Make Your Brand Loyalty Pay Off

Blogger Dani Austin of Dallas, Texas, logged into her Southwest Airlines account a few days before the end of 2019.

Shortly after, she and her husband, Jordan Joseph Ramirez, flew to Las Vegas (and back home) in less than 72 hours.

The spontaneous trip was part of a last-ditch attempt to try to earn the Southwest Companion Pass, a benefit of the Southwest Rapid Rewards program that allows pass holders to bring one companion on flights for at least a full calendar year free of airline charges (not including taxes and fees).

But consumers jump through hoops for more than airline rewards.

My brother-in-law is a die-hard shopper at American Eagle Outfitters. He recently purchased a jacket and jeans from the clothing store for just $2.69.

He’s no extreme couponer, but he leveraged his loyalty arsenal: his store credit card, AEO Connected Rewards account and a coupon.

So what’s the secret? When consumers are devoted to a particular brand, they can cash in.

What’s in a rewards program?

Rewards, or loyalty, programs favor repeat customers. That often takes the form of discounts, coupons or free products. Consumers generally create an account and earn points or perks after making purchases.

The more you spend or the more points you rack up, the greater your payoff.

While saving money may be the obvious benefit, status is also an important draw, whether it’s sitting at the front or standing in a special VIP line.

These structured programs often include experiential rewards, according to Emily Rugaber, head of marketing at Thanx, a digital engagement platform. At a restaurant, that may equate to skipping the wait or tasting a special menu item first.

“It feels good to be treated differently,” says Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.”

What’s in it for retailers?

Retailers are banking on the fact that increased customer loyalty will aid in customer retention — and translate into more transactions. Holding onto existing customers who are already familiar with the brand is less costly than constantly amassing new customers, Rugaber points out.

Retailers also get your data. You may provide your name, email or phone number when you create an account. That information could be tracked with your purchases and could leave you vulnerable in the event of a data breach.

“The benefit for the brand is, knowledge is power,” Rugaber says. “Data drives the ability to better engage.”

“With that transaction of ‘I’m going to give you access to my data for the benefits of the loyalty program,’ certainly the consumer wants to be aware of who they’re offering their data to and what their rights are.”

While rewards programs are also called loyalty programs, they don’t engender true loyalty, says Ryan Hamilton, associate professor of marketing at Emory University in Georgia.

For example, Hamilton says he’s a loyal Cleveland Browns fan, even when the team loses. But if the terms of a loyalty program ever change, he may stop using it exclusively.

Rewards programs are transactional, and consumers are looking to get something out of them.

What does it take?

You — yes, you — can score savings like the examples at the beginning of this article. Here are three ways to do it.

  • Look for a program. Check to see if your favorite retailers, restaurants or other brands have a rewards system you can join. “Most retailers have programs,” Rugaber says. “Just try to see if one exists in the first place.” Registration is quick and can often be done online.
  • Set your sights on savings. While you should avoid spending money solely to garner rewards, it’s smart to optimize your purchasing behavior. “Understand both the rules and also the potential benefits,” Berger says. Learn what purchases count toward points, how many points you need to reach a certain reward and so forth.
  • Take your blinders off. If you’re sticking with one brand exclusively, loyalty can actually ace you out of deals and opportunities. So occasionally check for offers from other brands. “One of the costs of the program is limiting your freedom of choice,” Hamilton says. If the benefits still outweigh the drawbacks, start working your way toward savings. “If you are all in and you’ve decided the costs in terms of information and reduced variety are worth it to you, then learn the ins and outs of the program,” he says.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article Make Your Brand Loyalty Pay Off originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Overshopped in December? Try These 3 Strategies to Recover

Christmas, Hanukkah and the holiday season have come and gone — likely taking quite a bit of your cash with them.

You can’t magically make more money appear in your bank account. And it’s definitely too late to ask Santa for a check. But here are three of the next best things you can do.

1. Adjust

It’s not surprising if you spent more than you can afford over the past couple of months. After all, we often do this to make loved ones happy, says Richard K. Colarossi, a certified financial planner and partner at Colarossi & Williams in Islandia, New York.

But now it’s time to get back on budget. Cut back your regular spending in an attempt to save more money to free up funds for debt repayment and savings.

Colarossi estimates that bringing your lunch to work for the next few weeks and skipping a $5 cup of coffee could save at least $100 in a month.

There are other things you can do, too. Consider minimal changes such as setting your thermostat a degree or two lower and cutting down on an online shopping habit.

For more substantial savings, bundle your cable and internet, cut out rideshare services, cancel some music and streaming subscriptions or renegotiate the price of your utility bills.

Pay down high-interest debt as soon as possible, Colarossi advises. And, if you’re able, make it a point to fund your savings plan as much as you can, even if it’s a small amount.

2. Avoid

You can also control spending by managing commitments over the next 12 months. If you’re already struggling after paying for gifts, try not to overload yourself with more financial obligations.

“Plan ahead for abstention,” said Kelly Goldsmith, an associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, in an email. “Don’t book a vacation, or commit to attending a wedding that you know will be accompanied by a hefty price tag.”

Allow some time to get your bearings before you take on new, out-of-the-ordinary expenses.

3. Encourage

Give yourself positive reinforcement along the way. The first month might be the hardest, but it will get better. Goldsmith says cutting spending now will boost your confidence and make it easier to save in February, March and beyond.

“Compare your credit card bills from November, December and January and blow your own mind with how much less you spent,” she said.

As you keep saving, you’ll figure out which techniques work (or don’t work) for your lifestyle. Perhaps you’ll want to keep coffee in your budget after all, but discover that you can do without monthly beauty box deliveries.

Then, look ahead so you can put yourself in a more desirable financial position later this year. Colarossi points out that, ideally, sticking with a budget should produce a surplus that can be used for holiday spending.

Depending on what happened this time around, you may need to budget more money for the next holiday season — or budget the same amount and spend less.

Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

The article Overshopped in December? Try These 3 Strategies to Recover originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Shoppers Share Black Friday Strategies That Actually Work

If at first you don’t succeed, talk to someone who has.

Black Friday is arguably the biggest discount day of the year, but making the most of it requires some practice, planning and strategy.

So ahead of Black Friday on Nov. 29, we talked with shoppers and shopping experts to hear their best — and worst — Black Friday stories from years past.

Here’s what they said, and what you can learn from them.

The professor: Expect the unexpected

Vicki Morwitz knows a thing or two about Black Friday. She’s the Bruce Greenwald Professor of Business at Columbia Business School.

She also spent years as a Black Friday shopper — combing through stores with her mom as part of an annual tradition.

Nowadays, she keeps Black Friday at arm’s distance. But she still checks for deals. Like last year when, on a whim, she spotted a travel sale for a boutique luxury hotel she had dreamed about booking for her trip to Israel.

“I just happened to go on their website… and they had a 50% off Black Friday sale, so it was now in my price range, and I booked it and was very, very happy,” Morwitz says.

Tip: Check your favorite stores and businesses on Black Friday, no matter how obscure. Some luxury brands may offer a discount, even if they rarely go on sale.

The researcher: Ignore the hype

Some 71% of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a recent NerdWallet study conducted by The Harris Poll.

That’s a lot of shoppers.

But not everything is a great deal on Black Friday. “Don’t believe the hype,” says Danny McLoughlin, content and research director at RunRepeat, an athletic shoe review and price aggregator site.

McLoughlin studied price data from the past three years for thousands of sneakers. According to the pricing analysis by RunRepeat, from Aug. 1, 2018, to July 31, 2019, sneakers were cheaper on 66% of those days than they were on Black Friday.

Not exactly what you would expect from a day assumed to have the best deals on everything.

Tip: Start monitoring prices now. That way, you’ll know how much a product has been discounted — if at all.

The blogger: Resist FOMO

As you search for deals this holiday season, there’s no need to limit yourself to Black Friday itself. Christy Palmer, blogger at (not affiliated with Target), says Black Friday deals are available early — and late.

“Many online stores start their Black Friday sales prior to Black Friday, so you can often grab the deals you want and you don’t even have to leave your home,” Palmer said in an email.

She said she’s also seen deals that are equal to or beat Black Friday prices even after Black Friday is over.

Tip: Continue your savvy shopping habits after Black Friday by monitoring prices, signing up for retailer mailing lists and using coupons.

The cyber shopper: Stay home

This Black Friday, Lydia Senn will be shopping online in her pajamas with a cup of coffee in hand and Netflix on her screen.

Senn, who is the owner of the blog Frugal, Debt Free Life, doesn’t bother going to the store. She also doesn’t interrupt family time on Thanksgiving for shopping. She’s found standout deals online, like a $30 markdown on an Instant Pot a few years back.

Her shopping prep includes mapping out a shopping list and looking at Black Friday ads online from coupon websites.

Tip: Avoid the crowds and shop Black Friday deals from home. Cyber sales generally happen from Thanksgiving Day and to the Monday after, Cyber Monday.

The savvy consumer: Stick to necessities

Ravi Gehlot is a web developer from Sarasota, Florida. He shops all year long, including on Black Friday. In fact, that’s when he scored big discounts on Dell monitors.

But despite his deal-hunting prowess, Gehlot might have the best Black Friday advice of all: Don’t shop just to shop.

Given his past success snagging impressive deals, we asked if he’s going shopping on the day after Thanksgiving this year. His reply? No, because he doesn’t really need anything right now.

Tip: Plan out the products you really need (either items for yourself or holiday gifts for others), then hold tight to that list during Black Friday sales.

The article Shoppers Share Black Friday Strategies That Actually Work originally appeared on NerdWallet

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Stop Doing These 4 Things Online — Immediately

If you’re like many people, you might sign up for an online account at your gym, download the local movie theater’s app and share a cat video on Twitter all before 9 a.m. — and all without thinking twice. But when navigating the internet, security experts say, a little bit of deliberation often pays off by keeping your data more secure.

“We all have day jobs, but to a hacker, we are their day jobs,” says Adam Levin, former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and founder of CyberScout, which helps individuals and businesses deal with cybersecurity threats. “It’s not a fair fight.”

This National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, here are four routine things to stop doing online — and a few alternatives from cybersecurity experts.

1. Recycling passwords

Study after study shows that a majority of people reuse passwords across sites. This lets a hacker who uncovers your password in a data breach of one site easily use it elsewhere.

But what to do when everyone from your dog groomer to your grocery store wants you to create a login? Doug Jacobson, director of Iowa State University’s Information Assurance Center, recommends separating accounts into security tiers. The most sensitive — such as your financial accounts — should all get a unique, robust password. Slightly less sensitive accounts can share a set of strong passwords, and the least crucial, ones with little or no personal data attached, might share the same password.

To create a solid password, Levin suggests choosing a phrase that would be tough for others to guess and changing key characters: making an “o” a zero or turning a 1 into an exclamation point. You can also use a password manager, such as 1Password or LastPass, to create and store strong passwords that are random character strings.

2. Granting all the permissions apps request

Many apps ask for access to certain aspects of your phone’s data when you download them. And while it’s understandable that Google Maps wants to know your location, says Kurt Rohloff, director of the Cybersecurity Research Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, other apps have less transparent intentions when collecting your data.

Your data might be used simply for marketing purposes, but unless you’ve done a deep dive into who’s making all your apps, it’s better to be cautious. Apps should have “the bare minimum [information] they need to provide services,” Rohloff says.

If you’ve already given an app too much access, try adjusting its permissions in your phone’s settings, Rohloff says. For directions, click here if you have an Android, and here if you have an iPhone. And if that breaks the app, find an alternative.

3. Oversharing on online account applications

You probably know the pitfalls of posting vacation updates — hello, burglars — or giving your Social Security number just because a form has a blank for it. Any personally identifying information you disclose that falls into the wrong hands can “[give] hackers a pathway into your life,” Levin says.

When creating an online account, Jacobson says, “Give them only the information that has the star by it,” indicating a required field. “You don’t need to fill out your full profile.”

And you need not always be truthful, either. For example, you can supply a fake mother’s maiden name or high school mascot for security questions, Levin says. “No website is going to conduct a national security clearance to see if you are who you say you are,” he adds.

4. Trusting appearances

Scam emails don’t always come complete with typos and graphics from 1997 to tip you off. In fact, Jacobson says, he recently received an email from a hacker masquerading — somewhat convincingly — as his boss, asking for money. These messages can also harvest your account information or install malicious software on your computer.

“Always independently confirm who that company is or who that individual is through another source,” Levin says. That might involve calling the supposed sender to confirm the request. Make sure to use a number you know is safe — for example, one you find on your bank’s own website as opposed to clicking through the email.

And if you’re ever entering payment information, look for the padlock symbol on your browser window. “What the padlock ensures is that the website you typed in is the one you went to … and the communication is encrypted,” Jacobson says.

Being cautious keeps you safe

Pausing to consider your clicks definitely makes the internet less convenient. But when you receive services for free online, Jacobson says, “you typically are paying for them with your information.” That doesn’t mean you have to delete all your accounts, but you should ask yourself if the service you’re receiving is worth the information you’re giving up.

Luckily, for most people, identity theft is a crime of opportunity, Jacobson says. So taking even small steps to safeguard your data can make you a less tempting target.

“Generally, my attitude about this is, something is better than nothing, and small things are better than no things,” Rohloff says.


The article Stop Doing These 4 Things Online — Immediately originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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Neutralize the Digital Threat You Carry Everywhere

Your smartphone is your confidante, your hand-held connection to the world — and one of your biggest vulnerabilities.

Scammers can take advantage of day-to-day tasks that seem innocuous, like checking a bank balance or charging a phone at a public USB port, to exploit personal information for their profit.

To keep that data safe, start by understanding the threats you face. Your phone has three main areas of vulnerability: its hardware, its software and your phone number. Each carries a risk, and there are steps you can take to mitigate them.

Hardware vulnerability

A four-digit passcode alone isn’t enough to secure your phone’s hardware from intruders.

One weakness comes from the charging port. Think twice before plugging into a public USB jack for a quick charge at a cafe or airport.

“Any time you’re using a mobile port, you can be vulnerable to viruses or malware if you’re sharing it with other people who are plugging in their devices,” says Lisa Schifferle, ID theft program manager at the Federal Trade Commission.

Using a public charging port at an airport is like “finding a toothbrush on the side of the road and deciding to stick it in your mouth” Caleb Barlow, vice president of X-Force Threat Intelligence at IBM Security, recently told Forbes.

Hackers can modify these ports to install malevolent software, aka malware, on your phone. Once installed, it can transfer your phone’s data to hackers. The hacked USB ports can also directly suck up your phone’s information. To avoid the risk, use your USB cord with your own charging block that can plug into a standard electrical outlet, or use an external battery pack.

For daily security, go beyond the four-digit passcode if possible, says Gary Davis, chief consumer security evangelist at the cybersecurity company McAfee.

“Passcodes aren’t as effective as biometrics, like fingerprint readers or facial recognition software, because people can do shoulder surfing to see your passcode and get into your phone” if they steal it.

Software and network risks

Scammers can target your personal information using unsecured wireless networks and software vulnerabilities.

Network risks: Be wary of public Wi-Fi networks.

“We advise against using public Wi-Fi, but if you’re going to use it, avoid logging in to sensitive accounts,” says Allen Spence, director of product leadership at IDShield, an identity theft protection company.

To protect yourself from inadvertently using insecure Wi-Fi networks, adjust your phone settings to avoid auto-connecting to Wi-Fi.

Software: Hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in phone software. Schifferle of the FTC suggests consumers routinely check for and download software updates for their phones, because updates often include security patches.

Phone number vulnerabilities

There are two common ways that scammers target your phone number: robocall scams and phone number theft.

Robocalls: U.S. consumers fielded nearly 48 billion robocalls in 2018, according to an estimate from robocall blocking service YouMail. That was a 57% increase from 2017.

A common scam comes from supposed representatives of the Social Security Administration requesting you give your personal information or your benefits will be cut. If you get a call from a number you don’t recognize, don’t answer. That’s the best way to ensure you don’t get caught up in a phone scam. And know that government agencies like Social Security and the IRS won’t call you out of the blue seeking your personal information.

“You should never give personal info or money unless you have initiated the call,” Schifferle says. If you answer a call and realize it may be a scammer, hang up, she advises.

If you suspect your personal information was stolen by scammers, file a report with the FTC at

Phone number theft: Scammers are stealing phone numbers, which can leave you vulnerable to other forms of identity theft.

The scam is clever: A malevolent actor calls your cell phone carrier pretending to be you, and after confirming some key information such as your mother’s maiden name, transfers your phone number to their device. You may not find out this has happened until you go to make a call and find that your SIM card has been deactivated.

Because phone numbers are often used as security keys, hackers may be able to get into many other accounts once they have access to your phone account. Make it harder to penetrate by avoiding common security questions, Davis says. “When you set up your security questions and answers, make sure you’re using really challenging questions that are going to be hard to figure out.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

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The article Neutralize the Digital Threat You Carry Everywhere originally appeared on NerdWallet.

These 3 Tricks Can Help You Shop Less

Shopping can be a form of relaxation, an entertaining way to spend time or even a hobby. But it can turn into an expensive habit.

Whether you sometimes give in to a weakness for designer handbags or brand-name shoes, here are three ways to help you manage the urge to spend. Pick the tactic that works best for you: postponing the purchase, making a plan or doing something else instead.

1. Pretend (or postpone)

If you want to feel like you went shopping without spending any money, do everything you would when you really shop, but stop short of actually buying anything.

Browse online, pick out a shirt in your favorite color and even add it to your cart. If you’re in-store, go window shopping without your wallet. Then wait.

“Have some type of cooling off time period before you commit to purchasing the item,” says Ross Steinman, a professor of psychology at Widener University in Pennsylvania. “You should attempt to eliminate consumer decisions in an emotional state. This often leads to impulse buys.”

That delay period will vary from person to person, but Steinman suggests waiting at least one day. Depending on the purchase, you could wait a week or even a month before deciding whether to buy the item in question.

This might be enough to work the urge to buy out of your system. But just in case, eliminate any remaining temptation.

“Delete those items so that they are not waiting for you in your shopping cart only one click away to purchase the next time you visit the online retailer,” Steinman says.

2. Prepare

But pretending isn’t always a reasonable solution. At some point, you will surely need to buy something. And that’s OK.

It’s actually best to still go to stores, rather than avoiding shopping altogether, advises Dr. Kevin Chapman, a licensed clinical psychologist in Kentucky. That is, as long as you’re proactive and prepare yourself mentally before you shop.

If you “ride the wave” and confront the emotion driving why you want to shop, you can teach yourself self-control, he says.

“Ultimately, you’re teaching your brain a new association. Meaning I can think of a store like Target or Costco or Ikea and think that it doesn’t compel me to shop per se. It’s just another store.”

He compares the strategy to overcoming a fear of elevators.

“Say I have an elevator phobia. Well ultimately, at some point, I have to confront an elevator,” Chapman says. “But the way you do it is you don’t throw someone into an elevator and say, ‘sink or swim.’”

Instead, you prepare so you know what to expect. As it pertains to shopping, Chapman says to formulate a “game plan.”

Recognize that you have a tendency to overspend. Create both a budget and a list before you go shopping (in-store or online). Then, hold yourself accountable to that list and feel a sense of confidence that results when you succeed.

3. Ponder

As you shop, keep track of your buying behavior so you can identify patterns. Steinman recommends noting things like the cost, time of day and what the item was for, among other details.

“It will raise awareness about how much somebody is spending and also identify trigger points,” he says.

Ask yourself questions about any trends that you notice. Steinman gives examples: Do you mostly make purchases in the late evening? During the day? After you’ve had coffee and increased your energy level? What about after you receive your paycheck?

As you do so, think about your emotions. If you’re looking for the high that comes along with shopping, Steinman recommends doing something else in its place that gives you a similar feeling — for example, donating your time or resources.

And keep in mind that the temporary emotional high that comes with impulsive shopping is just that — temporary, according to Chapman. It may be a little easier to give up overshopping if you know the feeling is fleeting.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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The article These 3 Tricks Can Help You Shop Less originally appeared on NerdWallet.

How to Stem ‘Subscription Creep’

From Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime to Blue Apron, Birchbox and beer of the month, your debit or credit card statements are likely littered with subscriptions that are costing you dearly.

Not that all subscriptions are bad.

You might be happy to pay a monthly fee to work out at the gym or type in Microsoft Office 365. But maybe the benefits of subscribing to credit monitoring or razors by mail were, uh, more fleeting.

Recurring charges can be insidious, some eating away at your wealth when you don’t value the subscription anymore. Three $30-per-month subscriptions don’t sound like much until you realize they total nearly $1,100 per year.

Inertia leads to a dozen free trials morphing into mainstays on your Mastercard. (Maybe not much longer, though. Mastercard has said it will require merchants to get your approval to proceed with charges after a free trial ends, although it applies only to physical-product subscriptions, like home-delivered sampler boxes.)

“The situation with subscriptions could end up being death by a thousand cuts when it comes to your budget,” says Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Adding to the problem are so-called gray charges, deceptive and unwanted credit and debit card charges that stem from misleading sales and billing practices. They total more than $14 billion a year among U.S. cardholders, or $215 each, per a 2013 study by industry research firm Aite Group.

Here’s how to spring-clean recurring charges so you can spend on things that matter to you more.

Subscription audit

Job No. 1 is to identify recurring charges. Scan recent payment statements, including credit cards, debit cards or online accounts, like PayPal. Go back 12 months to catch auto-renew annual subscriptions. Don’t ignore the analog world: lawn mowing, home security monitoring, pest-control service and memberships in social and professional organizations. Some credit card issuers, like Citi, identify recurring charges in your online account.

Multiply by 12

A frog in a stovetop pot of water will complacently boil to death if you raise the temperature slowly, the saying goes. Accumulating monthly subscriptions is similar. To feel the full impact, multiply monthly charges by 12 to get an annualized idea of what you’re spending. If you see yourself keeping the subscription five years, do that math too. Then, a seemingly insignificant $30-per-month expense becomes $1,800.

“On the surface, subscription costs may seem minimal, but when you add them up it can really pinch your monthly budget,” says Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education. “If you’re putting subscriptions on your credit card, is that hindering your ability to pay off your balance each month? If so, this is a red flag.”

Reassess value

Do you use and value the subscription? A gym membership is perhaps the best example of a noble subscription gone wrong — when you quit going but continue paying.

Ask yourself if a subscription saves you money or time. Has it lived up to its promise? Does a delivered subscription box bring you joy or guilt?

“It’s a good idea to do a subscription evaluation on a regular basis — perhaps a couple of times a year,” Golden says.

Is it redundant?

If you have cable or satellite TV, plus Netflix, YouTube TV and Amazon Prime Video, you have overlap. “There are so many redundancies across those platforms that you’re more or less paying for the same service over and over again,” McClary says.

The same assessment goes for streaming music services, cloud storage and phone services. Are you hanging on to a landline for no reason?

Opt to share

Can you legitimately share a subscription? “Some of these subscriptions offer a buddy pass,” McClary notes. YouTube TV allows family groups to share subscriptions, and certain New York Times subscriptions come with a bonus subscription to share. Some families choose to group their wireless phones on a single plan to lower costs.

Don’t forget about freebies at your local public library, which can substitute for subscriptions: digital access to books, audiobooks, movies, music and magazines.


Downgrading or subscribing seasonally can work, too. Can you downgrade from the premium to free version of software or website access? Are you getting value from your credit card’s annual fee? You can probably downgrade to a fee-free card with the same issuer and keep your long credit history.


Liberally pause or cancel services. You can always restart and re-subscribe later. You might even receive a discount offer to return.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

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The article How to Stem ‘Subscription Creep’ originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Don’t Let Instagram Envy Get You Into Debt

When was the last time scrolling through Instagram made you feel better?

If you’re like me, the puppy photos on your feed momentarily boost your mood, but the parade of carefully selected and artfully edited experiences leaves you feeling depleted. How can these people afford to travel to New Zealand? When will it be your turn to road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, drinking wine on sunlit rooftops along the way?

You know by now that social media leaves out the fender benders, arguments and weather mishaps essential to any vacation. You can add financial faux pas to that list.

A full 48% of U.S. households have credit card debt, according to a recent NerdWallet analysis. The average household with debt carries $6,929 in balances from month to month, which means paying about $1,141 in interest per year.

You can’t really know how much money your friends have. But it’s safe to say that at least some of them may not be able to afford the trips that make you feel inferior without going into credit card debt. Here’s how to keep Instagram from bullying you into overspending.

Find the source of your FOMO

If a friend’s vacation photo really got under your skin, explore why. The destination or trip itself may not be the source of that FOMO, or fear of missing out. Has it been a while since you’ve taken time off work, and you’re resentful of how relaxed this person seems? Are you jealous of how close they appear to their partner or friends?

There could be ways to ease your anxiety for free, without vacationing at all. Consider scheduling a mental health day and going to a local museum on a day with free or reduced-price admission to get your mind off work. Round up friends interested in starting a book club or hiking group that meets monthly so you can feel part of a community.

Vacation for cheap

If traveling is what you crave, plan a debt-free vacation by estimating how much you’ll spend on transportation, lodging, meals and activities and saving that amount in advance. Some online savings accounts let you create sub-accounts for specific purposes, so setting aside money each month for travel means you save passively over time.

But if you haven’t been saving and need a getaway stat, stay flexible on dates and locations and use price-tracking apps to find hotel and flight deals. Consider staying local and taking a short road trip to an attraction in your area you’ve never been to. Split an Airbnb nearby with a group of friends and spend a weekend doing activities that don’t involve screens, like playing cards, exploring nature and making art.

Credit cards aren’t always the enemy; with a good credit score and a commitment to paying off your balance each month, you can get a rewards card that lets you earn points or cash back that will subsidize future trips. Be realistic about your ability to spend responsibly and avoid carrying a balance, though. The interest you could end up paying, and the anxiety that comes with ballooning credit card debt, can quickly erode any post-vacation glow.

Cut back on scrolling

There’s another, potentially nuclear-sounding option to prevent social media-influenced spending: Don’t look at Instagram at all.

You don’t have to go cold turkey. You can continue to post your own photos or communicate with friends via direct message, but rein in mindlessly perusing other people’s feeds. Start by setting a goal to wait until noon to open the app, or choosing two specific times of day to check it. Like any behavior you’re trying to change, it will be hard at first, but you’ll likely be surprised by how little you miss the app. Fill the time you get back with activities you enjoy.

The ideal outcome? Making plans and choosing travel experiences based on what makes you happy, not on a highly filtered version of someone else’s life.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Don’t Let Instagram Envy Get You Into Debt originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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5 Ways Your Friendships Can Blossom on a Budget

“Ask Brianna” is a column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to

You do not have to spend your Saturday nights alone as penance for racking up debt or having paltry savings.

You have one life, and you don’t know how long it will be. Seeking joy should be a priority on par with paying off debt or buying a house. Research has shown that putting energy into your friendships — and simply appreciating your friends at all — improves your life. And you don’t have to spend a lot to do it.

Those who treasure their family and friends are happier and healthier than those who don’t, a 2017 study from Michigan State University found. Even more striking: Valuing friendships is a bigger indicator of health and happiness at older ages than valuing family relationships.

Set that foundation now, and what you do — and how much you spend — won’t matter. Who you’re with and whether you cherish that time together will. So don’t worry if you can’t shell out for a big group vacation, or even a friend’s fancy birthday dinner. Here’s how to cultivate long friendships when you’re short on cash.

1. Volunteer together

Pick something you both care about, like animal welfare, the environment or veterans’ issues, and research local organizations that focus on them. Sign up for an opportunity that takes place every week or month to keep you engaged in the organization, and to give you and your friends a hangout to look forward to. Bonus: It just feels nice to help people.

If you’re politically minded, you can also register voters together or attend local City Council meetings or town hall meetings for your congressional representatives. Find your representatives at and check the schedule of events on their websites. Feeling engaged in your community is also a contributor to a long, happy life.

2. Join the club

You may not be in college anymore, rehearsing with your a cappella group or playing team sports. But you can start a monthly book club, wine club, hiking club, group playdate for your friends’ dogs — you name it. All it takes is a leader willing to send out a reminder email and gather everyone’s availability through a method like Doodle.

My book club has been going strong for almost four years, and the “club” part has turned out to be way more important to me than the “book” part.

3. Nab discounts for young people

Many cultural institutions want young people in the audience — they’re hoping you’ll buy tickets for years to come. Look into under-30 or under-35 discount ticket programs where you live, particularly at dance or theater performances. Some might require a small yearly membership fee, but if you like to see shows often, the fee will pay for itself.

4. Cook when solo

In a way, paying for a meal or drinks out with friends is an investment in your long-term happiness. But that doesn’t justify overspending. Budget for fun the way you would for groceries, and you can spend it without guilt.

If you simply must meet friends for dinner four times a week, look at your spending holistically — a budgeting app can help — and make cuts elsewhere. Bring lunch to work every day. Or, when you’re home alone, commit to making your own meals and avoiding takeout.

5. Get crafty

If you know how to knit or crochet, no one is stopping you from doing it with a friend while watching a film adaption of a Jane Austen novel (I have done this).

You can get a group together and sketch while listening to music, or spend a night repurposing old clothes you don’t wear so they’re summer-ready: a T-shirt into a tank top, or old jeans into cut-off shorts. There are tons of craft ideas on Pinterest. You can even schedule a clothing swap, which will let you freshen up your wardrobe for free.

Saving money usually requires forethought and ingenuity. The same goes for suggesting an activity beyond the easy, and pricey, “let’s get drinks.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press. 

The article 5 Ways Your Friendships Can Blossom on a Budget originally appeared on NerdWallet.


7 Ways to Save at Disneyland — No Magic Required

Prepping your wallet for a trip to see Mickey Mouse is no walk in the park. There will be tickets, souvenirs and food to buy.

So to make your visit to California’s Disneyland more of a fairy tale and less of a financial nightmare, try these seven ways to save money. While the tips below focus on the Anaheim park, visitors to other Disney properties will find some ideas for cutting costs, too.

1. Rely on reviews

Before you step foot in the park, brush up on Disneyland’s best offerings by going online. You’ll find many bloggers who write reviews about the newest attractions, says Casey Starnes, owner of the Disneyland Daily blog.

The blogs will help you decide what, and what not, to spend money on. For example, with a little research you can decide which dining packages are worth the splurge. It may also help you decide which rides are worth waiting in line for, maximizing the money you spent on your ticket.

2. Get a discounted ticket

You don’t always have to pay full price for a ticket. Disneyland offers specially priced tickets to active and retired U.S. military personnel, for example. Other visitors can search for discounts through organizations like AAA.

Be careful to avoid illegitimate sellers, though. Scammers on Craigslist and other websites have been known to deliver fake tickets. Before buying, check out a seller through online reviews or look for accreditation such as from the Better Business Bureau.

3. Don’t be a Sleeping Beauty

If you want to get the most bang for your buck, wake up early. You can hit up rides before the crowds set in.

“I always tell people that Disneyland vacations are not for sleeping in,” says Jessica Sanders, founder of The Happiest Blog on Earth and author of “Disneyland on Any Budget: Money Saving Tips From The Happiest Blog on Earth.”

Sanders recommends lining up at the gate an hour before opening so you can take your first ride within minutes of entry. “I typically get in 10 or more attractions during the first two hours of my day, even during the summer.”

4. Skip a meal

To save money — and feel less stuffed as you’re walking around — eat two big meals instead of three, Starnes says. Try a mid-morning brunch, snacks during the afternoon and a big dinner in the evening.

“Disneyland is known for snacks, and they’re much more affordable than meals,” she says.

5. Use Disney gift cards

Another clever way to stay on budget? Gift cards. If you know you can afford to spend $25 on souvenirs or $50 on food, buy a Disney gift card for that amount. Cards can be purchased online, at the resort or at a Disney store and redeemed at many places in the park.

“We have a gift card with that set amount on there, and then when it’s gone, we’re done spending on that particular thing,” Sanders says. “So you don’t have to keep track in your head or go way over budget because most people aren’t keeping track of every receipt and everything they’re spending while they’re on vacation.”

6. Pick the right souvenirs

When you buy something, choose wisely. For souvenirs, Starnes recommends selecting items that will stand the test of time. So consider a coffee mug over a toy. Or pick a commemorative photo book instead of a shirt that your child will outgrow.

7. Perfect your strategy

These tips won’t expire when the clock strikes midnight — and they don’t only apply to summer visits. Reuse and refine them each time you visit Disneyland.

“It’s almost like competitive vacationing,” Starnes says. “Every time you come, you want to do more and more. You want to do better than your previous visit and you learn more every time you visit.”

The article 7 Ways to Save at Disneyland — No Magic Required originally appeared on NerdWallet.

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