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Five steps to living more simply (and saving in the process)
Living the simple life sounds so peaceful, doesn’t it? It’s calm and free of drama. You’re never ruled by a schedule, so you wake up without an alarm, prepare healthy organic foods, and eat only when you’re hungry. Missed appointments? Never. Rush hour? No such thing. It’s peace and harmony all day long.
Ok, that’s not entirely true, but living simply is a step in that direction. It takes some of the chaos out of your day, reduces your stress, and leaves you more time to spend with the people you love, doing the things you like to do.
In today’s world, that might seem almost impossible. What’s important to understand, though, is that simplifying isn’t always a simple process. Life can be complicated, but there are things you can do to bring order and peace to your days.
Check out these five things you can do to start living more simply:
1. Deal with the clutter
Purge all that extra stuff– the things that you don’t use, need, or even remember that you have. An entire house can be overwhelming, so start in one room and work for 30 minutes at a time.
Take a closet, for example. Remove everything and then sort through it one item at a time. Make quick decisions to toss, donate, or keep–and be merciless. You probably won’t fix it, list it on eBay, or send it to your sister any time soon. If you were, you would have done it already.
If you absolutely have to, create a “maybe” box and fill it with a few really hard-to-decide items so they don’t derail your other quick decisions. Pack it up and store it out of sight. If you haven’t reached for it in a year…you know where it goes!
2. Stop buying all the stuff
We know Amazon makes it so easy, but they don’t have to live in your house. If you limit your buying habits to what you actually need, you’ll have less stuff—see tip #1 above—and you’ll have more money. Win-Win.
For some people, it’s difficult to escape the materialism trap, but there are so many better ways to find happiness, deal with stress, or be entertained. Try spending time with friends, taking a kickboxing class, or watching a movie. It’s much more fun and costs a lot less money.
For the things you do need, make a list and stick to it, whether that’s at the grocery store or online. For some things, you can buy used or even borrow if you’ll use it only once or twice. Make shopping decisions that will leave your wallet a little heavier and your home—and your life— a little lighter.
3. Re-evaluate your obligations
When you say yes to something, you say no to something—or someONE—else. An overscheduled day raises your stress level and certainly doesn’t allow you to live simply.
Find ways to free up your time for what’s most important to you. That means eliminating the things you don’t like and making room for what you enjoy, whether that’s a 20-minute catnap or a day-long Netflix binge. No judgment here.
Everyone has busy days, but when they’re filled with things that don’t lift you up, they’ll inevitably drag you down. Learn to say no and protect your time. Some of our favorite responses are, “I’d love to, but I just don’t have the time.” or “I appreciate you thinking of me, but I really have too much on my plate right now.” Voila! You’re off the hook.
4. Dial down your list of things to do
If you’re like most people, you have a never-ending list of things to do. There are two ways to manage that monster: delegate and divide your to-dos into days.
Your spouse, your kids, your friends, and anyone else you can find, they can all run errands, too. Choose a dry-cleaner that’s on your husband’s way home from work or have you kids return that cup of sugar to your neighbor. Order your groceries online and choose curbside pickup. You don’t have to do it all.
For the things you insist on doing yourself, limit your list to 2 or 3 tasks per day. When you work from an endless list, crossing off just a few items makes it seem like you haven’t done enough when you’ve actually accomplished quite a bit. Turn that feeling around and make a daily list that’s much more realistic, and more rewarding, too.
5. Limit your communication
Communication is the key to success. That might be true, but over-communication can be overwhelming, especially when much of it isn’t of any great importance. Between your work email and your personal email, your Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, you’re overstimulated and exhausted by noon.
Not only are you expected to respond to each of your 500 friends’ last social media posts, but that response needs to include the perfect non-edited looking picture with the funniest caption. Ahhh, social media.
Try taking a 30-day hiatus from social media and see how much extra time you have in your day. You’ll never want to go back.
As for email, that’s another story. While you’re working, commit to checking your email once every two hours. That’s it–no peeking, no checking it during your lunch break, or sending a quick response to just this one. You’ll be amazed at how much more productive you are when you’re not continually interrupted. You can do the same thing with your personal email. Check it once a day, or twice if you have to, but that’s it. Being at your email’s beck and call is no way to live. Be the boss and dial it back to simplicity.
6 tips for managing money when you have roommates
Having a roommate isn’t always ideal, but for many people, it’s often a financial necessity. Managing money with roommates takes lots of communication and organization if you desire a friendly living arrangement—which I’m sure you do. While discussions of money and formal agreements can be an uncomfortable conversation, it’s also extremely important. Putting everything out on the table keeps everything clear and clarity keeps down the drama.
Here are a few tips on living with roommates and how to effectively manage money:
Create the house rules
Some say, “rules are meant to be broken,” but not having house rules can quickly create chaos and resentment in a living arrangement. The smell of dirty laundry lingering through the hallways or music blasting at 5:00am are definitely causes for concern. So before you bang on your roommate’s door, create rules and boundaries so expectations are clear. Rules about loud music, cleaning responsibilities, parties, privacy, etc., are just a few examples of things to outline in your rules. Once the rules are established, the house mates will have have a guide for what to do and not do. Take it a step further and print a copy for everyone to sign and place it on the refrigerator as a reminder. Because life can be unpredictable at times, always be open to discussing things you might have missed and be willing to create or modify rules as needed. While you don’t want your home to feel like Alcatraz, rules are necessary, and they help to prevent problems.
Split the bills you share
Discussions about which bills you’ll share and who will be responsible for ensuring they are paid on time each month will help lessen the drama and can keep you from becoming a star on the latest daytime court television show. In today’s technology-driven society, we rely on apps. To keep things simple, use apps like Splitwise to break down who owes what and make it easier to communicate about money. Free apps like Mint also help keep you on top of your finances. With Mint, you can easily link all your financial accounts, set up budgets, and receive alerts. Seeing all your bills in one location keeps you organized and aware of your finances. Plus, habits you develop early on about finance, credit, and budgeting will stick with you throughout life.
Make monthly payments easy
It’s difficult to do homework in the dark, and you can’t binge watch your favorite Netflix show without electricity. Forgetting to pay the power bill is not a mistake you want to experience. A simple way to track expenses is to post bills in a central location where all the roommates can see them and know when they are due. Another option is to create calendar alerts that will pop up on your phone—you can even invite your roommates to the calendar reminder. Apps like Venmo, PayPal, or CashApp are great ways for roommates to pay their portion of the monthly bills.
Put it in writing
Yes, put it in writing because taking someone’s word isn’t what a lawyer would advise you to do. Once you’ve decided to move in with someone and share expenses, documenting that agreement is vital to protecting yourself should a conflict arise. Keep a copy of the rules, the bills, and anything that might be important to your living arrangement. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned, and in those moments, you want to be sure you have documentation to protect yourself in the case of legal action. Once it’s signed, scan a copy, save it on your computer, and email it to yourself. Because if you can’t prove what was agreed upon, a judge will not take your word.
Have those awkward conversations
Keep the lines of communication open by having monthly meetings. Sitting down to discuss important (and not-so-important) matters is a great way to build healthy, long-lasting relationships. You don’t have to be best friends, but creating a bond can only help to make your home more pleasant. Ignoring problems won’t make them go away—in fact, it could make it worse. Because people’s moods can change from day to day depending on what they are dealing with, be open to healthy conversations that could lead to resolution. Work to create an inviting environment where you and your roommates can unwind and be at peace after a long day of school or work.
Don’t share food
If your roommates like frozen dinners and you like cooking, there’s going to be a huge problem. Consider the fact that a healthier lifestyle tends to be more expensive, while eating junk food or frozen food is relatively cheap and affordable for almost anyone. Personal frozen dinners tend to cost less than $5.00, while cooking a meal could cost about twice that, maybe triple. Simply put, eating styles vary from person to person, so save yourself the trouble of having to explain what you ate and who should pay more or less for groceries. Make it easy and just buy your own food.
6 ways to save on holiday travel
We try to fit a lot into our holiday budgets, and travel can account for a pretty big slice of the pie. But even if you’re just beginning to think about the costs of visiting loved ones this holiday season, it’s not too late to save.
About half (49%) of American adults plan to spend money on flights and/or hotels this holiday season — that’s 123.5 million travelers, according to a new NerdWallet study.
And though 36% of these travelers say they’d skip buying gifts for friends and family if they were spending a lot to visit them this year, that level of sacrifice may not be entirely necessary.
If you’re scrambling for last-minute ways to save on holiday travel, here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Start watching rates, like, yesterday
Those who travel over the holidays book their flights 7.7 weeks before their departure date, on average, the NerdWallet survey found. You may be able to beat other travelers to the punch by buying before that peak booking time.
Also, set up alerts through popular booking sites like Kayak or Google Flights to keep an eye on rates. If they start creeping up as your travel dates near, you’re better off buying earlier than holding out for a last-minute deal and getting caught with astronomical fares.
2. Get serious about freeing up more money
More than 7 in 10 (71%) people who travel for the holidays start saving in advance, the NerdWallet study found. But even if your budget is tight and your travel dates are coming up soon, you can still look for easy ways to free up money.
Limit all optional expenses, such as meals out and entertainment, for several weeks. After all, holiday travel is one big optional expense; sacrificing drinks after work with friends for a few weeks could cover the price of your checked bag and a rideshare or two.
3. Make your credit card work for you
Three-fourths (75%) of holiday travelers will put some or all of their travel expenses on a credit card, according to the survey. Depending on their card and how long it takes to pay off those expenses, they could be earning as they spend — be it cash on a cash-back card or points toward future travel on a travel rewards card. Also, they could be using already-earned points and rewards to help pay for this year’s travel.
Use the card that stands to benefit you the most — one with decent rewards rates or other travel benefits like trip protection or no foreign transaction fees.
4. Don’t pay interest
Credit card interest can quickly negate any benefits from using a rewards card and can make your travel even more expensive. Still, 5% of people who put last year’s holiday travel on a credit card are still paying for it today, according to the survey.
If you know it’s going to take a few months to pay off your holiday travel, make a plan to minimize the impact of your credit card transactions. Opening a card with an interest-free introductory term is one option. But if time or your credit doesn’t allow for a new card, budget for higher-than-mandatory-minimum payments until you can pay it off.
5. Keep shopping after you book
After you’ve booked your flight, your deal-hunting doesn’t have to end. Most airlines will issue a full refund within 24 hours of purchase, even on nonrefundable tickets. The specifics vary by airline — so read up on your airline’s 24-hour cancellation policies — but you may be able to cancel and rebook if you find a lower rate within that first day.
A similar strategy can be used on hotels: If you make a cancellable reservation, keep checking rates. If they go down, you can cancel and rebook at the same hotel (or a different one, if the opportunity arises). Again, know the specifics of your reservation — if you try to cancel too close to arrival you could lose money.
6. Let your presence be their present
If travel is your top priority and you’ve done what you can but are still coming up short, don’t be afraid to skip traditional gift-giving. You wouldn’t be alone — 36% of travelers said they’d consider doing the same thing if they were spending a lot to visit friends and family. You’ve worked hard to get there; maybe they can come to you next holiday season.
Financial Literacy: Adding up the benefits of starting young
It’s never too late to start your financial education, but the earlier, the better. From counting coins in kindergarten to planning for your retirement years, managing your finances is a critical part of your financial security — regardless of how much money you have.
Financial literacy now
A 2015 National Capability Study published by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), reported that two-thirds of Americans could not pass a financial literacy quiz that included basic questions about financial risk.
It also concluded that when age-appropriate personal finance topics, like budgeting, interest rates, and debt are incorporated into a school’s curriculum, it positively impacts the decisions, saving, and spending habits in adulthood.
Benefits of financial literacy
Basic financial literacy helps people become self-sufficient and achieve financial stability. This includes being able to save money, distinguish the difference between wants and needs, manage a budget, pay their bills, buy a home, pay for college, and plan for retirement. Literacy helps them create a realistic roadmap that will take them through their daily lives making good financial decisions.
Financial literacy also empowers people. With any lack of financial education, anything that resembles credit, interest rates, or investments is intimidating and leaves individuals at a disadvantage. We’re not saying you need to be a financial guru, but knowing how interest rates work, the difference between stocks and bonds, and the factors that impact your credit rating, for example, motivate consumers to ask questions and seek out their best options. It also decreases their stress level. When people are well versed in the state of their finances, they have the information they need to take action, modify their investment portfolio, or continue with their current strategy.
Understanding your finances helps reduce the risk of becoming a victim of fraud. Some tactics are easy to believe, especially when they’re coming from someone who seems to be knowledgeable and well intended. A basic level of financial education will help people recognize the red flags and, at the very least, talk with a trusted advisor before making any commitment.
Why it pays to start early
With any educational plan, you’re continually building on the information you’ve learned in the past. It’s the same with your personal finances. You need to know how money works before you spend it, and that takes time and practiced application. Too many of us have learned the value of a dollar a little too late in life or what it means to be drowning in a sea of debt.
Early education allows individuals to develop a healthy relationship with money. They learn the importance of earning, saving, and managing their debt, which leads to becoming a financially responsible adult. They’ll have the knowledge it takes to wisely decide how they’ll pay for college, a car, or even a mortgage and know the consequences of debt accumulation, budget-busting purchases, and high-interest predatory lenders. You shouldn’t have to experience a financial misstep to benefit from it. Start teaching financial responsibility when kids can still be kids and when they’re grown-ups, they’ll know no other way.
#GYFLT: How a Broke Millennial turned things around
If you live south of the Mason-Dixon line, Krispy Kreme doughnuts are a way of life. The glow of a “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign is enough to make you bang a U-turn across three lanes of traffic just to jump in line. But, did you also know that they can teach you about money? That’s how Erin Lowry’s dad taught her about net profits, and it ultimately defined her entrepreneurial career.
From doughnuts to dollars
In the summer of 1996, Erin set up shop alongside her mom’s yard sale and sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts to early morning deal hunters. At the end of the day, she was $30 richer, or so she thought. After her dad explained that she needed to repay him for the seed money she borrowed and compensate her sister for her help, Erin’s net profit was $20. She was devastated, as any seven-year-old would be. Looking back, however, Erin says it put her on a path towards understanding the value of a dollar and the work that goes into earning money.
Erin is now a personal money blogger and the founder of brokemillennial.com. It started as something she wrote for fun, a way to share tips and network with other millennials. But, as the number of subscribers began to grow, she knew her written words were filling a need. Erin has spent nearly seven years helping others, particularly millennials, navigate complicated and complex money issues. Her writing style is honest and open, funny and witty, but most of all, relatable. She doesn’t preach, and she promises no finger-wagging, just simple, practical advice that’ll help you get your financial life together.
Control or be controlled
When it comes to money, her mantra is: either you control your money, or your money controls you. Debt should be carefully managed, so it does not become an obstacle that holds you back from reaching your goals. No matter how much money you make, you can manage it wisely and live the way you want. Erin should know. After graduating from college, she lived in New York City, not exactly a cheap place to call home, making very little money.
Cutting costs is a necessity, but it’s not all about penny-pinching. That only gets you so far. Erin adopted habits that took her from financially scraping by to having money to save. She did it so well that in 2015 she wrote Broke Millennial: Stop scraping by and get your financial life together (#GYFLT). It’s a how-to money guide that includes everything from saving to simplifying to splitting the check. In her signature, fun, story-telling style, her book delivers relevant, real-world situations that are familiar to everyone. It’s filled with witty sarcasm, well-balanced strategies, and actionable advice about how to take back control of your money.
From saving to stocks
Erin’s second book, the next installment in the Broke Millennial series, just recently hit bookstore shelves. Broke Millennial Takes On Investing: A Beginner’s Guide to Leveling Up Your Money (#LUYM) is a guide to investing basics. She tackles questions like, should you invest while paying down a student loan? How do you sell and buy a stock? It’s for anyone who feels like they aren’t ready, don’t know enough, or think they don’t have the money to get into the market.
The idea of managing your money, digging yourself out of debt, and investing in the stock market can be terrifying, but they’re all necessary steps to building wealth and establishing financial freedom. Broken down into everyday language, it’s easy to understand and a lot less daunting.
Today, Erin still lives in New York with her husband, and her full-time job is building the Broke Millennial brand. You can check out her blog or her YouTube Show for great advice, tips, and information on everything money and millennials. Now go ahead–grab a cup of coffee and a doughnut and start getting your financial life together.
Tax Refund Touchdowns
So, you got a tax refund – now what? While you might have morphed into a human version of the “money-mouth face” emoji (🤑), fight the urge to treat yourself. Unless you’re debt free and have a nice chunk of change in your savings and retirement accounts, getting financially fit should be your priority over splurging on big-ticket items.
Here are five ways to use your refund responsibly:
Tackle your debt. If you’re carrying high-interest debt, paying it off should be your top priority. Paying interest sucks, and if you’re carrying a large balance on a credit card but only making the minimum payment each month, you may never feel like you’re getting ahead. Use your tax refund to pay off any debt you have. If your refund doesn’t cover everything, it’s time to figure out a debt-payoff plan.
Save it. More than half of Americans don’t have enough in savings to cover a $1,000 emergency, according to Bankrate. If you’re just starting out, money might be a little tight, making it even harder to build up your savings. Think about tossing your tax refund into your savings account so you’re better prepared for life’s little surprises. If your emergency fund already has enough money to cover at least 3–6 months of expenses, consider setting up another savings account for a specific goal, such as a travel fund or a down payment for a new car.
Donate it. Helping others gives us the warm-and-fuzzies, so why not use your refund for good? When your budget is tight, it can be hard to find extra money throughout the year, so donating the cash from your refund is a perfect opportunity to make a difference. Plus, your charitable donation could be tax-deductible next year.
Spend it (on something you need). The keyword here is need. If you’ve been putting off car repairs or minor medical or dental procedures, your tax refund could help you cover these larger, but necessary, expenses.
Spend it (on something you want). Okay, okay…I know I cautioned against splurging, but if you’ve stuck to your budget, saved, and stayed out of debt all year, you’ve earned the right to buy yourself something nice. Just don’t get carried away, of course!
I didn’t get a huge refund. Did I do something wrong? Nope, not at all! Your tax refund isn’t free money; it’s money you overpaid to the government over the course of the year. If you owe money on your taxes, it means you didn’t pay enough out of each check. Take the time to periodically check your withholding and adjust if necessary (the IRS has a handy calculator on their website that can help you out). Paying attention to your withholding is important for two reasons: 1) if you don’t pay enough from each paycheck over the year, you could face an unexpected bill when you file your taxes, and 2) if you normally get a large refund, you can opt to have less withheld up front—your paychecks will be a little higher, giving you more flexibility each month.