Road Trip Essentials for the Whole Family

Family road trips have a tendency to go one of two ways: either an exercise in creating fond memories or an absolute nightmare. Of course, many factors outside of your control can play into that, such as traffic. However, you can plan for what goes on in your immediate environment, right inside your car. Before you take off, make sure you’ve got these road trip essentials taken care of:

Organizers

Being more organized means each passenger can be more self-sufficient, enjoying themselves however they choose. And creating a specific home for everything makes cleanup a breeze. For kids, seat back organizers are a must. They help keep everything together and within easy reach. Organizing also involves keeping the most necessary items accessible. Consider a backpack to keep all the important documents, wallets, phones, and anything else you might find yourself reaching for at hand. If you find yourself needing more storage space, install a roof rack or box.

Family Fun

Some of the best times on the road are when everyone participates together. Interactive games, joke competitions, even the shared act of listening to a podcast, book on tape, or music album, can create harmony. Be prepared and get everything brainstormed and uploaded before hitting the road to create the perfect environment for group entertainment.

Individual Entertainment

Of course, it would be great if everyone’s tastes lined up all the time, be we all know that’s not the case, and sometimes it’s nice to do your own thing. Electronics like tablets, DVD players, and cell phones are great for this. Don’t forget your chargers, as well. Importantly, you should make sure everyone has a pair of headphones.

Snacks and Messes

To keep everyone smiling, stay on top of the snack situation. Fruits and veggies are great, as are granola bars, beef jerky, and small water bottles. Even if you pack the most car-friendly snacks, there will be clean-up need. Designate a trash bag, stash a bit of fabric wash, air freshener, hand sanitizer, tissues, and other supplies and you should be good to go.

Comfort

If it’s a particularly long haul, being comfortable can make a huge difference. Wear loose clothes, with an optional layer for warmth. Pack everyone a pillow and blankets to share. Avoid long trips in cars that lack proper climate control.

Safety

Last but not least, prepare for emergencies and what ifs. Keep an emergency roadside kit on hand, including jumper cables, tools, and a spare tire. The vehicle should be in good condition before staring off. Pay close attention to your vehicle’s fluid levels and tire wear. Take advantage of available GPS-capable devices to get where you’re going on time, and put together a first aid kit in case of emergencies.

Being prepared for anything increases the chances of turning your long drive in the car into a fond family memory. Keep these road trip essentials in mind next time you and yours set out into the sunset for a true adventure.

Why Car Seats Are Vital for Your Children

Negotiating your struggling toddler into a car seat might be a nightmare, but it’s one deal that’s not worth the compromise. In fact, it isn’t even up to you, much less your 2-year-old—it’s the law. But why is it that car seats are so important? And with all the options available, how do you pick the best one in the first place?

Strap In

Babies and small children have far more fragile bodies than adults because they’re still in the growing process, and their bones, brains, and spinal cords aren’t done developing. Weighing less, it makes them more susceptible to inertia in the event of an accident. As you may have noticed, they also lack the self-control of adults to stay properly buckled in. Furthermore, seat belts are designed to fall across the body at intentional points, and children simply aren’t big enough for them to be effective. When used properly, a car seat picks up the slack. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, car seats reduce the risk of death for infants in an accident by 71 percent and toddlers by 54 percent. This only happens when they’re used properly, so pay attention.

Perfect Fit

Not just any car seat will do, and as your child grows, their seat must change to accommodate them. Check the labels to confirm that your child is the appropriate height and weight for any particular seat. If you’re confused, ask for help when first learning how to install the seat in your car and properly strap in your child. A second-hand car seat is OK, but know that they do have expiration dates or may otherwise be excessively worn, and you should be aware of the seat’s condition and any recalled models. If you can’t find an expiration date, don’t use it. Make sure the base is tight in the car, the seat is snug on the base, and the straps are tight on the baby. Remember, if you’re dealing with an infant younger than 24 months, they should be kept in a rear-facing seat unless they’ve outgrown it according to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Moving On

It might come as a surprise, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children shouldn’t be allowed to ride in the front seat until they’re 12 years old. This is for all the reasons mentioned earlier, but the front seat also has an added risk of injury from air bags. Meant to protect adults, sudden and forceful airbag deployment can do more harm than good when it comes to children.

There’s a big difference between an infant and a 12-year-old adolescent, and there are car seats and boosters available each stage of the way. Always remember to check that your car seat is the proper model and size, that your child is buckled in safely and securely, and that the seat fits your car as it should. Car seats save lives, so this is no time to settle for anything but what’s needed.

Teaching Your Kids About Money: Lessons on Bad Credit

Financial missteps and poor credit choices can take time to mend, but some good can come of it as a parent; you can teach your children how not to make the same mistakes.

Teaching your kids about money will set them up for a lifetime of smart decisions. Here are some strategies for nurturing healthy money habits.

Planning a Budget

Show your children your budget. Taking your kids shopping with you is the perfect opportunity to explain what things cost, and why certain items don’t make it into the shopping cart. If you’ve allocated $150 for groceries, for instance, demonstrate how choosing on-sale items will let you get more for your money.

Paying off Debt

Explain how credit and interest works in terms your children can understand, using references like Experian and myFICO. Ensure they understand that credit card purchases must be paid back. Show them what a credit card statement looks like, specifically the box that explains how long it will take to pay off the balance using only minimum payments. Explain that you’re borrowing money, and the longer you take to pay it back, the more the price goes up.

Improving Poor Credit

While you don’t have to discuss every detail of your finances, you can educate your kids about poor decisions and their consequences. For example, you can explain how having a poor credit score—which you can tell them is like a money report card—prevents you from qualifying for a traditional loan or low interest rates. Be sure to let them know that healthy spending and good budgeting can help improve a credit score, as explained by Experian.

Delaying Gratification

Even the youngest of children can understand the difference between needs and wants. Illustrate that even if you want something, sometimes you have to wait and save, or settle for an alternative. Take time to point out the sacrifices you make to pay off debt. For instance, you can explain that instead of going out for an expensive dinner to celebrate an anniversary, you cooked a special meal at home. Do you take on extra work sometimes to increase your income? This illustrates ways in which you can reach your financial goals.

Saving Money

From an early age, whenever they earn allowance or get monetary gifts, encourage kids to put a portion of it into savings. They can keep a physical piggy bank, or you can have them join you at the bank to make a deposit. Either way, watching their savings grow will motivate and empower them.

Careful Communiction

Money doesn’t have to be a taboo topic in your home, but remember to tread carefully. A reality check is effective, but be mindful about the language you use when teaching your kids about money. You don’t want your children to feel stress or worry about extreme situations. Explain that working together as a family and making small sacrifices will pay off in the long run.

By teaching your children to live within their means and get in the habit of savings, they’ll be better equipped to avoid credit troubles and financial difficulties as adults.

How to Get a Credit Card With Bad Credit

When you apply for a credit card with bad credit, you have fewer cards to choose from than you would if your credit were in top shape. These cards are usually more expensive than the products offered to people with better credit. Still, there are good reasons to get a credit card if you think you can afford the payments and fees. Credit cards are widely accepted by retailers and are more convenient than cash. Additionally, using a credit card allows you to build your credit back up as long as you are on time with payments.

Here are some potential solutions if you decide to get a credit card with bad credit.

Prepaid Cards

First, what if your credit is too low for credit card companies to agree to lend to you? In this case, you can get a prepaid card. A prepaid card requires you to deposit money with the card company and limits your spending to the amount you have deposited. Thus, it’s not a credit card in the sense that you don’t borrow money and it doesn’t affect your borrowing history.

The benefits to a prepaid card are that it’s accepted everywhere the major credit cards are and you’re not at risk of taking on more debt with it. A downside is that you may pay higher fees than you would for a traditional debit card that comes with a checking account, as Bankrate notes.

Secured Credit Cards

If you have enough credit to borrow some money, you may qualify for a secured credit card. With this type of card, you give the company a deposit but you then borrow with the card, as Business Insider explains. The card issuer decides how much to deposit and how much more than the deposit amount you’re allowed to borrow; these decisions are based on your credit history.

As a benefit, many of these cards report your payments to the credit bureaus so that you can begin repairing your credit score. However, you still need to watch out for fees and be careful not to sign up for unneeded products like credit insurance policies that are sold along with the card.

Unsecured Credit Cards

If your credit is a little better or if you consistently pay off a secured card on time, you may be able to get an unsecured credit card. This is what people usually think of when they think “credit card.” You don’t have to put any money down, and you borrow to make purchases, as explained by Forbes. The amount you can borrow will be limited until your credit improves.

The right card for you depends on your personal financial situation and credit history. Keep in mind that information about credit cards changes frequently and varies by state. Make sure you read the current terms and conditions before you choose a card.

Updating Your Budget Plan When the Seasons Change

A budget plan is often thought of as an annual activity; people look at their income and average expenses and come up with a budget for the year. However, for many households, that plan should be updated every few months to reflect seasonal changes in income and spending. Take these items into consideration as you redo your budget and make some necessary changes.

Income

Take into account any seasonal changes in your income, as Forbes explains. For example, if you work a seasonal job, you may have to adjust your budget at certain times of the year to reflect a lesser income. On the other hand, if you work a temporary retail or delivery job during the holiday season, you may want to set aside some of that money, either to spend at a time of year when your income is lower or to add to your long-term savings.

Utilities

Your highest utility bill depends on the climate where you live. If you live in a cold climate, your heating bill in the winter will be on the rise, as The Week reports. In a hot climate, you may be paying for air conditioning in the summer. You also might have a higher water bill during the warm weather if you have a lawn or garden to water. When you enter a season that’s less expensive for you, adjust your budget to reflect what you are really spending on utilities. You may be able to direct some extra money to savings that you weren’t noticing before.

Holidays

You may celebrate a holiday or two in each season, in which case you want to budget for special treats and entertainment specific to these events. You may spend a large amount on decorations and gifts during the winter holiday season, so it’s a good idea to start saving for those purchases early in the fall, as US News & World Report explains.

School

If you have kids in school or if you’re pursuing a degree yourself, you’ll have extra expenses at the beginning of the fall semester and possibly at the beginning of the spring semester too. Some items to include in your budget plan are things like textbooks, writing supplies, calculators, and even new clothes, as USA Today reports.

Yard Work

If you have a yard, you may buy plants, flowers, and other supplies like plant food, garden stakes, and trellises in the spring, according to Porch. If you hire a lawn car company you also need to consider those costs throughout the summer. Additionally, either paying someone to shovel snow or buying new snow removal equipment are expenses to budget for in the winter.

Travel

If you plan to take a vacation, that is something you need to budget for well in advance, US News & World Report says. Save some money each month leading up to a trip so you don’t have to come up with the money all at once. You’ll also want to adjust your budget as other types of travel plans come up.

Don’t forget to make things easier for yourself by making these seasonal adjustments to your budget.

Investment Tips for Beginners

If you’ve recently graduated from college, you’ve been told it’s important to start investing at an early age—but where do you begin?

As you settle into your new income and expenses, including student loans, how can you fit in investing as well? Luckily, you don’t have to be a Wall Street guru to begin building a portfolio and saving for retirement. These beginner investment tips can help fund your future.

1. Build an emergency fund first.

Before you start investing, build up a savings account to get you through unexpected expenses. Building a nest egg to cover car repairs or other small emergencies is wise no matter what your starting salary is. Kiplinger recommends that you have at least enough in a cash reserve to cover your expenses for 6 to 12 months.

2. Start with what your employer offers.

Many companies offer a 401(k) account, and some will even match a percentage of your contributions. For instance, if you allocate 3 percent of your paycheck into your 401(k), your company may also contribute 3 percent. Take advantage of this opportunity if it’s available. With time on your side, the earlier you start making regular contributions, the longer your investment has to grow.

A company-sponsored retirement account may put you in a default target-date fund, but you can make adjustments based on your personal goals, says US News & World Report. Speak with your account manager if you need guidance or financial planning advice.

3. Save and invest on your own.

If you don’t have a 401(k) or want to invest even more, you can open your own retirement account, such as an IRA or Roth IRA, as Money Under 30 explains. It’s best to speak to a financial advisor to discuss your goals and decide which account type is best for you. For example, an advisor might recommend that you invest aggressively since you’ll have years to recover from stock market fluctuations.

4. Avoid individual stocks.

Playing the market is complicated, and although you might want to dabble in purchasing individual stocks at some point, when you’re first starting out, diversification is a much safer route to take. As CNN Money points out, while half of Americans invest money in the stock market, only 14 percent own individual stocks. Look into mutual funds, which are a collection of stocks, bonds, or other securities that can help diversify your investment.

5. Automate your investments.

If you plan to invest money leftover from your paycheck after you pay your bills, you could end of forgetting or spending it on something else. Instead, have your bank take a percentage or set amount from each direct-deposited paycheck and transfer it into your investment account automatically, advises Bloomberg. This is also a good tactic to use for your savings account.

You don’t need to wait for a large salary to start investing. With tips from a professional advisor, you can start investing soon after college and help create a strong foundation that can grow into a large account by the time your retire.

Family Friendly Fall Activities Drop in Southern Cities

Traveling with the family in the Southeast looking for fall activities? After sorting through a massive batch of not-to-miss locales, we chose three: one each in Atlanta and Savannah, GA, and one in Charleston, SC.

Center for Puppetry Arts

The Center for Puppetry Arts is a unique museum, performance theater, and educational center in Atlanta that celebrates the art of puppetry. It knows how to pull the strings of both kids and adults.

The interactive “Worlds of Puppetry” museum, part of a $14 million expansion in 2015, houses the Jim Henson Collection and Global gallery. The former features more than seventy-five puppets and artifacts from Henson’s Muppet-laden career. Big Bird, Kermit, and other timeless characters are also on display.

The Global gallery houses almost 200 puppets and artifacts that represent five continents, including Chinese shadow puppets and American marionettes. The theater hosts in-house and touring productions, and its Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer show, based on the enduring TV special, has become an annual holiday tradition.

South Carolina Aquarium

More than 5,000 creatures call this Charleston South Carolina Aquarium home. Its 385,000 gallon Great Ocean Tank may be the star attraction, serving as the liquid playground for a 220-pound loggerhead turtle, sharks, and more. American alligators, rattlesnakes, and native flora can be seen in the Coastal Plain exhibit.

A total of ten other exhibits bring visitors up close and personal with animals found high and low. A regal bald eagle keeps watch of the Mountain Forest, while the Touch Tank promises animal interaction. The latter allows guests to touch and feel a variety of invertebrates. Think Atlantic stingrays, horseshoe crabs, sea urchins, and more. Check the aquarium’s calendar for special fall activities.

The Pirates’ House

More than just a Savannah restaurant, the Pirates’ House is a historic building that dates back to the mid-1700s. Tiny pirates and little mermaids typically appreciate the old world rustic look and feel of its environs.

Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow would certainly be at home. In fact, legend says actual swashbucklers did business at the Pirates’ House over mugs of grog and rum. A ship’s worth of pirate decor fills the restaurant’s rooms, and each deserve exploration. The Captain’s Room boasts hand-sewn ceiling beams connected by wooden pegs. Peer down darkened cellar stairways supposedly used by pirates back in the day.

Of course, ghost stories abound, including one about the continuous haunting by Captain Flint. True or not, families can enjoy the mystique while munching on seafood, steaks, and more. Those 21 and older may consider imbibing rum-tinged cocktails. Sail to the gift shop for a pirate-themed trinket or T-shirt to take home.

Next time you’re looking for some fun fall family activities in Georgia or South Carolina, be sure to take a ride over to one of these gems.

Factors Affecting Your Car Insurance Costs

Whether you lease, finance, or own a vehicle, it’s the law that you must have a car insurance policy. However, there are several variables that affect how much insurance coverage you need and how much it will cost you.

Take a look at how auto insurance rates are calculated so you can pick the best coverage for your needs and budget.

The Vehicle

The cost of car insurance is heavily based on the make, model, and age of your vehicle. That’s why a brand new sports car will have a much higher premium than a 10-year-old car, and an SUV will usually cost more than a sedan.

Safety features can also qualify you for discounts, which means a newer car that comes loaded with things like airbags, automatic seat belts, and anti-lock brakes might lower the cost a bit.

Driving Record

Auto insurance carriers offer the best rates to drivers who have a strong track record of safe driving. That’s not to say you’re doomed if you’ve been in a fender bender. But if you have points on your license because of moving violations, for example, you can expect to pay a higher premium. On the other hand, if you’ve taken a defensive driving course, that could give you a discount.

Demographics

Car insurance carriers are allowed to “discriminate” against groups of people based on age and gender. That’s why young male drivers’ rates are typically higher than older females—the risk of their involvement in an accident is greater. That being said, over time, a good driving record will even the playing field, and age and gender won’t play much of a role.

Credit History

While it may come as a surprise to many consumers, your credit score can actually have an impact on your car insurance rates. Like most lenders and financial companies, auto insurance companies want to feel confident that you will pay your bills on time. Therefore, those with strong credit histories will qualify for better rates.

Location

Another factor affecting the price of auto insurance is where you live. It makes sense if you’re in an urban area doing a lot of traffic-heavy city driving, the chances are greater that you may be involved in a collision. The risk of theft or vandalism can also increase if you live in a city.

Coverage Options

While you can’t control all of the factors listed above, you do have some choice as far as how much auto coverage you need. If you’re leasing or financing, there will be certain minimum requirements, for instance, you’ll have to carry collision coverage. But you can opt out of certain extras if you own a car outright, or opt for a lower premium plan but accept a higher deductible.

As with any financial decision, the key is not to choose your insurance without doing your homework. Shop around and get quotes from a couple of insurers to see which one is a good fit for you.

Holiday Attractions: Things to Do in Savannah, GA

Looking for things to do in Savannah, GA this holiday season? Seasonal activities prove more bountiful than the toys rolling out of Santa’s workshop. Consider taking the family to one of these holiday-themed ideas during the winter holidays this year.

A Christmas Tradition at Savannah Theatre

Now in its 14th year, this 2-hour holiday production at Savannah Theatre has the old-school aura of the classic variety show. A live band, as well as singers, dancers, and thespians bring tinsel-tinged entertainment to the stage. Expect plenty of twinkling lights and seasonal razzle dazzle. One moment Kris Kringle leads a chorus line of high-hoofing reindeer. Minutes later you’ll see a small choir belt out a gospel injected version of “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” The spirit of Andy Williams comes to life when cast members croon “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “White Christmas,” and other standards. The show runs through Christmas Eve 2016.

Savannah Philharmonic Holiday Pops Concert at Savannah Civic Center

On December 17, the Civic Center’s Johnny Mercer Theater plays host to this annual tradition courtesy of the Savannah Philharmonic. The orchestra performs a classic holiday soundtrack and even encourages the audience to sing along. The 3:00 p.m. family matinee offers a 1-hour show with younger audiences in mind. The Savannah Children’s Choir bring its trademark angelic vocals to the proceedings. The 7:30 p.m. performance strikes a more mature chord. Guest soloist Michael Maliakel, the American Traditions Competition’s 2016 gold medalist, will display his booming baritone.

Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa

This annual celebration arguably rises to the top among the many holiday-related things to do in Savannah, GA. Just across the Savannah River from festive River Street, this resort does the holiday season in a big way. Special events and activities take place Thursdays–Sundays in December, and the whole week leading up to Christmas Day. The hotel’s Gingerbread Village boasts serious handmade displays. Carolers and choirs add music to the chilly air. Animals from the Oatland Island Wildlife Center can be seen up close and personal. The same goes for the big guy in red. Don’t feel like cooking on Christmas Day? Brunch (11 a.m. – 3 p.m.) and dinner (6:00 p.m. – 10 p.m.) can be found in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant.

Spend some special time with the family this year. And who knows—maybe one of these three suggestions might leave you with visions of sugarplums dancing in your head.

New Cars vs. Used Cars: Things to Consider

When shopping for a vehicle, it’s hard to pass up shouts of “zero down!” or “no payments for six months!” It’s tempting to indulge in that new car smell and the feeling of being a vehicle’s first-ever owner.

Unfortunately, buying new will likely cost more than you think. The good news is you can still find a relatively new vehicle—without falling into the trap of overpaying for good value. Let’s look at the top three reasons buying used cars is the smarter financial choice.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Not sure who to trust? Numbers always tell the truth, so start there. According to Experian’s most recent State of the Automotive Finance Market report, the average new car loan is $29,880 with a term of 68 months. Since payments average $499 per month, new car owners can expect to pay about $33,932 over the course of that loan.

For a used vehicle, on the other hand, the average loan amount is $19,100 with a term of 63 months and average monthly payment of $364. Over the course of that loan, you can expect to pay about $22,932. Between the two options lies a whopping $11,000 gap.

Avoid First-Year Blues

There is another force that new car buyers should keep in mind: depreciation.

A new car loses about 11 percent of its value the moment you leave the lot, as pointed out by Edmunds. By the end of the first year, average depreciation ranges from 15–25 percent. By 5 years, you can expect your new vehicle to have lost about 60 percent of its original value.

Why does this matter? If you’d like to sell or trade in your car in roughly 10 years, chances are either move will result in a pretty hefty financial loss to you. When your car depreciates faster than you pay down the balance, you’ll find yourself upside down in your loan—owing more than it’s worth. Or worse, you could be under water, which means you owe significantly more than the car is worth.

Depreciation plays a part in your insurance as well. If your new car is totaled in an accident—especially within the first 5 years—you’re likely to only get what your car is currently worth. Not what you paid for it or what you still owe on your loan. Gap coverage can help offset the difference in the event of an accident. But if you sell or trade it in before the depreciation evens out, you’ll end up paying the difference.

You Can Find the Balance

Many shoppers worry about buying lemons when searching for a used car. But between buying new and used, there is a sweet spot. Purchasing a car that’s between 1–2 years old—and trading or selling it before the 5-year mark—can save you a ton of money. Depreciation takes the biggest toll within the first year. When you buy used, the previous owner takes that hit, not you. Depreciation will work in your favor allowing you to get a much better deal for your money. Plus, strong dealerships set high standards for pre-owned vehicles, taking the worry out of buying used.

If you plan on keeping the car for a while, buying used cars at the 3- or 5-year mark gives you the best value.

While that new car smell is tempting, if you can resist it, you’ll reap the benefits. Finding a quality used car can get you all the bells and whistles you want without breaking the bank.