Do you have any New Year’s resolutions that involve improving your finances? If so, you are not alone, as more than half of all Americans report that their resolutions include goals related to finance. One thing that may be helpful to do is to take a quick online course to learn about money management. Here are a few free ones that provide helpful info:
https://www.coursera.org/learn/family-planning: this course provides an in-depth discussion about all of the basics of financial planning, from learning about compounding interest to choosing investment options to setting up a rainy day fund. It is a long course but you can choose the topics you would like to learn about.
https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/core-finance/taxes-topic#taxes: Khan Academy provides several free courses in the area of financial management. This one focuses on taxes and how they work. Since everyone has to pay taxes and the tax system is so complex, this course helps explain tax rates, progressive taxation, and the alternative minimum tax.
These times are challenging, but there are also new opportunities for saving money. Here are a few ideas.
- If you are now working from home instead of commuting, use your one or two hours a day that you used to spend in the car to do something lucrative. You could take on a side gig at upwork.com or call your home/auto insurance company or credit card company to see if they could provide better rates.
- Look into applying for pandemic related assistance if needed. You may be able to get help with your rent, added food stamp benefits, paid sick leave and/or student loan deferrals. This website provides helpful information: https://www.usa.gov/covid-financial-help-from-the-government
- Book staycations or local trips that don’t require paying for airfare.
- Cancel anything you no longer use. If you don’t go to the gym or listen to your music streaming service, cancel your memberships. If there are magazines you don’t read or TV streaming channels you don’t watch, cancel those as well.
- If you are driving less, eating out less, traveling less now, think about continuing that trend when things return to normal so you can continue saving money in the future.
According to a recent poll, money is one of the top three things couples fight about. Oftentimes, one spouse will have a different spending style than the other, and this can cause long-term conflicts. Here are some ideas about how to overcome and/or prevent financial conflicts:
1-Talk openly about your finances. It helps to communicate your own needs and also to listen openly to your spouse to hear about his/her needs. A person who hides his own spending from his spouse can cause his spouse to feel resentment.
2-Consider establishing separate budgets for personal expenditures. If both partners agree on an amount that each person can spend on personal items each month, then both people can spend within the budget and be transparent about the amount they are spending.
3-Meet periodically to discuss goals. It helps for couples to meet once or twice a year to plan out financial goals. For example, if your goal is to save a certain amount for retirement, are both partners contributing to their 401k plans and how much money is being contributed? If the goal is to save to buy a new home, how much is each person saving and where is the money saved going to be invested in the meantime?
Open communication and establishing goals help a great deal toward creating successful money management for couples.
Think you are spending too much of your hard earned income on gas? Here are five easy ways to save money.
- Check to see what grade of gas your car needs and then go with the cheapest one. If your car only needs the regular grade of gas but you use middle grade, it could save you around 35 cents per gallon on average to switch to regular, according to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration.
- Do your research on the gas you are buying. Many gas companies mix in a small percentage of a liquid called ethanol into the gas to save money because it is cheaper than gas, but it reduces your fuel efficiency. So while one price may seem cheaper, if that gas has ethanol, then it could actually not be a better value.
- To find out what is the best value for gasoline, you need to factor in price, ethanol content, and also the distance from where you live. While one gas station may be 10 cents per gallon cheaper than another, it doesn’t make sense to drive ten miles to get there.
- Another additional way to save money on gas is to see what gas stations offer reward programs that could apply to you. If a gas station has a partnership with a grocery store you regularly shop at, then you could save a lot of money by entering your grocery store membership number.
- Consider using an app such as Gasbuddy that posts up-to-the-minute information on gas prices in your area. Then you’ll be able to see which nearby gas stations have the best prices.
Think you are spending too much to take a domestic flight? If you want to save money, then reducing how much you pay for airplane tickets is a relatively easy way to put some cash back into your pocket. Here are five easy ways to save money on airplane tickets:
- Don’t wait until the last minute to buy a ticket. Just recently I took a flight from Los Angeles to Sacramento and paid $59 each way booking four months ahead. Some friends of mine who went on the same flight only the day after and booked less than two months before the flight date paid around $110 each way. And at the airport I talked to someone on my flight who said he paid more than $200 because he booked it just days before the flight date.
- Always compare flight prices among the many airlines that offer the flight you are looking for. Never go with the first one you see because there are enough different airlines that there could be a better deal out there. Kayak.com, expedia.com and airline websites such as Southwest.com or Delta.com are good places to search.
- Travel as lightly as possible, and consolidate your clothing into the least number of bags possible so that you don’t end up paying more to check more bags. While some airlines like Southwest don’t charge you to check bags there is a limit on how many are free (e.g., with Southwest it’s two bags). Because it can cost up to $60 to check one bag, you may want to limit how many bags you check, if any.
- Compare flight prices from different airports in your area. Los Angeles has LAX, the largest international airport in the area, but John Wayne airport and Burbank airport are both within about an hour’s drive of LAX and could offer cheaper flights.
If you’re working/schooling from home now, you can take some time each week to think about how you could save by eliminating little things here and there. Below are a few tips for easy things that may help save you enough money to create a little rainy day fund in case big expenses pop up unexpectedly in the future.
1-Switch to a bank that has no monthly fees. There are online banks and credit unions that won’t charge you $10 or $20 a month to maintain an account.
2-If your car doesn’t require it, only buy regular gas, not premium. It could save you up to 20 cents a gallon.
3- Figure out which TV channels/streaming services you really need and just buy those individually rather than subscribing to cable TV or packages of channels.
4-Cut down your takeout food ordering or going out to restaurants. You could buy ingredients for five meals at the store for every one meal of takeout. If you don’t like to cook, buying pre-packaged meal options at the grocery store is cheaper than ordering from restaurants.
5-Plan your outings so you can do multiple errands at once, so you don’t have to drive every day.
6-If you are paying off credit card debt, ask your credit card company if they would be willing to lower your interest rate. If you can find another card that has a lower interest rate, see if your current company will match that. Then try to pay off as much debt as possible each month.
With the third round of stimulus checks, many Americans are receiving a small financial windfall. If you received a stimulus check or an unexpected sum of money, it can be very tempting to immediately spend it on a new phone, car, or electronic device that you have been wanting. You should, however, take a moment to reflect on how best to spend and/or invest your windfall. Here are some ideas:
- Pay bills.
- Make a substantial payment or pay off high interest debts such as credit cards, personal loans, etc.
- Start or add to your rainy-day fund (this account should have enough funds to cover 3 to 6 months of expenses).
- Invest in your retirement through a 401K, IRA, etc.
- If you have children, consider opening a college savings account (i.e., 529 plan, custodial account, savings account, etc.)
- Invest in certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, or savings accounts.
- Spend your money in your community and help out local businesses.
- Donate to causes and charities that you care about.
No matter how you choose to spend your financial windfall, just be sure to consider all your options carefully and not make an impulsive decision.
Credit cards can be particularly useful in an emergency or for building credit when they are used wisely. Ideally, you want to pay off your balance monthly to avoid interest charges, and you do not want to spend more than 10% of your available credit. If you, however, already have credit card debt, you should develop a plan to pay off the debt. The first step is to stop using the credit cards and only pay with cash or your debit card. The next step is to get organized. Figure out exactly how much you owe on each card and what each card’s interest rate is. Create a budget that allows you to pay the minimum on each card. Then, if you have extra money in your budget, allocate it to pay more than the minimum on the credit card with the highest interest rate. Or you can allocate it to pay extra on the credit card with the lowest debt. That way, you will pay it off faster and be motivated to continue paying down your debt. As you pay off cards, use the money budgeted for those cards to pay extra on your remaining cards. Another way to pay off debt more quickly is to do a balance transfer to a card with a lower interest rate. Nerd Wallet and Investopedia have articles about how balance transfers work and what to look for in a card to use for a balance transfer. Credit Card Insider offers more information about the different approaches to reducing debt and their pros and cons. It is important to create a plan that works best for you, your situation, and is feasible. If you aren’t able to stick with the plan one month, don’t give up. Keep trying and keep working towards your goal!
It is a new year and a great time to start saving. Whether you are wanting to save for a project, child’s future, retirement, or rainy-day fund, it is important to remember that it is never too late (or too early) to start. Even if you are only able to save a small amount each month, it is important to start saving. Once you begin to see your savings grow, it will help motivate you to keep saving and to save more.
There are lots of online resources to help you navigate the different savings options (i.e., savings accounts, stocks, mutual funds, etc.) and motivate you to reach your savings goals. The Federal Trade Commission and Nerd Wallet list ways to get started saving and links to resources that can help you save. CNBC provides strategies that people have used to successfully save hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Balance also provides 100 ways to save money on everyday expenses.
Remember, taking the first step towards any goal is always the most difficult. But, once you have set a goal and started saving, it will gradually become easier until you do it automatically out of habit.
Tax season is right around the corner and there have been a few changes to the tax laws for 2020 that you should be aware of when preparing your taxes. Below are a few of the changes:
- The CARES act allows for you to claim more for charitable donations. Even if you take the standard deduction, you can claim up to $300 for cash charitable donations (it does not apply for any other items such as: clothing, food, furniture, etc.). Additionally, if you itemize your deductions, you can deduct more than in previous years.
- The stimulus payments were an advance refundable credit and are not taxable.
- There have been adjustments for inflation. For example, the standard deduction for heads of households is $18,650 (up $300), for married filing jointly it is $24,800 (up $400), for single and married filing separately it is $12,400 (up $200). Marginal tax rates, Earned Income Credit, limitation for transportation fringe benefit and parking, and other credits and deductions have also been adjusted. For a complete list of these adjustments you can go to the IRS website.
- The SECURE act retroactively reversed the kiddie tax rate for a child’s unearned income to reverse the negative impact that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created for many families. The IRS has a topic page with more information.
- More of the tax changes can be found at Investopedia.com.
It is always important to plan ahead and get started on your taxes early to avoid late penalties. This year, however, it is especially important to give yourself more time with all the tax changes and challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS has a special webpage with some helpful tips to prepare for tax season.