How We Paid Off Over $45K of Debt in 11 Months

It seems pretty normal to me now but people still drop their jaws when I tell them we’ve paid over $45K on our loans in less than a year. We still have a year to go and most days I…

The post How We Paid Off Over $45K of Debt in 11 Months appeared first on Modern Frugality.

Source: modernfrugality.com

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s nothing like falling in love and finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But when it’s time to shop for rings, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tags. Just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll dive into the topic and discuss ways to save on the big purchase.

Find out not: How much do I need to save for retirement?

What the Average Engagement Ring Costs

Maybe you can’t buy love. But if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, you’ll quickly realize that it won’t be cheap. According to the Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from $5,871 in 2015. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

If you want your wedding to happen sooner rather than later, keep in mind that on average, couples spend more than $30,000 to tie the knot. That’s roughly how much you can expect to pay for everything from your wedding reception and DJ to your cake and your photographer. Location matters when it comes to weddings, however, so you might be able to save some money by choosing a more affordable place to host your ceremony.

How Much Should I Spend?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Conventional wisdom says that anyone planning to propose to their partner should prepare to spend at least two or three months of their salary on an engagement ring. But spending too much isn’t a good idea for various reasons.

A recent study conducted by Emory University connected pricey rings to divorce rates. Men who spent more money on rings for their fiancees were more likely to end their marriages. That’s a possible long-term consequence of overspending on an engagement ring. In the short term, using a large percentage of your money to buy a ring might prevent you from using those funds to pay bills or stay on top of your debt, which can hurt your credit score.

If the marriage doesn’t work out and your ex-spouse decides to sell their diamond engagement ring, its value won’t be nearly as high as it was when it was first purchased. That’s why diamond rings can be such bad investments.

So exactly how much should you spend on an engagement ring? It’s a good idea to make sure that the price you pay doesn’t prevent you or your partner from accomplishing whatever you’re planning to achieve in the future, whether that’s buying a house or having a child. Rather than following an old-school societal notion that says you should spend x amount of money on a ring, it’s best to spend an amount that won’t compromise your financial goals or jeopardize the status of your relationship.

How to Save on the Ring

If you don’t want the engagement ring you’re buying to break the bank, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the rings and what makes some more expensive than others. Diamonds are the gems most commonly used in engagement rings, and if you’re buying one for your significant other, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what jewelers refer to as the four C’s: clarity, cut, color and carat weight.

In terms of clarity, the best diamonds are flawless, meaning that they don’t have any blemishes when viewed under a microscope with 10 power magnification. Since no one’s eyesight is that powerful, you can get away with choosing a diamond with a lower clarity grade that costs less. Getting a diamond that has fewer carats (meaning that it weighs less) or getting one that isn’t completely colorless can also lower its overall price.

Or don’t get a diamond at all. Your partner might be just as happy with a simple band, a white sapphire or an emerald ring and it probably won’t cost as much as a diamond engagement ring. Shopping for your ring at a vintage store, looking for one online rather than in-person and getting a ring with a series of smaller stones surrounding the center stone (also known as a halo ring) are a few additional ways to save when buying a ring.

Final Word

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s no need to spend a fortune on an engagement ring. And you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting corners in order to find one that you can afford to buy.

Like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to take time to save up for a ring. If you have to take on more credit card debt or a personal loan in order to buy an engagement ring, it’s a good idea to find out how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. It isn’t wise to begin a marriage by digging yourself (and your partner) into a deep financial hole.

Tips for Getting Financially Ready for Marriage

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about money. It’s important to establish an open dialogue and make sure you understand and respect each other’s money values.
  • You might also consider sit down with a financial advisor before the big day. A financial advisor can help you identify your financial goals and come up with a financial plan for your life as a married couple. A matching tool (like ours) can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sergey_b_a, ©iStock.com/svetikd, ©iStock.com/adamkaz

The post How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

The Top Financial Resolutions for 2021

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Have you made your resolutions yet? It can feel a little daunting trying to figure out what you need to focus on, so we made it easy: These are the resolutions everyone else is taking on in 2021, according to a survey by Wallethub, and you should, too. Plus — how to accomplish them.

1. Make A Realistic Budget And Stick To It

This one sounds familiar, right? Oft-regarded as Old Faithful when it comes to New Years’ resolutions, it holds that title for good reason. Having a budget you can actually stick to will set you up for financial success, no matter what your goals are.

It’s easy to slip away from our good financial habits as the year goes on, so it’s particularly important to find a budgeting system that works for your lifestyle and won’t be hard to maintain.

We recommend the 50/30/20 method. It’s simple, yet effective, and has a bit of a cult following, too! Here’s how it shakes out:

50% of your take-home income every month covers your fixed expenses — rent, utilities, groceries, minimum debt payments, etc. 30% goes towards the things you can live without, but don’t want to (like food delivery, a Netflix subscription and travel). Finally, the last 20% of your monthly income is dedicated to your financial goals.

2. Look For A Better Job: Make up to $69/Hour

The most surefire way to achieve your financial resolutions and stay within that budget you made is to earn more money.

2020 made that really hard for most people. Which is why finding a better job, that you actually enjoy — and will pay you more — is a top resolution for 2021.

But what if you could create that higher-paying and more rewarding job? There’s an idea…

Can you open an excel spreadsheet? Does earning $69 an hour sound appealing? How about the freedom to work remotely while helping others succeed?

Those are the perks of working as a bookkeeper, says Ben Robinson, a CPA and business owner who teaches others to become virtual bookkeepers through online courses called Bookkeepers.com.

You don’t have to be an accountant or even really good at math to be successful in this business. In fact, all you need are decent computer skills and a passion for helping business owners tackle real-world problems. The ability to stay moderately organized is helpful, too.

You can make up to $69 an hour, according to data from Intuit, the creator of QuickBooks, and you have no commute. It’s a great opportunity for parents who want a part-time job, recent college grads or anyone who wants to bring in real money working from home.

Robinson shares what it takes to be a virtual bookkeeper, plus tips for making this career work for you in his free class at Bookkeepers.com. If you stick with the classes, you could be running your own business in just a few months.

3. Pay Off Credit Card Debt: Wipe Out All Your Debt by Tomorrow

2020 was actually a good year for paying down credit card debt — Americans did more of it this year than they ever have.

But there’s still work to be done, which is why paying off credit card debt is one of the top financial resolutions this year.  Because if you still have credit card debt, you know. The anxiety, the interest rates, the fear you’re never going to escape…

And the truth is, your credit card company doesn’t really care. It’s just 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 won’t make you stand in line or call your bank, either. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could help you pay off your debt years faster.

4. Monitor Your Credit Report

Did your credit score take a dive this year? Or is still stuck at a “fair” grade? Then monitoring any changes on your credit reporting and working to improve your score should be one of your financial resolutions for this year, too.

When it comes to your credit score, it’s important to stay organized and keep tabs on it. After all, it’ll play an essential role in any big purchase you want to make — whether that’s a home or a car.

So if you’re looking to get your credit score back on track — or even if it is on track and you want to bump it up — try using a free website called Credit Sesame.

Within two minutes, you’ll get access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).

James Cooper, of Atlanta, used Credit Sesame to raise his credit score nearly 300 points in six months.*** “They showed me the ins and outs — how to dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” he said.

Want to check for yourself? It’s free and only takes about 90 seconds to sign up.

5. Get Insured In Case Of A Catastrophe. You Could Give Your Family up to $1 Million

Talk about a scary year. If a global pandemic didn’t have you thinking about your own mortality, what else could? With that thought in mind, people are adding “buy life insurance” to their list of 2021 to-dos.

Have you thought about how your family would manage without your income if something happened to you? How they’ll pay the bills? Send the kids through school? Now’s a good time to start planning for the future by looking into a term life insurance policy.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But your application can take minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.

Rates start at just $16 a month. The peace of mind knowing your family is taken care of is priceless.

If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without a medical exam or even getting up from the couch, get a free quote from Bestow.

6. Add A Month To Your Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund is important; you know that. But it’s easy to deprioritize it when things are going fine. And as 2020 showed us, you can lose your job at the drop of a hat, meaning a full emergency fund can be what keeps your lights on.

So prioritize your emergency fund this year. If you don’t have one yet, start by opening an account that will help you grow your money.

One way to do that is with a company called Aspiration. It lets you earn 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.”

7. Pay Bills Right After Payday

It’s easy to get swept up in the joy that is payday and immediately start buying things you don’t need. But as the final financial resolution on this list, paying your bills right away can help keep the rest of your goals on track.

It means you can avoid late fees on your utilities, which can really add up and destroy your budget. You can pay off your credit card debt without mounting interest charges. And you can prevent any hiccups that would dock your credit score a few points.

Whatever your financial goals are this year, we know you can achieve them! Here’s to making 2021 your best financial year yet.

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

***Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.

Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

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

5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

Vacation Budget

5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

With the weather warming up, summer vacation isn’t too far away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start a vacation budget and account for everything you’ll be paying for that week.

After all, you don’t want to have to cut your relaxation time short because you forgot that you actually have to pay for gas.

But there are other financial surprises too, ones that perhaps you don’t think very much about when sitting down to create your budget. Here are a few that maybe you have not taken into account just yet, but absolutely need to.

Let Mint.com help you create the perfect vacation budget. Click here to get started!

Parking

Despite free public parking not being a popular idea among money-hungry companies for a while now, a lot of us still forget that we have to pay for the damn thing. This may be a few bucks or a few dozen bucks, but either way you can’t forget it when budgeting for your vacation.

Do the research to find out the charges for each place you’re staying or going to. Going to see a ball game? How much does the park charge to park? Going to take the train into the city? How much do they charge and, if need be, how much does valet parking cost?

Add those up, and you might be surprised how much not actively driving your car can run you.

Wi-Fi

These days, Wi-Fi is just about everywhere, and just about everydiv uses it. While the airport Wi-Fi might be free, the hotel you stay in might want a few bucks extra for use of their signal. This is especially true in nice, upscale hotels, where Wi-Fi access could run you $10-$20 a day.

So either annoy your family by checking into some rinky-dink motel, where Wi-Fi is free but everything is roach-ridden and moth-eaten, or factor in the money necessary for Junior to use his iPad on the coziest bed he’s ever slept on.

The Food Bill

Even though it’s part of our daily lives, many people don’t think about food when punching out their budget. And if they do, they vastly underestimate how much stomach fuel actually costs.

This goes for vacations as well. You should find out what restaurants in the area typically charge, so you don’t get blindsided by the high cost of steak. If you’ve rented out a house with a kitchen and fridge, take some time to deduce how much you and your family spend on food at home.

Then, take that total and add a bit more to the food budget. It’s vacation time, after all, and for many, relaxing and unwinding means more burgers and s’mores than during a regular workweek.

Checked Bag Fees

If there’s one thing all travelers can agree is pure evil, airlines charging people to check in their bags has be it. Some airlines, such as Southwest, will let customers get away with some checked bags for free, but expect to fork over $25 or more for each additional one.

Checked bag fees need to be part of your budget every time, because it’s never, ever going away. Airlines make too much money off of it to abandon it simply because we don’t like it.

Either pack minimally, ensuring that you can get away with nothing but carry-ons and maybe one or two checked bags, or put a couple hundred bucks aside in the budget for the over packers in your family.

Vacation Budget Plan

Spontaneous Activities

There was an episode of Full House where Danny Tanner attempted to script the family’s Hawaiian vacation to the letter — every activity planned ahead of time, strict time limits on said activities, and naturally every penny accounted for.

This almost never happens. Vacations aren’t nearly that organized, and you will have some unpredictable moments, not to mention costs that you didn’t see coming. Maybe your children see an ad for horse riding trails and immediately start begging you to let them ride the horsies.

Sadly, horsies aren’t cheap, but this is a vacation, so why not let them indulge?

The trick is to not indulge too much. Don’t do everything that sounds fun, because the inevitable overdraft charges on your bank account won’t be very fun. Leave enough room in your budget for unplanned, spontaneous activities, and stick to that window as closely as you can.

This way, you and your family will have a great, fun vacation, and you won’t still be paying for it months and months later.

Mint.com can help create a complete vacation budget just for you and your family. Click here to sign up and start!

The post 5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Get Cheap Car Insurance

How to Get Cheap Car Insurance

For many people, car insurance is a major expense category in the household budget. And because it’s against the law to drive without car insurance, it’s not a budget item that can be eliminated unless you’re willing to go car-free. That doesn’t mean, though, that you’re stuck paying sky-high rates. Here’s how to get cheap car insurance. 

Learn about personal loan rates. 

How Insurance Companies Set Car Insurance Rates

Like health insurance, car insurance comes with both premiums and deductibles. The premiums are what you pay the insurance company every month to maintain your coverage. The deductible is what you’ll pay when you start making claims, up to a certain annual cap of, say, $1,000.

It’s worth noting that most people who say they want cheap car insurance mean that they want car insurance with low monthly premiums. But, as with health insurance, there’s a risk to having a policy with low premiums and a high deductible. In the event of a serious accident, you’ll have to meet that deductible. So, one way to get lower premiums is to opt for a higher deductible, but this is only a safe strategy if you have enough liquidity to cover your deductible in the event of an accident.

When car insurance companies set insurance premium rates they take several factors into account. These include applicants’ age, gender and driving history, as well as the type of car the applicant drives and the driver’s state of residence. While you can’t change your age, there are other steps you can take to get favorable rates from car insurance companies.

Types of Coverage

How to Get Cheap Car Insurance

Insurance companies charge more for comprehensive car insurance than they do for basic coverage. In most states you’re required to have liability insurance to cover any damage you do to another car or driver. The extent of that coverage requirement varies by state. In most states, you’re not required to have insurance to cover damage to your own car, or injuries you might suffer in an accident.

If you choose to add insurance coverage for yourself, you can opt for comprehensive coverage or collision coverage. Collision coverage, as the name indicates, covers damage from an accident with another car or an object, and in the event that your car flips. Comprehensive coverage covers things like theft, vandalism and natural disasters, too.

So, while you’ll almost definitely need to buy liability coverage to cover other drivers’ damages, you might not need to buy physical damage coverage for your own vehicle. It will depend on the terms of your lease if you’re leasing a car, and on your own assessment of the risks you face.

If you’re buying a valuable new car, you’ll probably want comprehensive coverage. If you’re paying cash for an older, used vehicle, you can probably get away with a more basic level of coverage. Whatever insurance option you choose for yourself, be sure to comply with state laws relating to liability insurance for any damage you might do to another driver. Once you have a car insurance policy, carry proof of insurance with you in your vehicle at all times. 

How to Get Cheap Car Insurance Rates

How to Get Cheap Car Insurance

In the long term, one of the best ways to get cheap car insurance is to be a safe, responsible driver. The worst drivers have high rates because the insurance company needs financial compensation for the high likelihood that it will have to pay out in the event these drivers get in an accident. If you have a spotless driving record, keep it up. If you have some accidents or tickets in your past, they shouldn’t drive your rates up forever. If it’s been a few years since your last incident, you can try calling your insurance company and asking for a lower rate, using your recent, safe driving record as a bargaining chip.

Another way to get cheap car insurance is to use the same insurance company for more than one type of insurance and get a discount for your loyalty. For example, you can contact the insurance company that provides your homeowners insurance, life insurance or motorcycle insurance and ask if the company can give you a good deal on car insurance. If you have more than one car, you can bundle the insurance coverage on both vehicles.

Your credit score will also affect your car insurance rates, just like it affects the rates you’re offered when shopping for a mortgage. If your credit has improved since you last bought car insurance, you may be able to negotiate your way to cheaper car insurance. And if you pay your car insurance premiums and bills on time and in full, you’ll build up goodwill with your insurer and might qualify for promotional rates.

If you don’t drive very much during the year, you might get cheaper car insurance from a usage-based plan than you would from regular car insurance. Track your mileage before you start shopping for car insurance and see if your low mileage makes you eligible for a better deal.

If you’re under 25, you’ll pay higher premiums, all things being equal. That’s because insurance companies judge young drivers to be riskier drivers. You can get lower rates by joining your parents’ plan, or by using your good grades to get a discount on rates, if your insurance company offers that option. Once you reach your mid-20s there’s no reason to keep paying the high rates that insurance companies levy on young drivers. You can ask your insurance company to lower your rate, or shop around for insurance from another provider.

Finally, the type of car you drive can affect your car insurance rates. Big, powerful and flashy cars are more likely to trigger high car insurance rates because the insurance company assumes you’ll be more likely to speed in that kind of vehicle, and that the vehicle will be a target for theft. Vehicles with high repair costs (such as foreign-made cars) may be more expensive to cover, too. In some states, having a used car will mean lower rates because rates are affected by your car’s replacement value. But in other states, rates are based on vehicles’ safety features, so having an older car won’t necessarily help you get cheap car insurance. If your car has special safety and/or anti-theft features, you may qualify for cheaper car insurance on that basis.

Bottom Line

If you don’t have a vehicle or you’re thinking about getting a new (or used) car, it may be worth doing some research to find out which kinds of cars will get you the lowest car insurance rates. And if you’re paying a lot for car insurance now, you may be able to get cheaper coverage by negotiating your premiums or switching providers.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/andresr, Â©iStock.com/ipopba, Â©iStock.com/kate_sept2004

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Source: smartasset.com

How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips

Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food. 

You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track Current Spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.

2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.

3. Avoid Eating Out

This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.

4. Plan Your Meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.

5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.

6. Eat Before You Go to the Store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.

7. Be Careful with Coupons

50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.

8. Embrace the Bulk Section

Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.

Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.

9. Bring Lunch to Work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.

10. Love Your Leftovers

Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.

11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad

To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.

 

Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin

The post How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.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.

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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.

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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

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“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