The Fru-Gal: Use months before holidays to pay down bills, loans

Contributing columnistAugust 18, 2013 

The Fru-Gal Deborah Morris

It's only August, but we are heading into the holiday seasons, and you need to be prepared when it comes to your budget.

Take the time now to get credit in order.

Gather your bills by pulling out your most recent statements for your car loans, student loans, credit card bills and any other debt you might owe. Make a simple chart by writing down the name of each company you owe money to in a column on the left side and put these headings across the top: balance, interest rate and minimum monthly payment. You can also use spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel or search for "debt repayment plan worksheet" at frugaliving.about.com to download a form. Then fill it in.

To eliminate your balances on your credit card, you can use the snowball method or the top-down approach. The snowball method means you pay off the smaller balances first, and then pay your bigger debts.

The top-down approach focuses on the credit cards with the highest interest rate first. Bank credit card bills are required to include information on how long it will take to pay off the debt by paying the minimum payment, and it will include how much interest you'll be charged. This method makes financial sense but requires discipline and organization.

If you need help, find a low-cost credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (nfcc.org) or consolidatedcredit.org. It can help you create a repayment plan.

When you get control of your debt, focus on saving money. Put away your credit cards and use cash. If you don't have the cash for the item, don't buy it.

Savings

■ You can start a trust for your kids with as little as $1. Open an account for free at TrustEgg.com. The money is invested in a mutual fund. Share the link with relatives so they can make deposits over the years.

■ Get three credit reports every year at annualcreditreport.com. If you're working to improve your credit score and want to keep tabs on your numbers, bookmark these websites: Creditkarma.com and Quizzle.com. Each site gives one of your three credit scores for free, regardless of whether you've already accessed your annual credit report.

■ Sign up for EcoBonus reward program to receive a free $80 coupon booklet when you purchase one participating organic product and send a picture of your receipt. Earn points for purchasing natural, eco-conscious or socially responsible products, then visit the online store to collect your rewards. Ecobonus.com

■ Buy one get one free Bob Evans Breakfast coupon. Not valid on Sundays. http://bit.ly/12azmXg

■ Don't forget free pie on Wednesday's at O'Charley's restaurants. No coupon required. Ocharleys.com/freepiewednesday

■ Purchase $30 of Proctor & Gamble participating products and receive $10 prepaid VISA card by mail rebate. Expires Sept. 30. Pgsmartsavings.com

■ Get $10 off any purchase of $30 or more at Bath & Body Works with this coupon. http://bit.ly/1cSugVz

■ Receive $5 back when you spend $25 on any Nature's Bounty product at Kroger when you use your Kroger Plus Card at time of purchase. Expires Sept. 21.

■ Buy one, get one free photo book from Kodak. Just like Kodak on its Facebook page for coupon to use at any Kodak Picture Kiosk.

■ First time HSN shoppers can get $20 off an item of $40 or more through Sept. 30 with coupon code 135235. Hsn.com

■ Receive $25 off any full-priced purchase of $50 or more at Coldwater Creek with promotional code NWA8470. Coldwatercreek.com

■ Receive $5 off your school uniform order of $25 or more at Staples with coupon code 51337. Staples.com/backtoschool or by phone at 1-800-333-3330. Earn supercash from Old Navy when you make a purchase through Sept. 4. Earn $10 in supercash when you spend $25 or $20 supercash when you spend $50. Use your supercash Sept. 12-18 for purchases at Old Navy. Oldnavy.gap.com

■ "Like" the Beneful Facebook page to request a free sample pack containing Healthy Smile Adult Dog Food, Dental Dog Treats in Twists or Ridges and coupons. Available through the end of the year or while supplies last.

Deborah Morris' weekly column, The Fru-Gal, can help you save money. Feel free to share tips on The Fru-Gal blog at Kentucky.com/living and visit her website, Fru-gal-friends.com.

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