Fall is the time of year known for vibrant colors, crisp weather, pumpkin patches, and spiced cider — but it’s also known as the beginning of cold and flu season.

Whether you blame it on the changing weather patterns, the lack of daylight, or spending more time in close quarters with other people, getting sick can impact not just your health, but your wallet. Between missed work and medical costs, sickness gets expensive very quickly.

And sure, staying healthy (I’ll share some tips for that) is probably the cheapest option, but there are still ways to save money while you’re on the mend so more of your hard-earned money can go toward a holiday shopping fund, savings goal, or retirement account.
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It’s that time of the year again! The year seems to be quickly going by and the holiday season is right around the corner. The holidays are a time filled with family, fun and food. While the last few months of the year are usually all about laughter and celebration, it is also one of the most expensive times of the year as well. With traveling expenses and presents, your budget can quickly get out of hand.

Before you get stressed out about holiday budgeting, start a plan. The earlier you begin thinking about holiday spending, the more time you’ll have actually enjoying the season. Here are five tips to help you stick to your holiday budget:

Start Early!

The early bird gets the worm! While you might think it’s too early to start thinking about the holidays, think again. Before you know it, it’ll be the week before Christmas and you’ll find yourself scrambling for last minute gifts. Start your planning now before you stress yourself out. Begin making your list of people you need to get gifts for and jot down rough ideas of what you might want to get them. Once you have your list ready, you can start hunting for steals and deals well before Christmas. You might even get your shopping done early!
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I’ve thought long and hard about dabbling in real estate as a way to diversify my investments. With stock market valuations at a dizzying high and my assets growing to a comfortable level, owning physical structures with a separate and good chance of dependable income just feels right for me. I even went as far as seeing a few properties with an agent, but negative thoughts started making me hesitant with the purchase. What if I get that one bad tenant who complains about every little issue and calls you in the middle of the night just to fix easily fixable issues? Or worst, what if the tenant refuses to pay rent and refuses to move out? I consider myself decently intelligent but I’m a novice in tenant selection and one mistake can wipe up years of returns. Even if I’m able to find good tenants, managing them and overseeing repairs is a part time job at the very least, and more work just doesn’t appeal to me.

The other, perhaps more rational reason, is that I live in Southern California. The cash flow of real estate investments are extremely low in this neck of the woods. Annual gross rents typically range in the 4%, maybe 5% range, and that doesn’t even including property taxes, repairs, tenant turnovers and other expenses. Add those in and you’d be lucky to break even. Investors here usually subscribe to the greater fool’s theory in that they can still make a killing on their investments as long as another investor (fool) buys their property at a much higher price. In other words, you don’t need to care about cash flow here because there’s always price appreciation.

The issue is even worst with commercial properties. I looked at a strip mall once to see how much those properties sell for and the yield was expected to be 1% based on the seller’s asking price. ONE PERCENT! Who in the right mind would buy something like that?
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All of us are creatures of convenience, and that extends to our finances. It’s not enough to access online banking, budgeting tools, and retailer websites from home — we want them on our mobile devices, too. But, just as browsing the web from home can expose our finances to ever-evolving cyber threats, using mobile apps can, too. Those personal device may seem more secure than a public computer, hackers can still find ways to get into the phone and steal sensitive financial information.

As someone who didn’t run out and get a smartphone as soon as they became popular, I admit I have a lot to learn about mobile technology and how best to protect my personal information while I’m using it. Are you smart about smartphone financial security? If not, following these tips is a good place to start.

1. Use Those Optional Security Measures Like Touch ID

Are you someone who’s been stubborn about setting up a passcode or Touch ID to open your phone? It’s a little less convenient (and we’re all about convenience!), but the extra step is also the first line of defense for your personal information. Sure, hardcore hackers may be able to bypass it to get into your phone, but the casual thief might be deterred by the process of having to get past the security code — especially if it’s based on biometrics.

2. Add Extra Security Measures to Financial Apps

Besides your smartphone’s overall security, it’s important to protect access to financial information on your phone housed in banking account apps, account-linked financial management apps, and digital wallets. This is especially true as technology improves — some banks are experimenting with apps that can initiate app-initiated, card-less ATM withdrawals.

David’s Note: I wouldn’t worry too much about the app initiated ATM withdrawals too much as long as you protect your phone and apps by adding in the proper authentication methods Jessica are describing. What the app does is replace having the physical card, meaning that you still need to enter your passcode at the ATM. At Wells Fargo, you use the app to give you a number sequence that identifies you to the ATM (much like inserting your bank card). Then, once you type in that number, you will be prompt to enter your passcode as normal.

Setting up additional features like passcodes (or Touch ID, if your phone has this feature) for each financial app provides another line of defense if your phone is lost or hacked. As with all personal accounts, choose unique passwords, update them regularly, and keep them in a secure location (a.k.a. not your phone!).

Some smartphones also allow you to at least partially block Internet access and ad tracking mechanisms on a per-app basis to protect your information from outside threats, or “sandbox” (separate) different accounts, such as your work and personal information.

smartphone security3. Know Your Smartphone’s Vulnerabilities

Whenever there’s a major data breach, tech companies inform the public of who could have been affected where, when, and how. There’s similar information available on which smartphone operating systems, browsers, and other tools have been (or could be) vulnerable to various types of cyber threats and attacks at CVE Details. You don’t have to be super tech-savvy to search for your phone’s systems and look at the risk scale and numbers of vulnerabilities.

If this looks too intimidating, other places to check include consumer-focused technology blogs and news sites.

4. If You’re in the Market for a New Smartphone, Consider Security Features

The older your phone is, the less security features it’s likely to have and the more vulnerable it is to hackers. If you’re already due for a new smartphone, make security a priority. Some features will be standard, but smartphone security differs widely based on model and operating system (OS). Check for expert reviews and breakdowns of security features, and choose the level of security that best fits the way you use your smartphone.

A simple (and free) thing you can do in between upgrades is to promptly install any system updates. Some of them are just for new features or speed, but others could be correcting security vulnerabilities.

While I’m certainly not as smart about smartphone security as I need to be, I’m learning. The more you use your personal devices for financial management, the more you should be, too. How do you keep your phones secure? Do you have any more tips for me?

Food is probably your biggest expense aside from housing. After all, you always have to eat. So is there any way you can really cut back on this category? The easy answer is to stop going out to eat and spend more time cooking at home, but what if you’ve already done that and still can’t afford to be spending what you’re spending on food? The answer lies in your grocery bill.

Just because you’re cooking your own food doesn’t necessarily mean you’re saving a lot of money. Groceries can cost a lot too, depending on where your live or which supermarket you shop at. So much so that it might be tempting to cut back on fresh foods and spend more on fast food, which definitely wouldn’t be great for your health. However, if you become a smarter shopper, you can definitely find ways to lower your grocery bill without having to buy less. Here are five ways you can do just that:
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Support groups are a proven way for people to eliminate harmful habits and make positive changes such as eating healthy and exercising. The secret to why this works is the powerful influence of a social network – especially one that shares common traits. Studies show that, just as bad habits spread in social networks, healthy habits do, too. In fact, they could even be considered contagious!

This principle can apply to finances, as well. While we see plenty of health-related support groups, there aren’t many financial accountability groups. My theory is that this has a lot to do with the money talk taboo — people either consider it improper or uncomfortable to talk openly about their finances (sometimes, even with their spouses!).

Just as accountability groups have made it easier for people with “shameful” habits to take the first step to recovery ­—admitting there’s a problem — those of us with financial skeletons in the closet have the best chance of finding the strength and motivation to make necessary changes with the help of a friend.
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