12 holiday season money-management and scam prevention tips!

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Happy December! It’s only two and a half weeks away from Christmas and just under three and a half weeks till 2017.

The holiday season is often a time of spending. Travels, family obligations, parties and holiday gifts all eat up quite a lot of your money. Yet, especially for those who work on hourly wages, December can be a tough time because of having less work days.

Whether you are running a side gig in addition to your day job, or you are a start-up solopreneur, controlling expenses is a must for prosperity.

It is one thing to be a cheap-ass. It is another thing to be economically savvy and discerning.

In this article I would like to point out several ways to save money.

1. Sometimes spending more is less (part 1).

When I was homeless, I learned that it could be actually really expensive to be homeless. Among others, part of the challenge was that I had no place to store food or personal care items. So I was forced to buy everything in small amount. In retail, almost everything is priced better when purchased in a larger package. When one is extremely poor, the survival instinct is to buy whatever is the priced the lowest — but because the smallest package tends to be the worst bang for the buck, in a long run you will be losing a lot of money.

2. Sometimes spending more is less (part 2).

Another thing I learned was that there are plenty of cheap goods in the market but they break so easily and so quickly that they require more frequent replacement. Even though a better quality item may seem really expensive, if they last longer, you will be saving money.

3. Shop on Amazon.

Usually I don’t like to openly endorse mega-corporations. But if you must shop online, Amazon is a great deal for a number of reasons:

- Comparison shopping. Most items come from several Amazon partner vendors (many of them are small businesses!) and you can compare prices and shipping costs online. 
- No credit or debit cards required. I buy prepaid gift cards at a drugstore with cash. You can shop on Amazon even if you don’t have a bank account. Unused balance will stay on your Amazon account and will not expire. Unlike prepaid debit cards, there is no fee to buy an Amazon gift card, and your privacy is secure since there is no personal data attached to it.
- Secure delivery. Many convenience stores now have “Amazon Lockers” where you can pick up your purchase using a special PIN. No more stolen packages. (Especially if you are unhoused, live in a shared housing, or travelling this service is great.) 
- You can almost find anything you can think of. When Amazon began in the mid-1990s it was “the world’s biggest bookstore” (a claim once challenged in court by Barnes & Noble). Now it’s a department store. Even some of the hardest-to-find niche items can be bought from Amazon.

4. Don’t use debit cards or credit cards.

First, people tend to overspend when they don’t have a hard limit on spending. Second, with the increase in hacking and other cybercrimes, using a bankcard online or at stores could mean your bank account could be wiped out one day by criminals. While U.S. federal regulations allow for recovery of stolen funds from debit cards, this process can take up to 45 days.

5. Use prepaid (non-reloadable) debit cards.

If you must use a card for online shopping, use a prepaid VISA or MasterCard debit cards, or American Express Secure Pay card. These cards are sold at supermarkets and drugstores for a one-time fee ranging from $3.95 to $7.95 but has no monthly fee deductions (unlike reloadable Green Dot and Netspend cards) and funds do not expire. If you tend to shop online frequently, purchasing a card in a specific amount each month would be a good budget habit. If in any case hackers obtain card numbers your loss will be limited to whatever that’s on the card and no sensitive personal information will be exposed (unlike reloadable cards, these cards don’t require any ID or Social Security Number in order to activate; some cards are nearly anonymous). Caveats: these cards can only be used in the U.S. and on U.S.-based e-commerce sites, and cannot be used on ATM. Keep cards that are spent for a year from the date of last use, as any refunds and adjustments will go back to the cards. Don’t throw away the card just because it’s empty.

6. Protect your ATM cards!

There are criminals who install inconspicuous gadgets on ATMs to steal your card numbers and PIN. Then they make counterfeit ATM cards to steal money from your bank account. This crime is called “skimming” is widespread. Many financial institutions are now installing new, high-tech ATMs that prevent skimming, but you can protect yourself by:

- Not using ATMs at convenience stores, supermarkets, or outdoors. (These are the most vulnerable locations for skimming.) 
- Not using ATMs after-hours or ones not located at a bank or credit union branch. (During weekdays when branches are open, ATMs are serviced and inspected more often, so skimmers try to do it after the branches close, or at off-site ATMs.) 
- Before using an ATM, check keypads and card slots. Don’t use if anything seems or feels weird. (Also: be sure that the “Cancel,” “Clear,” and “Enter” keys are not superglued.) 
- If you can, use the same ATMs at same bank branch locations every time (it will be easier to notice if something is amiss). 
- Cover keypad with a magazine or newspaper when entering PIN (usually they install small video camera above keypad to capture your PIN). 
- Run your hand over keypad several times before you leave (some criminals use heat sensor or powder to get your PIN). 
- Check your online banking portal every day. If money is stolen from your bank account, you MUST request card replacement and report incident within two business days or you may not be able to recover the loss.

7. Join a credit union.

Many banks charge all kinds of fees every month unless you have lots of money. These costs add up fast over time. Credit unions almost always offer a no-fee account, and most of them are part of the Co-Op Network so you can use other credit unions’ branches and ATMs with no fees involved. While some credit unions have restricted membership (you must be an employee of certain companies, or a member of a certain organization) many are now “community charter” credit unions, which means you can join if you live or work in a specific region. Look for a credit union with a long history and moderately large membership as they are signs of stability. (Many credit unions require you to “purchase member shares,” which usually ranges from $5 to $50 held in your savings account and cannot be withdrawn unless you quit. This is just like owning a stock in a bank, making you an owner of a credit union!)

- In Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue area: Join Salal Credit Union. Formerly Group Health Credit Union, it boasts a history that goes back to the 1940s. Anyone who lives in the State of Washington can join. 
- In Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington: Join OnPoint Community Credit Union. Originally called Portland Teachers’ Credit Union, now it is one of the largest credit unions in the Pacific Northwest with extensive branch network. Membership is open to anyone who lives Benton, Clackamas, Columbia, Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Washington, and Yamhill counties in Oregon, and Clark and Skamania counties in Washington. Membership $15 (see above). 
- In St. Helens, Oregon or Astoria/Warrenton/Seaside, Oregon (and Pacific County, Washington): Join Wauna Federal Credit Union. Membership is only $5 (see above), and there are deposit-taking ATMs throughout northwestern Oregon. 
- In Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia: Vancouver, B.C. is home to the Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (VanCity), probably the biggest credit union on the West Coast. VanCity is so big (nearly 520,000 members!) that it even owns a commercial bank. At this level it is almost indistinguishable from regular banks, but VanCity has been a mainstay of local banking since 1946. Anyone who lives in BC can join. Membership $5 (Canadian dollars).

8. Eating out can eat your wallet out.

When you go out to eat, even for fast food, you are paying for more than food. You are paying for labor, overhead, and shareholder profits. If you have means to cook your own food you can save a lot of money. Learn to cook.

9. Do not order beverage at restaurants.

Beverage is where most foodservice industry gets the highest profit margin. You might pay $2 for a glass of soda that actually costs them 20 cents.

10. Be a comparison shopper.

Google Shopping search feature allows you to compare prices on electronics (mostly) and other items at local stores and online. If you are buying books, AddAll is a great search engine to compare prices and features.

11. Know free resources in your area.

- Public libraries
- Free stores/freecycle groups
- Free community events, concerts, cultural events and lectures 
- Free food porches, Food Not Bombs groups, and free boxes

12. Use coupons and/or look for promotions.

- Many supermarket chains now offer digital coupons (linked to your frequent shopper card) and mobile apps. You get automatic discounts when you scan your frequent shopper card or mobile app screen at checkout. 
- Sunday newspapers and weekly “shopper”-type newspapers (in Portland area, The Oregonian distributes something called This Week to every household) are still great sources for coupons and for finding out about deals. 
- Holiday seasons tend to be full of promotional deals, especially when it comes closer to Christmas. 
- Best deals often happen after Jan. 1 when retailers try to dump overstocks post-holidays. Wait if you can.

The mission of limeadestand works is to make human dignity and liberties a reality for every human being, in which every person may express their fullest potentials within the context of a free, inclusive, vibrant, and civil community. limeadestand works educates and equips individuals on the edge and in the middle alike to empower themselves with their own hands, creating economic and social opportunities where none may even exist. Hypermicroenterprises and grassroots community organizing are the tools of choice, and limeadestand works specifically focuses on practical, DIY solutions and ‘lifehacks’ that can be implemented by anyone, regardless of present socioeconomic circumstances.

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Copyright 2016, S.A. Morrigan dba limeadestandworks. Creative Commons Public License 4.0 by-nc-nd.

Sarah-Andrea Amy “Willow” Morrigan. Mailing address: 1724 NE Broadway St. #539, Portland, Oregon 97232–1428. Headquarters of record: 32180 Pittsburg-Saint Helens Rd., Saint Helens, Oregon 97051–9147. Serving people of Columbia County, Tualatin Valley, and Portland Metro regions.
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