7 Costly Social Security Mistakes

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Even a minor Social Security misstep can rob your nest egg of tens of thousands of dollars in retirement benefits.

So, it pays to understand how the system works and how to maximize your Social Security checks.

The following are some of the biggest and most costly mistakes you could make when navigating Social Security — and how to avoid making them.

1. Taking Social Security too early

It’s tempting to start taking Social Security benefits after you become eligible but before you reach what the federal government calls your “full retirement age.” If you do, you’ll wind up with a smaller check each month.

Technically, you should receive the same total amount of benefits over the span of your retirement no matter the age at which you first claimed them. The Social Security system is designed to be actuarially neutral in this regard.

Still, claiming early can be risky because once you claim benefits, you will be stuck with the same size payment for life. The amount of a person’s monthly benefit typically will never increase except for inflation adjustments.

If you’re the main breadwinner in your family, you may want to think twice about starting your Social Security benefit early since your spouse may receive that smaller benefit amount one day.

Jeffrey A. Drayton of Jeffrey A. Drayton Financial Planning and Wealth Management in Maple Grove, Minnesota, tells Money Talks News:

“When one of you dies, the surviving spouse will get to keep whichever benefit is larger. If yours is the larger benefit, do you really want to reduce it? Doing so means that you might be reducing this lifelong annuity that gets adjusted for inflation permanently not just for yourself but also your spouse.”

2. Claiming benefits and continuing to work

If you claim Social Security before reaching full retirement age and continue working, you might have to pay penalties against your Social Security benefit. This depends on how much money you earn.

One solution is to wait until your full retirement age to claim Social Security. There is no penalty for working while taking benefits after your full retirement age, regardless of how much income you earn.

3. Not checking your earnings record

The amount of your retirement benefit is based on your top 35 years of earnings. So, if there’s an error in your Social Security earnings record, the amount of your monthly check could suffer for it.

For example, if an employer fails to correctly report your earnings for even one year, your monthly benefit upon retiring could be around $100 less, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). That amounts to a loss of tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your retirement.

While employers are responsible for reporting your earnings, you are responsible for checking your earnings record, as only you can confirm the information is accurate.

To review your earnings record, log into your mySocialSecurity account — or create an account if you have yet to do so.

You’ll want to check each year. The SSA explains:

“Sooner is definitely better when it comes to identifying and reporting problems with your earnings record. As time passes, you may no longer have past tax documents and some employers may no longer be in business or able to provide past payroll information.”

4. Making an isolated decision

A Social Security decision is just one piece of a retirement income puzzle, says Charlie Bolognino, a certified financial planner at Side-by-Side Financial Planning in Plymouth, Minnesota.

It can impact how you draw down other retirement income sources, such as a pension, 401(k) plan or cash savings. It can also impact the amount of retirement income you lose to federal or state taxes.

Failing to consider these other retirement funding factors when making Social Security decisions — as well as rushing to those decisions — can cost you a big chunk of your nest egg.

“This is a big decision with potentially thousands of dollars at stake, so don’t short-cut it,” Bolognino tells Money Talks News. “Find a reputable benefit option comparison tool or work with a financial planner who can help you evaluate options in the context of your broader financial picture.”

5. Failing to understand what qualifies you for Social Security

Social Security retirement benefits are not a guarantee. You must qualify for them by paying Social Security taxes during your working years, or be married to someone who qualifies for benefits, Drayton says.

He continues:

“The qualification rules are complicated. The short answer most people give is that you need to work for at least 10 years. However, it is based on a system of credits and quarters, and there are different types of qualifications for different types of benefits.”

The bottom line? Know your qualification status and, if you’re ineligible, how to qualify for benefits.

To find out whether you’re eligible for retirement benefits or any other benefits administered by SSA, check out the SSA’s Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST). You can also use the tool to find out how to qualify and apply for benefits.

6. Not knowing the Social Security rules regarding divorce

You may be eligible to claim a spousal benefit based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record after a divorce. Failing to realize this can cost you a lot.

Generally, the member of the divorced couple entitled to the smaller benefit amount may be eligible for this type of spousal benefit — provided they were married for at least 10 years, haven’t remarried and meet a few other requirements.

The member of the divorced couple with the smaller benefit amount applies for a spousal benefit. The applicant must have been married for at least 10 years, not have been remarried and meet a few other requirements.

7. Not accounting for dependent benefits

If you still have dependent children when you claim Social Security retirement benefits, they may be eligible to receive benefits, too. An eligible child can receive up to 50% of your full retirement benefit amount each month, according to the SSA.

Your family would receive that amount on top of your own benefit amount. Payments to your dependents would not decrease your benefit, although there is a limit to how much the entire family may receive in monthly benefits.

So, understanding the benefits that your dependents might be eligible for can help you maximize your family’s collective benefit amount.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

4 Best Coupon Matchup Sites for Groceries – Our Real-World Test

Every time I read a blog about extreme couponing, I’m in awe at the author’s grocery shopping skills. By stacking (combining) coupons with sales, these super-shoppers save over 50% on every product they buy. But when I try to copy their strategies, I just can’t find that many deals — even after hours of cross-checking coupon inserts against my local supermarkets’ sale flyers.

But there are couponing sites that promise to make it easier to save money with stacking deals. Their staff members do the work of matching sales with coupons so you don’t have to. But can these sites really find the kinds of deals you can’t unearth on your own?

To find out, I did a head-to-head test to see which coupon sites could find the best savings on a basket of groceries at local supermarkets. Comparison points included features, accuracy, and ease of use to discover which coupon matchup site is the best of the bunch.

Pro Tip: Before you head to the grocery store, download the Fetch Rewards app. With Fetch Rewards, you can scan your grocery receipts and earn points you can redeem for gift cards to your favorite stores. For more information, see our Fetch Rewards review.

Best Coupon Matchup Sites Test

To be included in the test, sites had to be able to do all of the following:

  • Find Stacking Deals. Each of these sites does one particular thing: match grocery coupons with sales. There are no other sites related to couponing, including coupon-clipping services, price-comparison sites, and printable coupon sites like Coupons.com.
  • Search Multiple Stores. Coupon matchup sites are the most valuable when they can find the best deals across all the supermarkets in a given area. So sites that focus on one particular store, such as I Heart Publix, didn’t make the cut.
  • Include Stores in My Area. I wanted to be able to check out the deals I found personally, comparing them to the store flyers and, if possible, to the prices in the store itself. Since I live in the northeast, I had to rule out the popular Southern Savers, which specifically looks for deals in the southern United States.
  • Are Still in Business. Surprisingly, one of the best-known coupon matchup sites, The Grocery Game, shut down in 2016. However, posts on social media complaining about this site’s disappearance led to the discovery of a couple of other sites that do the same job.

After some fairly extensive searching, four sites met all the criteria. To conduct the test, I visited each site and searched for stacking deals on five items I regularly buy: breakfast cereal, orange juice, canned soup, my favorite conditioner, and oxygen bleach. Note that coupons for fresh foods, such as produce or eggs, are rare.

I checked each site’s deals against my piles of supermarket sale flyers and coupon inserts to ensure they were legitimate. Then I rated each site on a 5-point scale for three factors:

  • How easy it was to search
  • How accurate its deals were
  • How much savings they offered

Finally, I averaged these scores to come up with a total score. So, which coupon matchup site came out on top?

1. CouponMom.com

There’s a lot going on at CouponMom.com. This free site has an extensive database of printable coupons from various sources and multiple tools to search for stacking deals. You can look for grocery, drugstore, state-specific, store-specific, and product-specific deals.

Ease of Use

The landing page for CouponMom.com is pretty cluttered, with moving ads, pointers to specific deals, and search boxes. Amid all this chaos, it’s hard to figure out where to go first. Since I was looking for five particular products, I started with the box labeled “Search Deals,” where you can search for a product by name.

I typed in the first item on my list, cereal, and got a list of dozens of cereal deals at different stores nationwide. But when I started clicking to see details, I found that most of these were cash-back deals from Ibotta. There was no clear way to weed these out and see only deals that required nothing but the store loyalty card and a coupon.

So instead, I went to “grocery deals by state,” selected “New Jersey,” and clicked the deal pages for specific stores in my area. I had to sign in to an account to view those, but setting one up was free and took only a few seconds.

The links for Aldi and Stop & Shop did nothing but display my local stores’ sale flyers. But the page for ShopRite was much better. It presented a list of products with columns for the sale price, how many I’d have to buy, available coupons and rebates, final price, and percentage saved.

The column showing the available manufacturer coupons used a somewhat confusing shorthand. The site provided a key for some of the abbreviations, such as “S” for SmartSource and “RP” for Red Plum, but it didn’t explain others, such as “SV.” On the plus side, CouponMom.com provided direct links to all the printable online coupons it found, which was handy.

I was then able to sort the list using a keyword box at the top. I entered each of the products from my shopping list in turn to see available deals. That part was easy, but it didn’t make up for the inconvenience of only being able to view actual deals for one store.

Ease-of-Use Score: 2 out of 5

Accuracy

When I checked the sale prices CouponMom.com listed against the store circulars, they were mostly correct. But one of the four wasn’t in the flyer. The only way to check its accuracy would be to make a trip to the store, an extra step coupon matchup sites are supposed to help you avoid.

As for the accuracy of the coupons themselves, there was only one to check. It was right in the SmartSource flyer where CouponMom.com said it would be, but getting a single coupon right isn’t much of a test. So this site loses one point on accuracy for giving me so little to work with.

Accuracy Score: 4 out of 5

Value

CouponMom.com could only find deals on one of my five test products (cereal) and only at one store. Moreover, one of the four deals it found wasn’t a stacking deal, just a sale price I could have found on my own by leafing through the store flyer. Two of the others were Ibotta deals, leaving only one that was useful.

That deal was $3.89 each for two family-size (16.9- to 19.1-ounce) boxes of Kellogg’s Special K cereal. Combined with a printable coupon for $1 off two, that yields a purchase price of $3.36. That works out to a unit price between $0.18 and $0.20 per ounce, much more than I typically pay by shopping sales and buying store brands.

To me, that doesn’t look much like extreme couponing. At best, it’s mild to moderate couponing.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.3 out of 5


2. GrocerySmarts.com

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com has two primary features: printable coupons and searchable deals. For some reason, it sorts its coupons into four groups, with different brands in each group. Fortunately, the site helps by providing a list of the latest coupons from the past 10 days or so and telling you where to click to find each one.

Ease of Use

Searching for deals at GrocerySmarts.com was pretty simple. First, I clicked on the drop-down menu at the top of the page and asked to see deals in New Jersey. The site then displayed a second drop-down menu with a list of stores to choose from.

Unfortunately, this list didn’t include any of the supermarkets where I usually shop. The only stores on the list were CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. Also, I had to view deals from each of these stores separately rather than looking at them all on one page. That cost the site 1 point on its ease-of-use rating.

On each store’s page, I used the search feature on my browser to look for the merchandise on my list. But I ran into a snag. It lists some cereals, such as Cheerios, by brand name only and doesn’t include the word “cereal.” I had to scan the whole list to ensure I was seeing all the cereal deals.

GrocerySmarts.com presents its deals for each store in one long list. There’s one column for the product, one for the sale price, one for the applicable coupon (if any), and one for the final price. Instead of showing the savings percentage, GrocerySmarts.com simply rates each deal as 3 stars, 4 stars, extreme, or free.

The list also tells you where to find the coupons you need for a given deal. If there’s a printable coupon, the site includes a link to it. It also shows which goods qualify for Ibotta deals and provides links to those.

If the coupon is in a newspaper insert, the site identifies the insert with an abbreviation similar to the ones used on CouponMom.com and the date. If there’s more than one available coupon for the same product, the site lists it multiple times.

To use the site to create a shopping list for a given store, click the Start button at the top of the page. Click to highlight the specific deals you want, then click on Shrink to hide all the lines you didn’t select. You can click the star at the top to quickly highlight all extreme and free deals. There’s also a field at the bottom to jot notes on your shopping list before printing it.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

Like CouponMom.com, GrocerySmarts.com couldn’t find deals on anything but cereal, and most of them were Ibotta rebates. The only deal that I could use was at CVS. It relied on a SmartSource coupon for $1.25 off three boxes of Life, Cap’n Crunch, or Quaker Oatmeal Squares. This coupon was correctly labeled and identified.

But the site’s description of the sale wasn’t quite accurate. It said the only brand on sale at CVS was Cap’n Crunch at $1.99 a box. But when I checked the CVS sale flyer, I found it applied to Life and Quaker Oatmeal Squares as well.

If I’d simply relied on GrocerySmarts.com for my info, I might have rejected this deal altogether since Cap’n Crunch isn’t a cereal we like.

So even though the sale price, coupon, and math were all accurate, this site loses a point for its inaccurate description. And it loses a second point for giving me so little to go on in the first place.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

I docked GrocerySmarts.com 3 points for value because it could only find deals on one of the five products on my list. Also, because it searches so few stores, the deals it did find weren’t at the stores where I usually shop.

The final cereal price it found was $1.57 per box for three 12.5- to 14-ounce boxes. That works out to between $0.11 and $0.13 per ounce. It’s a better price than CouponMom.com’s but no better than the usual price for the store brand. That cost the site one more point on value, resulting in a weak final score.

Value Score: 1 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


3. The Krazy Coupon Lady

When you visit The Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), you see updates on the latest hot deals at all kinds of stores. In addition to supermarkets and drugstores, this site covers department stores, restaurants, specialty stores, and even online deals at Amazon.

KCL provides lots of details about these featured deals, including photos and a couple of paragraphs of text. From the main page, you can also link to coupons and deals sorted by brand or store. Under “Couponing Resources” at the bottom, there are general guides to couponing and guides for specific stores.

Ease of Use

The primary way to search for deals on KCL is by store. You select a specific store from the main page, then click on the weekly coupon deals box (the first available box on the page under the app banner) to see a list of the latest deals from that store. You can then use your browser’s page search feature (control or command plus F) to look for individual products you want.

But weekly deals aren’t available for all stores. For instance, when I clicked on Stop & Shop, the last update was over two months old. The page for Trader Joe’s simply said, “There are currently no active deals.” (Since then, both these stores have disappeared from the site entirely.) And the page for Rite Aid showed one recent deal but no weekly list. I docked the site one point for this.

The weekly deals list includes details about each offer. It shows the sale price and provides links to printable coupons, downloadable store coupons, and Ibotta deals. A few of its deals also include manufacturer coupons from SmartSource, which are marked with the abbreviation “SS.” I couldn’t find any deals using coupons from Red Plum.

The site includes check boxes next to each listed item. You can click these boxes to add a product to your shopping list, but it’s not immediately obvious where that list is stored. I eventually found out you have to click your profile picture in the top right corner to access it.

But there’s a notification on the site saying this feature will soon be available only in the KCL app. That takes a lot of the functionality out of the website, costing it one more point.

Ease-of-Use Score: 3 out of 5

Accuracy

After checking KCL’s pages for all my local stores, I couldn’t find a single deal on any of the products on my grocery list. So to test the site’s accuracy, I simply searched for the “SS” abbreviation and checked the coupons it listed against my SmartSource insert.

Some of the coupons KCL identified were real. It correctly located manufacturer coupons for Eggland’s Best eggs in the May 2 insert and Nivea lotion in the May 16 insert. But it also cited two other coupons in the May 16 insert that I couldn’t find.

In short, KCL got only two out of four manufacturer coupons right, for an accuracy rate of just 50%. But when I checked some of its links to digital store coupons on the ShopRite site, they were all accurate. That bumped its score up from 2.5 points to 3.

Accuracy Score: 3 out of 5

Value

This one was an easy call. KCL didn’t find me a single deal I could use — not even those other sites identified. That makes it a dead loss as far as value is concerned, so it earned no points.

Value Score: 0 out of 5

Overall Score: 2 out of 5


4. Living Rich With Coupons

Like KCL, Living Rich With Coupons (LRWC) displays a long list of recent deals on its main page. It includes offers from a wide variety of stores, including supermarkets, department stores, and online retailers. There are links at the top of the page for categories including coupons, online deals, and stores.

Ease of Use

This site allows you to search for deals in several ways. If you click the Filter by State drop-down on the landing page and select the name of your state, LRWC filters its long list of deals to include only those available in your area. But this option is only available for nine states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.

Alternatively, you can also click on Stores in the main navigation and select a store to see a list of that store’s weekly sale prices, including coupons you can stack with them. The site has deals for national big-box stores Target and Walmart, warehouse stores Costco and BJ’s, dollar stores, drugstores, and regional grocery chains like ShopRite and Kroger.

To find deals on a specific product, such as cereal, you can click on the site’s Grocery Price Comparison Tool and enter the product name in the search box. The site pulls up a list of all the stores that have deals on that item, and you click on the names of the stores you want to search.

LRWC then presents you with a list of all the stacking deals on that product sorted by the stores you selected. For every sale, it includes a lengthy list of all possible coupons that could stack with it. The site provides direct links to printable online coupons. For coupons inserts, it lists the flyer, the date, and the coupon’s expiration date, a handy feature most coupon sites don’t have.

But I noticed one odd quirk in LRWC’s list. It didn’t provide the actual sale prices for every store in its list. For instance, it said CVS had a BOGO (buy-one, get-one-free) deal on raisin bran, but it didn’t say what the regular price was.

Even when it did list the sale price, LRWC didn’t always crunch the numbers to tell you what the purchase price was after stacking the sale with a coupon. These problems cost the site 1 point for ease of use.

When you click an item in the Grocery Price Comparison Tool, the site adds it to your saved shopping list, shown on the right side of the screen. Clicking the print or email icon pulls the list up in a separate window. For each deal on the list, LRWC shows the store, the product, the sale price, how many you must buy to get that price, and all possible coupons to pair with the sale.

You can edit the list before printing or emailing it to yourself. You can remove items you don’t want to see, such as coupons you don’t intend to use, or change the quantity of a product you want to buy. You can also manually add goods you didn’t find deals on, with or without custom notes.

Ease-of-Use Score: 4 out of 5

Accuracy

LRWC found deals for all five of the products on my shopping list. Its best cereal deal was from Stop & Shop: Kellogg’s cereals for $1.50 per box, which could stack with any of nine different coupons.

However, there was a problem with the deal. According to the Stop & Shop sale flyer, the price was only good for three days, Friday through Sunday. By the time I ran my test, it had already expired. LRWC neglected to mention that detail, costing it one point for accuracy.

LWRC also listed sales on Kellogg’s cereal at several other stores. But for some reason, it didn’t match them with the same list of coupons it had found for Stop & Shop, even though they would clearly work. This oversight cost it one more point.

In a few cases, LWRC found deals I couldn’t verify. Some were allegedly “unadvertised” sales, so I had no way of checking them without going to the store. I didn’t add or take off points for these.

However, other deals were clearly wrong. For instance, LWRC claimed ShopRite was selling Campbell’s Slow Kettle Soups for $1.99, but that price was not in the sale flyer. That could have been the regular price, but LWRC also paired it with a digital store coupon I couldn’t find on the store site. That cost it another point.

All the other sale prices LRWC found seemed to be accurate. But while checking them, I noticed there were other deals it missed. For instance, it said I could buy Florida’s Natural orange juice for $2.99 at ShopRite, then add a coupon for $0.98 off two to bring the price down to $2.50. But it didn’t notice the same store had larger cartons of Minute Maid OJ for just $1.88.

Also, in some cases, LRWC’s math was wrong. For instance, it said a sale of $1.88 per box on Quaker cereals paired with a coupon for $1.25 off three boxes would yield a purchase price “as low as $1.55 each.” In fact, the purchase price with this coupon is $1.46 per box. I knocked off one more point for this.

As for the coupons, all the printable ones I checked seemed to work. The one coupon that came from SmartSource was also accurate. A few were from a flyer labeled only as “Save,” an abbreviation I couldn’t identify, so I don’t know whether these coupons were accurate or not.

Accuracy Score: 1 out of 5

Value

Of all the sites I tested, LRWC was the only one to find deals for all the items on my list. Unfortunately, not all the deals it found were legit, and it missed some that were.

For instance, if LRWC had paired the $1.88-per-box sale on cereal at Walgreens with the $1-off-two coupon it found at Stop & Shop, it could have given me a purchase price of $1.38 per box. Since the sale covered boxes up to 13.7 ounces, that would have come to a great price of around $0.10 per ounce. But LRWC missed that deal, so it gets no credit for it.

The prices it actually found were:

  • Cereal: $1.46 per 11.5- to 14.5-ounce box ($0.10 to $0.13 per ounce)
  • Orange Juice: $2.50 per 52-ounce carton ($0.05 per ounce); missed a better deal of $1.88 for 59 ounces ($0.03 per ounce)
  • Oxygen Bleach: $4.99 for a 48-ounce container ($0.10 per ounce)

Out of the five sites I tested, LWRC found me the best price on cereal. Its price for oxygen bleach is also pretty good. However, its OJ deal is lackluster, and it missed a better one I could have found just by checking the sale flyer.

Value Score: 3 out of 5

Overall Score: 2.7 out of 5


Final Word

Of the four sites tested, GrocerySmarts.com and Living Rich With Coupons tied for the best overall score. Both were easy to use, but GrocerySmarts.com was more accurate, while LWRC found better deals overall.

But neither of these sites was the perfect coupon-stacking resource I was hoping to find. In most cases, the stacking deals they uncovered were no better than the prices I usually get on my own without coupons.

Of course, what works for me isn’t necessarily what will work for you. If your local stores have better sales than mine or if you regularly buy more products you can find coupons for, these coupon sites could save you some significant money. Just double-check all the deals you find to make sure they’re legit.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll stick to other methods for saving money on groceries. Between my grocery price book, store loyalty cards, and buying store brands (especially at discount stores like Aldi), I think I can find prices good enough to give the extreme couponers a run for their money.

Source: moneycrashers.com

On Desert Ground: Steven Seagal Selling 12-Acre Spread in Scottsdale

The action star Steven Seagal has decided to sell his high-drama hacienda in Scottsdale, AZ, a rugged 12-acre estate he has listed for $3,775,000.

After marrying his fourth wife, Erdenetuya Seagal, in 2009, the “Under Siege” tough guy bought the dramatic desert digs for $3.5 million in 2010. The outspoken conservative turned reality-show cop has ties with controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and even toyed with running for governor of Arizona in 2014, according to the Washington Post.

But his political run in the desert never materialized, because Seagal hadn’t yet reached the five-year residency threshold for eligibility.

Now, it seems he’s moved on from the Grand Canyon State, leaving behind this exquisite 2001-built home with five bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, and nearly 9,000 square feet, sitting on 12 acres of pristine desert in north Scottsdale.

With views of the Chiricahua Golf Course and city views of Phoenix and Scottsdale, the home is built for luxury living, in harmony with the rugged desert that surrounds it.

Highlights of the home include a home theater, copper roof, a three-car garage with copper doors, negative-edge heated pool, and 600-square-foot guesthouse.

Exterior of Steven Seagal's desert homeExterior of Steven Seagal's desert home
Exterior

(realtor.com)

Stairs in Steven Seagal desert home in Scottsdale Stairs in Steven Seagal desert home in Scottsdale
Stairs

(realtor.com)

Family room at Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale Family room at Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale
Family room

(realtor.com)

Steven Seagal dining room in Scottsdale home Steven Seagal dining room in Scottsdale home
Dining room

(realtor.com)

Kitchen in Steven Seagal Scottsdale, AZ home Kitchen in Steven Seagal Scottsdale, AZ home
Kitchen

(realtor.com)

Main bedroom suite Steven Seagal home Main bedroom suite Steven Seagal home
Main bedroom

(realtor.com)

Home theater in Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale Home theater in Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale
Home theater

(realtor.com)

Patio Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale, AZPatio Steven Seagal home in Scottsdale, AZ
Patio

(realtor.com)

These days, Seagal likes to spend time in Russia with his bro Vladimir Putin, whom he has called “one of the great living world leaders,” procuring Russian citizenship in the process. Seagal is also a citizen of Serbia, where he owns a martial arts studio.

Seagal is currently on tour in Europe telling tales from his colorful life and career. He’s also no stranger to real estate deals. The star of “Above the Law” owned properties in Eads, TN, and across California over the years, including a Hollywood mansion purchased by actress Reese Witherspoon and a plot of undeveloped land in Montague, CA, near Oregon, according to Variety.

Now a lucky buyer has the chance to live like a star and scoop up this delicious desert dojo with 1990s action-star pedigree. Kimonos entirely optional.

Source: realtor.com

3 Easy Ways to Get Laundry Soap for Nearly Nothing

Man holding laundry detergent
Med Photo Studio / Shutterstock.com

Laundry soap keeps your clothes clean and smelling good. But that doesn’t mean you have to let companies that make this stuff take you to the cleaners.

Here’s a dirty little secret the suds salesmen don’t want you to know: Some people get decent results with no detergent at all.

Others save 90% of the cost of store-bought detergent by making their own.

Is laundry detergent even necessary?

The blogger behind Funny About Money decided to forgo laundry detergent completely as part of an experiment. The result:

“By and large, all of the freshly washed clothing came out with an odor: It smelled of clean water!”

You might be surprised to learn that while clothing has been around in some form for thousands of years, laundry detergent is relatively new. And yet, people in ancient times were still able to get their clothing clean. How?

As it turns out, the main ingredient for cleaning other than water is agitation. Those early humans used rocks and rivers, but your modern washing machine can clean lightly soiled clothes by just pushing them around in water.

In other words, you can get away without using detergent at all.

But if the idea of using nothing more than water to wash your gym socks sounds a little scuzzy, you can make your own detergent. It’s easy.

DIY recipes

There’s no shortage of homemade laundry soap recipes. Here are the ingredients for one we found that seems to work pretty well:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/3 bar of cheap soap, grated
  • 1/2 cup washing soda (not baking soda)
  • 1/2 cup of borax (20 Mule Team)
  • 5-gallon bucket for mixing
  • 3 gallons of water

The directions:

  1. Mix the grated soap in a saucepan with 4 cups of water, and heat on low until the soap is completely dissolved.
  2. Add hot water/soap mixture to 3 gallons of water in the 5 gallon bucket, stir in the washing soda and borax, and continue stirring until thickened.
  3. Let the mix sit for 24 hours, and voila! — homemade laundry detergent.

There are lots of other recipes and articles online. One I especially liked was at The Simple Dollar. And Tipnut lists 10 different recipes.

My experience with homemade laundry detergent

Of course, who would post a recipe without trying it out first?

I made and washed several loads of clothes with homemade detergent. And I — like many before me who’ve traveled this road — couldn’t tell the difference between store-bought and homemade.

Total cost per load? In the neighborhood of 2 cents. Store-bought detergent, depending on what you buy and where you buy it, can cost about 20 cents per load — 10 times more.

3 ways to slash the cost of detergent

So, now you have two alternatives to the headache of paying a bunch of money for laundry detergent: Ditch it altogether and use nothing more than water in your washer, or save 90% by making your own laundry soap.

And here’s a third idea for those who don’t intend to do either of the above options: If you’re going to stick with store-bought, just try using less.

I tried just filling the bottom of the measuring cup that came with my store-bought detergent. Guess what? No difference in smell or cleanliness that I can detect.

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

Source: moneytalksnews.com

25 Home Gym Decor Ideas for Your Apartment

Who needs a gym? Save some money with these apartment workout space ideas.

Working out in an apartment is tricky. While some complexes have shared fitness centers, you may not always want to leave the house to do your fitness routine. And on the other hand, trying to have some form of a gym inside your apartment is difficult and limiting when you’re renting. However, there are still plenty of home gym decor ideas that will make your workout space both beautiful and functional — even in an apartment.

Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your home gym decor.

1. Dual-function loft

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: Fitness Design Group

When you’ve got only one large space to work with rather than separate rooms, you may not want to dedicate it only to either a sitting room or a gym. Here, Fitness Design Group made sure there could be both by making a distinct separation between the function of each area.

2. Spin office

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: Love to Know

There’s no need to choose between having a home gym or an office — put them in the same space! You can even create a small separation between the two like Love to Know shares — placing a mat underneath your office area and a separate one for your workout area divides the room based on function.

3. Work(out) from home

working out from home.

Due to the recent pandemic, many people are working (and working out) from home. Working from home brings its own set of challenges, but avoiding the gym doesn’t need to become a hassle. A little side gym, connected to a home office, creates a seamless transition from work to workout at any point in the day, making your home office a functional place before, during and after work.

4. Bright and airy home gym

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: On Design Interiors

No matter the location or size of your home gym, there’s no reason for it to feel dark and dingy. These bright floors and light walls, brought to life by On Design Interiors, make this small space feel large and spacious. Not to mention how simple and chic the design is — it’s not over-the-top and creates a calming environment for exercising after a long, stressful day.

5. Mirrored weight room

home gym decor ideas

This simple, yet effective, basement setup shows just what you can do in a small space. This weight room isn’t very big, but a full wall of mirrors gives the illusion that it’s double the size. Even if you’re in a studio apartment, simply adding a large mirror on the wall near where you practice yoga or do a small-space workout routine will help it feel bigger.

6. Home office with modern wall designs

home gym decor ideas

Gyms don’t need to look boring, especially if it’s part of the place where you live. And it doesn’t take a lot to make your home gym look modern and appealing! Simple wall tiles or decals can quickly upgrade your gym without compromising its functionality. Even in a rental like an apartment, you can use peel-and-stick tiles and wall decor that can easily be removed without damaging the walls.

7. Jungle gym

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: Devon Grace Interiors

Adults aren’t the only ones that need to get their exercise in! Kids living in an apartment may feel a little limited at times without a full private yard to play in, so Devon Grace Interiors added a place for the kids to get their energy out.

The light-colored wood of the jungle gym doesn’t draw too much attention and keeps things muted, while still being a fun place for kids to play.

8. Sleek modern luxury home gym

home gym decor ideas

Making your home gym feel luxurious and modern is a simple matter of color and lighting. Adding a couple of backlit mirrors and incorporating metallics are what the Infinity Design Studio recommends.

9. Traditional CrossFit

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: DNLUD

This home gym by DNLUD is about as close as you can get to a typical CrossFit gym. For some, feeling like they’re at a gym rather than at home helps them get their minds into their workout. The mirrors are black gym mat flooring really gives it an out-of-home feeling.

10. Modern rustic home gym

home gym decor ideas

Photo source: Gambrick

Gambrick didn’t want to detract too much from the natural landscape and kept this in mind when they designed this gym for a modern rustic cabin-stile home in the mountains of Colorado. The deep oranges give just enough color while maintaining the integrity of the outdoors—no matter where you live, your apartment doesn’t have to feel separated from its surroundings.

11. DIY basement upgrade

home gym decor ideas

There are easy ways that anyone can upgrade their basement into a functioning gym. A little peel-and-stick wallpaper, mirrors and foam puzzle flooring turned a dark basement into a bright little workout space that can easily be removed if needed.

12. Spare bedroom fitness renovation

home gym decor ideas

An extra bedroom is already a luxury that not everyone has and instead of turning it into a seldom-used guest room, put it to better use. Light flooring and white walls with natural wood hanging hooks to keep equipment off the floor keep this room looking chic and clean—great for when you’re in a small apartment with not much room to spare.

13. Disguised cycle home gym

home gym decor ideas

You may only need one piece of equipment to get a full-body workout in. A stationary bike is perfect for requiring only a small corner—and that corner might be right in your kitchen! One Instagrammer disguised her bike in her kitchen area by placing a pretty painting and plants around it to blend it into the area.

14. Space-saving yoga grid

home gym decor ideas

When you don’t have room for a full yoga studio, a wall might be all you have. Higashi Fushimi recommends that it’s time to make your storage grid look good—like it’s an intentional part of your apartment’s design, with blended metal rods that both look good and function like any other storage.

15. Vertical storage in your home gym

home gym decor ideas

Choosing equipment and storage racks that work vertically rather than horizontally can keep your gym equipment from taking up too much space in your apartment. Lela of Organized-ish utilizes pegboards for small equipment storage and choose a multi-function vertical workout setup that only takes up a few feet of space in the corner.

16. Aesthetically-pleasing home gym equipment

home gym decor ideas

No need for your gym equipment existing as an eyesore. In fact, it is a beautiful addition to the main area of your apartment. See how Sunny Circle Studio chose wooden multi-use wall bars to provide function and design for a high-end vibe.

17. Upgraded garage

home gym decor ideas

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a garage, you can turn it into a chic and stylish workout room. Celebrity trainer Erin Oprea has even done it herself — add some peel-and-stick wallpaper and affordable vinyl flooring that mimics wood, and you’ve pretty much given yourself a whole new space!

18. Dual-function, hidden equipment home gym

home gym decor ideas

A coffee table that converts into a bench press, a lamp that doubles as a dumbbell and even a foam roller vase that looks and works both like exercise equipment and living room items. Swedish storage company 24Storage invented pieces of workout equipment that aren’t stored in the traditional manner — they’re functioning pieces of your living room! See what fits best in your living room.

19. Balcony home gym

home gym decor ideas

Get some fresh air by exercising on your balcony. Put your bike, treadmill or other machines outside so it doesn’t take up your indoor space. See how Merrick’s Art did with their balcony.

20. Home yoga studio

home gym decor ideas

Turn any open floor space into a yoga area. Keep storage baskets, like Manduka suggests, for your mat and other equipment nearby so when it’s not in use, you can keep your items out of the way.

21. Funky and fun home gym

home gym decor ideas

Don’t just hide your home gym — turn it into the main attraction! Decorilla emphasizes that having fun patterns and colors can both give you energy and help you relax — which is what your workout space should do.

22. Black on black home gym

home gym decor ideas

Having an all-black gym may not feel as light and airy as one with brighter colors, but it can change your mood when you workout. It may help you get more serious, which is beneficial when you’re doing a heavyweight routine or really want to push your limits — which is why Vogue highlights it in a luxury spread.

23. Walking desk as a home gym

home gym decor ideas

Make your work time (and space) the same as your workout! MyMove shows that a treadmill or stationary bike that allows you to use your computer at the same time will save you both time and space as a home workout alternative.

24. Bright home gym yoga space

home gym decor ideas

Use bright colors and neutrals for a calming yoga session. Stick with natural tones and materials, as LDA Architecture & Interiors recommends, and you’ll be feeling calm and serene every time you practice.

25. Neon home gym

home gym decor ideas

Give your workout space an edge with neon lighting. You can either do it all around the room and frame certain pieces, such as mirrors, with neon lights. Or you can add a motivational quote in the form of a neon sign to keep yourself going!

Functional and tasteful

Your home gym doesn’t have to look run-down or ugly. And you don’t need to get rid of it altogether, either! Using these home gym decor ideas, you can create a space that’s both beautiful and functional.

Source: rent.com

How Does Non-Farm Payroll (NFP) Affect the Markets?

What Is Nonfarm Payroll?

A nonfarm payroll is an economic report used to describe the number of Americans employed in the United States, excluding farm workers and select other U.S. workers, including some government employees, private household employees, and non-profit organization workers.

Known as “the jobs report” the nonfarm payroll looks at the jobs gained and lost during the previous month.

The US Nonfarm Payroll Report Explained

The NFP report studies US employment via two main surveys by the US government of private employers and government entities.

•  The U.S. Household Survey. This report breaks down the employment numbers on a demographic basis, studying the jobs rate by race, gender, education, and age.

•  The Establishment Survey. The result of this survey tracks the amount of jobs by industry as well as the number of hours worked and average hourly earnings.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics then combines the data from those reports and issues the updated figures via the nonfarm payroll report on the first Friday of every month, and some call the week leading up to the report “NFP week.” Economists view the report as a key economic indicator of the US economy.

How Does NFP Affect the Markets?

Many investors watch the nonfarm payroll numbers very closely as a measure of market risk. Surprise numbers can create potentially large market movements in key sectors like stocks, bonds, gold, and the US dollar, depending on the monthly release numbers.

Investors create a strategy based on how they think markets will behave in the future, so they attempt to factor their projections for jobs report numbers into the price of different types of investments. Changing or unexpected numbers, however, could prompt them to change their strategy.

If the nonfarm payroll number reflects a robust employment sector, for example, that could lead to a rise in US stock market values along with a hike in the US dollar relative to other global currencies. If the nonfarm payroll points to a downward-spiraling job sector, however, with declining wages and low employment growth, that could portend a stock market downturn and the US dollar could also decline in value, as investors lose confidence in the US economy and adjust their investment portfolios accordingly.

4 Figures From the NFP Report to Pay Attention To

Investors look specifically at several figures within the jobs report:

The Unemployment Rate

The unemployment rate is central to US economic health, and it’s a factor in the Federal Reserve’s assessment of the nation’s financial health and the potential for a future recession. A rising unemployment rate could result in economic policy adjustments (like higher or lower interest rates), which could impact the financial markets, domestically and globally.

Higher-than-expected unemployment could push investors away from stocks and toward assets that they consider more safe, such as gold, potentially triggering a stock market correction.

Employment Sector Activity

The nonfarm payroll report also examines employment activity in specific business sectors, like manufacturing or the healthcare industry. Any significant rise or fall in sector employment can impact financial market investment decisions on a sector-by-sector basis.

Average Hourly Wages

Investors may look at average hourly pay as a good barometer of overall US economic health. Rising wages point to stronger consumer confidence, and to a stronger economy overall. That scenario could lead to a stronger stock market, but it may also indicate future inflation.

A weaker hourly wage figure may be taken as a negative sign by investors, leading them to reduce their stock market positions and seek shelter in the bond market, or buy gold as a hedge against a declining US economy.

Revisions in the Nonfarm Payroll Report

Nonfarm payroll figures, like any specific economic benchmarks, are dynamic in nature and change all the time. Thus, investors watch any revisions to previous nonfarm payroll assessments to potentially re-evaluate their own portfolios based on changing employment numbers.

How to Trade the Nonfarm Payroll Report

While long-term investors typically do not need to pay attention to any single jobs report, those who take a more active, trading approach may want to adjust their strategy based on new data about the economy. If you fall into the latter camp, you’ll typically want to make sure that the report is a factor that you consider, though not the only one.

You’ll want to look at other economic statistics as well as the technical and fundamental profiles of individual securities that you’re planning to buy or sell. Then, you’ll want to devise a strategy that you’ll execute based on your research, your expectations about the jobs report, and whether you believe it indicates a bull or a bear market ahead.

For example, if you expect the nonfarm payroll report to be a positive one, with robust jobs growth, you might consider adding stocks to your portfolio, as they tend to appreciate faster than other investment classes after good economic news. If you believe the nonfarm payroll report will be negative, you may consider more conservative investments like bonds or bond funds, which tend to perform better when the economy is slowing down.

Or, you might opt to take a more long-term approach, taking the opportunity to potentially get stocks at a discount and invest while the market is down.

The Takeaway

Markets do move after nonfarm payroll reports, but long-term investors don’t have to make changes to their portfolio after every new government data dump. That said, active investors may use the jobs report as one factor in creating their investment strategy.

Whatever your strategy, a great way to start executing it is via the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform. It allows you to build your own portfolio, consisting of stocks, exchange-traded funds, and other investments such as IPOs and crypto currency. You can get started with an initial investment of as little as $5.


SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).

2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.

3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.

For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal.
Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
SOIN21127

Source: sofi.com

3 Ways to Listen to Free Music Online – Downloads, Streaming & Radio

Back in the day, there were only two ways to listen to recorded music. You could tune your radio to a local station and hear whatever song happened to be playing, or you could go down to the record store and buy a copy of your favorite songs on a vinyl disc.

Today, that sounds quaint. According to The Guardian, digital music downloads overtook sales of physical recordings on CD or vinyl way back in 2012. More recently, even digital downloads have lost ground to music streaming services. In 2020, streaming accounted for 85% of all the music industry’s revenues, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

All this technology has made listening to music significantly cheaper. According to a 2017 Nielsen report (via Digital Trends), the average consumer spends only $156 on music each year. Savvy consumers know there are several ways they can get most of their digital music for free — leaving more money in their budgets to enjoy a live concert or two.

How to Listen to Music for Free Online

There are three primary ways to get your favorite music for free online. Which one you choose depends on what you’re looking for.

1. Streaming Music Online

Today, streaming services are indisputably the most popular way to listen to music. With a streaming music service, you don’t own the songs you play, but on the plus side, you’re not limited to the number of tracks you can fit on your phone or MP3 player.

Streaming services can take several forms. Some are subscription services that play music selected for you, some are more like radio stations, and some simply play tunes on demand. However, many online music sources blur the boundaries between these categories.

Internet Radio

Internet radio stations work the same way as old-school radio: They select songs, and you listen to whatever pops up. But instead of being limited to the few stations in range, you can choose from a vast list of specialized stations that suit particular musical tastes. Also, if you hear a song you really can’t stand, you can just skip it — something you can’t do over the airwaves.

Some services take this personalization to its logical extreme by creating custom radio stations to suit a user’s tastes. Instead of a live DJ choosing which tune to play next, algorithms select songs for you based on which artists and music you say you like.

Advertising funds the majority of Internet radio stations. But some let you upgrade to an ad-free experience for a small monthly fee. Choosing a paid version also lets you skip songs more frequently. Most online radio stations limit users of free accounts to six skips per hour.

There are multiple internet radio stations to choose from.

Pandora

Started in 2000, Pandora is one of the top streaming sites on the Internet. Its music-picking algorithm, known as the “Music Genome Project,” analyzes the songs you like best and then presents you with other songs that share similar qualities.

According to Digital Trends, Pandora’s music collection is pretty decent, with about 40 million tracks for its on-demand service. However, the main reason to listen is its “magic algorithms,” which do a fantastic job of picking out songs to match your tastes. You can listen on a range of devices, including computers, smartphones, TVs, and car audio systems.

Pandora’s basic service is free. However, you can pay to upgrade to ad-free listening with Pandora Plus for $4.99 per month. On-demand listening via Pandora Premium costs $9.99 per month for individuals, $14.99 for families with up to six members, $4.99 for students, and $7.99 for military members.

LiveXLive

Formerly known as Slacker Radio, this service relaunched as LiveXLive in 2017. The new name reflects its focus on providing live music streams. The service earns an Editors’ Choice designation from PCMag, which praises its “curated stations” hosted by experienced and informative DJs.

Along with its extensive music collection, LiveXLive offers live news from ABC and pop culture tales called “Slacker Stories.” It also hosts videos featuring music news, interviews with artists, and even live performances. It’s easy to use on multiple platforms, with apps for Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku.

A free account comes with 128 kilobits per second audio and the ability to skip up to six songs per hour — and plenty of ads. You can remove these limitations and upgrade your speed by upgrading to Plus ($3.99 per month). Going up to Premium ($9.99 per month) gives you access to on-demand and offline listening.

Last.Fm

At Last.fm, you create a custom profile that’s continuously updated with info about what artists and genres you’re listening to. The site uses this feature, which it calls “scrobbling,” to make personalized recommendations for new music. It also has a social media component, introducing you to other music lovers who share your tastes.

A basic subscription to the site is free. An ad-free version with extra features costs just $3 per month. You can listen to Last.fm on the Web or through its desktop and mobile apps. The apps can also track what music you listen to from other streaming music services and use that information to enhance your profile.

Jango

One of the newest players in the Internet radio field is Jango. Like Pandora, this service creates custom radio stations based on your musical tastes. You select your favorite artists, and Jango plays music from those artists and similar ones. You can fine-tune the playlist by rating songs you especially like or never want to hear again.

Jango also has hundreds of ready-made stations. Some are based on different genres, such as country, classical, or hip-hop. Others focus on more specific themes, such as today’s top 100 hits or Christmas songs.

You can listen to Jango over the Web or via an app for Android or iOS (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch). The service is 100% free and supported by ads. However, if you link Jango to your Facebook account, you will hear only one commercial per day. The mobile apps sometimes offer ad-free listening as well.

Subscription Services

A subscription streaming music service is like a library filled with songs users can check out but not keep permanently. Most subscription services make money by charging a fixed monthly rate in exchange for unlimited listening. But many also offer free accounts funded by advertising.

Amazon Music

There are two ways to listen to Amazon Music. If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, it comes with access to a limited catalog of 2 million songs. This basic, ad-supported service has thousands of stations and playlists, and you can listen offline with unlimited skips. You can also use Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant, to control playback and discover new music.

If you want more music, you can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited. It gives you ad-free, on-demand access to 75 million songs in HD. Over 7 million songs are available in Ultra HD, and the service also includes access to exclusive Ultra HD remastered albums. Amazon Music Unlimited also gives you access to other audio, such as podcasts.

Your first 30 days of Amazon Music Online are free. After that, it costs $9.99 per month for Prime nonmembers or $7.99 per month if you have a Prime subscription.

Spotify

Named the best all-around music streaming service by Digital Trends, Spotify is by far the most popular on-demand streaming service in the world today. There are several ways to use it:

  • Discover new music through the site’s curated playlists.
  • Create playlists from Spotify’s collection of more than 50 million tracks.
  • Browse playlists created by others, including friends, performers, and celebrities.

All music on Spotify is free, but upgrading to a Spotify Premium subscription for $9.99 per month gives you several extra perks. You get better audio quality, ad-free playback, and the ability to save songs for offline listening. You can also play songs on demand in the mobile app, a feature that’s unavailable with a free subscription.

You can listen to Spotify over the Web or via its iOS and Android apps. It also runs on certain gaming consoles, smart speakers, and car audio systems.

YouTube Music

The free version of YouTube Music is like a cross between a radio station and an on-demand streaming service. It invites you to name some of your favorite artists and uses that information to recommend albums, curated playlists, and custom playlists for you.

But unlike most online radio stations, YouTube Music lets you move around these lists at will, skipping forward or backward. Ads are relatively infrequent, according to Gizmodo, and it’s possible to skip some of them. You can also search for specific artists, albums, and tracks by name, save your favorites to your library, and create playlists.

YouTube Music also has some extra features most music services don’t provide. For instance, you can switch back and forth between audio tracks and music videos with the tap of a button. The service can also search for a song based on its lyrics.

All this is available free over the Web and on Android and iOS. However, upgrading to YouTube Music Premium for $9.99 per month lets you listen ad-free and stream in the background while your device is off. If you subscribe to YouTube Premium for streaming video, you get access to YouTube Music Premium for free.

Deezer

Though it’s not as well known as other streaming services, Deezer is surprisingly full-featured. This service provides a blend of on-demand streaming, live radio, podcasts, videos, and exclusive content — all for free.

On the Web or your desktop, Deezer recommends playlists for you based on your favorite artists and genres. You can also search a library of 73 million for specific tracks to create your own playlists. Deezer also provides synchronized song lyrics. However, the free service is available only on desktops, mobile devices, and a few home devices. It also limits skips.

If you upgrade to Deezer Premium ($9.99 per month) or Deezer Family ($14.99 per month), you get ad-free streaming, an offline mode, and unlimited skips. You can also connect on up to three devices at once, including smart speakers, smart TVs, wearable devices, game consoles, and car audio systems. You can try Deezer Premium free for 90 days.

Free Trials

Some streaming music services don’t have free ad-sponsored versions, but they do offer free trials. These give you a chance to test the service and decide whether it’s worth coughing up the cash for a monthly subscription.

Apple Music

With a library of over 75 million songs, Apple Music is the ideal streaming service for anyone who relies on Apple devices. It’s the only service you can control with the Apple Watch or voice commands to Siri, Apple’s smart assistant. Windows users can also use Apple Music via iTunes on their computers, but it doesn’t work as smoothly, according to Digital Trends.

Apple Music allows you to store up to 100,000 songs in your personal streaming library. If you’re an iTunes user, you can find many of your songs already available in the streaming library when you first sign up. The service also includes Apple Music 1, a 24-hour radio service curated by noted DJs and musicians.

The free trial period is 90 days. But according to Insider, you can double this to six months by signing up through an account with Best Buy. After the trial, choose from three service tiers: student at $4.99 per month, individual at $9.99 per month, and family at $14.99 per month.

Tidal

Both PCMag and Digital Trends agree that Tidal, a streaming service owned by top rap artist Jay-Z, has top-notch audio quality. It also offers exclusive content for hardcore music fans, such as timed releases from top artists like Beyoncé, live streams, concerts, and backstage footage. It even provides early access to certain concert and sports tickets.

Tidal offers a library of over 70 million songs and 250,000 music videos. However, as Digital Trends notes, it’s not easy to discover new music, and the interface can be buggy. Also, Tidal doesn’t provide lyrics, unlike many other services. You can listen on computers, mobile devices, smart TVs and streaming devices, smart speakers, and car audio systems.

The free trial period lasts 30 days. After that, Tidal Premium is $9.99 per month for individuals and $14.99 per month for families. Tidal HiFi, with lossless-quality sound, is $19.99 per month for individuals and $29.99 per month for families. But there are discounted subscriptions available for students, military members, and first responders.

SoundCloud Go

This service is the streaming counterpart to SoundCloud’s music download service. Digital Trends calls SoundCloud Go the best way to discover new indie music thanks to its vast library of 120 million user-created tracks. Its higher-tier SoundCloud Go+ adds another 30 million tracks from major labels and ad-free listening.

The service has nearly 200 million active users each month, and tons of lesser-known artists upload their newest songs regularly. However, unlike many other services, it doesn’t use algorithms to help you find music, so it can take some work to search through all the content to find your new favorites.

The free trial period is seven days for SoundCloud Go and 30 days for SoundCloud Go+. If you like it, you can pay $4.99 per month for SoundCloud Go or $9.99 per month for SoundCloud Go+.

Free Streaming on Demand

Some sites don’t require a subscription to stream music — you just go to the site, pick a track, and listen. For instance, on YouTube, you can type in the name of just about any song and find a video version of it.

The artists or their labels post some of these. But some are amateur videos created by fans, and some have just the music accompanied by a blank screen or lyrics. For example, a search for the popular song “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor turned up Trainor’s official video, a live performance of a jazz cover version, and numerous fan-created videos and parodies.

YouTube is an excellent place to find that obscure song you heard years ago, even if you’re unsure of the title or the artist. Just type in the most memorable line from the song, and let YouTube’s search engine do its thing. Using this method, I tracked down two old novelty songs: “Put the Lime in the Coconut” by Harry Nilsson and “Right Said Fred” by Bernard Cribbins.


2. Free Music Downloads

In the age of the Internet, it’s very easy to download music illegally. However, if you prefer to stay on the right side of the law — and support your favorite artists and the music labels that support them — you need to dig a little deeper to find free music downloads that are also legal.

Amazon

In addition to its streaming service, Amazon has a massive catalog of digital music for download, including more than 5,000 free songs. Many of these are obscure tracks by relatively unknown artists. But there are also a few gems by better-known performers, such as the rock band Foo Fighters and the folk artist Carole King.

Finding free tracks on Amazon is a bit tricky since the site keeps trying to redirect you to Amazon Music. Your best bet is to search the Internet for “find free music downloads on Amazon” and follow the first non-sponsored link you find.

SoundCloud

The primary SoundCloud service is sort of like YouTube for recording artists. Any user can upload music to the site, making it available for other users to download or stream.

Not all the music on SoundCloud is free, but you can find free tracks by both major and lesser-known artists. You can search the site for specific artists or genres or just browse the selections of trending music. SoundCloud’s services are also available through mobile apps for iOS and Android.

SoundClick

Much like SoundCloud, SoundClick provides a place for independent artists to make their music available directly to listeners. Founded in 1997, this site now offers millions of tracks spanning a variety of genres. You can find hip-hop, electronic, rock, alternative, acoustic, country, jazz, and even classical.

You can stream unlimited tracks via SoundClick or download them in both MP3 and lossless format. As a subscriber, you get your own profile page and custom playlists. You can follow your favorite artists, connect with other users, and support artists through tips.

Free Music Archive

Created by independent freeform radio station WFMU in New Jersey and now owned by the Dutch music collective Tribe of Noise, the Free Music Archive is a collection of free legal music tracks submitted by users and partner curators. All music on the site appears under Creative Commons licenses, which let artists make their work available for various uses without surrendering their rights.

Digital Trends calls the archive “a veritable treasure trove of free content” you can search by title, artist, genre, and length. The site also hosts a wealth of podcasts and some live radio performances from big-name artists.

Jamendo

Another site that distributes free music under Creative Commons licenses is Jamendo. Around 40,000 artists from more than 150 countries have contributed more than 500,000 tracks, available for streaming or download, to the site.

According to Digital Trends, this site offers a streamlined user interface that makes it easy to browse and find new musicians. Even though most artists featured here aren’t well known, it’s easy to find the most popular tracks based on their user ratings, so you don’t have to sift through countless songs to find the good stuff.

If you need music for commercial purposes — for instance, in a video you want to distribute for profit — Jamendo offers a licensing service. For a monthly fee of $49, you get an unlimited number of tracks for commercial online use.

NoiseTrade

NoiseTrade is a project of the award-winning lifestyle magazine Paste. The “trade” in the name means artists give you their music on the site in exchange for your email address and postal code. It’s a win-win for users, who get free tracks or entire albums, and for artists, who get to build their fan bases.

Digital Trends describes this site’s interface as simple and clean. You can easily search tracks, browse recommendations, promote your favorite artists via social media, and send them tips with a credit card.

ReverbNation

Many well-known artists, including Imagine Dragons and Alabama Shakes, built their fan bases from scratch by sharing their music on ReverbNation. The site hosts over 3.5 million artists representing a mix of genres, like rock, R&B, indie, hip-hop, country, and folk. Its Discover feature can help you find up-and-coming artists in genres that interest you.

DatPiff

Hip-hop artists have long used mixtapes to spread their work. In that tradition, DatPiff offers access to a variety of new free music from both new rappers and mainstream artists like Drake and Future. According to Digital Trends, it’s the leading place to download new tapes, view release schedules, and listen to compilations created by fans.

Audiomack

A newer, up-and-coming player in the mixtape realm is Audiomack. It focuses on hip-hop, rap, and trap music from both newcomers and established artists like Kodak Black. Some artists on this site allow only online streaming of their songs, but there are still plenty of downloadable tracks.

CCTrax

Another genre-specific site is CCTrax. Although it hosts tunes from various genres, it has an unparalleled collection of electronic music, including dub, techno, house, downtempo, and ambient. Many of the singles and albums are licensed by Creative Commons and free for use in other works.

Musopen

Classical music lovers can find lots of free recordings, sheet music, and even textbooks at Musopen. Most classical music pieces are in the public domain, so it’s perfectly legal to distribute them for free. The site has a vast library of royalty-free recordings you can search by composer, performer, form, instrument, or period.

Live Music Archive

For live concert recordings, Live Music Archive is the place to go. The site is a collaboration between the Internet Archive, a nonprofit repository of digital media, and Etree.org, a community for sharing concert tapes. Recordings date back to 1959 and span a wide variety of genres, including rock, reggae, and jazz — and over 15,000 Grateful Dead shows.

According to Digital Trends, this site can be tricky to navigate. There’s no search function, but you can filter results by artist, title, or date. When you find what you want, you can stream it or download it in MP3 or FLAC (free lossless audio codec) form.


3. Broadcast Radio

Even in the brave new world of digital media, there’s still room for the old-fashioned kind. In fact, according to a 2019 Nielsen report, more Americans tune in each week to old-school radio — over the airwaves — than any other platform, including TV and all Internet-connected devices.

Far from killing off broadcast radio, the Internet has revitalized it. A couple of decades ago, you could only listen to your favorite radio station when you were in range of its antenna tower, which made it hard for smaller stations with less power to compete. Today, as long as you have an Internet connection, you can listen to any radio station that has a livestream.

For example, if I want to listen to my local NPR station, WNYC, I can just type “WNYC.org” into my web browser and click the Listen Live button. It’s a lot easier than fiddling with the radio knobs to hit the right frequency and allows you to listen to local radio, even when you’re traveling.

TuneIn

The Internet can help you discover new radio stations as well. At TuneIn, you can find and listen to Web streams from 100,000 radio stations around the world. Sports, news, podcasts, and talk radio are also available.

You can listen to any station on TuneIn with a free subscription. But your stream will include all the ads played on the radio station. With a premium subscription, which costs either $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, you can listen to many stations ad-free and reduce the number of ads on others.

In addition to its website, TuneIn is available to download as an app for iOS or Android devices. You can also listen via car audio systems, smart speakers, game systems, smart TVs, streaming devices, and wearables.

iHeartRadio

Another site devoted to traditional radio is iHeartRadio. You don’t need a subscription to tune into radio stations or search for one by location. The site also gives you access to podcasts and playlists based on genres, decades, or moods.

With a free subscription to the site, you can build Pandora-style custom stations based on specific songs or artists you like. You also gain full access to IHeartRadio’s podcast collection as well as a custom library in which you can save your favorite stations, music, and podcasts.

For $4.99 per month, you can upgrade to a Plus subscription. It allows you to skip as many songs as you like, play songs and albums on demand, and save and replay songs you hear on the radio. With an All-Access subscription ($9.99 per month), you can also create unlimited playlists and download songs for offline listening.


Final Word

Despite all the Internet has to offer, digital music may never entirely take the place of physical recordings. There are even signs the old-fashioned record store is making a comeback. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, more than 40% of all profits for sales of physical recordings in 2018 came from vinyl LPs and EPs.

The world of modern music isn’t so much about digital versus analog, recorded music versus streaming, or custom radio versus curated stations. Rather, it’s all about choice. Music lovers today have more options than ever for listening to music exactly the way they want. And thanks to the Internet, they also have plenty of options for how much they spend on it.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Recessions: 10 Facts You Must Know

It’s official. The Pandemic Recession that began in February 2020 ended in April of last year, according to the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), which is the arbiter of these things.

Although it was the shortest downturn in U.S. history, the economy is still recovering from the nearly 21 million jobs that were lost during the slump.

And it continues to haunt us in other ways. After all, a recession is the scariest creature in the average investor’s closet of anxieties. There’s little wonder why. People fear recessions because they can mean lower home prices, lower stock prices – and, of course, unemloyment.

Any number of things can cause, or exacerbate, a recession: an exogenous shock, such as the COVID-19 crisis or the Arab oil embargo of 1973; soaring interest rates; or ill-conceived legislation, such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930.

Recessions are parts of the warp and woof of a dynamic economy, albeit unpleasant ones. And if you’re prepared for the next recession, there will be plenty of opportunities when that downturn ends. Thus, the more you know about recessions, the better. Here are 10 must-know facts about recessions.

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Why Are They Called ‘Recessions’?

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Because calling them “depressions” is too scary. No, really.

After the Great Depression – a term once considered milder than “panic” or “crisis” – the term “depression” for an economic downturn seemed particularly terrifying. Economists began to use the term “recession” instead.

Currently, “depression” is used to mean an extremely sharp and intractable recession, but there is no formal definition of the term in economics. The Pandemic Recession included levels of unemployment not seen since before WWII. And the 2007-09 recession certainly had uncomfortable similarities to the Great Depression, in that it involved a financial crisis, extremely high unemployment, and falling prices for goods and services. Economists now call it the Great Recession.

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What Constitutes an Official Recession?

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Someone has to be the official arbiter of recessions and recoveries, and the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is that someone.

Although two quarters of consecutive GDP contraction is the standard shorthand for a recession, the NBER actually uses many indicators to determine the start and end of a recession.

In fact, GDP is not the committee’s favorite indicator: It prefers indicators of domestic production and employment instead. Other signs of recession include declines in real (inflation-adjusted) manufacturing and wholesale-retail trade sales and industrial production. Prolonged declines in production, employment, real income and other indicators also contribute to the NBER’s recession call.

In the case of the Pandemic Recession, NBER says: “The committee has determined that a trough in monthly economic activity occurred in the US economy in April 2020. The previous peak in economic activity occurred in February 2020. The recession lasted two months, which makes it the shortest US recession on record.”

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How Long Do Recessions Typically Last?

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The average length of recessions going all the way back to 1857 is less than 17.5 months. Recessions actually have been shorter and less severe since the days of the Buchanan administration. The long-term average includes the 1873 recession – a kidney stone of a downturn that lasted 65 months. It also includes the Great Depression, which lasted 43 months.

If we look at the period since World War II, recessions have become less harsh, lasting an average of 11.1 months. In part, that’s because bank failures no longer mean that you lose your life savings, thanks to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and because the Federal Reserve has gotten (somewhat) better at managing the country’s money supply.

The longest post-WWII recession was the Great Recession, which began December 2007 and ended in June 2009, a total of 18 months. Conversely, the two-month Pandemic Recession helped nudge the average length of recession down a notch. 

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How Often Do Recessions Happen?

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Again, since 1857, a recession has occurred, on average, about every three-and-a-quarter years. It used to be the government felt that letting recessions burn themselves out was the best solution for everyone concerned.

Since World War II, we’ve gone an average of 58.4 months between recessions, or nearly five years. The last economic expansion, starting at the end of the Great Recession, lasted 128 months. By that measure, we were overdue for an economic retraction when the Pandemic Recession hit.

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When Was the Harshest Recession?

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The recession of 1873 was actually known as the Great Depression until the 1929 recession rolled in.

The recession started with a financial panic in 1873 with the failure of Jay Cooke & Company, a major bank. The event caused a chain reaction of bank failures across the country and the collapse of a bubble in railroad stocks. The New York Stock Exchange shut down for 10 days in response. The recession lasted until 1877.

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What’s the Worst Effect of a Recession?

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An old economist joke is that a recession is when someone else loses their job, and a depression is when you lose your job. (Very few economists have transitioned to stand-up comedy.)

Your job is your main source of income, and that’s why it’s important to have a few months’ salary in cash as an emergency fund – especially since jobs are increasingly hard to come by in a recession.

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When Is the Best Time to Buy Stocks in a Recession?

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Historically, the best time to buy stocks is when the NBER announces the start of a recession. It takes the bureau at least six months to determine if a recession has started; occasionally, it takes longer. The average post-WWII recession lasts 11.1 months. Often, by the time the bureau has figured out the start of the recession, it’s close to the end. Many times, investors anticipate the beginning of a recovery long before the NBER does, and stocks begin to rise around the time of the actual economic turnaround.

For instance, the Great Recession was officially announced on Dec. 1, 2008 – a full year after it had started. The recession ended in June 2009; the bear market ended three months earlier, on March 6, 2009. The ensuing bull market lasted more than a decade.

In the most recent case, the NBER called the end of the Pandemic Recession on July 19, 2021, or 15 months after it ended. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 gained 50% from April 30, 2020 to July 14, 2021.

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What’s the Best Thing to Do With Your Money During a Recession?

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Pay off your credit card debt. Here’s why: Paying off a credit card that charges 18% interest is the rough equivalent of getting an 18% return on your investment, and you’re not going to get that from most other investments during a recession.

That said, bond prices typically rise in value during a recession – provided the recession isn’t sparked by rising interest rates.

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What Is the Best Early Warning Sign of a Recession?

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More than the stock market, consumer confidence or the index of leading economic indicators, an inverted yield curve has been a solid predictor of economic downturns.

An inverted yield curve is when short-term government securities, such as the three-month Treasury bill, yield more than the 10-year Treasury bond. This indicates that bond traders expect weaker growth in the future. The U.S. curve has inverted before each recession in the past 50 years, with just one false signal.

This indicator worked for the Pandemic Recession too. The yield curve inverted multiple times in 2019 and early 2020. On March 3, the three-month T-bill yielded 1.13%, and the 10-year T-note yielded 1.1%. (To make matters a bit more complicated, some economists prefer using the two-year T-note yield instead of the three-month T-bill.) The index of leading economic indicators is a composite of 10 indicators – including the stock market and consumer confidence – and is useful for those who want a broader view of the economic picture.

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Does the Federal Reserve Cause Recessions?

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Officially, the Fed never wants to start a recession, because part of its dual mandate is to keep the economy strong. Unfortunately, the other part of the Fed’s dual mandate is to keep inflation low. The main cure for soaring inflation is higher interest rates, which slows the economy. In 1981, the Fed hiked interest rates so high that three-month T-bills yielded more than 15%. Those rates put the brakes on the economy and ended inflation – at the price of a short but sharp recession.

Source: kiplinger.com

Employing an Active Wealth Strategy for Retirement

When investors save for retirement, they often make contributions and investment decisions based on saving to a certain level they think will be sufficient to support their desired lifestyle over a set period of time. As they approach retirement, they often re-evaluate their situation and may adjust their spending levels at the onset to make certain they can meet future expense targets.  Some may incorporate extraordinary expenses for travel, vacation homes and luxury items into the mix, as well as factor in wealth transfer and charitable giving into their plan.

 Regardless of how targets are established or how carefully you budget, the initial plan may end up being unsustainable later in retirement, and many retirees are not equipped to make meaningful adjustments once the situation changes.

An active wealth strategy addressing five key interrelated areas (Invest, Spend, Borrow, Manage and Protect) can help ensure investors make better decisions as they look more broadly at each significant variable when making their financial decisions.

Invest

Investing is often regarded as the key element for a successful retirement. However, investing should be considered among several other variables as investment choices need to be integrated with other decisions to ensure success.

An active wealth framework may involve reviewing investment allocation or location (whether investments are positioned in taxable or tax-deferred accounts), spending levels, managing taxes, borrowing and asset protection strategies. To use these fundamental areas to further evaluate retirement decisions, you may need to review your anticipated investment and retirement income, retirement duration, estimated withdrawals for all expenses, managing liquidity for tax payments and asset protection for contingencies such as medical or long-term care.

Evaluating these variables may highlight areas for improvement and alternate strategies.  For example, if you can’t keep up with your desired expenses on your existing savings, you may need to delay retirement or look for a palatable way to increase your income through a lucrative hobby or other business activity.

Spend

Though spending goals are also highlighted as one of the main drivers of retirement, don’t expect to be able to determine how much you’re going to need to spend at the onset of retirement without reviewing the situation and tweaking your plan periodically. Regardless of what portion of spending can be covered through current income from other sources, some retirees lock onto a retirement drawdown goal, and distribute a fixed percentage from their retirement portfolio to cover expenses. 

The “4% Rule” has been a traditional gauge for retirement success, and those employing the strategy often use it as a rule of thumb, expecting that assets would likely be preserved over the course of retirement when withdrawals hover around 4% of the portfolio. Trusting that 4% portfolio withdrawal decision can be alluring, but it can also be dangerous. Retirees need to be able to adapt drawdowns to address fluctuating market values. Those who try to manage the distributions using percentage-based withdrawals often find it unsustainable over the long-term, perhaps withdrawing too much in good years and finding themselves unable to cut back later.

Other variables, such as interest rates, can interfere with percentage-based distributions. Many retirees change their asset allocation in retirement, shifting assets away from equities to fixed income to lower overall portfolio risk. But in today’s low interest rate environment, lower bond yields can interfere with the ability of a portfolio to deliver suitable returns to cover expenses, especially using a 4% target. 

Periods of market volatility can also disrupt planning for retirement, and many retirees learn quickly that they cannot always rein-in expenses in a prolonged market decline.

An active wealth review considers expenses that cannot be so easily controlled. Expenses such as income taxes may increase in retirement, especially when distributions are being taken from tax-deferred retirement plans or traditional IRAs. Retirees who have no plan for managing those taxes can run into trouble if they haven’t accounted for those tax increases or planned for taxable v. tax-deferred portfolio withdrawals. Similarly, medical and long-term care expenses can occur unexpectedly and generally cannot be contained within predetermined levels.

An active wealth strategy will look at asset protection planning to provide adequate health and/or long-term care insurance to help minimize exposure to extraordinary expenses that may result in the portfolio being unable to recover from very large or ill-timed expenses.

Borrow

Borrowing strategies and managing use of leverage do not necessarily end when someone enters retirement. To address market volatility in retirement and spending, an active wealth plan may incorporate a prudent borrowing strategy using an investment credit line or other credit facility. The current low interest rate environment has created a compelling opportunity to borrow to cover current outflows without disrupting prudent long-term investments. Borrowing is particularly useful to address short-term liquidity, such as providing periodic payment of income taxes or funding extraordinary purchases. It may allow investors to avoid selling assets in down markets and dovetails with efforts to manage overall capital gains income/taxes when liquidating appreciated assets.  

Retirees need to be cautious with debt, and any borrowing strategy should be accompanied by a prudent repayment plan that addresses their ability to pay down debt quickly if rates increase to the point where risk/reward no longer warrants the use of leverage.    

The above strategies are some representative examples of how an active wealth framework can help retirees address issues beyond determination of their retirement spending level. They are not limited to solutions discussed in this article. The active wealth framework highlights considerations that compel investors to focus on broader issues and interrelated outcomes for each fundamental area: Invest, Spend, Borrow, Manage and Protect. Analyzing each of these variables can help retirees appreciate all the consequences of their financial decisions, become aware of new opportunities, and allow retirees to make informed, successful maneuvers over the course of their retirement.

The views expressed within this article are those of the author only and not those of BNY Mellon or any of its subsidiaries or affiliates. The information discussed herein may not be applicable to or appropriate for every investor and should be used only after consultation with professionals who have reviewed your specific situation.
This material is provided for illustrative/educational purposes only. This material is not intended to constitute legal, tax, investment or financial advice. Effort has been made to ensure that the material presented herein is accurate at the time of publication. However, this material is not intended to be a full and exhaustive explanation of the law in any area or of all of the tax, investment or financial options available. The information discussed herein may not be applicable to or appropriate for every investor and should be used only after consultation with professionals who have reviewed your specific situation.

Senior Wealth Strategist, BNY Mellon Wealth Management

As a Senior Wealth Strategist with BNY Mellon Wealth Management, Kathleen Stewart works closely with wealthy families and their advisers to provide comprehensive wealth planning services.  Kathleen focuses on complex financial and estate planning issues impacting wealthy families, key corporate executives and business owners.

Source: kiplinger.com

Cost of Living in Thailand – How Much for Rent, Food & Entertainment

How would you like to live in a tropical paradise where a restaurant meal costs $2, a taxi ride costs $3, and a furnished apartment rents for as little as $200 per month?

For decades, the low cost of living in Thailand has made it one of the most popular destinations for anyone looking to live in a tropical climate on a budget. And while prices in this sunny “Land of Smiles” have inched up over the years, you can still live on a fraction of what you’d spend for a similar lifestyle in your home country.

But just how cheap is Thailand in 2021?

How Much Does It Cost to Live in Thailand?

Each of Thailand’s regions offers something unique to travelers and expats. From beach towns to bustling cities and cultural centers to sleepy hideaways, Thailand accommodates every lifestyle — at least as long as you like sunshine.

The overall cost of living in Thailand varies by region. But some expenses, such as cellphone bills, taxes, and visa fees, remain constant, no matter where you choose to live.

Your standard of living has the most significant impact on your cost to live in Thailand. You can choose a life of luxury for a sliver of what it costs in the United States or Europe. But if you’re willing to live like a local with a simple lifestyle, you can stretch money even further.

When comparing prices in a foreign currency, your purchasing power fluctuates with the exchange rate. Since 2018, the exchange rate has held steady in Thailand, ranging from 30 to 33 Thai baht (THB) per $1 U.S.

With the exchange rate in mind, you can compare the cost of living between your current location and Thailand. To make the comparison easier, the prices herein are converted to U.S. dollars.

Average cost-of-living figures come from Numbeo, a crowd-sourced cost-of-living database. After living in Thailand for five months, I found these averages are a good starting point, but they don’t always accurately depict how affordable each destination can be.

Since the crowd-sourced data comes primarily from expats, costs are higher than what you’d spend living like a local.

In addition to Numbeo averages, all other pricing data comes from real properties for rent on Facebook Marketplace and Airbnb.

Rent

Your expenses partially depend on how you find your rental. While accommodation-hunting on Airbnb and other booking websites is convenient, that convenience comes at a price. To find the cheapest rates, search on Facebook Marketplace or (better yet) on the ground — but don’t expect everyone to speak English.

The cost of rent in Thailand also varies dramatically from city to city — even neighborhood to neighborhood.

Bangkok and the Suburbs

As the capital and center of economic activity, Bangkok is naturally the most expensive part of the country.

Luxury apartments on Airbnb can cost more than $3,500 per month in the most desirable parts of Phrom Phong, Silom, Lumpini, and Sukhumvit, all of which make up Thailand’s financial and retail center. Penthouse apartments complete with housekeeping, a private swimming pool, and panoramic views of the big city can run $6,000 per month or more.

But there are plenty of more affordable options.

Tourists and backpackers generally rent rooms on Khaosan Road, where a decent hotel room costs $10 to $25 per night. If you’re on a shoestring budget, shared dormitories in hostels go for as little as $2 per night. Discounts for monthly rentals are also available.

In Bangkok, the average one-bedroom apartment in the city center goes for $580 per month but only costs $290 outside the city center.

One factor that influences price is the proximity to the nearest subway station. The closer it is to the subway (MRT) or Skytrain (BTS), the higher the price.

Public transport is now starting to expand into the suburbs, which can offer the best of both worlds: low rental prices with easy access to the city.

For example, the furnished studio we rented in a luxurious condominium right next to a BTS station in the suburbs costs $460 per month on Airbnb. We could have negotiated an even lower price by paying an owner directly, taking an unfurnished unit, or signing a longer contract.

It had everything we needed built into the complex, including a restaurant, mini-store, gym, infinity pool, and workspace. Since we had everything on-site, we rarely had to leave, which saved us transportation costs.

If you prefer to rent a house, you have to venture outside the city center. Neighboring Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan are technically independent cities but are really more like exurbs of Bangkok. Detached single-family houses in these regions cost as little as $200 per month.

Beach Towns Near Bangkok (Pattaya and Rayong)

A couple of hours southeast of Bangkok, the beach towns of Pattaya and Jomtien have seen aggressive growth in recent years as real estate investors continue to build high-rise condominiums in these once-sleepy fishing towns.

In fact, the 2019 Global Destination Cities Index ranked Pattaya the 15th most overnight tourist-visited city in the world. Many of those tourists have fallen in love with the sunny, relaxed lifestyle and now call Pattaya home.

Despite their popularity, the cost of living in these regions remains surprisingly low.

Pattaya is the most expensive. Its nightlife is a big draw for expats. But even there, you can find one-bedroom apartments just off the beach for less than $500 per month. And the farther you go inland, the lower the prices get.

Rayong is even cheaper, with plenty of furnished studios going for less than $200.

Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

Chiang Mai is a small town in Northern Thailand near the border of Burma and Laos. Considered by many to be the “digital nomad capital of the world,” Chiang Mai is a hotspot for young backpackers with a thriving expat community. Its popularity is primarily due to a low cost of living, beautiful temples, and foreigner-friendly cafes, nightclubs, and hangouts.

The average rent in Chiang Mai is $430 inside the city center and $300 outside the center. That said, when I went apartment-hunting in Chiang Mai, I found prices to be even cheaper.

In the Nimmanhemin (or “Nimman”) neighborhood, prices have exploded over the past decade due to the influx of digital nomads. We walked around door-to-door asking for rates and couldn’t find any decent studio apartments under $400. But outside touristy areas, it’s not unheard of to score a furnished studio for under $125.

A less popular option is the neighboring town of Chiang Rai, home to three of the most awe-inspiring temples in Thailand. Since it’s a bit more under the radar, it can be even cheaper than Chiang Mai.

The average rent for a midrange one-bedroom apartment in the Chiang Rai city center is $240, with comparable apartments outside the city going for half that. Northeast Chiang Rai is also close to the Burmese border, which is convenient for border runs when you have to renew your visa.

In Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, or any other touristy town in Northern Thailand, prices fluctuate with the season. During “burning season” — when farmers burn their crops and pollution levels rise — rental costs plummet as foreigners flee in search of cleaner air.

Southern Beaches and Islands (Phuket, Krabi, Songkhla)

The stunning beaches surrounding Phuket and Krabi have surged in cost over the past 20 years as luxurious resorts slowly replace cheap backpacker bungalows.

The average one-bedroom apartment goes for $470 in Krabi, with similar prices in Phuket. There are also still deals on popular islands like Koh Lanta, where you can find simple one-bedroom Airbnbs for as little as $230.

That said, rents vary radically depending on the unit’s proximity to the beach, with luxurious beachfront villas fetching upward of $2,000 per month.

In Songkhla, a less popular resort town near the southern Malaysian border, you can still find bare-bones apartments on Facebook Marketplace for as little as $100 per month. You won’t be living in luxury, but you can’t go wrong for $100, especially if you spend all your time at the beach anyway.

Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, Koh Tao)

The Gulf of Thailand is home to three of the country’s most popular islands — Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, and Koh Tao. Each island has a unique vibe. And while prices have risen over the past decade, you can still find some steals.

Koh Samui is the largest and most developed of the three islands, with the average one-bedroom apartment rent ranging from $270 to $390 per month. It’s full of resorts and known as a family vacation destination, but plenty of expats also call the island home.

Koh Pha Ngan is home to the infamous Full Moon Party, an enormous beach festival held on the southwest corner of the island every month. But Koh Pha Ngan is more than just parties.

The island’s west side offers laid-back beach towns with expat communities dedicated to yoga, mindfulness, and spirituality.

It’s hard to find anything under $200 per month in Koh Pha Ngan, which would get you a rustic bungalow. For a modern furnished apartment with air conditioning and a beach view, expect to pay upward of $1,000 monthly.

Koh Tao is the smallest and least developed of the three islands, a favorite for backpackers wanting to scuba dive on a budget. Since it’s so small, most rental prices you find online are expensive Airbnbs. If you search on the ground and negotiate directly with locals, you can find rustic bungalows for under $150 per month.

Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations

Generally, the further you go from tourist destinations, the cheaper your cost of living. Rent for a basic one-bedroom place in a rural Thailand region like Isan can be as little as $50 per month.

Remember, the 2021 daily minimum wage in Thailand ranges from $10.03 to $10.77. You won’t get a Western standard of living on less than $11 per day, but if you learn to live like a local, you’d be shocked at how far your money stretches.

Utilities

When renting an unfurnished apartment on a long-term contract, you’re usually responsible for paying your own utility bills.

But even many furnished accommodations exclude electricity in the price. That’s because electricity is expensive compared to rental costs, especially if you’re blasting the air conditioning all day. Some rentals even include electricity for everything except air conditioning, which they meter separately.

To make matters more complex, when property owners charge for electricity in furnished apartments, they set their own rates per kilowatt-hour. The official power tariff in 2021 is $0.11 per kilowatt-hour, but depending on how much the property owner wants to profit, you could pay anywhere from $0.12 to $0.25 per kilowatt-hour.

When comparing rental options, factor in:

  • Whether they include electricity
  • How much they charge for it
  • How much you plan to use

It can get confusing, and we ended up creating a full-blown spreadsheet to keep everything straight. Just know that if you pay the property owner for electricity (versus paying the electric company directly), the monthly cost of your electricity bill could double depending on the rate they set.

Numbeo reports that the average utility bill (electricity, heating, cooling, water, and garbage) in Thailand is $68.

And choosing a cooler climate doesn’t necessarily lead to a lower air-conditioning bill. You also have to factor in pollution. Bangkok is known for its pollution, and on bad days, you won’t want dirty air circulating through your house. That means keeping the windows closed and the air on and investing in an air purifier for your home.

Similarly, during the burning season in Chiang Mai and the northern regions, the air quality reaches harmful levels, and you should keep the windows closed.

Food

Thai food is delicious and cheap. Eating out is so affordable that most Thais build their houses without a full kitchen. That means, unless you pay for a property built specifically for Westerners or tourists, you won’t cook many meals at home.

Food costs vary by location. Touristy areas like the islands and expat hangouts generally have the highest prices. But no matter where you go, there’s usually always a food cart or small family restaurant serving tasty rice and noodle dishes for $2 or less.

Rural areas can cost much less. I once visited an orphanage on the outskirts of the small town of Chiang Rai. The founder invited us to a delicious feast at a local restaurant, and our bill came out to a shocking $0.80 per person, including drinks.

When hunting for the cheapest restaurants in town, look out for general cleanliness to avoid getting sick. If it’s packed with locals, that’s a good sign the food is safe.

Thailand is also full of vendors selling fresh fruit and fruit shakes on the streets. While in Bangkok, we bought $1 coconut shakes and a bag of $0.50 mangoes every day.

Coffee lovers in Bangkok spend an average of $2.20 per cappuccino. The average chicken breast runs $1.10 per pound if you want to cook yourself. But with such cheap and delicious restaurants, it’s often hard to justify the time spent cooking.

That said, not all food in Thailand is cheap. After living in Thailand for a while, many expats start to miss Western food. And Western food in Thailand is pricey — and underwhelming.

Many Western ingredients, like cheese, are hard to come by in Thailand. That means foods like burritos, hamburgers, and pizza are both expensive and taste funny with substituted ingredients.

Transportation

Public transportation in Thailand is so cheap and convenient that owning a car is rarely necessary. Instead, most expats use motorbikes or public transit.

The average cost of a basic scooter rental varies by region, but you can usually pick one up for as little as $60 per month. You can also rent bigger motorcycles, but they cost two to five times as much, depending on the model you choose. In addition to rental fees, you have to factor in gas costs, which average $3.36 per gallon in Thailand.

When renting a motorbike, choose a model with parts made in Thailand. That way, if you crash or scratch the bike, you won’t have to pay outrageous fees to import parts from a different country. Also, record a video showing the condition of the motorbike before you rent it. Otherwise, the rental agency may try to charge you for damages you weren’t responsible for. I learned that the hard way.

You technically need an international driver’s license to ride a scooter or motorbike in Thailand. If you plan to live in the country long-term, it’s worth getting. If you’re just visiting, many tourists rent scooters without it. If the police pull you over, they give you a ticket or try to extort a bribe from you. So sticking to public transit may be best.

If scooters aren’t your forte, there are plenty of other affordable transportation options available. For example, there’s the metro system in Bangkok, moto taxis, and the famous shared red truck taxis (called “songthaews”) in other regions like Chiang Mai.

For example, when we lived in Chiang Mai, a songthaew within the city limits of Chiang Mai cost us roughly $1 per person.

Fares for Bangkok’s BTS and MRT depend on the distance you travel, ranging from $0.50 to $1.70.

If you live in a walkable neighborhood or beach town and take subways or songthaews once per day, you’re looking at $2 per day round trip, or $60 per month in transportation expenses.

On the other extreme, if you live in Bangkok and constantly take taxis across the city — which cost an average of $0.66 per mile, according to Numbeo — your transportation bill could shoot up to a couple hundred dollars.

Entertainment

There’s more to life than food, rent, and transportation. Thailand is famous for its nightlife, and that’s where a lot of people run into trouble.

Based on our experience, beers in most bars and nightclubs only cost $2 to $4. That said, expats and vacationers can quickly find themselves partying a bit too hard and spending even more than they do back home.

Some nightclubs have free entry, but we’ve paid up to a $15 cover. If you’re going out multiple nights per week — which can be tempting in a city that never sleeps — your monthly budget can quickly go off the rails.

If you prefer to entertain yourself with travel and exploration, you’re in luck. Thailand has 1,430 stunning islands, many of which you can access fairly cheaply.

For example, an 11-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Krabi costs less than $20. And if you buy in advance, direct local flights can be just as cheap.

Phone and Internet

In the past, one trade-off of living in Thailand was slow and unreliable Internet speeds. That’s no longer the case. In fact, fast Wi-Fi is one of the reasons expats and digital nomads choose to live in Thailand over other similarly affordable countries.

In Thailand, the average price for a 60-megabits-per-second or faster Internet plan is less than $20 per month.

Prices for cellphone plans vary based on:

  • Provider
  • Length of contract
  • Amount of data
  • Data speeds

Prices also depend on whether you need a data-only plan, a calling plan, or a combination of the two.

For example, with TrueMove H, you can get an unlimited data plan with a couple hundred calling minutes for less than $20 per month.

Note that many “unlimited” data plans only include a certain amount of data at maximum speed. After that, it’s throttled.

Gyms, Spas, and Self-Care

Gyms in Thailand can be surprisingly expensive.

The gym we joined in Chiang Mai cost $30 per month, three times as expensive as Planet Fitness in the U.S. Of course, our gym catered to expats, with air conditioning and well-maintained equipment. You can also find more rustic gyms for as little as $5 per month.

That said, many condos have free gyms on-site. So if it’s important to you, finding one could save you money even if it’s more expensive than another rental.

Thailand’s massage culture is world-renowned and a big part of many expats’ lives. Steeped in Buddhist traditions, Thai massage techniques have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.

You can find massage parlors on almost every corner. While living and traveling around Thailand, most parlors we saw cost between $5 and $15 for an hour-long massage.

Cost of Health Care in Thailand

Health care in Thailand is incredibly cheap, especially coming from countries with outrageous health care costs like the U.S.

I once needed a procedure that would have cost over $25,000 in America. In Bangkok, I had it done for $1,500, including a one-night stay in a surprisingly luxurious private hospital room.

You can find hospitals with English-speaking staff in all the main tourist hubs. But if you have a complicated situation, Bangkok is the place to go.

Also, just because a hospital is more expensive or internationally recognized doesn’t necessarily mean it has the best doctor for your condition. To find a specialist, I searched for the top surgeons in Bangkok for that discipline. It turns out the best specialist in all of Asia worked out of a small private hospital — a hospital nowhere to be found on the online lists of best Bangkok hospitals for expats.

Many expats living in Thailand on a tourist visa rely on travel insurance or international health insurance for their coverage. These plans range from basic $40-per-month SafetyWing travel insurance to more comprehensive plans that cost hundreds of dollars per month. Whichever plan you choose, your premiums depend on factors like your age, the coverage you need, the country you’re from, and the insurance company you choose.

Expats with a resident visa can also buy local private insurance like Luma Health for coverage in Thailand. These plans are comparable in price to international health insurance plans, and most hospitals can bill them directly. It’s more convenient than a travel insurance policy that requires you to pay out of pocket and submit claims for reimbursement.

Lastly, if you work legally in Thailand and pay Social Security taxes, you receive free government medical insurance. If you’re used to Western standards, set your expectations appropriately. Odds are you won’t be impressed with the treatment you receive under free government insurance in a developing nation.

Thailand Visa Expenses

American tourists on short-term vacations don’t need an entry visa.

But if you plan to stay in Thailand full-time as a retiree, recurring tourist, Thai spouse, student, or business owner, you need a visa.

To keep these visas current, you must pay to renew them regularly.

For example, a single-entry education (ED) visa — which you could use to take Thai language lessons — costs $80, and you must renew it every 90 days.

The fee for a five-year retirement visa is $400. It also requires proof of an income source greater than 65,000 baht (roughly US$2,000) per month. Immigration waves the monthly income requirement if you maintain a balance of at least 800,000 baht (US$24,585) in a Thai bank account.

That said, many countries have introduced digital nomad and remote work visas in the wake of the pandemic. Thailand is in the process of creating its own remote work visa, which would eliminate much of the hassle and expense remote-working expats face.

Income Tax in Thailand

Just because you live abroad doesn’t make you exempt from income taxes. If you live in Thailand for more than 180 days (roughly six months) per year, you’re considered a resident. Residents in Thailand must pay taxes on income earned worldwide. If you are not considered a resident, you must still pay taxes on income earned in Thailand.

Thailand has progressive income tax brackets similar to those in the U.S., ranging from 0% to 35%.

Americans must also file taxes in the U.S., but you can avoid double taxation thanks to the U.S.- Thailand tax treaty, foreign earned income exclusion, and foreign tax credit.


Final Word

In addition to everyday living expenses, you also have to factor in the cost of an intercontinental move and building a healthy emergency fund.

Not only do you have to buy a plane ticket across the globe, but unless you stick to renting expensive furnished spaces, you also need to buy a bed, fridge, furniture, cookware, and decorations.

That said, even though Thailand isn’t quite as cheap as it once was, it’s still one of the best places you can live on $2,000 per month or less.

Source: moneycrashers.com