Trans World Assurance Blog

Trans World Assurance's Tips for Budget-Friendly Holiday Gift-Giving

Posted on Fri, Oct 26, 2012

With the holidays quickly approaching, Americans are beginning to anticipate the family gatherings, indulgent feasts, and generous gift giving that characterize the Christmas season. Though all the holiday cheer is typically a positive experience for most, families must budget for Christmas gifts, which can be a costly endeavor.  In fact, according to Consumer Reports, approximately 12 million Americans had not paid off their debt from the previous holiday season, as of October 2008.

If you cannot afford to empty your wallet at the checkout counter this holiday season, and the thought of being in debt for a year or more terrifies you, read the following tips from Trans World Assurance to learn about ways to keep your budget for holiday gifts within reason.

1) Create a Budget and Stick to It

To keep holiday spending in check, you must create a reasonable budget and stick to it.  Eric Tyson, author of a 2012 report published in the journal Personal Excellence, recommends creating a budget and documenting the cost of each gift you purchase to ensure that you do not exceed your spending limit.

First, determine how much you can afford to spend.  Then, create a list of every person for whom you intend to purchase a gift, and budget a reasonable, set amount for each person.  Total the amount you plan to spend on gifts for each person and ensure that the amount falls within the amount you can afford to spend.  As you are shopping, write down the cost of every gift you purchase and keep a running total of the amount you have spent.  Once you have spent the total amount that you budgeted for gifts, your Christmas shopping is done.

2) Take Advantage of Free Shipping Offers

You may think that making a trip to the mall is a cheaper alternative to ordering online and paying shipping fees, but free shipping offers can make online shopping more cost effective than traveling to stores. When you travel to a store, not only do you spend money on gas, but you are also likely to stop for takeout or a meal at a restaurant after a long day of shopping.  This can quickly turn a shopping trip into a budget wrecker.

Save money by staying at home and enjoying a cup of hot chocolate as you relax in front of the computer, make online purchases, and enjoy having them delivered to your home free of charge. Check out to learn about free shipping deals offered by your favorite retailers.

3) Cash in on Rewards

If you have been saving up credit card rewards all year, now is an excellent time to cash them in to buy gifts.  Credit card companies often give you numerous options for redeeming your rewards.  For example, Discover allows its credit card customers to redeem their cash back rewards in the form of gifts cards or select merchandise. Discover customers can also opt to have the value of their cash rewards direct deposited into their checking accounts, or rewards can be put toward their credit card balance. Chase offers similar perks for credit card customers.

Use your rewards to purchase gift cards for loved ones, or have them direct deposited into your checking account so you have extra cash for shopping.  You can also accumulate cash rewards by using your credit card throughout the holiday season, and then use those rewards to pay off your credit card balance.  When using a credit card, however, remember not to spend more than what you can afford to pay off in full, or the value of your rewards may be negated by interest charges.

4) Shop eBay or Amazon

By shopping online at eBay or Amazon, you can save a considerable amount of money on brand new items, such as clothing, electronics, and toys. For instance, Amazon recently boasted 20 percent off the sticker price of a 4th Generation 32 GB Apple iPod Touch. 

Though some items on eBay are used, eBay does offer significant savings on brand new items.  EBay allows users to sell items that are “new with tags,” and these items are typically much cheaper than the brand new item in stores.  For example, Jen Long, an eBay customer from Ohio, recently purchased a brand new Lands’ End black dress, originally priced at $69.99, for just $19.99 on eBay.  Taking advantage of savings like this can profoundly reduce the amount of money you spend on Christmas gifts.

5) Choose Alternatives to Gift-Giving

It may be inappropriate to remove children, close family members, and your spouse or significant other from your Christmas list, but you can find an alternative to gift giving among your friends.  For example, instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars on gifts for your friends, host a holiday dinner and ask everyone to bring a dish or side item, or get together with friends for a holiday cookie-decorating party.  Chances are, you will save money and enjoy the experience more than the act of giving costly gifts.

Perhaps you can also reach an agreement with your spouse. Instead of buying expensive gifts for each other that neither of you truly need, you could contribute a $100 donation to a charity of your choice.  Not only would this likely be less costly than the gifts you usually purchase; it is also a way to give back to your community during the holiday season, which is much more meaningful than any gift under the Christmas tree. Choosing to give to charity instead of spending mindlessly is a telling way to reduce your holiday spending. 

Regardless of the number of people on your gift-giving list or the amount you can afford to spend, you can create a reasonable holiday shopping budget and stick to it with proper planning and a few small sacrifices.


Consumer Reports.  (2009). Holiday shopping gotchas.  Consumer Reports Money Adviser, 6(12), 1-5.
Tyson, E. (2010). Limit your spending.  Personal Excellence, 17(1), 11.

Tags: personal finance, money saving tips, purchases

How Your Taxes Change After Marriage

Posted on Mon, Aug 06, 2012

Once you get married, you can choose to file jointly or separately. For many married couples, filing jointly has a significant positive impact on their finances. Some couples choose to get married sooner rather than later to take advantage of tax breaks. A few are better off filing separately. Depending on your situation, getting married can help you pay less in taxes in the long run and should be discussed with a tax professional.

Filing jointly when one spouse makes significantly more money than the other can be a huge advantage. When filing jointly, the standard deduction doubles. If the standard deduction is $5,000 for an individual taxpayer, the standard deduction is $10,000 for married filing jointly. If one spouse earned $50,000 for the year and the other earned $2,000 for the year, it's almost as if each spouse is earning $26,000. A $10,000 deduction is taken out despite the fact that one spouse earns more money.  If they filed separately, most of the standard deduction for the spouse who earned $2,000 wouldn't be used.

There is a possibility of a marriage penalty depending on your income situation. Due to the doubling of the standard deduction and adjustments in the tax brackets, most couples don't have to worry about this. These adjustments were enacted to minimize such penalties. However, those who have much higher income are pushed into higher tax brackets that haven't been adjusted completely for two people. These couples may end up paying more in taxes filing jointly than if they filed separately.

Married couples save tax money on more than just income tax. If you're selling your home, as a married couple you will get a double tax break. If the married couple has lived in their home for at least 2 of the last 5 years of ownership, $500,000 of profit can be excluded from taxes whereas only $250,000 can be excluded for single individuals. For those who don't have homes with a large profit margin, this is negligible, but couples who are selling for a large profit can save a significant amount on taxes if they file jointly.

Some people get married looking forward to the tax benefits. Most married couples will benefit from filing jointly due to the many tax breaks available when filing jointly. The best way to pay the least amount in taxes possible is to analyze your situation thoroughly. How much would you pay if you filed jointly and how would you pay if you filed separately? Most likely, filing jointly is the best way to go, but if you're concerned because both you and your spouse have substantially high incomes, experimenting with both ways is a smart decision. As always, your personal tax situation should be discussed with a tax professional.

If you are a military member, according to the IRS, military members and their spouses may be eligible to receive free tax return preparation assistance. The IRS and U.S. Armed Forces participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program which provides free tax advice, tax preparation, return filing and other tax assistance to military members and their families.

"Military Personnel and their Families Get Free Tax Help!" page on the IRS website.


The information in this article is intended for educational purposes only. This information should not be considered tax or legal advice. Individual circumstances vary. Please seek the advice of your accountant, tax professional, and/or legal advisor for answers to specific questions and to review your individual circumstances.


Tags: military, personal finance, money saving tips, military spouse

Money Saving Tips for the 4th of July from Trans World Assurance

Posted on Fri, Jun 29, 2012
The Fourth of July is, for Americans, the single day above all others when we can celebrate the birth of our country and our shared American heritage. But more than that, for many families, July 4th is the summer holiday that means family fun and togetherness. It’s tradition for families across the country to consider the Fourth of July a mini-vacation, either with travel or just fun at home. But with the present economy stifling so many family budgets, too many people think it will be impossible this year to celebrate July 4th with a bang. Even taking tight budgets into consideration, families should not fear; the Fourth of July can be celebrated with just as much fun as usual, with just a few frugal tips.

1) The first tip is simple, but can be hard to follow for so many people. It’s simply this: don’t go overboard on the food. It’s almost tradition for Americans to cook to feed an army during holiday celebrations, and while such bounty is a blessing, buying and preparing so much food can be a major hit on the wallet. Aside from that, much of the food prepared for holidays goes uneaten, and is almost inevitably thrown in the trash. Downsizing the amount of food prepared is an easy task; people never eat as much as hosts usually plan for, and many will not miss food that isn’t there. Plan on having one substantial meal on the Fourth, maybe hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill with a few hearty sides. Prepare snacks like fruit and vegetable trays for those who get hungry throughout the day, and have plenty of water and juices on hand. Those who are celebrating with others should consider a potluck, even if it’s only asking guests to provide sides for the meal.

2) The second tip is even simpler, and is perhaps not so hard for many to follow. Keep the holiday decorations to a minimum, and be prepared to use what you already have. Holiday decorations, in general, can be expensive, and too many people believe they have to deck every nook and cranny of their homes and yards with red, white and blue. The truth is that a few simple and well-placed decorations will suffice for any July 4th get together, and spending hard-earned money buying extras will not make the celebration any more festive. Take a trip to the dollar store to stock up on a few patriotic touches – a few small American flags, plastic tablecloths, and perhaps one door decoration – and leave the rest of the celebration plain. Use your usual plates and cups, or plastic ware left over from previous celebrations. With good food and fun, no one will care about the lack of holiday themed décor.

3) This tip is perhaps the most difficult for many people, especially those with children, to follow, but it is probably the most crucial. Do not buy more than a few fireworks to shoot off on the Fourth. Fireworks are expensive, and buying more than a few for a small celebration can be beyond pricey. The truth is, most Fourth of July celebrations call for little more than sparklers, regardless of the need to go completely overboard at the fireworks stand. Those who wish to see grand fireworks displays need not despair; there are plenty of ways to get your fix on the Fourth. Most towns and cities have organized fireworks displays of some sort, which are always free for those who wish to see them. Taking a picnic blanket to the town center and communing with neighbors while watching the displays is one of the best ways to spend the Fourth. For those without organized displays to attend, there is always the option of spearheading a neighborhood group to buy and set off the fireworks together.

4) Finally, the most frugal of all tips is this: don’t travel on the Fourth unless your plans have already been made and you have already paid for the trip. Holidays are among the worst times to travel, especially with a family, as prices go up and lines get longer. Beaches and amusement parks are always crowded, and the cost of everything from gasoline to souvenirs skyrockets. Almost every family is better off staying home and planning their own private celebration. Not only will this tip save money, it will save the hassle and frustration of traveling at the busiest time of the summer.

While taking all these tips into consideration, it is important to remember that the Fourth of July is about celebrating our country, our freedom, and our families. Whatever the Fourth holds for each and every family across the country, celebrations filled with patriotism are the best way to mark this holiday.

Tags: personal finance, money saving tips, purchases

The Need to Save in Today's Poor Economy

Posted on Mon, Mar 12, 2012

Although it may seem as if economic collapse is on the horizon, it doesn't portend that your future prosperity is a thing of the past. No matter what the economy may be today, there are steps you can take to lessen the impact of a negative economy.  

Troubles are Temporary
No matter how bad things get, there are always methods you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Inflation and depressions have always come and gone. Those who have survived through hard times were willing to make the necessary changes to adjust to economic hardships. Flexibility is a key to survival. In the Great Depression many people learned to grow their own gardens to reduce the cost of buying food.

Plan for the Necessities
In difficult times, the basics need to be covered. Anything else is a luxury that can wait until finances improve. Survival means being willing to make sacrifices and change the lifestyle to meet the times. That may mean giving up Ipods and keeping the car for another three years. It may mean getting to know the neighborhood, establish a barter network and work together to improve the local economy.

The Necessity of a Budget
A budget is a necessity in bad times. Without one you are likely to spend far more and buy more of what you don't need. A budget teaches the reality that money can stretch only so far. The usefulness of a budget teaches the value of discipline and the need to be frugal.

Forced Savings
Taking 10% of every dollar earned may seem like a hardship. In fact, most people who do save that 10% get used to not having it available. That part of the dollar may not add up to much, but it accumulates in the investments where it cannot be so easily accessed. Long term investments create peaces of mind that the family can survive in uncertainty.

An Emergency Fund
This is money that's easy to access whenever you are faced with car and home repairs or need to pay for sudden illness and disability. Like forced savings, setting aside some money from every paycheck can help to handle those emergencies without straining the family budget to the limit. The only requirement is the discipline you need to dip into that fund money for non emergencies.

Limit Credit Card Use
Most people discover the real cost of what they buy on credit. Credit cards are useful to handle emergencies like a car breakdown, but they should not be used to buy luxury items. While interest rates in savings accounts amount to a fraction of those charged, many people only make their situation worse with the free use of credit cards. Generally, you should have only 2 cards and a line of credit you can pay off when the bills arrive. That's a far cry from the 17 cards per family household today.

Alternative Income
Job security for many is a thing of the past, but there are ways to bring in extra money as you need it. Long before money was introduced, barter was the method of exchange. It can still do you well and help you get to know those neighbors you've only seen going to work every morning. Many people have skills that others would be willing to pay for. Hobbies can bring in ready cash. Holding garage and bake sales can add to dwindling coffers. Volunteering for worthwhile causes can give you a sense of purpose, even if the work doesn't directly bring in immediate income.

While the economy may be poor, that doesn't mean you should languish in despair. Those who get active survive better and are well placed when the economy finally improves.

Tags: economy, financial stability, personal finance, money saving tips

How to Save Money During Your Spouse's Remote Military Tour

Posted on Wed, Feb 29, 2012
Remote military tours can take a toll on the family unit, as active duty personnel prepare to spend 12 months apart from their families. If your spouse is about to leave for their remote military tour, you can save extra money during their absence by taking advantage of the monetary benefits you receive. 

Family Separation Allowance (FSA)

Family Separation Allowance (FSA) is payable to active duty personnel with dependents who serve an unaccompanied tour at a rate of $250 per month, provided they meet certain criteria. Family Separation Allowance starts to accrue the day before departure and ends the day before they are due to return home to their home station. Family Separation Allowance is paid in addition to any per diem benefits being paid, as long as conditions are met.

If you are frugal, you can bank $3000 of Family Separation Allowance over the 12 month remote tour, which can help to pay down debt. Even if you are married to another servicemember, you might still be entitled to receive Family Separation Allowance (for one, rather than both members) if you can prove that you were living together for 30 days prior to the start of the remote military tour. Once servicemembers have completed DD Form 1561 (Statement to Substantiate Payment of Family Separation Allowance) and it has been approved, they will begin to receive Family Separation Allowance. 

BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing)

Dependents that continue to live in government housing on the military installation during their spouse's remote military tour are not entitled to claim BAH. However, if you and your dependent children move out of government housing, you will be entitled to claim BAH to help cover the cost of the rent or mortgage payments. 

The amount of BAH that you receive will be based according on rank and location. If you budget your BAH well and choose to live in modest accommodation below your means, you can save the difference you receive each month from your BAH.

Not all active duty personnel head off for a remote military tour during their career, but many do. If your spouse is about to depart on a remote tour, take advantage of the financial benefits to be had by saving your Family Separation Allowance as well as the difference left from your BAH after you have paid your monthly housing costs.


Written by,
Sophie S

Sophie S is a freelance writer from the UK residing in California. She holds a BA (Hons) in English with Sociology. She works as a freelance writer, specializing in web content on immigration, expatriate life, cat care and much more. Sophie has had over 3,500 articles published on the Yahoo! Contributor Network, other sites and for private clients.

Tags: personal finance, money saving tips, military pay, military spouses, military spouse, deployment