How We Paid Off Over $45K of Debt in 11 Months

It seems pretty normal to me now but people still drop their jaws when I tell them we’ve paid over $45K on our loans in less than a year. We still have a year to go and most days I…

The post How We Paid Off Over $45K of Debt in 11 Months appeared first on Modern Frugality.

Source: modernfrugality.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Budgeting Help

Free!

How Mint offers budgeting help

Ready to start budgeting and tracking your money? See our article Budgeting Tips from Mint — and subscribe to our blog for more budgeting help.

Budgeting Calculators

We’ve also got some calculators that can help you figure out exact dollar amounts for your budget:

How Much do I Need for Emergencies? Saving enough money for emergencies is the first step in setting a budget. Don’t be caught by surprise. How much do you need in your emergency fund?

How Much Should I Save to Reach my Goal? Are you budgeting for a house, vacation or retirement? Quickly find out if you’re saving enough to reach your goals on schedule.

Value of Reducing or Foregoing Expenses. Small changes in your daily routine can add up to big budget savings. Find out how much.

How Much Does Inflation Impact my Standard of Living? How much will you need in 5, 10 or 30 years to maintain your standard of living?

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Budgeting help is only a few seconds away. Just create a budget with Mint. Sign up now

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9 Ways to Support Small Businesses Without Breaking the Bank

We all have our favorite small businesses, including our go-to date night restaurant and favorite thrift store. These places serve more than great food and looks — they build jobs in the community, put children through school, and are the realization of your neighbor’s dream. 

These stores are built on hard work and love, and supply some of the best quality products you can find. Small businesses are a great sign of a thriving economy, but they’re also the first to suffer from economic downturns, like 2020’s COVID-19 recession. This is why it’s more important than ever to find ways to support your community’s businesses.

There are many reasons why small business success is vital. Not just for the economy but for our communities. That’s why Small Business Saturday (November 28) is one of our favorite times of the year, and why we collected these ways you can support small businesses without breaking the bank (or leaving the house!).

Shop Small Businesses

Shopping small is the easiest way to support community businesses and clear your holiday list. Shopping locally doesn’t have to drain your wallet, either.

Small businesses generate 44% of U.S. economic activity.

1. Skip the Hallmark Card and Support a Local Artist

Cards are a classic gift for any and all celebrations. They’re small, affordable, and easy to personalize. This year skip the grocery store and see what artists you can support while still getting beautiful and unique gifts for your family and friends. 

Most cities will have galleries, boutiques, and even tourist shops that display locally printed and designed cards to choose from. If you don’t have a shop near you, you can browse thousands of creators on Etsy to find the perfect design for each of your loved ones. 

2. Send Gift Cards

Gift cards are perfect for acquaintances, long-distance giving, and little acts of kindness every now and then. Instead of collecting Amazon and Starbucks cards, see what your local spots have to offer. 

Most restaurants and stores offer a gift card option, and you don’t have to waste the plastic! Send your gift via email to anyone, anywhere. So go ahead and thank your first mentor for their glowing reference with a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. 

3. Shop Throughout the Year

It’s true that handmade products can get pricey, but you’re ultimately paying for quality. If you’re already pinching pennies for the holiday season, start thinking about next year. Buying gifts for loved ones as you find them throughout the year is the best way to collect beautiful gifts without using credit. Plus, small businesses can use the boost year-round. 

Show Support From Home

Mockup showing someone fill in an instagram story template with favorite shops.

Download button for instagram story template.

Most of us have a budget that prevents us from buying a new wardrobe every month and eating out every weekday, so it just isn’t feasible to buy from all of our favorite local artisans all of the time. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them, you’ll just have to get creative to show your support from home. 

4. Share Your Favorite Products

When you do buy something new, take a photo! Sharing your favorite finds online and tagging the store is a great way to promote their products and quality to your friends and family. Even if you’re not buying, sharing a wishlist or their newest product could earn them another sale or new followers. 

“I think people forget that their voice has influence, whether they are a huge celebrity or a humble stay at home mom. It’s amazing just what one post can do for small business.” — Autumn Grant, The Kind Poppy

5. Write a Review

You should let the world know when you find a shop you love. From Google and Yelp to a company Facebook page, leave a review to let others know they’re in good hands. Positive reviews are some of the best tools businesses have to convert sales. 

“These types [local] of businesses live and die by word of mouth. Their reviews are everything to them. Now that everyone can look up the average rating of a business or service, it’s vital for businesses to collect positive, honest reviews.” — Dan Bailey, WikiLawn Lawn Care

If you do leave reviews, detailed thoughts and photos perform the best. These give the consumer plenty of information and help your review seem authentic. Plus, reviews can help platforms like Etsy and Google know the business is valued. 

6. Refer a Friend

Tell your friends when you find a new shop or service and share the love. Your friends trust you and likely have a lot of shared interests, so this word of mouth is a great way for businesses to earn customers. 

“A referral is the single best compliment to a business owner. Trust me.” — Brian Robben, Robben Media

If you have friends and family from out of town you may also want to keep your favorite businesses in mind for when they visit. Keep a list of local restaurants, cafes, services, and shops that they can’t get anywhere else and take your friends on a local tour. 

Keep in Touch

Businesses have more ways than ever to keep you in the know, so make sure you’re subscribed to keep in touch! Newsletters and social media are a good way to keep your local faves and their promotional offers top of mind. 

Mockup showing someone filling in their wishlist on instagram.

Download button for holiday wishlist instagram template.

7. Sign-up For Newsletters

Most businesses send regular emails to notify you and other customers of their store details and deals. Newsletters are great ways to find coupons, sales, and new items you’ll adore. Just subscribing isn’t enough, though. Make sure you actually read their news and whitelist the email so you never miss a thing. 

8. Follow and Interact With Their Social Channels

Social media is another easy way to stay in the know; it can also organically promote a business. When you follow a business, platforms learn more about who else may be interested in their offers. Stay active and like and comment on their posts, too, to increase their visibility and trust with other shoppers. 

9. Swing By the Shop

Ultimately, the best way to support a business is to stop by and visit. You never know when something will catch your eye, and it’s a great way to share your find with friends. You may also get the chance to talk with the owner and learn more about the business while sharing your support. 

“Drop a note to them of encouragement. Tell them why you love them and what they mean to you and the community…We’ve been absolutely floored when people have taken time out of their day to write us a note, telling us how much they like us/our product.” — Meaghan Tomas, Pinch Spice Market

No matter the product or service, small business owners will appreciate hearing that you love their shop and can benefit from your support. Tag a friend, buy a gift card, or write a review to help your favorite stores without busting your budget. 
Small Business Administration | G1ve 

The post 9 Ways to Support Small Businesses Without Breaking the Bank appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It’s also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that’s time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you’re already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you’re saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What’s the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you’re taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

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