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Barbecue on a Budget: Festive Fourth of July Treats Under $20

July 2, 2020

While many of us will be celebrating the Fourth of July at home this year, we can still enjoy one of the best parts of the holiday: festive foods! Whether you’re serving up cocktails, grilling steaks or enjoying red, white and blue snacks, an at-home celebration makes it easy to have fun on a budget.

We’ve put together a list of Fourth of July food ideas that are sure to be a hit, both with your family and friends and with your wallet.

 

All-Star Hot Dog Bar

Wow the family and save some cash with a Fourth of July hot dog bar! Whether you’re grilling out or cooking on the stove, this customizable meal is the perfect way to feed a group without breaking the bank.

In addition to classic toppings like ketchup and mustard, get creative with a few show-stopping toppings:

  • Relish
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Chili

 

Firework Margaritas:

Cheers to the Fourth! What better way to celebrate the weekend than with a colorful cocktail? Whip up this delicious drink for the adults in your group or leave out the alcohol for a refreshing version everyone can enjoy. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 4 cups strawberries
  • If preferred: 2 cups silver tequila (any brand)
  • 1 1/3 cups lime juice
  • 1 cup honey

Blend the ingredients, rim the glasses with salt or sugar, and garnish with a lime or strawberry for an extra-festive finish.

 

Star-Spangled Trifle

Don’t forget dessert! This delicious red, white, and blue trifle is the perfect complement to any Independence Day meal. Here’s what you’ll need:

 

Trifle:

  • 1 16 oz. container of strawberries
  • 1 6 oz. container of blueberries
  • 1 box angel food cake mix (any brand)

 

Whipped Cream:

  • 4 tbs. sugar
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

 

However you choose to celebrate this year, we hope these Fourth of July recipes add a little extra excitement to your day. Have a fun and safe weekend!

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woman asking employer for student loan assistance
2020-08-05
How to Ask Your Employer to Help Pay Student Debt

These days, employers offer all kinds of benefits to keep employees, from kombucha on tap and innovative new office spaces to ping pong tables and video game rooms. The list of benefits seems to grow all the time.   When you think about it, though, how much do you really need that kombucha on tap? Instead, what many graduates need is help with their ever-mounting student loans. In combination with other methods of dealing with student loan debt, employers can play a valuable role in ensuring their employees’ financial stability.   Employers are beginning to recognize this trend, as well. That’s why some have begun to offer help to employees with student loan debt. While an uncommon practice at the moment, some companies now offer options to help employees pay back their student loans.   The practice is rapidly becoming more popular, and if you’re lucky, your employer may already offer a student debt relief program. Here are several ways employers are already helping to reduce their employees' student loan debt.  

Financial Education

Employers have begun to understand that their own financial success is tied to the financial success of their employees. As a result, some employers have begun to offer financial education opportunities.   These opportunities come in many forms, including workshops, webinars and even counseling. While many employees already have a firm grasp on financial concepts, these programs can still be incredibly beneficial to those weighed down by student debt as they often cover lesser-known tactics and reinforce familiar strategies.  

Student Loan Repayment Signing Bonuses

Another method of helping employees with student debt is the signing bonus. For example, some companies offer $1,000 towards student loans for new hires. This $1000 can drastically reduce the amount graduates pay in interest over the life of their student loans and is an effective way for companies to hire and keep dedicated, hardworking employees.  

Employer Repayment

The most exciting benefit employers are beginning to adopt is direct assistance with student loans. Now, in addition to savvy fiscal advice, some companies are backing up their support with dollars and cents.   A few companies now offer yearly bonuses to help pay back student loans. One of the most generous of these companies is Nvidia. Employees earn $6,000 a year towards their student loans up to a $30,000 maximum. Several companies offer comparable or lower amounts. Regardless of the repayment amounts, this innovative strategy provides a new way to fight back against student debt.   A variation of this policy is occasionally used, as well. In this variation, employees who don’t take their PTO can trade their PTO days for student loan assistance. With many in the United States not taking their PTO days anyway, this is a compelling option for student loan borrowers.  

Contributions to 401(k) Plans

It may seem strange for 401(k) contributions to go hand-in-hand with paying off student debt. You might even expect to have to choose between them.   If you’re employed by Abbott Laboratories, though, you don’t have to choose. Employees who contribute at least 2% of their pay toward student loans are eligible for the full 5% employer matching in their 401(k), even if they do not otherwise contribute to their 401(k). Abbott Laboratories is the first company to offer this incentive to help employees to pay off student debt, and hopefully many companies will follow in their footsteps.   Sadly, these types of programs are not as commonly offered as they should be, but that isn’t necessarily bad news for you.   If student loan assistance programs are something that you would like to see at your company, then make an appointment to speak with either your boss or to human resources. In this day and age, the competition for the best employees is fierce, and employers are always looking for ways to keep employees happy. In some cases, it may even be cheaper than a raise.   It’s also worth mentioning your interest in such programs while negotiating your salary and benefits package for a new job. They may include it as an additional benefit.   If your employer already provides these benefits, that’s fantastic! You’re already one step closer to being unburdened by student debt. If you're curious about how to finish the job and free yourself from student debt completely, one great way to do that is Student Loan Refinancing. You can learn more here.  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.
Use your student discounts
2020-07-27
Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, and More: Getting the Most Out of Student Discounts

Student life can be expensive, but the good news is, most businesses are aware of that. Many provide college student discounts and special offers.   With the new school year rapidly approaching, now is the time to take advantage of the many deals available to you. With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of student discounts to help you save some money during college.  

Music Streaming Services

If you’re into streaming music, you’re in luck. Many music streaming services provide large discounts to students.
Apple Music, Spotify, Youtube Music, and Tidal all offer 50% discounts to students for up to eight semesters. Some subscriptions even offer additional benefits, for example, Spotify provides student members with access to both Hulu and Showtime.  

Apple

Apple is currently offering a variety of back to school deals for students or and teachers. Qualifying product purchases, including many models of MacBooks and iPads, come with a free pair of AirPods.  

Amazon

Let’s be honest. We all love two-day free shipping. What a wonderful feeling it is to order something and have it delivered to your door in what feels like no time. The good news is, Amazon offers a Prime Student discount. After a six-month free trial, students can access Amazon Prime for $59 a year.   In addition to two-day free shipping, a prime student membership includes access to Prime Video and Amazon Prime Music. Canceling a membership is easy, so even if you don’t choose to pay for the membership, it’s worth taking advantage of the six-month free trial.  

Best Buy and Other Tech Retailers

If you’re on the market for some new tech, don’t miss Best Buy’s student discount program. From TVs to TI-84s, Best Buy offers student discounts on a variety of products. A number of other tech retailers, including Logitech and Lenovo, also offer student discounts.  

Clothing Retailer Discounts

If you’re a fashion icon, these retailers have your back. JCrew, Banana Republic, TopShop, H&M, and many other clothing retailers offer student discounts of around 10%-15%. Retail discounts will occasionally stack with other promotions, as well. For even better deals, check out your local Goodwill, as they, too, often offer student discounts.  

Software Discounts

A number of companies provide student discounts on software. For instance, Adobe offers a 60% discount on their Creative Cloud software for students. Github also provides a number of developer tools at discounted student rates. If you’re into producing music, Ableton Live offers a student discount. For note-takers, Evernote offers their premium accounts at a 50% student discount. If you’re not looking to spend any money, check with your college to see if they provide any free software. For example, many colleges provide access to Creative Cloud programs and the Microsoft office suite, accessible through your .edu email.  

News Sites

Several newspapers offer student discounts for current college students. The New York Times offers a discounted plan for students at $1.00 a week, which includes online access to the newspaper’s complete archives and articles. The Wall Street Journal offers a comparable student discount for digital access to the newspaper, and an additional option at $10 a month to receive a print copy of the newspaper six days a week.  

Service Discounts

When you think of service discounts, senior discounts often come to mind. Several service-based industries, however, also offer student discounts. Many museums offer free or reduced admission to students. Several movie theater chains such as Regal and Cinemark also offer student discounts.   If you’ve caught the travel bug, don’t forget to keep an eye out for travel discounts. Amtrak, for example, offers regional student discounts. Greyhound has a similar program, offering 20% discounts to students. Student airfare is even up for grabs, so make sure to check with your airline before you buy your tickets.  

Car Insurance Discounts

It’s no secret that car insurance is expensive for young people. Fortunately, many car insurance providers offer student discounts to help balance some of that cost. These discounts vary by provider, but often include discounts for good grades.   If you participate in any campus-sponsored activities, keep an eye out for organization-based discounts. For instance, Geico offers discounts to members of some fraternities, sororities, and honors societies.  

Cell Phone Plan Discounts

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless all offer special student pricing. Several of them also offer student phone discounts. However, these discounts vary, so it’s best to check with your cell service provider and university to find out what discounts are available for students.  

UNiDAYS

UNiDAYS is a great website for finding college student discounts on almost anything. It functions as a platform that shows student discounts as well as verifies the student. It makes it easy to apply student discounts to wherever you shop regularly.   By no means is this a conclusive list of all student discounts. If you’re curious whether a place you frequent offers student savings, the best thing you can do is ask. The discounts add up over time, so take advantage of them whenever you can.   If you’ve already graduated and you’re looking to save a little money, you may be out of luck on the student discount front. However, there are other ways to save money after graduation. One such option is refinancing student loan debt. Check out your student loan refinance options with ELFI.*  
  Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.   *Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply.
Young woman holding keys to first home
2020-07-13
Top Finance Tips for First-Time Homebuyers

Buying a new house can be a daunting experience. From getting prequalified, finding the right house, being approved, to coming up with the necessary funds, the whole experience can feel a bit overwhelming. Have no fear – here are ELFI’s top tips for first-time homebuyers to overcome the challenge.

 

Make a Budget

Deciding on a budget before you start shopping will help you choose a home you love that falls within your price range. In building a budget, be sure to consider your total income, as well as necessary expenses like utilities, food, and gas you’ll incur each month in addition to housing costs. As a rule of thumb, you should aim to keep the cost of your mortgage below 25% of your take-home pay.

 

Maintaining a budget is a great way to continue to meet other financial goals, like paying down student loans, saving for a car, or building an emergency fund, while searching for your dream home. If you’re not sure where to start, SouthEast Bank’s fixed and adjustable-rate mortgage calculators can help you determine your initial budget and launch a successful house hunt!

 

Here’s an extra tip. Don’t forget to include closing costs in your final total! Many first-time homebuyers make this mistake and find themselves over-budget at the end of the transaction. Average closing costs fall between 2-5% of the total cost of the home. In some situations, the seller may agree to cover the closing costs, so be sure to consider including that in your home offer as well.

 

Boost Your Credit Score

When you’re considering buying a home, give yourself every advantage by keeping your credit score in great shape. If your credit could use a little extra help, try these tips to polish your score:

  • Make bill payments on time. Late payments are a credit score’s worst enemy, as payment history is the most heavily weighted category in determining your score. Set reminders in your phone, leave yourself sticky notes, and do whatever it takes to get those payments submitted by their deadlines!
  • Slow down the spending. Hitting your credit limit can also damage your score, so be careful to use different forms of payment, like cash or debit, or cut down on unnecessary spending.
  • Don’t close that card. Closing lines of credit can be damaging to your score, even if they’re linked to cards you rarely or never use. Instead, put your card in a safe place and use it for occasional transactions, or set it up on autopay for a small monthly expense. If you do need to cancel the card, take these steps from U.S. News to avoid significantly dropping your credit score.

If you found this advice helpful and you’d like to take a deeper dive into your credit score, check out ELFI’s blog, “How to Build Credit: A Beginner’s Guide.”

 

Understand Your Mortgage

Buying a house is a big decision, but understanding your mortgage will give you the confidence to take the next steps in finding your perfect home! Here are a few ways to determine which mortgage loan is right for you:

  • Choose a mortgage term that fits your budget. Mortgages generally have terms of 15, 20, or 30 years, meaning the length of time it takes to repay them.
    • If your goal is to keep your monthly payment low, then opt for a longer-term loan, which will allow you to make smaller payments over time. While long-term loans are great for lowering your monthly payment, however, they increase the number of total payments and result in more interest than short-term mortgages.
    • On the reverse side, short-term mortgages have higher monthly payments but less total interest. Either way, the important decision is choosing the term that allows you to remain within your budget and keep your financial goals on track!
  • Find the right mortgage lender. All too often, first-time homebuyers make the mistake of stopping their mortgage search after being approved by one lender. Instead, take the time to reach out to multiple lenders and determine who can offer the best rate. By being selective, you could save thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
  • Get preapproved by your top lenders. After you’ve decided which lenders you’re most interested in working with, show sellers you’re serious by getting preapproved for a loan. A preapproval letter shows that a lender has researched your credit and financial history and determined they’d be willing to offer you a mortgage loan.
 

Choose the Right Insurance

Once you’ve built your budget, boosted your score, and finished your mortgage research, it’s time to close on your dream home!

 

As part of the closing process, you’ll be required to purchase homeowners insurance. Like mortgage lenders, several companies offer homeowners insurance with different rates and benefits. Take the time to research which insurance plan is right for you to ensure you’re receiving the best protection.

 

If you could use some expert help, reach out to SouthEast Insurance Services1. Their experienced representatives can compare rates from more than 40 major lenders to be sure you’re getting the most for your money. Visit them here to learn more to receive a complimentary, no-obligation quote.

 

Congratulations! You’ve done your research and found a dream home within your budget. With our first-time house hunter tips, you’ve also built your credit and received competitive rates on your mortgage and insurance. Now, it’s time to enjoy the home you’ve worked so hard for.

 

At ELFI, we’re proud to support your financial goals and are here to help you along every step of the way. Check back soon for new blog posts, and happy house hunting!

 
 

Notice About Third Party Websites: Education Loan Finance by SouthEast Bank is not responsible for and has no control over the subject matter, content, information, or graphics of the websites that have links here. The portal and news features are being provided by an outside source – the bank is not responsible for the content. Please contact us with any concerns or comments.

 

1SouthEast Insurance Services Products

  • are not a deposit
  • are not FDIC-insured
  • are not insured by any federal government agency
  • are not guaranteed by the bank
  • may go down in value
 

Insurance products are not insured by FDIC or any Federal Government Agency; are not a deposit of, or guaranteed by the Bank or any Bank Affiliate; and may lose value. Any insurance required as a condition of the extension of credit by SouthEast Bank need not be purchased from our Agency but may, without affecting the approval of the application for an extension of credit, be purchased from an agent or insurance company of the customer's choice.