Years ago I learned a lesson I won’t have to learn again. It was that poignant. It was during a time when mortgage interest rates took a nosedive and we benefited by refinancing our high-rate mortgage.

The transaction closed in late August with the first payment due in October. Rather than take a month off from making a mortgage payment we made an unscheduled payment in September to reduce the principal balance right off the bat. We sent a letter with the payment and wrote “Principal Prepayment” on the check.

A few weeks later we got a statement showing that the payment had been credited to the October payment, not to pay down the principal as instructed. The confused customer service rep was kind but hardly apologetic when she explained that someone must have assumed that we really wanted to “pay ahead” rather than “pay down.” It took a little persistence to convince her to the contrary.

Applying that payment to the principal balance was good for us because every penny of that unscheduled payment went to reduce the balance—no interest was due until October. That was profitable for us, but not for the lender.

By reducing the principal at the beginning of the loan, we would go on to save more than $4,000 in interest and cut three months off the term, which we did and oh what a happy day that was!

On the other hand, applying it to the October payment would have put almost the entire amount into the lender’s pocket in the form of interest.  Read more

If you’ve ever been in serious debt or are right now you know the feeling that your creditors own you lock, stock and bank account. I’ve been there, I know.

Debt steals your freedom one option at a time until you become its prisoner.

woman-with-debt-worried-about-bills-to-pay

 

Debt keeps you chained to a job you hate. It keeps you stuck in the past, unable to move forward in life. And big debt causes terrible stress that makes it hard to breathe, keeps you awake, spoils relationships and zaps the joy out of living.

It makes sense that if debt steals your options, then repaying debt creates financial freedom. But that’s not necessarily true.


RELATED: The Difference Between Safe Debt and Stupid Debt is Huge


If you spend just the amount you earn, you won’t be living beyond your means or creating new debt to bridge the shortfall, but you will be broke at the end of every month spinning your wheels, living from one paycheck to the next.

The first rule of sound money management is to live below your means—spend less than you earn. This means creating a margin between what you earn and what you spend. The secret to finding financial freedom—freedom from financial worry, fear and want—is in the gap between the amount you earn and what you spend.

The bigger the gap, the more freedom you will enjoy. It’s the money you don’t spend that gives you the freedom to grow your dreams and prepare for the future.

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When I was young and stupid, I accumulated more than $100,000 in unsecured, credit-card debt. And you think you’ve got troubles?!

I didn’t get into that mess overnight. It took me 12 years and myriad terrible financial mistakes to do that and in the process, nearly ruin my life.

During the 13 years it took to get out of the mess (paid back every nickel with no concessions, settlements, negotiations—or bankruptcy) I learned how important it is to deal with mistakes as they happen so they don’t turn into major setbacks.

No one is perfect. You’re going to make mistakes, and when you do, you need to know how to react and what to do to minimize the damage.

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I could teach you how to be an extreme couponer. I’ve had a lot of experience including the time I demonstrated how to do it, on location, live on TV from a large supermarket.

It’s a great way to save money but it’s a lot of work and limited mostly to grocery and drug stores.

Imagine a world where you had the equivalent of a big stack of coupons for all the other places you spend money—like Target, Amazon and Kohl’s, Groupon, Old Navy, even LifeLock.

You do and it’s called Ebates.

Young man using internet computer and counting coins at home. Asian man relaxed and sitting on sofa indoor.

What it is

At Ebates, instead of presenting a coupon, you have a digital account that earns you cash. Think of it as the grocery store clerk handing you that 25 cents when you bought the can of soup with a $.25 coupon and you putting that quarter straight into a savings account.

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Living below your means requires a good bit of creativity from time to time. You have to get pretty clever to stretch a buck. But just how far can you go in matters of etiquette before you cross the line?

Closeup portrait of the worst kind of cheapskate who is generous with himself, cheap with others

Ask yourself this: Is my choice to be cheap going to harm or insult another person?
A good rule of thumb is to be cheap with yourself, generous with others.

Here are a few common cheapskate etiquette guidelines to follow:

When splitting the cost of something, always round up. Never freeload in the name of frugality. If you cannot afford to pay your way, don’t go. When in doubt, always err on the side of generosity.

When eating out in a group, how can I ask to pay my portion of the bill and not have it “split evenly” without seeming cheap? Ask the server for a separate check before you order or position yourself to accept the bill from the server. Fully calculate what you owe including tax and a fair tip, rounding up. Place your money on the check and pass it along.

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I am not one to spend coins. I prefer to save my pocket change. In fact, I go out of my way to make sure I get plenty of change so I have more to save! But I hate to carry loose change, and so does my husband.

A Jar of Coins Full and Running Over

We routinely dump the day’s accumulation into a container to save for a trip or to buy something special. One year we saved $1,100 in coins, but I have to admit the logistics can be a royal pain.

Banks and credit unions have strict rules about loose coins. Some require it to be rolled, wrapped and labeled before deposited. Others won’t accept wrapped coins. Either way, most these days charge a fee.

I don’t know what happened to me last weekend. I guess I was suffering from a severe case of TMC (too many coins). In a fit of frustration, I dumped the jars into a big bag and drove to the supermarket. I knew it would cost me 11.9% but at the time, it seemed reasonable. 

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Our kids are fortunate to be growing up in the most progressive and exciting time in history. Sadly, the very culture that offers them the world is also perpetrating this lie:

You are entitled to have everything you want even if you don’t have the money to pay for it. It’s not a problem. You deserve it. Get it now and you can pay for it later!

 

There’s a huge consumer-credit industry out there planning to give your kids their very own credit cards—personal passports into the abyss of consumer debt. This will not require your permission or approval, something that one reader is experiencing first hand.

Dear Mary: My daughter who is in college got a credit card and now she is in over her head, unable to pay what she owes.

She works part-time and makes a very small salary. With the high interest and late fees, the balance is now over $2,500. I will have to step in and handle the account.

How can I negotiate with the credit-card company to settle for less? I don’t know how she got this card on her salary but she kept quiet about not being able to make the payments until we started getting collection calls for her. I appreciate your thoughts and expertise. Millie

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In the wake of America’s big economic wake-up call back in 2008, dollar stores and thrift stores saw, and continue to see, a big resurgence. And now another kind of retail quasi-lender is commanding all kinds of attention from sellers and buyers, too—pawn shops.

I admit to having grown up with a weird bias against pawn shops. To me, pawn shops were just one level above Vinny the Loan Shark operating illegally in some dark alley in the bad part of town just waiting to break some knees.

pawn-shop-stereotype-great-white-loan shark

Where did that come from? I have no idea really, but let me quickly follow by saying it is a most faulty stereotype.

Pawn shops are respectable businesses that offer a viable service in many communities. And these days, thanks in part to Rick Harrison, whose family owns the Gold and Silver Pawnshop in Las Vegas and stars in the History Channel’s Pawn Stars—one of my personal favorites— business is booming.

What it is?

A pawn shop, owned and operated by a licensed pawnbroker, makes secured loans on personal property left in the broker’s possession to be held as collateral. The property can be redeemed by the customer when the loan plus a finance charge (think: interest plus per-month service charge) is repaid.

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