Identity Theft // November 19, 2012

A woman I work with was recently apartment-hunting and couldn’t figure out why the landlords weren’t returning her calls. Luckily one of them finally hit her up and told her why her application was denied. Now I didn’t hear their conversation myself, but I’m assuming it was due to the 10 pages of unauthorized accounts I saw her print out; none of which she knew were open in her name. Sucks, right?

Now I’m not trying to get you all paranoid, but the holidays are the perfect storm for this type of identity theft. You’re running around buying gifts and attending holiday parties, you’re distracted by all the booze stimulating conversation, and in all the hustle and bustle you don’t dispose of your statements properly…. Lo and behold, you’re spenRding the first week of the new year cleaning up your credit. I don’t mean to scare you, but I do want to give you a few practical steps to help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft this holiday season. Here are my top 7 tips:

  1. This one is pretty straightforward, but I’m a firm believer in regularly checking your Credit Report.  You’ve got your three main bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can get a free report from each bureau every 12 months. (Go to or call (877) 322-8228. Note: you have to pay to get your credit score, so keep that in mind. This is a year-round tip!
  2. Set up email alerts through your bank or credit card company so you know when large transactions have been made or when your balance reaches a certain limit (this is also helpful for shopaholics). Catching weird transactions early is key in fighting them.
  3. Sign up for paperless billing. This way you don’t have to worry about your sensitive info getting swiped in the mail (or the trash, when Aunt Marge comes in town and does you a “favor” by cleaning up your desk). And it’s eco-friendly. Plus, if you monitor your accounts online you’ll catch any weird activity a lot faster. If you prefer paper bills, invest in a shredder.
  4. DO NOT carry your social security card in your wallet, but do keep your account numbers and bank contact info handy (i.e. wallet or phone) in case you ever do need to make those calls.
  5. It’s the season of party-throwing. Whether you throw a holiday party, or have a roommate with *ahem* sketchy friends, be smart! Keep your financial info in a safe place. Approximately 30-50% of identity theft happens by people the victim knows. Eek!
  6. Don’t enter sensitive information into sites that are linked in your emails. You’d be surprised by how many scams there are out there, especially during the holidays. If you receive emails—or snail mail, for that matter—asking for such information, be safe and manually type the URL in your browser, or find the company’s number and call them directly. An extra moment or two now can save you a huge headache later.
  7. Be sure to shop on secure websites and make sure you see "https" before you enter your credit card info. If a site looks sketchy, it probably is. Err on the side of caution.

You have enough on your plate this holiday season (literally); the last thing you want to do is clean up a mess caused by someone else. Use these tips and you won't have to clean up after anything but your party guests!

Published in Personal Finance

April 9, 2012

We all see them. The graphic images on Pinterest and Facebook like this one. Food porn. They lure you in and trick you into thinking you really can squeeze a gourmet lunch or breakfast everyday into your budget. But when was the last time you actually calculated the cost of your breakfast?  I calculated the cost of mine the other day just out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised that it was only a whopping $1.96 every day!

Breakfast Breakdown 

  • Bananas- I buy a bunch of bananas every week and usually can get 6 for $1.29, 1 banana = $.215
  • Oatmeal- I eat two individual packets of regular oatmeal, 6 packets to a box, box cost $2.50, 2.50/6= $.42 x 2 packets= $.84
  • Coffee- I buy Starbucks coffee and I brew it at home- One pound cost $9.95 and can last me 14 days = $.71 per day
  • Soymilk- I buy a carton that last about 10 days- one carton cost $1.99= $.199 per day

Grand total= $1.96

Not too bad right?  Great way to start the morning and not bad on my wallet either.

Now if you know me, you will know I am a creature of habit when it comes to food and don’t mind eating the same thing every day.  My breakfast is the same every morning; oatmeal, a banana, and coffee with soy milk. As routine as this may sound, I plan my meals like this mainly because I want to eat something healthy and filling in the morning. Because I stay so busy, I also appreciate not having to think about what to eat every morning– which saves me lots of time and money.

Get Control

When working with clients on their cash flow, I usually see their food costs as the expenses that can really get out of control.  They save and skimp in other areas but often times dining out is the one place where money falls through the cracks.  A lunch here, a dinner there, drinks here… and there– all of these things really add up. Planning ahead and prepping your meals for the week can ultimately become a more cost efficient route. Think of it as portion control for your finances.

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Iron Lady Chef 

As tempting as it may be to call up your girl friends for a fancy dinner out, a good way to keep your food costs in control is simply by eating at home. I try to go grocery shopping every weekend to stock up for the week ahead.  Yes, there are occasions where I do eat out during the week (i.e. business meetings, client meetings/events or to celebrate a special occasion), but for the most part I usually eat my prepared, planned out meals and it frees up some time and spending cash.  Get a jump on breakfast this week and cook a batch of these. Your tastes buds and your wallet will thank you. 

One Bite At A Time 

Another tip (one I learned from my parents), is to save money by not buying drinks while eating out. Think about it. You’ll end up drinking more water, saving cash, and possibly losing a few pounds by cutting back on sodas. I still follow this same philosophy today.  If you have to have your diet Coke with dinner maybe skip the appetizers and/or dessert. Life without dessert may seem extreme, but deciding ahead of time what to cut will help you stay in control.

Now, I know what you may be thinking.  Going out to eat is part of what you enjoy most and part of your social life too.  I completely understand this. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, I still see my friends, family, attend networking events and go out for social gatherings all the time and usually do all while sticking to my food budget.  Instead of business lunch meetings, I opt for coffee meetings (saves time and money). Instead of always going out to eat with friends, we opt for potlucks at someone’s house.  We love this idea because everyone can bring their favorite signature dish to share, which is usually a great conversation starter and a less expensive route too.

If you just simply enjoy going out to eat and don’t want to give it up– don’t.  Instead, make sure you adjust your spending plan accordingly to ensure you are still in control of your food costs. Remember, financial planning is not about cutting the fun out of your life.  Rather, it is simply planning how you want to use your money to support your current lifestyle, while being able to save for your future one.

For further information I invite you to check out my blog or email directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895.

Published in Personal Finance