Dollars & Sense Blog

There’s something for everyone. News, advice, scholarship information, curriculum – you’ll find it all here. Don’t forget to check back for the latest in personal finance content.

Expand Archives
Ideas & Info for:

Budget and Saving

Spending Your First Bit of Hard-Earned Cash [VIDEO]

Do you remember your first job? Of course you do! But do you remember how you used the money you earned? H&R Block Dollars & Sense asked parents and teens about how much they earned, and if they made smart financial decisions with their earnings. How does your experience compare? Watch the video to hear what people had to say.


Money Savvy Tips for Planning the Ultimate Vacation

How do we love thee, summer? Let us count the ways: warm weather, no school, no homework and vacations!

But before you pack up a suitcase with bathing suits, sandals and sunscreen, consider this: the average vacation expense per person in the United States is $1,145. Sorry to rain on your seasonably warm and sunny parade.

With Memorial Day right around the corner, this is no reason to stay cooped up at home in front of the AC; just an excuse to get creative and frugal with your vacation plans. Follow these savvy tips to plan the ultimate vacation this summer without breaking the bank:

Create an overall vacation budget

A budget is kind of like the Clarendon filter of money management — that is to say it works every time. Check out how much money you have saved and then determine how much of that you are willing to spend. This should without a doubt be your first step, as it will dictate where you can go and for how long.

Create a food budget and stick to it

Yes, another budget. It’s important to consider this separately because it sometimes gets overlooked — and also because food is sort of essential to keep on living. Meals can be the activities in and of themselves when on vacation, and they can also simply be fuel for a larger activity. Decide how many times you want to eat out so you can afford it. The other meals you can pack up and eat while you explore your new surroundings.

Look for alternative accommodations

Hotels aren’t the only place to lay your head at night. See if a distant relative or long-lost friend lives in area you’re visiting. Hostels and rooms on Airbnb also provide much cheaper options. And last but certainly not least, consider the old tent and sleeping bag. Camping out is a fun way to spend a vacation — and it will make your vacation seem like an adventure!

Keep an eye out for deals

If you’re flying, make sure you use all the tools at your disposal to find the cheapest flight. It’s also possible to find package deals or guided tours that combine all the possible expenses of a trip into one fee. It may seem like a large amount of money up front, but it usually ends up being cheaper than paying for everything separately. Plus, it helps you stick to your budget.

Off-the-grid “staycation”

As much as you may want to travel to a distant land or tropical locale, remember that vacations serve as a great way to spend quality time with family and friends. Exploring a new area that’s close by will still be fun with the right people, and it won’t send you into debt until next summer. Take it a step further and go “off the grid,” and try not to check your social media notifications or check email.

So get out there and make your summer frugal and fun! Before you know it, it’ll be fall, and we’ll be packing our backpacks to heading back to school.


Tips for Cutting Back on Prom Expenses

There are regular ol’ school dances and then there’s prom.

For almost every teenager on the planet, prom is a culmination of all the high school experiences rolled up into one event. Oh, and don’t forget the dinner beforehand and the party afterwards and, for some, a whole weekend of prom-related festivities.

You may be sensing a theme here: prom is not cheap. How not cheap is it? One study found the average teen spent an average of $919 on the special event in 2015.

We’ve compiled a list of the most creative ways to save money on prom. Follow these prom hacks, and you can make those memories without putting a dent in your wallet:

Reconsider the “promposal”

Asking a date to the prom is where the whole journey begins, and as such, many teens have taken the process to new heights. These elaborate “promposals” set teens back an average of $324 in 2015. But the amount you care for someone should not directly correlate to the amount you spend. In fact, a true heartfelt “promposal” should be personalized and thoughtful. Think about writing a poem or incorporating the ask into an activity the two of you like to share before you go and hire an airplane to profess your love in the sky for all to witness.

Limo? More like lim-no

The limo is one of those prom traditions some teens simply are not willing to forego. If that is the case, start doing some research early to find the best deal. Also, be sure to squeeze as many people as possible (and safely) into that sucker. Sure, it may be nice to have a whole limo for you and your date, but splitting the cost with friends makes more sense. If you’re not dead set on the limo idea but still want to travel with friends, look into bus or van rentals.

Secondhand but first class

The outfit you wear to prom will most likely never be worn again, especially if it’s a super fancy set of threads. Go cruise the thrift stores or consignment shops and find something that shows your style. Don’t you want to stand out a bit? Even consider widening the net (literally) with a deeper search online during off-seasons. Many retailers offer discounted dresses during low seasons – never hurts to take a peek!

shutterstock_194758154_604 blog

Financial Literacy Tips & Tricks from Money Management Superstar Rachel Fox

As Financial Literacy Month comes to a close, now is the time to start thinking about how you can take what you’ve learned and apply it to your  life. Not sure how to do that? Check out some tips and tricks to help ensure you’re making the most of your money from teen personal finance guru Rachel Fox of Fox on Stocks.

Saving is KEY

Establish killer credit as soon as possible

Build your budget

Feed your 401K early and often


5 Ways to Use Your Tax Refund Wisely

Tax season gets a bum rap.

While tax day is often associated with having to pay the government, most people actually will receive a check compensating for money they’ve overpaid in taxes throughout the previous year. In 2015, the average refund was $2,893.

Adults usually direct this tax refund toward boring stuff like bills, but teens are free to spend this lump sum of money as they please, right? This is a free country, so technically, yes; but we suggest applying a bit of wisdom when it comes to your refund check.

But before you can start planning what you’ll do with your sweet, sweet cash, you should first know if filing a tax return is even necessary. Once you’ve got that straightened out, follow these five suggestions on how to use your tax refund wisely:

  1. Save for college

Nearly 70 percent of students are taking out loans to pay for college, and on average those loans amount to $33,000 per student. When you account for the interest, many people continue paying off student loans well into their thirties. By starting your own savings now, you could avoid or diminish the realities of this inconvenient, postgraduate truth. 

  1. Pay down debt

The average U.S. household carries $15,762 in credit card debt. While you shouldn’t have nearly that much as a teen, you’d be surprised how quickly it can pile up. If you have a credit card with even a small amount of debt, using your refund check to pay it off is a smart move. Not only does it help you prevent the dreaded black hole of debt, it also improves your credit score — win-win.

  1. Start an emergency fund

The definition of an emergency is a serious, unexpected situation, which is why you ought to plan for one ahead of time. If you don’t have money saved, the effects of a serious emergency (e.g., a medical emergency) can be compounded. Only 51 percent of Americans have enough cash in their emergency accounts to clear themselves of credit card debt. Be like the other 49 percent.

  1. Buy something useful

This may come as a shock, but when you move out of your parents’ house you lose the use of all their things. From food to paper towels, these are things you’ll need to budget for as an adult. Even more pressing is the fact that items you need like cars and computers tend to need repairs and you’ll have to cover the costs. Use your refund check now to upgrade any item you simply will be lost without.

  1. Invest

What’s the only thing better than having money? Making more money with it! Investing is no doubt complicated, but there are very safe ways to invest money. Not only will it boost your bank account, it will also prevent you from spending it frivolously.

For more info on jumpstarting a better tomorrow with your refund check, read this post from H&R Block Talk.

Are Your Money Habits Thrifty or Wasteful? [VIDEO]

Just because you know the foundations of responsible money management doesn’t necessarily mean you adhere to them. H&R Block Dollars & Sense hit the streets to find out what people are spending their money on and what money lessons they’ve learned over the years. Are people ignoring everything they’ve learned about managing money? Watch the video to find out.



3 Big-Ticket Items Teens Save Up For That Also Have Hidden Costs

There comes a time in every teen’s life when their interests and hobbies outgrow the realm of childhood and enter into a mature landscape of adulthood. The only problem is their maturing interests develop faster than their financial literacy skills.

Despite their best efforts to save money toward expensive items they intend to buy , most teens fail to account for the additional, and sometimes hidden, costs associated with these purchases.

Here are three big-ticket items many teens will save up for without considering the additional costs.

Cell Phone

Today’s cell phones are used for more than strictly making phone calls, but that doesn’t mean your teen should buy one simply for its camera capabilities. A data plan is a necessary evil, and the average monthly bill can range upwards of $100, according to U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, there are the expenses to insure a phone, not to mention all the bells and whistles teens will surely want to add on. What all this means is after your teen has saved up money for the physical phone they will need to continue their thrifty ways on a month-to-month basis if they want to keep their phone operational.


When it comes to ditching the “little kid” status, owning a car is just about the quickest route for teens. But cars are a big responsibility, and the associated costs back that up. Right off the bat there’s car insurance, which the DMV says averages close to $900 a year. There’s no grey area here—if your teen wants to be on the road they MUST have car insurance. Then there’s gas, which is fairly important if your teen wants to actually drive anywhere. (Parents might be fine with a car that never leaves the driveway though.) And don’t forget how costly it is when—not if, when—the car needs repairs. Teens should be aware that car ownership is an ongoing responsibility.


It’s more than likely that your teen already has access to a home computer. It’s also more than likely your teen wants their own fancier version. That’s fine as long as they understand that without paying the additional costs, they’ll be able to use it for games of solitaire and little else. Most software comes with a price tag (think Microsoft Office), as does hardware (mouse, printer, speakers). Then there’s virus protection and a warranty, which is recommended if your teen wants to get the most out of their purchase.

Maybe you’re covering all of these costs for your teen, and maybe you’re not. It’s safe to say most parents will fall somewhere in the middle. Encourage your teen to research additional costs when they begin the process of saving. It will save them from disappointment later on, which will save you from having to hear about how unfair it all is.

Teens’ First Jobs and Spending Habits [VIDEO]

How do teens earn their money, and what do they spend their hard-earned cash on? What financial advice from parents do they follow, if any? H&R Block Dollars & Sense hits the streets to find out how influential an open parent/child dialogue is in in reinforcing good money management skills.



Valentine’s Day by the Numbers

When throwing around the term “Hallmark holidays,” one’s thoughts will almost certainly land on Valentine’s Day — and for good reason.

With an estimated $19 billion spent in Valentine’s Day retail sales in the United States in 2015, according to the National Retail Federation, it’s understandable if people struggle to find a true meaning in the holiday when it clearly serves as a reliable, if not lucrative, revenue stream for many businesses.

The average person spent $142.31 on gifts in 2015. More alarming for the parents out there, the Valentine’s Day commercial machine is likely targeting teens. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, more than half (54.9%) of Americans 18 years or younger planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2015. That same survey concluded that on average, men will spend $190.53. For young, impressionable teenage boys who can be blinded by love and pressured by expectations of chivalry, they might find cupid’s arrow ripping a gaping hole in their pockets.

With that in mind, let your teens know an expression of love is not limited to traditional gifts. If they don’t see it that way, here are some numbers you can lay on them so they can at least figure out how to budget for the occasion.

Here are the top five traditional Valentine’s Day gifts and what they cost Americans in 2015*:

  1. Candy: 52.3% plan on buying, $23.86 average cost of purchase, net average in spent billions = $1.690
  1. Flowers: 37.8% plan on buying, $41.55 average cost of purchase, net average in spent billions = $2.093
  1. Jewelry: 21.1% plan on buying, $172.83 average cost of purchase, net average in spent billions = $4.832
  1. Greeting cards: 51.4% plan on buying, $15.32 average cost of purchase, net average in spent billions = $1.047
  1. A night out: 35.1% plan on buying, $77.77 average cost of purchase, net average in spent billions = $3.630

Let’s celebrate the true reason for this holiday’s existence, and not get caught up in the consumerism. After all, true love comes from the heart — not from a store.

For suggestions on affordable ways to say “I love you” this Valentine’s Day, follow our H&R Block Dollars & Sense blog for an upcoming post later this week.



Valentine’s Day Gifts Ideas for the Frugal Lover in Your Life

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love – be it blossoming love, long-term committed love or even the hope of newfound love. For businesses selling Valentine’s Day gifts, the day is more about the love of money.

In 2015, retail sales linked to the February 14th holiday approached $19 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That number may seem bloated, but when you consider more than half of Americans in 2015 (58.7%) said they would buy gifts for other family members in addition to that special someone, while more than a fifth (21.2%) said they would also buy gifts for their pets, it starts to add up.

Traditional Valentine’s Day gifts like flowers or candy are coincidentally marked up during the time around the holiday. Now that you’re armed with the 2015 financial figures surrounding these staples (hyperlink to previous article, V-Day, Part 1), your teen could save a lot of money (and potentially earn some serious brownie points) by relying on some creativity and thoughtfulness when it comes time to choose a gift.

Here are three takes on classic Valentine’s Day gifts that will save you some cash without skimping on romance:

  1. Make your own card

A greeting card is nothing more than a generic expression of feelings, written by a stranger for nobody in particular, yet intended for anyone and everyone. Not exactly a testament of love. Teens can take this opportunity to write something meaningful to the person or people they care about and design it using whatever artistic skills they possess. (A few crayons can go a long way!) The point isn’t to make a card that Hallmark would sell — it’s about finding inspiration from your Valentine and creating something original specifically for him or her. An honest, heartfelt card makes for an impressed Valentine.

  1. Flowers that last forever

Fragrant bouquets of colorful blossoms are undeniably alluring, but they cannot last forever. At some point, the flowers will wilt and your Valentine will throw them away in the trash. Seems like a harsh ending for a symbolic gesture, even if it is unintentional. One way to avoid that is by making a bouquet of origami flowers. Take an afternoon to learn how to origami, then find some brightly colored paper, or better yet, a magazine or other item that holds significance, and use that to create paper flowers. The time and effort put into this gift will surely be noticed, and unlike real flowers, stand the test of time, sending a reminder of your love indefinitely. Now that’s a symbolic gesture you can work with!

  1. Dinner date

For teens, a dinner out at a restaurant is almost a Valentine’s Day requirement. It’s common teen knowledge that to qualify as an official date, there must be a destination. There’s no way around that. Teens can score big savings on dinner or other events by using services like Groupon or Living Social. If they already bought some deals they haven’t cashed in on yet, then of course this is the perfect occasion. Or maybe you have some Groupon deals of your own just sitting around waiting to be used that you could throw your teen’s way. Then, when they get married years later, you can say that you paid for their first Valentine’s Day date, giving you material to torment your children forevermore.