Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest overnight financial shakeup in our country’s history. Its effects will be felt for years into the future, if not permanently. On the economic front, it’s caused a huge change in consumer spending, largely due to how people’s income and living/working patterns have shifted.  How Income Is Changing According […]

The post Consumer Spending Habits Are Changing — What to Know appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

How to Focus on More Experiences Over Things This Holiday Season

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

How to Focus on More Experiences Over Things This Holiday Season is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

The holiday season is in full swing and this is one of my favorite times to remind myself to focus on more experiences and memories with loved ones. It’s easy to feel the stress of having to provide and pay for gifts and other costs over the next few weeks. I know it sounds cliche to say that the holidays are about more than just gifts, but it’s true. This year in particular has been difficult on a lot of people and when I think about protecting my mental health and ending the year on a good note, I don’t

How to Focus on More Experiences Over Things This Holiday Season is a post originally published on: Everything Finance – Everything Finance – Its all about Money!

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The Highest Paying Trade Jobs On the Market

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

Pursuing a four-year degree or higher isn’t for everyone. If you fall into that group, it doesn’t mean you can’t get a high-paying job. There are a surprising number of trade jobs that pay salaries at or above careers that require a four-year degree. They pay well because they’re in demand and are expected to […]

The post The Highest Paying Trade Jobs On the Market appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

8 Career Tips to Help You Crush Your Goals in 2021

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

Good riddance, 2020. After one of the worst years of our lifetime, the ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions has taken on new meaning — especially when it comes to our financial lives. The pandemic erased the jobs of millions of Americans and docked the incomes of millions more. But now is a time for […]

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.

Should I stay or should I go? Wrestling with the decision to quit a career

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

J.D.’s note: In the olden days at Get Rich Slowly, I shared reader stories every Sunday. I haven’t done that since I re-purchased the site because nobody sends them to me anymore. But earlier this year, Mike did. I love it. I hope you will too.

Earlier this year, I sent my wife a text message: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how freaked out would you be if I quit my job this afternoon?”

My wife and I had only been married a short while, but she’d known since our second date that I didn’t plan to work in my traditional job until normal retirement age. She also knew that I hadn’t been very happy at work in recent months.

We’re very compatible financially — both savers raised in working-class families that didn’t always have a lot. We make a point of having what we like to call “Fun Family Finance Day” from time to time. On Fun Family Finance Day, we do everything from competitively checking our credit scores to discussing questions that get at the root of our money mindsets to help us create our goals.

But this question wasn’t part of the plan. Not then.

And it was never on any of the lists of questions that we’d discussed with each other. It was like a pop quiz, a pothole in the smoothest relationship road I’d ever traveled…and I was the one putting it there.

Dreams Remain Dreams Without Doing

My wife and I rarely argue, but when we do it’s usually about food. It’s the kitchen and the grocery store that are our battleground. Our finances are fine. Thankfully, when you’re confident in the life you’ve created and the person you chose to build it with, it’s a lot easier to be honest about what’s on your mind.

That still doesn’t always mean you get the answer you want. Or the answer you were expecting. She responded: “Wait what. Kinda. What would you do?”

A completely reasonable and fair question. Not to mention one that I’d probably have to get comfortable answering from a lot more people.

I think my immediate reaction was: We talk about this stuff all the time, where is my, “No worries baby, YOLO!”? (I must have watched too many romcoms back before we cut cable from our lives.)

Being a grownup, it turns out, is actually really hard sometimes. I was about to learn that talking about something, and actually doing it, are a world apart.

Life is full of dreamers and doers. Sometimes those two personalities cross over. But there are plenty of people who go through life talking about so many things they’ll never have the courage to try — or the discipline and determination to follow through with.

Which person was I? The dreamer? The doer? Or that fortunate combination of both?

Charming Estate With Ties to The Beatles On the Market in Connecticut

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

A gorgeous, sprawling Connecticut estate with ties to The Beatles, Prudence Farrow, and the Gershwin brothers is up for sale in Westport for $9 million.  The seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 9,360-square-foot property at 157 Easton Road, also known as River Run Estate, is being marketed by Compass’ Susan Vanech. It was originally built in 1955, and completely […] More

The post Charming Estate With Ties to The Beatles On the Market in Connecticut appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

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Got Cash? What to Do with Extra Money

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

I received a great email from Magen L., who says:

I no longer have any retirement savings because I cashed it all out to pay my debt. We also sold our home and moved into an apartment just as the pandemic was hitting. With the sale of our house, the fact that my husband is working overtime, and the stimulus money, we've saved nearly $10,000 and should have more by the end of the year. My primary question is, what should we do with it?

Right now, I have our extra money in a low-interest bank savings [account], and I'm considering moving it to a high-yield savings [account] as our emergency fund. Is that a good idea? For additional money we save, I intend to use it as a down payment on a new house. However, should I be investing in Roth IRAs instead? What is the best option?

Another question comes from Bianca G., who says:

I have zero credit card debt, but I have a car loan and a student loan. I will be receiving a large amount of money sometime next year. If my fiancé and I want to buy a home, is it better to pay off my car first and then my student loan, or should I just pay down a big portion of my student loan?

Thanks Megan and Bianca for your questions. I'll answer them and give you a three-step plan to prioritize your extra money and make your finances more secure. No matter if you're a good saver or you get a cash windfall from a tax refund, an inheritance, or the sale of a home, extra money should never be squandered.

What to do with extra cash

Maybe you're like Magen and have extra cash that could be working harder for you, but you're not sure what to do with it. You may even be paralyzed and do nothing because you have a deep-seated fear of making a big mistake with your cash.

In some cases, having your money sit idle is precisely the right financial move. But it depends on whether or not you've accomplished three fundamental financial goals, which we'll cover.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life.

To know the right way to manage extra cash, you need to step back and take a holistic view of your entire financial life. Consider what you're doing right and where you're vulnerable.

Try using a three-pronged approach that I call the PIP plan, which stands for:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected
  2. Invest for the future
  3. Pay off high-interest debt

Let's examine each one to understand how to use the PIP (prepare, invest, and pay off) approach for your situation.

How to prepare for the unexpected

The first fundamental goal you should have is to prepare for the unexpected. As you know, life is full of surprises. Some of them bring happiness, but there's an infinite number of devastating events that could hurt you financially.

In an instant, you could get fired from your job, experience a natural disaster, get a severe illness, or lose a spouse. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that we have to be as mentally, physically, and financially prepared as possible for what may be around the corner. 

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Getting equipped for the unexpected is an ongoing challenge. Your approach should change over time because it depends on your income, debt, number of dependents, and breadwinners in a family.

While no amount of money can reverse a tragedy, having safety nets—such as an emergency fund and various types of insurance—can protect your finances. That makes coping with a tragedy easier.

Everyone should accumulate an emergency fund equal to at least three to six months' worth of their living expenses. For instance, if you spend $3,000 a month on essentials—such as housing, utilities, food, and debt payments—make a goal to keep at least $9,000 in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.

While keeping that much in savings may sound boring, the goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth. The idea is to have immediate access to your cash when you need it. That's why I don't recommend investing your emergency money unless you have more than a six-month reserve.

The goal for an emergency fund is safety, not growth.

If you don't have enough saved, aim to bridge the gap over a reasonable period. For instance, you could save one half of your target over two years or one third over three years. You can put your goal on autopilot by creating an automatic monthly transfer from your checking into your savings account.

Megan mentioned using high-yield savings, which can be a good option because it pays a bit more interest for large balances. However, the higher rate typically comes with limitations, such as applying only to a threshold balance, so be sure to understand the account terms.

Insurance protects your finances

Another critical aspect of preparing for the unexpected is having enough of the right kinds of insurance. Here are some policies you may need:

  • Auto insurance if you drive your own or someone else's vehicle
  • Homeowners insurance, which is typically required when you have a mortgage
  • Renters insurance if you rent a home or apartment
  • Health insurance, which pays a portion of your medical bills
  • Disability insurance replaces a percentage of income if you get sick or injured and can no longer work
  • Life insurance if you have dependents or debt co-signers who would suffer financial hardship if you died

RELATED: How to Create Foolproof Safety Nets

How to invest for your future

Once you get as prepared as possible for the unexpected by building an emergency fund and getting the right kinds of insurance, the next goal I mentioned is investing for retirement. That’s the “I” in PIP, right behind prepare for the unexpected.

Investments can go down in value—you should never invest money you can’t live without.

While many people use the terms saving and investing interchangeably, they’re not the same. Let’s clarify the difference between investing and saving so you can think strategically about them:

Saving is for the money you expect to spend within the next few years and don’t want to risk losing it. In other words, you save money that you want to keep 100% safe because you know you’ll need it or because you could need it. While it won’t earn much interest, you’ll be able to tap it in an instant.

Investing is for the money you expect to spend in the future, such as in five or more years. Purchasing an investment means you’re exposing money to some amount of risk to make it grow. Investments can go down in value; therefore, you should never invest money you can’t live without.

In general, I recommend that you invest through a qualified retirement account, such as a workplace plan or an IRA, which come with tax benefits to boost your growth. My recommendation is to contribute no less than 10% to 15% of your pre-tax income for retirement.

Magen mentioned Roth IRAs, and it may be a good option for her to rebuild her retirement savings. For 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over age 50, to a traditional or a Roth IRA. You typically must have income to qualify for an IRA. However, if you’re married and file taxes jointly, a non-working spouse can max out an IRA based on household income.

For workplace retirement plans, such as a 401(k), you can contribute up to $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re over 50 for 2020. Some employers match a certain percent of contributions, which turbocharges your account. That’s why it’s wise to invest enough to max out any free retirement matching at work. If your employer kicks in matching funds, you can exceed the annual contribution limits that I mentioned.

RELATED: A 5-Point Checklist for How to Invest Money Wisely

How to pay off high-interest debt

Once you're working on the first two parts of my PIP plan by preparing for the unexpected and investing for the future, you're in a perfect position also to pay off high-interest debt, the final "P."

Always tackle your high-interest debts before any other debts because they cost you the most. They usually include credit cards, car loans, personal loans, and payday loans with double-digit interest rates. Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Remember that when you pay off a credit card that charges 18%, that's just like earning 18% on an investment after taxes—pretty impressive!

Typical low-interest loans include student loans, mortgages, and home equity lines of credit. These types of debt also come with tax breaks for some of the interest you pay, making them cost even less. So, don't even think about paying them down before implementing your PIP plan.

Getting back to Bianca's situation, she didn't mention having emergency savings or regularly investing for retirement. I recommend using her upcoming cash windfall to set these up before paying off a low-rate student loan.

Let's say Bianca sets aside enough for her emergency fund, purchases any missing insurance, and still has cash left over. She could use some or all of it to pay down her auto loan. Since the auto loan probably has a higher interest rate than her student loan and doesn't come with any tax advantages, it's wise to pay it down first. 

Once you've put your PIP plan into motion, you can work on other goals, such as saving for a house, vacation, college, or any other dream you have. 

Questions to ask when you have extra money

Here are five questions to ask yourself when you have a cash windfall or accumulate savings and aren’t sure what to do with it.

1. Do I have emergency savings?

Having some emergency money is critical for a healthy financial life because no one can predict the future. You might have a considerable unexpected expense or lose income.  

Without emergency money to fall back on, you're living on the edge, financially speaking. So never turn down the opportunity to build a cash reserve before spending money on anything else.

2. Do I contribute to a retirement account at work?

Getting a windfall could be the ticket to getting started with a retirement plan or increasing contributions. It's wise to invest at least 10% to 15% of your gross income for retirement.

Investing in a workplace retirement plan is an excellent way to set aside small amounts of money regularly. You'll build wealth for the future, cut your taxes, and maybe even get some employer matching.

3. Do I have an IRA?

Don't have a job with a retirement plan? Not a problem. If you (or a spouse when you file taxes jointly) have some amount of earned income, you can contribute to a traditional or a Roth IRA. Even if you contribute to a retirement plan at work, you can still max out an IRA in the same year—which is a great way to use a cash windfall.

4. Do I have high-interest debt?

If you have expensive debt, such as credit cards or payday loans, paying them down is the next best way to spend extra money. Take the opportunity to use a windfall to get rid of high-interest debt and stay out of debt in the future. 

5. Do I have other financial goals?

After you’ve built up your emergency fund, have money flowing into tax-advantaged retirement accounts, and are whittling down high-interest debt, start thinking about other financial goals. Do you want to buy a house? Go to graduate school? Send your kids to college?

How to manage a cash windfall

Review your financial situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track.

When it comes to managing extra money, always consider the big picture of your financial life and choose strategies that follow my PIP plan in order: prepare for the unexpected, invest for the future, and pay off high-interest debt.

Review your situation at least once a year to make sure you’re still on track. As your life changes, you may need more or less emergency money or insurance coverage.

When your income increases, take the opportunity to bump up your retirement contribution—even increasing it one percent per year can make a huge difference.

And here's another important quick and dirty tip: when you make more money, don't let your cost of living increase as well. If you earn more but maintain or even decrease your expenses, you'll be able to reach your financial goals faster.

What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance?

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

The death of a loved one is hard to take and while a life insurance payout can ease the burden and allow you to continue leaving comfortably, it won’t take the grief or the heartbreak away. What’s more, if that life insurance policy refuses to payout, it can make the situation even worse, adding more stress, anxiety, anger, and frustration to an already […]

What Causes of Death are not Covered by Life Insurance? is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

Should You Pay Your Kids For Good Grades?

January 8, 2021 Penny Matthews 0
Mother paying daughter for good grades

In a recent attempt to get our kids to consume some vegetables, we offered them the bribe — I mean, incentive — of a brand-new toy if they each ate a carrot with dinner every night for several weeks. After the carrot challenge ended and the boys were delighted with their new toys, we faced the problem of both kids declaring that they would never eat another carrot again as long as they lived. So much for fostering an appreciation for carrots.

This is the central paradox of incentivizing good behavior. You may be able to get your children to do what you want them to for a short time, but will it ultimately result in changed habits? 

Here’s what you need to know about paying your kids for good grades, so you can decide the best way to encourage them to succeed. 

Cash incentives may work

One of the most compelling arguments for paying kids for good grades is that it’s how the world of work is structured. Most adults wouldn’t go to work every day without getting paid, and they are incentivized to improve their performance by the promise of bonuses, raises, and other perks. So it does seem reasonable to offer kids compensation for their hard work at school.

In fact, research has found that this kind of incentive can actually work to improve student performance and test scores. According to Education Week, Roland Fryer, an economist at Harvard University, conducted a series of experiments in the mid-2000s in which he paid $6 million to over 18,000 low-income students in several U.S. cities to incentivize them to improve their test scores. However, the results indicated that when offering cash for school performance, the important thing to focus on is rewarding something students feel like they have control over. 

That means using money (or other incentives) to motivate inputs, such as number of hours spent studying, rather than outputs, such as grades or test scores. Students may want to improve their performance, but not know how to budge the needle. Rewarding them for their effort will be much more effective in encouraging better outcomes than rewarding them for a specific grade. (See also: 5 Money Moves Every Single Parent Should Make)

Tread carefully with multiple kids

If parents do decide to offer financial incentives to their kids, another potential landmine can be knowing how to handle more than one child in the family. If one kid is a born scholar and another struggles with learning disabilities or behavioral issues, rewarding the first for what they’re already good at and giving nothing to the second will not end well. The student you most want to motivate will learn to hate and resent school.

On the other hand, it can be tough to offer a sliding scale of payment for each kid. The high-achiever might resent that their struggling sibling gets the same money for worse grades or test scores. Making it clear that you’re rewarding effort rather than results is the best way to make sure you don’t discourage the very behavior you’re trying to encourage.

Incentives can backfire

While paying kids to improve their grades can result in better studying habits and improved scores, it may not effectively encourage them to engage with school. Studies have shown that rewards incentivize students to do the minimum necessary to receive their prize, after which point they lose interest. This was the exact problem my family encountered with our carrot-eating challenge, as the incentive was the only reason the kids were eating their vegetables, and they were not interested in trying to find a way to like eating carrots.

This is unsurprising when you think of all the disengaged workers who only show up and do the bare minimum to keep from getting fired. Without the intrinsic engagement with the work, whether that’s learning literature and history, or filing TPS reports, payment for this kind of work becomes the only thing the recipient cares about.

In addition, likening school to work by offering cash incentives can also backfire. That’s because schools can’t fire underperforming students the same way an employer can fire a lackluster worker. Nor do schools have access to any of the other negative consequences an employer can use to improve an employee’s poor performance. With a carrot and no stick, students will both get a false sense of what work life will look like, and feel more comfortable simply opting out of incentives, since there are no negative consequences for bad grades that they haven’t already felt.

Instilling a love of learning in disengaged students is not an easy task, as any teacher can tell you. But paying them is no way to create that enjoyment for school. A better way to help kids engage with their studies is to encourage their interests and show how school relates to the subjects they are most passionate about. This may take more effort than simply handing out the dollar bills come report card time, but it will have better outcomes for encouraging a love of learning. (See also: 7 Parenting Mistakes Everyone Makes But No One Talks About)

Should you pay for good grades?

Bribery as a parenting tactic is not going away anytime soon. It’s effective in the short term, and sometimes Mom and Dad simply need to get their kids to do something. However, paying kids is not always the best way to encourage them to engage with their school work. 

If you’re considering paying your kids for their school work, make sure all of your kids understand what they can each do to earn their rewards, use the payments to incentivize behavior they have control over, and continue working to help them see the joys of learning. 


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How Much Life Insurance Do I Really Need?

January 7, 2021 Penny Matthews 0

Since it doesn’t have an immediate benefit – like health or auto insurance – life insurance may be the most underestimated insurance type there is. But if you die, life insurance will likely be the single most important policy type you’ve ever purchased. And that’s why you have to get it right. Not only do […]

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