stain out from between those shiny ceramic tiles. What can you do?

Remember, when tackling dirty grout, always start out with a mild cleaning solution, and if that doesn’t clean it fully, gradually move on to more aggressive cleaners. Of all the commercial cleaning solutions out there, we’ve found OxyClean to be the simplest and most effective at tackling messy grout lines and dirty tiles. Not only is OxyClean tough on grout, its main component is hydrogen peroxide, a “green” cleaning product that is neither a carcinogen nor a neurotoxin. Simply combine the OxyClean with water, rub onto the grout, and let sit for the recommended time before rinsing it off and brushing away any residue.

You might be tempted to use a rough brush to push the solution into the grout lines. Don’t do that! Using an abrasive brush such as steel wool or Brillo pad will wear down the grout and do more harm than good. In some cases, it could break through the grout, forcing you to get it replaced. Of all the brushes, an old electric toothbrush is the most effective at brushing dirt out of grout. Much like it does to your teeth, the electric toothbrush rotates and scrubs the gunk out of the grout, while simultaneously reaching those hard-to-get or unseen spots.

If you’re having no luck with the various cleaning solutions, consider investing in a steam mop. A steam mop uses high pressure, hot water and steam to blast your flooring and clean your grout. The high pressure created by the machine lifts dirt from inside the porous grout lines, flushing it out and leaving a shiny, new-looking surface in its wake.  Using a steam mop is great on the environment since it uses hot water instead of harsh cleaning chemical solutions.

 

Cleaning with the steam mop is very easy. To use your steam mop, all you need to do is hold the nozzle and direct the steam through it and onto the grout line. Direct the nozzle up and down the grout lines to directly take on the dirt. You want to rent or buy a steam mop that has a strong pressure gauge and can reach ~350ºF, as this is the optimal temperature for cleaning grout. Cleaning mops are very effective when used alone, even more so when used following a more traditional cleaning attempt using a homemade or commercial cleaning solution which are used by the professionals such as Sir Clean Pro. Once you’re finished using the steam mop, use an attached brush, old toothbrush or nylon brush with soft bristles to wipe away any leftover dirt residue. Once you’re done, your tile floor or wall should look shiny and new.