Without the Fiduciary Rule, Can You Still Find an Honest Retirement Planner?

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit effectively repealed a rule from the Department of Labor requiring financial advisers to meet some of the same legal requirements to which real estate agents, attorneys and other professionals must adhere serving their clients. While the so-called “fiduciary rule” isn’t exactly dead yet, it probably isn’t going to be enforced either. So what does that mean for investors looking for a new financial adviser?

In all honesty, not a lot. The new rule went into effect in part last year, so it’s a bit of a return to the status quo. Here’s what happened: The new rule was met with a lot of criticism from a number of groups, financial advisers in particular. It was intended to ensure brokers and other financial planners and advisers make investment recommendations in the best interest of their clients. For example, if your adviser were to choose one investment for your portfolio over another because it paid them a higher fee but had a lower rate of return for you, the fiduciary rule would have smacked them.

The 5th Circuit’s ruling has essentially repealed the Department of Labor’s enforcement of the rule. It technically remains in effect, but it has been rendered virtually meaningless.

How to choose a good financial adviser

This means investors should do their due diligence in choosing any kind of financial adviser. Here are five things you can do to ensure you get an adviser who acts in your best interest:

1. Choose a certified financial planner

Certified financial planners are trained and held to a code of ethics. They also take mandatory classes to maintain their licenses. This helps ensure they are aware of the latest industry standards and that someone is keeping an eye on their work.

2. Ask how they get paid.

If the planner you’re considering gets paid a commission instead of a flat, hourly rate, they have an incentive to choose investments that are in their own best interest. Members of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors are fee-only and accept no commissions for their work.

3. Do they follow a code of ethics?

Ask if they follow a code of ethics and make sure you read it. If you see “fiduciary” in the language, your planner has agreed to put your best interests first.

4. Are they working for someone you know and trust?

Getting a recommendation from a friend or family member is a great way to find an adviser, but you should still do your due diligence as outlined in steps one through three.

5. Run a background check.

This may sound complicated, but it’s pretty simple. Start by asking your potential adviser if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime. Also ask if they’ve ever been investigated by a regulatory agency or industry group, and, if so, if they were found guilty or responsible of any wrongdoing. It’s also a good idea to Google them. Finally, ask for references of current clients.

Can’t I just do it myself?

If your investments are solely through an employer plan like a 401(k) and you’ve only just begun to invest, a self-directed program may be all you need for now. But as your investments grow and become more complicated, choosing an adviser can be a wise decision. Just like you’d go to a professional to extract your teeth or install your septic system, turning over your investments to a professional also typically results in better outcomes.

Another benefit to hiring an adviser is that they help keep you disciplined when it comes to your short- and long-term investment strategies. They frequently also can help with reviewing employment and other contracts, insurance policies and other legal vehicles.

Worried about your retirement nest egg? Here are five fast ways to start saving more.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.

 

How Much Does It Cost to Get Married?

Americans spend an average of $33,391 on weddings, according to a study by The Knot. But depending on where you live, your wedding may cost more or less than that.

For instance, New Yorkers living in Manhattan spend an average of $76,944, and New Mexico residents spend only $17,584. Keep in mind that neither price-tag includes the honeymoon.

Does a $17,584 wedding bill still sound too steep for you? I’m here to tell you that it is possible to get hitched for much less than that. When my wife and I got married in Utah in 2010, for instance, we spent a tad more than $3,000 on the festivities.

Indeed, where there’s a will, there’s a way – so to speak. If you’re looking for a budget wedding but don’t want to skimp on the essentials, here are some tips on how to do it.

1. Start saving now

Roughly three-quarters of couples go into debt to pay for their wedding, according to a survey by Student Loan Hero. The sooner you start saving for your big day, the easier it will be to cover the costs without having to borrow money.

Set a goal to save with each paycheck. Also, consider automating your savings. Chime offers an Automatic Savings program that sets aside 10% of every paycheck in your savings account. What’s more, when you use your Chime Visa debit card, Chime will round up each transaction to the nearest dollar and transfer the round-up amount to your savings account.

2. Set a budget

For many people, their wedding day is the most important day of their lives. So, it can be easy to get carried away with the planning  – to the point of overspending.

The first thing you can do to limit your wedding spending is to set a budget. This includes:

Who’s going to contribute: According to the aforementioned study by The Knot, the bride and groom typically pay just 41.1% of their wedding costs on average. The rest is covered by the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents and other sources.

This may or may not align with your specific situation, but it’s important to know upfront who’s going to help pay for what.

A list of priorities: As you’re budgeting, it’s important to know where you should economize and where you shouldn’t. For example, avoid asking a friend or family member to do your photography or bake your cake for free or cheap. Why? This can end up backfiring on you, especially if your friend isn’t really up to the task. My sister, for example, had a friend make her wedding cake for free, and one of the tiers collapsed midway through the reception. In other words, don’t get so caught up in saving money that you end up regretting it.

While you’re figuring out your budget, make a list of your other priorities. There’s no right or wrong answer, and your priorities may be different than your parents’. It’s your day, so focus on what matters most to you.

Do your research: If you’ve never been married before, you likely don’t have a good idea of how much things cost. Do some research in your area to get an idea of what to expect. Get estimates from several different vendors to get a reasonable average.

3. Don’t be afraid to enlist amateurs

My wife and I were able to save on our wedding because we had connections with people with applicable skills. For example, my friend’s mom had experience making wedding cakes and offered to make ours as her gift to us. This saved us a few hundred dollars, and she knew what she was doing!

Another family friend had a hobby of designing floral arrangements and offered to do ours for a little more than her cost. I knew she did good work because she did the floral arrangements for my sister’s wedding.

Depending on where you live and the wedding culture in your area, getting help from amateurs can sound tacky. But as long as you get what you want for your special day, does it really matter if your vendor is a hobbyist or a professional? Of course, it’s important to make sure you’re still getting good quality products and services. Remember my sister’s cake story. You certainly don’t want to regret your frugal choices.

 4. Be picky about who you invite

My wife and I chose not to have a wedding dinner, instead offering hors d’oeuvres that we bought and prepared. Why? Catering can be expensive. The Knot estimates $70 per person on average — so it’s important to keep your guest list contained to the people you absolutely want at your wedding.

For example, consider making your reception an adult-only affair. Or, consider sending just an announcement to distant relatives you’ve never met. Trimming just 10 people off your list could save you $700.

5. Do it yourself

It’s easy to outsource most of the work in the wedding planning process, but there are some things you can easily do yourself for less money.

For example, my wife and I spent an evening designing our own wedding invitations, then another evening addressing the envelopes. While you may think you need superb handwriting to do this, this is simply not the case. You’d be surprised at the free help you’ll find via online calligraphy tutorials.

Alternatively, if you have the time and ambition, you can learn how to arrange your own wedding flowers or DIY another aspect of your wedding. Not only can a DIY approach help you save money, but it can also create an opportunity for you and your future spouse to spend time together working on a common goal.

6. Consider all the costs

When choosing your venue, it’s important to consider the full cost. You may think you’re saving money by opting for a raw space rather than a reception hall. But after renting tables, chairs, decorations, and equipment for the caterer, you could easily spend more than you bargained for.

Like everything else, this requires research. Get some estimates from venues that include all the basics, as well as quotes for a raw space plus all the extras. The same goes for every other aspect of your wedding. Look for hidden or extra costs you can avoid by choosing an alternative instead.

The bottom line

Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. To this end, if you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spend, you may need to be frugal. As you start planning your wedding, start walking through the financial side of things before you make any big decisions. With a budget in mind, it’ll be easier to avoid letting your emotions run the show.

Also, start saving now, and if you haven’t set a date yet, consider delaying your wedding day until you have enough cash saved up to pay for it.

 

How to Work Together as a Couple to Get Out Of Debt

They say two heads are better than one. Well, not if those heads are butting over financial decisions like when and how to pay off debt.

Indeed, being on the same financial page as your partner is crucial. But when it comes to paying off your debt, this isn’t so easy. Take it from me. When my husband and I first started our financial journey, we had different ideas about how to approach debt. This created frustration on both ends and slowed down our progress. Eventually, we started working together and paying down debt aggressively.

To help you get on the same page as your partner right away, take a look at these 5 tried-and-true tips. Hopefully, this will save you time, money and frustration.

Be Open About Money

If you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s important to talk openly and honestly about money. Plain and simple.

If you have skeletons in the closet when it comes to your finances or debt, it’s time to come clean. Financial infidelity and miscommunication can lead to money fights and often make the situation worse. Instead, plan money dates and lay it all out on the table. What accounts do you have? How much do you owe independently and as a couple? Although you don’t have to combine debt totals, this is recommended if you’re married or already living together.

It’s also important to discuss how your debt makes each of you feel. From there, you can work on steps to get out of debt and develop better money habits.

Work Together to Make Lifestyle Changes

When you work together as a couple to pay off debt, you shouldn’t view it as his debt or her issue that is hindering you from making progress. Remember: you’re in this together.

If you feel like your partner is a spender, talk to him or her respectfully and suggest some changes you can make as a couple. Maybe you can encourage him or her to start packing lunches to take to work, and you can do the same. Or, instead of going out to dinner and a movie every Friday night, maybe you can get into the habit of cooking dinner at home and going for a bike ride or to a free concert in the park. Odds are, you both may need to improve your money management habits. Why not work on it as a team and support each other?

Jen Hayes, who runs the blog Frugal-Millennial, says it takes teamwork and dedication to pay off debt as a couple. Hayes and her husband started out with $117,000 of debt in 2013 and they’ve already paid off $88,000.

“We both reduced our expenses and increased our income. We cut back on expenses by renting a room from my parents, driving an 18-year-old car, and finding free things to do for fun,” she says.

Hold Each Other Accountable

Paying off debt often takes time and requires sacrifice.

To this end, knowing that you’re not alone can be motivating. For this reason, think of each other as an accountability partner. My husband and I, for example, commit to weekly finance dates. This is a time when we talk about money in our household and discuss our debt repayment progress report. Checking in often reminds us that we need to stay on top of our goals – together.

Find Flexible Ways to Make More Money

When you put your debt balances together, you may be in for sticker shock. But, here’s the good news: your double income can help you pay off this debt faster.

You can also boost your earnings and improve your financial habits. For starters, if you and your partner both work, you’ll already have two incomes to consider when budgeting for debt payments. Then, if one or both of you start bringing in extra money on the side, you’ll likely be able to pay off your accounts even faster. Case in point: both my husband and I have side hustles to generate more money. You can do this too! Whether it’s babysitting, walking dogs, freelancing, or driving for a rideshare company, you just need a few hours each week to earn extra money on the side. You can then throw all of this toward paying off your collective debt.

Do What Works Best for You as a Couple

When asked how she and her husband paid off so much debt in just a few years, Hayes answered with this: “Do what works best for you as a couple.”

For some couples, this may mean moving back in with parents to save money. For others, it may mean cutting out gym memberships or swapping out expensive hobbies for more frugal ones.

While some people insist that all couples have joint bank accounts or weekly budget meetings, every couple is different. At the end of the day, you and your partner have to come up with a money action plan that you can both stick to.

 

How to Plan a Wedding Without Your Bridal Party Going Broke

When I got engaged in 2016, I knew I didn’t want our best friends’ budgets to suffer as a result. I decided to get creative and keep costs as low as possible for my bridal party. Here’s what I learned: With a little bit of research and the ability to think outside the box, the costs for a bridal party member can significantly shrink.

It’s expensive to plan a wedding. It’s also expensive to attend one. Millennials spend an average of $1,532 per destination bachelor party and $1,106 per bachelorette, according to a study by The Knot, a wedding website, and that’s not even for their own wedding — it’s for their friends’ big days. The worst part? Even if the bride and groom plan to keep the party local, bachelor and bachelorette parties are only the beginning. With gifts, wedding day travel expenses, attire and lodging, most bridesmaids spend close to $1,200 per wedding.

As a result of careful and creative planning, most of our bridesmaids and groomsmen spent less than $400 each.

Here’s how we made it happen.

Dresses: $60

Bridesmaid dresses can vary in price, but they typically cost between $100 and $300. To avoid the hefty price tag normally associated with bridesmaids attire, I got creative. I knew I wanted my bridesmaids in long, flowing dresses, but I also knew I didn’t feel comfortable asking my friends to pay $100 or more for a dress for my wedding. The solution? Amazon. I found the exact dresses I wanted on Amazon for a fraction of the price. I selected the color and had my bridesmaids choose the style. The dresses ranged from $40 to $100, and most of my bridesmaids selected dresses that rang in at $60. With free shipping and free returns, the process was simple and quick.

Genius tip: If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Amazon, experiment with bridesmaid dress rentals. Websites like Rent the Runway and Union Station offer dress rentals that start at $50.

Bachelorette Party: $75 to $250

Instead of hopping on a plane or partying for an entire weekend, I decided to keep the bachelorette local and short. Here’s what the day entailed and how much it cost each person: bottomless mimosa brunch ($25), poolside cabana at a local casino resort ($25), downtown dinner ($25). We didn’t splurge on a hotel room or rent a house for the weekend. Instead, we spent the day by the pool at a local casino. The best part? It had a lazy river, three pools and a delicious bottomless mimosa brunch. After the day ended, we drove home, got ready and went to our favorite local restaurant for dinner. It was the perfect end to a fun-filled day with my favorite people.

Three friends traveled from out of town. Only two of those friends had to get on a plane. The price of their flight was $100 round-trip. Once they arrived, they spent the night at our apartment to keep costs down.

Genius tip: Change your perspective and get creative. There’s a good chance brides and grooms from other cities in America travel to your city for their parties. Instead of daydreaming about an expensive and time-consuming trip to a new city, come up with locations for a local party. When I first thought of my bachelorette, I wanted to spend a weekend in Las Vegas, but once I got clear about the parts of Las Vegas I love — bottomless brunches, pool parties, lazy rivers and good food — I realized I didn’t have to travel to a different state to experience them.

Registry gifts: $6 to $100

Wedding registries are fun to create. You walk around the store and scan items you like. The most exciting part? There’s no limit. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of putting together your wedding registry, but it’s more exciting to choose items you’ll actually use.

Before you make your registry and get caught up in the excitement of scanning items or clicking “add” on a website, look at what you already have in your home. When my fiance and I looked at what we had, we realized we needed to replace some basic items we had purchased when we were broke college students. We didn’t need super fancy skillets. We needed plates that weren’t chipped. But even if you do need or want expensive items, it’s important to have less expensive items on your registry as well. The cheapest item on our registry was also one of my favorites: a kitchen towel with a cat on it. The cost? $6.

Despite our best efforts, some wedding costs, like flights and lodging, couldn’t be lowered. Here’s the truth: If members of your wedding party have to travel for the wedding, it’s going to significantly increase their costs. Though we couldn’t help our out-of-town bridal party members secure lower plane tickets or hotel rates, it was nice to know we had done everything we could to be respectful of their time and money.


This article originally appeared on Policygenius

 

5 Tips to Save Money When Someone Else is Paying for Your Wedding

So, your parents or future in-laws offered to pay for your wedding. Consider yourself lucky!

With the average wedding costing over $33,000, according to Business Insider, weddings can certainly put a dent in your wallet. If you don’t have to foot the bill, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Yet, even though someone else is paying for your special day, you should still be mindful of the costs involved and offer to chip in and help your parents save money. Here are 5 ways to save money on your wedding when someone else is paying the tab.

1. Create a Plan

Let’s face it – everyone has different priorities. When your family is paying for part or most of your wedding, you do need to take their opinions into account. After you share your priorities, you can ask your parents to do the same and create a plan from there.

By being honest and open, everyone will be more apt to take each other’s desires into consideration. Plus, once you have laid out your priorities, you can better set a budget that works for both you and your parents.

2. Provide a proposed budget

It’s hard to know what a realistic wedding budget is unless you’re the one planning it. Before you dive head first into planning a wedding with your parents, do some research. Come up with a realistic budget that can work for the both of you.

From the start, a proposed budget can help show your parents the true cost of a wedding. As you walk through the necessary line items, you can then let them know what’s most important to you for your big day. At the same time, you can discuss spending areas where you can cut back if needed.

3. Location

Once you’ve agreed on a budget, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: where will you hold your wedding?

Not only is the wedding venue likely to be one of your biggest expenses, but it is a point of disagreement for many families. Your parents may have a certain venue price-point in mind, but that may not match the vision you have for your big day.

Don’t fret! With a little creativity and compromise, you can score your dream venue at an affordable price. For example, you can look at some less costly venues that don’t come with as many bells and whistles as an expensive hotel. Yet, you may be able to save money and bring in your own special touches, like table linens and centerpieces. You can also look at some out-of-the-box venues on sites like Venues & Vows and Mayflower Venues.

By doing research and asking questions, you can find a venue that fits your budget without sacrificing what you want. Better yet, you’ll find something both you and your parents can agree on.

4. Food

Next to the venue, food is one of the most expensive wedding costs. Depending on your location, a full-service dinner costs an average of $71 per person, according to The Knot’s 2016 Real Wedding Study. If you have 150 guests, that amounts to well over $10,000 just for dinner.

If you are looking to spend less on food, you have a few options. You can consider doing an hors d’oeuvres-only reception, which can save you the cost of a full meal. Or, you can get creative and hire food trucks instead of traditional caterers. Food Truck Invasion states the average cost of food trucks is $10 to $20 per person, which is a far cry from the cost to hire a caterer.

Food isn’t the only hefty cost. Beverages and alcohol will quickly run up your wedding tab. According to The Bridal Association of America, the average open bar package costs $16.50 per guest. If you have 150 guests, that adds up to $2,475. Ouch.

If providing alcohol is important to you, you may want to switch to lower-shelf liquor or provide beer and wine only. You can even try creating a signature cocktail and serve this to all – instead of paying for an open bar.

5. Limit the guest list

The easiest way to save money on your wedding is to have a smaller, more intimate celebration. Having a small wedding, however, can be challenging when your parents are paying. Typically, parents have friends and acquaintances of their own that they would like to invite to your wedding. Adding a few guests here and there can indeed add up quickly.

Your best bet here is to be honest about how many people you would like to invite to your wedding. For budgeting purposes, you need to have a solid idea of the guest count. Once you have your ideal count in mind, talk openly with your parents and ask them if you need to invite anyone not already on your list. If so, add them on as soon as possible. This way, you’ll feel more prepared right from the get-go.

Remember: Squeezing in additional people closer to your wedding date is stressful on everyone, plus it can ruin your budget.

Show gratitude

It’s important to remember that your parents are helping you have the wedding of your dreams. It should be a joyous day.

So, when all is said and done, let your parents know how thankful you are for their emotional and financial assistance. There are endless ways to show gratitude. Perhaps you can make a special toast to them during the reception or give them a thoughtful gift. Whatever you choose to do, be grateful and celebrate.

 

How to Go on a No-Spend Weekend

You probably already know this: it’s a cardinal rule to make a budget and stick to it. During the summer months, however, it’s almost as if the money gods are setting booby traps, divisive schemes, and other prickly obstacles to make it super hard for you stay on course.

Common culprits include getting bitten hard by the FOMO bug, not tracking your spending as closely as you should, or reaching for your credit card for willy-nilly spends. Whatever the reason, summer can bust your budget. This happened to me last summer while taking on a side hustle as a pet sitter in Chicago. While I was saving on big essentials, like housing and transit, I was spending way too much eating out and cavorting around the Windy City. To get back on track with my finances, I went on a no-spend weekend diet.

Here’s how to set yourself straight on a weekend spending fast:

Set Rules Beforehand

Like all challenges, you’ll need to provide some parameters and set rules beforehand. Besides not being able to use any cash, I couldn’t put any charges on my debit or credit cards. Scary, I know. What I could do was stock up on groceries ahead of time, and load up my public transit card to get me through the weekend. I was also allowed to use any gift cards I had lying around.

Exceptions included a true emergency that required tapping in to my emergency fund – such as a trip to the ER, urgent dental work, or a family member who desperately needed a helping hand. If something urgent and unexpected popped up during my spending fast, I could certainly take money out of my bank account.

Check Past Spending Habits

When setting rules for your no-spend weekend, carefully review your transactions from the last few weekends to see what has been gobbling up your money. I noticed that I had been spending more on restaurants and nights out reveling in booze and pinball at the local barcade. My Chicago pals also turned me on to a few killer thrift shops. While it certainly wasn’t an ‘80s style, full-blown shopping spree on Rodeo Drive, all those little purchases were adding up. My frugal self was starting to suffer the consequences.

Prepare to Decline Social Outings

This is probably the toughest part when you’re cutting back on spending: curbing those FOMO feels and the YOLO philosophy to spare your pocketbook. During my no-spend weekend, I skirted going to dinner with pals. Instead, I checked out art shows, where I enjoyed free drinks and snacks, and went to the Farmer’s Market and sampled goodies. When I did decide to go to a bar to meet friends, I first trolled the perimeter of the Pokemon Go Fest grounds for free fun (yes, I’m that person). Once I was inside, I drank water and made it clear that I was on a spending fast. For the most part, my pals understood.

However, after a bit of tugging on my friend Greg Slade’s part, I agreed to join him for dinner. Sitting at a restaurant while my friend noshed on a burger was A-W-K-W-A-R-D. He did insist I have his hot tea and share of fries. That being said, I still felt a bit shameful for mooching.

Be Resourceful

My gut reaction was to stay home and minimize interactions with friends. But, I made a point not to be a hermit during the weekend. I wanted to get out and be my regular social self. In planning my weekend, I scoured listings for art show openings, movies and concerts at the park, readings at jazz nights at the local coffee shop, and free street festivals.

And those gift cards that had sunk to the bottom of my purse finally got some love. I used movie passes, and gift cards to Target and Buffalo Exchange. I did a little happy dance to be rid of those gift cards, at long last.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to live in a major city to have a social life during your spending fast. You can enjoy some nature by way of a hike or bike ride. Or check your city’s calendar of events for some options for free fun.

Try It During the Week First

If attempting a spending fast during the weekend is a bit intimidating, try it during the week. Trying it out midweek is far easier than the weekend for a number or reasons. If you’re a worker bee, you have a routine and structure. Because you’re busier and your schedule is more predictable, it’ll be easier to plan to eat in and refrain from shopping. Plus, you’ll be less tempted to hang out late with friends and spend money.

Know Your Intention

Before committing to a spending fast, it’s also important to know your “why.” In my situation, I wanted to curb my purchases and cut back on eating out. After my no-spend weekend, I committed to dining in more frequently and I quit shopping for the time being. I bought groceries for the week and used up everything I had before heading back to the market. I actually found the challenge to be fun while discovering new ways to get out and about without spending a dime.

Are you ready to try out a spending fast? Just think: by becoming more mindful of your spending, you’ll save money. In my book, that’s a win!

 

Low-Cost Summer Date Ideas

Fact: Dating is expensive. Wining and dining, paying for dating apps and other hidden costs can take a hit on your wallet. If you’re not minding your spending, you may end up on a Tinder date at Taco Bell.

The good news? There are plenty of ways to paint the town red with potential mates during the summer months – without going broke. Here are some of our favorite ways to date on the cheap without skimping on the fun:

Go on a Mission Date

No, we’re not talking about a tour of Junipero Serra’s Catholic historic missions in California. A mission date is when you pick a fun focus for your outing and roll with it. For instance, find the best ice cream in your respective ‘hoods, go on a local tour of book shops, or hunt for the best three dollar taco in town.

Taking the “mission date” one step further, I enjoy a good “mission-based staycation” in the summer. For instance, you can check out the best public pools in Los Angeles, or go on a hike that’s under five miles.

People Watch

This isn’t as creepy as it sounds. Okay, maybe just a little. My friend Andrew Watt, a screenwriter, loves to just grab some coffee on a date and sit on a park bench. It’s quite pleasant to scope out the scene. After all, people watching – or just shooting the hay over some coffee or hot dogs – can help you get to know each other.

Find Free Entertainment in Town

You don’t have to attend an epic music festival like Coachella to have a blast. City-sponsored movies and concerts in the park, street festivals, and free museum days are a plenty in the summer. My partner and I love going to art openings. We can chat it up with interesting folks, and catch up with fellow art scene peeps. Plus, there’s usually free booze and snacks to boot.

You can find listings of such activities by scouring the arts and entertainment section of your favorite online publication. While this may be a tad easier if you live in a bustling city, you can also find free local activities on your city’s website.

Take Advantage of Your Library Perks

Okay, so the library may not be the first thing that pops up when you think of things to do when you’re trying to woo someone. But these days your library isn’t just a place to check out books. Libraries are more like resource centers where you can access loads of free entertainment and even attend interesting lectures.

Namely, your local branch can hook you up with movie streaming services, and sometimes even passes to museums. The Los Angeles Public Library, for example, offers Kanopy, a free movie streaming service, to its card-carrying members. In turn, it’s an inexpensive way to cozy up with your date for a movie night in.

Be Shutterbugs Together

Got a bit of a shutterbug in you? All you need is a bit of imagination and a smartphone. You’ll then be tottering off with your date for a fun outing snapping pics. I’ve had photographer friends take photos of cool patterns and textures for design projects, or scour sites such as Atlas Obscura for new terrain to explore.

Host a Chaos Cooking Party (for Two)

As they say, the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. My fellow freelance writer pal, Louis DeNicola, has hosted chaos cooking parties for his pals. If you’re like me and hate buying a bunch of ingredients for a single meal, shop in your pantry instead. See what kind of dishes you can cobble together from existing foodstuffs in your kitchen.

Have leftover brown rice from last night’s Chinese takeout? Mix it with some eggs and onions, and you’ve got yourself some fried rice. Or, if you have some more exotic ingredients – I have a variety of Indian spices and chickpea flour in my cupboards – you can concoct a unique dish.

Picnic in the Park

Head over to the local sandwich shop or combine the delicacies from your chaos cooking party (see above) into a picnic lunch. Dust off that large blanket that’s been sitting in your closet and enjoy some quality time outdoors. It’s a romantic way to languish on a summer day without having to pay for a pricey meal at a fancy restaurant.

Go on a Rummage Hunt

I love me a good “rummage” date. Not only do you get to bond with someone over cool deals, but you’re also getting some of your shopping done. Whether it’s looking for pieces for an art project, inexpensive frames to spruce up your apartment, or vinyl to add to your record collection, scouring thrift shops, swap meets and yard sales makes for a super inexpensive date.

Play Hooky

While you may not want to go all out and do it Ferris Bueller style and call in sick, you could both schedule a weekday off. You’ll be able to take advantage of happy hours and dining during lunch instead of dinner. There will also be fewer crowds wherever you decide to venture. Plus, there’s the added thrill of having fun while everyone else is slaving away at work.

Pick Your Summertime Fun

Besides helping you save, these low-cost activities can also help you suss out whether your date is cool with your frugal ways. Plus, he or she can flex money-saving muscles as well. And, don’t forget: set aside a budget for love.

 

How to Attend Weddings Without Going Broke

There’s nothing better than knowing your friend has found his or her perfect match. On the other hand, attending the happy couple’s wedding may be costly.

Weddings are notoriously expensive to attend—on average guests spend $177 on gifts and if travel is involved, the cost can skyrocket to upwards of $700. But, here’s the good news: attending your friends’ nuptials doesn’t have to break the bank. With a little creativity and a bit of planning, you’ll be able to attend weddings without worrying about whether you’ll also be able to pay your bills that month.

Here are 5 tips for how to budget for wedding season:

1. Be Picky

There will come a time in your life when it seems like everyone you know is getting married. If your refrigerator is plastered with “save the date” cards, then you’ve entered probably entered this phase of life.

It’s important to remember that this won’t last forever. At the same time, you’ll have to be picky in order to get through the wedding onslaught without going broke. Yup, you’ll need to turn some of those invites down.

When evaluating which weddings to attend, be sure to remember that it’s okay to put your own needs first. For Julia Layton, a 33-year-old YouTuber in Chicago who is documenting her journey out of $132,000 of debt, carefully choosing which weddings to attend has been critical to her debt repayment success.

“The biggest lesson I learned was that I can’t make everyone happy and I need to be my own biggest advocate, especially where my finances are concerned. I’ve stopped going to destination weddings and I also only attend weddings for family and very close friends,” says Layton.

If you know that you can’t attend every wedding, you may need to prioritize – starting with your closest friends and family. For example, if your sister is getting married this year and you can only afford to attend one wedding, then you may have to decline the invitation from that college friend who you haven’t spoken to since graduation.

2. Set an Annual Budget

Budgets sometimes get a bad rap, but when done correctly, budgets create room for more freedom, not less. The best way to prepare for the cost of weddings is to set aside a little bit of money from your paycheck every month. It’s much more difficult to take the $700 required to attend a destination wedding from a single paycheck than it is to save $58 every month for one year.

Follow these steps to create your wedding budget:

  1. Determine how many weddings you will attend each year. If you’re unsure, pick a realistic number, like two.
  2. Figure out if the weddings are likely to be local. It’s much easier to cut costs for local weddings than it is for out-of-town weddings. For destination weddings, budget about $700 per wedding. For local weddings, budget about $200.
  3. Add up your budget and divide it by 12. If you plan to attend one destination wedding and one local wedding in the upcoming year, you would need to save $900, or about $75 per month.
  4. If you end up coming in under budget or not attending as many weddings as planned, you can save the money for next year’s wedding season.

Here’s the good news: it’s never too late to start saving. Even if you have a destination wedding to attend in two months and haven’t saved a dime, you still have two months to prepare, which is infinitely better than no time at all.

3. Get Creative with the Gift

Most guests spend about $200 per wedding gift. Even though it’s nice to be generous, it’s also important to be realistic.

Being realistic doesn’t mean you can’t buy items from the registry, says Rachel Smith, a 24-year old money blogger from Michigan. It simply means that you need to be strategic.

“Stalk their registry. No, seriously. Figure out where they are registered ASAP and make sure to check those websites frequently for coupon codes and flash deals. I have saved between 25 to 35 percent each time doing this, and it’s still the items the couples actually picked out,” says Smith.

If items on the registry are out of your price range, then get creative with the gift and give something meaningful like matching coffee mugs, monogrammed hand towels or a decorative frame with their new last name.

4. Buy One Wedding Outfit (and Wear it Again)

Wedding attire may not sound like a big expense, but wedding guests tend to spend an average of $81 on clothing for each wedding they attend.

Instead, try buying one outfit you love and then wear it again and again. To get the most bang for your buck, be sure to buy an an outfit with solid colors. Solid colored clothing ensures that you can mix and match shoes and accessories to create entirely different looks.

5. Missing the Big Day? Send a Gift or Plan a Post-Wedding Dinner

Whether you miss the big day because of scheduling conflicts or financial constraints, don’t fret. The best thing to do is send a card and gift. The size of the gift depends on your relationship with the bride and groom.

“If you are close but can’t attend the wedding, get a gift that would include some of the costs you’d spend to attend—meaning actually spend a little more (that you would if you aren’t that close to the couple),” says Smith.

If you live in the same city as the couple, you can perhaps plan a celebratory post-wedding dinner. The bride and groom will get to fill you in on all of the details and you’ll be able to celebrate the milestone with them. It’s a win-win.

Remember: Your Budget and Friendships are Bigger than a Single Day

Weddings are exciting, but they are only one day. If you can’t attend the celebration or simply don’t have room in your budget, it’s not the end of the world. Your financial health is more important than a single day and so is your friendship with the bride or groom.

 

Know Your Worth: Personal Finances for the LGBTQIA Community

Did you know that the purchasing power of the LGBTQIA community is almost $1 trillion? Yet at the same time, there are a lot of financial challenges that people in these communities face.

“We often tell people that the fundamentals of money aren’t different for queer people but the nuances and concerns are unique,” says John Schneider, who blogs with his husband David Auten at Debt Free Guys.

“This means that, to the extent that we can, queer people must be more vigilant with our money management, avoid debt as much as possible, diversify income streams, work harder, save and invest more.”

Here at Chime, we’d like to celebrate Pride Month by featuring some of the financial challenges facing the queer community. On that note, we’ve compiled specific steps queer people can take to improve their finances. Take a look:

Start a side hustle

As crazy as it sounds, it’s still legal to fire someone on the basis of their sexual orientation in 28 states. Trans people can even be fired legally on the basis of their gender in 30 states. Even worse, three states (Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) have gone in the complete opposite direction and passed laws banning local anti-discrimination laws from being passed.

While we can work to pressure politicians to change laws, Schneider and Auten also suggest supporting groups like Out Leadership, which promotes LQBT+ people at higher echelons of the private sector. In the meantime, queer people can help buffer themselves against possible job loss (and earn more income) by starting up side hustles.

Start college planning early

“Many queer/gender-non-conforming youth are kicked out of their parents’ house or have to go no-contact with parents that don’t approve of their sexuality or gender expression,” says Lillian Karabaic from the Oh My Dollar podcast/radio show.

“Unfortunately, this means that they often can’t get access to their parents’ income information for the FAFSA,” says Karabaic.

And, because this information is required in order for almost all college students under the age of 24 to receive financial aid or scholarships, many queer young adults end up with substantial student loan debt. In fact, according to a 2018 survey, queer college students graduated with $16,000 more in student loan debt than non-queer people.

What to do? There’s no easy answer but for starters, it’s a good idea for queer people to begin planning for college early.

Learn about healthcare options

We all know that queer people are often systematically discriminated against at their jobs. It turns out that this can come back to haunt you when it comes to healthcare.

“Many same-sex married couples (like many straight couples) rely on one partner’s employer health insurance benefits to cover the other partner and any children,” says Karabaic.

“Unfortunately, this requires folks to disclose their spouse’s gender to their employer, which can result in them getting fired,” she says.

That’s why it’s a good idea for queer people to learn about all the alternatives available to them, such as the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, or community-based support programs.

Make saving for retirement a priority

Most queer people won’t deny that saving for retirement is a priority, according to a 2017 survey. However, for a variety of reasons, it’s harder for most queer people to save as much as the general population.

On average, 40% of the general population has an employer-sponsored retirement account, compared to 35% for LGBT+ people. And, 30% of the general population also has an IRA, while only 18% of LGBT+ people do.

Another factor to consider is that LGBT+ people are more likely to rank themselves as “spenders” rather than “savers” — a factor that comes from data which shows that queer people save 5% less on average than the general population.

Retirement is one of the most difficult things to save for. But if you can prioritize savings and find ways to reach your goals, you can cross retirement worries off of your list.

Financial education is key

Just because someone identifies as queer doesn’t mean she or he will face the same financial challenges as another queer person.

For example, according to one 2009 study, 21% of African-American lesbian couples live in poverty. But if you’re a white lesbian couple? That number drops to just 4%. The bottom line: all queer people face unfair financial challenges in some way or another.

So, if you’re a queer person, you can take action by educating yourself on the particular challenges of your situation and learning how you can counteract it. And, if you’re a straight person, you can help the queer community by listening to what they have to say, supporting political change, and acting as advocates on their behalf. After all, we’re all in this together. By lifting each other up we can all achieve our financial goals, whatever they may be.

 

5 Lesser-Known Ways to Curb Your Spending Habits

It’s easy to fall into a daily routine, even when that means spending more money than you should. Too often than not, however, your little habits add up, taking a big toll on your wallet.

You’re not alone. In fact, Americans lose track of $1,000 a year, according to a survey from Visa. And, you may be losing sight of even more cash by habitual and unnecessary spending habits.

What to do? Take time to check in on your money. This can help you become more cognizant of your everyday spending patterns. To get started, take a look at 5 ways to cut your spending and save more money:

1. Rein in Dining Out

The thought of cooking may make you groan, but your knee-jerk impulse to hit a restaurant over your own kitchen can cost you thousands.

According to the annual Dining Trends study by Zagat, the average diner eats lunch or dinner at a restaurant 4.9 times per week. With restaurant prices rising faster than grocery costs, this hits the wallet hard. Zagat also found that the average cost of dining out is $36.40 per person. Compare that to about five dollars spent on a home cooked meal, according to The Daily Meal.

At the same time, it’s important not to deprive yourself. Going out to eat can be a great source of entertainment. The key here is to reduce the number of times you eat out per week, month and year. The statistics don’t lie: if Americans reduced their dining out frequency by 50%, they could save $4,000 a year.

2. Curb Impulse Clothes Shopping

Sometimes it is hard to pass up that adorable sweater in the shop window. But how much is impulse shopping costing you?

The average American spends $150 a month on clothing. At the same time, The State of Reuse Report found that Americans throw out 81 pounds of clothing a year, 95% of which can be reused or recycled.

So, next time you want to buy new clothes, try focusing on shopping in your own closet, swapping styles with friends, or patronizing your local thrift shop.

3. Check Your Bank Account Balance

Whether or not you maintain a budget, it’s important to always check your bank account balance. This way, you’ll know how much you’re spending on the regular.

Plus, by watching your balance, you’re less likely to overdraft and be hit with ugly bank fees. The average overdraft fee at major banks is $35. Certainly, you don’t want to face this fee simply because you had no idea your bank account was empty.

If you do see fees, you may also want to consider switching to a bank account with zero fees. Chime, for example, is a fee-free bank account that actually helps you save money. Automatic savings programs built into Chime’s service allow you to pay yourself first by transferring a portion of every paycheck directly into savings. Better yet, you can activate Chime’s roundup feature and round up each transaction to the nearest dollar. Your round ups are deposited directly into your Savings Account. And, here’s a pro tip: when your savings account is growing, you’ll be more apt to check your account balance daily.

Another major perk to checking your balance frequently: you’ll become more aware of charges that you can eliminate, like subscriptions. According to McKinsey, over one-third of online shoppers have three or more subscriptions. These include services like Netflix, BirchBox, Dollar Shave Club, and Amazon Subscribe & Save. Oftentimes, subscriptions are priced just low enough that even if you aren’t using them, you forget about the cost. Checking your account, however, may be just the nudge you need to cancel services you don’t use.

4. Get Rid of Your Clutter

According to SpareFoot, personal storage is a $38 billion industry in the United States. In fact, 25% of Americans can’t fit a car in their garage due to clutter, according to Gladiator GarageWorks. Needless to say, our belongings are weighing us down.

To make room for exploding stuff, Americans often spend money on organizing products or even add onto their houses. Instead of spending money, why not earn money by getting rid of your clutter?

When my husband and I went through a minimizing process this winter, we earned money selling things we no longer needed. I didn’t even remember we owned much of the stuff we sold. The purging process was pretty easy. We listed items on websites and apps like LetGo and Facebook Marketplace. Most things sold within a few days and we pocketed $900 in fast cash.

5. Maximize Your Gym Membership

Going to the gym regularly is good for your health. It also makes your gym membership far more valuable.

According to Statistic Brain, the average monthly cost of a gym membership is $58. It may not sound like much, but almost 70% of gym memberships are underutilized or never used. This means you’re likely wasting your money.

So, if you have a gym membership, make sure you actually go to the gym. To remind you of how much you’re paying, figure out how much you pay per day. Then ask your gym how much a day pass costs. Figure out how many days you need to go so that you’re getting your money’s worth. No excuses. If you only go a couple times a month – or not at all – if may be time to cancel your membership and instead try a free workout routine, like those offered by Popsugar Fitness. Now that the weather is nice, you can also try walking 10,000 steps a day, and monitor this on iPhone’s Health app or MyFitnessPal, both free.

Question Your Normal

Breaking long-held habits of any kind is difficult. Yet, being mindful of your money can save you big bucks. With a little discipline, you can change your costly habits and grow your savings. Are you ready to get started?