Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It?

We’re living in an age of convenience. Groceries can be delivered, clothes can be picked out for you and just about every TV show and movie ever made can be beamed straight into your living room. If I had the money, I could get pretty much everything I need without ever leaving my house.

But unfortunately, I don’t have the money. Do you?

As our society has collectively fallen in love with subscription services, many of us have let them take over our budget. Because these are recurring expenses, it’s all too easy to sign up and forget about your card being charged every month.

It’s time to finally ask yourself -are all of these subscription services worth the money?

Are You Spending Too Much on Subscription Services?

Before you can decide if meal subscription and delivery services are eating up too much of your budget, you have to figure out how much you’re spending on them. This is a very subjective and personal question that depends on your income, total spending and other goals.

Look at your monthly subscription and food delivery spending in Mint, checking to see if the numbers align with your budget. Take the time to sort and categorize the transactions if you haven’t done so in a while. It may help to look through several month’s worth of expenses, because some subscription services like FabFitFun only ship once a quarter.

Spending may also vary based on the seasons or other external factors. You may spend more on food delivery services during final exams because you’re too busy to meal plan. If the seasons change and you don’t have any clothes, you may spend more on personal styling services.

Once you have an accurate account of how much you spend, compare it to your income and other expenses. Spending $50 a week on a meal kit service doesn’t mean anything without context. You need to know how that compares to your other expenses.

How to Cut Down on Subscription Services

If you found that you’re overspending on subscription services, it doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out entirely. Think about how much value each service provides to your life, and prioritize where your money is going.

Make a list of all the subscription services you currently have and how much you spend on them each month. Then rank the subscription and delivery services from most important to least.

Write down how often you actually use the products or services. Be honest with yourself. The goal is to keep the boxes and services that you actually use, love and enjoy on a regular basis. This can help you identify which services don’t fit into your lifestyle – or budget.

Try to be as objective and ruthless as possible here. Yes, you may love getting the monthly Stitch Fix box in the mail, but do you actually keep the clothes they send? Learning to cook with Blue Apron may be a worthy goal, but do you actually like the meals they send?

Once you have a list of essential subscriptions, look at your budget again and determine how much money is left for those services. If the available amount is greater than the total cost, you’re in the clear.

However, if the amount is more than you can afford, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of parting with your subscriptions, you’ll have to look at cuts you can make in other spending categories.

How to Save on Subscription Services

Chances are, you’re paying more for some of your subscription services than is absolutely necessary. Most video streaming services let you watch multiple screens at once so you can split it with friends or family. Some even have student deals if you have a university email address. Your school may even have its own special agreements with certain providers.

If there are a lot of subscription services you want to keep, consider alternating which ones you use throughout the year. Most subscription and delivery services make it easy to cancel and resubscribe later.

For example, if you have a beauty box subscription and a bathroom full of toiletries, quit the service until you’ve used most of the products. Many of these products expire, so you’ll be saving money and cutting down on waste.

If you subscribe services but only use them during a particular season, like a streaming service tied to a seasonal sport, get rid of them and reactivate when you’re ready. You can also do this with streaming services that only have a few shows you’re interested in. Once you’re done watching Stranger Things, for example, you can deactivate your Netflix membership for no penalty.

Seek Alternative Ways to Save

Looking for cheaper versions of your favorite services can also help you avoid overspending. Some grocery stores now have meal kits similar to Blue Apron or HelloFresh. It’s not as convenient, but it’s a much more affordable alternative.

Many companies give customers referral codes they can send out to friends and family. When people use your referral codes, you’ll earn free credit or cash. For example, Barkbox provides a free month if someone signs up for a six or 12-month membership through your referral link.

Sometimes companies will have a special coupon for new customers that use referral codes, like Stitch Fix who provide a $25 bonus for both the new customer and the one who referred them.

You can share these links on social media, by text or through email. Some programs have a limit on how much you can earn with referral codes, but it never hurts to try. If you end up exceeding that amount, you can apply for their official affiliate program to earn cash instead of credit.

If you do cancel a program, check your bank account to make sure you’re no longer paying for it. Some services are guilty of occasionally charging former subscribers even after they’ve quit.

Which subscription service are you going to cut back on this year? Let us know in the comments!

The post Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)
$19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.
403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type
401(k)
403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit
$19,500
$19,500
Employer-Issued Packages
For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age
59.5 years old
59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

 

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

 

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

The post What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

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

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

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How a CFP Celebrates Her Money Wins

People may often imagine that when they reach their milestones, there will be fireworks and party buses along with a huge celebration. And while sometimes there are, most wins are simply small steps you take every day until one day you wake up where you visualized you would be. That is why it is important to celebrate it all — the ups, the downs, the wins, the steps forward, and sometimes even backward. Without awareness and reflection, you might miss out on celebrating how much progress you have made in your financial life. By acknowledging even the so-called small things, you can keep the momentum alive and feel good about yourself.

Here are some ways I celebrate my money wins, no matter how big or small:

Tell my family and friends.

By sharing my money wins and even challenges with my closest friends and family, it opens me up to receive the love and support that is needed to sustain the financial journey. I think because money is still a topic most do not feel comfortable talking about, getting vulnerable with close family and friends allows them to do so with me in return. That kind of give and receive is part of living an open, abundant life. If you’re comfortable, you can even share on social media about your wins, which could inspire others. Sharing your money goals and personal finance journey also helps you stay out of the “I am all alone” mindset, which is not true and can actually hold you back from receiving more in your financial life.

Pause and feel proud of myself.

There are so many specific times in my life where I felt my money wins viscerally and just paused to take a moment to feel proud of myself for doing it. Whether it was saving a certain amount of money, negotiating a specific compensation package, or changing a mindset pattern holding me back from living abundantly, I can recall the memories specifically and feel great about them and myself. I remember years ago when I sold my first business and received the payment in my bank account, I felt amazing to know that I actually did it. I had finally reached my financial goal. It was just a regular workday and I was alone doing my weekly money date. And I distinctly remember feeling all the excitement and joy knowing I had accomplished something I worked on for years. The irony is when we reach our financial goals such as buying a home, paying off our student debts, or reaching our cash cushion goal, there aren’t actually big fireworks. Instead, you feel a deep understanding within yourself that you finally reached a goal you may have been striving toward for years.

Remember I can keep doing what it takes.

When celebrating my money wins, it also reminds me that I have the power to do and create what I want in life. By using my real-life experiences of achieving something I have worked for, I am reminded that I can continue doing so to achieve whatever next financial goal I have. When I reached my cash cushion goal years ago, I remembered that I have the power to keep creating my financial life as I desire and have the discipline to save for my goals. These reminders are key because no matter where we start financially, we all have the power to create our lives as we want, and choose how we show up, behave, think and act with our money. We are not victims. When I feel that and know that in my being, I feel anything is possible and am able to stay in the positive, “I can,” mindset.

Buy something memorable to acknowledge my hard work and effort.

This does not always have to be something major but can even be something that you have been wanting for a significant amount of time. When I reached my own financial goal last year of making a certain amount of business revenue for the year, I decided with one of my larger incoming checks to my business, I would take a portion and buy myself a designer handbag I had wanted for a few years. It was a gift to myself that I could enjoy and remember my hard work to achieve it. But you don’t always have to spend a lot. I also treat myself to smaller things like a massage or treating my family or friends out to a nice dinner. I just try to take time to celebrate by enjoying something nice whether it is a material item or a nice experience with my loved ones.

Journaling my accomplishments.

Every year, I take time to reflect on my total accomplishments for the year by journaling them out. This activity is solely for me to remember all I have achieved and to feel good about my accomplishments. By reflecting, I am able to connect to the positive aspects and blessings in my life to acknowledge how incredible I am. We tend to focus on what we are lacking or what we are not. By doing this activity, you are shifting your mindset and balancing the scales in a sense.

It’s common to look internally and criticize ourselves. Our mind jumps to comparing, thinking, “I don’t have this or that or I didn’t do this or that” or even feeling like a failure. With that mindset, you can get stuck only focusing on what you are not and have not, instead of embracing all that you are and all that you have. Having an attitude of gratitude goes a long way, especially with money. So take time to celebrate and feel grateful for what you have and all that you have accomplished. I truly believe this will also help you continue to attract more in your life.

The post How a CFP Celebrates Her Money Wins appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Host a Money Stress Free Thanksgiving

From the Mint team: Mint may be compensated by some of the links that appear in this article. Our partners do not endorse, review or approve the content. Any links to Mint Partners were added after the creation of the posting.  Mint Partners had no influence on the creation, direction or focus of this article unless otherwise specifically stated.

Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season. It’s the countdown to Christmas, the first real family gathering since Easter or Fourth of July. For some people, it’s the only time they see their families. For many of us, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate gratitude and to be surrounded by the people you love most.

For others, it’s a stressful, labor-intensive, marathon that only ends when your last uncle leaves. In many instances, the end of Thanksgiving is the best part.

That’s not the only problem. Hosting Thanksgiving is a huge financial endeavor. Feeding a dozen people (or more) can be a huge strain, especially on top of other holiday expenses.

But this year can be different. This year, you’ll be composed, organized and dare I say it, even frugal. This year you’ll actually be glad for Thanksgiving. Want to learn how? Read on.

Ask for More Help

It’s not uncommon if you’re hosting Thanksgiving to take on all the work yourself. Especially if you’re a young adult, hosting your first Thanksgiving is a sign that you’re a real grown-up.

Paying for a Thanksgiving meal for a dozen people can add up quickly and sometimes there’s no reason why you should take on the burden by yourself. Ask everyone who’s coming to bring a side dish while you take on the responsibility of cooking the turkey. If you delegate sides appropriately, you can end up with a meal that not only costs less but is less time-intensive.

If you feel odd about asking people to pitch in, don’t. Almost everyone is happy to help, especially if it means they get to decide how they want to make the stuffing.

Choose Chicken

Buying a turkey on Thanksgiving is a quintessential tradition, but it can also be a costly one. A whole turkey can cost $1.50 per pound compared to the average whole chicken which can be less than $1 per pound.

If your friends and family aren’t die-hard traditionalists, you can probably get away with serving the latter bird. If you really plan ahead you can find a chicken on sale so you spend even less.

If you still want to do a turkey, buy one pound of turkey per guest instead of 1.5-2 pounds. You don’t need to have a ton of turkey leftovers, especially since it’s so expensive.

Aim for Fewer Leftovers

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a meal of Thanksgiving leftovers the next day. I love to pick out my favorites and make a smorgasbord sandwich out of them. But if you’re not careful you might end up with too many leftovers that you can’t use up before they go bad. If this has always been the case, then aim to cut back and have as little remaining as possible. When you do have leftovers, freeze a few so they don’t go bad.

You can freeze anything from cranberry sauce to stuffing to turkey. Dairy items sometimes lose consistency in the freezing process, but it’s still worth trying. When you do freezer meals remember to label them and put them in the freezer right away you won’t forget.

Watch Where You Buy Groceries

It’s always important to comparison shop your groceries, but it’s never more important than on a big holiday. Every store will have its own specials and deals and you might be surprised where you find the best option. My husband and I have recently been shopping a lot at Aldi, a chain more popular in the south in the Midwest. It’s a grocery store without a lot of extra frills so you can find deals way better than any of the other national brands.

We’ve also discovered the secret of ethnic grocery stores where produce prices are often 50% of what I see in my neighborhood grocery store. Before buying your Thanksgiving fixings, check out those stores to see if what you need is cheaper. Remember no one cares if you’re buying generic marshmallows for your sweet potato casserole. They just care that you follow Grandma’s recipe.

If you find yourself spending more on groceries, you may want a credit card that helps you maximize your rewards. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases.

Simplify your Meals

If you’re like me, you probably have a variety of picky eaters in your family. Some people are vegan, some are vegetarian and some are changing their diet every week.

That can make it tempting to make a few different kinds of the same meal to please everyone, but making green bean casserole for your Whole30 aunt and a version for everyone else just isn’t cost-efficient. Take everyone’s diet into account and find a version that will suit everyone instead of making slightly different ones. You don’t need to be like Monica from Friends making three different kinds of mashed potatoes so Ross, Phoebe, and Joey will all be happy.

Use Easy Decorations

Everyone wants the Martha Stewart-Thanksgiving centerpiece, but few of us are that crafty. Instead, use squash in a decorative bowl as your centerpiece. It’ll look more natural and minimalist. Plus you won’t have to throw away the decor when the meal’s over.

If you have little cousins you can also enlist them to make pretty decorations before the meal gets started. If you do decide to buy decorations, make sure you store them properly so they can be used next year too.

Skip the Fancy Dinnerware

I’m one of those millennials who skipped the traditional bridal registry in favor of a honeymoon fund so I never got a ceramic gravy boat or silver platter when I got married. That means that when I host people I put chips in a mixing bowl and leave the dip in the package it came in. So far I’ve found that none of my guests care how I’m serving the food as long as it’s good.

Your Thanksgiving family and friends won’t mind either. Don’t feel like you have to rush out to get serveware that matches. If you truly don’t have a large enough platter head to Goodwill or a thrift store where you can find all those items for just a few dollars.

The post How to Host a Money Stress Free Thanksgiving appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

June Financial To-Do List + Calendar

Life happens, but you can be prepared for the unexpected with an emergency savings fund. These funds are designed to be set aside for unanticipated expenses, such as:

  • Unexpected job loss
  • Unforeseen medical expenses
  • Car repair
  • Family emergencies

Emergency funds serve as an important financial buffer in the event of an emergency, and it’s easy to get started with this savings task. In this month’s financial checklist, we’re going to focus on tasks that will help you build an emergency savings fund.

 June Financial Checklist: Emergency Savings

  1. Determine how much you want to put away
  2. Pick where to save your emergency fund
  3. Set up automatic contributions
  4. Pad your emergency fund
  5. Review and adjust your contributions monthly

Let’s look at ways you can boost your savings, build your emergency fund, and keep your finances on track as we enter the second half of the year.

  1. Determine how much you want to put away

Set a goal savings amount that is moderately challenging but attainable.

  • Less aggressive: 3 months of living expenses
  • More aggressive: 6 months of living expenses

Example: If you make $3,200 per month after taxes, you’ll want to have $9,600 to $19,200 in your emergency fund.

2. Pick where to save your emergency fund

Consider emergency savings as untouchable for expenses that are just wants – keep this money here for when you really need it.

To help resist the temptation of spending these savings, put your emergency fund in the right place:

  • High-yield savings account
  • Money market account
  • Certificate of Deposit (CD)
  • Roth IRA

Sometimes there’s not a one-size fits all solution. Consider putting emergency funds away in more than one of the above options. 

3. Set Up Automatic Contributions

  • Funnel some of your paycheck directly into your emergency fund
  • Start with a small percentage, and be sure you can still live comfortably
  • Make contributions more aggressive over time if possible

4. Pad your emergency savings

  • Sell old things you no longer use
  • Funnel “surprise” cash into your savings
  • Save your tax refund
  • Try a no-spending challenge
  • Take on a side hustle

5. Review and adjust your contributions monthly

  • Check in each month to see how much you’re putting away
  • Adjust your contributions if your account isn’t building quickly enough

 

Key Takeaways

Prefer to organize online? Create an editable copy of our June monthly template in three simple steps:

  1. Open our Calendar Template in Google Sheets
  2. Select “File”, then “Make a Copy”
  3. Save in your own Google Drive to make edits

Our finance tips can help you throughout the year so be sure to take a look! Improve your finances in 2020 with our series of financial to-do lists tailored to each calendar month.

The post June Financial To-Do List + Calendar appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties?

This week’s Mint audit helps out a couple, Pasquale, 46, and Jillian, 39, who are starting a new life together after each experiencing divorce. Both work in software sales earning roughly the same income. When combined, their earnings average $450,000 a year.

The New Jersey couple shares a new mortgage and a savings account. They recently purchased a home together and pool a fraction of their incomes together into a joint account to pay for shared expenses such as the home loan, property taxes and utilities.

Pasquale and Jillian also arrived at the relationship owning their own properties. Pasquale has held onto his townhome in a nearby town that he bought after his divorce. He rents it out, earning a nice $500 monthly profit. Jillian also has a home in Florida, which she rents out. She more or less breaks even every month.

They would like advice related to managing their rental properties (should they sell them?), possibly buying a vacation home in the $250,000 to $350,000 range and, for Pasquale, saving up to help send his two daughters (ages 13 and 17) to college. They’re also wondering if they’re saving “enough” for retirement.

They had lots of good questions, and after an hour on the phone and a review of their finances, I was able to fit together some of their puzzle pieces.

First, here’s a break down of some their finances:

Retirement Savings

  • Pasquale: Contributes 5% to 401(k) and has about $500,000 in it. He also invests 15% in company’s ESPP (Employee Stock Purchase Plan)
  • Jillian: Contributes 5% to a 401(k) plus employer’s match, totaling 10%. She has about $200,000 saved. She also invests 11% in her company’s ESPP.
  • If they were to both cash out their ESPPs today, they’d have about $250,000 in gains, which are subject to income tax.

Child Support Payments

  • Pasquale: $4,000 per month

Debt (Credit Cards and Student Loans)

  • Pasquale: $18,000 in student loans
  • Jillian: $40,000 in student loans

Real Estate Holdings

  • Each of their individual properties has about $80,000 in equity.

 

Here are my top 3 recommendations:

Max Out the 401(k)s

The couple is doing fairly well with their retirement savings, but I think they are too exposed to their ESPPs. They contribute more to their ESPPs than their 401(k)s, which is very risky, considering an ESPP puts all your money in a single stock. A 401(k) is far more diversified.

They may benefit from reallocating some of those dollars back into their company 401(k). In doing so, I recommend they both aim to max out their 401(k)s, which also means a bigger tax deduction. This year’s maximum contribution is $18,500.

Transfer Some ESPP Earnings to College Savings

Every six months, each receives the chance to cash out some or all of the money in their ESPP. I recommend striking at the next opportunity to reduce their exposure to a market downfall and help pay for future college expenses. Taking 20 or 30 percent off the table and placing the dollars into a safer haven like a CD creates less risk.

For Pasquale, specifically, I’d look into selling some of his shares at the next opportunity and placing it into a plain vanilla savings account to cover at least the first two years of his daughter’s education. His daughter will choose a school soon and expects to receive some grants and scholarships to reduce the cost. At that point Pasquale can better estimate how much to withdraw from the stock plan.

For his youngest daughter, it’s not too late for Pasquale to open a 529-college savings account. That money can later be used for higher education costs without being subject to taxes. Investing $500 a month in a 529 starting today could help to afford at least the first year or two of school, depending on where she lands. Pasquale may even consider using some of the ESPP gains to fund the new 529 for daughter #2, if his eldest doesn’t need it.

Sell Rentals to Purchase a New Second Home

How emotionally tied are they to their individual properties? Pasquale said he could take it or leave it. The $500 cash flow is nice, but he’s open to selling it. Jillian, however, would be sad to part ways with the Florida home. While its rental income is just enough to cover the carrying costs, she likes the idea of keeping it. She’s always wanted to have a house by the water.

But I propose a scenario: What if they sold both rental properties and pooled the equity ($160,000) to afford a new second home that they’d both own? They’re eyeing a cabin near the Poconos in Pennsylvania. The estimated cost for a home that suits them is between $250,000 and $300,000. A 50% down payment on a $300,000 home would mean that their monthly mortgage would be roughly $700 per month, given today’s average interest rate of about 4.50% (or possibly higher for second homes.)

From selling the two properties they achieve their goal of affording a second home. Located in a popular resort area, they can also rent it out from time to time for more than $700 a week. Renting the place for just 8 or 10 weeks out of the year would probably cover the annual mortgage.

From there, any extra cash flow could be used to save more for retirement, travel, college, or whatever they wish.

 

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

The post Money Audit: Should We Hold on to Our Rental Properties? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Create a Financial Plan in 11 Steps

Structure is the key to growth. Without a solid foundation — and a road map for the future — it’s easy to spin your wheels and float through life without making any headway. Good planning allows you to prioritize your time and measure the progress you’ve made.

That’s especially true for your finances. A financial plan is a document that helps you track your monetary goals to measure your progress towards financial literacy. A good plan allows you to grow and improve your standing to focus on achieving your goals. As long as your plan is solid, your money can do the work for you.

Thankfully, a sound financial plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to create a financial plan. 

What Is a Financial Plan?

Financial planning is a tangible way to organize your financial situation and goals by making a roadmap to achieve them. When determining where to start, you should consider what you currently possess, your long-term goals, and what opportunity costs you’re willing to take on to meet your money goals.

Financial planning is a great strategy for everyone — whether you’re a budding millionaire or still in college, creating a plan now can help you get ahead in the long run. If you want to make a roadmap to a successful future, here’s how to create a financial plan in 11 steps. 

1. Evaluate Where You Stand

Building your financial plan is similar to creating a fitness program. If you don’t have exact steps to reach your goals, you could end up doing random exercises without making progress. To create a successful plan, you first need to understand where you’re starting so you can candidly address any weak points and create specific goals. 

Determine Your Net Worth

One way to figure out your financial status is to determine your net worth. To do this, subtract your liabilities (what you owe) from your assets (what you own). Assets include things like the money in your accounts and your home and car equity, while liabilities can include any debt, loans, or mortgages. Here’s how to calculate your net worth using your assets and liabilities.

Determine your net worth by subtracting your liabilities from your assets.

Your ratio of assets to liabilities may change over time — especially if you pay off debt and put money into savings accounts. Generally, a positive net worth (your assets being greater than your liabilities) is a monetary health signal. You should regularly keep track of your net worth to monitor the trajectory of your financial plan.

Track Your Spending

Another way to evaluate your financial planning process is by measuring your cash flow, or how much you spend compared to how much you earn. Net worth is a great way to understand where you stand financially, but measuring cash flow is how you might ensure you’re heading in the right direction.

Negative cash flow means that you’re spending more than you make, leading to things like credit card debt and bankruptcy. Conversely, positive cash flow means you’re earning more than you’re spending — which is an excellent step towards achieving your money goals. 

Now that you have an idea of your net worth and cash flow, it’s time to set your financial goals. 

2. Set SMART Financial Goals

By setting SMART financial goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound), you can put your money to work towards your future. Think about what you ultimately want to do with your money — do you want to pay off loans? What about buying a rental property? Or are you aiming to retire before 50?

Start by putting together a list of your goals and dreams, from running a doggy daycare to living in Paris. Even if it feels outrageous, your financial plans should help you work towards your long-term goals.

SMART goals help you break down your more extensive financial planning process into actionable pieces. Remember that dream to move to Paris? Using SMART goals, you may make your dream to live on the Seine a reality. Here’s how to get started creating your SMART goals:

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Setting concrete goals may keep you motivated and accountable, so you spend less money and stick to your budget. Reminding yourself of your monetary goals may help you make smarter short-term decisions to invest in your long-term goals. 

It’s important to understand that your goals aren’t static. When your life goals change, your financial plans should follow suit.

3. Update Your Budget

Creating a budget may help you determine how to create a financial plan and achieve your long-term monetary goals. When you create a budget and stick to it, you can understand what areas you might afford to spend and where you should be saving. 

An excellent method of budgeting is the 50/30/20 rule, popularized by Senator Elizabeth Warren. To use this rule, you divide your after-tax income into three categories: 

  • Essentials (50 percent)
  • Wants (30 percent)
  • Savings (20 percent)

Pie graph shows how you can break down your budget with the 50/30/20 rule.

The 50/30/20 rule is a great and simple way to achieve your financial goals. With this rule, you can incorporate your goals into your budget to stay on track for monetary success. 

No matter what financial goal you’re working towards, it’s essential to have an updated budget and plan to achieve it. For example, if you’re planning for a wedding, you might eat out less to reduce your grocery budget each month.

What to Include in Your Budget

If you’ve ever tried to put together a budget, you’ve likely considered the basics like rent, loans, and groceries. But what other expenses should you consider? Over time, those daily lattes may start to add up — which is why it’s crucial to think about the many different costs you could incur during the month. When updating your budget, here are some of the most common items to include:

  • Rent
  • Groceries
  • Dining out
  • Household maintenance
  • Emergency fund
  • Subscriptions and memberships
  • Travel and transportation
  • Prescriptions
  • Bank account fees
  • Car registration or lease
  • Pet costs
  • Entertainment
  • Clothing
  • Personal care
  • Charity

So you know what you need to include in your budget. Now what? Check out our budgeting tips to get smart about creating your budget in line with your financial plan. If you’re ready to get the ball rolling on your future, try using a spreadsheet, a piece of paper, or a budgeting app to create your financial plan today. 

4. Save for an Emergency

Did you know that four in 10 adults wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense? With so many people living paycheck to paycheck without any savings, unexpected expenses might seriously throw off someone’s life if they aren’t prepared for the emergency. 

It’s important to save money during the good times to account for the bad ones. This rings especially true these days, where so many people are facing unexpected monetary challenges. Whether you’re just starting on your path to financial literacy or have been saving for years, it’s good practice to review your emergency finances to ensure they would adequately cover your current needs. 

You already know you should be storing away money in case something goes wrong. But did you know that you should be saving for both a rainy day and emergency fund? It’s important to have multiple backup funds to hold you over in case of an unexpected crisis. 

5. Pay Down Your Debt

It can be frustrating to allocate your hard-earned money towards savings and paying off debt, but prioritizing these payments can set you up for success in the long run. With two significant methods of paying off debt, it’s essential to understand the difference between them so you can make the smartest decisions for your financial future. 

A chart shows the differences between debt snowball and debt avalanche repayment. Debt snowballs start with the smallest, while the avalanche method targets the highest interest loans.

No matter the debt repayment option you choose, the key to successfully paying down debt is to be disciplined with your budget. Skipping even one or two months of debt repayments may throw a wrench in your financial plans, so it’s essential to create a realistic budget that you can stick to. 

6. Organize Your Investments

Investing may seem like a difficult topic to navigate, but you can put your money to work and passively grow your wealth when you understand the basics. To start investing, you should first figure out the initial amount you want to deposit. No matter if you invest $50 or $5,000, putting your money into investments now is a great way to plan for financial success later on. 

When deciding how to create a financial plan, you should consider budgeting a set amount each month to go directly into your investment portfolio — this will be your contribution amount. Over time, those small bits of money may begin to grow into increasingly larger sums. However, it’s important to note that investing is a long game. If you want to see serious results, you’re going to have to wait for at least five or more years. 

Ready to get started on your path towards long-term financial success? Check out our investment calculator to create goals, forecast metrics, and find opportunities to grow your wealth even further. 

7. Prepare for Retirement

When thinking about how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to consider your goals far in the future. Although retirement may feel a world away, planning for it now is the difference between a prosperous retirement income and just scraping by. 

The earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better. If you start saving for retirement in your 20s, you’ll have 30+ years of consistent contributions to your funds by the time you retire. Generally, the older you are, the more you should try to contribute to your retirement fund. However, a good rule of thumb is to save around 10–15 percent of your post-tax income annually in a retirement savings account.

Retirement Plan Types

There are several types of retirement savings, the most common being an IRA, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k):

  • IRA: An IRA is an individual retirement account that you personally open and fund with no tie to an employer. The money you put into this type of retirement account is tax-deductible. It’s important to note that this is tax-deferred, meaning you will be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is also an individual retirement account opened and funded by you. However, with a Roth IRA, you are taxed on the money you put in now — meaning that you won’t be taxed at the time of withdrawal.
  • 401(k): A 401(k) is a retirement account offered by a company to its employees. Depending on your employer, with a 401(k), you can choose to make pre-tax or post-tax (Roth 401(k)) contributions. 

A chart shows the difference between IRA, Roth IRA, and 401K retirement options.

8. Start Your Estate Planning

Thinking about estate planning isn’t fun — but it is important. When figuring out how to create a financial plan, it’s crucial to start estate planning to outline what happens to your assets when you’re gone. 

To create an estate plan, you should list your assets, write your will, and determine who will have access to the information. Estate taxes can run up to a steep 40 percent, so having a plan for how to set up your estate may ease the financial burden of your passing on your loved ones. 

Using a Lawyer for Estate Planning

Using a lawyer for estate planning can solidify financial plans that you don’t want to leave to chance. By clearly outlining your estate plan, you can protect against potential legal battles or missteps that could occur when sorting out your estate. If you plan to use a lawyer for estate planning, here’s what you need to know:

  • Find an estate planning specialist: Just like doctors, lawyers specialize in all different fields. You wouldn’t expect a dermatologist to be performing knee surgery, so why would you expect a lawyer with a different specialty to create your estate plan?
  • Clarify legal fees: Estate planning fees may vary dramatically depending on the lawyer and your specific needs. Some lawyers charge based on the complexity of the plan; others charge a flat or hourly fee. There is no right or wrong with estate planning fees, but you should have an upfront conversation with your lawyer to determine which method would work best for you.
  • Find a lawyer you trust: Estate planning is a very personal matter, so you should find a lawyer with whom you feel comfortable sharing personal matters. 

9. Insure Your Assets

As your wealth grows over time, you should start thinking about ways to protect it in case of an emergency. Although insurance may not be as exciting as investing, it’s just as important. 

Insuring your assets is more of a defensive financial move than an offensive one. When determining how to create a financial plan, you want to have insurance to protect yourself from any unforeseen difficulties that could hinder your success. 

Types of Insurance

There are several types of insurance you might get to protect your assets. Here are some of the most important ones to get when planning for your financial future. 

  • Life insurance: Life insurance goes hand in hand with estate planning to provide your beneficiaries with the necessary funds after your passing.
  • Homeowners insurance: As a homeowner, it’s crucial to protect your home against disasters or crime. Many people’s homes are the most valuable asset they own, so it makes sense to pay a premium to ensure it is protected.
  • Health insurance: Health insurance is protection for your most important asset: Your life. Health insurance covers your medical expenses for you to get the care you need. 
  • Auto insurance: Auto insurance protects you from costs incurred due to theft or damage to your car.
  • Disability insurance: Disability insurance is a reimbursement of lost income due to an injury or illness that prevented you from working. 

10. Plan for Taxes

Taxes can be a drag, but understanding how they work can make all the difference for your long-term financial goals. While taxes are a given, you might be able to reduce the burden by being efficient with your tax planning. When planning for taxes, it’s important to consider:

  • How to reduce your taxable income: You can capitalize on tax savings investment options like a 401(k) or 403(b) to help you save money by reducing your taxable income (while putting more money away for your future). 
  • How to itemize your deductions: Tax deductions are a way to lower taxable income as a full- or part-time self-employed taxpayer. You can deduct incurred expenses from doing business to reduce your taxable income. 

11. Review Your Plans Regularly

Figuring out how to create a financial plan isn’t a one-time thing. Your goals (and your financial standing) aren’t stagnant, so your plan shouldn’t be either. It’s essential to reevaluate your plan periodically and adjust your goals to continue setting yourself up for success. 

As you progress in your career, you may want to take a more aggressive approach to your retirement plan or insurance. For example, a young 20-something in their first few years of work likely has less money to put into their retirement and savings accounts than a person in their mid-30s who has an established career.

Staying updated with your financial plan also ensures that you hold yourself accountable to your goals. Over time, it may become easy to skip one payment here or there, but having concrete metrics might give you the push you need for achieving a future of financial literacy. 

After you figure out how to create a monetary plan, it’s good practice to review it around once a year. However, this is just a baseline metric, so checking it more often may be necessary if a significant life event occurs. 

It’s always a good idea to reevaluate your financial plan if you get married, have kids, or quit your job. Every few months or so, take some time to look at your progress and assess problem areas. Take the time to celebrate milestones — it may help motivate you going forward.

Ask for feedback on your financial plan from people who know you. Your best friend might point out some things you’d forgotten about, like your desire to get a dog or live in a downtown loft. You can also run it by a professional, who can provide some objective insight and professional wisdom on how to create a financial plan.

It’s important to remember that the journey to financial success is a personal one, and should be taken at your own pace. However, the earlier you get started, the more prepared you may be for a strong financial future. Download Mint to get started taking control of your finances today.

Sources: CNBC | Federal Reserve | IRS | IRS

The post How to Create a Financial Plan in 11 Steps appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com