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

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit effectively repealed a rule from the Department of Labor requiring financial advisers to meet some of the same legal requirements to which real estate agents, attorneys and other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

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

The 5th Circuit’s ruling has essentially repealed the Department of Labor’s enforcement of the rule.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

How to choose a good financial adviser

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

1. Choose a certified financial planner

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

2. Ask how they get paid.

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

3. Do they follow a code of ethics?

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

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

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

5. Run a background check.

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

Can’t I just do it myself?

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

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

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


This article originally appeared on Policygenius.

 

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

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

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

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

1. Create a Plan

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

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

2. Provide a proposed budget

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

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

3. Location

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

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

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

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

4. Food

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

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

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

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

5. Limit the guest list

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

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

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

Show gratitude

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

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

 

How to Go on a No-Spend Weekend

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

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

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

Set Rules Beforehand

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

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

Check Past Spending Habits

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

Prepare to Decline Social Outings

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

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

Be Resourceful

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

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

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

Try It During the Week First

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

Know Your Intention

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

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

 

Low-Cost Summer Date Ideas

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

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

Go on a Mission Date

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

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

People Watch

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

Find Free Entertainment in Town

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

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

Take Advantage of Your Library Perks

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

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

Be Shutterbugs Together

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

Host a Chaos Cooking Party (for Two)

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

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

Picnic in the Park

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

Go on a Rummage Hunt

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

Play Hooky

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

Pick Your Summertime Fun

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

 

How to Attend Weddings Without Going Broke

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

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

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

1. Be Picky

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

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

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

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

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

2. Set an Annual Budget

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

Follow these steps to create your wedding budget:

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

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

3. Get Creative with the Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Know Your Worth: Personal Finances for the LGBTQIA Community

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

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

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

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

Start a side hustle

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

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

Start college planning early

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

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

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

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

Learn about healthcare options

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

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

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

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

Make saving for retirement a priority

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

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

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

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

Financial education is key

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

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

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

 

5 Lesser-Known Ways to Curb Your Spending Habits

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

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

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

1. Rein in Dining Out

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

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

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

2. Curb Impulse Clothes Shopping

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

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

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

3. Check Your Bank Account Balance

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

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

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

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

4. Get Rid of Your Clutter

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

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

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

5. Maximize Your Gym Membership

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

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

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

Question Your Normal

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

 

10 Low Cost Ways to Entertain the Kids This Summer

Ahh, summertime. For you, this may mean warm weather, beach days and lazy nights on the porch. It also may mean you’ve got kids at home to entertain. And this can get expensive.

Between activities, sports, lessons and camps, summertime costs can add up quickly if you aren’t careful.

To keep from overspending, it’s a good idea to create a budget as well as a summer savings fund. Plus, start looking around now for low-cost ways to entertain your kids without breaking the bank. To help you get going, take a look at our top 10 ideas.

1. Go to the public pool

Nothing says summer like long days at the pool. Fortunately, you don’t have to have your own pool to take the kids for a swim. Public pools are a great place to cool off and burn off some energy. Plus, public pools are usually inexpensive. For instance, the city of Los Angeles only charges $1 for a day pass for children under the age of 17. For adults, it costs $3.50.

Depending on where you live, you can often buy a single day pass or purchase a summer pool membership. So, do your research. You’ll be surprised at the array of public pools available.

2. Enroll in local classes and camps

Many clubs, recreation centers, and even schools offer affordable summer activities for kids.

To find activities near you, start by looking on your city’s website. You can also see if your local YMCA, school district, and place of worship offer summertime programs for kids. For instance, the city of Seattle offers a four-day camp for $250. And, the YMCA of Denver offers day camps for children between the ages of five and 12. These camps are four days long and cost $195.

Don’t forget to look around for cost-effective activities run by other local and national organizations. For example, 4-H, a nationwide organization that offers programs for kids ages eight to 18, holds meetings year-round.

3. Assign the kids projects around the house

Got older kids? Assign them projects around the house.

Whether you could use help with regular chores, some basic landscaping, or painting a room, kids are often eager to pitch in. Not only will household projects keep kids busy, but it will help you cross items off your to-do list. Plus, it can help teach children new skills.

Dr. Brittney Schrick, assistant professor-family life specialist at University of Arkansas, created a list of age appropriate chores for children. She stated that when children complete household chores, they gain confidence, life skills, and a sense of accomplishment.

Another perk: having your children help out around the house won’t cost you a dime, unless you choose to pay them an allowance.

4. Schedule playdates

What better way to entertain the kids than to invite other kids over?

Children are usually pretty good at entertaining themselves. So, consider hosting playdates at your house in exchange for sending your kids to your neighbor’s house on another day. You get some time to yourself while your kids are entertained. A win-win!

You may also want to invite other families over to your house for dinner or a BBQ. This way you can enjoy some adult time while the kids play.

5. Visit a local museum

Whether the focus is on science, art, or history, museums are a great way to encourage kids to keep learning even when school is out.

To make a trip to a museum more cost-effective, look for discounts. For example, deal site Groupon offers a 25 percent discount off admission to the Old State Museum in Boston. Speaking of Boston, families there can take advantage of Highland Street Foundation’s Free Fun Friday program. Every Friday throughout the summer, multiple cultural sites in Boston and Massachusetts open their doors to the community for free!

6. Take advantage of library programs

Libraries often offer summer programs for kids for free. The District of Columbia Public Library, for example, touts a full calendar of kid-friendly events, ranging from art classes to reading programs. Between activities, reading time, and watching videos, the library is a one-stop shop.

7. Go to the beach

The beach promises endless fun. Youngsters can swim, build sand castles, or play recreational sports on the beach. Even for parents, the beach is the perfect place to find solace and relax with a good book while the kids stay entertained.

Depending on where you live, your local beach may be at the ocean, a lake, a pond, or even a reservoir. If you’re lucky enough to live near a coastline, check out TripAdvisor’s 25 best beaches in the country.

While a trip to the beach may only cost you a few bucks in parking or entrance fees, watch out for the snack stand as multiple trips for food and drinks can add up. Instead, bring your own lunch and snacks and enjoy a picnic spread on the beach.

8. Go camping

Need a quick getaway without spending much money? Maybe you should give camping a try.

Camping can be as simple or glamorous as you want. According to the National Park Service, plots usually cost between $20-30 a night, making it an affordable option.

To find a campsite near you, the National Park Service offers a full list of campsites available across the nation. Or, you can make it easy and camp out in your own backyard! Kids love backyard camping and it requires less planning on your part. Simply, pitch a tent out back and let the kids enjoy their outdoor adventure.

9. Keep plenty of indoor games handy

Unfortunately, not every summer day is sunny. Prepare for the rainy days by making sure you have plenty of fun indoor games available.

Board games and toys are always a hit with kids on rainy days. You can also encourage children to learn new skills, such as baking, painting or drawing.

10. Turn your backyard into a recreation center

Your backyard can provide hours upon hours of entertainment for kids if you provide the right set-up. For example, you can set up swing-sets, kiddie pools, sprinklers, a tetherball game, sandboxes, and more.

To lower the cost even more, you can often find backyard toys for cheap on sites like Craigslist or at garage sales. Or, ask around. Many families have children who have outgrown their backyard toys. They may be happy to have you take stuff off their hands.

No backyard? No problem. Find a local playground and let the kids have the run of the place!

Fun in the Sun

With a little creativity, you can give your kids their best summer yet. By following the tips above, saving money in advance and sticking to a budget, you and your kids can have a blast this summer without going broke.

 

How to Save Money (and the Earth) This Summer By Using Less Energy

You finally made it out of winter and those long months of high electricity bills—whew! But just because you’re no longer turning up the heat every day doesn’t mean it’s time to forget about energy conservation. In fact, there are tons of things you can do to save money on your electricity costs. Take a look at our 8 tips to lower your energy costs this summer.

Use fans instead of air conditioning

Did you know that by bumping up your thermostat four degrees the room temperature still feels the same – as long as you switch on a ceiling fan? Because fans work simply by moving air around and creating a wind chill effect, they’re a lot more energy efficient than air conditioners, which lower the temperature of the air but raise your electricity bill.

No ceiling fan? No problem. You can also use simple window fans to create the same effect. The best way to use box fans, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, is to place them in a window pointing outwards. Then, close all of the windows near the fan and open the furthest-away window to create a cooling effect throughout your whole home.

Use window treatments

We understand: you like the summertime sunshine, especially after the long winter blues. But that doesn’t mean that the sunlight needs to fall directly into your house. In fact, 76% of the sunlight that comes directly through your windows is converted to heat—ouch!

Instead, think about using window coverings like curtains, blinds, or even fancy shades to keep the direct sun out during the day. If you own your own home, you can also think about installing awnings over your windows. This will also help reduce your cooling bill.

Keep an eye on your lights

When your parents told you to turn off the lights when you leave a room, maybe you should have listened. About 10% of the energy usage in your home comes from lighting alone, according to U.S. Department of Energy. So, by developing a habit of turning off the lights, you’ll reduce your energy expenditure.

Another thing that helps is to replace all the bulbs in your house with energy-efficient LED bulbs. Admittedly, these are more expensive, but they last longer, use less electricity, and won’t heat up your home like old-school incandescent bulbs (triple win!)

Give your laundry process a makeover

Believe it or not, you can cut the energy usage from your washer in half by using cold water instead of hot, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Unless your clothes are filthy, you likely won’t notice a difference.

If you’re in the market for a new washer, consider a top-loading washer or a high-efficiency washer. These types of washers use less energy and water than traditional front-loading washers. But, what if you’re still stuck using a laundromat? You can save here as well by drying your clothes at home. To do this, use an outdoor laundry line, or a small folding rack that can fit into even the tiniest of apartments and still dry a full load or two. If you spend $1.25 per dryer load and wash two loads of laundry per week, this can save you $130 a year!

Rethink your dishwasher strategy

It can be tempting to run your dishwasher each night. But a better option is to wait until the dishwasher is full as this way you’ll run fewer loads – saving both energy and money.

In addition, here’s another crafty tip: when the wash cycle is done and the dishwasher kicks into drying mode, push the stop button and crack open the door. The dry cycle basically works like an oven to cook your dishes dry. Since they’re already warm, they’ll dry fast enough on their own. This will you save electricity, and keep excess heat from escaping into your kitchen.

Use different cooking methods

A hot summer evening is definitely not the time you want to fire up your oven for some faux-brick-oven pizza. Instead, try using other less energy-intensive appliances like microwaves or slow cookers. Better yet, get outside and fire up the grill! Besides, by grilling outdoors, you’ll avoid turning up the heat indoors meaning you won’t need to crank on the AC.

Lower the temperature on your water heater

Summer is hardly the time to think about using hot water, but did you know that your water heaters may be set too high? By lowering your water heater from 140 degrees to 120 degrees—all year round—you can shave up to $460 off your annual electric bill.

Adjusting your water heater’s temperature is not a difficult thing to do. You can even check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s website for information on how to check and adjust your water heater’s temperature.

Try an electricity usage meter

Perhaps the best way to lower your electricity bill is to find out how much you’re actually paying for each electrical device, and then decide whether you can lower your costs.

A good way to check on your electricity usage is with a home electricity usage meter. Simply plug it into an outlet and then plug in your appliances. The meter will measure electricity usage from that device. From here, you look up the cost of each kilowatt hour (kWh) on your electric company’s website and calculate exactly how much each appliance costs you. Some electricity meters even let you input the kWh price, giving you a direct readout of the cost.

Start saving energy and money right now

Regardless of how you decide to curb your energy costs this summer, when you free up cash, you’ll be able to sock that money away into your savings account. And just think: by following the 8 tips above, you may be able to save more money for your upcoming vacation or even start an emergency fund!

 

How FOMO is Costing Millennials More Money

No surprise, but millenials have trouble saving money.

A major culprit? FOMO, apparently.

There’s now proof to back it up. In fact, 39% of millennials spent money they didn’t have, and went into debt to keep up with their peers, according to a recent survey on millennials and social spending. To boot, 27% feel uncomfortable saying “no” if a friend suggests an activity they can’t afford. Of those who admitted going into debt from FOMO, a whopping 73% kept it a secret.

As you can see, social pressure is taking a huge financial toll. Let’s dig a bit deeper, and look at some reasons why millennials are experiencing FOMO:

All Those “Perfect Life” Selfies on Instagram

It’s no small wonder why YOLO and FOMO are inciting bouts of overspending. These days the Joneses aren’t just the next door neighbors with the shiny new toy. You’re probably watching that Instagram influencer with the perfect life that you feel pressured to keep up with.

Photo documentation of dreamy, all-out Sunday brunches, designer fashions, and digs so amazing they’re worthy of a mention in Dwell. You’ll no doubt feel mounting pressure to spend just so you’re not left out.

Epic Outings

Weekend getaways, replete with wine tastings and spa dates, brunches at the newest hipster spot in town, or super pricey music festivals like Coachella are enough to make you want to drop big bucks. You don’t want to feel left out on these exciting social affairs. Next thing you know, you’ll be reaching for your credit card. No bueno.

Plus, after spying on your friends via the gram (see above), Venmo transactions (okay, maybe that’s just me) and group chats on the “next epic outing,” you’ll feel the incessant urge to want to keep up.

Eating Out

Millennials spend nearly half of their money eating out. And while spending more on eating out than on groceries seems to be the overall trend in the U.S., it’s the food outings that can really burn a hole in your pocket. With the swell of food delivery apps and meal delivery services, there are even more ways to blow your budget on food.

So how can you fight FOMO? One of my favorite sayings is “Live like no one else so you can live like no one else.” In other words, if you’re going to win at the YOLO/FOMO game, you’ll need to swim upstream.

Here are some ways you can keep those ugly feelings of missing out to a minimum and live within your means.

  • Suggest Cheaper Alternatives

If you don’t want to full-out decline a social invite, offer up some alternatives, like hosting a potluck. Or instead of that pricey concert, suggest checking out a less-expensive show or movie. My friends and I enjoy hiking, biking, and occasionally pick a brunch spot everyone can afford. You don’t have to be a hermit with zero social life to stick to a budget. You just have to tap into your resourceful, creative self and offer different options.

  • Be the One to Talk About Money

Be brave, and talk about your debt situation. It can be a very casual, “Hey, I’m just letting you know I’m working on paying off my (insert type of debt here), or maybe “Ooo, that X is a little more than I can afford.” Having a budget you need to stick or, or simply not wanting to spend your money on that outing is nothing to be ashamed about.

There’s nothing wrong with saying you can’t afford to do something. Frugal shaming is just as terrible as debt shaming. In turn, being the one to start a convo about money could lead to your friends throwing you a sympathy bone. Plus, but it may inspire a few friends to open up as well.

  • Create an “Outings” Account

As you can imagine, it’s not the fixed expenses – rent, utilities, streaming subscriptions –  that can eat into your budget. It’s your discretionary spending, or expenses that change each month. We’re talking about eating out, concerts, movies, and filling up your gas tank.

Instead of lumping all my spending into one account, I designate a certain amount to what I call an “outings” account, which is money budgeted purely for social outings. I also earmark a certain amount to an account for necessities like transportation, household items, and groceries.

Why’s the reasoning behind this method? Well, it’s far easier to control how much I spend on groceries than going out to dinner with friends and family. By having a separate amount for social spending, I can also keep better track of how much is going out each month. If FOMO is getting the best of my budget, I can then curb my spending before it gets out of hand.

  • Pay Yourself First

If you’re concerned you may spend too much due to FOMO, consider setting up an auto transfer to save a portion of each paycheck. If you’re a Chime member, you can take advantage of Chime’s Automatic Savings feature, allowing you to effortlessly save 10% of each paycheck. Chime also helps you save by rounding up each purchase you make on your debit card and depositing it into your Savings Account. Cha-ching!

Final Word

If not kept in check, FOMO can have serious financial repercussions. Yet, if you’re mindful of your spending and resist the urge to cave in to social pressure, you can set yourself up for financial success and actually save more money. Are you ready to get started?