12 Things to Do When You Get a Raise at Work

Getting a raise always feels great. It’s tangible proof that you’re good at what you do and your hard work has been recognized.

But what should you do with the extra income? While most of us can’t help but daydream about all the new things we plan to buy, it’s important to take a close look at your personal finances before going on a spending spree.

That way, you’ll have a clear idea of how much your pay raise actually amounts to, what your financial priorities are, and how to make smarter investments and purchases with your additional income.

How to Handle a Salary Increase

When you first get a raise, it’s tempting to make a big, celebratory purchase. But before you do, there are some steps you should take to ensure you’re making decisions that reinforce your financial stability and improve your financial future.

1. Give It Some Time

Initially, the dollar amount of your raise might sound like a significant windfall, but remember that a considerable portion will go toward taxes, health insurance, retirement, and social security, if applicable.

Before you get ahead of yourself, wait for a couple of paychecks to see how much extra take-home cash your raise amounts to on a biweekly or monthly basis. What sounds good on paper may be significantly less in your pocket after all is said and done.

You can also calculate the biweekly amount of your raise yourself, but it won’t be accurate unless you know the amounts of any relevant deductions.

Waiting it out will give you a chance to see real numbers and how much of a difference it’s actually making on each paycheck. This will allow you to determine what any extra money amounts to so that you can spend it wisely instead of overspending or accidentally increasing your monthly expenses.

2. Reassess Your Budget

Once you know how much your new salary increase will put in your bank account, use it as an opportunity to reevaluate your budget. Now’s a great time to review your expenses to determine where any adjustments can be made and how your raise can do the most good.

For example, you may want to allocate a portion of your salary increase to paying off credit card or student loan debt instead of booking an expensive vacation. Or, you may use the extra cash to bolster your rainy day fund.

It’s easy to fall victim to lifestyle creep after a pay increase by indulging in luxuries and not keeping a close eye on your spending habits. Budgeting helps to keep you in check and supports your financial goals.

Instead of increasing your spending on big-ticket upgrades to your lifestyle each time you get a raise, consider how higher bills will affect your financial health. How would buying a bigger home or a new car affect your retirement plans and how much debt you have?

Use your budget to keep an eye on your cost of living so you don’t accidentally overspend after a new raise.

3. Retool Your Retirement

Especially if you aren’t hard up for cash right now, you can use your salary increase to boost your retirement savings.

For example, you can increase the amount you put into your Roth IRA or 401k retirement accounts. Even a small monthly increase can make a significant impact over time, especially if your employer offers contribution matching.

Not only will investing more in your retirement give you long-term financial security, but it will also make sure your raise is put to good use.

4. Pay Off Debts

If you have debts, entering a new salary range is an ideal way to put more money toward paying them off. For example, you can use your pay increase to cover:

  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Car loans
  • Medical debt
  • Personal loans

The more debt you pay off, the more you save in interest charges over time, keeping a significant amount of money in your pocket. If possible, save the most by paying off debts entirely instead of just making payments.

You can even improve your credit score by paying off debts, helping your financial situation even more, especially if you plan to make any big purchases, such as a home, in the future.

5. Plan for Taxes

When you get a raise, you can expect to pay more in taxes this year than you did last year. Depending on which tax bracket you’re in, you may even find that your raise is barely noticeable if it means you no longer qualify for certain deductions or tax credits.

Understanding how your new salary will affect your taxes gives you an idea of whether you should expect a refund or a bill.

If you aren’t comfortable calculating or assessing your taxes yourself, get in touch with an accountant or financial planner. They’ll be able to give you a good idea of what to expect come tax time based on your pay increase.

If it looks like you’ll owe more money at the end of the year than you anticipated, talk to your employer about increasing your withholdings so the amount you owe is covered.

6. Increase Charitable Donations

Another way to spend your raise is to increase your donations to charities and nonprofit organizations. Not only will it spread the wealth, but charitable donations typically count as tax deductions, potentially reducing the amount you owe each year.

This is especially useful if your raise bumped you into a higher tax bracket.

You can either choose to donate a specific dollar amount or a percentage of your income, whichever works best for your budget. You can also donate items like a used car, however, you’ll need a tax receipt in order to claim it on your taxes.

7. Add to Your Emergency Fund

Your emergency or rainy day fund is meant to lend a hand when your financial situation changes or you need to make an unexpected purchase. For example, it’s helpful to have a buffer of cash set aside if you lose a job or your fridge decides to stop working.

If you don’t have any pressing purchases to make with your new raise, it’s an ideal time to fill up your emergency fund. Having funds you can rely on in the future will give you peace of mind and save you from having to panic about how to cover an expense during a stressful situation.

8. Monitor Your Spending

It’s completely acceptable to celebrate when you get a raise, but it’s important to keep your spending in check. A nice dinner or night out is one thing, but extended overspending and unaffordable purchases are another.

If you do decide to treat yourself — and you should — make sure whatever you reward yourself with is within your spending limits and that it’s a one-time occurrence. Otherwise, you’ll soon fall victim to lifestyle creep and those luxuries will become the norm.

Choose one or two ways to treat yourself and stop there. Just because you’re making more money doesn’t mean you need to spend your entire raise on frivolous items and outings.

9. Consider Inflation

If you haven’t had a raise in a while, you can safely assume that part of your salary increase will go toward covering the costs of inflation. That means that instead of adding up to extra cash in your pocket, your raise will go toward rising prices for everyday expenses like housing and groceries.

Before spending your raise, take a look at the inflation rate to see how much prices have increased since the last time you received a pay bump. This will give you a better understanding of how much added buying power your raise amounts to and what it will mean for your budget and financial planning.

10. Save for a Big Purchase

If you’re planning to make a big purchase in the near future, use your raise to help get you closer to your goal. For example, put it toward:

  • A down payment on a house
  • A wedding
  • A new vehicle
  • A dream vacation
  • Your child’s tuition
  • A home renovation

Consider whether you have any major expenses coming up before spending your raise elsewhere. Setting aside your extra cash to cover upcoming costs will allow you to reach your goals faster and help you to navigate any unexpected costs you encounter.

11. Invest in Yourself

Investing in yourself is an excellent way to use your raise. For example, you could:

You can even do something like get laser eye surgery or have an old tattoo removed. Whatever helps to improve your personal quality of life and makes your future happier and healthier.

12. Do Something Fun

At the end of the day, you earned a raise through your hard work and dedication. You deserve to acknowledge your accomplishment by treating yourself to something special. Whether it’s a new pair of shoes or a fancy dinner, make sure at least a small portion of your raise goes toward celebrating your success.

Depending on how big your raise is and what you have left after you take care of any financial priorities, you could:

  • Go on a vacation
  • Plan a spa day
  • Buy yourself something nice
  • Treat a loved one
  • Fund a hobby

Take this as an opportunity to recognize your professional achievements and reward yourself for a job well done.


Final Word

Moving up on the pay scale is always worth celebrating, whether it comes with new responsibilities or not. But before you spend all your new money, take some time to consider how to get the most out of it.

That could mean reviewing your budget, paying off debts, or saving up for a big purchase — whatever suits your financial goals and situation.

Regardless of how you choose to spend your raise, remember to set some money aside to treat yourself. After all the time and effort you put into your career, you deserve to celebrate your accomplishments.

Source: moneycrashers.com

How to Track Your Small-Business Expenses for Tax Deductions

As a small business or startup, keeping track of your expenses is essential. Come tax time, your business-related purchases qualify as tax deductions, reducing the total amount you owe on your return — but only if you’ve kept a record of them.

Thankfully, there are a variety of expense tracking options for you to choose from, whether you’re interested in accounting software or prefer to go the manual route.

What is Small-Business Expense Tracking?

Small-business expense tracking is how you record and manage any business-related purchases you make, such as:

  • Office supplies
  • Business travel expenses
  • Marketing and advertising costs
  • Software subscriptions
  • Home office furniture
  • Tickets to professional events and conventions

During tax season, the IRS considers many of these purchases as write-offs, allowing you to deduct them from your tax return. However, for these items to qualify as tax deductions, you will need to have a record of the purchase in the form of a physical or digital receipt.

You should keep track of your business expenses if you’re a small-business owner, startup founder, freelancer, or otherwise self-employed.


Why Track Business Expenses?

Tracking your business expenses comes with many benefits, including:

1. Reducing Your Small-Business Taxes

If you work for yourself, you already know the amount you have to pay in self-employment taxes each year can be significant. If you can reduce it, even by a small amount, that equates to more money in your pocket.

Keeping records of your deductible expenses is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to reduce your tax return. By simply hanging on to your business-related receipts, you can save yourself a lot of money.

2. Demonstrating an Accurate Profit Margin

Tracking small-business expenses also helps to give you a more accurate understanding of your business’s profit. By monitoring both incoming and outgoing cash flow, it’s easier to see how much your business is making after your costs have been deducted.

If you only monitor profit, you’ll never really know whether your business is financially viable or not.

3. Organizing Your Business Records

Keeping clean, clear, and well-organized business records is the best way to understand and track your company’s growth over a long period of time. Tracking expenses can help you to:

  • Determine where you have opportunities to reduce your small-business expenses
  • See how your costs have increased or decreased based on the market or seasonality
  • Decide when and how to scale your business
  • Negotiate or reevaluate expenses

Even freelance records are important because they separate business costs from client-related expenses that qualify for reimbursement.

Plus, if you ever encounter a legal issue related to your business, detailed records will strengthen your case and show that you run an honest and lawful company.


How to Track Small-Business Expenses

You have a variety of different options when it comes to choosing a method to track expenses, from accounting software and applications to business banking accounts and manually recording costs.

Choose the method that works best for you and your business based on your needs, budget, and preference.

1. Accounting Software and Apps

One of the easiest methods for tracking expenses is by using accounting software. Many platforms can connect with your bank account to automatically identify and record business purchases as well as allow you to upload photos of receipts or manually enter expenses.

Some of the most popular business expense tracking platforms include:

Most of these platforms offer both a desktop version and mobile app, facilitating expense tracking in the office and on the go. This is especially convenient if you’re tracking business expenses while out of town.

Accounting software platforms and apps work best for businesses that want to use them to manage multiple aspects of their business, such as invoicing, facilitating payments, time tracking, and payroll.

Most accounting platforms also come with a monthly or annual fee, which typically qualifies as a tax deduction.

2. Business Banking Accounts

Keeping track of your business expenses is a breeze if you only make purchases using a company credit card or debit card. This way, all your purchases are in a separate bank account, making your expense reports easy to compile, review, and organize.

If you choose to open a business bank account through an online bank like Lili, make sure to keep it separate from your personal finances. Only use your business credit card or debit card to make business purchases. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of having different accounts.

If you decide to go this route to manage your business finances, it’s recommended you open:

  • A business credit card
  • A business checking account
  • A business savings account

This way, you can deposit payments from clients and customers into your checking account and use it to pay for purchases made on your company credit card. Leftover business income can go into your savings account. This setup keeps your business finances completed separate from your personal assets.

3. Manually

If you only have a handful of clients or your expenses are relatively few and far between, keeping things simple may be the best option. Tracking expenses manually is as simple as creating a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel and inputting expense details as you make purchases.

You can make your spreadsheet as detailed or as simple as you’d like. For example, you can include item descriptions, dates, and amounts as well as a total before and after taxes. Or, you can simply list items and their costs.

You can also use free spreadsheet software like Google Sheets if you don’t have a Microsoft 365 subscription.


Keeping Digital Receipts

Digital receipts are easier to track than their paper counterparts, but if you use multiple email addresses, bank accounts, or payment methods, keeping your expense records organized can be challenging. Three popular options include:

1. Expense Tracking Software

Most expense tracker apps and platforms help you to store digital receipts by either automatically recording them through your bank statements or letting you upload them yourself.

Many apps also allow you to categorize your business purchases, making them easier to input and record when preparing your income tax return.

Although apps and software are generally more expensive compared to other methods, they handle a lot of the administrative work for you. So, if you’re looking for a hands-off approach to keeping your digital expense records organized and well-managed, an app is probably your best bet.

2. Company Expense Email

An effective method is to use a single email address — preferably one associated with your business — to make all of your business-related online purchases. All the digital receipts associated with your company will be directed to your business email inbox.

To record paper receipts as well, take a picture of them or scan them and forward the image to your email address.

You can make this inbox accessible to your bookkeeper or accountant directly or forward your receipts to them as you make purchases. Even if you do your own bookkeeping, having your tax-deductible expense records in one place (and organized by date) will make your life easier.

Additionally, you won’t have to pay any additional costs outside of what you already pay to host your email account.

3. Cloud Storage

Your third option is to scan or take pictures of receipts and upload the images to the cloud storage of your choice, such as:

For digital receipts, you can take a screenshot, save it as an image, and upload it manually. Although not the most convenient option, cloud storage is typically free, which makes it an ideal choice for the budget-conscious.


Keeping Paper Receipts

Paper receipts are harder to manage than digital versions, but almost every small-business owner will have at least a few of them. Paper receipts usually come from:

  • Restaurants
  • Gas stations
  • In-store purchases
  • Cash purchases

And, unfortunately, identifying the debit in your bank account isn’t enough of a record to ensure that your purchase qualifies for a small-business tax deduction. You’ll need a copy of your actual receipt to document the amount, date, and item details of the expense.

Unfortunately, paper receipts are easy to lose and damage, so you need to store them carefully. Keep track of physical copies of purchase records by:

1. Scanning Receipts

Scanning or taking pictures of receipts is the safest way to keep a record of them. It’s much harder to lose or spill coffee on a digital record of a purchase than a physical one. This way, if you misplace a receipt or accidentally put it through the washer, you have a backup.

Scan or take a picture of a receipt as soon as you receive it to reduce the chances of it being lost or damaged.

You don’t even need a paid app to scan receipts, because there are a variety of options for both Apple and Android devices that allow you to scan and save documents for free.

2. Using an Envelope or Folder

Another option is to store receipts in a designated envelope or file folder in your office or filing cabinet. It’s best to store receipts by tax year so you know which ones will apply to your current return.

The hardest part of using this method is that you’ll need to make a habit of taking paper receipts from your pocket, wallet, or purse and putting them in the proper place. If you lose them, you won’t be able to claim them as write-offs.


4 Tips for Small-Business Expense Tracking

Regardless of how you track your small-business expenses, there are ways you can optimize the process to make it simpler and more straightforward.

1. Keep Business and Personal Purchases Separate

Even if you don’t have a business bank account, you can still keep business and personal expenses separate.

For example, let’s say you go to Costco and purchase groceries for your family and office supplies for your business at the same time. Instead of making one large purchase, separate your items into two transactions — one for your household items and another for your business purchases.

This makes it much easier to calculate the total amount of your write-off, including taxes, fees, or discounts, instead of having to try to extract the information from a larger bill.

2. Ask for Receipts

When tracking expenses for business purposes, you need to make a habit of asking for (and keeping) receipts. This goes for any retailer that doesn’t provide digital receipts, like gas stations and restaurants.

As a small-business owner, you need to get used to asking for receipts and keeping them safe until you have a chance to scan or store them safely.

Any receipt you don’t ask for is an expense that you can’t claim when you file your taxes.

Even if you aren’t sure whether a purchase will qualify as a deductible business expense, it’s better to ask for a receipt and talk to your bookkeeper or accountant afterward rather than miss out on a potential deduction altogether.

3. Get Digital Receipts

Many retailers offer both digital and physical receipts. Whenever possible, opt for a digital receipt. They’re easier to document, track, and store than paper receipts.

Because stores send digital receipts to an email address, use a designated email address for business purchases. This will keep your personal inbox clean and your business expenses in one place.

4. Organize Your Expense Records

Keep your tax deduction records organized by year, category, and item to make filing your tax return simple and stress-free. If you keep receipts organized as you make purchases, it will be much easier to sort through and calculate them later on.

And, if you use an accountant to file your taxes, they’ll appreciate a straightforward and clean expense report to reference.


Final Word

Tax deductions are crucial for small-business owners. But you won’t qualify for write-offs if your business purchases aren’t sufficiently recorded and documented. Tracking your expenses using accounting software, business bank accounts, or manually will help you to prove purchases, stay on top of costs, and keep your records organized.

Keep copies of both paper and digital receipts to make your next tax return more affordable and easier to file.

Source: moneycrashers.com

5 Reasons You Should Not Delay Retirement

Grandfather reading to his granddaughter
LightField Studios / Shutterstock.com

Some people view retirement as something that should be delayed as long as possible. They say that, for many older workers, waiting as long as possible to collect Social Security benefits is the prudent choice.

Important as this advice is for many of us, it may not apply to you. If you are financially prepared, there are good reasons to consider retiring at the traditional age of 65, or maybe even sooner.

“Time is the most valuable asset anyone can ever have,” Mike Kern, a certified public accountant based in South Carolina, tells Money Talks News. “I would encourage anyone who has the ability and wants to retire early to do so.”

There is plenty to see, do and learn in retirement. Many retirees go on to pursue new careers or fulfill lifetime goals they didn’t have time for when they were working. Freed from the burden of a 9-to-5 job, they find that life has many new possibilities.

What follows are powerful reasons not to delay your retirement.

1. Delaying Social Security may not be right for you

Before deciding, consider your personal circumstances, advises Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson:

“For some people it’s a great idea to take Social Security early, and for some people it’s a great idea to wait.”

You generally can start receiving Social Security as soon as age 62. Some people wait as late as age 70. If you plan to continue working until your benefits reach their maximum at age 70, delaying your claim will result in greater monthly payouts. However, if you have concerns about how long you may live or you need the money right away, filing an early claim may make the most sense.

Good to know: The system is actuarially neutral, designed to make your overall benefits work out approximately the same over the course of your retirement, no matter when you first claim them. Delaying your first claim increases your monthly retirement benefit, but it may not affect the total amount you receive over a lifetime.

2. Retirement can lower your housing costs

When you retire, you no longer need to live close to a job. Where you decide to live in retirement can affect your quality of life, due in part to the price of real estate and rental homes.

“Your house is typically the biggest expense in your budget,” says Kern. “Oftentimes, the best way to considerably decrease your costs is by downsizing or moving to a cheaper place.”

Smaller towns generally have less-expensive housing than large metropolitan areas. For example, in early February, the median home value in Boise, Idaho — a community of about 229,000 residents — was $406,579, according to Zillow.

Sound expensive? Well, compare that to San Francisco. Zillow says Frisco’s median home value in early February was $1,402,470.

3. Your good health may not last

Nobody lives forever. If you don’t get started on your post-retirement goals in a timely manner, you may never reach them.

“As grim as it sounds, if your health is on the decline, then it may make sense to take an early retirement in order to maximize the net payout of your lifetime,” says attorney Jacob Dayan, CEO of Chicago-based tax services company Community Tax.

Consider, too, that you may experience health problems as you age. If your retirement goals require being in good physical shape so that you can hike the Inca Trail in Peru or bicycle through Ireland, it makes sense to retire sooner.

4. You want to start a new career

Retiring allows you to pursue your true passions. Some retirees use their savings and pension benefits to finance the start of another career.

You can’t claim Social Security retirement benefits until age 62, but if you’ve invested in a retirement plan or qualify for a pension, you may be able to use part of those funds to launch a new career.

Dayan advises careful planning and consideration before making a change. If retiring early and starting a new career requires a substantial financial investment, consider all the risks, including tapping your retirement funds. Make sure the switch won’t put you in financial distress.

5. You can afford to do it

Money doesn’t buy happiness, but, with careful planning, an adequate retirement account may allow you to quit your job. If you no longer feel fulfilled at work and can afford it, it may be time to make the transition. A few things to consider:

  • When you’re starting out in your career, it’s easy to become obsessed with getting ahead. At some point, though, you reach your goal. You deserve a reward for your hard work.
  • If you have loved ones who need your help, and you can afford to stop working, retiring frees you to help them with their day-to-day activities.
  • Retirement offers you time to grow, cultivate new interests, pursue hobbies and spend time with loved ones. It frees you to do the things that matter most.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

How to Have a Baby Shower on a Budget

It’s an honor to be asked to throw a friend or family member a baby shower. But along with that honor, often comes a hefty price tag. Between the food, flowers, decor, and favors, the cost of these soirees can add up quickly.

Fortunately, you don’t need to spend a fortune to throw a fun and memorable celebration for soon-to-be parents and their loved ones. From scoring a cheap (or free) venue to DIYing the centerpieces, there are a number of ways to cut baby shower costs without looking like you cut any corners.

Tips for Throwing a Great Baby Shower on a Budget

These inexpensive baby shower ideas can help you throw a memorable celebration for a mom-to-be and help her become better financially prepared for a baby.

Coming up with a Baby Shower Budget

Before you begin the planning process, it can help to determine the total you can spend on the event and then create a budget. You may also want to find out if family members from either side are willing to chip in financially or by offering to help make something for the party. When setting up your baby shower budget, you’ll likely want to include: the venue, invitations, decorations, food and drinks, entertainment and/or games, prizes and party favors.

Finding a Free (or Low-Cost) Venue

A baby shower doesn’t have to be at a fancy restaurant, hotel, or banquet hall to be festive. It could take place at your, or someone else’s, home. If you’re hosting a baby shower in warm weather. You might consider having it outdoors, such as in your backyard. You could even host a more casual shower with an outdoor barbeque or even a poolside party.

Other low-cost locales options include: a nearby park, the clubhouse of your (or someone else’s) apartment complex, or the meeting room at someone’s place of business.

Limiting the Baby Shower Guest List

Generally, the more people you invite to the shower, the more money you will spend. To keep costs in check, you may want to consider limiting the invite list to the parent-to-be’s closest family and friends. A smaller group not only cuts down on costs, but can also help to create a more intimate gathering that allows the guest of honor to spend time with each guest. It can be a good idea, however, to run the invite list by the expectant mom to be sure that you don’t exclude any important people.

Going Digital With Invitations

You can save money on baby shower invitations by using a digital service, such as Evite, MyPunchbowl, or Paperless Post. These sites and apps typically allow you to choose from a range of free baby shower invitation templates or, for a small fee, upgrade to a more elaborate design. These sites also make it easy to keep track of responses. And, guests will likely appreciate the ability to RSVP with the click of a button. You may, however, want to send paper invites to older guests, particularly if they don’t use an email address often.

Ditching the Caterer

Feeding guests typically takes up the biggest portion of a baby shower budget. One way to help keep the cost of food down is to forgo the caterer and head to your local warehouse club (like Costco or Sam’s Club). You’ll likely be able to create a delicious spread of appetizers, finger foods, and desserts for a lot less than ordering trays from a catering company or restaurant.

Timing it Right

You can also cut down on food costs by not holding the shower right at lunch or dinner time. That way, guests won’t arrive expecting a full meal, and you’ll be able to serve a lighter menu that includes simple appetizers and snacks. A late-morning party can be particularly wallet-friendly–you might simply offer coffee, juice, fruit, and pastries. Or, you might opt for an afternoon tea and serve sweets and finger sandwiches.

Keeping the Cake Simple

A gourmet bakery cake can look beautiful, but it could easily bust your budget. According to CostHelper , an average bakery cake runs around $3 to $4 a slice. To cut costs without sacrificing on taste, you might consider ordering a cake at your local grocery store’s bakery or the bakery at a wholesale club, then having it personalized (which the store will often do free of charge).

DIYing Centerpieces

Fresh flowers look lovely, but they can get expensive if you order arrangements from a professional florist. Instead, you may want to head to your local farmers market, grocery store, or warehouse club to find flowers at reasonable prices that fit your color scheme, then make your own centerpieces. A simple way to get great results is to use flowers in the same color family (like shades of pink or all white). You can pick up vases at the dollar store, or go with Mason jars, which look trendy and can be used for other purposes after the shower is over.

Printing Decor and Games for Free

Instead of racking up a big bill at the party store, you may want to comb the web for free baby shower printables. You can likely find food signs, games (like baby shower bingo), decorations, and favor tags that you can simply print right from your computer.

Making Edible Favors

Sweets can make great baby shower favors, and you can easily bake them yourself without spending a lot. You may also find that there is a family member who would be delighted to take on this task. Edible favors can be as simple as iced sugar cookies (in your color scheme) or as elaborate as cake pops that look like baby rattles.

Considering a Virtual Baby Shower

If the guest of honor’s family and friends are spread out all over the country, having a virtual baby shower is one way to include everyone that’s important, and also keep costs down. You can set a celebratory mood by choosing a Zoom background that fits the theme of your shower, and also include a link so guests can download the background as well. Friends and family can watch the mom-to-be open gifts that were sent to her ahead of time. You can also organize games throughout the virtual baby shower and create a digital guest book that attendees can sign and share their words of wisdom for the expecting parents.

The Takeaway

You can plan a memorable baby shower even on a limited budget. And, spending less doesn’t mean the event will be any less special.

Some easy ways to trim the cost of having a baby shower include: hosting the shower in your home or backyard, heading to your local warehouse club (for food, flowers, and even the cake), using free printables for decor and games, and giving homemade sweets as favors.

You can also make a baby shower more affordable by setting a budget and saving up enough money to cover it in advance (so you don’t end up relying on credit cards).

Looking for a good place to build your party fund? A SoFi Money® cash management account can be a good option. With SoFi Money’s “vaults” feature, you can separate your savings from your spending while earning competitive interest on all of your money. You can even set up separate vaults for separate savings goals.

Start saving for your next milestone celebration with SoFi Money.

Photo credit: iStock/vejaa


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Source: sofi.com

8 Ways to Save Money on a Bathroom Remodel or Renovation

Remodeling a bathroom is one of the costliest home improvement projects. According to HomeAdvisor, the average bathroom remodel costs around $10,911 as of April 2020. A high-end remodel for a large or master bathroom could run you $25,000 or more.

But if those numbers are too much for your budget, that doesn’t mean you have to live with your dingy, dated bathroom forever. There are ways to refresh a bathroom for considerably less. According to This Old House, homeowners have redone their bathrooms for $6,000, $4,000, $2,000, and even less than $1,000.

I also know from personal experience it’s possible to renovate a bathroom on a budget. In 2011, my husband and I redid our guest bath for less than $900, including a new sink, toilet, vanity, faucets, light fixtures, floor tiles, paint, and accessories. With a bit of ingenuity and effort, other homeowners can do the same.

Ways to Save on a Bathroom Remodel

Our budget bath remodel and those featured on sites like This Old House and Apartment Therapy all have one thing in common: The homeowners looked for ways to save money anywhere they could. We didn’t necessarily use the same techniques, but we all relied on numerous money-saving strategies to get the job done for less.

The tips that helped us and other homeowners save money on our bathroom renovations fall into several major categories.

1. Plan Ahead

During any remodeling project, one of the costliest things you can do is change your plans halfway through. At best, it delays the project while you return materials and buy new ones. At worst, it requires you to pay contractors to redo work they’ve already done.

Sometimes, in-progress changes are unavoidable, such as when you cut into a wall and discover a leak. But in most cases, you can avoid them by thinking things through carefully before anyone picks up a tool. It’s much cheaper to know in advance you don’t want the toilet to be the first thing guests see when they open the door than figure it out once you’ve already installed it.

That’s why the first step in any bathroom remodel is planning. Before you buy anything or hire anyone, think about what you want from your new bathroom. What is it about the room that doesn’t work for you now, and how can you fix it? List everything you want your remodeled bath to have, and then sort that list into must-haves and nice-to-haves.

Take your time figuring out your wants and needs. If you can’t figure out the best way to accomplish all your goals, you can hire a bathroom designer for a consultation. According to Hunker, this service typically costs $200 to $400, and it can help you avoid mistakes that cost money to fix later.

In addition to thinking about the layout, spend time comparing options for visual elements like tile, plumbing fixtures, and light fixtures. That way, when you’re finally ready to get started, you know exactly where to shop to find what you want at the best price. Buying in a hurry often means paying extra or settling for something that isn’t ideal.

2. Keep the Footprint Unchanged

One of the best ways to save on a bathroom remodel is not to remodel at all. People often use the terms bathroom remodeling and bathroom renovation interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing.

A remodeling job involves making significant changes to the room’s footprint, or its size, shape, and structure. It can include making changes to any or all of these:

  • The room’s foundation
  • Walls, especially load-bearing walls
  • Plumbing lines
  • Locations of plumbing fixtures, such as the sink and toilet
  • Electrical wiring

Renovation means freshening up the bathroom’s look — tile, wall color, flooring, lighting — while leaving its basic layout unchanged.

Changing the footprint adds time and labor costs to the project. It also usually involves getting building permits, which are a significant expense. The cheapest bathroom redos are usually renovations rather than full remodels.

There are lots of ways to change the look of a bathroom without changing the footprint. You can change the fixtures, walls, flooring, lighting, and accessories without moving anything. You can even make a small bathroom feel larger by adding a lighter paint color, a clear glass shower door, or a skylight to let in more natural light.

If you absolutely have to add square footage to your bathroom or change the arrangement of fixtures, keep the changes to a minimum. That way, you limit the number of labor hours you need from expensive contractors like plumbers.

3. Do the Work Yourself

According to HomeAdvisor, roughly half the cost of bathroom remodeling is labor costs. Homeowners spend an average of $65 per hour paying contractors, including carpenters, plumbers, electricians, drywallers, and floor tilers. Thus, the more of your bathroom remodel you can DIY instead of hiring a contractor, the more you can save.

But DIY is only a money-saver if you have the necessary skills. Some jobs, like moving plumbing lines, are best left to the pros. If you try to do them yourself with no training beyond a five-minute YouTube video, you could cause a flood. The damage that does will cost a lot more than hiring a plumber in the first place.

However, most homeowners can handle at least some of the jobs in a bathroom renovation. Depending on your skill level, you could tackle jobs like:

  • Demolition (pulling out old wallboard, flooring, and cabinetry)
  • Painting
  • Tiling
  • Replacing faucets and showerheads
  • Adding accessories like towel racks
  • Installing bathroom lights
  • Installing new plumbing fixtures

Homeowners with a little DIY experience can take on more ambitious DIY projects. For instance, when we couldn’t find a stock vanity cabinet we liked, my husband built one from plywood and beadboard.

A Texas homeowner profiled by This Old House made almost all the materials for his powder room renovation. He poured his own concrete countertops, built new doors and drawer fronts for the vanity, and even welded a new frame for the mirror. Another couple in Missouri built their own cabinetry, made custom light fixtures, and enameled an old bathtub.

4. Reuse Existing Pieces

Doing the work yourself is the primary way to save on labor costs. But when it comes to materials, there are lots of different ways to save. One of the most effective is to refurbish the pieces you already have rather than buying new ones.

With a little work, you can change the look of nearly any piece in a bathroom, such as:

  • Bathtubs. One homeowner was able to salvage an old, rust-stained tub by having it cleaned professionally. You can also fix surface damage to porcelain, cast iron, and fiberglass tubs by refinishing them. A DIY tub refinishing kit costs around $80.
  • Shower Enclosures. A tiled shower enclosure can look like new if you clean both tile and grout thoroughly. The grout may also need some patching in worn areas. To give it a fresher look, you can stain white grout a darker color. If you have acrylic or fiberglass shower walls, you can patch dented or cracked spots. A repair kit costs under $20.
  • Sinks. You can dramatically change the look of a sink by replacing the faucet. If the porcelain is cracked, you can repair it with either a porcelain repair kit or a two-part surface repair epoxy. Both cost less than $15.
  • Toilets. Rather than paying $100 or more for a new toilet, give yours a new look by replacing the toilet seat and lid for $30 or less. To add a touch of elegance, opt for a wooden toilet seat or soft-close model that doesn’t slam shut.
  • Cabinetry. You can save hundreds of dollars on cabinets by painting or refinishing the pieces you already have. If the doors are too damaged, replace them while keeping the cabinet boxes. According to HomeAdvisor, that typically costs $30 to $100 per door, not counting labor.
  • Floors. Like shower enclosures, you can refurbish tile floors by cleaning them thoroughly and replacing or staining the grout. If you have wood floors, you can have them professionally refinished for $3 to $8 per square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
  • Walls. The cheapest way to change the look of your walls is to repaint them in a different color. If you have tile walls you don’t like, you can install new wood panels or beadboard wainscotting over the tile. At around $20 per beadboard panel, that’s cheaper than tearing it out and replacing it, and it lets you switch back to tile later if you want.

5. Use Paint Creatively

Just changing the paint color in your bathroom can make a surprisingly significant difference to its overall look. But you can do a lot more with paint than just roll it over a wall. Creative homeowners have used it for:

  • Textured Effects. You can give a wall a textured look by using two different colors. Start by giving the whole wall a base coat in one color. Then use a textured tool, such as a sponge, rag, or comb, to apply the second coat. We used a sponging-off technique in our bathroom to create a look similar to stucco.
  • Faux Wallpaper. Paint can give you the look of wallpaper with less money and effort. For instance, you can make your bathroom look larger by painting it with broad, horizontal stripes. Or use a stencil to create a pattern on the wall.
  • Faux Tile. You can also use paint and stencils on a wood or concrete floor to create the look of tile for less. Just use sturdy porch paint and three coats of polyurethane to stand up to the humid environment.
  • Real Tile. According to Sherman Williams, it’s even possible to paint over real tile. Clean the bathroom wall tile thoroughly, scuff it with sandpaper, and apply a water-based acrylic primer. Top it with a durable latex or urethane paint, and you have “new” tile without the hassle and expense of replacing the old tile.
  • Refinishing Fixtures. You can use enamel paint to salvage an old bathtub or spray paint and lacquer to change the finish of a sink faucet.

6. Use Cheaper Materials

There are limits to what you can do with paint. But there are many other ways to substitute cheaper materials for pricier ones and get the look you want for less. To stretch your dollars when renovating a bathroom, splurge on just one or two high-impact items, such as countertops or a clawfoot tub, and choose cheaper alternatives for everything else.

There are cost-effective alternatives for nearly every part of a bathroom remodel.

Walls

Tile costs a lot more than paint or paneling. To keep your costs down, limit your use of tile on the walls as much as possible. Use it only in areas that get wet regularly, such as the tub or shower enclosure.

For the rest of your walls, painted drywall is the cheapest alternative. However, wood panels can create a more interesting look at a lower price than tile.

Flooring

Bathroom flooring options fall into three price ranges. The cheapest options are laminate and vinyl, which can cost $1 or less per square foot. Wood and ceramic tile are midrange alternatives, and stone tile is the priciest flooring of all.

If you crave the look of stone, it’s often possible to get it with a cheaper ceramic. One inexpensive bathroom remodel covered by This Old House includes slate-look ceramic tiles that cost only $85 for the whole room.

Tub and Shower Enclosures

If you can’t refurbish your existing shower walls, the cheapest way to replace them is with large panels of fiberglass or acrylic. These cost as little as $100 each and are quick to install.

However, if you prefer the look of a tiled wall, go for porcelain or ceramic tile rather than pricier glass or stone. You can also save time and money by choosing larger tiles. These require less grouting, so you save on labor costs.

If you’ve fallen in love with a fancy designer tile, search for a cheaper look-alike. Alternatively, use the fancy tile as an accent, filling in most of the wall with a more affordable tile. Not only will you save money, but the expensive tile will stand out more.

As for the front of the tub or shower enclosure, a shower curtain is cheaper than a glass door and easier to install. It’s also easy to clean — just take it down and toss it in the washer. And you can easily swap it out any time you want to change the look of the bathroom.

Tub and Shower Hardware

If you need to replace your bath or shower handles, spout, and showerhead, it’s probably cheapest to buy them as a set. These sets, called trim kits, can cost as little as $100 to $200 each.

However, if the handles are still in good shape, it could be cheaper to keep them and replace the showerhead only. A good showerhead contributes a lot more to a satisfying shower than nice-looking handles. Many top-rated showerheads cost less than $50.

Countertops

A stone countertop for your vanity is cheaper than stone counters for your kitchen since it’s a lot smaller. But other options are much less expensive.

According to HGTV, the most affordable countertop choices are laminate and ceramic or glass tiles. Engineered stone and solid-surface countertops cost more, but they’re still cheaper than granite or marble.

If you really love the look of stone, there are several ways to get it for less:

  • Use Tiles. Tile your countertop using marble floor tiles instead of a slab. The DIY’ing Missouri couple used this method, paying just $9 per square foot for their marble tiles. With white grout, the joins are hardly visible.
  • Use Remnants. Ask local suppliers if they have any stone left over from a bigger job. These remnants are often cheaper than a whole slab, and you don’t need much to make a vanity top. If you’re using a contractor, you can ask them about remnants as well.
  • Try Prefab. If your vanity is a standard size and shape, you can save money by choosing a prefabricated slab. It’s cheaper than having a piece cut to size. But it limits your options for color and edge details.
  • Choose a More Affordable Grade. Natural stone slabs come in different grades. A slab with more imperfections costs less, and if the flaws are in the center — where the hole for the sink will go — they won’t even show.
  • Keep the Edges Simple. Stone and prefabricated countertop materials are cheapest with a plain beveled or bull-nose edge. You can save by choosing these edge finishes over a fancy ogee or waterfall edge.

Cabinetry

The cheapest type of storage for the bathroom is open shelving. You can create wall-mounted shelves with nothing but a plank of wood and some wall brackets. These can go on any empty wall, including behind the toilet, to use all the space in the room.

If you want to keep your bath supplies behind closed doors, stock cabinets are cheaper than custom cabinetry. You can also compromise between the two by choosing semi-custom, ready-to-assemble cabinets. This product lets you configure size and features to fit your space. But the more options you add, the more it costs.

As for cabinet materials, laminate or thermofoil cabinets are cheap and easy to clean. However, they can warp over time, so they may not save you money in the long run. You can save on wood cabinets by choosing pine, maple, oak, or alder over pricier mahogany, cherry, or walnut. If you prefer darker wood, you can buy cheaper pieces and stain them.

The style of the cabinets also matters. You save the most by choosing flat doors rather than doors with raised panels and drawers rather than pullout cabinets. Shop around to find brands of both cabinets and hardware that give you the look you want at the lowest price.

One inexpensive and trendy option for a vanity cabinet is to repurpose an old dresser. You can find dressers through secondhand sources like garage sales and Craigslist for much less than you’d pay for a store-bought vanity cabinet.

Toilets

Considering they all do the same job, there’s a surprising range in the price of toilets. As a rule, round toilets are cheaper than those with an elongated bowl, and two-piece toilets cost less than one-piece ones. Two-piece toilets take up more room and are a little harder to install, but they’re easier and cheaper to repair if they break.

One type of toilet to avoid is a wall-hung model with the tank recessed into the wall. This design saves space, but it’s harder to install and repair, costing you money.

It’s also worth considering water-saving toilets. These don’t cost significantly more upfront, and they save you money on your water bill over their lifetime.

7. Shop Secondhand

Another way to save on materials for your bathroom renovation is to buy them secondhand. The Missouri couple who created a luxury master bathroom on a $6,000 budget got nearly everything used, including a salvaged clawfoot tub, discarded cabinet doors from a kitchen and bath showroom, a scavenged marble scrap for a countertop, and a yard sale mirror.

Shopping secondhand isn’t as easy as going into a store and putting things in a cart. It pays to start early to ensure you have plenty of time to find what you want. While you’re still in the planning phase of your remodel, start checking secondhand sites for items that match your wish list.

Places to find secondhand materials include

  • Reuse Centers. If you have a reuse center in your area, you can find everything you need for your bathroom remodeling project there, from tile to light fixtures. When we redid our bathroom, we hit the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and found Italian ceramic tile for under $3 per square foot and a cultured marble sink and vanity top for $30.
  • eBay. You can find nearly anything on eBay, including bath supplies. The Texas homeowner who redid a powder room for $705 bought a sink, faucet, and light fixtures from online auctions for $390 total. Just remember to factor in shipping costs when buying online, especially since bath items can be heavy.
  • Craigslist. Check the for-sale section of your local Craigslist site for bath bargains. A quick search of the listings on my local group turned up plumbing fixtures, countertops, cabinetry, light fixtures, and even a ventilation fan.
  • Nextdoor. Nextdoor is a social media group designed to help neighbors connect. Members can buy and sell unwanted goods through the Finds section. Listings for bath pieces aren’t that common, but it’s worth a look.
  • Freecycle. Through the Freecycle Network, members give away unwanted items to people in their area at no cost. Check your local group for free stuff you could use as part of your bathroom remodel.
  • Flea Markets. Check out flea markets for antique pieces for your bath remodel, such as a clawfoot tub or an old-fashioned light fixture. Just don’t buy anything you can’t haul home since there’s no delivery service.
  • Antique Stores. Antique stores are another excellent source of vintage furniture and materials. But they’re likely to charge higher prices than other resellers.
  • Yard Sales. Shopping at garage sales is a hit-or-miss proposition. You can’t always find what you want, but when you do, the prices are terrific. The Missouri couple with the $6,000 master bath renovation made several affordable finds at yard sales, including a $35 etched glass mirror and a marble slab for just $1.
  • Your Own Home. Don’t hesitate to reuse materials left over from other projects in your bathroom renovation. Several homeowners profiled by This Old House reused leftover materials, including paint and beadboard.

8. Look for Bargains

If you can’t get all the materials for your bathroom secondhand, you can save by finding them on sale. For instance, one couple from New York found a cast-iron bathtub on sale for $350. Most new cast-iron tubs cost $1,000 or more.

The holiday season is an excellent time to find remodeling materials on sale. According to CabinetNow, the best seasonal sales on cabinetry occur on Black Friday and in the weeks before Christmas.

However, shopping sales isn’t the only way to find deals on new materials. One of the best ways to find bargains is to shop around. Comparison-shopping websites and tools can help you find the best prices when shopping online. Other money-saving browser extensions can help you find coupon codes to cut costs still more.

Also, don’t overlook discount sites like Overstock.com. This site offers everything you need for a bathroom renovation, from tubs to tile, at prices well below retail.

If you find reasonable prices for several products in one store, but its prices on other things you need are higher, find out if the store offers a price-match guarantee. If it does, you could get the best prices on everything you need at once without having to visit multiple stores.

Finally, if you buy a lot of materials from one place, ask about volume discounts. Home centers like Home Depot offer discounts on bulk sales. It’s primarily for professional contractors, but it can’t hurt to ask.


Final Word

A bathroom remodel doesn’t have to cost a small fortune. There’s no doubt that some upgrades, like a fully tiled walk-in shower or expanding the square footage of your master bath, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. But with good planning and a little creativity, you can make your bathroom into a luxurious retreat on a much smaller budget.

Moreover, updating or adding a bathroom to your home is a home improvement project that adds value. According to the 2021 Cost vs. Value Report from industry publication Remodeling magazine, homeowners who remodel their bathrooms recover an average of 55% to 60% of the money when selling the home. And if you can manage to add the same resale value on a smaller budget, you can boost that percentage even more.

Do you have other rooms to redo? Check out our articles on budget kitchen remodels and basement remodels.

Source: moneycrashers.com

The 6 Best Ways to Save Money for Kids

If you think higher education is in your child’s future, consider a 529 college savings plan.
Ready to stop worrying about money?
If you plan on covering some, but not all college expenses, you can tweak this formula to suit your situation. For instance, Fidelity recommends targeting a savings goal of ,000 multiplied by your kid’s current age if you plan on covering 50% of college costs and assume your child will attend a four-year public school. The financial institution provides a couple of examples of parents covering different percentages of fees and what that would look like at different ages of their children.
First, assess your total financial picture. Take inventory of your outstanding debt, and create a budget if you haven’t already.
If you want to save money, there are many ways you can go about it. Whether you’re thinking ahead to your child’s college education or just want to set aside a little something for when your child reaches a certain age, you have more than a few options to reach your savings goals.
(Have you picked your jaw up off the floor yet? Good. Keep reading.)
As with all investments, there are fees and risks associated with 529 plans.
There are also plenty of child-friendly bank accounts you can choose from to encourage your children to start saving early and often. A savings account is a good start.

Planning for Your Kids’ College Savings and Future Expenses

Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Now on to the good news: You have many options to start saving for your child’s future today, no matter your budget.
Again, that’s just the estimated cost. And there are grants and college scholarships available to help families chip away at the fees.
With this plan, a saver opens an investment account for the beneficiary’s qualified college education expenses, including room and board. This money can be applied toward universities (and some outside the U.S.), and withdrawals can also be used to pay up to K at elementary and high schools.

5 Ways to Save Money For Your Kids’ College Education

What’s the best type of savings account for a child? We’re glad you asked!

1. 529 College Savings Plans

How much money you “should” save depends on a few factors. For one, there are a lot of variables to consider: How much will a university degree cost in X number of years? How long do you think your child will go to school for? (Two years, four years or more years for advanced degrees.) What amount can you afford to regularly sock away for expenses?
These plans are sponsored by state governments as well, but there are fewer residency requirements. Investments in mutual funds and ETFs are not guaranteed by the federal government, but some bank products are protected.
A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account. You fund it with money you’ve already paid taxes on. So, when the time comes (typically at age 59 ½), you can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions and earnings tax free. However, you can withdraw this money earlier, penalty-free, to pay for higher education costs for your child.

Prepaid Tuition Plan

A 529 plan, or qualified tuition plan, is a tax-advantaged investment account. This means the money grows tax free and you can also take it out tax free. Each state (plus the District of Columbia) offers at least one plan. You can view minimum and maximum contribution limits and other considerations by state here.
With this plan, a saver or account holder can purchase units or credits at a participating university and lock in current prices for future tuition costs for the beneficiary. Typically, this money can’t be used for elementary and high school costs, nor be put toward room and board at college.

Education Savings Plan

While interest rates are low and whatever interest you earn is taxed as income, an FDIC-insured bank savings account is a tried and true (and safe) place to store money — whether yours or your kid’s.
With a Roth IRA, they’ll get tax-free money when they retire. They can also use these funds to help pay for their own qualified college expenses. While your child will have to pay taxes on the earnings, they won’t face an early withdrawal penalty.
You generally have more flexibility with brokerage accounts: You can choose from a variety of investments and make withdrawals at any time. Note: If your child does plan on going to college, the value of this account will be included in financial aid calculations.
There are other online calculators that can help you determine what you should save, depending on what your child’s future education plans might entail (like grad school). Again, a financial advisor or certified financial planner (CFP) can help you plan for college costs in way that accommodates your needs.

2. Roth IRA

Anyone can use a 529 college savings plan (no annual income restrictions!) and you can change the 529 beneficiary to another family member without incurring a tax penalty.
Here are three questions we see pop up time and again when it comes to investing in your child’s future. Oh. And this figure doesn’t even factor into university costs.
Of course, you can invest your money in a few different ways — some combination of a 529 plan; Roth IRA; or, UGMA, UTMA, brokerage or savings accounts — so you have options.

3. UGMA and UTMA Accounts

Sticking with college, here are additional ways to save that you and your child can work toward. Whether you’re a new parent or a year out from sending your kid off to college, consider these opportunities to save money.

Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA)

A brokerage account allows you to invest money in stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Once you deposit your money, you can work with a financial advisor or robo-advisor, or both, to invest and grow your money.

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

File this under “Things You Already Know” — kids are expensive. What you might not know is the best ways to save money for kids, and we’ve got your back on that.
This account establishes a way for someone under 18 years old to own securities without requiring a trustee or prepared trust documents.

4. Brokerage Account

Here are several ways you can invest and save money for your children, whether you want to open a college savings plan or start a rainy-day fund.
A parent or guardian will need to serve as the custodian, since minors generally can’t open brokerage accounts. Children need to have an earned income (part-time jobs, like babysitting, count) to contribute to it. Like adults up to and under age 50, they can only contribute up to K to the Roth IRA annually. Once the child turns 18 or 21 years old (depending on the state in which they live), control of the account must be transferred to them.
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5. Savings Account

College is an investment, and it can be a pricey one. By saving early (and with the magic of compound interest on your side), you can earn a bigger return on your money down the line.
And, mom and dad, when the time comes, make sure you fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).
There are two types of 529 plans: prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans.
Consider meeting with a financial expert to help you craft a plan that’s best for you.
The cost of raising a child from birth through age 18 is roughly 3,610, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). To break that down further, that’s around K per year, per kid.

graduation cap filled with money on sidewalk
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

Additional Ways to Save Money for College

Save early and save regularly, and you’ll be off to a good start.Contributor Kathleen Garvin (@itskgarvin) is a personal finance writer based in St. Petersburg, Florida, and former editor and marketer at The Penny Hoarder. She owns a content-writing business and her work has appeared in U.S. News, Clark.com and Well Kept Wallet.

  • Ask for gifts toward their education expenses. If friends and family would like to give a gift to your child, ask them to consider putting any money toward their college fund. You can do this for any birthday or holiday, though the earlier you start investing in their education, the better. (Bonus: Your 1 year old doesn’t have the capacity to ask for the latest toy and won’t object to this gift.)
  • Encourage your kid to work and save. Once your child is of legal working age, they can get a job and start saving money for their school expenses. Even saving a small amount per paycheck can help them make a dent in later costs; you might also consider “matching” their savings to incentivize them (for example, give them $1 for every $20 they put away for college).
  • Look to companies and professional organizations. Your workplace may offer opportunities to children of employees looking to earn money for college. Some large companies, like UPS, offer such scholarships. Review your company handbook or ask your HR department about any available opportunities. Professional organizations, like the Rotary Club, are also known to offer scholarships and grants for continuing education. If you belong to any organizations or other clubs, look out for these benefits.
  • Apply for scholarships and grants. Additionally, encourage your high school student to look for scholarships and grants to help mitigate their college costs. Universities typically offer money for students who fit certain criteria — such as transfer students or people in certain majors — and meet other requirements. There are all sorts of weird scholarships, contests and even apps that can help them earn money for school, too. Just make sure they weigh the pros and cons of any entry fees and stay on top of contest deadlines.

If we use the earlier figures from CollegeCalc that forecast what a four-year education will cost in 2039 (5,167.67 / 4 = ,792 a year), it’s recommended you put 1 a month into a college savings plan. This calculation assumes an after-tax return of 7%, an annual tuition increase of 7% and four years of school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

It’s great if you’re able and want to contribute to your children’s future expenses and education fund — student loan debt has surpassed a whopping .7 trillion in the U.S. — but you need to be smart about it. If you put yourself in a precarious financial situation, it can be more difficult for you to course-correct later.

When Is the Best Time to Invest Money for College?

With that said, don’t let getting started “later” deter you from saving at all. It’s kind of like the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” You want to save what you can as early and regularly as possible. But if life circumstances prevented you from doing so before, right now is the next best time to start saving.
On average, tuition and fees ran ,411 at private colleges and ,171 for in-state residents at public colleges for the 2020-2021 school year. The estimated cost of a four-year degree, 18 years out?

What’s the Best Way to Invest Money for a Child?

Most prepaid tuition plans have residency requirements for the saver and/or beneficiary, and are sponsored by the state government (and not guaranteed by the federal government). However, not all state governments guarantee the money paid into them, so it is possible to lose money. Additionally, your mileage may vary with this plan if the beneficiary doesn’t attend a participating college, resulting in a smaller return on investment.
First things first: If you have nothing saved for retirement, focus on your own needs before you start saving for someone else. You’re on a more fixed timeline. Plus, you can’t borrow for retirement savings like your child can for their education.
5,167.67.

How Much Money Should I Save for My Child?

Looking for more options that aren’t exclusive to education? You can invest in a taxable brokerage account.
The good thing about putting away money for your children is that there is no one “right” way to do it. You can open a 529 plan for your child early on or later as they get closer to college aid. Or, you can fund a brokerage account so you’re not held to stricter rules about how the money’s spent.
If you want to invest in your kid’s future without choosing an account that’s for education expenses only, look into a Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UTMA Uniform Transfers to Minors Act.
Don’t forget the old standby: a traditional savings account.

The Best Way to Save Money for Kids

This account is similar to a UGMA. However, minors can also own property such as real estate and fine art.
A custodian will also need to be set up for this type of account. Parents can set up a custodial account and then make withdrawals to cover child-related expenses. Once the child is of legal age, the assets are transferred to their name. Since the funds for both UGMA and UTMA accounts are in the child’s name, they cannot be transferred to another beneficiary. <!–

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Where to Find Cheap or Free Tutoring for Your Kids

Whether your kid is struggling to read or to understand advanced calculus, some additional one-on-one instruction can make a world of difference. That’s why parents hire tutors — to boost their kids’ academic progress beyond the constraints of the school day.

But finding the funds to pay a tutor can be tough for a family on a budget. Costs vary, but it’s not unheard of to spend between $40 and $80 … per hour. And if your child is really struggling, chances are you’re going to need way more than one hour.

Here are some alternative ways to get educational assistance, even free tutoring, without breaking the bank.

6 Low-Cost or Free Tutoring Options

1. Get Extra Help With an Online Tutor

Online tutors don’t need a brick-and-mortar building, and they eliminate the need for anyone to commute. Everything is accessible with the click of a mouse. Your screen is your virtual whiteboard.

Some free or low-cost online tutoring websites include:

  • Khan Academy — a nonprofit organization that provides a wide range of free lessons to students all over the world.
  • Learn to Be — a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that provides free one-on-one tutoring to K-12 students in underserved communities.
  • Chegg Study — a 24/7 tutoring service for high school and college students where you pay $14.95 a month for expert homework help from a variety of subjects including math, science, engineering and business.
  • Free Tutoring Center — a student-run service that provides free one-on-one tutoring to elementary and middle schoolers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • UPchieve — a free online tutoring app where volunteer tutors provide academic help in various math and science subjects. This service also offers free college counseling.
  • Varsity Tutors — an education platform that offers free large group classes and free learning tools for self-study. For more individualized help, Varsity Tutors charges for one-on-one tutoring and small group classes.
  • Outschool — an online learning platform that has a variety of classes for kids ages 3 to 18. Filter your class search by price to find offerings for $9 or less.

2. Browse Your Library’s Offerings

If you’re only using your library card to check out books, you’re likely missing out on all the neat opportunities your library has to offer. Some tutoring companies like Tutor.com and Brainfuse partner directly with public libraries to provide free online tutoring to students.

Ask your librarian about what your local branch offers. Outside of partnering with an online service, your library might host free or low-cost test prep or homework help. Your librarian might also know of students or teachers who offer affordable tutoring. At the very least, you can get pointed in the direction of helpful reference books and research materials related to your child’s topic of study.

3. Go Back to School

Sometimes the best place to get help is directly from your child’s teacher. He or she already knows your child’s unique challenges and learning style and is invested in seeing your kid improve.

Schedule a parent/teacher meeting to ask about opportunities for extra instruction. The teacher may be free to help your child during a study hall period, and you can bypass paying for a Saturday afternoon tutoring session.

Also, ask if there’s a peer tutoring program at school where older students or students excelling in a particular subject volunteer to aid those who need extra help.

Consider that the help may come from outside your kid’s individual school. National Honor Society members at the local high school might have an outreach program that would benefit your struggling middle schooler. Community colleges sometimes have academic resources available for high school students at low or no cost.

4. Be Selective About After-School Programs

Until kids are old enough to go home to an empty house, working parents often turn to after-school programs and extracurriculars. While karate practice and dance lessons sound fun, your kid won’t be working on math equations or language arts.

You can save money by choosing an after-school program that includes tutoring services. The Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA are two national youth nonprofits that often provide help with homework or studying for tests.

5. Call on Your Community for One-on-One Tutoring

Don’t underestimate the power of your social circle. Your friends or coworkers may know of organizations in your city that provide free or low-cost tutoring.

Ask the parents of your kids’ friends for recommendations on affordable tutors. An older sibling of your child’s best friend might be a math whiz. You may be able to barter with a classmate’s mom, exchanging tutoring sessions for free babysitting.

6. Give Into Screen Time on YouTube

Now this last one isn’t quite tutoring in the traditional sense, but you can turn to YouTube for almost anything these days — including K-12 subject matter. In most cases, you’ll be able to access instructional videos at no cost.

Has physics or chemistry got your kid down? Check out these YouTube science channels. This list of YouTube history channels may help students master the details of major world events.

The video-sharing platform just might get your kids to see their worst subject in a new light and find learning — dare I say it? — fun.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

15 Ways to Save Money Landscaping Your Yard

If you have a yard, you’ve probably daydreamed about what you want it to look like someday. But landscaping costs keep many homeowners from breaking ground.

Whether you want to improve your curb appeal, make your yard more functional, or plant your own botanical oasis, landscaping doesn’t have to be expensive. With a little creativity and forethought, you can have the outdoor space you’ve always wanted without emptying your wallet.

Landscaping Tips to Save Money on Outdoor Living

You don’t need to hire a professional landscaper to have a beautiful backyard. You just have to get your hands dirty. From planting perennials to making your own compost, homeowners have many options when it comes to saving on landscaping costs.

1. Choose a Purpose for Your Space

How you plan to use your outdoor space determines how you landscape it. Decide whether you want to tailor your landscape design to:

  • A play area for kids or pets
  • An outdoor dining and lounging area for yourself and guests
  • A productive herb or vegetable garden
  • A butterfly or bee garden

You can choose more than one, budget and space permitting.

But knowing how you plan to use your yard allows you to make a budget and avoid overspending on unnecessary purchases. It also helps you determine where you can cut costs and what your most significant expenses will be, such as putting in sod or building a ground-level deck.

2. Work With Your Yard

Work with the yard you have instead of trying to create something completely different. For example, if you have large, naturally occurring rocks and boulders in your yard, having them moved costs a lot of money. Rather than paying for removal, work around them by turning them into a rock garden or using flowers and mulch to create an attractive feature piece.

The more you need to change your yard, the more costly landscaping becomes. Uprooting trees, leveling terrain, and relocating rocks are all expensive endeavors. Instead of making your yard into something it isn’t, work with what you have.

3. Salvage Existing Wooden Fencing or Decking

Fences, decks, and patios are crucial components of many yards. And without proper maintenance, they can fall into a state of disrepair. But just because your outdoor wooden structures are looking a little worse for wear doesn’t mean you can’t salvage them for your new landscaping project.

Rather than spending a fortune on replacing an old fence or deck, fix it yourself by:

  • Repairing or replacing damaged and broken boards
  • Pressure-washing aged wood and chipping paint
  • Giving everything a good scrub
  • Applying paint or stain and waterproof sealant
  • Maintaining it each year

A quick trip to a home improvement store like Home Depot to rent a pressure-washer or buy some sealant is bound to cost a lot less than paying a contractor to rebuild your outdoor structure.

4. Choose Fence and Deck Materials Based on Climate and Need

Sometimes, salvaging your wooden fence or deck isn’t practical in the long run. If you need to replace or rebuild a fence, deck, or patio, save some money down the road by choosing materials suited to your climate.

For example, in areas where it’s either particularly hot or humid, wooden structures often need to be maintained and replaced more frequently since they’re constantly exposed to harsh elements like the sun or rain, which can damage and destroy them.

Instead, explore options with a longer lifespan, like brick, concrete, composite, vinyl, or metal. Do a cost-benefit analysis to determine how much you could save in the future for maintenance and replacement costs by choosing an alternative to wood.

5. Use Natural Elements

Found natural elements like rocks and stones are inexpensive alternatives to store-bought pavers and edging. You can also use tree stumps as stools or tables and natural mulch like grass clippings, shredded leaves, or pine needles in your flower beds.

These elements add a rustic and natural appeal to your yard and come at little to no cost. Pick up free rocks in new housing developments or by browsing online marketplaces like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Repurpose dead trees by turning them into furniture. And simply empty your lawn mower bag for free mulch.

6. Create a Lush Lawn

If you have sparse grass coverage or weeds have overtaken your yard, you need to put in some work to grow a healthy lawn. But you don’t need to hire an expensive landscaper to bring your grass back to life. You can take care of weeds by pulling them by hand or using a lawn-friendly weed killer.

For dead or thin grass, try reseeding your lawn to bring it back to life. You can also promote its growth using a high-quality fertilizer, which can also help kill weeds.

Just ensure it’s a match for your soil type and United States Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone, a measure of a region’s climatic conditions (such as heat and humidity) that helps gardeners determine the likelihood of a plant’s growth and survival.

Local home improvement stores and garden centers only carry plants and materials suited to your zone, so if you buy locally instead of online, you can find products suited to your zone without much effort. And you can always ask a store employee for assistance with choosing materials for your soil type.

If your lawn is too far gone, you may have to plant new grass, which takes a lot of time and effort. It involves stripping your old grass, laying down landscaping fabric and topsoil, and seeding or putting in squares or strips of pre-grown grass, which is called sod.

You can hire a landscaper to install it for you, but doing it yourself can potentially save a lot of money. According to Angi (formerly Angie’s List), it costs between $0.35 to $0.85 per square foot on average to buy sod, depending on what type of grass you get and prices in your area. You also may need to purchase fertilizer, landscaping fabric, and topsoil and rent equipment to grade the lawn.

Hiring a landscaper costs between $1 and $2 per square foot. So doing it yourself could potentially save you several hundred dollars. But it may not be worth it.

Angi also notes that it takes around 40 hours of work, though Home Depot says it only takes two to four hours. Either way, cutting corners could prevent your grass from taking root, costing you more money in the long run. So if you aren’t confident in your abilities, it may save you money to have a pro do it. Get some estimates from professionals and compare the costs of DIY.

Regardless of the state of your lawn, getting it back into tip-top shape is key to having a front yard with curb appeal or a backyard oasis.

But keep maintaining it after you complete your landscaping project. Just like most front yard and backyard landscaping, slacking on lawn care only costs more money in the long run. If you don’t stay on top of grass and weed issues each year, your lawn only gets worse with each season. Remember to weed, seed, fertilize, and water your grass to keep yourself from having to pay for extensive and expensive renovations in the future.

7. Landscape With Native Plants

Native plants are the plants that grow naturally in your hardiness zone. Native plants tend to thrive in your climate and soil, which means they’re low-maintenance and easy to grow, unlike potentially finicky nonnative plants.

Because native gardening often requires less maintenance, it helps save on costs for things like fertilizers, pesticides, and water while still growing healthy and strong. It’s particularly useful for novice gardeners since it can prevent you from wasting money on plants that aren’t suited to your soil or zone or take a lot of extra effort to grow.

As a bonus, they also attract birds, bees, butterflies, and wildlife since they provide familiar shelter and natural diets to various creatures in your region.

You can find native plants by perusing the Native Plant Database or talking to someone at your local plant nursery.

8. Plant Perennials

Unlike annuals, which only bloom for one season, perennial plants come up each year. For example, bulbs like crocuses, daffodils, and irises are typically perennials and sprout each spring. Perennials can also be herbs, ground cover plants, fruit bushes, and vegetables.

Because you only have to plant perennials once, you don’t have to purchase new flowers or plants each year. And they tend to multiply, so over time, you can separate the plants and bulbs and use them in other parts of your garden or trade them with others.

9. Plant From Seed

If you’re growing a garden or flowers, planting from seed rather than buying established plants and sprouts is a lot cheaper, although it requires more work on your part. For example, a packet of basil seeds typically costs between $1 and $3 compared to a single basil plant, which can cost anywhere from $5 to $15, depending on the variety. However, seeds can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to sprout.

You can either sow seeds directly into the ground or start them indoors based on their growing season and germination period.

If you choose to grow indoors, you must purchase some supplies upfront, like starter trays, a grow light, and a growing medium. But you can reuse many of these tools each year, saving you from buying it again each season.

If you plant them outdoors, you just need a garden bed or planter and some soil.

10. Build Your Own Garden Beds

Flower beds and veggie gardens are simple DIY landscaping projects. Putting in a new garden doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. You can use flower beds or planters around trees or features as natural edging or start a simple herb or vegetable bed in an unused corner of your yard. Some popular options include raised planting beds and container gardens.

Depending on lumber costs and whether you can make one from found wood or old containers you already own, DIY planting beds can be much more cost-effective than buying prefabricated beds. And they’re definitely cheaper than hiring someone to build them for you. That’s especially true if all you want is something simple to house your veggies or keep flowers from spreading.

For more information on using found containers or repurposed materials as plant beds, read our article on saving money on gardening.

11. Join (or Start) a Plant Swap

Plants are probably part of your landscaping plan, whether you’re planting ornamental grasses, succulents, flowers, herbs, or veggies. Unfortunately, plants come with price tags — unless you join or start a local plant swap or seed exchange.

In a plant swap, local gardeners and plant enthusiasts trade their extra seeds or propagated plants. They give you a chance to diversify your garden for free as long as you have sprouts, seeds, or established plants of your own to barter with. Seed exchanges are also sometimes offered as part of the non-book-related free services at public libraries.

You’ll also meet fellow green thumbs who can offer tips and landscaping ideas that may help you to save money and have a more successful garden.

12. Buy Trees Late in the Season

Depending on what type you want and how common they are in your area, trees can come with hefty price tags, especially during peak gardening and landscaping season.

But unlike many flowers, herbs, and vegetables, you don’t have to plant trees early in the growing season. And if you wait, you can save big.

Many garden centers and nurseries offer discounts as the season progresses, with the most significant being in the late summer and early fall. And as long as you get your tree in the ground with enough time to establish roots before winter, waiting a month or two to buy and plant it doesn’t do any harm.

13. Make Your Own Compost

Compost does wonders for your garden. It helps improve your soil structure and fertility and provides beneficial nutrients.

Instead of spending money buying compost to boost your garden beds’ productivity and health, save money, reduce your waste, and help the environment all at once by making your own in a compost heap in your yard or composting container by using discarded organics like kitchen waste and grass clippings.

14. Build a Fire Pit

Fire pits are a popular garden idea that adds to the atmosphere and usability of your yard. They’re perfect for enjoying cool summer evenings and roasting marshmallows. But when purchased from a retailer, they can cost a lot of money.

Instead of buying a fire pit, build your own using rocks, bricks, concrete, or metal. Depending on the materials you use and the size of your fire pit, it could cost you less than $100 to build.

Just ensure you’re legally allowed to have one and that it meets your city’s rules and regulations. For example, most fire pits have to be a certain distance from buildings and permanent structures like fences and sheds.

15. Buy in Bulk

One of the best landscaping tips is buying in bulk to reduce your costs for supplies like soil, mulch, sand, river stones, and crushed rock. If you’re planning a large-scale yard renovation or soil amendment, calculate how much material like soil, rock, and mulch you need and put in a large order instead of making multiple one-off trips to the garden center.

Save even more by asking your neighbors if they need anything and split delivery costs on the order.


Final Word

Landscaping your yard can improve your home’s outdoor living experience and motivate you to spend more time outside. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. You can have a beautiful and inviting yard while keeping costs low.

To keep enjoying your yard year after year, continue maintaining it regularly by seeding, fertilizing, and weeding the lawn; tending to plants and trees; and repairing and sealing fixtures like fences and decks. That will keep you from having to take out a personal loan just to cover landscaping costs in the future.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Here’s What You Need to Know About Investing in 2021

Here’s a good question for the new year: Is 2021 a good time to invest in stocks?

In turbulent times like these, it’s hard to know the right financial moves to make. A lot of the tried-and-true advice we’ve always relied on doesn’t seem relevant anymore. Is now a good time to invest? Should I focus on paying off debt? Or saving?

It’s helpful to consult with a pro. So we asked Robin Hartill, a certified financial planner, as well as an editor and financial advice columnist for The Penny Hoarder, for advice.

Here are six financial questions we’ve been getting from readers lately:

1. ‘The Cost of Waiting is High’

Question: “Is 2021 a good time to invest, or should I wait the market out?”

Hartill’s advice: Take the long view. The stock market will grow your money over time, so you might as well get started sooner rather than later.

“The timing of your investment matters much less than how much time you have to invest,” Hartill says. “The S&P 500 has delivered inflation-adjusted returns of about 7% per year on average for the past 50 years. The cost of waiting for the perfect time to invest is high. You’re missing out on long-term growth.”

Profitable investing is all about taking the long view. Not sure how to get started? With an app called Stash, you can get started with as little as $1.* It lets you choose from hundreds of stocks and funds to build your own investment portfolio. It makes it simple by breaking them down into categories based on your personal goals.

“If you were hoping to make a quick buck off the stock market, now may not be a great time,” Hartill said. “We’re still in a recession, but the stock market has recovered. But true investing isn’t about making a quick buck. It’s about growing your money over time.”

She recommends budgeting a certain amount of money to invest each month, no matter what.

If you sign up for Stash now (it takes two minutes), Stash will give you $5 after you add $5 to your investment account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**

2. ‘There’s Only So Much Fat You Can Cut’

Question: “My monthly expenses keep going up. Anything I can do?”

“There’s only so much fat you can cut from your budget. Eventually, you start chipping away at muscle and bone,” Hartill said. “Cutting costs is often a good way to meet your shorter-term goals, like saving for a vacation or a down payment. But for the really big long-term goals like retirement and protecting your family from a worst-case scenario, cutting back only goes so far.”

If you need to cut back, though, take a hard look at your mandatory monthly bills — like car insurance. When’s the last time you checked prices? You should shop around your options every six months or so.

And if you look through a digital marketplace called SmartFinancial, you could be getting rates as low as $22 a month — and saving yourself more than $700 a year. 

It takes one minute to get quotes from multiple insurers, so you can see all the best rates side-by-side. Yep — in just one minute you could save yourself $715 this year. That’s some major cash back in your pocket.

So if you haven’t checked car insurance rates in a while, see how much you can save with a new policy.

3. ‘If You Have Your Spending in Check… ’

Question: “My budget is tight. What debt should I focus on paying off?”

“The only way to get out of debt is by spending less than you earn,” Hartill said. “But if you have your spending in check, a debt-consolidation loan can help you shed your debt faster.”

She added a caveat: “This option only makes sense if it lowers your interest payments. Many people who don’t have good credit actually find that the interest rate they’re approved for is even higher than what they’re currently paying.”

There’s a quick way to find out if this would work out for you. It takes just a couple of minutes to check out your options on a website called AmOne. If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, it’ll match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online.

4. ‘You Don’t Have to Settle for Nothing’

Question: “My savings account bottomed out. Any other ways to make passive income right now?”

“Although interest rates will stay low until at least 2023, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for earning nothing on your savings,” Hartill said.

Most banks are paying account holders virtually no interest on their savings these days. Try switching to an Aspiration account. It lets you earn up to 5% cash back every time you swipe the card and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account. Plus, you’ll never pay a monthly account maintenance fee.

To see how much you could earn, enter your email address here, link your bank account and add at least $10 to your account. And don’t worry. Your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. That’s nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

5. ‘Most of Us Don’t Earn Enough’

Question: “How can I possibly earn enough to ever retire?”

Hartill shared a brutal truth with us: “The overwhelming majority of us don’t earn enough to get to save our way to retirement.”

Ouch, that hurts. But wait, she offers a solution: “Spending money by investing it in the stock market and earning returns that compound into even more money.”

“If you need a $500,000 nest egg to retire, you’d have to trim $10,000 from your budget for 50 years straight to get there through savings alone. But if you invested just $5,000 a year and earned 6% returns, you’d get there in less than 34 years.”

6. ‘The Only Practical Way to Give Your Family Security’

Question: “I have a family. How can I make sure they’re protected in these uncertain times?”

“Spending money on life insurance is the only practical way to give your family the security they deserve,” Hartill said. “Your life insurance needs are greatest when you have young children. Fortunately, this is often a time when you’re still young enough that life insurance is relatively inexpensive.”

Maybe you’re thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But this takes minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.

We hear people are paying as little as $8 a month. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)

It takes just minutes to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones — even if you don’t have seven figures in your bank account.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He is not a certified financial planner, but he has stayed in a Holiday Inn Express.

*For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

**You’ll also bear the standard fees and expenses reflected in the pricing of the ETFs in your account, plus fees for various ancillary services charged by Stash and the custodian.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com