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New Year, Better Finances: 5 Resolutions for 2019
Every year, millions of people make New Year’s resolutions – whether it’s trying to lose weight, find a new job, reduce stress, and everything in between. One popular resolution is saving money, but this goal can be difficult to achieve. So, here are five, simple ways to start (and keep!) your financial resolution for 2019.
Create a budget with your goals in mind
Set a financial goal, and with that in mind, make a realistic budget that you’ll stick with throughout the year. If you’re not sure where to start, check out free financial wellness tools like BALANCE or GO Financial Education. Don’t forget to take advantage of budgeting tools. With apps like Mint and other online programs, budgeting has never been simpler! Or, if you like to keep things traditional, create a spreadsheet with all of your expenses and income, and lay out a plan so you’re able to put some cash back into a savings account. And speaking of savings…
Stop shopping, start saving
Since the holiday shopping season is over, it’s time to focus on savings. It’s extremely simple to set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings using online banking. If you’re currently setting aside $20 each month, consider upping that amount by $10 (or whatever amount works for you). By saving $30 per month instead of $20, you’ll have an extra $120 by the end of the year. Odds are you’ll hardly miss that extra $10 per month.
Pick a weekly “no-spend” day
Start the new year with a new habit by committing to “no-spend” days. Once a week, try not to spend anything. Cook the food in your fridge or cupboard (get creative!), and make your morning latte at home with some steamed milk. If your no-spend day falls on a weekday, prepare breakfast and lunch the night before, wake up a few minutes early to make coffee, and cook for dinner later that night. Find some free entertainment by watching a movie or playing a board game with family and friends. It’ll be a fun reminder that you’ve kept a couple extra bucks in your pocket for the week.
Clean out your wallet
No, we’re not talking about the mess of receipts you may have stashed in your purse (we’re all guilty). Do you have more credit cards than you bargained for? Take a closer look – are you using all of your cards enough to warrant any annual fees or payments? If not, consider which ones are worth keeping, or if it’s time to upgrade to a credit card that better fits your needs. If you’ve opened up a store card for a couple of benefits here and there, but have to pay an annual fee or an insane interest rate, is it still worth it? Ask yourself these questions and lighten the load in your pocket by closing a few cards. (Heads up: if you’re concerned about your credit score, think before you close long-time cards. Length of credit plays a major role in your credit rating.)
New year, no debt
Saving money is key, but it’s hard to save when your money is going toward paying off debts. Make 2019 the year you take control of your debt. One option is to consolidate (or combine) multiple debts into one, which usually means a more favorable interest rate and payoff terms. Plus, you’ll have one payment versus many. Before consolidating your debts, do the math to make sure you’re getting a good deal and a manageable payment. Consolidation is best used with student loans and credit card debt, so see what works best for you. Keep in mind if you consolidate federal student loans, you may lose certain borrower benefits from your original loans, such as interest rate discounts.
Balance transfers are another option for managing and reducing credit card debt. Many cards offer balance transfer perks, such as reduced or no interest for a specified period of time. As long as you’re able to pay off the transferred balance in full within the timeframe, you’ll save money on interest and knock out your higher rate debt sooner.
What are your financial resolutions for 2019? Let us know in the comments!
Smart ways to save money on Amazon
If you’re buying something online, chances are you’re headed to Amazon.com. Selection, convenience, service, and price are what keep consumers coming back day in and day out and bookmarking the site as one of their favorites.
Don’t be fooled, though. While Amazon’s prices are typically among the lowest, that’s no reason to stop shopping around. But, if price comparisons bring you back to old faithful, there may still be room for savings.
Here are some smart tips for getting the best deals on Amazon.
1. Subscribe and Save
If you’re purchasing items on a regular basis, like laundry detergent, baby food, dog treats, or paper products, be sure to “subscribe and save.” Choose your schedule and quantity, and you’ll receive automatic deliveries of your favorite items when you’re running low. The Subscribe and save feature offers discounts on thousands of items, free shipping, and lets you save up to up to 15% on your entire order. If you’re a Prime Member, you could save up to 20%!
2. Check out Today’s Deals
Electronics, toys, books, snacks, jewelry, fashion, and more–Amazon offers new deals every day. Shop Lightening Deals, Deal of the Day, and Limited-Time Deals when you visit Amazon, or let the deals come to you and opt for a Daily Deals email.
3. “Clip” Amazon coupons
Bet you didn’t know you could use coupons at Amazon.com, did you? From vitamins to motor oil, goldfish crackers to flip-flops, Amazon offers online coupons that further discount your purchases. Simply click the coupon button and choose the offers that apply. Add your coupon-eligible product to your cart and the discount will be automatically applied at checkout. Want a list of available coupons each week? Subscribe and receive Amazon’s weekly coupon email.
4. Send in the trackers
Price tracker apps like Honey will scan pricing from all other Amazon marketplace sellers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. It’ll also give you the price history for the last 30, 60, or 120 days and send you an email alert if the price drops. At checkout, it’ll automatically apply the best promo and coupon codes. Don’t shop on Amazon without it.
5. Double dip with Ebates
If you don’t have an Ebates account, you’re missing out on some serious cash back opportunities. Use the portal to shop on Amazon.com and you can earn an additional 3-5% in rewards, depending on the item.
6. Determine your Prime needs
Amazon Prime offers members free two-day shipping, unlimited photo storage, music and video streaming, access to special discounts and a whole lot more. Sign up for and take full advantage of the 30-day trial before you buy the $99 annual membership to get that extra month of benefits. Then, be sure to add your family members to your account through Amazon Household so they can share in the savings, too!
If you’re a college student with a school email address than ends in .edu, Amazon offers a free six-month trial membership. Once the trial period expires, it’ll upgrade to an Amazon Prime Student membership that only costs $49 a year.
If you’re not into long commitments, you can opt for the Monthly Prime memberships. It’s only $12.99 for a traditional membership and $6.49 for a student membership.
Amazon’s minimum amount required to qualify for free shipping is only $25. Consider the amount and frequency of your Amazon purchases to determine whether or not any Prime membership is a smart investment for you.
7. Slow down for credits
As you check out and place your order, you’ll be prompted to choose a shipping option. Prime members who forgo the free two-day shipping will receive promotional credits that can be applied to future purchases. Be sure to note the expected delivery dates for each option. Sometimes there’s only one additional day you’ll have to wait, which is well worth the savings, in some cases.
8. Get rid of your old stuff
Amazon’s trade-in program will take your old tablets, DVDs, CDs, phones, video games, speakers, and books in exchange for Amazon gift cards. Clean out some clutter, make a few bucks, and buy anything you want on Amazon.
9. Return it for free
With any Amazon purchase, be sure to look for the free returns feature on the item’s product page. Amazon won’t refund your original shipping fee, but a free return option may be the deciding factor between two products or two sellers. It will also allow you to buy with confidence knowing that you won’t have to keep something you don’t absolutely love.
10. Consider the value of nearly new
Check out Amazon Warehouse, a collection of open-box items, including tablets, laptops, TVs, appliances, tools, home goods, clothing and more. The items are typically returns that may have been used, refurbished, or repackaged, but the condition is always clearly noted before you buy. Whether it’s in excellent, good, or fair condition, you still won’t be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, but if it’s that important, you can purchase one from Square Trade.
Spring Cleaning for Your Finances
Spring is the time when many people start thinking about purging clutter — that sounds good to us. We suggest expanding that purge to reducing your paperwork, trimming your expenses, and boosting your savings. Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
If it wasn’t one of your New Year’s resolutions, now is a great time to review your budget and see where you can tidy up your spending. Even if managing your budget was one of your resolutions, take the time to see how you’re doing so far. Are there other areas where you can cut spending?
- Cutting the Cord – The movement to replace cable or satellite service and opting for streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu is gaining momentum.
- Gym Membership – If you have a gym membership, are you getting your money’s worth? If not, cancel it. There are other ways to burn those calories that don’t require a membership.
- Cell Phone – Consider changing your plan or even going pre-paid to free up some cash.
- Dining Out – Cook more meals at home. Pack lunches for work or school.
Automate Your Savings
Saving is easy to forget, and money has a way of vanishing when it isn’t designated for a specific function. You have to be deliberate about saving to achieve your goals. By automating the process, you can put a plan in motion and let it take care of itself.
- Set Up Automatic Transfers – If your paycheck is direct deposit, have a set amount from each check go directly to savings. You’ll be less tempted to spend it if it never hits your checking account.
- Round-up Savings Apps – Some apps will round up the change from each debit card transaction and deposit it into a savings or investment account. For example, swipe your card for $4.65 and $0.35 automatically gets transferred into a savings or investment account, depending on the app.
Set Up Automatic Payments
Setting up automatic payments either through online bill pay or your service provider’s website (i.e., cell phone, credit cards, utilities, etc.) makes your finances more efficient and reduces the stress of remembering due dates or paying a late fee because you missed a payment. Keep an eye on your account to ensure you have sufficient funds to cover the automatic payments.
Organize or Shred Old Documents
Reducing the clutter of old documents and paperwork can be refreshing. The tips below can help you do it the right way:
- Shred, Don’t Toss – Throwing old documents in the trash increases your risk of identity theft. Shred them in a shredder. If you don’t own a shredder, Georgia’s Own hosts shred day events for members to securely get rid of paperwork.
- Tax Documents – Don’t get too carried away with purging your documents. Remember, the IRS has up to six years to audit you. Hang on to tax returns and supporting documents for at least that long.
- Scan or Snap – If you’re unsure whether you’ll need a document, you can scan a copy to your computer or snap a photo of it with your phone.
Cut Down on Junk Mail
One of the best ways to reduce paperwork is to keep it from ever showing up. You can opt out of pre-screened offers for credit cards and insurance at optoutprescreen.com. Less junk mail means less paperwork to shred.
How to Build an Emergency Fund
Everyone needs to save for the unexpected. When you have nothing in reserve, anything unexpected becomes an emergency that has to go on a credit card.
It could be a job loss or medical bill — or something as small as a car repair or a lost phone. A financial buffer can keep you afloat in a time of need and let you recover without going into debt. That’s why an emergency fund is more important when you’re barely scraping by, rather than later on, when you might have more savings, better credit, home equity or a higher income.
“One of the first steps in climbing out of debt is to give yourself a way to not go further into debt,” says Liz Weston, NerdWallet columnist.
To build an emergency fund, consider these questions.
How big should my emergency fund be?
The exact answer to this depends on your financial circumstances and how much insurance you have, but a good rule of thumb is to have enough to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses. This can give you enough time, for instance, to find a new job or supplement your unemployment benefits until you do.
But anything in the bank is better than nothing — and $500 will get you out of many scrapes that would otherwise put you in the hole.
Start small, Weston says, but start.
Where do I put my emergency fund?
Since an emergency can strike at any time, having quick access to your cash is crucial. Consider a savings account, since the money will be safe and you’ll be able to withdraw it without hassle. This should be a separate account from one you use daily so you’re not tempted to dip into your reserves.
What steps do I take to start an emergency fund?
- Set a monthly savings goal.This will get you into the habit of saving regularly and will make the task less daunting. Contributing a small percentage from each paycheck, for instance, is one way to do this.
- Keep the change.When you get $1 and $5 bills after breaking a $20, drop some in a jar at home. When the jar fills up, move it into your savings account.
- Tidy up your checking account.If there’s money left at the end of a pay period, move some into your emergency fund.
- Save your tax refund. The average refund is in the thousands, which can give a good boost to your emergency savings. (See “9 Smart Ways to Spend Your Tax Refund.”) When you file your taxes, consider having your refund directly deposited into your emergency account. Alternatively, adjust your W-4 tax form so that you have less money withheld, and direct the extra into your emergency fund.
- Cut back on costs.If you’re falling short on saving, see which parts of your monthly spending you can trim. Some ways to do this include carpooling, cooking meals at home, saving leftovers and avoiding small daily purchases like takeout coffee. Put the money in your emergency fund as you “save” it.
- Get supplemental income.If you have the time and willpower, get a second job or sell unused items at home to accumulate more money for your fund. (See “10 Ways to Find Fast Cash, More Savings.”)
- Assess and adjust contributions.Check in after a few months to see how much you’re saving, and adjust if you need to put in more. This is especially important if you go through a major life event such as marriage or a move to a new city.
An emergency fund is for emergencies
What’s an emergency? Something that affects your health or ability to earn money.
What’s not an emergency?
- Holidays, birthdays and mental pick-me-ups for yourself or significant others.
- A car repair if you can hitch a ride or take the bus.
- A great deal on something you don’t need.
- Expenses that aren’t surprises, like car insurance.
Draw a line between savings for emergencies and savings for anything else. In fact, once you’ve hit a reasonable threshold of emergency savings, Weston says, it’s a good idea to begin another account for irregular but inevitable items such as car maintenance, vacations and clothing.
5 Tips to Rein in Holiday Spending
The overflowing expectations around the holidays can entice us to spend more than we can afford. Not only do we have bills to face once the decorations are put away, but 43% of respondents to an Experian survey say extra expenses also make the holidays hard to enjoy.
Now’s the time to plan so your December spirit doesn’t lead to January bills. We asked five experts on frugality what they do to avoid holiday overspending.
Recognize your triggers
Donna Freedman, author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times,” says you need to recognize your spending triggers. Are you trying to make the holidays more magical for your family? Can you resist anything but a great a deal? Knowing what drives your spending can help you stop. Here’s what she recommends:
- Carry your list with you even after you’ve finished shopping. When you see a killer deal or a gift that’s “more perfect” than the one you’ve wrapped up, use the list to remind yourself you’re done.
- Make a game out of spending little or nothing for a gift. Freedman likes things that represent “a stirring tale of thrift.” She uses one such gift, a vase with a hole in it, to keep money she finds — on the ground, in vending machines, wherever — for giving to charity each holiday season.
- Consider limiting children to four gifts, asking them to choose “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.” It helps children set realistic expectations.
Work with a list
For Tiffany Aliche, aka “The Budgetnista,” step one is making a list of whom you plan to give to and how much you plan to spend. Make sure your gift budget fits into an overall holiday budget that accounts for shipping, decorations, food, travel and entertainment. Her top tips:
- Check that list twice. It’s easy to forget thank-you gifts for coaches, teachers, the letter carrier, party hosts. Decide what you want to give each person. Once the list is set, adjust it as you go to keep planned gifts and your budget in sync.
- Use technology. “Price-check online before you buy or go in a store,” Aliche says. Know your price range for every gift on your list and set up price alerts. One of Aliche’s new favorites is the Chrome extension Wikibuy, which looks for better offers as you shop online and applies the best coupon when you check out.
- Consider making an experience the gift. If you’re already planning a holiday outing with a group of friends, can you agree it will be a gift to one another?
Match your approach to your values
The blogger who writes under the pseudonym Mrs. Frugalwoods says her family’s frugality is “larger than the holidays.” She notes that while the season is “wonderful and it’s fun, it’s not an excuse to dip into your emergency fund.” Her tips:
- Decide what’s most important and spend accordingly. For her, it’s a family gathering. She hosts Thanksgiving and cooks from scratch rather than buying pre-made or going to a restaurant.
- Shop with gift cards or cash-back rewards. She prefers giving an item rather than a gift card but occasionally passes along gift cards that were given to her. It’s regifting at its finest.
- Let your values be your guide. She favors “small, reasonable gifts” and shopping locally.
Know the difference between cost and value
Mary Hunt, the author of “Debt-Proof Living,” blogs at Everyday Cheapskate. She says it’s important to understand that your credit limit is not a license to spend. Try these instead:
- Shop with cash only; leave your checkbook and credit and debit cards at home. Need more cash?See if you can cut your grocery bill temporarily by using up items in your freezer or pantry, or track down unused gift cards to fund holiday shopping.
- Know the difference between a gift’s value and its cost. A $20 toaster that you found on sale for $8 is still a $20 gift. If you budgeted $20 but paid less, that doesn’t mean you owe the recipient $12 more in gifts.
- Define “gift” more broadly. Can you give your expertise, such as setting up a website for a tech-challenged friend? Do you have a treasured possession to pass on? One of Hunt’s favorite gifts was vintage crystal that belonged to her mother-in-law: “She wrapped it up for me for Christmas and got to see me enjoying it, rather than just leaving it to me in her will.”
Plan for thrift
Having a plan is central to being thrifty, says Gary Foreman, founder of The Dollar Stretcher. “If you don’t have a plan, you’ll overspend,” he says, noting that some people don’t finish paying for Christmas until April or May. His tips:
- Subscribe to online price alerts so you’ll know about price drops for a specific item or for travel. (And unsubscribe later so continual alerts don’t tempt you to spend.)
- Regifting is OK, especially when you know someone will love something you can’t or won’t use.
- The thought really does count, and thoughtful gifts can be inexpensive. One of his favorite gifts came when his daughter tracked down an ethnic bakery to get him some kolaches, Bohemian pastries his grandmother used to make. “Once you have needs met, the gifts that make a difference are the ones that say the giver knows who we are. Those are the best and most memorable gifts,” he says.
Millennials saving for uncertain future
How are millennials (we)Â saving for an uncertain future? According to an article by Michael Douglass from CNNMoney, millennials are saving earlier for retirement than their parents were. This is great news for us, but unfortunately the financial outlook is dimmer than in years past. In fact, recent figures from the Employee Benefit Research Institute state that millennials may need to DOUBLE how much we areÂ saving for retirement. This is due in part toÂ expert projections of howÂ the stock market will perform in years, and decades to come. Experts have stated they expect to see a steady decline in average stock gains. In addition to the declining stock market, Social Security might not be available for us when we turn 67.
What to do with such a glum outlook? Well, first things first, you need to have a plan. Do you know how much money you need to save for retirement? Does your job offer a 401k plan with a match? If not, have you considered opening an IRA and investing in mutual funds? Experts say you should beÂ saving roughly 10% to 15% of your income to live comfortably in retirement.Â Some expertsÂ suggest as much as 25% to ward off the potential financial woes of the future economic climate. Starting earlier is better, so the sooner you can start saving, the better off youâ€™ll be. Even a few years can make a substantial difference.
Here are a few quick tips to help you along your path to retirement:
- Have a plan
- Know your retirement savings goals
- Pay yourself first â€“ set aside a planned percentageÂ of money from each paycheck (preferably at least 10-15% or more, if possible)
- Talk to a financial advisor about your situation (they can be free of charge)
- Perform regular assessments of your retirement accounts and contributions to make sure that you’re on track for your goals
- Adjust your contributions as necessary to meet your goals
- Donâ€™t live beyond your means â€“ if you are living paycheck to paycheck, reassess your situation and find ways to make cuts or, better yet, increase your income earning potential
RetirementÂ savings plan
Investment expertsÂ suggest you should save double your annual income by the age of 35.Â The chart below is an â€œestimatedâ€ projection based on a starting annual income of roughly $35k at age 21, with regular 3%Â annual cost of living raises, a regular contribution of roughly 10% of your paycheck, and aÂ 3% rate of return from your retirement account.
*The retirementÂ chart isÂ forÂ illustration purposes only, and not to be used as a guidepost.Â
Note: This blog post is intended as informational only, and is not investment advice, consult a financial advisor before making any financial investment decisions.