If you have been keeping up with the latest financial news, it probably seems as though everything is going terribly. Inflation is at its highest in 40 years, gas prices are sky-high, buying a home is difficult to afford, interest rates for loans are creeping up, etc. But there’s actually a lot of good news—here are a few positive developments.
*The U.S. Economy added over 430,000 new jobs in March, 2022 and the unemployment rate is now around 3.6% (historically very low)
*Worker pay in the U.S. rose 5.6% since March of last year.
*U.S. gas prices peaked in mid-March, 2022 and are now declining. The current national average is $4.23 per gallon.
*U.S. household credit card balances remain $71 billion lower than they were prior to the pandemic.
*The summer tourism industry may be rebounding: U.S. travel bookings are up 58% for this upcoming summer compared to last year.
Now that U.S. gas prices are at their highest levels in decades, it helps to think about how to save money on gas. Here are some tips.
*Combine trips. Plan your trips so if you have to pick up a child from school, go to work, and/or run errands, do them all at the same time on the same trip.
*Check gas prices in your neighborhood or on your commute route to see which gas stations offer the best values. Gasbuddy.com and Waze provide gas pricing information.
*Use other methods of transportation if possible. Try to walk, ride a bike, use a bus, carpool, or share an Uber ride.
*Remove heavy items from your car so you get the best mileage possible.
*Don’t speed too much. Traveling above 60 miles per hour means you are not using your gas efficiently and will decrease the miles per gallon you get for your gas.
*Turn your car engine off when waiting. It saves gas money and helps the environment.
*Pay for your gas with cash rather than a credit card. Often the price per gallon is cheaper when you use cash.
Couples who may want to improve their relationship may see a therapist to work on communication, intimacy, etc. But did you know that there are therapists specifically for people who need help with the emotional aspects of dealing with finances? These types of therapists are financial therapists and they can help clients understand how to get out of bad patterns, communicate better about money, and plan for a strong financial future.
If you are someone who has a difficult time saving money, or has trouble working out financial issues with your spouse, meeting with a financial therapist could be beneficial. Financial therapists can also help people understand some of the underlying reasons why they feel anxious about their finances or why they get into bad habits with their money.
Financial therapy may even be covered by some insurance plans. To learn more about the field and/or connect with a financial therapist, you can go to: financialtherapyassociation.org
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.