Tag: Money Saving Tips


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.


We Asked College Aid Experts How to Pay for School

While it’s hard to deny the value of a college education, rising costs have made it harder for students to afford their degrees. Average tuition at public, four-year schools surged to $9,970 for the 2017-18 school year and those costs rise to $20,770 per year when you add room and board, according to the College Board. A private school or an advanced degree, will cost you even more.

With these figures in mind, it’s important to know you don’t have to follow the crowd when it comes to earning a degree. You can plot a different path by looking for ways to reduce the cost of admission or by attending a different school.

Many college aid professionals and counselors wish you would consider alternative options. When it comes to paying for college, here’s what the experts have to say.

Pricey schools don’t always pay off

Ben Luthi, college expert for Student Loan Hero, says you can get a quality education without paying a premium. To accomplish this goal, you may have to consider a different school than the one you want to attend.

“The name of your school might help you get your first job, but it likely won’t matter for the rest of your career,” he said. That’s why you should make sure you include more affordable schools in your college search.

“And if you’re already in school and you’re overwhelmed with the cost, consider transferring. I’ve worked with countless people who went to colleges that I’ve never heard of,” he said.

Joe Orsolini, who serves as president of College Aid Planners, says many students and parents get hung up on college rankings or where a school lands on a best-of list. As a result, they make poor decisions regarding their undergraduate education.

“The reality is that nobody cares where you got your undergraduate degree,” he said. “Do you know where your doctor earned their undergraduate degree?” Probably not.

Focus on your return on investment

Robert Farrington, founder of The College Investor, says too many people think of college as a time to find themselves without thinking of the long-term consequences of their student debt.

“Students need to think of college as an investment, and so they need to focus on the ROI of that investment,” he said. “Why are they going to college? What will it cost? What can they expect to make after graduation in their first job? Based on those answers, students can get a good glimpse of their potential ROI.”

When you focus on your return on investment and think of college as a business transaction, you can avoid borrowing too much to pursue a degree that won’t pay off. Farrington suggests making sure you never borrow more in student loans than you can earn in your first year after graduation.

“That will allow you to realize an ROI on your education and keep your student loan debt at a manageable level,” he said.

You can save if you don’t live on campus

Debbie Schwartz, founder of Road2College.com, says students who have the option to live off campus or at home should consider it (just remember you’ll need renters insurance if you live in an apartment).

“In many cases, room and board can be more expensive than tuition,” she said. If you can live with your parents or another family member or share an inexpensive apartment or house with other students, you can reduce the amount of cash you need to borrow for school.

Take the right courses in high school

Kathy Hart, a California-based scholarship consultant and college coach, says many students assume harder courses will help them get into college. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

“Take classes in high school that allow you to be successful,” she said. In other words, don’t fall victim to the pressure of having to take Advanced Placement coursework if you know if you can’t earn an A. If you can’t, an AP class could hurt your chances of getting into the school you want.

Apply early for scholarships

Jocelyn Paonita Pearson, scholarship expert and founder of The Scholarship System, believes all students can secure scholarships. She also believes they should start searching for grants as early as sophomore or junior year in high school and apply for every scholarship for which they qualify.

“Despite the majority of stories we hear, there are many students out there that manage to graduate debt-free,” she said. The key to earning scholarships is taking the time to find them and applying, and unfortunately this can require a big investment of time and effort.

Pam Andrews, college admissions coach for The Scholarship Shark, says it’s important to think about other types of aid as well – including federal or state grants and merit scholarships. Merit aid can be especially lucrative if you have excellent grades.

“Know what the college offers in merit aid, how you can qualify for it and what it takes to maintain it,” she said. “It is also important to know the application deadlines to apply for merit aid. Sometimes those deadlines are before a college’s application for admissions deadlines.”

Never assume you won’t qualify for a scholarship. Andrews says it’s important to approach the scholarship system with an open mind and without any limiting beliefs.

“If you don’t feel like you can succeed then you’re less likely to act or even think about acting,” she said. “Having the right attitude towards winning scholarships is the first step because it then moves the student to take action.”

Tuition may keep rising, but some states and colleges have made tuition free. Here’s where.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.


4 Things to Look for in a Mate to Get Aligned with Money

If I asked you what kind of person you’d like to spend your life with, you’d probably say you’re looking for someone who is attractive, funny, smart and well-traveled. One last thing: he or she should also have a great job.

But, even if your perfect mate seems to check all your boxes, you still should dive a little deeper by considering the unsexy, real life stuff. For example, you should take into account how your prospective partner handles money. Is he or she a spender or a saver? Does she use a bank that doesn’t charge fees? Does he pay his bills on time or readily use money-saving apps?

While money is often a taboo topic when you’re dating, it’s an important part of the potential mate portfolio. In fact, money is the No. 2 cause of divorce, according to Marriage.com.

“Couples fight over different money habits because there are fundamental differences in their value systems,” says Yulin Lee, Founder of Project M: Mind and Money.

Want to know how financially savvy your mate is – before you say I do? Here are 4 indicators that will give you a glimpse into your partner’s money habits.

1. Your mate has goals

You’ve probably read inspiring stories about people who embrace FIRE (financial independence retire early) and as a result of their smart money decisions, they’re able to travel the world, volunteer, and write books about it.

These people all have one thing in common: they have goals – meaning they have hopes and dreams of achieving more in their lives. Hopefully, your mate has goals and strives hard to achieve them as well.

So, ask the hard questions before saying “I do” and open up about short and long-term goals. Do you want to retire by the age of 45? Does your mate want to start a business someday? Lay it all out on the table.

2. Your mate has awesome communication skills

Poor communication skills ranked No. 3 in the Marriage.com list for why people divorce.

When you have open lines of communication, this brings you closer to your mate, according to marriage expert John Gottman.

So, sit down with your partner and discuss what’s important – to both of you. This will help you define shared values and build a solid foundation together.

3. Your mate has the money basics down

An important indicator of how your partner handles his finances will boil down to how much (or little) money he saves. While every situation is different, you should strive to save for these two key goals:

  • Emergencies and unexpected expenses. Indeed, it’s key to have an emergency savings account.
  • Retirement. If you want to enjoy your golden years and have enough money to live comfortably and pay your bills, start saving and growing your retirement fund – now.

As your relationship with your beau becomes more serious, you should also get the scoop on more detailed financial factors such as:

  • Budget: Does your mate have one and actually stick to it?
  • Credit score: What is it? High, low or somewhere in the middle?
  • Overall debt: Does your partner have student loans, mortgages and credit card debt? If so, how much?

Understanding how your partner saves, spends and budgets will help you both work towards joint financial goals.

4. Your mate aligns money with values

Value-based spending is a great way to get aligned with your money. Why? This gives you a deeper sense of meaning as you’ll be saving or spending your money based on what’s important to you.

For example, if sustainability and recycling is a way of life for you, perhaps you only shop for clothing at thrift stores or consignment shops. Or, perhaps you value outdoor activities and limit your TV and movie expenses to free up funds to travel to national parks. Pro tip: if your mate does this, she’s a keeper.

The key here is to figure out whether you and your mate value the same things, as this will make it easier to align your spending habits. Once you’ve aligned your money with your values, it’s time to establish a routine. As a starting point, establish a budget and follow up with it each month, says Lee of Project M: Mind and Money.

“Schedule it on the calendar so it doesn’t fall through the cracks when life gets busy. Set specific saving goals, and a plan for how to invest them. Tie a reward to the goals to keep the motivation going because human beings don’t always respond well to long term benefits,” says Lee.

Opposites Don’t Attract

Perhaps certain pairings make sense: introverts and extroverts, tall and short, drinker and designated driver. But, when it comes to money, couples need to be on the same page.

It’s hard to imagine a big spender and frugal person living together blissfully. Maybe there are exceptions, but that’s probably because they communicate often and compromise to make it work. But, for the most part, the way you manage your finances is a clear view into how you lead your life.

Money is unavoidable – you need it for just about everything. So, think about your spending habits and those of your partner. Work together to align your spending and savings goals. For example, maybe you want to align your desire for more freedom to travel and don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck. If your mate also feels this way, together you can create a money plan and budget that reflects these goals.

“A mutual understanding of each other’s past and a shared vision for the future are the key foundations for creating financial success together,” says Lee.


Grocery Hacks: 7 Ways to Save Money at a Farmers Market

Farmers markets have a reputation for being expensive. A lot of the items for sale are typically organic and local, meaning vendors can demand a premium for them. But there are some tricks to saving a bit of money at farmers markets, just like there are tricks for saving money at a grocery store. Here are seven things you can try next weekend.

1. Go late

Heading to the farmers market early in the morning will get you the best pick of everything the vendors have to offer, just like an early trip to the grocery store. But unlike the grocery store, if you wait until an hour or so before the market closes, you have a better chance of getting some good deals on the produce and other items the vendors don’t want to pack up and take home. If they don’t offer you a discount, hold off, circle the stalls and try again just before they pack up. You can often cut your costs in half.

2. Ask for discounts

If it’s getting close to the time they pack up and they haven’t offered you a discounted price, go ahead and make them a lower offer. If the tomatoes are marked as $4, it’s easy to say “I’ll take those off your hands for $2.50 so you don’t have to pack them up.” You’re not exactly asking for a discount, and chances are they’ll take your offer or counter it.

3. Get to know the vendors

Going to the market late also gives you a chance to chat a little more with the vendors since most people have already come and gone. Ask about their operations, what if any special products they’ll have in the coming weeks. The more often you visit (and the better they recognize you) the better your chances for scoring a discount or some little extras. Also be sure to ask whether they allow visitors at the farm (or where they produce their candles, jams, etc.).

4. Visit the farms

If they do allow visits, take some time to go on a tour. It can be a fun family outing, especially if you take a picnic (or if they offer foods at the farm) and make a day of it. Be sure to mention you found them at your local market and name the person you spoke with there. It’s all about making a personal connection that could lead to specials, discounts and even freebies. (Speaking of which, we’ve rounded up some of the best summer freebies here.)

5. Buy the ‘ugly’ food

Are the greens wilted from sitting in the summer heat? See if you can talk the vendor down. Are the peaches a little beat up? Ditto. Gravitate toward produce you’ll need to use that day and see if you can get it for cheaper than it’s marked.

6. Avoid the extras

Sure, there are tempting nibbly bits and drinks at the farmers market. Sometimes there are even lovely handmade products, but these artisanal items tend to come at a greater cost than you can find elsewhere. And you can bring your own snacks and a water bottle if you think you’ll get hungry and thirsty. Stick to the fresh food items if you’re serious about saving money.

7. Take cash

Farmers markets vendors are more and more likely to accept credit cards these days, thanks to the mobile technology that makes it easy for them, but it still costs them to do so and they may pass that cost on to you. Take cash and be sure and ask if there’s a discount for paying with it. They may not offer the small price drop if you don’t ask.

If organic and artisanal foods are your fav — but hard on your budget — we’ve got some hacks for saving at Whole Foods, post-Amazon acquisition editionhere.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.


Behavioral Hacks and the Gig Economy: 4 Tactics for Financial Wellness

When it comes to finances, freelancers and other gig economy workers have it tough. Not only do we struggle with unpredictable cash flow, but we also have to deal with our own benefits and insurance.

Yet, while it may be stressful at times, there are things you can do to modify your money habits and boost your financial wellness.

Behavioral science, or the study of why humans and animals do what they do, can help us better understand our behaviors and how they play into our money matters. Take a look at Common Cents. A financial research lab at Duke University, Common Cents conducts in-depth studies to help low- and moderate-income households in the U.S. achieve financial wellness. From their research, they’ve garnered some insights into behavioral science and financial health. For instance, you can use a money-saving app to meet your financial goals.

Here are 4 other ways you can change your behaviors to help you slay your money woes.

1. Label Your Savings Accounts

This may seem like a minor thing, but behavioral research reveals that simply labeling a savings account increased total deposits in Ghana by 31.2 percent – after only nine months.

Why not try this? Just coming up with simple labels for your savings accounts can help boost your savings. For example, I have labels for my specific accounts for self-employed taxes and emergency savings. I also have a gift fund, “fun” fund, art fund (to buy and make art stuff), retirement fund, and more recently, a house fund. This helps me stay motivated.

Here’s another tip: you can have fun with your labels to remind you of saving for things that matter to you. When I was younger, I used silly labels for my savings accounts, like ‘Buddha Statue Fund” and “Guinea Pig Fun House” fund. That bit of silliness made saving money more enjoyable.

2. Match Payment Dates with Paychecks

Research suggests that most people pay their bills when the paychecks roll in. Then, they spend the rest of their money right up until the next payday. Yet, this isn’t so easy when you’re a gig economy worker. Why? If you’re in this boat, you likely get paid different amounts at different times from various clients. (Cue #facepalm.)

To help you pay your rent and bills on time, try assigning paychecks to specific bills. For instance, you can earmark money from your biggest retainer client toward your rent, student debt and credit card bill. The smaller amounts that you receive at random times? This can go toward your savings and discretionary spending. Or, if you’re a Chime Member and enrolled in direct deposit, you can get paid up to two days early. Score!

If you’re a part-time gigger, use the money from your main 9-to-5 job toward rent and bills. And try putting the essentials on autopay. The Common Cents report found that millennials were about 10 percent more satisfied with recurring transactions than non-recurring ones.

3. Add Friction in the Right Places

From a consumer psychology standpoint, friction is anything that makes it harder for someone to spend money. That’s why retailers do all they can to make shopping – both in stores and online – as painless and quick as possible. To get you to spend more, retailers remove these points of friction. For instance, a point of friction while shopping in a store is having trouble locating an item. After scouring the aisles, you may get frustrated and leave without buying anything. So, retailers do all they can to make it easy for you to locate things and drop them in your shopping cart.

To make it hard for you to spend those hard-earned dollars, try adding in your own friction. Want to keep a healthy reserve for your emergency fund? Sock it away in a separate account. Out of sight, out of mind. And, if you’re wary about spending too much on happy hour and meals out, try setting aside a certain amount each week toward discretionary spending. Then, spend only this amount on your dining out.

4. Automate, Automate, Automate

While you should squirrel away some of your income, doing so can be mentally taxing. Add to that deciding how much to save and this can induce anxiety. Once you finally settle upon the amount to save, you’ll then have to figure out how to transfer money between accounts. We’ve all been there.

Auto-save to the rescue.

Automating your savings is one of the most painless ways to save money. Why? Well, for starters, the weight of decision-making doesn’t fall in your hands. And, because it’s all done automatically, you’re much more likely to actually save.

According to the 2017 Common Cents Lab Annual Report, automatic savings aren’t mentally accounted for as earnings. “Automatic withdrawal for savings has such a powerful effect that people can forget that the money was even earned. As a result, they don’t mentally account for this money as part of their paycheck,” stated the report. Plus, when the “opt-in” is the default, versus the “opt-out”, people tend to save more.

The bottom line: if you can automate your savings, you should do it. Even if you don’t have a lot of extra cash on hand, start with just a few bucks each week. Chances are that you won’t even miss it. I remember starting out by saving $20 every week. That’s five coffees or two lunches during the week. While I didn’t miss spending that dough on everyday expenditures, after a year I was $1,040 richer. That’s a thousand bucks I could use toward a fun vacay, getting a tech upgrade, or holiday spending.

Small Changes Lead to Big Wins

Indeed, insights from the eye-opening field of behavioral economics can help you boost your financial health. And, if you’re a freelancer working in the gig economy, you can start improving your own financial habits by adopting the 4 steps here. Before long, you’ll be hitting your money goals and bulking up your savings account!


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.


America’s Most Expensive Cities: How to Save on Rent in Atlanta

Welcome to Expensive Cities, a new series designed to help renters find affordable apartments in the nation’s most unaffordable metros.

If you’re mulling a move to the Atlanta, you might find a quick perusal of its apartment listings disheartening. Luxury-priced listings abound, thanks to the hordes of construction crews putting up new complexes all over the city. But where are the reasonably-priced apartments for average working Joes and Janes?

The sad fact is, there is indeed a dearth of affordable apartments in booming Atlanta.

“Atlanta’s rents are quickly on the rise,” Joshua Clark, an economist at HotPads, an apartment search site that is part of Zillow Group, says. “While the area is still more affordable than San Francisco or San Jose, rents are appreciating faster in Atlanta right now than in either of those notoriously competitive, expensive markets.”

How much does renting cost in Atlanta?

Median rent in Atlanta climbed 8.1% in the past year to $1,460 for a one-bedroom apartment, and the city ranks No. 15 among the most expensive U.S. markets for renters, according to Zumper, an apartment search site.

In Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood, where large swaths of Peachtree Street have been transformed by large residential and office developments in the past three years, apartments rent for substantially more, around $1,800 to $2,200 a month. Old Fourth Ward in the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic District — where you can sample South African-style beef jerky and 1960s craft cocktails in the food hall at Ponce City Market — costs renters about $1,500 to $1,800 per month for a one-bedroom unit, according to Danny Sirikoun, Zumper’s Atlanta market specialist.

Why is the rent in Atlanta so high?

Rapid job growth in the nation’s third-fastest growing metro helped attract nearly 90,000 new people to Atlanta, causing furious demand for apartments. Many came for entertainment industry jobs. Atlanta has become the third-biggest hub for the film industry, after Los Angeles and New York, producing blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things”.

“Given that so many new rental listings have become available in the past year, and rent growth still hasn’t let up, it’s clear that the city is still seeing high demand,” Clark says.

How to find affordable rent in Atlanta

Despite the general upward price trend, budget-minded renters can still find some relatively well-priced apartments, both inside the perimeter (ITP) of Interstate-285 and outside (OTP). Check out these up-and-coming neighborhoods with lots of exposure to the ATL’s most exciting offerings that still tout affordable rents.

1. For proximity to everything, look at West Midtown

Love the museums and fancy shops of Midtown, but found the area too pricey? Consider bustling West Midtown, the neighborhood right next door to Georgia Tech. Average rents around there are $200 to $300 dollars cheaper than rents for comparable apartments in Midtown proper. You can find a studio for around $1,100 and for a one-bedroom you’ll pay around $1,300 to $1,500.

“That’s pretty cheap, considering its proximity to everything,” says Sirikoun.

In recent years, this former industrial neighborhood has seen its old warehouses rapidly converted to trendy urban lofts, galleries and live music venues. It is also easily accessible to the Westside BeltLine, a new walking and biking trail that showcases public art exhibits and links intown neighborhoods.

“People are starting to flock to Westside Provisions and Marietta Street for nightlife, restaurants and boutiques,” Sirikoun says.

2. An alternative booming area? Smyrna

An OTP alternative that offers a good lifestyle on a budget is Smyrna, or “Jonquil City,” which is about ten miles northwest of Atlanta and considered an integral part to its metro area. Smyrna is best for those who want a family-friendly community with a village-within-a-city feeling, along with easy access to downtown Atlanta.

Smyrna has boomed recently after the Atlanta Braves built their new stadium, SunTrust Park, in the area. The project included the development of a new entertainment district The Battery Atlanta, with shopping, restaurants and bars.

“It’s only a ten-minute drive into the city, which makes it popular with out-of-towners looking for a place that is affordable,” says Sirikoun.

One-bedroom apartments in older buildings start at around $900 a month, while those in new developments go all the way up to $1,500.

“The average is more on the low end of the spectrum, around $1,000 to $1,100 for a one-bedroom,” says Sirikoun.

3. Bonus tip: Budget for higher rents if you own a pet

Atlanta is famously dog-friendly. You’re fine to bring your animal companion along on your Home Depot errands or to brunch al fresco at many Atlanta restaurants. When it comes to renting an apartment, most Atlanta landlords happily welcome your furry friends — albeit for a price. (Note: You might pay more renters insurance, too. We can help you compare renters insurance quotes here.)

“Most, if not all, landlords allow dogs, with a certain pet fee, plus ‘pet rent’ per month,” Sirikoun says. “Aggressive breeds are not allowed in most, and weight restrictions are imposed as well. As a financially-responsible mom or dad, you’d be wise to budget an additional $300 to $500 per pet at move-in time, plus about $10 to $15 a month extra in pet rent.”

What cities have the savviest renters? Check out the Policygenius Renters Index to find out.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com


5 Financial Moves to Make Before You Go House Hunting

So, you’ve been poking around at houses. You’ve found the neighborhood of your dreams and you’re ready to say “sayonara” to your grouchy landlord.

Yet, moving out of your apartment and buying a house isn’t as easy as it sounds. While you may be mentally ready to make the leap, you also need to be financially prepared. This means you’ll need enough savings for a down payment and a strong credit score – especially as we are in seller’s market.

In a seller’s market, homes sell at an accelerated rate, at higher prices – often after bidding wars. According to Realtor,com, homes are selling 10 percent faster and for nine percent more money than at this time last year. If you’re a first-time house hunter and you aren’t prepared, you may end up losing out on house after house.

Sounds stressful, right? Luckily, we’re here to help with 5 ways to prepare for house hunting. Take a look:

1. Get Pre-Qualified

Pre-qualification for a mortgage is a quick and free process that can be done online or in-person with a lender. In the pre-qualification process, you start by answering a few questions about your finances. Based on the information you provide, the lender will tell you if you’ll be approved, how much house you can afford, and what your interest rates will be. It is ideal to get a quote from two or three different lenders. This way you can choose the lender with the best rates and fees.


While this is not a promise or guarantee that you’ll be approved for the loan, you’ll have an estimated loan amount that can help you determine your house budget.

2. Save for a Down Payment

While some first-time home buyer programs help you purchase a home for as little as three to three-and-a-half percent down, here’s the truth: a higher down payment can help you get approved for a loan quicker and grant you access to lower interest rates, according to Experian.

Also, if your down payment is less than 20 percent of the home price, you’ll typically be required to pay annual Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI.) We know: 20 percent can be a of lot of cash to save up. For a $250,000 home, for example, you’ll need to save $50,000. And, while it’s a good idea to save as much money as possible before house hunting, it’s also important to buy a home you can afford. For this reason, it’s a good idea to talk to a real estate agent and mortgage lender to help you figure out how much home you can realistically afford to buy.

3. Boost Your Credit Score

An excellent credit score isn’t just for bragging rights. A score higher than 740 will allow you to get approved for a better mortgage with lower interest rates.

Not sure what your credit score is? You can fix this fast by ordering a free credit report through Annualcreditreport.com. With your credit report in hand, make sure all the information is accurate. If not, go through the proper channels to fix this (Annual Credit Report’s website helps you with this).

If you need to improve your credit score, there are many ways to do this. According to Randall Yates, founder of online mortgage marketplace The Lenders Network, here’s a good first step: “A simple way to increase your credit score quickly is by paying down the balances on your credit cards.”

“Try to get each card balance below 15% of the credit limit to maximize your score and improve your chances of getting approved with the best loan terms,” says Yates.

By doing this, you’ll be slowly but surely improving your credit utilization rate, which accounts for up to 30 percent of your credit score. You can figure out your credit utilization rate by taking the amount of your credit card debt and dividing it by your credit limit. For example, if you have $1,000 in debt and a $2,000 line of credit, your credit utilization rate is 50 percent. You can learn more about how to improve your credit utilization rate here.

4. Have a Steady Source of Income

Even if you hate your job, think twice before getting a new job immediately before house hunting. Why? Your work history and income paints a picture for mortgage lenders. A solid job makes you appear financially stable and reliable. And, you often won’t get approved for a loan if you’re unemployed or have only been at your job for a short period of time.

5. Get Pre-Approved

Once your finances are ready and you are actively looking for a house, it’s time to secure a mortgage pre-approval letter. A pre-approval letter is different from a pre-qualification letter because an underwriter investigates your finances top to bottom. There is no hiding a late payment or excess amount of debt from the underwriting process.

“The pre-approval process is very quick, and can be completed in as little as an hour,” says Ariel Szabo, a Boston-based real estate agent. “The one variable that could hold up the process is how long it takes you to submit the necessary documentation,” she explains.

What financial paperwork should you have ready to submit?

“At a minimum, your mortgage officer will need to review your taxes, proof of income, and statements of your assets and debts,” Szabo says. You should also have your driver’s license and social security number ready.

A pre-approval is a game changer. Once you have a pre-approval letter, you become a noteworthy buyer and sellers will know you can actually afford to buy the house.

Are You Homeowner Material?

Buying a home is an exciting adventure, but it is also a serious commitment. By following the 5 steps here and being prepared, you’ll be ready to start house hunting and hopefully snag your dream home.


15 Hidden Summer Expenses to Budget For

Summer is the perfect time to relax — but that doesn’t mean you should get lax with your budget, especially because there are some extra expenses that pop up during the warmer months. Here are 15 expenses you’ll want to think of as you get your budget ready for the summer.

1. Utilities

Your place doesn’t have to feel like a meat locker, but you’ll be boosting the air-conditioning to beat the heat. That said, here are a few ways to lower your AC bill during the summer.

2. Travel fees

There are a lot of different fees you encounter when you’re traveling that you wouldn’t otherwise, like checked baggage fees, skycap or even mobile data fees when you’re out of range. These are all things to think through ahead of time (and some may even be travel fees you don’t need to pay).

3. Banking fees

While we’re talking fees, let’s mention ATM fees and foreign transaction fees. If you travel somewhere where your bank doesn’t have ATMs and you need to get cash, you may get hit with a fee. If your credit card doesn’t waive foreign transaction fees, you’ll want to build that expense into your budget.

You can skip a lot of fees, though. Here are 14 fees you should never pay — and how to avoid them.

4. Sunscreen

Yes, I know we’re supposed to be using sunscreen on the daily, but the amount you use goes up in the summer. The good news is some FSAs will cover sunscreen as long as it’s SPF 15 or greater, so check with your provider to see if you’re eligible.

5. Bug spray

Bye, mosquitos.

6. Barbecue supplies

From propane or charcoal to cleaning brushes, you’ll certainly boost your use of the grill during the summer.

Genius tip: Instead of buying a new set of outdoor cooking tools, see what multi-purpose items you already have in your kitchen.

7. Yard care

Flowers, veggie gardens, lawn and tree care … all sorts of yard work comes with the warmer temps. Plus, everything will need to be watered, boosting your water bill.

Genius tip: If you need to have a landscaper come in, be sure to get several estimates so you don’t overpay. Vet companies online, too, so you know their track record.

8. Gasoline

Packing up and heading out on a road trip will mean you’re boosting the miles on your car, as well as your fuel bill. (A good gas credit card could at least help you net rewards on filling your tank.) Plus, when you’re on the road, you’ll probably spend more on …

9. Convenience store stops

Chips, drinks and other road trip essentials aren’t usually taking up a line item on your budget. But who can have a road trip without ’em?

Genius tip: Stock up on supplies from the grocery store before heading out. They’ll likely be less straining on your budget than gas station items.

10. Parking

While we’re talking driving, once you get to your destination, you’ll need to leave your car somewhere and that can be costly. Some hotels offer free parking to guests, while others don’t, so this may be a factor in choosing where you stay.

11. Car rental insurance

If you’re renting a car when you get to your destination, you’ll want auto insurance. That said, it’s a good idea to check ahead of time to see if you already have coverage, as your personal insurance policy or even your credit card often covers you.

12. Activities for the kids

The kids will need things to do during the day when they’re out of school but also when you’re traveling. Every summer, my Mom had new travel games or books for me for the long car rides to the lake. Whether you’re driving or flying, you’ll probably wind up buying something for the kids to do while traveling.

13. Beach rentals

Many resorts or beaches offer umbrellas, chairs or cabanas for a fee. The fee is usually pretty reasonable, and worth it if you can’t bring your own supplies, whether because you’re coming from far away or because the resort won’t allow it. Be sure to ask what the charge is, though, so you can compare apples to apples when deciding what hotel provides the best value.

14. Tipping

Being away from home often means going to restaurants or getting delivery and, unless you’re going to a Danny Meyer style restaurant, you’ll need to add in a tip. Also think about tips for maid services in hotel rooms and cruise ship gratuities when setting your vacation budget.

15. Wardrobe

Goodbye, boots and sweaters. Hello, flip flops and tank tops! Stick to the essentials and comparison-shop for must-have apparel so you don’t overspend.

Not everything you do during the season will cost more. In fact, here are 50 things you can get for free this summer.

This article originally appeared on Policygenius.com.


Couples on FIRE: 3 Tips from 3 Millennial Couples on How to Achieve Early Retirement When Dating

Financial independence, or the ability to retire early and work when you want, is the latest craze in the finance world. But here’s the truth: if your partner isn’t on board with saving large percentages of your salary, then it’s nearly impossible to achieve this goal.

Here’s how Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) works. You save enough money to never have to work again. This can be done through a variety of tactics, like passive income or investments. But most people pursuing financial independence tend to have a few things in common: high savings rates, automated finances and optimized earnings.

Financial independence doesn’t happen overnight. For most people, it’s a process that takes years. That’s why it’s important for FIRE millennials to find a frugal money match. Take a look at 3 tips from 3 red hot millennial couples who are dating while handling FIRE.

#1: Know your individual financial goals

Here’s the deal—it’s hard to find your perfect money match if you’re unclear about your own money goals. This is especially true for people who are pursuing FIRE. The concept of early retirement is becoming more well-known, but it’s not the norm, and that’s why it’s important to clearly define and articulate your own money goals.

Years before 27-year-old Gwen Merz met her boyfriend Erik Tozier, she started working towards financial independence. For Merz, it was about personal freedom.

“Financial independence allows me to make decisions I wouldn’t otherwise have the luxury to make. I saved for five years and accumulated $200,000. That money allowed me to quit my job and move to Minneapolis to live with my boyfriend, and also allowed me to take a chance at becoming an entrepreneur,” says Merz.

For Stephanie Kibler, a 31-year-old living in Fairfax, Virginia, pursuing financial independence began as a way to become “rich” in the traditional sense—fancy cars, expensive clothes and big houses. Now, it means much more than that.

“The more I learned about money and financial independence, the more I realized that what I wanted was not so much the stuff that I thought rich people had. I wanted the freedom to buy things that brought value to my life without using debt to do it,” says Kibler.

“It’s not necessarily about buying anything fancy or expensive for me, but knowing that I can buy things that I want or need without relying on an employer or my next paycheck to supply that purchasing power,” she says.

#2: Be honest about your dating deal-breakers

Pursuing financial independence and early retirement is not for the faint of heart. It requires that both partners work together to make short-term sacrifices. Sometimes this means cutting expenses and earning more through additional hours at work. Because of this, most people who pursue financial independence have some sort of dating deal-breaker when it comes to a partner’s money habits.

“A large amount of consumer debt was a deal breaker,” says Merz.

“If they lived beyond their means and had a lot of debt from over-consumption, that would signal to me that we weren’t going to be compatible. I was prepared to deal with student loan debt as that’s at least necessary in some situations. I also looked at their attitude toward debt. If it was normal to have debt and they weren’t inspired to pay it down quickly, I knew we wouldn’t be compatible,” Merz says.

For some millennials pursuing FIRE, similar money beliefs are key when it comes to a romantic partner.

“If my girlfriend were a big spender, it would have made our relationship much more difficult,” says Cody Berman, a 22-year-old in Massachusetts.

“Given my inherent frugality, we would have surely ended up arguing about a purchase or spending decision,” says Berman.

For Kibler, it took personal experience to figure out her financial deal breaker before she met her husband, Grant Kibler.

“I once dated a guy who very literally didn’t believe that he would live to retirement age. He didn’t see the point in saving for retirement, but more importantly he was generally reckless with things like credit cards and health insurance…It ultimately did not make sense to date someone who couldn’t picture himself growing old—someone who believed that I would outlive him by several decades and wasn’t making financial plans for that.”

#3: Be comfortable growing together, not apart

When it comes to maintaining a successful long-term relationship, it’s crucial that you and your partner grow together. For couples pursuing FIRE, this often means growing jointly-held investments and savings. It also may mean growing together in terms of lifestyle dreams and goals.

Even if you and your partner begin the relationship with different money interests, it’s still important to find common ground.

“At first, I was a full-blown finance nerd. I am all about the numbers and could look at spreadsheets all day,” says Berman.

“My girlfriend, however, couldn’t care less about the math, tax hacks, or technical side of financial independence. She eventually got on board when she realized we could live a life of absolute freedom. She could pursue her dream projects and we could travel the world,” he says.

If you’re in a happy relationship, but your partner is reluctant to seek financial independence, Berman says that it’s important to “figure out what your partner wants and use that ‘want’ to pitch the FIRE lifestyle.”

Another way to ensure that you and your partner are growing together instead of apart is to plan finance dates. For Kibler and her husband, money dates are monthly occurrences where they discuss finances to help keep them on the same page.

“We sit down once a month at the kitchen table with my laptop. I show him our numbers, and we discuss what we’re going to do with our savings for the month,” says Kibler.

“We have a lot of little conversations about money throughout the month, but we don’t worry about it too much because the course is usually set during those monthly meetings. The little conversations throughout the month are course corrections, like piloting a plane, to keep us on the flight path we agreed to already.”

Bottom line

Pursuing FIRE requires a lot of dedication and planning, but for these couples, working together towards a shared goal of financial independence has made all the difference. Whether you’re single, married, dating or somewhere in between, talking about money with your other half is always a wise idea.

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