5 Tips to Host Thanksgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving Dinner.jpgThere’s no doubt that the holiday season can be expensive, and maybe a lavish Thanksgiving feast just isn’t in the books for this year. If you’re not riding the gravy train, it’s still possible to cook a delicious Thanksgiving meal that doesn’t cost you an arm and a (turkey) leg. Here are some easy as pie tips to help you host a wonderful Thanksgiving on a budget!

  1. Make it a potluck. You don’t have to tackle the whole menu by yourself! In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, get everyone involved and ask them to bring one of their favorite dishes. Just keep a list of everything that everyone is bringing so you can make sure to have all of the Thanksgiving staples on the table.
  2. Stick to your shopping list and budget. Create your menu and budget well in advance. Bring your Thanksgiving shopping list with you on your regular grocery store trips to pick up non-perishable and frozen items when they’re on sale. You can also check your grocer’s weekly ad for current sales.
  3. Start from scratch. Pre-made items are often full of preservatives and seldom taste better than homemade items. Instead of buying powdered mashed potatoes, make delicious mashed potatoes with this simple recipe. You can also make a yummy stuffing with this easy recipe.
  4. Buy a frozen turkey. The turkey is usually about 40% of the cost of the meal. Opt for a store brand frozen turkey instead of a fresh one. Just remember to allow ample time for thawing. Click here to see how you can safely thaw your turkey.
  5. Find decorations at the dollar store. Believe it or not, the dollar store has some great decorations for the holiday season. Check out your local dollar store to see what you can find! Click here for 70 cheap DIY fall decor ideas.

We hope these tips help you stress a little less and enjoy time with your family during Thanksgiving! Do you have any other great tips? Comment and share them with us!

How to Protect Yourself From Cyber Attacks

iStock_000030693124_Large.jpgOver the past 25 years, technology has truly changed the way we live. We pay bills online, access bank and loan accounts online, and make purchases online. While this has created a convenience we have never experienced until recent years, it’s also opened up a lot of opportunity for identity theft through cybercrime. We want to make sure you’re aware of common cybercrimes and how to protect yourself. Here’s some basic information you should know.

Phishing: Luring victims to click on a link to get sensitive information or plant a virus.

Have you ever received an email that only has a link and no other copy? Perhaps you already knew this was some kind of scam and immediately deleted the email. Great job! Clicking on that link could take you to a fake website where criminals ask for personal information. Clicking on the link could also automatically give criminals access to your computer, where they can look for sensitive information, watch your internet habits or plant a virus on your computer. Phishing can be used alone or with spamming and spoofing to steal your identity.

To avoid falling prey to this type of technique, NEVER click on a link from an unexpected sender that you are unfamiliar with. Check to make sure the URL matches with the content of the email by hovering your mouse over the blue hyperlink. Make sure to look at the details. Does the email say it is from Facebook? Does the link say facebook.com or facebook.net? Little details like this will save you from falling prey to phishers.

Spamming: Sending the same unsolicited email to a large group of people.

Spamming can be hurtful in several ways. A great example of this is a “spam scam,” where a criminal sends an email indicating you have won the lottery and requests that you send a payment to cover taxes in order to get your winnings. Unfortunately, the lotto payment is never received so whatever amount was sent “for taxes” is lost to the victim. Below is an example of this type of email. There are several variations, and this is just one example of how a spam email can turn into fraud. Notice how the crook is using a spam (undisclosed recipients) with phishing (the link)?

spamming-email

To prevent this kind of fraud, never open emails from strangers or click on links in an email like this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Spoofing: Using a fake website, email address or other identifier that looks legitimate to trick a victim into responding with an action that may benefit the spoofer.

An example of this is using a fake website that looks legitimate to trick someone into submitting financial, personal or password data into a fake website. To avoid being spoofed, check websites for security measures such as a padlock in the url and https:// rather than http://. The padlock and the s indicate the website is a secure site.

Additionally, use email spam filters and do not click on links that indicate you need to update personal or financial information. Call a verified number from the company’s website and verify the email is legitimate.

Click the following links for more details on the above cybercrimes:

Phishing
Common Scams
Scam Alerts

10 Easy Ways to Save on Groceries

ShopMedium.jpgWhether you’re cooking just for one or a whole family, you probably find that you fork over a decent amount of your paycheck for groceries. Well, that stops now! Gone are the days of spending a fortune on groceries. Cook delicious meals at home and trim down your grocery bill with these great tips!

  1. Inventory your pantry and fridge before you head to the store. Make a note of what you have so you don’t accidentally buy something that you already have at home.
  2. Shop around for the best prices. Compare prices of the items you most commonly buy at a few stores in your area, such as Walmart, Target, Costco, Publix, etc. Find out if you’re actually shopping at the store with the lowest overall prices for your needs.
  3. Plan meals from the weekly ads. Check out the weekly deals for your grocery store online and build your meals around the items on sale.
  4. Buy dried herbs instead of fresh. Dried herbs are generally more concentrated and last longer than fresh herbs so you’ll use less and they’ll last longer.
  5. Take advantage of BOGOs for non-perishable items. Take advantage of BOGO deals for non-perishable items that you know you’ll always use.
  6. Earn cash back on groceries. Apps like Ibotta, SavingStar and Checkout51 offer weekly cash back deals on a variety of items. All you have to do is submit a photo of your receipt verifying that you bought the items.
  7. Compare unit prices, not just sticker prices. The unit price is the price for one unit (pound, ounce, liter, etc.) of the item you’re buying. Knowing the unit price can help determine if an item is a good deal or not.
  8. Print online coupons and use them wisely. Get printable coupons for a variety of items from sites like, coupons.com, smartsource.com, redplum.com and coolsavings.com. Use coupons when the items are on sale to save even more!
  9. Buy in season produce. You can save 30-50% on produce by buying what’s in season. Click here to see what fruits and vegetables are currently in season.
  10. Ask for a rain check for out of stock sale items. A rain check is a slip of paper that honors the sale price once the item is back in stock, even if the promotion is no longer running.

Do you have any other great money saving tricks? Comment and share them with us!

10 Ways to Avoid Fraud

PiggyBankShield-small.jpgFraudsters use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. From skimmers to phishing emails, they will stop at nothing to steal your personal and financial information. Protect yourself and keep your hard earned money in sight with these helpful tips!

  1. Only open emails from people you know. Fraudsters often send emails that ask you to click on a hyperlink or open an attachment and enter your personal or financial information. Ignore any emails that make these requests.
  2. Don’t pay upfront. Fraudsters may ask you to pay in advance for debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance or a job. They may even say that you’ve won a prize, but need to pay taxes or fees first. Don’t do it! Chances are they will take your money and disappear.
  3. Avoid sharing your personal or financial information in an email, text or over the phone. You never know whose hands that information could fall into.
  4. Shred everything. Shred all documents that contain personal information, including your address, telephone numbers, account statements and other sensitive data.
  5. Create strong passwords and change them at least every six months. Use a unique password with a mix of letters, numbers and symbols for each of your important accounts. Don’t use names, birthdays, common words or sequential patterns.
  6. Monitor your accounts weekly. Keep an eye on your accounts to catch any fraudulent charges as soon as they happen. It’s also a good idea to save your receipts and check them against your statements.
  7. At the gas pump, inspect the card reader and PIN pad. Before you swipe your card, study the card reader and give it a good tug or shake. If it moves, it probably has a skimming device on it. Check the PIN pad as well to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.
  8. Consider the payment method. Not all forms of payment are alike. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, while other payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. You should also avoid using mobile payment apps, such as Venmo, with people you don’t personally know.
  9. Check your credit history and score regularly. There are a variety of ways you can access your credit report for free. With Credit Karma, you can view your scores and reports anytime, get useful tools and tips to help you understand and improve your score, and get credit alerts to help you spot fraud.  Many credit card companies, like Discover and Capital One, offer free credit tracking tools and send you monthly/weekly updates of your score.  You can also order a free credit report once a year from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com.
  10. Talk to someone you trust. Fraudsters want you to make decisions in a hurry and they may swear you to secrecy. Before you do anything, check out the story, do an online search, or consult a friend or expert – like a Financial Services Representative at Insight!

We hope these tips help you stay one step ahead of fraudsters! Click here for more fraud prevention information.

3 Tips to Improve Your Cruise

cruise_shipPlanning a cruise? Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida, has some great tips to help you get the most out of your cruise vacation. Here’s what she had to say:

Book as far in advance as possible. You will have the best selection on room type, location and dining options. If you book your cruise and later find a lower fare or new promotion, most cruise lines will honor the lower fare as long as you haven’t made your final payment.

Driving to the port? Book a one night pre-cruise hotel stay that has a Park-N-Cruise package. The typical package includes 7 to 10 nights of parking plus shuttle service to the port and back again. The cost is normally the same as what you would pay to just park your car at the port. This way you get there with time to spare. No worries about missing the ship!

If you like to take excursions off the ship, consider ShoreTrips.com. They specialize in excursions for cruise guests and have a guarantee to get all passengers back to the ship on time. ShoreTrips is a highly reputable company offering smaller sized tour groups and wonderful guides.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

SummerPiggyBankTraveling doesn’t have to cost a fortune! Save money on your vacation with these great tips from Sheri Mruz, owner of Directions Luxury Travel in Ocala, Florida.

For airfare, I strongly recommend using Kayak.com as a search tool. It has great filter features and helps you find the routing, carriers, number of layovers and costs that you want. It is not a purchasing site but will direct you to the best place to purchase your flights. Kayak even has a fare history chart, a flexible date of travel search feature and allows you to sign up for alerts to let you know when flights go on sale. Whenever possible, purchase the actual tickets directly through the carrier website. This allows for clearer communication between you and the carrier and less hassle if/when you need to make changes or ask questions about your flights.

While touring a city, take the bus. Bus transportation is so common in the cities and so inexpensive in comparison to other options. If the city you are visiting offers a Hop On – Hop Off tour option, BUY IT! This is such a wonderful way to get the lay of the land and then go back and make stops at the areas that interest you most. Many cities, New York City and Chicago included, have package deals that include entrance to many attractions as well. These are packed with value. Check out citypass.com and grayline.com for more information.

If you know for sure that you will be visiting an attraction, check out their website before your trip to see if they offer online discounts. Just be sure you are not locked in to a specific date or time frame.