If you have an irregular income, you know how great the good times feelâand how difficult the lean times can be. While you can’t always control when you get paid or the size of each paycheck if you’re a freelancer, contractor or work in the gig economy, you can take control of your money by creating a budget that will help you manage these financial extremes.
Antowoine Winters, a financial planner and principal at Next Steps Financial Planning, LLC, says creating a budget with a variable income can require big-picture thinking. You may need to spend time testing out different methods when you first start budgeting, but, âif done correctly, it can really empower you to control your life,” Winters says.
How do you budget on an irregular income? Consider these four strategies to help you budget with a variable income and gain financial confidence:
1. Determine your average income and expenses
If you want to start budgeting on a fluctuating income, you need to know how much money you have coming in and how much you’re spending.
Of course, that’s the basis for any budget. But it can be particularly important if you’re trying to budget on an irregular income because you may have especially high- or low-income periods. You want to start tracking as soon as possible to build up accurate data on your average income and expenses.
For example, once you have six months’ worth of income and expenses documented, you can divide the total by six to determine your average income and expenses by month.
Many financial apps and websites can help with the tracking, including ones that can connect to your online bank and credit card accounts and automatically pull in your transactions. You may even be able to pull in previous months’ or years’ worth of data, which you can use to calculate your averages.
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income and apps aren’t your thing, you can use a spreadsheet or even a pen and notebook to track your cash flow. However, without automated tracking, it can be difficult to consistently keep your information up to date.
2. Try a zero-sum budget
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget,” says Holly Johnson. As a full-time freelance writer, she’s been budgeting with a variable income for over seven years and is the coauthor of the book Zero Down Your Debt.
With a zero-sum budget, your income and expenses should even out so there’s nothing left over at the end of the month. The trick is to treat your savings goals as expenses. For example, your “expenses” may include saving for an emergency, vacation or homeownership.
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget.”
Johnson says if you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, you can adopt the zero-sum budget by creating a “salary” for yourself. Consider your average monthly expenses (shameless plug for tip 1) and use that number as your baseline.
For example, if your monthly household bills, groceries, business expenses, savings goals and other necessities add up to $4,000, that’s your salary for the month. During months when you make over $4,000, put the extra money into a separate savings account. During months when you make less than $4,000, draw from that account to bring your salary up to $4,000.
“We call this fund the ‘boom and bust’ fund,” Johnson says. “By building up an adequate amount of savings, you will create a situation where you can pay yourself the salary you need each month.”
3. Separate your saving and spending money
Physically separating your savings from your everyday spending money may be especially important when you’re creating a budget on an irregular income. You may be tempted to pull funds from your savings goals during low-income months, and stashing your savings in a separate, high-yield savings account can force you to pause and think twice before dipping in.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
An easy way to put this tip into action when creating a budget with a variable income is to have all of your income deposited into one account, then disburse it into separate savings and spending accounts. “Transfer a set amount on the first of every month to a bill-paying account and a set amount to a spending account,” Winters, the financial planner, says.
“The bill pay account is used to pay for all of the regular expenses, like rent, insurance, car payments, student loans, etc.,” Winters says. These bills generally stay the same each month. The spending account can be used for your variable expenses, such as groceries and gas.
When considering your savings accounts, Winters also suggests funding a retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income as a contract worker or freelancer, you may also want to set money aside for taxes because the income and payroll taxes you’ll owe aren’t automatically taken out of your paychecks.
4. Build up your emergency fund
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund,” freelancer Johnson says. An emergency fund is money you set aside for necessary expenses during an emergency, such as a medical issue or broken-down vehicle.
Generally, you’ll want to save up enough money to cover three to six months of your regular expenses. Once you build your fund, you can put extra savings toward other financial goals.
When you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, having the emergency fund can help you feel more at ease knowing that you’ll be able to pay your necessary bills if the unexpected happens or when you’re stuck in a low-income period for longer than anticipated.
A budget can make living with a variable income easier
It can be challenging to budget on an irregular income, especially when you’re first starting. You might have to cut back on expenses for several months to start building up your savings and try multiple budgeting methods before finding the one that works best for you.
“Budgeting requires a mindset change regardless of which type of budget you try,” Johnson explains.
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund.”
However, once in place, a budget on an irregular income can also help free you from worrying about the boom-and-bust cycle that many variable-income workers deal with throughout the year.
The goal is to get to the point where you can budget with a variable income and don’t have to worry about when you’ll get paid next because you set your budget based on your averages, planned ahead during the high times and have savings ready for your low times.
The post 4 Tricks for Budgeting on a Fluctuating Income appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
âI think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,â Dawson says. ââWhat do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?â Those conversations are really valuable.â
As Dawsonâs clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, âHow should I adjust my household budget if weâre spending more time at home?â
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
âThere are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,â Rogin says. âAnd there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.â
Even if youâve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure youâre at least staying on track to meet your savings goalsâand at best, shortening your savings timelines. Itâs also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as youâve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad. But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. âYou can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,â she says. âWhat do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. Youâll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but thereâs no reason to feel anxious.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad,â she says. âBut it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then youâll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and youâre actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on whatâs really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
âMaybe youâre spending more on groceries, but thatâs less than you were spending on eating outâand you enjoy it,â she says. âYouâre spending more time with your family. Youâre eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.â
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, itâs allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because theyâre comfortable, and no one can see them when sheâs video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether youâre facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a âvalues-based spending planâ for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesnât.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, itâs time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, donât get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If youâre reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a birdâs-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when youâre trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what youâre saving for, as well as where youâll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account wonât allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money youâve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
âBe really clear about what each savings account is for,â she says. âThen youâre more likely to fund it.â
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
âSo many people are in need now,â Rogin says. âThere are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like youâre making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.â
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, youâll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If youâve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Save More Money in the Stay-at-Home Economy by Focusing on What Matters Most appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself driving across town to locate an ATM in your bank’s network. Or maybe you’ve been hearing about rewards checking accounts with benefits like cash back, which yours doesn’t offer. Oh, yeah. And what about that charge you saw on your last statement for not carrying a high enough balance? It’s pretty easy to feel like the only person on Earth with a checking account that’s just not cutting it.
Robert Farrington, founder of the personal finance website The College Investor, says it’s important to routinely review your checking account to make sure it still meets your needs. âYou might have opened a checking account in high school, college or when you got your first job, and you haven’t looked back,” Farrington says. “But banking has changedâand it’s likely that your needs have as well.”
Given the growing crop of new checking accounts with flexible
and appealing features, it’s probably time to take a closer look at your
current account offerings: What are they doing for you? Do they align with your
current financial situation? What benefits are you missing?
However, with all the options out there, you’re probably thinking, “How do I choose a checking account?”It’s simple, really. Just consider these three needs: no fees, convenience and lifestyle compatibility.
âYou might have opened a checking account in high school, college or when you got your first job, and you haven’t looked back. But banking has changedâand it’s likely that your needs have as well.”
Read on for how to assess your checking account’s performance for each need, and, if it’s lacking, how to select a checking account:
out if fees are eating away at your funds
Fees are a big consideration when picking a new checking account. One way to determine whether your current checking account is treating you fairly in regards to fees is to review your statements from the past few months, Farrington says. You may be getting charged for things you aren’t aware of, such as not meeting a minimum balance.
âIf you have an account that requires a minimum balance or a certain number of transactions, then looking at past banking records can help you determine if you’re meeting those requirements,” he says. If keeping a minimum balance seems to be a challenge, you might want to consider alternative options to help you avoid checking account fees.
What else should you keep an eye out for fee-wise on your monthly statements if you’re considering picking a new checking account? How about charges for out-of-network ATM usage? When you withdraw cash out of network because your bank doesn’t have branches or ATMs that are convenient for you, those fees can add up. According to Bankrate’s 2018 checking account and ATM fee study, the average ATM surcharge (the fee from the ATM owner for non-customers) has gone up 19 times in the past 20 years, reaching $3.02, its highest amount at the time the report was published.
A no-fee checking account means no charges for checks, online bill pay, monthly maintenance, replacement debit cards and even insufficient funds. That’s a lot of dough saved by picking a new checking accountthat comes with no fees.
Online-only banks may offer some of the best deals for no-fee checking, since they don’t operate physical locations and can often pass those savings down to you. For example, Cashback Debit, Discover’s checking account, charges no account-related fees.1
what conveniences you need
If you’re like most people on the go, you’ll want to access your checking account fast and at any time. So convenience may be a checking account benefit that ranks high on your list when considering how to select a checking account.
When it comes toÂ how to choose a checking account,Â understanding what features banks offer to make their checking account convenient is important, says Chane Steiner, the CEO ofÂ Crediful, a personal finance and credit blog.
Convenience can come in many formsâfrom easy access to your
bank’s services and personnel, to proximity, to mobile features and more. Below
is a list of services you should consider if convenience is a premium:
Customer service that’s available after hours or 24/7.
A large network of ATMs makes accessing your money quick and easy. So when picking a new checking account, consider the ATM network you’ll be able to use. For example, Discover’s Cashback Debit card can be used at over 60,000 no-fee ATMs nationwide. With a network this vast, you may be able to enjoy the convenience of ATMs located near you without having to pay out-of-network fees.
Online banking can be “a great alternative to going to a branch if the majority of your transactions can be done online or you use services like direct deposit,” Steiner says. Think of the time you’ll save by banking from your computer or mobile device rather than traveling to a branch location.
Mobile check deposits can be an important feature when learning how to choose a checking account if you are remote, travel often or need to make a lot of deposits. In many cases, you can use your bank’s app on your mobile phone or tablet to snap a picture of a check you want to deposit and upload the image.
Branch access could be important to you if you get paid in cashâfor example, if you work in childcare or are a gig worker or freelancerâbecause you may need to visit the physical branch location in order to deposit the cash. In this case, a checking account at a traditional bank could be convenient.
There’s also a variety of other features to consider when picking a new checking account.
“You just have to define your needs and decide from there,” Steiner
For additional help thinking through what features are most important to you, let your lifestyle and financial goals guide you. What comes next are some tips on how to do just that.
your checking accountâand its perksâto your lifestyle
Maybe you like certain benefits that you’ve learned about in your research for picking a new checking account. “But you need to decide what’s most important to you for your banking needs,” Farrington says. “And those goals may be very different from your neighbor’s based on your banking habits.” If you’ve moved or changed jobs and your branch and ATM locations are no longer convenient, for example, that could be a good reason for seeking a new checking account.
On the other hand, Crediful’s Steiner says, âIf you realize you don’t go to a branch and simply need ATM access, an online checking account may be a great fit. It’s easy to open, convenient and most have all the services that a traditional bank offersâusually at a lower price or fee structure.”
Inevitable things (read: life events) should also be considered when thinking about how to select a checking account. These include getting married (think: combined lives, joint checking account) and having kids (think: convenience, cash in a pinch).
The reasons you first opened your checking account could also be different from why you need one now. Perhaps you used it to pay down a number of credit card bills in the past and regularly held a high balance. Fast forward, and now the cards are paid off and you’re no longer storing as much cash in the account, making you fall below your bank’s minimum balance requirement and causing you to get hit with fees. In that case, picking a new checking account that doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement may be a great choice.
Finding a bank that offers perks that complement your current lifestyle is important to consider when determining how to select a checking account, as it could help you make a final decision. Two benefits to consider:
Say hello to cash back on debit card purchases.
No monthly fees. No balance requirements. No, really.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Cash back rewards: If you find yourself frequently using your debit card, be sure to maximize that spending by earning rewards. On the money you spend, Discover offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.2 To assess the potential value of this benefit, look at your monthly debit card spending and calculate how much you can earn in cash back. If you spend $3,000 every month, that’s an extra $360 a year. What could that extra cash be used for? Chances are, a lot of thingsâfrom a wedding gift to starting an emergency fund. Cha-ching!
Interest: âSome checking accounts will offer interest,” Steiner says. This allows your money to grow while being held in the account. Consider this if you keep high balances in your checking account.
Once you’ve considered how to choose a checking account and know what checking account you’re going with, the rest is relatively straightforward. It’s just a matter of following the right steps.
âIf you realize you don’t go to a branch and simply need ATM access, an online checking account may be a great fit.”
to make the switch to a new account
If you’ve decided upgrading is right for you, the next step (after you’ve mastered how to choose a checking account) is to actually make the switch. The good news is that the process is much simpler than the thinking that goes into picking one out.
Here are some quick tips for your new checking life:
Open the new accountâeither by completing your application online, in the case of an online checking account, or filling out an application at a branch.
Transfer your funds from your old account to your new one.
Change any direct deposits from the old account to the new account.
Set up automatic bill payments from your new account (and cancel them from your old account).
Close your old account. “It’s suggested you keep your old account open for a month or so to make sure you don’t miss any last transactions that may post,” Farrington says.
your new checking outlook
It’s an easy process to switch checking accounts, and Steiner believes the relief you’ll feel once you’ve mastered how to select a checking account will be worth it.
âSpending a few hours to make the right choice is time
well-spent and will save you plenty of headaches in the future,” Steiner
You might even enjoy calculating how much you’re saving by
comparing your old statements with your new ones and adding up the fees you’re
no longer paying. Oh yeah, about being the only person on Earth with a checking
account that’s not cutting it? Now that you’ve done the research on how to choose a checking account that
will work for your financial goals, it’s pretty simple to finally be more in
control of your cash. And it only took the amount of time to read this article
1 Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.
2 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post What You Need to Know to Pick a New Checking Account appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that youâve 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.Â
You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. Itâs 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, itâs 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 youâve 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 youâre not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9â12 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 youâre actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget â and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.
4. Plan Your Meals
Itâs 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. Donât 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 youâre buying food you know youâll eat because youâre 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 â thereâs no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if itâs 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 â unless you donât need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim youâll âsaveâ money. If the item isnât on your list, youâre not saving at all, but rather spending on something you donât 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 itâs 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 â itâs 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: youâre trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize itâs lunchtime and youâre hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world wonât 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 â only instead of cash, itâs $640 worth of food thatâs wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the worldâs 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 theyâre about to go bad. Fruit thatâs past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so youâll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you donât feel like cooking.
Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, youâll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldnât 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.
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 sureâthe 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.
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.
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 budgetâthen 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 workâwhich included three months of unpaid leaveâshe and her husband got serious about reducing unnecessary expenses.
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.
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:
“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time.”
Budgeting for maternity leaveâand 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 memoriesâinstead of stressing over money.
The post What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
What if you could pay for your next date night or trip to the grocery storeâwithout having to dip into your budget? If you use cash back to your advantage, these benefits could become a reality.
In the past, you had to swipe a credit card to earn cash back. But with Discover Cashback Debit, you can earn cash back by spending with your debit card (you read that right: debit card), allowing you to reach your financial goals without the risk of going into debt.
To best use this budget bonus, you might be wondering, âWhat should I do with my debit card cash back?” According to Eric Rosenberg, financial consultant and founder of the website Personal Profitability, âYou could put [your cash back] into savings or treat yourself to something from your wish list.”
Read on for things to do with cash back to help you achieve the right balance of responsibility and fun:
1. Save for a rainy day
Sometimes it seems like everything goes wrong all at once: You get a flat tire. The sink starts leaking (ugh, again!). You get a parking ticket. Since life can throw unexpected, costly curveballs your way, it’s important to have an emergency fund. Also known as a rainy day fund, an emergency fund is cash that’s set aside to cover unplanned, yet crucial, expenses.
âSo many people can’t afford the cost of an emergency from their savings,” Rosenberg says. If you don’t have this type of fund to fall back on, starting an emergency fund (or adding to an existing fund) could be a top priority when evaluating what to do with your cash back from a debit card.
When thinking about building an emergency fund as a thing to do with cash back, note that experts typically recommend putting aside at least three to six months of living expenses for this purpose. To maximize your emergency fund, you may want to consider moving these savings (and the cash back you’re putting toward this fund) to a high-yield savings account. That way, your emergency fund can steadily grow with interest until you need it. (P.S. More to come on how to automatically move your cash back into savings.)
2. Pay down your debt
If you owe, it can be tough to climb your way out of debt. Whether it’s from credit cards, student loans or a mortgage, interest is accruing and costing you money. Learning how to use your debit card cash back to offset debt can help you save on those interest payments down the road.
According to consumer money-saving expert Andrea Woroch, when you’re focusing on paying off debt, “It’s natural to cut back where you can. But you may eventually hit a wall where you can’t find ways to tackle expenses any further,” she says. That’s where learning how to use debit card cash back comes into play. Since a debit card with a cash back feature can allow you to earn for your everyday spending, those earnings can become a new source for paying down debt, Woroch adds.
3. Shore up for those special moments
You know you’d like to have more nights out, but they don’t come cheap. What to do with your cash back could include spending on special outings, Woroch says. Is there a restaurant you and your significant other have been dying to try? Is there a concert the whole family is super eager to see? There may also be larger events with family and friends to think aboutâplanning a milestone birthday or anniversary or that getaway with college buds. You can set aside your debit card cash back and earmark it for your relationships to create memories that will last a lifetime.
âYou could put [your cash back] into savings or treat yourself to something from your wish list.”
4. Support your children’s allowance
If you have kids, you’ve probably heard this one before: âMom, Dad, can I have some money?” Sometimes it can feel like you’re a walking ATM. One thing to do with cash back is to set aside an allowance for your kids. You can then use this cash to teach your children good savings habits and how to manage money on a monthly basis for the things they need and want, says Rosenberg of Personal Profitability. The best part: The money isn’t really coming out of your budget since you’re earning it for your everyday expenses and from money you’d be spending anyways. Win-win.
In thinking about what to do with your cash back, spending it on gift-giving and holiday expenses may be a good goal. “Some people go into debt during the holidays. To help avoid that circumstance, use your cash back to get ahead,” Woroch says.
And, really do think ahead if holiday spending is on your list of things to do with your cash back. The earlier you stash your cash back away for the holidays, the longer it will have time to accrue if you put it in a savings account for safekeeping. Season’s greetings may be the last thing on your mind while you’re flipping burgers on the 4th, but planning ahead could really impact your end-of-year festive spending.
How to maximize your cash back
Now that you know what to do with your cash backâwhether it’s going to work for your emergency fund or funding emergency holiday giftsâconsider steps you can take to get the most out of your extra dough. For example, find a rewards program that matches your spending style. With Discover Cashback Debit, you can earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 That’s up to $360 a year. Not too bad for just going about your daily debit card spending.
Get 1% cashback on Debit from Discover. 1% cashback on up to $3000 in debit card purchases every month. Limitations apply. Excludes Money market accounts.Discover Bank,Member FDIC.Learn More
To make the process of saving that extra cash even easier, consider opening a Discover Online Savings Account. If you sign up for Auto Redemption to Savings, your cash back will be automatically deposited into your savings account every month.
âThe hardest part about saving for many people is remembering to make a transfer or take the cash to the bank,” Rosenberg says. “If you can automate it, you are setting yourself up for success. It’s like saving while you sleep.”
If you’re still considering how to use your debit card cash back to the fullest, Woroch suggests paying for group purchases when you’re out with family or friends. “Whether you’re going to dinner or renting a condo, cover the entire expense on your card and ask friends and family to pay you back with cash or [via mobile payment],” Woroch says. “This way you can benefit from earning more rewards.”
When it comes to how to use your debit card cash back, the key is to make sure you have enough in your account and aren’t spending too much if you offer to temporarily foot the bill. You don’t want to overextend in order to earn, as you could be hit with overdraft fees or not have enough in your account to cover bill payments, Woroch says.
“Whether you’re going to dinner or renting a condo, cover the entire expense on your card and ask friends and family to pay you back with cash or [via mobile payment]. This way you can benefit from earning more rewards.”
Get ahead with a combination of strategies
If you’re looking for things to do with cash back, using these tactics can help you improve your financial foundation and have some fun along the way. Understand your needs and goals to help you create a cash back plan, and then maximize your strategy with tools to help you automatically direct your cash back to savings to limit the temptation to spend the money elsewhere.
“We are all so busy these days, and managing money is often pushed down on the to-do list,” Woroch says. Learning how to use your debit card cash back can help you put money management front and center. Start earning!
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post How to Use Your Debit Card Cash Back to the Fullest appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.