12 Things to Do When You Get a Raise at Work

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

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

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

How to Handle a Salary Increase

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

1. Give It Some Time

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

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

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

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

2. Reassess Your Budget

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

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

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

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

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

3. Retool Your Retirement

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

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

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

4. Pay Off Debts

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

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

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

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

5. Plan for Taxes

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

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

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

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

6. Increase Charitable Donations

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

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

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

7. Add to Your Emergency Fund

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

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

8. Monitor Your Spending

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

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

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

9. Consider Inflation

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

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

10. Save for a Big Purchase

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

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

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

11. Invest in Yourself

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

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

12. Do Something Fun

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

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

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

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


Final Word

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

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

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

Source: moneycrashers.com

Guiding Your Company with Business Continuity Planning

Business continuity is a tool for handling the transfer of a business to a different owner when the original owner leaves, dies or becomes incapacitated.  A continuity plan protects short-term and long-term business interests and is one of the most important components to business exit planning. 

Ripple Effects

The death of an owner often sets off a ripple of events for a business if it is not prepared for continuity.  This loss of direction can lead to losses of financial resources and vendors, key talent and ultimately loyal customers.  Below are the key issues that can occur when owners do not create a plan, along with ways to mitigate them:

Loss of Financial Resources

Vendors may decide to discontinue their services to the business, especially if the business defaults on their contracts.  The banks, lessors, bonding and financial institutions you do business with may end their relationship with your company.  How to handle these situations depends on the type of ownership:

Sole owners: Your death can put enormous pressure on the business to continue its performance should third parties refuse to lend money or make guarantees based on the health of your company.  Continuity planning can help offset the loss of leadership.

Partnerships: The loss of financial resources can be mitigated by funding a buy-sell agreement, which places a significant amount of money in the company reserves should you die.

Loss of Key Talent

Another issue that can create problems with business continuity is the loss of your key talent.  If the remaining owners do not have your experience or skills, the business can suffer as if it had been a sole ownership.  Your experience, skills and relationships with customers, vendors and employees may be difficult to replace, especially in the short term.  To overcome this situation, begin grooming and training successive management capable of filling your shoes.  You should also begin preparing for the transition early, because training your replacement can take years.

Loss of Employees and Customers

Particularly with sole ownership, as vendors end their relationship with the business, employees will be unable to satisfy their obligations to customers.  This can hasten the employees’ departure, taking with them key skills and even client relationships. 

To mitigate the loss of key employees, you can incentivize them to continue their employment through a written Stay Bonus that provides bonuses over a period of time, generally 12-18 months.  This bonus is designed to substantially increase their compensation, usually by 50% to 100% for the duration specified.  Typically, this type of bonus is funded using life insurance in an amount that is sufficient to pay the bonuses over the desired timeframe.

Continuity Planning

For businesses with only one owner, it should be obvious that there will be no continuity of the business unless a sole owner takes the appropriate steps to create a future owner.  Whether it be grooming a successor or creating group ownership, this step is one that should be addressed early.  Even if your business is owned by your estate or a trust, you will need to provide for its continuity, if only for a brief period while it can be sold or transferred.  These steps should help business owners move through the process of creating a continuity plan:

  • Create a written Succession of Management plan that expresses your wishes regarding what should be done with your business over a period of time, until your eventual departure.
  • Name the person or persons who will take over the responsibility of operating your business.
  • Ensure your plan specifically states how the business transfer should be handled, whether continued, liquidated or sold.
  • Notify heirs of the resources available to handle the company’s sale, continuation or liquidation.
  • Meet with your banker to discuss the continuity plans you have made.  Showing them that the necessary funding is in place to implement your continuity plans will help the eventual transfer of ownership to proceed smoothly.
  • Work closely with a competent insurance professional to assure the amount of insurance purchased by the owner, the owner’s trust, or the business can cover the business continuity needs outlined in your plan.

Buy-Sell Agreement

For businesses with more than one owner, continuity planning can be achieved by creating a buy-sell agreement.  Such an agreement stipulates how the co-owner’s interest in the business is transferred and is often funded using life insurance or disability buyout insurance.  It can also be funded through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) by creating a privately held corporation.  It is important that you keep the buy-sell agreement updated to avoid creating additional problems with continuity.  There are several types of buy-sell agreements to consider:

Cross purchase: Another business partner agrees to purchase the business from the owner or the owner’s family.  All business owners generally purchase, own and are the beneficiary of an insurance policy insuring each of the other business owners.

Entity purchase: The business entity agrees to purchase the business from the owner or the owner’s family.  In this case, the insurance policy is usually owned by the business.

Wait-and-see: The buyer of the business is allowed to remain unspecified, and a plan is put in place to decide on a buyer at the time of a triggering event (e.g., retirement, disability, death).  The policy ownership and beneficiary structures vary, depending on the type of the agreement.

Deciding when to begin business continuity planning is complicated and likely depends on your health, family circumstances and overall business financial wellness. We suggest you seek the advice of a business planning professional to help you sort through your options.

This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice.  Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax adviser or lawyer.   

President and Founder, Global Wealth Advisors

Kris Maksimovich, AIF®, CRPC®, CRC®, is president of Global Wealth Advisors in Lewisville, Texas. Since it was formed in 2008, GWA continues to expand with offices around the country. Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Financial planning services offered through Global Wealth Advisors are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.

Source: kiplinger.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

How to Track Your Small-Business Expenses for Tax Deductions

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

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

What is Small-Business Expense Tracking?

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

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

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

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


Why Track Business Expenses?

Tracking your business expenses comes with many benefits, including:

1. Reducing Your Small-Business Taxes

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

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

2. Demonstrating an Accurate Profit Margin

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

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

3. Organizing Your Business Records

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

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

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

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


How to Track Small-Business Expenses

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

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

1. Accounting Software and Apps

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

Some of the most popular business expense tracking platforms include:

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

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

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

2. Business Banking Accounts

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

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

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

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

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

3. Manually

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

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

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


Keeping Digital Receipts

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

1. Expense Tracking Software

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

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

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

2. Company Expense Email

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

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

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

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

3. Cloud Storage

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

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


Keeping Paper Receipts

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

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

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

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

1. Scanning Receipts

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

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

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

2. Using an Envelope or Folder

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

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


4 Tips for Small-Business Expense Tracking

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

1. Keep Business and Personal Purchases Separate

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

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

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

2. Ask for Receipts

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

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

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

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

3. Get Digital Receipts

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

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

4. Organize Your Expense Records

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

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


Final Word

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

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

Source: moneycrashers.com

7 Money Lies We Tell Ourselves

Do you think you’re telling yourself the truth about money? We may think we know the facts about our finances. But our beliefs can often overshadow the facts.

Our wishes, hopes and fears can tip the scales away from the truth. This makes it easier for us to believe what we want to about money — and it can happen without us even realizing it.

The “money lies” we tell ourselves can change the way we think and act when it comes to finances. And since most of us rarely talk about money with our friends and family, the money lies we tell ourselves stick around. That can lock us into destructive beliefs and reinforce poor financial habits.

But no matter what money lies we tell ourselves, it’s never too late to set the record straight. Let’s look at some of the most common money lies we all buy into at some point — and the truth behind them.

1 of 8

1. I’ll be happier when I have $_____.

Bundles of money stick out of a bucket.Bundles of money stick out of a bucket.

“With $___ in the bank (whatever amount you think is ideal), many of my problems would go away, and I’d be happier.”

Does this sound familiar?

Goals and target numbers for earnings, savings and budgets are great. But if you make the mistake of thinking some magic number will flip a happiness switch for you, think again.

When we tell ourselves this money lie, we put too much emotion into a single number. And we may be setting ourselves up for disappointment — both if we never get $__, and if we do get $__ and realize it doesn’t make us as happy as we thought it should.

The good news? Studies show that making progress toward our goals can be incredibly satisfying, regardless of whether we hit the target.

2 of 8

2. I deserve it, regardless of whether I can afford it.

A woman holds many shopping bags and looks miffed.A woman holds many shopping bags and looks miffed.

“I work hard, and I don’t treat myself often.”

“I could kick the bucket tomorrow (YOLO).”

“I’m getting a great deal!”

These are just some of the rationalizations we use to convince ourselves that it’s OK to buy something.

Whatever legs this money lie stands on, it’s usually used to soothe the sting of expensive purchases — those that aren’t really essential — and perhaps items we know, deep down, we don’t really need.

3 of 8

3. I have strong financial willpower.

A woman chooses between an apple and a huge hamburger.A woman chooses between an apple and a huge hamburger.

When faced with temptation, most of us lie to ourselves that we’re great at resisting it. But, when was the last time you chose not to buy something you really wanted? When was the last time you made an impulse buy?

The average American spends at least a couple of hundred dollars a month on impulse purchases.

And we’re more likely to buy on impulse and spend more when we’re stressed. That’s probably why impulse spending shot up about 18% in 2020.

Plus, those of us who are shopping with credit cards are probably spending more on the regular basis than we realize. The average credit card shopper spends about 10% more with their cards than they would with cash. And that’s not even counting the cost of interest if the balance isn’t paid in full.

4 of 8

4. I’ll save more later.

A piggy bank with a sad face lies on its side.A piggy bank with a sad face lies on its side.

Most folks focus on buying what we need and want now, and we tell ourselves we’ll start saving for the future later. If we save anything at all, it’s likely to be whatever we have left over. In fact, fewer than 1 in 6 of us are saving more than 15% of our income, and 1 in 5 aren’t saving any money.

No matter the reason, when we tell ourselves this money lie and put off saving, we’re prioritizing the present over the future.

That can catch up with us on a “rainy day” or whenever we do start thinking seriously about retiring. By that time, there can be a lot of heavy lifting to play “catch up” with our savings — or it may even be too late.

5 of 8

5. I have plenty of time to plan for my financial future (& I don’t need to think about it yet).

A drawing of a clock in the sand of a beach is washed away by waves.A drawing of a clock in the sand of a beach is washed away by waves.

The future can seem really far away when we’re looking 10, 20 or even more years out. When we feel like we have a lot of room between now and then, it’s easy to make excuses to not plan or save for it.

This money lie is an excuse for procrastination. It’s the rationale we use when we have a hard time managing our negative feelings or uncertainties about our financial futures. And it makes us turn a blind eye to the years of interest that we lose out on when we don’t plan.

Benjamin Franklin may have spoken best about the truth behind this money lie when he wisely said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

6 of 8

6. There is good and bad debt.

A piggy bank with slips of IOUs sticking out.A piggy bank with slips of IOUs sticking out.

We tend to assign moral value to debt, thinking of mortgages and student loans as “good” debt, and considering credit card debt as “bad.”

This money lie gets us to think the wrong way about debt. All debt comes with some cost, and it’s critical to understand how every loan affects our current and future selves.

Instead of focusing on whether debt is “good” or “bad,” concentrate on the total cost of the interest over time (it’s often higher than you think) and on deciding whether the loan is really helping you achieve your goals.

About half of us seem to already be on track with that thinking, saying that we expect to be out of debt within one to five years.

7 of 8

7. Wanting more is bad.

Ladders lead up into the clouds.Ladders lead up into the clouds.

While I think we can all agree that obsessive greed is wrong, it’s not a bad thing to want more for you and your loved ones.

When we tell ourselves we shouldn’t want more than we have, we agree to settle for less. And we may be tricking ourselves into thinking it’s OK that we’re not doing something (or enough) to improve our financial situation.

This money lie holds us back and can make it hard to improve our financial behaviors.

When we frame wanting more as a positive motivator, it can be easier to take the chances or do the work needed to get to that next financial level we may want.

8 of 8

How to Stop Losing Out to Costly Money Lies

Hands holding one-hundred dollar billsHands holding one-hundred dollar bills

How many of these money lies sound like something you’ve told yourself?

At some point, I think we’ve all tricked ourselves with at least one of them. Maybe we were rationalizing a decision, or we were trying to make ourselves feel better about what we wanted to do with our money. And we probably didn’t make the best financial choices as a result.

Here’s the truth: Honesty goes a long way with finances.

What we tell ourselves and what we believe about money influences our financial behaviors. If we’re not telling ourselves the truth, our money lies won’t just drain our wallets. They can affect our financial awareness and inflate our confidence. And they get in the way of maintaining or growing wealth.

When we recognize the money lies that we believe, we can reset our thinking, change our mindset and start taking action. And that sets us up to make better choices and make more progress toward our big financial goals.

P.S.: Sign up for my emails to continue the conversation. My subscribers get my best insights! Just email me at ian.maxwell@revirescowealth.com, and put SUBSCRIBE in the subject field.

This material is for information purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any security. The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information; no warranty, expressed or implied, is made regarding accuracy, adequacy, completeness, legality, reliability or usefulness of any information. Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision. For illustrative use only.
Investment advisory services offered through Virtue Capital Management, LLC (VCM), a registered investment advisor. VCM and Reviresco Wealth Advisory are independent of each other. For a complete description of investment risks, fees and services, review the Virtue Capital Management firm brochure (ADV Part 2A) which is available from Reviresco Wealth Advisory or by contacting Virtue Capital Management.

Founder & CEO, Reviresco Wealth Advisory

Ian Maxwell is an independent fee-based fiduciary financial adviser and founder and CEO of Reviresco Wealth Advisory. He is passionate about improving quality of life for clients and developing innovative solutions that help people reconsider how to best achieve their financial goals. Maxwell is a graduate of Williams College, a former Officer in the USMC and holds his Series 6, Series 63, Series 65, and CA Life Insurance licenses.Investment Advisory Services offered through Retirement Wealth Advisors, (RWA) a Registered Investment Advisor. Reviresco Wealth Advisory and RWA are not affiliated. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision.

Source: kiplinger.com

Does homeowners insurance cover water damage? It Depends

This is one of the first questions homeowners ask — or should ask — when they are shopping for insurance for their home:

“Does homeowners insurance cover water damage?”

The answer they are given is “it depends,” and such is the way with understanding what homeowners insurance covers and what it does not. Read this story to learn what insurance protects in general.

You pay for homeowners insurance because you must in order to get a mortgage, and you hope you never need to use it. But a variety of ills — natural or human made — can put you in a position to make a claim of loss or damage to property. You hope the coverage you have paid for all of these years will extend to the situation you are dealing with, but you just never know.

Again, It depends.

Below, you can find what to do when you need to contact your insurance company because you have suffered property loss or your home is damaged. Then you will find out what to do when your claim is denied.

But, first, let’s look at all the ways your home can be damaged by water, and the chances that your homeowners insurance will cover your loss in that event.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Water Damage?

The answer to the question “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” is multileveled, just as the water damage might be.

In general, water damage caused by accident or mechanical failure of an appliance (washing machine, dishwasher, water heater, etc.) is going to be covered by standard policies. The same is true of a toilet that suffers a sudden leak.

But, if the water damage is a result of poor maintenance, such as broken pipes, mold or rotting pipes or water lines, the claim is likely to be denied.

Coverage for water damage is separated into dwelling damage and personal property damage, What is not covered is replacement of the appliance or machinery that caused the water damage. If your dishwasher develops a sudden leak which causes damage to your home, the structural damage and personal property damage likely will be covered but the cost of replacing the dishwasher will not.

If your home suffers water damage from a backed-up sewer or drain, traditional homeowners insurance doesn’t cover such occurrences. Many companies offer water backup coverage, however.

Flood damage is rarely covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Flood insurance policies are available thanks to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) , but it is pricey.

According to the National Flood Insurance Program, the average cost of flood insurance for 2021 is $958 annually. That comes out to about $80 a month. 

If you wonder “does homeowners insurance cover water damage?” check with your agent to determine just what is covered and what is not, and whether you need to consider extended water damage coverage due to current climate conditions or the age of your home.

Making a Claim with Insurance Company

If you have not yet been in a position to make a claim against your homeowner’s policy but know someone who has been denied and you worry about your own policy’s virtues, take time to consider your choices in company and coverage.

What follows is a simplified representation of what is involved in making a homeowners insurance claim for water damage, including the possibility of having your claim denied and what to do in that event.

Step One: Your Home or Property Suffers Water Damage

When your home suffers water damage, you need to determine the actual extent of damage, and if you can, how the damage was caused.

Then contact your insurance company to determine if the damage is covered by your policy. This response to this question is not cut and dried, but it is the starting point for recovering some of your losses.

Step Two: Take an Inventory of What Was Damaged

Take photos or video of water-damaged possessions, structure or property (actually, it would be wise to take a video of your pre-disastered home right now, so you can refer to post-disaster).

Attempt to determine the value of individual items that need to be replaced, and find receipts if you have them (which is actually easier these days since most purchases occur with some form of electronic transaction). If the damage is structural, that will create a need for damage assessment and estimates, but that will occur after the insurance company has agreed to pay up.

Step Three:  Meet with the Adjuster

The insurance company will assign you an adjuster, who will eventually come to your home and assess the damage.

Do not assume this person is out to prevent you from covering your damages, but remember that the adjuster is protecting the interests of the insurance company to prevent fraudulent claims.

The adjuster will require a list of lost or damaged items with an estimated value of those items, and will assess structural or property damage that will require estimates to determine repair costs. Putting together a list of the valuable contents of your home is another thing to do before disaster strikes.

How much homeowners insurance do you need? Our insurance checklist will guide you to make the right decision. 

Step Four: Get the Verdict

The adjuster will eventually call you with a detailed list of what the company is going to cover, the amount it will give you for your lost or damaged items, and what structural damage the company will pay to be repaired. You may or may not like the dollar figures the adjuster offers.

You may also be surprised to hear that the insurance company can deny your claim, in part or in whole. This is where the insurance company is covering its assets: it will present in written form why it is denying your coverage claim. This letter should provide a complete and specific explanation why your policy does not cover the losses you claim.

If your policy explicitly states certain items or losses are exempt from your coverage, that is the end of the conversation. However, if you believe your policy should cover the damage you suffered, speak to the agent who sold you the policy, if possible, or ask to have an in-person conversation with the adjuster to discuss the situation.

Proving that your policy should cover your losses will not be easy. However, if you have a different interpretation of the language in your policy than what the adjuster suggests, or you have notes from your original conversation with your agent at the time you bought the policy, you can go on to the next step.

What’s God Got to Do With It?

Most standard homeowners insurance policies include an Act of God provision. From an insurance standpoint, an Act of God is damage that occurs as a result of natural causes with no human component, something that could not have been prevented by proper care or maintenance.

Earthquakes or floods are often considered an Act of God. Wildfires may also be considered an Act of God if started by lightning rather than humans (campfire gone bad, tossed cigarette and more).

Homeowner’s insurance policies spell out which Acts of God are covered. For instance, floods are Acts of God, although homeowners in flood plains or near coasts or lakefronts can purchase flood insurance at an additional cost.

Often, standard homeowners insurance policies do cover damage from high winds from natural events like hurricanes and tornadoes. If this is a possible factor in your claim, determine what your policy covers before going onto the next extensive and expensive step.

The increased occurrence of wildfires in the Pacific Northwest has made fire protection a must for homeowners in that area. But different companies provide different levels of coverage and full coverage can be expensive.

How to Fight a Denied Claim

You feel your insurance company is not fulfilling its legal promise to cover the cost of water damage to your home. You have documentation of your losses, a detailed description of the event that caused your damage (malfunctioning appliances or plumbing mishap), and you are in a position where it will behoove you financially to argue your case.

Pro Tip

In most cases, there is a limited time frame in which a denied insurance claim can be appealed, and the time frame begins from the moment you are notified of the denied claim.

Your homeowner’s insurance policy includes language stating how to appeal a denied claim. Getting involved in a battle with your insurance company may seem like a lost cause, but often, insurance companies can be convinced to adjust their decision to your benefit.

You might want to consider improving your chances by consulting a property insurance claims professional. These are licensed public insurance adjusters who can assess your claim from an objective viewpoint and will negotiate with our insurance company for you. Deciding on whether to hire a professional outside adjuster will be based on the cost of his or her service versus the amount of money you hope to recover.

The last step to recover funds would be to sue your insurance carrier, which would require hiring an attorney who specializes in property insurance claims. Get references and verifiable information on previous claims regarding water damage that were settled to the homeowner’s benefit.

Here’s hoping this helps and that you never need it.

Kent McDill is a veteran journalist who has specialized in personal finance topics since 2013. He is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

The 6 Best Ways to Save Money for Kids

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

Planning for Your Kids’ College Savings and Future Expenses

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

5 Ways to Save Money For Your Kids’ College Education

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

1. 529 College Savings Plans

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

Prepaid Tuition Plan

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

Education Savings Plan

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

2. Roth IRA

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

3. UGMA and UTMA Accounts

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

Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA)

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

Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA)

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

4. Brokerage Account

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

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

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

Additional Ways to Save Money for College

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

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

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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

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

When Is the Best Time to Invest Money for College?

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

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

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

How Much Money Should I Save for My Child?

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

The Best Way to Save Money for Kids

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

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What Is a Carry Trade in Currency Markets?

Carry trade is a strategy used by some traders who invest in currency markets to take advantage of differences in interest rates. In a carry trade, an investor buys or borrows a security or asset at a low interest rate, and then uses it to invest in another security or asset that provides a higher rate of return.

Here’s what you need to know about how a carry trade strategy works and the risks associated with it.

What Is a Carry Trade?

In a carry trade, forex traders borrow money at a low interest rate in order to invest it in an asset with a higher rate of return. In the forex markets, the currency carry trade is a bet that one foreign currency will hold or increase its value relative to another currency. Of course, this strategy hinges on whether or not interest rates and exchange rates are in the traders’ favor. The wider the exchange rate between two currencies, the better the potential returns for the investor.

Recommended: What Is Forex Trading?

Even so, a carry trade strategy can be a relatively simple way to increase an investor’s returns, assuming they understand the difference in interest rates. In that way, it’s similar to understanding “spread trading” as they relate to stocks.

How Do You Execute a Carry Trade?

Carry Trade Example

Imagine that the US dollar has a 1% interest rate, but the British pound has a 2% interest rate. A trader could take 100 US dollars, and then invest that 100 dollars into the equivalent number of pounds (according to the exchange rate), and earn a higher return in interest. The discrepancy in interest rates allows traders to take advantage and earn higher returns.

This is a rather simplistic carry trade example, professional traders and investors can engage in complex carry trade strategies, and even employ the use of a carry trade formula to help them figure out expected returns, and whether the strategy is worth pursuing in a given situation.

Rather than simply buying one currency with another, traders often execute a carry trade that involves borrowing money in one currency and using it to purchase assets in another currency. In this scenario, traders want to borrow the money at the lowest possible interest rate, and do so using a weak or declining currency.

That can create higher profits when they close the deal and pay back the borrowed money. In general, carry trade is a short-term strategy, rather than one focused on the long-term.

Recommended: Short-Term vs Long-Term Investments

Is a Carry Trade Risky?

The concept of a carry trade is simple, but in practice it can involve investment risk. Most notably, there’s the risk that the currency or asset a trader is investing in (the British pounds in our previous example) could lose value. That could put a damper on a trader’s expected returns, as it would eat away at the gains the difference in interest rates could provide. Currency prices tend to be very volatile, and something as mundane as a monthly jobs report released by a government can cause big price changes.

The greater the degree of leverage an investor uses to execute a carry trade, the higher the potential returns–and the larger the risk. In addition to currency risk, the carry trade is subject to interest rate risk. Given the risks, carry trades in the currency markets may not be the most appropriate strategy for investors with a low tolerance for risk.

The Takeaway

Carry trades are one way for investors or traders to generate returns, although the approach involves some risks that aren’t present in other types of investment strategies. While the carry trade concept is straightforward, it can quickly get complex when institutional investors put it in place.

If you’re ready to start investing in less complicated investments, a great way to start is by opening an account on the SoFi Invest® brokerage platform, which allows you to buy or sell stocks, ETFs, trade crypto and more.

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15 Ways to Save Money Landscaping Your Yard

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

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

Landscaping Tips to Save Money on Outdoor Living

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

1. Choose a Purpose for Your Space

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

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

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

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

2. Work With Your Yard

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

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

3. Salvage Existing Wooden Fencing or Decking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Use Natural Elements

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

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

6. Create a Lush Lawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Landscape With Native Plants

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

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

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

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

8. Plant Perennials

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

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

9. Plant From Seed

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

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

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

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

10. Build Your Own Garden Beds

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

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

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

11. Join (or Start) a Plant Swap

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

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

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

12. Buy Trees Late in the Season

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

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

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

13. Make Your Own Compost

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

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

14. Build a Fire Pit

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

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

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

15. Buy in Bulk

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

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


Final Word

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

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

Source: moneycrashers.com

Can You Use Food Stamps Online?

The food stamp program in the U.S. has made it possible for millions of Americans dealing with economic hardship to feed their families each day.

While food stamps, now officially called SNAP benefits, can help families save money on food, it hasn’t always been the most convenient way to shop for groceries. In the past, food stamp recipients needed to physically go into a store to shop for and pay for their groceries using a special (EBT) payment card.

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has expanded an online purchasing pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to purchase groceries online then arrange for pickup or delivery. The program is now available at certain retailers in most states.

Read on to learn where and how you can use food stamps to buy groceries online.

What Are Food Stamps?

“Food stamps” is an older, but still commonly used term to describe SNAP or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP is designed to provide nutritional assistance to low-income families, as well as the elderly, disabled, and people who have filed for unemployment. SNAP is a federal program administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which has a network of local offices.

While SNAP doesn’t cover all the items you might pick up at the supermarket, it can significantly cut your grocery bill.

USDA national map .

Each state has its own application form. If your state’s form is not on the web yet, you can contact your local SNAP office to request a paper form.

What Stores Accept Food Stamps Online?

Thanks to the expedited expansion of an online purchasing pilot program run by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, households receiving SNAP benefits in any of the 47 participating states (along with the District of Columbia) can now use EBT to pay for groceries online from select retailers.

Alaska, Louisiana, and Montana are not currently enrolled in the pilot. And, not every retailer in participating states supports EBT payments.

If a retailer is enrolled in SNAP’s online program, people on food stamps can select foods eligible for EBT benefits online and then arrange for in-store or curbside pickup. In some cases, it may be possible to have your groceries delivered. If the retailer charges a delivery fee, however, you cannot use your benefits to cover that fee.

While Amazon and Walmart are among the best known retailers for online EBT shopping, the number of stores accepting EBT card payment online is continuing to expand, and now even includes some “specialty” stores like Trader Joe’s.

FreshDirect, an online grocery delivery service, now delivers for free to SNAP participants in some zip codes in the New York metropolitan area.

And, Instacart, a grocery delivery service, is currently partnering with many local stores in the U.S. to offer SNAP EBT benefits. The latest version of the Instacart app should display whether your local store offers EBT SNAP.

Which retailers (and which specific locations) participate in the online SNAP program will vary from one state to another, so it’s a wise idea to check which options are available in your area.

Here are some of the retailers that are now accepting food stamps for online shopping (for either delivery or pickup):

• Walmart

• Amazon

• Aldi

• Food Lion

• Publix

• FreshDirect

• BJ’S Wholesale Club

• Kroger

• ShopRite

• Fred Meyer

• Safeway

• Albertsons

• Vons

• Hy-Vee

How to Use Food Stamps to Buy Groceries Online

The rules for using food stamps online will vary by retailer. For example, when shopping on Amazon, you can add your SNAP EBT card, shop for groceries, and when you check out, you enter your EBT PIN to pay for eligible purchases.

For Walmart, you can order groceries online or through the store’s grocery mobile app. You first need to sign into your Pickup & Delivery account and then select Payment Methods.

cash management account, you can track your weekly food spending right in the dashboard of the app. You can also earn competitive interest on your money, and won’t pay any account or monthly fees.

Learn how SoFi Money can help you manage your spending and saving today.

Photo credit: iStock/Yana Tatevosian


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Source: sofi.com