Category Archives: Financial

8 Easy Money-Saving Tips for College Students

The cost of going to college continues to rise. Along with tuition, college students need to budget for course materials, lab fees, food, transportation, and other hidden costs of getting a degree. Here are eight ways college students can save money on everything from textbooks and school supplies to transportation.

1. Rent Books or Buy Used
According to the Chicago Tribune, the average full-time undergrad at a 4-year public school spent more than $1,200 on books and supplies alone for the 2014-2015 school year. The cost of textbooks can add up quickly, but you don’t need to buy everything new. There are a few ways to save money on textbooks including buying used books online, buying digital textbooks (which usually cost less), and renting books from sites like Amazon and BigWords.

2. Check for student savings
Many retailers offer savings for college students, often during the back-to-school season. For example, Apple offered college students up to a $200 discount on MacBooks. Your student ID can also earn you a discount on car insurance through State Farm, shipping and document services at FedEx, merchandise and food at Sam’s Club, and wireless service through AT&T.

3. Shop around for an affordable loan
If you plan to use student loans to finance your education, make sure you shop around. Be sure your student loan payments will be affordable and have a plan for paying off the loan when the time comes. Start by exploring all grant and financial aid options before turning to loans, then compare student loan providers. Along with federal student loans with low fixed rates, you may want to consider private student loans. Be sure you compare rates with those offered by marketplace lenders like SoFi, which has among the lowest interest rates if you have great credit.

4. Budget for transportation
Transportation is a major hidden expense of going to college and many students aren’t prepared for just how expensive commuting to campus can be. Students usually spend between $1,000 and $1,300 a year on transportation, and paying for transportation with savings in a 529 plan account can be tricky at best, according to US News. Budget for your transportation costs and look into public transportation options.

5. Use discount gift cards
Buy discounted gift cards online to use to save money on everything from clothes and gasoline to food and even textbooks. The amount of money you can save depends on the retailer, but savings can be anywhere from 3% to 25%.

6. Avoid credit card debt
College is the perfect time for building credit that you will need to get an apartment, buy a car, get a mortgage, and even land a job. Still, it can be easy to go overboard and find yourself in debt if you start charging college expenses and entertainment. Avoid temptation; if you get a credit card, use it responsibly and pay the bill in full each month.

7. Prepare your own meals
Many schools require that on-campus students purchase a meal plan, but you can usually choose whether you want a small or large meal plan. Learning to make your own meals won’t just save you money while you’re in college; it will also help you save money after you land a job and settle into a home of your own.

8. Take advantage of free campus amenities
Most campuses offer plenty of free amenities and entertainment that can help you save money. Most college students spend between $1,800 and $2,000 on personal expenses each year. Reduce this burden by turning to the on-campus gym, sports, dorm dinners, student clubs, and free on-campus entertainment.

Donor Communications: Fundamental Rules to Follow

According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), there are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in existence today in the United States! Even more jaw-dropping is the amount these organizations receive in donations – over $1.74 trillion dollars (in 2013).

So suffice it to say that donor communications is an area of nonprofit operations that cannot be overlooked or over-emphasized. These fundamental rules will ensure your nonprofit develops strong, healthy communications with your donors.

Rule #1: Talk to your donors about THEM, not about YOU.
It may seem counter-intuitive to talk with your donors about anything other than you and your organization and the needs of your constituents. Yet studies show donors give out of a desire to participate and to know their presence counts.

So the more you talk to your donors about how THEY can help, why their presence matters, how their gifts are being used for good, the more future donations you can expect to receive.

Rule #2: Build a relationship that isn’t all about money.
Just as people volunteer as much to make new friends, network and find meaning in their life as to help others, so too do donors give for all of these same reasons and more. In your relationship-building, you want to provide avenues for your donors to enjoy these additional perks – starting with a two-way relationship with you.

If you host events, make sure your donors are invited and recognized. Send communications filled with joy and fun. Ask your donors for their feedback (surveys and polls are great for this, especially for long-distance donors) and advice. Host teleconferences or webinars where your donors can participate in discussions, ask (and answer) questions and feel seen and heard.

Rule #3: Create a team.
Any football fan knows that a team is made up of participants who each play a different role within that team. Yet when they come together, all their separate roles make sense and great things can be achieved when the whole team works together.

In the same way, your donors need to know they are an essential part of your organization’s team. By letting them get to know their teammates in other areas, sharing what each player (or committee of players) is working on and showcasing the bigger picture of how the whole team works to serve the greater good can form a strong, long-term bond that practically ensures ongoing giving.

By implementing these three essential donor communications rules, your nonprofit organization will begin to build realistic, sustainable revenue streams through your donations program. As well, your existing donors will be more excited to spread the word about your organization’s work and increase their giving.

To Do or Not Do Your Own Taxes? That is the Question

When deciding to do or not do your own taxes, there are many things to take in to consideration. The first question to ask yourself is if your taxes are complicated or simple. If you are a single individual with w-2 wages, your taxes can be very simple. Even if you have a spouse with w-2 wages, your taxes can still be simple. If you have dependents to claim, your taxes become a little more complicated, however there is still a chance that you could tackle your own tax return. Taxes can start becoming more and more complicated with various types of income. If you have retirement income, unemployment compensation, gains and losses from investments, self-employment income or rental properties, there are many different schedules required to be filed with your taxes.

The first thing to consider when doing your own taxes is your filing status. Having the correct filing status will determine your standard deduction and credits, just to name a couple, so it’s very important that you choose correctly. A lot of help can be found on the internet to determine your filing status . Then you must determine how many dependents you can claim on your taxes. There are many rules and regulations to consider when deciding whether someone can be claimed as a dependent. If you claim a dependent that does not qualify, you could find yourself in trouble with the IRS.

Another thing to consider is whether to take your standard deduction or itemized deductions. Itemizing deductions can be very beneficial to your overall tax savings and includes such deductions as your mortgage interest, real estate taxes, state and local taxes, out of pocket medical expenses, charitable donations, job search expenses, un-reimbursed employee expenses and many other deductions.

If you are a self-employed individual, the most important thing to remember is to keep very good records of all income and expenses. You will need a good understanding of what actually qualifies as a legitimate business expense. Business expenses must be ordinary and necessary in the course of your business. Doing your own taxes when you are self-employed can get very complicated and you may actually cheat yourself out of certain expenses such as the home office deduction.
If you choose to do your own taxes, there are many tax programs to help guide you through the process. If you are not comfortable enough to do your own taxes, there are many tax preparation services. The fees vary widely, so do your homework and get referrals from people you know.

New to Franchising? Here’s 10 Insider Tips You Need to Know

Franchising can be a great way for you to own your own business because franchises have already done much of the marketing and product development work for you. Before you invest in your first franchise location, there are a few insider tips you should know to help you get off to a successful start.

Location Is The Key

Choosing a good location has become such a business cliche that everyone understands its importance. But according to the Wall Street Journal, choosing the right location is something that cannot be overstated. The right location is so critical to your franchise’s success that franchise companies use sophisticated software just to create a list of potential locations for each franchise owner.

Never Settle For The First One You Find

The Small Business Administrationwarns that settling for the first franchise you find in your search is a bad idea. It is always best to compare opportunities to find the one that is perfect for you.

Take Business Classes

Your determination for success and passion for the business you have chosen will only take you so far. If you want to build a successful franchise business, then start taking business courses to learn how to monitor your finances and make good decisions.

Don’t Be A Rebel

If your inclination is to do things your way, then a franchise is not for you. But if you want to get involved in a proven money-making system, then buy a franchise. Always follow the franchise company’s proven methods if you want your business to succeed.

Work With The Franchise Company

There is a temptation among new franchise owners to try and get involved in franchisee politics that include undermining the company and trying to corrupt the system the company has in place. Eventually, the company will clamp down on those types of activities, so avoid getting involved in politics and work with the franchise company to create success.

Don’t Go On Autopilot

The support a franchise company offers is very helpful, especially to new franchise owners. But if you want to be successful, then be proactive about running your business and utilizing those support systems to your advantage.

Easy Steps For Putting Your Restaurant Back on Track

According to Business Insider magazine, over 60 percent of restaurants fail within the first year. Even worse, 80 percent fail within five years. Running a restaurant is challenging because of poor management, accounting and customer skills. Owner inexperience and poor food quality also compound the problem. Therefore, follow the steps below to put your restaurant back on track to success and profitability.

Financial Audit
The first step in putting your restaurant back on track starts with a complete financial performance audit. Restaurant owners must clearly understand the regular cost of sales, the direction of sales and major expenses. Keep in mind that a restaurant can fail because of either too little money coming in or too much going out. If necessary, consider employing a financial consultant to analyze the books and help you come up with a better financial plan. Part of this will involve having financial goals in the form of target sales and financial numbers.

Analyze Food Costs
Part of the financial audit will involve a complete review of food costs because this is the most important factor in your restaurants’ profitability. Part of this will involve analyzing every menu item in order to understand the cost of every meal that can be compared to your supplier prices. Consider utilizing a spreadsheet that is continually updated with these costs and prices. If the cost of producing the dish is too much, either make changes to the ingredients or the supplier itself. Always remember that food cost must never surpass 30 to 35 percent of the menu price.

Review Audit
While restaurants often receive both positive and negative feedback, it is important to quantify customer trends in numbers. Consider performing a comprehensive review of online comments and complaints about your restaurant. Social media is an excellent way to engage customers and elicit feedback. Categorize complaints, identify the major problems and take immediate action to rectify them. On the other hand, incorporate the positive feedback into your advertising and marketing content. For example, if your customers love the family atmosphere, build your brand around this image. On the other hand, if most customers dislike the mess and noise of your family restaurant, then your customer demographics need something more trendy and suitable for their needs.

Adjust Your Staffing Levels
It is understandably difficult to accurately estimate the required wait staff needed for certain days. However, staffing costs are second to product costs. Therefore, pay closer attention to your staffing needs and changes. If possible, track and trend your daily customer numbers in order to estimate future needs. It may be necessary to hire more part time employees, or those with more flexible schedules. Be sure to hire the right staff members, who are ideally helpful, cheerful and customer centric. Keeping a poor performing employee will cost you much more in the long run than terminating and hiring a replacement.

To review, restaurant management is challenging because of narrow profit margins and intense competition. However, this can be successfully managed through financial audits, adapting to customer reviews and adjusting your staffing levels.

Divorce Mediation: Can Divorce Disputes Be Solved?

Divorce mediation is a method of coming to agreements regarding the splitting of assets, custody arrangements and other such issues with the assistance of a neutral party or mediator. During mediation, sensitive aspects of the divorce are discussed, and compromises are made, without the enforcement of court officials. It is often seen as a way of saving on the costs of litigation and maintaining greater autonomy of all parties involved. While divorce mediation may not lead to all disputes being solved, it can be beneficial in a number of ways.

Less Expensive

The reason mediation is less costly than going to court in the traditional manner is that both spouses will be paying one professional to work toward a proposal that benefits them both. You won’t each be paying your lawyer to separately draft terms and send them back and forth to the other’s representative. There’s no need to invest money into the typical time spent waiting for court appearances and for all of the fees that are required for your attorney’s support staff, retainer and associated costs. The mediation process is simply faster, in most cases. Thus, it costs less.

More Control

Rather than presenting the court with each case and waiting passively for your future to be decided, you and your spouse will control your own outcome. You both decide the matters that are most important and work to settle them in a way that you both can live with. Your mediator will be able to help you work through the more emotional and complex parts.

Easier for Children

In traditional divorce cases tried in court, children are often exposed to their parents’ conflicts. They are subjected to psychological evaluation and sometimes must even testify in court. All of this can be quite stressful and confusing to your children. Mediators are trained to work with families in ways that keep children’s best interests at the forefront of discussions and decision-making.

Emphasis on Cooperation

Rather than the adversarial perspective that can frequently come from each side attempting to “win” their case, mediation emphasizes cooperation and reduced conflict. It only makes sense that this approach will likely lead to a smoother process with less animosity. It also demonstrates a positive example for children in conflict resolution.

Improved Post-Divorce Relations

The cooperative environment of mediation can extend to the relationship of you and your spouse after the divorce, particularly if you have children. Co-parenting requires you to always be involved in each other’s lives. The negotiation skills you learn through mediation will serve you well in your post-divorce relations.

Divorce disputes can be significantly lessened through mediation. In addition, the overall process can be a simpler and less costly one than traditional litigation.