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10 Simple Ways to Instantly Improve Your Finances in 2014
January 06, 2014 - Finance
(BPT) - Do you wonder how you could better manage finances? You're not alone. When it comes to money, most people are far from perfect. Whether you make $20,000 a year or $200,000, some simple steps can start you on the right financial path, and some of them only take a few minutes to complete.

"Personal finance is an intimidating topic, especially if you've made mistakes in the past," says Michael McAuliffe, an adjunct instructor at Morton College and president of the nonprofit Family Credit Management. "But everyone has the opportunity to start fresh and make improvements. Your past missteps don't have to dictate your financial future if you resolve to be proactive today."

McAuliffe recently co-authored a financial workbook titled "Personal Finance Made Easy." Thanks to a grant from State Farm, the workbook can be downloaded for free at, or you can request a hard copy be mailed to you free of charge. You can use the workbook alone or pair with the free online video lessons. Topics covered include money management, savings, investing and more.

McAuliffe suggests 10 simple ways for you to start improving your finances immediately:

1. Stop, think, save - When out shopping, don't mindlessly pile things in the cart. Take a moment to stop, think what you really need, and save by not buying extras. Cutting unnecessary spending is easy when you make a habit of briefly pausing to analyze what you really need.

2. Cut 5 percent - If your employer cut your paycheck by 5 percent, you'd be unhappy, but you'd still be able to survive. Why not make that cut now? Reduce the extras like your daily latte or weekly visit to the salon and the savings will mount quickly.

3. Save - Every little bit counts when it comes to savings. If you save just $5 a day - the cost of a fast food lunch - you'll have $1,800 in a year. It's OK to start slow and build momentum. The ultimate goal should be to save at least 10 percent of your net income (income after taxes and other deductions).

4. Budget - It sounds simple, but most people don't have a solid budget. Create a spending plan now and stick to it. List all expenses and see where adjustments can be made. Refer back to your budget regularly to stay on track.

5. Keep multiple savings accounts - The less accessible your money is, the easier it is to reduce spending. Keep multiple savings accounts and pay yourself first. One savings account could be designated for an emergency fund, another for a new car or a future vacation.

6. Make it visual - Discourage overspending by reminding yourself why you are trying to save. A photo of your vacation destination, for example, illustrates what you're saving for; put it everywhere you spend money - wallet, computer monitor, vehicle, etc.

7. Make your money work for you - Consistent contributions add up over time, and thanks to the power of compound interest, the longer you leave your money untouched in a savings account or other investment, the more it can grow.

8. Home savings - If you own a home, you know it can cost a lot of money. Cut costs by doing home improvements and maintenance jobs yourself rather than hire out. Call your insurance agent and see if there is a lower rate for homeowner's insurance. Check into refinancing while rates are still low.

9. Manage checking accounts - You need a checking account, but are you really keeping track of your money? Online banking makes it easier than ever to balance your checkbook, track your spending and set up alerts when your balance goes under a certain amount.

10. Review your credit report - From mortgages and car loans to employment and renting eligibility, your credit report and score affect many aspects of life. You can review your credit report for free annually by going to Make sure you know what's on it and make corrections as necessary.

For more practical financial tips, visit and order your free "Personal Finance Made Easy" workbook. In addition to partnering with State Farm on this project, FCM received grants from Bank of America, Barclays Bank and AICCCA (Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.)

Tips for a Budget-Friendly Road Trip
June 07, 2013 - Finance
(Family Features) From the Statue of Liberty to the Golden Gate Bridge, the country is bursting with fun, family-friendly vacation destinations. National parks are a classic road trip choice. Amusement parks, museum-packed cities and quiet camping spots are other All-American favorites.

Before packing your bags and heading out, it's important to plan ahead, set a budget, build some fun into your travel time and prepare the car. Then you can fire up the GPS, pack a cooler, crank up the radio and head out on the highway.

Pack Savings Into Your Vacation
The whole point of a fun, family road trip is making memories that will last a lifetime. But those memories can be expensive. Decide early in your vacation planning which items are splurge-worthy and where you can save a little money:

Frugal Fun
-Once you plan your itinerary, visit the website of each place you'll be visiting, as well as the location's visitors bureau for information and good deals on top attractions. Amusement parks often offer discounted tickets when you plan to visit more than one day. Likewise, museums and other tourist attractions often bundle their tickets with others in the area. These tourist passes can be a great bargain.
-Look for package deals when booking your hotel. If you compare the rate for a standard room night with those that throw in free museum or amusement park admissions, you might just pocket big savings.
-If you have a membership to the zoo, art museum or science center in your area, it is possible you can get free or discounted entrance fees at similar facilities nationwide.

Ease the Pain at the Pump
-Saving money during summer months when gas prices are normally higher can be as simple as driving smarter. Speeding, rapid acceleration and braking can lower gas mileage. Also, avoid idling for long periods of time.
-Consider a new combustion enhancing fuel additive technology. Independent lab and road tests show that an additive, such as Synergyn XTrA MPG, can improve fuel economy up to 20 percent or more, in some cases.
-Keep your car well-tuned and fix any problems immediately. It's also important to keep tires at the correct pressure.
-Improve engine performance, lower operating temperature during hot summer road trips, reduce wear and chances of maintenance problems on the road with an anti-friction oil additive technology such as Synergyn Engine Treatment.

Eat Economically
-When you arrive at your destination, ask the locals where to eat. Eating local specialties is a great way to really experience the culture of your destination and save.
-Pack a cooler full of bottled water, fruit, vegetables, cereal and sandwich fixings. It will not only save money, it is a great way to minimize the number of stops along the way.
-Make lunch your main meal. Restaurants usually serve the same entrees at lunch and dinner. The only difference? The price is nearly always significantly smaller at lunch. So, if there is a restaurant you can't wait to try, check it out when prices are cheapest.

Rest for the Weary
-Check online for home rental opportunities instead of just booking a hotel. Websites connecting homeowners with vacationers can offer deep discounts on room nights in popular cities.  -If you pledge your allegiance to a single hotel chain, you can rack up some serious loyalty points. Cash them in for free nights or room upgrades.

For more information on improving fuel economy and reducing engine temperature and reducing wear, visit

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


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