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What Is A Blog, How Do Blogs Make Money, & More

What is a blog and how does it work? Can you really make money blogging? How much do bloggers make?

Over the years, I have received many questions about blogging. People want to know what is a blog, how they work, is it really a way for people to make money, and so on. 

I completely understand all of the questions. While blogging has now been around for more than a decade, it’s still a fairly new way to earn money. I still have people give me funny looks when I tell them what I do for a living.

But, I didn’t really know what a blog was when I first started mine. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I didn’t know how people made money from blogs or anything else like that.

Pretty much everything I learned about blogging was through trial and error, and I made a lot of mistakes over the years, haha! Honestly, it’s because of those mistakes that I’m where I am right now.

My life has completely changed because of blogging. I was able to quit a job I didn’t love, I travel full-time, and I can retire pretty much whenever I want. 

It’s funny to think about how far I’ve come, especially since I had no idea what blogs even were.

Back then, I also never realized that you could learn how to earn money blogging. I don’t think I even looked into it because that was never my goal when I first learned how to start a blog. I certainly never thought blogging would drastically change my future, but I’m so glad I gave it a shot.

I had so many questions when I started my blog, and I learned 99% of what I know the hard way – by making mistakes.

I know that many new bloggers probably have some of the same questions I had because I receive hundreds of emails a day from readers asking how to start a blog, how to make a living through blogging, and more.  

Today, I’m going to help you by answering some of the most common questions I receive about blogging.

Some of the questions I talk about include:

  • Is 2021 too late to start a website/blog?
  • How do I come up with a blog name?
  • What blogs make the most money?
  • How do you design a blog?
  • How many views do you need to make money blogging?
  • How many blog posts should I have before launching?
  • How do I get my blog noticed by Google?
  • How long until a blog makes money?
  • How do blogs make money?
  • How do bloggers get paid?

I know that blogging can seem scary in the beginning, but remember that most other bloggers were in the exact same place you were when they started.

Blogging, just like any other hobby or job you start, takes time to learn what you’re doing. You have to do research, read about what other people have done, and learn as you go.

For some people this can be frustrating at first, but good things always do take time.

Blogging isn’t as easy as it looks from the outside. Even the most successful bloggers still spend time learning how to do new things. I am constantly signing up for new courses and learning from other people.

Even though it takes time and can feel difficult, blogging is something you can do. You can earn money blogging so that you can work towards living the life you want. 

One of the reasons I love blogging so much is that you can do it all on your own time. You don’t have to learn everything at once. You can start your blog and grow it at your own pace.

While there is no 100% guarantee that you will be able to earn a full-time living by blogging, I know many bloggers who are full-time and are very happy with it.

Content related to what is a blog:

  • 12 Free Resources To Grow Your Blog Fast
  • How I Successfully Built A $1,000,000+ Blog
  • How To Quit Your Job And Become A Full-Time Blogger

What is a blog? And your other top questions about blogging.

 

What is a blog?

Before we begin, I want to go over what is a blog definition and some other basic blogging questions.

A blog is a website.

Google’s definition of a blog is, “a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.”

A blog is content that is written on a website. It usually consists of articles, like the one you are reading right now.

What is a blog used for? Blogs can vary from person to person. 

You may create a blog to journal, to teach on a topic, to sell something, to tell a story, and so on. There’s no exact rules about what your blog has to be used for.

What is a blog post? Blog posts are individual entries on a blog. Blog posts usually include text, but they can also have photos, videos, infographics, and more.

An example of a blog post is what you’re reading right now. There is a title, its own URL (that’s the web address), and text where I share in depth information.

 

Is 2021 too late to start a website/blog?

No, it’s not too late, and you haven’t missed out.

The online world is still so new, and each year there are new ways to monetize and grow your blog.

For example, it wasn’t until the past few years that companies and advertisers started realizing the value of online influencers, such as bloggers, and that means even more opportunities to earn money blogging.

Before that, companies mainly wanted to advertise with celebrities, but it is shifting to bloggers and other online influencers (such as Youtubers and Instagrammers!).

The online world is a huge place and it is just going to keep growing. Every blogger earns a living in slightly different ways, and everyone has a different message and story. Plus, there are so many different ways to earn money blogging, and the options have continued to change and grow since I started blogging.

Of course, because the blogging world keeps changing, there will constantly be new things for you to learn, but that will probably always be the case for managing any kind of business.

So, if you are thinking about starting a blog, today is the day. Don’t let your fears hold you back any further! You can find my free How To Start a Blog Course here.

 

How do I come up with a blog name?

Deciding on a name for your blog is probably one of the hardest parts of blogging.

Even if you know exactly what you want to blog about and have some articles written, deciding on your blog’s name may be stopping you from actually creating your website and launching it.

I don’t remember how I came up with Making Sense of Cents, but I’m glad I did. It is still catchy, and I receive compliments on it to this day.

Coming up with a blog name shouldn’t lead to stress, so here are my tips for deciding on a blog name:

  • Make it easy. My blog name isn’t the easiest for people to spell, and even I sometimes jumble it when I’m spelling it. So, my top tip would be to make sure that your blog name is easy for people to type or spell out loud. I’ve seen blog names that are extremely long, contain words that are difficult to spell, and so on. Instead, you should make it as easy as possible for your readers to find you.
  • Think about what you’ll be writing about. Think about the topics you want to write about, who your target audience is, and more, and then jot down descriptive words that are related to each. Brainstorming like this is a good way to come up with a blog name!
  • Use a thesaurus to find similar words. If your first or second choices are taken or if you want to see if there are some catchier sounding blog names, using a thesaurus can help you with some new ideas.
  • Make it catchy. You may want to think of something funny, use alliteration, or something else to make your blog name catchy and memorable.
  • Use your name. If you don’t want something catchy and/or if you think you’re not creative enough, then just use your name. It’s super easy that way, and more and more people are starting to do this. 

See, creating a name for your blog can be easy!

 

What blogs make the most money?

There are many different types of blogs that make money, and you can monetize nearly any kind of blog.

So, how do you determine what to write about?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. I always recommend creating a blog around a topic that you are passionate about, that you are an expert in, that you like, or something else along those lines.

This can make blogging feel fun instead of like a chore.

You can blog about several topics or you can blog about one specific thing, such as personal finance. For me, I cover a ton of different topics here on Making Sense of Cents. I talk about personal finance, life, travel, RVing, sailing, self-help, and more.

Some things that you may want to think about when choosing your blog topic include:

  • What are you passionate about? I always recommend that you start by thinking about what you love doing. Perhaps it’s a sport that you really love, crafts, cooking, managing money, travel, or something else. Whatever it is, blogging about your passion is great because that will show in your writing, and your readers will enjoy reading your posts.
  • What blogs do you enjoy reading? If you are thinking about starting a blog, I’m assuming it’s because you probably enjoy reading blogs yourself. If that’s the case, then you may want to think about which blogs you really enjoy reading and possibly blog about something similar.
  • What are you an expert in? Now, you don’t need to be an expert in your blog’s topic to earn money blogging (more on that below in the next section), but if you are an expert at something, then this could be a topic that you blog about. There are many successful “How-To” websites because people love to learn new things through blogs. And, there is probably something you could teach (everyone’s an expert at something, even if you don’t realize that yet!). Think about the questions your friends and family are always asking you about, topics that you enjoy helping others with, and so on.
  • What things do you like learning about? Like I said above, you don’t need to be an expert in a topic to blog about it. People LOVE reading blogs from people who are learning or trying new things. This is because everyone has to start somewhere, and people love following the journey and seeing how something is actually done. So, if you are learning how to earn money blogging, for example, that could be where you start your blog. You can write about all of your mistakes, talk about what you’ve learned, show how you have tried and reviewed different options, and so on.

To learn how to make money with a blog, your blog can be about anything and/or everything. It’s entirely up to you.

Below is a list of possible blog examples and blog topic ideas. The list doesn’t end here either. Choose one, all, or some. It’s all up to you.

  • Lifestyle
  • Home
  • Family
  • Finance
  • Crafts
  • DIY
  • Small business
  • Outdoor activities
  • Fitness and health
  • Food
  • Inspiration and advice
  • Animals
  • Travel
  • Games
  • Relationships
  • School
  • Electronics, and more!

That’s the beauty of having a blog – it can be about anything and you can still earn money from it.

There are a few topics I would avoid if you aren’t an expert, like blogging about legal issues, tax issues, or medical advice. You could get someone in a lot of trouble if you gave them the wrong information.

 

What is the best blogging platform to make money?

Your blog should be self-hosted if you want to earn money blogging. This is actually one of the first things you should do.

I recommend that you start on self-hosted WordPress (this tutorial will help you start your blog the correct way). I cannot say this enough, but I do not recommend Blogger or WordPress.com (you want the self-hosted version, which is WordPress.org – confusing, I know). Buying that $10 domain name from Blogger or GoDaddy does not mean you are self-hosted either.

Unless you self-host your blog, advertisers, companies, and readers will still know you are on Blogger or free WordPress, and that can look unprofessional. Plus, your blog can be deleted at any time and for no reason if you are using a free version, which actually happened to me. Even though you may save some money in the beginning, not being self-hosted can hurt your chances of earning money through your blog.

Seriously, just trust me. Go with self-hosted WordPress, and it will significantly increase your chances of monetizing your blog.

If you want further proof, take a look at my past income reports. You can tell that my blogging income didn’t take off until I switched to WordPress. That right there is a lot of proof that being self-hosted on WordPress is the way to go!

To recap, the positives of being self-hosted on WordPress through Bluehost include:

  • Your blog will look more professional meaning you will increase your chances of making money online.
  • You will have complete control over your blog.
  • You own your blog, and it can’t be deleted for any reason.

 

How do you design a blog?

To create your blog, I recommend heading to my tutorial: How To Start A WordPress Blog On Bluehost.

After that, you will have three options when it comes to designing your blog:

  1. Designing your blog on your own
  2. Paying someone to design your blog
  3. Purchasing a premade theme (the quickest option and surprisingly affordable)

I usually recommend that a new blogger purchase a premade blog design, such as through Beautiful Dawn Designs. She provides great premade designs for just $45 and this is probably the easiest and quickest design option.

 

How much do I have to spend before I can earn money blogging?

When I first started my blog, I spent almost NOTHING on blogging expenses.

I spent less than $100 the first year and not too much more in the second year.

In fact, I probably went a few years when I was only spending about 1%-2% of my revenues on blogging expenses.

Now, some of my expenses include:

  • My computer
  • The actual blog (design, hosting, etc.)
  • Courses, guides, and ebooks
  • My email (newsletter) list
  • Virtual assistant and editor
  • Technical management
  • Transaction fees

But, you do not need to spend money on all of these things to earn money blogging.

Learn more about my expenses at My Complete List of Monthly Expenses for a Multi Million Dollar Blog.

 

How many views do you need to make money blogging?

You do not need millions of pageviews per month to earn money blogging, but if you want to increase your income, it will be important to increase your page views.

Every blog is different, and it isn’t always the blogs with the largest number of readers that make the most money. That’s because once you understand what your readers want, understand how to effectively reach out to companies for partnerships, and know how to charge the correct rate, you can make a good income online in many cases, regardless of the amount of pageviews you receive.

But, if you want to increase your pageviews, here are my tips:

  1. Publish high-quality blog posts. Readers come back to blogs with high-quality and helpful posts. I recommend that your blog posts be at least 750 words, but more wouldn’t hurt either. The majority of my blog posts are around 1,500 to 3,000 words (this one is close to 5,000 words!).
  2. Be active on Pinterest. Pinterest is one of my top traffic sources. To increase your pageviews with Pinterest, I recommend creating great images, making sure the description and title of your images are catchy, pinning regularly, and only pinning long images. I use Picmonkey to edit all of my images and Tailwind to schedule them.
  3. Be active on other social media sites. Social media lets you interact with your audience more and can help you expand your audience. Besides Pinterest, you may want to check out Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, and others.
  4. Post regularly. If you want to earn money blogging, you should publish something at least once a week. Going for weeks or months at a time without a blog post can lead to readers forgetting about you.
  5. Network with other bloggers. You should look at other bloggers as friends and colleagues, not competition. This means you may want to interact with them on social media, reach out to them via email, attend conferences, and more. Of course, be genuine and give more than you take.
  6. Guest post. Guest posting is a great way to reach a new audience and helps build partnerships with other bloggers.
  7. Make sure it’s easy to share your content. I love sharing posts on social media, but it gets frustrating when some blogs make it more difficult than it needs to be. You should always make sure it’s easy for readers to share your content. This could mean making your social media icons easy to find, having all of the info input that is needed for sharing (title, link, and your username), and so on. Also, you should make sure that when someone clicks on one of your sharing icons the title isn’t in CAPS (I’ve seen this too many times). No one wants to share a blog post when it sounds like you’re screaming at them.
  8. Create catchy headlines. The title of your post is a major factor influencing whether readers click over or not. I like to use the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to help me with my headlines.
  9. Learn SEO. SEO (search engine optimization) is not something I could teach in such a small section, but I recommend doing your research and learning more about what it is and how it can help you.
  10. Make it easy for readers to browse. If you want more pageviews, you should make it as easy as possible for readers to read your other blog posts. Readers should be able to easily find your blog homepage, categories, tags, search bar, and so on. Also, I recommend including links for related posts in every single one of your blog posts.

 

How often should I blog?

I recommend publishing a blog post at least once a week.

This is because consistency is important when it comes to blogging.

I started out publishing short blog posts a few times a week. Now, I try to do just one long blog post each week. I find that works best for me and Making Sense of Cents.

Others may decide to blog every single day, and some may try every other day. It all depends on what you would like to do.

 

How many blog posts should I have before launching?

I recommend simply just launching your blog with one blog post. You can continue to add more as you go.

I recommend this because you won’t have a ton of readers in the beginning anyways, so just getting started is going to be your best plan of action.

Too many people overthink this question, which just delays them from actually starting their blog.

 

What is the ideal length for a blog post?

The ideal length varies. I usually recommend that a blog post be at least 750 words.

For Making Sense of Cents, my blog posts are almost always at least 2,000 words, and I have written some huge whoppers (like this one) that are around 5,000 words too.

The ideal length for your article will depend on your niche, and the topic that you are writing about.

 

How do I get my blog noticed by Google?

For your blog to be found on Google search results, you’ll want to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

You can sign up for The SEO Starter Pack (FREE Video Training) – Level up your SEO knowledge in just 60 minutes with this FREE 6-day video training.

  • The exact template that helped my site earn $95,000 in affiliate income last year
  • How I grew my blog to over 80,000 page views a month in 14 months
  • How to Optimize a Blog Post for SEO

 

How long until a blog makes money?

This is a hard question to answer, and it’s also one of the most common questions I receive.

As you can tell from my past income reports, it took me nearly a year of blogging to start earning a few hundred dollars a month from my blog. After two years of blogging, I was earning several thousands of dollars a month, which was all on the side of my day job.

I know some bloggers who were making thousands of dollars a month after just a few months of blogging. There are bloggers out there who began a year or two after me and are making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. There are also other bloggers who aren’t making any money at all.

As you can see, blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme and there isn’t a timeline for when you will start to earn money blogging. However, if you are serious about it, you never know what it may turn into.

It all depends on you, the effort you put into your blog, whether you have the time to learn how to monetize your blog, and more.

 

How do blogs make money?

There are several ways to earn money blogging, including:

  • Affiliate marketing – I recommend signing up for 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income to learn more
  • Blog sponsorships
  • Display advertising
  • Product sales
  • Staff writing

I go in depth on each way monetization method here – How To Earn Money Blogging: Your Top Questions Answered.

 

How do bloggers get paid?

Many of you are interested in blogging, but you aren’t sure where the income actually comes from.

How does the money actually get to you?

You receive blogging income from whoever is paying you.

  • If it is affiliate marketing you are providing, then you are paid by the company that makes the product or service. When someone buys something or signs up through your link, that’s when you get.
  • If someone is paying you to place an advertisement on your website, then you get paid by the company who you are advertising for.
  • If you are publishing a sponsored post, then you are paid by the company who is sponsoring that post.
  • If you have display ads on your website, such as with Google Adsense, then you are paid by Google or by any number of other companies.

There are many companies and blogging networks out there that you can use to earn money blogging, and they usually pay you through PayPal or with a check in the mail.

 

What blogging ebooks and courses do you recommend?

It takes a lot of work to grow and build a successful blogging business!

If you want to earn money blogging, then you may want to look into buying ebooks and/or courses that will teach you about the topics that will help you become a better blogger from the very beginning. Plus, there are many blogging secrets that you just can’t find by searching the internet. So, by taking a course or reading an ebook, you will learn the exact steps to take to help you succeed.

I’m almost always taking new blogging-related courses because I know that there is always something new to learn.

Here are the ebooks and courses that I recommend for bloggers:

  • Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing. I share my exact strategy and tips in this very informative online course. If you’re a blogger, then you NEED this course. I show you exactly how to make passive income from blogging, even while you’re sleeping.
  • 21 Strategies I Used to Increase My Monthly Page Views from 17k to 400k+ in 10 Months. Lena Gott’s guide is full of great information on how to increase your blog’s page views. If you are feeling stuck or if you are a new blogger, check out this resource! Lena went from 17,000 monthly page views to 400,000 and shares all of her best tips in this guide.
  • Making Sense of Sponsored Posts. I launched this course with my sister, Alexis of Fitnancials, in 2018 to help bloggers earn money through sponsored posts. Between the two of us, we earn around $20,000-$30,000 a month from sponsored posts. We teach finding sponsorship deals, maintaining partnerships, and how to always make sure that you are helping your readers.
  • My favorite Pinterest course is Pinterest Traffic Avalanche. This course shows you how to get free traffic from Pinterest to your blog. You’ll learn about Pinterest SEO, how to set up Rich Pins, how to create viral content, how to make Pinterest images, all about group boards, and many other valuable Pinterest strategies.
  • If you want to learn about Facebook ads, I recommend reading How One Blogger Grew His Blog to Over 2 Million Visitors In A Year.

The blogging ebooks and courses above will help you to create a successful blog. They will show you how to master Facebook, get crazy traffic from Pinterest, grow your blogging income, and more.

 

If blogging is so great, then why doesn’t everyone do it?

I hear questions like this pretty often. I also get a lot of people asking me, “If it’s so easy, why don’t you just start multiple blogs and make even more money?”

Blogging is not printing money.

It’s not a scam, and it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Learning how to earn money blogging is work, and just like with all jobs – not everyone wants what you want.

And, for every successful blog out there, there are probably hundreds of bloggers who will never earn money blogging. While you can earn money blogging, not all bloggers will.

It would be like saying that 100% of people who start a business will see success. That is just never going to happen – businesses fail, business owners have a change of heart, and others just don’t find it enjoyable.

I know I am always talking about the positives of blogging, but I also like to mention how it’s not the easiest.

After all, if blogging was easy, then everyone would do it and everyone would make thousands of dollars a month.

But as you know, that’s not the case.

Not everyone is going to earn money blogging because it is WORK! Most new bloggers quit just a few months in. A few months is not enough time to see if your blog will be successful. It took me six months before I started to earn money blogging, and I only earned $100. Now, I have made over $5,000,000 from my blog over the years.

It’s funny/weird to think about what life would be like if I would have quit back then.

Just like you, I went from asking “what is a blog?” to where I am now. And, I’m constantly learning new things about blogging and that is one of the reasons why I enjoy it so much.

Once you realize that blogging is hard, you will be ahead of 99% of everyone else in the game. Don’t assume, like most people do, that blogging is easy money.

Starting a blog can be difficult. But, all bloggers start at the same point.

I remember being so lost when I first started my blog. I had to learn everything the hard way – it sure was difficult at times.

But, I have always really enjoyed blogging. I think that is so important when it comes to this type of business – you either need to have passion in your blog and/or passion in what your blog allows you to do in your free time (such as travel or spending more time with your family).

 

Have other blogging questions?

Don’t fret!

I have other blog posts similar to this one where I have answered many other blogging questions.

Please head to How To Earn Money Blogging: Your Top Questions Answered for answers to questions such as:

  • How does a blogger network with other bloggers?
  • What processes do you have with new blog posts?
  • In what ways can I start making money from a blog?
  • What is affiliate marketing?
  • What are sponsored posts?
  • What is display advertising?
  • Can I create my own product to sell on my blog?
  • Do you have to pay taxes on blogging income?
  • Where do you get your photos from?
  • Why do I need an email list for my blog?
  • How do you think of ideas for new blog posts?

I was going to include all of those questions here but that would have made this blog post well over 10,000 words!

What other questions do you have about blogging?

The post What Is A Blog, How Do Blogs Make Money, & More appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

‘I Lost My Job—and My Dream House’: How This First-Time Home Buyer Bounced Back

houseKaterina Rieckel

Imagine finding your dream home, then, a week before closing the deal, losing your job—and the house. House hunting during the coronavirus pandemic is no picnic.

COVID-19 has caused seismic changes not only to real estate markets, but also to the lives of home buyers hit with layoffs, furloughs, and other financial challenges. Just ask Katerina Rieckel, a digital strategist, knitwear designer, and first-time home buyer who, with her husband, was set to close on a glorious farmhouse in upstate New York in March.

But about a week before sealing the deal, Rieckel was laid off, which meant that she and her husband, a claims adjuster, could no longer afford the place.

As a part of our new series, “First-Time Home Buyer Confessions,” we asked Rieckel to share her story, and the hard-won lessons she wants to share with other first-timers.

Let her experiences show that even unemployment doesn’t need to spell the end of a house hunt—although it may require you to dust yourself off after a loss and try, try again.

home
Katerina Rieckel’s farmhouse in upstate New York

Katerina Rieckel

Location: Troy, NY
House specs: 1,544 square feet, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
List price: $249,900
Price paid: $245,500

2020 has been a wild one. How did you end up buying a home in the middle of a pandemic?

We started looking for a house a year ago, about halfway through the summer. At the time, both my husband and I had recently got new jobs, so the first issue we ran into was getting pre-qualified for the mortgage without a long track record at those companies. We also both felt pressure, as our jobs were very new.

What were you looking for in a house, and what was your budget?

We were looking for a house in the country that was move-in ready, private with at least 5 acres. We started off with a small budget, max $200,000, which made our choices more narrow.

Our search continued well into the winter, and around January 2020, we finally saw a house that was all we ever dreamed of and more. It was over our budget, at $229,000, but it had been listed for over a year, so we felt there was a good chance we could get it for less than the asking price.

What did you love about this house?

It was a beautiful, slate-blue farmhouse sitting on top of a hill, surrounded by woods. The house was warm and inviting, with chickens running around, as well as a big diving pool, and a workshop in the basement connected with a two-car garage. We got along with the owners really well, and we were going to keep the chickens. Everything went very smoothly, until just over a week before closing.

house
Rieckel and her husband almost bought this house, but it wasn’t in the cards.

Global MLS

So what went wrong?

It was March, and COVID-19 hit hard. The digital marketing agency I worked for had clients pause their work for unknown time. I was laid off, which meant we couldn’t afford the house anymore, and had to back out of the deal.

I was crushed. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and the country was under a lockdown. We had plans for my parents to come visit us in our new house, but instead, I ended up with no job, no house, and I couldn’t see my family, since they live in Europe.

In the summer, I was very fortunate to get my job back. So we resumed our house hunt and began to search for a new contender.

When you started the search again, how had COVID-19 changed the market?

The housing market in upstate New York got totally crazy. I heard there were houses being sold within hours. The market was just incredibly competitive, and not many houses were being listed, as a lot of people didn’t want to let strangers in their house during the pandemic.

We saw about seven to 10 houses in person, but they usually ended up disappointing us, with some strange arrangements. For example, one house had around 25 acres, but half of that acreage was on the other side of the road, behind other people’s houses, which made it almost impossible to use.

home
The couple’s pet cat has settled into their new digs, too.

Katerina Rieckel

With such a competitive market, how did you end up finding the right house?

Finally, around halfway through the summer, I saw a house listed that I hadn’t noticed before. I called on it right away and set up a showing that evening.

The real estate agent told me we were really fast, as he had just relisted this house. Someone had been buying it, but backed out of the process because of personal reasons.

porch
Their house has tons of privacy and a great view.

Katarina Rieckel

How did you know this house was the one?

The house had over 10 acres, it was in the country, and about 35 minutes to Troy. It was move-in ready, but definitely needed upgrades, as it looked like it got stuck in the ’80s.

Even though we didn’t like the style that much, we felt instantly comfortable and decided to put in an offer that same evening. It was partly due to the pressure of the market, but in the end, we are really happy we made this decision.

house
This house was totally 1980s, but Rieckel has been slowly updating it.

Katerina Rieckel

What surprised you most about the home-buying process?

Nothing prepares you for the amount of aggravation you have to go through. Buying a house is like getting a second job for about three months.

living room
After a little work, Rieckel’s home looks lovely.

Katerina Rieckel

What’s your advice for aspiring first-time home buyers?

Don’t trust the photos! The photos got me a few times. For example, a lot of times, the photos of the house are taken so that you can’t see the neighboring houses.

You think, “Wow, that looks so private!” Then you drive there, and you realize there’s a house sitting right next to it. Since privacy was very important to us, we got disappointed a few times by this. We started doing drive-bys first, before going in with a real estate agent, whenever possible.

Christmas decorations
Rieckel moved in in time to enjoy her new home for the holidays.

Katerina Rieckel

Anything else home buyers should look out for?

Call the real estate agent and ask a lot of questions before you even go see the house, like what the property and school taxes are—very important around here.

You also want to know what kind of heating the house has, as electric bills can really add up over the winter.

The driveway can also be a huge issue, which is why I think the first house we were buying was for sale for such a long time. It had a pretty steep driveway, which was definitely an all-wheel drive kind of thing in the winter.

We also changed who we were financing with while we were going through closing. We needed someone well-informed about the economy, who knew what they were doing and was ready to act fast.

Our first mortgage broker didn’t tell us as soon as interest rates started to go up—and basically sat on the information for a while. This is when we stopped trusting this person and went to work with a bank instead.

Maybe the best advice is not to fall in love with a house too quickly, since there can be so many setbacks that you will not see coming.

Katerina Rieckel
It took a little longer than expected, but this family is finally happy in their new home.

Katerina Rieckel

The post ‘I Lost My Job—and My Dream House’: How This First-Time Home Buyer Bounced Back appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.com

Standard vs. Itemized Deduction: Which One Should You Take?

imacon/iStock

Standard versus itemized deduction: Which one should you claim? If this question is weighing heavily on your mind as you file your taxes, now that all the new tax reforms have taken effect, let this guide help you decide.

Itemizing your deductions—particularly if you’ve bought a home recently—could save you major bucks when you file. But, more than ever, you need to understand what you can and can’t do. We’ll break it down to help you make the decision on whether to select a standard or an itemized deduction.

What is the standard deduction?

The standard deduction is essentially a flat-dollar, no-questions-asked reduction to your adjusted gross income. When you file your tax return, you can deduct a certain amount right off the bat from your taxable income.

For 2019, the standard deduction is $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. (The standard deduction nearly doubled as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which went into effect in 2018.)

Here are some of the benefits to taking a standard deduction:

  • It allows you a deduction even if you have no expenses that qualify as itemized deductions.
  • It eliminates the need to keep records and receipts of your expenses in case you’re audited by the IRS.
  • It lets you avoid having to track medical expenses, charitable donations, and other itemizable deductions throughout the year.
  • It saves you the trouble of needing to understand the fine nuances of tax law.

 

What are itemized deductions?

Although claiming the standard deduction is easy and convenient, choosing to itemize can potentially save you thousands of dollars, says Mark Steber, chief tax officer at the Jackson Hewitt tax service.

“Don’t be lulled into thinking the standard deduction is always a better answer,” Steber says. That advice especially applies to homeowners.

“Buying a home has the single largest impact on your tax return,” he adds, noting that a home purchase is “an anchor item that can move someone into the itemized taxpayer category.”

Itemizing your deductions may enable you to deduct these expenses:

  • Home mortgage interest (note the exceptions below)
  • Real estate and personal property taxes (note the cap below)
  • State and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both)
  • Gifts to charities
  • Casualty or theft losses
  • Unreimbursed medical and dental expenses
  • Unreimbursed employee business expenses

 

Why itemizing often makes sense for homeowners

Under the new law, current homeowners can continue to deduct interest on a total of $1 million of mortgage debt for a first and second home. But new buyers can deduct interest on only $750,000 for a first and second home.

It’s still possible that if you own a home, your mortgage interest alone might exceed the standard deduction, says Steve Albert, director of tax services at the CPA wealth management firm Glass Jacobson. In this case, it’s a no-brainer to itemize your deductions.

This is particularly true if you bought a house recently, since most mortgages are front-loaded to pay mortgage interest rather than whittle down the principal (which is the amount you borrowed).

For instance: If you have a 30-year loan for $400,000 at a fixed 5% interest rate, in the first year of your mortgage, you’ll pay off only $5,901 in principal and a whopping $19,866 in interest.

That alone exceeds an individual’s standard deduction of $12,000 deduction for 2019. So if you’re filing taxes this year, itemizing would make total sense.

Plus: If you bought your house in 2019 and paid points—which are essentially a way to prepay interest upfront to lower your monthly mortgage bills—these points count as mortgage interest, too, amounting to more tax savings.

On the other hand, if you’ve owned your home for a while, then your mortgage interest may not amount to much. By the 25th year of that same $400,000 loan, you’ll pay only $6,223 in interest.

However, keep in mind that your property taxes of up to $10,000 are an itemized deduction, too—and combined with mortgage interest and other deductions, could push you over the top into itemizing territory.

Itemized vs. standard deduction: Which is right for you?

Not sure how much you paid in mortgage interest and property taxes last year? To get a ballpark, you can punch your info into an online mortgage calculator.

Also, early in the new year, your mortgage lender should have mailed you a mortgage interest statement (Form 1098) showing the total you paid during the previous year.

“And if you had your property taxes impounded in your loan, your taxes will appear on your 1098 as well,” says Lisa Greene-Lewis, a CPA and tax expert at TurboTax.

Another DIY approach for seeing whether your combined itemized tax deductions are higher than your standard tax deduction is to fill out the IRS Schedule A form, which outlines all federal itemized deductions line by line.

You can also consult an accountant (you can search for a tax professional in your area using the IRS directory of tax return preparers). But as a general rule, if you bought a home recently, you could be a prime candidate for itemizing, so don’t let these potential savings pass you by without checking!

The post Standard vs. Itemized Deduction: Which One Should You Take? appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

Source: realtor.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

Unemployment Benefits Explained: Terms, Definitions and More

After reading that sentence, you may have a couple choice acronyms yourself. Maybe, “OMG — WTH does that mean?”
Also referred to as Unemployment Compensation, UI is the longstanding benefits program run by each individual state. It’s for people who are out of work at no fault of their own. To qualify for UI, you have to have made a certain amount of money in the recent past  — typically from a W-2 job with an employer that paid into the unemployment system through payroll taxes. Specifics like previous employment duration or earnings vary.
Beyond helping those who were laid off, PUA offers benefits to people who can’t go to work or lost income due to a variety of coronavirus-related reasons. Some examples include contracting COVID-19, caregiving for someone who has COVID-19 or staying home to take care of your kids whose school closed due to COVID-19 lockdown rules.
Millions of newly eligible folks now have access to benefits. But the new programs put state unemployment agencies in a tricky position. They are receiving record-breaking surges in applications at the same time that they are tasked with creating and paying out brand new benefits. The result: overburdened websites, unclear instructions and lots of jargon.
“Understanding the difference with all these programs and acronyms is going to be confusing,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment benefits policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.
DUA: Disaster Unemployment Assistance is not Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You may come across this long-standing natural disaster assistance program on your state’s unemployment website. Do not apply. Despite their similar names, they are very different.
Now that you have a better understanding of the two major unemployment benefits programs, let’s look at extensions, payment enhancements and other important programs that you may be eligible for.

The 2 Unemployment Programs You Definitely Need to Know

Depending on your state, average UI payments are between 0 and 0 per week, according to the latest data from the Department of Labor. The duration of UI programs also depends on your state. They last between 12 and 30 weeks (without any extensions). The most common duration is 26 weeks.
“Some extensions and changes to federal UI programs will include the reinstatement of the FPUC program, extension of PUA program and PEUC program for those who qualify,” the notice states.

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

CAA: The Continued Assistance Act, aka Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers, is part of the 0 billion stimulus package that became law on Dec. 27, 2020. It extends many of the unemployment programs created by the CARES Act.
FPUC: Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation boosts unemployment benefits by 0 a week for up to 11 weeks between Dec. 27, 2020, and March 14, 2021. Anyone who is approved for at least of unemployment benefits will automatically receive this bonus. No separate application or action is needed. This program previously paid out 0 per week under the CARES Act, but that version expired in July 2020.
Since the start of the pandemic, mass unemployment has rocked the nation. To help mitigate the damage, two economic stimulus packages allotted unprecedented sums of money to create new benefits programs that assist people who are out of work.

Pro Tip
PEUC: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extends the length of Unemployment Insurance aid for a maximum of 24 weeks. The first stimulus deal extended UI benefits for 13 weeks, and the second stimulus package added an additional 11 weeks. New applicants (after Dec. 27, 2020) are only eligible for the 11-week extension. This program does not extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

These two foundational programs provide the bulk of unemployment aid through weekly payments. Once you understand the difference between them, a lot of the other programs will start to make sense.
Take, for example, this update to applicants on Arkansas’ unemployment website after the second stimulus package passed:
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Additionally, to collect UI, you have to be able to work, available to work and actively seeking work. Some states have waived the “actively seeking work” requirement during the pandemic.

Our guide to filing for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance includes an interactive map to help you find your state’s application rules.
A woman holds hands with her infant while looking for something on her laptop.

7 Quick Definitions to Important Unemployment Terms and Programs

DOL: The federal Department of Labor oversees all states’ unemployment systems. Your state may have its own agency named the Department of Labor that administers its unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, DOL refers to the federal agency.
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.
CARES Act: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act was the first coronavirus relief package passed in March 2020. It expanded unemployment assistance, authorized ,200 stimulus checks and provided relief for small businesses, among several other things. Under this law, those who are partially or fully unemployed as a direct result of the coronavirus may receive up to 39 weeks of federal unemployment benefits.
EB: Extended Benefits are available in every state except South Dakota. EB is a state-level benefit that extends Unemployment Insurance by six to 20 weeks — depending on your state and your local unemployment rate. To qualify during the pandemic, you may have to exhaust a federal unemployment extension first. (See PEUC below.)
Here’s a primer on seven key terms that you’re sure to come across as you apply for benefits.
Because PUA is a federal program, all states must offer it for a maximum of 50 weeks. The minimum weekly payments vary by state, however, because they’re calculated as half your state’s average UI payment. With average state UI payments between 0 and 0, you can expect minimum weekly PUA payments between and 5 depending on your state.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a new federal unemployment program. It’s up and running in all 50 states. The first stimulus package created PUA in March 2020. Throughout the pandemic, PUA has been a lifeline for tens of millions of jobless people who don’t qualify for regular UI benefits.
Use this tool from the Department of Labor to find your state’s unemployment website and start a UI claim.
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.
For the first time nationally, gig workers and freelancers, who are considered 1099 independent contractors, have been able to receive unemployment benefits through PUA.
Our plain English guide will help you make sense of it all. Consider bookmarking this page and referencing it as you trudge through the process of getting your benefits.
The overwhelming majority of people relying on unemployment benefits are receiving aid from two key programs. According to figures from the Department of Labor, more than 13 million people are collecting Unemployment Insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.

A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance Premiums

What is a premium?

To benefit from insurance coverage, you’ll need to pay a premium. A premium is a payment to your insurer that keeps your coverage in place. Insurance companies determine your premium by deciding what the risk is to insure you. Here’s a breakdown of the basics to help you understand what a premium is, why you have to pay it, how it works and ways to reduce your costs.

What Is a Premium?

An insurance premium is effectively the cost of your insurance, whether for health, auto or life insurance. Most companies allow you to pay the annual premium via monthly installments. However, some companies may require you to pay your premium on an annual basis or a semi-annual basis. Some may even want the entire insurance premium up front. Companies often decide they want the insurance premium up front if you have previously had your insurance policy canceled for non-payment.

The price of a premium is usually decided by an actuary or underwriter who takes a base calculation. The base calculation determines what the risk is to insure you. After the base calculation, the company may discount it based on your health, driving record, location and other personal details. This is all based on the type of insurance you’re looking to secure, too.

Your premium may also be determined based on your insurance history. Every insurance company uses different criteria to determine premiums. Some companies use insurance scores based on personal factors like credit rating, car accident frequency, personal claims history and occupation. If your personal factors are attractive to certain companies, you may want to secure a plan with one of them. It could mean a lower cost premium.

You may also pay more money for higher amounts of coverage, whether you’re purchasing life insurance, car insurance, health insurance or any other kind of insurance.

The value and condition of what you are insuring can also change the amount of coverage you need. For example, if you’re a healthy 28-year-old with no kids, your life insurance premium may be very inexpensive because you might not need a large policy. However, the price could increase as you age and your health and family situations change because you may need more coverage.

How Can You Lower Your Rates?

What is a premium?

The type of coverage you purchase affects your premium. If you get more comprehensive coverage with your insurance policy, it may raise your insurance premium. For example, if you insure your vehicle for all risks, you may have to pay more than if you insured it with a policy that doesn’t include collision coverage.

Deductibles can reduce your insurance premiums, as well. An insurance deductible is the cost you pay before the insurance company pays anything. If your car is insured and you have a $1,000 deductible, you have to pay $1,000 before the insurance company will begin to cover any costs. If there are $3,000 in damages to your vehicle, you would have to pay $1,000 and the insurance company would pay the other $2,000. As a general rule, the higher your deductible, the lower your premiums.

In the case of health insurance, taking on a higher deductible, higher co-pays or longer waiting periods may lower your costs. However, if you can afford a plan with a lower deductible, you may want to take that. Lower deductible health plans offer customers more predictable prices for higher amounts of coverage.

Your homeowners insurance premium may be affected by the coverage limits you choose, your deductible amount, optional coverages you select, your home’s age and condition, your claims history and your credit rating.

Car insurance premiums may be affected by your age, your credit score, your driving record, the age of your car, the type of coverage you chose, coverage limits you select, where you live and drive, and how often you drive.

Your life insurance premium may be affected by the amount of life insurance coverage you buy, the type of life insurance policy you select, the length of your policy, and your age, health, and life expectancy.

Insurance Limits

Some companies, specific policies or types of coverage have insurance limits. An insurance limit is the maximum amount of money the company will pay. Typically, the higher your insurance limit, the higher your premium. It’s also the inverse of a deductible. You pay the part of the claim or claims that’s more than the limit on your policy.

Insurance limits can be on a per occurrence basis or on an aggregate basis. For example, a per occurrence basis could be a $20,000 insurance limit on bodily injuries per person, per car accident. An aggregate insurance limit might be a $100,000 limit on construction costs in the event of a natural disaster.

Car Insurance

Car insurance laws and policies typically list liabilities as a set of three numbers that stand for the coverage limits when you’re responsible for an accident. If your numbers were 22/66/15, your insurance would cover $22,000 for bodily injuries per person, $66,000 in total bodily injury coverage per accident and $15,000 for property damage per accident. For personal injury protection, collision and comprehensive coverage, the numbers are listed as a single amount for each type of coverage. Your state may have specific minimum limits for certain coverages, so make sure you’re getting a fair rate.

Health Insurance

Healthcare laws often change, and many lifetime and annual health insurance limits are illegal. However, some health insurance policies still list annual limits or limits on the number of times certain treatments will be covered, such as acupuncture, chiropractic services and orthotics. Companies may also place limits on prescription medication to keep costs down. There may be policies such as “step therapy,” which requires you to try less expensive drugs first, or quantity limits, such as only covering 30 pills in 30 days.

Homeowners Insurance

Your homeowners insurance policy will often list separate limit amounts for different types of coverage. The limit amounts for liability coverage – in case you’re sued by someone for property damage or injuries that occur on your property – may be different than the limit amount for damage to your home and personal property. Make sure you review all of your homeowners insurance coverage limits, such as the amount it may cost to rebuild your home (dwelling coverage), liability coverage and personal property coverage.

Shopping Around

What is a premium?

It’s important to shop around for insurance because different companies have different target clients. You may be the target client for one company, but not for another. That means your premium may be lower with one company than another. The price you pay for your insurance may include taxes or fees, as well. And these could differ from company to company. Before shopping around, call your insurance company and see if they’re willing to lower your premium.

In addition, insurance companies may decide to pursue a new market segment. That can lower rates on a temporary basis, or on a more permanent basis if that works for the company. In either case, you can get a better deal on your insurance if you are part of the demographic that insurance company wants to attract.

The best insurance company for you may not be the best insurance company for your parents or your best friend. It all depends on your age, location and many other factors.

The Bottom Line

Your insurance company will assess the financial risk of insuring you. The greater they perceive that risk to be, the more your premium will cost. It’s important to make sure you let your insurance company know all the ways in which you are a low-risk or lower risk client in order to get premium reductions. After shopping around, you’ll be able to find the insurance policies that are best for your financial situation.

Tips for Reducing Insurance Costs

  • Consider all of the insurance options available based on your individual circumstances. This can help you save money. A comprehensive budget calculator can help you understand which option is best.
  • If you need extra help weighing your insurance options, you might want to consider working with an expert. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs can be easy. SmartAsset’s free tool will match you with financial advisors in your area in five minutes. If you’re ready to learn about local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/skynesher, ©iStock.com/kate_sept2004, ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov

The post A Beginner’s Guide to Insurance Premiums appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

8 Upfront Costs of Buying a House

Looking to buy a home soon? There will be upfront costs of buying a house.

You may have found a house that you like. You may have been approved for a mortgage loan, and have your down payment ready to make an offer. If you think that, at that point, all of the hard work is over, well think again.

In addition to the down payment, which can be significant depending on the price of the property, there are plenty of upfront costs of buying a home. As a first time home buyer, this may come to you as a surprise. So, be ready to have enough cash to cover these costs. In no particular order, here are 8 common upfront costs of buying a house.

If you are interested in comparing the best mortgage rates through LendingTree click here. It’s completely free.

What is an upfront cost?

An upfront cost, as the name suggests and in terms of buying a house, is out of pocket money that you pay after you have made an offer on a property. They are also referred to as closing costs and cover fees such as inspection fees, taxes, appraisal, mortgage lender fees, etc. As a home buyer, these upfront costs should not come to you as a surprise.

What are the upfront costs of buying a house?

Upfront cost # 1: Private mortgage insurance cost.

If your down payment is less than 20% of the home purchase price, then your mortgage lender will charge you a PMI (private mortgage insurance). A PMI is an extra fee to your monthly mortgage payment that really protects the lender in case you default on your loan. Again, depending on the size of the loan, a PMI can be significant. So if you know you won’t have 20% or more down payment, be ready pay an extra fee in addition to your monthly mortgage payments.


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Upfront cost #2: inspection costs.

Before you finalize on a house, it’s always a good idea to inspect the house for defects. In fact, in some states, it is mandatory. Lenders will simply not offer you a mortgage loan unless they see an inspection report. Even if it is not mandatory in your state, it’s always a good idea to inspect the home. The inspection cost is well worth any potential defects or damages you might encounter.

Inspection fee can cost you anywhere from $300-$500. And it is usually paid during the inspection. So consider this upfront cost into your budget.

Upfront cost # 3: loan application fees.

Some lenders may charge you a fee for applying for/processing a loan. This fee typically covers things like credit check for your credit score or appraisal.

Upfront cost # 4: repair costs.

Unless the house is perfect from the very first time you occupy it, you will need to do some repair. Depending on the condition of the house, repair or renovating costs can be quite significant. So consider saving up some money to cover some of these costs.

Upfront cost # 5: moving costs.

Depending on how far you’re moving and/or how much stuff you have, you may be up for some moving costs. Moving costs may include utilities connections, cleaning, moving

Upfront cost # 6: Appraisal costs.

Appraisal costs can be anywhere from $300-$500. Again that range depends on the location and price of the house. You usually pay that upfront cost after the inspection or before closing.

Upfront cost # 7: Earnest Money Costs

After you reach a mutual acceptance for the home, in some states, you may be required to pay an earnest money deposit. This upfront costs is usually 1% to 3% of the home purchase price. The amount you pay in earnest money, however, will be subtracted from your closing costs.

Upfront cost # 8: Home Associations Dues

If you’re buying a condo, you may have to pay homeowners association dues. Homeowners association dues cover operation and maintenance fees. And you will pay one month’s dues upfront at closing.

In conclusion, when it comes to buying a house, there are several upfront costs you will need to consider. Above are some of the most common upfront costs of buying a house.

Click here to compare mortgage rates through LendingTree. It’s completely FREE.

MORE ARTICLES ON BUYING A HOUSE:

10 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes to Avoid

How Much House Can I afford

5 Signs You’re Better Off Renting

7 Signs You’re Ready to Buy a House

How to Save for a House


Not All Mortgage Lenders Are Created Equally

When it comes to getting a mortgage, rates and fees vary. LendingTree allows you to view and compare multiple mortgage rates from multiple mortgage lenders all in one place and at the same time, so you can choose the best rates for your needs. LendingTree makes getting a loan faster, simpler, and better. Get started today >>>

The post 8 Upfront Costs of Buying a House appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator

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Your grocery bill can add up fast. From dinner entrées to snacks, the amount you spend directly affects your other financial goals. Luckily, there are some guidelines to ensure you’re not overspending. 

Use the grocery calculator below to estimate your monthly and weekly food budget based on guidelines from the USDA’s monthly food plan. Input your family size and details below to calculate how much a nutritious grocery budget should cost you. Of course, every family is different. Some love coupons and leftovers, while others prefer fresh fish and aged cheese. Once you’ve established your budget, use the slider to adjust your estimate to your spending habits. 

Getting your food budget on point takes practice. With this grocery calculator and the right spending habits, you’ll have enough for your living expenses and exciting financial goals like paying off loans or buying a house.

Grocery Budget Calculator

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Person 7

0-34-812-1819-5051-7071+
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Person 8

0-34-812-1819-5051-7071+
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Person 9

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A moderate grocery budget will run you:

Weekly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

$0.00

Monthly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

$0.00

What kind of spender are you?

Does your estimate look right? If your spending habits don’t add up, explore these other budget options and choose what’s best for your lifestyle.

Thrifty This is the USDA’s estimated food budget for families that receive food assistance like WIC or SNAP.

Cost-Conscious This is an ideal budget for nutritious meals if you’re looking to save a little extra cash with leftovers and coupons.

Moderate This is the standard for affordable, nutritious, and balanced portions for most families.

Generous This budget gives you some spending wiggle room for finer foods or extra portions.

See where the rest of your budget is going Sign up for Mint

Monthly Grocery Budget

Ever wonder how much you should spend on groceries? The average cost of food per month for one person ranges from $150 to $300, depending on age. However, these national averages vary based on where you live and the quality of your food purchases.

Here’s a monthly grocery budget for the average family. This is based on the national average and likely varies by location and shop. For instance, New York City grocers are going to be far more expensive than Kansas City shops. Additionally, organic grocery stores like Whole Foods are pricier than places like Walmart or Aldi.

You’ll also want to consider dietary choices, like gluten-free or vegan diets. These can significantly affect your budget, so consider planning your grocery list online to compare prices and find your preferred alternatives.

FAMILY SIZE SUGGESTED
MONTHLY BUDGET
1 person $251
2 people $553
3 people $722
4 people $892
5 people $1,060
6 people $1,230

Finding a reasonable monthly grocery budget ensures you and your family have what you need, while not overspending. Look back at previous months using a budgeting app or credit card statements to see what you’ve spent at the grocery store. Decide if you want to maintain your current budget or cut back.

Purchasing Groceries vs. Dining Out

Mockup of grocery list and food inventory printables with fresh produce

 

Download grocery list and inventory printables button.

Don’t forget what you spend at restaurants when you consider your food budget. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend 11 percent of their take-home income on food. It doesn’t all go towards groceries, though. Approximately six percent is spent on groceries, while five percent is spent dining out — including dates, lunches with coworkers, and Sunday brunch.

With this framework in mind, you can calculate your total food budget based on your take-home income. For example, Rita makes $3,500 per month after taxes. She would budget six percent for groceries ($210) and five percent for restaurants ($175). So she’ll need a total of $385 for food each month. With a little practice, she’ll better learn her habits and be able to accurately adjust her budget.

Tips for Reducing Your Budget

Illustration of grocery coupons and meal planner.

There are several ways to cut back on what you spend without sacrificing the quality and taste of your food. Trimming your food budget can help you stow away more for your financial goals, such as building an emergency fund or saving for a dream vacation.

Cut Coupons

Coupons are easy to find in the mail, in store, in your inbox, and even in a Google search. Many popular grocery stores are rolling out apps that track your coupons and savings. Be sure to download and register your email for new updates and sales. These usually work in person or online, so you can shop when and how you like. 

While a single coupon might not give you a large discount, you can save a lot with multiple coupons. It’s also important you make sure you actually need the item you’re purchasing instead of buying it for the sale. This can quickly get out of hand and push you over budget. 

Freeze Your Food

Freezing your fresh food before it goes bad helps your wallet and the environment. You can plan ahead and freeze prepared produce to save time on weekday cooking, or chop and freeze last week’s produce before shopping for more. Frozen vegetables are great in soups and stews, and you can use frozen fruits for healthy breakfast smoothies. 

Plan a Weekly Menu Ahead of Time

Plan your meals ahead of time to determine the food items and quantities you need before you head to the grocery store. This way you’re more likely to buy the exact items you need and can plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to plan for recipes that use the same ingredients so there’s less to purchase. You can also make larger meals and plan leftovers for lunch so you have less to plan and purchase.

Download meal planning printable button.

Bring Lunches to Work 

A $13 lunch out might not seem like much, but it can blow your food budget fast if it becomes a habit. Push your monthly food budget further with delicious lunches from home. Salads, sandwiches, and leftovers are all easy, inexpensive, and nutritious. 

Buy Store Brands 

Many packaged products have a huge price disparity between brand name and generic items, and store brand items tend to be cheaper without sacrificing much quality. You can easily save 10 cents to a dollar per item, which adds up quickly over many trips. 

Shop at a More Affordable Store

Your local farmers market, chain grocery, and organic store will all offer different specialties and sales. Check out the different shops in your area to find the best combination of quality and price. Some stores might even offer bulk items — great for your favorite products and those with a long shelf-life. Choosing cheaper staple items like milk and yogurt can also make a huge difference over time. 

An accurate food budget that works for you helps you feel more confident and in control of your finances. Build a budget, learn your spending habits, and keep a grocery list to keep you on track and responsible so you can reach bigger goals, like a new vehicle or a down payment on a house. 

Sources: USA Today | EurekAlert | Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet

The post How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Mint Money Audit 6-Month Check-In: How Did Michelle Allocate Her Windfall?

In March I offered some financial advice to Michelle, a Mint user who was struggling with debt, a lack of retirement savings and a bit of family financial drama amongst her siblings.

Michelle was anticipating a cash bonus from her company and wasn’t sure if she should save the money or use it to relieve her debt.

I recommended a two-prong approach where she uses the cash to play savings catch-up in her retirement account and knock down some of her debt, which, at the time, included a $3,000 credit card balance and $52,000 in student loans.

Six months later, I’ve checked in with the 38-year-old real estate developer, to see if any of my advice was helpful and if she’s experienced any shifts in her financial life.

We spoke via email:

Farnoosh: Have your finances have improved over the last 6 months since we last spoke? If so, what has been the biggest improvement?

Michelle: Yes. I’ve aggressively been contributing to my 401(k) – about 50% of my pay – and had hoped to reach the annual maximum of $18,000 by June, but looks like it will be more like October. I also received a $40,000 distribution from a project that I closed.

F: What aspects of your financial life still challenge you?

M: Investing for sure. I never know if I’m hoarding too much cash. I am truly traumatized from the financial downturn. I just joined an online investment platform, but it was also overwhelming. Currently I have $45,000 in a regular savings account that earns 1.5%.

Another challenge is not knowing whether to just bite the bullet and pay off my student loans or to continue to pay them monthly.  I hate that I’m still paying loans 16 years after I graduated and it’s a source of frustration [and embarrassment] for me.  I owe $36,000. Often times I have an inner monologue about the pros and cons of just paying them off but then my trauma from 2008 kicks in…and I decide to keep my $45,000 nest egg safely where I can check the balance daily.

F: I recommended allocating $45,000 towards retirement. Was that helpful? What are some ways you’ve managed to save?

M: Yes, I recall you saying you recommended having a total of $100,000 towards retirement for a person my age. Currently, I have $51,000 in my 401(k), $35,000 in a traditional IRA and $17,000 in my Ellevest brokerage account, so I’ve broken the $100,000 goal.

I did add a car note to my balance sheet. My old car suffered a total loss (major electrical failure due to a sunroof leak!) and the insurance gave me a check for $9,000. I used it all towards the new vehicle (a certified used 2014 Acura) and I’m financing $18,000.

F: Your dad’s home was a source of financial stress, it seemed. Were you able to talk with your siblings and arrive at a better place with that?

M: My dad actually has passed since we last spoke. He passed in February and so his will went to probate. My siblings and I have decided not to make any decisions about the house for at least one year. Yes, this is kicking the can further down the street however, they recognize that I maintain the house and pay the real estate taxes and so they are not pressuring me to move or to sell.

The new deed has been recorded and the property is under all our names and so everyone seems ok with knowing that I can’t do anything regarding a sale or refinance unilaterally.

So, for now, I live rent free other than paying utilities, miscellaneous maintenance on the house and real estate taxes quarterly. This, too, is helping me save aggressively.

Also, the new car note has replaced the hospice nurse contribution so I’m not feeling that my budget is overburdened with the new car.

I think ultimately I will buy out at least two of my siblings and stay in the house. Verbally they have expressed being okay with this.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit 6-Month Check-In: How Did Michelle Allocate Her Windfall? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com