UltraBlog

How to Make 2013’s Biggest Expenses More Affordable

Kelly Moltzen - Monday, March 11, 2013

By Stephanie Taylor Christensen, Personal Finance Writer and Founder of Wellness On Less




Thanks to the expired payroll tax cut, it’s estimated that earners making between $75,000 and $100,000 annually will lose about $1,200 of their paycheck this year. On top of that decreased cash flow, prices on three of life’s biggest expenses are rising in 2013. Here’s how to make your big ticket purchases more affordable. 
 
1. Rising auto prices. New Federal fuel efficiency standards require automakers to double vehicle fuel economy by 2025, and auto manufacturers aren’t wasting time passing costs associated with the mandate to consumers. Toyota Camry ticket prices have gone up about $175 this year, while Lexus CT model prices jumped about $3,000. Even used cars are expected to cost about $1,000 more, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.  To counteract the rise, it pays to be strategic about your financing options.  If you’re buying new, many manufacturers like Buick, GMC, Ford, and Toyota are offering 0% financing in early 2013. Take advantage of the free loan until the interest rate expires, and buy the vehicle outright before you pay a dime of interest. Short on cash? Pawning the valuables that are collecting dust in your closet can fund your down payment, at a low, short-term interest rate.  If you’re leasing or refinancing, the same strategy can provide the cash for a down payment that will ultimately lower monthly payments, and boost your eligibility for low interest rate loans.
 
2. Higher tuition, less help.  The average 2011 college graduate has more than $26,000 in debt—an increase of 5% from the previous year. Budget cuts and reduced subsidies at the state level will make funding college even more painful in 2013. According to the College Board Trends Report, average in-state tuition and fees in public four-year colleges increased 4.8% in 2012; costs at two year public state colleges increased 5.8%. Worse still, Federal grant aid for students, which can help absorb rising costs, remain flat.  Instead of adding to student loan debts, avoid the borrowing trap.  A student who cuts expenses by just $7 a day for about six months could save about $1,260 to fund tuition. He or she could make up any shortfall by pawning an item of value, and repaying the loan over the course of the semester.
 
3. Prime your finances to score low mortgage interest rates. Housing experts agree that home prices will increase in 2013, at least by 1%, and possibly, as high as 5%. At the same time, mortgage loan and refinance interest rates remain low, presenting a prime opportunity to buy a new home, or refinance an existing loan. The catch? Those advertised low interest rates have criterion: To qualify, potential refinancers must have equity in their homes, and new home buyers must have a down payment. Excellent credit scores are required in either case. Because UltraPawn doesn’t reflect on your credit report, using your valuables as collateral can free up the cash you need to pay down debt balances, and in turn, boost your credit score. Additionally, it can fund a down payment, or even reduce your mortgage loan balance to achieve the home equity required for a lower interest refinance opportunity.

5 Simple Ways to Stockpile Cash Before Tax Time

Kelly Moltzen - Monday, February 25, 2013

By Catey Hill, Personal Finance Writer and Author of "Shoo, Jimmy Choo!: The Modern Girl’s Guide to Spending Less and Saving More"




While you’re probably imaging the flat-screen TV or Caribbean vacay you’ll take with that tax refund, the reality is that many of us won’t get anything from the IRS.  Even worse: We might owe money.


That’s why it’s important to build up a little cushion of cash now: It can mean the difference between repaying the IRS and them hounding you for cash for months to come (ick!).  Here are five things you can do to easily build up a stash of cash in time for tax time.


1. Don’t overpay for gas
It’s tempting just to get gas from the station near you, but that’s often not the cheapest. Instead, use the GasBuddy app to find the least expensive gas in your area. You can sometimes save 20 cents or more per gallon this way, which can mean big savings!

2. Ditch costly impulse buys
You know the drill: You go into a store knowing you just need a few little things, but somehow end up busting your budget.  To prevent that from happening, practice the five-second rule: Before you put anything in your basket or cart, wait five seconds, during which time you’ll ask yourself “do I really need this?”. Most of the time the answer is no, so move on to what you do need.


3. Sell your stuff smartly
With a site like UltraPawn.com, you can safely and easily sell stuff like old jewelry and electronics. They’ll send you money for the items within 24 hours.  Now that’s quick cash!


4. Go green
To keep from overspending, “go green,” which, in this case, means only taking cash with you when you leave the house -- no credit and debit cards allowed.  It’s impossible to overspend when you can’t access more money!


5. Pick up a side gig
No one likes to think about extra work, but to earn cash fast, consider picking up a side gig like landscaping, babysitting or house cleaning in your spare time. You can use a site TaskRabbit.com to find these gigs, or tap into your Facebook or LinkedIn network to ask people if they need help with little tasks.

Classic Versus Modern Cars: The Great Debate

Kelly Moltzen - Thursday, February 14, 2013

By George Souri, UltraPawn CEO



1959 Ferrari Testarossa


There persists a long-standing debate amongst car enthusiasts over the virtues of modern cars versus the classics. At this year’s auto show, the 2014 C7 Corvette Stingray, the SRT Viper, and the Jaguar F-Type were debuted. No true car lover can look at any of these three cars and not be left picking his jaw up off the floor: they are stunning, they are perfectly engineered, and they perform like fighter jets. That said, there is still an element of sexiness to classic cars that I believe modern cars simply lack. There is no doubt that today’s cars can run circles around the cars of the 50’s and 60’s; but as for pure curb appeal, I think the classics still rule. Whether it’s the as-of-yet unrivaled styling of the 1950’s era cars, or the history and story each classic possesses, there is just something about a classic car that speaks to the soul in ways modern cars simply do not. As for me, I am a sucker for 1950’s European sports cars: the Ferrari Testarossa, the Aston Martin DBR-1, and the 1955 Porsche Spyder top the list of all time greats. Personal opinions notwithstanding, car lovers of all breeds can agree that, whether it’s fresh off the showroom floor or a newly restored classic, the right car is not just a car – it’s a part of who you are.  


Visit us on Facebook and tell us what you think: chime in on the debate or post a picture of your baby.


Buy Smart: 3 Things to Consider Before Upgrading Your Golf Gear

Kelly Moltzen - Thursday, January 31, 2013

By George Souri, UltraPawn CEO



The role of new equipment and technology is an increasingly prominent part of the modern golf discussion. Every year, manufacturers bring out new products, boasting an increasing number of improvements designed to help your game. But new equipment isn’t cheap. The amateur golfer is therefore left with the question of whether the benefits of buying new equipment justify the expense. Here are some things to consider.


Know your game first: At base, no amount of technological innovation is going to significantly help an inconsistent swing. If you hit the ball 30 yards further but end up in the tress half the time, you haven’t improved your game. Therefore, while the new equipment might potentially provide benefits to your game, these benefits will not result in better scores unless your fundamentals are sound. That said, visiting a golf center that offers video and data collection before buying new equipment will help you determine if your swing is consistent enough to benefit from the new gear.


Use the value of your existing equipment: Paying $400 for a new driver a year after you paid $400 for your current driver is a lot less painful if you can sell or trade in your current driver for $100-$200. If you really want some new gear but are worried about price, look into getting some value for your current gear by trading it in or selling it.


Get fit by a reputable club fitter: Before buying new equipment, you should definitely get a fitting from a reputable club fitter (don’t go to the local golf megastore!). You may find out that your current equipment will give you the performance you want with a few fitting adjustments. On the other end of the spectrum, new equipment that isn’t properly fitted to your body and swing will not give you the most bang for your buck. In any event, make your decision based on the data, and not simply the promises put forward in advertising. 



Create Yourself a Budget

Sophia Madana - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Anyone who tries to tell you that budgeting is fun, is either lying to you, or a super-nerd. Because we know you don’t like liars or nerds, we’ll give you the hard, honest truth. Budgeting is the worst.


But, if you don’t do it, you’ll never know how much money you could be saving. At the end of the year, that could make or break upgrades on a car purchase, or snagging a lower interest rate on any purchase by being able to put more money down.  This is your life we’re talking about. Take charge of it one step at a time.


Income Vs. Expenses

Let’s start at the very beginning, which, in this case, is comparing your income to your expenses. Say, for example, you make $1000 per month after taxes, insurance and social security. The idea is to not go over this much money in one month, and hopefully save a few bucks to hold you over.

Document everything you spend money on for the first week of the month. Aside from rent and other necessary bills, what are you spending your money on? Chances are there’s a cheaper way to make these desired purchases.


Purchasing groceries and brown bagging your lunch can easily save you at least 30 bucks a week. Brewing your coffee at home instead of stopping by the coffee shop in the morning can save another 20 bucks a week. Trust that this cash adds up at the end of the month.


Realistic Boundaries

Budgeting is very similar to dieting. If you’re too extreme you’ll cave, and your plan will backfire. It’s in our nature to indulge in guilty pleasures. Make sure you set aside a realistic dollar amount for socializing and some minor retail therapy.

With that being said, budgeting doesn’t allow for supporting bad habits. If you don’t have the money to be smoking a pack of cigarettes per day, you better learn how to grow your own tobacco or look into some 12-step programs.


Facing Facts

The daunting task of drawing up a personal budget is nothing less than ugly. You’re forced to face your flaws and watch attentively as all your hard earned cash disappears from your fingertips. You’re not only taking a magnified glass to your dollars, but your lifestyle as well. And being the true American you are, you know that bad habits die hard. Test out your budget for one week; just a seven day trial, and take it from there. Adjust accordingly, rinse and repeat.








Air Fare: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Sophia Madana - Wednesday, November 28, 2012
By Laura Andrews


I always knew going to Las Vegas and playing the tables was a gamble, but I never realized how the airline industry incorporates many of the same gaming techniques when purchasing tickets.  It’s always a gamble when you finalize a ticket purchase on whether or not the price will drop drastically tomorrow.  And I do mean drastically, not just by a few dollars and cents!


I was looking for a deal when planning my trip to Barcelona last May.  Prices out of JFK were hovering around $1,060 for weeks, give or take a few.  One week it dropped a hundred, the next week it went back up and another it went up to around $1,160.  The roller coaster effect was making me dizzy and frustrated. 


As it got closer to my departure date, I called a travel agent to book the quoted $1,160 fare simply because I was afraid it would go up even more.  It was getting nerve racking, checking in every week finding prices going haywire with no rhyme or reason to their madness.

Now I realize most people book online these days, but I was booking international and felt I needed some assistance due to lack of experience abroad. Because the agent needed specific information on my passport and I didn’t have it on me, I had to call back hoping to God, the price wasn’t going to go up another hundred or so.


Turns out the price went down the next day, by nearly 200 dollars. My lack of passport saved me some extra cash to spend on drinks and souvenirs.

I realize my story has a happy ending, but it could have easily turned out sour.


Here are some less risky pointers for the people who aren’t roller coaster friendly:


Book far in advance. Airlines reward those who rise early to catch the worm. They know the closer you are booking to your date, the more desperate you become and the more willing you are to pay extra to get that seat.


Watch for patterns. If you’re in the beginning stages of planning your trip, look up airline ticket prices every day for a week and see how much they fluctuate. This will give you a good idea of what prices you’re working with and how much money you may be able to save if you strike while the iron is hot.


Hunt for deals. Many travel websites will offer discounted airline ticket prices if you also book a car rental or a hotel visit at the same time. Definitely do not rule this out as an option. While you may end up paying more for the actual flight, you could save drastically in other areas of your trip. Remember: the flight is just one sliver of your vacation experience!


Bottom line: do your research and homework.  Airline ticket purchasing is definitely a gamble, but when you know any potential enemy’s history, it becomes more of a calculated risk, which we can agree is a far better option than blowing on dice and hoping for the best.


Extreme Couponing: Is It Worth It?

Sophia Madana - Wednesday, November 28, 2012
By Laura Andrews


Whether you are trying to climb up the corporate ladder or acting as both, a homemaker and employee, your time is precious.

 

You haven’t exactly made your millions yet, so you’d like to use coupons; but who has the time to snip out coupons like a kindergartener doing an art project?


Today, unless you are Oprah or a member of the Kardashian Clan, you, yourself, have to run to the store, pick up the kids from day care, workout and remember to put gas in the car before doing so.  It’s understandable to be a bit scatter-brained between pleasing your boss, spouse and kids to remember to bring coupons to the store when you can’t even remember to pick up your dry cleaning from last month. 


I’m not sure if you can pick up on this, but I speak from experience--taking my precious time trying to clip out coupons and completely forgetting to pick up my Michael Kors cashmere sweater and wool pants from the cleaners. Trust me, those coupons aren’t even going to come close to touching those designer losses, but I digress.


What my experience has taught me is that I am not a daily newspaper or online coupon clipper.  What I am is a time-constrained value gal wearing many hats who goes where the best advertised price lives within my two-mile radius. 


My husband has a cushier job with a lot of down time; consequently, he can afford to cut out coupons and has now been designated to do so.  It relaxes him, saves us money and puts a smile on my face knowing someone in the world is using those coupons out of the Sunday paper.  If it were up to me, the coupon section would be fireplace kindling.


If you find that couponing is, in fact, worth your time, a little can go a long way.


Go with what you know. 

Start with the stores you frequent and check their websites. Many retail websites will share local deals that you can take advantage of without being greatly inconvenienced.


Get creative. 

Coupons aren’t just for grocery stores and the local pharmacy. Remember that oil change you’ve been putting off?  Or that eye appointment your insurance doesn’t cover? You can find coupons to save on obscure purchases as well.


Read the find print. 

Ever hear that saying, “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is?” The phrase rings true for couponing. Make sure you check the expiration dates and read the coupon policies of the store so you’re not shocked at the register when the checkout lady tells you she can’t accept your cut outs. It might not be totally her fault, and could save you some public embarrassment of verbally ripping her an undeserved new one.


Like most things in life, couponing is a personal decision, not a right or wrong one.  If you have the time, by all means snip and coupon away.  If you don’t, just find the best advertised price nearby.  Or subscribe to rewards cards of the stores you frequent the most. In the end, it’s about making a conscious effort to spend both time and money wisely that counts.






Credit Cards: Risk Vs. Reward

Sophia Madana - Wednesday, November 28, 2012

It’s possible you’ve heard the saying, “Credit cards are the devil.” However, at times they might be a necessary evil. Unless you have mob connections that only work with cash, you’ll need credit cards to build credit in order to purchase, homes, cars, and other kind of big-ticket items. But if you’re not paying attention, you could accrue some pretty high interest rate fees, late payment fees, and what the credit card companies like to call “maintenance fees” to do, well, basically nothing at all.


The bright side is many credit cards come with rewards. It’s very easy to earn points or a small percentage back on your purchases. It’s all about finding which one is the most compatible to your lifestyle.


There are several sites online that you can use as resources to help you select the right card for you.


Creditcards.com

This site lets you choose your ideal card based on the rewards you’d like to redeem. Pick your rewards on the left, compare which ones offer the best value, and apply for your credit card.


Comparecards.com

This site also provides the same functions. You can choose whether you’d rather have a low interest rate, airline cards, cash back rewards, etc.  Go through and compare for the best ratings, then choose your card.


Nerdwallet.com

This site helps guide you through the credit card selection process by asking questions leading you to the appropriate answer. Kind of like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel for your finances.


Whichever site you choose to utilize, be sure to weigh out all your options and consider your daily lifestyle. Do you travel frequently? Are you visiting the grocery store more than once a week? How often do you fill your gas tank? Evaluate you options before you commit. Happy Spending! 

  





Newlywed Finances: Keep the Sparks Where They Belong

Sophia Madana - Wednesday, November 28, 2012
By Laura Andrews



Nothing kills the buzz joy of marital bliss more than two mismatched money management styles.  It doesn’t matter how hot and steamy the two of you were under the sheets on your honeymoon.   It doesn’t matter that you thought of his and her closets and bathrooms for compatibility. It doesn’t matter that you designed a mother-in-law suite in the basement.  When you settle in together and one of you buys a pool table with money the other intended for a new kitchen, sparks are going to fly, and not where the fires should be burning down below.


So how does one keep the fires under control, and flaming in the right areas? 


Newlywed-marital sparks were meant to ignite below the waist line.  Yet, one neglected financial move, and the sparks start to flow up through the body gaining strength as they progress up through the chest area without taking a breath into the throat and finally burst out of the mouth like spitfire bombs aimed directly and only at you?


The answer to controlling the damage of a burning flame is simple.  Ask any fireman how to leave a room on fire and his first instinct will be to look for an alternative opening or exit to escape.  By opening up not one, not two, but three checking accounts; you have increased your exiting choices, in cases of emergency.


Second marriages come with children labeled, mine and ours and people today accept it as the norm.  The same concept should apply with newlyweds in the financial area.  Open up an “ours” joint account to cover the monthly household bills, the rent, the utilities, the food.  Here, both parties put in a monthly percentage of their income to ensure a compatible, harmonic environment, knowing food and shelter will always be met.  Then the remaining difference goes into personal (his and her) bank accounts to be used at one’s own discretion.  It’s the basis for a stress-free environment that prolongs sexual desire amongst couples for years to come.


This way when hubby wants to buy a golf club and wifey wants to buy designer shoes, no permission is needed and no guilt is felt upon purchasing, one simply cuts a check or swipes the debit card from their own personal stash.  Budgets remain in tact, independence still thrives and consumer spending keeps the world afloat.  Life is good!


And later that night embracing the effects of a retail spending high, while feeling the sizzling steam coming off the sheets, the two of you smile knowing you decided to be neither solo or jointly connected.  Yes, you chose life on your own terms when you decided to be financially-independently coupled!  And the sex, well, that’s just one type of interest that comes into play when making sound financial decisions. 


Enjoy your financial marital bliss and watch your interest grow.