Cutting Cost Can Be Fun!

cost cutting

Cutting cost out of your budget can be mundane and many of us don’t succeed at it because we approach it randomly, without a plan.

Did you know that you can make cost cutting a fun challenge that you and your spouse can participate in together?

What if you and your spouse had a contest of cutting a certain percentage, let’s say 5%, out of your 5-10 spending categories? Few categories like your mortgage payment may not qualify, but a majority of what you spend money on will be a perfect candidate for this challenge.

So for example, if you spend $500 on groceries every month, 5% reduction would mean $25 dollars a month. You can get creative with meal planning and look for ways to eliminate junk food that costs you extra dollars every month but adds little to no nutritional value.

How about your car or homeowner’s insurance? Did you know that re-quoting those once or twice a year could save you serious money? We just did ours last year and saved over $700 a year! That’s $58 dollars a month worth of cost reduction.

If 5% is too much, start with 2% or 3%. The key is to set a specific percentage amount that you can eliminate in all of your identified categories.

Another option would be to set a dollar amount, let’s say $10 or $15 dollars, to be curbed out of each of the 10 spending categories. This alone will give you $100 – $150 extra dollars a month that you can immediately reassign towards debt reduction or towards building your emergency savings fund!

Finding cost reduction by a percentage or by a specific dollar amount can be a fun and non-threatening way to eliminate expenses, and at the end of it, whoever wins can be treated to something special!

Here is a list of categories to consider as you look at curbing cost:

 –   Food

–   Car Insurance

–   Homeowner’s Insurance

–   Cell phone / data plan

–   Cable / Satellite

–   Haircuts / Beauty

–   Entertainment

–   Gifts

–   Clothing

–   Toiletries

–   Pets

 Image by BC Gov Photos

 

The Tax Refund Dilemma

tax refund

75% of those reading this blog post will receive a tax refund this year, 58% of Americans withhold more money than needed from their paycheck intentionally so they can receive a refund, and the average tax refund this year will be around $2800 – that’s an additional $233 a month of income many are missing out on!

Many who decide to pay more taxes on a monthly basis in order to receive a nice lump sum each April do it because they know they would otherwise spend those dollars. Taxes are a way of forcing themselves into saving money in order to pay off debt, save for vacation, etc.

The only problem with this logic is that, while you’re letting government to keep your money “interest free,” you continue paying monthly interest on your car loans, credit cards, student loans, and other debt. You’d be much better off designating those $200 a month to eliminating debt, but that, of course, would require discipline and dedication.

If you’re in this “tax refund” dilemma, here are few ideas to chew on:

1.   Consider adjusting your withholdings so that you receive just a few hundred and not few thousand of your hard earned money back each year. Use this additional sum of money every month towards a designated debt. Once you eliminate that bill, apply this amount to the next bill in line.

2.   If you’re afraid you will just spend those dollars, ask your HR department to direct deposit those funds into a separate account.  Use those funds to start building your emergency fund!

3.   If you already have an emergency fund, set up automatic bill pay from this account to a payee of your choice and otherwise leave the account alone! “Out of sight, out of mind” may be what you’ll need in order to give those funds a chance to do their job, which is to help you ditch debt fast! Once your debts are paid off, keep putting money in that account until you have 3-6 months of living expenses set aside.

4.   If you are looking to take the next step, open a Roth IRA account and direct deposit those funds into that account every month. You can invest up to $5500 a year in your Roth IRA.

5. If you stick with your current strategy of getting your yearly tax refund, do not opt for the RAL (Refund Anticipation Loan). The interest rates on these loans can be as high as 200%! You could literally pay hundreds dollars on a couple thousand dollar loan. It’s better to wait for a week or a few weeks and receive 100% of your hard earned money!

For those of you who’ve always received a sizable tax refund, changing up your refund strategy can be scary, since you’re counting on those funds to cover certain expenses and bills.

 But since the money you’re receiving is not an “extra” bonus, but actual earnings you could be receiving in your monthly paycheck, with a little discipline, you could be putting those funds to work on a monthly basis, by either paying off debt that costs you interest or setting those funds aside in an interest-earning savings account. Otherwise, you’re just making a monthly “interest-free” loan to the government!

 

Warning: You may be overpaying for your data plans!

smart phone

When was the last time you checked how much data you consume through your cell phone?

My guess is that many of us who have an “unlimited” data plan actually pay for more data than we really need or use. We spend extra dollars either unknowingly, simply because someone sold us on an “unlimited” package, or we choose to pay extra just for the emotional comfort of knowing we will never “run out” of data.

If you’re looking to curb your expenses, your data plan may just be the place to find “wasted” dollars that could be repurposed towards debt or savings. My husband and I recently checked how much data we use, and, sure enough, we were the perfect candidates for a limited data plan, which still gives us more available data than we use! We were able to save close to $15 on our monthly cell phone bill.

Did you know that, currently, half of AT&T’s customers who have an unlimited data plan would save money simply by switching to the metered data plan? That’s according to a recent article in Consumer Reports.

Whoever you use as your cell phone carrier, go ahead and check your data usage for the last 3-6 months and evaluate whether you should switch to a metered plan. On average, you could save a minimum of $10 a month by doing that! That’s $120 a year! 

Quick tip: Remember to use wifi as often as you can, since using wifi does not tap into your data allotment.

Image by IntelFreePress

Alternative Ways to Get Funding For Your Business, Home, or Education

finance your dream

Financing Your Dream: Alternative Ways to Get Funding For Your Business, Home, or Education

They say America runs on loans. According to the most recent statistics, over 60% of students  use loans to cover their tuition and expenses. Small businesses especially need loans, and in 2010 alone, banks gave out over 4 million to entrepreneurs. Most individuals cannot pay for big-ticket purchases like tuition, cars and home outright. However, if you are dreaming of college education or running your own business, you’ll most likely need a loan of some sort. While your instinct may be to go to the bank, don’t forget about alternative ways to fund your dream. Here are 3 alternatives to traditional bank loans.

Grants or Scholarships

Believe it or not, many organizations offer scholarships for qualified students and grants for business owners.  While good grades are important, many offer different types of scholarships and financial help to students based on merits other than grades. Some foundations offer scholarships to students who go to certain schools, in memory of their founder. The same goes for business grants. There are all kinds of grants for small business owners, such as those geared towards women, minorities, veterans and even people with disabilities. It may take some research, but this alternative beats taking out a loan and paying interest!

Structured Settlement Cashout

Many people receive structured settlements from insurance or court claims. That means they get certain amount of money on a regular basis, depending on their agreement. If  you do have a settlement, you may consider searching for a third party to get a lump sum amount. While getting a structured settlement cashout may not be a popular decision, it could be a way to fund your dream. While you will get a lesser amount when you cash out, you may save thousands of dollars in interest payments if you took a standard bank loan. So do your math!

Word of caution: If your structured settlement is your only source of income, opting for a lump some will eliminate that steady monthly cash you’ve been counting on, so do plenty of research and seek wise counsel before you decide to “cash in.” 

Crowd funding and Peer-to-Peer Lending

With today’s technology, you don’t have to rely on traditional sources for a loan. You don’t even have to rely on people you know. There are many tech-based platforms where you can get funding, including peer-to-peer lending and crowd funding. With peer-to-peer lending, you can apply for a loan from individuals or several individuals via the internet. You will have to sign up for a service and send them your information. Based on your request, you will be given a rating (based on your creditworthiness) and a loan rate. Members of the site (lenders) will loan you funds and you will pay them back based on your loan rate. It’s a great way for people who don’t qualify for bank loans to get funding, and for people who lend, it can be a great investment because they can lend out small amounts at a time to reduce their risk.

Crowd funding is similar to peer-to-peer lending except you don’t necessarily have to pay the funds back. In a way, it’s like getting donations, but you can also give freebies or products to people who donate to you. If you’re trying to get a product off the ground or have something to give to your donors, crowd funding is a great way to get the funding you need.

When getting funding for your dream business or career, you don’t have to stick to the traditional channels. There are many alternatives out there, and by utilizing them, you can soon get your dream off the ground.

 Image by 401(K) 2013

Author Bio:
I am Kathy Manson and grew up in a working class family in Lowell, MA. I have completed my Bachelor Degree in Business Management from Boston College. I have worked for a number of big financial firms like Charles Schwab and Fidelity Investments until I decided to strike it out on my own as a structured settlement consultant at www.SelectFunders.com

90-Day Emergency Fund. Yes You Can!

90 day fund

Having 3 months worth of living expenses saved may seem like a distant dream for many, especially those who are just now embarking on their savings journey.

Regardless of where you find yourself on the savings spectrum, having a 90-day fund set aside is a goal you should set on your “to do” list. Why? Because life happens, and when you’re prepared financially, it’s much easier to deal with the financial blows like the loss of a job, broken car, unexpected home repairs, etc.

Did you know that in January of 2013, the average time to find new employment was 35.5 weeks? That’s almost 9 months! Picture yourself loosing your income even for a period of 3-6 months, then ask yourself, what would I do if that happened to me?

If you have absolutely no idea what you’d do, you came to the right place! We’ll try to help you put together a solid plan so you can have at least 3 months worth of living expenses set aside in order to deal with unexpected emergencies.

First Line of Defense: $1000 fund!

Many people never get to the point of having that 3-month fund  because they constantly dip into their savings.  In order to make progress on your savings goal you need to protect yourself from using that saved cash for purposes other than serious financial emergencies.

If you have no savings, make sure that you build a $1000 emergency fund first before you embark on your 3-month emergency fund journey. Having a designated emergency fund of $1000 will give you access to cash in case you need to cover a broken dryer or a blown tire. This should be your first line of financial defense.

Limit Your Access

Once you have your $1000, now it’s time to start building your 90-day fund. Here are some ideas on what you can do to prevent yourself from tapping into those savings:

–  Instead of keeping those funds in a regular savings account, you may place them in a 6 month CD or in a money market account. This way the money is there, earning more interest than regular savings, plus you will be less likely to tap into that fund since cashing in your CD or money market account early would mean higher penalties.

–  If you’re not willing to “lock” away your money for a season, you can open a savings account in a bank that’s different than the bank you use for your day-to-day expenses. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a great rule to apply when it comes to building your 90-day fund.

Be Aggressive

Depending on your monthly cash flow and debt situation, you may have to become very unconventional about “freeing up” or generating additional cash for the purpose of building your 3-month fund. If you’re willing to go above and beyond, here are few options to explore:

 –  If you’re currently renting an apartment or a home, but you have your parents living close by who have a large enough home, consider moving in with your parents for a season of maybe 6-12 months. Talk to them about your desire to become financially prepared and explain that this season of “rent-free” time would allow you to get your 90-day fund. If you do that (assuming you pay $800 a month for rent) you’ll have $4800 – $9600 in your 90-day fund! It may not be the most comfortable solution, but 6 months goes by really fast!

–  Get a second job, if only for a season. Once again, this option is a tough one, especially if you have a family, but if you can earn an additional $500 – $800 a month, you’ll be able to quit your second job after a season, knowing you just sacrificed for a good purpose – giving your family the financial security and breathing room it needed.

–  Quit cold turkey on all non essential spending (entertainment, cable, expensive cell phone plans, clothing, eating out…) take a look at your budget and eliminate, just on paper, everything that’s non essential to your daily survival. Add all of those monthly expenses and you’ll see how much you can save every month for the purpose of building your 90-day fund. Once you accomplish your goal, you can go back to adding some of those “perks” back in. Who knows, you may like your simpler lifestyle so much that you’ll stick with those changes for good.

 The key to building your 90-day fund is first understanding the purpose of it, knowing how much you’ll need to set aside in it, and creating a plan of action. Create a plan that’s both realistic but that also will stretch you a bit. Set a doable deadline and commit yourself to executing the plan. If necessary, find an accountability partner that would join the challenge with you. It’s always easier to do something like this with someone else by your side.

 Image by ota_photos via flickr.com

How to Survive College Without Credit Card Debt

credit card

When you start college there’s one thing that’s almost certain: a crushing amount of student loan debt. Unless you come from a rich family, you landed a huge scholarship, or you saved every dollar you’ve ever made, college is going to hit you right where it hurts. While it may be tempting to open a credit card, you’ll want to think twice. You’re already getting in deep with student loan debt; there’s no need to make it worse. Here are a few ways you can survive college without getting into any credit card debt.

Get a Job

There’s no way around it. You’re going to have to get a job. It’s not going to be any fun, the hours will terrible, and it’s going to make finding the time to study next to impossible, but you’re going to have to do it. To get the most money out of your part-time gig, work at a popular local restaurant. This way you’ll be able to earn tips rather than limiting yourself to minimum wage. Some shifts will be bigger money-makers than others, but overall it’ll be a better job than fast food.

Rent Your Textbooks

Rather than spending hundreds of dollars on new textbooks that will be worth pennies once the semester is over, consider renting your textbooks. Sites such as Chegg offer textbooks for pretty much any course you can think of. All you have to do is get your syllabus, put in your course number, and grab your books. Whether you’re taking a course online or at a school like the University of the Potomac, renting your textbook is always the way to go.

Get a Few Roommates

As wonderful as living off campus sounds, you’re likely going to find the best rates by staying on campus and getting roommates. The bills will come in, and they’ll come in quick, so it’ll be nice to split expenses multiple ways. By having roommates, you’ll free up a bit of extra money that you wouldn’t have if you had lived on your own. Just make sure to set some ground rules to make sure you all get along and don’t end up wanting to punch each other in the mouth.

Buy a Bike

You won’t need a car to get to class since you’ll be living on campus. Hopefully you’re either working on campus or at a place nearby so you can bike there. Riding a bike will save you a ton of money during your college days. You won’t have to worry about gas, and any maintenance costs will pale in comparison to the cost of fixing a car. As a bonus, riding a bike is infinitely healthier than just taking a car.

Apply for Scholarships

Applying for scholarships is one of the best things you can do to minimize college debt. Don’t just apply to one and hope; apply for anything and everything that you’re eligible to get. Remember, you don’t have to pay a scholarship back. If your grades are a little less than stellar, ask for letters of recommendations from your professors. If you’re able to earn a scholarship, it will be a huge load of stress off your back.

Sell Your Possessions

As much as you don’t want to, it’s time to sell all the collectibles you’ve acquired over the years. Get rid of games, toys, books, and whatever else you have lying around that you aren’t using. Rather than have a huge yard sale, consider selling it online via eBay or Craigslist so you get a decent amount of money for them. Once you’re more financially stable you can always get all the items back, but for now, it’s all got to go.

It’s extremely difficult to survive in college without a credit card, but it’s possible. Don’t even consider getting a credit card, even if it’s just for one item. One item quickly becomes two; two becomes eight and a dinner; and it just snowballs from there. Use these tips, make a budget, and you’ll be fine. College will be several financially rough years, but you’ll be way better off than your classmates when you graduate completely free of credit card debt. Do you have any other tips for surviving college without a credit card? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Image by Brett L.

Investing Basics: 5 Simple Ways to Grow Your Money

Investing

Investing is often thought of as something complicated and available only for those with substantial wealth. Both assumptions are completely false and keep many from watching their savings (no matter how small they may be) from growing.

According to Gallup, only 54% of Americans own stock, outright or through self-directed retirement accounts. That leaves nearly half of Americans away from the opportunity to grow their hard earned money. If you’re completely lost when it comes to various investment options, here are simple ways you could be putting your money to work without making the issue too complicated.

Savings Accounts

A typical savings account is your simplest form of earning some interest on your money. It’s simple to open and virtually effortless to maintain, and it gives you a high liquidity, which means you’re able to access your cash quickly. There is, however, an issue with putting all of your saved money in a savings account. The interest rate you’ll get from your savings account will be extremely low, ranging from 0.06% – 1% at best! So even though opening a savings account may be a good first step for those who don’t have much saved, this should not be looked at as a long-term option as you go forward. Because of terribly low rates, today’s savings accounts are more or less your grandmother’s “under the mattress” saving options.

Quick word of caution: please make sure you know the fee structure for maintaining your savings account. Especially if your balance goes below a specified limit. You may end up paying more in fees than earning interest!

Money Market Account

A step up from a traditional savings account will be a money market account. Both are FDIC insured up to a certain amount, and a money market account is also very easy to open. You can do that at pretty much any bank.

Just like savings, your money market account will have limitations on how many times you can withdraw your money from it in a period of 6 or 12 months, and there are penalties associated with early withdrawals. Because money market accounts have slightly higher requirements on minimum balances than savings, you can earn higher interest on your saved money. This option still gives you much control and high liquidity, in case you had to access your funds quickly.

CD – Certificate of Deposit

If you’re in a place where you can put your money to work for a period of at least 6 months without needing to tap into that stash then opening up a certificate of deposit could be your next best option. CDs range from 6 months all the way to 5 years, and the longer you’re willing to keep your hands “off,” the higher the interest rate will be.

CDs are still quite liquid, meaning that you can access the funds in case of emergency, you’ll just have to pay a much steeper penalty (even up to 3%); so make sure you understand the financials and penalties before you opt for a CD.

You don’t have to open your CD in the same bank you have your savings and checking accounts at.  Call a few local banks or even credit unions and compare the rates and fees. Only then, make a decision.

Opening up a CD is very easy, and maintaining it is effortless. If you’d like to read about various CD options, here is a great simple summary from bankrate.

Roth IRA

IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, and Roth IRA means you invest post-tax funds in order to enjoy tax-free withdrawals later. Unlike a traditional IRA where you can invest pre-tax money but you’re taxed on the back end, your investments in Roth IRA are done with after tax money but there is no tax penalty at the time of withdrawal. Keep in mind that your contributions (but not your earnings) are eligible for tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal.

A Roth IRA is subject to income limitations, and each individual eligible for a Roth IRA can invest up to $5500 a year.

A Roth IRA is an option that presents much more attractive interest rates, and it can be invested in a conservative, middle of the road, or aggressive plan, depending on your age and risk factors.

You don’t have to be an investment wiz in order to put your money to work in a Roth IRA. If you’d rather have professionals manage the fund for you, you can visit your local banker and open a Roth account on the spot. You can get online access to monitor your earnings or just depend on your monthly statements.

Here is a simple math equation to show the value of Roth IRAs. If a 25 year old starts investing $5000 a year in a Roth IRA earning an average of 8% interest, that individual will have around $1.4 million saved by age 65!

401k / 403b Retirement Plans

If saving money is hard for you, and you’d rather adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” strategy, then make a decision to invest a certain percentage of your pre-tax dollars into your employer’s retirement plan option. Even if you start at 1% or 2%, something is better than nothing!

If your employer has a match, then it’s a no brainer. You should invest the same percentage of your income that your employer offers to match. This option doubles your money instantly!

Keep in mind that since you opted to enjoy tax-free contribution on the front end, your investments are subject to taxes and fees during the time of withdrawal. You’re also penalized heavily for early pre-retirement age withdrawals.

There are ways to “borrow” funds from your traditional retirement plans without incurring those hefty penalties, just make sure those funds are paid back on time!

As you can see, you don’t have to be a pro in order to put your money to work. All it takes is a little bit of commitment, determining how much of your current income you can commit to investing and then determining the option that fits your current financial situation best.

 Image by: www.tradingacademy.com

Living on last month’s income: Generating Extra Revenue

work from home

For some of you curbing expenses may not be enough and additional income may be required in order to make your 30-day fund a reality, or at least a much quicker reality. Depending on your skillset and your schedule, you may be able to generate an extra $50 – $500 a month. Here are some ideas to thing about as you look at generating extra revenue.

What’s your hobby?

Everyone has a hobby, something we love to do, something that gives us great satisfaction, but due to busy schedules, we don’t pay it much attention.  Is lack of time your excuse not to pursue your hobby as a revenue generating opportunity? Here is what you can do to create a margin of time. First, look at the way you spend time at work. Is there a way you can become more efficient? Maybe chatting with co-workers steals much of your time. Maybe you need to set a boundary on the amount of extra hours you will dedicate to your primary workplace.  How about starting your day 1 or 1.5 hours earlier and dedicating that time to developing your side business? All of us have a set amount of hours in our day, and it’s up to us to manage it well.

What are you giving away for FREE?

Quite often, there is a skill we have that’s in demand, and we just give it away for free to friends, family, or friends of our friends and family. It’s nice to be generous with your time, but this is also a great opportunity to turn freebies into income! Create a simple business card that tells what you offer, and at what rate, and ask your closest network to refer you to others.  Those who have received your help at no cost in the past should become your best referrals, so don’t be shy to ask!

Why not freelance?

What if you’re perfectly happy with your 8-5 job? Great! How about turning what you do at your regular work into a freelance opportunity? The years of experience and knowledge you’ve gained can serve as a great bridge to a few extra dollars on the side. You can also turn your experience into tutoring opportunities for others who may want to learn what you already do well.

Become an expert at something…on your own terms!

What if you currently lack a skill you’d like to develop into an income generating opportunity in the future? If going back to school is not an option for you at this time, find a friend or someone who already does the work for a living and ask for one-on-one tutoring. This method may actually prove to be much more cost-effective and time-effective while giving you a targeted, hands-on learning opportunity.

Tackle Teaching Online

Online learning is on the rise, with 6.7 million students taking at least one cyberclass last year. That’s twice as many pupils e-learning than there was just five years earlier. You don’t always need a teaching degree to turn your hand to virtual education; many schools will employ online teachers with a master’s degree in a relevant area. For example, you could put that accounting knowledge of yours to good use teaching others to become CPAs via Skype or pre-recorded lessons.

Online teachers are typically paid by the course without benefits, although some would call working from home a definite perk. The steady paycheck these positions provide is another real advantage. Pay is commensurate with your workload and educational credentials, but the average online teacher makes $30,000 in their first year.

Become a Freelance Financial Writer

Freelance writing is on the rise with demand expected to grow six percent between 2010 and 2020. Finance writing is a booming area which requires more specialized knowledge than penning human interest stories or entertainment pieces. Your experience in the finance world makes you perfectly poised to beat out your competition and take on these roles.

You’ll be paid accordingly for your knowledge, with financial writers often commanding several hundred dollars per article. Some finance writers find they can easily make between $70,000 and $90,000 annually, without ever getting out of their pajamas. You won’t need to eat into that salary with additional business costs either, as writers need little more than a computer and internet access. To command the top pay rate, it pays to have a master’s degree in journalism, economics, finance, or management.

So whether it’s curbing your expenses, adding more income to your monthly cash flow, or both, your discipline and commitment to making your 30-day fund a reality will determine how quickly you can accomplish this goal. Remember that the small sacrifice today will give you great pay offs and peace of mind in the near future!

Image by Ben McLeod

Living on last month’s income: Curbing Your Expenses

Curbing Your Expenses

It’s no secret that since the recession hit, the financial situations of many Americans has been deteriorating. Not too long ago, finding a job was not that big of an issue. Now, according to the Division of Labor Force Statistics, it takes many Americans more than 12 months to find a replacement for their lost job. As a rule of thumb, it takes 1 month per every $10,000 of your lost salary. If you were earning $30,000 in your previous job, it will most likely take you close to 3 months to find another job.

Since many who lost their jobs had no “safety net” in terms of savings, too many had to resort to credit and cashing in their retirement accounts (with a hefty penalty, I must add) in order to make ends meet. As a matter of fact, two thirds of Americans who lost their jobs are tapping into their retirement funds in order to find some immediate financial relief; that’s according to the recent study by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Life happens, job loss happens, health-related emergencies happen. It’s not a matter of IF, it’s just a matter of WHEN. So how can you start preparing a safety net in order to be able to respond to life’s unexpected turns?

After building your initial $1000 emergency fund, your next step should be to live on your last month’s income, which means, having one full month of living expenses set aside.

For those of you who have never been good at saving, living on last month’s income may seem like an unachievable task. Let me assure you, it’s not only achievable, but depending on how disciplined you decide to be for a season, you may be able to reach this goal sooner than you think. So let’s get you started on building your 30-day financial buffer.

Why a 30-day buffer?

The main reason for having 30-days of living expenses set aside is to limit your chances of falling back on credit in case something were to happen. Knowing that you have a full month of expenses to tap into will also give you much needed clarity of mind while considering job replacement options. Instead of making rush emotional decisions based on fear and uncertainty, you’ll have that financial margin to pause, take a step back, seek wise counsel and then decide what your next step should be.

Expense side of the equation

The most obvious place we’ll consider when building your 30-day fund is your expense category. More often than not, it’s not how much money you bring in, but how you manage what you earn that makes the difference.

Housing is most likely your biggest budget expense. Here are few ideas on what you can consider in this category in order to make room for the 30-day fund:

– Requote your home insurance policy with various providers and see if you can get a cheaper rate. If your home insurance and car insurance are covered by different insurance companies, bringing those two under one roof will most likely save you a good bit of money.  Take that difference and set it aside in your 30-day fund.

– Do you have a basement? You can turn your unused or extra space into a rental, which will give you additional income that you can purpose toward your savings. If you opt to rent out part of your home, make sure that you set a portion of your funds toward necessary home repairs (in case something were to break in your tenant’s space) and a portion can go towards savings.

– Are you paying someone to do your landscaping or hulling away your trash? Start performing those duties yourself, and every time you’d pay the provider, simply pay yourself and put that money into your 30-day fund.

Transportation is normally the second highest expense; so let’s take a look at ways we can curb that cost and help build your 30-day fund.

– If you’re paying a large car payment, check with your dealer and see if you can trade your car in, get something much cheaper but still reliable, and cut your payments in half or at least by $100-$200. Take that difference and set it aside into your 30-day fund.

– Requote your car insurance once a year in order to always secure the best deal available. (Many insurance companies do this for you, but it never hurts to check)

– If you’re about to pay your car off, don’t forget to contact your insurer and let them know that you now own your car out right. This will reduce your monthly premium.

– If you have a high interest loan on your car, check with your bank or a local credit union to see if you could get a loan at a lower interest rate.

Food is next in line, and it’s a category you can control quite a bit in terms of how much you spend.

– Meal planning is one of the best ways to curb your food cost. It takes a few minutes every week, but you can do it over a movie or while watching the news. Challenge yourself to an amount per meal (maybe $6 dinners for a family of 4) and have fun creating menus that would allow you to stick to that challenge.

– Shop once a week, with a specific list only. Avoid extra trips, since they usually end up with you spending more money on non-essential items.

– Don’t waste food. By not throwing away your extra food, eating your left overs and using up whatever you have in your cupboards, you can save $200 each month!

– Go meatless 2-3 night a week. You’d be surprised how much you can save by substituting meat with beans.

– Cook soups! Did you know that you can cook a hearty soup for a family of 4-5 with less than $5? Allrecipes.com is a great place to find great recipes for inexpensive meals.

– Skip eating out for a season. This may be challenging to those who eat out a lot. If you institute an eating out fast for 3-6 months, just think of how much you can save in order to increase your 30-day fund.

Entertainment / membership fees is one category that can sneak up on your budget and devour more money than you’d like.

– Instead of going out to the movies, use Redbox or other $1.00 rentals to enjoy a nice evening with family.

– Use your local library as a way to access FREE entertainment.

– Drop your $30-$50 gym membership and use Pinterest and Youtube as your workout buddy! You can find hundreds, if not thousands, of workout routines that you can do at home or in your back yard.

– Swap your expensive cable bill for a $7.99 Netflix or HULU subscription. Add a traditional antenna to those two options and voila!, you maintain access to great shows and movies plus local news channels for less than $10 a month!

There are probably quite a few other opportunities to cut expenses in your budget. How much of what you cut is really up to you. But if you discipline yourself for a period of 6 months, you’ll be amazed at what you can set aside!

Image by RambergMediaImages

Best ways to sell your “stuff” and earn extra bucks!

Yard Sale

Image by RussellReno

All of us have “stuff” we no longer use. Be it clothing we no longer fit in, books we no longer read, furniture that collects dust because we upgraded to something else or baby gear and clothing we’re holding on to simply for sentimental reasons.

Decluttering is not only great for making your home and living space more inviting, but it’s also a great way to generate quick cash in order to pay off a bill or have cash set aside for birthdays or Christmas gifts. The key is to have a purpose for your soon-to-be generated cash in order to make sure it’s used and not just wasted on your next “want.”

So if you’ve been contemplating selling some of your “stuff” but don’t know where to start, here is a list of places you should check out:

Facebook

Yes, Facebook is a great starting point in order to liquidate furniture, clothing, baby gear and more. Since you most likely have a network of local friends on facebook, all you have to do is take a quick picture, post it with a brief description and tell those who are interested to contact you privately to arrange a pick up or delivery. The beauty of social media is that your friends also have their own friend networks, hence they can help you spread the word!

Yard sale with a twist

Yard sales have been around for ages and we all know that it’s one of the quickest ways to generate extra cash (even upwards of $500), it just requires some work on our part. If you have children who are eager to generate income, why don’t you partner with them and do a yard sale with a refreshment stand! Since yard sales usually happen early in the mornings, many of your visitors would appreciate a cup of coffee and a quick snack (muffin, donut, etc.) Make an arrangement with your children to help you prep for the yard sale, help them by investing upfront in the refreshment stand and ask them to man the stand. After all is said and done, share the proceeds (based on the mutually agreed upon terms.) You may be pleasantly surprised to know that the refreshment stand can generate quite a nice sum, it may even beat your yard sale income in some cases!

*Quick tip: make sure you find out whether your town requires a permit before you host a yard sale. These are usually very inexpensive.

Amazon / eBay /Craigslist

If you’re looking for an online solution with a paygate, your best bet is to use Amazon or eBay. You do need to be slightly tech savvy in order to take advantage of both solutions. What you’ll need is a few photos, detailed descriptions of your item and shipping information. Once you sell your item, you will pay a certain % to either eBay or Amazon  – as their commission. With Amazon you should expect to pay $0.99 per sale plus few additional fees (if you sell less than 40 items a month.) Another option for those looking for a slightly simpler online solution would be Craigslist, where you pay per listing, and the cost depends on what type of an item you’re selling. If you’re listing a car, you’ll pay $5 for example. Be mindful of schemers that target Craigslist users!

Consignments stores

If you’re willing to wait a while to get your money and you really don’t want to do the work to put together a yard sale, then visiting your local consignment store may be what you need. You will need to make sure that your items are in good shape, and you’ll have to be willing to part with close to 50% of the asking price, since that’s what many consignment stores are charging for helping you sell your items. Depending on where you live, certain clothing consignment stores will allow you to exchange your clothing for store credits so you can get a new wardrobe right from the store, without having to pay for it. This is a great option for those who want to renew their wardrobe without spending the money.

Goodwill or Salvation Army – donation option

If you absolutely do not want to put any effort into trying to sell your items, but still would like to generate some revenue, you can drop your items off at Goodwill or Salvation Army and receive a charitable donation receipt, which you can claim during tax season. This option will not give you immediate cash but will allow you to declutter while still receiving “something” for the items you no longer use.

So take your pick, declutter, and let your budget enjoy some additional revenue!

Oh, and here is a fun infographic with great stats on yard sales – for those of you who love buying and selling at yard sales.

YardSaleInfoGraphicS-335x1024http://www.statisticbrain.com/garage-sale-statistics/

                                                                                                                     Signs.com Yard Sale Signs Poll