Tips to Help You Fund (and Keep) Your Emergency Fund

Everyone who’s ever had an emergency will tell you money is key to making good decisions. We make bad financial decisions when we’re broke and desperate. That’s why having an emergency fund is vital to starting any personal finance journey.…

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Source: modernfrugality.com

9 Simple Steps: How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck for Good

Well, that was fast! I just got my check and it’s all going to bills! Sound familiar? If so, you’re might be living paycheck to paycheck. If you’re struggling to make ends meet with your income, you’re not alone.  In fact, 74% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck according to a survey from the […]

The post 9 Simple Steps: How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck for Good appeared first on Incomist.

Source: incomist.com

What to Do With a Childhood Savings Bond

savings bond

A savings bond used to be a common gift, though not always a welcome one. Well-meaning relatives gifted savings bonds for your birthday or the holidays. The goal was often to help you pay for college in the future. But for us kids, all we knew was it wasn’t the Pound Puppy or Care Bear we really wanted!

Nowadays 529 plans and other higher-interest earning options have replaced the savings bond. But that doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared. In fact, they may be sitting at the back of your closet right now. But you are cleaning out your closet or your safe deposit box, and now this long-forgotten and unexpected savings bond can help you clean up your finances.

It’s Still Good

That savings bond is still worth something. That’s the good news. Savings bonds gain value over time by earning interest and keep earning interest for 30 years. They pay interest every six months until they mature. So depending on how long it’s been since you cleaned your closet, you may still be making money as you read this. Now there are some steps you have to take to get money in return.

What Type of Savings Bond

There are several kinds of savings bonds. So you much determine which kind you have in your possession. Savings bonds are a contract between you and the federal government. If it’s an old bond from your childhood it is probably either an EE or an I bond. It will be clearly specified in the title which one you have.

EE bonds are similar to savings accounts. Paper bonds used to be sold at half the face value (you paid $50 for a $100 bond) and the interest continued to increase even after the face value is reached, so your $100 savings bond is probably worth more than $100 now. Paper EE bonds are no longer available and digital EE bonds are purchased at face value.

I bonds are similar to EE bonds. The chief difference is that the interest earned on an I bond is determined by a combination of a fixed rate and an inflation rate.  So there is some cost-of-living protection for the bondholder.

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Find Out What It’s Worth

Before you decide to cash in the savings bond, you’ll probably want to know what it’s worth. The interest rates and even the way interest rates are determined have changed over the years so it matters when you got yours. The best way to determine the current value of your savings bond is to use the Treasury Direct website. Whether you want to cash in the bond or continue to let it mature is then up to you.

There are some penalties for cashing in the savings bond early. If you redeem the bond early, you will lose three months’ worth of interest during the first five years. There are no penalties after five years. The earliest you can cash in the bond is after one year. If the bond is more than 30 years old, it has stopped earning interest and you should cash it in.

While you will have to pay federal taxes on your bonds, you do not have to pay state or local income taxes. There are some exemptions – most notably when bonds issued after 1989 are cashed in to pay qualified higher education expenses at an eligible institution.

Visit the Bank

Most banks should be able to help you cash your paper bonds. If they aren’t, they should be able to direct you to a financial institution that can. You will have to prove your identity to cash in your old bonds. You will have to fill out an tax form either when you redeem the bonds or at the end of the year. Your tax preparer should be able to help you with this part of the process.

More Money-Saving Reads:

  • What’s a Good Credit Score?
  • How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report
  • What’s a Bad Credit Score?
  • How Credit Impacts Your Day-to-Day Life

Image: iStock

The post What to Do With a Childhood Savings Bond appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

My spending goal for 2020: Spend less on food

I’m pleased to report that 2020 is off to a fine start. As I mentioned in my year-end review, 2019 sucked for me. I have high hopes that this year will be a vast improvement. So far, it has been.

The biggest change is that I’m not drinking alcohol. While this is meant as a January-only test, it’s possible that I’ll extend the experiment. It’s saving me money and making me more productive. Plus, it may be helping with my anxiety and depression. I like that. (Thanks to the GRS readers who sent me private notes about their own struggles with alcohol. I appreciate it.)

I’ve made other small changes this year too. While I didn’t make any resolutions — I rarely do — I’m using the new year as a prompt to alter some of my habits, to do things differently.

One area that both Kim and I want to focus on in 2020 is our food spending. In 2018, I spent an average of $1038.03 per month on food. While I don’t have complete numbers for 2019 (my expense tracking was messy in the latter half of the year), I know that while my food spending declined, it didn’t decline by much. I want to change that.

To that end, Kim and I are making a couple of changes. For one, I’m canceling HelloFresh…at least for now. Plus, there’s the whole “cut out alcohol” thing. While alcohol isn’t included in my food spending, it contributes to my food spending. It leads us to eat out more. We want to reduce our restaurant spending in 2020.

Let’s take a closer look at how I hope to spend less on food this year.

Good-bye, HelloFresh

Last year was the year I experimented with HelloFresh, the meal delivery service. Mostly, I like it. Mostly. I like the HelloFresh recipes. I like the convenience. I like the company itself.

That said, there are enough downsides to HelloFresh that starting next week, I’m dropping the service. Part of this is because of me. Part of this is because of HelloFresh itself.

On the me side, I need to walk more. I need to get more exercise, and I need to experience my neighborhood. As part of that, I want to make regular trips to the grocery store — by foot.

Also on the me side, I like greater variety than HelloFresh offers. It’s not that HelloFresh doesn’t offer different meals and cuisines — because it does. But the recipes themselves have a relentless sameness about them. Yes, you can choose Italian or Korean or American dishes, but the preparation is always always always the same. It’s boring.

Those are the problems with me. There are also problems with HelloFresh itself.

For instance, I’m sick of the never-ending push to get me to promote the service to my friends. Get lost. Every week, the HelloFresh package contains a plea to share sign-up codes with friends. Every week when I choose my meals online, there’s an additional plea to share sign-up codes with friends. Every week in the follow up e-mails, there’s a plea to share sign-up codes with friends. I’m over it.

But the biggest strike against the service is its inability to get produce right.

Most weeks, there’s at least one meal with a shitty piece of produce. It’s usually (but not always) a tomato. One meal I prepped last week had a rotten lemon. (I’ve never even seen a rotten lemon before!) It’s as if there’s no quality control.

And at least once per month, a vegetable is simply missing. Absent. Not in the bag. During Thanksgiving week, for instance, I was prepping a meal with asparagus almandine, which sounded awesome. But the package I received contained no asparagus. I scrambled to find a substitute — Brussels sprouts — but it was a poor replacement.

The Cost of Convenience

Plus, there’s the cost. When we first tried HelloFresh in June 2018, I crunched the numbers. Meals from HelloFresh cost about $10 per person. If I were to purchase the ingredients myself, the cost was just over $3 per person. At three meals per person per week, I’ve been paying an extra $175 per month for groceries that I don’t need to pay.

When I signed up for HelloFresh, I did so because I hoped it would save me money. I hoped that it would keep me out of the grocery store (which it does, actually) and that in turn would reduce my grocery spending. I tend to make a lot of impulse purchases at the supermarket, so this seemed like sound reasoning.

The results of this experiment were inconclusive. For the first half of 2019, my home food spending (HelloFresh and groceries combined) dropped from $620.92 per month to $553.45 per month. But during the last two months of the year, I spent $729.38 per month. Was that year-end spike because of the holidays? The huge Costco trip I made in early November? I don’t know. Maybe I should dive deeper.

In any event, if I did save money, it isn’t nearly as much as I’d hoped I would save.

That said, Kim and I have really enjoyed many of the meals we’ve ordered from HelloFresh. And we’re especially keen on the recipe cards. They’re a lot of fun. They make cooking simple — even if they are relentlessly the same.

Because I’m a nerd, I’ve saved every recipe card from every HelloFresh meal we’ve ordered. And to get nerdier yet, I’ve both graded each recipe and taken notes on it. In other words, we have a customized illustrated “cookbook” containing over 100 different recipes. (Plus, all 2500+ of the HelloFresh recipes are available for free from their website.)

Going forward, I intend to use these recipe cards to plan and prep our meals. Instead of ordering from HelloFresh itself, though, I’m going to walk to the grocery store (carrying my backpack) to buy the ingredients. This should prevent me from buying crap we don’t need while allowing me to obtain better produce than HelloFresh tends to send.

We’ll see how it works.

Here’s another way Kim and I have come up with to cut costs on food: batch cooking. It’s nothing new, I know, but it’s new to us. We won’t do once-a-month cooking, but we’ll each pick one recipe per week and make a larger version of it.

I’ll pick one HelloFresh cards and make three nights of the meal, for example. Last Sunday, Kim prepped a big batch of pork tacos that we’ve eaten for dinner the past three nights. And so on. We think this’ll keep life simple and keep me out of the grocery store.

Rascally Restaurants

Kim and I will also try to cut back on food spending this year by reducing how much we dine out. Left to our own devices, we choose restaurants much of the time. That gets expensive.

  • In 2017, I spent an average of $567.97 per month on restaurants. Kim spent some unknown amount too (but much less).
  • In 2018, I spent an average of $389.63 per month on restaurants. Plus, Kim spent some. So, we made big gains in 2018, but our spending was still high.
  • As I mentioned, my records are incomplete for last year, but I know I spent $288.04 for restaurants during the last two months of 2019.

From 2017 to 2019, we cut our restaurant spending in half. That’s great progress! Still, there’s room for improvement.

I spent an average of $66.47 per week on restaurants last year. My gut feeling is that this is basically dining out once per week. I know from experience that our typical check is about $55, which includes our two meals plus two beers each. After tip, that’s $66. That’s our standard meal. (And it’s usually on a Thursday night.)

So far in 2020, we’ve had one restaurant meal and it cost us exactly $34 (including tip). If we’d both had our typical two beers, that check would have been about $58. By not drinking, we saved ourselves more than twenty bucks!

Kim and I do enjoy eating out together, so it’s not something we want to eliminate. Instead, we want to be more mindful about how and where we dine out when we do dine out.

We’ve already shifted our focus from fancier places (which is where we were eating in 2017) to cheap and tasty spots. But now we’re interested in finding places that are even less expensive. And, at least for now, we want to be careful to avoid spots that might tempt us to drink. (Our favorite pub has great food and a cozy environment, but we both know it’s madness for us to eat there. It’ll make us want to drink beer.)

It’s far to early to predict how this whole restaurant thing is going to go in 2020. But we’ve thought of a couple of ways to cut costs (in addition to the “not drinking” thing.) As I said, we can turn our attention to less expensive eateries. Why go to the fancy Mexican place with “gourmet” tacos that cost $8 or $9 when we can go to the cheap place down the hill with $4 tacos? Let’s try that new ramen spot.

Plus, we might try take-out this year. Neither one of us has ever been a big proponent of ordering food to go, but I think it makes some sense right now. On my way home from the new office, I can pick up something tasty for dinner from the Thai place or the Italian place, maybe. We can have the restaurant food without restaurant temptation.

The Last Big Win

Food seems to be the last major place that I can trim my budget. My austerity measures in 2019 yielded excellent results, and I’ll continue to pursue those in the future. But I’ve cut most of my discretionary spending as far as I want to cut it at present. Food is the exception.

  • I averaged spending $1176.06 per month on food in 2017.
  • That dropped to $1038.03 in 2018.
  • During the last two months of 2019, I spent an average of $1053.28 per month on food.

As I say, we’re making progress, but I feel there’s more to be had here. This is the last big win left in my budget. It’d be great if I could trim my food spending to, say, $800 per month (or lower!) in 2020. That’d be a fantastic drop from $1200 each month in 2017, right? I’d call that a victory.

On a food-related note, I should point out that eliminating (or reducing) alcohol could also save me plenty of money. During the past three years, I’ve reliably spent about $250 per month on alcohol — and that doesn’t include alcohol in restaurants. Going dry could help my health and wealth.

Source: getrichslowly.org

By the numbers: My spending for March 2019

March was a mixed month in my financial world. I ended March with a slightly higher net worth (up 0.6%) but my spending was the highest it’s been this year: $5989.10. Yet, that spending was mostly mindful. I wasn’t frittering away money on silly things.

If I wasn’t buying dumb stuff, then where did my money go? A few worthwhile places:

  • I spent $653.31 on the yard and garden. Specifically, Kim and I tore out a big cedar tree in the corner of the yard, then converted that space to a small orchard. I use the word “orchard” loosely here. We planted three fruit trees, four blueberries, four grape vines, and a bunch of strawberries. I hope to write about this more in the near future.
  • I spent $625.72 on health and fitness. In the middle of the month, I had quite a scare. Out of nowhere, I had chest pains, so I visited the local hospital ER. My co-pays and prescriptions are reflected in March’s spending — and there’s more to come. (We’re about to have a l-o-n-g article on the $6800 hospital bill I received in the mail yesterday. That’ll happen in April or May.) Meanwhile, Kim had knee surgery at the end of the month. I paid for some of her stuff out of my pocket.
  • I spent $579.36 on gifts in March, which is very very unusual.
  • I paid the $450 annual fee on my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. (Yes, I know this seems like a lot. But remember the card comes with a $300 travel credit, which means my effective annual fee is $150. I believe I receive $150 in value from the card’s other benefits.)

I don’t consider any of that spending frivolous although I recognize that some of it isn’t necessary. (Do we need an orchard? Do I need to give gifts?)

That said, I did have some weak spots in my spending. I bought several movies on iTunes. In fact, I spent $72.63 on iTunes in March. I need to be careful lest I return to my former profligate ways. No more looking in the iTunes store! I also spent $230.15 on alcohol during the month (most of which was beer).

How did I do with groceries? As you know, my food spending had grown out of control, which is one of the primary reasons I’m tracking my spending in detail this year. Last year, I spent over $1000 per month in food. This year, I’m spending less than $700 per month.

I was very proud of my food spending for most of March. I spent a total of $658.21 during the month: $468.27 on groceries and $184.24 on dining out. That’s my lowest monthly food total in two years (excepting months during which I’ve been on the road).

Going into the last week of March, I’d only spent $241.87 on groceries. That’s amazing! Things fell apart, however, when I stocked up on food for Kim’s convalescence. Meanwhile, we only had three restaurant meals during the month. For one of those, I paid for two guests. Not bad. Not bad.

Quarterly Spending

Now that we’ve made it through the first three months of 2019, I was curious how my quarterly spending compared to last year. Monthly spending can fluctuate quite a bit. You can get a better idea of your actual habits by looking at a bigger picture.

Here are some highlights:

  • I spent $116.56 at the iTunes store during the first quarter of 2019. That’s less than I spent on movies and TV shows during any single month last year, so that’s a win.
  • I spent $2076.54 on food for the quarter, which is lower than any quarter in 2018. I spent $1179.53 on groceries, $323.52 on HelloFresh, and $542.29 on dining out. That restaurant spending is another big win. The grocery spending was good — better than any quarter in 2018 — but I feel like I can do better.
  • I spent a lot on health and fitness during the first three months of the year: $1752.60. And the thing is, it’s not going to get much better.
  • This year, I decided to separate hot tub expenses into its own category. I spent $151.88 on hot tub stuff (chemicals, etc.) during the first three months of the year. And, no, that doesn’t include electricity.
  • Our zoo — three cats and a dog — cost us $447.54 during the first quarter of 2019.
  • You know where I could save big bucks? By drinking less. I spent $586.36 on alcohol during the first three months of the year (and that includes four weeks during which I didn’t drink a drop!). That’s $6.44 per day. Time for me to cut back on my craft beer obsession…

I spent a total of $15,364.85 during the first quarter of 2019, an average of $5121.62 per month. That’s not a great number, to be honest. It’s pretty much what I was spending last year. Still, I’m trying not to get too stressed about things…yet.

The whole point of this exercise is for me to figure out where I’m spending my money and why. Once I have a clear picture, I can make some course corrections.

April is the Cruelest Month

Unfortunately, April is going to have some crazy, crazy spending numbers. My accountant called yesterday to give me my tax bill. I owe $20,000. (I’m not joking.) The hospital called too. They wanted to let me know that I owe them $6800 for the ER visit in the middle of March. To cap things off, payment is due on the vacation that Kim and I booked a year ago. We’ll be headed to Greece and Italy in August — but we’re paying for it today.

Fortunately, I knew that some of these expenses were looming, so I have cash set aside to pay for taxes and our trip. (The ER visit was a surprise, obviously, and I don’t have money set aside for that.) That doesn’t change the fact that April’s expenses are going to be insane, though. It just means I’m somewhat prepared for the insanity.

The upside to having a $6800 hospital bill so early in the year? It gives me a chance to make maximum use of my health insurance! My max “out of pocket” is $7900 annually. Since it looks like I’m going to hit that, it makes sense to address all medical issues that are bugging me in 2019.

At the end of 2018, I had a net worth of $1,334,227.20. At the end of March, my net worth was $1,397,545.18. That’s a leap of more than $63,000 (or 4.75%). That’s great! In reality, this simply reflects a hot stock market. My investment accounts are up $77,933.04 this year (11.45%).

A hot stock market can cover a multitude of sins…

Source: getrichslowly.org