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How Consumers Can Take Control Back by George Kamel

George Kamel
George Kamel

Have you felt you have been lead astray with money. Time to realize Consumers Can Take Control Back.

Being a consumer probably isn’t something you like to think about. That word alone can conjure up images of an apocalyptic, dystopian, WALL-E-esque universe where humans are materialistic, wasteful and greedy. But let’s put that sad image aside for a moment and think some positive thoughts.

Like it or not, you’re a consumer. Companies worldwide spend billions of dollars every year marketing to you. Which means that every day, you’re exposed to thousands of ads competing for your dollars. But you’re not powerless. By simply paying attention, doing some research, and enduring a little bit of delayed gratification, you can take back control as a consumer.

That’s why March 15, World Consumer Rights Day will be recognized around the planet. And it’s not just another random holiday (looking at you National Panda Day). World Consumer Rights Day is a global event aiming to raise awareness and advocacy for consumer rights and needs.

Let me break it down for you. Consumer rights simply means anyone who buys anything—literally anything—has the right to have information about the quality, purity, price and standards of what they’re buying.1 The Consumers International organization puts it like this:

“[Consumer rights is] about our right to access the basic things we need to live, including food, shelter and safe drinking water. It’s about making sure your new television won’t break down after three months, that your car has the features and technology to keep you safe, and that the data companies collect about you online isn’t lost or stolen.”2  

World Consumer Rights Day is about changing that story of the materialistic consumer we talked about earlier, taking back control of our rights, and becoming smart spenders. Now, that sounds nice, but how do you go from falling for the traps to being in charge of your financial destiny? I’ve got three tips for you.

The first thing you should do when considering a purchase—especially one that falls outside of basic life necessities—is ask yourself what sales incentives could be at play and who’s really benefiting. You’re always being marketed to. And frankly, with all the research and neuroscience at their fingertips, companies know you better than you know yourself. Marketing isn’t a bad thing, but you need to be able to see through it and spend because it’s your decision—not because of slick marketing.

Where a product is in the store or on a shelf, how the brand makes you feel, time-sensitive sales or promotions, convenient payment methods, financing tactics—these are common traps for the everyday consumer. Remember: Businesses don’t offer a sale where they don’t come out on top. And everything is 100% off if you don’t buy it. How’s that for a deal?

The second tip is to make sure you’re confident about the purchase you’re making. For starters, do you understand the terms and conditions? You may not read all the fine print, but look out for the biggies: return policies, warranties, and proof that it’s a reputable researcher—not some kind of scam.

If it’s a big purchase, have you done your research? Are the reviews trustworthy? Companies will use positive reviews on their own website (genius, right?), so look at independent sources for product reviews. And some spaces, like crypto, are still too new to be properly regulated. So if you’re looking to spend money in a crypto or an investing app, see what their customer service is like before you dive in too deep. A good filter to use is this: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

My last tip is to know where to go if things go wrong. If you have a consumer complaint and customer service is unhelpful, take a deep breath and reach out to your friends at the Better Business Bureau. They help navigate marketplace disputes and work with law enforcement agencies on scams or frauds. Likewise, the Federal Trade Commission will take your fraud and identity theft cases. Be sure to report any scams, fraud or criminal activity to your local law enforcement and your bank. They can help if you run into scams, but at the end of the day, what happens to your money is up to you

Taking back control as a consumer is about believing that you are in charge. I want you to stand up for yourself financially and stop letting life just happen to you. You can play defense by paying attention to marketing. You can fight back by making sure you’re confident about your purchases. And you can exercise your rights by reaching out to the people out there who can help.

Now, go forth and spend wisely. Oh, and happy World Consumer Rights Day!

George Kamel

* George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a counter-cultural approach to money. He is the host of The Fine Print and EntreLeadership podcasts on the Ramsey Network. Since 2013 George has served at Ramsey Solutions where his goal is to help people spend less, save more, and avoid consumer traps, so that they can make the most of their money. Follow George on TwitterInstagramFacebook or find out more about him online at ramseysolutions.com/personalities.

Whether you like it or not (and I can’t imagine you’d like it), you’re going to have to resume your student loans payments in the new year. Specifically, on February 1, 2022. And while student loan relief may be extended again in the future, eventually, you will have to pay back the Pied Piper. So instead of waiting, you need to prepare now.

You may be dreading the end of student loan relief, but listen to me: These student loans don’t have to stick around forever. How do I know? Years ago, I was able to pay off $36,000 of student loans in 18 months. You can do the same thing. And with no student loans, you can live a life with more margin and freedom.

Make sure your information is correct

You may not have made a loan payment in nearly two years—and a lot can happen in that time. Did you get hitched? Change your last name? Move to the mountains to work remotely in an Insta-worthy log cabin? (If it’s all three, my hat’s off to you. Congrats!)

But if you don’t keep your lenders in the loop with your changes, they will assume you’ve gone into hiding. Trust me, the student loan industry doesn’t want you to win — they want your money. Don’t let outdated information give them the chance to screw you with more fees and penalties.

So double-check that your name, address and bank information are all up to date. And while you’re at it, take a look at your payment plan so you’re not surprised.

And if you know you’re going to struggle to pay your bill, tell your lender ahead of time. You may be able to switch to a payment plan that works for your current situation. But don’t wait until relief ends on January 31, 2022, to get this all figured out (looking at you, fellow procrastinators)!

Budget for your student loan payment

Money will up and evaporate from your bank account if you’re not intentional about managing it. That’s why I budget — and why you should too. If you haven’t experienced the joy of using a budget yet, today is the perfect day to start. I want you to manage your money the smart way, using what’s called the zero-based­ budget.

Just list your income and subtract all your expenses until you get that magical zero. If you end up with a positive number, you’ve got work to do—give those leftover dollars a job. We don’t want our dollars unemployed!

If you end up with a negative number, then you’ve really got work to do. As in, you probably need to cut back somewhere or get a second job to bring in more money. But hey, you’re just an app away from earning some extra cash walking dogs with Rover, delivering groceries with Instacart or Shipt, or driving for Uber or Lyft. I worked multiple side hustles when I was paying off my student loans, and it made all the difference.

Start paying your loans back now

The biggest mistake I see people making during this debt relief period is not paying back their loans, even when they could. Honestly, if that’s you, you’re choosing what you want right now instead of what’s best for your future. That’s a terrible tradeoff. Instead, take advantage of this interest-free period. Pay your loans back now and all the dough Sallie Mae would normally pocket from interest will go toward your principal balance and your freedom. 

Yes, paying off your student debt takes time, hard work and a whole lot of sacrifice, but there is a light at the end of this student loan tunnel — a life on your terms. But you’ll never get it if you don’t act. Don’t wait on student loan relief, or for any other government program like Public Service Loan Forgiveness (which currently has an appalling 2% success rate). Take a step toward a life of margin and freedom right now!

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Description automatically generated   * George Kamel is a personal finance expert with a counter-cultural approach to money. He is the host of The Fine Print and EntreLeadership podcasts on the Ramsey Network. Since 2013 George has served at Ramsey Solutions where his goal is to help people spend less, save more, and avoid consumer traps, so that they can make the most of their money. Follow George on TwitterInstagramFacebook or find out more about him online at ramseysolutions.com/personalities.

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