How To Use The Money Envelope System

Image of person putting cash into an envelopeIf you’re like many of us, you’ve been trying to stick to a budget for a while, but by the time each month is over, you’ve busted your budget – again.

Because of this recurring pattern, you’re probably wondering if there’s a better way. Fortunately, the answer is yes!

The money envelope system has been around for years, and it’s an incredibly motivating and powerful way to keep spending in check.

Advantage One is proud to bring you this handy guide to understanding and implementing the money envelope system in your household.

Note: If you already have a workable monthly budget, you can skip to step 2.

1. Determine your monthly income and expenses
For the next few months, track all of your expenses. Hold onto every receipt or record each purchase you make, being sure to indicate which category of expense it falls under. Hold onto every pay stub, too. When a three-month period has passed, you’ll sit down to figure out exactly how much discretionary income you’re left with each month. This will not include fixed amounts, like insurance premiums, mortgage payments, savings and investments.

2. Create a budget for every expense category
Now, divide your discretionary income into different categories. The categories you need and the amounts you’ll set aside for each will depend on your individual lifestyle and habits, but you’ll likely need categories for food, gas, entertainment, transportation and clothing costs.

Review the way you’ve been spending your money in the last few months for an idea of how much you’ll need to set aside for each category. If you see you’ve been overspending in a certain area, this is a great time to resolve to cut back.

3. Create your envelopes
This is where the money envelope system differs from a regular budget. Instead of having money set aside for each category in your head, or even scribbled on a paper somewhere, take one envelope for each expense category and mark it clearly. Now, put the exact amount of cash for this month in the envelope for each category.

Do this with every expense category, and voila! You’ve created your new budgeting system!

4. Stick to your budget
As in any budget, following through on a plan is the hardest part. With the envelope system though, it’s a whole lot easier.

Say you need to make a grocery run. You’ll peek inside your “groceries” envelope, take note of how much cash is inside, and figure out how much you can afford to spend. Take that amount of money to the store with you, and only use that cash. No cheating! There’s absolutely no card-swiping allowed and no sneaking money from another envelope to beef up a skimpy cash supply in another. You need to work with what you have.

Instead of walking out of the store with a dozen items in hand that weren’t on your list, you’ll be forced to stick to your budget. And, if you find yourself running low on grocery money one month, you’ll have to make do. You can take the pantry challenge and dream up a menu created around the ingredients you have on hand, or you can shop the sales and cook according to what’s cheapest this week.

Do whatever it takes – but no cheating!

5. Reward yourself!
If you find yourself with extra money in any category at the end of the month, it’s OK to celebrate. Dave Ramsey recommends rewarding yourself with a dinner out or an expensive drink. Alternatively, you can treat that money as “rollover cash” and use it to enjoy a roomier budget next month.

Tips and tricks
Here are some variations and different approaches to this ingenious system:

  • Use a small accordion file folder instead of individual envelopes. It’ll be easier to keep track of your envelopes when they’re all in one place, and it’s sturdier than paper envelopes.
  • Go cashless! Love the idea but hate the thought of only using cash? You can still use the envelope system with some minor adjustments. There are apps designed to create virtual envelopes for you to use, such as Mvelopes. You can also use a cost-free budgeting app that allows you to divide and track your spending into different categories, such as Mint, Quicken and Monefy.
  • Trim your fixed expenses. If you’re finding it difficult to stick to your self-created budget, try to cut back on your non-discretionary spending. Search for a cheaper auto insurance plan.
  • Ditch your cable. Find ways to trim your electric bill and gas expenses. Use the money you save to add to the envelopes that never seem to have enough to get you through the month.
  • Create an emergency envelope. Set aside $20 or $50 to use in case another envelope runs out of money.

Congratulations! You’ve got the money envelope system down pat! Here’s hoping it helps you on your journey toward financial wellness.

Your Turn:
Have you tried the money envelope system? Has it worked for you? Why, or why not?



Laptop/Notebook Reviews

student looking at laptops in retail storeSay goodbye to your iPhone; in college, your laptop will be your new BFF. Here’s where it all happens: the notes on your classes, your study schedule, writing those papers – your whole life is here!

Make sure you’re fully equipped to give it all you’ve got by weighing all of your options before buying a laptop or notebook. We’ve made the job easier for you by reviewing the best picks for college students today.

1.) Dell XPS 13
Price: $800-$949
For a laptop that looks amazing and is super-powerful and functional, the Dell XPS 13 is a great choice.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 8th-generation Intel Core i3 – Intel Core i7
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 – Intel UHD Graphics 620
    RAM: 4GB – 16GB
    Screen: 13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080; non-touch) QHD+ (3,200 x 1,800; touchscreen)
    Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
  • Pros: Strong battery life, Webcam orientation, Sleek, pretty exterior
  • Cons: Poor speaker placement, Relatively expensive in comparison to similar models

2.) Samsung Notebook 9 Pro
Price: $875-$999
The 2-in-1 laptop that outperforms nearly every other one on the market, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro’s best feature is its stylus, equipped with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity to make sure you don’t miss a word. Best of all, this nifty little gadget attaches to the Notebook and doesn’t need to be charged separately.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i7
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620 – AMD Radeon Graphics (2GB GDDR5)
    RAM: 8GB – 16GB
    Screen: 13.3-inch – 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) LED display with Touch Screen Panel
    Storage: 256GB SSD
  • Pros: Excellent for the stylus, Sleek look and feel, Lengthy battery life
  • Cons: Downward-firing speakers, Touchscreen has only 1080 pixels

3. Asus Chromebook Flip
Price: $450-$499
Asus has slashed the price on Chromebooks while equipping the laptop with a 360-degree hinge for easy flipping.

  • Specs:
    CPU: Intel Core m3
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515
    RAM: 4GB | Screen: 12.5-inch, Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED backlit anti-glare
    Storage: 64GB eMMC + TPM
  • Pros: Stunning, vivid screen, Excellent price for performance and features, 360-degree hinge
  • Cons: No out-of-box Android app support, Average speakers

4. Microsoft Surface Prol9
Price: $375-$899
Finally, the next generation of tablets has made its debut. This tablet is so well-equipped that it can easily replace your laptop. The Surface Pro has several different versions, and as usual, the more you pay, the more you’ll get.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 7th generation Intel Core m3 – i7
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615 – Iris Plus Graphics 640
    RAM: 4GB – 16GB
    Screen: 12.3-inch, 2,736 x 1,824 PixelSense display
    Storage: 128GB – 1TB SSD
  • Pros: Improved battery life, Sleek, modern design, Large selection of accessories
  • Cons: Surface Pen no longer included in package, Only the i7 version can compete with Apple’s less-expensive iPad Pro

5. Samsung Notebook 7 Spin
Price: $ 699 – $1200
With the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin, you’ll get the performance you’d expect from a MacBook Pro, for the price of a MacBook Air.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 6th generation Intel Core i7
    Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 940MX (2GB DDR3L); Intel HD Graphics 520
    RAM: 12GB – 16GB
    Screen: 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) LED with touch panel
    Storage: 1 TB HDD – 1TB HDD; 128GB SSD
  • Pros: Extremely versatile, Full HD touchscreen
  • Cons: Heavyweight, Graphics don’t quite measure up to the competition

6. Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming
Price: $699-$799
Need a computer that offers the perfect mix of functionality and gaming options? Look no further than the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i5 – i7
    Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050; Intel HD Graphics 620 – GTX 1050 Ti; Intel HD Graphics 630
    RAM: 8GB – 16GB
    Screen: 15.6-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) – UHD (3,840 x 2,160) anti-glare LED-backlit
    Storage: 1TB HDD – 1TB HDD; 128GB SSD
  • Pros: Affordable gaming setup, Excellent battery life
  • Cons: Trackpad isn’t fully reliable, Screen is deficient

7. Acer Swift 3
Price: $429-$699
If you’re looking for a budget laptop that will still do its job well, you’ve just found it. The Acer Swift 3 offers performance and value, complete with Ultrabook-class Core i processors and an incredible 8 hours of passive battery life.

  • Specs:
    CPU: 7th generation Intel Core i3 – i7
    Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 620
    RAM: 4GB – 8GB
    Screen: 14-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080) ComfyView IPS
    Storage: 128GB – 256GB SSD
  • Pros: Powerful for its price, Strong battery life
  • Cons: Boring looks, Down-firing speakers

Your Turn: What’s your favorite laptop? How does it make tackling studies or doing course work easier and/or more productive?


Grocery Apps

Grocery shopping is an inevitable part of life. Whether you choose to do your shopping at the corner grocery, Whole Foods or your local Walmart, remembering what you need and trying to stick to your budget can be a hassle. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this chore was a little easier?

That’s the goal of the dozens of grocery apps currently available. But with so many out there, how can you choose the one that best suits your needs?

Advantage One to the rescue! We’re proud to bring you a review of the best grocery apps. All to make your life a little easier.

Grocery iQ
Grocery IQ logoThis one has the word “IQ” in it for a reason; it’s built smartly! Grocery iQ also wants to make you a smarter shopper. This free app is one of the most full-featured grocery list apps available. It allows you to create shopping lists, scan barcodes and perform searches via voice recognition.

  • Best features
    Grocery iQ allows you to scan an item’s barcode and then store it in the app’s memory to add to future grocery lists. It’s also equipped with the super-convenient ability to clip and print coupons – it’ll even show you which coupons are available for the products on your list! Best of all, when you create a Grocery iQ account, you can sync it with your store’s loyalty card and add your coupons directly to your store account.
  • Glaring glitches
    While Grocery iQ will show you coupons for the items you’re searching for, it won’t tell you what’s on sale in other stores or offer any help with creating your menu for the week.

Out of Milk
Out of Milk logoEveryone hates running out of milk. This free app wants to make sure you never have to experience that inconvenience again! Out of Milk allows you to create a fun, interactive grocery list that makes shopping super-easy. It also lets you design to-do lists for other areas of your life outside grocery shopping.

  • Best Features
    Out of Milk’s defining feature is its Pantry List. Aptly named, this feature allows you to keep stock of what’s in your pantry and alert you when you’re running low on a food item or staple so you know when it’s time to restock. It’s like shopping with your pantry in your back pocket!
  • Glaring Glitches
    Out of Milk shines at pantry-tracking but has no added features for menu-planning, coupon-clipping or even comparison shopping.

Grocery Pal
Grocery Pal logoGrocery Pal is the bargain shopper’s dream. The free app was designed to help you browse the latest sales and deals at your favorite supersized and midsized stores, allowing you to add on-sale items to your existing grocery list with an easy click. Grocery Pal is also adept at organizing your recipes and tracking the items in your pantry. It’s truly an all-in-one app!

  • Best Features
    No more messy coupon-clipping! Grocery Pal not only allows you to browse the local sales, it will search for deals on the items on your list on its own, with no input or effort on your part.
  • Glaring Glitches
    Grocery Pal will not allow you to scan a barcode and store an item in its memory for future lists.

How they stack up
App Comparison

Your Turn:
What’s your favorite grocery-list app? Tell us all about it in the comments!


Beware of Intel Patch Scams

image of intel i7 processorLast month, we learned that millions of processors throughout the world were vulnerable to hackers. The problems, known as Spectre and Meltdown, lie within chips of computers and smartphones, making them nearly impossible to fix or replace. To protect consumers, all major technology companies have created updated versions for their devices’ security and distributed patches to protect against these flaws.

Millions of users have installed updates and patches, despite technical glitches and other minor inconveniences.

However, hackers are now exploiting the fearful climate following the newsbreak. The criminals have built a malicious app that’s cleverly disguised as a patch that allegedly protects the victim’s computer against the vulnerabilities.

Arm yourself with the right information to protect yourself and your devices against this nefarious scheme.

How it works
A panicky consumer searches online for a patch. They easily find one and proceed to click on the helpful link promising to install the patch. Instead of a patch, they’ve actually just installed a malicious app granting hackers complete access to their device.

In Germany and Australia, the hackers sent emails impersonating the countries’ federal security agencies. The emails urged the recipients to click on the embedded link, and they were then directed to bogus government sites where they were instructed to download a patch. Of course, this “patch” was nothing but a malicious app.

So far, the scam has not reached the U.S. on this level, but harmful apps and downloads have made their way to American shores.

Recognizing a malicious site or app
Only the big technology companies whose names you will easily recognize, like Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Google, are issuing true patches. To determine if a patch is indeed being distributed by one of these companies, verify the URL. The patches should be sent directly from these companies and not via any other parties or websites. If you don’t recognize the site, don’t download the patch! The best way to obtain an authentic patch is to contact these companies yourself and follow their exact directions.
If you’ve been sent a link for a patch that looks like it comes from one of these companies, first check it for authenticity. Hover over the link to see the URL the link will go to for verifying that it’s from a reliable source.

If you’ve been contacted by a party you don’t recognize regarding a patch, ignore it and alert the authorities.

Online safety
It’s always a good idea to practice good internet hygiene.

  • Never click on links embedded in emails or social media messages from unknown sources.
  • Before clicking a link, let your cursor hover over it to see the URL it will go to.
  • Never share personal information online unless you are absolutely positive about the recipient’s authenticity.
  • Be wary of using public Wi-Fi.

Your Turn:
How do you spot and protect yourself from online scams? Share your best tips with us in the comments!


Will Amazon Go Destroy The Face Of American Retail?

Amazon Go logoYou’ve picked up your last item, and you’re ready to check out. But if you thought choosing the right blend of K-cups was a tough decision, that’s nothing compared to the choice you’ll have to make now. Do you go to the aisle with the most carts that has the fastest cashier? Do you take your chances behind the mom with the screaming baby and whiny toddler? Can you squeeze into the “20 Items or Less” aisle (even though you may be one or two items over)?

Tough decisions, indeed.

That moment of tension might soon go the way of the 8-track and cassette.

On Jan. 22, amid much excitement and media attention, Amazon threw open the doors of its revolutionary cashierless store to the public.

Using sophisticated cameras and a simple phone scan, the store allows shoppers to walk in, pick up what they want, and walk out. No lines. No cashiers. No bagging. No fuss.

Sounds incredible?

While the quick-in and quick-out appeal might be super-convenient, like all advancements in technology, it comes with a price.

Here’s a quick look at why Amazon Go may not be the best thing since sliced bread, and a deeper look at how it may affect the economy.

1.) Super techy or super creepy?
As our lives become more digitized, true privacy is becoming a rare commodity. Your online browsing activity is already tracked and monitored. The purchases you make on the internet are duly recorded. And, if you step into Amazon Go, the giant e-tailer will also know if you prefer Oreos to Chips Ahoy.

Amazon didn’t provide many details about its tracking system, but the company claims the hundreds of cameras in its new store are not that different from everyday security cameras. The cameras track the shoppers’ movements as they walk through the store, sensing which products they pick up or put down. There are also weight sensors installed in every shelf to help the computers recognize when an item has been grabbed.
Sounds like a store from the future? Maybe. But do you really want to give the commerce giant more knowledge about your personal preferences and shopping habits than it already has?

This isn’t “Big Brother is watching.” It’s more like “Thanks for shopping with Big Brother.”

2.) Less impulse control
The longer we have to think about something, the more of a fighting chance we have of making the right decision.

With Amazon Go’s speedy shopping experience, there’s no more dawdling over items while waiting your turn at the checkout. This means if you’ve got something in your bag that you know shouldn’t be there, it’s going to be that much harder to put it back.

To make it even worse, Manoj Thomas, professor of marketing at Cornell University, says that when people use any abstract form of payment, they tend to spend more. You can’t get much more abstract than a cashless and cashierless store. Amazon Go might be the perfect place for overspending on impulse purchases.

3.) Loss of the human touch
There are few commercial interactions as intimate as the one you share with the cashier in your local grocery – there’s that shared laugh over the extra chocolate bar, the brief commiseration over the miserable weather or the clucking over the rising price of gas. With Amazon Go, that human touch may soon be gone forever.

While these reasons might be enough to convince you to skip the trip to Amazon Go if you live in Seattle, it gets a whole lot worse. Amazon has not shared any plans of rolling out more cashless stores for the time being, but financial analysts predict it won’t be long before more such stores crop up around the country. It’s also likely that other retail giants, like Walmart or Target, will soon open their own brands of Amazon Go.

If the cashierless trend swells, it may dramatically erode the second-most-common job in the country; according to federal data, there are currently 3.5 million Americans who work as cashiers.

It’s not just groceries that will be impacted if the movement continues to grow.

Amazon has boasted that it plans to create an additional 100,000 jobs each year, but what Jeff Bezos won’t say out loud is that for every Amazon job created, another 2 or 3 jobs are lost.

Amazon has already revolutionized the way Americans shop, and online purchases have been outnumbering brick-and-mortar purchases for a while – and half of those are made through Amazon. But this new trend is taking things to an entirely new level.

What’s next? Cashierless clothing boutiques? “Just Walk Out” electronic stores? Tens of thousands of retail workers have already sacrificed their jobs to online convenience. Will that number soon triple?

You can’t stop technology from advancing. In fact, you might even embrace it. But, you can do your part to keep a vital part of our country’s economy thriving.
Here’s how:

  • Support your local small businesses. Shop the mom-and-pop stores when you can and keep the human touch in your life.
  • Order less online. It might be more convenient to do your shopping from your living room couch, but why not help keep a local community member in business instead?
  • Choose American made. You will definitely need to order some things online now and then. When you do, check that the seller and manufacturer live in the good old United States and do your part to keep our economy booming.

Amazon Go may be super-cool and futuristic, but the toll it may take on our economy is worth a second look.

Your Turn:
If an Amazon Go store opened in your neighborhood, would you shop there? Why?


What To Look For In Your First Job

Hand using brush and ink to write job descriptionIf you’re – finally! – in the middle of your last year at college, you likely spend lots of time thinking about that first, after-college job.

What will your job be like?

What kind of company will you work for?

How big will your starting salary be?

Will you get along with your co-workers?

There are so many variables to think about when looking for that first job! Whether you’ve already started haunting job boards and sending out resumes or you haven’t taken the first step, we’ve got you covered. Read on for a list of the most important factors to consider when looking for your post-college job:

1.) Room for growth
You’re at the starting point of your earning potential and can’t be too hung up on salary. A respectable paycheck is nice and you definitely shouldn’t be working for pennies, but it’s more important to consider whether a position will offer you room for growth. After all, you don’t want the first few years of your career path to be stagnant.

2.) Exposure to new skills and knowledge
Experience is truly the best teacher. When looking for a job, be sure to choose one that will help you acquire new skills and broaden your knowledge base. This way, even if the job doesn’t end up being a keeper, you’ll be more marketable for future positions.

3.) Varied responsibilities
A first job will not necessarily match your skill set. You might find yourself being asked to assume responsibilities you’d never thought you could handle. Instead of stressing about this possibility, if it comes up at an interview, look at it as a positive factor.

You still don’t know the extent of your capabilities. The opportunity to explore new tasks will help you tap into your true potential.

4.) Benefits
When considering your take-home pay, find out which – if any – benefits are offered. Standard employee benefits include health insurance, a 401K, paid time off and sick leave. Accepting a job with a higher salary but no benefits can actually leave you with less money in your checking account at the end of the month.

5.) Company history
No matter how exciting a position sounds, it’s crucial to find out all you can about the company itself. How long has the company been in business? Is there a high turnover among employees? Have they recently gone through a management shakeup?

While you might be drawn to a young startup that promises tremendous room for advancement, a well-established company with a proven success track is less chancy and offers more stability.

6.) Don’t expect perfection
You likely have a list of everything that’s important to you in a job. Lots of these factors may be important, and you might even consider them deal-breakers at a prospective job.

It’s important to remember, though, that no job is perfect. You certainly won’t find perfection at your first real job! Scan your list to determine what is truly a non-negotiable to you and what you would consider dropping if everything else fits well.

Your Turn:
Are you job-hunting now? What are your deal-breakers? Share your tips and thoughts with us in the comments!


Phone Cloning And Digital Self Defense

person holding a smart phoneMost of us realize a clone is a genetic copy of something else. But, did you know it is possible to clone a phone? Cloning a phone means that the identity of one phone is copied to another phone, making a nearly exact replica of the original. This frightening practice happens more than you might imagine.

Cyber forensic expert Ali Dehghantanha says, “On average, we check our mobile phones about 110 times a day. We use them for just about everything from summoning an Uber car, paying for our latest Amazon purchases, receiving prescriptions and even tracking shares and trading on the stock market.”

Mobile phones, though, are also a major source of security breaches, and your phone number is the only thing a hacker needs to launch a major attack.

Why Clone a Phone?
Hackers clone phones so they can use them or sell them to people who use them to make calls and to get access to data on the phone. When a phone is cloned, the calls made by the hackers are seamlessly billed to your account. But that’s just the beginning.

Think of all of the information on your phone: financial accounts, credit cards, apps of all kinds. Once the hacker has access to the phone, there is no end to the financial damage that can be done.

The hacker or criminal can listen to you from their own phone and even use the camera on your phone to watch you. He can look at your pictures, read your messages, access your passwords and view your contacts.

Additionally, these cloned phones are convenient devices for criminals to use because they are harder to trace. Cloning is particularly prevalent in drug-related crime, since drug dealers must maintain constant contact with their sources and clients. To avoid their calls being traced, the dealer may use a cloned phone for a few days and then throw it away and use another one.

It may even appear to authorities that you are engaged in criminal activity if the phone number is used this way. The police may target you because of a cyberattack where your phone number was used.

There are a number of ways a hacker can clone a phone. Generally, every phone has a unique serial number and phone number. When a cellphone is cloned, it is reprogrammed to transfer these settings from a legitimate phone. The easiest way to clone a phone is to use readily available software. There are hundreds of sites that offer phone hacking software, so this is not a rare occurrence and requires little technical expertise.

How do you know your phone has been cloned?
Often, you will be unaware that your phone has been cloned until you notice some unusual occurrence, such as credit card bills that include charges you didn’t make, financial account withdrawals and unusual items on accounts, such as Uber or Airbnb. You may be contacted by your financial institution about a loan you did not actually apply for.

However, you can sometimes detect hints that the phone has been cloned. You may receive a lot of wrong number calls or hang-ups when you answer the phone. You might have difficulty making outgoing calls or retrieving messages. Your phone bill may contain unknown numbers.

How Can You Protect Yourself?
While cellular companies have many methods in place to identify cloned phones, there are some things you can do.

First, always review your phone bill. If there are numbers you don’t recognize and charges that are much greater than usual, you may suspect trouble. Have your provider run a diagnostic test to check for viruses that may have resulted from cloning.

Another way to possibly detect cloning is to put your phone number into a search engine, such as Google, to see if any links include your number. You can also use someone else’s phone to call your number and see if someone picks up. Contact your financial institution to see if anyone has tried to open credit cards or loans in your name. Make sure your phone is password protected. Create new passwords and PINs for all the accounts that may be available on your phone. Finally, you may have to resort to restoring your phone to its factory settings.

If you determine your phone was cloned, contact your phone provider and the FBI. You can use the FBI website and select “Tips and Public Leads in the Reporting Crime” section. It is important that you do this, so the authorities can follow up on the information you provide.

Your turn:
Has your phone been cloned? How did you find out about it? Did you suffer financial loss? Share your experience and any tips on how to prevent security breaches with us.

1. The Conversation. How to Stop Your Phone from Being Hacked. Ali Dehghantanha.

2. Techwalla. How to Check If a Cell Has Been Hacked or Cloned. Lissa J.

3. Seminar Presentation on Mobile Phone Cloning. Shishupal Nagar.

4. Federal Communications Commision. Cell Phone Fraud.