House Hunters: Learn From My Rookie Mistakes

This article was written by Deborah Meyer and originally appeared on Kiplinger

When I bought my first home in my 20s, I had worked hard and saved for a down payment. But I didn’t do all the homework a buyer should do. Looking back years later, here are seven financial tips for house hunters today.

Is it possible for you to delve into home ownership without all the facts? YES.

One of my three biggest financial mistakes was buying a home just one year out of college without truly considering all financial implications. Read this article if you’re looking to purchase a home and don’t want to make similar missteps.

Here are several places where I went wrong when I bought my first home, years ago. I didn’t do my homework. I failed to investigate historical housing prices to judge whether the asking price was greater than the true value. I saved aggressively as a young adult and managed to scrimp together 10% for a down-payment on a $150,000 starter home in Saint Louis at age 23. Ideally, you should save at least 20% for a down-payment. Otherwise, you must take out an extra loan or pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). I choose PMI and regret it.

The home was old and charming — built in the 1920s — and lacked energy-efficient upgrades. Heating bills easily ran $300 monthly in the winter, and the tiny window air conditioning unit on the second floor did not suffice during hot summers. I poured over $20,000 in renovations to improve my first house and sold it four years later for the same $150,000 purchase price. Ouch! 

When you purchase a home, steer clear of traps and focus on these recommendations instead:


1. Improve your credit score prior to the purchase. allows you to access your credit report for free every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review the report in detail for errors or issues. Here’s a full list of tips to repair and increase your credit score.


2. Plan to stay in your home at least five years.

The newly proposed House and Senate tax overhaul bills stipulate that you will need to live in your primary residence at least five of the prior eight years to exclude the gain on the subsequent sale of your home. Right now, the law uses two of the prior five years for the gain-exclusion calculation, but legislators are hoping to expand the look-back period to five years. This should curtail flippers, who move from house to house every two years without paying income tax when they sell. Regardless of whether this bill passes, real estate commissions and other closing costs make it very difficult to turn a profit (outside of rehabbed houses) if you spend less than five years in the property.


3. Hire a buyer’s agent who is looking after your best interest.

As a buyer, you don’t pay a commission to your real estate agent; that cost is borne by the seller. However, not all real estate agents are created equal. Some are focused exclusively on acting as a seller’s agent or buyer’s agent. Others run both sides of the table. Exercise caution if your agent is also the listing agent for the home you are most interested in purchasing — there’s an inherent conflict of interest. 


4. Do your homework.

If you are looking to buy in an area with young families, school districts are very important for resale value. Explore the price history on sites like Zillow to understand when and for how much the home previously sold. Pay attention to how long the home has been on the market and others like it to negotiate purchase price.


5. Consider “hidden” costs of homeownership.

Have at least 20% available in cash for a down-payment. Without that target percentage, you will either pay PMI until the loan value is 80% of the appraised home value, or you might take out a “piggyback” home equity line at a higher interest rate than a traditional mortgage to make up the difference in order to avoid PMI. Closing costs, moving expenses, new furnishings and appliances should also be considered. Contemplate ongoing costs like real estate taxes, homeowners insurance and utility bills as well.


6. Budget for home improvements early.

Make a list, prioritizing the improvements you want to make and the timeline for completion. Don’t focus strictly on aesthetics like new flooring, painting or enhancing an unfinished basement. When will the roof and windows need to be updated? Driveway refinished? Air conditioning unit and furnace replaced? As a woman who spends most of her time inside the house, it’s tempting to focus on the interior. Yet the exterior and home systems are more costly projects that should not be ignored.


7. Get pre-approved.

Pre-approval for a mortgage gives you a better idea of how much house you can afford. Just because you are pre-approved for a $400,000 loan doesn’t mean you need to go and find a home in that price range. Determine your monthly payment and see if it fits into your personal budget. Don’t forget about the hidden costs and home improvement projects discussed above. Give yourself some wiggle room. I encourage many clients to stay under the maximum pre-approval amount to meet other saving and lifestyle goals. 

This list was not intended to scare you. Rather, knowledge is power. Purchasing your first home or moving into a new home is a big decision, one that makes sense to get some expert guidance on. As a comprehensive financial planner, I help clients reach their big-picture financial goals, and homeownership is an important piece of the puzzle.


Ring in the New Year with a Focus on Financial Fitness

When it comes to the most popular New Year’s traditions, making a resolution ranks right up there with countdowns, ball drops, and off-key renditions of Auld Lang Syne.

Year after year, health-related goals top the list of New Year’s resolutions, and 2018 is no exception. Whether it’s getting back in the gym, taking a daily walk, or simply trying to eat better, most of us are familiar with re-focusing on healthy habits when January rolls around.

While the new year may be a great time to improve your physical health, it offers a perfect opportunity to boost your financial health as well.

Determine Your Starting Point

Like any good coach will tell you, it’s impossible to know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started. Before starting you on a new workout program, most trainers would administer a basic fitness test to measure your current strength, conditioning, flexibility, and power. Similarly, an honest assessment of your current checking, savings, investments, cash flow, and credit can provide a snapshot of your financial baseline and help identify areas for improvement.

Five Keys to Financial Fitness

  • Checking: When it comes to your checking account, do you find yourself treating overdraft protection as a lifeline instead of a safety net? Brush up your banking skills by visiting CheckRight, a self-paced, online course designed to help you manage your money with confidence.
  • Savings: It’s almost impossible to predict when car problems or job losses might happen, but setting aside 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund can help smooth out those unexpected bumps in the road. Save early, save often.
  • Investments: The key to long-term financial success is making your money work for you. If you haven’t started planning for the future, there’s no time like the present to begin. Scient members receive a complimentary financial review, so contact our financial advisor for expert advice on college savings accounts, IRA options, 401(k)’s, and more.
  • Cash Flow: When you need to make a big purchase, using credit cards can tie up your money in an endless cycle of interest payments. A personal loan or home equity line of credit can offer the financing you need—often with lower interest rates than most credit cards. That means you can hang onto more of your hard-earned money each month.
  • Credit: Investments are one way to put your money to work, the Visa® Signature Helix card is another. By making purchases with your credit card and paying the balance off each month, you can strengthen your credit rating and earn money-saving rewards on dining, entertainment, and travel.

As you commit to getting financially fit in 2018, remember that progress is better than perfection. Focus on making small, manageable improvements, and when you look back at the end of the year, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come.

What Your Credit Cards Are Really Costing You

This article was written by  and originally appeared on CNN Money.

Credit card debt is costing you nearly $1,000 per year

5 Steps to Building Your 2018 Budget

This article originally appeared on US News and was written by Stacy Rapacon

As you’re closing one year and resolving to make the next one even better – in whatever way you have in mind – remember that your financial plan has to be ready for the new year, too. You need to go over what you did with your money in 2017 and consider what expenses you’ll face in 2018. In short, you need a budget.

“While [budgeting’s] not necessarily anyone’s favorite part of the financial planning process, it’s a really important part because that’s where you can uncover opportunities or problems,” says Chantel Bonneau, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual. “And it really gives us the data to take action from there.”

Here are five steps to build your budget for the new year.


1. Review the past year. 

Looking at your cash flow from 2017 will give you a good idea of what you can expect in 2018. Dig into the details as deep as you can, going over your bank account and credit card statements from throughout the year to see where all your money went. 

Sound like a lot of work? You can get some digital assistance. “Some great budgeting tools are out there,” says Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner at Society of Grownups, a financial planning firm focused on educating people on money matters. “These apps use charts and graphs to show you exactly where you’ve spent your money.”

She recommends financial apps Mint and Dollarbird. You can also see what tools your banks and credit card issuers provide. They’d only allow you to track the money you keep with those particular accounts, but if you use just one debit or credit card for most of your spending, that might be all you need.

Also don’t discount the power of pen and paper – or an Excel spreadsheet. Manually tracking your spending can give you a good opportunity to closely study your spending habits. “It can help people really grasp what they’ve spent,” Rabinovich says.


2. Predict the future. 

Next consider what new expenses you may need to add to your budget. For example, if you have one (or nine) weddings you plan to attend in 2018, you can price out what you’ll need to save for those parties now.

You also want to think about the irregular bills that pop up at random, such as insurance payments and taxes. And don’t forget special events, including birthdays, anniversaries and the holidays.

Bonneau suggests using one of two strategies to tackle such costs. You can put a price tag on the expense and save up for it bit by bit each month. You can also add another 10 percent to your spending plan for “miscellaneous budget needs,” she says. So if you typically plan to spend $4,000 per month, add another $400 per month for these kinds of extras.


3. Know your goals. 

Beyond covering your current bills, you need to think about financing your future. This may include short-term goals, such as taking a nice vacation this summer or buying a car, or long-term goals, such as purchasing a home or retiring. Figure out how much you’ll need to achieve each goal and work that savings into your budget.

Rabinovich recommends setting aside funds for each goal in its own savings account. Alternatively, she suggests using a system such as online bank Simple’s checking account, which allows you to create separate virtual envelopes for your various stashes of cash. So within the one account, you can label your savings for, say, emergencies, travel, car buying, holiday shopping, etc. “Naming them helps you to stay mindful about not tapping into them for other needs,” Rabinovich says.


4. Adjust as necessary.

With all the numbers laid out, you can really see whether your cash flow is heading where you want it to go. You might find that your expenses outweigh your income – a big no-no for good financial health. Or that you spend more than you’d like on discretionary items while coming up short on savings.

If that’s the case, spot where you can afford to nip and tuck your spending habits. Financial planner Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland, notes that people’s eating habits often offer a good place to save. She suggests committing to brown-bagging your lunch at least one day a week, more if possible.

And if you have children, she encourages you to include them in tackling the budget. If there’s something they want to buy, or a camp or class they’d like to join, make a plan with them to get it. Having your family act as a team can help keep your money plans on track, as well as teach your kids good habits from an early age. “Get them involved,” she says. “You want them to be part of the solution.”

Bonneau advises you to “try and find at least one recurring payment that you can cancel.” It might be a subscription to a magazine you don’t get to look at all the time, a meal kit you might be tiring of or a streaming service you don’t often use. The cost for each might seem minimal, but “all of those little dollars add up,” she says.

Whatever small space you can find in your budget to make more room for savings is worthwhile. “The amount doesn’t really matter,” Cheng says. “The most important thing is you start saving.”


5. Make room for change. 

This new year brings with it some new challenges. Congress is currently working out tax reform details, and talk of health care reform persists. Either issue could cost you, so you should stay aware of how each unfolds. “You need to make sure you’re really clear on what changes are going to impact you,” Bonneau says.

But remain calm. “It’s hard to know what will really be written into law,” Rabinovich says. “Just don’t panic, and don’t make any drastic moves yet.” She suggests meeting with a tax professional to help you navigate the situation.

Whatever changes come in the new year, you and your budget should be ready. “Know that there’s always flux, whether through the government, your job or just your life,” Bonneau says. “It’s important to slow down – the beginning of the year is a great time to do that – and really think through what’s coming up in this next year that you need to budget for.”

9 Healthy New Year’s Eating Strategies

This article originally appeared on RealSimple and was written by Karen Asp. 

 Strategy 1: Bring Your Own Food

Contribute a healthy dish to a gathering to ensure there’s something you can indulge in.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat the best-for-you offerings first. For example, hot soup as a first course―especially when it’s broth-based, not cream-based―can help you avoid eating too much during the main course.
  2. Stand more than an arm’s length away from munchies, like a bowl of nuts or chips, while you chat so you’re not tempted to raise your hand to your mouth every few seconds.
  3. Concentrate on your meal while you’re eating it. Focus on chewing your food well and enjoying the smell, taste, and texture of each item. Research shows that mealtime multitasking (whether at home or at a party) can make you pop mindless calories into your mouth. Of course, dinner-party conversation is only natural, but try to set your food down until you’re finished chatting so you are more aware of what you’re taking in.


Strategy 2: Don’t Go Hungry to the Mall

To cut down on the lure of the food court, never go to the mall on an empty stomach.

Tricks to Try

  1. Plan your shopping route so you don’t pass the Cinnabon stand a dozen times. The obvious reason? Both sights and smells can coax you to eat, and with some vendors purposefully wafting their aromas your way, saying no can feel impossible.
  2. Choose a proper restaurant over the grab-and-go food court whenever you can. And request a table away from loud sounds and distractions, which can cause you to eat more. The bright lights and noisy hard surfaces can speed up the rate at which you eat and lead to overeating.
  3. Avoid fast-food places that emphasize red in their color schemes. Red has been shown to stimulate the appetite more than many other colors, and many restaurants add it to their decor, in everything from the flowers on the table to the squiggles on the plates.


Strategy 3: Keep Track of What You Eat

Maintain a food diary to help you stay committed to your goals.

Tricks to Try

  1. Weigh yourself daily and use that number to guide your actions. (Food diaries are helpful, but only if you’re totally honest and diligent about recording every morsel you eat.) Research has shown that women who step on the scale every day and then act accordingly, either increasing their exercise or being stricter about their eating, are 82 percent less likely to regain lost weight than those who don’t weigh in as often.
  2. Zip yourself into your favorite pair of slim-fitting pants once a week and note how they fit. Too tight? Adjust your eating and exercise habits. Just right? Keep up the good work.


Strategy 4: Eat Before Going to a Party

Before going out, have a healthy snack to curb your appetite.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat breakfast. This has been shown to prevent overeating later in the day.
  2. Limit the number of high-calorie foods on your party plate. Research has shown that when faced with a variety of foods with different tastes, textures, smells, shapes, and colors, people eat more―regardless of their true hunger level. Cutting down on your personal smorgasbord can decrease what you end up eating by 20 to 40 percent.
  3. Choose foods wisely, filling your plate with low-calorie items, such as leafy green salads, vegetable dishes, and lean proteins, and taking smaller portions of the richer ones. That way, you can eat a larger amount of food for fewer calories and not feel deprived.
  4. Pop a sugar-free mint in your mouth. When you’ve had enough (and don’t want to eat more), the feeling of a fresh palate can curb additional noshing.


Strategy 5: Keep Healthy Snacks at the Office

Stash healthy foods in your desk at work so you’re not as tempted by the treats piling up at the office.

Tricks to Try

  1. Try to keep communal office goodies out of view, either in an area that isn’t as highly trafficked as the kitchen or the break room or in dark containers or covered dishes. In one study, people ate 26 percent more Hershey’s Kisses when the candies were in clear dishes versus white ones. And when the chocolates were placed six feet away, the average person ate only four a day, as opposed to nine a day when they were within arm’s reach.
  2. Before you allow yourself a splurge, do something healthy, like eating a piece of fruit, walking around the office for five minutes, or climbing a few flights of stairs.
  3. Plan on taking whatever tempts you home, and delay the daily indulgence until just before bedtime. At that point, you’re less likely to crave another treat immediately than you would during your afternoon coffee break, especially if the whole box is no longer around.


Strategy 6: Manage Portion Size

Take sensible portions so you don’t end up eating too much.

Tricks to Try

  1. Use smaller plates and serving utensils. Try a salad or dessert plate for the main course and a teaspoon to serve yourself. What looks like a normal portion on a 12-inch plate or a troughlike bowl can, in fact, be sinfully huge. In one study conducted at the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, even nutrition experts served themselves 31 percent more ice cream when using oversize bowls compared with smaller bowls. The size of the serving utensil mattered, too: Subjects served themselves 57 percent more when they used a three-ounce scoop versus a smaller scoop.
  2. Pour drinks into tall, skinny glasses, not the fat, wide kind. Other studies at Cornell have shown that people are more likely to pour 30 percent more liquid into squatter vessels.


Strategy 7: Control Your Environment

You plan to use sheer willpower during large family dinners.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat with a small group when you can. One study found that dining with six or more people can cause you to eat 76 percent more, most likely because the meal can last so long. (After an hour of staring at the stuffing, you’re more likely to have seconds.) At a big sit-down supper, be the last one to start and the second one to stop eating.
  2. Sit next to a fellow healthy eater (there’s strength in numbers). Or sidle up to that uncle who eats slowly, so his pace can slow yours.
  3. Wait for all the food to be on the table before making your selections. People who make their choices all at once eat about 14 percent less than do those who keep refilling when each plate is passed.
  4. Keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty bottle of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more.


Strategy 8: Keep Up the Exercise

You’re determined to squeeze in at least one or two workouts a week, no matter how busy you get.

Tricks to Try

  1. Break it up. If you don’t have time for your daily four-mile walk, do a few 10- or 15-minute spurts of exercise throughout the day (to accumulate the surgeon general’s recommendation of 30 minutes a day). They can be just as effective at maintaining overall fitness as one continuous workout.
  2. Tell yourself that all the running around you’re doing can help keep your weight in check. In one Harvard study, people who were simply told that they did enough in their daily lives to meet the surgeon general’s recommendations lost weight and body fat without consciously changing a thing. A possible reason? Believing that what they were doing was having a positive effect may have led to subtle changes in their overall health behaviors.


Strategy 9: Choose Your Indulgences

You intend to stave off feelings of deprivation by allowing yourself a “cheat” day a week.

Tricks to Try

  1. Plan in advance to eat a little more and be a little more flexible at this time of year, when you face daily temptations. That way, you can savor the culinary joys of the holidays a little more often and you’ll be less likely to binge. For instance, rather than inhaling four sugar cookies on your cheat day, allow yourself one as a dessert when the mood strikes. Then make one little switch during the day to account for those calories―maybe skipping that morning latte or cutting out an afternoon snack.
  2. Choose your indulgences wisely. Instead of wasting calories on foods that you can have at any time of the year, pick items that are truly special and unique to the season.

Do Your Financial Goals Spark Joy?

This article originally appeared on and was written by Stefanie O’Connell.

Within the confines of my cozy New York City apartment, I’m in a constant battle against clutter. At least once a quarter I get entirely fed up with the routine of storing, shifting and lifting to find whatever I need at the back of my closet.

So naturally, Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, piqued my interest. Unlike standard questions of practicality, frequency of use and sentimental value often used to assess what is and isn’t worth keeping, her KonMari Method distills the process of decluttering down to one central question: Does it spark joy?

That is, does the item in question—be it an old Halloween costume, an unopened waffle iron or a worn-out sofa bed—contribute to your life in a way that brings you joy?

Kondo encourages readers to approach the task of tidying up through an emotional lens rather than a purely practical one—the result of which is life-changing, as both the title of her book and my own experience suggest. No more trading precious space to hold onto something just because it was a gift or because it cost a lot of money or because it might come in handy someday. It’s surprisingly liberating.

Even though Kondo doesn’t specifically address finances in her book, it struck me how well the KonMari method could be applied to money.

What if the barometer for what makes a worthwhile purchase or investment wasn’t, Will I use this? But, Will this bring me joy that lasts beyond the moment of transaction?

Although necessities like rent, utilities and health insurance might not feel particularly joyful, the effect of such purchases—safety, shelter, warmth and the safeguard of good health care—certainly do. Similarly, financial to-do’s like paying off debt and saving for retirement might not seem inherently joyful, but consider what satisfying those financial to-do’s can afford you: the extra money to take a dream trip or the funds you need to finally launch your own business. Defining your financial goals through the framework of the joy they can afford you will help you find the motivation you need to achieve them.

If we shift our focus to affording more of the things we love, as Kondo suggests, rather than cutting back, perhaps managing our money can also become a process driven by joy rather than sacrifice. Through this lens, saving money is no longer about what you have to give up. It’s about what you stand to gain.

“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of,” Kondo writes.

Start by identifying what you love in life and what you want to enjoy in the future—a home, the flexibility to travel, more time to enjoy with friends and family. Then identify the financial goals needed to support these pursuits.

Review your expenditures and notice where your spending isn’t aligned with your stated priorities.

Use the spark-joy approach to redirect your financial habits toward supporting your long-term happiness. Keep these big goals and spending priorities top of mind by staying focused on the joy of having and achieving them rather than focusing on where you can cut back and what you might have done wrong with your finances in the past.

Quick Ways to Make Extra Money During the Holidays

Between party threads, cross-country travel and gifts galore, the holiday countdown is on — meaning your wallet is feeling the heat. While we’re all for creating a holiday shopping budget (and sticking to it, of course!), we know a thing or two about best laid plans. To help you recoup some cash, create wiggle room in your budget, or even pad your savings because you’re just that good, here are a few ways to bring in extra money this season.


Sell Off Old Gift Cards

If you’ve got leftover gift cards from holidays past, you’re sitting on a pile of money. Sites like Cardpool will buy your physical or e-gift card for up to 92% of the card’s value. (You can choose to be paid by mailed check or an Amazon gift card.) Raise, an exchange site, lets you list cards at your own price. You get the cash by direct deposit, PayPal or check minus a 12% selling fee once another buyer scoops it up. And on Gift Card Granny, earn cash or swap it for a gift card to another store.


Clean Out Your Closet

Inspired to do a closet purge or just need more room for all your holiday swag? Get ahead of the game by reselling your gently-used clothes now. Online thrift store thredUP sees a 14% spike in apparel listings the week of Christmas, and a 59% increase the week of Christmas. If you get your items on the market now, you’ll beat the upswing in supply, especially for their most popular brands including Lululemon, Vince, Kate Spade handbags and Steve Madden shoes. Bonus: You’ll get your stuff in front of other holiday shoppers looking for party outfits, jewelry, handbags, cold-weather accessories and winter gear.


Take Care of Your Neighbors’ Pets

If you’re not traveling for the holidays, first of all, congrats on avoiding the traffic and the crush at the airport. Also, congrats on being available to watch over all the cute pets in your neighborhood who can’t join their humans on vacation. If you’ve exhausted your neighbor list — or don’t talk to them in the first place — try Rover. You can sign up to provide services including dog hosting in your own home, dog sitting in the owner’s home, dog walking in the area or doggy day care. You’ll set your own rates anywhere from $10 to $150 per day or per walk, and take home 80% of your earnings.

If dogs aren’t your thing, there’s PetSitter, where you’ll get connected with pet owners in need of pet sitting, walking, grooming and boarding for dogs, cats, fish and beyond.


Rent Out Your Room

If you’re hitting the road or just have an empty room to spare, consider renting it out to travelers. Renting on Airbnb is one of the most lucrative side hustles, according to a recent report from Earnest. Hosts earn an average monthly income of $924. Even a fraction of that cash from a few days or weekends could be worth the effort of setting up a listing and putting fresh sheets on your guest bed.


Offer Up Your Parking Spot

Maybe you’re not open to having strangers in the house, but what about renting out your parking spot? Services like ParqExSpot and ParkingSpotter can help you do so. With Spot, for example, you’ll pin your parking space on the site’s map, upload a photo of the space and list its availability and rate by the hour, day, week or month (most sites will suggest a range to work with). You can be paid by direct deposit, PayPal or Venmo, minus a 20% commission fee.


Sell Stock Photos

You can only Instagram so many dreamy photos before you start spamming your friends’ feeds, so why not sell some to earn cash? Stock image sites like Shutterstock and iStock will pay contributors royalties — from a few cents per image to more than $100 each time your photo is downloaded. Members of Foap, another stock image service, can earn $5 every time an image sells, and its contests offer winnings of $100 or more for everything from the best holiday baking photo to the most stylish fashion shoot.


Take On A Micro-Job

Not afraid to brave supermarket crowds? Can you design a holiday party invite in minutes? Or have a free hand to offer catering support? Post your skills on Fiverr or services on TaskRabbit. How much you rake in depends entirely on how much free time you have and the rates you set. And with all those errands that need running or new gadgets that need assembling, quick projects here and there can help keep your budget merry and bright through the New Year.


This article originally appeared on Learnvest.

6 Tips To Save On Holiday Spending

This article originally appeared on Forbes and was written by Shannon McLay

We’re are already a few weeks into the holiday spending period where retail companies win and personal bank accounts lose. The holidays are fueled with emotions, and where emotions and money meet, people tend to overspend without having a real plan in place. Before you think about spending on your loved ones, consider some of these tips so that you don’t have extra weight and extra credit card debt heading into the New Year.


Tip 1: Keep Your List Smaller Than Santa’s

For years I managed a holiday gift spreadsheet with dozens of family members that only grew once I got married, until I realized all we did was exchange gifts of about the same value. In an effort to save my friends and family time and money, I sent out an email suggesting that no gifts were exchanged amongst adults; to my surprise, the email was received with joy.

I advise clients to do the same thing all the time, and they all express fear of hurting people’s feelings, but what they don’t realize is that everyone is secretly wishing for the suggestion but no one is brave enough to make it. So, be the brave one in your family and circle of friends and opt for no gift exchange or limited gift exchanges, like Secret Santa or White Elephant exchanges to cut down costs.


Tip 2: Set A Budget Per Person

Once you’ve whittled down your list to an appropriate number of people, determine how much money you plan to spend on each person and then as each present is purchased, deduct it from that person’s budget. If you are exchanging between adults, I suggest that you aim to set this budget as low as possible. One year, my ex and I set a budget of $50 per person; and we both had a lot of fun finding unique and creative gifts that came in under budget. 

I also recommend setting budgets for your children and let them know what the budget is. Too often, parents allow children to select wish lists that can get out of hand financially. The expensive wish list is great if Santa is truly footing the bill, but if you’re relying on American Express or Visa to help you out, then you need to give your kids a budget. When my son was eight and still writing to Santa, I told him that Santa gave every child a $500 budget, so he had to make sure that everything on his list came in under Santa’s budget, or else he wouldn’t get it. It not only became a great exercise in math for my son, but it also kept my budget in check.


Tip 3: Set Rules

If you can’t figure out your budget or don’t want to have that conversation with your child, then set up gift rules. One of my favorites is the Rule of Four gifts where you only give someone four gifts and they fall into the categories of something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. This not only keeps budgets lower, but it also helps you give more practical items that can now count as gifts instead of additional costs down the road.

I implemented this rule for my son, who was 10 last year, and at first it was met with some push back, but then he ultimately embraced it. It forced him to limit his “expensive” gift to just one item which was his want and then it allowed me to give him jeans and pajamas he needed anyway without complaints on Christmas morning because he knew he was going to get something he needed and something to wear.


Tip Four: Use Cash As Much As Possible

At the Financial Gym, we typically sign on a number of new clients in the beginning of the year because they’ve set New Year’s resolutions and they’re sitting with additional credit card debt from the holiday spending. Multiple neurological studies have shown that when you swipe cards, your brain literally shuts down and doesn’t process the transaction, which is one reason why the card spending gets out of hand. Sticking with a cash diet during the holidays will make you more mindful of the money you’re spending and naturally keep you on budget.


Tip Five: Think Salads

I lost 50 pounds a few years back using Weight Watchers and one of the best tricks I learned from the experience was to control my eating ahead of big splurges. If I knew I was going to go out on a weekend and eat pizza to my heart’s content, then the week before I would make sure I ate salads for lunch and dinner. I didn’t love salad that much, but it was worth it for the pizza reward at the end.

If you know you’re going to spend extra money around the holidays, just like you know you’re going to eat a lot during the holidays, then do the financial equivalent of eating salad and control your spending for the next few weeks to prepare for the holidays. You should make conscious choices to not eat out or buy other items keep your non-holiday shopping to a minimum and schedule as many no-spend days as you can. This financial control will give you more flexibility to spend on gifts.


Tip Six: Prepare All Year

It’s a little late for this advice, but not too late to implement it for next year’s holiday season. If you know that you typically spend $2,000 on your holiday spending, then you should set up a separate savings account at your bank and call it “holidays” and create an automatic monthly transfer for $167. Then you will use this account as your holiday shopping fund and it won’t feel like such a big financial hit to your budget since you’ve spread out the costs over the year. Many of my clients have holiday funds and experience far less holiday stress around money because they know they have the cash and won’t rely on credit to fund the holiday season.

5 Ways Pets Can Add Love to Your Retirement

This article originally appeared on US News and was written by Dave Hughes.

Most workers anticipate a retirement filled with travel, fulfilling leisure activities and fun times with friends. But for some retirees, especially those who are older and less able to participate in an active lifestyle, retirement can become a time of isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, a growing body of research suggests that owning a pet can be a delightful solution to many of these issues.

There are at least five benefits to owning a pet:


Health benefits. 

A pet can have a positive effect on your health. Simply petting a cat or dog on a regular basis has been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and stress levels. Taking a dog for a walk or playing with a cat indoors enables you to be more active each day and keep some of those extra pounds off. The act of feeding a pet provides more movement of muscles and joints. Both the pet and the owner receive the benefit from exercise.



Pets can be great company, especially if you live alone and don’t get to interact with family and friends on a regular basis. Owning a pet also alleviates depression. Animals can sense when you’re feeling lonely or depressed and respond with affection and love. 


A sense of purpose. 

Caring for a pet provides a sense of purpose and responsibility and helps you to establish a routine that’s based around the needs of a pet. When you own a pet, you will feel that you still serve a purpose and you will have more reasons to enjoy living.



Dogs provide a sense of security. They have a heightened sense of hearing and smell and will be quick to alert you when they sense something out of the ordinary.


More happiness and less worry. 

Dogs and cats live in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow, and they accept whatever life offers them at the moment. Pets can help you worry less about the future, focus less on physical problems and be less preoccupied with loss or aging.

However, adopting a pet is not a good idea for everyone. There are many factors to consider before you adopt a pet or suggest pet ownership to someone you are caring for.


Travel plans. 

If you still have travel plans, having a pet could be problematic. You can probably take your pet along with you if you are traveling in an RV. But if your travel plans include flying to distant lands or taking cruises, you’ll have to board a dog or make arrangements for someone to visit your home regularly. Both options can be expensive. Many hotels do not allow animals.


Prior pet experience. 

If you have not had previous experience with owning pets, you may not fully grasp the level of responsibility you are undertaking. If you have been accustomed to the routines and responsibilities that come with pet ownership, you’ll be better suited than someone for whom pet ownership is a new experience.


Your limitations. 

If you have physical limitations that might prevent you from walking a dog regularly or lifting it once in a while, a cat might be a better option.


The dog’s age and personality. 

A puppy, while adorable, may not be a good choice for an older person. A dog that’s at least a year or two old will probably already be house trained and will be less likely to chew on your furniture or shoes. On the other hand, adopting an older pet may prove problematic since the pet may require more medical care as it gets older. You should also consider the dog’s temperament. High energy dogs may require more attention than the owner may be willing to give. A mellow, good-natured dog may be the best choice.


The commitment. 

A pet will require your time, attention, patience and money. You will need to walk a dog at least once a day, and more often if you don’t have a yard that the dog can visit when it needs to relieve itself. Consider whether you can afford to pay for veterinary care, food and a few toys.


Living space. 

Larger dog breeds require larger spaces. If you live in a community with homeowner regulations, learn if there are restrictions on the number, size and type of pets you may own. It’s best to answer these questions before bringing home a pet.


Long-term plans. 

Most important, you should make plans for what will happen to your pet when you die or reach the point where you can no longer care for the pet. Try to secure a commitment from a friend or family member to take ownership of your pet when the time comes.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 3.3 million dogs will enter shelters during 2017 in the U.S. If you decide that owning a pet is the right choice for you, consider adopting a dog or cat from a shelter. You will be giving the pet a new lease on life. The pet will never forget that. You will probably find that the pet will give you a new lease on life as well.

Black Friday Shopping is Safer Online (Or Is It?)

Days are getting shorter, temperatures are getting cooler, and leaves are starting to change their colors. While it may seem hard to believe, the calendar doesn’t lie—Christmas is just around the corner. For many, the upcoming festivities include one of the most time-honored traditions of all: Black Friday.

Once known as the unofficial start of the Christmas season, the Friday after Thanksgiving has grown into a de facto holiday of its own. Fueled by the promise of deep discounts and blockbuster bargains, millions of shoppers celebrate by forgoing sleep, braving crowds, and pushing their way to once-a-year savings! But what if you’re not up for the frenzied excitement? What if you’d rather not wind up in a viral video of the 2017’s craziest Black Friday stampedes? Chances are you’ll be shopping online.

According to a CNN Money report, more than 154 million consumers shopped online during Black Friday weekend 2016, a 2% increase from the previous year. If the trend continues (and it’s expected to), it’s safe to assume you won’t have the entire digital marketplace to yourself. And while shopping online makes it easy to bypass the hustle and bustle, it can also leave you open to the hidden dangers of phishing scams, credit card fraud, and identity theft.

To make your Black Friday online experience as safe as possible, keep these simple steps in mind:

  • Lock It Down
    When you visit a retailer’s website, look for the closed padlock icon in the browser bar. This symbol indicates your computer or mobile device is in secure mode, which means communications between you and the website are encrypted for protection. If the padlock is open, think twice before submitting your order.
  • Credit > Debit
    Whenever possible, pay with a credit card instead of your debit card. In cases of fraud, many credit card companies offer limited liability for unauthorized purchases. However, if a criminal gets your debit card information, all the money in your account can be at risk. Need a secure option for your holiday shopping? Apply for a Scient Visa® Platinum Rewards Credit Card today!
  • Go with Who You Know
    Sure, there’s a special excitement that comes with being the first to discover something fresh and new, but in the world of online shopping, novelty is not your friend. Search the big-name retailers first, and you can greatly reduce the need to scour shady, unsecured websites.
  • Steer Clear of “Unbelievable” Deals
    Our grandparents were right. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Sadly, this means you should probably skip those Yeezys for $1 and that buy-one-get-six-free deal on phone chargers. And those third-party websites that advertise eye-popping promo codes? Just don’t.
  • Stay off public Wi-Fi
    Based on last year’s Black Friday spending statistics, it’s clear that smart phones and mobile devices have changed the online shopping game. So, even if you venture out to a store at 1 AM just for the people-watching, it will still be tempting to hop online and see what deals are available. But before you enter personal information or banking details over a public Wi-Fi, remember the convenience of the connection comes with increased security risks.

Have more questions?  Visit our Holiday Security Center.  Or are you looking to track your holiday spending?  Make sure you are enrolled in all our E-Services. If you need any assistance, contact us by 877 860 6928.

Scient Service Centers will be closed on Monday, May 28th, for Memorial Day. You can access your account any time through Online Banking or our Mobile App.