Being on a budget doesn't mean you have to skip the flowers this Valentine's Day.
Ellie Kay, a Moms Money Clinic advisor for Parents and mother of seven, guest blogs regularly to answer mail about personal finance issues. Today she offers ideas for reducing the cost of giving flowers and strategies for improving your credit score.
Q. My spouse and I like to exchange flowers on special occasions like Valentines Day, but they're so pricey—and with two young kids we're on a tight budget. Should we just skip the extravagance this year?
A. If your love language involves giving flowers, there's no need to eliminate this show of affection. Instead, look for ways to cut the cost. For instance, hand-delivering flowers to your spouse can easily save $10 to $20. If you have an Amazon Prime membership, try searching for free delivery options. Also check out Groupon and RetailMeNot for great deals and coupon codes. Another fun option reminds me of one of my favorite romantic comedies, Kate and Leopold. Go to The Flower Expert to find out the meaning of different flowers. Yes, we all know red roses mean romantic love. But red carnations—a far less expensive option—convey love, pride, beauty, and admiration. Daisies, another inexpensive option, represent loyal love, while a sunflower symbolizes pure thoughts. So why not select a cheaper flower and write a note explaining its meaning and why you chose it for your Valentine?
Q. My husband and I have had trouble maintaining a good credit score. He says we should cut up our credit cards, but I worry that doing so could hurt our current score. What is the best route to go?
A. You both make valid points. Your spouse has the right idea—that if you don't have credit cards, you won't be able to get into further debt. But you're correct on this front: Should you decide to close out credit-card accounts, you need to do so strategically.
One possible route is to close down department store cards that you don't use often, as dropping these accounts won't have much impact on your score. If you have major bank cards, cancel only those you've had three years or less, since closing accounts you've held for a longer period of time could shorten your overall credit history. Additionally, here are three easy ways to improve your FICO score:
Pay on time It's better to be a day early than a day late. Set up all car, credit card, childcare, and homeowner payments to draft automatically on the due date (or a bit in advance of it) to make sure you are never late.
Go beyond the minimum You only have to pay $5 to $10 above the minimum credit card balance to show that you're paying down your debt. This move alone will up your score as well.
Stop well short of your limit Never charge more than 50 percent of your available credit line—even if you pay your bill in full every month. For example, if you have a $6,000 limit on a card, avoid charging more than $3,000. This will keep your proportionality in line and improve your score.
You can check your score for free at Credit Karma or Credit.com. It's also important to examine your record with Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax at least once a year, since these credit-reporting agencies may have discrepancies or mistakes that could impact your credit rating. Go to Annual Credit Report for a free report from all three.
Ellie Kay is a family financial expert, the author of Heroes at Home and a mom of seven. Read more of her advice at elliekay.com.