Tag Archives: militaryfamiliespersonalfinance

Just Do a Few Key Things Right

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, oneill@aesop.rutgers.edu

Photo by Endemoniada. CC BY 2.0
Photo by Endemoniada. CC BY 2.0

Personal finance does not have to be complicated. Rather, most people can manage their finances quite well by doing just a few key things right. Below are ten suggestions to consider as New Year’s resolutions to improve your personal finances during 2017:

  1. Spend Less Than You Earn– Live below your means. The only way to “find” money to save and invest is to have money left over after expenses. Shop around for bargains (e.g., online promo codes, price matching, and consignment and thrift shops) and ask yourself whether you really need something before you buy it.
  1. Save at Least 10 Percent of Your Income- Put money into savings automatically via payroll deduction or electronic fund transfers. Many people who have money taken out of their paycheck, for retirement, or their checking account, to invest in mutual funds, say they never miss the money and are a lot more financially secure. If 10% savings is not possible now, save whatever you can and gradually ramp up your savings level over time.
  1. Invest for the Long Term- Don’t trade too much; market timing is very difficult. If you don’t have the time or energy to research individual stocks, keep things simple and invest through no-load mutual funds, index funds, or exchange-traded funds. Never invest with cold-callers and be very skeptical of investments that sound like “guaranteed” winners. Stick with reputable companies and experienced and well-vetted investment advisors.
  1. Don’t Run Up Your Credit Cards– Going deep into debt for clothes, travel, or restaurant meals will not impress your friends. Instead, impress them with your kindness and sense of humor. Monthly payments on all consumer debts combined (excluding a mortgage) should not exceed 15% -20% of monthly take-home pay.
  1. Set Goals- What are you saving for? A nice house? Retirement? College for your children? Keep your eye on your goals and it will be easier to make sacrifices (read: spend less) to reach them. Use this worksheet as a goal-planning tool. Calculate the savings required to reach your goals by dividing the time to save into the dollar cost.
  1. Purchase Insurance Wisely– Examples of generally unnecessary insurance include extended warranties on appliances and low deductibles on property insurance. Rather, cover big financial risks including adequate liability insurance and disability insurance to protect your family if you are ill and can’t bring home a paycheck.
  1. Be Patient– Similar to the progression to large prizes on the TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, it usually takes people a long time to build wealth. The average age of millionaires is 60, meaning that they’ve been investing for about three or four decades. Using the Rule of 72, if an investor earns an 8% average return on a diversified investment portfolio, their money will double in nine years (72 divided by 8).
  1. Dollar-Cost Average Investment Deposits– This means investing a regular sum (e.g., $100) at a regular time interval (e.g., monthly), preferably through automatic deposits such as payroll deductions for the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). Dollar-cost averaging avoids bad market timing and takes the emotion out of investing because regularly scheduled investment deposits take place automatically regardless of market conditions.
  1. Limit “Shocks” to Finances– Financial shocks include frequent job changes, moving, home purchases, health care expenses, and divorce. Conversely, stability aids in wealth accumulation. Try to control what you can (e.g., good health habits). Unfortunately, military families often move frequently and this lifestyle needs to be factored into decisions such as renting vs. buying a home and a military spouse’s career path.
  1. Congratulate Yourself for Making Progress– If you hear that you need, say, $500,000 or $1 million to retire in comfort, you might feel too depressed to try to save anything. Instead, celebrate milestones such as paying off your credit cards or saving $1,000. You have a lot to be proud of as long as you’re headed in the right direction.

Payday Loans and Rent-to-Own: How to be an Informed Consumer

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Payday loans and rent-to-own options are appealing to many families because payday loan lenders and rent-to-own storefronts are often able to offer you what you need quickly without much hassle. However, before entering into an agreement with either of these businesses, there are several important things that you should be aware.

Payday Loans:

Payday loans offer quick cash to consumers. In general, the requirements for obtaining a payday loan include that you have a job, bank account, and personal identification. A payday loan typically works the following way: the payday lender gives the borrower cash with a promise that the loan will be repaid in two pay periods when the borrower receives his or her paycheck. When the money is due, the borrower can choose to pay the lender in cash or to allow the lender to cash their check. Easy enough, right?

While there are pros to getting a payday loan including fast cash in and no required credit check, there are also many drawbacks. Many of the people who obtain a payday loan are unable to pay back the lender in the agreed upon timeframe. As a result, borrowers are often left with little choice but to take out more loans in order to pay back earlier ones leading to a significant amount of debt.

Rent-to-Own Stores

Rent-to-own stores allow consumers to rent a household item for a monthly cost that is usually much lower than what a monthly payment would be at a major retailer. These stores allow consumers to rent the item on a weekly or monthly rental. After completing payment over the term of the rental, the consumer then owns the item.

This option may seem particularly appealing to families who are in need of temporary furnishings. However, what rent-to-own stores often fail to inform consumers is that their rental periods are often longer and the buyer will end up spending much more than they would have if they had obtained a conventional loan or bought the item outright without any type of financing. Consumers often spend three to four times what the cash price would have been when all is said and done! Additionally, if a consumer were to choose to return the item before the rental agreement is completed, a fee is charged.

As an alternative to choosing the rent-to-own option, consider the following:

  • Buy the item from a garage sale, consignment shop, or friend.
  • Borrow the item temporarily from a friend or family member.
  • Deliberately set aside money each month until you have saved enough to buy the item outright.
  • Look into layaway plans at major retailers.

It is easy to see why so many families choose to take out a payday loan or rent-to-own household items. However, it is also easy to see why you should use caution when considering these options. In the long run, you will end up costing yourself a significant amount of money.

Keep in mind that payday lenders and rent-to-own stores are in business to make money. If you choose to take out a payday loan or rent-to-own a household item, do your research first so that you can make an informed decision. Do not be afraid to ask these businesses to clearly share their policies with you. After all, you are your own best advocate!

Watch the recording of our Predatory Lending Practices & How to Avoid Them webinar from July 2015 here. 

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu








Q&A: The Financial Side of Retirement

By Molly C. Herndon

Watch the recording of Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families here: https://learn.extension.org/events/2688
Watch the recording of Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families here: https://learn.extension.org/events/2688

Many of you had questions that we just didn’t a chance to respond to during the Nov. 1 webinar, Retirement Ready? Effective Strategies for Military Families. Here, Dr. Barbara O’Neill addresses those questions.

Q. Is it always better to wait for full Social Security benefits?

A. Famous financial planning answer…It depends. But some people don’t have that luxury. They need their Social Security benefit money right away to pay their bills or they are in poor health so there is no point in waiting. Absent these two issues, workers will receive a higher benefit if they wait until full retirement age and even more if they continue to wait to age 70 (delayed retirement credits). In addition to benefiting themselves, a decision to wait can also benefit workers’ spouses.

Q. Is it true that if you are divorced, your former spouse can receive 50% of your Social Security earnings without  your Social Security being reduced?

A. Divorced spouses will get the higher of a benefit based on their own work record or their ex-spouse’s work record. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. Here are the rules: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/divspouse.html. Your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age. The benefits do not include any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse may receive.

Q. Other than going to Social Security website, is there a calculator to be able to enter numbers to see the breakeven for Social Security (when is it not worth waiting any longer) particularly for those individuals that will fall into Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)

A. For some helpful break-even resources, see

It should be noted that the WEP will NOT take effect until someone collects a government pension. If they collect SS while still working after FRA, they’ll get a full SS benefit until they retire.

Many more of you had questions about the new Blended Retirement System, and we will address those too! Questions shared in the chat pod in today’s discussion were sent to the presenter of our scheduled Military Blended Retirement System webinar on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 11 a.m. ET so make plans to join us.

Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings Plans

By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, oneill@aesop.rutgers.edu

The Military Families Learning Network held Retirement Ready? Strategies for Military Families on November 1, a webinar about retirement readiness. Today, we will host a hour-long follow-up session at 11 a.m. Included in the Nov. 1 session was a segment about personal finances and tax-deferred retirement savings plans that are available to military families. Below is a summary of these plans:

  • IRAs- An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) enables workers with earned income (i.e., salary from a job or net earnings from self-employment) to invest for retirement. IRAs are not an investment, per se, but, rather, a special classification for tax purposes. The actual investment will be in different types of securities such as stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, or mutual funds. Arrangements to open an IRA account are made with a financial institution such as a bank, brokerage firm, or mutual fund. Federal tax law limits 2016 maximum contributions to a traditional and/or Roth IRA to $5,500 for a worker with earned income ($6,500 for those who are age 50+). An additional $5,500 (or $6,500) can also be saved for a worker’s spouse, regardless of whether or not the spouse is employed.
  • myRA- Short for “my retirement account,” a myRA is a Roth IRA that invests in a new U.S. Treasury savings bond that earns interest at the same rate as investments in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) Government Securities (G) Fund available to service members and federal government employees. Workers can transfer a myRA account balance into a private sector Roth IRA at any time. When myRA balances reach $15,000 or accounts have had a lower balance for 30 years, they will also be transferred to a private sector Roth IRA. myRAs were especially designed for workers who don’t have access to a retirement savings plan at work but can also be used by other workers. Deposits can be made from a worker’s paycheck, from a checking or savings account, or with a federal income tax refund.
  • Retirement Savings Plans for the Self-Employed- These plans can be set up by workers who are self-employed as a whole source of income and those who engage in freelance work in addition to their “day job.” Options include a simplified employee pension or SEP, SIMPLE plans, and Keogh plans. SEPS are often used by freelancers and sole proprietors and are the least complicated account to administer.
  • Employer Salary Reduction” Plans- Many employers today offer defined contribution plans, such as 401(k)s, where employees voluntarily reduce their salary by a specific dollar amount (generally, a percentage of gross income) which is set aside for retirement. When it’s time to retire, workers have available the amount they have saved, plus or minus earnings (or losses) on their selected investments. The account balance is portable and can be taken when employees leave a job and rolled over into an IRA or a new employer’s retirement savings plan.

Available savings plans include the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for service members and federal government workers, 401(k) plans for employees of for-profit corporations, 403(b) plans for public and private school and non-profit employees, and 457 plans for state and local government workers. 2016 maximum contributions are to $18,000 (24,000 for those who are age 50 or older before the end of the year). Unlike IRAs, the “menu” of investment options for employer retirement savings plans is limited to securities selected by the employer or the employer’s retirement plan provider. Therefore, investment advisors often recommend balancing investments that are selected within tax-deferred plans with different types of investments that are held in IRAs and/or taxable accounts.

Don’t let the large annual maximum contribution limit numbers scare you. The required minimum can often be as low as 1% of a worker’s pay or a small dollar amount such as $10 per paycheck. Simply save whatever you can, subject to minimum deposit amounts required by a plan custodian. Any savings is better than no savings! Minimum deposits required to set up an IRA vary with the financial institution and type of investment. For example, a bank may require $500 to purchase a CD for an IRA and a mutual fund may require a $1,000 minimum deposit or higher.

Make the most of tax-deferred investments by saving as much as you can and assembling a well-diversified portfolio that includes different asset classes (e.g., stocks, bonds, and cash assets). Want to know more about investments available for retirement savings? Visit the eXtension Investing for Your Future course and click on Unit 7.

Understanding Credit Scores and Credit Reports

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Many people are aware that their credit score is important but they really do not understand how it is derived or how to build a strong credit score. Your credit score is an indicator of the likelihood that you will be able to repay a loan according to the original loan terms, or in other words, the likelihood of you making your full monthly payment on time. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to qualify for the most desirable loan rates. Credit scores are often used to determine credit worthiness for home mortgages, vehicle loans, and credit card applications.

Your credit score is based on your credit history and can range from 300 to 850. Credit score can be a deciding factor for whether a lender qualifies you for a loan; furthermore, it can directly impact the price you pay for the loan, which could include a higher interest rate, larger down payment, mortgage insurance, and additional fees.

A formula is used to calculate your credit score, which includes your payment history, your current amount of debt, the length of your credit history, the number of recent inquiries to your credit report, and the types of debts you have, such as credit cards and home mortgages.

A good credit score can make a big difference in the amount paid over the life of a loan. Consider the following example for a 30-year fixed rate $200,000 home mortgage.

FICO Score Interest Rate Monthly Payment 30 Year Amount
760 5.9% $1,187 $427,320
650 7.2% $1,358 $488,880
590 9.3% $1,653 $595,080

Over the lifetime of this loan, a borrower with a 590 credit score would pay $167,760 more than a borrower with a 760 credit score.

If you are spending on credit, you need to make maintaining a good credit score a priority. Your credit score is directly linked to the items that appear on your credit report. It is possible for inaccurate information to appear on your credit report, which can hurt your credit score.

Your credit history or credit report is compiled by a credit-reporting agency. Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax are the three major credit-reporting agencies. Your credit report contains information about your payment history to creditors and the amount of credit you currently have available. Furthermore, public record information such as bankruptcies, foreclosures, tax liens, and court-ordered child support may also appear on your credit report. Credit reporting agencies acquire information for your credit report from retail store credit accounts, credit card companies, mortgage and finance companies, utility accounts, landlords, cell phone companies, and collection agencies. Lenders review this information to determine if and how you have repaid other loans in the past.

Most information will remain on your credit report for seven years; therefore, it is very important that you check your credit report regularly to be certain there are not any errors. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three main credit-reporting agencies. Instead of requesting a report for each agency at the same time, order one at a time, spread out over the course of 12 months. If you time it right, you could request a free credit report every four months. There are several ways to obtain a free credit report. Be careful about responding to ads on television and on the internet. You can receive a free copy of your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by phone at 1-877-322-8228.

You may also request a copy by mail by submitting an online request form and mailing to Annual Credit Report Request Service. You do not need to request your credit score to ensure the accuracy of your credit report.

If you are denied credit due to a poor credit history or a low credit score, there are things you can do to rebuild your credit worthiness, including paying your bills on time and reducing your debt. To build a good credit history, be certain you make at least the minimum payments on all of your debts. You want to pay all of your bills on time every month, including credit cards, utilities, car payments, and rent payments. Double check your credit report to ensure that your payments are being reported accurately.

Finally, it is important to realize that there are other reasons for being denied a loan. It is always a good idea to schedule a meeting with your lender to identify the specific reason. Once you identify the reason for being denied, you may be able to pursue different financing options available from other financial institutions or government lenders.

Watch the recording of our May 2016 webinar Credit Scores: What’s New?

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu


Financial Preparation for the Holidays

Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

When the leaves continue to fall and the nightly temperature drops, we know that the holiday season will soon be upon us. This season is often a special time for families as loved ones gather near and far to celebrate. However, holiday expenses can sometimes threaten the joy that we experience during this season. Getting an early start will reduce holiday stress and your after-holiday bills, often known as the holiday financial hangover.

Before the holiday season moves into high gear, take the time to get prepared. Review your

Photo of shoppers on street with holiday decorations
Grafton Street Christmas Shopping Dublin by Ben and Kaz Askins

current financial situation and determine a holiday spending limit that works for your family budget. To make certain you are not tempted to increase that limit as the season progresses, develop a budget for gift-giving, food, travel and entertainment expenses. Additional expenses that are often left out of a holiday budget include gasoline, babysitting fees, and eating out more often.

As you work on the budget, start by making a list of everyone you plan to give a gift, including children, loved ones, teachers, babysitters, hair stylists, etc. Identify a realistic spending limit and a possible gift for each person on your list. It is important that you do not feel pressured to give anyone a gift. If your finances are right this year, consider a hand-written note expressing thanks or appreciation. Continue to work your way through your holiday budget by estimating other anticipated expenses. If you have receipts or credit card statements from last year, you may be able to use them as a guide in developing a realistic estimate for travel, entertainment, and food expenses.

As you are preparing for your budget for the upcoming holidays, think about how you will pay for holiday shopping and expenses. You are less likely to overspend if you pay with cash, as opposed to using a credit card. If you are using cash, once all of your cash is gone, you are finished with your holiday shopping. Another option to consider is that many stores now offer store layaway plans. If you decide to use store layaway options, be certain to check their return policy and keep track of all payments.

Plan holiday shopping trips ahead of time, review store ads, and know exactly who and what you are shopping for prior to entering the store. Impromptu shopping trips and wandering around a store looking for gift ideas can lead to impulsive purchases, which were not part of your original budget. Do your window-shopping at home online, or with catalogs so that you know exactly what you want when you are at the store. Finally, remember that holiday sales can be tempting, so once you are in the store, stick with your original budget.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu 

Measuring Your Financial Health

By Kristyn Jackson, LMFT and Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Have you ever heard someone discussing their “financial health?” Financial health refers to how well you are doing financially and is based on a number of factors. Much like you go to your family doctor for yearly check-ups, it is a good idea to perform a financial check-up from time to time.

Unfortunately, many families often find it overwhelming to measure their financial health because of all of the factors included. What further complicates measuring your financial health is the fact that financial advisors and firms often recommend different ways of doing so. You can use more subjective measures of financial health such as your personal satisfaction with your financial status, the amount of financial stress you experience, and how financially independent you feel. However, you can also measure your financial health through more concrete measures.

Capt. Pedro Rodriguez gives two thumbs up while running the 26.2 mile course of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward at Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan Oct. 27. Rodriguez finished second with a personal record time of 2:47:11. This was Rodriguez's second marathon. (Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough)
Capt. Pedro Rodriguez gives two thumbs up while running the 26.2 mile course of the Marine Corps Marathon Forward. Photo by Sgt. Bobby J. Yarbrough

Provided below is an overview of the various measures that a financial advisor may suggest calculating in order to measure your financial health. It is a good idea to calculate these values on a fairly regular basis, such as the beginning of a new year. If you have questions, do not be afraid to reach out to a professional advisor who can answer them.

  • Liquidity ratio. Liquidity ratio refers to your ability to meet your necessary expenses when you are faced with an emergency such as an unexpected home repair or medical bill. It is recommended that you keep a 3 to 6 month emergency fund, meaning that an ideal ratio is between 3 and 6. To calculate this ratio: LIQUIDITY RATIO = CASH OR CASH EQUIVALENTS ON HAND / MONTHLY COMMITTED EXPENSES
  • Asset-to-debt ratio. This ratio compares your assets to your total existing liabilities. Liabilities include home loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc. It is always desirable to possess more assets than debt. To calculate this ratio: ASSET-TO-DEBT RATIO = TOTAL ASSETS / TOTAL LIABILITIES
  • Current ratio. The current ratio refers to your ability to meet short-term liabilities which include all of your debt repayments to be made in the current year. CURRENT RATIO = CASH OR CASH EQUIVALENTS/SHORT TERM LIABILITIES
  • Debt-service ratio. This ratio refers to the percentage of your income that is designated to debt repayment and the percentage of income remaining for other mandatory household expenses and savings. Lower ratios represent better financial management. DEBT SERVICE RATIO = SHORT TERM LIABILITIES / TOTAL INCOME
  • Saving ratio. The saving ratio is perhaps the easiest to calculate and will provide you with insight as to how well your finances are managed and how likely it is that you can achieve your saving goals. SAVING RATIO = MONTHLY SURPLUS / MONTHLY INCOME
  • Solvency ratio. This ratio refers to your ability to repay all existing debts using your assets in the case of an emergency. You may wish to use a net worth calculator prior to calculating this ratio. SOLVENCY RATIO = NET WORTH/TOTAL ASSETS

Do not worry if these ratios seem complicated. There are numerous resources available to you that can help you to understand what each of these ratios mean. What is important is that you are aware of what you need to be considering when measuring your financial health!

Being aware of your financial health will help you to meet your short-term and long-term financial goals while avoiding unreasonable amounts of debt. Financial experts recommend calculating your financial ratios on a yearly basis and making any adjustments to your spending and saving patterns that you deem necessary.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu


Personal Finance Ethics Webinar

Dr. Michael Gutter and financial practitioner Jerry Buchko are presently a highly-anticipated webinar on ethical issues for financial professionals on Tuesday, August 2. Register now for Personal Finance Professional Ethics & Standards of Practice  – A Professional Dialogue.

Image by Mark Morgan
Image by Mark Morgan

This webinar training will be offered and conducted as a facilitated professional discussion and participation in the discussion will be encouraged. Participants will be expected to review the professional ethics and standards of practice for their respective certification bodies ahead of the discussion session. A high level introduction to the subject of ethics will be offered as a primer for understanding the basics of ethics (for those who may not have had any previous formal education or training in ethics) and this will, along with the pre-session readings, help to serve as a framework for approaching the discussion of case studies. A number of brief case studies will be presented, and participants will be given an opportunity to respond in text to questions posed about each case study, including how they might respond in these situations. We will then consider and discuss the case study scenario and our various responses.

This webinar is approved for 1.5 CEUs for AFC-credentialed and CPFC-credentialed participants.

From our evaluation surveys, we know many of you have been requesting a session on ethics we anticipate a highly engaged audience for this webinar. Join us on Aug. 2 for this great session.

Cybershopping Saving Strategies

 By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Online shopping has a lot of appeal because it is fast, easy, and convenient. Last year, consumers spent $2 billion online on Cyber Monday, the Monday following Thanksgiving. As more and more purchases are made online, consider these tips to score the best deals:

  • Before you buy, look for coupon codes. Coupon codes are normally a series of letters or numbers that you enter when checking out online. If you are a member of the website’s mailing list, you probably regularly receive coupon codes via email. If not, simply type the name of the online merchant and the words “coupon code” into an internet search engine. Typically, the coupon code will be for free shipping, upgraded shipping, or a percent off merchandise purchased. Be certain to check the expiration date and details of the coupon code; you may be required to spend a certain dollar amount to receive the benefit.
  • When checking out at the mall, are you consistently asked to provide your email
    Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
    Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

    address after the purchase? Although the idea of receiving extra coupons to stores where you shop is appealing, the idea of filling up your in-box with spam is often enough to make you pass. Consider setting up a free email account that you can use only for retailers. You will not need to check the account often, but when you are ready to make an online purchase, you can search the account for recent coupons.

  • If you are not in a hurry for your purchase, consider leaving your virtual shopping cart hanging for a few days. If you have created an online account with a merchant, place your items in the shopping cart but do not complete the purchase. After a day or two in limbo, a merchant will often email a coupon to encourage you to complete the transaction.
  • Daily deal websites are growing in popularity. Daily deal sites offer products and/or services at discounted prices, often 50% or more off retail. Typically someone who has signed up for daily deals will receive either email or social media alerts to the “deal of the day.” There is no doubt that daily deals offer the opportunity to grab some great items at significant discounts; however, you may also be tempted to buy an item or service that you don’t really need or hadn’t planned on purchasing. Normally, daily deals are offered for a limited amount of time and have limited quantities available, often encouraging the buyer to make an impulsive decision in an attempt to avoid missing the big savings. If the daily deal is for a product or service that you use often, it may make sense to snatch the item quickly, but be cautious not to just click buy because it is such a great deal. Be certain that it is an item or service that you need and will use.
  • Remember to safeguard your personal information when online shopping. You are entering a tremendous amount of personal information (your name, phone number, address, etc., not to mention your credit card information). Always make certain that you are using a personal/home computer for online shopping. Public computers, such as those at work or the public library, may store your information that someone could access later. Be certain that the website you are using is secure. Once you enter into the shopping cart phase of a website, the web address should have a “s” after the http. The “s” indicates that your data will be transmitted securely. Also, be certain that you are on a legitimate retailer’s site. Knock-off websites do exist and at times it may be difficult to tell the difference from the real thing.
  • Use a credit card, as opposed to a debit card, when shopping online. When you pay with a credit card there is a period of time between when you make the purchase and when you pay your credit card bill. This gives you time to dispute a charge if something goes wrong with the transaction. When you pay with a debit card, you are authorizing the retailer to go ahead and debit your account. Most likely you will still be able to successfully dispute a charge, but the money will be missing from your account until the dispute is settled.

Contact Jennifer at jhunter@uky.edu



Clip and Save: Stretching Your Grocery Dollar

By Jennifer Hunter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service

Regardless of the reason, whether it’s to save a few extra dollars or the thrill of scoring a good deal, couponing has become very popular. Have you seen TLC’s popular television show, Extreme Couponing, highlighting families who save hundreds of dollars at the register by using coupons? Do you ever wonder how someone can actually save that much at the grocery? Although most of us will not be able to reduce our grocery bill to a few dollars, there are a few simple couponing strategies that you can use to stretch your military family’s grocery dollars.

The first step before even setting foot in the store is to get organized. Planning ahead for meal time can help you save both time and money, whether you use store ads or coupons. At the beginning of every week, spend a few minutes planning the meals you will need for the week. It is often helpful to look at a calendar, keeping in mind which nights your daughter has softball practice or your son has guitar lessons.

Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.
Join us in saving this month by making small daily deposits July 1-30 to save $100 in 30 days.

Planning ahead will prevent the last-minute panic of trying to figure out what to serve for dinner or turning to fast food from the drive-through. As you prepare your list, don’t just think about the evening meal, but also think of all meals that you will be serving for the week, including breakfast and lunches for both school and work. Also, consider meal options that include items you already have at home, especially perishables such as meat and dairy products.

Once you have your meal plan for the week, search your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, making a list of the items to pick up at the store to complete your menu. You will also want to add any kitchen staples that you may need. After your list is complete, search your local stores’ weekly sale ads and coupons to find the best price. Sale ads, as well as coupons, can normally be found online, at the store, or in the Sunday edition of your local newspaper. You may also request coupons directly from manufacturers, although there is no guarantee that they will respond. Be flexible with your meal plan; if you see a great bargain on an item, such as beef or chicken, consider rearranging your list to incorporate it into your menu. However, once you are at the store, stick to your list. A last-minute change at the store could leave you without key ingredients to complete your meal plan.

As you review weekly sales ads and coupons, keep in mind that if you are able to purchase the item for 50% off or more it is a good deal. For example, let’s assume macaroni and cheese normally costs $1.20 per box, but is on sale this week for $1.00, and you have a $0.50 coupon. If the store doubles coupons, your mac and cheese will be free, but if not, it would only cost you $0.50, a savings of nearly 60%. This is an item that you would definitely want to grab, but only if your family likes mac and cheese. Do not buy a bargain, just because it is a bargain. If no one at home likes a particular food item, but it is a good deal, either pass on it at the store or purchase it and donate it to a local food bank or charity. Also, you will need to become an informed consumer to know whether a sale is really a good deal. Maintaining a spending diary is a good financial practice to monitor monthly expenses. A detailed grocery-spending diary will help you quickly recognize a bargain price. Track the prices you typically pay for common household goods. You can reference your grocery diary to see whether an advertised sale price is really a good deal and if you should stock up on it or wait for a better price.

Scanning weekly grocery ads and coupon circulars can seem like a time-consuming task for a busy person. Consider using internet search engines, social media, and both store and coupon websites to make the process faster. There are several websites that can help you locate the best deals and coupons quickly. Be cautious of fee-based websites; there are several reputable free sites available. Talk with friends and other couponers to find the best online resources. If you are considering a fee-based site, make certain you understand the fees and services provided. Be cautious about coupons on the Internet. Coupons can be counterfeited the same as money, and it is illegal to use fake coupons. Make certain that you are printing coupons from a legitimate source, such as www.redplum.com or www.smartsource.com. You might recognize the names RedPlum and SmartSource from the coupon circulars that are normally in the Sunday paper. These are examples only and there are many other sources of Internet coupons.

Learning to coupon takes time and patience. Try not to become overwhelmed in the beginning. Remember, small savings are still savings, and they provide you with additional

Contact Jennifer at  jhunter@uky.edu