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Personal Finance
40 things you can do today to take control of your financial life
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40 things you can do today to take control of your financial life

40 things you can do today to take control of your financial life

40 things you can do today to take control of your financial life

When you’re struggling to get ahead, the idea of getting control of your money — and having confidence in your financial decision-making — can be pretty intimidating.

It may even seem impossible — especially if you’ve never learned much, if anything, about personal finance. Were talking budgeting, saving, handling credit cards, paying off debt, money mistakes to avoid (the list goes on and on…).

I’m not going tell you that getting on top of your finances is easy.

Taking control of your budget requires determination, desire and a good bit of flexibility — and there will be setbacks.

But here’s the good news: It IS possible!

Changing your life and getting on the path to financial freedom ultimately makes every single step along the way totally worth it.

With a solid timeline and a list of goals to achieve, you may find that you’re capable of being much more disciplined that you thought!

Money management is about one thing: FREEDOM

The idea is to challenge yourself — make it a priority to focus on taking specific steps over the next few weeks to get your money back on track. The hardest part is just deciding to do it, because once you start making changes, you’ll become more motivated and more empowered with every new step you take.

It all starts with changing your mindset.

Getting control of your money is not about taking things away — it’s about adding freedoms to your life — both now and down the road.

A lot of people ignore their financial problems, or their finances in general, because they know they can’t afford to fix everything at once — or they simply just don’t know where to start.

So instead of trying to change everything all at once, start with small steps — small changes and milestones that will get you, and keep you, on the right track.

Making just a few smarter decisions each day can have a big impact on your future, because each step you take will give you more motivation to keep going. And it won’t take long for you to begin to see how all of those small steps are adding up to big progress!

To help you get started, we’ve rounded up a list of some easy things you can do each day to get your financial life back on track! So print this out and start checking items off the list — and before you know it, you’ll have a whole new outlook on not just your money, but your life!

40 ways to take control of your money

1.  Set goals

When you know what you’re working toward, budgeting, saving and making changes to your lifestyle become a whole lot easier.

2. Lower a monthly bill

A lot of people don’t realize they can lower their existing monthly bills just by doing a little negotiating. Many people can even get their credit card interest rate lowered — just by asking!

Here’s more on how to lower your existing bills.

3. Increase your 401(k) contributions

Log on to your 401(k) or other retirement account online and increase the amount you’re contributing each year. A boost of just 1% is probably small enough that you won’t even notice the money gone when you get your next paycheck. And even just an extra 1% can add up to a lot of extra savings over time!

If you can’t do it online, make a note to call your plan provider tomorrow!

RELATED: The #1 tip to maximize your 401(k) investments

4. Make your savings automatic

The best way to start saving more money is to make it automatic. By giving every dollar a purpose, you can avoid reaching the end of the month and having no clue where all your money went — including the money you intended to save.

Figure out how much money you can realistically save each month, after covering all your bills and other expenses, and then set up your direct deposit to have that amount sent directly to savings. That way you won’t be tempted to spend it, and if you absolutely need the money, you can access it pretty easily.

RELATED: How to maximize your savings

5. Check your credit reports

Many people don’t check their credit reports because they either don’t realize it’s a big deal or they don’t want to face what’s in it. Bad idea! The only way to improve your financial life is to know what’s going with it, so you can take steps to get back on track. Here’s why:

1. Mistakes

  • There could be errors on your report that you don’t know about — maybe you paid off a bill but your report shows that you didn’t.
  • You want to find any mistakes as soon as possible — so you can get them fixed and minimize the damage.

2. Old bills you never knew about or forgot about

  • Maybe you had a bill from a doctor or a retail store — and you moved, so you never got the bill.
  • Even it’s for a small amount, an old unpaid bill could be damaging your credit without you even realizing it.
  • If a bill is sent to collections, it stays on your credit report for 7 years — even after you pay it off.
  • It causes less damage to you over time, but it doesn’t go away for 7 years.
  • So even after you get things together, your credit could still suffer. So the sooner you start paying attention, the sooner you can get your credit on the right track

At  AnnualCreditReport.com , you can get a free copy of each of your credit reports once each year. In just a couple minutes, you can see everything that’s going on with your credit. But you can only do this once a year, because doing so more than once per year will ding your credit and cause your score to drop.

You can also monitor your credit for free with a service called Credit Karma, which pulls in your information and gives you a good idea of what’s going on with all your finances and anything that impacts your credit.

Here’s a guide on everything to know about your credit reports and scores.

6. Make an extra payment toward a debt

The average U.S. household is carrying more than $15,000 in credit card debt, according to a study by NerdWallet. And as that debt rolls over each month, the total amount owed continues to increase — sometimes by quite a lot each month — depending on the credit card’s interest rate.

Think about your situation: do you have any credit card debt or student loans hanging over your head? Those debt obligations can be big obstacles keeping you from reaching your financial goals. So the quicker you get it paid off, the quicker you will be able to truly start building wealth.

One thing you can do today is make just one extra payment toward a debt. While you may not be able to pay off the entire balance today, every little bit helps. Skip a splurge this week and use that money to pay extra toward your credit card bill or student loan debt. Put the extra money toward whichever debt has the highest interest rate — as that’s the debt that will end up costing you more money over time (the longer it sits there accruing interest, the more you’ll owe).

Paying an extra $100 toward debt, instead of wasting it on something you don’t need, will be more beneficial to your long-term financial goals by allowing you to become debt free sooner in life. Plus, the more you start to pay down debt, the quicker you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel of getting it paid off.

7. Transfer a high-interest debt

If you have a big credit card bill that’s slamming you with high interest fees every month, transferring the balance could save you hundreds of dollars. By allowing you to transfer the debt to a credit card with 0% APR (annual percentage rate) for a certain number of months, these types of offers can help you pay off your debt in a timely manner — without having to pay interest. 

So if you have a credit card with a high interest rate, check out this list of great balance transfer options.

Once you transfer the debt, your payments will go a lot further without the high interest — which will cost you less money in the long run and also allow you to get it paid off quicker.

8. Find free money

Unclaimed money from bank accounts, insurance policies, rental and utility deposits, safe deposit boxes and other places could be hanging out there somewhere in your name. All you need to know is how to check and collect it without paying any fees.

It’s particularly easy if you have a unique last name. Simply go to MissingMoney.com and punch in your name to do a database search of available unclaimed funds across all states. With one click of your mouse, you can cover the entire spectrum of what’s available.

Please note that not every single state participates. If you live in a state that doesn’t participate with this free site, there’s one more option for you: Unclaimed.org. This website is a clearinghouse for the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators.

Also, if you ever had an FHA home loan, HUD may be sitting on refund money for you. Go to HUD.gov and see if you’re in their refund database.

More ways to find free money in your name.

9. Reduce your student loan debt

Many people don’t realize that a big chunk —often the majority — of their monthly payments are probably going toward interest, depending on the interest rate and other factors (we’ll get to that). So even by paying hundreds of dollars each month, you may not even be making a dent in the total cost of your debt.

Student loan refinancing can be a great way to reduce your payments and decrease the total cost of your debt — while shrinking the time it takes to get it all paid off.

Here’s a guide on refinancing student loans & how to get started.

10. Shop for cheaper car insurance

It may be a pain, but taking a few minutes to sit down and shop around can end up saving you big bucks! Here’s where to look and how to start shopping for a better deal.

11. Reduce your utility bills

By making some basic tweaks around the house – like replacing your light bulbs – you can save a ton of money on your monthly bills! Here are 10 ways to get started.

12. Stop paying full price

For anything you buy today, find a coupon, a promo code or maybe an alternative option — whatever you do, just don’t pay full price! Once you start to realize all the different ways you save on things, you’ll rarely have to pay full price!

Here’s a long list of discount fashion and designer clothing websites.

13. Check your bank statements daily

If you don’t check your statements daily, there could be fraudulent charges on your account without you even realizing it. Plus, it’s a good way to keep an eye on your spending and recognize any expenses you can cut!

14. Create stronger passwords

The easier your passwords are to hack, the easier it is for criminals to get their hands on your personal information — including your bank account. Each little piece of information that a scammer has about you can help them get access to your accounts.

Here’s how to make sure your passwords are strong and some free ways to safely keep them all in one place.

15. Get a cheaper cell phone plan

A recent survey found that most people are paying about twice as much as they have to each month for cell phone service. Why? Because they don’t make the effort to look for a cheaper plan.

You may be able to get the exact same place, or at least pretty close, for less money. Check out our guide to the best cell phone plans and deals here .

16. Invest spare change

There are some great apps available that now allow you to start investing with just a few bucks! Here’s a list of some of the best ones to consider.

17. Create a budget (or reevaluate your budget)

If you aren’t giving every dollar a purpose, you are very likely wasting a lot more money than you realize.

Creating a budget will help you keep your spending on track. If you already have one, then take a good hard look at each area of spending and see if there are any categories where you can cut costs, which will free up more money for savings.

Check out our step-by-step guide on creating a budget that works for you.

18. Start tracking your spending

Making a mental note is not an efficient way to track your spending. If you want to actually stick to a budget, you need to track every dollar that comes in and every dollar that goes out.

And it can be a lot easier than it sounds. In fact, there are tons of apps that will do it for you. You can even get updates on your progress throughout the month — like if you get close to going over budget or get closer to paying off a debt!

Here’s more on how to start tracking your spending.

19. Eliminate a fee

There are so many fees out there these days, there’s likely at least one in your life that you can eliminate.

Investment fees: Do you know what you’re paying in investment fees? If you don’t, you need to find out — because a difference of just 1% can save you (or cost you) up to tens of thousands of dollars over time — maybe even more. Here’s a look at some low-cost investment options.

Checking account fees: How much are you paying in fees for your checking account? If it adds up to more than $0, consider these cheaper alternatives.

ATM fees: Do a quick search online or check your online bank account to find the nearest fee-free ATM in your area.

Here’s a list of 13 fees you should never pay!

20. Shop with a grocery list

I take a list with me every time I go to the store — because if I don’t, I’ll forget the things I need and end up with a basket full of all the random things the grocery stores tempt you with throughout the whole place.

If you have a list, it’s a lot easier to avoid spending extra money. And these apps make it easy for you.

21. Start an emergency savings fund

According to a recent survey, more than 40% of Americans either experienced a major unexpected expense over the past 12 months or had an immediate family member who did. And if you aren’t ready for it, you could be facing major financial damage for years over just one bill.

But there’s one very easy solution that will minimize any potential damage — prepare for it!

The best way to save for unexpected financial shocks is to have two separate emergency funds: a rainy day fund and a bigger emergency fund.

  • A rainy day fund is money you might dip into every once in a while to cover an unexpected expense, like a medical bill.
  • An emergency fund is a bigger, longer-term savings fund. This money should be able to cover at least three to six months worth of living expenses in case you can’t work for a period of time, for whatever reason.

If you’re starting from scratch, these goals may seem impossible — but you can get there! At the very least, start by saving $1 a day — and then increase that amount as you can.

The best way to approach saving is to start with baby steps and then build up from there. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

22. Shop at more than one grocery store

If you buy everything at the same store, chances are you’re paying way more than you have to on groceries.

You can save more than 30% simply by changing your routine. Check out non-traditional grocery stores like warehouse clubs, dollar stores, Aldi and Walmart for big savings on food and other items you frequently buy at the grocery store (at a higher price).

  • Grocery staples: Check out Aldi and Walmart
  • Organic: Try Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Foods
  • Bulk items: Warehouse clubs like Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s

RELATED: 10 ways you’re wasting money on groceries & and how to save

23. Find an easy way to make extra cash

There are so many ways for pretty much anyone to make extra cash — whether it’s online or in your area.

Check out this list of 35 easy ways to make cash on the side.

24. Ask your credit card company for a lower interest rate

When it comes to monthly bills and companies you do business with, more often than not, you can negotiate a better — and cheaper  deal. The problem is most people don’t even ask, so they continue paying for something they could very likely get for less.

According to a survey by CreditCards.com, nearly 90% of U.S. credit card holders who asked to have a late fee waived had their request granted. On top of that, 78% of those who asked for an interest rate reduction were successful in getting that request granted.

Bottom line: There’s no harm in asking! So make the call and see what you can get!

25. Go through the past six months of bank and credit card statements

Look for recurring costs that you don’t need or use and cancel them immediately. It’s easy to overlook small charges each month, but over time, they could be costing you a big chunk of cash.

Also look for little expenses you can cut out or reduce — coffee, online shopping etc.

26. Sell your old stuff for cash

Organizing your home can help relieve stress and get you into a better overall routine. Go through your clothes, electronics, old books and other items that you no longer use or need, and then sell what you can and donate the rest.

Here’s a list of ways to sell all of your old stuff for the most cash.

27. Review your credit card rewards

You may have built up some rewards without even realizing it! From cash back to airline miles, check your credit card rewards to see if there are any savings opportunities you can take advantage of.

28. Try only using cash

If you’re having a hard time controlling your spending, try using cash. Split up your paycheck for each area of the budget and put the cash in separate envelopes. That will force you to budget based on the amount of cash you have left, rather than just swiping a card and continuing to overspend.

Important note: Once you budget out what you need for the month (or two weeks, depending on how you split up your paychecks), figure out how much extra money you have left to save. Then set up your direct deposit to send that amount directly into savings before it shows up in your account — if you don’t see it, you can’t spend it!

29. Try a no-spend week

Take a week and plan out your meals and anything else you may need. Then put the cards, cash, mobile wallet and any other spending mechanism away — and don’t spend a penny for a full week. You may be surprised by all the little things you’re used to buying that you don’t really need!

30. Download coupon apps

There are tons of free apps out there that can save you money — apps that offer instant deals and coupons for grocery stores and drugstores, and even some that actually pay you cash back just for shopping (to help you save, not spend more!).

Check out this list of 11 great apps to try.

31. Get valuable stuff for free

There are so many things you’ve become accustomed to paying for that you can actually get much cheaper or even free!

A few examples: Garden supplies, books, online courses, health care freebies and more. See the full list of easy ways to valuable things for free.

32. Cancel a subscription

If you want to get your money in order — both for the short-term and the long-term — take a look at all of your monthly subscriptions and figure out which ones you don’t really need. Cut at least one. Then next week or next month, cut another one. After a few months, you’ll start to see the difference in your accounts, allowing you to save more and develop better budgeting habits over time.

Here are a few examples of subscriptions you may be able to live without:

  • Gym membership: If you go to the gym every day, you may want to keep your membership. Go to the manager and ask about special offers to decrease what you’re paying. You can also shop around for better prices at other gyms — then take a better price offer to your current gym and ask for a decrease in your membership fee. Also check out these 8 ways to save on a gym membership.
  • TV: Here’s a list of several alternatives.
  • Magazine subscription
  • Other: Are there any monthly/annual subscriptions (like Netflix or Amazon Prime) that you can cut and share with someone in your family? By sharing the account, you cut the cost in half!

RELATED: How to increase your income by reducing expenses

33. Start a savings challenge

Here’s a 12-week savings challenge that will leave you with an extra $1,000 in your pocket by the end!

34. Try something extreme — or unique

We recently asked our fans on Facebook about the most extreme or unique thing they’ve ever done to save money. And while some of the responses were even a little too extreme for us, there were plenty of great ideas! For example, any time you get a $5 bill in change, put it away in a savings jar until the end of the year — or some other specific date you set for yourself, when you can use the money to pay off a bill or put toward a vacation.

Check out the list of 61 unique ways to save money and challenge yourself to try at least one! 

35. Shop at a dollar store

From party supplies, clothing and socks, to cleaning supplies and household products. The dollar stores can save you big bucks on a variety of things you buy all the time! Here are a few examples:

36. Cook dinner at home

According to a recent survey, among households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more, one-third live paycheck to paycheck, and 44% said lifestyle purchases, such as dining out and entertainment, were big hindrances to saving. Among millennials bringing home $75,000 or more, 71% confessed these expenses were stealing their savings.

Get into the habit of cooking at home more. The more you do it, the more you’ll save. Plus, a recent study found that eating at home will help you lose weight, too.

37. Create a will

Getting a will in place is one of the most crucial aspects of financial planning, but for whatever reason, most people don’t do it.

A new study found that 58% of adults say they don’t have a will in place. On top of that, 64% of parents with kids under the age of 18 have no formal estate plan at all.

If you don’t have children and have very little in the way of assets, that may be OK for you. But in pretty much any other situation, having a will is critical.

If you have children, you need a will for the simple fact that if you don’t have one, the state would decide who raises your kids if something were to happen to you. If there’s no document with written directive from you, that’s just how it goes.

If you don’t have kids but you are married — and don’t have a will in place — the state would decide how your money is allocated if something were to happen to you.

The same holds true if you and a partner are living together and aren’t married. In many cases, your partner will not be considered to inherit your estate unless you put it in writing.

Here’s a guide on cheap and easy ways to get a will in place.

38. Set up bill reminders

Automatic bill-pay can catch you off guard if you’re still trying to get control of your monthly budget. But you definitely do not want to ever pay a bill late — as late payments have a significant impact on your credit.

So to avoid overdrafting your accounts, just set reminders for yourself on your phone, tablet, calendar or wherever, for when each of your bills are due. And when that reminder pops up, pay the bill immediately so you don’t forget!  If you tend to be forgetful or a little unorganized, check out these 6 tips to help you keep your money on track. 

39. Set up two-factor authentication on all online accounts

Criminals are finding new ways to con people out of money every day, and they’re using our everyday activities to try to catch us off guard — including social media, text messages, emails, phone calls and pretty much every other method of communication.

Any time you log in to any online account, whether it’s Amazon, your bank account or some other site that stores your personal information, criminals could be watching without you even realizing it. And any piece of information they can pick up about you could help give them access to what they’re really after — your money.

So it’s important to text extra steps to protect your information online and the information you access on your devices — and many sites now offer two-factor authentication to add in another layer of security.

Two-factor authentication (sometimes called two-step authentication) requires you to take an extra step to authenticate who you are when you sign in or when you are doing a transaction. It’s sometimes also referred to as two-step authentication.

The extra step just depends on the company or website, so it could be a unique code that’s texted to your cell phone or a unique password you have to give when authorizing anything over the phone. Whatever the extra step is, opt in for it! It’s another layer off security for you and your money!  Here’s more on how it works and how to set it up.

40. Invest in a few things that will save you money over time

By investing a little extra money now on certain things, you can reduce a lot of extra expenses in your life — and save yourself some serious cash down the road.

A few examples include a reusable water bottle, programmable thermostat and LED light bulbs. See the full list here.

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Palomino is also charged with possession of methamphetamine.  Members of the middle schooler’s family wept as Investigator Stacy Rutherford testified about the details Aguilar, who was Mendoza’s live-in boyfriend, gave in a statement following his June 14 arrest.  Related story: Police: 13-year-old girl dead in ‘brutal’ killing, grandmother’s body also found According to AL.com, Aguilar told detectives that Mendoza was involved with the Sinaloa cartel, considered to be the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organization.  Rutherford testified that the defendant told investigators that he, Palomino, Mendoza and a woman named Leticia Garcia traveled June 2 to Norcross, Georgia, where they picked up a quarter kilo of meth for the cartel. Along the way, something went wrong and Palomino became suspicious that Mendoza and Garcia, who was also tied to the cartel, might be setting him up, Aguilar said in his statement.  WAAY in Huntsville reported that Rutherford testified that sometime after the group returned to Huntsville, Palomino learned that Mendoza had removed the SIM card from her cellphone. He also found a text she sent during the drug run to Georgia, in which she asked an unknown woman to pick up her granddaughter, who was with Palomino’s wife, because she feared that she and her granddaughter were in danger.  Early on June 4, the men woke Mendoza at their Huntsville home and told her that they were taking her and Lopez, who had special needs, somewhere safe, AL.com reported. Rutherford testified that they were instead taken to Moon Cemetery, located about 15 miles southeast of the city in Owens Cross Roads.  Palomino and Mendoza argued in the cemetery about the drug deal and Palomino stabbed the grandmother multiple times, leaving her for dead, Aguilar told investigators.  Lopez, who witnessed her grandmother’s slaying, was taken to a wooded area about 2½ miles from the cemetery, where Aguilar said Palomino forced him to kill the girl. Rutherford testified that Aguilar told investigators he was holding the knife when Palomino grabbed his arm and moved it back and forth in a “sawing motion,” with which the girl was beheaded.  Aguilar said he participated in the slayings out of fear.  “He said he was fearful of Israel,” Rutherford testified, according to AL.com.  >> Read more trending news The men left the teen’s body where she was killed and stopped to clean Palomino’s car, the detective said.  Mendoza was reported missing two days later by worried relatives, WAFF in Huntsville reported last month. Lopez’s body was found the following day. Madison County investigators released information describing the items the body was clothed in: red pajama pants with gingerbread men on them, as well as a pink undershirt and black tank top. The news release also indicated that the young victim had a cerebral shunt.  Lopez’s mother -- who is also Mendoza’s daughter -- showed up at the Madison County Sheriff’s Office a short time after the description was released and told investigators that the body might be that of her daughter, Sheriff’s Office officials said. Dental records provided a positive identification a week later.  Mendoza’s body was found at the cemetery June 15, after Aguilar gave his statement to investigators. She was also identified through dental records, Sheriff’s Office officials announced June 27.  Aside from Aguilar’s alleged confession, investigators have collected physical evidence they say links the men to the slayings -- including the suspected murder weapons. AL.com reported that Rutherford testified one knife was found under Palomino’s mattress and the other was found under Aguilar’s mattress.  Despite the men’s cleanup efforts, blood was also found in Palomino’s car, the investigator said.  Both men’s cellphones also “pinged” in the area of the killings during that time frame, the news site said.  The slayings shocked the community, particularly those at Challenger Middle School, where Lopez was a student. The school’s Parent-Teacher Association last month set up a memorial account to help her family pay for her and her grandmother’s funerals. “No one is prepared to lose a child or other relative at such young ages,” a statement from the PTA said. “With the untimely passing of two family members, one can imagine the mounting costs of funeral and burial expenses that the family faces in addition to the unparalleled grief that is felt as well.” The “Mariah Lopez and Oralia Mendoza Memorial Account” was established at Wells Fargo, with donations set to go directly to the funeral home.  “Anything in excess of those costs will be given to the immediate family to assist with other expenses and needs,” the PTA statement said.  Lt. Donny Shaw, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, last month credited the community with helping to quickly bring the search for Lopez’s and Mendoza’s killers to an end.  “For a murder where there were no indications, no witnesses, nothing to lean on when we began with it, the Hispanic community, the partners, the media, we’ve been able to do a phenomenal thing in just a little over seven days by coming to the arrests of two individuals,” Shaw told WAFF.  Both Aguilar and Palomino are being held without bail in the Madison County Jail. Palomino is also being detained on a hold for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  His preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday. 
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