5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Holiday Spending on Budget

5 Easy Ways to Keep Your Holiday Spending on Budget

There’s so much to love about the holidays: the festive food, the memorable music, the timeless traditions with friends and family, and the gifts galore. It’s easy to blow your budget when you’re caught up in the holiday spirit.

We typically spend generously around the holidays, an average of $942, according to Gallup. And this season, that amount is only expected to increase. A recent survey revealed that more than half of shoppers planned to spend more in an attempt to make up for missed gatherings during the pandemic. 

Celebrate the holidays without breaking the bank by using some of these proven ways to keep your spending in check.


1. Make a holiday spending plan.

We often don’t consider everything that goes into our holiday spending. It’s more than just gifts- decorating, food, and entertaining can all add up. Planning ahead will help you understand what you typically spend, and how to make more savvy decisions.

    • Decorate with your budget in mind. You can reuse décor from years before or stop at your favorite dollar store for new items. Homemade decorations offer a personal touch that is extra special.
    • Consider your holiday activities. Some traditions, like watching holiday movies or going to worship services, are free while others come with a cost. Budget for the ones that are important to you.
    • Look at options for holiday entertaining. Consider scaling back your celebrations or rethinking how you gather. Maybe you’d like to set up a group volunteer afternoon rather than hosting a holiday party.
    • If you’re traveling for the holidays, make your plans as early as possible to save money. Include this expense in your holiday spending budget as well.
    • Determine the overall amount of money you have to spend on gifts. This will be your gift budget. Set it and stick to it. (If you’re tempted to go over, see tip #4.)

2. Choose budget-friendly gifts. 

Make a list of family, friends, and coworkers you would like to get gifts for before you shop. This will help you to adjust expectations, specifically how many presents in total you will give, and how expensive they each can be.

    • Create a gift list with recipient names and a price limit for each person or pet. (Be sure not to forget gifts for teachers, coworkers, etc.) Then, write down one or two gift ideas for each name. Keep that list in your purse or wallet for easy access when you’re shopping or simply out and about and spot the perfect present.
    • Don’t forget the extra gift expenses. Gift wrap, shipping/postage, and cards can be pricey. Try making your own wrapping paper and cards to cut down on expenses.
    • Shop early. If you wait until the last minute, you are more likely to overspend. 
    • Look out for deals every day. There isn’t much difference between holiday sale prices and Black Friday or Cyber Monday.
    • Look for discounts and price check your gifts. Apps like ShopSavvy allow you to scan a bar code and check the price against other local retailers or online.
    • Make your gifts. Give baked goods and homemade candy. Create a photo album. Give the gift of your time in the form of babysitting or a home-cooked meal. 

3. Keep track of your spending.

Your holiday spending plan is your overall guide. Be sure to consult it regularly to stay on track. This is the single most important thing you’ll need to do to stay within your budget. Here are some supporting strategies that can help.

    • Consider opening a bank account for your holiday spending. Deposit the money in that account that you have budgeted. Then, draw upon that account for your gifts, décor, and holiday activities. Some banks and credit unions offer a short-term account just for this purpose. Typically, you set it up at the beginning of the year and save a little bit each month until the holiday season.
    • Stick to cash only for all of your holiday spending. Take out a sum of cash and divide it among different envelopes for gifts, décor, activities, etc. Then use the cash in the appropriate envelope for any related expenses.
    • If you are using a credit card to make purchases, choose one where you get cashback.
    • Keep track of your purchases with spreadsheets or budgeting apps. Some popular apps include iSpending and CashTrails.


4. Earn extra money.

There’s an easy way to make room for a little more spending this holiday season—and still stay within budget. That would be to add some extra income. 

    • Take on a seasonal job. Retailers are hiring for the holidays and you can get a part-time job that not only brings in money but could earn you employee discounts.
    • Sell your unwanted stuff. Go to websites or apps like eBay, Poshmark, or Facebook Marketplace and sell the things you no longer use or need. This has the added advantage of decluttering your home for the holidays.
    • Give up an indulgence temporarily. If you stop to buy an expensive coffee every morning, now is the time to put that money into a jar. Do the same for dinner out or other indulgences.

5. Start in January for the next holiday season.

Saving over time is the most painless way to get ready for the holidays. Once you’ve gone through the exercise of budgeting, you can use that information to plan for next year.

    • Calculate what you spent on the holidays this year. Divide that number by 12. Then, make a plan to save that amount each month. Set up a holiday spending account at your bank.
    • Take advantage of post-holiday sales. You can get discounted décor, cards, and other holiday-themed items after the holiday. Buy them now and put them away for next year.
    • While the season is still fresh in your memory, write down the traditions that you enjoyed this year and ones that you may want to skip next year. Include any other reflections that might help when planning for the next holiday season.


Happy holidays (and happy spending) from California Casualty!


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

Fraudulent Unemployment Claims – 6 Steps to Take if it Happens to You

Fraudulent Unemployment Claims – 6 Steps to Take if it Happens to You

Americans are finding themselves among another national crisis amidst the coronavirus pandemic – fraudulent unemployment claims. Across the country, employers are receiving numerous unemployment claims by imposters using the personal information of those who haven’t filed (because they are still employed).

This is simply a different form of Identity Theft where an individual’s personal identifiable information (PII) is compromised and then used to file an unemployment claim. The surge of COVID-related unemployment makes it easier for the fraudsters to file mass numbers of claims with hopes that some will go through. Unfortunately, if someone has successfully filed for unemployment in your name, not only has your PII become compromised, but you will also be responsible to pay the federal taxes owed on the amount received/reported in your name.

If you are actively working and have gotten a notice from your state or employer that someone has filed for unemployment in your name, here are 6 steps to help you get started protecting your identity and your credit.


1. Report the fraud to your employer

If you were not contacted by your employer, start by contacting your business’ Human Resources (HR) department and making them aware of the situation. For your records, the Federal Trade Commission recommends you keep a note of who you spoke to and when.


2. Report the fraud to your state unemployment benefits agency

Report the fraud to your state’s unemployment agency and let them know that it was not you who filed. You can do this quickly online, click here to find your state’s agency. Again, keep a record of your case number and who you spoke to.


3. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Because your personal information has been compromised you will also need to file a report with the FTC. Visit IdentityTheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338 and to complete the ID Theft Complaint Form. You should receive a confirmation notice with the reference number assigned to your complaint within 48 hours.


4. Place a fraud alert on your credit report

Placing a fraud alert on your credit will make it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name, this is because a business must authorize your identity before issuing the credit. Placing a fraud alert is free, lasts one year, and will not affect your credit score. To do this, contact one of the three nationwide credit bureaus and they will inform the other two.

Equifax: (800) 525-6285

Experian: (888)-397-3742

TransUnion: (800)-680-7289

After placing a fraud alert, it’s a good idea to get your credit reports and review them for major changes. You can obtain a free copy by visiting www.annualcreditreport.com. You should also keep an eye on your credit score. You can do this by visiting a website that will not affect your score when you check, like Credit Karma.


5. Continue to monitor your accounts

In the following weeks, you should keep a close eye on your bank and other financial account statements, utility bills, credit card statements, medical bills, and medical insurance statements. If you see any unknown activity or unauthorized transactions call and report it immediately.


6. Get ID Theft Protection

Save yourself time and stress by investing in a service that will help protect your identity, like CyberScout. CyberScout is the nation’s premier provider of identity services. California Casualty customers automatically get free ID theft resolution services from CyberScout when they purchase their policy. For more information on CyberScout click here.


One in five Americans has experienced identity theft; one-third of Americans have never even looked at their credit report. As the pandemic continues to aide in the increase of online shopping and as tax season gets into full swing, it’s important now- more than ever- to be extremely cautious and protect your identity.

Here are a few more tips to help you stay safe this spring:

    • Use complex passwords
    • Don’t give out your personal information online
    • Use two-factor authentication
    • Purchase online through safe, trusted third-party apps like PayPal
    • Sign up for credit card usage alerts
    • File your tax returns as early as possible
    • Use a trusted tax-preparer

Don’t wait until it’s too late, fraudulent unemployment claims and other identity theft scams can happen to anyone at any time. Take the necessary steps and precautions to make sure it won’t happen to you.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

First (or Fourth) Time Homebuyers Guide

First (or Fourth) Time Homebuyers Guide

Purchasing a home is an extremely exciting adventure in the life journey – in fact, more than anything it might represent achieving the American dream. For all the excitement though, it can be confusing, challenging, and stressful. And even for those who’ve done it before, today’s real estate and credit markets are significantly different from even five years ago.

So, whether you’re embarking on this journey as a first-time home buyer, taking advantage of record-low interest rates, or just planning on downsizing or upgrading, follow our guide to help get you in great home-buying shape.


Phase 1: Prepping and Planning

1. Decide how much you can afford – If you’re like many, your home is the largest purchase you’ll ever make – so the biggest question is around how much you can comfortably afford. This is determined according to your income, debt, credit score, location, and more. Then there’s the down payment, for which you’ll probably need to have a savings plan to reach (typical amount is 10-20% of the home value). You can use a home affordability calculator or, better yet, talk to a financial planner.

2. Put your financial ducks in a row – You’ll want to be in good financial shape before house shopping. That means paying off all or most of your debt and making sure you have an emergency fund. The latter will be helpful for those unexpected expenses you’ll have as a new homeowner (that you didn’t have to worry about as a renter!). You’ll also want to save for closing costs (typically 2-5% of loan amount), moving expenses, repairs, and other various expenses.

3. Strengthen your credit – Your credit score affects what loans you will qualify for, so you want it as strong as possible. Get free credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and make sure there aren’t any errors. Then build your score by making sure to pay all bills on time and keeping card balances low. If you don’t have much credit history, quickly start building your score by putting a utility bill or two in your name and staying current on your payments.

4. Educate yourself – Get familiar with all the steps of the process, including all the costs along the way and the people who will be involved. Your main contact (and person working on your behalf) will be your real estate agent, but you will/may also be working with a seller’s agent, broker, loan officer, underwriter, appraiser, listing agent, loan servicer, home inspector, and others.

5. Work with recommended professionals – The most important of these is your real estate agent, who will be representing you and your interests through the process. Ask for recommendations in your circle. Pro tip: You may get referrals to “real estate agents,” “realtors,” and “real estate brokers.” What’s the difference? The first is a licensed professional representing buyers or sellers, the second is a real estate agent who’s a member of the realtors’ association, and the last generally has more training and may work independently or have their own firm.

6. Explore your mortgage options – You can go with all kinds of lenders – all of which have a different down payment and eligibility requirements. Make sure you look at the range of loans, including conventional mortgages as well as loans offered by the FHA, USDA, and VA. As a first-time homebuyer, be sure to research federal or local assistance programs for your buying cohort – they typically offer advantages and savings not offered to other home buyers! After your research, carefully compare the different loan fees and rates.

7. Get pre-approved – After you’ve chosen a preferred lender, apply for pre-approval. Having a pre-approval letter (which specifies the lender’s offer amount) shows real estate agents and home sellers that you’re serious about buying, which can put you at the front of the bidder line.


Phase 2: House Shopping

8. Research the area – Smart buyers don’t make buying decisions based on the property and house alone. Make sure you thoroughly research the neighborhood (visiting it at different times and days) and think about proximity to schools and workplaces. Research crime rates and consider traffic congestion and freeway access. Also, know the value of homes in the area – a price per square foot average is a great yardstick for making sure you don’t end up paying over market value.

9. Go to open houses – The pandemic has made online home-viewing easier than ever. Take advantage of 3D home tours, which will let you filter out homes that don’t fit your needs. From there, you can attend in-person open houses only at those homes you’re most interested in.

10. Get an inspection – Paying for a home inspection is money well spent and can save you very expensive headaches down the road. A typical inspection covers things like structural elements, grounds, attic, heating and cooling systems, roof, exterior surfaces, basement, insulation, electrical system, and all other parts of the home.   

11. Make an offer – Once you’ve found the home you want and can afford, you’ll make an offer to the seller. If you’re not sure how much that should be, lean on your agent for their expertise! They can also help guide you through any negotiating (on say, repairs) or other terms or conditions. Finally, a personalized offer letter never hurts!

12. Know the market – You may be buying in a seller’s market, a buyer’s market, or somewhere in between. Knowing the larger marketplace will help ensure you don’t over-or underbid (again, your agent should be your guide here!). If the market is especially hot you’ll be competing against lots of other offers – know your top price going in so that you don’t get saddled with debt you can’t afford.

13. Get adequate home insurance – Your lender will require homeowners insurance, so start shopping for coverage early (at least 30 days before closing). Get quotes and make sure you understand what’s covered, what’s not, what the terms are, and any additional coverage your home may need. Have questions? Give us a call – we offer special benefits to educators, firefighters, nurses, and peace officers!

Congratulations on embarking on the exciting home-buying journey! With a little extra effort, a plan, and a solid understanding of the process, you’ll be settled into the home of your dreams in no time.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

How To Create a Budget In 7 Easy Steps

How To Create a Budget In 7 Easy Steps

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to start saving money, or to start spending a little more wisely? The best way to save money for you and your family’s future is to create a budget.

Most people cringe at the thought of sitting down and going over their finances, but budgeting doesn’t have to be scary. Even if you think you are in good financial standing you may be shocked when you sit down and go through the numbers. A budget will help you monitor your flow of money and get rid of unnecessary spending, saving you money each month, so what’s there to lose?

Here are 7 easy steps to begin setting your budget.


Step 1. Sit Down Together

Get together with your significant other to calculate the total amount of money you each have coming in each month. From there you will be able to more accurately know where you can cut spending and start saving.


Step 2. Find Out Your Essential Spending Costs

When you begin to sit through and work out your family’s budget, it’s important to start by writing out all of the essential spending your family does each month. This will include payments for your mortgage, rent, bills, insurance, auto loans, student loans, schooling, daycare, food, prescriptions, and essential groceries and clothing.


Step 3. Find Out Your Non-Essential Spending Costs

Next, you will write all costs that may not be essential, but you would like to keep putting money towards them each month. If you have any non-essential spending that you don’t use anymore this would be a good time to start cutting that spending out to help you save. Non-essential monthly spending could include just about anything, like streaming services- Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, or Disney +, etc., subscription and other services like Amazon Prime, Adobe Creative Suite, Dollar Shave Club, Stitch Fix, etc. It could also include any club or gym memberships, extracurriculars, etc.


Step 4. Set Aside Extra Cash to Pay off Debts

By paying off your debts more quickly you can get yourself in better financial standing for the future. To do this start, use the money that is left that you have calculated from your essential and non-essential spending, and start by paying a little above the average monthly payment on your credit cards. Do this every month until you get the balance low enough to completely pay them off. It doesn’t have to be much, a few extra dollars here and there will still get you closer to paying debt off than the minimum payment. You can also do this with your other loans, like your car or home, as well. You can either do this with multiple debts or choose one debt to pay off at a time; it depends on you and your preference and financial situation.


Step 5. Set a Limit for Extra Spending

Setting Limits may be hard at first, but when you sit down and calculate your average cost at the grocery store or your weekly retail therapy, you may find out that you are overspending. Set a reasonable limit for yourself when you go shopping, one that fits into your budget, and stick to it. Bye overspending.


Step 6. Leave Yourself Some Room 

A common mistake in budgeting is not leaving room for events that take place throughout the year like, Holidays, Birthdays, Weddings, Back to School, Baby Showers, etc. If you have an event coming up, know to keep a little bit of extra money out to put it towards. Even if the event is your family going out to eat once a month, remember to leave yourself some room. One of the best ways to do this without overspending is to take out a cash deposit and put it in an envelope to use on that date. That way it is out of your account, you have a spending limit, and the rest can go towards your savings.


Step 7. Determine How Much You Can Save

Once you have all of your spending calculated, you can then determine how much you can save each month. Assuming that some of your payment already goes into your 401k, it’s important to also contribute a personal savings account every month or every paycheck. Think of your personal savings account as a nest-egg for you and your family in case of emergencies. It is wise to contribute enough money into this account until you have reached an amount that could support your family’s essential needs for at least 6 months. Do not pull out of this account.

If you would like to start a savings account that you want to attribute money towards each month for additional life events like college, home-ownership, your own wedding, engagement rings, renovations, family trips, vacations, etc. open a new account, a new one that doesn’t include the nest-egg savings you have built, and start contributing what you can until you have reached your goal.


BONUS TIP: Track Your Spending

To stay on track is to monitor your spending. You should track every dollar moving in and out of your account. There are hundreds of budgeting apps that can help you, or you could just make it a point to look at your online banking at the end of each day. Tracking all of the cash flow in real-time will help you cut out costs that aren’t necessary or that you may not use as often as you think you do. This will also help you monitor your account for any suspicious purchases or accidental charges.


Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary, and if you get the math wrong on your first month that’s okay. Fix some spending/saving and try again, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments where they are needed. It’s your money, find whatever works for you and your family.

Happy budgeting!


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.


10 Auto Insurance Tips that Could Help You Save

10 Auto Insurance Tips that Could Help You Save

Did you know there is actually a way to save money on your insurance policy?

These 10 Auto Insurance Tips could help you save and keep more money in your pocket each month

Combine your insurance.

Insurance companies like California Casualty offer discounts when your home or renters insurance is combined with your auto insurance.

Increase your deductibles.

Sure, the amount you will pay will be a little more if something happens to your vehicle, but the amount you’ll save each month could add up to much more, especially if you are incident-free for a number of years. Just make sure you have an emergency fund to cover that higher deductible.

Check for good driver/good student discounts.

Speaking of incident-free, when’s the last time you had an accident or a moving violation. Most insurance companies will give you a good driver discount, but make sure you tell them. The same goes for students who get good grades.

Take a defensive driving course.

When’s the last time you refreshed your skills? You may qualify for a discount after showing proof that you have completed a safe driving program.

Check insurance costs when buying a new vehicle.

Many vehicles will cost you less; others will increase your premiums. It depends on numerous criteria from the power of the engine, its safety rating and the loss history of the vehicle.

Clean up your credit.

Many companies look at your credit score and how well you do in paying your bills. The better your credit score, the better rate you are likely to receive. Clean credit also helps when you want to buy a new car, rent or buy a home, etc.

Cut your driving.

Ride a bike, join a carpool or move closer to work. How many miles you drive each year can affect your rates; the less you drive, the greater the possible discount.

Pay your premium in full each year.

Not only can you get a discount but you will avoid monthly service charges.

Get a policy review.

Has your commute changed? Did you install a security device? Did you get married? All of these can lower your rates. Talking with your insurance advisor at least once a year is the best way to make sure you get the discounts you’re entitled to. Follow this insurance coverage checklist.

Compare your current insurance to California Casualty.

We are pretty certain that when you stop and compare benefits and prices, California Casualty will be right there with the best of them. Why? We are a 100-year-old, policyholder owned company that provides auto and home insurance to educators, firefighters, LEOs and nurses with exclusive benefits not available to the general public.


Related Articles:

Insurance Tips for Newlyweds

It’s Time for a Policy Review

4 Ways to Save with a Teen Driver


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.


Discounts Available for Educators

Discounts Available for Educators

Teachers play one of the most important roles in our lives growing up. They are our role models, our best friends, our confidants, our parents away from home, and so much more. Teachers are continually molding the minds of children and young adults all over the world to prepare them to be the next citizens and leaders in our society. Without exaggeration, they are changing lives every single day. discounts for teachers

With all that teachers give to us, it is important that we give back to them. So, just in time for back-to-school, we have rounded up a list of companies that offer discounts for teachers as a, “thank you” for what they do.

Each store is linked for you convenience, just click on the stores name, and it will direct you to their discount page!


Target: July 13-20 get a 15% off discount on back to school essentials and supplies in store and online

Michaels: 15% discounts for teachers year-round and special sales for educators throughout the year

Staples: 5/1-9/15 The Classroom Rewards Program lets 5% of each purchase by parents go back to the teacher of their choice as long as they are signed up for Staples Rewards

Office Depot and OfficeMax: 7/14–9/28 Teachers can get 20% back in rewards on qualifying in-store purchased as long as they are signed up for Office Depot OfficeMax Rewards

JOANN: 15% off discounts for teachers on every purchase daily

The Container Store: year-round discounts for teachers exclusively through email when you sign up for their free Organized Teacher Discount Program

Meijer: 7/7-9/28 use their 15% off with coupon for select school and office supplies; teachers can get a new coupon every time they shop in-store at the service desk

Lakeshore Learning Store: 15% off in-store qualifying items when you join their Teachers Club Members

Also be sure to check out Discount School Supply and Dollar Tree in-store and online, for amazing prices year round on all back-to-school essentials.




Books-A-Million: 20% off discount on all items purchased in-store and free online shipping year-round with a free Books-A-Million Educator’s Discount Program Card

Barnes and Noble: 20% off publisher’s list price all purchases for the classroom

Half Price Books: 10% off year-round with an Educator Discount Card

Book Warehouse: 15% off in-store purchases when you sign up for their free Educators Book Club

Thriftbooks: offers 15% off all used class sets when you have 20 or more used books in your cart and you use code “APPLE” at check out

Another resource to find cheap books is First Book Marketplace, where all books are 50-90% off and they have free resources. They also have discounted supplies and basic needs for children including snacks, personal hygiene items, and clothing.


Free Resources

PBS: PBS Learning Media offers free standard-aligned videos, interactive, lesson plans, and more

National Geographic: offers free activities, lesson plans, videos, infographics, photos, and more for Pre-K- Higher Ed

BLICK: offers free lesson plans and educational videos for visual arts education, and will also offer your school a discount if you purchase art supplies in large quantities

redwritethink: offers free lesson plans, student interactivities, calendar activities, and print outs in reading, writing, grammar, critical thinking and more for grades K-12

COMMONLIT: offers a free digital library of fiction and nonfiction for 3rd-12th grade classrooms

NASA for Educators: offers hundreds of resources for free that support the STEM curriculum

sharemylesson: offers thousands of free lesson plans that you can manually align to your standards of teaching, they even have lesson plans to focus on gifted students and students with disabilities

Scholastic: offers free lesson plans, classroom printables, posters, calendars, apps, and other resources as well as discounted books



Madewell: 15% off your entire in-store purchase when you show your Teacher ID

LOFT: 15% off your entire purchase when you show your Teacher ID

Banana Republic: 15% off your entire full-priced, in-store purchase when you show your teacher ID

J. CREW: 15% off your purchase with your Teacher ID

New York and Co.: 15% off your entire in-store purchase when you show your Teacher ID

Talbots: 15% off a full-priced purchase when you show your Teacher ID


Be sure to enter the $2,500 Academic Award Giveaway from California Casualty for your chance to win $2,500 to purchase supplies for your students and your classroom! 


Happy back-to-school preparation! 🙂


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters and nurses. Get a free quote by calling 1.866.704.8614, or visit  www.calcas.com.


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