12 Habits of Debt Free People

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Getting out of debt is not easy, but it is possible. Thousands of people do it every year. They do it because of some things they each do. These are the habits of people who are debt free.

habits of people who are debt free

There is no greater feeling in the world than not having debt hanging over your head.  Whether you’ve worked hard to pay off your debts, or never got yourself into a financial bind before, there are things you do to remain financially fit.

If you are struggling with paying off your debt, these folks may be able to help:  Call 866-948-5666.

While we share the secrets to help you get out of debt, staying there can be tough.  It is a change in lifestyle which requires you to give up some bad habits and pick up some new (and better) good ones!  Here are ten habits of debt-free people!

THE 12 HABITS OF DEBT FREE PEOPLE

The 12 habits of debt free people -- strive to follow their lead

1. They are patient

People are debt free all of this in common. When you don’t have debt, you learn to be patient.  You know that all good things come in time.

For instance, if you know you need a new car that you need to start saving now and build up the cash.  It might take three years to get there, but you can do it.

Patience pays off as you can pay for your vehicle in cash rather than having to take out a loan and getting into debt once again.

 

2. Responsible for their actions

The debt free person is responsible with money.  Whether they are 20 or 60, they know the value of a dollar.  They understand and follow their budget and do not allow themselves to get into financial troubles.

When someone who is debt free makes a money mistake, they own it.

 

3. Material items do not matter

When it comes to “stuff” people who are out of debt know that this is not what matters.  Sure, you could have the newest TV, the fastest car and the biggest house — but at what cost?  They know the things that matter most in life and know that money can’t buy them.

In fact, for most debt free people, what matters more in life are experiences rather than things.  They know items will not be around forever, but that creating memories can last a lifetime.

 

4. They live below their means

People who do not have debt do not spend more than they make.  In fact, they often spend much less.  They are saving for the future and increase their emergency fund for that “just in case moment.”

When you are content, you do not need to spend more than you make.  You find contentment with what you have and don’t try to keep up with the Jones’s.

 

5. Think long-term

If you have debt, all you can see what is right in front of you.  That is your debt

People have no debt can see further ahead and plan accordingly. They plan for the big purchase. The emergency fund is ready for the unexpected.   They are prepared for anything that may come up in the future.

 

Set goals to be debt free

6. They set goals

Just like people in debt, they work hard for their money.  However, what they often do is set financial goals.  They might want to go on vacation or get that fancy new handbag.  They set a goal on how to pay for it and then work to achieve it.

It might mean fewer dinners out to save the money to pay for it – but they do it.  Once they’ve saved enough money, then – and only then – will they take the plunge and make the purchase

 

7. They use cash

This may not be the case for everyone, but most people who are debt free use cash.

Even if they use a credit card, they never charge MORE than they have available in the bank to pay off the statement every. single. month.  They have learned that if they do not have the money, they can not spend.  They don’t buy now and worry about how to pay it off later.

 

8. They can say no

When you have a limited budget, you know what you can spend money on and what you can not.  Sure, it might be fun to go out to dinner with your friends on Friday night, but if it is not in the budget, they know and will pass.

 

9. They always save

The one habit that most debt free people have in common is savings.  When they get paid, they first pay themselves. It might be a company funded 401(k) account or even regular savings.  Whatever way they do it, they always save.

The same holds true for any windfalls.  If they get a bonus or money from a family member, they will often set it aside and save it rather than run out and spend it right away.

They also watch to make sure that they are not ever paying more than they should for the items they need. It might mean using a coupon or merely waiting for the right deal to come along.

 

10. They ask questions

One thing we did when we needed a new television, was negotiated a discount by paying with cash.  We knew it did not hurt to ask and for us it worked!  We were able to save 5% off of our purchase – just by using cash.

Those who are not in debt are not afraid to ask for discounts.  They are not afraid to ask for a lower interest rate (if they truly need a loan for any reason).  They realize all that can happen is that they could be told no.  However, they also know that they might get what they’ve asked for!

The 12 habits of debt free people

11. They pay attention to their bills

When the bill arrives, they not only look it over to ensure it is accurate, they also make sure it is paid timely.  By doing this, they are never late paying bills, which results in late fees.

What they do when the bill comes is always look it over and then place it somewhere they know they will remember to pay it on time.  They may make a notation on a calendar or spreadsheet to remind them of the due date — so it is always paid on time.

 

12. They know that money does not buy happiness

Many times, people in debt are in that situation because they’ve spent money trying to fill an emotion or other need.  Instead of shopping out of necessity, they buy out of emotion.

Shopping to fulfill a need results in nothing more than debt.  Take the time to figure out why you shop.  What is it you are trying to replace?  Work to make a change in that part of your life, and you will find that your desire to shop for fulfillment can fade.

 

Whether you are in debt $5,000 or $50,000, I know you are doing what you can to get out from under your financial burden.  If you start to practice the habits of debt free people now, you can put those ideas to work for you — and get your debts paid down even more quickly!

 

Be debt free with these habits

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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

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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The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly

If you get paid every two weeks, you’ve probably noticed extra money coming your way certain months. Maybe you even thought your company’s payroll made a mistake! But it’s no mistake. You get two magical months like this a year: when you suddenly have a third paycheck and—the best part is—your monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joy—provided you have a plan for that extra income.

Why does this happen in the first place? If you’re paid biweekly, you get 26 paychecks throughout the 52-week year. That means two months out of the year, you end up getting three paychecks instead of your regular two.

Those two extra paychecks can go a long way. But without a plan in mind, they can also disappear. Fast. The first budgeting trick to saving two paychecks is to find out when they will hit your account. Grab a calendar and write down your paydays for every month in a given year and highlight the two extras. Maybe even put calendar reminders in your phone so you can track when the additional funds will hit your account. The extra paychecks will fall on different days every year, so tracking them in advance is key.

Samuel Deane, a founding partner of New York City-based wealth management firm Deane Financial, says there isn’t one correct way to budget with an extra paycheck, but that it should depend on your personal situation and financial goals. You could decide to give yourself some extra room in your budget throughout the year, for example, or use the extra money for something specific.

There are a few different ways to budget with an extra paycheck.

How can I budget for an extra paycheck? Consider these 5 budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly:

1. Pay down (mainly) high-interest debt

Once you’re done jumping for joy at the realization of the third paycheck, consider how your budget with an extra paycheck could help you pay down debt. “The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt,” Deane says.

Before paying off debt with your new budget with an extra paycheck, make a list of all of your debts organized by balance and annual percentage rate (APR). Paying off the debt with the highest APR could save you the most money because you’re paying the most to carry a balance. Paying down a few low-APR, low-balance debts can also help you gain momentum and bring other financial benefits. For instance, if you owe close to your credit limit on a credit card, the high credit utilization—or card balance to credit limit ratio—could negatively impact your credit score.

If your budget with an extra paycheck includes debt repayment, you’ll start to owe less and have less interest accruing each month, freeing up even more cash from subsequent paychecks.

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“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”

– Samuel Deane, a founding partner of wealth management firm Deane Financial

2. Build an emergency fund

Paying down debt isn’t the only way to budget with an extra paycheck. “Taking a look at whether you have a sufficient emergency fund is pretty important,” says Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management.

An emergency fund of three to six months of your regular expenses can help you weather financial setbacks, such as a lost job or medical emergency, without having to take on new debt. Keeping these funds separate from your regular checking and savings accounts can help you keep them earmarked for the unexpected (and reduce the temptation to dip into them for non-emergency expenses). Places to keep your emergency fund include a high-yield savings account, certificate of deposit or money market account.

Sunny skies are the right time to save for a rainy day.

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If creating an emergency fund or adding to an existing one is on your to-do list, a budgeting trick to save two paychecks is to automatically transfer your extra paychecks into your emergency fund account.

3. Save for a big goal

If you want to save for a goal like a new car or home, or contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, contributing two full paychecks out of 26 can be a good start. “If a client is debt-free and doing well, they might be able to focus on other goals,” Deane says. If you’ve got a financial goal in mind, a budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly is to transfer your two extra paychecks from your checking account to a savings or retirement account right away.

Using your extra paycheck to save for a goal, like a new home or new car, is a smart budgeting hack if you're paid biweekly.

If you have a 401(k) through an employer and already contribute enough to get your maximum annual match, Deane says you may want to consider a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is for retirement, but it also allows first-time homebuyers who have held their account for at least five years to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a home, Deane says. Your budget with an extra paycheck could then go to either major goal.

Even loftier, “you could put aside money to start a business,” Deane says. If you plan on starting a business someday you could put away the paychecks annually and let those savings build as start-up capital.

4. Get ahead on bills

If you already have an emergency fund, are currently debt-free and are making good progress on your savings goals, try this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly and get a third paycheck: Pay certain monthly bills ahead of time.

“If you have the ability to prepay some of your bills, it can ease anxiety in the coming months,” Deane says.

Before using this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly, check with your providers to confirm that you will not be met with a prepayment penalty, and get up to speed on any prepayment limitations. Some providers may even offer a discount or incentive if you pay something like a car insurance bill all at once. You could also explore whether or not prepaying your bills makes sense for utilities, your cellphone or rent.

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5. Fund much-needed rewards

If you’re looking for budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly, consider that managing money isn’t only about dollars and cents. Emotions often play an important part in personal finance, and they’re often the root cause of people’s decisions. Accepting this fact could be an important part of successfully managing your money.

“From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, people should reward themselves for being responsible,” Stous says. “Basically, treat yourself.”

Perhaps you need a vacation from the daily grind, want to enrich or educate yourself or your family or simply want to get a date night at your favorite restaurant on the calendar. A budgeting trick to save two paychecks could be supplemented with some spending on yourself.

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“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

– Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting trick to save two paychecks

When you’re deciding how to budget with an extra paycheck, you might find yourself going back and forth between options.

“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt-reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal,” Stous says. “On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

Even though budgeting solutions are not the same for everyone, being disciplined and proactive about the savings opportunity of a third paycheck can help you form a strong foundation for your financial future.

The post The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raising a child to the age of 18 sets families back an average of $233,610, and that’s for each child. This figure doesn’t even include the cost of college, which is growing faster than inflation. 

CollegeBoard data found that for the 2019-2020 school year, the average in-state, four-year school costs $21,950 per year including tuition, fees, and room and board. 

Kids can add meaning to your life, and most parents would say they’re well worth the cost. But having your financial ducks in a row — before having kids — can help you spend more time with your new family instead of worrying about paying the bills.

10 Financial Moves to Make Before Having Kids

If you want to have kids and reach your long-term financial goals, you’ll need to make some strategic moves early on. There are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success, but here are the most important ones. 

1. Start Using a Monthly Budget

When you’re young and child-free, it’s easy to spend more than you planned on fun activities and nonessentials. But having kids has a way of ruining your carefree spending habits, and that’s especially true if you’ve spent most of your adult life buying whatever catches your eye.

That’s why it’s smart to start using a monthly budget before having kids. It helps you prioritize each dollar you earn every month so you’re tracking your family’s short- and long-term goals.

You can create a simple budget with a pen and paper. Each month, list your income and recurring monthly expenses in separate columns, and then log your purchases throughout the month. This gives you a high-level perspective about money going in and out of your budget. You can also use a digital budgeting tool, like Mint, Qube Money, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) to get a handle on your finances. 

Regardless of which budgeting tool you choose, create categories for savings (e.g. an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc.) and investments. Treat these expense categories just like regular bills as a way to commit to your family’s money goals. Your budget should provide a rough guide that helps you cover household expenses and save for the future while leaving some money for fun.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Most experts suggest keeping three- to six-months of expenses in an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund is even more crucial when you have kids. You never know when you’ll face a broken arm, requiring you to cover your entire health care deductible in one fell swoop. 

It’s also possible your child could be born with a critical medical condition that requires you to take time away from work. And don’t forget about the other emergencies you can face, from a roof that needs replacing to a job loss or income reduction. 

Your best bet is opening a high-yield savings account and saving up at least three months of expenses before becoming a parent. You’ll never regret having this money set aside, but you’ll easily regret not having savings in an emergency.

3. Boost Your Retirement Savings Percentage

Your retirement might be decades away, but making retirement savings a priority is a lot easier when you don’t have kids. And with the magic of compound interest that lets your money grow exponentially over time, you’ll want to get started ASAP. 

By boosting your retirement savings percentage before having kids, you’ll also learn how to live on a lower amount of take-home pay. Try boosting your retirement savings percentage a little each year until you have kids. 

Go from 6% to 7%, then from 8% to 9%, for example. Ideally, you’ll get to the point where you’re saving 15% of your income or more before becoming a parent. If you’re already enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this change can be done with a simple form. Ask your employer or your HR department for more information.

If you’re self-employed, you can still open a retirement account like a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) and begin saving on your own. You can also consider a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which let you contribute up to $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re ages 50 or older. 

4. Start a Parental Leave Fund

Since the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents, check with your employer to find out how much paid time off you might receive. The average amount of paid leave in the U.S. is 4.1 weeks, according to a study by WorldatWork, which means you might face partial pay or no pay for some weeks of your parental leave period. It all depends on your employer’s policy and how flexible it is.

Your best bet is figuring out how much time you can take off with pay, and then creating a plan to save up the income you’ll need to cover the rest of your leave. Let’s say you have four weeks of paid time off, but plan on taking 10 weeks of parental leave, for example. Open a new savings account and save weekly or monthly until you have six weeks of pay saved up. 

If you have six months to wait for the baby to arrive and you need $6,000 saved for parental leave, you could strive to set aside $1,000 per month for those ten weeks off. If you’re able to plan earlier, up to 12 months before the baby arrives, then you can cut your monthly savings amount and set aside just $500 per month.

5. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged way to save up for health care expenses, including the cost of a hospital stay. This type of account is available to Americans who have a designated high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), meaning a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals and at least $2,800 for families. HDHPs must also have maximum out-of-pocket limits below $6,900 for individuals and $13,800 for families. 

In 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA while families can save up to $7,100. This money is tax-advantaged in that it grows tax-free until you’re ready to use it. Moreover, you’ll never pay taxes or a penalty on your HSA funds if you use your distributions for qualified health care expenses. At the age of 65, you can even deduct money from your HSA and use it however you want without a penalty. 

6. Start Saving for College

The price of college will only get worse over time. To get a handle on it early and plan for your future child’s college tuition, start saving for their education in a separate account.  Once your child is born, you can open a 529 college savings account and list your child as its beneficiary. 

Some states offer tax benefits for those who contribute to a 529 account. For example, Indiana offers a 20% tax credit on up to $5,000 in 529 contributions each year, which gets you up to $1,000 back from the state at tax time. Many plans also let you invest in underlying investments to help your money grow faster than a traditional savings account. 

7. Pay Off Unsecured Debt

If you have credit card debt, pay it off before having kids. You’re not helping yourself by spending years lugging high-interest debt around. Paying off debt can free-up cash and save you thousands of dollars in interest every year. 

If you’re struggling to pay off your unsecured debt, there are several strategies to consider. Here are a few approaches:

Debt Snowball

This debt repayment approach requires you to make a large payment on your smallest account balance and only the minimum amount that’s due on other debt. As the months tick by, you’ll focus on paying off your smallest debt first, only to “snowball” the payments from fully paid accounts toward the next smallest debt. Eventually, the debt snowball should leave you with only your largest debts, then one debt, and then none.

Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is the opposite of the debt snowball, asking you to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum payment on other debt. Once that account is fully paid, you’ll “avalanche” those payments to the next highest-rate debt. Eventually, you’ll only be left with your lowest-interest account until you’ve paid off all of your debt. 

Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another popular strategy involves transferring high-interest balances to a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR for a limited time. You might have to pay a balance transfer fee (often 3% to 5%), but the interest savings can make this strategy worth it.

If you try this strategy, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt before your introductory offer ends. If you have 15 months at 0% APR, for example, calculate how much you need to pay each month for 15 months to repay your entire balance during that time. Any debt remaining after your introductory APR period ends will start accruing interest at the regular, variable interest rate. 

8. Consider Refinancing Other Debt

Ditching credit card debt is a no-brainer, but debt like student loans or your home mortgage can also weigh on your future family’s budget.

If you have student loan debt, look into refinancing your student loans with a private lender. A student loan refinance can help you lower the interest rate on your loans, find a manageable monthly payment, and simplify your repayment into one loan.

Private student loan rates are often considerably lower than rates you can get with federal loans — sometimes by half. The caveat with refinancing federal loans is that you’ll lose out on government protections, like deferment and forbearance, and loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure you won’t need these benefits in the future. 

Also look into the prospect of refinancing your mortgage to secure a shorter repayment timeline, a lower monthly payment, or both. Today’s low interest rates have made mortgage refinancing a good deal for anyone who took out a mortgage several years ago. Compare today’s mortgage refinancing rates to see how much you can save. 

9. Buy Life Insurance

You should also buy life insurance before having kids. Don’t worry about picking up an expensive whole life policy. All you need is a term life insurance policy that covers at least 10 years of your salary, and hopefully more.

Term life insurance is extremely affordable and easy to buy. Many providers don’t even require a medical exam if you’re young and healthy. 

Once you start comparing life insurance quotes, you’ll be shocked at how affordable term coverage can be. With Bestow, for example, a thirty-year-old woman in good health can buy a 20-year term policy for $500,000 for as little as $20.41 per month. 

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10. Create a Will

A last will and testament lets you write down what should happen to your major assets upon your death. You can also state personal requests in writing, like whether you want to be kept on life support, and how you want your final arrangements handled.

A will can also formally define who you’d like to take over custody of your kids, if both parents die. If you don’t formally make this decision ahead of time, these deeply personal decisions might be left to the courts.

Fortunately, it’s not overly expensive to create a last will and testament. You can meet with a lawyer who can draw one up, or you can create your own using a platform like LegalZoom.

The Bottom Line

Having kids can be the most rewarding part of your life, but parenthood is far from cheap. You’ll need money for expenses you might’ve never considered before — and the cost of raising a family only goes up over time.

That’s why getting your money straightened out is essential before kids enter the picture. With a financial plan and savings built up, you can experience the joys of parenthood without financial stress.

The post 10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Should I stay or should I go? Wrestling with the decision to quit a career

J.D.’s note: In the olden days at Get Rich Slowly, I shared reader stories every Sunday. I haven’t done that since I re-purchased the site because nobody sends them to me anymore. But earlier this year, Mike did. I love it. I hope you will too.

Earlier this year, I sent my wife a text message: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how freaked out would you be if I quit my job this afternoon?”

My wife and I had only been married a short while, but she’d known since our second date that I didn’t plan to work in my traditional job until normal retirement age. She also knew that I hadn’t been very happy at work in recent months.

We’re very compatible financially — both savers raised in working-class families that didn’t always have a lot. We make a point of having what we like to call “Fun Family Finance Day” from time to time. On Fun Family Finance Day, we do everything from competitively checking our credit scores to discussing questions that get at the root of our money mindsets to help us create our goals.

But this question wasn’t part of the plan. Not then.

And it was never on any of the lists of questions that we’d discussed with each other. It was like a pop quiz, a pothole in the smoothest relationship road I’d ever traveled…and I was the one putting it there.

Dreams Remain Dreams Without Doing

My wife and I rarely argue, but when we do it’s usually about food. It’s the kitchen and the grocery store that are our battleground. Our finances are fine. Thankfully, when you’re confident in the life you’ve created and the person you chose to build it with, it’s a lot easier to be honest about what’s on your mind.

That still doesn’t always mean you get the answer you want. Or the answer you were expecting. She responded: “Wait what. Kinda. What would you do?”

A completely reasonable and fair question. Not to mention one that I’d probably have to get comfortable answering from a lot more people.

I think my immediate reaction was: We talk about this stuff all the time, where is my, “No worries baby, YOLO!”? (I must have watched too many romcoms back before we cut cable from our lives.)

Being a grownup, it turns out, is actually really hard sometimes. I was about to learn that talking about something, and actually doing it, are a world apart.

Life is full of dreamers and doers. Sometimes those two personalities cross over. But there are plenty of people who go through life talking about so many things they’ll never have the courage to try — or the discipline and determination to follow through with.

Which person was I? The dreamer? The doer? Or that fortunate combination of both?

Standing on the Ledge

There’s a quote perched atop my bucket list of long-term goals:

“At some point, you will need to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself not just if this is something you wanted to do at one point, but if this is something you will want to have done.”

Words are meaningless without action. It was time for me to take that long look in the mirror. I thought back to one of the questions that my wife and I had previously discussed: What does money mean to you? To me, once I grew out of the “stuff accumulation” phase of my early- to mid-20s, my answer had always been freedom. Money meant freedom. To my wife, the answer was security. Money meant security.

You can probably see how freedom can conflict with security. That was the case here. Not only that, but I was asking to change the perfect plan, one that she was comfortable with and excited about.

That’s not one, but two shots against financial security. If I’d thought more about our financial blueprints and how they differ, I might have seen this coming from a mile away!

As I was standing on that ledge, about to quit my job, thoughts started to race through my mind. What did I actually have to lose if made the leap? Lots.

  • A happy relationship and marriage.
  • A secure job with solid income, not to mention a sixteen year investment in my career.
  • Great benefits, including lots of time off, health insurance, 401(k) — even a pension.
  • The ability to afford anything at any time without any real worry. (Our finances were already on autopilot.)
  • My work friends and work prestige.
  • The general day-to-day purpose of a job.
  • The opportunity to create generational wealth. If we worked until 65, the power of compounding would likely make us ridiculously wealthy.

Today at Get Rich Slowly, let’s perform a little exercise. Come stand in my shoes for a minute, won’t you? Join me on the ledge. Do you see the beautiful view? The endless opportunity? The excitement that’s felt only at the beginning of a grand adventure, an adventure where anything is possible?

Or do you get a queasy feeling in your stomach? Do you feel like you’ve lost your balance, like you’re on the edge of some great catastrophe? Do you see a frightening fall from grace? Does it make you want to back away immediately?

Let’s go back to what it felt like to make this decision…

Sitting on the ledge

My Situation

I’m 38 years old. I’ve worked for the same company since I was 22. Corporate insurance is all I know. I’m well paid. I work from home for a solid company with good benefits, plenty of time off, and I really enjoy most of the people I work for and with.

It’s the definition of stability — a solid guardrail protecting me from what lies over the ledge. So what’s the problem?

A year ago, I took a new position that seemed like a great opportunity. Only it wasn’t. The first misstep of my career. A year in, that spot has killed my enthusiasm and engagement. For the first time at work, I’m struggling to get things done.

As an extrovert that derives meaning from helping others, this feels like a prison. My job isn’t hard because it’s stressful. It’s hard because it’s boring me to death! And what are any of us doing thinking about personal finance and early retirement if we aren’t trying to make better use of our limited time on this planet?

There’s a project looming that would require some weekend work once in a while for the foreseeable future, I’ve avoided it in the past, but my luck is running out. My team — and, more importantly, my position — need to take it on. I understand completely. I just don’t want to do it.

At this point in life, my time is way more important to me than money. The weekends and vacations are what I live for. Adventures in the mountains with my friends, quality time with my wife, our dog, and our families – that’s what makes me feel alive.

Insurance? Meh.

No little kid ever said they wanted to work for an insurance company and play with spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations when they grow up. I wanted to be a baseball player, a sports writer, even a professional forklift driver. (Because what’s more badass than a forklift when you’re a little kid and your dad works at a marina?)

A Glimpse of the Other Side

My wife and I just got back from a delayed honeymoon to Alaska. To say it was incredible would be an understatement. Denali. Kenai. Majestic train rides. Fjords. Glaciers. Bears. Bald eagles. Whales. Hikes.

Life slowed down.

I somehow managed to read five books while doing so many other amazing things. During our more than two weeks off, I got to see what my mind was capable of when it wasn’t drowning in useless information and mundane tasks that consume my braindwidth.

We talked to people who had ended up in this wild place through a history of taking risks. Parents that had hitchhiked cross-country and ended up there back in the 70s. Can you imagine? Where we live, a fair number of people never leave their town or state!

Before the trip, I had tried to apply for a few positions. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out. I came home from an amazing glimpse into what life could be to a job that seemed like the polar opposite. (Isn’t that every vacation though?) I’ve felt like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole for a while now. Maybe normal life just isn’t for me anymore. Maybe I need something just a little less ordinary.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I’ve been practicing the classic tenets of personal finance since I was in my mid- to late-20s. I found an awesome woman in my mid-30s who just happens to be down with this lifestyle as well. We’re probably two to three years short of where we want to be based on our master plan of a fully-paid house and a really comfortable number in invested assets.

We’d likely fall somewhere between Agency and Security on the stages of financial freedom.

I know good jobs don’t grow on trees, especially where we live. The seasons of the economy are always shifting and there’s a chill in the air. Economic winter can’t be too far off. My wife still has a solid job, and we live a pretty simple life — albeit in an expensive part of the country. Our main splurge is travel, but otherwise we live well below our means.

All of this knowledge and preparation comes with a cost. Having options can be a burden too, because then you’re responsible for making hard decisions. And you’re responsible for the outcomes of those choices.

What other options are there?

  • Be a crappy employee/teammate, and still get paid? Plenty of people have played that game. Get a surgery or two, go out on leave, let performance management run its course for however long that takes, and keep cashing checks the whole time. I don’t think I have it in me to put people I respect through that. It’s just not who I am.
  • I work from home, and I still can’t bring myself to abandon my laptop. What if someone needs me?
  • Am I giving up too soon? The finish line seems just around the corner — somehow so close yet so far away.
  • Should I just suck it up and sell a little more of my soul? Slump my shoulders a little bit more as I trade another piece of myself for money I don’t need to buy things I don’t want?

As I go back and forth, sometimes I briefly wish I’d never found the personal-finance community. Like Neo in The Matrix, why’d I have to take the damn red pill? Being a mindless consumer wasn’t so bad. I would have invested 6-10% in my 401(k) with a traditional pension on top of it.

Forty years on autopilot would have produced a comfortable life of work, nice things — and maybe some time in old age to relax and travel.

Facing Freedom

The whole point of everything I’ve done since I started this journey was to be in control of my own life. To not be owned by things or circumstances. To have options. Freedom of choice. F-U money.

I have the corporate battle scars and survivor’s guilt to understand why that’s important.

I’ve sat on the phone while I heard that my old department was closing down. The sadness and tears in the room. Everyone that had taken me in, given me my chance, taught me the job…basically gone, casualties of a business decision.

I’ve seen people get laid off who are petrified because they don’t know how they’ll pay their bills in a couple of weeks. People will be okay eventually though, right?

What about my friend who was struggling last year and left the company? He committed suicide a few months later. Maybe everyone won’t be okay eventually. Depression runs in my family. Am I really built for this? That thought is haunting.

It’s been said that one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever make in life is whether to walk away or try harder. Every bone in my body tells me it’s time to walk away, to bet on myself.

The End?

About six months after the text exchange that blindsided my wife, with her support, I hit send on the scariest, most exciting and important one-line email of my professional career. It would also signify the unofficial end of it: “I will be resigning from my position effective Wednesday, June 26th.”

To combine a few lines from my favorite movie, The Shawshank Redemption, some birds just weren’t meant to be caged. It’s time to get busy living, or get busy dying.

Source: getrichslowly.org

529 Plans: A Complete Guide to Funding Future Education

Do you have kids? Are there children in your life? Were you once a child? If you plan on helping pay for a child’s future education, then you’ll benefit from this complete guide to 529 plans. We’ll cover every detail of 529 plans, from the what/when/why basics to the more complex tax implications and investing ideas.

This article was 100% inspired by my Patrons. Between Jack, Nathan, Remi, other kiddos in my life (and a few buns in the oven), there are a lot of young Best Interest readers out there. And one day, they’ll probably have some education expenses. That’s why their parents asked me to write about 529 plans this week.

What is a 529 Plan?

The 529 college savings plan is a tax-advantaged investment account meant specifically for education expenses. As of the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (in 2017), 529 plans can be used for college costs, K-12 public school costs, or private and/or religious school tuition. If you will ever need to pay for your children’s education, then 529 plans are for you.

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529 plans are named in a similar fashion as the famous 401(k). That is, the name comes from the specific U.S. tax code where the plan was written into law. It’s in Section 529 of Internal Revenue Code 26. Wow—that’s boring!

But it turns out that 529 plans are strange amalgam of federal rules and state rules. Let’s start breaking that down.

Tax Advantages

Taxes are important! 529 college savings plans provide tax advantages in a manner similar to Roth accounts (i.e. different than traditional 401(k) accounts). In a 529 plan, you pay all your normal taxes today. Your contributions to the 529 plan, therefore, are made with after-tax dollars.

Any investment you make within your 529 plan is then allowed to grow tax-free. Future withdrawals—used for qualified education expenses—are also tax-free. Pay now, save later.

But wait! Those are just the federal income tax benefits. Many individual states offer state tax benefits to people participating in 529 plans. As of this writing, 34 states and Washington D.C. offer these benefits. Of the 16 states not participating, nine of those don’t have any state income tax. The seven remaining states—California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, and North Carolina—all have state income taxes, yet do not offer income tax benefits to their 529 plan participants. Boo!

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This makes 529 plans an oddity. There’s a Federal-level tax advantage that applies to everyone. And then there might be a state-level tax advantage depending on which state you use to setup your plan.

Two Types of 529 Plans

The most common 529 plan is the college savings program. The less common 529 is the prepaid tuition program.

The savings program can be thought of as a parallel to common retirement investing accounts. A person can put money into their 529 plan today. They can invest that money in a few different ways (details further in the article). At a later date, they can then use the full value of their account at any eligible institution—in state or out of state. The value of their 529 plan will be dependent on their investing choices and how those investments perform.

The prepaid program is a little different. This plan is only offered by certain states (currently only 10 are accepting new applicants) and even by some individual colleges/universities. The prepaid program permits citizens to buy tuition credits at today’s tuition rates. Those credits can then be used in the future at in-state universities. However, using these credits outside of the state they were bought in can result in not getting full value.

You don’t choose investments in the prepaid program. You just buy credit’s today that can be redeemed in the future.

The savings program is universal, flexible, and grows based on your investments.

The prepaid program is not offered everywhere, works best at in-state universities, and grows based on how quickly tuition is changing (i.e. the difference between today’s tuition rate and the future tuition rate when you use the credit.)

Example: a prepaid credit would have cost ~$13,000 for one year of tuition in 2000. That credit would have been worth ~$24,000 of value if used in 2018. (Source)

What are “Qualified Education Expenses?”

You can only spend your 529 plan dollars on “qualified education expenses.” Turns out, just about anything associated with education costs can be paid for using 529 plan funds. Qualified education expenses include:

  • Tuition
  • Fees
  • Books
  • Supplies
  • Room and board (as long as the beneficiary attends school at least half-time). Off-campus housing is even covered, as long as it’s less than on-campus housing.

Student loans and student loan interest were added to this list in 2019, but there’s a lifetime limit of $10,000 per person.

How Do You “Invest” Your 529 Plan Funds?

529 savings plans do more than save. Their real power is as a college investment plan. So, how can you “invest” this tax-advantaged money?

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There’s a two-part answer to how your 529 plan funds are invested. The first part is that only savings plans can be invested, not prepaid plans. The second part is that it depends on what state you’re in.

For example, let’s look at my state: New York. It offers both age-based options and individual portfolios.

The age-based option places your 529 plan on one of three tracks: aggressive, moderate, or conservative. As your child ages, the portfolio will automatically re-balance based on the track you’ve chosen.

The aggressive option will hold more stocks for longer into your child’s life—higher risk, higher rewards. The conservative option will skew towards bonds and short-term reserves. In all cases, the goal is to provide some level of growth in early years, and some level of stability in later years.

The individual portfolios are similar to the age-based option, but do not automatically re-balance. There are aggressive and conservative and middle-ground choices. Thankfully, you can move funds from one portfolio to another up to twice per year. This allowed rebalancing is how you can achieve the correct risk posture.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Using a 529 Plan

The advantages of using the 529 as a college investing plan are clear. First, there’s the tax-advantaged nature of it, likely saving you tens of thousands of dollars. Another benefit is the aforementioned ease of investing using a low-maintenance, age-based investing accounts. Most states offer them.

Other advantages include the high maximum contribution limit (ranging by state, from a low of $235K to a high of $529K), the reasonable financial aid treatment, and, of course, the flexibility.

If your child doesn’t end up using their 529 plan, you can transfer it to another relative. If you don’t like your state’s 529 offering, you can open an account in a different state. You can even use your 529 plan to pay for primary education at a private school or a religious school.

But the 529 plan isn’t perfect. There are disadvantages too.

For example, the prepaid 529 plan involves a considerable up-front cost—in the realm of $100,000 over four years. That’s a lot of money. Also, your proactive saving today ends up affecting your child’s financial aid package in the future. It feels a bit like a punishment for being responsible. That ain’t right!

Of course, a 529 plan is not a normal investing account. If you don’t use the money for educational purposes, you will face a penalty. And if you want to hand-pick your 529 investments? Well, you can’t do that. Similar to many 401(k) programs, your state’s 529 program probably only offers a few different fund choices.

529 Plan FAQ

Here are some of the most common questions about 529 education savings plans. And I even provide answers!

How do I open a 529 plan?

Virtually all states now have online portals that allow you to open 529 plans from the comfort of your home. A few online forms and email messages is all it takes.

Can I contribute to someone else’s 529?

You sure can! If you have a niece or nephew or grandchild or simply a friend, you can make a third-party contribution to their 529 plan. You don’t have to be their parent, their relative, or the person who opened the account.

Investing in someone else’s knowledge is a terrific gift.

Does a 529 plan affect financial aid?

Short answer: yes, but it’s better than how many other assets affect financial aid.

Longer answer: yes, having a 529 plan will likely reduce the amount of financial aid a student receives. The first $10,000 in a 529 plan is not part of the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) equation. It’s not “counted against you.” After that $10,000, remaining 529 plan funds are counted in the EFC equation, but cap at 5.46% of the parental assets (many other assets are capped higher, e.g. at 20%).

Similarly, 529 plan distributions are not included in the “base year income” calculations in the FAFSA application. This is another benefit in terms of financial aid.

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Finally, 529 plan funds owned by non-parents (e.g. grandparents) are not part of the FAFSA EFC equation. This is great! The downside occurs when the non-parent actually withdraws the funds on behalf of the student. At that time, 50% of those funds count as “student income,” thus lowering the student’s eligibility for aid.

Are there contribution limits?

Kinda sorta. It’s a little complicated.

There is no official annual contribution limit into a 529 plan. But, you should know that 529 contributions are considered “completed gifts” in federal tax law, and that those gifts are capped at $15,000 per year in 2020 and 2021.

After $15,000 of contributions in one year, the remainder must be reported to the IRS against the taxpayer’s (not the student’s) lifetime estate and gift tax exemption.

Additionally, each state has the option of limiting the total 529 plan balances for a particular beneficiary. My state (NY) caps this limit at $520,000. That’s easily high enough to pay for 4 years of college at current prices.

Another state-based limit involves how much income tax savings a contributor can claim per year. In New York, for example, only the first $5,000 (or $10,000 if a married couple) are eligible for income tax savings.

Can I use my state’s 529 plan in another state? Do I need to create 529 plans in multiple states?

Yes, you can use your state’s 529 plan in another state. And mostly likely no, you do not need to create 529 plans in multiple states.

First, I recommend scrolling up to the savings program vs. prepaid program description. Savings programs are universal and transferrable. My 529 savings plan could pay for tuition in any other state, and even some other countries.

But prepaid tuition accounts typically have limitations in how they transfer. Prepaid accounts typically apply in full to in-state, state-sponsored schools. They might not apply in full to out-of-state and/or private schools.

What if my kid is Lebron James and doesn’t go to college? Can I get my money back?

It’s a great question. And the answer is yes, there are multiple ways to recoup your money if the beneficiary doesn’t end up using it for education savings.

First, you can avoid all penalties by changing the beneficiary of the funds. You can switch to another qualifying family member. Instead of paying for Lebron’s college, you can switch those funds to his siblings, to a future grandchild, or even to yourself (if you wanted to go back to school).

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What if you just want you money back? The contributions that you initially made come back to you tax-free and penalty-free. After all, you already paid taxes on those. Any earnings you’ve made on those contributions are subject to normal income tax, and then a 10% federal penalty tax.

The 10% penalty is waived in certain situations, such as the beneficiary receiving a tax-free scholarship or attending a U.S. military academy.

And remember those state income tax breaks we discussed earlier? Those tax breaks might get recaptured (oh no!) if you end up taking non-qualified distributions from your 529 plan.

Long story short: try to the keep the funds in a 529 plan, especially is someone in your family might benefit from them someday. Otherwise, you’ll pay some taxes and penalties.

Graduation

It’s time to don my robe and give a speech. Keep on learning, you readers, for:

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest

-Ben Franklin

Oh snap! Yes, that is how the blog got its name. Giving others the gift of education is a wonderful thing, and 529 plans are one way the U.S. government allows you to do so.

If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, I’d suggest checking out my Archive or Subscribing to get future articles emailed to your inbox.

This article—just like every other—is supported by readers like you.

Source: bestinterest.blog

The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Change has to start somewhere, and for many people that change is easier to make if the starting point has some meaning. It can be a birthday, an anniversary, or any other date with some symbolic weight. Most commonly, people choose the beginning of the new year.

If you’re looking for some New Year’s resolutions that will truly change your life, consider adjusting your financial strategy. Here are five things you can do in 2021 to take your money game to the next level.

Refinance Loans

Interest rates are at near-historic lows, which makes this the perfect time to refinance your debt. Refinancing means switching your loans from your current lender to a new lender in order to take advantage of a lower interest rate. Refinancing can save you thousands of dollars, depending on the original interest rate and total balance.

 For example, let’s say you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate, and you refinance to a 3% interest rate. Your monthly payment will be $244 lower, and you’ll save $31,173 in total interest over the life of the loan. 

You can refinance auto loans, personal loans, and even student loans. However, if you have federal student loans, you may want to hold off on refinancing. Refinancing a federal student loan converts it into a private student loan. This means you’ll give up extra perks and benefits like income-driven repayment plans and deferment and forbearance options.

Transfer Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt, you can pay less interest by transferring the balance to a new card with 0% APR on balance transfers. These special discounts usually last between 12 to 18 months, during which time you won’t be charged interest on the credit card balance.

For instance, let’s say you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 17% APR. If you only make the minimum payments, you’ll pay $1,223.61 in total interest. If you transfer that balance to a card with 0% APR for 12 months and repay the balance in that time, you won’t pay any interest.

There is often a small fee associated with balance transfers, around 3% of balance transfers. For example, if you transfer $5,000, you’ll pay a $150 fee. That still leaves a net savings of $1,073.61 in the scenario outlined above.

Decrease Your Fixed Expenses

One of the best things to do for your budget in 2021 is to decrease fixed expenses like your car insurance, internet, cable, and cell phone. Call those providers and try to negotiate a lower rate.

 Go through your transactions for the past few months and write down all the recurring subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and DoorDash. Then, group them into categories like “frequently use,” “sporadically use” and “rarely use”. Consider canceling anything you rarely use.

 See if you can get a better deal on your most popular subscriptions. For example, if you and your significant other both pay for Spotify Premium, get a Spotify Duo account instead, and save yourself $83.88 a year.

Open a Better Bank Account

Most people are missing out on an easy way to earn money through your bank account. You could be leaving hundreds of dollars on the table if you still have a traditional savings account.

According to the FDIC, the current average interest rate on a savings account is 0.05%. Many high-yield savings accounts offer rates between .40% and .60%. 

Let’s say you have $10,000 in a savings account with .05% interest. After one year, you’ll have earned $5.04 in interest. If you moved that amount to a high-yield savings account with .5% interest, you would earn $49.92 in interest over that same time period.

Start Investing

If you’re not investing for retirement yet, this might be the most important financial resolution you can make. Thanks to the power of compound interest, you can start investing now and see huge growth by the time you’re ready to retire.

IRAs and 401(k)s are the two main retirement accounts. Anyone can open an IRA, while only those who have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) can open one.

 If you’re not sure how to invest in your retirement account, consider hiring a qualified financial planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

If you’re not ready to work with a financial planner, you can use a robo advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront, which will create a portfolio based on your age, income, and expected retirement age. Robo advisors have low fees and are designed to help beginner investors.

How to Keep Financial Resolutions

First, start small. Pick one habit to change at a time. If you try to accomplish five goals at once, you’ll burn out quickly and give up. 

When you decide on a resolution, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your goal is to talk to a financial planner about investing, break it down into the following steps:

1) Research financial planners through NAPFA

2) Send introductory emails to three financial planners

3) Choose the one that seems like the best fit

4) Schedule a consultation

Give yourself a deadline to accomplish each of these tasks, and ask a friend to hold you accountable.

Another tip is to tie your resolutions to a bigger goal. Like dieting or starting a new exercise plan, changing your financial habits is hard. If you’re used to grabbing lunch with your co-workers every day, bringing leftovers from home instead will seem like a huge change.

The key is to imagine the future version of yourself who will benefit from the changes you make today. If your goal is to open and contribute to a retirement account, imagine yourself as a senior citizen living comfortably.

When you’re tempted to skip this month’s retirement contribution to buy concert tickets, think about your future self, what you’d want for them and how they would appreciate your sacrifice. It can also help to remember some of the financial mistakes you’ve made in the past, and how much easier your life would be right now if you had made a different choice.

The post The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Mint Money Audit: Managing Money When You Make Enough

Anna’s email requesting help with her finances began with a unique confession.

“Farnoosh, my money problem garners little sympathy,” the 32-year-old wrote. “My issue is that I make too much of it.”

Now, THIS is interesting, I thought. I immediately followed up with many questions.

Here’s what I learned through our conversation:

The Denver-based Mint user earns $220,000 per year as an engineer. Anna’s also benefited from years of big bonuses and her net worth, not including her home equity, is close to a million dollars.

After paying taxes and health benefits and maxing out her 401(k), Anna takes home between $8,000 and $10,000 each month. Her expenses mainly consist of a $1,200 mortgage payment, car insurance, gas, food and utilities, amounting to maybe a few thousand dollars per month.

The rest either goes into savings where she stashes about $5,000 to $10,000 for unexpected expenses or into a brokerage account where she has roughly $800,000 invested. A wealth management firm manages that portfolio and charges, she says, an annual 1% fee.

Anna has no consumer debt, besides her mortgage, which amounts to about $338,000. It’s a 30-year fixed rate loan with a 2.85% interest rate. The home has appreciated in recent years with about $100,000 in equity (including Anna’s initial 20% down payment).

So, what is the problem, exactly?

“My big worry is that I don’t have the habits to manage money well,” Anna told me. Her sizeable bank balance has her feeling financially free, although she worries about getting carried away with spending sometimes.

“When I see money in my bank account I rationalize that ‘yea, that vacation is doable. I don’t hold back on the things that may seem frivolous,’” she says. But It seems she wants more financial grounding and to be able to evaluate expenditures and price tags more critically.

Anna’s situation may be unique, but I think relatable in the sense that we all would like to feel more thoughtful with how we spend, save and invest. And while some may do well with earning money, it should not be assumed that they can also manage that money well.

I applaud Anna for wanting to be sure that, even with an impressive net worth, she is actually making wise financial decisions.

Here’s my advice.

Take a Deep Breath

No need to panic when spending on things and experiences that you enjoy. From what I can tell Anna’s prioritizing the serious financial stuff first like contributing the max to her 401(k) and saving all of her annual bonuses in a brokerage account. She has no credit card debt and pays all her bills on time. That’s terrific.

Sometimes we just want to hear that we’re on the right track with our money and I have a very simple way to measure this:

If you manage each paycheck by saving, investing and paying all your bills first, then by all means, you’re entitled to have fun with whatever is left without any fear or regret. Am I right?

If you’ve done the good work of taking care of your future with your money, then don’t hesitate treating yourself and others with the remaining funds today. Splurge away and enjoy your hard-earned money. And remember to enjoy the moment.

Ditch Your Money Managers

I do think Anna could find a better home for her investments.

Paying one percent of her managed assets to this firm may not seem that high of an annual fee. But when you think about Anna’s balance of $800,000, that’s $8,000 this year. What about next year and the decades after that as she contributes more to the account? That fee, compounded over the next 30 years, will amount to – conservatively – over one million dollars. Ouch.

That doesn’t even factor in the expense ratios for each mutual fund that’s in her portfolio.

If all Anna seeks is investment assistance, she may be better suited stationing her money with an automated wealth platform or robo-advisor where her money is largely invested in low-fee index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETF) and the portfolio management fee is typically 0.50% or less.

Of course, breaking up with your financial advisor is not always so simple. It’s especially hard for Anna, as she equated her money managers to “father figures.”

If I were Anna, I would just explain to my advisors over email something like, “I want be more conservative with my money and that includes being extra mindful of the various fees that I’m paying. To that end, I’ve decided to manage my money more independently. I’m sure you can understand. I appreciate your help over the years. Please let me know next steps.”

Planners know the drill and are used to having clients end relationships.  Stay strong. Nobody can really argue with the fact that saving money is a good thing!

Establish Short and Long Term Goals

Anna wants to spend and save with more conviction. I think having some concrete, tangible goals can help.

For example, she shared that she’d like to get married, have a family and own two homes – one near her office downtown and another in the mountains as a getaway.

So, the next step is to understand what these goals cost. What are, say, the going prices on a vacation home in her state? How much might she want to stash in a separate account for the future down payment on this property? Knowing the underlying costs of her goals can better direct how much to spend elsewhere.

Next time she’s planning a vacation, she may be more inclined to price compare or hunt down better deals, as opposed to just judge whether the trip is financially “doable” by the amount of money in her bank account. Now she’ll have the image of that second home and its costs and will make a more informed choice.

Contribute to a Cause

Last but not least, when you feel you make more than enough, like Anna does, this is a great opportunity to be extra charitable. If she’s seeking a way to give her money more meaning and feel purposeful in her financial life, this is a truly wonderful way to go about it. Discover a cause that you’re passionate about and make an impact as a volunteer and donor.

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Managing Money When You Make Enough appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com