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Four Tips For Saving Some Money On Your Next Vacation

7956463764_ee8a14ac1b_zVacations don’t have to break the bank, and with a little planning and organization you can enjoy yourself while saving money.

The extra money you save on your vacation might even allow you to extend your stay a few extra days or buy extra gifts for friends and family for when you return.

Most people lose money on a vacation through a lack of planning. The most expensive aspects of a vacation are transportation, booking hotels, tours and food. If you can employ some basic tips to cut costs on these areas, you’ll have more money to spend on sightseeing activities.


If you’re driving your own car, you can save a substantial amount of money on the cost of a taxi or other forms of transportation. Unfortunately, driving a car in a big city also means high parking fees and the hassle of trying to find parking in busy tourist areas.

One way to cut fees is to use your car to get you to the destination and visit remote attractions only. Once you arrive, go to the train or bus station and inquire about an all-day pass to get you easily around town during your stay.

Avoid taking taxis as much as possible and you can save enough money for an extra meal each day.

Booking Hotels and Tours

The real secret to booking a hotel is to simply book early enough. Hotels fill up the closer you get to the reservation data.

While most people know that you can save money by booking in advance, if you purchase all of your airfare, tour packages and hotels in one package, you stand to save a significant amount of money.

For example, mid-April is a prime time to visit Kyoto in Japan. If you try to book a hotel for those dates, you’re going to end up spending a hefty sum of money if you can find accommodations.

The Shinkansen is a bullet train that travels at super-high speeds across Japan. If you book a package through a tour company that sells Shinkansen tickets, you can often get your transportation costs, a one- or multi-day sightseeing package and a hotel for less than what you would pay for the hotel by itself.

Envelope System

Before you leave for your vacation, create envelopes for all your money. It may sound silly, but create an envelope that has the money for your lodging, transportation, souvenirs and any attractions you wish to see.

Create separate envelopes for your food and miscellaneous budgets, and make sure to create one for each day. On each day of the trip, pull out the money from your food and miscellaneous budget and put it in your wallet or purse.

If there is left over money at the end of the day, you can put it aside or add it to the next day’s funds. This will help you stay on budget and control your spending.

Never Take the First Offer

When you visit an attraction, or a sight-seeing event there are often booths and other stores lined up waiting to take your money. If someone offers you a discount on their product, the chances are good it’s because they know further on down the road is another store that sells their product for less.

Don’t take the first offer on anything you see, and you’ll likely save money. Remember that most people lose money on souvenirs and purchases simply because they don’t know what’s available.

If you take the time to look around and don’t get pressured into buying anything, you can make the right decision about how to spend your funds.

Photo: Kevin Dooley / CC 2.0

12 Killer Tips to Slay the College Debt Monster

One Hundred Dollar Bills

By MJ Plaster

To finance a college education today requires a paradigm shift. Parents and students have to work together to combine as many opportunities as possible to save money on college. If you have a teenager, you probably earned a significant portion of your tuition when you were in college. Today’s minimum-wage jobs hardly make a dent in the cost of a bachelor’s degree, but “easy money” has made student loans available to anyone who wants them—at a cost. If this isn’t what you have in mind for your child, keep reading because we’ll look at a combination of techniques to reduce the cost of a college education. Before we dive into cost-cutting measures, let’s look at the true cost of higher education.

The Sky-High Cost of College

Average annual costs for tuition and fees for the 2014–15 academic year published by

  • Public, two-year college (local) – $3,347
  • Public, four-year, in-state institution – $9,139
  • Public, four-year, out-of-state institution – $22,958
  • Private, nonprofit, four-year private institution – $31,231

Room and board runs an additional $7,700–$11,000 per year.

What Does a College Education Buy?

Not enough apparently: In a recent CNBC article, “Why Johnny can’t write, and why employers are mad,” we discover that some employers have to provide remedial education in basic communication skills to new hires. When high schools changed their focus from education to training, common sense, critical thinking and communication skills got lost in the shuffle. Coincidentally, those are the skills required to advance beyond an entry-level position in today’s workplace—with or without a degree.

Employers want competent employees they don’t have to train in the basics, not graduates with transcripts filled mostly with classed such as “Getting Dressed,” Princeton; “Philosophy and Star Trek,” Georgetown; and “Cyberporn and Society,” State University of New York at Buffalo.

12 Tips to Finance College Without Breaking the Bank

Pick and choose the tips that work for you. All roads lead to savings, and by combining them, you’ll stretch your college dollar further.

1. College credit for high school AP courses

Encourage your child to enroll in high school Advanced Placement (AP) classes. AP classes earn college credits and cover a broad range of topics.

2. Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA)

Whether you help your child apply for a loan, a grant or a scholarship, it all starts with filing a FASFA form. This financial statement enables the federal government to calculate the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) toward education for students who qualify for federal assistance.

3. Grants and scholarships

Combine need-based scholarships and grants such as the Pell grants, Hope scholarships, etc., with merit-based and nontraditional scholarships and grants to help finance the remaining tab. Start your search at Apply for need-based opportunities even if you think you don’t qualify because the calculation formulas are obtuse and largely undecipherable.

4. Community colleges and fee waiver programs

Every state has a different name for their free, fee-waiver or means-tested community college programs. Type “free community college [your state]” into your favorite browser. Many states also have guaranteed acceptance into four-year schools upon completion of a two-year community college program. Again, the names vary, so search for “guaranteed acceptance to four-year college [your state].”

5. Online courses

Many colleges and universities offer online courses, which eliminate room and board and/or reduce commuter costs. Some offer degree courses entirely online. I have a friend who is earning a Ph.D. through distance learning.

6. In-state tuition for out-of-state colleges

States have formed regional alliances to offer in-state tuition to neighboring states. Qualifications vary widely; learn more by visiting your regional alliance:

7. FREE college

Check out Time magazine’s article on 22 free college opportunities. Some of the schools require students to work for their room and board, some offer mean-tested free admissions to students who qualify academically, and some offer free tuition for talented students.

8. MOOCs

There’s a new sheriff in town, and her name is MOOC (short for Massive Online Open Courses). These courses are the same ones taught in the most hallowed halls across the globe, but MOOCs do not offer traditional degrees. Classes are taught as self-paced eLearning or as interactive experiences. MOOCs are offered in most areas of study including science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. The most popular MOOCs offering bona fide college-level courses include:

View a comprehensive list of MOOC sites at, and combine this tip with the next one.

9. Tests for college credits

For a small fee per test, students can rack up more college credits by taking CLEP and DSST exams. Some students eliminate two years from their four-year degree programs. Before students take a CLEP or DSST exam, they must ensure their college or university grants credit for the test. Ask the admissions office what additional tests the college or university offers.

10. Internship programs

Earn a stipend and/or college credits for internships. Search for “paid internships programs” “college credit internship programs” to find internship portals on the Internet. Even more important, internships provide an easier entrée into a job right after graduation due to the experience gained.

11. Tax deductions and tax credits

Tax deductions reduce taxable income, and tax credits reduce the amount of taxes paid on net income (gross income minus deductions). explains the options in plain English.

12. Military service

Military members and veterans are eligible for a host of military education benefits.

Need More Help?

Between AP classes, MOOCs, CLEP, DSST, state programs, waivers and community college, no one earning a bachelor’s degree should have to pay for more than two years of an undergraduate degree. Grants and scholarships can chisel away more of the expense, leaving student loans as a last resort rather than the first, easy option. can walk you through myriad options for college financial planning.

If you can’t finance a college education outright, you can reduce the cost of student loans by combining the techniques above. Further, free eLearning is opening doors that were once closed to those without a degree. Nothing lasts forever, so take advantage of these tips while the getting’s good.

Overhauling Your Budget from Top to Bottom


Sometimes you need to make big changes to see a lasting change. Many budget experts believe that you need to first tackle your bad spending habits before you can really see a difference in your bank account. But when you’ve been living a certain way for years, it can be difficult to even see where to begin. In this situation, you need to perform a complete budget overhaul.

Begin With Your Income

Income can be incredibly difficult to estimate — so don’t. Make sure that you know exactly how much you have in take home pay every month. If your pay varies, estimate it out based on the amount you took home the last six months; don’t try to estimate based on the most that you usually bring in. Keep in mind that if your pay is erratic you will need to be more careful with your budget. Your budget will need to be more restrictive to ensure that you have a buffer during leaner earning periods. 

Separate Your Expenses Into Needs and Wants

Go through your monthly expenses and separate every expense that you had into two piles: a “need” and a “want.” Rent is a “need” — it’s something that you cannot avoid spending money on. Going out to eat is a “want” — it’s something that you enjoy but that you don’t necessarily need to do to survive. At this stage, you don’t need to make any judgment calls on whether you’re spending too much on each item; you just need to classify all of them. Make an orderly list.

Find Ways to Reduce the Cost of Your Needs

Once you have separated your expenses, go through your needs line by line and identify areas in which you can save. Rent and transportation are two of the most costly expenses and occasionally they relate to each other; often you can save money on rent by moving farther away, but you need to spend more money on transportation to compensate. Other areas can be more straightforward; you may be paying $80 a month for a cellphone but be able to get by on a $40 month plan. Investigate alternatives for each of your budgetary line items to find sensible ways to reduce the cost. Something like downgrading your cable is likely to save you a lot of money over the course of a year but will probably not have a significant affect on your quality of life.

Pare Down Your Wants to the Things You Want the Most

When you get to your needs list, your goal is to order them by the amount that you value them. If you spend a lot of money on a multitude of hobbies, now is the time to decide which of those hobbies you enjoy the most and which gives you the most value. Ideally, you should cut your “wants” section down to the top three or top five things that you enjoy, depending on how restrictive your budget is. If you’re a foodie more than a fashion maven, you may find that getting a haircut at a salon doesn’t make the cut, but eating out once or twice a month does. If you’re a reader more than a movie buff, you may find that purchasing a few new books a month is more important than seeing a couple of new release movies in the theater. By prioritizing your wants you allow yourself to still enjoy the things that you enjoy most while cutting back on some of the expenses that really aren’t that important to your happiness. 

Put Your Budget Together

Once you have created your revised budget, it’s time to put it all together. Deduct all of your expenses, both needs and wants, from your income to see where you’re at. Remember that it’s more than just having a buffer — you also need to be able to save enough money to create both an emergency savings account and contribute to your retirement fund. Once you have a sensible budget, it’s just a matter of adhering to it on a day-to-day basis.

The goal of creating a budget isn’t simply to restrict your spending — it’s to restrict your spending in a manageable way that will still leave you comfortable and happy. When you create a budget that leaves you frustrated, bored or deprived, it’s very easy to fall back on old spending habits. Like a diet, a budget overhaul has to be done with your continued health and happiness in mind.


Keeping Your Checkbook in Check

You have a bank account and a checkbook, but having isn’t everything. Do you know how to properly write checks and balance your checkbook? In a time when so many people are getting used to their debit and credit cards, checks still have an important place in the world. Countless people still write checks in order to pay rent, bills, and to make large purchases. There are many benefits to using checks that no other form of payment can really offer, so it’s great to always have a supply of checks on hand.

In your pursuit of becoming a financially stable and responsible person, learning how to balance your checkbook will do you wonders. By keeping a balance of your accounts, you will have a finer grasp on your finances than ever before. Most people these days rely on electronic banking systems to track when and where their money is coming in and going out. While this is a reliable method for the most part, even computers are prone to error. Also consider that we’re living in a time where identity theft is more common than ever. For these reasons, it is good to place some reliance on ourselves to manage our own finances, or at least to keep a watchful eye on things.

To get started, understanding the anatomy of a check is essential. Understanding this will help you to know what information goes where on the check itself. Armed with a checkbook register, deposit slips, paystubs, receipts, and banks statements, you’ll be well-equipped to watch your own back in order to ensure that your finances are straight.

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How to Take Control of Managing Your Finances

As you grow up you’ll notice how important it is to have a proper hold of your finances. When you want to buy a car, save for a down payment for a new home or pay down credit debt you should have peace of mind knowing that you know exactly how much money you have. Smart spending, saving and planning a budget are all good ways to manage your finances so that you do not find yourself in trouble later on.

It is a good idea to track your spending for a few weeks to a month before planning out a budget so you can see how you are currently spending your money. This allows you to spot areas where you can cut back on wasteful spending and build up savings. You will also want to keep credit card spending to a minimum so that you aren’t constantly digging yourself deeper into debt that you are unable to pay off each month.

Effective spending is also a key to taking control of your financial situation. Use coupons when possible and compare prices at different stores before making a purchase so you can ensure that you get the best possible deal. It is also recommended that you use the 50/30/20 rule when it comes to your budget: 50 percent on essentials, 30 percent on your lifestyle choices like cable and vacations, and 20 percent on financial priorities such as your savings or retirement account.

Taking a look at your current finances and reworking your budget will set you up for a bright financial future.

Take Control of Managing Your Finances

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Make Sure Your Checks Reflect Your Personality

When you open your checkbook to write a check, are you pleased with your checks? Are your personal checks drab and boring, or are they a reflection of your personality? If you are not happy with the look of your personal checks, CheckWorks is here to help. We offer a huge selection of personalized check styles to ensure that your checks match your sense of style. Whether you want a classic style in an upbeat color, or you have a soft spot for cute animals, we have the checks to fit your personality.

If you are hesitant to order your checks from somewhere other than your bank, put your worries to rest. Here at CheckWorks, we understand the importance of security when it comes to your hard-earned money. Our checks have several security features, which meet and/or exceed regulations, and include:

  • Printing our checks on chemically-sensitive paper to stop anyone from altering your checks.
  • Use of a security screen, which is light printing on the back of the checks that cannot be easily copied.
  • Use of a microprint signature line, which utilizes small letters that can only be seen with a magnifying glass; otherwise, they appear to be solid or dashed lines.
  • Other security features that are not made public to protect your sensitive information.

Now that you know your information will be secure on our printed checks, you can choose from a wide range of personal check styles. Some of the available styles include:

  • Dolphins, polar bears, elephants, kittens, puppies, and other animal designs
  • Biblical scriptures and motivational quotes, such as Live, Love, Laugh
  • Nature scenes, including flowers, leaves, and mountains
  • Cuddly, bouncing babies
  • Frogs, fish, and other aquatic scenes
  • Islands, beaches, and blue sky scenes

CheckWorks ensures that you have plenty of styles to choose from, so you can have personal checks that reflect your personality. Contact us today to learn more about our security features and our huge selection of check styles. It is time to start using checks that bring a smile to your face every time you open your checkbook — and which even bring a smile to the face of the recipient!