Tag: Family

 

Halloween Costumes From Your Favorite Books

Do store-bought Halloween costume prices send you screaming in fear? If so, the DIY route might be for you.

By now you may be thinking: How can you scare up a unique and affordable costume? Luckily, we’ve got a bright idea for you: Dress up as your favorite literary figure. This will make you look smart and boost your savings – double win!

Here are 14 affordable, literary-inspired costume ideas, broken down by categories. Book lovers everywhere can now rejoice!

Well-Loved Children’s Books

An excellent children’s book never goes out of style. These kid-lit faves make perfect costume choices:

1. The mouse from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.

This one is easy as the main thing you need to imitate the lovable mouse from Numeroff’s series is a pair of overalls. You can then make mouse ears by gluing grey paper or felt semi-circles to a headband. If you have long hair you can also put your hair into two top buns for ears. Then, make a giant cookie with construction paper or carry around a bag of cookies.

You can also make it a family affair by dressing up as characters from the author’s other books. For example, you can dress as a pig and take along a box of pancake mix, or dress up as a dog carrying donuts.

2. Camilla Cream from A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.

Camilla Cream is plagued with rainbow stripes after trying too hard to fit in with her peers. To create your own Camilla Cream, you’ll need to cover your face, neck, and arms with different colored paint stripes (make sure you get body paint!) From there, wear a black dress or shirt to make your rainbow skin pop.

3. Amelia Bedelia from Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.

If you don’t have a maid’s costume hanging around, a black dress and rectangle-shaped piece of white lace will do. Adorn a black hat with faux daisies and then seal the deal by carrying around a fake chicken or a string of green beans.

4. Harold from Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.

For this easy costume, all you need to do is draw a creative scene with purple marker on a white shirt. Then, walk around holding the purple crayon. Nailed it!

5. Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole.

Ah, Ms. Frizzle: The science teacher we all wish we had! To transform into Ms. Frizzle, all you need to do is tease your hair or wear a big, bright orange wig. Then, pick a science theme and tape pictures relating to that theme to a dress and leggings.

YA Favorites

Young adult books may be promoted as a teenage category, but let’s be honest. You probably geek out on the following characters more than your younger cousins. Take a look:

6. Harry Potter from the namesake Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Did you really think we could put this list together and leave off Harry Potter? The classic circle glasses, lightning scar, and stick wand can all be yours for an affordable price. You can even use a black graduation robe (check the thrift store or borrow one from a recent grad). Voila! You’re Harry Potter!

7. Count Olaf and others from A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

You can expect more love for your Lemony Snicket-inspired costumes this year thanks to the Netflix mini-series. There are so many interesting characters to choose from. For example, slap on a mustache and wrap a stuffed snake around your shoulders to become Uncle Monty.

Of course, Count Olaf provides enough costume ideas himself. For bonus points, don’t forget to sing out: “I’m handsome and I’m talented and love your bank account.”

8. Characters from The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.

Yes, you can become Katniss by rocking a bow and arrow as well as a dress that looks like fire. However, dressing up as Effie Trinket is where the real fun is at. From her ever-changing wigs and outlandish outfits, there are many looks to choose from. May the odds be ever in your favor.

9. Become an Ugly from The Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

For this costume idea, focus your efforts on your makeup with a flash tattoo from the Uglies trilogy. Tally Youngblood’s tattoo may be the most fun to replicate. She has Celtic swirls above her eye.

Adult Books

Love to read? Take a look at a few of our favorite literary costume ideas – inspired by popular adult books.

10. Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

Can you be any cooler than Lisbeth Salander? Luckily you can become her by coloring your hair black (if it’s not already black naturally) and slicking it back. Then, dress in black skinnies and a black jacket, and don’t go light on the fake tattoos, piercings, and metal jewelry.

11. Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Can’t choose between awesome period clothing and zombie makeup? You can have both if you dress as the undead Jane Bennet. Splatter red paint over a white regent-style dress, pin up your hair, and paint on your zombie face. You’re good to go!

12. Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is another classic series with so much costume inspiration to draw from. Frodo Baggins may be the easiest and cheapest to pull off. You’ll need a brown cape, a ring on a chain, and furry feet. For the cape, you can tie brown cloth or a brown towel over your shoulders. For furry feet, glue sections of a wig to flip-flops.

13. Fifty Shades of Grey from the namesake book Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James.

This costume is always good for a laugh. All you have to do is dress in grey tones and attach grey paint swatches to your outfit. Handcuffs are optional.

14. The old man from The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

For this literary-inspired costume, you can take a trip into your dad or grandfather’s closet for some fashion choices. Add a white wig, facial hair and cane. You are now a literary genius. You’re welcome.

Be Inspired by Your Favorite Books

If none of these ideas suit your fancy, then be inspired by your favorite book. Look for ways to dress up as the title character. Or, if the book’s main characters have been overdone, try going for another character. Whatever you do, have fun with it. And, remember: By being a little creative, you’ll save a lot of money. What’s not to like about that? Happy Halloween!

 

14 Part-Time Jobs That Provide Health Insurance

Being self-employed, I’m sensitive to the health insurance dilemma millions of people have to deal with.

My family is getting our coverage through MediShare, a Christian health sharing ministry. It’s working well for us, and I strongly recommend it. But there are other ways to get health insurance coverage, if you aren’t participating in an employer plan, or you can’t afford coverage on the health insurance exchanges.

This strategy might be a solution if you’re:

  • In between jobs
  • Self-employed
  • Or in early retirement (no employer plan, but too young for Medicare)

It’s well worth investigating if you’re in one of those three career categories. It may seem like a less-than-perfect solution for health insurance, but there actually are people getting coverage this way.

14 Part-time Jobs that Provide Health Insurance

I recently came across a great article (from Personal Finance expert Kevin Mercadante): 20 Part-time Jobs with Health Insurance that served as the inspiration for this piece.

This list is current as of June 2018. But please be sure to double check each benefit offer before applying for a job. Employers are particularly fluid when it comes to offering health insurance to their part-time employees.

Some drop coverage or change the terms, while others add it, and it all happens on a pretty regular basis.

1. Starbucks

I’m starting with this one because it’s the most frequently mentioned among any time the topic involves health insurance for part-timers. Starbucks runs largely with part-time workers, and they’ve been providing them with health insurance for years. They do it through their program called Your Special Blend. It’s a benefits package that not only provides health insurance, but also other benefits, including dental and vision.

To qualify, you must work at least 240 hours in a three consecutive month period. That works out to be at least 20 hours per week. Their website confirms they pay 70% of the premiums for their employees, and also cover 100% of preventative medicine.

One of the advantages of Starbucks as a source of group health insurance is that they’re located in virtually every nook and cranny in the United States. That means there may be a job available close to where you live.

2. UPS

This is another company that frequently appears on lists of part-time jobs that provide health insurance. And since it’s a package delivery company, they have locations across the country. UPS is a company well known for providing full-time benefits for their part-time employees.

For union jobs, which likely takes in the vast majority of delivery personnel, you must work at least 400 hours over three months. That works out to be something like 25 hours per week. That will give you full-time benefits.

If you work between 225 and 400 hours over three months, you’ll be eligible for part-time benefits, which includes health insurance. They don’t give details, but it’s likely to be a stripped-down program. Still, you can qualify by working fewer than 15 hours per week.

UPS may not be your first choice if you’re looking for group health insurance coverage. The work is physically challenging, and you have to be there for a minimum of one year to be eligible.

3. Delta Airlines

This one really surprised me, but in a good way. As one of the largest airlines, they operate out of most commercial airports across the country. If you live close to an airport, this could be a serious option. Not only that, working for an airline brings outstanding travel benefits. Delta is also one of those companies where a job that starts out as part time could go full-time, if that’s a consideration.

Delta provides health insurance coverage to part-time employees and their eligible dependents. They offer three different health insurance plans, depending on where you live. They don’t disclose the specifics of the coverage, so you’ll have to do some serious investigating before accepting a part-time job.

4. Southwest Airlines

Delta isn’t the only airline that offers health insurance for its part-time staff. Southwest does too, so it may be a norm in the airline industry.

Like Delta, Southwest is one of the major airlines, and operates at airports across the country. Their website gives no indication of how many hours you need to work to qualify for health insurance, but they do confirm it’s available. Again, make sure you look into the details before applying for a part-time job if health insurance is the main reason for doing so.

And once again, as an airline employee, you’ll enjoy generous travel benefits.

5. Lowe’s

Lowe’s is another company that has locations all across the country. In addition to the fact that they offer health insurance, this could be a real part-time job opportunity for someone with a background or interest in construction, home remodeling, or any of the trades.

Lowe’s health insurance includes prescription drug, dental and vision coverage. Benefits take effect within 31 days of starting, so this can be a real option if you’re looking for coverage fast. Like other companies on this list, they don’t indicate how many hours you need to work to qualify, so you’ll have to do some digging on that front.

Health insurance for part-timers looks like this:

6. Whole Foods

Whole Foods is another company that frequently makes lists of part-time jobs that provide health insurance. The company has nearly 500 stores across 44 states, so there’s an excellent chance there’s a location near you.

According to their website, you’re eligible for benefits if you work at least 20 hours per week, and have completed an undisclosed probationary period. They don’t indicate the specific type of coverage, but it seems to be dependent on location. You’ll have to do some investigating in the store where you apply.

7. Safeway

Safeway is one of the largest grocery store chains in the country. They operate more than 2,200 stores in 33 states. Their website indicates they offer coverage for part employees, but there’s also some indication that it varies by store location. They may offer the benefit in some states, but not in others. Or it may vary from one store to another. They’re a bit sketchy on the details, so once again you’ll have to do some investigating.

8. Costco

Costco is another company that frequently makes these lists. It’s generally nationwide as well, with more than 500 locations in 44 states. Coverage begins the first day of the second month after you’ve completed 450 eligible hours. You’re then required to average at least 23 hours per week to qualify for health insurance. The coverage includes your spouse, children, parents and even grandparents.

9. Citi Bank

It turns out your friendly neighborhood bank may be a prime source of part-time with health insurance. That includes some of the most prominent banks in the country.

Citi offers coverage for part-timers. You have to work a minimum of 20 hours per week, and you become eligible after 90 days of employment.

The downside is that Citi branches are concentrated in the largest metropolitan areas, so they may not be available in smaller cities. If so, try other banks in your area. It seems to be a common practice.

10. JP Morgan Chase

JP Morgan Chase has a health insurance arrangement for part-timers comparable to Citi. You’re required to work at least 20 hours per week, and there’s also a 90 day waiting period.

Plans are provided by CIGNA and United Healthcare, include dental and vision coverage, and are available for family members.

11. SunTrust Bank

SunTrust is a large regional bank, operating more than 1,400 branches in 11 southeastern states. They don’t indicate how many hours are required to get health insurance, but they do offer it to part-timers. They have different plans, and include prescription drug coverage. And as a bank, they also offer a health savings accounts (HSAs) to cover out-of-pocket expenses.

12. REI

If you’re not familiar with REI, there a company that sells sporting goods, camping gear, travel equipment and clothing. They have 154 retail stores in 36 states across the country. And they do offer part-time jobs that provide health insurance.

Their REI Flex Plan provides health insurance for workers averaging 20 or more hours per week. You can choose between several plans, and coverage extends to your dependents. The website indicates they pay most of the premium cost for the plan.

13. Aetna

Large insurance companies may be well worth a look for part-time jobs that provide health insurance. Aetna is an example. They provide health insurance for part-timers who work at least 20 hours per week. That also includes vision and dental coverage, as well as HSAs.

14. Navy Federal Credit Union

The OutOfYourRut list reports that credit unions are common sources of part-time jobs that provide health insurance. I did some light research to see if that’s true, and it absolutely is. In fact, I hit pay dirt on the first search.

Navy Federal Credit Union is the largest credit union in the country, and yes, they provide health insurance for part-timers. They list comprehensive medical coverage, catastrophic coverage and prescription drug benefits, with a choice of either a PPO or HMO, depending on location.

The website doesn’t give details as to how many hours you need to work, but 20 seems to be the standard among credit unions.

Apart from Navy Federal Credit Union, check with any credit union in your area to see if they have part-time jobs that provide health insurance. There’s an excellent chance they will.

Final Thoughts

If none of these tickle your fancy, you should also look into hospitals, county governments and colleges and universities. They commonly offer part-time jobs that provide health insurance.

In fact, it seems there are more part-time jobs with health insurance than we usually think. Check with any competitors of the companies on this list – banks, credit unions, retailers, airlines and insurance companies.

If one major employer in a field offers coverage for part-timers, there’s probably others.

 

9 Financial Empowerment Tips for the Newly Single

Ending a long-term relationship can be a complicated affair. Not only do you have to learn how to be single all over again, you’ve got to tackle all life’s various responsibilities on your own. Taking ownership of your finances as a newly single person can be especially challenging.

“Suddenly finding yourself divorced or single can be overwhelming, particularly if you’ve relied on a dual income and your partner to handle the finances,” Leah Hadley, certified divorce financial analyst and senior financial adviser at Great Lakes Investment Management, says. “You’re in a new place in life, and you’ll probably have a new perspective on what your life and retirement will look like.”

With careful planning and an eye on the details, you can take charge of your money. Here are nine financial empowerment tips for the newly single.

1. Take inventory

First, you should complete a thorough inventory of your finances. This review should include:

  • Accounts: Make a list of each financial account in your name, whether you share it with your ex or not. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, retirement and investment funds and any other accounts that contain liquid assets.
  • Property: Next, list your other assets: cars, your home and valuable property.
  • Cash flow: You need a thorough understanding of your monthly cash flow. Take note of your monthly income and your outgoing expenses, including bills, child support and savings, with the understanding that you may need to adjust your budget.
  • Monthly bills: As you total your monthly expenses, make sure you know what bills you’re still expected to pay post-breakup, and keep track of the due dates so you don’t miss a payment.

“After one has a working understanding of their cash flow, debts and savings, one can develop a strategic plan to work toward increasing savings (personal and investments), decreasing debts and working toward their future goals,” said Margaret M. Koosa, CEO at The Alchemists, Your Wealth Concierge.

2. Create a budget

Now that you know your income and expenses, you can put together a realistic monthly budget. This simple spreadsheet can help.

Account for necessities such as rent, bills and groceries, then prioritize savings. Recreational and discretionary spending should come last. Your budget may be more conservative than you’re used to, but having one and sticking to it will help keep you in good financial health.

3. Split your accounts

During a divorce, splitting up joint accounts is sometimes a legal affair. But when possible, work with your ex to shut down credit cards, bank accounts and utilities. Work on opening up accounts in your name. You may need to establish your own health insurance coverage, utilities and even Netflix account.

4. Understand your divorce decree

If you’re going through a legal separation, your divorce decree will influence how you restructure your finances. For instance, you might have to account for child support or alimony payments in your new budget. Some divorce settlements also mandate an ex-spouse maintain or buy life insurance with the other as their beneficiary. That way, your ex and your shared dependents are protected from the loss of income in the event of your death. Be sure you understand what your settlement requires to set yourself up for financial success.

5. Update beneficiaries

If your divorce decree permits (or you weren’t legally married) and you no longer want your ex as the beneficiary on any of your financial accounts, update that information immediately.

“Newly single people should update their beneficiaries on all of their insurances, financial accounts, estate documents (will, power of attorneys, healthcare proxy, trust), etc. to reflect their post-divorce intentions.”

Keep in mind, there are situations where you might want to keep an ex on a certain account. We mentioned life insurance above, but the same rules generally apply to disability insurance, which protects your income — and your ability to pay child support or alimony — in the event you become too ill or injured to work. Learn more about updating your insurance policies specifically post-divorce.

6. Review tax implications

If you previously filed taxes as a married couple, your tax situation may change dramatically. Filing as a single person might be beneficial, especially if you previously were a dual-income family. But there are many wrinkles, such as if you sold a home or have kids. Review the tax implications of your separation carefully and look into whether you should change the amount of money your employer sets aside from your paycheck for Uncle Sam during the year.

The Internal Revenue Service has a calculator that tells you how much to have withheld from each check based on your filing status, number of dependents and income. Use it as a starting point — and make sure you are extra-diligent at tax time.

7. Reassess your retirement

Because your financial outlook may be very different as a single person, evaluate how you’re preparing for retirement. Without your partner, you may need to adjust your retirement savings to make sure you have enough money in your golden years. It’s never a bad idea to increase your retirement savings for better financial security, especially since there are easy ways to do so in five minutes or less.

8. Check your credit

Divorces and breakups can be hard on your credit. Closing old accounts, applying for new credit cards or loans, and liquidating assets can have major implications for your creditworthiness. Check your credit report periodically to look for unpaid bills that got lost in the shuffle and old accounts you forgot to close. You may even want to make sure your ex isn’t opening accounts in your name.

You can pull your credit reports from the big three credit bureaus for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are numerous websites and credit card issuers that let your monitor your credit score at no charge every month, too.

After the dust settles, you should be able to build strong credit by practicing good financial and debt management habits.

9. Hire a professional

If navigating the waters of personal finance as a newly single person is too overwhelming, you might want to enlist professional help.

“The day-to-day expenses might be overwhelming at first, but thinking ahead is also important,” Hadley says. “Develop a strong partnership with a trusted financial adviser. Knowing that you have someone in your corner who can explain the short and long-term implications of your financial decisions can be a huge asset.”


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.

 

A Point for Buying in the Buy vs. Rent Debate

Buyers and renters have long argued about which housing strategy is best. Buyers love building equity in their homes and the idea of owning an asset, even if that asset comes with a big heap of mortgage debt. Renters, on the other hand, love the freedom that comes with no mortgage, no responsibility (or cost) for repairs, and an option to move without selling. But which really comes out on top when it comes to the dollars and cents? A new report gives us insights into the better financial option when deciding whether to buy or rent your next home. Let’s dive in with a detailed look at when buying makes the most sense and when you might prefer to rent.

The cheapest option: buying a home

A new report from Trulia, the results found that nationwide you are better off buying if you plan to keep a home for at least six years. The July 2018 result found that buyers save 26.3% on average compared to renters. The result actually dropped from the previous period in renting’s favor due to flattening or lower rents in over 80% of the biggest real estate markets.

The savings from renting only vanish in the two most expensive housing markets, San Francisco and San Jose. In The City By the Bay, you save a narrow 5.8% from renting over six years. In Silicon Valley hub San Jose, the savings from renting came in at 12.2% on average. But in those expensive markets, many would-be buyers can’t afford the million dollar price tags Bay Area homes demand anyway. But in the low-cost cities like Detroit, you can save a whopping 48.9% over six years if you choose to buy!

Advantages of buying over renting

Buyers have some compelling reasons to pick ownership over renting. Here are some of the major benefits of buying a home instead of renting:

  • Build equity – While renting, you just pay an expense each month for a place to live. When you buy, a portion of your mortgage payment goes to growing your ownership value in the home. When you move out of an apartment, you get nothing back outside of a deposit return if you are lucky. When you sell a home you own, you get to pull that equity out for a future home purchase or any other use you choose.
  • Control of your home – Do you want to paint a wall red? Do you want to replace an ugly light fixture? If you rent, you might be stuck. If you own, you can do any upgrades you want. And even better, you can build the value of your home when you choose the right upgrades.
  • Capture value from the market – Home prices go up and down, but the general tide takes up them over time. You just might have to wait a while if a bubble bursts for your home value to recover, as we saw in the years following the 2007-2008 housing bubble. But if you own a property and the neighborhood improves, you won’t face eviction. You’ll face a more valuable home.

Of course, there are downsides to buying a home as well. But if you plan to keep the home long enough, the dollars and cents should come out in your favor.

Renting still makes sense for many

If you live in the Bay Area, you may be financially better off renting. Elsewhere, the benefits of renting are more focused on the lifestyle freedoms and low responsibility over a property when you rent. As a renter, you don’t have to budget for repairs or maintenance. That’s all taken care of for you. Further, you are not tied down to the location for the long-run. While you can sell a house at any time, there are real estate agent fees and closing costs, and it takes some time to sell and close.

As a renter, you can just move when your lease ends or as allowed by your rental agreement. You are not tied down to anything, and the only major costs when moving are the moving expenses you would have anyway and a new deposit and first/last month rents. Closing costs for a home can easily reach into the tens of thousands of dollars, so if you plan on moving within a few years renting is the way to go!

Choose the housing option that makes the most sense for you

When it comes to buying versus renting, there is no absolute right or wrong. Like all things in personal finance, the answer is personal. Choose the housing option that makes the most sense for your unique needs. If you do, you should end up with the best long-term results.

 

Managing Your Life Insurance While Self-Employed

Life insurance is an important part of your financial life if you support a family. Primary income earners, caretaking spouses, and other household contributors need life insurance to protect their family from an unexpected loss of income in most cases. Unless you have enough money saved to self-insure, you need life insurance. Follow along with this insurance guide for the self-employed to learn more about getting the right life insurance lined up for your needs, and what to do if you have a little too much.

Getting life insurance while self-employed

Unlike buying a home with a mortgage, getting life insurance while self-employed is a fairly simple and straightforward process. The best place to start is an insurance aggregator that allows you to enter basic personal and health information and get quotes from multiple insurance carriers at once. This helps you save time in research and find the best deal.

Most life insurance is priced at a cost per thousand dollars of coverage, so the amount of insurance you want shouldn’t have too big of an impact on where you get your policy. In most cases, you can complete a basic online application to get the ball rolling on a new insurance policy. Once submitted, you should hear back soon from the insurer to get the next steps in place.

Most insurance companies require a medical exam for coverage. This is a simple and quick process. Mine took about a half hour. In most insurance medical exams, you can expect to answer some questions, provide a blood and urine sample, and submit to a basic physical. This medical exam comes at no cost to you and is usually conducted by a nurse sent to your location. I did my exam at home on a Sunday morning, but there is no reason you can’t do it at work or home during regular business hours if you choose.

Balancing life insurance with costs

If you just type “life insurance” into Google, you will find a wide range of products including term life, whole life, and universal life. Some insurance products are marketed as an investment, but in reality, you are likely best off separating your insurance from your investments. To get the best bang for your buck, that means term life insurance is the best choice.

With term life insurance, you make a relatively small monthly payment for a policy. If you were to pass away during the policy’s term, your beneficiaries will get a payout equal to the policy value. For my $1 million insurance policy, I pay about $78 per month, for example.

Life insurance costs go up with age and risk. If you have health conditions like obesity, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure, you will probably pay more for insurance than a fully healthy person. Rates also go up with dangerous lifestyle choices like rock climbing or flying. To get the best possible rate, you should sign up for insurance as young as possible. I got life insurance about two years before I had my first child.

What to do with life insurance you no longer need

If you are successful in your financial life, you may find yourself at a point in the future where you no longer need life insurance. If you have plenty of savings to cover your family’s needs for a decade or more, this type of insurance is excessive in your case. You reach a point where it is no longer worth the cost. This scenario is most common for successful business owners with $500,000 or more in assets in most cases, if not $1 million+. Your family’s needs depending on many factors including your monthly budget, expected costs for education, and planned costs for medical care in old age.

Many people with term life insurance who find they no longer need it cash out a small value from their insurer or stop paying to effectively end the policy. But that is actually a wasteful decision! Rather than let your policy lapse, you can sell it. In some cases, you can get a big windfall when selling a life insurance policy.

If you have life insurance you no longer need, check out this life insurance calculator to find out what your policy may be worth.

Find the right balance with life insurance

Like most things in life and business, life insurance requires finding the right balance between cost and benefits. Life insurance protects your family from a worst-case scenario, and that’s something you can’t ignore. Following these crucial life insurance steps when self-employed ensure you have enough insurance and don’t pay too much. That’s the secret to life insurance success.


This article originally appeared on Due.com.

 

Budget for Back to School as a Single Parent

As if summer isn’t already expensive for parents given the cost of camp, childcare, activities, and vacations, August can pack a particularly hard punch. This is because we are about to enter the back-to-school season.

The average amount parents spend on school supplies and back-to-school clothes has doubled within the past 10 years and this can pose a strain on single parents with only one income to rely on. If you’re a single parent looking for some hacks to help you budget for back-to-school supplies and clothes, here are some top tips from other parents who have been in your situation.

Start Setting Aside Money Early

Surprise expenses are no fun for anyone, particularly for a single parent.

Capriciana Bush, a single mom of three kids, starts setting aside money a few weeks in advance so back-to-school shopping doesn’t put a huge dent in her budget.

“I usually start budgeting to set aside $20 to $40 per paycheck in June or July so I can be prepared to buy school supplies and clothes,” says Bush.

To help hit her savings goals, Bush automatically saves small amounts per every paycheck. Over time, the money adds up and it’s less stressful than having to deal with a huge bill.

Take Advantage of End of Summer Sales

Timing is everything. While retailers tend to offer some good sales on back-to-school items, clothing can still be expensive regardless of when you purchase the apparel.

Tammy Myers, a single parent of two who works as a nurse, claims that the best time to score deals from retailers is when they’re trying to empty out inventory. She lives in the Midwest where the weather is still pretty warm during the first few weeks of the school year. This allows her to shop the end of summer sales in August instead of buying fall clothes.

“I can usually find outfits for my son to wear for two to five dollars since stores are trying to get rid of summer clothes and push fall clothes for the kids going back to school,” says Myers.

“I found okay deals on clothes during the back to school season, but they are much better after Labor Day or in October.”

Myers also recommends shopping at department store sales and factory outlet stores for good prices on quality brands. If your kids need gym shoes for fall sports for example, an outlet store like Nike or Adidas may have a better deal than regular retail shoe stores, she says.

Shop Used First

This is something I started doing when I was a single parent and I still do it today to save money. If you have younger kids, you too can particularly benefit financially by shopping at thrift stores like Goodwill before going to regular stores.

Over the years, I’ve been able to find quality fall clothing items- some name brands – and it’s helped me save money in the long-run. If you like to shop online, ThredUp is one of my favorite sites to order gently used clothing for cheap.

Pay Attention to Coupons

Even if you start saving up in advance for back-to-school shopping, you’ll still need to shop wisely especially if you’re buying items for more than one child.

Bush shops only at stores that have sales or where she can use coupons to use for supplies and clothes. So, pay attention to those annoying retail commercials at this time of year. You may even get coupons emailed to you or receive offers in the mail. Take advantage of what you need to stretch your dollars.

If you want to save time looking for coupons, consider using money-saving apps and sites like Ebates which is a free site that helps you earn cash-back on online shopping. Ebates also searches for relevant coupons you can use on your purchases. Some other coupon apps I like are Flipp, Cartwheel, and Honey.

Get Your School Supplies Sponsored

Yes, you can definitely get your school supplies sponsored for free. This what Sarah Bettencourt does when it’s time for her son to go back to school.

Bettencourt does social media management and branding work and uses her services to barter for free goods which is pretty genius.

“I partner with local toy stores and makers who can supply me with free school supplies,” Bettencourt says. “It’s typically more unique than normal school supplies but it makes a statement and allows me to get some of our school supplies for free.”

Even if you don’t run a social media business, you can still barter and offer your skills to small business owners in exchange for freebies.

Save Up Gift Cards and Rewards

This is another unique way that Bettencourt uses to lower her out-of-pocket costs for school supplies and stick to her budget.

“Sometimes I save up my Target gift cards from birthdays and utilize those for supplies while doing a little couponing,” she says.

If you receive gift cards or store credits throughout the year, you can always hold onto these things for back-to-school shopping as well. If you earn credit card rewards or cash back, this can also come in handy when supplementing your spending for supplies and clothes.

Attend Free Back-to-School Events

If you’re looking for another way to get free school supplies, you can try attending local back-to-school events in your area.

Organizations and local businesses often sponsor these community events to get everyone excited about the upcoming school year and provide free entertainment, food, and school supplies.

“I went to a free back-to-school event once and got a few free school supply items including a backpack,” Bush says. “The supplies given away at these events are great basic items to start with if you don’t have any school supplies at all.”

Stress Less

This time of year is tough enough for single parents. So, don’t let the back-to-school season overwhelm you.

With a little planning and determination, you can stick to your budget while obtaining all the items your children need for the school year. Plus, with extra creativity, you can save big bucks while maybe even banking some cash.

 

How To Spend $100 On Back-To-School This Year

The average parent will spend around $500 per child of their hard-earned money on back-to-school supplies.

For many parents, this price-tag seems daunting. But here’s the good news: you can still get your kids the school supplies they need without spending anywhere near $500. In fact, with careful planning, you can spend $100 (or less) on back-to-school necessities this year. Take a look at our 5 tips below and start saving money right now.

1. Shop Your Home

Before you even set foot inside a store, take inventory of what you have at home. Do you have binders that are in good shape? Do you have boxes of crayons, markers, or pencils that your child can use instead of new ones? Shop your home first by seeing what supplies you already have available. Then, cross off the items, gather them together, and make a list of all the remaining school supplies that you still need to buy.

2. Buy Only What’s Needed

If you’ve received a list from your school district stating what you need to buy for your child this year, only buy the items on the list. And, unless the list states a specific brand or size, choose the cheapest option available. As long as the particular item will serve its purpose and get your child through the school year, there’s no need to pay extra for the brand name. For example, in the Midwest, Crayola Crayons cost about $4.98 for a pack of 24 crayons. Yet, store brands from Target or Walmart only cost $2.98 for the same 24-pack.

Remember, you only have a $100 budget. If you want to make sure you don’t go over that amount and you’re only buying what you absolutely need, go shopping with only $100 in your checking account (you can always move money to your savings account and then back to your checking account later.). While some banks may charge you for dipping below a certain amount, in your checking account, you can always switch to a no fee bank to avoid that.

If your child needs more crayons (or any other school supplies) throughout the year, purchase them when the time comes. And remember: if you purchase extra items that aren’t on the list provided by your school, they may sit around your house all year. Wasted money.

3. Buy Online

Along with only buying what you need, you can receive significant savings on back-to-school supplies by shopping online. Not only does this save you time, but different stores will typically offer online only deals on school supplies.

Popular stores like Staples, Walmart, Target, and even Amazon will send out emails about back-to-school deals. If you haven’t signed up for these email lists, now is a great time to do this. This way you can get deals delivered right to your email in-box.

Another great reason to shop online for back-to-school supplies is that you’ll often qualify for free shipping straight to your home, or even to your local store if you’d rather pick up there. The items you find and pay for online are still eligible for returns, so there is no risk to you if you choose to shop online for back-to-school supplies. Instead, it’s just another way to save money, time and energy.

4. Use Coupons

If you have to buy brand name items, or if you want to save even more money, coupons, price matching deals, and savings found on apps can shave even more dollars off your back-to-school shopping bill. Almost all major retailers offer price matching, so if you find a product cheaper somewhere else, you can alert the store you’re purchasing from and they will match the price. The major retailers want your business, so don’t be shy. Take advantage of price matching to get the best deal for you.

If you decide to use coupons, remember to read and understand the store’s policy on how you can use your coupons. Each store is different, and it’s better to know the policy up front so you aren’t wasting time later. For example, some stores will not accept a store coupon on top of a manufacturer’s coupon. So, if you have a store coupon and manufacturer coupon for the same item, you may only be able to use one. The bottom line: read the policy, get your coupons in order, and make sure you have everything squared away before using them.

Even if you don’t use price matching or coupons, you can still save money or earn money back through your purchases. Apps and websites such as Ebates, Ibotta, and Checkout 51 all give you cash back for purchasing certain items or shopping at particular retailers. All you have to do is submit your receipt and the cash back or savings is then added to your account.

Also, if you use your Chime Visa® Debit Card, your purchases will round up with each transaction, thus adding more money into your savings account without having to think about it..

5. Check Out Discount Stores

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to check out discount stores or thrift stores. These stores aren’t just for cheap clothing or household items. You can find a plethora of back-to-school supplies for $1 or less. Plus, if your local thrift store offers discount days or extra coupons, you can use those to save even more.

If you decide to shop at a discount store, it’s important to remember that you may not find name brand items. However, if that’s not important to you, a discount store like the Dollar Tree can help you spend just one dollar or less on each item you buy. In other words, if you buy 40 items you may get away with spending only $40, which is well under your new $100 budget for back-to-school supplies.

Don’t Bust Your Back-To-School Budget

While the average parent may spend $500 on back-to-school supplies, you don’t have to spend anywhere close to this much money. It is possible to stick to a $100 budget for your child’s school supplies. All it takes is a little planning and willingness to shop around for the best deals.

 

How to Determine the Budget for Your House

Saving up for a down payment on a house is one of the most important things you can do before starting your house hunt. But even a 20% down payment won’t help you much if your monthly payments on a new house stretch your budget too thin.

This is what is often referred to as house poor and it’s a wise idea to avoid this. So, how do you really know how much house you can comfortably afford to buy? You can start by estimating all of your eventual monthly housing costs, including your mortgage, insurance, taxes, repairs and more.

Read on to learn about the costs involved in buying a house. From there you can best determine what you’ll actually be spending every month.

Principal and interest

This is the basic monthly cost of your mortgage loan, which you pay directly to the lender. This includes your monthly principal as well as any interest that you pay on the life of your loan.

Keep in mind that if you’re making a down payment or have closing costs, the loan amount will be different than the sales price of the home. As an example, let’s say you have your eye on a home with a sales price of $250,000 and can afford a $25,000 down payment.

The closing costs, which are fees and expenses you pay to complete the sale of the home, will be three percent of the sales price or $7,500. You’ll be expected to pay this amount when you close on the sale of your house.

Getting back to the actual mortgage, in this scenario your total loan amount is $225,000. Let’s say you choose a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with a 4.5% interest rate. Using a simple loan calculator, your monthly principal and interest payment would be $1,140.04.

Mortgage insurance

Depending on the type of loan you apply for and the size of your down payment, you may be required to pay mortgage insurance. The beneficiary of the insurance policy is the mortgage lender and this coverage protects the lender if you default on your loan.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s how much mortgage insurance typically costs by loan type and your loan-to-value ratio, which is calculated by taking your total loan amount and dividing it by the value of the home.

 

Loan type Loan to value Mortgage insurance cost
Conventional loan 0% to 19.99% $30 to $70 per month for every $100,000 borrowed
FHA loan All loans Upfront cost at closing of 1.75%; annual cost of 0.45% to 1.05%
USDA loan All loans Upfront cost at closing of 1%; annual cost of 0.35%
VA loan All loans Upfront cost of 1.25% to 3.3%; no annual cost

So, let’s take our previous example to calculate your monthly mortgage insurance costs. You opt for a conventional mortgage, and your loan-to-value ratio is 90%, so you’ll need to pay what’s called private mortgage insurance (PMI). The lender’s insurance company charges $50 per $100,000 borrowed. So, with a $225,000 loan, your monthly PMI bill would be $112.50. This premium will be added to your monthly mortgage payment.

With conventional loans, your PMI requirement will “fall off” your loan automatically once your loan-to-value ratio reaches 78%. That said, you can request to have it removed once your loan to value is 80%.

Homeowners insurance

Once you buy a house, it will likely be the most valuable asset you’ve ever had. As such, you’ll want to insure it against damage, loss and other hazards.

In addition, if you have a mortgage, the lender will require an adequate homeowners insurance policy because it technically owns the property until you pay off the loan. Homeowners insurance costs can vary depending on where you live and other factors. But the average annual premium in the U.S. is $1,083 or $90.25 per month.

Depending on your mortgage lender and situation, you will either pay this directly to the insurance company or to the mortgage company into an escrow account. In an escrow account, your lender collects your monthly insurance premiums and then pays for the insurance on your behalf. By tacking your homeowners insurance premium onto your monthly mortgage payment, it ensures that you don’t accidentally miss a payment and lose your coverage.

Property taxes

State and local government agencies collect property taxes every year based on the value of your home and the property upon which it stands.

Property tax rates not only depend on the state where you live but also your county, township or school district. So, let’s say you live in Arizona, where the average property tax rate is 0.77%. With a home value of $250,000, your property tax bill would be $1,925 annually or $160.42 per month.

Maintenance and repairs

Whether your home is brand new or 100 years old, you can expect to pay for regular maintenance and unexpected repairs. The worst part about this is that there’s no way to know for sure how much these expenses will cost.

For this reason, it’s wise to have an emergency fund with enough money in reserves. Consider opening a separate bank account to keep the money away from your everyday spending. As for how much you should have saved up, experts recommend that you save between one to three percent of the home’s purchase price. If you split the difference and save two percent on a home worth $250,000, that’s $5,000 a year or $416.67 per month.

Calculating your monthly payment

Once you determine the budget for your new home, you’ll have an idea of whether or not you can afford the house you’ve got your eye on.

For that $250,000 home, here’s how the costs add up:

  • Principal and interest: $1,140.04
  • Mortgage insurance: $112.50
  • Homeowners insurance: $90.25
  • Property taxes: $160.42
  • Maintenance and repairs: $416.67

All told, the total monthly budget to afford that house is $1,919.88 — or $1,503.21 if you already have the $400 plus a month saved up in your emergency fund.

So, take a look at your budget before you decide whether you can comfortably afford to buy a particular house – without becoming house poor. If you discover that it’s just too expensive, no worries. You can either keep looking for another other house that fits your budget or continue to save more money for a bigger down payment.

 

5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Buying My First House

When my wife and I bought our first home in September 2017, we made our fair share of mistakes. In hindsight, we should have done some things differently.

The good news: I won’t make the same mistakes again and am grateful that we did make the right choices in some instances. To help you learn from my mistakes as well as my smart money moves, here are 5 things I wish I had known before I started house hunting.

1. A mortgage broker won’t necessarily get you the lowest rate

A mortgage broker acts as a middleman between you and lenders. These brokers compare loan deals with several lenders to find you the best package. They charge a small fee for their efforts.

Since we were new to the game and didn’t feel comfortable doing everything on our own, we found a mortgage broker. He came highly recommended, and we were excited to work with him. Yet, when we were under contract for a house, I wasn’t impressed by the interest rate the broker was offering from one lender. I figured that this was a result of our low down payment —  just three percent at the time.

But when that deal fell through, we decided to build a house and had time to build up a 10% down payment in our savings account. Even better: the home builder told us that if we got our mortgage through one of their partner lenders, the builder would pay our closing costs. When we told our broker about the offer, he told us that was a common tactic by home builders and that we’d end up with a higher interest rate.

Not the case. In fact, the builder’s partner lender offered us a better interest rate than the broker. We gave the broker an opportunity to match or beat the rate, but he was unable to do so.

The bottom line: a mortgage broker won’t always get you the best interest rate. Do your research and explore all options before settling upon a mortgage.

2. Your emotions can work against your best interests

Once we signed an initial contract on the first home we fell in love with, we hired a home inspector to see if there were any major problems with the house.

The results of the inspection were overwhelming:

  • We would need to replace half of the roof.
  • We needed a new water heater.
  • The water pipes were cracking and the entire system needed to be replaced.
  • There was water damage in one of the bedrooms from a window leak.

To fix all of the issues, we were looking at $20,000 out of pocket, and the seller offered just $500. Yet, I loved the house and I wanted to make the repairs. I had to step back and detach emotionally. From that point, I realized this house was looking like a money pit.

The bottom line: don’t let your emotions rule as you may end up regretting your choice. Luckily, we got out before it was too late.

3. Your monthly payment is a lot more than your mortgage

Your monthly housing payment is a lot higher than your mortgage payment alone. Here are the main elements of a monthly housing payment:

  • Principal and interest: This amount goes toward paying off the mortgage loan.
  • Private mortgage insurance: You will pay this if your down payment is less than 20% on a conventional loan. You can, however, request to have it removed once your loan amount is 80% of the value of the house.
  • Homeowners insurance: This coverage protects you against damage and theft. We pay monthly into an escrow account, and the lender makes our premium payment for us annually.
  • Property taxes: These are due annually, but your lender may require you to pay a monthly portion into an escrow account.
  • Maintenance and repairs: Our home is only nine months old, and we’ve already spent money out of pocket for maintenance and repairs. To avoid any nasty surprises, real estate experts recommend saving between one percent and three percent of the home’s value each year. This way, you’ll be able to pay for those unexpected home repairs. .

When we received the final disclosure that broke down our monthly payment, it was higher than I anticipated. Yet, if we knew what the house would cost us each month from the beginning, we may have lowered our house budget even more to make more room for other things in our budget.

The bottom line: make sure you factor in the total monthly cost of owning that house. This will give you a true sense of what you can afford.

4. Your first home is never going to be perfect

After months of checking out existing homes, my wife and I were disappointed that we couldn’t find one without problems. Ultimately, we decided to build a new home.

Brand new homes, however, are not perfect and you may still have to pay for repairs or deal with issues – even in your first year in the house. For example, the insulation subcontractor didn’t blow any insulation above my kids’ rooms in the attic, and the builder made some major blunders with the landscaping that took months to fix.

Because we thought we were avoiding all of these problems by building a home from scratch, it’s been a frustrating experience.

The bottom line: be realistic and save your pennies. No house is problem-free.

5. Get everything in writing

During the building process, the construction manager for our home promised us some things that he didn’t deliver on. When we tried to get the builder to make good on the promises, he refused.

The bottom line: get everything in writing, even minor things. This will help keep the builder, seller and others accountable. After all, buying your first home is likely the biggest financial decision you’ll ever make, so take as much control of the process as you can.

The final word

While we made some mistakes buying our first home, we also learned from our experience.

When it comes time for you to buy a house, make sure you take the time to set realistic expectations and budget wisely. This will help you enjoy your new home without second-guessing yourself at every turn.

 

How We Saved BIG Buying Our First Home

Buying a house is a symbol of the American Dream, but it can also easily become the American Nightmare if you’re not financially prepared.

My husband and I bought our first home in May and we took all the steps needed to make this an enjoyable experience. We also didn’t want to go broke in the process. It was our goal to buy a house with a  mortgage payment we can afford. More importantly, we still wanted to enjoy our lives, travel, and continue to save money.

Here are a few ways we saved big as first-time home buyers. Better yet, we’re not house poor.

We Got a Fixed-Rate Conventional Loan

There are many different types of mortgages. We went for a conventional loan with a fixed interest rate.

Why? As mortgage interest rates are now low, we wanted to lock in the best rate possible to ensure that we have fixed payments every month.

Another reason why we chose a conventional loan was because we wanted to make a sizeable down payment and knew we would not have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) if we could pony up 20% of the cost of the house. A general rule of thumb is to put at least 20% down to avoid paying PMI. But, if you can’t do this, a conventional loan allows you to get rid of your PMI payment once you have 20% equity in your home – even if you couldn’t initially afford a hefty down payment.

We Improved Our Credit

My husband and I started working on improving our credit two years before we applied for a mortgage. We paid off debt, used credit cards wisely, and corrected any errors on our credit reports.

We focused on developing better spending habits and paying bills on time. By the time we got pre-approved and started looking for houses, both of our credit scores were over 750.

Because lenders look at credit scores for co-borrowers, they will often take the lowest score into account. Yet, neither of us wanted to be the weakest link. Plus, since both of us had such strong credit scores, we secured the best interest rate for our mortgage. This will save us thousands of dollars over time.

Our House Was Move-in Ready

Buying a move-in ready house was super important to me. My husband and I are not handy and we wanted something we would not have to completely renovate.

Our home was the perfect compromise. It was listed at a price that was at least $15,000 less than other homes in the area, was moderately maintained and had some good bones. The kitchen was updated along with one of the bathrooms. The roof was new, the HVAC system was in good shape and there was even a new deck in the backyard. Another bonus: a sprinkler system was recently installed. We definitely didn’t need to invest anywhere near $15,000 into the house. The only thing I really wanted to do immediately was hire a cleaning service and replace all the carpeting with laminate flooring. No big deal.

The best part: we didn’t have to spend extra money on hotels or stay with family while having major work done to the house.

We Bought Almost Everything Used

To save a ton of money when buying our house, we purchased used furniture. We also budgeted to buy stuff for the new house – using only the cash we had available in our bank account.

I found most of what I needed on the Facebook Marketplace. Among my bargain buys: a glass table with six chairs, a sectional sofa, an indoor storage bench, a patio table, and a wicker loveseat for the patio. Total cost: under $1,000. Can’t beat that price.

Our Sellers Purchased a Warranty

The sellers of our new house were kind enough to purchase a 13-month warranty that we can use if certain things in the home need repair. Because our house was built in the 60s, something is bound to need fixing.

Among other things, the warranty covers electrical work, plumbing and HVAC repairs. All we need to do is pay a service fee for a contractor to come out to either fix the issue or replace the item.

We’re DIYing like Crazy

Finally, we DIYed a lot to save money. As first time home buyers, we enjoy working on projects together and learning new skills. For example, I installed a backsplash and my husband sanded drywall in our second bathroom.

We’re even getting the family involved. My dad installed our flooring and window treatments, saving us the cost of hiring contractors to do this.

Final Word

Buying a home is a huge financial commitment. But, if you plan ahead you don’t have to go completely broke in order to achieve the American Dream. By taking a page from my book, you too can take steps to save money, pay down debt and become a homeowner.

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