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How to Afford Everything that Comes with Homeownership MAKING MONEY

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Homeownership is the American dream, right? We spend years — sometimes decades — saving up enough money for a down payment for our first home and mark it as a major milestone in our lives.

But sorry to rain on your parade — just the down payment isn’t enough.

Sure, you’ll get the keys and have takeout on top of a box marked “front hall closet” on your first night, but then what? You need to fill it. You need to protect it. And you definitely need to be saving up for all the leaks, breaks and “oh, sugars!” that come with that property deed.

So How Much Do You Need?

If you’re starting from scratch, the interior designer rule of thumb is to spend between 10% and 50% of the home’s value on new furniture, appliances and decor. A totally empty $300,000 house might run up a $30,000 bill. It might be less if appliances are included, you’re bringing furniture with you, or you’re a good thrifter. It could cost more if you have expensive taste.

The average homeowners insurance in the US on that same $300,000 home is about $1,200 per year. It’s higher in places like Texas and Florida (hello, hurricane season) and lower out west in Utah and Idaho. Natural catastrophes, the cost of rebuilding your home and even your credit score can affect the cost of your premium.

As for emergency savings, the rule of thumb is three to six months’ worth of living expenses — definitely on the higher end, if you’re a homeowner. Realtor.com suggests 1 to 3% of your home value, so $3,000 to $9,000 stashed away for when your dog decides to eat through a wall.

It sounds like a lot. And make no mistake; it’s definitely a big part of your home-owning investment — but it’s attainable with the right knowledge and savings tools. Here are a few ways to boost your savings and lower your home-owning costs.

1. Make Your Sure Credit Score is in Tip-Top Shape

You probably remember this from when you were buying your home — the better your credit score, the better your mortgage’s interest rate. The same is true for homeowners insurance and credit card interest rates (this is important to think about if you open a store card to spread out furniture payments).

The good news? A free website called Credit Sesame makes it easy to put your credit score on track to reach your goals and keep your loan payments low. We even talked to one guy, James Cooper, of Atlanta, who used Credit Sesame to raise his credit score nearly 300 points in six months.*** He says they showed him exactly what to do — he was even able to open his first credit card.

What could adding 300 points to your score mean for your goals? It could easily save you thousands of dollars over the life of a car loan or mortgage.

Within two minutes, Credit Sesame will give you access to your credit score, any debt-carrying accounts and a handful of personalized tips to improve your score. You’ll even be able to spot any errors holding you back (one in five reports have one).

Make sure your plans don’t get sidelined by bad credit. Sign up for free (it only takes about 90 seconds) and see how much you could improve your score.

2. See if You’re Wasting $690/Year on Homeowners Insurance

You’re probably wasting money right now. And it’s probably on something you’d never expect — your homeowners insurance policy.

This isn’t something you actively think about — you just know you’re required to have it.

The problem is, you’re paying too much. Luckily, an insurance company called Policygenius makes it easy to find out how much you’re overpaying. It finds you cheaper policies and special discounts in minutes.

In fact, it saves users an average of $690 a year — or $57.50 a month. It’ll even help you break up with your old insurance company. (You’re allowed to cancel your policy at any time, and your company should issue you a refund.)

And just because you’re saving money doesn’t mean you’re skimping on coverage. Policygenius will make sure you have what you need.

Just answer a few questions about your home to see how much money you’re wasting.

3. Cut Your Other Bills to Save For More Furniture

Furnishing a house is expensive. You don’t even realize how much money you’ll need until you start pricing it all out at the store — a couch, a coffee table, a few lamps, a bookshelf, a couple side tables, an armchair or two, things to put on your bookshelf and on the wall… and that’s just in your living room!

One easy way to come up with this money is by cutting your costs and saving the difference. For example, when was the last time you checked car insurance rates?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $489 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 towards a dining room set just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

4. Have a Safe Place to Save Your Emergency Fund — and Grow it 16x Faster

You’ve probably heard the best way to grow your money is to stick it in a savings account and leave it there for, well, ever. That’s bad advice when it comes to building and protecting an emergency fund.

You should be looking for a place to safely stash it away — but still earn money. Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account. That’s 16x more helpful when you need $9,000 earmarked for future, inevitable, home repairs.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and a homeowner who has used these tips to save money herself. 

***Like Cooper, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.

Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

MAKING MONEY

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Find Remote Jobs at These 32 Work-From-Home Companies MAKING MONEY

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Since March 2020, more and more Americans have been working from home thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, with vaccinations available for those who want one, many workplaces are asking their employees to return to the office.

If the thought of giving up your WFH life fills you with dread, it’s time to look for a new job that allows you to work remotely 100% of the time.

To help your search, we have put together this list of companies that regularly offer WFH positions. This list is not exhaustive; a lot of companies who previously only had in-office positions are moving toward more WFH jobs in order to attract qualified candidates and to save money on office rentals.

32 Companies With Work-From-Home Jobs

We do our homework on companies before sharing them with our readers by vetting them. Here’s a list of work-from-home companies with regular job opportunities.

Adobe

Adobe is known for several products, including Acrobat, Photoshop and Illustrator. The company, which employs more than 21,000 people, has offices in cities around the world but also offers numerous work-from-home opportunities.

Benefits: Adobe has a substantial benefits package that includes medical insurance, 401(k), dependent care FSA, unlimited PTO and tuition reimbursement. The company also offers employee resource groups to help workers from similar backgrounds connect.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Go to the Adobe careers page and type “Remote” in the search bar to see all current remote positions.

Alorica

Alorica provides customer service and customer relationship management across a variety of industries, including healthcare and retail. The company employs more than 100,000 people and hires WFH customer service positions. There are a variety of shifts available, so it’s ideal if you’re looking for a flexible schedule.

Benefits: Alorica’s employee benefits include health insurance, tuition reimbursement, bonus potential, paid vacation and retirement planning.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: On the Alorica jobs page, select “Work at Home Agents” in the “Job Category” drop-down menu, then choose your current location to see what opportunities are available in your area.

Amazon

There’s no need to explain what Amazon does; it’s one of the best-known companies in the world. Amazon employs more than 1 million people, according to an October 2020 article in the Washington Post. Want to be one of those people? Amazon has an entire page that lists work-from-home jobs in several areas, including HR, software development and sales.

Benefits: Amazon’s benefits package for employees includes health coverage, 401(k), paid parental leave, adoption assistance and employee discounts.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: See a list of open WFH positions here.

Anthem

Anthem is a health insurance company that offers various part-time and full-time positions in a remote capacity. WFH jobs at Anthem include nurse reviewer, behavioral health consultant and provider network manager.

Benefits: Benefits at Anthem include 100% paid preventative health care, six weeks of parental leave at 100% of pay, adoption and surrogacy assistance, paid time off and back-to-school assistance.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Search for remote jobs here and narrow your search down by career area to see what options are available to you.

Appen

Appen is a software company that counts training data and data collection among its solutions. The company serves numerous industries, including technology, automotive, government and healthcare. It has various remote job roles that include part-time to longer-term projects as well as full-time corporate positions in management, engineering and more. Appen was named the most remote-friendly company in the U.S. by FlexJobs.

Benefits: Full-time employees enjoy a variety of benefits, such as health insurance, 401(k), parental leave, tuition assistance and volunteer time off. Part-time or contract associates are not offered any benefits.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Go to the Appen job portal to see current WFH opportunities.

Cigna

Cigna is a medical insurance company that employs more than 73,000 people. The company is headquartered in Connecticut but offers various positions in a remote capacity, including sales administration, financial analyst, business analyst, claims professional and engineer.

Cigna also focuses on recruiting veterans and runs a Veterans Enterprise Resource Group called Salute.

Benefits: Cigna’s main benefits fall into one of four categories: Personal health, family health, community health and financial health. That includes medical insurance, 401(k), paid time off and tuition reimbursement.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: See a list of remote positions by typing “Remote” into the search bar on the Cigna careers page.

Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank is one of the oldest and largest financial institutions in the country. The company’s headquarters are in Providence, Rhode Island, but it hires remote associates for positions like mortgage underwriter, software engineer and account executive.

Benefits: Citizens Bank offers a comprehensive benefits package that includes health insurance, 401(k) with company match, educational assistance and discounts on financial products like mortgages and savings accounts.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Browse remote jobs at Citizens Bank by typing “Remote” into the search bar.

Concentrix

Concentrix is a customer experience outsourcing company that employs people in more than 40 countries, many of whom work from home full time. Most available positions are in customer service.

Benefits: Benefits at Concentrix include health insurance, individual and team rewards and performance-based pay.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: See what WFH jobs are available here and apply through the Concentrix website.

CVS Health

CVS Health is known for its pharmacies in states across the country, but it also offers a lot of WFH positions. Remote roles at CVS include social worker, pharmacy technician, customer service representative and outreach coordinator. Some positions require you to be located within certain states, but others can be done from anywhere in the U.S.

Benefits: CVS Health offers a wide range of benefits, including medical insurance, a stock purchase plan, tuition reimbursement and an employee discount at CVS stores.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Apply for remote positions via the CVS jobs website.

Dell

Dell is best known for its range of personal computers. Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, Dell employs more than 165,000 people worldwide, including many remote employees. As of July 2021, Dell listed more than 2,000 open WFH positions on its job website.

Benefits: Dell’s benefits package includes health coverage, employee pricing on Dell products, employee referral bonuses and professional counseling.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Browse WFH jobs by using the keyword “Remote” in the search bar on Dell’s job portal.

HCA

HCA Healthcare is made up of 185 hospitals and over 2,000 sites of care in 20 U.S. states and the U.K. Sites of care include freestanding ERs, surgery centers, urgent care centers and physician’s offices. The company employs more than 275,000 people in total, both within its facilities and in a remote capacity.

Remote opportunities at HCA include project manager, administrator and assistant.

Benefits: Benefits at HCA include tuition reimbursement, health benefits, time away from work policies, adoption reimbursement and 401(k).

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Search for work-from-home jobs by typing “Remote” into the search bar on the HCA careers site.

Hilton Hotels and Resorts

If you haven’t heard of Hilton Hotels, chances are you live under a rock. Hilton owns hotels and resorts around the world and employs more than 360,000 people globally, including many in remote customer experience positions.

Hilton provides some equipment to its WFH customer experience employees, but you must have a wired connection (wireless not permitted), monitor and dedicated work space of your own in order to do the job.

Benefits: Hilton offers several benefits for its WFH employees, including health insurance, 401(k), paid time off and discounts on travel.

Pay: The base pay for a customer experience position is $11 per hour, and there are monthly incentive programs that give you more opportunities to earn.

How to Apply: Search for available WFH jobs at the Hilton jobs website.

Hopper

Hopper is a website and app that helps you find good deals on flights, hotels and car rentals. While Hopper isn’t as large a company as many on this list, it offers a lot of opportunities for those who want to work from home, specifically in customer service.

Benefits: Benefits at Hopper are typical and include health coverage, paid time off, 401(k) and company stock options.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Browse Hopper’s customer service jobs to see what’s available in your field.

Hubstaff

Hubstaff is a fully remote company that offers monitoring services, such as time-tracking software, to other companies with remote workforces. Hubstaff lists customers such as Groupon and Instacart on its website.

Remote opportunities at Hubstaff are vast and include customer service, digital advertising, engineering and more.

Benefits: Benefits at Hubstaff include annual retreats (virtual in 2020), generous PTO and paid parental leave. However, health insurance isn’t listed as an offered benefit, possibly because Hubstaff hires on a contract basis.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: See a current list of remote job openings here.

Humana

Humana is a health insurance company offering medical, dental and vision coverage. The company has long believed in the power of a remote workforce — Humana reports that 47% of its workforce is remote during “normal” times, though this has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Available remote job roles include medical director, case manager and sales support.

Benefits: Benefits at Humana include medical insurance, 401(k) with 125% company match up to 6%, paid volunteer time and life insurance.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Check the box that says “Work at Home” under “Work Style” in the Humana job listings site to see what’s available in your field.

Intuit

You might not have heard of Intuit directly, but you’ve certainly heard of its products, which include TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint. Intuit hires remotely for positions such as talent acquisition, service and support and loan servicing.

Benefits: Full-time employees at Intuit enjoy benefits like healthcare, professional counseling, fertility benefits and dependent care FSA.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: WFH jobs are denoted with a green circle on the Intuit careers website.

Kaplan

Kaplan provides learning resources such as test prep, career advancement and foreign language instruction for students of all ages. Kaplan has a global presence but is headquartered in the U.S. and has many remote job openings. Positions are available in multiple areas such as marketing, accounting, recruiting and IT.

Benefits: Kaplan offers the usual benefits — health, 401(k), etc. — in addition to its Gift of Knowledge Program, which offers free or discounted courses to employees and their immediate family through the Kaplan platform.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Browse Kaplan’s remote job listings by selecting “Remote/Nationwide, USA” under “Locations.”

Kelly Services

Kelly Services is a staffing agency that hires internally as well as for its business partners. Kelly’s specialty areas include education, technology, engineering, science and government.

Benefits: Benefits vary based on the position.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Click to see available WFH job listings through Kelly Services.

Lionbridge

Lionbridge provides content, testing and translation services to multiple industries, including life sciences, automotive, gaming, banking and travel. The company operates in 28 countries and employs thousands of people worldwide.

Lionbridge has plenty of remote job openings in positions like content editor, customer success manager, program manager and HR generalist.

Benefits: In addition to typical benefits like health insurance and 401(k), Lionbridge lets employees take their birthday off and encourages employees to volunteer by offering paid time off for this purpose.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Click here to see a list of current remote positions at Lionbridge.

Liveops

Liveops offers virtual call center services to companies in multiple industries, including  healthcare, retail, insurance, energy and travel.

While corporate jobs at Liveops are based at the company’s headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, the company hires work-from-home agents on a contractor basis. This allows you to work as much or as little as you want, and whenever you want.

Be prepared for some upfront costs, including providing your own equipment and paying for your own background check.

Benefits: Because Liveops agents are independent contractors and not employees, no benefits are offered.

Pay: Earnings are dependent on call volume, incentives, utilization and how many hours you can commit, but most agents earn between $12 and $17 per hour.

How to Apply: Click here to see current openings for Liveops agent positions.

Nielsen

Nielsen is known for its TV ratings, but the company offers so much more. Its suite of solutions includes audience measurement, audience outcomes and Gracenote content services.

Nielsen’s remote positions include product manager, software engineer, call center, account manager and analyst.

Benefits: Benefits at Nielsen for full-time associates include health coverage, 401(k), unlimited vacation time and paid parental leave.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: You can view a list of current remote opportunities at Nielsen by clicking here.

Qurate Retail Group

Although you might not recognize the name, Qurate owns home shopping network titans HSN and QVC. The company employs remote associates mostly in customer service positions. Though remote, these employees must be located in certain cities with local phone numbers, and they must supply their own equipment (like computer, headset and phone).

Benefits: Qurate focuses its benefits on its employees’ physical health, financial health and work-life balance.

Pay: Customer service positions at HSN start at $13.25/hour with increases every 3 months for the first year, and every 6 months after that.

How to Apply: Check out opportunities in your area at the Qurate website.

Salesforce

Salesforce is a customer relationship management company that serves a huge variety of industries. It’s one of the best-known CRM providers out there right now, and the company is always hiring for new positions, many of which are remote.

Benefits: Benefits at Salesforce include medical coverage, flexible spending accounts, 401(k), employee stock purchase plan, educational reimbursement and paid parental leave.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: To see current remote job listings at Salesforce, click here, then select United States of America and your state followed by “Remote” in the left sidebar.

Stride K12

Stride K12 is an education company that offers online, in-person or hybrid learning. The company caters to homeschooled kids, military families and those looking for learning opportunities beyond their local public K-12 schools.

Stride K12 has virtual jobs in several areas, including teaching, HR and marketing.

Benefits: Benefits include health coverage, parental leave, flexible spending accounts, paid time off and 401(k).

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: See a list of virtual jobs in corporate and teaching by selecting “Virtual” under “Company Location.”

Sutherland Global Services

Sutherland Global Services is a process transformation company that specializes in helping its customers bring their processes into the digital age. The company serves clients in more than 140 countries and in over 40 languages. Sutherland hires remotely for numerous roles, including customer service, software development, sales and IT.

Benefits: Sutherland’s benefits package includes paid time off, paid training, medical benefits, flexible scheduling, performance incentives and career advancement opportunities.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Search for remote roles at Sutherland by clicking here.

Trusted Health

Trusted Health matches travel nurses with jobs that fit their requirements, preferences and location. When you sign up for an account with Trusted Health, you’ll see personalized job matches based on your license type and clinical specialties. When you get a match, you will see information about the facility, the pay and the assignment (length, shift, etc) so you can determine whether it’s a good fit.

Benefits: Benefits depend on the assignment you are contracted for.

Pay: Varies based on assignment.

How to Apply: Sign up for Trusted Health by clicking here.

TTEC

TTEC is a customer experience software as a service company whose employees help solve problems and provide support for their customers’ customers. TTEC hires remotely for positions such as customer service, IT, consulting, marketing and sales.

Benefits: Benefits at TTEC include medical, dental and vision coverage; 401(k); pet insurance; paid leave; and tuition reimbursement.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Search for available WFH jobs on the TTEC careers portal.

Tutor.com

Tutor.com is a service of the Princeton Review that offers personalized tutoring services for students in all stages of their education. Tutor.com offers work-from-anywhere opportunities for tutors who want flexibility and regular payments with no invoices required.

Benefits: No benefits are offered to tutors, as they are considered independent contractors rather than employees.

Pay: Tutor.com does not list its hourly rate, but tutors report an average of $12-$13 per hour on Glassdoor.

How to Apply: Click here to apply to be a tutor.

UnitedHealth Group

UnitedHealth Group primarily provides medical insurance policies through United Healthcare. It is also the parent company of Optum, which is a health information and technology firm. UnitedHealth Group hires in many areas, including clinical, consulting, corporate, healthcare, project management and technology. Many of these jobs are remote.

Benefits: Benefits include medical plans, savings and retirement plans, tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance and paid time off. UnitedHealth Group offers medical and wellness benefits to full-time employees, as well as part-time employees who work 20 hours or more per week.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: To see a complete list of remote job openings at UnitedHealth Group, click here.

Working Solutions

Working Solutions provides customer service through its virtual contact center network. Companies that use Working Solutions include Shell, Intuit, Pfizer, Sprint, Peloton, Zillow and Expedia.

Agents at Working Solutions are all WFH and can work when and where they want. Because of that, agents are considered independent contractors instead of employees.

Benefits: Because agents are not employees of Working Solutions, there are no benefits offered.

Pay: Working Solutions reports that its average hourly pay for agents is $15.

How to Apply: Search for available jobs here, and click the button to apply.

Xerox

Xerox has been around since the early 1900s and offers printers and supplies, 3D printing and various business solutions. The company is headquartered in Rochester, New York, but employs over 8,000 remote associates through its Virtual Office Program. This program employs associates in customer care, tech support, quality control, systems development and more.

Benefits: Benefits at Xerox include paid holidays, healthcare, life insurance, retirement savings plans, employee assistance programs and resources for childcare and eldercare.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: Click here to search for open jobs at Xerox.

Zoom

Zoom has been providing cloud video conferencing since its initial release in 2012, but thanks to the pandemic pushing all meetings to virtual, it became the fifth-most-downloaded app worldwide in 2020. Zoom is hiring for many positions, including some that are fully remote (and, presumably, meet with their teams via Zoom).

Remote positions at Zoom include enterprise sales associate, data scientist, software engineer and visual/web designer.

Benefits: Zoom offers benefits like health insurance, 16 weeks paid parental leave, generous PTO, personal finance coaching and book reimbursement.

Pay: Varies by position.

How to Apply: View remote job listings at Zoom here.

Danielle Braff is a freelancer in Chicago. Former staff writers Kaitlyn Blount and Matt Reinstetle contributed to this post.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

MAKING MONEY

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Steak Prices Are Rising. 5 Steps to Take to Save MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:5 Minute, 38 Second
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Prices keep rising and rising. Inflation is back with a vengeance. This is especially true at the grocery store, where we keep getting sticker shock at the checkout counter.

Just look at the news headlines:

Beef prices are surging worldwide, Reuters reports.

As food prices continue to rise, beef and pork have surged out front, the Washington Post says.

If you’re a steak lover, you might be out of luck. Just as grilling season kicks into high gear, prices are sky-high.

Overall, inflation rose 5% over the past year — the biggest jump since 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How can you keep up with rising prices? We’ve got some ideas.

1. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Groceries

What’s your favorite cut of steak? Ribeye? T-bone? Filet mignon?

No matter how strategic you are, groceries still account for a good chunk of your budget. Everybody’s got to eat. You may as well earn a little money back while your groceries are being bagged up.

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying staples like toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards.

Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something.

2. Pocket up to 5% Cash Back at the Grocery Store

If you’re not getting rewarded every time you go to the grocery store, you’re missing out on extra money.

Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back on your debit card purchases. For example, right now it gives you 0.5% cash back at Walmart and Target, and 5% cash back at places like Brandless. (For a full list of cash-back percentages, visit Aspiration’s website.)

It takes just five minutes to sign up for a new debit card with the Aspiration Spend and Save account.

Never leave extra money behind at the grocery store again.

3. Shop Groceries Online (or At Least Pantry Items!)

If you have a massive shopping list, grocery shopping can easily become overwhelming. Next thing you know, you’re lugging out hundreds of pounds of groceries — or at least that’s what it feels like.

Make life easier for yourself (and your arms) by buying your pantry and dry goods online — and earn cash bonuses along the way.

A free website called Rakuten has connections with more than 2,500 stores, which means it can give you a cash kickback when you shop at one. When we checked, we found deals at Amazon, Safeway, Sam’s Club, Boxed and Walmart.

It takes less than 60 seconds to create a Rakuten account. All you need is an email address. Plus, if you use Rakuten to earn money back within the first 90 days of signing up, it’ll give you an extra $10.

Now you don’t have to worry about fitting that 36-pack of toilet paper in your trunk or hauling a box of cat litter across the store. Just have someone deliver it to your door and earn cash back along the way!

4. Stop Overpaying for Groceries You Order Online

Do you pick up groceries after shopping online first? Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert any time you’re shopping online and you’re about to overpay?

That’s exactly what this free service does.

Just add it to your browser for free, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop up letting you know if that exact pair of shoes is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.*

In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.

You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.

5. Get an Extra $225 to Use Toward Groceries This Month

If we told you that before you head to the grocery store, you could get paid to watch cooking videos on your computer, you’d probably laugh.

No way, right? But we’re serious.

A website called InboxDollars will pay you to watch short video clips online. One minute, you might watch a chef teach you how to make fudge brownies, and the next, you might get the latest celebrity gossip.

All you have to do is choose which videos you want to watch and answer a few quick questions about them afterward. Brands pay InboxDollars to get these videos in front of viewers, and it passes a cut to you.

Unlike other sites, InboxDollars pays you in cash — no points or gift cards. It’s possible to earn up to $225 per month watching these videos, which could make a serious dent in your grocery bill.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and you’ll get a $5 bonus to get you started.

The bottom line is, prices at your grocery store are going to keep going up. The price of steak will keep rising.

Like it or not, that includes the price of everything you eat — including steak.

If you start following at least a couple of these tips, you’ll put yourself in a better position to handle rising grocery prices. And keep eating steak.

Any of these strategies will help.

Just pick one to start with.

Mike Brassfield (mike@thepennyhoarder.com) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He likes his steak medium rare.

*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the extension using the link provided.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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10 Cheap School Lunch Ideas That Are Kid-Approved MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:7 Minute, 34 Second

Sandwiches are great… until they get soggy in a lunchbox, or worse — crushed by a piece of fruit or a book.

If you or your little ones are dreading the thought of heading back to class this fall with simple sandwiches, it’s time to free yourself from old lunch-making habits.

No, we’re not going to recommend buying lunch every day, unless your school has a tasty (and also inexpensive) lunch program. It’s possible to make a delicious, relatively nutritious lunch for just a few dollars a day.

Try these 10 cheap lunch recipes — they each come in at around $5 a serving, and they offer enough variety to satisfy even the picky eaters in your house.

10 Cheap School Lunch Ideas

Get ready: These lunch ideas are going to make you hungry.

1. Lunchbox Kebabs

Christina Hitchcock’s lunchbox kebabs are the perfect alternative to tired sandwiches, and the recipe she shares on her blog It’s a Keeper is super simple.

Choose your tiny scholar’s favorite sandwich fixings, like meat, cheese and veggies, and stick ‘em on short skewers inside a plastic container. The components will stay fresh, and you can include a small container of a dip — mustard would be my choice — for mealtime.

What You Need

Black Forest Ham
Cheddar Cheese Slices
Grape Tomatoes
Skewers
Yellow Mustard

2. Cool Apple Quesadillas

For the kid who can’t get enough cheese, but honestly needs a few more food groups in their day, these grilled-then-chilled quesadillas from Laura Fuentes of Momables are perfect.

They take a few minutes of prep, but they’re worth it. Although designed for a cold lunch, you do cook the quesadilla on the stove like you would at dinnertime. Gotta congeal that cheese.

Fuentes layers on thin-sliced apples and cheese slices, and grills them between eight-inch tortillas. There’s a ton of wiggle room here for ingredients — consider switching to a whole-wheat tortilla or switch up the cheese selection for a new flavor combo.

What You Need

Flour Tortillas
Cheese Slices
Granny Smith Apple

3. Polka-Dot Pizza Dippers

Your resident pizza fiend will ask for this easy, cheap lunch day after day. And that’s totally doable, because you can prep a whole batch in advance and freeze them until it’s time to pack a few pizza dippers.

Simply divide refrigerated biscuit dough as described in the recipe on Coupons.com’s The Good Stuff blog, and top with a dab of sauce and a slice of pepperoni. They bake up flaky, and you can season to taste.

What You Need

Refrigerated Biscuit Dough
Pizza Sauce
Pepperoni

4. No-Bake Banana Burritos

Here’s a wholesome lunch that requires zero cooking. Promise!

It’s a sweet twist on the typical PB&J: a PB&J banana burrito.

Smear peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla, roll up a (peeled, of course) banana in the center, and send it off to school. Banana burritos!

It’s easy to swap PB for another type of spread, like sunbutter, if your kids go to a peanut-free school.

Feeling pooped from a long day of parenting? Even smaller students can prepare this lunch on their own.

What You Need

Yellow Bananas
Peanut Butter
Strawberry Preserves
Flour Tortillas

5. The Ultimate Bento Box

If your kid is more of a grazer, stop worrying about packing a meal so much as packing a bunch of snacks they’ll be excited to eat at lunchtime. Choose a reusable container with sections to pack four to six different bite-size treats.

It’s also a great way to compromise with a kid who has a major sweet tooth but isn’t so much into vegetables: pack a sweet treat, sure, but surround it with enough healthier options that it’ll all even out.

What You Need

Nike, who runs the blog Choose to Thrive, likes to make her kids’ bento boxes look like Lunchables. But here’s what I’d put in my ideal box:

Cracker Rounds
Cheddar Cheese Slices
Green Pepper
Grape Tomatoes

The fresh ingredients for this box are more expensive, but remember this is one of the more customizable lunch options. You can substitute other components like a clementine, pretzel sticks, apple slices, a handful of almonds, a hard-boiled egg or even a few cookies.

It’s also easy to adjust portion sizes based on your student’s appetite.

6. Waffle Sandwiches

Land O Lakes offers this cool recipe that asks you to put sandwich components inside a waffle maker to griddle up some goodness. I say: Let’s not work that hard.

To make an easier version of a waffle sandwich, toast up a frozen waffle, cut it in half, and layer on ham and cheese. Then, either microwave these magical sandwich sticks or grill in a pan for a few minutes.

If you’re a nice parent, add a small cup of maple syrup for dipping. If you don’t care about your child’s happiness (and want to stay on the school custodial staff’s good side), skip it. The frozen waffles are sweet enough on their own.

You can make a batch of these and freeze them so they’ll defrost for junior by lunchtime.

What You Need

Frozen Waffles
Maple Syrup
Black Forest Ham
Cheddar Cheese Slices

7. Yogurt Parfait

If a yogurt parfait seems like a treat best saved for a summer day, it’s time to rethink your school-lunch ways. You can whip together this nutritious combo of yogurt, fruit and granola in minutes, and you can prep a few at a time for several days worth of lunches.

What You Need

Vanilla Yogurt
Strawberries
Blackberries
Almond Butter Granola 

8. Easy Mac and Cheese Bites

Kids love macaroni and cheese, but this hot dish doesn’t keep well in a lunch box. Instead, bake up some mac and cheese bites that you can store in the freezer for a grab-and-go solution.

Pinterest is filled to the brim with “homemade” mac and cheese recipes for these bites, but let’s get real. This isn’t Sunday dinner. This is a Monday morning when you are bleary-eyed and someone is screaming like a banshee because she can’t find her other shoe.

So here’s a super simple recipe to try:

To make these zesty bites, simply prepare your favorite boxed mac and cheese as instructed. When you’re done, add some extras of your choice to the pot: finely chopped broccoli or spinach sneaks into this lunch pretty easily.

Mix well, pour it all into a mini muffin tin (you may want to grease the pan first), top with parmesan cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Adjust for your desired crispiness.

Freeze the batch and pull out a few at a time. Send a small container of ketchup to school for dipping.

This recipe makes about 12 in a mini-muffin pan — but you might have some left over for a snack!

What You Need

Macaroni and Cheese
2% Milk
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Frozen Broccoli
Ketchup

9. Ants on a Log

It’s time for some early-’90s nostalgia, because you probably forgot all about ants on a log, huh? It’s a severely underrated snack, but if you eat enough of them, it totally counts as lunch.

There are many variations on the traditional combo of celery, peanut butter and raisins, so use what your kids are most likely to chow down. Craisins! Cream Cheese! Go crazy.

What You Need

Celery
Peanut Butter
Raisins

10. Corn Dog Muffins

If you have a child who only ever wants to eat hot dogs, here’s a way to send them to school without lobbying the PTA to get a grill for the cafeteria.

Whip up some cornbread muffin mix, pour into that handy mini-muffin pan, plop a slice of hot dog into the center of each, and bake according to this simple recipe from One Sassy Momma. Freeze a zip bag of the fruits of your labor and grab a few for lunchbox duty.

If you’re feeling extra nice, include a small container of ketchup or mustard for dipping.

What You Need

Corn Muffin Mix
Hot Dogs
2% Milk
Brown Eggs

Lisa Rowan is a former writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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How to Make a Cheap Charcuterie Board for Under $30 MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:5 Minute, 47 Second

Charcuterie boards have gone from favorite appetizers at restaurants to party staples you can DIY with grocery store ingredients that cost less than you might think.

You don’t have to be a chef or caterer to make an elegant, crowd pleasing charcuterie tray full of cured meats, cheeses and complementary snacking accessories. You also don’t have to spend big bucks.

How to Make a Meat and Cheese Board on a Budget

Meat and cheese boards are super easy to make.

The staples to a proper charcuterie board are cured meats with cheese options, plus a selection of dried or fresh fruits, nuts, crackers, spreads, olives and pickled vegetables. Think of it as a glorified snack tray and choose what appeals to you.

Here’s a shopping list of essentials from Aldi, but you can find a great selection of affordable options at Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Sam’s Club.

1 16-ounce jar of kosher baby dill pickles: $1.19
1 jar of Spanish Manzanilla green olives: 79 cents
1 box sea salt and garlic chive crackers: $1.65
1 French baguette: $1.65
1 8-ounce package of Genoa salami: $3.85
1 4-ounce package of prosciutto: $2.55
.5 pounds of red grapes: $1.98
1  Honeycrisp apple: $1.89
1 18-ounce jar of apricot preserves: $1.59
1 8-ounce package of fresh mozzarella: $2.39
1 Brie round: $2.99
1 4-ounce cranberry goat cheese log: $3.99
1 10-ounce block of aged white cheddar cheese: $2.65

Total: $29.16

This much food will easily serve 10 people, with extras on hand for replenishing the board.

How to Choose Items for Your Charcuterie Platter

Ready to make your own cheeseboard with all the fixings?

Heap on the Cured Meats

These can get pricey if you’re not careful.

Common charcuterie board meats include prosciutto, Genoa salami, pepperoni, pancetta and Soppressata (an Italian salami).

Prosciutto disappears from the board first and it’s the most expensive, but get it when your budget allows.

Pepperoni and salami generally yield more pieces per dollar. Explore what pairs well, and ultimately get whatever gives you the most bang for your buck, or taste buds. People will eat it regardless.

Cheese, Please

It’s good to have about four different cheeses on a board with a variety of soft cheese and hard cheese from mild and medium to sharp.

You can’t go wrong with mozzarella, goat cheese or a white cheddar. They’re all affordable and have agreeable flavors compared with pungent cheese like blue or Gorgonzola. But if those are your jam — add ’em.

To get the most fromage for your buck, buy cheese by the block rather than sliced. You can also use the block with a grater and further save on the cost of pre-packaged shredded varieties. (Prepackaged grated cheese also has more preservatives.)

Try to include a goat or sheep cheese for those with milk intolerance, but it really depends on your situation. Don’t fret too much over getting the best cheeses. Buy what you like — and do a taste test if you can!  — or grab what’s on sale.

Now Add the Fresh Fruit, Mini Pickles and Personality

This is the fun part because anything goes (short of barbecue ribs). The “side foods” are  what makes your plentiful charcuterie platter much more than a humble cheese tray.

Complement sweet with savory to delight all palates. Add mixed nuts, fresh fruit, dried fruits, jelly, mustard, pickles and olives to the mix.

When you are making a board on a budget, start with things you have on hand like candied nuts, banana chips, pretzels, cherry peppers, honey or cucumbers. You can stock up on inexpensive charcuterie board items from grocery stores that will keep for a while.

Don’t forget fresh bread and/or crackers — gluten free crackers are a nice touch for your guests.

Here are a few more affordable items to keep on hand for your charcuterie boards.

Trader Joe’s Shopping List

Trio pack pack of little containers of dried apricots: $1.49

Individual packs of chocolate covered almonds:  $1.29

Fruit pastes for creating letters and shapes with knives or cookie cutters: 49 cents

To personalize a charcuterie board, you can spell out someone’s name with fruit leather or cut out a heart, candles or any shape to place on top of a round of cheese.

A Great Cheese Board Needs Great Presentation

The charcuterie board ingredients you choose give your creation personality and distinguish it from an average cheese plate. So do the serving utensils and the board on which you serve your delicious spread.

You can find distinctive cheese knives, tongs, sugar shells, pickle forks and baby silverware at thrift stores and estate sales for a bargain.

You can also find a large cutting board or an old-school turning Lazy Susan the same way. Scout stores such as Ikea, HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx and Tuesday Morning for a wooden board in any shape and size.

Arrange Your Cheap Charcuterie Board to Look Expensive

There’s an art to arranging a charcuterie board, and you’ll get better with practice. Prep time is minimal, and there are really no rules. But here are a few helpful tips for preparing a delicious board.

Prepare and pre-cut ingredients at home, but assemble the board at your destination. An arranged charcuterie board won’t travel well.
Place bowls, ramekins or short glass jars holding jams, spreads or olives spaced apart on your charcuterie plate.
Lay out whole fruits or blocks of cheese.
Arrange sliced meats and cheeses in circles, rows or semicircles. You can overlap, stack or spread out your masterpiece. It’s your creation, and there’s no limit to what you can do — aside from physical space. (Layering can make it appear more bountiful, but may not appeal to those with dietary restrictions.)
Fill in open spaces with smaller groupings of items such as dried fruit, chocolate almonds or stuffed olives.

For more ideas, read about how this woman started a charcuterie board business.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Former staff writer Stephanie Bolling contributed to this article.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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4 Tips to Avoid Having an At-Fault Accident Wreck Your Finances MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:5 Minute, 35 Second
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Think you live in a safe neighborhood? Whether it’s a result of dropping your guard in familiar territory or inevitable due to frequency, most car accidents tend to happen within just a few miles of home.

You don’t have to be near your house for an accident to hit close to home, in another sense. We all know how much a fender bender can ruin your day. But what do you do when you’re at fault in an accident that could potentially ruin your financial stability?

Don’t let down your guard when you’re on the final stretch home. And don’t leave home again without reviewing these four tips protecting your finances in case you’re ever responsible for an accident.

Tip No. 1: ‘Right-Size’ Your Auto Insurance

They essentially mean the same thing, but there’s one critical distinction between “responsibility” and “liability” when it comes to auto accidents. It’s OK if you’re responsible for a car accident, as long as there’s an insurance company that’s liable for it.

Liability insurance is as essential as wearing a seatbelt when operating an automobile, because it can help you protect your assets if you’re ever responsible for property damage or bodily harm.

You need to choose enough liability coverage to pay any damages you might incur in an at-fault accident. But if you’re paying too much for auto insurance, you might be tempted to choose a low dollar amount of liability insurance.

When’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $489 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

Tip No. 2: Cover Your Life, Not Just Your Car

Let’s just say it. Death, death, death — it’s an uncomfortable word to use, and it’s a topic many of us would rather skirt.

While it’s inevitable our time will come someday, there are preparations we can make now to help our loved ones cope in a world without us.

While there are exceptions, typically debt doesn’t disappear when you die.

Have you thought about how your family would manage without your income after you’re gone? How they’ll pay the bills? Send the kids through school?

Life insurance can help you leave money behind for your loved ones. In many states, this money is protected from lawsuits.

So now you’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for life insurance. But your application can take minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.

Rates start at just $16 a month. The peace of mind knowing your family is taken care of is priceless.

If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without a medical exam or even getting up from the couch, get a free quote from Bestow.

Tip No. 3: Gas Up Your Emergency Savings

It’s probably not likely you’ll want to tap your emergency savings to pay out a settlement if you’re at fault in an auto accident, unless the damages owed are minor. But being without a car, even temporarily, can be expensive. That’s where your emergency savings could help.

You’ve probably heard the best way to grow your money is to stick it in a savings account and leave it there for, well, ever. That’s bad advice, especially if you’re just trying to start an emergency fund or nurture a fledgling savings account.

Maybe you’re just looking for a place to safely stash it away — but still earn money. Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cashback and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here, and link your bank account to see how much extra cash you can get with your free Aspiration account. And don’t worry. Your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. That’s nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

Tip No. 4: Carpool Your Debt with Consolidation and Refinancing

Personal loans aren’t just for bougie people who want to update every surface in their kitchen with massive granite slabs, status seekers who really shouldn’t be buying that car on that salary or the “all gas, no brakes” types that rack up massive amounts of credit card debt.

Personal loans are just that — lines of credit offered for a wide variety of personal reasons. There aren’t many better uses for a personal loan than keeping a personal injury lawyer from turning your life into a massive estate sale.

If you need a personal loan up to $50,000, AmOne can match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne won’t make you stand in line or call your bank, either. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could help you pay off your debt years faster.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Brush Up on Your Money Smarts MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:5 Minute, 24 Second

What do you know about money?

Just enough to pay the bills? Are you puzzled at where all your money goes each month, or are you confident about the financial decisions you make?

Now’s a perfect time to reflect on your money knowledge — and build your financial literacy.

Financial literacy, by definition, is understanding essential financial concepts and having the knowledge and skills to use money in a positive and effective way.

We, at The Penny Hoarder, love a good challenge, so we created a fun quiz to help you brush up on your financial knowledge. And don’t worry — we’ll start with some helpful resources so you can ace this test.

6 Stories to Improve Your Financial Literacy

Check out the following articles to learn more about financial literacy and basic money concepts. Then test your knowledge with our financial literacy quiz.

Uncovering America’s Financial Literacy Problem

If you know enough about money to get by, you may be wondering what’s the big deal about financial literacy.

The Penny Hoarder conducted a survey of more than 1,500 adults in 2019 and found out that those who lacked financial literacy earned lower incomes and saved less money than those who grew up discussing money topics at home or in school.

Having a solid grasp on money concepts can have a real impact on your household’s financial bottom line.

Give the Next Generation the Gift of Financial Literacy

If you’re a parent (or have nieces, nephews, grandchildren or other children in your life), take the time to teach your kiddos how to use money wisely. Here is our guide for teaching kids about money management.

Once they know those basics, level up the lessons and teach them how to build wealth. Use these clever tricks to get your kids excited about investing.

Be the Boss of Your Money

Stop letting money slip through your fingers. Tell it what to do… with a budget.

A budget is your blueprint for how you want to use your hard-earned cash. Here’s a step-by-step guide to budgeting your money.

Become a Super Saver

Putting aside some of your income is great, but knowing how to accelerate your savings growth is even better.

Money that earns compound interest will result in more savings than just stashing cash under a mattress. But what is compound interest and how does it work? We explain.

Get a Handle on Your Credit Score

Your credit score is like a grade for how responsible you are when borrowing money. This score comes into play when you apply for a credit card, get car insurance and buy or rent a home — so it’s pretty important.

So how do you build up to a great credit score? These five factors are what matters when it comes to your credit.

Test Your Money Knowledge With Our Financial Literacy Quiz

1. True or false:

Learning financial literacy from an early age generally leads to earning more and saving more as an adult.

2. Children can learn about money management by:

A. Using money jars for spending, saving and giving.

B. Having an allowance.

C. Comparing the prices of items in the toy aisle.

D. All of the above.

3. Which of the following is an example of a budgeting method?

A. The 50/30/20 method.

B. The snowball effect.

C. The even-odd method.

D. The hexagon method.

4. Having a budget can help you with all of the following except:

A. Reducing frivolous spending.

B. Paying bills on time.

C. Negotiating your salary.

D. Reaching your financial goals.

5. True or false:

Personal finance is a required course at 87% of high schools nationwide.

6. Credit scores range from:

A. 0 to 100

B. 300 to 850

C. 200 to 600

D. A to F

7. When it comes to your credit score, this is the factor that matters most:

A. How much credit you qualify for.

B. The number of credit cards you have.

C. Making your debt payments on time.

D. Having a diverse mix of credit accounts.

8. Compound interest is:

A. Interest on interest.

B. What you get when you multiply the principal amount by the interest rate.

C. When your interest rate changes throughout the duration of the loan term.

D. Another term for simple interest.

9. This investment vehicle uses pre-tax dollars to grow your money:

A. Roth IRA

B. 401(k)

C. 407(b)

D. 529 plan

10. A fractional share:

A. Pays dividends 50% less often than whole shares.

B. Is only for minors who want to start investing.

C. Requires you to diversify the money you invest.

D. Makes it easy to invest small amounts of money.

Answer key:

(1) True (2) D (3) A (4) C (5) False (6) B (7) C (8) A (9) B (10) D

You’ve got 8-10 correct answers: You know your stuff! Hopefully you’re applying that financial knowhow in real life to build wealth. Join The Penny Hoarder Community to share your best money tips with others.

You’ve got 4-7 correct answers: You’re growing your money knowledge. Try to hone in on what stumps you the most. Credit and investing can be tricky. If you’ve got a personal money dilemma bothering you, send your questions to Dear Penny — our financial advice columnist — for some wise feedback.

You’ve got 0-3 correct answers: You’re in need of a financial literacy boost. Fortunately, The Penny Hoarder has tons of articles covering a variety of personal finance topics. Follow our social media pages (you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for frequently shared articles and money tips.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Dear Penny: Can My Criminal Ex-Husband Take My Social Security? MAKING MONEY

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Read Time:3 Minute, 30 Second
Dear Penny,

My spouse was in the Air Force National Guard on and off. He owned a private, profitable tree work, gutter cleaning, snow-plowing and roof-raking company. He hasn’t filed business or personal taxes since the mid-’90s. He NEVER paid into Social Security and has been involved in fraudulent activities. Is he still entitled to 50% of my Social Security?

I’ve been disabled since 2000. I’ve paid all the bills, while he has been stashing cash and trying to get me to return to work, all while working only on bending his right elbow and lying in court. 

His attorney told the court outright that he will NOT file taxes. Since he’s a hoarder, I believe he filled his friend’s dumpster and disposed of his paperwork in the friend’s outside furnace to impress his mistress.

-Hands Off My Social Security

Dear Hands Off,

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t have special rules for lying, cheating, no-good rotten scoundrel spouses. The rules that were meant to protect spouses who stayed at home for much of their marriage, often caring for a family, also apply to guys like your husband.

So yes, he’ll probably be able to collect up to 50% of your full retirement age benefit, whether you’re still married or you’re divorced.

You say your husband has been involved in fraudulent activities. Technically, if your husband were incarcerated for more than 30 days, any Social Security benefits would be suspended until his release. But this sounds like it’s a nasty divorce involving a deadbeat husband, rather than a criminal case.


Have A Money Question?

Senior editor Robin Hartill is a certified
financial planner and the voice of Dear Penny.

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Dear Penny wants to help! Write Dear Penny
for Practical money advice.

Dear Penny Circle Form


That’s the bad news. The good news is that even if your ex gets Social Security based on your work record, it will never, EVER affect your benefit. If you remarry at some point, his benefit also wouldn’t have any impact on your current spouse.

Since your husband was in the National Guard off and on, I’m guessing he paid at least something into Social Security, even if it wasn’t much. What happens in this situation is that Social Security looks at whatever your husband qualifies for based on his own work record. Then they use his current or ex-spouse’s record to qualify him for extra benefits if applicable.

It sounds like this divorce is still underway. You’re probably not going to be able to prove how much cash he’s earned over the years or whether he torched his business records. Focus on what you can control. For example, anything you can do to prove you shouldn’t pay alimony or that any assets should go to you would be a far better use of your time and energy than worrying about his Social Security.

Hang on to any financial documentation you have, like bank statements and copies of bills you’ve paid, so that you can present them to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney, search the American Bar Association’s website to see if free legal assistance is available in your area.

Your ex’s Social Security benefit is out of your hands, and it doesn’t affect you. You can’t undo what sounds like a miserable couple of decades with this guy. But rather than getting angry about his Social Security, channel your energy toward building a life that he’s not part of.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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5 Ways to Save on Extracurriculars for Your Kids MAKING MONEY

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Extracurricular activities are great for children. They help kids learn new things and perfect their skills. They provide opportunities to bond with peers and a constructive use of time. They look great on college and scholarship applications.

But all that enrichment comes at a cost. And these nonessential additions to the household budget can be expensive to keep up with — especially when you have multiple children with multiple interests.

Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools’ 2019 Backpack Index estimates extracurricular fees average about $150 for elementary students, $250 for middle school students and $350 for high school students. Of course, there are parents who spend much more.

If the cost of after-school activities concerns you, consider these ways to make them more affordable.

5 Ways to Save on Extracurriculars This School Year

These money-saving tips will help you keep the kids happy without upsetting your finances.

1. Turn to Government or Nonprofit Programs

Before signing your kids up for private music lessons or a traveling sports league, check to see if there are similar offerings located at or sponsored by your local:

School
Church
Library system
YMCA
Boys and Girls Club
Police Athletic League
Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
United Way
Salvation Army
City or county parks and recreation department
Community college

2. Ask About Discounts

Be thrifty and save where you can by asking the activity provider about discounts. Is there a trial period where your kid can take a class or two for free before signing up for the season? Can you get a discounted rate for being a returning participant, enrolling more than one child or recommending another family to sign up?

Some programs offer a reduced rate if you register before a certain date, if you sign up for a package of sessions or if you volunteer to coach. Others offer scholarships or set their prices on a sliding scale based on income. You might want to ask if the organization will allow you to set up a payment plan rather than requiring all the money upfront.

Pro Tip

Check discount sites like Groupon or Living Social for current deals on activities.

3. Reduce the Other Costs of After-School Activities

The cost to enroll your child in an activity is rarely the only expense you’ll encounter. Equipment, supplies, uniforms, fundraisers, travel and performance tickets can greatly increase your investment.

Find ways to lower these additional costs whenever possible. Arrange a carpool with team members. Buy secondhand equipment and attire. Limit the family members who attend smaller performances throughout the year, and save up so everyone can attend the major show at the end of the season.

4. DIY Your Extracurriculars

Your kid can get the benefits of participating in an activity without it being a formal program that you pay for. Consider your children’s interests and figure out how to pursue them on an individual scale.

If your kid is into music, hit up YouTube for free tutorials. There are tons of cooking blogs with detailed recipes for those who want to master baking. Your library may provide free access to software to learn a foreign language.

Tap into your network of family, friends and neighbors to expose your child to different pursuits. Commit to teaching their kids about a skill you’ve mastered in exchange. For example, your friend could teach your kids how to play the guitar while you give their kids cooking lessons.

It might be a bigger investment in time, but you can save a lot of money by creating your own means of developing your child’s interests.

5. Talk to Your Kids About Making Sacrifices

There may be times where you simply have to say no to your kid’s request to enroll in another extracurricular activity. If you don’t have the funds and you’d have to charge expenses on a credit card, you should reevaluate things.

Parents never want to put financial stress on their kids, but it’s okay to be up-front about the limitations of your budget. This might mean having your kids choose one sport to commit to rather than two, or asking if they prefer dance lessons over vacationing at the beach next summer.

If you have teenagers, get them to contribute to their extracurricular expenses with money from babysitting, mowing lawns or a part-time job. Depending on the activity, you can challenge your child to turn their hobby into an entrepreneurial pursuit — like selling handmade bracelets at local festivals or giving piano lessons to younger kids.

Not only will this help your teens afford the extracurriculars they want, you’ll also be teaching them a valuable lesson about personal finance that’ll hopefully carry on into adulthood.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a parent who’s always looking for ways to save money.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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Scared About Your Kids’ Future? 7 Things You Can Do Today MAKING MONEY

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As it turns out, noticeably more people are scared for their children’s future these days.

Yep. According to a survey by financial advice website WalletHub, roughly 13 million more Americans are scared about their children’s financial future compared to last year.

Of course that makes sense, what with the COVID-19 pandemic and a rocky economy and all. Still, that statistic stuck with us. So if you find yourself worrying about your financial future and that of your children, here are seven practical, real-life steps you can take to improve things:

1. Optimize Your Retirement Savings

If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, contributing to it is a no-brainer. It reduces your taxable income, keeping more money in your pocket and out of Uncle Sam’s. It’ll ultimately mean a better financial future for your children if you can support yourself in retirement.

“Take advantage of your full company match,” says Jeff Dixson, a financial adviser in Vancouver, Washington, who hosts a radio show called the Retirement Coach. “If they match 3%, contribute 3%. If they match 6%, try to get to 6%. That’s free money. There’s nowhere else you’re going to get free money.”

If you’re self-employed or don’t have access to a 401(k) plan through an employer, try to automatically have some savings deducted from your pay and funneled into a tax-free or tax-deferred retirement fund like an IRA. It basically works the same.

2. Start Investing Today — Yes, Today

If you want to build wealth for your family’s future, the time to start is now. Not a year from now. Start today — even if you have to start small!

Take a look at the Forbes Richest People list, and you’ll notice all the billionaires have one thing in common — they all own companies, or parts of companies. But if you work for a living, that can sound totally out of reach.

That’s why so many people use the app Stash. For as little as $1*, it lets you be a part of something that’s normally exclusive to the rich — buying parts of companies

That’s right — you can invest in pieces of well-known companies like Amazon, Google or Apple for as little as $1. It takes two minutes to sign up, plus Stash will give you a $5 sign-up bonus once you deposit $5 into your account. Subscription plans start at $1 a month.**

3. Leave Your Family up to $1M

Speaking of your family’s future, have you thought about how they’d manage without your income after you’re gone? Chances are your checking account balance won’t last forever.

Here’s the thing: You should keep a healthy amount of savings in the bank, but if you want to give your family up to $1 million if the worst happens, you’ll need life insurance.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But it takes only minutes if you go with an online insurance company like Bestow. We hear people are paying as little as $8 a month. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)

It’s super quick to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones — even if you don’t have seven figures in your bank account.

4. Manage Your Credit Like a Boss

Your credit score is important. The better your score, the better deal you’ll get on a mortgage, car loan or credit card. And the ability to do things like buy a house for your family will have a huge impact on your kids’ long-term financial future.

Even if you’re not buying a house anytime soon, a lousy credit score means you’ll get hit with a high security deposit when you rent a car or move into a new apartment, so it’s worth monitoring now.

But did you know your credit score could be inaccurate? One out of five credit reports have an error, according to a study by the Federal Trade Commission.

To keep a closer eye on your credit, get your credit score and a “credit report card” for free from Credit Sesame. It breaks down exactly what’s on your credit report in layman’s terms, how it affects your score and how to address it.

James Cooper, a motivational speaker, raised his credit score 277 points this way. Like him, 60% of Credit Sesame members see an increase in their credit score; 50% see at least a 10-point increase, and 20% see at least a 50-point increase after 180 days.***

5. Stop Paying Your Credit Card Company

Credit card debt is a huge factor in how positively or negatively we think about the future. If you have credit card debt, then you know about the anxiety, the interest rates, the fear you’re never going to escape. Also, your credit card company is just getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.99% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

6. Cut Down this Big Monthly Bill by Up to $610/Year

The experts will tell you to cut every single unnecessary purchase out of your life so you can pay off debt. The fancy coffee. The avocado toast. The dinner out. They’ll even make you feel guilty about it.

Sure, it is important to limit your fun spending. But the truth is, when it comes to cutting expenses, you have bigger fish to fry — like your car insurance.

You’ve probably been overpaying your name-brand coverage thousands of dollars over the last few years.

But a website called EverQuote can help you fix that. It lets you see all your options at once, so you can find the cheapest rate. 

EverQuote is the largest online marketplace for insurance in the US, so you’ll get the top options from more than 175 different carriers handed right to you. 

Take a couple of minutes to answer some questions about yourself and your driving record. With this information, EverQuote will be able to give you the top recommendations for car insurance. In just a few minutes, you could save up to $610 a year.

7. Grow Your Money 16x Faster — Without Risking Any of It

You’ve probably heard the best way to grow your money is to stick it in a savings account and leave it there for, well, ever. That’s bad advice.

But maybe you’re just looking for a place to safely stash it away — but still earn money. Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.06% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 5% cash back and up to 16 times the average interest on the money in your account.

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

It’s understandable that more people are scared for their children’s future these days.

Besides finding that 13 million more people are scared about their children’s financial future compared to last year, WalletHub’s survey also found that roughly 22 million more Americans are having nightmares about money problems this year compared to last year.

Don’t let the nightmares win! Taking some real action can make you feel better.

*For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

**You’ll also bear the standard fees and expenses reflected in the pricing of the ETFs in your account, plus fees for various ancillary services charged by Stash and the custodian.

***Credit Sesame does not guarantee any of these results, and some may even see a decrease in their credit score. Any score improvement is the result of many factors, including paying bills on time, keeping credit balances low, avoiding unnecessary inquiries, appropriate financial planning and developing better credit habits.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

MAKING MONEY

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