5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

Vacation Budget

5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget

With the weather warming up, summer vacation isn’t too far away. If you haven’t already, it’s time to start a vacation budget and account for everything you’ll be paying for that week.

After all, you don’t want to have to cut your relaxation time short because you forgot that you actually have to pay for gas.

But there are other financial surprises too, ones that perhaps you don’t think very much about when sitting down to create your budget. Here are a few that maybe you have not taken into account just yet, but absolutely need to.

Let Mint.com help you create the perfect vacation budget. Click here to get started!

Parking

Despite free public parking not being a popular idea among money-hungry companies for a while now, a lot of us still forget that we have to pay for the damn thing. This may be a few bucks or a few dozen bucks, but either way you can’t forget it when budgeting for your vacation.

Do the research to find out the charges for each place you’re staying or going to. Going to see a ball game? How much does the park charge to park? Going to take the train into the city? How much do they charge and, if need be, how much does valet parking cost?

Add those up, and you might be surprised how much not actively driving your car can run you.

Wi-Fi

These days, Wi-Fi is just about everywhere, and just about everydiv uses it. While the airport Wi-Fi might be free, the hotel you stay in might want a few bucks extra for use of their signal. This is especially true in nice, upscale hotels, where Wi-Fi access could run you $10-$20 a day.

So either annoy your family by checking into some rinky-dink motel, where Wi-Fi is free but everything is roach-ridden and moth-eaten, or factor in the money necessary for Junior to use his iPad on the coziest bed he’s ever slept on.

The Food Bill

Even though it’s part of our daily lives, many people don’t think about food when punching out their budget. And if they do, they vastly underestimate how much stomach fuel actually costs.

This goes for vacations as well. You should find out what restaurants in the area typically charge, so you don’t get blindsided by the high cost of steak. If you’ve rented out a house with a kitchen and fridge, take some time to deduce how much you and your family spend on food at home.

Then, take that total and add a bit more to the food budget. It’s vacation time, after all, and for many, relaxing and unwinding means more burgers and s’mores than during a regular workweek.

Checked Bag Fees

If there’s one thing all travelers can agree is pure evil, airlines charging people to check in their bags has be it. Some airlines, such as Southwest, will let customers get away with some checked bags for free, but expect to fork over $25 or more for each additional one.

Checked bag fees need to be part of your budget every time, because it’s never, ever going away. Airlines make too much money off of it to abandon it simply because we don’t like it.

Either pack minimally, ensuring that you can get away with nothing but carry-ons and maybe one or two checked bags, or put a couple hundred bucks aside in the budget for the over packers in your family.

Vacation Budget Plan

Spontaneous Activities

There was an episode of Full House where Danny Tanner attempted to script the family’s Hawaiian vacation to the letter — every activity planned ahead of time, strict time limits on said activities, and naturally every penny accounted for.

This almost never happens. Vacations aren’t nearly that organized, and you will have some unpredictable moments, not to mention costs that you didn’t see coming. Maybe your children see an ad for horse riding trails and immediately start begging you to let them ride the horsies.

Sadly, horsies aren’t cheap, but this is a vacation, so why not let them indulge?

The trick is to not indulge too much. Don’t do everything that sounds fun, because the inevitable overdraft charges on your bank account won’t be very fun. Leave enough room in your budget for unplanned, spontaneous activities, and stick to that window as closely as you can.

This way, you and your family will have a great, fun vacation, and you won’t still be paying for it months and months later.

Mint.com can help create a complete vacation budget just for you and your family. Click here to sign up and start!

The post 5 Neglected Expenses That Can Ruin Your Vacation Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Prepare for Holiday Shopping with These Timely Credit Tips

According to a YouGov Parent Survey in 2019, a quarter of parents entered the 2019 holiday shopping seasonstill paying down debt related to 2018 holiday spending. Deloitte numbers put holidayretail salesgrowth in 2019 at 4.1% year-over-year. In 2020, Deloitte predicts growth of between 1% and 1.5% year-over-year for the holiday season.

It might be that some people no longer want to pay for holiday gifts, decorations and food a year down the road. But it’s also true that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit consumerwallets and some people might be cutting back this year.

That doesn’t mean that people aren’t shopping. Google and other thought leaders note that changes to shopping habits and the need for social distancing and other measures will likely spread the holiday shopping season out longer. Shoppers are also likely to turn to online shopping.

With a ton of shopping opportunities, a longer holiday shopping season and pent-up pandemic energy, it might be easy to overspend and create debt you’ll deal with into the future. Follow these tips to prepare for holiday shopping so you can protect your financial standing, save money and make the most of the resources you have this season.

1. Check your credit scores

Begin by checking your credit scores and reports. They tell you where you stand if you want to apply for credit. They also give you a baseline of where you are so you know if your score goes up or down later with no explanation.

An unexplained drop in your credit score can be a sign your financial information is compromised. Unfortunately, the holidays are prime time for many scammers. Using a service, such as ExtraCredit’s Track It feature to keep tabs on 28 of your FICO scores, helps you know when you need to act to protect your credit.

2. Ask for a credit limit increase

If you have existing credit cards and you’re a cardholder in good standing, the months prior to the holidays can be a good time to ask for a credit limit increase. You’re not asking so you can spend more-it’s typically advisable to keep spending in line with your budget no matter how much credit you have.

You’re asking for a higher limit so you can spend what you already planned to without hurting your credit utilization. Credit utilization is the second-most important factor in determining your credit score-second only to payment history. It’s the ratio between your credit limit and how much of that credit you have used.

If you have a card with a limit of $1,000 and you spend $300, that’s a utilization rate of 30%. But if you get approved for a credit limit of $2,000 and you spend $300, that’s a utilization rate of only 15%, which is better for your score.

3. Apply for a credit cardwith a 0% APR introductory offer

Those with good or excellent credit might want to consider applying for a card with a 0% APR introductory offer. If you qualify for such a card, you typically have one or two years to pay off purchases made during the introductory period without accruing any interest.

This can be a way to finance your entire holiday without paying anything more for the privilege of doing so. However, it’s still important to maintain your budget and not overspend just because you won’t be paying the balance off until later. Otherwise, you make this season’s holiday festivities next season’s problem.

4. Pay down debt before-and after-the holidays

Speaking of last season’s debt: If you can pay it down before you start spending this season, that’s a great accomplishment. It also frees up your credit and your budget so you can better enjoy the current holiday season. If you’re paying $100 a month on your debt, that’s $100 a month that might go toward gifts or celebrations that you don’t have to put on a card this year.

If you do use credit to pay for the 2020 holidays, have a plan for paying it down as soon as possible. That’s especially true with 0% interest cards. The longer you wait, the greater the chance you’ll miss the introductory period and potentially be on the hook for a lot of interest expense.

5. Create a holiday spending budget

Whether you’re using cash or credit-or a mix of both-enter the 2020 holiday shopping season with a plan. Take an honest look at your personal budget. If you don’t have a budget, create one before you move forward. Then decide how much you can realistically spend during the holidays.

Consider which gifts you want to buy and which events you want to host or attend. You might not be able to do everything, and that’s OK. Be honest with yourself, your family and your friends about what you can afford to do with your time and money this year.

Then make a list and assign each item a monetary budget. That can include:

  • Gifts as a total
  • Gift extras, such as wrapping and tags
  • Shipping, both for receiving items you buy and for shipping gifts to others
  • Food and drinks
  • Travel
  • Decor
  • General festivities, such as tickets to holiday events

Once you assign a dollar amount to a category, stick to it. That’s a good idea even if you’re spending with credit.

6. Align budgeted spendingwith credit cardrewards

Once you know how much you want to spend, decide how best to spend it. If you’re using credit cards for the holidays, check your accounts to see if any offer cash back or rewards points. If they do, double-check which categories or stores you can shop in to earn the most points with each card.

For example, some travel rewards cards offer 6x points when you shop at supermarkets. You could use such a card to cover the food-and-drink portion of your holiday budget and reap the biggest rewards possible from that spending. You might also be able to maximize rewards when purchasing gift cards.

7. Guard your financial information and identity

As you enjoy holiday shopping, be on guard. Don’t use debit card PIN numbers unless you have to, and shield the keypad when you enter your information. Keep a close eye on your wallet or purse, and check your credit card statements regularly to ensure all charges are yours. You can also use ExtraCredit’s Guard It feature to help keep your identity and account information safe during and beyond the season.

Sign up for ExtraCredit today!

The post Prepare for Holiday Shopping with These Timely Credit Tips appeared first on Credit.com.

Source: credit.com

9 Ways to Support Small Businesses Without Breaking the Bank

We all have our favorite small businesses, including our go-to date night restaurant and favorite thrift store. These places serve more than great food and looks — they build jobs in the community, put children through school, and are the realization of your neighbor’s dream. 

These stores are built on hard work and love, and supply some of the best quality products you can find. Small businesses are a great sign of a thriving economy, but they’re also the first to suffer from economic downturns, like 2020’s COVID-19 recession. This is why it’s more important than ever to find ways to support your community’s businesses.

There are many reasons why small business success is vital. Not just for the economy but for our communities. That’s why Small Business Saturday (November 28) is one of our favorite times of the year, and why we collected these ways you can support small businesses without breaking the bank (or leaving the house!).

Shop Small Businesses

Shopping small is the easiest way to support community businesses and clear your holiday list. Shopping locally doesn’t have to drain your wallet, either.

Small businesses generate 44% of U.S. economic activity.

1. Skip the Hallmark Card and Support a Local Artist

Cards are a classic gift for any and all celebrations. They’re small, affordable, and easy to personalize. This year skip the grocery store and see what artists you can support while still getting beautiful and unique gifts for your family and friends. 

Most cities will have galleries, boutiques, and even tourist shops that display locally printed and designed cards to choose from. If you don’t have a shop near you, you can browse thousands of creators on Etsy to find the perfect design for each of your loved ones. 

2. Send Gift Cards

Gift cards are perfect for acquaintances, long-distance giving, and little acts of kindness every now and then. Instead of collecting Amazon and Starbucks cards, see what your local spots have to offer. 

Most restaurants and stores offer a gift card option, and you don’t have to waste the plastic! Send your gift via email to anyone, anywhere. So go ahead and thank your first mentor for their glowing reference with a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. 

3. Shop Throughout the Year

It’s true that handmade products can get pricey, but you’re ultimately paying for quality. If you’re already pinching pennies for the holiday season, start thinking about next year. Buying gifts for loved ones as you find them throughout the year is the best way to collect beautiful gifts without using credit. Plus, small businesses can use the boost year-round. 

Show Support From Home

Mockup showing someone fill in an instagram story template with favorite shops.

Download button for instagram story template.

Most of us have a budget that prevents us from buying a new wardrobe every month and eating out every weekday, so it just isn’t feasible to buy from all of our favorite local artisans all of the time. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them, you’ll just have to get creative to show your support from home. 

4. Share Your Favorite Products

When you do buy something new, take a photo! Sharing your favorite finds online and tagging the store is a great way to promote their products and quality to your friends and family. Even if you’re not buying, sharing a wishlist or their newest product could earn them another sale or new followers. 

“I think people forget that their voice has influence, whether they are a huge celebrity or a humble stay at home mom. It’s amazing just what one post can do for small business.” — Autumn Grant, The Kind Poppy

5. Write a Review

You should let the world know when you find a shop you love. From Google and Yelp to a company Facebook page, leave a review to let others know they’re in good hands. Positive reviews are some of the best tools businesses have to convert sales. 

“These types [local] of businesses live and die by word of mouth. Their reviews are everything to them. Now that everyone can look up the average rating of a business or service, it’s vital for businesses to collect positive, honest reviews.” — Dan Bailey, WikiLawn Lawn Care

If you do leave reviews, detailed thoughts and photos perform the best. These give the consumer plenty of information and help your review seem authentic. Plus, reviews can help platforms like Etsy and Google know the business is valued. 

6. Refer a Friend

Tell your friends when you find a new shop or service and share the love. Your friends trust you and likely have a lot of shared interests, so this word of mouth is a great way for businesses to earn customers. 

“A referral is the single best compliment to a business owner. Trust me.” — Brian Robben, Robben Media

If you have friends and family from out of town you may also want to keep your favorite businesses in mind for when they visit. Keep a list of local restaurants, cafes, services, and shops that they can’t get anywhere else and take your friends on a local tour. 

Keep in Touch

Businesses have more ways than ever to keep you in the know, so make sure you’re subscribed to keep in touch! Newsletters and social media are a good way to keep your local faves and their promotional offers top of mind. 

Mockup showing someone filling in their wishlist on instagram.

Download button for holiday wishlist instagram template.

7. Sign-up For Newsletters

Most businesses send regular emails to notify you and other customers of their store details and deals. Newsletters are great ways to find coupons, sales, and new items you’ll adore. Just subscribing isn’t enough, though. Make sure you actually read their news and whitelist the email so you never miss a thing. 

8. Follow and Interact With Their Social Channels

Social media is another easy way to stay in the know; it can also organically promote a business. When you follow a business, platforms learn more about who else may be interested in their offers. Stay active and like and comment on their posts, too, to increase their visibility and trust with other shoppers. 

9. Swing By the Shop

Ultimately, the best way to support a business is to stop by and visit. You never know when something will catch your eye, and it’s a great way to share your find with friends. You may also get the chance to talk with the owner and learn more about the business while sharing your support. 

“Drop a note to them of encouragement. Tell them why you love them and what they mean to you and the community…We’ve been absolutely floored when people have taken time out of their day to write us a note, telling us how much they like us/our product.” — Meaghan Tomas, Pinch Spice Market

No matter the product or service, small business owners will appreciate hearing that you love their shop and can benefit from your support. Tag a friend, buy a gift card, or write a review to help your favorite stores without busting your budget. 
Small Business Administration | G1ve 

The post 9 Ways to Support Small Businesses Without Breaking the Bank appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s nothing like falling in love and finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But when it’s time to shop for rings, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tags. Just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll dive into the topic and discuss ways to save on the big purchase.

Find out not: How much do I need to save for retirement?

What the Average Engagement Ring Costs

Maybe you can’t buy love. But if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, you’ll quickly realize that it won’t be cheap. According to the Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from $5,871 in 2015. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

If you want your wedding to happen sooner rather than later, keep in mind that on average, couples spend more than $30,000 to tie the knot. That’s roughly how much you can expect to pay for everything from your wedding reception and DJ to your cake and your photographer. Location matters when it comes to weddings, however, so you might be able to save some money by choosing a more affordable place to host your ceremony.

How Much Should I Spend?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Conventional wisdom says that anyone planning to propose to their partner should prepare to spend at least two or three months of their salary on an engagement ring. But spending too much isn’t a good idea for various reasons.

A recent study conducted by Emory University connected pricey rings to divorce rates. Men who spent more money on rings for their fiancees were more likely to end their marriages. That’s a possible long-term consequence of overspending on an engagement ring. In the short term, using a large percentage of your money to buy a ring might prevent you from using those funds to pay bills or stay on top of your debt, which can hurt your credit score.

If the marriage doesn’t work out and your ex-spouse decides to sell their diamond engagement ring, its value won’t be nearly as high as it was when it was first purchased. That’s why diamond rings can be such bad investments.

So exactly how much should you spend on an engagement ring? It’s a good idea to make sure that the price you pay doesn’t prevent you or your partner from accomplishing whatever you’re planning to achieve in the future, whether that’s buying a house or having a child. Rather than following an old-school societal notion that says you should spend x amount of money on a ring, it’s best to spend an amount that won’t compromise your financial goals or jeopardize the status of your relationship.

How to Save on the Ring

If you don’t want the engagement ring you’re buying to break the bank, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the rings and what makes some more expensive than others. Diamonds are the gems most commonly used in engagement rings, and if you’re buying one for your significant other, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what jewelers refer to as the four C’s: clarity, cut, color and carat weight.

In terms of clarity, the best diamonds are flawless, meaning that they don’t have any blemishes when viewed under a microscope with 10 power magnification. Since no one’s eyesight is that powerful, you can get away with choosing a diamond with a lower clarity grade that costs less. Getting a diamond that has fewer carats (meaning that it weighs less) or getting one that isn’t completely colorless can also lower its overall price.

Or don’t get a diamond at all. Your partner might be just as happy with a simple band, a white sapphire or an emerald ring and it probably won’t cost as much as a diamond engagement ring. Shopping for your ring at a vintage store, looking for one online rather than in-person and getting a ring with a series of smaller stones surrounding the center stone (also known as a halo ring) are a few additional ways to save when buying a ring.

Final Word

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s no need to spend a fortune on an engagement ring. And you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting corners in order to find one that you can afford to buy.

Like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to take time to save up for a ring. If you have to take on more credit card debt or a personal loan in order to buy an engagement ring, it’s a good idea to find out how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. It isn’t wise to begin a marriage by digging yourself (and your partner) into a deep financial hole.

Tips for Getting Financially Ready for Marriage

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about money. It’s important to establish an open dialogue and make sure you understand and respect each other’s money values.
  • You might also consider sit down with a financial advisor before the big day. A financial advisor can help you identify your financial goals and come up with a financial plan for your life as a married couple. A matching tool (like ours) can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/sergey_b_a, ©iStock.com/svetikd, ©iStock.com/adamkaz

The post How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Zero-Based Budgeting: The Ultimate Guide

When you create a budget that works for you, you gain a sense of peace and freedom that comes with taking ownership of your finances. Although there are many approaches to budgeting, certain systems prove to be more effective than others. Zero-based budgeting is an easy and reliable method to achieve your financial goals. The concept of zero-based budgeting is simple: When you create your budget, you assign a role for every single dollar of your income.

By knowing exactly where your hard-earned cash is going, zero-based budgeting eliminates uncertainty and increases confidence in your financial decisions. Could a zero-sum approach to budgeting be the key to helping you regain your financial freedom? We’ll walk you through the specifics of this detail-oriented budgeting method so you can decide if it’s the right choice for your situation.

What Is Zero-Based Budgeting?

In short, zero-based budgeting is when you allocate every dollar you earn so that your income minus your expenses equals zero. If you earn $3,000 a month, the entirety of that $3,000 is accounted for in a zero-based budget. The goal is to avoid having extra money at the end of the month so you make wise spending choices.

Your budget should allow for spending money on monthly expenses like groceries and utilities, as well as “fun money.” Rather than waiting to see what’s left over after taking care of bills and other essentials, a zero-based budget forces you to make financial decisions in advance. If you truly want to align your actions with your financial goals, you’ll realize that every penny needs a purpose to make the most of it.

zero based budgeting

By forcing you to decide how much of your income will go towards goals like paying off debt or saving for a house before you even receive your check, zero-based budgeting encourages you to stick to your goals.

Is Zero-Based Budgeting Right For You?

Zero-based budgeting can be for everyone. A damaging myth of budgeting is that it’s only for people who lack the discipline to hold themselves accountable. No matter how much you’re struggling or thriving financially, you can benefit from taking control of your money with a zero-based budget. If you’re still skeptical about zero-based budgeting, take a look below at how it compares to the four other most popular budgeting alternatives, including the 50/30/20 method:

  • Zero-Based Budget: Make sure your expenses match your income each month so that your earnings minus your costs equal zero.
  • “Pay Yourself First” Budget: Dedicate money to savings and then the remainder is free to be spent how you choose.
  • Envelope Budget: Divide cash into physical envelopes filled with the exact amount of money you can spend on that category.
  • 50/30/20 Budget: 50% of your income is for essentials, 30% is for personal expenses, and 20% goes towards savings.
  • Value-Based Budget: Calculate the monthly cost of each need based on your values, then choose how to stretch your income to meet those needs.

When you don’t know exactly how you intend to divide your money each month, it’s easy to fall into spending traps. A zero-based budget using a digital budgeting tool is a great way to set yourself up for success and stick to your plan.

How to Create a Zero-Based Budget

Develop a zero-based budgeting plan by making it as simple as possible. Your main objective is ensuring your expenses match your income during the month. Don’t overcomplicate the process by stressing about making the “perfect” plan. The best part about creating a zero-based budget is that it’s easy to adjust month-over-month.

how to create a zero based budget

1. Record Your Monthly Income and Expenses

Write down every single monthly and seasonal expense to set yourself up for success. If you don’t know where to start, you know you’ll always have to factor in the cost of housing, utilities, transportation, and groceries.

Next, consider expenses you’re saving for, like a new car, a birthday or anniversary gift, etc. With a little bit of forethought, there shouldn’t be any surprises. It’s wise to set aside cash for unexpected or one-off expenses so you’re not immediately dipping into your emergency fund.

2. Adjust Your Budget Until Income Minus Expenses Equals Zero

When you’re new to zero-based budgeting, don’t worry if your income and expenses don’t balance each other out at first. It’s likely that you’ll have to reduce recurring costs or increase your earnings to reach a zero-sum. Canceling unnecessary subscriptions, packing your own lunch, skipping Starbucks, and starting a passive income-generating side hustle are all helpful.

Using an app with a budget categorization feature is particularly useful when you’re in the trial and error phase. Otherwise, it can be tedious and discouraging to manually re-adjust your budgeting strategy.

3. Track and Optimize Your Monthly Spending Accordingly

A zero-based budget is rarely flawless the first time around. Thankfully, you can optimize your spending by reallocating your funds as often as you need to during the month. Be sure to set yourself calendar reminders to have budget check-ins on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, especially if you’re working on budgeting as a family.

There are countless ways to increase and decrease your dollar allocations according to what makes the most sense for your circumstances. Oftentimes, three to six months are required to master zero-based budgeting. Once you get the hang of it, chances are that you’ll enjoy reaping the rewards so much that you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.

Pros and Cons of Zero-Based Budgeting

There’s no right or wrong answer to how you choose to manage your finances, but the key is that you need some kind of systematic approach to handling your money. Budgets are essential to help you build an emergency fund, save for retirement, pay off loans, or grow wealth through investing. If you aren’t sure that zero-based budgeting is the best strategy for you, we’ve outlined the pros and cons below.

pros and cons of zero based budgeting

Business management expert Peter Drucker is well-known for saying, “you can’t improve what you can’t measure.” If you want to make progress towards your financial goals, you need a way to define and track where your money will go. If you’re not convinced that a zero-based budget will work for you, don’t force it. You can always give it a try for a month or two and fall back on a different budgeting solution.

In Summary…

Zero-based budgeting is an easy and effective method to help you achieve your financial dreams. Don’t miss the chance to get the most value from your money by budgeting. We’ve summed up our main points below.

  • Zero-based budgeting is when all of your income minus all your expenses equals zero. Every dollar of your hard-earned cash has a specific, purpose-driven role.
  • Having a zero-based budget allows you to make your income go further by proactively allocating your funds to different areas of spending and saving.
  • Using a digital budgeting tool like Mint helps to set yourself up for success and hold you accountable in your zero-based budgeting goals.

 

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Source: mint.intuit.com