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Authors Posts by Emerald Sparks

Emerald Sparks

Emerald Sparks
Emerald Sparks is a Financial Strategist and Founder of Emerald Sparks Ltd, a personal finance consulting company where she teaches and motivates professionals and business owners to solve the misconceptions about money. She has curated personalized financial strategies based on individual’s goals, obstacles, and habits. In 2016, she authored a short-read eBook entitled Vision. Future. Reality: How to Budget like a Boss to help educate and illustrate the importance of vision budgeting. She can be contacted at or

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We tell our girlfriends everything, right? Almost. Our life coach columnist explains the five ways you can leverage friendships to get your finances on track.

Initially, as I began to write this article, I wanted to discuss fun, frugal activities for a girl’s night out! However, more than I want us to come together and have a good time, I want us to come together and support each other through our life experiences. I will write about girl’s night out another time because I have a wealth of information to share there. Today, I want to discuss why more women are not having an honest discussion about money with their girlfriends.

My girlfriends and I are very honest when it comes to money management and investments. We share when we have developed extra streams of income and when we can’t go out to dinner because our money has already been extended. We are not embarrassed by it because it happens to everyone at different points in our life.

We talk about money and use it as a way to grow our money. The conversation is the same as my girlfriends calling me and dishing about a guy or a date, we call each other and say, “I just spent entirely too much money this weekend?” or “I want to do this as an additional stream of income, how can I incorporate it?”

There is so much to learn from your girlfriends if we just open up and share. If your friends don’t know your struggles, you may never get the help or encouragement you need to progress, and you could eventually dig yourself into a greater hole by faking it until you make it with people who truly care about you.

People, in general, are very tight lipped about their personal finances, but you don’t know what you don’t know and there is no shame in that. Information comes in many forms and some of that information is in your closest circles.

I want to share some money talk approaches that have worked.

1. Getting Naked
As a woman, you may have changed a shirt or pants in front of your friends once or twice. Get undressed (not physically but metaphorically) and tell your friends about your money struggles. Your friends won’t know how to help you if they don’t know you need help. Do it over wine.

2. Stop Faking It
In so many areas of our lives, we have to act like we have it all together. We have to be the best mom, the best wife, the best cookie baker, in general, the best caregiver to everyone else. If you can tell your friends about an embarrassing moment, you can certainly tell your friends you can’t go to dinner this week and the real why. We are not made perfectly, so why do we feel the pressure to appear perfect. Repeat after me, “I don’t always have it together, but I do the best I can.” Don’t let society make you think everyone is out here in the world oozing perfection.

3. Open Discussion
We read articles on money, investments, real estate and we think we have no one to discuss these topics with besides a man. Men don’t know everything about money and get it wrong too. According to many studies, more women control the household budget then men do. It is important for a woman to know where the money is coming from, where it is going, how to invest, what is being invested, how to secure the family in the event of an emergency, etc. If you don’t you may be financially hurt in the future. Ask the questions because the only stupid question is an unasked one.

4. Hire A Professional
I said it once, I’ll say it twice. If you invite a stranger into your bikini area, you can invite a stranger into your banking accounts. People instantly feel judged when they talk about the mistakes they made with money. Everyone has made these same mistakes. If they hadn’t the national average credit score wouldn’t have been 640. Just like a doctor that has studied the heart, finance professionals have studied money. Finding the right one is like finding the perfect bikini waxer. The relationship is golden.

5. Have A Money Circle
People would like to keep money and friendships separate just in case something goes bad you won’t lose a friend over money. I’m not saying go into business with your friends but learn from them. If you have a friend that owns a big house, drives a luxury car, and dresses nicely ask her what financial strategies has she taken with her money. Learn from people who are doing what you want to do. Many people fear rejection and awkward situations, but the worst thing you could ever hear is NO, it won’t be the last time you will hear it either. So get over it already. Don’t let fear stop you from acquiring valuable knowledge.

Until next time frugal friends

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Our financial expert explains why it’s important to foster a healthy relationship with your finances, and the five steps to get there.

Money has a way of creeping into the majority of situations we encounter as an adult. Therefore, let’s take a moment to treat our money right, let’s wine and dine it, and show it how much we care. This is not an article to tell you to love money or the things that money buys, more than you love your family or ourselves, but just as we are told to foster a healthy relationship with our husband, we have to foster a healthy relationship with our money.

So many times, we want to break up with money, we don’t want to deal with it. I have asked myself many times, ‘Why DOESN’T money grow on trees?’ and ‘Why can’t I just have whatever I want at whatever price I want it to be?’ We, as consumers, have to understand so much about money as it relates to taxes, interest rates, investing, savings, and spending. We go through highs and lows with money. On one hand it makes us feel really awesome when we have it, and then on the other, we let money make us feel really bad when we don’t have it. Either way, I want us to fall in love with our financial situation, no matter the mountain or valley we are facing.

I would like to share some awesome tips I learned along my money journey to love my finances through it all.

1. What Is For You, Is For You
This is cardinal rule number one. No matter what IT is, if it destined for you, you will have it. There have been times I went into a store and could have easily charged whatever I wanted. However, I knew I couldn’t afford it. The purchase would have only made me happy for about 30 minutes and then I would have kicked myself for doing something so stupid and meaningless. Point is, don’t force something that just isn’t there and that will place you in a compromising situation later.

2. Being Content, But Always Striving For Better
Celebrities live a glamorous lifestyle. They have become famous and can afford some really awesome things, but I realized I am no celebrity, no one on this earth cares if I wear the same outfit twice, no one cares if my tag says Target or Givenchy, and no one cares if my shoes have a red bottom or not. I am content where I am and have learned to stop comparing myself to people and putting unnecessary pressure on myself to have THINGS. I am content right where I am, but I am always striving to accomplish my personal and professional goals more so than I am trying to possess the latest and greatest.

3. Just Because You Have Doesn’t Mean You Have To Spend It
It’s ok to say no. Do things in moderation. So many of my clients tell me they get sidetracked at Target or Sephora and just spend so much money. Boundaries and limitations are the keys to living. Remember, you only have one face; it can only handle one makeup application at a time. Additionally, I am sure the clearance item at Target is not a need because you would have purchased it for regular price if you were in the market to buy it originally.

4. Treat Yourself
If you have done a good deed, accomplished a real goal, and put in some real work, go out and treat yourself good. No this is not an everyday thing nor is this always an expensive item. It could be as simple as a pair of earrings. It does not have to be extravagant. People always think they have to spend hundreds of dollars to treat themselves, which is not true. I love food, so I have treated myself to my favorite lunch restaurant many of times, while only spending $10.

5. Hire A Professional
We, as humans, are created with special strengths and abilities. We all are not blessed with them same strengths; therefore, it is ok if we have to hire professional help with our finances. People are very private with their money, I understand, it is an intimate matter, it is personal. I get it. However, if you are not great with money, you need a teacher. We allow professionals into our lives to cut/color our hair, cut/shape our bikini lines, nails, and toes, fix our iPads and iPhones, etc. But when it comes to money, we hide in a quiet corner and try to figure it out all by ourselves. Why? We struggle in silence for no reason. I have a financial advisor, had one since I was 22 and no matter how smart I am with money, I will never end that relationship.

Whatever your situation, love you finances and they will love you back! I promise. Be good to your money now, so it can be good to you in the future when you really need it.

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Dig in as our financial expert explains how to make healthy eating affordable on any budget.

Healthy habits can seem to be expensive, but so can management of chronic health issues. Just like finances, we can choose to save now or save later. As food prices continue to rise, we are challenged to find additional ways to meet our health goals. Thus, it only seems natural, for the start of the year, to share these six tips on how to save you money and prevent you from falling short on your ‘new you’ goal. As I am a ‘financial expert’ and not a ‘health expert, I sat down with Kevin Brunacini, APRN to gather his insights about healthy eating.

Plan Your Meals
When it comes to saving money at the grocery store, planning is essential. Select a day each week to plan your meals ahead of time and make a grocery list of what you need. For less creative people like myself, I have found it extremely helpful utilizing both the Kroger Main Dish recipes and Tasty Recipes online cooking channel (Facebook).

Stick to Your Grocery List
Once a plan of attack is established, stick to it! We have all been there; it is far too easy to get sidetracked at the grocery store. It tends to lead to unnecessary and expensive purchases. It’s also often why it is suggested not to go hungry.

Cook at Home
While eating out can be cost effective, ultimately cooking at home is cheaper and additionally it offers you the chance of repurposing some as leftovers, which gives you more meals to plan. Don’t know how to cook? No problem. There are free or low cost cooking classes all around Cincinnati, just do a little research. Recently, I attended a free cooking class at the Life Learning Center in Covington, KY. Do the Math The larger container is usually – but not always – the best deal. Read shelf tags to see which option has the lowest cost per ounce or pound.

Limit Buying Junk
Food It’d be impractical to state no more junk food, ever. I bet you would be surprised to see how much you may be paying for soda, fast-food, cookies, pies, and even pre-made meals. It is important to remain cognizant of our spending habits and health for the success of our families.

Prescription drugs, doctor’s visits, and health insurance can certainly add up, but just like our financial planning, we can PLAN our eating habits to support a healthier lifestyle. With health conscious trends on the rise, there is not a shortage of better eating options. Let’s make this the time we protect our health and wealth, simultaneously.

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Keep reading as our financial expert provides insight on how to revitalize your finances in the New Year.

It is officially 2017, Cincy Chicers! Whether it is a New Year’s resolution, adult-ing goals, or New Me New Year, it does not matter, I am sure there are new techniques, lessons, or habits we want learn within the New Year.

‘Tis the season to revamp, renew, and revitalize our finances and money mindsets. The expensive holiday season is finally over and now we return to our regularly scheduled programming. Let’s enjoy starting the year off with a zest for overall wellness, as it relates to health and, of course, wealth.

I want this to be your best year, financially; therefore I want to equip you some tips to put the “umph” back into your finances after the holidays. Without a doubt, November through March is the time people think about money the most, so here are my key tips for revamping your finances:

Take a deep breath.

First things first, take inventory of your outstanding debt commitments. Renew your action plan to erase debt significantly, to ultimately eliminate the nickel-and-diming of monthly payments. My clients have found success arranging their debt amounts from highest to lowest. Then, attacking their lowest amount with large payments, while paying the minimum balances on the other debts, until paid off. Lastly, rinse and repeat until all debts are paid off.

Revamp your current budget.

My previous article was about establishing a vision to jumpstart your financial journey. Your vision to your financial journey is like gas to your car. Review your spending habits, your expenses, and your income. I never want to you to stop being who you are, but I do want you to live within your means. I understand kids, husbands, friends, and family can make that challenging at times, but let’s plan for those unexpected commitments. Start with establishing how much money should be spent every week within your household.

Change your money mindset.

Money or the things money buys has caused many emotions both good and bad. How you think about money affects your relationship with money. Money is just a tool, not an end all be all of any situation. If you want to generate more income, start a side hustle this year. I have so many side hustles, it is ridiculous. Whether you make sweaters, candles, cook, design, whatever it may be, start getting paid to do so. You do not have to turn it into a business, or even become an entrepreneur, but use the funds to accomplish some of your financial goals. Additionally, you could even use the money to invest into a mutual fund!

Revitalize your health in all aspects.

Healthy people make better decisions when it comes to their financial matters. Eat better, get up and get out, read more books, and laugh more. When we are healthy and well, we can focus more on investing in experiences and memories with our friends and family.

Every year is your year, so I will not end with the cliché that 2017 is YOUR year, but we are one year older, one year wiser, and it is certainly time to live the life you want to live. Everything you need to be great is already inside of you; you just need to bring it out. I challenge you to be a better YOU today because your greatness depends on it! And if you are already as great as you want to be, then congratulations you have arrived at a place in life that most people dream of being.

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Our financial expert explains how to create a vision now that’ll help you achieve your financial goals in the future.

It’s almost the end of 2016, can you believe it? I don’t know about you, but I am so excited. Whether 2016 has been good, bad, overwhelming, or trying, it is all right to celebrate because you made it this far and you made it through.

Every day is a GREAT day to work on being the best version of you, financially. Often times, as it is human nature, we create doubt in ourselves by over-emphasizing our bad habits or constantly comparing our lack of achievements to our peers on Facebook. BUT…your financial journey is YOURS and it should be tackled on your own terms.

As I emphasis in my brand new eBook, Vision. Future. Reality: How to Budget Like a Boss, you are your only competition and your financial goals belong to you. It is important to remember that your own personal goals, habits, and concerns should be your guide for reaching your financial greatness, not Facebook, news stories, or other’s success.

I don’t know what your big financial goals may be, it may to be debt free, it may be to pay down your student loans, it may be saving for a down payment on a home, and it may be to reduce your shopping habit by half. Whatever your goals are, I am here to tell you, you can achieve it with a well-thought out plan.

By now, you have been adulting long enough to know New Year’s Resolutions do NOT work. We give up and revert back to whatever habit we were trying to break initially. I share with you this quote, “If you don’t have a goal, something you want to accomplish, something you want to do, you could really get lost in the darkness of the journey. THERE HAS TO BE A VISION.” You have to visualize living in your new goal, whether it is being debt free, owning a home, or mastering your boss budget. Whatever you want your life to look like once that goal is accomplished, that is the life you need to visualize daily.

This vision will push you towards your goal. Moreover, everything you need to accomplish your goals is within you already; you just have to activate your goals with a vision. You have the power to live your life out loud, to the fullest. There isn’t a need to wait until the beginning of the year to start because every new day can be a fresh start, financially.

I’ll be your accountability partner and challenge you to see it through to the end. I believe Vision + Accountability + Solid Plan = Success! Let’s do it together, because we all have goals that we want to make happen.

Let’s increase our minds, increase our bank accounts, and increase our lives. Say this aloud: I am going to be better me today because my greatness depends on it.

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Read on as our financial columnist chats with an expert couponer and learns how to begin couponing, even with a busy schedule.

I feel couponing has received more attention in the recent years since its debut into mainstream America on the television show “Extreme Couponing.” Women have used couponing for a myriad of reasons, but it comes down to one core purpose…to SAVE money! Families of 4 can spend anywhere from $250 to $500 on their monthly grocery bill. Food can be expensive, nonetheless, it is an expense we cannot avoid, unlike some of our other household expenses.

Initially, couponing seemed to be very time-consuming. For instance, you had to find the coupons, cut the coupons, save the coupons, remember to use the coupons at the store, etc. It just did not seem convenient or easy. It seemed like a lot of work that I did not want to add to my already hectic work and personal schedule. As a result, I cut cost in other areas so that I did not have to worry about skimping on my grocery bill. After all the negative thoughts, I was still intrigued by people with carts full of groceries but only spending $6. Like how?

I wanted to understand more about the world of couponing to help women better maximize their dollars at the grocery stores. So, I did some research; I sat with Cincinnati native and expert couponer, Tiffany Williams, and we chatted about the do’s and don’ts of couponing. She has been couponing for about a year and half and has had some awesome buys. Check out our brief interview below:

1. How did you begin couponing?
I began by talking to some coworkers who were already pros.

2. What are some of the challenges you have experienced with couponing?
One challenge associated with couponing is that it can be time-consuming…not to mention addicting 🙂

3. What is your couponing process?
How do you have the time with such a busy life? I always pick one day a week where I can sit down and focus. That day is typically a Sunday for me. My process starts with gathering coupon clippings throughout week. I clip coupons for just about everything, even if it is an item I don’t typically buy, because I give those items away to friends and family. When I’ve clipped my new coupons, I browse store ads and match those ads with coupons that I have. There are mobile apps that make this easy such as Flipp, which has ads for most major retailers every week, and Krazy Koupon Lady, which tells you the hottest deals at every major store each week. I also use mobile apps for every store I shop, including Kroger, Target, CVS, and Walgreens. These store mobile apps offer exclusive e-Coupons that can often be used on top of paper coupons. After I find the deals for the week, I head to the store!

4. How do you obtain your coupons?
Where do you find the best coupons? I obtain my coupons from a number of sources, including friends, neighbors, and coworkers. I also use postal mail coupons, as well as the inserts from the Sunday newspaper.

5. What was your greatest coupon buy? How many coupons did you use? How many products did you buy? How much money did you save?
I was paid for purchasing 10 tubes of Crest toothpaste. Surprisingly, after all my coupons and savings, the store owed me money. Although it was less than a dollar, it means I came out on top! Another time I received 25 bottles of Softsoap Hand Soap, as well as approximately 25 bags of Birdseye frozen vegetables for free.

6. What has been your inspiration to continue couponing?
Saving money and getting great deals are the two things that inspire me the most. I’m able to get a lot of the things I need for myself and my home, such as soap, detergent, toothpaste, and food items for very cheap or no cost at all.

7. How do you incorporate couponing into your budget?
Do you find any difficulties or challenges? Do you set a dollar amount to spend when couponing? I’m sure you could go crazy. Couponing does not cost very much money. Sometimes, depending on how you acquire the coupons, it doesn’t cost a thing. The biggest expense is time.

8. Is couponing better for non-perishable items, toiletries, or food?
Couponing is better for non-perishable and frozen items because you can store them in large amounts for an indefinite amount of time. Couponing large amounts of perishable food items can be wasteful unless you plan to use them soon or give them away.

Happy Savings!

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As Thanksgiving gets us in the mood for food, we learn from our financial guru about how to save money while dining out in Cincinnati.

We are just three days away from embarking on the biggest feast of the year and experiencing the biggest food babies and comas of all time. Our bellies will be filled with beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes, lamb, ham, and most importantly turkey! 

My first love is saving money, but food will ALWAYS have a special place in my heart; it makes me the happiest. So after, we have awakened from our food comas and all the leftovers are gone (if there were any to begin with), we return to our normally scheduled programming of food intake.

If you don’t know already, there are ways to dine out and save money while doing so. Of course, I believe dining out should not break the bank, but I do want you to enjoy your experience. Dining out should be incorporated into your monthly budget if it is an activity you partake in; therefore, we have to make that dollar stretch. With it being one of my favorite activities, I have mastered the art of dining out on a budget and want to share those tips with you. So get ready, here are my top strategies I use to save money while dining out.

1. Happy Hour
Now this is an easy one. Happy hour at a good restaurant offers both food and drink specials! With prices as low as $5, you can have dinner and drinks for the evening for less than $20. Bring a friend along and you can share food and maximize your options. Everywhere in OTR and downtown Cincinnati offers a happy hour for working professionals Monday through Friday. I am sure some of your favorite restaurants are on that list. For help in locating them, use, Yelp,

2. Groupon
Groupon is one of my all-time favorite mobile apps for EVERYTHING. My husband and I have used Groupon to dine at expensive restaurants. When restaurants offer a coupon, it usually includes full entrees for a reduced price or a significant amount of money off your bill. Most times, alcohol is not included. 

3. Yelp Elite Events
I am sure most people do not know about this awesome opportunity. Yelp has a secret Elite group that gives its members invitation to parties which include free food, drinks, and sometimes swag bags. How do you become a member? You either nominate yourself online or the Elite Council chooses you based on the frequency and quality of your reviews for local business. It’s 100 percent free, with access to clubs, restaurants, and tastings. 

4. Feasty App
The Feasty mobile app was created by Cincinnatian, Anthony Breen, to bring hungry consumers to nearby restaurants. The app offers real time deals on local restaurants for a specified time. Before you decide what you have a taste for, check your app to see what deals are being offered. The deal may be so good, it will sway your original decision. 

We all have to eat to survive, but it does not have to disrupt our budget. Being smart with our habits is what it is all about when it comes to saving money. Like I tell my clients, I want them to enjoy the fruits of your labor, but I want them to use your fruits wisely. Enjoy dining out and save some money while doing it.

Happy Thanksgiving and of course, Happy Saving friends!

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Our financial guru explains how three different acts of gratitude can have a positive impact on your personal finances.

The Thanksgiving holiday is a time where we spend time with friends and family and reflect on the many things we are grateful for within our lives. A good healthy dose of gratitude can impact your personal finances in a positive way. Being more grateful can increase your happy endorphins and decrease your need to spend money.

Here are three ways being more grateful will positively impact your budget:

1. Less likely to shop for things we do not need.

When we do an inventory of the all things we are grateful for, we will begin to realize all the great things we already have. We will see that we don’t need to go shopping for one more striped shirt or pair of heels.

2. Less likely to do impulsive shopping.

Impulsive shopping is based on our emotions, both good and bad. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, and to never go to the mall when you are sad. Reflecting on your gratitude balances you out. You find peace and are able to make better decisions; therefore, you won’t buy something you may regret in the future.

3. More likely to give.

When we are thankful, we tend to think outside of ourselves. We want to bless others so that they feel the same way we do. Giving does not have to be monetary; it could simply be your time. If you are really good at a particular skill, you could volunteer your services to an organization in need.

While scrolling through my timeline on Instagram, I found a quote, ‘Gratitude is Medicine”. I believe this is true. Whatever is stressing you, whether it’s your job, your family situation, or your personal finances, remember it could be worse. For instance, if you have a large sum of debt, you may be thinking there no way out of it, but be grateful for the small things, as it will bring order to the chaos. You may not be where you want to be financially; however, I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for your growth.

I also found this really cool quote about gratitude from Marelisa Fabrega, “Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given.”

Very powerful quote about life and blessings to reflect on today. There are so many things that go wrong, but there are so many more things that go right, too. Be more grateful, create more memories.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Our financial guru shares the top 10 travel hotspots to visit this winter, and the best hacks that’ll save you money getting there.

During a conversation with a kindred spirit, I was asked, “If my income was doubled, where would I spend the extra money?” Without thinking I said, “Traveling.” If you are anything like me, you enjoy visiting iconic, historical structures, dining on native cuisine, and just being away from your everyday surroundings. Each year, top magazines publish their top ten lists of the best trips for that season. According to US News, the top ten vacations for this winter season are:

#1 Belize

#2 San Diego

#3 Santo Domingo

#4 New Orleans

#5 Tulum

#6 Quebec City

#7 Puerto Rico

#8 Vancouver

#9 Jackson Hole

#10 Costa Rica

Here are a few travel hacks to saving some money while planning your next vacation to one of the above locations:

Fly gives you a full month calendar view of airfare prices across several airlines. It allows you to book the cheapest airfare to your destination and you can choose the days to receive the lowest round trip prices. Using this site, I was able to book an $88 round trip ticket to Miami, FL on Delta Airlines.

2. Kayak
Kayak allows you to set and monitor airfare prices to anywhere in the world. Alerts are sent directly to your email. My husband and I planned a trip to Brussels, Belgium by monitoring airfare prices from Chicago, IL. For international trips, we have found success traveling to a nearby major city to reduce costs. Most of our international trips have been booked from Chicago, as Cincinnati does not always have the cheapest international airfare prices.

The Flight Deal offers specific airfare deals between major cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia to cities aboard. These fares are not available for long, so you must act quickly with these deals. The site also focuses on ensuring you receive the most airfare mileage points.

4. Megabus
Airplane travel can be expensive because of simple supply and demand outside of our control. Remember trains and buses are great alternative methods. For instance, for a girl’s weekend trip to Chicago, I purchased a round trip ticket for $3 on Megabus! Megabus is clean, comfortable, and there is free Wi-Fi.

5. Credit Card Rewards
If you rack up enough rewards from using your credit card, you can purchase airfare, car rentals, and hotels. I was able to save my points and purchase 3 airfare tickets to Charlotte, NC, Memphis, TN, and Houston, TX on major airlines. There are a few credit cards out there that are better for racking up mileage points such as Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard, Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card, and Capital One Venture Rewards Card. Most of these cards have an annual fee that is waived in the first year; but this fee pays for itself when a trip is redeemed.

6. Airbnb
I am sure you have all heard of Airbnb. Not only have I used these services in Miami, but also in Negril, Jamaica. It has saved me tons of money, by not staying in overpriced hotels. My accommodations were clean and my host was friendly.

7. Airline Rewards Membership
Who said you are only allowed to become a dedicated member of one airline? Join them all and maximize your benefits; therefore, whichever airline has the cheaper rate at that time, you can book it and rack up mileage points. You do not have to be exclusive; dating around is a good thing in this instance.

8. Digit
This is new app that is good for savings. I use this whenever I am saving for a vacation in the future. It takes the chore out of saving because the app does it for you automatically. It’s a free app that checks your spending habits and removes money from your checking account, but it will not overdraft your account at any time.

9. Groupon Getaways
Groupon outdid itself when it created travel deals through its site. I use Groupon in two ways; the first way is to see the traveling deals out there and then I compare them to other traveling sites to ensure I am actually receiving a great deal. I booked my trip to Italy and traveled to 3 cities. The deal included travel, food and accommodations in three cities. Secondly, I use Groupon to locate fun activities to do while I am traveling to various cities. In Dubai, my husband and I were able to visit the Dubai Aquarium where I was able to swim with exotic fishes and even a few baby sharks.

Those are my top 9 hacks that I have personally used to plan a trip. Now you have all the sites, apps, and tools to book your next trip and save some money doing it. Traveling can be both affordable and fulfilling, but it does require patience and flexibility. I have always valued my experiences traveling more so than any material item I possess. Create experiences, not debt. Start saving today, be consistent and live your life out loud.

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Learn our finance guru’s top recommendations for staying out of credit card debt and keeping your credit card balances low.

Our finance columnist shares tips on trimming down troublesome credit card debt.
Our finance columnist shares tips on trimming down troublesome credit card debt.
The top question I receive in my email inbox or consultations meetings is around the horrible dreaded credit card debt. I usually work with people who have anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 of debt over various credit cards. It usually has taken no time to acquire, but trust me it will take time and patience to pay them all off. As a financial coach, I would like to share two things: methods for avoiding these large amounts of credit card debt, as well as methods to begin to pay down your balances. I’ll start with the latter first.
Paying down balances can seem like a daunting task. Negative thoughts like thinking you will never pay off the balances won’t help. I want to share with you my top strategies that has helped or worked best for my clients that are women. First, I always recommend that you cut up your card, also known as, stop using your card or remove it from your wallet. Do not acquire more debt. Secondly, take inventory of all your credit card, including interest rates, due dates, minimum balances, and current balances. Thirdly, pick one card and pay it off aggressively, but only pay the minimum on the others. Once that credit card is paid off, rinse and repeat with the others.
Credit cards should be used as a money management tool, not a replacement of money that is not within a checking or savings account. You have to assess your stage of responsibility with money before you start charging services and products to a credit card. Some people can handle 11 credit cards and pay everything in full each month, while others can only handle 1 credit card. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either situation, but you have to remember credit cards are tools and require a great amount of self-control.
With holiday spending around the corner, it’s easy to put all your purchases on a credit card and pay it off over the year, only to have the same strategy again next year. Plan ahead and don’t over extend yourself. Remember interest fees add up; it’s like giving away money to the financing company, but there is no tax deduction for your charitable contribution. If you are buying gifts this year for loved ones, buy a gift or two a week using your discretionary income (fun, no strings attachment money) if you have not already allocated a portion of your savings to holiday shopping. Stay within budget and do not accumulate excess debt that you cannot afford.
Lastly, a rule a thumb for credit card usage, after expenses and saving, you should have an allotted amount of discretionary money, your credit card current balance should not exceed that amount in a given month.
Now that’s my basic advice in a nutshell without knowing special circumstances or personal stories. Credit cards help build our purchasing power for large purchases like cars and homes. If you remember not one word, remember this key statement, “credit cards are tools or instruments to be used with discretion, not a replacement of money that does not exist in the first place.”