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Should You Refinance Your Student Loans?

Due to financial consequences of COVID-19 — and the broader impact on our economy — now is an excellent time to consider refinancing most loans you have. This can include mortgage debt you have that may be converted to a new loan with a lower interest rate, as well as auto loans, personal loans, and more.

Refinancing student loans can also make sense if you’re willing to transition student loans you currently have into a new loan with a private lender. Make sure to take time to compare rates to see how you could save money on interest, potentially pay down student loans faster, or even both if you took the steps to refinance.

Get Started and Compare Rates Now

Still, it’s important to keep a close eye on policies and changes from the federal government that have already taken place, as well as changes that might come to fruition in the next weeks or months. Currently, all federal student loans are locked in at a 0% APR and payments are suspended during that time. This change started on March 13, 2020 and lasts for 60 days, so borrowers with federal loans can skip payments and avoid interest charges until the middle of May 2020.

It’s hard to say what will happen after that, but it’s smart to start figuring out your next steps and determining if student loan refinancing makes sense for your situation. Note that, in addition to lower interest rates than you can get with federal student loans, many private student lenders offer signup bonuses as well. With the help of a lower rate and an initial bonus, you could end up far “ahead” by refinancing in a financial sense.

Still, there are definitely some negatives to consider when it comes to refinancing your student loans, and we’ll go over those disadvantages below.

Should You Refinance Now?

Do you have student loan debt at a higher APR than you want to pay?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes: Go to next question.

Do you have good credit or a cosigner? 

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance.
  • If yes:  Go to next question.

Do you have federal student loans?

  • If no: You can consider refinancing
  • If yes: Go to next question

Are you willing to give up federal protections like deferment, forbearance, and income-driven repayment plans?

  • If no: You shouldn’t refinance
  • If yes: Consider refinancing your loans.

Reasons to Refinance

There are many reasons student borrowers ultimately refinance their student loans, although they can vary from person to person. Here are the main situations where it can make sense to refinance along with the benefits you can expect to receive:

  • Secure a lower monthly payment on your student loans.
    You may want to consider refinancing your student loans if your ultimate goal is reducing your monthly payment so it fits in better with your budget and your goals. A lower interest rate could help you lower your payment each month, but so could extending your repayment timeline.
  • Save money on interest over the long haul.
    If you plan to refinance your loans into a similar repayment timeline with a lower APR, you will definitely save money on interest over the life of your loan.
  • Change up your repayment timeline.
    Most private lenders let you refinance your student loans into a new loan product that lasts 5 to 20 years. If you want to expedite your loan repayment or extend your repayment timeline, private lenders offer that option.
  • Pay down debt faster.
    Also, keep in mind that reducing your interest rate or repayment timeline can help you get out of student loan debt considerably faster. If you’re someone who wants to get out of debt as soon as you can, this is one of the best reasons to refinance with a private lender.

Why You Might Not Want to Refinance Right Now

While the reasons to refinance above are good ones, there are plenty of reasons you may want to pause on your refinancing plans. Here are the most common:

  • You want to wait and see if the federal government will offer 0% APR or forbearance beyond May 2020 due to COVID-19.
    The federal government has only extended forbearance through the middle of May right now, but they might lengthen the timeline of this benefit if you wait it out. Since this perk only applies to federal student loans, you would likely want to keep those loans at 0% APR for as long as the federal government allows.
  • You may want to take advantage of income-driven repayment plans.
    Income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and Income-Based Repayment let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income each month then have your loans forgiven after 20 to 25 years. These plans only apply to federal student loans, so you shouldn’t refinance with a private lender if you are hoping to sign up.
  • You’re worried you won’t be able to keep up with your student loan payments due to your job or economic conditions.
    Federal student loans come with deferment and forbearance that can buy you time if you’re struggling to make the payments on your student loans. With that in mind, you may not want to give up these protections if you’re unsure about your future and how your finances might be.
  • Your credit score is low and you don’t have a cosigner.
    Finally, you should probably stick with federal student loans if your credit score is poor and you don’t have a cosigner. Federal student loans come with fairly low rates and most don’t require a credit check, so they’re a great deal if your credit is imperfect.

Important Things to Note

Before you move forward with student loan refinancing, there are some details you should know and understand. Here are our top tips and some important factors to keep in mind.

Compare Rates and Loan Terms

Because student loan refinancing is such a competitive industry, shopping around for loans based on their rates and terms can help you find out which lenders are offering the most lucrative refinancing options for someone with your credit profile and income.

We suggest using Credible to shop for student loan refinancing since this loan platform lets you compare offers from multiple lenders in one place. You can even get prequalified for student loan refinancing and “check your rate” without a hard inquiry on your credit score.

Check for Signup Bonuses

Some student loan refinancing companies let you score a bonus of $100 to $750 just for clicking through a specific link to start the process. This money is free money if you’re able to take advantage, and you can still qualify for low rates and fair loan terms that can help you get ahead.

We definitely suggest checking with lenders that offer bonuses provided you can also score the most competitive rates and terms.

Consider Your Personal Eligibility

Also keep your personal eligibility in mind, including factors beyond your credit score. Most applicants who are turned down for student loan refinancing are turned away based on their debt-to-income ratio and not their credit score. Generally speaking, this means they owe too much money on all their debts when you compare their liabilities to their income.

Credible also notes that adding a creditworthy cosigner can improve your chances of prequalifying for a loan. They also state that “many lenders offer cosigner release once borrowers have made a minimum number of on-time payments and can demonstrate they are ready to assume full responsibility for repayment of the loan on their own.”

It’s Not “All or Nothing”

Also, remember that you don’t have to refinance all of your student loans. You can just refinance the loans at the highest interest rates, or any particular loans you believe could benefit from a different repayment term.

4 Steps to Refinance Your Student Loans

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, there are four simple steps involved in refinancing your student loans.

Step 1: Gather all your loan information.

Before you start the refinancing process, it helps to have all your loan information, including your student loan pay stubs, in one place. This can help you determine the total amount you want to refinance as well as the interest rates and payments you currently have on your loans.

Step 2: Compare lenders and the rates they offer.

From there, take the time to compare lenders in terms of the rates they can offer. You can use this tool to get the process started.

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Step 3: Choose the best loan offer you can qualify for.

Once you’ve filled out basic information, you can choose among multiple loan offers. Make sure to check for signup bonus offers as well as interest rates, loan repayment terms, and interest rates you can qualify for.

Step 4: Complete your loan application.

Once you decide on a lender that offers the best rates and terms, you can move forward with your full student loan refinancing application. Your student loan company will ask for more personal information and details on your existing student loans, which they will combine into your new loan with a new repayment term and monthly payment.

The Bottom Line

Whether it makes sense to refinance your student loans is a huge question that only you can answer after careful thought and consideration. Make sure you weigh all the pros and cons, including what you may be giving up if you’re refinancing federal loans with a private lender.

Refinancing your student loans can make sense if you have a plan to pay them off, but this strategy works best if you create a debt repayment plan you can stick with for the long-term.

The post Should You Refinance Your Student Loans? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

7 Eviction Moratorium FAQs for Renters, Landlords

If you’re behind on your rent because of the coronavirus pandemic, you just got extra time to catch up. During his first day in office, President Joe Biden extended an order that bars most landlords from pursuing evictions through the end of March 2021.

With millions of people at risk of eviction, housing advocates have argued that a large wave of homelessness could worsen the spread by crowding shelters and forcing people into cramped living spaces.

7 Eviction Moratorium FAQs: What Renters and Landlords Should Know

President Donald Trump initially passed the order through the Centers for Disease Control in response back in August. Before Biden ordered the extension, the moratorium was set to end Jan. 31, 2021. We’ve compiled what we know about the latest order into this eviction moratorium FAQ.

1. How do I know if I qualify for the eviction moratorium?

To qualify, you’ll have to sign a sworn declaration affirming that:

  • You’ve tried to obtain government assistance for your rent or housing payments.
  • You earned no more than $99,000 in 2020 if you’re a single tax filer or $198,000 if you’re married filing jointly. You could also qualify if you weren’t required to file taxes in 2019 or if you received a coronavirus stimulus check. (The income limits for the first stimulus checks were the same as the moratorium limits.)
  • You’ve been unable to pay the rent because you lost your job, income or work hours, or you’ve had significant medical expenses.
  • You’ve made your best attempt to make partial payments that are as close to the full payment as possible.
  • The eviction would either leave you homeless or force you into close quarters or a shared living situation.

2. What should I do if my landlord is threatening to evict me?

Print out this declaration form, fill it out and give it to your landlord or whoever owns the property you live in. Note that the form still cites Jan. 31, rather than March 31, as the date the moratorium ends. Each adult covered by the lease should print out their own form. You don’t need to send a copy to the federal government.

3. Does this mean my back rent is forgiven?

No, no, NO. We cannot stress that point enough. Any unpaid rent you owe will continue to accrue. In fact, the order explicitly states that it doesn’t preclude landlords from charging fees, penalties and interest as the result of missed payments.

If your rent is $1,000 a month and you last paid in August, you should expect to owe $7,000 in back rent for September through March, plus whatever fees and interest your landlord tacks on AND April’s rent when April 2021 rolls around.

4. Does the order provide money for rental assistance?

No. The order simply delays eviction proceedings for another two months. It doesn’t offer financial assistance for renters or landlords. However, the stimulus bill that became law in December included $25 billion in emergency rental assistance.

The assistance will be administered by state and local governments. Renters may be eligible if their household income is less than 80% of the area median income, they’ve been impacted financially by COVID-19 and they’re at risk of losing their home. Money can be used for back rent and utility payments, as well as future payments.

To apply or get more information, you’ll need to contact your local housing agency. Figuring which agency to connect with can get complicated. If you’re not sure what agency to contact, try calling the 211 helpline for direction.

5. I’m a landlord who lives off of rental income. What does this order mean for me?

The order doesn’t include financial assistance, however, you could be eligible for a piece of the $25 billion of rental relief. Check with your local housing agency for more information.

Landlords can still pursue evictions, back rent, fees and interest once the moratorium ends. But the order also makes it clear that landlords who violate it could face hefty penalties.

An individual who violates the order could face a fine of up to $100,000, a year in jail or both — and that’s if the eviction doesn’t result in death. If a death does occur, the possible fine goes up to $250,000, in addition to the possibility of a year in jail.

Organizations that violate face a fee of up to $200,000 in cases that don’t involve death, or up to $500,000 for cases where a death occurs.

6. What if I live in a motel?

You’re not covered under the order. The moratorium only applies to tenants covered under a lease. It explicitly states that those living in hotels, motels and other temporary housing are excluded.

In this case, we strongly suggest calling the 211 helpline, which can connect you with local housing resources.

7. Are there any circumstances in which a tenant can still be evicted?

Yes. You can still be evicted for reasons other than not paying. Engaging in criminal activity on the property, threatening other tenants and causing property damage are all still grounds for eviction.

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What to Do if You’re Behind on Rent

If you’re behind on rent, you need to treat this as a temporary reprieve to get a plan in place. Don’t wait until March to make your action plan.

Your first step is to try negotiating with your landlord. They may be willing to accept partial payments or waive fees, particularly if you can show them that you’ll be able to resume on-time payments.

Take a hard look at all your bills. Your food, health care and shelter are your top priorities. We’d advise paying your rent unless doing so means going hungry or without medication. Stop making credit card and loan payments if you must. You’ll still owe that rent come April. It will be a lot easier to recover from falling behind on credit cards than losing your housing.

Get connected with local resources now. When you’re facing homelessness, the best resources are available at the local level. Calling that 211 helpline now, even though you’re not on the brink of eviction, is a good starting point. They can also connect you with local food pantries, which could free up some money to put toward rent.

Reach out to family and friends. If you know someone with a spare room who might be willing to let you move in, now is the time to start talking — provided, of course, that the living situation wouldn’t put you at increased risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Pay whatever you can. Every dollar you can put toward rent is a dollar that you won’t owe in April, so pay as much as you can toward your rent, even if you can’t afford the full amount. If you do find yourself facing eviction, showing that you made a good-faith effort to pay can only help your case.

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.

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 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

Tips And Services To Help Your Bookkeeping Go Paperless

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a catalyst to shift businesses toward digital transformation, it merely sped up the process. Businesses needed to scramble to move much of their operations online so workers could efficiently collaborate with each other and maintain business continuity during a difficult time.

Fortunately, departments not traditionally associated with the digital universe, like Bookkeeping, had an easier time adapting thanks to online services like Bookstime.com, a provider of digital bookkeeping tools with unique experience in difficult areas like sales tax automation, health benefits administration, and more.

Advantages of digital bookkeeping

Keeping track of every business transaction is among the most important and perhaps underappreciated tasks. Failure to keep track of transactions in a professional manner can result in a business owner making wrong decisions because they have inaccurate information.

Even worse, they might think they end the year with a profit but in reality, a bunch of small bookkeeping mistakes over several months means the business owner really lost money.

A shift to a digital platform eliminates these concerns. Online digital platforms make use of the most up-to-date accounting automation software that erases nearly every careless mistake. This is especially useful for a business owner who does the tedious but necessary job of bookkeeping themselves to save money. The more time a business owner spends on ancillary tasks, the less time they have to generate revenue and keep clients happy.

Some of the other advantages associated with going online include:

  • Eliminating clutter: keeping a clean home office is challenging enough but a digital platform means more space for higher priority files.
  • Save time: A digital bookkeeping platform is always available online with a few short clicks of the mouse. It can be accessed as needed and when needed in a few short seconds.
  • Environmental benefits: It isn’t unusual for a company to use at least 10,000 sheets of paper each year. Shifting resources online may seem like a small benefit but everyone has a responsibility to do a little bit more to protect our environment.

Case in point: Fill in a W-4

Every business owner is happy to hire new workers because it means they are expected to provide value to the company above and beyond their salary. But that doesn’t mean that the formal process is enjoyable.

One of the more undesirable parts of the hiring process is the pesky W-4 form that every employer has to ensure is properly filled in before a worker’s first day. Simply put, the W-4 form confirms how much income tax a worker wants to have withheld from their recurring paychecks. Under-withholding taxes means a worker will likely experience a shock come tax season as they owe money to the government. Over-withholding taxes means a worker is paying the government too much money and has to wait for a refund.

Digital bookkeeping can help simplify this process so you're less prone to errors. When other people’s finances are at stake, small careless mistakes could impact a worker’s desire to give the business owner 100% of their focus.

Businesses that shifted their bookkeeping process online to better navigate through the pandemic quickly realized this was a move that should have been done years ago. The advantages of having access to a clean and organized online tool far outweigh the costs.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

How to Figure Out Your Family’s Grocery Budget (and Stick to It!)

The post How to Figure Out Your Family’s Grocery Budget (and Stick to It!) appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

One question I see time and again is “How much should I spend on groceries for my family of four ?” — or three, five, etc.

When you’re making a household budget, it’s easy to know how much you need to include for most of your living expenses, like utilities, student loans, and even fuel. But when it comes to your average grocery bill, how much should you expect?

As much as I wish there were a simple answer, a family’s grocery budget will be different for every household. There’s no right or wrong number, but finding yours is key to keeping your grocery spending in check.

Here’s a guide to help you figure out how much you should spend on food each month.

Calculator and receipt in shopping cart for grocery budget

WHY YOU NEED A GROCERY BUDGET

It may sound like it should go without saying, but you need a food budget because it will force you to think about money when you’re grocery shopping. After all, your income is a certain amount, and that means you only have a certain amount of money you can spend on food for your family.

The other reason you need a frugal food budget is to make sure you don’t spend too much money for the food your family needs (and to save money by not buying food you don’t need). You become smarter about your spending and think twice before adding impulse purchases to your shopping cart.

HOW MUCH TO BUDGET FOR FOOD

It can be tough to figure out how much you *should* budget for food vs. what you’re currently spending on your meals. There is not a right or a wrong number, but you must find the right amount so you don’t overspend.

Here are some tricks you can try to help you figure out exactly how much to spend on food per month.

Budgeting Hack 1: Use the National Average

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average household spends about 6% of its income on groceries each month. However, the study also shows that the average American also spends 5% of his or her disposable income on dining out. That makes your food budget 11% of your overall income — a significant expense!

If you want to keep things simple and use the national average to calculate your monthly grocery budget, then plan on spending 6% for groceries and an additional 5% for dining out.

Here is an example: If your take-home pay is $3,000 a month, you will budget around $180 for groceries and $150 for dining out. Of course, if $180 won’t cover your needs, then you need to commit to a more thrifty plan: Scale back on eating out and use any additional money toward your grocery needs.

Budgeting Hack 2: Use Your Actual Spending

A more realistic way to figure out how much to budget for groceries is to look at your current grocery spending. An easy way to do this is by completing a spending form.

Here’s how it works. Review all your purchases over several pay periods. You should include food spending, fuel, dining out, entertainment — everything. Having all the numbers in front of you will help you calculate the average of how much you’re spending on groceries (and all your other budget categories!) every week.

If you think your expenses for food add up to too much money, you can try to reduce your spending. Just keep in mind that your family will have to adjust the way you eat.

Budgeting Hack 3: Use a Grocery Calculator

Sometimes, you want to get specific help when figuring out how much to budget for food. There is a simple to use, online grocery budget calculator; you can use it for free.

Fill out the information for all of your family members, then hit calculate. It will return an average you should plan on budgeting for your family.

I ran this report for my family, and the result said we should plan on $219.35 for an average grocery budget for our family of five. That is more than we spend. On average, I spend $125 – $150 per week on everything our family needs.

While using a budget calculator can be helpful, it might end up doing the same thing for you: Suggest an amount that is higher than what you know you spend — or is higher than what you can afford. Use this calculator as a guide, but not the only factor when determining your budget.

Budgeting Hack 4: Look at the U.S. Average

Another way to reach a grocery budget amount is to look at the plans created by the USDA. The most recent plans are on their website. They provide the weekly cost for a thrifty, low-cost, moderate-cost and liberal plan on a weekly and monthly basis. The amounts are broken down by gender and age. You will need to total the numbers listed for the people in your family.

For example, the average grocery budget for a family of four is about $871, per this report. The amounts will be lower, of course for a family of three or higher if you need to budget for a family of five.

Once again, these numbers should be a guide. Once you start grocery shopping for your family, you may find that you spend much less – or even more – than what the average family spends on groceries.

Don’t Forget Special Dietary Needs

If you have a family member who cannot eat gluten or who has other dietary restrictions, these can affect your budget. Make sure you keep these foods in mind when developing your budget as they can cost much more than average foods or require trips to a specialty grocery store.

TRICKS TO MAKING A MONTHLY FOOD BUDGET

There is no magic formula or grocery budget app that will pull the numbers together for you. The key is to make sure that you put forth the effort in the right manner to make it work for you. Keep the following in mind when figuring your monthly food budget:

1. Consider Your Current Spending

Before you can make any changes, you have to know where you are starting. That way, you can see what you currently spend on your groceries so you can start cutting back.

Need help figuring our your average grocery bill?

You can use the Spending Worksheet and go back to find your spending on food over the past 8 weeks. Look at every transaction in your bank statement and total it. Then, divide that amount by two. You know have an average your family spends on food every month.

The next step is going to be finding a way to not only spend that amount going forward but try to find ways to spend even less if you can.

2. Put It in Writing

The next things you need to when creating your budget for food is to put it in writing. Once written down, you are more willing to commit to the process. Make sure your spouse or partner is also on board so you can work together to ensure you don’t overspend.

3. Start Using Cash

If you really want to stick to a tight budget, you need to use cash. Each payday, get cash from your bank for the amount you’ll need at the grocery store. That is all you have to spend until the next payday. No cheating! That means you can’t whip out your debit card if you run out of money.

You’ll quickly learn better ways to be smart and strategic when figuring your budget and sticking to it. (Read more about how to start using a cash envelope budget ).

4. Commit to Using Your Budget

You can have the greatest intent to use a budget, but if you aren’t ready to do so, it will never work. It is just like dieting. You may know you want to shed pounds, but if you are not willing to put in the effort, the weight will never come off.

Once you know the amount you have to spend at the grocery store, you need to stick to it (this is another reason to use cash). You have to make the conscious decision that you want to budget and then do all you can to make it work.

Your spouse or partner needs to be on board, too. It will never work if one of you is committed to making your grocery budget work and the other is not. Have a long heart to heart talk and make sure you are on the same page.

Read more: How to talk to your spouse about money

GROCERY SHOPPING ON A BUDGET

If you’ve tried all these ideas and still need to save money on groceries, here are some simple tricks you can try.

Reduce Your Dining Out Budget

Stop eating as many restaurant meals. That’s an easy way to find money to add to your grocery shopping budget, especially if this means you’re cutting back on alcohol spending at restaurants.

Use Coupons

While they are not for everyone, coupons are the simplest way to save money on the items you need. Even if coupons aren’t available for the grocery items you need, you can find them for household products you use, like toilet paper and laundry detergent, thereby reducing your spending and increasing the money you can spend on the foods you want.

Stick to Your List

Never shop without a list and only purchase the items on your list. Put in writing or use a grocery list app and don’t be tempted to add extra items to the cart.

Make a Meal Plan

Create a meal plan before you grocery shop. That way, you have a plan for the week not only to know what you will eat but also to make sure the ingredients will be on hand when it’s time for meal prep (reducing those frequent drive-thru meals). Meal planning saves you time, money, and the stress of figuring out “Mom, what’s for dinner?” without resorting to frozen pizza.

Keep a Price Book

Start watching the sales cycles at your grocery store and you’ll learn when it is time to stock up on your pantry staples, so you always pay the lowest price. Keep track of the prices in a price book for every item your family needs. (Bonus: When you get good at identifying your store’s food cost cycles, you can plan a meal or two around the fresh foods on sale in any given week.)

Add a Meatless Meal

One item that can quickly increase your grocery bill is meat. Try having a meal without meat every week (like Meatless Mondays), and you’ll find that you spend less.

Vegetables are cheaper than meat and can be just as filling. Having vegetables for your main course at dinner is not only healthy but can also help with saving money. Try loaded sweet potatoes, pasta with veggie sauce, or cheese and vegetable pizza for a delicious meal.

If veggies are a hard sell for your family, try fruit salads or breakfast for dinner — pancakes and French toast are cheap and fast!

Buying fresh fruit and vegetables that are in-season can help you save even more on your monthly grocery bill. And frozen vegetables and fruit are often cheaper (and tastier) than “fresh” produce that’s not in-season.

  • Pro tip: When you’re buying meat, remember that cuts like chicken thighs are often significantly cheaper than chicken breasts, and they have more flavor. Get more tips on saving money on meat, produce, and dairy products.

There’s an App for That

There are many grocery savings apps that can help you keep tabs on food prices and create a smarter shopping list. What is great about an app is that you always have it with you on your phone, so no worry that you left a coupon at home or in your car.

Steer Clear of Mistakes at the Grocery Store

When you grocery shop, there are temptations around every corner (and I don’t just mean the ice cream and chocolate chip cookies). There are sales on the end caps, fancy signs and different tricks stores use to make you spend more money. Learn about the ways grocery stores get you to spend more money so you can avoid them.

Avoid Haste and Waste

One of the biggest ways people waste money when it comes to food is through waste. People often buy food that goes bad before they get around to eating it.

You might also waste money buying convenience foods. (That frozen meal might seem like a deal when you’re running low on time, but you’ll save more if you prepare big batches of homemade, healthy food and freeze some leftover portions for later.)

These are two ways you are killing your grocery budget. Study your habits and find ways to make changes so you aren’t wasting money on food.

  • Pro tip: One convenience food I occasionally give into is a rotisserie chicken. It’s ready to eat when I get home from the store, and you can use it in a few other meals during the week.

NOW GO SAVE MONEY ON YOUR GROCERIES!

Take the time to create a grocery budget that is both frugal and feasible for your family. Don’t try to make the dollar amount so low that it is unrealistic, or it will fail month after month. But if you pay attention while you’re shopping and keep an eye on how long the food lasts your family, you’ll soon discover that having a realistic grocery budget is the tastiest way to save money!

The post How to Figure Out Your Family’s Grocery Budget (and Stick to It!) appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave

Prepping for a new baby’s arrival might kick your nesting instinct into high gear, as you make sure everything is just right before the big day. One thing to add to your new-baby to-do list is figuring out how to financially prepare for maternity leave if you’ll be taking time away from work.

Lauren Mochizuki, a nurse and budgeting expert at personal finance blog Casa Mochi, took time off from work for the births of both her children. Because she had only partial paid leave each time, she says a budget was critical in making sure money wasn’t a source of stress.

“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time,” Mochizuki says.

But the question “How do I budget for maternity leave?” is a big one. One thing’s for sure—the answer will be different for everyone, since not everyone’s leave or financial situation is the same. What matters most is taking action early to get a grip on your finances while there’s still time to plan.

Before you get caught up in the new-baby glow, here’s what you need to do to financially prepare for maternity leave:

1. Estimate how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last

To financially prepare for maternity leave, you need to know how long you plan to be away from work without pay.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave from work per year for certain family and medical reasons, including for the birth of a child. Some employers may also offer a period of paid leave for new parents.

The amount of unpaid maternity leave you take will determine the budget you’ll need while you’re away.

When estimating how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last, Mochizuki says to consider how much unpaid leave you plan to take based on your personal needs and budget. For example, you could find you’re not able to take the full period offered by FMLA after reviewing your expenses (more on that below) and how much you have in savings.

Even if your employer does offer paid maternity leave, you may decide to extend your time at home by supplementing your paid leave with unpaid time off, Mochizuki says.

Keep in mind that despite all of your budgeting for maternity leave, your health and the health of your baby may also influence how much unpaid time off you take and how long your maternity leave budget needs to stretch.

As you’re financially preparing for maternity leave, make sure your spouse or partner is also considering what benefits may be available to them through their employer. Together you should know what benefits are available for maternity or paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, and how to apply for them as you jointly navigate the budgeting for maternity leave process. You can then decide how to coordinate the amount of time each of you should take and when that leave should begin.

Contact your HR department to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy, how to apply for leave and whether there are any conditions you need to meet to qualify for leave. Ask if you’re able to leverage sick days, vacation days or short-term disability for paid maternity leave.

2. Babyproof your budget

When budgeting for maternity leave, make sure you review your current monthly budget to assess how budgeting for a new baby fits in.

In Mochizuki’s case, she and her husband added a category to save for maternity leave within their existing budget for household expenses (e.g., mortgage, utilities, groceries).

“We treated it as another emergency fund, meaning we had a goal of how much we wanted to save and we kept working and saving until we reached that goal,” Mochizuki says.

Figure out what new expenses might be added to your budget and which existing ones might reduce to financially prepare for maternity leave.

As you financially prepare for maternity leave, consider the following questions:

  • What new expenses need to be added to your budget? Diapers, for instance, can cost a family around $900 per year, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. You may also be spending money on formula, bottles, wipes, clothes and toys for your new one, all of which can increase your monthly budget. And don’t forget the cost of any new products or items that mom will need along the way. Running the numbers with a first-year baby costs calculator can help you accurately estimate your new expenses and help with financial planning for new parents.
  • Will any of your current spending be reduced while you’re on leave? As you think about the new expenses you’ll need to add when budgeting for maternity leave, don’t forget the ones you may be able to nix. For example, your budget may dip when it comes to commuting costs if you’re not driving or using public transit to get to work every day. If you have room in your budget for meals out or entertainment expenses, those may naturally be cut if you’re eating at home more often and taking it easy with the little one.

3. Tighten up the budget—then tighten some more

Once you’ve evaluated your budget, consider whether you can streamline it further as you financially prepare for maternity leave. This can help ease any loss of income associated with taking time off or counter the new expenses you’ve added to your maternity leave budget.

Becky Beach, founder of Mom Beach, a personal finance blog for moms, says that to make her maternity leave budget work—which included three months of unpaid leave—she and her husband got serious about reducing unnecessary expenses.

Find ways to reduce costs on bills like insurance and groceries to help save for maternity leave.

Cut existing costs

As you budget for maternity leave, go through your existing budget by each spending category.

“The best tip is to cut costs on things you don’t need, like subscriptions, movie streaming services, new clothes, eating out, date nights, etc.,” Beach says. “That money should be earmarked for your new baby’s food, clothes and diapers.”

Cutting out those discretionary “wants” is an obvious choice, but look more closely at other ways you could save. For example, could you negotiate a better deal on your car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Can you better plan and prep for meals to save money on food costs? How about reducing your internet service package or refinancing your debt?

Find ways to earn

Something else to consider as you budget for maternity leave is how you could add income back into your budget if all or part of your leave is unpaid and you want to try and close some of the income gap. For example, before your maternity leave starts, you could turn selling unwanted household items into a side hustle you can do while working full time to bring in some extra cash and declutter before baby arrives.

Reduce new costs

As you save for maternity leave, also think about how you could reduce expenses associated with welcoming a new baby. Rather than buying brand-new furniture or clothing, for example, you could buy those things gently used from consignment shops, friends or relatives and online marketplaces. If someone is planning to throw a baby shower on your behalf, you could create a specific wish list of items you’d prefer to receive as gifts in order to offset costs.

4. Set a savings goal and give every dollar a purpose

When Beach and her husband saved for maternity leave, they set out to save $20,000 prior to their baby’s birth. They cut their spending, used coupons and lived frugally to make it happen.

In Beach’s case, they chose $20,000 since that’s what she would have earned over her three-month maternity leave, had she been working. You might use a similar guideline to choose a savings goal. If you’re receiving paid leave, you may strive to save enough to cover your new expenses.

Setting a savings goal and tracking expenses before the new baby arrives is an easy way to save for maternity leave.

As you make your plan to save for maternity leave, make sure to account for your loss of income and the new expenses in your maternity leave budget. Don’t forget to factor in any savings you already have set aside and plan to use to help you financially prepare for maternity leave.

Once you’ve come up with your savings target, consider dividing your maternity savings into different buckets, or categories, to help ensure the funds last as long as you need them to. This could also make it harder to overspend in any one category.

For instance, when saving for maternity leave, you may leverage buckets like:

  • Planned baby expenses
  • Unexpected baby costs or emergencies
  • Mother and baby healthcare

“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time.”

– Lauren Mochizuki, budgeting expert at Casa Mochi

Budgeting for maternity leave—and beyond

Once maternity leave ends, your budget will evolve again as your income changes and new baby-related expenses are introduced. As you prepare to go back to work, review your budget again and factor in any new costs. For example, in-home childcare or daycare may be something you have to account for, along with ongoing healthcare costs for new-baby checkups.

Then, schedule a regular date going forward to review your budget and expenses as your baby grows. You can do this once at the beginning or end of the month or every payday. Take a look at your income and expenses to see what has increased or decreased and what adjustments, if any, you need to make to keep your budget running smoothly.

Budgeting for maternity leave takes a little time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort. Knowing that your finances are in order lets you relax and enjoy making memories—instead of stressing over money.

The post What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

The Financial Truths COVID-19 Has Taught Us

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us all some hard lessons. Here are six hard financial truths we’ve learned from 2020.

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

Source: thepennyhoarder.com
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.

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

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.