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How to Become a Career Coach: 3 Success Stories

When you hear the term “coaching,” it’s easy to think of the whistle-blowing leader of your child’s little league team or a motivational life coach who pens self-help books.

Yet a stream of young professionals are now giving that term new meaning. They are spinning off parts of their businesses — and even creating whole new businesses — on the idea of coaching a specific skill, tool or industry.

How did they get started? Where did they find clients? And, perhaps the most perplexing question in the work-for-yourself world, how did they decide what to charge?

We talked to three pioneers in the career coaching world about how they got to where they are and what they want to do next.

Coaching the Business of Freelance Writing

Jenni Gritters and Wudan Yan, The Writers’ Co-op

Freelance writers Jenni Gritters and Wudan Yan both got into coaching after a continued flurry of requests for advice. Both have a presence on social media and had written viral articles about their professional experiences.

For Gritters, it was a piece she wrote on Medium in June 2019 with an eminently clickable headline: “How I made $120,000 in my first year as a freelance writer.” For Yan, it was a piece published around the same time about her saga of successfully extracting late fees from publications that were late paying her. In both cases, Yan and Gritters found themselves inundated with requests from people who wanted to “pick their brains” and ask for career advice.

At some point, they both decided that offering their time for free was not financially sustainable.

To streamline their advice in one place, Yan and Gritters decided to start a podcast, The Writers’ Co-op, which has since become a guidebook for freelancers with worksheets, webinars and even coaching. They also started their own individual coaching businesses, offering one-hour sessions with prospective and experienced freelancers.

A woman smiles outside while sitting next to a flower bush with white flowers on it.

Finding clients was never too much of an issue. Yan’s and Gritters’ relative internet fame assured some level of success. But deciding what to focus on and how much to charge posed bigger problems. Both Yan and Gritters lowballed their rates at first — Yan was charging $35 a session while Gritters was charging $50. Both have since raised their fees: Gritters is at $150 while Yan is at $200.

They advise being realistic about how much work coaching will take and charge accordingly. Remember that a one-hour coaching session does not just take one hour: It takes time to schedule the session, prepare for it and send a follow-up email with tangible guidance, as Yan and Gritters do.

Remember, also, to be thoughtful about what topics you choose to coach. Although Gritters was a longtime editor and once taught high school journalism, she knew she did not want to teach the creative elements of writing. She wanted to save her creative energy for her own work. Instead, she focuses her coaching on the business of freelancing.

Coaching Social Media for Nonprofits

Dana Snyder, Positive Equation

When Dana Snyder initially started her own social media marketing business for nonprofits four years ago, she wanted to emulate an agency. Her plan was to be on monthly retainers with nonprofits managing their social media.

But once those contracts ended, she quickly saw that her clients went back to their previous practices. She wanted to help them long-term.

Much like Gritters and Yan, it was a sort of serendipity that pushed Snyder into coaching. In the first year of her business, a nonprofit reached out asking if she would be willing to work with an internal employee. The leaders knew enough to know what they didn’t know — and that was social media and the digital world.

The coaching paid off. At the end of the year, the nonprofit’s CEO reached out to Snyder to tell her that they had had unprecedented success on social media channels.

Since then, Snyder has made the pivot from the agency model to business coaching and speaking engagements. In a twist of fate, 2020 was the first year Snyder decided to focus 100 percent of her business on online courses, coaching and speaking engagements.When COVID-19 hit, she saw a rush of demand for virtual professional development sessions and planning virtual events.

She offers pre-recorded online courses for purchase on topics like Facebook and Instagram, planning a virtual event and reaching ideal donors. Those range from about $39 to $70 per course. She also offers social media audits to nonprofits, which function as a one-time coaching session. Snyder asks about an organization’s business goals, researches their competitors and the nonprofit’s own content before presenting them with digital strategies for the future. Those start at $1,000.

But in the age of COVID-19, Snyder has found real success in webinars. She offers professional development series for nonprofits that can book her as a speaker. She also received the unique opportunity to become an approved speaker through CharityHowTo, a site that connects nonprofits with relevant webinars. That has both increased her presence in the community and taught her more about how to make an engaging presentation.

Snyder is an example of the power of having a diversified revenue stream — audits, online courses and speaking engagements — at a variety of price ranges.

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Coaching How to Pitch to News Outlets and Brands

Austen Tosone, Keep Calm and Chiffon

Austen Tosone did not initially become a full-time freelancer by choice. After getting laid off from two different magazine jobs, Tosone decided to pursue her blog, Keep Calm and Chiffon, and while writing freelance full-time.

As her work was getting published in publications like Refinery29, Teen Vogue, Bustle and The Zoe Report, she started receiving messages from people wondering how she got there.

“I really want to get into pitching magazines,” they would say, “and I would love any advice.”

But Tosone didn’t have the time to answer every one-off message. She decided to compile a resource that she could hand off to anyone with questions — for a price. That’s how she created her e-book, “Right On Pitch.”

The e-book focuses on the making of a successful pitch and looks at pitching brands and publications. She also has a section on negotiating rates. The book is priced at $9, which Tosone reasoned would be the cost of an actual coffee date, if each person who messaged her were actually able to take her out for coffee.

A woman sits at her home desk.

Tosone also learned the power of sharing your work with a small group before releasing it out into the world. Before launching her e-book, she shared it with about 12 beta-testers of freelance writers and influencers to get feedback. That helped her tweak the product to be ready to go.

The bulk of Tosone’s marketing for the e-book occurs on her own social media platforms, but she has paid to advertise in freelance writer Sonia Weiser’s Opportunities of the Week newsletter. She continues to do that, because she’s seen a good return from that $25 investment.

On top of her freelance writing career, Tosone now works full-time as a beauty content director at Jumprope, a company that helps users create how-to videos. But she’s still managed to find time to grow her e-book sales. In 2019, the e-book made up nine percent of her total freelance income. In 2020, it grew to 16 percent.

Tosone found success by compiling all of her advice in one place and marketing it as a low-cost product. Her decision to use beta-testers shows how fine-tuning a product with potential clients can help identify issues on the front end.

Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

7 Cheap or Free Meditation Apps to Foster Mindfulness

If the free version of Calm isn’t enough, users can upgrade to a premium subscription for .99/year and get access to even more mindful content.
Simple Habit’s goal is in its name — make daily meditation a simple, easy habit. This free app offers five-minute meditations, progress trackers and downloadable meditations for situations like air travel or remote adventures.

1. MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness

To access even more mindfulness content, Simple Habit has a premium subscription for .99/month.
This free meditation app promotes community by offering numerous discussion groups and ways to connect with other Insight Timer users.
It has programs guided by top mindfulness experts from Google, former monks and leading mental health experts. Whether you need a quick decompression before heading into work or a longer, pre-sleep session, Simple Habit makes meditation easy.

2. Simple Habit Sleep, Meditation

Ten Percent Happier opens by asking users a series of questions about their life and lifestyle, then curating a plan specific to each person. You can select goals such as fostering daily calm, lowering anxiety levels and more. You are also invited to choose the way you learn best, whether that’s through audio, reading, videos or hands-on experiences.
For those who are ready to kick things up a notch, the meditation app has a premium membership for .99/month or .99/year that unlocks 400+ activities, guided journaling prompts, yoga and soundscapes.
The Ten Percent Happier app was Apple’s best of 2018 award winner and was the top app in the Wirecutter’s list of “Best Meditation Apps” .
This app lets you track the number of days you’ve meditated, helping to make using Calm a rewarding habit.

3. Ten Percent Happier

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
Headspace is changing the meditation app space by offering mindful workouts, too. Led by Olympians Kim Glass and Leon Taylor, Headspace workouts combine mental grounding with body-pumping training sessions to promote holistic wellness.
With 71,000 ratings totalling 4.8/5 stars on the Apple App Store, Simple Habit Sleep, Meditation is one of the top free mindfulness apps available today.
The app is free to download. But to access its features, you can join the Breethe membership community for .99/month or .99/year.

4. Headspace

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Another heavy hitter in the free meditation app space is Insight Timer, which was named App of the Year by TIME Magazine and Women’s Health.
With more than 10 million downloads, Breethe: Meditation & Sleep is one of the best meditation apps in the mindfulness market.
According to the app, users were 82% more likely to be less anxious with consistent use of MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness. Sign us up! This free meditation app also offers breathing exercises to catalyze calm and groundedness, tracking mental health with a daily feelings log, and guided meditations recommended just for you.

5. Insight Timer

Here’s the catch: the Ten Percent Happier program isn’t free , though you can start with a 14-day free trial before paying .99 for a one-year subscription.
One of Headspace’s more unique offerings is its Weathering the Storm collection, a series of guided meditations, prompts, body scans and stories geared toward helping folks navigate the challenges presented by the past year.
Kristin Jenny is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
Selected as the Apple App Store’s “App of the Day” in 2020, MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness is a free meditation app that is personalized to how you feel and only asks for a few minutes of your day.

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6. Calm

Whether you’re looking to sleep better, move through an addiction, improve leadership at work, or work on your meditation practice, Insight Timer has a guided meditation for you.
With its free version, users get access to loads of guided meditations, sleep stories, ambient sounds and breath timers that all seek to promote a more tranquil, fulfilling life.
Calm is one of the original mindfulness programs for smart devices. It boasts 40 million downloads worldwide and 1.1 million reviews on the Apple App Store.
This affordable (but not free) meditation app has a free 14-day trial before charging .99/month or .99/year (which brings the monthly total down to .99/month).
Calm offers a wide variety of meditations, from flight anxiety to SOS panic sessions designed to ground users in the present. Some of its meditations and bedtime stories are led by famous voices like Bindi Irwin, Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry, to name a few.

7. Breethe: Meditation & Sleep

Best of all, thanks to modern technology, meditation has never been so accessible. You need no equipment, and there are hundreds of free meditation apps and mindfulness apps to assist you in finding your zen.

Headspace is one of the best-known mental health apps. Its nearly five-star rating and 65 million downloadsshow Headspace is on it for meditation practice.
Wellness experts like mindfulness coach Lynne Goldberg walk you through practices to help you achieve a smiling mind and a calm body. Breethe seeks to help all users find peace with their emotions, physical sensations and current events through deliberate mental health practices.
Breethe has over 1,000 tracks of nature sounds, guided meditations, bedtime stories, five-minute and three-minute meditations and more.
This easy-to-use app is led by Emmy-award winning journalist Dan Harris, who works with some of the best meditation teachers in the world to bring you sessions focused on meditation practices like self-compassion, emotional balance and navigating crises.
Insight Timer is a must-have for those who want a wide variety of meditation practices, as the app offers thousands of guided meditations and is constantly adding more. It also has no-cost music and ambient soundtracks to promote better sleep and focus.
Stress is something we all deal with in varying forms. The past 12 months have tested everyone’s ability to cope with unprecedented stressors, and well, it’s tiring having to adapt to a constantly changing landscape. Meditation is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and help soothe the hamster wheel of thoughts racing through our minds.

Here’s How to Turn Food Pantry Staples into Delicious Meals

Pandemic-related layoffs and income loss have driven many people to community food pantries for the first time in their lives.

According to Feeding America, about four out of every 10 people who visited a food bank from March through June of last year were first-time visitors. As the winter holidays approached, more than 80% of food pantries were serving more people than the year prior.

Economic concerns have caused countless others to become more conscious of their spending — resorting to cheap staples rather than more expensive options at the grocery store.

Getting groceries from a food pantry and reducing food spending can be great on the wallet, but you may also need to adjust to cooking and preparing meals differently. We spoke to registered dietitian and nutritionist Wendy Wesley for advice on how to make nutritious, tasty meals using ingredients from food pantries.

How to Turn Cheap Pantry Staples Into Delicious Meals

Canned goods should not be overlooked when it comes to creating great meals, Wesley said.

“I keep an arsenal of canned beans in my pantry at all times,” she said.

The key to making satisfying dishes from cheap ingredients is to incorporate kitchen staples like onion, garlic, peppers, spices, dried herbs, butter and eggs.

“You get rice and beans from a food pantry and then you doctor that up with your onion, your green pepper and your garlic and you use chili powder, garlic powder [and] onion powder,” Wesley said.

One of her favorite cheap meals to make is black bean soup, using a can of black beans along with onion, garlic and green pepper.

“There is something magical about black beans,” Wesley said. “For maybe a dollar or two in ingredients, you have this meal that is very hearty, very filling, full of fiber and is going to stay with you for a long time.”

Tomatoes, canned black beans, black bean soup and a portrait of the cook are photographed in this quad of images to illustrate cheap meals to make.

Another of her inexpensive meal ideas: Crack some eggs you pick up from your neighborhood food bank into a pan with onions, peppers and maybe tomatoes and mushrooms. You can make a big scramble for less than a dollar.

Pro Tip

Think food pantries only give out non-perishable canned foods? Think again. Many also distribute a good share of perishable ingredients like eggs, dairy products, bread, fresh produce and more.

When it comes to keeping your kitchen stocked with those supplementary meal-enhancing ingredients, Wesley recommends picking up a few items here and there when you grocery shop.

“If you went to the store and tried to buy it all in one day or one shopping trip it would be quite expensive,” she said.

Spices, in particular, can be pretty pricey, so look for less expensive brands.

Pro Tip

Wesley saves money by buying Badia brand spices. You can also try your store’s generic option or shop at an ethnic grocery store.

“We don’t need very expensive ingredients to have delightful and tasty meals at home,” she said.

How to Stretch Your Ingredients and Your Dollars

Whether you’ve got a family to feed or you’re just trying to make food last longer for yourself, making your ingredients stretch means more bang for your buck.

Add beans and veggies to stretch meat dishes.

“I’ll bulk up taco meat with onions and green peppers and tomatoes, so it’s a little bit of meat and a lot of vegetables,” Wesley said, as an example. “Or I’ll bulk it up with beans, so it’s a little bit of meat and a lot of beans.”

Those extra ingredients also add fiber — something every American needs more of, she said.

Adding a grain — like rice, quinoa or barley — to a meal can also help make a dish stretch. Wesley likes cooking a bunch of one grain over the weekend so she has it ready to add to meals throughout the week.

Preparing servings in advance can also save you time on busy weekdays — and saving time can be so valuable. No more grabbing fast food on those days when you have no energy to cook. The food is already ready.

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Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Unemployment Benefits Explained: Terms, Definitions and More

Since the start of the pandemic, mass unemployment has rocked the nation. To help mitigate the damage, two economic stimulus packages allotted unprecedented sums of money to create new benefits programs that assist people who are out of work.

Millions of newly eligible folks now have access to benefits. But the new programs put state unemployment agencies in a tricky position. They are receiving record-breaking surges in applications at the same time that they are tasked with creating and paying out brand new benefits. The result: overburdened websites, unclear instructions and lots of jargon.

Take, for example, this update to applicants on Arkansas’ unemployment website after the second stimulus package passed:

“Some extensions and changes to federal UI programs will include the reinstatement of the FPUC program, extension of PUA program and PEUC program for those who qualify,” the notice states.

After reading that sentence, you may have a couple choice acronyms yourself. Maybe, “OMG — WTH does that mean?”

“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment benefits policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

Our plain English guide will help you make sense of it all. Consider bookmarking this page and referencing it as you trudge through the process of getting your benefits.

The 2 Unemployment Programs You Definitely Need to Know

The overwhelming majority of people relying on unemployment benefits are receiving aid from two key programs. According to figures from the Department of Labor, more than 13 million people are collecting Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

These two foundational programs provide the bulk of unemployment aid through weekly payments. Once you understand the difference between them, a lot of the other programs will start to make sense.

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

Also referred to as Unemployment Compensation, UI is the longstanding benefits program run by each individual state. It’s for people who are out of work at no fault of their own. To qualify for UI, you have to have made a certain amount of money in the recent past  — typically from a W-2 job with an employer that paid into the unemployment system through payroll taxes. Specifics like previous employment duration or earnings vary.

Depending on your state, average UI payments are between $180 and $490 per week, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor. The duration of UI programs also depends on your state. They last between 12 and 30 weeks (without any extensions). The most common duration is 26 weeks.

Additionally, to collect UI, you have to be able to work, available to work and actively seeking work. Some states have waived the “actively seeking work” requirement during the pandemic.

Pro Tip

Use this tool from the Department of Labor to find your state’s unemployment website and start a UI claim.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a new federal unemployment program. It’s up and running in all 50 states. The first stimulus package created PUA in March 2020. Throughout the pandemic, PUA has been a lifeline for tens of millions of jobless people who don’t qualify for regular UI benefits.

For the first time nationally, gig workers and freelancers, who are considered 1099 independent contractors, have been able to receive unemployment benefits through PUA.

Beyond helping those who were laid off, PUA offers benefits to people who can’t go to work or lost income due to a variety of coronavirus-related reasons. Some examples include contracting COVID-19, caregiving for someone who has COVID-19 or staying home to take care of your kids whose school closed due to COVID-19 lockdown rules.

Because PUA is a federal program, all states must offer it for a maximum of 50 weeks. The minimum weekly payments vary by state, however, because they’re calculated as half your state’s average UI payment. With average state UI payments between $180 and $490, you can expect minimum weekly PUA payments between $90 and $245 depending on your state.

Our guide to filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance includes an interactive map to help you find your state’s application rules.
A woman holds hands with her infant while looking for something on her laptop.

7 Quick Definitions to Important Unemployment Terms and Programs

Now that you have a better understanding of the two major unemployment benefits programs, let’s look at extensions, payment enhancements and other important programs that you may be eligible for.

Here’s a primer on seven key terms that you’re sure to come across as you apply for benefits.

CARES Act: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the first coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020. It expanded unemployment assistance, authorized $1,200 stimulus checks and provided relief for small businesses, among several other things. Under this law, those who are partially or fully unemployed as a direct result of the coronavirus may receive up to 39 weeks of federal unemployment benefits.

CAA: The Continued Assistance Act, aka Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers, is part of the $900 billion stimulus package that became law on Dec. 27, 2020. It extends many of the unemployment programs created by the CARES Act.

DOL: The federal Department of Labor oversees all states’ unemployment systems. Your state may have its own agency named the Department of Labor that administers its unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, DOL refers to the federal agency.

DUA: Disaster Unemployment Assistance is not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You may come across this long-standing natural disaster assistance program on your state’s unemployment website. Do not apply. Despite their similar names, they are very different.

EB: Extended Benefits are available in every state except South Dakota. EB is a state-level benefit that extends Unemployment Insurance by six to 20 weeks — depending on your state and your local unemployment rate. To qualify during the pandemic, you may have to exhaust a federal unemployment extension first. (See PEUC below.)

FPUC: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation boosts unemployment benefits by $300 a week for up to 11 weeks between Dec. 27, 2020, and March 14, 2021. Anyone who is approved for at least $1 of unemployment benefits will automatically receive this bonus. No separate application or action is needed. This program previously paid out $600 per week under the CARES Act, but that version expired in July 2020.

PEUC: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extends the length of Unemployment Insurance aid for a maximum of 24 weeks. The first stimulus deal extended UI benefits for 13 weeks, and the second stimulus package added an additional 11 weeks. New applicants (after Dec. 27, 2020) are only eligible for the 11-week extension. This program does not extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Here are Safer Alternatives if You’re Too Obsessed with the Stock Market

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We’re big on investing. It’s an important way to grow your money and set yourself up for retirement someday.

But is it dangerous to be too obsessed with the stock market?

You bet it is. Our financial advice columnist, Dear Penny, recently heard from a reader whose husband stopped funding his 401(k) so he can bet on the stock market, instead.

Is it OK that he’s stopped contributing to his 401(k) so he can trade stocks? the reader asked. How do I ask him what he’s actually investing in? I’m worried that he’s gambling money that we need for our retirement.

That’s not the way to go. Here are five safer ways to invest and grow your money.

1. Just Steadily Invest Like a Normal Person

Instead of betting all your money on the stock market, just steadily invest in it. Take the long view. The stock market is unpredictable, which means that sometimes stock prices go up, and sometimes they go down — but over time, they tend to go up.

If you haven’t started investing and have some money to spare, you can start small. Investing doesn’t require you throwing thousands of dollars at full shares of stocks. In fact, you can get started with as little as $1.*

We like Stash, because it lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio. But it makes it simple by breaking them down into categories based on your personal goals. Want to invest conservatively right now? Totally get it! Want to dip in with moderate or aggressive risk? Do what you feel.

Plus, with Stash, you’re able to invest in fractions of shares, which means you can invest in funds you wouldn’t normally be able to afford.

If you sign up now (it takes two minutes), Stash will give you $5 after you add $5 to your invest account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**

2. Grow Your Money 16x Faster — Without Risking Any of It

Save some of your money in a safer place than the stock market — but where you’ll still earn money on it.

Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

3. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

One way to make sure you have more money is to stop wasting money on credit card interest. Your credit card company is getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

4. Cut Your Bills by $540/Year

Another way to grow your money: Stop overpaying on your bills.

For example, when’s the last time you checked car insurance prices? You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options — and even discounts in your area.

Using Insure, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

5. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News

Here’s a safe way to earn a little cash on the side.

We’re living in historic times, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest news updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.

And research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.

You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He tries not to be obsessed with the stock market.

*For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

**You’ll also bear the standard fees and expenses reflected in the pricing of the ETFs in your account, plus fees for various ancillary services charged by Stash and the custodian.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

100 Birthday Freebies ~~ Celebrate WIth Free Stuff in 2021!

Become a Flathead and receive a free dessert for your birthday. You’ll also get a free Tijuana Trio when you sign up.
Kendra Scott offers a 50% birthday discount on one fashion jewelry or color bar item. It also offers a 25% discount on fine jewelry, sterling silver jewelry or gold vermeil jewelry. You can also get 25% off a home goods item. Find out more information here.
Members of the Kohl’s Rewards program get a “special birthday gift.”
Join the Wiener Lovers’ Club, and get a free coupon each year on your birthday, plus a free chili dog for joining.

100 Places to Get Birthday Freebies

Join Chick-fil-A One to get a “birthday reward.”

A&W All American Food

Join the Uno Insider’s Club, and receive a free dessert on your birthday, as well as a free appetizer with an entree purchase when you join.

ABC Liquor

Sign up for the Zax Club and get a free Big Zax Snak on your birthday, plus a free sandwich meal for signing up.

AMC Theatres

Join the Eclub, and get a free coffee and pastry on your birthday. You’ll also get a travel mug and daily discounts on coffee just for signing up.

Anthropologie

Sign up for Club Baja to get a “special offer” on your birthday.

Applebee’s

Get a free meal on your birthday when you join the bd’s Rewards eClub, plus get a coupon just for signing up.

Arby’s

My Best Buy members get a “birthday gift.”

Au Bon Pain

As a member of the Anthro Loyalty program, you will get a “special treat to celebrate your birthday.”

Auntie Anne’s

Join Fudgie Fanatics to receive a free treat for your birthday. You can get a small soft serve birthday cone, take off any cake (except for a small square) or take off any sheet cake.

Aveda

Receive a free cupcake (make that a baker’s dozen if you’re a Red Velvet tier member) for your birthday when you join Sprinkles Perks.

Baja Fresh

Sign up for the Friends and Benefits loyalty program to get “birthday gifts.”

bareMinerals

Sign up for Blazin’ Rewards to get free birthday wings during your birth month.

Baskin Robbins

Sign up for Firehouse Rewards for a free medium sub on your birthday or in the six days that follow it.

Banana Republic

Get a free Big Deal Combo meal on your big day by joining the ‘Q Crew, plus a coupon just for joining.

bd’s Mongolian Grill

Join the Planet Smoothie Club and receive a free smoothie for your birthday.

Benihana’s

Sign up for ABC Liquor Access to get a “birthday gift.”

Best Buy

Get a free root beer float on your birthday by joining the Mug Club.

Big Boy

Sign up for Hard Rock Rewards to get an “annual birthday offer” from the cafe and shops.

BJ’s Brewhouse

Sign up for the Pita Pit Rewards Club and receive a free pita on your birthday.

Black Angus Steakhouse

Get a BOGO breakfast, brunch or lunch for your birthday as a member of the Sun EClub.

Bojangles’

Sign up for a Pinkcard or download the app, and receive a free yogurt on your birthday.

Bruegger’s Bagels

Join the eClub, and get off the purchase of two entrees, plus two free slices of pie, the choice of a free “Marie’s Magnificent Six” or a free slice of pie with the purchase of an entree on your birthday. You’ll also get a special dine-in offer for signing up. The company also sends special offers for your wedding anniversary and allows you to add family members so they can get birthday rewards.

Buca di Beppo

You need to spend to join Aveda’s loyalty rewards program, but you’ll receive a birthday gift valued at , as well as double points for your next Aveda purchase.

The sign of Buffalo Wild Wings is photographed.

Buffalo Wild Wings

Be sure to check out our Swagbucks review for how to get the most out of Swagbucks.

Carvel

Get a BOGO coupon for your birthday by signing up for the My Cold Stone Club. You’ll also get a BOGO coupon just for signing up!

Chevys Fresh Mex

Be sure to join Habit Burger Grill’s CharClub to enjoy a free Charburger on your birthday.

Chick-fil-A

If you’re a Raving Fan eClub member, you can enjoy a regular-size premium shake for your birthday, plus you’ll get two free grilled chicken tacos when you sign up.

Chili’s

Krispy Kreme Rewards members receive a free Original Glazed Dozen. You’ll also get a free doughnut when you sign up.

Chipotle

Receive a birthday gift when you sign up for JCPenney Rewards. If you are not a JCPenney credit card member, you must have earned points within the last 21 months.

Cinnabon

Get a birthday beverage or food item as a member of Starbucks Rewards.

Cold Stone Creamery

Join the YOMO Club, and get free yogurt on your birthday.

Columbia

Make sure you’re a member of the Waffle House Regulars Club to receive a free waffle on your birthday. You’ll also get free hashbrowns when you sign up.

Container Store

Sign up for My Harkins Rewards and receive a birthday coupon to use at the concessions.

Culver’s

Get a free Italian ice on your birthday when you download Rita’s Ice App.

The exterior of a CVS is photographed in Florida.

CVS Pharmacy

Challenge yourself to score as many birthday freebies as possible and make the celebration — and savings — last all month!

Del Taco

So get busy now and enjoy the free birthday stuff as it rolls in on your big day.

Denny’s

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Designer Shoe Warehouse (DSW)

As a member of the Godiva Rewards Club, you’ll get a free birthday chocolate offer every year.

Dippin’ Dots

These restaurants and retailers will provide you with free treats for your birthday. Be sure to sign up in advance.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Most of these places require you to sign up for their email list or join their rewards club at least seven days before your birthday.

Edible Arrangements

Join Premier Rewards Plus and get a free Pizookie for your birthday. What’s that? It’s a big, warm cookie smothered in ice cream… yum. What’s even better is you don’t have to wait for your birthday – you’ll also get a free Pizookie just for signing up.

Einstein Bros. Bagels

Become an AMC Stubs Insider to get a free large popcorn during your birthday month. If you’re a Premiere or A-List member, you’ll also get a free large fountain drink.

Famous Dave’s

When you become a BFF Club member, you’ll receive a free birthday sundae.

Famous Footwear

Sign up for TCBY emails, and receive your first 3 ounces free on your birthday.

Firehouse Subs

Register for the Chef’s Table, and you’ll get a birthday certificate.

First Watch

Create an account, join the Birthday Club, and get a free scoop of ice cream on your birthday.

Friendly’s

Opt into the Birthday Club when you subscribe to Old Navy’s emails to get a “free birthday gift.”

Godiva

As a member of So Connected, you’ll get a choice of a free burger or a free garden bar entree on your birthday. You’ll also get a free appetizer for signing up.

Habit Burger Grill

Get free Dippin’ Dots for your birthday when you join the Dot Crazy! Email Club.

Harkins Theatres

Sign up for Denny’s Rewards program online or via the mobile app. You’ll get 20% off your next visit, plus a free stack of buttermilk pancakes on your birthday when you order online at Dennys.com.

Hard Rock

Get a free dessert for your birthday when you join My Chili’s Rewards Club, plus get free chips and salsa or a non-alcoholic beverage with every visit!

Hooters

Email club members get a free birthday entree, plus off just for joining.

Houlihan’s Restaurant and Bar

Hooray! It’s your birthday!

IHOP

When you sign up to receive Banana Republic’s emails, you can opt to also get a “birthday gift.”

Sign up for MyHop and get free pancakes on your birthday. You’ll also get free pancakes on the anniversary of your sign-up.

J. Crew Factory

The last thing you should do is pay for stuff. So we’ve put together a list of 100 places where you can get birthday freebies, updated for 2021.

JCPenney

Enjoy a “birthday surprise” when you sign up for the My Red Lobster Rewards program.

A woman smiles as she holds up a drink and a sub she got for free from Jersey Mike's Subs.

Jersey Mike’s Subs

Sign up for My Wei Rewards and choose from these birthday freebies: crab wontons, traditional edamame, vegetable spring rolls or pork egg roll. The reward will automatically appear in your app seven days prior to your birthday.

Kendra Scott

Joining the I Love Big Boy email club gets you a free meal on your birthday.

Kohl’s

Members of the MyPerkins Club receive a free Magnificent Seven meal on their birthdays. The meal includes two eggs, any way you like, plus two smoked bacon strips and three buttermilk pancakes. Plus you’ll get a 20% off coupon for signing up. You will also be able to add your children ages 12 and under so they can get birthday rewards, too.

Krispy Kreme

As a member of the ExtraCare Beauty Club, you’ll get “birthday gifts with beauty surprises,” as well as 10% off for joining.

Longhorn Steakhouse

Beauty Insiders are eligible to choose a free makeup or skin care gift for their birthday.

Marie Callender’s

Join the Nothing Bundt Cakes eClub and get a free Bundtlet on your birthday.

Moe’s Southwest Grill

Sign up for the Subway MyWay Rewards program and the sandwich-making company will give you “something special” on your birthday.

Nothing Bundt Cakes

Members of the Greater Rewards program get a “birthday gift” in addition to a welcome gift from the sportswear and outdoor gear retailer.

Old Navy

Download the Pretzel Perks app, and get a free pretzel on your birthday.

Olive Garden

Members of the eClub get a free entree on their birthday, as well as a free appetizer for signing up.

On the Border

Join the Famous Nation and get a free dessert with a value of up to .00 for your birthday.

Pandora

Sign up for Rockin’ Rewards and get a coupon for a free birthday burrito, plus a free cup of queso just for signing up.

Pei Wei

Join the Prime Club to get a free steak dinner on your first birthday as a member.

Perkins

Get 10 free boneless birthday wings when you sign up for Hootclub. You’ll also get off your first purchase of or more when you sign up.

Pinkberry

As a birthday reward, “you’ll receive a Swag Up for a 55 SB credit when you redeem your next gift card.”

Pita Pit

Members of World Market Rewards get a “surprise offer” on their birthday, plus a 15% coupon for signing up.

Pizza Hut

Join the Hut Rewards program to get a “birthday reward.”

Planet Smoothie

Register for the Red Robin Royalty Program, and get a free birthday burger.

A person selects a movie from a red box.

Redbox

Enjoy a free sundae on your birthday when you sign up for MyCulver’s. You’ll also get a BOGO value basket when you sign up.

Red Lobster

Download the Tropical Smoothie Cafe app to be eligible for a birthday reward. What you get depends on your loyalty tier, but it ranges from a reward to a free menu item.

Red Robin

Join the free DSW VIP Club to get a birthday reward. You’ll also get on your birthday if you spend 0 annually as a VIP Gold member, and you’ll get if you spend 0 annually as a VIP Elite member.

Rita’s

Famously You Rewards members get a birthday cash reward.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Sign up for Arby’s emails and get a free milkshake and curly fries on your birthday when you buy any sandwich. You’ll also get a free small fries and small soft drink when you sign up.

Ruby Tuesday

Get a complimentary dessert on your birthday by signing up for the eClub. You’ll get a free dessert or appetizer when you sign up.

Sephora

Members of Club Fondue will get a “birthday voucher.”

Sbarro

Members of the Bruegger’s Bagels eClub will enjoy a “free treat” on their birthday, as well as a free bagel and cream cheese just for signing up.

Sonny’s BBQ

Join the POP! (Perfectly Organized Perks) program to get a birthday gift.

Sprinkles

Sign up for the email club, and get off when you spend at least . You’ll also get a free appetizer when you sign up.

Iced coffees from Starbucks sit on a table outside.

Starbucks

Join Edible Rewards and receive a free 12-count chocolate dipped fruit box (valued at .99) during your birthday month. You’ll also get a coupon for signing up (valid for 30 days).

Subway

Become a member of the Slice Society to get a birthday surprise. You’ll also get a free New York slice when you buy a beverage after signing up.

Swagbucks

Join the Chipotle rewards program to get free chips and guacamole on your birthday when you make a purchase of or more. When you sign up and make your first purchase, you’ll also get free chips and a choice of guacamole, queso blanco or salsa.

Pro Tip
Get a free birthday sub when you sign up for the email club.

TCBY

Sign up for Redbox Perks and receive a free birthday rental (it must be used within 60 days). You’ll also get a free one-night rental for signing up (that offer is valid for two weeks).

Texas Roadhouse

As an Ultamate Rewards member, you’ll get an offer for extra bonus points on all purchases during your birthday month.

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

The Melting Pot

Sign up for the email club, and get a free dessert on your birthday.

The Spaghetti Warehouse

Subscribe to Club Cinnabon to get a free iced coffee on your birthday and a free order of BonBites for signing up.

Tijuana Flats

Get a free egg sandwich with a purchase on your birthday when you join the Shmear Society — not totally free, but hey, you’ll need something to help wash that sandwich down. You’ll have 14 days to claim your reward.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

When you sign up for Factory First, you’ll get an extra 20% off and free shipping on your birthday. You’ll also get an extra 15% off your first purchase after signing up.

Ulta Beauty

Members of the Pandora Club get a 15% discount during their birthday month. This offer can only be used one time and is valid on regular-priced jewelry only.

Uniqlo

You’ll receive a free pasta after signing up, as well as a birthday gift for joining the eClub.

Uno Pizzeria & Grill

Join Club Cantina and get free queso on your birthday, and just for signing up.

Waffle House

Download the Uniqlo app to get a birthday coupon during your birthday month.

Wienerschnitzel

Join the Warehouse Club, and get a free meal on your birthday, plus a free appetizer with an entree purchase for becoming a member of the club.

World Market

Get a free Bo-Berry Biscuit with a purchase on your birthday as a member of the Bojangles’ eClub.

Yogurt Mountain

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Zaxby’s

Get a free beverage on your birthday by signing up for the DD Perks Rewards Program.

Who doesn’t love getting something for nothing? Visit The Penny Hoarder Shop to see what freebies are available.

Sign up for the email club and you’ll get a free appetizer or a sidekick of ribs on your birthday.
As a member of the Longhorn Steakhouse’s eClub, you’ll get “special offers and coupons” on your birthday. You’ll also get a free appetizer when you sign up.

How to Set Financial Goals: A Simple, Step-By-Step Guide

Saving money is all well and good in theory.

It’s pretty hard to argue against having more money in the bank.

But what are you saving for? If you don’t have solid financial goals, all those hoarded pennies might end up in limbo when they could be put to good use.

Figuring out where your money should go might seem daunting, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

You get to analyze your own priorities and decide exactly what to do with your hard-earned cash.

But to make the most of your money, follow a few best practices while setting your goals.

After all, even if something seems like exactly what you want right now, it might not be in future-you’s best interest. And you’re playing the long game… that’s why they’re called goals!

What to Do Before You Start Writing Your Financial Goals

To help keep you from financial goals like “buy the coolest toys and cars,” which could easily get you deeply into debt while you watch your credit score plummet, we’ve compiled this guide.

It’ll help you set goals and create smart priorities for your money. That way, however you decide to spend your truly discretionary income, you won’t leave the 10-years-from-now version of you in the lurch.

First Thing’s First: How Much Money Do You Have?

You can’t decide on your short- or long-term financial goals if you don’t know how much money you have or where it’s going.

And if you’re operating without a budget, it can be easy to run out of money well before you run out of expenses — even if you know exactly how much is in your paycheck.

So sit down and take a good, hard look at all of your financial info.

A ton of great digital apps can help you do this — here are our favorite budgeting apps — but it can be as simple as a spreadsheet or even a good, old-fashioned piece of paper. It just takes two steps:

  1. Figure out how much money you have. It might be in checking or savings accounts, including long-term accounts like IRAs. Or, it might be wrapped up in investments or physical assets, like your paid-off car.
  2. Assess any debts you have. Do you keep a revolving credit card balance? Do you pay a mortgage each month? Are your student loans still hanging around?

Take the full amount of money you owe and subtract it from the total amount you have, which you discovered in step one. The difference between the two is your net worth. That’s the total amount of money you have to your name.

If it seems like a lot, cool. Hang tight and don’t let it burn a hole in your pocket. We’re not done yet.

If it seems like… not a lot, well, you can fix that. Keep reading.

A woman creates a monthly budget while sitting on her bed. The sheets are white with a floral pattern on them. This story is about how to set up financial goals.

Create a Budget

Once you’ve learned your net worth, you need to start thinking about a working budget.

This will essentially be a document with your total monthly income at the top and a list of all the expenses you need to pay for every month.

And I do mean all of the expenses — even that $4.99 recurring monthly payment for your student-discounted Spotify account definitely counts.

Your expenses probably include rent, electricity, cable or internet, a cell phone plan, various insurance policies, groceries, gas and transportation. It also includes categories like charitable giving, entertainment and travel.

Pro Tip

Print out the last two or three months of statements from your credit and debit cards and categorize every expense. You can often find ways to save by discovering patterns in your spending habits.

It’ll depend on your individual case — for instance, I totally have “wine” as a budget line item.

See? It’s all about priorities.

Need to go back to basics? Here’s our guide on how to budget.

Start by listing how much you actually spent in each category last month. Subtract your total expenses from your total income. The difference should be equal to the amount of money left sitting in your bank account at month’s end.

It’s also the money you can use toward your long-term financial goals.

Want the number to be bigger? Go back through your budget and figure out where you can afford to make cuts. Maybe you can ditch the cable bill and decide between Netflix or Hulu, or replace a takeout lunch with a packed one.

You don’t need to abandon the idea of having a life (and enjoying it), but there are ways to make budgetary adjustments that work for you.

Set the numbers you’re willing to spend in each category, and stick to them.

Congratulations. You’re in control of your money.

Now you can figure out exactly what you want to do with it.

Setting Financial Goals

Before you run off to the cool-expensive-stuff store, hold on a second.

Your financial goals should be (mostly) in this order:

  1. Build an emergency fund.
  2. Pay down debt.
  3. Plan for retirement.
  4. Set short-term and long-term financial goals.

We say “mostly” because it’s ultimately up to you to decide in which order you want to accomplish them.

Many experts suggest making sure you have an emergency fund in place before aggressively going after your debt.

But if you’re hemorrhaging money on sky-high interest charges, you might not have much expendable cash to put toward savings.

That means you’ll pay the interest for a lot longer — and pay a lot more of it — if you wait to pay it down until you have a solid emergency fund saved up.

1. Build an Emergency Fund

Finding money to sock away each month can be tough, but just starting with $10 or $25 of each paycheck can help.

You can make the process a lot easier by automating your savings. Or you can have money from each paycheck automatically sent to a separate account you won’t touch.

You also get to decide the size of your emergency fund, but a good rule of thumb is to accumulate three to six times the total of your monthly living expenses. Good thing your budget is already set up so you know exactly what that number is, right?

You might try to get away with a smaller emergency fund — even $1,000 is a better cushion than nothing. But if you lose your job, you still need to be able to eat and make rent.

2. Pay Down Debt

Now, let’s move on to repaying debt. Why’s it so important, anyway?

Because you’re wasting money on interest charges you could be applying toward your goals instead.

So even though becoming debt-free seems like a big sacrifice right now, you’re doing yourself a huge financial favor in the long run.

There’s lots of great information out there about how to pay off debt, but it’s really a pretty simple operation: You need to put every single penny you can spare toward your debts until they disappear.

One method is known as the debt avalanche method, which involves paying off debt with the highest interest rates first, thereby reducing the overall amount you’ll shell out for interest.

For example, if you have a $1,500 revolving balance on a credit card with a 20% APR, it gets priority over your $14,000, 5%-interest car loan — even though the second number is so much bigger.

Pro Tip

If you’re motivated by quick wins, the debt snowball method may be a good fit for you. It involves paying off one loan balance at a time, starting with the smallest balance first.

Make a list of your debts and (ideally) don’t spend any of your spare money on anything but paying them off until the number after every account reads “$0.” Trust me, the day when you become debt-free will be well worth the effort.

As a bonus, if your credit score could be better, repaying revolving debt will also help you repair it — just in case some of your goals (like buying a home) depend upon your credit report not sucking.

A retired woman floats in a circular floating device in a swimming pool.

3. Plan for Retirement

All right, you’re all set in case of an emergency and you’re living debt-free.

Congratulations! We’re almost done with the hard part, I promise.

But there’s one more very important long-term financial goal you most definitely want to keep in mind: retirement.

Did you know almost half of Americans have absolutely nothing saved so they can one day clock out for the very last time?

And the trouble isn’t brand-new: We’ve been bad enough at saving for retirement over the past few decades that millions of today’s seniors can’t afford to retire.

If you ever want to stop working, you need to save up the money you’ll use for your living expenses.

And you need to start now, while compound interest is still on your side. The younger you are, the more time you have to watch those pennies grow, but don’t fret if you got a late start — here’s how to save for retirement in your 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

If your job offers a 401(k) plan, take advantage of it — especially if your employer will match your contributions! Trust me, the sting of losing a percentage of your paycheck will hurt way less than having to work into your golden years.

Ideally, you’ll want to find other ways to save for retirement, too. Look into individual retirement arrangements (IRAs) and figure out how much you need to contribute to meet your retirement goals.

Future you will thank you. Heartily. From a hammock.

FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
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See more in Budgeting or ask a money question

4. Set Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals (the Fun Part!)

Is everything in order? Amazing!

You’re in awesome financial shape — and you’ve made it to the fun part of this post.

Consider the funds you have left — and those you’ll continue to earn — after taking care of all the financial goals above. Now think: What do you want to do with your money?

What experiences or things can your money buy to significantly increase your quality of life and happiness?

You might plan to travel more, take time off work to spend with family or drive the hottest new Porsche.

Maybe you want to have a six-course meal at the finest restaurant in the world or work your way through an extensive list of exotic and expensive wines. (OK, I’ll stop projecting.)

No matter your goals, it’s helpful to categorize them by how long they’ll take to save for.

Make a list of the goals you want to achieve with your money and which category they fall into. Then you can figure out how to prioritize your savings for each objective.

For example, some of my goals have included:

  • Short-term financial goal: Save spending money for a trip overseas.
  • Medium-term financial goal: Pay off my car within a year, or sell it — and its onerous loan — and buy an older car I can own free and clear.
  • Long-term financial goal: Buy a house I can use as a home base and increase my income by renting it out while I travel. This will probably take me through the rest of my 20s.

By writing down my short- and long-term financial goals and approximately how long I expect it will take to achieve each, I can figure out what to research and how aggressively I need to plan for each goal.

It also offers me the opportunity to see what I prioritize — and to revise those priorities if I see fit.

Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Budgeting for Beginners: These 5 Steps Will Help You Get Started

Setting up a budget is challenging. Doing it forces you to face your spending habits and then work to change them.

But when you decide to make a budget, it means you’re serious about your money. Maybe you even have some financial goals in mind.

The end result will bring you peace of mind. But if you’re creating a budget for the first time, remember that budgets will vary by individual and family. It’s important to set up a budget that’s a fit for YOU.

Budgeting for Beginners in 5 Painless Steps

Follow these basic steps and tailor them to your needs to create a monthly budget that will set you up for financial success.

Step 1: Set a Financial Goal

First thing’s first: Why do you want a budget?

Your reason will be your anchor and incentive as you create a budget, and it will help you stick to it.

Set a short-term or long-term goal. It can be to pay off debts like student loans, credit cards or a mortgage, or to save for retirement, an emergency fund, a new car, a home down payment or a vacation.

For example, creating a budget is a must for many people trying to buy their first home. But it shouldn’t stop there. Once you’ve bought a home, keep sticking to a budget in order to pay off debt and give yourself some wiggle room for unexpected expenses.

Once one goal is complete, you can move on to another and personalize your budget to fit whatever your needs are.

Step 2: Log Your Income, Expenses and Savings

You’ll want to use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or another budget template to track all of your monthly expenses and spending. List out each expense line by line. This list is the foundation for your monthly budget.

Tally Your Monthly Income

Review your pay stubs and determine how much money you and anyone else in your household take home every month. Include any passive income, rental income, child support payments or side gigs.

If your income varies, estimate as best as you can, or use the average of your income for the past three months.

Make a List of Your Mandatory Monthly Expenses

Start with:

  1. Rent or mortgage payment.
  2. Living expenses like utilities (electric, gas and water bills), internet and phone.
  3. Car payment and transportation costs.
  4. Insurance (car, life, health).
  5. Child care.
  6. Groceries.
  7. Debt repayments for things like credit cards, student loans, medical debt, etc.

Anything that will result in a late fee for not paying goes in this category.

List Non-Essential Monthly and Irregular Expenses

Non-essential expenses include entertainment, coffee, subscription and streaming services, memberships, cable TV, gifts, dining out and miscellaneous items.

Don’t forget to account for expenses you don’t incur every month, such as annual fees, taxes, car registration, oil changes and one-time charges. Add them to the month in which they usually occur OR tally up all of your irregular expenses for the year and divide by 12 so you can work them into your monthly budget.

Pro Tip

Review all of your bank account statements for the past 12 months to make sure you don’t miss periodic expenses like quarterly insurance premiums.

A woman with a dog reviews financial docements spread out on the floor.

Don’t Forget Your Savings

Be sure to include a line item for savings in your monthly budget. Use it for those short- or long-term savings goals, building up an emergency fund or investments.

Figure out how much you can afford — no matter how big or small. If you get direct deposit, saving can be simplified with an automated paycheck deduction. Something as little as $10 a week adds up to over $500 in a year.

Step 3: Adjust Your Expenses to Match Your Income

Now, what does your monthly budget look like so far?

Are you living within your income, or spending more money than you make? Either way, it’s time to make some adjustments to meet your goals.

How to Cut Your Expenses

If you are overspending each month, don’t panic. This is a great opportunity to evaluate areas to save money now that you have itemized your spending. Truthfully, this is the exact reason you created a budget!

Here are some ways you can save money each month:

Cut optional outings like happy hours and eating out. Even cutting a $4 daily purchase on weekdays will add up to over $1,000 a year.

Consider pulling the plug on cable TV or a subscription service. The average cost of cable is $1,284 a year, so if you cut the cord and switch to a streaming service, you could save at least $50 a month.

Fine-tune your grocery bill and practice meal prepping. You’ll save money by planning and prepping recipes for the week that use many of the same ingredients. Use the circulars to see what’s on sale, and plan your meals around those sales.

Make homemade gifts for family and friends. Special occasions and holidays happen constantly and can get expensive. Honing in on thoughtful and homemade gifts like framed pictures, magnets and ornaments costs more time and less money.

Consolidate credit cards or transfer high-interest balances. You can consolidate multiple credit card payments into one and lower the amount of interest you’re paying every month by applying for a debt consolidation loan or by taking advantage of a 0% balance-transfer credit card offer. The sooner you pay off that principal balance, the sooner you’ll be out of debt.

Refinance loans. Refinancing your mortgage, student loan or car loan can lower your interest rates and cut your monthly payments. You could save significantly if you’ve improved your credit since you got the original loan.

Get a new quote for car insurance to lower monthly payments. Use a free online service to shop around for new quotes based on your needs. A $20 savings every month is $20 that can go toward savings or debt repayments.

Start small and see how big of a wave it makes.

Oh, and don’t forget to remind yourself of your financial goal when you’re craving Starbucks at 3 p.m. But remember that it’s OK to treat yourself — occasionally.

A couple organize tax-related paperwork.

What to Do With Your Extra Cash

If you have money left over after paying for your monthly expenses, prioritize building an emergency fund if you don’t have one.

Having an emergency fund is often what makes it possible to stick to a budget. Because when an unexpected expense crops up, like a broken appliance or a big car repair, you won’t have to borrow money to cover it.

When you do dip into that emergency fund, immediately start building it up again.

Otherwise, you can use any extra money outside your expenses to reach your financial goals.

Here are four questions to ask yourself before dipping into your emergency fund..

Step 4: Choose a Budgeting Method

You have your income, expenses and spending spelled out in a monthly budget, but how do you act on it? Trying out a budgeting method helps manage your money and accommodates your lifestyle.

Living on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or splurges, and fortunately many budgeting methods account for those things. Here are a few to consider:

  • The Envelope System is a cash-based budgeting system that works well for overspenders. It curbs excess spending on debit and credit cards because you’re forced to withdraw cash and place it into pre-labeled envelopes for your variable expenses (like groceries and clothing) instead of pulling out that plastic. 
  • The 50/20/30 Method is for those with more financial flexibility and who can pay all their bills with 50% of their income. You apply 50% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 30% to personal spending (vacations, coffee, entertainment). This way, you can have fun and save at the same time. Because your basic needs can only account for 50% of your income, it’s typically not a good fit for those living paycheck to paycheck.
  • The 60/20/20 Budget uses the same concept as the 50/20/30, except you apply 60% of your income to living expenses, 20% toward savings and/or debt reduction, and 20% to personal spending. It’s a good fit for fans of the 50/20/30 Method who need to devote more of their incomes to living costs.
  • The Zero-Based Budget makes you account for all of your income. You budget for your expenses and bills, and then assign any extra money toward your goals. The strict system is good for people trying to pay off debt as fast as possible. It’s also beneficial for those living to paycheck to paycheck.
A hand writes financial-related labels on envelopes.

Budgeting Apps

Another money management option is to use a budgeting app. Apps can help you organize and access your personal finances on the go and can alert you of finance charges, late fees and bill payment due dates. Many also offer free credit score monitoring.

FROM THE BUDGETING FORUM
Starting a budget
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A reminder NOT to spend.
Jobelle Collie
Grocery Shopping – How far away is your usual store?
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Budgeting 101
Ashley Allen
See more in Budgeting or ask a money question

Step 5: Follow Through

Budgeting becomes super easy once you get in the groove, but you can’t set it and forget it. You should review your budget monthly to monitor your expenses and spending and adjust accordingly. Review checking and savings account statements for any irregularities even if you set bills to autopay.

Even if your income increases, try to prioritize saving the extra money. That will help you avoid lifestyle inflation, which happens when your spending increases as your income rises.

The thrill of being debt-free or finally having enough money to travel might even inspire you to seek out other financial opportunities or advice. For example, if you’re looking for professional help, set up a consultation with a certified financial planner who can assist you with long-term goals like retirement and savings plans.

Related: How to Budget: The Ultimate Guide

Stephanie Bolling is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Painless Steps

You’ll get the simplicity of a single payment, plus you’ll typically pay less interest since loan interest rates tend to be lower. (If you can’t get a loan that lowers your interest rate, this probably isn’t a good option.)
Through April 2021, you can get one free credit report per week from each bureau. (Typically, you’re only entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau.) Make sure you access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than one of the many websites that offer “free” credit scores but will make you put down your credit card number to sign up for a trial. File a dispute with the bureaus if you find anything you think is inaccurate or any accounts you don’t recognize.
But if you’re in the market for a mortgage or loan, don’t worry about multiple inquiries. As long as you limit your shopping to a 45-day window, credit bureaus will treat it as a single inquiry, so the impact on your score will be minimal.

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Steps

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

1. Stay on Top of Your Credit Reports

The downside of a higher credit limit: You’ll have more money to spend that isn’t really yours. To get the biggest credit score boost from a limit increase and avoid paying more in interest, make sure you don’t add to your balance.
By using a loan to pay off your credit cards, you’ll also free up credit and lower your credit utilization ratio.
Ready to make 2021 the year you finally prove your creditworthiness? Or are you looking to recover from a 2020 setback? Here’s how to build good credit in 10 steps.

Pro Tip
This resolution is different. No extreme measures are required. But there aren’t any shortcuts. Building good credit is a goal you need to commit to 12 months a year.

2. Pay Your Bills. On Time. Every Single Month

Opening a secured credit card is one of our favorite ways to build a positive history when you can’t get approved for a regular credit card or loan. You put down a refundable deposit, and that becomes your line of credit.
A lot of New Year’s resolutions fail because they’re so extreme. Think of all the bonkers weight-loss and money-saving goals that surface at the start of every year.
Focus on your overall financial picture, and you’ll probably see your credit score improve, too. Remember, though, that while credit scores matter, you matter more.

3. Establish Credit, Even if You’ve Made Mistakes

After about a year of making your payments on time, you’ll typically qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Just make sure the card issuer you choose reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Look for a card with an annual fee of no more than . Some secured card options we like (and no, we’re not getting paid to say this):
Bonus: Paying off credit card debt first will typically save you money, because credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other types of debt.

4. Open a Secured Card if You Don’t Qualify for a Regular Card

Tackling credit card debt helps your credit score a lot more than paying down other debts, like a student loan or mortgage. The reason? Your credit utilization ratio is determined exclusively by your lines of credit.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com

  • Discover it Secured
  • OpenSky Secured Visa Card
  • Secured Mastercard from Capital One
A woman checks her credit card balance while on the phone.

5. Ask for a Limit Increase. Pretend You Never Got It

Don’t believe the myth that carrying a small credit card balance helps your credit score. Paying off your balance in full each month is best for your score, plus it saves you money on interest.
If you want to whip your finances into shape, here’s a good New Year’s resolution: improving your credit score.
Yeah, you knew we were going to say this: Paying your bills on time is the No. 1 thing you can do to build good credit. Your payment history determines 35% of your score, more than any other credit factor.

Pro Tip
If the bureaus agree to remove information from your credit reports, expect to wait about 30 days until your reports are updated.

6. Prioritize Credit Card Debt Over Loans

Provided you aren’t paying ridiculous fees, keep your credit card accounts open once you’ve paid off the balance. Credit scoring methods reward you for having a long credit history.
You typically need a credit card or loan to build a credit history. (Sorry, but all those on-time rent and utility payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus, so they won’t help your score.)

7. Keep Your Old Accounts Active

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
If you’re struggling with credit card debt, consolidating your credit card debt with a loan could be a good option. In a nutshell, you take out a loan to wipe out your credit card balances.

8. Apply for New Credit Selectively

Many debt consolidation loans require a credit score of about 620. If your score falls below this threshold, work on improving your score for a few months before you apply for one.
When you apply for credit, it results in a hard inquiry, which usually drops your score by a few points. So avoid applying frequently for new credit cards, as this can signal financial distress.

9. Still Overwhelmed? A Debt Consolidation Loan Could Help

If you have open credit, ask your current creditors for an increase, rather than applying for new credit. That way, you’ll avoid lowering your length of credit, which could ding your score.
But if you have bad credit or you’re a credit newbie, getting approved for a credit card or loan is tough. Look for cards that are specifically marketed to help people start or rebuild credit. Store credit cards, which only let you make purchases at a specific retailer, can also be a good option.
Set whatever bills you can to autopay for at least the minimums to avoid missing payments. You can always pay extra if you can afford it.
Make a purchase at least once every three months on the account, as credit card companies often close inactive accounts. Then pay it off in full.

10. Keep Your Credit Score in Perspective

All the credit-monitoring tools out there make it easy to obsess about your credit score. While it’s important to build good credit, look at the bigger picture. A few final thoughts:

  • Your credit score isn’t a report card on the state of your finances. It simply measures how risky of a borrower you are. Having an emergency fund, saving for retirement and earning a decent living are all important to your finances — but these are all things that don’t affect your credit score.
  • Lenders look at more than your credit score. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, decent down payment and steady paycheck all increase your odds of approval when you’re making a big purchase, even if your credit score is lackluster.
  • Don’t focus on your score if you can’t pay for necessities. If you’re struggling and you have to choose between paying your credit card vs. paying your rent, keeping food on the table or getting medical care, paying your credit card is always the lower priority. Of course, talk to your creditors if you can’t afford to pay them, as they may have options.

It’s essential to monitor your credit reports, especially if you received a hardship agreement from a lender due to COVID-19. Under the CARES Act rules, lenders are supposed to report your account as paid in full while the agreement is in effect, as long as you weren’t already delinquent. But mistakes happen. Even in normal times, about 1 in 5 credit reports contained inaccurate information.
A strong payment history takes time to build. If you’ve made late payments, they’ll stay on your credit reports for seven years. The good news is, they do the most damage to your score in the first two years. After that, the impact starts to fade.
Your credit reports won’t show you your credit score, but you can use a free credit-monitoring service to check your score. (No, checking your own credit doesn’t hurt your score.) Many banks and credit card companies also give you your credit scores for free.
Increasing your credit limits helps your score because it decreases your credit utilization ratio. That’s credit score speak for the percentage of credit you’re using. The standard recommendation is to keep this number below 30%, but really, the closer to zero the better.
Now go crush those goals in 2021 and beyond.