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Recover From a Holiday Binge With a Spending Freeze

The holiday parties may be over but the financial hangover is just setting in. Holiday sales for 2016 were estimated to top $655 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. If you blew your holiday budget, don’t panic. A January … Continue reading →

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Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

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Five Smart and Easy Ways to Save Your Family Money

Setting financial goals for your family can be exciting and overwhelming. It’s empowering to work towards saving for your family’s dream vacation or eliminating debt such as a car payment, but when your family budget is already tight, finding ways to improve your finances can seem daunting.

Good news! There are everyday ways that you can implement into your family’s lifestyle that can help you save money. Here are a few easy strategies that will prove fruitful for both your home and your bank account.

1. Clean out your fridge and freezer each week

Before you roll your eyes at this suggestion, let me explain. Research shows that people in US households toss out a staggering 150,000 tons of food each day! The average American family of four spending $ $10,995 per year on food. A considerable amount of waste could be prevented if we commited to monitoring foods like produce, dairy, and meat and using them before they go bad.

Schedule a day once a week (the day before or day you plan to grocery shop is ideal) and take inventory of what groceries you still have available to prepare family meals. This allows you to take advantage of a slightly bruised zucchini and end-of-package cheese slices that you can turn into a delicious quiche for dinner rather than spending a small chunk-of-change on takeout pizza. Don’t forget the freezer. Those frozen drumsticks can be thawed and marinated for tomorrow’s Sunday dinner along with that bag of red bliss potatoes that have been sitting on your counter for weeks now.

A considerable amount of waste could be prevented if we commited to monitoring foods and using them before they go bad.

Make this a weekly habit and not only will you be able to serve your family tasty dishes, you can put the money you save toward something meaningful for your family.

2. Review your family’s monthly subscriptions

It’s the little things in life that can truly make a difference! That goes for those small, innocent payments you make each month for our family’s entertainment—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, gym memberships, music streaming services, Dollar Shave Club, and so many more.

List all your family’s subscriptions and see what your monthly total is. Decide which ones really make a difference for your family and then look at trimming the rest. You might be surprised to find out how much money you're spending on subscriptions you rarely (if ever) use!

3. Commit to decluttering your surroundings

A home filled with paper piled on countertops, loose laundry, a gaggle of knickknacks and tchotchkes, and drawers stuffed with gadgets and items that have no real purpose can be one of the biggest money drains of all. 

When your living space is organized and functional, it sets the tone for everything else in your family’s life.

Look around your entryway, kitchen, family room, and even your garage. Are things neat and orderly, or do you have to dig every time you need to find your tennis shoes, the dog’s leash, and your car keys?

Clutter robs you of:

  • Time. How much time do you waste constantly searching for everyday items?
  • Space. Clutter can hog valuable counter and drawer space that should belong to items you use all the time. (What happens when you can't find your car keys or—say it ain't so!—reach the coffeepot?)
  • Money. Just when you give up and buy a new duster, that's when the old one shows up. Am I right? And if you misplace your bills, that could result in late fees.
  • Peace of mind. When your family lives amid chaos, you're constantly stressed about finding items, or you feel guilty that your home isn't in better order. 

When your living space is organized and functional, it sets the tone for everything else in your family’s life. This doesn’t have to be an awful project. Get excited about how amazing you and your family will feel when everything has a place. When you eliminate the mess throughout your entire home (garage and shed included!), you’ll have a new lease on life. Disposing if things you bought and rarely used will also may you more mindful of what you purchase in the future.

There are dozens of recommended decluttering methods available, but my favorite is inspired by organizing guru, Marie Kondo. The way she goes about getting her clients organized involves a multi-step process that involves sorting by item category rather than by room. The KonMari method mandates that you only keep the items that bring you joy. (But remember, throwing out your bills because they don't bring you joy is a bad idea.)

RELATED: Clean, Organize, and Declutter with Marie Kondo's Magic: Part 1

4. Buy secondhand

A savvy way to save serious money is to shop secondhand stores. Not only can you find designerclothing at half the price of the original sales tag, you can score amazing finds for your home. There needn’t be a stigma about shopping thrift stores. Many have a boutique-like feel with knowledgeable, professional sales staff who are eager to help you and your home look better for less. In addition, you’re helping the environment by recycling!

Shopping secondhand is one of 2020’s hot parenting trends. Besides local thrift shops and consignment stores, there are plenty of opportunities to shop online. E-Bay, Swap.com, and ThredUp, and Facebook are a few of many online choices that offer a variety of top-notch styles for less.

5. Create an energy-smart home

Be mindful of turning the lights off when you leave a room or keeping your thermostat set at 68 degrees during the winter. To some, those types of things are already habit. But for many others, conserving energy isn't necessarily top-of-mind. The average electricity spent in a household per year is $1,368.36 and studies show that 35 percent of the power used is actually wasted.

Fortunately, this waste can be corrected. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the typical household can save 25 percent on utility bills by implementing energy-efficient measures. (Put that towards your family’s vacay!) These tips include replacing light bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives and properly insulating your home.

You can perform a do-it-yourself energy audit, and many local energy companies will also assist with a professional energy audit. Moneycrashers also offers some helpful tips in 10 Ways for How to Save Energy at Home Now – Save $2,500 Per Year.

With a money-saving mindset you’ll soon find other creative ways you can spend less and save more resulting in valuable time with your loved ones.

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What Is a Serial Entrepreneur?

A serial entrepreneur starts several businesses one after another rather than beginning one venture and staying focused on it for many years like a more typical entrepreneur. Serial entrepreneurs may sell their businesses after they reach a certain level of … Continue reading →

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What Is a Parent PLUS Loan?

Paying for college is a challenge, and rising tuition costs certainly don’t help. According to College Board, the average cost of a four-year private college has increased by more than $3,000 over the last five years. Scholarships, grants and work-study … Continue reading →

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Best Places to Work in Manufacturing – 2020 Edition

Manufacturing has a special place in the American story, but for the past few decades, this sector has been largely on the decline, impacting many workers and affecting decisions around things like budgeting and where they call home. Since 1997, … Continue reading →

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The Financial Rebound: Money After COVID

The events of 2020 have exacerbated just how unequal our society is when it comes to racial and economic equality, with communities of color still facing numerous obstacles on their path to financial security. For Black Americans, long-standing racial inequities…

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The post The Financial Rebound: Money After COVID appeared first on MintLife Blog.

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How to Buy a HUD Home at the Hudhomestore Website?

Using the Hudhomestore to buy a HUD home is easy. If you’re looking to buy a HUD home, the Hudhomestore website is the best place to do it. It can be found here at hudhomestore.com. HUD homes are listed for sale at the site. While anyone can buy a HUD home, you will need to …

The post How to Buy a HUD Home at the Hudhomestore Website? appeared first on GrowthRapidly.