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A couple of years ago I was traveling a lot by airplane. During that 18-month period the federal government instituted something called TSA Precheck. In essence, it allows you go to through a pre-approved line where you don’t have to take off your shoes, remove things from your laptop, and a host of other things while going through a special line that gets you through the entire process much faster than the norm.

TSA Precheck process

At that time they were giving out random free prechecks to frequent flyers and every once in a while someone else would get a surprise or two. As time has progressed they’re doing that less and less, and since I’m about to go on a trip to a convention I decided it was time to go ahead and pay for the service. This is my description of the process.

The first thing should have happened before I went to the airport. I’d read an article about signing up for the precheck but there was nothing saying that we should make an appointment online first before we go. The reason you do that is because when you show up at the TSA counter, the first two things the person will say to you is how long your wait is and that anyone who had an appointment will come before you, no matter how long you’ve been sitting there. I got lucky that no one had made an appointment around the time I got there, so I lucked out on that one.

The article also said we needed to have a passport, birth certificate and driver’s license. It turned out that all I really needed was my passport since that’s what I had, which means the 45 minutes I spent looking for my birth certificate was a major waste of time. My driver’s license wasn’t needed, but that’s probably because the passport has a picture on it. So if you’re going with your birth certificate your license will probably be used to verify that it’s you.

They put your full birth name into the system, and it turns out to be a very important thing for you to remember. Because the TSA precheck number will be aligned with your full birth name, any airline reservations you make need to be made in your full name. This means if you have an airline rewards card or an account on something like Orbitz you need to go in and update your information if you don’t have your middle name listed.

You have to answer a series of questions verifying your demographic information and your citizenship. These were standard questions most of us have answered multiple times, but in this case everything’s on the computer instead of your having to write anything down.

After that it’s fingerprint time. I wanted to balk at this except I remembered that my fingerprints are already on the passport and, being a military kid, the federal government already had them as well. However, instead of an ink pad, now they use an electronic scanning device. The lady had to do mine a couple of times to get it to take, finally wiping off the screen because others had used it before me, and asking me to wipe my hands with a wet napkin she gave me.

The final thing is paying $85 for the right to be a precheck member. I showed up with $100 cash, but it turns out they don’t accept cash, only credit cards. That wasn’t a big deal so I went ahead and put it on my AmEx card to make it easy for my accountant to catch it come tax time next year.

That was that… except when it was over, I was sent to the airport security office where, by showing my receipt, they validated my parking pass and, for the first time ever, I got my parking for free.

Supposedly within a week or two I’ll receive a letter with the TSA precheck number that I’m supposed to give out or add to any airline reservations I make online. They don’t send you a card, so you’ll have to notate your number somewhere so you’ll be able to access it easily enough.

That’s the process. It took about 15 minutes but it lasts for 5 years and it’ll make flying so much easier. In my opinion, paying for that little perk is worth the money if you’re going to fly a lot, or even just once a year.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mitch Mitchell
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As the economy is still a little bit fragile, many couples waiting to get married are still trying to find ways to save some money on their wedding. They can get caught up in trying to satisfy the whims and beliefs of others rather than making sure they can have a ceremony that they can afford and still enjoy.

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The biggest problem is that as much as couples want to save money on their wedding, they still want to have the wedding they want to have. So, the conflicts are within themselves because you can’t have everything you want and save a lot of money also.

Or can you? With a mix of planning and budgeting, a different way of looking at things and some luck along the way, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds if you’re willing to alter a few things here and there along the way. Here are 10 ways for you to see how you can save expenses on your wedding.

1. Come up with an overall figure for how much you believe you can spend on your wedding.

The easiest thing to do is to start with 10% of your net income for both of you. For instance, if you make $30,000 a year, you’re probably bringing home around $21,000 or so. This means you might be able to look at $2,100 for your contribution to your wedding. Your spouse should do the same. This way, you at least have a starting budget that might not hurt you all that much. This is only a preliminary figure; you can make it higher or lower as time goes by.

2. You need to have an idea of what the big ticket items will be towards your wedding.

The three biggest expenses are the reception, the wedding gown, and the wedding rings. If we assume the wedding ring has already been purchased before budgeting begins, then your third biggest expense is where you’re having you’re reception, which is a different expense than the reception overall. The reason the reception is the biggest expense is because it’s the biggest wild card; it depends on a lot of factors, the biggest two being how many people are coming and what kind of food and drinks you’re going to pay for.

A recommendation I’d make is to come up with a way to have a lot of food at a lower cost. Something like barbecued shredded pork on mini rolls is not only something different than the norm but it’s fairly inexpensive, easy to cook and can serve lots of people easily. That’s not necessarily a recommendation (well, okay it is lol) but it shows that thinking outside the box could save you a lot of money and still make the reception special.

3. Don’t get married in a church.

This is the most controversial suggestion, especially if you’re religious and wants a traditional wedding. With that said, it’s cheaper to hire a justice of the peace or anyone else who’s licensed to marry people than it is to hire a priest or reverend and hold the service in a church. Not only that, but pretty much anywhere else you get married is going to have fewer restrictions on what you can do than a church will.

I’m lucky to have been to a lot of services that have been performed by someone other than a religious figure and it offers so many other places one can have a ceremony, from having it in your home to having it in a park.

4. Find as many ways to use paper or plastic products as possible.

Almost anything you can buy real is also produced in paper or plastic. There are paper flowers, paper runners, and obviously paper ribbons. There are also plastic plates, utensils and goblets. For the cost of one bridal bouquet you could decorate an entire room with paper or plastic flowers and have lots of money left over. Not only is this economical but it’s easy to recycle after the fact.

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5. Have one of your friends do your makeup.

Obviously this one is for the bride, but the truth is a bride’s friends not only could probably do as good a job as a professional with makeup, but because she knows you better she would have a different sense of what would make you look better.

6. Rent your wedding gown rather than buy one.

Most grooms have to rent their tuxedos, and there are plenty of stores where brides can rent a wedding gown. Not only will it cost less money, but alterations are included and you have a place to take your wedding gown back once you’re married. True, you won’t have that keepsake memory to carry around with you, but most brides store those dresses away and never look at them again.

7. Control how many people you invite to your wedding.

This might be the second toughest thing to think about, but if you’re trying to control expenses having a smaller wedding is probably the best way to go. It also offers many more options for where to have a wedding because now you don’t have to worry about being married in a big church or having to rent a large place for the reception. It also gives you an excuse not to have to invite that aunt and uncle you don’t really like.

With that said, if you did something with the cost of food and reception area like I mentioned above, you can not only afford to invite more people but you might make out better with the wedding gifts, especially if they give you money. I’m just sayin’… 😉

8. How professional do you want your other services to be?

If you’re paying for a professional photographer, it’s going to cost you a lot of money. If you don’t care all that much, ask a friend to take the pictures and save a lot of money.

The same goes for all the other services you might want to use. Years ago I used to sing and play piano at wedding services but I never charged any of my friends, making that my wedding gift. Everyone knows someone who can sing and possibly someone who can play an instrument; just ask them.

9. Your budget will change depending on if your parents are going to help with the wedding.

You need to know this up front, and you need to know how much they’re willing to spend, or if they’re going to take care of certain things so you don’t have to worry about them. If you believe your parents are planning on helping you out you’re going to have to take the adult step to ask them when you’re ready to start putting together your budget. Even if their contribution is for something like food or the wedding cake, anything they donate to you helps out greatly.

10. Don’t get caught up with keeping up with the Joneses.

Don’t think you have to have what everyone else had just because everyone else had it, especially if those weddings were very expensive. What’s more memorable is being unique, not going bankrupt. Once you’re married, you still have a life to live, and it’ll be easier living it if you’re not totally in debt.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mitch Mitchell
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As a disclaimer, this is actually a re-post of an article I wrote some years ago and had on a different blog. The focus of that blog isn’t financial, but I had that blog way before I purchased this one. Because the topic fits better here, I’ve moved it here and updated it a little bit but otherwise the information is still the same as it was when originally written.

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Lex McKee via Compfight

Many people have had at least one credit card or something go to a collection agency. Sometimes it’s legitimate, sometimes it’s not. We’re going to talk about the legitimate ones, where you know you either fell behind in payments or stopped making payments, and now a collection agancy has tracked you down and is trying to get you to pay it off.

Here’s the deal. Credit card companies, or whomever else, will do what they call a “charge off” of the outstanding amount you owe on a claim. When you fall behind on your payments, they attach all these fees to the original balance, usually around 15 to 50% a year, but when it finally gets reported to the credit reporting companies, the amount they’re allowed to charge off is the actual amount you owe, not all those fees. So, if you owed them $2,000, even if they tacked on $1,000 worth of fees, they can’t report all that and won’t get paid for it either.

Why is it important? Because they have these collection agencies known as “scavengers”, that buy all this debt at between 5 and 8 cents on the dollar, look at what the amounts were with all the interest, then start pounding your phone trying to get you to start paying on all of that.

If you’re ever contacted by a collection agency about an outstanding amount, you need to take a couple of steps before you agree to anything.

The first step is to provide proof that you owe an outstanding balance to begin with. Even if you know you owe something, by law collection agencies can’t proceed until they give you proof via regular mail showing you all the information that was provided to them by the creditor.

The second step is to immediately get a credit report of your own. Every person in the United States is allowed one free credit report a year from annualcreditreport.com, which is part of the federal government’s plan to help all consumers be able to check on their financial status.

The reason you want to do it is if you make even one payment, or set up an agreement on the amount that the collection agency tries to get from you, by law you now are responsible for all of it. By getting your credit report and the information from the collection agency, you’ll see how much your original creditor charged off legally and, by rights, you can start your negotiations from that amount instead, minus all those fees.

You could end up paying thousands less based on having this information, but it also gives you a major negotiating point. Sometimes if you can pay the entire amount quickly you can get them to reverse the negative note on your credit report, which is important because otherwise it can stay on there for up to 7 years and give you grief if you try to get a loan of any kind.

They don’t want you to know this, obviously, but I’m telling you how it is. If you want more information on it, read the Fair Debt and Credit Collections Act; it’s there for your protection. Make sure to always know your charge off amounts; you could save a lot of money and grief on the back end.
 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2016 Mitch Mitchell

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