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Helping Japan: How to Make Sure Your Money Goes to the Right Place

Helping Japan: How to Make Sure Your Money Goes to the Right Place

    The events that have unfolded in Japan over the past week are horrifying, sad, and devastating.  The country is facing death and destruction at the hands of a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Now they are also on the verge of a nuclear disaster.  Many countries and organizations are pledging volunteers, supplies and money to help.  But what about you, average Joe citizen, how can you help?  How can you be sure that your hard-earned money will actually go to the people who need it?  How can you be sure that it will get there as fast as it can, instead of months later?  How can you be sure that half of what you’re giving isn’t going to “administrative” fees?  If you are inclined to donate, please keep the following guide I have created in mind before you write that check, hand over that cash, or push “Send”.

    Finding a Reputable Charity

    One great resource to finding a charity to donate to is CharityNavigator.com.  Using this site, you can search through their database of charities and find one that interests you.  Each charity has star ratings as well as a complete, detailed profile.  Information is included such as the organizations efficacy, how much goes to administrative costs, and so on.  There are also links that will take you to the charity’s site where you can complete your donation.

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    See Where Your Money is Going

    Be wary of the organization that assures you that 100 percent of your donation goes to help the victims or particular effort.  They are likely not being truthful.  Every organization, even charitable non-profits, have some overhead expenses.   To make sure that you get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to be sure that you avoid middlemen.  Some groups may simply collect the money and then pass it on to more hands-on charities.  Avoid diluting your dollars by giving directly to groups that are already on the ground and helping the victims in Japan.

    Be Skeptical of Offers that Promise to Donate Money for Things You Buy

    Lady Gaga’s heart might be in the right place with the new bracelet she has launched, with all profits going to help the victims in Japan, but you’re really not helping as much as you could.  If your goal is to help and not score some cool gear, you’re better off giving directly to the charity yourself.  The entire cost of that $5 item isn’t going to Japan, only the profits are, and what the company might deem to be “profit” can be kind of sketchy.  From that five dollars, subtract the cost to produce the item, to market it, etc.  If you’re going to spend anyways though, by all means, spend away – at least a portion will go to help.

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    Forget Putting Together Your Own Care Package

    While it might be tempting to put together a “care” package for a needy family in Japan, it’s probably not the best idea.  Right now, infrastructure is severely damaged in some areas, making things like delivering packages impossible.  It’s also a logistical nightmare.  You’re better off giving to a group with people on the ground and a plan in action.

    Reconsider Texting Your Donation

    Making donations through a simple text message became popular during 2010’s massive earthquake in Haiti.  But one thing that a lot of people didn’t seem to know was that there’s a delay between when you send the money by text.  The charities don’t get it for at least 30 days later.  And while Japan will likely need help for many months and years to come, if you are wanting your money to help immediately, it’s better to send them a check or money order by mail.  They’ll get it a lot faster that way.  Even using your debit card or Paypal balance is a lot faster.  Just keep in mind that when you donate digitally, there will be hidden fees taken out of your total donation, so it will get diluted somewhat.

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    Avoid Newly Formed Charities

    Getting a new charity off the ground is a difficult venture in itself.   In the midst of a disaster it’s virtually impossible to succeed.  You wouldn’t trust your life savings to a financial firm that just opened, has no track record, and whose employees have zero experience, so why would you donate to a brand new charity?  Find a charity with a proven history of success, and ideally one that’s already on the ground in Japan helping. Research before you write that check.

    Watch Out for Scams

    In the wake of disasters, it seems that while there are a lot of people willing to help out there are also plenty of unsavory types looking to cash in on your goodwill for their own devious means.  You’re better off sending in your money to an official organization’s address than handing it over to a person going around collecting donations. While they might actually be doing good, there’s a chance they’re just looking to run off with your money.

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    Some Carefully Vetted Charities That I Recommend

    • Doctors Without Borders USA
    • American Red Cross
    • Save the Children
    • Relief International
    • Food for the Hungry
    • Direct Relief International
    • AmeriCares
    • Action Against Hunger
    • Catholic Medical Mission Board
    • World Vision
    • Global Giving
    • International Medical Corps
    • Convoy of Hope
    • Oxfam America

    All of these organizations are have high ratings on CharityNavigator.com, and have people already in place in Japan distributing aid.  You can find additional lists of reputable organizations to give your donation to on their website as well.  If you don’t see a charity listed either on my list here or on their list that’s not to say it’s a scam, but you’ll want to make sure you do your research first.

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    Last Updated on January 2, 2019

    How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

    How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money

    Do you know what mental health experts point to as the biggest cause of stress in the United States today? If you said “money,” then ding, ding, we have a winner!

    Three out of four adults today report feeling stressed out about money at least part of the time. People are either worried about not having enough money or whether they’re putting the money they do have to use in the best possible way.

    Your money is either in charge of you or you’re in charge of it, there’s no middle ground. Using some type of personal finance software can help alleviate some of that money stress and better allow you to manage your money effectively. Without it, you may just be setting yourself up for constant financial worry. Life is already tough enough and there’s no need to make it more difficult by simply hoping your money issues will all work out in your favor. Hint: they won’t.

    This guide will help you to understand how personal finance software can better assist with both accomplishing long term financial goals and managing day-to-day aspects of life.

    Whether it’s tracking the savings plan for your child’s college fund or making sure you won’t be in the red with the month’s grocery budget, personal finance software keeps all this information in one convenient place.

    What Exactly is Personal Finance Software?

    Think of it like the dashboard in your car. You have a speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, an odometer to tell you how far you’ve traveled, and then other gauges to tell you things like how much gas is in the tank and your engine temperature. Personal finance software is essentially the same thing for your money.

    When you install this software on your computer, tablet, or smartphone, it helps to track your money — how much is going in, how much is going out, and its growth. Most personal finance software programs will display your budget, spending, investments, bills, savings accounts, and even retirement plans, levels of debt, and credit score.

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    How It Leads to Financial Improvement

    It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but people who regularly monitor their finances end up wealthier than those who don’t. When you were a kid, keeping track of all of your money in a porcelain piggy bank was pretty easy. As we get older, though, our money becomes spread out across things like car payments, mortgages, retirement funds, taxes, and other investments and debts. All of these things make keeping track of our money a lot more complicated.

    Some types of personal finance software can help make things a little less complicated, setting you up to meet financial goals and taking away some of the stress associated with money.

    Even if you already have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) some type of personal finance software can be of great benefit. Whereas CFPs focus on the big picture of your money, they don’t handle the day-to-day aspects that determine your overall financial health.

    It’s also not nearly as complicated as you might think and can take out a lot of the tedium that comes with doing everything on an Excel spreadsheet or with a pad and pencil.

    Types of Personal Finance Software

    When it comes to personal finance software, it generally fits into two categories: tax preparation and money management.

    Tax preparation software such as Turbo Tax and H&R Block’s software can help with everything from filing income taxes to IRS rules and regulations and even estate plans. Plus, there’s the benefit of filing online and getting your refund check a lot faster than if you were to mail off your forms after waiting in line at the post office.

    For the purpose of this article, however, will be focusing more on the personal finance software that aids with money management.

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    Money management personal finance software will help you to see the health of your cash flow, pay down debt, forecast for expenses and savings, track investments, pay bills, and do a host of other things that 30 years ago would have practically required a team of accountants.

    When to Use Personal Finance Software

    So far we’ve gone over what exactly personal finance software is and how it can be a benefit to your money. The next logical step in this whole equation is determining when it should be used and how is the best way to go about getting started using it.

    Below are four of the most common and practical ways to use personal finance software. If all or any of these apply to you and your money, then downloading some type of personal finance software is going to be a smart move.

    1. You Have Multiple Accounts

    There’s a good chance that when it comes to your money, it’s in more than one place. Sure, you probably have a checking account, but you may also have a savings account, money market account, and retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401k.

    If you’re like the average American, you probably have two to three credit cards as well. Fifty percent of Americans also don’t have loyalty to just one bank and spread their money across multiple banks.

    Rather than spending hours typing in every detail of every account you have into a spreadsheet, many programs allow you to easily import your account information. This will help to eliminate any mistakes and give you a bird’s eye view of everything at once.

    2. You Want to Automate Some or All of Your Payments

    Please don’t say that you’re still writing out paper checks and dropping each bill in the mailbox. While it’s noble that you’re doing your part to keep postal workers employed, we’re 18 years into the 21st century and you can literally pay every bill online now.

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    There’s no need to log into every account you have and type in your routing number either.

    With personal finance software you can schedule automatic payments and transfers between all of your imported accounts. Automatic transfers will help to make sure you have the necessary funds in the right account to ensure all bills are paid on the appropriate date. Late fees are annoying and do nothing but cost you money. It’s time that you said goodbye to them once and for all.

    3. You Need to Streamline Your Budget

    Perhaps the best feature of personal finance software is that it allows you track everything going in and out of your virtual wallet.

    Nearly every brand of personal finance software out there has easy-to-read graphs and charts that allow you track every cent you spend or earn, should you choose. You might be pretty amazed when you see just how much you spent on eating out last month or if you splurged a little more than you should have on Christmas gifts last year.

    Every successful business on the planet has a budget and using personal finance software can help you trim the fat on your spending in ways that affect your everyday life.

    4. You Have Specific Goals to Meet

    Maybe it’s paying off debt or saving for up something like a European vacation. Whatever your financial goal is, whether it’s long-term or short-term, personal finance software programs are one of the savviest ways to go about reaching those goals.

    You can do everything from set spending alerts to notify you when you’re over budget to automating what percentage of your paycheck goes to things like retirement investments. The personal finance software that you choose should show you exactly how close you are to hitting those goals at any given time.

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    How to Get Started

    From AceMoney to Mint and Quicken, there ’s no shortage of personal finance software apps out there. Many of these programs are free to download and will allow you to pay bills, invest, monitor your net worth and credit profile, and even get a loan with the swipe of a finger.

    Other programs may only offer you limited services and will require a one-time fee or subscription to unlock all that they offer. These fees can often vary from as little as two dollars to 50 bucks a month.

    It’s best to start off with the free version and then gauge whether you’re able to accomplish everything you’d like or if it’s worth exploring one of the paid options. Often times the subscription programs come with assistance from financial planning and investment experts — so that can be a real benefit.

    When deciding which personal finance software program to use, it’s also important to look at how many accounts you wish to monitor. Certain programs limit the number of accounts you can add. Be sure that if you have checking, credit card, and investment accounts to monitor, that you choose a service that can monitor them all.

    Finally, when looking around for the right personal finance software that meets your needs, make sure that you’re comfortable with the program’s interface. It shouldn’t be expected that you recognize every single feature instantly, but if the features don’t seem readable and manageable to you, then you’re not as likely to use it and get the full benefits.

    Final Thoughts

    Personal finance software can go a long way in helping you to take control of your money and meeting your financial goals. It’s important to note, however, that some focus more on budgeting and expense tracking while others prioritize investing portfolios and income taxes. Explore several different programs and read reviews to find the one that’s right for you.

    In this day and age, managing one’s personal finances in a secure manner that allows the user to have a real-time visual representation of their money is easier than ever before. With the numerous applications that are out there — both free and subscription-based — there’s no reason that every person can’t take control of their money and ensure they’re making smart money moves.

    Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

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