Money-Saving Hacks to Implement Now

Redo your monthly budget (and stick to it)

You can do plenty of things to improve your budget, and it's not all about pain and suffering, as many would have you believe. Everyone has a few things they overspend on. The challenge lies in identifying those particular items and weeding them out. A good place to begin is with restaurant spending, grocery bills, and impulse buying. A wise general philosophy is to assign a destination for every dollar you earn and place that category on your budget. Try cutting restaurant expenditures in half, reducing impulse buys at convenience stores, and shopping for groceries just once each week to regulate what goes toward food items.

Refinance your education debt

If you have any education debt still hanging around after all these years, refinancing student loans through a private lender is a way to lessen your monthly expenses. Not only can you get a longer repayment period, but have the chance to snag a favorable interest rate. But the clincher for money-saving enthusiasts is that your monthly payments can instantly go way down. That means extra cash for whatever you want. Use the excess to fatten savings or IRA accounts, or pay off high-interest credit card debt.

Install a programmable thermostat

For less than $20, it's possible to chop at least three percent off your utility bills and perhaps much more than that. 

Programmable thermostats are easy to install. You don't need special tools or advanced skills. Be sensible about summer and winter settings and you'll see a difference in your electric bill almost immediately, especially during the hottest months of the year. Don't forget to program the device to go into low-use mode while you're away for long weekends or longer vacations.

Join a shopping club

Although shopping clubs come with annual membership fees, the savings on groceries, household items, and gasoline usually offset them within a month or two of actively using the membership. That leaves the other months of the year for you to save money on household necessities. 

For people who drive a lot, shopping clubs with on-site gas stations offer one of the best deals going. Not only do the clubs offer gasoline for about 10 cents off the regular price, but some also offer free car washes and coupons for repair work at participating shops. Although shopping clubs are a win for most anyone, a family of three or more can log thousands per year in savings.

Refinance your home or car

If you have owned your home or car long enough to ride the interest rate waves, you likely qualify for a refinancing agreement. This strategy is excellent for consumers who have better credit now than when they made the original purchase. 

Young couples are perfectly positioned to refinance a home after several years of making payments on it. Likewise, anyone who still owes on a vehicle and can get a lower interest rate should look into a car or truck refi. Not only can you get additional months to pay off the obligation, but with a lower rate, you stand to save a nice chunk of money.

Take bagged lunches to work

One of the oldest, more reliable ways to instantly cut personal expenses is to prepare and take your own lunch to work each day. Not only do you save money by not eating out or buying lunch in the company cafeteria, but you also have added control over what you eat. That means you're doing a favor for your wallet and your health at the same time. 

Don't fall into the rut of eating at your desk. Consider taking your bagged meal outside and enjoying the scenery, taking a walk after eating, or joining friends in the cafeteria to socialize. 

Use public transportation as often as possible

If you live on or near a bus or light-rail route, do the logistical planning necessary to travel to work at least a few times each week by public transit instead of by car. 

Unless you reside in a small town, chances are you have access to buses and trains for commuting purposes. Once you get into a habit of using the public transit system, consider buying a one-month or annual pass, which can represent a major discount on one-time fare prices. Public transportation can take a bit longer to get you to your destination, but it's easy enough to make use of the time reading, catching up on work, or just relaxing.

Use credit cards wisely

If you use credit cards to make purchases you can't afford, you're headed for trouble. But if you use your plastic wisely, you can reap real benefits.

If you have a good credit rating, you'll likely qualify for cashback cards that give a percentage of your money back on some or all of your purchases. You can use that cash to pay for a portion of your monthly credit card bill. You could also let your cashback savings accumulate and use it to pay for larger purchases in the future.

Just make sure not to outspend your monthly budget so you're able to pay your credit card balance off in full each month. Keeping a balance on your cards is counterproductive because you'll also be paying interest fees.

Source: quickanddirtytips.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

How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check)

Writing a check. It’s one of those things you always wanted to know how to do right but were probably too afraid to ask. Well, fear no longer: in this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of check-writing, from how to fill out the lines you need, to knowing when it’s best to use a check — and when it’s not. We’ve also included a printable practice check at the bottom of the article so you can give it a shot before filling out a real one.

In this article, we’ll cover everything from how to write a check to the best situations to use one. Read through if you want to know everything you need to about writing a check, or click on a link below to jump straight to the section you’re most interested in.

  • What Is a Check?
    • Where Can I Get a Checkbook?
  • How Do You Fill Out a Check?
    • What Do I Do After Writing a Check?
  • Check Writing Security Tips
  • Alternatives to Writing a Check
  • Wrapping up

Before we get into the details of learning how to fill out a check, let’s start with the basics.

What Is a Check?

A check is basically a statement in writing that you agree to pay some amount of money to whomever you’re making the check out to. It lets the bank know that they can withdraw those funds from your financial accounts and direct deposit it into the payee’s account (that’s the person who you’re paying). If you’re unsure about how much to keep in checking for checks you may be writing, check out our post on that for a brief explanation.

When to use a check

Checks are useful in a variety of situations. You can use a check to:

  • Pay your monthly rent
  • Make a large purchase without a card
  • Send money as a gift
  • Pay for groceries
  • Pay for hired work like a housekeeper or gardener

Basically, they’re good for situations where you’re paying large sums of money that wouldn’t be convenient to pay for in cash, and where you’d rather not use a credit or debit card.

Where can I get a checkbook?

You can usually get a checkbook straight from your bank for free or a small fee, and they’re also available from retailers like Costco and Walmart. Custom checks are also available online from sites like Checks.com, but be careful where you order from, as some sites may not be secure — or could even be a scam.

Before you get started making payments with checks, however, you’ll need to know how to fill one out.

How Do You Fill Out a Check?

Knowing how to write a check is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. First, take a look at this graphic that shows the way that all the necessary fields of a check should be filled out.

filling in a check

Next, we’ll walk through each step to make sure you know what goes into filling out each line. We get it — it’s a little nerve racking signing over money to someone on a little piece of paper. Knowing how to fill it out correctly will give you more confidence the next time you have to send a check.

  1. Start with the payee, the person who you’re sending money to. There’s usually text that reads “pay to the order of” beside a line that you’ll fill in. On that line, simply write the first and last name of the person who you’re paying, or the name of the company you’re paying if it’s not an individual person. Be sure that you spell everything correctly, as misspelling a name could result in the check not going through.
  2. Fill in the amount in words that you are paying your payee. This part is a little weird, since you usually write numbers out in numerals, but it’s an important security step. The dollar amount should be written in words, and any cents can be written as a fraction out of 100. For example, if you were paying your landlord $925.50 for rent and utilities, you’d write out “Nine hundred twenty five dollars and 50/100.”
  3. Fill in the amount in numbers in the box on the top right of the check. This is a bit easier. In the case of the example above, you’d just write out $925.50. Often, the dollar sign is already written on the check, so you just have to make sure that the numerals are written out correctly. Important note: be sure that you double-check that the amount you wrote in words matches the amount you wrote in numerals.
  4. The optional memo line is located on the bottom left of the check. Though leaving this blank won’t invalidate the check, it’s usually smart to include a brief description so that your payee knows what the money is for. For example, in the rent check example, including “September rent” on the memo line is a good way for you and your landlord to keep track of your rent payments.
  5. The date is on the top right of the check. Fill in the date of the day you fill out the check — this ensures that you and your recipient can keep track of when the payment occurred.
  6. Sign your check on the line on the bottom right. This line shows that you have officially agreed to pay the listed amount. Be sure that the name you sign matches the one on file with your bank or the check may not be valid. It’s also a good idea to have a consistent signature, that way there’s little doubt you’ve authorized the check.

That’s it! That’s all it takes to know how to fill out a check. If you need a little practice filling out a check before you’re ready to send one, try out our printable practice check.

Note: In addition to the parts that you’ll fill in, a check includes the routing number and account number for the bank account that it’s withdrawing from. You don’t need to worry about those when you learn how to write a check, but when you receive your checkbook, be sure to double check that the number match your bank. You want to know which bank account your check will be drawing from when it’s cashed.

What Do I Do After Writing a Check?

Once you’ve written the check, make sure to note in a check register the amount that you’ve paid. Check registers are often included in the backs of checkbooks, but you can also keep a separate one if that is more convenient for you.

Whether you use a paper register or a digital one, it’s important to record how much you’ve paid because, until your payee cashes the check and it’s processed at your bank, your account will still list those funds as available. Recording the amount that you’ve paid gives you a more accurate picture of the amount that is in your checking account, and will be necessary when it’s time to balance your checkbook.

Note: Making sure to track cash and checks is always an important way to stay on your budget. While you will likely be able to see your credit card purchases online as soon as they happen, checks and cash don’t leave as easy a trail. Maintaining a written log and using an app like Mint are helpful ways to keep an eye on the full picture of your spending as you wait for checks to clear.

Check Writing Security Tips

Because checks are physical pieces of paper, they aren’t password protected and aren’t as easy to track as electronic payments (more on that in the next section). So, there are some security risks that you should keep in mind if you plan on using your checkbook.

Check writing security basics

That said, checks are generally a secure way of paying for things if they’re filled out carefully and properly. Check out these tips before filling out your check to ensure that you aren’t scammed or defrauded.

  • Never leave a check blank. There’s a reason signing your check was the last step listed above. If you sign a check and hand it over without a dollar amount specified, your payee can simply enter whatever quantity they wish and withdraw that from your bank account. The same goes for the payee line. If you had a signed check made out for $500 without a payee, and it slipped out of your bag, anyone could pick it up, enter their name, and pay themselves. Be sure that you always wait until you know the dollar amount and payee before you sign your check.
  • Use a pen. For the same reasons you wouldn’t want to hand anyone a blank check, it’s a good idea to use pen when filling it out. A check written in pencil could be easily tampered with, so be sure your writing is clear and permanent to avoid check fraud.
  • Try out the line method. Following the same reasoning, you wouldn’t want someone to turn your check for $500 into a check for $5500. You can prevent this by drawing a line from the edge of the space where you’ve written the amount to the start of your first letter. Follow this up by filling the entire numerical quantity box with the numerals for your amount.
  • Keep a record. Whether you opt for a checkbook that makes carbon copies of every check you write, or simply record all your transactions in a check register, keeping a handy list of all your paid checks is a good way to make sure you notice if something goes wrong. It’s also just helpful when you’re trying to sort out how much money you’ve spent and what you’ve spent it on.

Checks are generally a secure way to pay for things, but they might not be your best option for every situation.

Alternatives to writing a check

Alternatives to Writing a Check

Writing a check might be a useful way to make a payment in some situations, but in today’s world of tech, card payments and online banking, there’s often an easier and more secure alternative to pay or transfer funds.

Check alternatives

Here are some situations where you might use a check along with some alternatives that could be a better option.

  • Paying rent. There are plenty of landlords who keep things old school and only accept checks. However, many contemporary apartment complexes or apartments owned by property management companies will invest in an online payment portal for their residents. If you have the option to set up a payment portal, this is a much safer way of paying rent — plus, it eliminates the cost and hassle of mailing a check.
  • Making a large purchase. Credit cards are scary, but they often are a much better way of making large purchases. This is because many credit cards offer perks like cash back or airline miles, and consistently paying off your balance can seriously boost your credit. Plus, credit cards have stronger fraud protection than checks.
  • Buying groceries. Credit cards are also a great option here. Many grocery stores, or retailers that also sell groceries, offer credit cards themselves. These can be used to gain points or discounts, lowering your grocery bill monthly.

Wrapping up

Knowing how to write a check can be a handy and secure way to pay for something if you do it correctly. The guidelines in this post should help you start writing checks safely and carefully, and if you need a little extra practice, try out our printable practice check below. It’s a good way to feel confident before you put your pen (never pencil!) on the next check you write.

Blank check

 

The post How to Write a Check (Step by Step Guide to Filling Out a Check) appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

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

Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest overnight financial shakeup in our country’s history. Its effects will be felt for years into the future, if not permanently. On the economic front, it’s caused a huge change in consumer spending, largely due to how people’s income and living/working patterns have shifted. 

How Income Is Changing

According to a July report from the Congressional Research Service, the big changes in household income hasn’t affected everyone equally. Those who are hardest-hit already had a lower income to begin with — families with children, and non-white people. For example, 71% of parents earning under $25,000 per year have lost income, compared to only 33% of child-free households earning more than $200,000 per year. 

In other words, the rich are staying rich (and even getting richer), while the poor are getting poorer. And since these high-earners are increasingly working from home, it’s caused massive shake-ups in consumer spending, with winners and losers on all fronts. 

Top Spending Categories of 2020

The average family earned $68,703 (or $5,725 per month) during 2019, according to Census data. We don’t yet know what it’ll be for 2020, although it’ll almost certainly be lower when averaged across the entire population, including those with and without income losses. Here’s how the loss in income is affecting what people are spending their money on. 

Alcohol

Pre-Pandemic: In 2019, the average household spent $579 on alcohol, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

Pandemic: In April of 2020, alcohol spending was up by approximately 50%, according to an analysis from The New York Times.

With everyone stuck at home and a looming sense of existential doom everywhere you look, it’s no wonder that spending on alcohol has increased. The way people are buying their alcohol is shifting, too, according to a May 2020 Nielsen report. In-store sales of booze jumped by around 26% compared to the same time a year ago. Online sales were even more popular, with a 477% jump in direct-to-your-door delivery service. 

In addition, people shifted to buying larger packages of alcohol, with a 20% jump in sales of 24- and 30-packs of beer and cider, and a 2% decrease in sales of six-packs. Sales of boxed wine in particular were also up by 44% from the previous year, as was 1.75L Costco-sized jugs of hard liquor, with a 47% increase. 

Groceries

Pre-Pandemic: The average family spent $4,643 on groceries in 2019, according to the BLS.

Pandemic: Grocery spending is up by 10%, according to an October report by The New York Times. 

Whether it’s the sourdough bread craze or cozy comfort foods, many people have gotten a crash course in cooking from home over the past few months. And although groceries have always been a big part of the household budget (especially if you have teenagers), they’re higher now than they’ve ever been before. 

However, you can get your groceries in a lot of ways, and some are booming more than others right now. For example, an earlier survey from The New York Times in April showed that while spending at supermarkets was largely the same compared to the prior year, spending at online grocers was up by 80%, food delivery spending was up by 50%, and spending on meal kits surged by 40%. This isn’t surprising, as many people are still (rightfully) wary of packed grocery stores and are instead opting for the convenience of ready-to-cook-from-home meals.

Real Estate

Pre-Pandemic: The average sales price of a home was $278,800 in August 2019, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Pandemic: The average sales price of a home was 11% higher — $310,600 — in August 2020, according to the (NAR).

You’d think that the largest bombshell in U.S. economic history would derail the real estate markets that were already set off-course by the 2008 recession. So far (and surprisingly so), that hasn’t been the case. Despite the world burning (literally, if you live on the West coast), home prices continue to chug along at an increasing pace. 

There’s been a lot of speculation about why this is. Some experts suggest that high-paid tech workers (those least likely affected by the pandemic), are now free of their tether to high cost-of-living areas and are thus increasingly flooding out into the suburbs along with all of their cash. In particular, properties that are well-designed for working from home (such as those with extra rooms that can double as offices) are in particularly high demand. 

Areas Where Consumer Spending Dropped

As we’ve seen, some industries have picked up. But by and large, consumer spending is down, and here are some of the major industry drops. 

Travel

Pre-Pandemic: The average family spent $2,037 on their summer vacation in 2019, according to an Allianz Insurance survey.

Pandemic: Travel spending is down by 57%, according to October 2020 numbers from Status Money. 

Many of the highest-price travel is done overseas and at expensive places, like Disney World, and on cruise ships. Obviously, those things are out for this year. 

So although you can’t take that expensive Paris vacation you’ve always been dreaming of right now, that’s not stopping a lot of people. In June 2020, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted that 97% of trips would be taken by car, either locally or around the U.S. After all, there are still many world-class natural wonders to see right here at home, whether it’s Yosemite, Old Faithful, or hiking along the Appalachian Trail. 

Clothing 

Pre-Pandemic: The average U.S. family spent $1,883 on apparel during 2019, according to the BLS. 

Pandemic: Clothing spending was down by around 60% in April, according to an analysis from The New York Times.

With so many people working from home via Zoom, you really only need clothes on the top half of your body (be careful not to stand up from your desk though!). Even so, with so many places closed down and no one to see you, people just aren’t spending as much on clothes these days as they used to. 

Some of this spending has recovered. For example, while The New York Times recorded a decline of around 60% on clothing spending in April, it had recovered a bit to just a 20% decline by October. Sales of cosmetics were also down by 14%, at least for cosmetics brand L’Oreal. According to a JP Morgan analysis, certain cosmetics were particularly hard-hit, with fragrances, luxury makeup, and professional supplies down by 25%. 

Restaurants

Pre-Pandemic: The average U.S. family spent $3,526 on dining out in 2019, according to the BLS.

Pandemic: Restaurant spending is down by 15%, according to The New York Times.

COVID-19 is particularly transmissible in enclosed environments with a lot of packed people that are touching their faces. It’s no wonder that restaurants have emerged as a flare in the debate between safety vs. the economy. After all, the restaurant industry alone employs 15.6 million people, according to the National Restaurant Association. 

But just as with anything else, the impact isn’t equally spread across all types of restaurants. According to a May survey by McKinsey & Company, casual and fine dining saw the biggest declines of 70% to 85%, while pizza companies actually did better than usual, with up to a 5% increase in sales from the previous year. 

How Spending Will Change Over the Holidays

Last year, the average consumer spent $1,048 on holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. This year, a survey by Power Reviews shows that 73% of people expect to spend about the same amount on holiday shopping as last year, despite the present state of the economy.

One thing that is changing, though, is that more people will shop online this year, and earlier, too. According to the same Power Reviews survey, 64% of people are planning on doing more online shopping this year, and around 25% of people are planning on getting an early head start. This is largely due to concerns about inventory and shipping delays. 

The post Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle

Side hustles have always been a good way to earn more money and better your finances. With so many people in debt while wages have fallen flat, they’ve become especially popular over the past decade. Now, with the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen them shoot ahead in popularity even further. 

According to a recent survey by credit-building platform, Self, just over half of Americans plan to start a side hustle as a direct result of the pandemic. The numbers get really interesting when you break them down by age, too. The majority of Millennials (around 70%) plan to start a side hustle, while only a few — around 20% — of Boomers have the same idea. 

Coronavirus and Unemployment: Changing How People Earn Money

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you already know the heavy toll the pandemic has taken on the economy. Still, it’s worth taking a second look at the numbers. By May 2020, after everything shut down, the number of unemployed people in the U.S. shot up even higher than figures during the Great Depression. It ranged higher than 14 million unemployed people, compared to the Great Depression’s peak of 8.8 million unemployed. The unemployment rate at its peak in 2020 was 16%. 

Today the economy is reopening and the unemployment rate has gone back down, but still stands twice as high as normal — 8% — as of August 2020. Even if you are lucky enough to be back at work today, chances are good that you’re still not earning as much as you were before. Your hours might’ve been reduced, you might’ve missed out on pay raises, or you might’ve suffered a pay cut. 

If you’re still unemployed, the picture isn’t any better. The extra $600 weekly unemployment assistance dropped off at the end of July, leaving many people with normal piddly paycheck amounts. 

Finally, even if you’re one of the lucky ones who’s been totally unaffected by all of this, at least you’ve seen the devastation that can happen and maybe you’re spurred on to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. No matter which segment you fall into, everyone’s seeing how important diversifying your income with a side hustle is right now. 

12 Most Popular Side Gigs of the Year

Whether you call them “side hustles” or not, people have been finding creative ways to earn a little extra on the side ever since economies have existed. But today, with COVID, some side hustles are more popular than others. Here are some of the most popular side gig options this year:

1. Deliver Groceries and Food

With so many people trying to keep their distance, one hot job that’s been booming is food delivery workers — specifically, through apps like DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, Instacart, Shipt, and more. All you need is a car and a smartphone. And while your chances of being exposed to COVID are greater than if you’d found an online gig (please, avoid this one if you’re high-risk!), contact-free delivery options are making it a bit safer. 

2. Transcribe Audio Files

If you’re looking for a good way to boost your typing speed and listen to (potentially) interesting conversations, give transcription a try. You can find partner websites that’ll send you audio files or advertise your services in writer’s groups. All you have to do is type out the audio accurately and send your transcription back to the partner. 

The startup cost on this side gig is low — all you need is a computer and internet, which you might already have if you’re reading this. Beyond that, a small investment in a foot pedal — a hands-free way to start and stop audio — keeps your hands on the keyboard so that you type faster and earn more money in the process. 

3. Tutor a Student

The education system is a mess right now. Many kids are stuck at home and are falling behind in their studies. Parents are at their wit’s end, and looking for ways to help their children grow and stay entertained. That’s where you come in. There are many opportunities to tutor students online, and if you and the other party is comfortable, you can even meet up in person for socially-distanced learning.

4. Pet-Sitting and Dog-Walking

Even though normal travel isn’t really a thing right now, there still are more people than ever travelling locally. Many people can only stay in their home so long without going stir-crazy, after all. A lot of pet sitters are finding that business is booming right now, and you can get in on the action, too. 

Apps like Rover and Wag! make it easy to get started. Even if you can’t watch someone’s pup for them, you can still offer your services as a dog walker and get out of the house while still distancing yourself from other people. 

5. Freelance Writing or Starting a Blog

Do you have an interesting story? Would you like to write about other people who do? If so, now’s a great time to start your own blog or freelance writing side hustle. Blogging takes a lot of work and time before it really pays off, although if it does, you can earn a lot of money. Freelance writing might be more lucrative right off the bat, and you can even leverage your new blog as a way to showcase your writing to earn work with paid clients. 

6. Become a Virtual Assistant

With so many people working entirely online these days, an entire new industry of workers have cropped up: virtual assistants. As a virtual assistant, your job may be as varied as the people who hire you. You might find sources for interviews, keep track of tasks in a database, answer reader emails, make graphics, write blog posts, and more. And since it’s entirely virtual, your potential client list is global. 

7. Take Surveys

This side hustle might not replace your day job, but if you have a few extra minutes while you’re watching TV, baking, or spending endless hours listening in on Zoom meetings, you can earn a bit more cash. There are a lot of places to earn money with surveys, so be sure to try your hand at more than one. 

8. Web and App Development

Techy skills are in demand right now, especially with so many people working online. If you know a bit of code — or want to learn — now’s a great time to get started with this side hustle. You can find work through Fiverr and Upwork, or advertise independently elsewhere. If you know how to develop apps, see if you can come up with any ideas to make quarantine life easier for everyone — that would be a hit for sure. 

9. SEO Developer

The only option most local businesses have to reach potential customers these days is online. But the mom-and-pop pizza shop down the road probably isn’t up to snuff when it comes to advertising on Google and social media. These skills are especially in demand right now, and there are many courses you can take to learn more and start this side hustle immediately. 

10. Write eBooks

Are you good at coming up with stories? If you’ve got some time on your hands and you don’t have any pressing money concerns, writing ebooks can be a great way to set up a passive income strategy that’ll keep paying you throughout the future. Just like with blogging, it can be a risky strategy since it may not pay off immediately. But if you have a passion for words, a creative imagination, and an entrepreneurial spirit, this could be a great side hustle for you.

11. Social Media Strategist

Companies often aren’t SEO experts, and they aren’t social media experts either. But if you were raised alongside Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and love mastering the newest social media channels, this could be a great side hustle for you. You’ll need to learn how to work with brands and companies to represent them online so that they sell more products — and in turn, can pay you the big bucks. 

12. Do Odd Jobs

We’ve covered some of the websites you can use to earn money during the pandemic right now, but it bears repeating here. Websites like TaskRabbit, Fiverr, and Upwork have many more opportunities than what we’ve listed here. 

For example, you could help with mowing lawns, helping someone move to a new house, delivering things from stores, designing printable PDFs, teaching someone how to play guitar, and more. The opportunities are endless, and it’s free to browse and see what small odd jobs are available in your area. 

The Bottom Line

The year 2020 will probably go down in most people’s books as one of the worst on record. It’s important to acknowledge the bad that’s happening, but it’s also important to look forward, too. Even in the midst of all of this craziness, there is an opportunity for growth and a way to better your finances. No one can pinpoint when a pandemic will happen, but you can plan your financial response to big events like this. 

The post Why It’s the Year of the Side Hustle appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Why It Pays to Be Single (Infographic)

It can be hard being single, especially when Valentine’s Day rolls around, and you see others celebrating their relationships. It’s equally difficult when TV shows and movies portray relationships as the gold standard that everyone should strive for. 

The truth is that being a party of one comes with plenty of benefits. You have more time to figure out who you are and who you want to be. Spontaneity comes easily because you don’t have to consider what your partner wants. You may even pick up an interesting new hobby. 

One of the best benefits of being single is the opportunity to whip your finances into shape and save a ton of money! For example, consider your monthly grocery budget. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that the monthly cost of groceries for women under 50 is about $256. For men under 50, it’s about $302. Meanwhile, the monthly grocery cost for families of two is about $613. 

Let’s do some quick math. That means each partner winds up paying about $307 per month. That’s $51 more than a single woman would pay for groceries each month and $5 more per month for men. (That’s not to mention that, if you’re single, you’ll likely spend a lot less on going out for food!) 

Additionally, if you’re not in a relationship, you can live simply, take up a side hustle, and even qualify for more financial aid than you would if you had a partner.  

Explore the infographic to learn exactly how much you can save by being single and what steps you should take to set yourself up for future success.

14-surprising-benefits-of-being-single

Sources: CNN Money | USDA | Elite Singles | National Retail Federation | Huffington Post | Forbes | National Center for Education Statistics | RENTCafe | The Balance | Social Security Administration | Psychology Today | Daily Mail | American Psychological Association | BBC | Science Alert 

The post Why It Pays to Be Single (Infographic) appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com