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Smart Cents: Saving money is easy, but why do we still ignore sound advice?

Saving money is easy, right? Just about anyone can understand that saving money is simply budgeting what you make and not spending more than that bottom line number.

But as easy as that sounds, the majority of people are in financial trouble, if not out and out peril, and struggle mightily with something we've all deemed to be relatively rudimentary.

So where is the gap, and how do we close it as it pertains to saving money or living financially smarter?

While there isn't one answer that jumps out more so than another, you must truly look at saving money through the eyes of a child or as someone who knows little to nothing about financial planning or would be considered an expert in the field.

Saving money, in essence, has two forms that the process takes: you either don't make enough to cover your expenses and can't cut anything else from your budget or you simply overspend and refuse to adjust your money habits for the better.

Ironically, it almost seems as though we don't treat our money like our own, and instead spend it as if we weren't working hard to earn every last penny. Some would argue that they don't really look at their money as a means to pay bills or even enjoy themselves but rather spend and save as though they're running a business, exercising patience and a kind of practicality that very few consumers and the masses alike can display.

Saving money really boils down to a lifestyle change in both aforementioned instances. Much like someone tells themselves that they want to lose weight, then proceeds to go on the proverbial crash diet, they fail to realize that the long term is much more pertinent for success. You don't just start eating grilled chicken and vegetables all day, every day after you've been used to burgers and fries.

The same goes for saving money. If you're accustomed to spending hundreds per month on eating out a restaurants, buying clothes whenever you feel like it and are feeling the money pinch, you can't go cold turkey per say but rather should start weening yourself off your current habits and into a more realistic approach to spending.

The first and foremost goal is identifying and admitting there's a money saving issue. Once that happens, the path you take should be your own but not one that is overly complicated.

9 Pointers to Help You Break Free From Debt

Getting into debt is easy and takes little or no time at all. It is the getting out of debt that is the hard part, and unfortunately it usually takes quite a while longer than the accumulation did. If you find yourself in more debt than you would like then below are 9 pointers that can help you with the elimination of your debts in a relatively short period of time.

1. You can do it yourself.

First, it’s important to know that if you have accumulated a lot of debt, it’s still possible to succeed with eventually eliminating it once you take steps to manage it. The key there is once YOU take steps to manage it. This doesn’t mean that you are still in the wishing it away phase, and I know from personal experience that we all have been there. Once I decided to quit wishing and start doing then the debt started evaporating, albeit slowly, but it started shrinking none-the-less. The point here is that you should know that you can do this yourself. If however you find that your debt is still overwhelming you do not feel ashamed or embarrassed to seek outside assistance through any of a number of professional and reputable debt counselors.

2. Be a goal setter.

Making a promise to ourselves to deal with our debt is one thing, but we need to do something that will make us feel more committed and compelled to fulfill this promise. Setting a date for when we expect to reach our goals can give us an expected end date, but often times we need something that will make us more accountable. I mean let’s face it, in many situations it was or lack of personal accountability that led us into our dire situation. While Goal setting is a great tool to ensure that we keep ourselves focused and headed in the right direction as we tackle our debt reduction program, however because of our lack of personal accountability I would recommend that you let your friends and/or family know what you goal is as well. This will make you feel accountable to more than just yourself.

3. Have a plan.

It should go without saying that the fastest way out of debt is to stop racking up more of it while you are paying trying to pay off the loans you already have. This shouldn’t be too hard to do if you are finally serious about eliminating your debt. There are some strategies out there such as debt consolidation or refinancing which can be tools you can use in your debt elimination, as well as doing the old credit card balance transfers to take advantage of those low introductory interest rates.

Again, if you are finally serious about eliminating your debt all of these can be very beneficial for you to achieve that goal. If you are weak willed and not that serious then these could lead you into more trouble, because they then allow you access to more credit. If you are one of those people, I would recommend cutting up and cancelling most or all of your credit cards once you got the debt consolidation loan or transferred the balance from one card to another; just so that temptation is no longer available.

One other thing about transferring your debt from a high interest rate card to a lower interest card, this can speed up your debt reduction process, but you must read the fine print on that new lower interest rate card. Sure you will be paying less interest with the balance transfer, but you need to understand that by applying for a new card this has a short term negative effect on your credit score and sometimes has a balance transfer fee. You will also want to know what the interest rate jumps to once the introductory rate expires.

If you choose to go this route, it is highly recommended that you payoff whatever debt you transferred before that low introductory rate expires – as well as cancelling the old higher interest rate card you transferred the debt from. I know that cancelling credit cards has a negative impact on your credit score as well, but honestly the goal is to be debt free, and the negatives impacts to your credit score are miniscule compared with the looming prospect of bankruptcy.

4. Make debt elimination your financial goal.

I don’t mean to harp on this, but again, if you are really serious about eliminating your debt, then that has to become your main spending objective until it is gone. This means that you are going to have to make some sacrifices and lifestyle adjustments. You will have to give ups something or somethings in order to reach the debt free promised land.

A lot of people who’ve been able to banish their debt have made sure that they stick to their priorities; they have managed to avoid temptations that entice them to unnecessarily part ways with their money. Then once the debt is gone, you will have to make sure you keep the debt free mentality or else you could find yourself in the same debt burdened situation in no time at all. Being debt free is a lifestyle, and when done successfully it can be a rewarding one as well.

5. Track your progress.

It is always wise to keep track of your credit score, whether you have a huge debt burden or not, because it is also a way to guard against identity theft. When paying down your debt burden it can also serve as an added incentive for reaching your dent free goal. If you get a snapshot of your credit standing before, you start towards your goal, during and after you’ve worked on reducing your debt you should see that the score improves through the process and thus reinforce what you are doing and have accomplished.

6. Reward yourself.

While yes, when reducing your debt you will have to adjust spending habits and make sacrifices, but you should punish yourself to a life of solitary confinement so strict that your mother can’t even remember what your look like. A super strict budget or lifestyle can and often does lead to bouts of splurging which can set you back in the realization of your debt free goals; and enough of these set-backs can make you quit altogether. Give yourself a break, and every once in a while treat yourself to a simple reward when you reach certain milestones in your debt reduction plan – the key there is simple rewards, don’t go out and buy a new big-screen TV; maybe go see a movie instead.

7. Make more money.

This is easier said than done, but if you have the ability to increase how much money is coming in, then obviously that gives you the ability to apply more money towards your debts. Perhaps you feel you are worth more than what your current employer is paying you, then you can ask for a raise, or try and get a higher paying job (be careful that you don’t quit your current job before finding the new job) or you can start moonlighting at a part time job after work – check you employers policies on moonlighting. Maybe you can start a side business. Like I said, it is easier said than done, but if you can increase your income then why not give it a shot?

8. Be accountable.

This goes back to tip #2. You will not achieve any of your goals if you do not have any accountability, specifically personal accountability. Personal accountability is something that is sorely lacking in today’s America; it is always someone else’s fault when we fail and never is it our own. Well you are not going to succeed in reducing your debt if you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and understand that it was you (in most circumstances) that got you into this mess and no one else; so it is going to have to be you that gets you out of it.

Though like I said in #2 and #6, this does not mean you have go all lone wolf and disappear. Use your friends and family as a support network that can lend you moral support while tackling this problem. They can be great sounding boards, and you might find that one or more of them are in a similar predicament in which you can lend each other’s support too. Remember no man is an island.

9. Pay more than the minimum.

Many of you out there right now are saying “no duh,” to this, and yes it is the most obvious way in which you are going to expedite the pay-down process. This doesn’t mean that you should pay so much that it puts you in a further financial bind.

Remember that you are going to have to make tough choices and sacrifices in order to free up some extra money, of which you apply towards your debts. The point here is to put as much money as you can afford towards the most expensive debt (highest interest rate) you have and paying it down as quickly as possible. Then roll that payment plan towards the next highest debt, and so on and so forth.

It is important to note that while you are attacking your most expensive debts you should be paying at least the minimum on all of your other debts to avoid defaulting on those.

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