How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator

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Your grocery bill can add up fast. From dinner entrées to snacks, the amount you spend directly affects your other financial goals. Luckily, there are some guidelines to ensure you’re not overspending. 

Use the grocery calculator below to estimate your monthly and weekly food budget based on guidelines from the USDA’s monthly food plan. Input your family size and details below to calculate how much a nutritious grocery budget should cost you. Of course, every family is different. Some love coupons and leftovers, while others prefer fresh fish and aged cheese. Once you’ve established your budget, use the slider to adjust your estimate to your spending habits. 

Getting your food budget on point takes practice. With this grocery calculator and the right spending habits, you’ll have enough for your living expenses and exciting financial goals like paying off loans or buying a house.

Grocery Budget Calculator

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A moderate grocery budget will run you:

Weekly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

$0.00

Monthly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

$0.00

What kind of spender are you?

Does your estimate look right? If your spending habits don’t add up, explore these other budget options and choose what’s best for your lifestyle.

Thrifty This is the USDA’s estimated food budget for families that receive food assistance like WIC or SNAP.

Cost-Conscious This is an ideal budget for nutritious meals if you’re looking to save a little extra cash with leftovers and coupons.

Moderate This is the standard for affordable, nutritious, and balanced portions for most families.

Generous This budget gives you some spending wiggle room for finer foods or extra portions.

See where the rest of your budget is going Sign up for Mint

Monthly Grocery Budget

Ever wonder how much you should spend on groceries? The average cost of food per month for one person ranges from $150 to $300, depending on age. However, these national averages vary based on where you live and the quality of your food purchases.

Here’s a monthly grocery budget for the average family. This is based on the national average and likely varies by location and shop. For instance, New York City grocers are going to be far more expensive than Kansas City shops. Additionally, organic grocery stores like Whole Foods are pricier than places like Walmart or Aldi.

You’ll also want to consider dietary choices, like gluten-free or vegan diets. These can significantly affect your budget, so consider planning your grocery list online to compare prices and find your preferred alternatives.

FAMILY SIZE SUGGESTED
MONTHLY BUDGET
1 person $251
2 people $553
3 people $722
4 people $892
5 people $1,060
6 people $1,230

Finding a reasonable monthly grocery budget ensures you and your family have what you need, while not overspending. Look back at previous months using a budgeting app or credit card statements to see what you’ve spent at the grocery store. Decide if you want to maintain your current budget or cut back.

Purchasing Groceries vs. Dining Out

Mockup of grocery list and food inventory printables with fresh produce

 

Download grocery list and inventory printables button.

Don’t forget what you spend at restaurants when you consider your food budget. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend 11 percent of their take-home income on food. It doesn’t all go towards groceries, though. Approximately six percent is spent on groceries, while five percent is spent dining out — including dates, lunches with coworkers, and Sunday brunch.

With this framework in mind, you can calculate your total food budget based on your take-home income. For example, Rita makes $3,500 per month after taxes. She would budget six percent for groceries ($210) and five percent for restaurants ($175). So she’ll need a total of $385 for food each month. With a little practice, she’ll better learn her habits and be able to accurately adjust her budget.

Tips for Reducing Your Budget

Illustration of grocery coupons and meal planner.

There are several ways to cut back on what you spend without sacrificing the quality and taste of your food. Trimming your food budget can help you stow away more for your financial goals, such as building an emergency fund or saving for a dream vacation.

Cut Coupons

Coupons are easy to find in the mail, in store, in your inbox, and even in a Google search. Many popular grocery stores are rolling out apps that track your coupons and savings. Be sure to download and register your email for new updates and sales. These usually work in person or online, so you can shop when and how you like. 

While a single coupon might not give you a large discount, you can save a lot with multiple coupons. It’s also important you make sure you actually need the item you’re purchasing instead of buying it for the sale. This can quickly get out of hand and push you over budget. 

Freeze Your Food

Freezing your fresh food before it goes bad helps your wallet and the environment. You can plan ahead and freeze prepared produce to save time on weekday cooking, or chop and freeze last week’s produce before shopping for more. Frozen vegetables are great in soups and stews, and you can use frozen fruits for healthy breakfast smoothies. 

Plan a Weekly Menu Ahead of Time

Plan your meals ahead of time to determine the food items and quantities you need before you head to the grocery store. This way you’re more likely to buy the exact items you need and can plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to plan for recipes that use the same ingredients so there’s less to purchase. You can also make larger meals and plan leftovers for lunch so you have less to plan and purchase.

Download meal planning printable button.

Bring Lunches to Work 

A $13 lunch out might not seem like much, but it can blow your food budget fast if it becomes a habit. Push your monthly food budget further with delicious lunches from home. Salads, sandwiches, and leftovers are all easy, inexpensive, and nutritious. 

Buy Store Brands 

Many packaged products have a huge price disparity between brand name and generic items, and store brand items tend to be cheaper without sacrificing much quality. You can easily save 10 cents to a dollar per item, which adds up quickly over many trips. 

Shop at a More Affordable Store

Your local farmers market, chain grocery, and organic store will all offer different specialties and sales. Check out the different shops in your area to find the best combination of quality and price. Some stores might even offer bulk items — great for your favorite products and those with a long shelf-life. Choosing cheaper staple items like milk and yogurt can also make a huge difference over time. 

An accurate food budget that works for you helps you feel more confident and in control of your finances. Build a budget, learn your spending habits, and keep a grocery list to keep you on track and responsible so you can reach bigger goals, like a new vehicle or a down payment on a house. 

Sources: USA Today | EurekAlert | Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet

The post How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing

Refinancing your student loans can make good financial sense, and that’s especially true if your current loans are stuck at a high-interest rate. With a new loan at a lower APR, you could save a bundle of money on interest each month and ultimately pay your student debt off faster. Consolidating several loans into one new one can also simplify your financial life and make keeping up with bills a lot easier.

College Ave and Earnest topped our list, but since student loan refinancing is an incredibly competitive space, you’ll also want to spend time comparing student loan companies to see who offers the best deal. Many lenders in this space offer incredibly low APRs, flexible payment options, borrower incentives, and more. This means it’s more important than ever to shop around so you wind up with the best student loan for your needs.

What You Should Know About Refinancing Federal Student Loans with a Private Lender

The lenders on this list can help you consolidate and refinance both federal student loans and private student loans. However, there are a few details to be aware of before you refinance federal loans with a private lender.

Switching federal loans to private means giving up federal protections like deferment and forbearance. You also give up your chance to qualify for income-driven repayment plans like Pay As You Earn (PAYE) or Income Based Repayment (IBR). Income-driven repayment plans let you pay a percentage of your discretionary income for 20 to 25 years before ultimately forgiving your remaining loan balances, so this perk isn’t one you should give up without careful thought and consideration.

Best Student Loan Refinancing Companies of 2021

As you start your search to find the best student loan for your lifestyle, take the time to compare lenders and all they offer their customers. While there are a ton of reputable companies offering high-quality student loan refinancing products on the market today, there are also companies you should probably steer clear of.

To make your search easier, we took the time to compare most of the top lenders in this space in terms of interest rates offered, fees, borrower benefits, and more. The following student loan companies are the cream of the crop, so you should start your search here.

Our Top Picks:

  1. Splash Financial
  2. College Ave
  3. Earnest
  4. SoFi
  5. CommonBond
  6. LendKey
  7. Wells Fargo
  8. PenFed Credit Union

Student Loan Refinancing Company Reviews

1. Splash Financial

Splash Financial may be a newer company in the student loan refinancing space, but their offerings are competitive. This company lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and their variable rates currently start at just 2.25% APR.

Not only are interest rates offered by Splash Financial industry-leading, but the company has a 95% customer satisfaction rate so far. Their cutting-edge technology also lets you apply for your loan and complete the loan process online, meaning less hassle and stress for you as the borrower.

Check Out Splash Financial’s Low Rates

2. College Ave

College Ave offers student loan refinancing products that can be tailored to your needs. They offer low fixed and variable interest rates, for example, and you’ll never pay an application fee or an origination fee. You can even qualify for a discount if you set your loan up on autopay, and a wide range of repayment schedules are available.

College Ave also offers a wide range of online calculators and tools that can help you figure out how much student loan refinancing could help you save and whether the move would be worth it in the end. Considering their low variable rates start at just 2.74% APR, there’s a good chance you could save money by refinancing if you have excellent credit or a cosigner with great credit.

Get Started with College Ave

3. Earnest

Earnest is another online lender that focuses most of its efforts on offering high-quality student loans. This company lets you consolidate debt at a lower interest rate than you might find elsewhere, and you get the option to pick a monthly payment and repayment period that works with your budget and your lifestyle.

While you’ll need excellent credit to qualify for the lowest interest rates, loans from Earnest come with variable APRs starting at 1.81% and low fixed rates starting at just 3.45%. To qualify for student loan refinancing with Earnest, you’ll need a minimum credit score of 650 and a strong employment and income history. You also need to be current on all your bills and cannot have a bankruptcy on your credit profile.

Refinance and Save with Earnest

4. SoFi

Also make sure to check out student loan refinancing company SoFi as you continue your search. This online lender offers some of the best student loan refinancing products available today, including loans with no application fee, origination fee, or hidden fees.

SoFi lets you apply for and complete the entire loan process online, and they offer live customer support 7 days a week. You can also check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report, which makes it easier to see how much you could save before you commit.

Get Pre-Approved with SoFi in Less than 2 Minutes

5. Commonbond

Commonbond is another online student lender who lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. With student loan refinancing from Commonbond, you could easily save thousands of dollars on interest with a new fixed interest rate as low as 3.21%. Repayment terms are offered for 5 to 20 years as well, letting you choose a new monthly payment and repayment timeline that works for your needs.

You can apply for your new loan online and note that these loans don’t come with an origination fee or any prepayment penalties. Your loan could also qualify for forbearance, which means having up to 24 months without payments during times of financial hardship.

Apply Online with Commonbond

6. LendKey

LendKey offers private student loans and flexible student loan refinancing options to serve a variety of needs. You can repay your loan between 5 and 20 years, and their refinance loans don’t charge an origination fee.

You can use this company’s online interface to check your rate without a hard inquiry on your credit report, and variable APRs start at just 2.01% for graduates with excellent credit. LendKey loans also receive 9.3 out of 10 possible stars in recent reviews, meaning their customers are mostly happy with their decision to go with this company.

Save Thousands by Refinancing with LendKey

7. Wells Fargo

While Wells Fargo is mostly popular for their banking products, home mortgage products, and personal loans, this bank also offers student loan refinancing products. These loans let you consolidate student debts into a new loan with a low variable or fixed interest rate, and you can even score a discount for setting your loan up on autopay.

Terms for Wells Fargo loans are available anywhere from 5 to 20 years, meaning you can choose a repayment schedule and monthly payment that suits your needs. Wells Fargo also lets you check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Get Started with Wells Fargo

8. PenFed Credit Union

PenFed Credit Union offers unique student loan products powered by Purefy. You might be able to qualify for a lower interest rate that could lead to enormous interest savings over time, and PenFed lets you choose a repayment term and monthly payment that fits with your budget and lifestyle.

You can apply for student loan refinancing on your own, but PenFed Credit Union also allows cosigners. Low fixed interest rates start at just 3.48% APR, and you can check your rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report.

Learn More about PenFed Credit Union

What To Look For When Refinancing

If you decide you want to refinance your student loans, you’ll be happy to know the refinancing market is more robust than ever. A variety of lenders offer insanely attractive loan options for those who can qualify, although you should know that student loan companies tend to be very finicky about your credit score. Some also won’t let you refinance if you didn’t graduate from college, or even if you graduated from an “unapproved” school.

While you should be aware of any lender-specific eligibility requirements before you apply with any student loan company, there are plenty of other factors to look out for. Here’s everything you should look for in a student loan refinancing company before you decide to trust them with your loans.

Low Interest Rate

Obviously, the main reason you’re probably thinking of refinancing your loans is the potential to save money on interest. Lenders who offer the lowest rates available today can potentially help you save more, although it’s important to consider that you may not qualify for the lowest rates available if you don’t have excellent credit.

Cosigner Requirements

Also consider that most lenders will offer better rates and loan terms if you have a cosigner with better credit than you have. This is especially true if your credit isn’t great, so make sure to ask family members if they’re willing to cosign on your new student loan if you hope to get the best rate. Just remember that your cosigner will be jointly liable for repayment, meaning you could quickly damage your relationship if you default on your loan and leave them holding the bag.

Low Fees or No Fees

Student loans are like any other loan in the fact that some charge higher fees or more fees than others. Since many student loans come with an application fee or an origination fee, you’ll want to look for lenders that don’t charge these fees. Also check for hidden fees like prepayment penalties.

Discounts Available

Some student loan companies let you qualify for discounts, the most popular of which is a discount for using autopay. If you’re able and willing to set up automatic payments on your credit card, you could save .25% or .50% off your interest rate depending on the lender you go with.

Rate Check Option

Many of the top student loan refinancing companies on this list make it possible to check your interest rate online without a hard inquiry on your credit report. This is a huge benefit since knowing your rate can help you figure out if refinancing is even worth it before you take the time to fill out a full loan application.

Flexible Repayment Plan

Also make sure any lender you go with offers some flexibility in your repayment plan and your monthly payment. You’ll want to make sure refinancing aligns with your long-term financial goals and your monthly budget, and it’s crucial to choose a new loan with a monthly payment you can live with.

Most lenders in this space offer repayment timelines of up to 20 years, which means you could spread your payments over several decades to get a monthly payment that makes sense with your income. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan when you take a long time to pay it off, so you may want to consider prioritizing a faster payment plan.

The Bottom Line

Student loan refinancing may not sound like a lot of fun. However, taking the time to consider all your loan options could easily save you thousands of dollars. This is especially true if you have a lot of debt at a high interest rate. By consolidating all your student loans into a new one with a lower APR, you could make loan repayment easier with a single payment and save a ton of money that would otherwise go to straight to interest without helping you pay off your loans.

The first step of the loan process is the hardest, however, and that’s choosing a student loan refinancing company that you trust. The lenders on this list are highly rated, but they also offer some of the best loan products on the market today.

  • Work with College Ave, our top pick, to refinance your student loan.

Start your search here and you’re bound to wind up with a student loan you can live with. At the very least, you’ll have a better idea of the loans that are available and how much you might save if you decide to refinance later on.

The post The Best Student Loan Companies For Refinancing appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

Home Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase a Property, From Start to Finish [Free Download]

Purchasing a home is both exciting and a major milestone in your life, so you’ll want to be prepared for what to expect to avoid a stressful process. Having an in-depth look at the buyer’s journey can help you make informed and confident decisions.

From finding a real estate agent, negotiating offers to getting your keys on closing day, we’ve outlined all the steps of a home buyer’s journey in our free Buyer’s Guide, which you can download here.

The Buyer’s Guide will cover the buyer’s timeline from meeting an agent to preparing for closing day. We’ve outlined the 8 steps in a home buyer’s journey below.

1. Working With An Agent

Every city is filled with thousands of agents, but not all are equal. We believe it is important to choose an agent that you feel confident with. Before you commit to working with an agent, make sure you have a good understanding of the knowledge and experience they offer. It’s important that you ask your questions before making the decision to work with them.

2. Financing Your Purchase

Before you set a budget and start looking for a home, you’ll have to understand what costs to expect when purchasing a home. Here are some of the major costs involved:

  • Deposits
  • Down payments
  • Mortgage insurance
  • Closing costs

You’ll also want to calculate a rough estimate of the down payment that you will be expected to pay. Depending on the price of your home, your minimum down payment can range from 5% to 20%. If you’re interested in learning more about how to finance your home, you can get our free Financing Your Purchase guide here.

3. Searching For A Home

An important part of searching for a home is understanding how the home will fit with your needs and your lifestyle. You’ll want to consider home ownership as well as different types of properties and features. 

Types of Home Ownership

  • Freehold Ownership
    • You purchase the home and directly own the lot of land it sits on
  • Condominium Ownership
    • For condos, you own specific parts of one building: titled ownership of your unit, along with shared ownership in the condo corporation that owns the common spaces and amenities
  • Co-Op Ownership
    • You own an exact portion of the building as a whole and also have exclusive use of your unit

Types of Properties

  • Detached houses
  • Semi-detached houses
  • Attached houses
  • Condos and apartments
  • Multi-unit

Tip: Depending on your budget and desired location, you may need to be flexible to find a home that meets your needs. By being willing to trade some features for others, you’ll have more options to choose from.

4. Negotiating An Offer

When you are making an offer to purchase a home, the purchase agreement should include the essential components listed below. Your agent can help put together an offer that is compelling, while safeguarding your interests and puts you in a competitive position to secure your new home.

You’ll also have the opportunity to choose the conditions that you’ll want in your offer. Some of these may include a home inspection or a status certificate review.

5. Financial Due Diligence

Whenever you make an offer on a house, you need to provide a deposit to secure the offer. The deposit is in the form of a certified cheque, bank draft, or wire transfer; it’s held in trust by the selling brokerage and is applied towards your down payment if your offer is successful.

There are two types of deposits:

  • Upon acceptance
    • The deposit is provided within 24 hours of the seller choosing your offer
  • Herewith
    • The deposit is provided when the offer is made

6. Property Due Diligence

To firm up a deal or educate yourself more on the state of the property, you’ll likely want to have a home inspection if you’re purchasing a house. If you’re purchasing a condo, then your lawyer will review the building’s status certificate.

Home Inspection

A home inspector will assess elements of the home such as the walls, windows, plumbing, heating and roof to judge the condition of the home. This process is non-invasive and is essential to help provide buyers with a good idea of the home’s current condition and the confidence of putting in an offer. 

Tip: The home inspector will provide a summary of suggested work along with a minimum budget estimate for the repairs needed. 

Status Certificates

If you’re purchasing a condominium, you’ll need to obtain a status certificate from the condo board or management for your lawyer’s review. This document will include valuable information about the condo’s budget, legal issues, reserve fund, maintenance fees and future fees increases – and the lawyer can help identify potential red flags

7. Preparing For Closing

Before the big day, you’ll want to keep a checklist of what to do ahead of time. Some of these include:

  • Review your contract
  • Complete a final walkthrough of the home
  • Purchase home insurance
  • Meet with your lawyer
  • Know how much cash you’ll need
  • Secure cash required for closing

8. Closing Day

Closing Day is when you’ll finally get the keys to your new home! In addition to bringing the cash required for closing, you’ll have to sign a few more documents which will include:

  • Mortgage loan
  • Title transfer
  • Statement of adjustments
  • Tax certificates

For the full details on the home buyer’s journey including examples, advice, pictures and sample calculations, download a copy of our free Buyer’s Guide here.

The post Home Buyer’s Guide: How to Purchase a Property, From Start to Finish [Free Download] appeared first on Zoocasa Blog.

Source: zoocasa.com

Must Have Tools for Thanksgiving Dinner Prep This Year

Tools for cooking Thanksgiving Dinner | Thanksgiving dinner | Kitchen tools

We don’t have to tell you that Thanksgiving looks and feels a lot different this year.  This may be the first you you are cooking the big meal yourself.  While we wish we could be there to help, the next best thing is to share with you our favorite tools for prepping a Thanksgiving feast.  And once you’ve got all the tools ordered, be sure to check out our Pinterest boards, for all of our favorite recipes both for Thanksgiving dinner and for the accompanying drinks.

 

fat separator–ALL THE GRAVY-NONE OF THE GREASE

Buy Now: $9.99

 

BRINING=ACING THE TURKEY GAME

Buy Now: $26.74

 

SAVE STOVETOP SPACE -SLOW COOK YOUR MASHED POTATOES

Buy Now: $49.99

 

BECAUSE YOU’RE PROBABLY NOT EATING THAT WHOLE PIE IN ONE SITTING…BUT WE WON’T JUDGE IF YOU DO

Buy Now: $9.99

 

GET THE RIGHT TEMP

Buy Now: $9.99

Ready to find your next apartment?

Get Free Matches Now

BASTE LIKE A PRO

Buy Now: $16.99

BECAUSE MANHANDLING A HOT TURKEY IS NOT A GOOD LOOK

Buy Now: $12.98

Stainless Steel Trash & Recycling Center

Buy Now: $92.99

Read Must Have Tools for Thanksgiving Dinner Prep This Year on Apartminty.

Source: blog.apartminty.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

Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House?

So you’re at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. You’re scrimping. You’re saving. You’re dreaming of walking through the front door of your very own home.

But as the decision draws near, you start questioning everything. Is now a good time to buy a house? Or is this the worst time? Is it more financially responsible to buy a house right now or wait? And what if you mistime the market, buying too soon or too late, and miss out on lower home prices?

Ultimately, the experts say the answer is less about economies, markets and pandemics and more about you.

So, how do you think through this decision? You’ll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, you’ll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.

External factors can make buying a house right now intimidating, but your personal finances are an important factor.

This process will take some time, but it’s well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, you’ll be able to confidently go forth knowing you’re making a fiscally informed decision about whether to buy a house right now.

Honestly assess these aspects of your finances

Financial security is always important if you’re trying to determine when you’re ready to buy a home. To decide if now is a good time to buy a house, ask yourself the following questions about your finances:

How secure is your income?

Job or income stability is an important factor if you are buying a home in a rocky economy, such as the one triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, says real estate economist Gay Cororaton. Even in a robust economy, your income security should be top of mind when you’re thinking of buying a house right now.

If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that you’ll be making a career change, you may want to delay buying a home. Even a recent break in employment that caused you to draw down some of your savings may raise a red flag with lenders, says Kate Ziegler, a real estate agent with Arborview Realty in the Boston area.

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If you’re considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.

– Jeff Tucker, senior economist at Zillow

Do you have enough money saved?

After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor you’ll want to consider to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, Ziegler says. The old rule of thumb was to save 20% of the price of the home for your down payment. While that is ideal, it’s not necessary—far from it, Ziegler says. In fact, it has become more common for first-time buyers to put down much less than 20%.

How much house can you afford?

The down payment is one side of the affordability coin. Your monthly mortgage payment is the other side. You need to know how much you can spend on both to determine if you can afford to buy a house right now, says Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. Aim for a monthly mortgage payment that doesn’t stretch you too thin—experts typically put this at around 28% of your monthly gross income, according to Bankrate.

With those guidelines, you can determine what you can afford. For example, if you make $4,000 a month, you should typically spend no more than $1,120 on your monthly mortgage payment in total.

How much house that buys you depends on multiple factors: mortgage rates, property tax rates, homeowners insurance and—if you don’t have the savings to put down 20%—primary mortgage insurance, or PMI. To get a rough estimate, plug your income details into an online calculator. For a more specific figure, talk to a local lender and get pre-approved for a mortgage, Ziegler says.

If you're buying a house right now, aim for mortgage payments around 28% of your monthly gross income.

Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. You’ll also need to have money saved for closing costs, which vary but typically run 2% to 5% of the loan amount, according to Bankrate.

Again, Ziegler recommends talking to a lender to really understand what your individual down payment and closing costs would be. Finally, be sure to add a line item in your budget for home maintenance that will inevitably pop up after you move in. Whether it’s a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you don’t want to be caught off guard, so be sure to save money for emergency home repairs.

How is your credit?

Your credit profile is also important to lenders, and it will likely be a factor in what interest rate you’re offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If you’re considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home, Tucker says.

What is your debt-to-income ratio?

Another factor lenders check is your debt-to-income ratio, or DTI, Tucker says. This is the percentage of your gross monthly income that goes to paying monthly debt payments, plus your new mortgage. Lenders typically require this ratio to be 45% or less but prefer it even lower—in the 33% to 36% range.

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Have you considered the opportunity cost?

Another financial consideration when deciding if now is a good time to buy a house is the opportunity cost of delaying a home purchase, Ziegler says. If you’re renting in a market where the rent is higher than your would-be monthly mortgage payment, you may be spending a lot more money each month than if you were to purchase a home. And of course, with a mortgage, your monthly payment increases your equity.

After taking a clear-eyed look at your income, savings and these other financial factors, you will have a better sense of when you’re ready to buy a home and whether now’s the time for you to dip into the market.

Consider key market factors

Next, take a look at factors that are outside of your control, but still influence your purchase: prices, interest rates and national employment trends.

Where are housing prices?

As you’re looking at the market, one of the biggest considerations when you are ready to buy a home will be housing prices and availability. Research your local market by talking to real estate agents who work specifically in the area where you want to buy and asking them about market trends, Ziegler says.

Track current listings and recently sold prices to get a sense of how prices look today. Generally, the tighter the inventory—meaning the fewer houses available—the higher prices will be, Tucker says.

If you're trying to determine when you are ready to buy a home, track current listings to get a sense of how prices look today.

What’s going on with interest rates?

When you’re ready to buy a home could also depend on another major economic factor: interest rates. When interest rates are low, your housing budget is effectively supercharged, Tucker says, and you can afford a more expensive house because you’re spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.

This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are low—you get more for your money. If you get a 30- or 15-year fixed-rate mortgage, you lock in that rate for the entire life of the loan, which could save you money now and into the future, Tucker says.

How does employment look nationally?

Finally, if you want to get a general idea of where the housing market may be headed—if prices will drop or rise soon—check out the national employment trends, Cororaton says. Low unemployment means prices will generally trend upward because more people can afford houses, boosting competition and prices, she says.

But if unemployment is inching up, then people are losing jobs and will be more likely to remain in their current homes. As a result, there tends to be less competition for them, lowering prices.

You don’t need to be an expert in the market to determine if now is a good time to buy a house, but a baseline understanding of these big-picture forces can give you the confidence you need to embark on your home-buying journey.

So when are you ready to buy a home? Paying attention to big-picture economic forces can help you decide.

Think about your future plans

After reviewing your savings and income and assessing the market conditions, take a step back and think about your life plans over the next few years. Your lifestyle and goals will help determine whether now is a good time to buy a house.

“For buyers who are not certain whether they will still be living in the same place in three or five years, I would caution against locking themselves into a certain location,” Ziegler says. “If they’re just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.”

It’s unlikely in many markets that you will see substantial financial gain from homeownership if you move within five years, Ziegler says. Your equity gains will likely be offset by the transaction costs of buying and selling your home.

That goes for remote workers, too. Are you working from a home office these days? While widespread remote work may allow buyers to consider homes farther from their offices, ask yourself: Is my company going to permanently allow employees to work from home? Do I think there will be other remote opportunities in the future?

Is now a good time to buy a house? That depends on your lifestyle and long-term goals.

While you’re thinking about the next three to five years of your career, also consider the next three to five years of your personal life. Will you have a family? Will that family grow?

These can be weighty topics, so be sure to think them through on your own schedule. Buying a house is a big decision, and it’s not one to be rushed. By taking the time to assess your life, from your job security to your financial health to your lifestyle, and considering the impact of market factors, you’ll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.

If you’ve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, it’s time to learn more about how it will impact your budget. Get started by reading up on these eight unexpected expenses when buying a home.

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Source: discover.com