Tag: Seasonal

 

How to Be Financially Productive in the Winter

If you live in many parts of the country, the winter seems to drag on. Instead of weekends at the beach or picnics in the park, you may be stuck inside, huddled in front of a fire and binging on yet another Netflix series.

But why not use these cold days to be financially productive? To help you figure out ways to improve your finances during the winter, take a look at these four tried-and-true tips.

1. Organize your taxes

Before you let out a long groan, we’re right there with you: Preparing your taxes is no fun. But, wouldn’t you rather be doing this now – when it’s dark by 6 pm and freezing outside – than in April when you could be having fun in the sun?

So, take the time now to organize your necessary tax forms, fill out a tax organizer, itemize any tax deductions, and figure out how much you can contribute to a retirement plan. If you have a salaried job and received a W-2 form, your tax prep may be pretty straightforward. But if you have a side hustle or are self-employed, your tax organization may take a bit longer. The key here is: Don’t wait until April 14 to file your taxes by the April 15 deadline. Besides, if you get ahead of the game, you can get your refund sooner.

Pro tip: Open a Chime bank account and get your tax refund via direct deposit. All you have to do is select “direct deposit” on your online tax return software and fill in your Chime Spending Account and routing number. As soon as your refund is automatically deposited into your account, you’ll receive a text alert and email from Chime. Cha-ching!

2. Audit your bank account and find ways to save

I don’t know about you, but I am much more eager to be out of the house when the weather is warm. So, what to do on a day when you just don’t feel like braving the harsh weather? Audit your bank account and see where you can save money. This way you’ll have more cash for a summer road trip, your emergency fund or your other savings goals.

Start by spending an hour on a cold winter day and looking through your monthly spending for the past three months (or elect to audit just the past month or some other time frame.) Take a close look at what you’re spending money on and where you’re spending it. Even if you think you know exactly how you spend your cash, you’ll be surprised by what you discover.

Here are a couple of examples of what I found on a recent bank account audit: My cable bill had crept up for the past three months, my spending on groceries seemed out of whack, and I still had my husband on my gym membership even though he never goes.

It was time to do something about this. So, I ended up switching from my cable provider to a fiber-optic network (long story short: we can’t cut the cable or fiber optic cord entirely because my husband won’t give up his local sports channels.) This will save us $50 a month right off the bat. Not only that but the new provider threw in a free year of Amazon Prime, Amazon Echo and two $50 Visa gift cards. Score!

As for the high grocery bills, I decided to try a meal delivery service with a discount code for $80 off the first month. I loved it so much much that I’m now paying the regular $55 a week for three meals a week. But, get this: I was spending $600 a month on groceries for my husband and I. That is now reduced to $250 a month. Add to that $220 per month for the meal service. This means our monthly grocery nut is now $470 a month, a $130 savings each month! Plus, cooking at home is now easier and more convenient, so we don’t order takeout or go out to dinner nearly as frequently. And you guessed it: This saves us even more money.

Lastly, I called my gym and removed my husband from my membership, saving me $30 a month. That’s what I call easy money in the bank.

The takeaway: You can find ways to save money on a cold winter day – simply by spending an hour auditing your bank account.

3. Budget better

Is your budget working for you? If not, don’t give up. There are lots of budgeting methods and the one you’re using now may not be a good fit for you.

What to do? Spend an afternoon researching different types of budgeting methods, including the 50/30/20 budget, the envelope method, and the zero-based budget. Figure out whether a different kind of budget would work better for your spending and savings habits. Factor in whether you need to save more money into an emergency fund or free up cash to pay down your debt. Think of this time of year as a great opportunity to dive in and make any necessary changes to your budgeting method.

4. Automate your savings

By now you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the benefits of automating. But are you taking advantage of this?

If not, sit down and implement simple financial changes that will allow you to automate your money, enabling you to save more cash without even thinking about it. For example, now may be a good time to switch to a bank that will help you level up your savings account. If you’re a Chime member, for instance, all of your purchases on your debit card can be rounded up to the nearest dollar. And this round up amount is then automatically deposited into your Savings account. On top of this, Chime will automatically deposit 10% of your paycheck into your Chime Savings account.

Chill out

We get it: Winter can be miserable. But instead of complaining about the weather, you can turn those cold, snowy days into financial opportunities. By following the four tips here, you’ll be able to get your tax refund sooner, create a budget that works, and find new ways to save money. And just think: Before you know it, you’ll be enjoying the spring with less financial stress!

 

14 Budget-Friendly Valentine’s Day Date Ideas That Don’t Suck

For the first few years of our relationship, my husband and I never thought twice about going out for a five-star meal on Valentine’s Day. It was just the thing to do. After all, the average American spends more than $140 on this holiday.

Yet, here was the problem: We couldn’t afford those dinners, especially with piling up credit card charges, burdensome student loans payments and hefty car notes. So, we started celebrating Valentine’s Day on a budget and we actually enjoyed ourselves just as much (if not more) because we had to get creative.

Although we have now paid off our consumer debt, we decided to keep up our thrifty Valentine’s Day tradition. This way we can focus on our other money goals for this year and beyond.

If you’re also looking to celebrate Valentine’s Day on a budget, check out these 14 date ideas that won’t make you look like a cheapskate:

For the Romantics At Heart

Cook together.
This is a popular at-home date night recommendation but it can be stressful if you wait until the last minute to figure out your menu. Instead, consider testing out a meal delivery service or check out Instacart, which I find to be a huge time (and therefore money saver).

At-home spa night.
While you may not have the hands of a massage therapist, you can easily recreate a calming, spa-like atmosphere right in your own home. Budget-friendly tip: Shop your hall closet for candles, aromatherapy oils and other at-home spa essentials. In the end, you may only need to spend money on rose petals to turn this idea into the most romantic Valentine’s Day ever.

Create a scavenger hunt.
It’s time to put your Pinterest skills to good use with this Valentine’s Day activity. Showcase your thoughtfulness by including riddles that incorporate memories from milestone events like your first date. Your grand finale (final clue) doesn’t have to be expensive either. It can be home cooked dinner by the fireplace, picture of the two of you or a picnic lunch.

Bury a time capsule.
Fill a box with keepsakes that represent both you and your SO, write a sweet note to your future selves and bury it. Hint: You can repurpose almost anything such as a shoebox for your time capsule instead of going out and buying something new.

Scrapbook together.

Pour a glass of wine and get ready to enjoy a trip down memory lane with your person. I also love that this sweet date night idea can double as a great way to get rid of clutter and turn it into cash (not very romantic, I know, but it is a tip worth sharing).

Treat your SO to breakfast in bed.

When was the last time you made your partner breakfast in bed? Or maybe a better question is: Have you ever made your partner breakfast? Be sure to include a sweet handwritten note when you surprise your SO with this thoughtful gesture!

At-home movie night with a twist.
Borrow a projector or even use a large television screen to create a romantic outdoor or indoor movie theater experience without breaking the bank.

For the Outdoorsy Couple

Cozy bonfire date.

My husband recently spent five dollars on a fire pit at a garage sale and we can’t wait to test it out on Valentine’s Day. I already have the marshmallows and hot cocoa mix added to our grocery list!

Sledding.

If you want to have some real fun on Valentine’s Day then add this winter activity to your to-do list. Cuddle up with a warm beverage once you’re finished acting like a big kid with your favorite human.

Winter hike.

Yes, this is a thing! Just be sure to check out these safety tips before embarking on your adventure.

For the Couple Who Doesn’t Like At-Home Date Nights

Dessert-only date.

Fill up on dinner at home and save the spending for a delicious sweet treat. Scout out a nice ice cream parlor or a quaint bakery in a cute nearby town. End the night with a romantic walk.

Trivia night.

If you and your partner are competitive then this could be the perfect date night that costs less than $25. Plus, you may even win some money when all is said and done!

Choose lunch over dinner.
Eating lunch out is less expensive than dinner. Plain and simple. For instance, Money Crashers notes that at the Cheesecake Factory, “Dinner entrees range in price from $11 to $30 [while] lunch specials cost between $9 and $14.” If you skip dessert and take it easy on the beverages, you won’t have to spend more than $50.

For the Couple Who Thinks Outside of the Box

Don’t celebrate at all.

If your main reason for celebrating Valentine’s Day is that everyone else is, then it may be time to reconsider your approach. I spoke with one couple who doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all.

Ellie from EllieMondelli.com says, “It’s very simple for us — we view this holiday as yet another excuse to spend money. It doesn’t fit in with any of our goals, so we don’t celebrate it.”

This type of discipline has enabled the Mondelli’s to pay off their mortgage before she turned 30!

 

21 Fun Things To Do In The Winter That Won’t Break The Bank

Winter can drag on – but you don’t have to let it get you down. In fact, even if you’re daydreaming about a tropical vacation, backyard barbeques, and other summertime activities, you don’t have to stay stuck inside.

There are plenty of ways to get out of the house and enjoy the winter – all while spending very little cash. Here are 21 fun activities you can do this winter that won’t bust your budget.

1. Go museum hopping

Museums are a great escape for the whole family. Whether you’re into art, music, history, or science, you can find a museum for almost everything.

Better yet, going to museums can be affordable. For instance, in Seattle, you can get free access to many of the city’s local museums through your city library card, which is also free. And you can always check out deal sites like Groupon to see if there are any discounted rates available in your area.

2. Find an indoor pool

Dreaming of summertime? A trip to the local indoor pool may be just what you need.

Check out your local school, gym, or YMCA to see if there is an indoor pool near you. While gyms often require a monthly membership in order to join and use the facilities, you may find other local pools that offer an open swim hour for a small fee.

3. Go sledding

Instead of avoiding the snow and the cold, dive right into it with some old fashioned sledding! What could be better?

You can find sleds at your local hardware store or supermarket, but you can also find cheaper DIY alternatives. For instance, pool toys, such as a tube floatie, or even a trash can lid often work just as well.

4. Volunteer

Perhaps the best way to get over your winter woes is to dedicate your time and energy to helping others. Plus, volunteering is free, and it’s a great way to get involved with your community.

To find charitable organizations near you, check out VolunteerMatch.org, which will evaluate your interests and help you find opportunities that interest you.

5. Bake some sweet treats

Baking is the perfect cozy-day activity when the weather is indeed frightful. So, stay inside and warm your home with a good, old-fashioned baking day.

To find inspiration for your baking adventures, check out this list of classic baking recipes from Taste of Home.

6. Take an art class

Take advantage of the abundance of indoor time by focusing on hobbies you’ve always dreamed about starting. Why not take an art class?

You can either sign up for local, in-person classes or you can find free options online. One great way to start learning the basics of any skill is to find lessons on YouTube. Nothing is better than free!

7. Read books

Is there anything more comfy than curling up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book on a cold winter’s day?

Dust off those old books you have laying around and crack them open. Of course, you can always hit up your local library as well. Or, you can check out ThriftBooks, which sells deeply discounted, gently used books.

8. Do household projects

Have a long household to-do list? Use the winter season to get caught up on indoor projects.

Whether you want to paint a room, or tackle a kitchen remodeling project, take the time to do it this winter. Not only can you stay warm inside, but you can cross these items off your to-do list before the weather changes and you want to spend more time outside.

9. Try painting

Do you have an artistic gift? Even if you don’t, painting is an excellent hobby to test out. Anything can be considered art – all you have to do is start.

Painting canvases is an affordable and fun hobby. Plus, you can use the finished product to decorate your house, saving big bucks on home decor. To stock up on supplies, you can hit up your local art store, or shop at discounted supply stores online, such as JerrysArtarama.com.

10. Get organized

Have clutter hanging around your household? Dedicate some time this winter to organizing.

If you only have a few minutes, start by organizing a single drawer or cupboard. If you have more time, commit to organizing an entire room. Toss any old documents or broken objects and donate the rest. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel when you don’t have to stare into cluttered kitchen cabinets!

11. Attend a fitness class

Winter blues have you feeling a bit down? Blast away the wintertime sadness by boosting your endorphins. A workout class is an excellent way to meet people, try a new activity, and boost your mood.

Not sure which class is right for you? Try using ClassPass, which is available in major cities. With ClassPass, you pay a monthly fee which allows you to try out classes in various fitness studios. If you aren’t sure whether to do yoga, cycle, or weightlift, ClassPass is an ideal solution.

12. Plan a summer vacation

Well, there’s no shame in admitting that winter just isn’t your favorite season. If you’re more of a summer-lovin’ kind of individual, then take this time to plan your dream vacation.

Whether you prefer to escape to a tropical island or backpack across Europe, planning a trip when it’s cold outside can be just the escape you need.

13. Bust out the board games

Board games may be old school, but they are reliable – and fun. Games are also a cheap way to kill some time.

Even if you don’t have classic board games in your house, you can always borrow them or download free game apps on your smartphone or tablet. Need some ideas to get started? Check out this huge list of iPhone games from TechRadar.

14. Go ice skating

Enjoy the winter with some family-friendly ice skating. Whether you are an expert skater or can barely stand up on your blades, you can surely have a good laugh and a memorable time. To rent skates, you can expect to pay around $15 to $20.

15. Clean out your home

Bored and stuck inside? Take advantage of the slower season and clean your house.

Host a neighborhood garage sale to get rid of the items you no longer need. Anything else can either be donated or sold online through sites like OfferUp and LetGo.

16. Visit friend and relatives

Most of us are guilty of not visiting family or friends often enough. So, if you have relatives or friends nearby, take time this winter to schedule a visit and catch up.

17. Take a winter hike

Hiking isn’t just for summer. There are plenty of winter hikes to take advantage of – if you have the right gear, that is.

Check out your local area to see if there are any winter-friendly hikes near you. The key is to find a hike in a lower elevation (where it isn’t super cold) that is well maintained and not too steep. Make sure you gear up with your hiking boots, winter coat, hats and gloves.

18. Plan a movie day

When the weather takes a turn for the worst, stay put and enjoy a movie day inside.

You can pick a winter classic or another movie of your choice. Whether you prefer action, romantic-comedies or another genre, a movie day is a great way to enjoy a day inside this winter.

19. Start your side gig

This winter season is an excellent time to start earning some extra cash on the side. Take this time to think about what you want to do for your side gig. Whether you’re dreaming of starting a blog, an online retail business, or something else, it’s time to get your creative juices flowing.

20. Try winter photography

Photography isn’t just a summertime activity. The snow and long winter days can make for some ideal photos.

So take your camera, trek out into the snow, and shoot some cool nature photos. For some inspiration, check out these tips from Outdoor Photographer.

21. Relax

There’s no shame in simply relaxing. Enjoy the darker days by spending ample time relaxing and recharging. Take plenty of time for self-care, too. Now is a great time to get in shape, eat right, and start other healthy habits.

Chime has your back this winter

Winter can feel endless, but with some frugal planning, you don’t have to fret. One easy way to kick off your budget-friendly winter activities is to open a no-fee savings account. For example, an online Chime account will help you save money easily – and automatically.

Are you ready to enjoy the winter season and save big bucks at the same time? We thought so.

 

6 Budgeting Habits to Ditch In the New Year

Are you planning to make any New Year’s resolutions once January rolls around?

The most popular resolutions for 2018 revolved around getting fit, falling in love and making better financial decisions, according to financial news site 24/7 Wall St. If improving your finances is on your to-do list, it’s a great time to start fresh, complete with new set of budgeting habits. In fact, even if you think you’ve got budgeting nailed down, there’s likely at least one thing you can improve on.

Take a look at 6 budget behaviors that you may want to reset in the new year.

1. Not keeping a budget at all

A budget can only work for you if you actually have one. According to a survey by Debt.com, 30 percent of Americans don’t keep a budget, even though 92 percent of people surveyed agreed that everyone needs one.

“A big budgeting mistake is not creating one,” says financial coach and author Karen Beth Ford.

Making a budget for the new year simply means adding up your monthly expenses, then subtracting the total from your monthly income. You can easily track spending through the Chime mobile banking app. You’ll even get an alert each time there’s a new debit transaction.

Making your first budget can help you get a better grip on where your money is going. Once you do that, you can begin fine-tuning where and how you spend. And when making your first budget, be thorough and include every expense.

“Another budgeting mistake is forgetting to put something in the budget,” Ford says.

2. Using the wrong budgeting system

There are lots of ways to keep a budget. You can write it out by hand, record your expenses in a spreadsheet, buy a fancy budgeting software program, keep a budget calendar, try the cash envelope system or use a free budgeting app. Each one has pros and cons but what matters most is finding a budgeting method that works for you.

If you’ve been using the same budget for a while, ask yourself if it’s still meeting your needs. If not, consider taking another budget system for a test drive in the new year. You may want to try more than one budgeting system. This way, you can learn what you like or don’t like about each one.

3. Ignoring lifestyle creep

Lifestyle creep can blow a big hole in your budget if you’re not paying attention. If you aren’t in the habit of checking your budget regularly, “review the past year’s budget and make sure it still fits with your current cash flow,” says Beverly Harzog, a consumer finance analyst and credit card expert at U.S. News & World Report.

Consider how big changes – such as a pay raise at work or a move to a more expensive neighborhood – have impacted how much money you have coming in and going out each month. And look at the smaller changes too. Something like switching to a more expensive shampoo brand can affect your spending and overall budget.

“Life circumstances sometimes change fast, so every quarter, review your budget and see if you can find any expenses you can eliminate or downsize,” Harzog says.

4. Setting unrealistic budget expectations

Not being realistic with your spending or your money goals can backfire, says Olga Kirshenbaum, financial coach and owner of Rags to Riches Consulting.

“Setting aggressive goals for paying down debt or building savings can leave you with less cash than you actually need to get by until the next paycheck,” Kirshenbaum says. “You’re going to feel like you’re failing by not meeting your expectations and needing to borrow from yourself to get by.”

If your expectations don’t line up with what you can actually achieve with your budget, you may just be setting yourself up for failure, Kirshenbaum says. She says that if you fail because your goals aren’t realistic, you may be more likely to abandon your budget altogether.

Review your goals for the past year to see how much progress you’ve made, then think about how you can shape them in the new year. Your financial goals should be a motivator to take action, not a source of stress.

5. Not building savings into your budget

Sometimes, life throws you a curveball and when that happens, your budget may need to roll with your punches. Not leaving room in your budget for the occasional blip is another bad habit to abandon in the new year.

“If your budget has no wiggle room, you’re going to be in deep trouble the first time your car breaks down or you have an unexpected medical bill,” says Sara Skirboll, shopping and trends expert at RetailMeNot.

Skirboll says there’s an easy solution: Add a line item for savings into your budget. You can simplify your saving efforts further by setting up an automatic transfer from checking to savings each payday to build your emergency cushion.

You can also set up automatic savings deposits with the Chime banking app. Each time you use your Chime Visa Debit card to make a purchase, the transaction is rounded up to the nearest dollar and the difference is transferred to your Chime savings account.

6. Missing your bill due dates

Paying your bills past the due date can hurt your budget if this triggers a late fee. Even worse, this can damage your credit score, especially if you’re paying credit cards or loans late.

“If you have a habit of being sloppy with credit card payments, then be sure you get a grip on this in the new year,” Harzog says.

When you’re paying on time each month, you can dodge costly late fees and keep your credit score intact. Harzog says a good credit score can help you rack up savings in the new year on loans, car insurance and health insurance, all of which can funnel money back into your budget.

Budgeting Practice Makes Perfect

Getting used to new budgeting habits isn’t always easy, especially if you’re making big changes. On average, it takes 66 days for a new habit to become fully formed. So, as you start working on new budget habits to ring in the new year, remember to give them time to sink in and become part of your normal budget routine.

 

8 Healthy Habits to Establish an Awesome Money Saving Plan

New year, new you.

A new year is also the perfect time for new money habits. As it turns out, your habits are a major part of your daily life. In fact, 40 to 45 percent of what you do is based on habit formation. But, here’s the good news: Once you form a good money habit, you’re more likely to stay with it. The tough part? It takes time and effort for a habit to stick—66 days, to be exact.

To get you started on drumming up an awesome plan to save your moola, here are 8 healthy money habits to form:

Track Your Spending

These days it’s super easy to track your spending. There are a handful of free apps to help you manage and save your money. The nifty part is that you can track your spending by the day, week or month. You can also break it down by categories.

I recently looked through my transactions and discovered that I was eating way more junk than I thought. While these sorts of reality checks aren’t always fun, they’re an important first step to turning your money situation around.

Your Inflow Needs to Be Greater Than Your Outflow

Back in my 20s, my pal “Dumpster Diving” Dave Fried told me that you need to treat your money like a business. Your cash inflow needs to be greater than the outflow. Mind you, Fried  wasn’t the richest guy. He worked minimum wage at a screenprinting shop, and his finest luxuries were bowling and cheap beer. But he never carried debt and lived within his means.

The takeaway: If you find your credit card debt increasing every month and you’re spending more than your paycheck, take a close look at what’s going on. From there, you can commit to some long-lasting changes.

Automate as Much as You Can

This is by far my fav healthy money habit. That’s because it’s easy and you only have to do it once. Then you can sit back and relax.

If you enjoy a steady paycheck, you can automate all your bills, savings goals and investments. If you’re a Chime member, you can even set up autosave to sock away a portion of your paycheck.

While I’m a freelancer, I’ve made a point to get a month ahead. I set all my bills and some of my savings goals on autopilot. This way I’ll have enough in my bank account to get through the following month.

Spend Only What You Have

Easier said than done, right? To start, leave the credit cards at home and clear out any “saved” items in the online shopping carts of your favorite retailers. Instead of whipping out your credit card, opt to take cash out of the ATM.

It also helps to separate what you can spend on discretionary expenses—eating out, groceries, shopping, personal items and entertainment. I actually have a debit card just for variable spending, and check in on my balance every few days to make sure I’m on track. For instance, if you can afford to spend $1,000 a month on discretionary stuff, transfer just that amount to a separate debit card, or take out $250 a week in cash. Try it for a week and see how it goes.

Link Specific Income Flow to Savings

In our modern side hustling era, it’s important to remember to save any extra money you earn from your gigs. To help you out, you can try syncing up different income streams to your savings goals.

Let’s say you make money from an ebook, pet sitting, and driving for a ride share company. Any cash you don’t need for your living expenses can go toward your savings goals. For instance, money made from your ebook can go toward your vacay fund, earnings from pet sitting toward your debt, and rideshare income can be socked away into your emergency fund.

Try the WOOP Approach

Besides being fun to say, WOOP is a strategy that is a hybrid of two existing habit-forming tactics. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. It’ s also known as MCII, which stands for Mental Contrasting, Implementation Intention. Here’s how it works:

First off, pick a behavior that’s hard to change yet doable to achieve. For instance, blowing a good chunk on fine dining and drinks the Friday you get paid or exercising for 10 minutes first thing each morning. Then, imagine an awesome-sauce future where you’ve achieved the desired outcome. For example, having a robust rainy day fund or making serious headway on paying off your debt.

Secondly, consider what currently gets in the way of achieving this goal. For instance, if you’re having trouble holding on to your paycheck, it may be because you love going out a lot and lack willpower. If you have trouble doing those yoga stretches or burpees first thing in the morning, maybe it’s because you feel crunched for time.

The second part of WOOP encompasses simple statements or motivating mantras that help you tackle the obstacle. This will help you push through the obstacle and stay on track.

Pay Attention to Somatic Knowledge

It’s important to be cognizant of what you experience and feel in your body. By paying attention to your natural responses to situations and triggers, you’ll gain powerful knowledge that will help inform your decisions.

For example, how do you feel the morning after spending a quarter of your paycheck at the bar? Or what flurry of emotions do you feel when you see something you really want in a store window?

As someone who struggles constantly with scarcity mentality about my money, I feel a bit of hesitation and dread when I spend more than a certain amount on a single item. While logically I know it’s the right purchase and I can afford it, my body tenses up.

The long and short of it: By paying attention to your body’s response to different money situations, you’ll gain a greater understanding of your relationship with your money, and how you can go about making changes.

Come Up With Specific Money Goals

Sure, you want to be “better with your money” in the new year. But what, specifically, does that mean?

For me, I have ambitious retirement goals. Retirement may feel like light years away, but I know it’s important to get a jump on it. So, I’ve assigned a desired amount I want to save each month to hit my goal for the year. That nitty-gritty specificity helps me take action, see my progress and stay motivated.

A pro tip: Be sure to name your savings accounts for desired goals. For instance, instead of just “savings account 2,” label it “Hawaii 2019.” This is another way to stay motivated to hit your savings goals.

Small Steps, Major Changes

There’s no better way to kick-start the new year than to focus on bettering your financial situation. By following these 8 healthy habits, you’ll have an easier time achieving money happiness and hitting your financial goals. In turn, you’ll feel less stressed out and in greater control. And that’s something worth celebrating!

 

5 Financial Resolutions You Can Meet Before the End of the Year

January is a month of change for many people, especially when it comes to finances.

A new year marks a time when you might reflect on the past year and assess your financial wins and losses. If you do decide to make financial resolutions, that’s only half the battle. Sticking with them is the hardest part. So, why not get a jump on this and start improving your finances right now.

Here are 5 financial resolutions that you can meet – and keep – before January rolls around.

1. Get on a Budget

Having a clear budget is a key element to your financial success. A budget helps you plan out your spending so that you know where your money is going. It’s also key to have a budget in place before setting big goals, like paying off a ton of debt.

Once you create your budget, you’ll want to make sure it’s realistic and sustainable so you can stick to it long-term.

To start, track your spending to get a feel for how much your regular expenses truly are. Then write down all your fixed, variable and hidden expenses. List out all your sources of income, and subtract your expenses from that income amount. The goal is to end up with a positive number or at least zero. This means that you either have money left over or you’re spending exactly what you’re making.

Here’s another budget benefit: You’ll be less stressed and overwhelmed about money because you have a plan.

2. Switch to a Better Bank Account

Have you settled for a bank account that charges you fees just because it’s a pain to change banks? Maybe you’re comfortable with your bank even though you know there are better options out there.

If you’re tired of hidden fees and monthly maintenance charges, it’s time to switch banks. You can start by comparing options. Take into consideration finding a bank account with no fees and a bank that lets you set up direct deposit and get paid early. Also, factor in whether ATMs are convenient and accessible, and whether the bank is mobile-friendly.

Once you narrow it down to your final choice, all you need to do is apply and move your funds over.

3. Stop Using Credit Cards Unwisely

If you’re in credit card debt or struggle with controlling your spending, you don’t have to wait until the new year to turn things around.

You can change your habits and start using credit cards wisely before the end of the year. For starters, limit the number of cards you carry in your wallet. Avoid impulse purchases and temptations by unsubscribing from retailer’s email lists and staying away from stores that trigger you to overspend.

After that, get into the habit of paying your bill off in full instead of carrying a balance each month. You can even simplify things by just charging one recurring purchase to your credit card each month (like a monthly Netflix charge) and paying it off every month.

4. Cut Your Spending by 10%

Sometimes it’s easy to accelerate your spending during the year without even realizing it. Lifestyle inflation occurs when you start naturally spending more money as a result of an income increase.

You can combat this by doing an expense audit every few months to make sure you’re not overspending in several areas of your budget.

With tons of holiday sales currently going on, you may be able to cut quite a few expenses to lower your overall spending by at least 10%. Can you find a cheaper gym membership or start working out at home? Can you shop around for more affordable car insurance? Can you cut cable or lower your grocery spending? Once you start going through your expenses with a fine tooth comb, you’ll realize that you can easily cut back by 10% – or more.

5. Open a Retirement Account and Contribute Regularly

If you haven’t opened a retirement account, now is the best time to get started. You can open a 401(k) through your employer or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) on your own.

Opening a retirement account is easy, but contributing to it regularly can be challenging. Luckily, you don’t have to start out by making huge contributions. Instead, start by contributing what you can, and then slowly increase the amount over time.

Saving something is better than nothing and will help you create the habit of setting money aside for retirement. To make things easier, you can even set up automatic transfers from your checking account to your retirement account.

Financial Resolutions Don’t Have to be Complicated

Don’t psych yourself out by setting overarching financial resolutions that you assume have to be stretched out over a 12 month period. Instead, write down what you want to accomplish or change and break it down into smaller chunks. You may want to look at habits you can create and steps you can take within a 30 day period.

Finally, by following the 5 steps above, you can start improving your finances at any time. There’s no reason to wait until January rolls around.

 

How to Throw Your First New Year’s Eve Party on a Budget

As the year winds down, you may be ready to ring in the new one with a bangin’ celebration. What better way to do that than by hosting a party at your place? Except there’s one little wrinkle in your plans: You don’t have a lot of cash to spend.

Not to worry. You can still throw an amazing New Year’s Eve party, even with a tiny budget. Take a look at these 6 tips to help you pull off a successful soireé.

Create a Dedicated Party Account

Keeping track of your spending over the holidays can get crazy and having a separate bank account just for party purchases can make it easier.

“If you know you’re going to be hosting a party for the new year, start a party fund as soon as possible,” says Jacob Lunduski, financial industry analyst for Credit Card Insider.

You can easily do that with a Chime Spending or Savings Account. It takes less than 5 minutes to open a free bank account with Chime. You can fund your account by setting up a direct deposit through your employer or transferring money from an existing bank account. From there, you can manage your account through the Chime mobile app.

Once your account is open, you’ll need to add something to it.

“Consider putting aside a small amount from each paycheck towards your party,” Lunduski says.

He says budgeting $20 to $50 per payday is a good rule of thumb to follow, depending on how big of an event you’re planning.

Nail Down the Guest List Early

A party isn’t a party without guests and as you plan your New Year’s Eve blowout, think about who you’d like to invite. You might want to call up everyone you know but that can add to the cost. On the other hand, capping the guest list at a certain number can help you manage your costs.

Another tip: Clue in your invitees and tell them you’re planning a party. “Ask them to tentatively RSVP whether they can make it or not,” Lunduski says.

“This will give you a general idea of how much food, seating and alcohol people will need, and the cost associated.”

This step is important for planning your budget. For example, if you have $300 to spend and you want to invite 30 people, that breaks down to $10 you can spend per person. Paring the guest list back to 20 people bumps your per-person spend up to $15. You can then decide how that $15 should be divvied up between food, alcohol and other party supplies.

Buy in Bulk (and Ask for a Deal)

If you’re planning to hit a party supply store or shop online for cups, plates, napkins or even wine, buying in bulk can be a money saver. Finance expert and founder of Fiscal Nerd Stacy Caprio says getting to know your local party suppliers can work in your favor if you’re able to negotiate a bulk discount.

“Often, the owner of a small shop or business will be happy to accommodate a loyal customer as well as encourage bulk purchases, since that can be the bread and butter of their business,” she says.

“This makes them more willing to give you a discount when you ask.”

Consider BYOB or Potluck to Save on Food and Drinks

Food and alcohol can eat up a big chunk of your party budget. Greg Jenkins, partner and co-founder of event planning company Bravo Productions, says you can make party planning less stressful — and less expensive — by asking guests to contribute something for dinner and drinks.

For example, you might supply beer and cocktail mixers but ask attendees to bring a dish or a bottle of wine for everyone to share. If you’re planning to prepare food, Jenkins says it’s always better to keep it simple.

“Sit down dinners cost more to host,” he says. Even with just appetizers, you could overspend if you let the menu get away from you. So, stick with basic, inexpensive choices like ham sliders and mini desserts. Most importantly, “don’t waste money on things guests won’t eat,” Jenkins says.

Repurpose and Reuse Party Items Whenever Possible

Your first New Year’s Eve party is a big deal and while you may be tempted to go all out, your wallet will thank you if you think practically instead. Repurposing things you have around the house for your party or thinking about how the items you’re purchasing can be useful beyond New Year’s Eve can help you make smarter buying decisions.

For instance, say your favorite grocery store is running a sale on wine. If you drink wine year-round or if wine is something you can gift to friends and family, stocking up on it while it’s on sale might be a good move.

Also, consider what you plan to do for decorations to make the party complete. Jenkins says you can save money by using things you already have around the house. Fitted sheets, for example, can double as tablecloths. Or, you can leave up holiday decorations and lights and think about adding in some inexpensive paper streamers or confetti to capture the party mood. If you don’t have any twinkle lights handy, candles can create a similar effect.

If you’re planning to buy plastic or paper plates, cups, party hats, whistles or similar items, you can scoop those up at a dollar store. Stick with solid colors instead of ones that have “New Year’s Eve” printed on them and stash away any extras to reuse for your next party. If you need an extra table or chairs for seating, check your local thrift stores for low-cost finds.

Serve Up Affordable Entertainment

While you’re waiting for the clock to countdown to midnight, you’ll need to keep your guests entertained. Since it’s your first New Year’s Eve party, hiring a band may not be feasible, but there are still plenty of ways to enjoy yourself as the hours tick by.

For example, you could set up a DIY photo booth for your guests. You just need a plain sheet or a curtain for the backdrop, some party props and a camera. The props may be things you’ve already purchased — think silly glasses, paper top hats, bead necklaces and noisemakers. Toss everything in a shoebox or a plastic bin and let your guests snap away.

Other low-key, low-cost options include board games, cards, charades or taking turns sharing your New Year’s resolutions. If you’re stumped for suggestions, poll your guests to see what inexpensive ideas they have for the big night.

All the New Year’s Eve Fun, Without the Financial Hangover

While you still may need to spend something on your first New Year’s Eve party, you don’t need to spend everything.

The more you plan your spending ahead of time and follow these 6 tips, the easier it is to keep your budget locked down. And when the ball drops, you can enjoy the moment knowing that you won’t be starting the new year off with money regrets.

 

6 Year-End Money Moves: Salary vs. Hourly

It’s that time of year again – the time when everyone focuses on the holidays. This includes buying gifts, planning holiday travel and preparing for all those holiday parties.

Yet, this is also the time of year when you can easily let things fall to the wayside, including your own finances and career. So, before you let yourself get carried away with holiday spending, it’s time to take an inward look at your own money matters.

A good place to start is to answer this question: Are you paid by the hour or are you salaried? The answer to this question is important because how — and when — you earn your money can make a big difference in the year-end financial actions you take. For example, if you are a salaried employee, you may already have company-sponsored insurance and a retirement plan in place. If you are hourly, however, you may have to set up your own retirement account and purchase insurance. On the other hand, if you work an hourly job, you may have the opportunity to earn extra money by working overtime hours.

So, with one month left to go in 2018, take a look at these 6 financial housekeeping moves for salaried versus hourly employees.

Contribute to a Retirement Plan

Regularly saving money in a retirement plan is one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for retirement. And one of the best ways to do that is by contributing to a 401(k), a tax-deferred retirement plan offered by many employers.

You’ll often hear about 401(k) plans coming with a “company match.” Matching contributions are when your employer will deposit a dollar amount or certain percentage into your retirement plan. It’s basically free money from your job – which you can get just for contributing to your retirement account.

“Perhaps the worst financial mistake someone can make is turning down free money,” says Robert Johnson, a professor of finance at Creighton University.

“If one doesn’t contribute enough in a 401(k) plan that has a company match, one is basically turning down free money.”

Here’s how you can maximize your investments if you have an hourly or salaried job.

Salary:

  • Max out your allowable retirement account contributions by adjusting your limits through your employer or investment portal.
  • If you’re already spreading yourself too thin financially, aim to contribute as much as you can to your 401(k) to get the maximum company match.

Hourly and self-employed:

Review Your Insurance Policies

“As the year comes to a close, it’s important to review insurance policies to make sure your coverage still fits your life,” says Lingwe Wang, co-founder of life insurance provider Ethos.

Take a look at the suggestions below.

Salary (and hourly, where applicable):

  • Thoroughly review your insurance policies, to include health, auto, homeowners and life – particularly if you anticipate a major life change in the upcoming year, like a marriage, birth or relocation.
  • Open new policies and close old ones. Make this move by determining if you may need more or less coverage, depending on your individual situation.
  • Monitor insurance rates. Keep an eye on insurance rates all year, but make sure you conduct a full scale review at the end of each year.
  • Pay attention to your deductibles. Here’s a good example: “If you have an expensive (medical) procedure coming up, and have reached or nearly reached your deductible, you could consider scheduling the procedure this year, rather than next, to maximize your benefits,” says Kevin Gallegos, senior vice president of client enrollment for Freedom Debt Relief.

Hourly/contract/self-employed:

  • Pick a plan. Now is the time to select the health insurance coverage right for you. Open enrollment for healthcare coverage on the health insurance marketplace lasts from November 1 to December 15. Make sure you don’t miss this window!

Utilize an FSA (if applicable)

A Flexible Spending Account, or FSA for short, is a tax-exempt way to save money to pay for certain qualifying medical expenses that may not be covered by your health insurance. This may include prescription medications, co-payments, or even portions of your deductible.

Salary:

If you’ve been making deposits into an employer-sponsored FSA plan, start using those dollars. According to HealthCare.gov, you’ll generally need to spend your FSA funds within your plan year. So, if you started coverage at the time of open enrollment, this leaves just two short months before the money you’ve socked away goes to waste.

“There is still time to make relevant purchases to use the money,” says Gallegos.

“Many kinds of products and services apply, so if it’s too late for a doctor’s appointment, determine if you need other qualifying items.”

Hourly/contract:

If you don’t have an FSA in place, now is the time to open one for more flexibility within your health insurance coverage. You’re allowed to deposit up to $2,650 per year, per employer, into an account.

Check Your Credit Report

Ensuring your credit is in good standing is important no matter whether you’re salaried or hourly.

With that, make a habit of checking your credit report at least once a year, and now is a great time to start. Your credit report is available for free at annualcreditreport.com and by reviewing your report, you’ll be able to spot signs of identity theft, which can adversely affect your report and credit score.

If you find anything that looks suspicious or errant — such as a loan listed as delinquent that you paid off, an unfamiliar looking credit account, incorrect spellings or dollar amounts, or other information that’s amiss  — you can dispute your findings with the three credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian.

Checking your credit report gives you the security and control you need over your financial situation, regardless of your employment status: full-time, part-time, salaried, hourly or contract.

Prep Your Taxes

Before you know it, the holidays will be over, a new year will have begun, and tax time will be here. April 15, 2019 is the next deadline for filing taxes, so make sure you prepare ahead of time.

Salary and hourly:

  • Check your tax withholdings. “Depending on your preference and your salary, some tax withholdings are better than others,” notes McCall Robison, chief editor of Best Company.

“Look at this year’s finances and tax withholdings, and determine if your current tax withholding is working with your budget. If not, you may want to change your tax withholding choice to better work with your financial situation.”

Hourly only:

  • Calculate any extra pay you earned throughout the year. For example, if you worked overtime or earned tips, include that in your total annual income. To learn more about how to report tips on your tax return, you may want to access IRS Form 4070.

Build Your Budget

Salaried and hourly employees may be paid differently, but making an effort to start a budget or make changes to improve your current budget is a great way for everyone to save money.

“Take into account your budget for the current year and think of where you could improve,” advises Robison.

“Did you eat out too much this year? Are there some bills you could cut down on? Do an expense audit, making a list of all of your bills and other expenses, and see where you can improve next year. This will give you a great start in the new year.”

A Fresh Financial Beginning at the End of the Year

The end of the year is an opportunity to make positive financial changes in the upcoming year. No matter what kind of work you do, how much you’re paid, how you’re paid, or what your unique work situation is, this is the time to make some smart money moves.

 

6 Steps to Enjoying a Debt-Free Holiday Season

The holidays can be an exciting time. ‘Tis the season to enjoy family get-togethers, time off from work, meaningful gift exchanges and more.

Yet, the holiday season can cost money – a lot of money. Indeed, you’re not alone if you worry about overspending. The average American racks up more than $1,000 in holiday debt each year.

Luckily, there are 6 steps you can take to enjoy a debt-free holiday season. Take a look:

1. Develop a Realistic Spending Plan

Your first step should be to develop a spending plan for the holidays, also known as a budget. By knowing how much you can spend, you can then set realistic expectations.

To start, list out all of the expenses you’ll incur over the next few weeks, and figure out how much you’re likely to spend on your holiday gifts. Once you know your limit, it’s time to start saving automatically. I’ll share some of the most creative budgeting methods below.

2. Shop Around for Deals

When doing your holiday shopping, be sure to compare stores and prices to find the best deals. Shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday can help you save so long as you don’t go overboard.

You can also use coupons and look for BOGO deals. And, don’t forget to take advantage of stores that offer price matching. Give yourself enough time to comparison shop by starting early. This way, you won’t feel rushed to buy the first thing you see.

If you see items you want to buy but don’t have enough cash, find out if the store offers a layaway service, This way you can pay as you get paid instead of charging your purchases immediately. Pro tip: If you set up direct deposit with Chime, you can get paid earlier, freeing up more immediate cash for you.

3. Pay for Everything with Cash

Forget about credit card reward points or cash back, particularly if you’re afraid you’ll get into holiday debt. In some cases, it’s just not worth it.

Instead of using a credit card for your holiday purchases, use the cash you set aside according to your budget. When you pay for all your holiday expenses in cash, it’s basically impossible to overspend and get into debt.

You can even try using the cash envelope budgeting method by assigning each category in your budget an envelope that you’ll fill with a designated amount of cash. Once an envelope is empty, that’s it. You’ll need to stop spending in that area. This budget does come with some drawbacks as you won’t be able to shop online and you’ll need to be organized so that you don’t misplace your envelopes filled with cash.

In the long-run, however, the envelope budget forces you to slow down when shopping and spend more mindfully.

4. DIY Hidden Costs

It’s easy to overspend on seemingly hidden things like decorations, greeting cards, white elephant gifts and party food. Instead of spending cashola, go the DIY route.

For starters, you can make your own holiday decor with craft supplies or dollar store items. I went to my local dollar store the other day and found everything from wreaths, ornaments, table decor, holiday lights, and more  – all for a buck each.

When it comes to making your own greeting cards, you can design them online using a free program called Canva. Rather than buying baked goods, you can also bake some of your favorite treats for cheap. Lastly, if you’re doing a gift exchange, you can always DIY gifts – whether it involves making homemade candles and bath bombs, or creating custom artwork.

5. Earn Extra Money

Once you’ve created a budget and have limited your holiday spending as much as possible, it may be time to start earning some extra money.

If finances are tight around this time of year, you can find more wiggle room by starting a side hustle or seeing if your can work overtime at your job. If you’re looking for something easy that pays quickly, you can drive for Uber or Lyft, deliver groceries with Instacart, babysit or pet sit, shovel snow, rent a room out in your home, design logos on Fiverr, or clean homes. These are just a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

The key is to look for opportunities that you can start ASAP. This way you’ll be more apt to earn enough money to meet your holiday spending needs.

6. Focus on Experiences

The holiday season is not just about having and spending money. It’s also about showing gratitude, spending time with loved ones, and having positive experiences.

When you focus on experiences over money, you’ll be more likely to avoid overspending and going into debt during this time of year. And here’s the best part: Experiences can be free. For example, you can trade in a day of shopping for a day of binge-watching holiday movies while eating Christmas cookies and sipping hot cocoa. Or, you can drive around your neighborhood to look at Christmas lights, go sledding in the snow, or find a free local event to attend.

The Holidays Don’t Have to Be a Debt Sentence

Don’t sentence yourself to debt over the holidays. It’s not worth it and you have plenty of inexpensive ways to have fun, give gifts and enjoy the season. If you need inspiration, just turn to these 6 steps to a debt-free holiday season.

 

Why You Should Spend With Your Debit Card vs. Credit Card This Holiday Season

The holiday season is approaching and you know what that means — spending money. Whether it’s buying gifts for loved ones or booking flights to travel home, the holiday season typically means a spike in spending for many of us.

And, because you may spend more than at other times of the year, you’re probably going to use credit cards. But, did you know that while credit cards offer some cool rewards like cash back, using your debit card is often a wiser choice? Read on to learn why.

1. You spend only what you have

Everyone wants to think they’re responsible with credit and only buy what they can afford. Well, a lot of people are wrong. According to a 2017 study by Magnify Money, 68 percent of consumers attributed their holiday debt to credit cards.

Of the consumers surveyed, 44 percent racked up more than $1,000 and five percent accumulated more than $5,000 in credit card balances. More disturbing is the fact that half of those consumers noted that it will take more than three months to pay off the debt they accrued during the holidays. That’s more than a quarter of the entire year!

When you use a debit card, however, you spend only what you have in your bank account. And, this helps you become more mindful and realistic about your budget. Using a debit card during the holiday season can also help you avoid fees and that dreaded holiday credit card debt.

2. You don’t have to worry about making another payment

The holiday season can make the most organized person run around like a headless chicken. Everyone’s schedule seems packed to the brim and there’s always something else added to the to-do list (Think: “Buy white elephant gift for the company party.”)

When you’re so busy, some of your normal day-to-day duties can fall to the wayside. And, if you don’t have auto-pay set up, you can potentially miss a credit card payment. Another common problem during the busy holiday season: You say you’ll “do it later” and then when you remember to pay your bill, it’s late.

When you use a debit card, however, you don’t have to add anything else to your to-do list – including making yet another payment. The money comes straight from your bank account and you don’t have to do a thing.

3. A debit card is free to use

One of the biggest perks with using credit cards is the rewards, like cash-back and airline miles. But oftentime the best rewards cards come with an annual fee and the conversion on the rewards isn’t as great as you think. In many cases, miles are literally worth about a penny per mile or less.

So, you may actually be spending your money on an annual fee, high interest rates, late fees, and more – without getting much in return.

Here’s where debit cards take center stage. Debit cards are free and can help you avoid debt.

4. Your debit card can help you save

At Chime, we’re all about helping you save money when you spend money. It’s all about balance. Am I right?

With this in mind, check out Chime’s round-up savings program, where every time you use your debit card, we round-up the purchase to the nearest dollar and put it into your Savings Account. This way you can effortlessly save and know that you’re being financially responsible at the same time.

5. Stop fraud instantly

There are no two ways about it: Fraud can be rampant during the holiday season. A lot of credit card enthusiasts think this is a solid reason to use credit over debit.

But, your debit card can offer protections that are similar to your credit card. For example, if you suspect any fraudulent uses on your Chime card or your card goes missing, you can simply go into the app and immediately put a halt on purchases by disabling transactions. No need to stay on a long customer service line (who wants to talk on the phone?!) and no need for lengthy emails. Just put a stop to it, now.

Not only that, but Chime alerts you any time you use your debit card. So, if your debit card get into the wrong hands, you’ll know right away.

Bottom line

The holiday season should be a time of joy and fun, not stress and debt.

Using debit instead of credit can help you keep your spending in check, plus you’ll have one less thing to worry about. So, this holiday season: Try spending only what you have and enjoy the season with family and friends. It sure beats worrying about money!

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