The holidays are full of festive events and occasions. At the center of many of these seasonal celebrations? Food! Unfortunately, this can lead to overindulging and the dreaded holiday weight gain that often goes along with it. The good news? With the right plan in place, it’s possible to enjoy all of your favorite foods without compromising your waistline — or your bottom line.

Read on for a roundup of tips aimed at helping you resist the urge to overindulge and stay healthy this holiday season.

  1. Take the edge off your hunger before you go. Going to a holiday party or dinner out on the town can be a recipe for disaster. To avoiding overordering and overeating, have a nutritious snack at home before you go. Fruits and vegetables, Greek yogurt, or a handful of nuts can curb your hunger while helping you avoid temptation in order to make healthier choices in the moment.
  2. Bring along a healthy, homemade dish. One way to know with certainty that there will be a health-conscious option at the next holiday gathering you attend? Bring along a dish of your own to share. This can also help keep costs low. After all, preparing a home-cooked meal costs less than a bottle of wine or floral arrangement.
  3. Pre-set drinking limits. Alcohol decreases inhibitions while increasing the appetite. This can quickly add up to overimbibing at a party or event. Factor in that cocktails are usually packed with empty calories, and the situation goes from bad to worse. To avoid ending up in a sloppy situation, set a limit on how much you drink before so much as picking up a glass. This can also help you avoid an unexpected, sky-high bar tab.
  4. Adjust your attitude. While food is often front and center at holiday parties, it doesn’t have to be — if you adjust your mindset that is. Rather than focusing on what you’ll eat at a party, focus on making the most of your time with family and friends. Viewed through this lens, food becomes a very small part of holiday festivities.
  5. Embrace mindful eating. Keep in mind that the holidays can trigger many different kinds of emotions. If you’re an emotional eater, being aware of this can help you stay on track toward your diet and wellness goals. (if you’re a compulsive shopper, the same applies.) Research shows that embracing mindful behavior, in particular, can be an invaluable weight management tool.

One last thing to keep in mind? Avoiding holiday weight gain doesn’t have to mean going without. As with most things in life, moderation is the solution. Making careful choices can help you savor the foods you most look forward to without overdoing it on the rest. Apply this same philosophy to your spending habits this holiday season, and you’ll start the new year in better shape financially, too.

Free From Debt: 4 Steps to Start Today

Debt can damage more than your credit score. Overwhelming debt can interrupt your sleep and lead to stress-related health issues. Worries over debt can cause agitation and  rifts within families. The distraction can even lead people to make mistakes at work. Debt has the power to become the most pressing issue in your life and overshadow all other positive events.

An effective way to manage the psychological effects of debt is to break free from the cycle. Even the smallest changes, can create many benefits over time, to make debt (and your life) more manageable. Debt management is like a financial diet where you break bad habits and develop a fiscally healthier lifestyle.

Step One: Know Your Limits

Establish a realistic budget to determine what portion of your money is  available to put towards paying your debts. If your expenses are higher than your income, start looking  at what you can cut out. Dump anything that is not essential to your life like, i.e. cable television, junk food, and excessive clothes shopping.

Strict budgets can be difficult, but the reward is a less stressful life and more security for your family. It can be easier to cut expenses than to generate more income. Plus, you do not have to pay taxes on the money you save, such as from using coupons or a lower cell phone bill, as you would from more earned income. The total amount you save benefits you and your family in your overall financial management plan.

Step Two: Lower Your Bills

Contact phone carriers, utility companies, and insurance companies to see if they offer any plans or discounts that could shave a few dollars off each bill. Look at each bill for errors or for features your family does not need and contact the company to remove these items.

Many experts suggest people attempt to call their creditors and negotiate a better deal. Since people in debt are unlikely to have cash available, they are rarely able to refinance loans or negotiate with credit card companies. About 57 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 of cash available. A better solution is to find a resource that has experience resolving debt with creditors. An option to consider is a debt settlement company. Debt settlement companies work for consumers by negotiating on your behalf with your creditors. The companies strategically negotiate with creditors to settle your accounts for less than what you owe. This results in savings to you and in the future empowers you to  put away more money in the case of an unexpected expense

Step Three: Reduce the Excess

Americans love to spend. About two-thirds of the $11 trillion American economy goes to consumer goods. Spending is fun and it can feel good to make a purchase, but later it can have a negative effect if you become stressed and unable to sleep because you cannot pay your bills. Adhering to a budget, can prevent unnecessary spending.

Another way to reduce spending is to organize your house and clear out the unused and unneeded items in your house. This allows you to see what you already have and appreciate why you need a budget.

A yard sale or a sale through social media or a classified ad can generate cash instantly that can help pay off debt. Empty any storage units and save the monthly fee you once paid to store the items there. If you haven’t used something in years, chances are you don’t need it. Remove clutter so you can more easily find items you already own rather than buying them new.

Step Four: Automate Your Finances

The temptation to spend or to put off a bill goes away when you have less contact with your money. Sign up for automatic deposits of all your income. Set up checking accounts to pay recurring monthly bills each month, which will avoid late fees. Once your debt level begins to drop, put some extra cash in a savings account for that rainy day.

Time, effort, and knowledge will help you to break free from debt. Even if your debt comes from a job loss or a medical emergency, you have options available. At Century Support Services, we can help. Our debt settlement program enables you to have one affordable monthly payment toward paying off your unsecured debt, to improve your cash flow, and to start investing in your future. Contact us to learn more.

3 Surefire Signs You Need Professional Help for Overwhelming Debt

From mortgages and car payments to student loans, medical bills, credit cards and other unsecured debts, your total debt can add up to enormous amounts over time. Recent reports have shown Americans have accumulated $1.04 trillion in credit card debt alone. In some cases, paying off the debt efficiently can be possible. However, many others struggle to maintain financial stability because of their debt.

Fortunately, help is available if you feel your debt is out of control. The following guide will help you determine if you should seek out professional assistance regarding your debt situation.

 

You Struggle to Make Minimum Payments

Most credit card companies set a minimum payment, which is a percentage of the total balance. This minimum payment may vary depending on if the credit card balance is higher or lower each month.

Each month, the credit card company adds interest to the credit card balance, increasing the total amount you need to pay off your balance. The minimum payment alone may not even cover the interest added since the previous month. The combination of increasing interest and balance each month, may make it impossible for you to pay the debt off, especially if you are only making monthly minimum payments.

Paying more than just the minimum payment each month is best if you want to pay the debt off sooner. Unfortunately, increased balances, high interest rates, and other expenses may affect your ability to even pay the minimum payments.

If you struggle to make even the minimum payments on your credit cards and other unsecured debts, seek out professional help for your debt.

 

You Borrow Money to Pay Debt

Taking out cash advances, payday, home equity loans or borrowing from your retirement accounts, is not a good way to pay off your debts.

Cash advances on credit cards will not only lead to higher balances and additional interest charges, but you may also be charged a one-time fee of 3 percent or even higher.

Withdrawing from your retirement account can also be costly. On average, you can expect to pay a 10 percent early withdrawal fee. In addition, you will be required to pay normal income taxes on the amount withdrawn from your retirement account at tax time.

If you take out a home equity loan, you may be responsible for paying appraisal, title costs, and loan origination fees, causing you to spend money that you could use to pay down your debt instead.

All in all, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is not recommended, since this will only end up costing you more money in the long run.

 

Debt Collectors Are Contacting You

Debt collectors will likely start contacting if you late or missed payments. These collectors have the right to do so because you made a contractual agreement that you would pay for the debt. Unfortunately, the endless letters, notices and phone calls can become physically and emotionally overwhelming.

If you have received numerous letters and phone calls and you cannot remember who you owe what debts to, seek professional help.

Debt settlement professionals can help with a free consultation to review the following:

  • Perform a creditor analysis of which creditors you owe and how much you owe them;
  • What your income and other expenses are;
  • Outline a monthly budget; and
  • Personalize a solution to address your unique financial circumstances.

You could decide to live with your debt, but the stress of overwhelming debt can put a dark cloud over your life. If you have experienced the above signs of debt issues, get in touch with Century Support Services to gain back control of your debt and finances. Our Certified Debt Specialists are ready to help. We look forward to speaking with you, discussing your concerns, and finding solutions to your financial situation.

Tom and his wifeTom had been a hard worker since he was a boy. From the days of mowing the neighbors’ lawn and shoveling their snow when he was a teenager until his retirement from the gas company.

Tom’s work ethic was second to none. He had been planning for retirement and welcomed this new phase of his life with open arms.

Unexpectedly over the last few years, Tom had incurred a few unplanned expenses which forced him to start relying more and more on his credit cards. The balances continued to grow and he realized that his fixed income was not going to be enough to cover the credit card debt he had accumulated. Tom decided to secure a part-time job and put that income strictly toward paying his credit card balances. His plan was working out nicely. He was enjoying some free time while paying down his credit card bills.

Unfortunately, 6 months into retirement, he lost his part-time job and that’s when his finances began to spiral out of control. “Without the extra income,” Tom stated, “I could barely make the minimum payment and my credit card balances were not going down.”

Tom 2

“I want to pay off my debts as fast as possible,” Tom explained when he reached out to Century. After learning more about Century and how the program would work for him, he enrolled. His personalized debt settlement program was created in a way for his monthly deposit to work with his budget.

“I make my deposit each month, which was set to an amount that was comfortable for me. I also understand that the more I give them, the quicker I may get out of debt. So, if I have extra funds, I put that money toward my debt settlement program.”

“They answer all my questions. I signed up for their Century Alert System (CAS) and their alerts are very helpful, Tom explained.” Century uses CAS to send our clients important notifications about their debt settlement programs. Using texts, automated phone calls and emails, CAS offers convenience and simplicity for our clients. An example of this is our new automated settlement approval line. Clients can review and approve their settlement whenever it’s most convenient for them, 24/7, by calling 888-913-8784, option 3 and then option 1.

Excellence

One of Century’s Core Values is “Delivering Excellence.” It states – ‘We believe in being accountable and following through on commitments.’ Our team is dedicated to ensuring our clients understand what to expect and remain up to date on the status of their program through features like the MyCentury Portal and CAS.

Tom 4Tom not only understands his program, he also understands the role he plays in his program’s success. He pays close attention to alerts and notifications our team sends him and he knows that adding funds to his dedicated account may reduce the length of his program.

Tom has been dedicated to his program’s success and after just 14 months on the Century debt settlement program, over half of his enrolled accounts have already been settled. This moves him closer toward enjoying his well-deserved retirement in better financial health. “I no longer worry about my bills,” Tom shared when describing the peace of mind Century has provided him. “Century is the BEST.”

Congratulations on your program success, Tom! We thank you for trusting us to be a part of your journey toward better financial health and celebrate your diligence in staying with the program to make such great progress!

*We protect the privacy of our clients by changing their names and omitting any identifying details.

For someone who is already living frugally, finding more money to put into savings or pay down credit card debt can feel impossible. Yet sometimes all it takes is a series of small changes to add up to big savings.

If you are looking to spend less and save more, but feel that your budget is already as strapped as it can be, consider these small changes.

1. Give Yourself a Waiting Period
Waiting Period

Unless a purchase is absolutely necessary, wait at least 24 to 48 hours after you have the impulse to buy it. You will spend less and save more with this strategy, because often the impulse will pass after that waiting period. If, after the waiting period, you still find you could benefit from the item and can truly afford it, then buy it without regrets.

2. Meal Plan

Meal planning is not only good for your waistline, but it’s also good for your budget. When you plan for a week or two, and only go to the grocery store one time, you spend less on groceries. When you already know what’s for dinner, you spend less on emergency trips through the drive-thru. Consider keeping a few cheap but easy things on hand, like frozen pizzas, for those nights when your cooking plans go awry.

3. Change the Habit of Going to the Store

The habit of running to the store when you need something may not seem like a big deal, but how often have you purchased something new because it was convenient instead of searching for a more affordable used option. Many items do not need to be purchased brand new. You can get furniture, toys, clothing, sporting goods, and even tools second hand and save significantly. Learn to shop through Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, Swap.com, and other online venues that provide a one-stop shop for quality used merchandise. Make a habit of looking for used first, before running to the store.

4. Question Your Recurring Bills

Companies love to set their customers up for recurring payments, because it means they get paid each month and customers don’t think about what they are paying. However, you can save on these recurring bills if you just take the time to question them. Sometimes, calling the company and asking to remove a particular service or offer you the “new customer” rate is all it takes. For your cell phone, switch to a discount provider or prepaid plan. Examine your bills, and then take a little bit of time to make some phone calls. This is a small change that could add up to big savings.

5. Switch to Cash

Pulling out the debit card to pay for purchases means little thought about those purchases. Switch to using cash, and you will have a visual representation of how much money you have and how much you’ve spent. Pulling out your cash is a bit more work, and will cause you to think more about what you’re buying. You will naturally spend less as a result.

6. Use the Money You Save WiselySave Wisely

Once you’ve found ways to save that work for your budget, don’t simply add the saved money into your free spending funds. Instead, use them towards your debt settlement or credit card debt goals or use them to build up an emergency fund, so you will be prepared the next time you have an unplanned expense. This is a small change that will yield big results when you are well prepared for the unexpected events of life. Then, pay down credit card debt and start saving for retirement. Remember, you don’t necessarily need to make more money or make huge changes to start saving money. With these small changes, you can free up more of your cash for savings, and start enjoying less stress and worry in your life.

 

After 40 years of marriage, Helen and Bruce had developed a successful system for running their household. With both of them working full time while they raised 3 children, they found the best method was to divide many of the household tasks between them.  For example, Bruce loved to cook, so he was responsible for meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. Helen was passionate about having an organized home, so she owned the cleaning and laundry. Bruce also managed the finances. It was their system, and while it may not have been perfect all of the time, it worked!

As their children grew up and left home, Helen and Bruce were left as empty nesters. After some adjustment period, they had really come to love their new lifestyle. They enjoyed everything together, from quiet dinners on their patio to exciting trips all over the U.S.

Helen’s World Turned Upside Down

One morning, after spending a lovely evening with family, Helen awoke to what should have been a nightmare but instead became her reality. Bruce had passed away in his sleep that night. Helen’s whole world turned upside down at that very moment. She had lost her husband, her partner in life, her best friend.

As she mourned the loss of Bruce, Helen also had to pick up the responsibilities Bruce had managed. She found the finances quite overwhelming. As she worked her way through the bills and paperwork, she realized that not only were they not prepared financially for an event such as this, they were caught up in the vicious cycle of making minimum payments on their credit cards. Bruce never discussed their financials with her, which was okay at the time. After all, talking about finances, while important, can be very uncomfortable.

Century Debt Settlement Can Help

Helen needed help and that’s when she turned to Century. “I needed help getting all of that sorted. I sent Century information on creditors that I owed money to and they set up a program for me, one that I could definitely afford. They were very honest with what my options were. So, that was very helpful,” Helen stated when explaining why she chose Century.

“If I had a problem, I called them up and we worked together.  Shortly after, I would receive an email saying they had solved the problem. They go out of their way to help me out. If the person I’m talking with is unable to answer a question, they find the answer for me and I really like that part.”

One of Century’s core values is “Building Connections.” It states – ‘By embracing active-listening and taking the time to make connections, we foster trust. Trust builds strong partnerships.’ We are dedicated to building that trust and strong partnerships with all of our clients. We are there for them when ‘life happens’ and those unexpected events catch us unprepared.

Helen has been dedicated to her program’s success and after just 11 months on the Century debt settlement program, half of her enrolled accounts have already been settled! Clients are allowed to take back control of their lives by resolving their debts.

“Because of Century’s debt settlement program I am able to sleep better and my blood pressure has even gone down,” Helen shared when describing her experience with Century.

Congratulations on your program success, Helen! We thank you for trusting us to be a part of your journey toward better financial health and celebrate your diligence in staying with the program to make such great progress!

*We protect the privacy of our clients by changing their names and omitting any identifying details.

In the digital age, it’s becoming exceptionally rare to see people using cash when they’re out and about. But when it comes to teaching kids about money, this isn’t the lesson we want them to absorb.  See why using cash has a powerful way to reinforce money management, and how you can use it to teach your children about fiscal responsibility.

A Different Response 

When you use cash, you see the physical currency disappear from your wallet as you spend it. When you use plastic, money begins to seem much less tangible. You may not notice how much you’re spending until you review your monthly statement. Studies show that people who use cash tend to spend less than those who use credit cards. We start to physically attach to the wads in our wallets, no matter the size, after it’s been there a few days. When we reach for it, something in our brain tells us to be careful about just how much of it we give up.

Practice What You Preach

You don’t have to stop using your debit card all together of course, but this summer is a good time to begin keeping cash on hand. Your kids will see how spending has a direct effect on how much a person has. If you use cash to pay for goods and services, they’ll see how a large fold of bills quickly turns into a single piece of paper floating around at the bottom of a wallet. It’s a good lesson for kids who are used to seeing people buy everything online (seemingly by magic).

Bring Your Kids In 

Your kids can start to budget their money at practically any age, and there’s no time like the present. One idea to teach your kids the importance of cash is to give your child $10 when they’re at a summer festival. Let them know that there are no restrictions on what they can buy and they won’t be able to ‘reload’ at any point during the day. If there’s any change at the end of the day, they’ll be allowed to keep whatever is left over. No matter how they choose to use the $10, they’ll learn more about the consequences and rewards of managing cash. Their decisions at the festival will likely be very different when they know they have to pay for everything!

Instead of forgetting about taxes until next April, you might focus upon ways to increase your 2019 tax return by taking advantage of both old and new tax rules. Check out these 2019 tax tips to jump-start planning for next year’s tax season. Like most financial planning suggestions, you’ll have better results if you start early.

Three Basic Tips to Increase Your 2019 Tax Return

Get the tax refund you deserve next year by acting on some of these 2019 tax tips:

1.  Reduce taxable income

You don’t have to reduce your overall income in order to lower your taxable income. Consider deductible contributions to a 401K, IRA, 529, or HSA. These accounts can help you save money for retirement, college, or health expenses. At the same time, contributions may lower taxable income. One of the best ways to make sure this works out for you is to ask your account provider for automated deductions. This will ensure that you don’t miss making periodic payments.

2.  Adjust tax withholding

This suggestion won’t actually lower your overall taxes. At the same time, it will help ensure a lower tax bill or larger refund when you file your 2019 taxes in 2020.

For instance:

  • At work, you might reduce the number of dependents used to calculate withholding.
  • If you take taxable income from an account, you might opt to withhold a larger percentage to save for taxes.
  • If you’re self-employed, be sure to file quarterly tax payments, so you don’t get stuck with a huge bill and potential payments. Also, don’t overlook the home-office deduction if you qualify.

3.  Take time to understand deductions and credits

Tax credits and tax deductions seem similar but work differently. Deductions reduce your taxable income, thus lowering your tax bill. On the other hand, tax credits help pay your tax bill. Taxpayers often qualify for such deductions as those on mortgage interest, property tax, charitable contributions, and student loan interest. Popular tax credits include the Earned Income and American Opportunity credits. Explore all the available tax credits and deductions on the IRS website.

Don’t Hesitate to Get Help With Taxes Early

Even if you choose to do your own taxes online, you have probably noticed that most tax services also offer online or phone help with taxes from a qualified professional. You can benefit from seeking assistance from either local or remote tax preparers early in several ways:

  • During the off-season for tax preparers, it’s easier to book an appointment. Also, many will offer specials to attract more business during a slow time.
  • Many strategies to reduce taxes work better if you implement them early. For instance, you’ll probably add a lot more money to your qualified retirement account if you start making regular payments in the spring than if you wait until the end of the year.
  • If you can’t avoid owing taxes, that won’t be good news, but it’s still better to learn in advance. You can seek financial assistance or debt help early, rather than in a panic at the last minute. If you don’t have the money to pay taxes, there may be several options for you to consider.

Develop Prudent Plans for Your 2019 Tax Return

You might look forward to your tax return, but it’s hardly free money. It’s typically either a refund for taxes you already paid or for other investments towards such essentials as savings, education, and health.  To improve your financial health, you may want to consider allocating some of this cash towards your credit card debt or an emergency fund.  Another option would be to put the money into a qualified account that will help you plan for the future and save even more money on future tax returns. In any case, learning to manage your taxes and your tax return is a big step you can take towards handling all of your finances better.

The average American spends $150 per week on food, according to a Gallup poll. Ten percent say they spend more than $300 a week, while eight percent spend less than $50. This begs the question for shoppers on a budget: Where do you fall on the food spending spectrum, and what can you do to save money? Stocking up on inexpensive and versatile ingredients is a great way to start. Read on for a roundup of seven must-have pantry essentials.

1.  Oatmeal

Boxed cereal and granola are surprisingly expensive. Oatmeal, on the other hand, is a bargain — especially when you buy it in bulk. And while oatmeal is the perfect healthy breakfast on its own or incorporated into your own granola mix, it can also be used in other ways. Food Network recommends food processing it into oat flour, blending smoothies, and using it to bulk up veggie burgers.

2.  Canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are affordable and useful for many delicious recipes beyond spaghetti sauce. They’re also just as nutritious as fresh-off-the-vine tomatoes. Use them to create near-endless soups, stews, chilis and more.

A few tips for cutting costs on canned tomatoes and other canned foods? Keep an eye on the normal prices so you know when it’s a good time to stock up. Also, be wary of specials which may not break down to be as budget-friendly as they appear. For example, a 10/$10 dollars special on canned goods may look terrific — until you realize that the same items are usually sold for less than $1 a can.

3.  Canned tuna

Speaking of canned foods, canned tuna is a great way to reap the many benefits of eating fish. “Stock up on this staple when it’s on sale (20 cents per ounce) and you’ll always have an easy source of healthy fish protein on hand for tuna salad sandwiches, or olive oil-based Mediterranean-style salads filled with fresh veggies, grains and herbs,” advises Food Network.

4.  Canned beans

You’re not done in the canned food aisle yet! In fact, if you’re in debt and looking for ways to save both time and money in the kitchen, canned beans are your new best friend. For starters, they’re very cheap. And while dried beans may be slightly cheaper, canned beans more than earn their keep in convenience. Plus, they’re packed with protein and fiber, making them an inexpensive, filling and nutrition-packed alternative to meat. Stir a can of beans into almost any recipe to make it go further with flavor.

5.  Flour

Still buying baked goods and ready-made pizza crust? Time to break that budget-busting habit and start making your own. In doing so, you’ll save at least 50 percent!

One rule of thumb for storing flour and other dry goods? Maximize freshness by keeping them in a dark, dry and cool place.

6.  Dried Spices

If you’ve been getting by with salt and pepper, you don’t know what you’re missing. Proposes Food Network, “Dried spices can add a lot of flavor for very little money (about six cents per teaspoon for basics like cumin, cinnamon and chili powder), so keep your pantry stocked with at least five to ten of your favorites.”

And while a jar of spices may seem expensive, keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Still, you can make the price easier to swallow by sticking with generic brands.

7.  Bulk Pasta

When it comes to easy, plant-based eating on a budget, buying pasta in bulk is the way to go. Throw in some sauce, cheese, veggies or protein, and you’ve got a delicious meal in no time at little cost. Change them up next time for an entirely new meal.

When money is tight, shopping smarter can make a big difference. Never find yourself impulse buying at the grocery store or reaching for a takeout menu when you can just reach for one of these seven pantry items instead.

And remember: in your journey toward better financial health, every little bit you save counts!

 

As we get older, and as our family members age, there is a growing concern about being victimized by unseemly characters who prey on the elderly.  According to the U. S. Department of Justice, elder fraud is a growing problem. One must be able to identify the potential signs of financial abuse as well as take steps to help themselves, and their loved ones from falling victim to financial exploitation.

Identifying the Signs of Financial Abuse

Unfortunately for many vulnerable seniors, financial matters grow more complex and they are unable to manage on their own. Providing care for them may involve having to help them deal with everyday tasks including payment of regular bills. Whether the person who has this responsibility is a paid caretaker or a family member, it is imperative to keep a close watch for potential signs they may be being victimized financially.  A few of the changes you may notice include:

  • A sudden decrease in spending on essential items
  • A sudden increase in:
    • Late payment of regular bills (rent, utilities, etc.) and
    • The number of cash withdrawals from their bank account
  • Increase in spending resulting in unusual purchases
  • Interest expressed in changing powers of attorney or will

It is always a good idea to talk to your loved one if you spot any of these signs and take steps to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Preventing Financial Exploitation 

While senior financial abuse is on the rise, it is possible to take steps to help minimize the risk of this problem. Some steps are easier to implement than others, but the more attention you can pay to your loved one’s finances, the less likely they are to be victimized.

Communication and regular visits whenever possible are the first steps to keeping your loved one safe. If you are unable to check in on them regularly, find a neighbor or trusted friend to check in on them.  Making sure your loved one feels safe talking to you about financial matters can go a long way. Sometimes, despite using caution, your loved one can still make a bad financial decision. Avoid passing judgment. Explain to them we all make bad financial decisions and help them learn to avoid a problem later.

Open communication allows you to discuss the wide range of scams and cons your loved one is facing from those who are less than ethical. Remember email scams, credit card scams, and investment scams are common ways the most vulnerable among us are targeted.

Estate Planning

While it will be a difficult subject, discuss estate planning matters with your loved one. This is a necessary and important step in understanding their financial status. In addition, this type of transparency usually means you can review their estate planning documents from time to time and review changes which may have been made. If there are any unusual changes, this could be a possible red flag.

Make sure you take the time to have a good relationship with your loved one’s day-to-day caregivers. By taking this time now, you may be able to more easily identify unusual behavior from them. Stay vigilant as it could be an indication they may be taking advantage of your loved one. Should you notice any unusual behavior, dig deeper into your loved one’s financial documents for potential problems. The first thing you can do is contact your local elder abuse hotline. Information for your local agency can be found on the National Center on Elder Abuse website.

While financial abuse is a growing problem, being able to identify the warning signs, and taking steps to avoid the issue in the first place can help protect you and your loved one.

Marie Kondo has become a household name for her seemingly simple approach to cleaning up: Keep only the things that “spark joy,” she advises. As it turns out, the same method Kondo proposes for eliminating physical clutter can also be applied to our financial lives.

Here’s a closer look at how Kondo’s six rules of tidying carry over to money management.

1.  “Commit yourself to tidying up.”

Kondo says, “The KonMari method does require time and effort. But once you have made up your mind, all you need to do is apply the right method.”

While the tidying guru may be referring to dealing with domestic mess, her words are remarkably applicable to taking control of your finances, whether you are wanting to reduce your spending, plan for the future or get out of credit card debt. Without an attitude of complete commitment, you risk falling back on bad habits. But if you’re ready, willing and able to embrace the process, real and meaningful change is within your reach.

2.  “Imagine your ideal lifestyle.”

Have you ever felt compelled to just dive right into the effort of conquering your clutter? According to Kondo, this leads to diminishing returns. Instead, she says, you must first imagine your ideal lifestyle is and how tidying up will help you achieve it. “The tidying up process thus represents a huge turning point,” she insists.

The same holds true when it comes to managing your finances. Some people spend without considering how the spend relates to their overall financial goals. Before you begin the process, spend some time thinking about what your finances would look like in a perfect world. Now, think about how your spending habits can support or hinder this vision.

3.  “Tidy by category, not location.”

Most of us have a tendency to clean room by room. Instead, Kondo recommends tidying according to categories – for example, gathering and inventorying ALL of the clothing before moving on to another category. While this task may seem overwhelming, it’s the only way to get an accurate understanding of just how much stuff you have within each category. Take coats, which are often scattered between closets, coat racks and mudrooms. When you collect all of your coats into one place, however, you can no longer overlook an excess of outerwear. Confronting yourself with the sheer volume of your belongings within a single category also makes it easier to let things go.

This KonMari rule seamlessly translates to financial management. If you don’t have a budget, you need one. But a budget is not enough on its own. You also need thorough budget categories which allow you to drill down to spending specifics. For example, taken on its own, a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, or Prime may not seem like much. However, these fees add up, and grouping them together reveals a clearer picture of their comprehensive impact on your budget.

4.  “Follow the right order.”

During the home cleaning process, Kondo recommends working easiest to hardest in terms of keeping/discarding decisions: clothing, followed by books, then papers, next miscellany (“komono”), and finally “sentimental items.” This helps you get used to the process so you’ll be in the right mindset when you get to the more challenging choices.

Applied to your budget, a similar sequence makes sense. The typical household budget includes categories ranging from necessities to nice-to-haves. In order to maximize efficiency, start with assessing how you’re spending money on the former before tackling the latter.

5.  “Finish discarding first.”

Do you ever feel like your house is in a constant state of tidying up? If so, it may because you’re sorting without discarding, according to Kondo. We’re all familiar with the adage, “Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.” This goes for your financial practices, in addition to house cleaning. Once you’ve decided to whittle down to one subscription service, cancel the others immediately. Decided to cut back to eating out just once a month? Start now. The more tasks you leave for later, the less likely you are to follow through on them.

6.  “Ask yourself if it sparks joy.”

Kondo’s now-famous “Does it ‘spark joy’?” proposition is a straightforward one: If a belonging doesn’t pass this test,  it’s time to let it go. “Remember: you are not choosing what to discard, but what to keep,” counsels Kondo. Granted, buying a gallon of milk may never “spark joy,” but many of your other purchases are surprisingly expendable — especially when subjected to this test.

One caveat?  While Kondo recommends holding each item in your hands as you sort items in your home, resist doing so while shopping. Why? Because the mere act of picking something up creates a consumption-driving bond between buyer and product. Instead, revert to point #3: In addition to determining whether it’s a passing fancy or promises true bliss, consider how a particular purchase aligns with your long-term financial goals.

Just as tidying up your home can be “life-changing,” so can tidying up your finances. And while it’s no small endeavor, we can think of nothing that “sparks joy” more than smart spending and saving aimed at making your financial dreams a reality.

As the last days of winter approach and the warmer days of spring beckon, some people may start to feel a little stir crazy. When a spring vacation is not in the budget, it may feel like you’re stuck with cabin fever until the ground thaws. But if you can’t help thinking about replacing your boots with sandals, why not put your daydreams to good use and start planning your summer now? In the process, you may come up with a few ways to get out of the house even before the warmth and sun of summer arrive. We’ve compiled a few summer activity ideas and resources to help you cure cabin fever without needing to spend a cent.

Day Trip

Escape the everyday without the hassle of packing or expense of travel by planning day trips for your upcoming summer. Pack a cooler with snacks, lunch, and water to avoid unnecessary stops and food costs. How far away you can go for a day trip? The answer to that will depend a bit on your household. But there are likely a range of options within a couple hours’ drive, no matter where you live. When determining your destination, be sure to add in time for bathroom breaks to get a realistic idea of travel time. Taking the time to plan your route in advance will also give you the chance to research scenic areas or detours that may make the journey as enjoyable as the destination.

Staycation

When you choose a staycation over a lavish vacation, you are choosing to spend time instead of money. While researching what to do on a staycation, check out the websites of nearby towns and cities. Most municipalities will highlight any tourist attractions and may even have an historical society with events or small, local museums. Keep in mind that many well-known areas may have off-peak hours or seasons with discounted pricing. As a local, you can take advantage of these discounts and avoid crowds.

Inexpensive Adventures

Sometimes all it takes to turn a summer day into an adventure is a theme.  Dig around online and find local connections, attractions, or events that tie into the theme. The theme can be literally anything that you or a family member finds interesting. From dinosaurs or space travel to music or skateboarding, the possibilities are endless. You could even let each family member choose a theme and let them help plan the day of adventures.

If you’re still not sure where to start, here are few good resources to help you get started:

  • National Park Service — There are over 400 National Parks in the United States where you can explore the nation’s natural beauty and historical sites. The Junior Ranger program is a great way for families with to encourage young children to engage with the natural world.
  • Class Trips — Compiled with schools in mind, the resources on Class Trips are organized by theme, such as science and recreation, as well as by cost, including a free admission section. Additionally, they have prepared teacher’s guides for many recommended attractions that you can use to plan your trip.
  • Public Library — The local public library is a great resource for day trips. The librarians can help you find information about nearby historical sites and interesting places to visit. Additionally, many public library systems offer discount passes or free admission to local museums.

Channel your cabin fever into something fun and productive by planning ahead. As you make plans, it can lift your spirits and give you something to look forward to on those days when cold, rainy weather can bring you down. Taking the time to plan activities now can help you ensure your summer is both busy and within budget.