Got paper receipts? Manage them with FitFin!

Shopping receipts suck. They’re nasty little pieces of paper that fall between the consul and seat of your car, or get stuck to the bottom of your sweaty water bottle.  They get washed in your jeans, turning into pocket paper mache. Or they bulge your wallet to the thickness of a Stephen King novel. They overtake your purse, becoming paper cut hazards when you search for your keys. Receipts pile up everywhere: on counters and desks . . . wadded up reminders of your spending habits. While they overtake your space, it seems like once you actually need a specific receipt, it’s nowhere to be found. Misplaced receipts probably end up in the same hidden vortex as lost socks and long-gone remote controls.

I’ve misplaced my fair share of receipts, or kept them stuffed in a drawer. But thanks to FitFin (www.fitfin.com), I can now find them in just a few seconds.

FitFin allows me to take a picture of my receipt with my smartphone and save it for later retrieval.  A couple days ago I took a pair of shoes back to Famous Footwear using my receipt that was saved in FitFin. The shoes were purchased a couple months ago and before FitFin, I never would have kept the receipt.  Or if I had kept it, I would have had to comb through a shoebox of receipts, probably losing interest and deciding to forget it before it was ever found. But because of FitFin, I was able to find the receipt in a few seconds.  I handed my phone to the salesperson and she replaced the shoes with no questions asked. I have also accessed receipts to take items back to other places.

Emailed receipts are also becoming more common. Now when I get a receipt emailed to me, I take a screenshot of it and add it into FitFin. This is done in just a matter of seconds when adding an expense. By doing this, I get the receipt out of my email inbox and it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the dozens of emails I get each day. And since receipt capture is part of the expense process, not only can I keep the receipt, but I can track my spending at the same time.  Win-win!

It’s really easy to track/expense and save a receipt. I usually do it right when I get into my car so I don’t have to worry about it later. And since I have my budget set up in FitFin, the expense tracks against my budget automatically and I now have a permanent place for the receipt. All in just seconds!

If you don’t currently have a good way to keep and access receipts, give FitFin a try. It’s free and only takes a few seconds to sign up at www.fitfin.com.

Now the only thing you have to worry about is what to do with all that extra counter space.

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Beating boredom this summer (without breaking your wallet)

Ah, Summer.  That time of year where the days are long, the nights are warm, and life is carefree.  That is until boredom sets in . . .

There are only so many days one can lounge around the house before the thirst for more sets in.  That’s when things can get expensive.  This is especially true if you have kids.  So what to do?  Here are five ideas on how to beat summer boredom without beating your budget to death.

1. Visit your local library.  Did you know that just over half of Americans have visited a library in the past year?  Libraries certainly aren’t as sexy as other places, but there’s no better value around!  In addition to thousands of books, most libraries lend movies (even popular ones), music, and other media.  If you haven’t been to the library in a while, just go one time, and see if it appeals to you and your kids.  If it does, consider making it a weekly trip.  Also let your kids get their own library card.  This will teach them about responsibility.

2. Volunteer.  Volunteering is great for adults and kids for many reasons.  Volunteering helps us learn new skills, build new friendships, develop compassion, learn about business, etc.  It may also ignite an interest in kids that will carry into adulthood.   Places where both adults and kids can volunteer include nursing homes, animal shelters, soup kitchens, children’s hospitals, and much more.  This will help us all appreciate what we have, while making us feel good about ourselves.  A simple Google search can get you on your way!

3. Create a play date circle.  If your kids have neighborhood friends who have families that you know and trust, consider starting a play date circle.  For example, if there are four kids, each week one family hosts the kids at their house, then it rotates the next week.  It’s a great way for kids to have new experiences, to see how other families operate, and to share their house/family with their friends.

4. Start your own sports/game league.  If you have a lot of kids in your neighborhood who like sports, have them get together once a week at the local park to just play.  Football, dodgeball, basketball, it doesn’t matter.  Just get them running.  Even better, let them come up with the games and the rules on their own.  It will teach them about organization and self-governance.  Don’t forget the water and sunscreen!

5. Experience nature.  I’m fortunate enough to live in Colorado, with mountains-a-plenty.  But no matter where you live, there’s surely interesting terrain.  Ask around town some good spots to explore (a local Facebook group is another great resource, as is Google).  There are probably dozens of great places for you and your kids to explore and learn about!

Need more ideas?  A simple Google search of “free or cheap things to do this summer with kids” will probably give you enough to do to keep you busy!  Of course, a little ice cream here and there can’t hurt either.

Understanding your work benefits program

This is an area that many of us may not think about too much.  In fact, benefits aren’t considered nearly as much by most people as salary when choosing new employment.  But benefits are usually valuable and often misunderstood.  In fact, according to a study done by LIMRA in 2011, only 15 percent of employees were able to give a reasonable estimate of the cost of their health insurance.

There are many things to consider when thinking about benefits.  Different companies offer different means of incentive to employees.  Pensions were historically a way to reward employees for years of hard work, but they’re going the way of the dodo bird.  Today, only 24% of Fortune 500 companies offer a pension.  Does your company?  If so, you’ll want to know how it works (i.e. vesting schedules, payout calculations, etc.) and how it will affect your retirement.  Does your company offer other things, like a 401(k)?  If so, do they have elective and non-elective contributions?  It’s vital that you know those numbers and match to at least those amounts–it’s free money, after all!

What’s your company’s vacation policy and what time of year does it add more vacation days for workers?  Do they cap the maximum days that employees can have?  If so, are you in any danger of losing your excess vacation days?  Does your company allow you to trade excess days in for monetary compensation?  What about paid sick days and holidays?

What about other things, like dependent care benefits?  Or Health Care Flexible Spending Accounts?  And if you have a spouse, how do their benefits complement yours?

I hope you see my point that there are a lot of things that you may or may not know.  Or there are things that you think you know, but may not fully understand.  For example, my wife is a teacher and I probably don’t understand her PERA program like I should.  But these are our benefits.  These are going to have an effect on us in one way or the other for the rest of our lives, so it’s important to understand them.

If you are your company’s benefits expert, good for you.  If you’re not, seek that person out and make sure that you fully understand (and are taking full advantage of) your benefits.  Another thing to ask your benefits expert is exactly how much your benefits are worth!  This is good to know and to consider if you’re thinking about making a job change.  Benefits may not show up on the stat-line, like your paycheck amount, but they ultimately do translate into money in your pocket.  Don’t take them lightly, and know how your personal benefits work (or should work) for you.

Rainy Day Fun Fund

You’ve heard of the term “Save it for a rainy day” to reference putting money away for when you might need it.  In fact, it’s generally recommended to have three months to a year’s salary worth of saving for emergencies.  While having an emergency fund is definitely important, we’ve also been doing this on a smaller scale to put a little F-U-N into our fund.

My wife has periodically stashed cash in the past, and I’ve been more active in doing so myself of late.  We have several budgets set up on FitFin, one of which is a “Cash/ATM” budget of $100.00/month.  This particular budget was largely ignored for the most part until recently, when I decided to start “paying myself” out of it.  What I do is get $20.00 cash back when I go to the store.  My general rule of thumb is to only get the cash back if my overall bill is less than $50.00 (that amount includes the $20.00) and I can only go up to my budget limit each month ($100.00).  Then when I get home I put the money away in a secret place known only to me and my wife.  The money adds up quickly, and we can use it only for fun.  It’s our little way to reward ourselves for working to be disciplined with our money.

We’ll use the money for things like going out for ice cream, a movie, bowling, etc.  One thing that we haven’t used it for (but would be fun) is a hotel room for a quick overnighter in the mountains (we live in Denver).  You’d be surprised how quickly the money adds up, as we tend to forget about this little hidden treasure of loot!  It’s kind of fun to have the extra money around for fun things.  It also a good little strategy to use to stock money away for an upcoming vacation.

It’s just something we’re trying out, and I don’t know if the trend will continue or not, but for now, it’s been a lot of fun.  It’s definitely something to consider, especially to reward yourself for staying on track with your budget!

Saving money at the store is easy–just say “know”

Winston Churchill once said, “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”  While we’re pretty sure he wasn’t referring to your navigational strategy at the Piggly Wiggly, mapping out your grocery store visits can save you big money each shopping trip.

According to the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), 60% or more of what we buy at the supermarket isn’t even on our list!  So if you spend $100.00 at the store, about $60.00 is unplanned.  That’s crazy!  And it’s literally by design.

Every store is laid out a little bit differently, but overall, they’re basically the same.  Produce is always in front, milk is always in the back.  It’s long been said that milk’s placement in a store is to force shoppers past every other item on the way to the dairy case, but stores will contend that the cargo trucks unload in the back, making for an easy trip from trailer to case.  We’re pretty sure it’s probably a combination of both, but are also certain that stores don’t lose sleep over where they place their milk.

Produce is often right up front, its bright colors and fragrant fruits drawing you into the store.  The bakery and deli are often right up front, too.  This is because the sights and smells of both make shoppers hungry, which leads them to buy more food.  And don’t be fooled by the temptations of aisle end-caps—just because items are prominently displayed here doesn’t mean they’re on sale!

There are many other tricks stores play to get shoppers to spend more money because, after all, they’re in the business to make money.  An example is the fact that it takes 20 minutes to prepare a prescription.

So how can you arm yourself against this injustice?  How can you level the playing field?  Three simple words:  Know your store.  And make a shopping list that corresponds to that store.  And, most importantly, stick to your list!  (Okay, that’s twenty words, but you get the idea.)

Think about what you need each week—it’s all pretty much the same stuff, right?  Milk, cheese, eggs, etc.  Sure, you deviate from the script occasionally (or a lot, according to the FMI), but for the most part, it’s the same items week in and week out.  And as we’ve already demonstrated, most items you buy will be in the same general vicinity week after week.

This is good for you, gentle shoppers, because it allows you to plan out your list to minimize browsing.  Grocery store browsing is a budget killer!  The more time you spend in the store, the more money you spend.  Why do you think stores now have banks, Starbucks, pharmacies, nail salons, etc. right in the store?  To keep you there longer!

You can avoid falling victim to this game by proper planning.  With FitFin, you can create such lists for EVERY store you shop at regularly.  Again, each store is just a little different.  You may find your Cap’n Crunch in the same aisle as your coffee in one store, and in the bread aisle at another.  This minor change could create unintentional browsing, again costing you money.  If you set up your lists specifically for each store and activate only the items you need for that visit, you can get in and out of the store much more quickly, and with more money in your pocket.  FitFin has thousands of pre-loaded items that you can use to build your list, or you can use your own items.  Or a combo of both.

I was shocked by the 60% statistic, and am proud to say that I’m pretty good at sticking to the list.  FitFin is a great way to become more organized and disciplined, helping you save money.

For more information on how to build shopping lists in FitFin, check out this video (http://goo.gl/qR1j42) or contact us at support@fitfin.com.

Happy planning!

Five inexpensive Valentine’s Day gifts that make you look romantic (and not cheap)

In an age where everything costs an arm and a leg, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to decide on the perfect gift for that someone special.  Even dinner at a moderately-priced restaurant can cost $100.00 or more, and throw in a movie on top of that and you might as well buy a golden ring!  With that in mind, here are a few inexpensive romantic gestures that are a perfect gift on their own, or a nice supplemental surprise to whatever else you have planned:

1. Take a walk ___________.  Replace the blank with “on a beach,” “in the park,” “at the museum,” etc.  Walking is not only great exercise, but it’s a great chance to talk, with few distractions.  And if you do plan to go to dinner, it’s a great way to justify dessert!

2. Make a video montage.  There are now dozens of free video creation apps out there, where you can take the pictures off your camera and put them to your favorite song.  This is a great way to make a lasting memory that your loved one will cherish forever (and it’s more personal than a card).

3. Write a poem.  Is this cheesy?  Maybe.  Will that special someone love it?  Probably, especially if it’s coming from the heart.  And if you’re musically inclined, write a song!  If you’re uncomfortable with doing this, you can make it funny and sprinkle it with inside jokes.  There are also plenty of rhyming dictionary websites out there to help.  Here is a sample that I made up on the spot:

My love for you is undying,
Please don’t laugh, because I’m really trying,
You mean the world to me,
We better go now, the movie starts at three

I’ll give you a minute to wipe the tears away.  Anyway, you get the idea.

4. Rent their favorite movie and stay in.  Pop up some popcorn, put on a fire, Barry White, all that romantic stuff and just relax for a few hours.  Much cheaper than going out and a lot less stressful!

5. Make dinner.  There’s nothing sexier than a delicious meal you make yourself.  What’s their favorite meal?  Do a simple Google search for recipes and see what you think you can pull off.  Even if you don’t cook well, if you really concentrate this ONE TIME and use the right ingredients, you just might surprise yourself!  Don’t be afraid—give it a try!  And if it stinks, they’ll still appreciate the effort.

There are literally dozens of things you can do to make the day special.  The most important thing is to make it about each other.  Enjoy!

Want to build a better budget in 2015? Three things to know about yourself

Money Minute 12-30-14

With more and more “things” out there for us to spend our money on, budgeting is becoming more important than ever.  Many of us now spend $10.00/month to stream our music, $15.00 or more for streaming movies, and a number of other things that can add up quickly.  You may not realize how much you’re spending and oftentimes not even know how much money you even make!  Knowledge is power, so in order to get a handle on your finances, here are three things you need to know about yourself:

1. How much is my paycheck?  This is probably more important to know than what you make in an annual salary because this is the “starting amount” that you have to live on.  According to Bankrate.com, 76% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.  That number is rising every year, no doubt due to the availability of money distractions, like entertainment and going out to eat.  If your income varies, you’ll want to collect a recent history of your paycheck amounts and come up with a best guess as to what that number should be.  Be conservative with your number, so you don’t overestimate how much you make.  Once you have this starting number, you’ll next look at your expenses.

2. What are my fixed expenses each month?  This should be fairly easy to figure out by looking at your bank statement (either online or printed) and/or your online bill pay.  Don’t forget to look at both monthly and irregular payments, like quarterly bills.  Make sure to also include medical expenses, like prescriptions, co-pays, etc.  Tally up this total fixed expense amount.  Again, be conservative and give yourself a cushion for those oddly-timed payments or things you may have missed, despite your best efforts.  You might also be taking money out of your paycheck and into a 401(k) or other savings vehicles.  If you’re able to do this, great!  If you’re not currently doing it, strongly consider if you can do so.  It’s nice to “pay yourself” first.

Look at the dollar amount that’s left over.  This is the money you have to live on day-to-day.  Next, you’ll want to look at your variable (daily) spending.  Once you figure out the variable spending, your goal should be to have some money leftover that you can put into savings or something else that will improve your financial situation (i.e. life insurance, IRAs, etc.).

3. What are my variable expenses each month?  This amount consists of expenses like groceries, going out to eat, going to the movies—the things you do every day.  If you’re not sure about these numbers, give FitFin a shot.  It will help you figure out this number and even has charts to help you see how these expenses change month-to-month.

Now that I know what I spend each month, I’m trying to do is figure out how to decrease that amount without cramping my family’s style too much.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but Step #1 is knowing what I’m spending.  Using FitFin will not only help me know that (which is huge), but it also helps me know what I’m going to spend before I even go to the store.  That helps me keep a handle on today’s spending.  One day at a time, right?

Check out FitFin (it’s free) at www.fitfin.com.  FitFin can help you track your variable expenses quickly and easily.

Here’s to a very prosperous 2015!