Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
âI think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,â Dawson says. ââWhat do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?â Those conversations are really valuable.â
As Dawsonâs clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, âHow should I adjust my household budget if weâre spending more time at home?â
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
âThere are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,â Rogin says. âAnd there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.â
Even if youâve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure youâre at least staying on track to meet your savings goalsâand at best, shortening your savings timelines. Itâs also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as youâve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad. But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. âYou can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,â she says. âWhat do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. Youâll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but thereâs no reason to feel anxious.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad,â she says. âBut it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then youâll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and youâre actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on whatâs really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
âMaybe youâre spending more on groceries, but thatâs less than you were spending on eating outâand you enjoy it,â she says. âYouâre spending more time with your family. Youâre eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.â
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, itâs allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because theyâre comfortable, and no one can see them when sheâs video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether youâre facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a âvalues-based spending planâ for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesnât.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, itâs time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, donât get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If youâre reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a birdâs-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when youâre trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what youâre saving for, as well as where youâll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account wonât allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money youâve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
âBe really clear about what each savings account is for,â she says. âThen youâre more likely to fund it.â
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
âSo many people are in need now,â Rogin says. âThere are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like youâre making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.â
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, youâll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If youâve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Save More Money in the Stay-at-Home Economy by Focusing on What Matters Most appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Your utility bills likely make up a significant part of your monthly budget, so itâs important to keep a close eye on them. But while your rent or mortgage stays the same month to month, your utilities donât.
Sweltering summer days and icy winter nights can lead to budget-blowing spikes in your utility bills, and no matter how hard you try to budget and plan, you canât predict the total each month. Or can you?
Budget billing may offer the consistency you crave. Here, personal finance experts describe how budget billing works and explain who may benefit from it, empowering you to answer this question for yourself: Does budget billing save money?
What is budget billing and how does it work?
As you consider this option, your first question might be: What is budget billing? Budget billing is a service offered by some utility companies that provides a set monthly bill for services like gas or electricity.
How does budget billing work? To calculate your monthly budget billing amount, a utility company will look at your past usage, typically over the last year, and average it to determine your monthly charge, says Sara Rathner, financial author and credit cards expert at NerdWallet. This will give you a predictable bill to pay each month, rather than one that fluctuates.
Keep in mind that if you recently moved into your home, the charges used to calculate your budget billing amount may be based on the previous ownersâ or rentersâ usage, says Rathner. Your actual usage may end up being more or less than theirs.
Another point to remember on how budget billing works: While budget billing gives you a steady amount to pay each month, this amount can, and likely will, change over time. Some providers update bill amounts quarterly, some annually. Thereâs no universal timeline for these updates, so be sure to ask your utility provider about its specific process, says Lance Cothern, CPA and founder of personal finance blog Money Manifesto.
These changes are made to capture your actual usage, whether that usage has decreased (a mild summer allowed you to keep the AC off more often) or increased (a brutally cold winter forced you to blast the heat). Typically, you will be notified in advance of the change.
Now that you know how budget billing works, you may be wondering: Could it save me cash?
Does budget billing save money?
âBudget billing won’t save you money; it just evens your bill out over time,â Cothern says.
How does budget billing work if you end up using less energy and overpay? You may be reimbursed for the amount you paid above your actual energy usage, or the amount overpaid will be applied to next year.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing.â
How does budget billing work if you underpay? Youâll have to pay the extra amount to make up the difference. These payments or credits happen in addition to any adjustments your provider makes to your monthly bill if your usage changes over time, Cothern says.
What are the benefits of budget billing?
Overall, thereâs a fairly straightforward answer to what budget billing is, and the benefits are clear, too. While it doesnât save you money per se, it may allow you to more easily manage your monthly budget.
For example, if you know your monthly electricity bill will be $100, you can account for this expense in your budget and more precisely allocate funds into other expenses or savings.
âAnyone who sticks to a strict, detailed monthly budget may prefer the predictability of budget billing,â Rathner says. âYou know exactly how much your utility bill will be each month and can plan your other spending around it.â
Combine budget billing with autopay and you can set and forget your utility bills, ensuring theyâre paid on time and in full, making money management a lot simpler. This could also help you deal with financial stress.
While budget billing has its pros, it also comes with cons. Does budget billing save you money? To help answer that question, consider the following:
You may face extra fees. Some utility companies charge a fee for budget billing. In Cothernâs view, this negates the benefit since thereâs no reason to pay tacked-on fees for this service. Itâs important to find out whether there are fees before signing up when youâre researching how budget billing works.
You may ignore your utility usage. Budget billing puts your monthly utility charges, as well as your actual usage, out of sight and out of mind. Without the threat of a higher bill or the reward of a lower one based on your energy habits, some people get complacent, Rathner says. They leave lights on or turn up the heat instead of grabbing a blanket. If this sounds like you, budget billing may actually cost you money in the long run.
âAlways keep an eye on your monthly bill even though you pay a level amount for months at a time,â Cothern says. Most utility companies provide your usage information right on your bill.
If you can financially handle the seasonal swings of each bill, budget billing may not be much of a benefit for you, Cothern says. Paying the full amount also means youâre paying attention to the full amount, he says, which may motivate you to reduce your energy consumption. And thatâs where the real opportunity to save money lies.
By considering potential fees and the impact on your energy usage, youâll have a good sense of whether budget billing saves you money in the long run.
Make the most of how budget billing works with this hack
After scrutinizing how budget billing works, the potential downsides have led some financial pros, Cothern among them, to develop a new hack for paying utility bills.
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Instead of signing up for budget billing, open a savings account online specifically for utilities, Cothern suggests. Youâll also want to sign up for a rewards credit card, if you donât have one already.
Next, grab your last 12 months of utility bills, total them up and divide by 12 to get your monthly average. Youâll then want to set up an automatic transfer of that amount from your checking account into the utility savings account each month.
When the utility bill comes, pay it with your rewards credit card and then pay that bill with the money in your savings. You reap the benefits of maintaining a consistent amount coming out of your budget, as well as credit card rewards and any interest earned on that money from your savings account.
Do your homework before signing up for budget billing
After weighing your options and considering your personal budgeting style, you may decide that budget billing is right for you.
If thatâs the case, itâs important to read your utilityâs program rules in detail. Yes, that means digging into the fine print to understand how budget billing works at the specific company, Cothern says, because budget billing is a general term for a wide variety of utility company programs. Budget billing may be called something else, like flat billing or balanced billing, and it may carry different nuances and terms.
Before signing up for budget billing, Rathner suggests calling your provider and asking the following questions:
Are there startup or maintenance fees?
How is the monthly amount calculated? How often is it updated?
What happens if you overpay or underpay?
What happens when you move or end service?
With the answers to these questions, youâll have a better idea of how budget billing works for your provider. Armed with that info, you can determine whether budget billing saves you money and make the call on whether enrolling is right for you.
Whether you opt for budget billing or not, small adjustments to your home can result in major savings on your energy bills. For starters, check out these four ways to save energy by going green.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post What Is Budget Billing and Is It Right for You? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
If you’re looking for a new bank account that allows you to easily store as well as access your cash, you might be thinking about opening a money market account or checking account. But how do you know which to choose? Decisions, decisions. Both types of accounts have unique advantages, depending on your savings and spending goals.
âThink about how you will be using the money within the account,” says Jill Emanuel, lead financial coach at Fiscal Fitness. “Is this money for daily, weekly or monthly use? Or is it money that will not be needed regularly?”
You’ll probably need a little more to go on before answering the question, “How do I decide between a money market account or checking account?” No worries. Our roundup delves into the features of both types of accounts to help you determine which one could be right for your financial plans, or if there’s room for both in your money mix.
Get easy access to your funds with a checking account
In simple terms, a checking account allows you to write checks and make purchases with a debit card from the money you deposit into the account. That debit card can also be used to withdraw cash from the account via an ATM.
When deciding between a money market account or checking account, Emanuel says most people use a checking account for the primary management of their monthly income (i.e., where a portion of your paycheck is deposited) and daily expenses (often small and frequent transactions). âA checking account makes the most sense as the account where the majority of your transactions occur,” she adds. This is because a checking account typically comes with an unlimited number of transactionsâwhether you’re withdrawing cash from an ATM, transferring money to a savings account or swiping your debit card.
While a checking account is a good home base for your finances and a go-to if you need to easily and quickly access your funds, this account type typically earns little to no interest. Spoiler: This is one key difference when you compare a money market account vs. a checking account.
âIf you plan to use your account for monthly bill payments and day-to-day transactions, you would be better suited with a checking account, as these support daily and frequent use.â
Grow your balance with a money market account
When you’re comparing a money market account vs. a checking account, think of a money market account as a savings vehicle that allows you to earn interest on the balance you keep in the account.
“A money market account is an interest-bearing bank account that typically has a higher interest rate than a checking account,” says Bola Sokunbi, certified financial education instructor and founder of Clever Girl Finance.
With some money market accounts, you can even earn more interest with a higher balance. Thanks to its interest-earning potential, a money market account can be the way to go if you’re looking for an account to help you reach your savings goals and priorities.
If you’re deciding between a money market account or checking account, you may think that a money market account seems like a typical savings account with your ability to earn, but it also has some features similar to a checking account. With a money market account, for example, you can withdraw cash from an ATM and use a debit card or checks to access money from the account. There are no limits on ATM withdrawals or official checks mailed to you.
Before you decide to use this account for your regular bills and your morning caffeine habit, know that federal law limits certain types of withdrawals and transfers from money market accounts to a combined total of six per calendar month per account. If you go over these limitations on more than an occasional basis, your financial institution may choose to close the account.
Don’t need regular access to your funds and want your money to grow until you do need it? Then the benefits of a money market account could be for you.
Deciding between a money market account or checking account
Still debating money market account or checking account? Here are some financial scenarios to help you determine which account may best suit your current needs and goals:
Go with a checking account if…
You want to keep your funds liquid. If you’re thinking money market account or checking account, know that a checking account is built for very regular access to your funds. âIf you plan to use your account for monthly bill payments and day-to-day transactions, you would be better suited with a checking account, as these support daily and frequent use,” Sokunbi says. Think rent, cable, utilities, groceries, gas, maybe that morning caffeine craving. You get the idea.
You want to earn rewards for your spending. When you’re comparing money market account vs. checking account, consider that with some checking accountsâlike Discover Cashback Debitâyou can earn cash back for your debit card purchases. The best part is you are earning cash back as you keep up with your regular expensesâno hoops to jump through or extra account activity needed. Then put that cashback toward fun things like date night, lunch at your favorite spot or a savings fund dedicated to something special.
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You want to deposit and withdraw without the stress of a balance requirement. If you do your research when comparing money market accounts vs. checking accounts, you’ll find that some checking accounts don’t require a minimum balance (or much of one). However, you may be required to maintain a minimum balance (and potentially a higher one) with a money market account in order to avoid a fee. If you’re accessing your money frequently and need to make large withdrawals, a checking account with no minimum balance requirement is a convenient option.
Go with a money market account if…
You want to earn interest. âIf your money is just sitting there, it should be earning money,” Emanuel says of the money market account or checking account question. âI spoke with a woman recently who told me she’d had around $50,000 sitting in her checking account for at least the last 10 years, if not longer. If that money had been in a money market account for the same period of time, she would have earned thousands of dollars on it. Instead she earned nothing,” Emanuel says.
You want to put short-term savings in a different account. If you have some short-term savings goals in mind (way to go!), you may benefit from keeping your savings separate from your more transactional checking account so you don’t dip into them for a different purpose. That whole out of sight, out of mind thing. âA money market account is the perfect place for money that will be accessed less frequently, such as an emergency fund [a.k.a. rainy day fund], a vacation fund or a place to park money after you’ve received an inheritance or proceeds from selling a home,” Emanuel says.
You need an account to fund your overdraft protection. If you’re comparing money market account vs. checking account, consider that a money market account could also cross over to support spending goals. One way is in the form of overdraft protection. If you enroll in overdraft protection for your checking account, for example, you could designate that funds be pulled from your money market account to cover a balance shortfall.
âA money market account is the perfect place for money that will be accessed less frequently, such as an emergency fund [a.k.a. rainy day fund], a vacation fund or a place to park money after you’ve received an inheritanceÂ or proceeds from selling a home.â
Using both accounts to achieve your financial goals
Speaking of crossover. Both spending and saving are vying for your attention, right? Consider leveraging both types of accounts if you have needs from the checking and money market account lists above.
“Personally, I use my checking account for bill payments, my day-to-day spending, writing checks and for any automatic debits I have each month,” Sokunbi says. She’s added a money market account to the mix “because of the higher interest rateâto store my savings for short-term goals, for investing or for money I’ll be needing soon,” she explains. Maybe it’s not about deciding between a money market account or a checking account, but getting the best of both worlds.
Before opening a money market account or checking account, do your research and compare your options to see which bank offers the best package of low or no fees and customer service, in addition to what you need from an interest and access to cash perspective.
The post Money Market Account or Checking Account: Which Is Best For You? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
You just learned of the passing of a loved one. During this stressful and emotionally taxing time, you also find out that you’re receiving an inheritance. While you’re grateful for the unexpected windfall, knowing what to do with an inheritance can bring its own share of stress.
While the amounts vary greatly, the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances reports that an average of roughly 1.7 million households receive an inheritance each year. First words of wisdomâresist the urge to spend it all at once. According to a study funded by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one-third of people who receive an inheritance spend all of itâand even dip into other savingsâin the first two years.
Not me, you say? Still, you might be asking, “What should I do with my inheritance money?” Follow these four steps to help you make smart decisions with your newfound wealth:
1. Take time to grieve your loss
Deciding what to do with an inheritance can bring with it mixed emotions: a sense of reprieve for this unexpected financial gain and sadness for the loss of a loved one, says Robert Pagliarini, certified financial planner and president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors.
During this time, you might feel confused, upset and overwhelmed. âA large inheritance that pushes you out of your financial comfort zone can create anxiety about how to best manage the money,” Pagliarini says. As an inheritor, Pagliarini adds that you may feel the need to be extra careful with the funds; even though you know it is your money, it could feel borrowed.
The last thing you want to do when deciding what to do with an inheritance is make financial decisions under an emotional haze. Avoid making any drastic moves right away, such as quitting your job or selling your home. Some experts suggest giving yourself a six-month buffer before using any of your inheritance, using the time instead to develop a financial plan. While you are thinking about things to do with an inheritance, you can park any funds in a high-yield savings account or certificate of deposit.
âA large inheritance that pushes you out of your financial comfort zone can create anxiety about how to best manage the money.â
2. Know what you’re inheriting
Before you determine the things to do with an inheritance, you need to know what you’re getting. Certified financial planner and wealth manager Alex Caswell says how you use your inheritance will largely depend on its source. Typically, Caswell says an inheritance will come in the form of assets from one of three places:
Real estate, such as a house or property. As Caswell explains, if you receive assets from real estate, you will transfer them into your name. As the inheritor, you can choose what to do with the assetsâtypically sell, rent or live in them.
A trust account, a legal arrangement through which funds are held by a third party (the trustee) for the benefit of another party (the beneficiary), which may be an individual or a group. The creator of the trust is known as a grantor. âIf someone inherits assets through a trust, the trust documents will stipulate how these assets will be distributed and who ultimately decides how they are to be invested,” Caswell says. In some cases, the assets get distributed outright to you; in other instances, the trust stays intact and you get paid in installments.
A retirement account, such as an IRA, Roth IRA or 401(k). These accounts can be distributed in one lump sum, however, there may be requirements related to the amount of a distribution and the cadence of distributions.
When considering things to do with an inheritance, know that inherited assets can be designated as Transfer on Death (TOD) or beneficiary deeds (in the case of real estate), which means the assets can be transferred to beneficiaries without the often lengthy probate process. An individual may also bequeath cash or valuables, like jewelry or family heirlooms, as well as life insurance or stock certificates.
Caswell says if your inheritance comes in the form of investment assets, such as stocks or mutual funds, you’ll want to think of them as part of your own financial picture. âAll too often, we see individuals end up treating inherited assets as a living extension of their passed relative,” Caswell says. Consider how the investments can be used to support your financial goals when thinking about things to do when you get an inheritance.
An average of roughly 1.7 million households receive an inheritance each year.
3. Plan what to do with your financial gain
Just like doing your household budgeting, it’s important to “assign” your inheritance to specific purposes or goals, says Pacifica Wealth Advisors’ Pagliarini. Depending on your financial situation, the simple concepts of save, spend and give may be a good place to start when deciding on things to do when you get an inheritance:
Bolster your emergency fund: You should have at least three to six months of living expenses saved up to avoid unexpected financial shocks, such as job loss, car repairs or medical expenses. If you don’t and you’re deciding what things to do with an inheritance, consider parking some cash in this bucket.
Save for big goals: Now could be a good time to boost your long-term savings goals and pay it forward. Things to do when you get an inheritance could include putting money toward a child’s college fund or getting your retirement savings on track.
Tackle debt: If you’re evaluating what to do with an inheritance, high-interest debt is something you could consider paying off. Spending on debt repayment can help you save on hefty interest charges.
Reduce or pay off your mortgage: Getting closer to paying off your homeâor paying it off entirelyâcan also save you in interest and significantly lower your monthly expenses. Allocating cash here is a win-win.
Enjoy a little bit of it: It’s okay to use a portion of your inheritance on something you enjoy or find rewarding. Planning a vacation, investing in more education or paying for a big purchase could be good moves.
Donate funds to charity: Thinking about your loved one’s causes or your own can continue legacy goals and provide tax benefits.
When deciding what to do with an inheritance, taxes will need to be considered. “It is extremely important to be aware of all tax ramifications of any decision around inherited assets,” Caswell says. You could be required to pay a capital gains tax if you sell the gift (like property) that was passed down to you, for example. Also, depending on where you live, your inherited money could be taxed. In addition to federal estate taxes, several U.S. states impose an inheritance tax and/or an estate tax.
Since every situation is unique and tax laws can change, when considering things to do with an inheritance, consult a financial advisor or tax professional for guidance.
Make your windfall count
Receiving an inheritance has the potential to change your financial picture for good. When thinking about the things to do when you get an inheritance, be sure to give yourself ample time to grieve and to understand all of your options. Don’t be afraid to lean on the experts to get up to speed on any tax and legal implications you need to consider.
Planning can go a long way toward making the right decisions concerning your newfound wealth. Being responsible with your inheritance not only helps ensure your financial future, but will also honor your loved one’s legacy.
The post 4 Smart Things to Do When You Get an Inheritance appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
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 andâthe best part isâyour monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joyâprovided 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.
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 utilizationâor card balance to credit limit ratioâcould 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.
“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”
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.
Start an emergency fund with no minimum balance.
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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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
When personal finance blogger Allan Liwanag was establishing his career and living paycheck to paycheck, he often had just enough money to cover his expenses each month. He ran into an issue with an old checking account that caused him some major grief.
“I forgot to account for the $15 monthly fee that the bank would charge,” Liwanag says. “So I was short covering my rent. It was a stressful situation because I didn’t know at first if the bank would process the payment for the rent or not.” The bank ultimately covered it, but Liwanag got charged $35 for an insufficient funds feeâon top of the original monthly fee.
Liwanag, who now runs a consumer money-saving site called The Practical Saver, learned a lot from that experience. The main point being, checking accounts can rack up feesâeven for standard activity. In fact, bank fees, including those for ATM usage and overdrafts, continue to rise year-over-year, according to a 2019 Bankrate survey. As Liwanag learned, fees could eat away at the funds in your checking account, which may become problematic when it’s time to pay bills or take care of other expenses.
What you may not know is that there are no-fee checking account options without the hassle of common fees. DiscoverÂ®Cashback Debit, a no-fee checking account, for instance, doesn’t charge any account fees.1 It also offers no-fee checking without an opening deposit requirement, which is especially beneficial if you’re starting with a small balance or plan to make big withdrawals or transfers.
So you might be thinking right about now, “What are the benefits of a no-fee checking account?” To answer that question, it’s important to understand what types of fees you may be racking up and how you can make the most of a no-fee account. Let’s get to it.
Bank fees, including those for ATM usage and overdrafts, continue to rise year-over-year.
Your most common checking account fees
Checking account fees can become a trap you may not realize you’ve fallen into until it’s too late. It’s possible to be charged fees just for keeping your account open or for services or features you may have assumed came standard with the account. Being charged a fee doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done anything wrong, but it’s a hassle you can avoid with the proper research.
Here is a list of some of the common checking account fees you could be paying:
Monthly fees to maintain or service your account
Overdraft or insufficient funds fees
Fees to order books of checks
Online bill pay fees
Stop payment fees
Replacement debit card fees
Not sure which checking account fees you’re dishing out for? Contact your bank or visit its website to get a copy of your deposit account agreement. This document usually has a list of fees related to your checking account that may apply to you.
Another good tipoff: “If you see monthly, quarterly or annual fees broken out on your monthly bank statement, you’ll know whether your account is truly no-fee,” says CPA and financial analyst Riley Adams of Young and the Invested, a site with strategies for financial independence.
It’s important to review your statements regularly to identify which fees you are being charged and to determine how that’s impacting your budget.
3 benefits of a no-fee checking account
Now that you’ve identified the many possible checking account fees you could be charged, you’ll find that the benefits of a no-fee checking account go beyond just freeing up some cash in your budget. In addition to the features you’re used to with a regular checking account, a no-fee checking account gives you a financial edge in the following ways:
More money for your financial goals. “Having a no-fee checking account can help you get ahead financially,” Adams says. “Instead of paying monthly service fees and even overdraft fees, you can apply that money toward your own financial goals.” The money you save on fees could be used to pay down debt, boost a savings account or help fund an education, business venture or vacation.
Flexibility. A benefit of a no-fee checking account is that it allows you to bank on your terms. If you’re just starting out, a no-fee checking account without an opening deposit requirement means you have the flexibility to fund the account with whatever amount makes sense for you. Need to make a big transfer from checking to savings? No problem, since you won’t have to worry about dipping below a minimum balance threshold. You can even go on your merry way using ATMs in your bank’s network without being restricted by fees, and if you accidentally overdraw, your no-fee account’s flexibility may save you the stress of a ding for insufficient funds.
No surprises. “Should I get a no-fee checking account?” was an easy decision for Liwanag because he knows exactly what to expect with one. “A plus of no-fee accounts is that you can rest assured that unaccounted-for or surprise fees will not kick you into overdraft,” Liwanag says. (Or, in other words, less s-t-r-e-s-s.)
Manage your finances with multiple no-fee accounts
There are also ways that no-fee checking accounts can help you better manage your income and expenses, in case you’re still wondering, “Should I get a no-fee checking account?”
Liwanag had no problem answering that question: âI have four,” he says, “which I use for easily tracking specific budget categories or expenses.”
As he explains, it can be easier to track expenses when money for different priorities, such as his emergency fund or that much-needed vacation, is bucketed into different no-fee checking accounts. Because he may be charged fees for excessive withdrawals from a savings account, Liwanag uses his no-fee checking accounts to manage the money he’ll need to access frequently for specific purposes.
The best part: Maintaining multiple checking accounts doesn’t cost him extra since a benefit of no-fee checking accounts means fees aren’t in the equation, he says. Some banks do have limits on how many checking accounts you can open, so be sure to consider this if you’re using a multiple account strategy like Liwanag.
Keeping your expenses organized is a pretty big motivator; so if you’ve answered “yes” to the question, “Should I get a no-fee checking account?”, the next step is knowing how to choose one.
Find the best no-fee checking account for your needs
Although the benefits of a no-fee checking account are key, don’t lose your head too much and forget to consider other checking account features that match your lifestyle. If customer service is your deal breaker, make sure the bank offers it around the clock and that it’s recognized for being top-notch. If you’re always on the go and your phone is right there with you, mobile features and mobile check deposit may be on the top of your list. If you’re regularly withdrawing cash, evaluate the bank’s network of no-fee ATMs and see if an ATM locator is offered to make tracking them down a breeze.
Why should credit cards have all the fun?
Now you can earn cash back with your debit card.
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If the benefits of a no-fee checking account are top of mind, you may also want to consider the perks of a rewards checking account. For example, Discover’s Cashback Debit even offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.2 So on top of a no-fees savings strategy to meet your goals, you could also earn up to $360 a year. (Vacation, here we come!)
Start on your path to smart checking
Clearly, the benefits of a no-fee checking account and a no-fee checking account without an opening deposit requirement are numerous. Just be sure to do your research, then compare your findings carefully. The no-fee checking account you choose should ultimately help you reach your personal financial goals. You may find that saving on fees and reducing financial stress could be just the edge you need to set your checking account on the best course.
1Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.
2ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPalÂ®, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. Venmo and PayPal are registered trademarks of PayPal, Inc.
The post Should I Get a No-Fee Checking Account? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
So youâre at the point in your life where buying a home is not a question of if, but when. Youâre scrimping. Youâre saving. Youâre 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? Youâll want to take time to thoroughly review your personal financial situation and life goals. At the same time, youâll need to gain some understanding of the market dynamics that impact home costs.
This process will take some time, but itâs well worth the effort. With a firm grasp on your personal situation and some context on the housing market, youâll be able to confidently go forth knowing youâre 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 youâre trying to determine when youâre 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 youâre thinking of buying a house right now.
If you have any inkling that your position may be eliminated or that youâll 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.
If youâre considering buying a house right now, you should avoid opening any new lines of credit right before purchasing a home.
Do you have enough money saved?
After income stability, savings is the next-most-important financial factor youâll 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, itâs not necessaryâfar 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 doesnât stretch you too thinâexperts 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 andâif you donât have the savings to put down 20%âprimary 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.
Once you know your price range, you can determine how much savings you need in the bank to buy a house right now. Youâll 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 itâs a dishwasher on the fritz or a leaky roof, you donât 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 youâre offered. Given that, you should be checking your credit report and know your credit score before investing in a home. If youâre 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 lowerâin the 33% to 36% range.
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 youâre 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 youâre ready to buy a home and whether nowâs 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 youâre 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 inventoryâmeaning the fewer houses availableâthe higher prices will be, Tucker says.
Whatâs going on with interest rates?
When youâre 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 youâre spending less on interest. When they are high, the opposite is true.
This is what compels people to buy when interest rates are lowâyou 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 headedâif prices will drop or rise soonâcheck 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 donât 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.
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.
âFor 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,â Ziegler says. âIf theyâre just not sure what the future holds, it may be better to have that flexibility.â
Itâs 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?
While youâre 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 itâs 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, youâll have a clearer sense of when you are ready to buy a home.
If youâve decided that buying a house right now is the best decision for you, itâs 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.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post Is Now a Good Time to Buy a House? appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to considerâsports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.
Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.
“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.
The “sandwich generation”âwhich describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parentsâis growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.
When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?
The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:
Communicate with parents
Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.
First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.
Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.
17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.
Involve kids in financial discussions
While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.
With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.
If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.
The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.
Talking over expectationsâyours and theirsâcan help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.
Consider the impact of caregiving on your income
When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.
Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.
“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”
When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.
Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.
“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”
Keep saving in sight
One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.
“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”
Sunny skies are the right time to save for a rainy day.
Start an emergency fund with no minimum balance.
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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each monthâeven if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budgetâcan help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.
When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.
A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.
Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.
The post Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
If you have an irregular income, you know how great the good times feelâand how difficult the lean times can be. While you can’t always control when you get paid or the size of each paycheck if you’re a freelancer, contractor or work in the gig economy, you can take control of your money by creating a budget that will help you manage these financial extremes.
Antowoine Winters, a financial planner and principal at Next Steps Financial Planning, LLC, says creating a budget with a variable income can require big-picture thinking. You may need to spend time testing out different methods when you first start budgeting, but, âif done correctly, it can really empower you to control your life,” Winters says.
How do you budget on an irregular income? Consider these four strategies to help you budget with a variable income and gain financial confidence:
1. Determine your average income and expenses
If you want to start budgeting on a fluctuating income, you need to know how much money you have coming in and how much you’re spending.
Of course, that’s the basis for any budget. But it can be particularly important if you’re trying to budget on an irregular income because you may have especially high- or low-income periods. You want to start tracking as soon as possible to build up accurate data on your average income and expenses.
For example, once you have six months’ worth of income and expenses documented, you can divide the total by six to determine your average income and expenses by month.
Many financial apps and websites can help with the tracking, including ones that can connect to your online bank and credit card accounts and automatically pull in your transactions. You may even be able to pull in previous months’ or years’ worth of data, which you can use to calculate your averages.
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income and apps aren’t your thing, you can use a spreadsheet or even a pen and notebook to track your cash flow. However, without automated tracking, it can be difficult to consistently keep your information up to date.
2. Try a zero-sum budget
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget,” says Holly Johnson. As a full-time freelance writer, she’s been budgeting with a variable income for over seven years and is the coauthor of the book Zero Down Your Debt.
With a zero-sum budget, your income and expenses should even out so there’s nothing left over at the end of the month. The trick is to treat your savings goals as expenses. For example, your “expenses” may include saving for an emergency, vacation or homeownership.
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget.”
Johnson says if you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, you can adopt the zero-sum budget by creating a “salary” for yourself. Consider your average monthly expenses (shameless plug for tip 1) and use that number as your baseline.
For example, if your monthly household bills, groceries, business expenses, savings goals and other necessities add up to $4,000, that’s your salary for the month. During months when you make over $4,000, put the extra money into a separate savings account. During months when you make less than $4,000, draw from that account to bring your salary up to $4,000.
“We call this fund the ‘boom and bust’ fund,” Johnson says. “By building up an adequate amount of savings, you will create a situation where you can pay yourself the salary you need each month.”
3. Separate your saving and spending money
Physically separating your savings from your everyday spending money may be especially important when you’re creating a budget on an irregular income. You may be tempted to pull funds from your savings goals during low-income months, and stashing your savings in a separate, high-yield savings account can force you to pause and think twice before dipping in.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
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An easy way to put this tip into action when creating a budget with a variable income is to have all of your income deposited into one account, then disburse it into separate savings and spending accounts. “Transfer a set amount on the first of every month to a bill-paying account and a set amount to a spending account,” Winters, the financial planner, says.
“The bill pay account is used to pay for all of the regular expenses, like rent, insurance, car payments, student loans, etc.,” Winters says. These bills generally stay the same each month. The spending account can be used for your variable expenses, such as groceries and gas.
When considering your savings accounts, Winters also suggests funding a retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income as a contract worker or freelancer, you may also want to set money aside for taxes because the income and payroll taxes you’ll owe aren’t automatically taken out of your paychecks.
4. Build up your emergency fund
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund,” freelancer Johnson says. An emergency fund is money you set aside for necessary expenses during an emergency, such as a medical issue or broken-down vehicle.
Generally, you’ll want to save up enough money to cover three to six months of your regular expenses. Once you build your fund, you can put extra savings toward other financial goals.
When you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, having the emergency fund can help you feel more at ease knowing that you’ll be able to pay your necessary bills if the unexpected happens or when you’re stuck in a low-income period for longer than anticipated.
A budget can make living with a variable income easier
It can be challenging to budget on an irregular income, especially when you’re first starting. You might have to cut back on expenses for several months to start building up your savings and try multiple budgeting methods before finding the one that works best for you.
“Budgeting requires a mindset change regardless of which type of budget you try,” Johnson explains.
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund.”
However, once in place, a budget on an irregular income can also help free you from worrying about the boom-and-bust cycle that many variable-income workers deal with throughout the year.
The goal is to get to the point where you can budget with a variable income and don’t have to worry about when you’ll get paid next because you set your budget based on your averages, planned ahead during the high times and have savings ready for your low times.
The post 4 Tricks for Budgeting on a Fluctuating Income appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
It’s a nonstop day. The usual. You’re at the grocery store, grabbing a few things for dinner (note to self: hit the ATM on the way out!), then a much-needed coffee at the drive-through (swipe that debit card), before you drop your tween at her first day of basketball practice (remember to bring your checkbook). Phew. And you’re only halfway done.
In the middle of it all, you certainly don’t want the nagging feeling that you can’t access your money at a moment’s notice, that you’re missing spending perks or that you’ll be hit with unnecessary fees. So a good question for you might be, “What’s the best checking account for busy families?”
How about a checking account that matches your lifestyle? Robert Farrington, founder of millennial personal finance site The College Investor and father of two, suggests that banking for busy parents should include an account that is âconducive to an on-the-move life.”
With everything on your plate, you may not realize that as your family’s needs change, the way you manage your money will likely need to change too. The good news is that many financial institutions offer bank accounts for busy families like yours, designed with features aimed at supporting your active lifestyle.
To select the checking account that best serves your needs, Farrington recommends first examining your current patterns. âNotice how you deposit money and how you spend it,” Farrington says. âLook at your banking trends and see where you’re being charged.”
Next, identify the unique features offered by each new checking account you are considering. To help you do that, here are four key things to look for as you narrow down your search:
1. Cash back rewards: More bang for your buck
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs about $12,980 a year to raise a child. Even if your kids get their share of hand-me-downs and you don’t buy them everything they want, you’re still spending a lot. The biggest costsâafter housing (29 percent of child-rearing costs)âare food (18 percent) and child care/education (16 percent). None of that even includes birthdays, holidays and so on…
If you’re trying to find the best checking account for busy families, consider that all those purchases could be a little less painful with a checking account that rewards spending, typically in the form of cash back or rewards points.
Ashley Patrick, founder of the blog Budgets Made Easy, loves the idea of a checking account that offers rewards. Patrick, whose blog tells the story of how she paid off $45,000 of debt in 17 months, recommends that budget-conscious families use debit cards for purchases. âIf those purchases were rewarded,” Patrick says, âthat money would multiply.”
Say hello to cash back on debit card purchases.
No monthly fees. No balance requirements. No, really.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
If you’re using a checking account that rewards you for debit card purchases, some of those seemingly endless expenses can actually help you save a bit of extra cash. Discover Cashback Debit, for example, lets you earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 That means your monthly cash back earnings could yield $360 in total rewards each year. This feature of a bank account for busy families could pay for one night at your favorite family resort!
2. Easy account access: At home or on the run
You’re dropping off one kid, picking up the other, then have to get ready for a fundraiser. You are always on the go, so it’s time to find the best checking account for busy families that’s always right there with you. Patrick suggests opening a checking account with a bank that has a vast network of no-fee ATM locations. For example, Discover offers more than 60,000 no-fee ATMs around the U.S.
âI live out in the country, about 12 to 13 miles from town, so I need an ATM nearby,” Patrick says. âI usually go to town on Fridays or Mondays, get lunch for the kids, go to the store for groceries and get cash. Everything needs to be in one location.”
Besides getting money for day-to-day purchases, a conveniently located ATM is a must for depositing cash. Why make a special trip to visit your local branch when you can make deposits at an ATM that’s at or near a place you already frequent? Banking for busy parents is hard to imagine without this benefit.
âNotice how you deposit money and how you spend it. Look at your banking trends and see where you’re being charged.”
3. Online and mobile features: Save time in spades
In fact, you may not need a brick-and-mortar bank branch at all. Another option to consider is opening a checking account with an online bank.
The best bank account for busy families is one that offers maximum convenience. With an online checking account, all you need is a computer, tablet or smartphone to deposit a check (most online banks have a mobile app that allows you to take a photo of your check to deposit the funds). An online checking account also makes banking for busy parents effortless by allowing them to manage bills and bank statements from a deviceâeither while at home or out and about. Save the paper for your kids’ cute drawings that you tack up on the fridge.
Nermeen Ghneim, blogger at Savvy Dollar and mom of two, says the best checking account for busy families would offer a mobile app.
âI want to be able to access everything a bank can offer through my mobile device,” Ghneim says. âIt saves time, and it’s huge for a parent with a full-time job.”
Here are some of the other online and mobile features that are key if you’re looking for the best checking account for busy families:
Online transfers. Farrington says the ability to transfer money between accounts is especially important. Things come up unexpectedly and you may need to quickly transfer from savings to checking, or move those cash back rewards into a college fund for the kids. If you’re moving your cash back rewards into savings, you may even be able to make that happen automatically. For example, when you enroll in Discover’s Auto Redemption to Savings, we’ll automatically deposit your cash back into a Discover Online Savings Account every month.
Online bill payments. With everything else on your mind, you shouldn’t have to go through a stack of bills every month. The best checking account for busy families would allow you to set up automatic bill payments, so each month’s charges are automatically debited from your checking account.
Balance notifications. You should never be in the middle of a transaction and see those dreaded words: Insufficient Funds. Instead, you want to get a heads-up when your balance is close to zero, so there aren’t any surprises.
Debit card protection. While it’s important to be able to quickly and easily use your debit card, Ghneim says it’s just as important to be able to freeze it. Some banks offer a digital feature that enables you to switch your debit card on and off, so you can instantly freeze your debit card if it’s been misplaced or you want to curb spending.
Connecting to other digital applications. Nowadays, busy families rely on budgeting and spending apps to help manage their finances. A good bank account for busy families would be able to easily sync with those other tools online or via your mobile device so that you can efficiently manage your money and take advantage of the features of each app.
Farrington says that when selecting the best bank account for busy families, a no-fee checking account is a must-have, so it’s worth shopping around until you find one. For example, Discover Cashback Debit has no account-related fees.2 âYou shouldn’t have to pay a fee if you don’t keep a minimum balance,” Farrington says. âParents often don’t have the bandwidth to keep track of whether they’ve made a certain number of transactions.”
If you are getting hit with a checking account fee for any of the items below, you may want to consider a new checking account to make banking for busy parents easier:
In-network ATM withdrawals
Replacement debit card
Online bill pay
Stop payment order
Official bank check
If you’re exploring a new bank account for busy families, Ghneim advises to watch out for hidden costs. Even no-fee checking accounts will sometimes hit you with unexpected charges. âThere should be no hidden fees because if a family is living off a budget, it’s very stressful to incur unexpected fees,” Ghneim says. Farrington agrees: âThere are some things that might cost you money, like wire transfers, but you shouldn’t have to pay for most features these days.”
âThere should be no hidden fees because if a family is living off a budget, it’s very stressful to incur unexpected fees.â
Banking for busy parents just got easier
Above all, Farrington says you want to prioritize the features that are most relevant to your family’s needs and lifestyle. If you’re always on the go, you may care most about convenient, no-fee ATMs and mobile check deposits. If your schedule necessitates a lot of out-of-pocket spending, you may want to prioritize debit card cash back rewards.
Keep in mind that when it comes to establishing the best banking for busy parents, you have options. âThere are so many checking accounts being offered now,” Farrington says. As long as you’re aware of the features that are available, you can make an informed decision and choose the account that’s best for you and your family.
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, which also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
2 Outgoing wire transfers are subject to a service charge. You may be charged a fee by a non-Discover ATM if it is not part of the 60,000+ ATMs in our no-fee network.
The post Banking for Busy Parents: 4 Essential Checking Account Features appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.