Beware Back to School Scams

Whether you’re a college student prepping for the fall semester, a high school student getting ready for a new school year or the parent of a student of any age, beware of these trending back-to-school scams!

The student tax scam

In this scam, a crook posing as the IRS calls a college-bound student claiming they didn’t pay the student tax. If it is not paid up and pronto, the “agent” says, the student will not be allowed to attend school. They may even threaten imprisonment.

Don’t get scammed! First, know that the “student tax” doesn’t exist. Second, the IRS will never initiate contact with a taxpayer through a phone call. Finally, the IRS will never demand payment through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, which is a common scammer ploy.

Scholarship scams

The scholarship scam cons students and parents into paying money for government student loans or financial aid, or by promising a scholarship in exchange for a fee. Follow these rules to stay safe:

  • Never pay to apply for a government student loan or financial aid.
  • There’s no way to guarantee a scholarship or grant. If a company promises to get you approved for either one, it’s a scam.
  • There is generally no fee necessary to receive a scholarship.

School supply giveaways and freebies

Back-to-school shopping can cost a bundle. Messages promising a free back-to-school shopping spree can be welcomed if they’re legit. Unfortunately, they rarely are.

Back-to-school giveaway scams ask the victim to visit a website to provide their email address for claiming their prize. The victim is then rewarded with an endless stream of emails, texts, robocalls and more from the company that now has their information, with no giveaway in sight. In some cases, the scammer may demand a “processing fee” before the victim can claim their prize.

Protecting yourself from a giveaway scam is easy by remembering that, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also, legitimate contests will rarely select a winner out of thin air; you’ll have to enter it first by providing your email address. They are also not likely to make you give up lots of info before claiming your prize. Finally, there is generally no payment necessary for claiming an authentic prize.

Follow the tips outlined above for this back to school season and stay safe!

How to Save on Wedding Costs

Did you know the average U.S. wedding costs $28,000*? That’s a lot of money to spend on one event!

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s how you can have the wedding of your desire and your budget, too.

Choose your top priority

Most couples-to-be have some fantastical dreams about their wedding day. It might be a huge wall of flowers, a custom wedding gown or a wedding aisle fitted with hundreds of floating candles.

Whatever your dream, count on it costing a pretty penny. To avoid going into debt for your special day, choose the one item for your wedding that is most important to you as a couple. That one must have you are willing to get at almost any cost. Trim costs in other places to leave room in your budget for your top priority.

Skip the invites (average cost: $590)

Snail mail is so last millennium. Bring your wedding up to date and make some budget breathing room by creating a cost-free e-invite that includes all the wedding details and the ability to RSVP electronically. You’ll be doing your wallet, and the environment, a favor!

Go nontraditional with the venue (average cost: $10,500)

A typical venue can eat up a wedding budget fast. Make your wedding extra-special and save on costs at the same time by choosing an out-of-the-box venue, like an art gallery, your favorite upscale restaurant or even atop a scenic lookout point.

Ditch the rehearsal dinner (average cost: $1,900)

Why not put that money toward something with lasting value?  If you feel like you need a rehearsal to make sure everything goes smoothly, ask the officiator and the members of the wedding party to practice the ceremony with only a short, no-food run-through.

Choose a non-bridal gown (average cost: $1,600)

Everything on your list gets more expensive when you tack on the word “wedding.” Save on one of these expenses by purchasing a gown that’s not designed exclusively for a wedding. Any floor-length white gown from a department store or boutique will do, and you can always add embellishments to dress it up a bit. You’ll still save a fortune.

Limit your guest count (average cost per guest: $70)

So many parts of your wedding, from the catering, to the bar, to the cake, cost more with each added person. Keep your wedding intimate by only inviting guests who really count. You can limit the plus-ones, specify that the reception is adults-only or restrict the guest list to people who are currently in your life, instead of inviting every acquaintance you’ve ever had.

Rethink your cake (average cost: $500)

Consider a shorter or narrower cake for pictures and cutting, and have the caterer serve a frosted sheet cake so there’s enough for all your guests.

7 Tips for a Budget-Friendly Road Trip

Ready to hit the open road? Before you do, check out our budget-friendly road trip tips so you can set out in style and without breaking your budget!

1. Save on food costs

Here’s how to save on food costs during your road trip:

  • Shop your local stores for staples before setting out.
  • Get your “kitchen” into gear. A good knife, cutting board and small cooking appliances like a portable grill and plug-in burner are great starting points.
  • Plan a mix of meal types, alternating between home-cooked meals, dining out on fine cuisine and tasting local street foods.
  • Save the dining out for delicacies unique to your current location.

2. Camp out instead of sleeping in hotels

Sleeping under the stars when possible adds a whole new layer of awesomeness to your trip. And it can be super cheap! Check out, where you can book spots among 3,600 facilities and 103,000 individual sites across the country.

3. Find free attractions

Most tourist hotspots have a wide selection of free activities and sights to see at no cost. Check out local websites or ask around on the street to find the best-kept secrets at every stop.

4. Map out your route for greater savings

Instead of blowing money on gas, create a detailed schedule of all your stops before setting out, choosing the most efficient and inexpensive route. Look up local attractions in the areas you plan to stop at and book reservations in advance when possible.

5. Download GasBuddy

Download the GasBuddy app to find stations with the lowest nearby gas prices throughout your trip. You can save hundreds of dollars on gas costs using this game-changing app.

6. Check in on Sunday

For those nights when you must have a hot shower and comfortable bed, you’ll probably be checking into a hotel. If you can, check in on a Sunday. According to a study from the travel app Kayak, hotel reservation rates are lowest on Sundays.

7. Explore more and drive less

Hit the brakes and get out of the car! Spend some time covering miles on foot by hiking through local trails or backpacking through city streets. You’ll enjoy an enriching experience and save on gas costs at the same time.

6 Ways to Avoid Getting Scammed This Summer

Don’t get scammed this summer! Follow these tips to stay safe.

1. Never pay for a “prize” vacation

If you’re asked to pay a small fee to claim a free vacation prize, you’re looking at a scam. A legitimate company will never ask winners to do that.

2. Use a credit card when traveling

A credit card offers you the most protection in case something goes wrong. You’ll be able to dispute unauthorized charges, and in most cases, reclaim your lost funds

3. Ignore celebrity messages

A direct text from a movie star, singer or athlete asking for money for a charity or claiming you’ve won a prize, but need to pay a processing fee, is a scam.

4. Check for skimmers at the pump

If you’ll be pumping gas in unfamiliar places, check the card reader for skimmers, which can relay your credit or debit card information to a scammer.

To check for a skimmer, try wiggling the card reader; this should dislodge a skimmer if there is one. Next, check to see if the keypad looks newer than the rest of the card reader. Finally, touch the surface of the keypad to see if it’s raised.

5. Research vacation rentals carefully

Before booking a vacation rental, read the reviews of previous guests. If there aren’t any, or they don’t sound authentic, you’re likely looking at a scam. You can also look up the address of the rental to see if it actually exists and if the location matches the description in the listing. Finally, as mentioned above, use a credit card to pay for the stay so you can dispute the charges if it ends up being a scam.

6. Vet potential contractors well

It’s best to only hire contractors you’ve personally reached out to instead of hiring one that comes knocking on your door. Also, before hiring, research a potential contractor carefully, asking for contact info of previous clients, checking out their online presence, and looking up the business on the BBB website. Finally, don’t agree to pay more than a third of the total cost of a job before the work starts.

Stay safe!

How to Make a Vacation Budget You Can Keep

Summer is here, and it’s time for your getaway!

While it’s great to get away for some fun in the sun, sticking to a budget is a must, even when on vacation. This year, attack your vacation with a financial plan you can actually keep by following these tips:

Rethink vacation

Before you start working on a vacation budget, consider an alternative to a conventional getaway that can provide an escape from real life without the prohibitive price tag.

  • Staycation. Spruce up a spare bedroom with scented hand towels and mini soaps and shampoos to give it a hotel feel. Sleep there during your “vacation” and spend your time trying out local attractions, festivals and restaurants you’ve always wanted to experience.
  • Swap houses. Have friends or family who live out of your area? Ask about switching houses for a week. Then, you can all get an inexpensive vacation.
  • Camping. If you have camping gear or can borrow it from a friend, camping can cost next to nothing. It can also be a fantastic way to enjoy a rejuvenating break from the grind of life.

Create a budget

If you just gotta splurge on a typical getaway, here’s how to create a realistic budget:

  1. Review your savings. If you’ve been steadily saving up for this vacay, you’ll know how much you have to spend. If you haven’t saved anything, consider an unsecured loan through your credit union and/or saving up until your vacation by trimming your discretionary expenses.
  2. Prioritize. Before assigning dollar amounts to categories, pick what’s most important to you while on vacation. List your priorities from most to least important for future reference.
  3. Assign dollar amounts to big-ticket items. Choose and price a destination. Set aside money from your budget to cover what it takes to get there, as well as accommodations.
  4. Divide and conquer. Now, assign a realistic dollar amount to your remaining categories. Include food, tickets to entertainment venues and attractions, gifts and souvenirs, transportation costs, and pack in some “miscellaneous” money for unplanned expenses.

Stick to your budget

Now comes the hard part: sticking to your budget while on vacation.

First, consider using cash. You’ll be forced to stick to your budget with no way to overspend. Just make sure you plan for how to keep it secure at all times.

Next, make advance reservations when you can. This way, you have fewer spending choices for when you’re actually on vacation.

Finally, keep a copy of your vacation budget handy while you’re away so you can pull it out whenever you come up against a spending challenge.

Don’t let your budget go on vacation!

Post-Pandemic Money Moves

Mask mandates are going away and restaurants are opening again. Finally, life is going back to normal! Here are some forward-thinking money moves to make as you adjust to post-pandemic life.

Review and adjust your budget

Pandemic budget rules were unique, as people cut down on costs, like dining out and updating work wardrobes, but spent more on things like at-home entertainment. Others may have had to adjust their spending to help them coast during a stint of unemployment. The pandemic may have also shifted something in people’s mental list of needs and wants, as they found they can live with a lot less than they’d thought.

As you adjust to post-pandemic life, take some time to review and tweak your monthly budget. Be sure to incorporate any changes in income, as well as a readjustment to pre-pandemic spending or changed priorities.

Rebuild your savings

If you are one of the many Americans who were forced to dip into savings, or even to fully drain them, during the pandemic, create a plan to get your savings back on track. Tighten your spending in one area until you’ve built up an emergency fund that can keep you going for 3-6 months without an income, or use a windfall, such as a work bonus or tax refund, to get the bulk of your emergency fund in place.

Once your emergency fund is up and running again, continue to practice basic saving habits, such as setting aside 20% of your monthly income for savings, or whichever approach you prefer.

Rethink your long-term and short-term financial goals

The pandemic has prompted lots of people to reevaluate their goals. Take some time to rethink your long-term and short-term financial goals, then adjust your savings and budget accordingly.

As you move through this step, be sure to consider any long-term goals you may have put on hold during the pandemic. Have you stalled your contributions to your retirement accounts? Have you been making only the minimum payments on your credit cards? If any of these apply to you, be sure to revert your savings and debt payments back to pre-pandemic levels as soon as you can.

Spend with caution

It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a shopping spree in celebration of a return to pre-pandemic norms, but spend with caution.

First, prepare to encounter inflated prices wherever you go. Gas prices have jumped, and the cost of many consumer goods has spiked. If you planned on purchasing a big-ticket item like a new car, consider waiting until prices cool off.

Also, you may be eager to make up for lost time, but no number of nights out on the town will bring back the months you spent at home. To avoid irrational overspending, set up a budget before you hit the shops and only spend what you’ve planned.

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