The Argument for Freezing Credit: Is Your Social Security Number Easily Found on the Web?

You’ve likely heard about the recent security breaches at popular stores like Target, Neiman Marcus and Michael’s.  While it’s bad enough that so many customers’ security was compromised, what’s even worse is the reports that these customers’ personal and credit information often ends up on a large database to be bought by criminals for as little as $40.

You might imagine some shady database that is hard to find unless you’re a criminal.

Unfortunately, the truth is that your personal information is surprisingly easy to find on the web.

Hiding in Plain Sight on the Internet

Freezing CreditMy husband and I are searching for a house.  Like any diligent buyer, I searched the Internet for the address of the house we’re interested in.  (I did this just to make sure it had not been the scene of a murder or crime or meth bust.  Every perspective home buyer does this, right?)

While I didn’t turn up anything amiss with the home, I was shocked when I happened upon a site that touted itself as a reverse social security number look up.  The address I was searching was there, complete with the owner’s social security number.  In fact, every social security number that was listed had either the number holder’s full name or address.

Scary stuff!

You Can’t Control What Happens to Your Personal Information

The simple truth is, no matter how cautious you are about not sharing your social security number or making sure to shred all documents containing your personal information, you can’t control all aspects of that information.

If you’re living a normal life and using a credit card or debit card, you might be the victim of a company’s security breach (even though you did everything right to protect your identity).  Your own information could very well end up on the web even if you’re diligent about not having a web footprint.

Consider Freezing Your Credit

My friend recently had her identity stolen.  She found out fairly quickly–within 3 days, but by then the thief had already charged over $20,000.  She’s spent hours trying to clear her name while also caring for her 5 young children during the day.  I can’t imagine the stress she’s under right now.

Truth is, that could happen to any of us, especially when our personal information is so freely available on the web.

If you want to protect your name, identity, and credit score, the best way to do so is to freeze your credit.

First, to clear up a misconception, if you freeze your credit, the credit lines you already have open will not be affected.  You can use your credit as normal with no inconvenience.

However, freezing credit does have a few inconveniences.  If you want to open a new line of credit or even apply for a new apartment, for instance, you’ll need to thaw your credit.  Depending on the state you live in, this can cost anywhere from $2 to $10.  Initially freezing your credit also costs about $10 per credit bureau.

My husband and I have had our credit frozen since 2009 when we had our eBay account hacked and $1,000 was purchased over night.  I plan to keep our credit frozen for the rest of our lifetimes, thawing only when needed (like we did a few weeks ago to pre-qualify for a home loan), especially now that I know social security numbers and other personal information are so easy to find on the web.

Have you frozen your credit?  If not, would you consider doing so?

(Editors note: Freezing your credit is the best way to stop a lot of this stuff from happening.  It’s what many of the services like LifeLock (not recommended) really do. Alternatively, there are ID theft protection services like Credit Karma that you can use that will monitor your credit and credit score without the freeze, or in coordination with a freeze.)

The Power of Facebook When Planning a Cross Country Move

Are you on Facebook?  Most everyone seems to be.  After all, Facebook is a great place to catch up with old friends, share photos of your kids (and see friends’ family photos), and even look up what old flames are doing now.

However, have you ever used Facebook as a tool to help facilitate a move?

Remember that cross country move my husband and I considered but didn’t think would actually happen?  Well, it’s going to happen.

This summer, we’ll be moving nearly 2,000 miles from Illinois to Arizona.

In the midst of all of our planning, I’ve been amazed at how Facebook has helped me to both sell stuff and learn about the new city we’re moving to.

Selling Junk Stuff

Cross Country MoveI love dressing my kids in Gymboree clothes that I buy for a steal when they’re on sale and I have a coupon.  A few years ago, I had good luck selling them on eBay after the kids had outgrown them, but now, the market is saturated.  After eBay and PayPal fees, selling there is really not worth my time.

I found that there are several Gymboree groups on Facebook.  Since I have about three years of my daughters’ outgrown clothes to sell, this was a great find.  The first week I listed clothes on the Facebook groups, I earned over $200!  I still have about half of the clothes to sell.  Thanks, Facebook for giving me cash and reducing the “stuff” I’ll have to move.

Making Connections to the New City

Many Facebook groups let you ask off topic questions, so on one of the homeschooling Facebook groups I belong to, I asked an off topic question about the city we’re planning to move to.  Two women who live there responded and told me I could send them private messages about my questions about the area.

These women went above and beyond in answering every question I had.  In fact, one of the women, Donna, invited me to visit her when we took a preliminary trip to Arizona before my husband signed his contract.  We talked with her for over an hour at her house, and she gave us great information about things to do in the city, what she likes and dislikes, etc.

When we make our final move there, she’ll also be an excellent resource as we search for new doctors, dentists, car repair shops, etc.  Plus, it’s nice to have someone that we already know once we get in town.

How to Make Your Own Connections on Facebook

Have you harnessed the power of Facebook?  Doing so is easy.  If you haven’t done so yet, you may want to join some Facebook groups for activities and hobbies you’re interested in.  Finding one group initially is hardest.  Then, once you find a group you like, you’ll see on your sidebar other similar groups that you can join.

Many towns have Facebook pages or swap pages where you can sell and buy items from members in your local community.  Other groups like the Gymboree ones focus on people who like to buy and sell particular brands of clothes.

If you need to move or just to declutter your house, Facebook can be a great resource.

Do you use Facebook for more than just the basic social connection with friends and family?  If so, how?


Original photo credit: Gordon Joly on Flickr

Spend a Fixed Amount at the Grocery Store Every Week or Stock Up During Sales?

A few months ago, I went grocery shopping in the morning on the first of the month, and I couldn’t believe how crowded it was.  After all, it wasn’t a Saturday morning when the usual grocery shopping rush occurs, but a Wednesday morning.

I waited in line to pay for over 20 minutes.  When I asked the cashier what was going on, she said that it was the first of the month, so many people’s SNAP benefits had just replenished.  These people were stocking up after possibly having had very little to eat at the end of the month when they were out of funds.

This phenomenon is not unusual.  Many people who are living on a tight budget (with or without receiving SNAP), after scrimping and doing without for the last 10 to 14 days of the month, are happy to go shopping and stock up.  The problem is that this stock up can consume most of their food budget, and the cycle starts all over again.

I mentioned in my last post that my family is experiencing a period of low income and a tight budget.  Luckily, I don’t foresee this situation remaining stagnant for years.  Within another year or two, my husband will be eligible to apply for a much better job, and as my kids grow up and become more self-sufficient, I should have more time to grow my freelance business.

However, for now, we sometimes run into this feast or famine pattern.  In our high cost of living area, we budget $700 a month for groceries for our family of 5.   (We have food intolerances including beans, gluten, dairy, and eggs, so we have to eat a special diet.)  The last week of the month, we’re eating an odd mix of foods, and we don’t have as many fruits and vegetables as we’d like.

Spend the Same Amount Every Day to Avoid Feast and Famine

I’ve been researching different strategies to help with our grocery budget.  One that I found is rather basic–determine how much you can spend per day on groceries.  For instance, in February, we can spend $25 a day on groceries ($700 divided by 28 days), while in May, we can only spend $22.58 per day.

If I’ve not been to the grocery store for 6 days, I’ll theoretically have $135.48 to spend on that trip, based on a 31 day month.

Using this pattern, I can avoid the feast or famine food cycle by making sure I have enough grocery money, even at the end of the month.

Drawbacks to Spending the Same Amount Every Day

The biggest drawback I see to spending the same amount every day is that there is not much flexibility to take advantage of sales.  For instance, if I normally buy ground turkey for $2.95 a pound, but it’s on sale for $2.45 a pound, I should stock up.  Maybe I’d buy 25 pounds at this discounted rate.  That right there would cost me $61.25, or almost half of my weekly budget.

However, it would save me $12.50 on ground turkey, and the stock would last us a few months.

While spending the same amount every day helps even out the feast or famine cycle, it may not be the best way to stretch your grocery dollars.  Instead, I prefer to buy on sale in bulk so I pay less and get more food, even if it means at the end of the month, each meal with meat has ground turkey in it.

How do you handle your grocery budget?  Do you set a fixed amount to spend each week, or do you set a fixed amount for the month so you can take advantage of sales?