We're "Official." Now What?

Dear Alicia,

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We're getting married soon and are wondering if there are any particular financial steps we should take once we're "official?"

-Ned and Nancy the Newlyweds

Congrats Ned and Nancy! Getting married is an exciting and hectic time. Here are the financial steps you should be taking once you are "official."

Goals

Start by discussing your financial goals now and in the future. Do you want to buy a home, start planning for a baby, or create an emergency fund? Write down your joint and individual goals and when you would like to achieve them. Make sure to decide which goals will be jointly or individually funded.

Credit Check-Up

Review your credit scores together (free from most credit cards) and pull your full reports at annualcreditreport.com. If one of your goals requires you to apply for a loan, it is good to know in advance if either of you needs to work on increasing your credit score.

Balance Sheet

Decide if you will combine or not combine your money. There are many things to consolidate like; checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and investment accounts (ex. brokerage or trust accounts). Start by creating a simple balance sheet, one page showing all assets and liabilities you own. This is a great way to see what each of you has and to review how your situation looks as a whole.

Expense Management

Managing the household bills usually falls on one individual. Regardless, it is essential to make sure someone takes on the specific responsibility of paying joint bills on time. Creating a joint cash flow, showing all income coming in and expenses going out, will help both spouses to visualize how much each of you spends and saves. You will also want to decide what types of expenses you will discuss together before purchasing. Couples often set a dollar limit, like $500, for a large purchase that should be discussed.

Investment Strategy

Also to be considered is whether you will have a joint investment strategy and joint savings strategy or if you are going to save and invest for your own separate goals. Do you both have the same risk tolerance when it comes to stocks? Review your current investment accounts, the holdings (funds invested in), and overall asset allocation (% stock and bonds) to see if you are currently invested similarly.

Taxes

Review your taxes currently and decide how best to manage them after marriage. You may need to change your tax withholdings to "married status" on your W4 at work. Also, determine whether you will file your taxes Married Filing Jointly or Married Filing Separate. You will also need to agree on if you want to prepare your taxes on your own or find a tax preparer.

Insurance

Once married, your spouse most often becomes dependent on a second income to support the lifestyle you build together. Do you know how much life insurance you currently have? Discuss and decide if it is enough. Also, look into who has a better health care plan at work. Most often you can combine your health coverage into one family plan. You may also want to consolidate your Auto, Home/Renters, Umbrella and Earthquake Insurance under one carrier to save with bundled prices. Make sure each spouse is named on all policies as a covered individual. It is also wise to consider insuring your engagement/wedding rings on a separate rider. Your home or renters insurance may have provisions for covering jewelry, but if you have expensive rings, it can be a good idea to get more coverage in case they are lost or stolen.

Estate Planning

Most often Newlyweds don't have estate plans already created. So now is a good time to get them done, especially if you own a house or have kids. Discuss who you want to have your belongings and money if something were to happen to one or both of you. Remember that assets acquired before marriage are separate property, but if commingled with joint funds, it becomes marital property (each state's laws are different, this is related to CA). You will also want to change the beneficiaries of all your retirement accounts and life insurance to your spouse. Lastly, update the titling of your non-retirement assets to both of your names "Joint with Rights of Survivorship" or in the name of your Trust, if created. An estate planning attorney can help you decide the best titling for your assets as well as create your estate plan. Always review these issues with a licensed estate planning attorney, in your state, before taking action.

Once you become "Official," you are now a joint financial team. Set up regularly-scheduled meetings to review your finances and any financial issues you may be having. Commit to communicating actively and openly about any money issues. If you ever get stuck or are too overwhelmed, always get help from a fee-only and fiduciary CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ for any tasks that seem beyond your grasp.

Planning Within Reach serves Newlyweds and helps their clients with financial planning and tax preparation. If you are interested in how we help our clients, see our Newlywed Plan Packageand our Tax Preparation Service.

Can't get yourself FIREd? You can still have a LIFE.

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FIRE stands for financially independent, retire early. The movement continues to grow, with retirees in their 20's through 40's. It has caught on because it is unexpected - we don't picture retirees being so young. Yet it is entirely possible and there is an ever-growing number of blogs and books that prove it. The typical profile of someone who has achieved FIRE:

  • Graduated from college with very little or no student loan debt

  • Earned $100,000+ per year with benefits

  • Saved 50%+ of their gross income by knowing where every dollar is going

  • Is typically single, married without children, or married with 2 or fewer children (I haven't seen any with more than 2 kids, but with the increasing number of FIREs, I am sure there will be some!)

  • Is typically burnt out on their current job and would prefer to be done with working instead of finding more rewarding employment

Obviously, this is very hard to achieve if you are earning minimum wage in a job without health insurance, have a mountain of student loan debt, or a large family. Still, there are a lot of positive things to take from the movement. For example, it is good to be reminded that you have choices. You don't have to do what your parents did or your neighbors are doing. Some FIREs live full-time in an RV, stopped eating meat, started cooking at home, etc. Many say they don't feel deprived after these changes - they simply changed a habit and are just as happy with the newer, cheaper way of doing things.

There are also risks. For those without children, what if they end up having kids and doubling their annual expenses?  Are they prepared to forego soccer and birthday parties to stay within their annual budget? Did they factor in healthcare costs correctly or purchase long-term care insurance? Are they prepared for the next bear market? Most of the profiles I have read are of people who have retired recently, so we don't know the success of their plans given uncertainties. We can choose to take the best of what we have seen and make it more universally attainable. So even if you can't get FIREd, you can still have a LIFE.

LiveImagineFocusEducate 

Live a more balanced life today

FIRE assumes a balanced life occurs after the retirement date. Don't wait a decade or more for that goal - life is too short. We created a plan for a client showing he could work part-time until age 40 so he could spend more time with his young children now, while they were home. This is the opposite of FIRE, but that solution made more sense to him. Evaluate what you can do today to achieve a more balanced life, whether it is carving out more family time or finding a different employer.

Imagine you are financially free

The goal of FIRE is to be financially free - so imagine you are retired. What would you do every day considering your family, friends and social network are busy during the week and have limited funds? After traveling the world and tinkering with your hobby, is there something you could do every day without getting bored? Can you make money doing it? We created a plan for a former stay-at-home Mom to go back to nursing school. She didn't need to work, she wanted to. She loves her new career and can see herself doing it for a long time.

Focus on what you can control

A good chunk of our monthly expenses are fixed: housing, insurance, and utilities are a few examples. FIRE user forums are filled with people who downsized or started biking to work. That is great, but for most people obsessing over every dollar leads to fatigue and they lose motivation for tracking expenses completely. Instead, focus on what you can control - the discretionary expenses. You can use our free FLEXCash system or whatever works for you, but the simpler it is, the more likely you are to stick with it.

Educate yourself

When people say they want to make a career change, we recommend they speak with someone who is currently doing that job. Learn about their daily activities, their work-life balance, and see if they are earning a livable wage. Similarly, if you want to retire early, talk to someone who actually did it. Were the sacrifices worth it? What would they do differently? If you retire early and end up needing or wanting to return, it may be difficult to re-enter your industry after a prolonged absence.

Keep reading FIRE stories if you enjoy them, but don't define success as being retired. Retirement isn't a race worth winning if you aren't happy in the end. Whether you choose to get FIREd or to get a LIFE, have a money roadmap in place so you know where you're going.

Credit & Debit Cards to Use Abroad

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Are you traveling abroad this summer and unsure which of your "plastic" you should bring with you? Travel is already a luxury but it can get even more expensive when each purchase is racking up additional fees. Recently I went to Asia and did some research of my own. Hopefully, this will help you decide which of your cards you should bring, what fees you should know about, and when to use a debit card versus a credit card.

Credit Cards

Fees

Foreign Transaction Fees. This fee is a surcharge for making a purchase in a foreign currency. Most often the fee is about 3% of the total transaction. Foreign Transaction fees are very common on most regular credit cards, but many travel cards do not have this fee. The Chase Southwest credit card, for example, does not charge a foreign transaction fee.

Good To Know

Check your card benefits. Credit cards often offer nice benefits, such as included travel insurance or lost baggage reimbursement, when you book your travel with your card. Check your card benefits before you buy extra trip insurance when booking flights and hotels, as it might be double coverage you don't need. Easily dispute a wrong transaction. Keep all of your receipts until transactions are posted to the card, as this will give you proof against fraudulent transactions. Always choose the foreign currency. You might be asked if you want to charge in dollars or the foreign currency. Always choose foreign currency because your card issuer will give you a better exchange rate on foreign transactions than the vendor will. If you brought a card that does have a foreign transaction fee, it could be better to charge in USD to avoid the fee depending on the difference in rate.

Issues

Check if your provider is accepted where you are going. When going abroad, it is best to stick to Visa or Mastercard, as American Express and Discover are less widely accepted worldwide. Cash is king. In many countries, you will find that most places are cash dependent. Remember credit is not always accepted and you will need to have some cash on hand.

Debit Cards

Fees

ATM fees. This fee is often set as a dollar amount per withdrawal charge for using a non-affiliated ATM. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, has an ATM fee of $5 per withdrawal. Foreign Transaction Fees. On top of ATM fees, debit cards also have foreign transaction fees like credit cards. The Wells Fargo preferred debit card, for example, will also hit you with a 3% foreign transaction fee. Withdrawing $500 would cost you $20 - $5 ATM fee and $15 in foreign transaction fees.

Good To Know

Check if your bank is prevalent or has ATM partners abroad. Citibank, for example, partners with the ATMs in 7/11 stores. Anywhere there are 7/11's you can use an ATM with no fees. Many large banks have foreign counterparts. Get cash from ATMs only. Exchange rates are often best at large bank ATMs. The worst rates are at the exchange kiosks, especially the ones in the airports. ATM fee reimbursement. Some banks, mostly ones who are entirely online, with no brick and mortar ATMs, will offer a per-monthly-cycle reimbursement of ATM fees. For example, the Ally debit card gives a $10 per month reimbursement on ATM fees. This is nice, but when abroad and using an ATM multiple times in a short period, the $10 would not be sufficient.

Issues

Little to no protection. There is practically no protection against fraudulent money transactions on a debit card. Once money has been withdrawn, you do not have the same ability as you do with a credit card to refute the transaction. If your debit card and pin were stolen, the amount in your checking or savings might not be recovered. Do not use your debit card when you are out. It is best to leave it in the hotel room's safety deposit box or in a safe place. I keep my checking and savings account balance at a minimum when I travel as I find it is easier for me to transfer money when needed than take the risk. Daily ATM withdrawal limit. Debit cards can limit the dollar amount you can withdraw in a 24 hour period. I have seen this range per bank between $300-$2,500. Not every card does, but it’s something you want to know before you leave home so you can plan accordingly.

Security Abroad

Set Travel notifications for all cards you are bringing. Notify your cardholders of when and where you are going abroad. This can be done online usually under the travel section of the website, in the bank app or over the phone.

Use your cellular data. Cellular data on your mobile phone (LTE, 3G, etc.) is a private channel and can not be accessed by others (unless allowed by opening your personal hotspot). If you must access bank and credit card information over public wifi, do so on your personal laptop and use a VPN service like encryptme to make sure your internet connection is private. Never use a public computer, especially with public wifi, to access any private information or anything requiring you to enter a username and password.

Download phone apps before you go and use fingerprints to log in. Fingerprint login's, like on the iPhone, are safer. Your fingerprint cannot be copied or stolen over the web, unlike a typed password. By downloading apps before you go and setting up a fingerprint login, you can do most all your web searching abroad without ever having to type in a password.

Make sure your phone and all apps are locked with a code. This ensures that if someone steals your phone, they can't access your personal data.

In Summary

It is better to use credit cards for purchases and debit cards to get cash. If you have multiple debit and credit cards, make a list of their fees and decide which is best to use and only bring a few cards. Don't forget to keep your research handy and somewhere easy to locate to remind yourself for your next trip!

Sources: https://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/6-tips-for-traveling-with-credit-cards-1.aspx https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/credit-card-foreign-travel-vacation-tips-5623.php

PWR's Cash Flow System

To take control of your financial life, you have to be organized, and the most effective tool for this is a budget.

We created the PWR Cash Flow System to help our clients and readers get started with an easy-to-use solution to track their spending.

Start by downloading the excel found here on our downloads page. You can also watch a video on how to use this sheet on our YouTube page.

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The excel file has three tabs shown at the bottom. We will walk through how to use the three tabs and what goals, terms, and data are needed for each sheet.

Step 1 - Create a Spending Plan

The goal of step one is to analyze your current income and expenses to create a budget you can stick with. This starts with knowing your actual current spending. If there are areas you can cut or categories you would like to spend more in, adjust them here to create your new monthly budget.

Frequency: In column D you will enter how often an expense occurs. If you only pay for your auto insurance every six months, you would enter 2 in frequency (2 times a year). If you buy groceries every month, you will enter 12. We have entered the most common frequency per category type to get you started - adjust these as necessary. *Note: If you get paid "bi-weekly" or "every two weeks," your frequency for salary income will be 26. If you are paid twice a month, it will be 24.

Income: Enter your monthly income. Include any take-home wages (minus taxes and other required deductions such as insurance), family contributions or other income sources that occur regularly on a monthly basis. Then, enter your periodic income. Periodic income happens occasionally during the year. If you have a side job or if you typically receive a bonus, list those amounts as well.

Expenses: We classify types of expenses as fixed and discretionary. A fixed expense is an expense that is static and recurring. Insurance premiums and rent or mortgage payments are examples. A discretionary expense is something that varies month-to-month or can be reduced if necessary.

To obtain your expenses, review your bank and credit card statements. It is best to have the average of the last three months. The easiest option is to review annual statements from credit cards and banks who will have already categorized your expenditures for the previous year. If you have access to only what you spent last month that is still a good start. Use the numbers you have access to for now and step 3 will give you more accurate information in the future.

Savings: Your savings consist of all income that is not used to pay for your expenses. Examples of savings include retirement savings at work, a brokerage account, an HSA account or a Roth IRA. If you have goals you want to save for, such as a house down payment or a vacation, add a line item for them and enter your annual savings goal into the budget column.

Spending Category Goals: The Goal % is an excellent way to know if you are spending too much on any one cash flow category. Review the goal % column, compared to where your current category %'s are. In your budget, reduce spending in areas that are over the goal % and reallocate to areas that are under the goal %. Most importantly make sure your cash flow has either a surplus or is neutral ($0 at the end of the month). If your cash flow is negative, set guidelines on where you will cut expenses in the budget column.

Budget: Once the annual total is calculated, you can manually create your budget by typing your revised total in the total budget column. If you do not update this column, it will be equal to the annual total column. If you want to spend more or less in a specific category, enter that dollar amount in the column associated. Example: You spend $1,000 a year on gifts, and you want to reduce that to $500 a year, type $500 into the budget column for that expense. You can update this at any time if your budget changes. Note that the budget column is an annual total.

Step 2 - Create a FLEX Plan

The third tab, creating a flex plan, is optional but helpful for people trying to reduce overall lifestyle spending while not feeling deprived. The flex plan lets you strategize ways to create a cash plan for sticking to FLEX expenses.

You will see a monthly and weekly total at the bottom of Step 2. Once the FLEX money is gone, you are done spending in those categories until the following month.

This can be set up in many ways. Traditionally this is a Cash Only method, like the envelope system, and you can take out weekly or monthly cash to pay your expenses. You can also set up a separate checking account that you fund with the weekly or monthly total and use a debit card only. Try it out and determine what works best for you.

Step 3 - Track Your Expenses Monthly

Now that you know what your current spending is and you have a budget set, stay on track by filling out step 3 monthly. Review your expenses to see your successes and pitfalls each month, then adjust your plan as needed.

If you are a PWR client, we can review this spending sheet with you and use it to build your financial plan and annual updates.

If you want help with building your budget and using this spreadsheet, reach out to us at hello@planningwithinreach.com

Allowances for Children

Age 5 is a common age when parents start thinking about issuing an allowance to children.   The goal with an allowance is to teach children about personal finance and delayed gratification.  Children who practice delayed gratification tend to be more successful in life.  Thankfully, this is a skill that can be acquired with practice. You may choose to tie the allowance to chores, or not.  There are two schools of thought on the topic, which you can read about here.  Personally, I thought everyone tied the allowance to chores but after researching this article, I am considering the alternative.  There are certain things that children need to learn to do for personal hygiene or to be considerate while living with others.  If they don't do these things, taking away an allowance may not be enough to motivate them, leaving the chores undone.  Rather, you can take away things like attending a birthday party or the car keys if they don't do these basic requirements of being a family member.  An allowance can be seen more as a way to allow children to learn from their money choices and make mistakes now, versus when they are 18 or older.

Experts vary on the amount of allowance to give, but a formula based on age per week (say 50 cents or $1 per age) is simple, and easy to follow, even as they get older.  Some parents issue allowance monthly versus weekly, or round to the nearest dollar so they don't have to worry about the change.  Choose a system that you can realistically afford and maintain over the long-term.

We use the Jar System in our household.  It consists of 3 jars: Charity, Savings, and Spending.  A child splits her allowance into each jar by the following percentages: 10% to charity, 40% to savings and 50% to spending.

Charity Jar

This can go towards a charity that interests the child, such as an animal shelter or place of worship.   My daughter used to attend a school that allowed a different charity to solicit money from the children virtually every week.  They would tell the children that if they donated $5 or $10, they would get some knick-knack.  My daughter got very frustrated with me for not giving her the money, but I told her we already donate all we can afford to the charities we most care about and have researched.   She started giving money from her charity jar.  The first time, she emptied her jar completely on one charity.  The next week, another charity came that she would have preferred to give to, but she had no money left.  She is learning to be more thoughtful about who she is giving to and why, and she tries not to completely empty her charity jar on any one cause.

Spending Jar

This can go to any immediate wants.  Examples in our household include gum or mints, which I don't typically purchase for the children.  It is so nice to be in a grocery store or Target and just say "You don't need that, so you can buy that with your money if you want."  It prevents anyone from getting emotional, and clarifies the way things work: We, the parents, will provide your needs and a small allowance, and you get to choose how to spend that allowance.  We need to be in control of our budget, just like you.

Savings Jar

You can put this money in a bank account for them or add 2 cents for every dollar they have in their jar at the end of the month.  This will teach them about "compound interest", where they earn money on the savings, not just what was put into the jar originally. You can let them dip into this savings at their discretion or require they save it for long-term expenses like college or a car.

Interested in books for children about personal finance?  I read all of these books and can personally recommend them.

Trouble With Money

The Rag Coat

Alexander, Who Used to be Rich Last Sunday

A Smart Girl's Guide: Money

Lemonade in Winter

Whole "WALLET" 30

The Whole "WALLET" 30, is a 30-day reset to your spending.

I met up with a friend the other day for coffee. She looked like she had lost weight so I congratulated her. She said she recently completed a 30-day food challenge, "the Whole30", and was thinking about doing another one. While she found the challenge hard, by the end, she started craving the new food regimen. She is eating healthier and feeling happier.

The Whole30 is a dieting program where for 30 days you restrict all grains and sugars, eating a diet of mainly vegetables and proteins. The goal is to reset your body and mind about the foods you consume and how they affect you.

This is what the Whole30 says about its 30-day program on its website: "Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with food, and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day-to-day life, long-term health, body composition, and feelings around food. The most important reason to keep reading? This will change your life." - https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/

Now, in the above quote, replace "food" with "money" and "eating" with "spending": "Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects..."money" may be causing. Push the reset button with your health, habits, and relationship with "money", and the downstream physical and psychological effects of the "money" choices you’ve been making. Learn how the "money" you’ve been "spending" is actually affecting your day-to-day life,...and feelings around "money". The most important reason to keep reading? This will change your life."

A diet for the benefit of your physical health is directly correlated to a diet for the benefit of your financial health. If you can or would do a 30-day food challenge, I propose a similar challenge, but for your budget.

HOW IS THIS SIMILAR TO A 30-DAY DIET CHALLENGE?:

I believe that health and wealth are 100% connected. The similarities in dieting and cutting back spending are exactly the same; motivation and commitment to making a conscious effort to change. That is all you need.

If you are like most people at the end of the month you don't even know where your money has gone. You look back at your credit card like, "How did I really spend this much?" "Where did all my money go?" In 30 days, you will gain awareness of your spending and be able to answer those questions for yourself.

Here is your Whole"WALLET"30 challenge:

WHAT YOU WILL FIND OUT DURING THIS CHALLENGE:

1. Your "baseline spending." What do you actually need to live on? This is very helpful if you are contemplating making a job change where you know you will take a pay-cut or have little-to-no pay for a period of time. This is a good exercise to see what you would be able to sacrifice in order to make your new budget work.

2. The confidence to know where your money is going each month. You will learn what types of purchases are keeping you from reaching your savings goals every month. This is especially helpful for those who know they have bad spending habits in certain areas like; food, alcohol, or clothing, to name a common few. You will be able to know what these habits cost you every month.

3. Accomplishing your financial goals does not mean deprivation. Just as my friend actually started to enjoy and crave her new diet, you might find you actually enjoy your new spending habits.

THE RULES:

Here is the 30-day DO NOT BUY list: 1. Clothing and Shoes (apparel and accessories of any kind) - I don't care if it’s a wedding, graduation or even your own birthday! Don't purchase any new clothing items - no excuses. Instead, see if you can borrow something from a friend or wear something you already have. I promise no one on Instagram but you will notice you repeated an outfit.

2. Food out (restaurants, bars, coffee shops or convenience stores) - Do all grocery shopping and eating at home. Refrain from purchasing coffee, after dinner ice cream and any meals out of the house. Make time to prep your meals and snacks.

3. Personal Maintenance - This covers everything; hair, nails, waxing, skin care products, eyelash extensions, spray tans, etc. Any service you normally leave the house to get is considered personal care. Try doing your personal care at home for one month.

4. Entertainment - Instead of going out to see a movie or spending money on entertainment, invite friends over to watch a TV show, go to a park, or explore your neighborhood by foot or bike. There are plenty of free activates to take advantage of.

Here is the 30-day BUY list: 1. Pay all your necessary bills including any debt obligations, housing, and food bills. 2. Purchase only the essentials.

BEFORE YOU START:

Gain clarity on your priorities. Evaluate what your goals are. What would you like to save for, given the extra money you will have after this 30-day challenge? Are you saving for a down payment on a house? Do you need a new car soon? An engagement ring for your girlfriend? Whatever it is, write it down and underline it...multiple times. Then, imagine it being reachable after 30 days of retraining your spending habits.

IF IT GETS HARD:

The challenge is only for a specified period of time. Remind yourself, this is just for 30 days. If you really want something on the DO NOT BUY list, you can buy it next month. Put it on your Amazon wishlist and it will not go anywhere. I bet, though, at the end of the 30 days, you won't go back and buy most of the things you told yourself you would wait to purchase.

WHY IT WORKS:

You are re-wiring your habits. That is why the food challenge picked 30 days. It is long enough for you to build new habits. Identify the "cues" that lead to your self-identified "bad habits" (overspending or mindless spending). Once you identify the cue, change the habit. Continue this process of conscious decision making until you subconsciously choose the better habit.

An example of a cue and money habit: you are driving home tired and stressed (the cue), so you decide to ask a friend if they want to meet you out for dinner (the habit). Dinner turns into drinks, food and then dessert. While you had fun, you likely spent at minimum $30 more than if you had invited your friend over to do the same thing at your house.

ON DAY 31:

Look at your spending from the month before Whole"WALLET"30 and compare it to the month of the challenge. You will have your answer to what you NEED and DON'T need to spend. Based on this information, build your new budget. Include a line item for discretionary (extra or out of the ordinary) expenses. The hope is that because of the challenge, you will have reset your perspective and identified where you can spend less and not feel deprived. You can go one step further and begin automatically transferring this new "found" money towards one of your savings goals.

A SHORTER CHALLENGE:

If you can't commit to a full, 30-day Wallet challenge, give "FREE days" a try. Its a one-day money challenge, Pick one day a week to spend no money (again, automatic withdrawals for necessities like utilities and debt re-payments are excluded). I suggest starting at one day a week and then working your way up to more days from there.

Happy saving, Alicia

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017: Part 2.

Money-Saving Apps Part 2

I am back with another 3 great "money-saving" apps to share.

Cardpool

Cardpool is one of my favorites. I use it all the time to buy discounted gift cards for Starbucks, AMC and Nike purchases. They have gift cards for Target, Costco, Gas stations and plenty others. You do have to spend the money upfront to buy the gift card, but I usually purchase the "instant cards" from my phone app right before I know I am making a purchase. Also, from my last blog post, you can use ebates.com at the same time (if purchasing online, like Nike) and get savings both ways!

"Cardpool is a gift card exchange that makes it easy for anyone to safely and securely buy discounted gift cards at up to 35% off or sell unwanted gift cards for up to 92% of their value. Cardpool customers have saved over $32 million and counting." - Cardpool Website

OpenTable

While I keep my eating out to a minimum, when I do choose to go out I always book my table through OpenTable . It is so easy to use and, it is a loyalty program where you earn points for booking. You then get to trade in your points for a gift card to a restaurant or Amazon. It is another great and simple way to save some money on your eating out budget.

"OpenTable members can earn OpenTable Dining Points when they make and honor reservations made through opentable.com, or our related mobile sites and apps. Please note, reservations made directly through a restaurant's website or by calling them directly do not earn OpenTable points. Reservations typically earn 100 Dining Points, but up to 1,000 Point reservations are available at select restaurants and times." - OpenTable Website

CharityMiles

CharityMiles isn't a "money-saving app" in a sense that it saves you money on your regular purchases, but it does allow you to take your everyday exercise and turn it into money for a charity of your choosing. This is a "feel good" app and I found it at a great time. One of my close friend's father was recently diagnosed with ALS, a horrible disease, and CharityMiles is affiliated with them. Now my friend and I both use CharityMiles to help fund research for ALS! It's not much, but it feels great to be able to help and support in my own way.

"Charity Miles is a socially-driven, for-profit company connecting charities, individuals, and corporate sponsors to create social change. Our product is an iPhone/Android app enabling you to earn money for charity every time you walk, run, bike, skip, dance or any human-centered activity. Just choose from 1 of our 37 charity partners like Feeding America, Pencils of Promise or The American Diabetes Association and get moving. It's that simple! ... Based on how far you go, you can earn money for charity. The money comes from our corporate sponsors who are repurposing their advertising budgets for good." - CharityMiles Website

Happy money-saving! - Alicia

*Again, I am not sponsored by any of these companies to give feedback and do not receive kickbacks of any kind.*

Produce Pro: Tips for Summer Fruits and Veggies

My father's family has been in the produce and grocery business since the 1930's and have owned stores in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Saratoga, California. He started working in the stores when he was 12. Growing up, I would always watch him diligently shop for fresh produce, and over the years, I have learned many tips and tricks . Here are some of my favorites, since summer is right around the corner. 1. Washing produce - Did you know you can wash your wax-coated fresh produce with a mix of white vinegar and water? Put equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spritz on any produce that has a wax coating (ex. apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, etc.), wipe with a towel and then rinse with water. No need to buy the expensive washes at the store.

2. Produce that is seasonal in May and June - May: cherries, apricots and stone fruits (i.e. anything with a pit). June: melons, grapes, squash and beans. Being located in southern California, you see these in the store all-year-round, but technically these are the months they are in season (meaning they should all be California grown).

3. How to pick the best melon - When you pick up a melon, how do you know its ripe? Cantaloupe: you want the outside netting (skin) with some orange/amber color to it (instead of green) and a slight fragrance. Honeydew: the non-stem end should have "give" to it and the outer shell (skin) should have a tacky feel (slightly sticky). Watermelon: should sound hollow when you tap/pat it.

4. Always check the ads in the mail for good prices - When the stores get in a large shipment they will put it on sale. By shopping these sales, and creating your menu around the peak-season produce, you will save money.

5. Bulk is not always best - The "Costco effect" isn't always true when buying packaged produce. Check the price per unit when buying in bulk. Sometimes it isn't cheaper, and most of the time it isn't the freshest.

6. Ever have questions while shopping? - Ask the people working in the produce section. They can tell you what items are in peak season and help you pick out ripe fruits and veggies.

Happy eating from Jim (Dad) and Alicia

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017

Best Money-Saving Apps of 2017 

 Check out these money-saving apps that will save you time and money, with little effort.

Ebates.com

Ebates.com gives you a percentage (%) of cash back for online purchases (and a few in-store purchases as well). Create an account on their website, choose where you are online shopping, and they will automatically calculate your savings once you make the purchase.  In fact, they send you a $10 gift card just for signing up. 

Cons: You can’t use the app with every store. Also, they are tracking your purchases (and probably selling the data).

Meal delivery services

I tried 2 meal services, Gobble and Blue Apron, and loved both. It was fun to change up the typical meal prep routine with different recipes and ingredients.  Most of the services offer a free first meal valued at $60-70.

Cons: You need to cancel after the free trial if you decide you don't want to continue the service, or they will send you meals the following week with a bill. From my experience, both services were easy to cancel. 

Cartwheel for Target

Cartwheel is an app you download to your phone from Target. When I first started using it, I thought it was too much work. I was scrolling through hundreds of deals and the number of items listed was overwhelming. Over time, I learned that a better approach was to simply scan the items in my shopping cart using their scan feature. The feature will tell you if an item has a coupon.  Even if I don't do that, I still scan my phone at the register because you  receive 10 points for every dollar spent. Once you get 5,000 points ($500 spent), you choose a free gift from a list of items. During my last trip, I accumulated 5,000 points and received a new cooking pan with a retail price of $20.

Cons: If you mostly shop at Target Online, you are out of luck.  It doesn’t work for online purchases...but you can use Ebates! 

AMC stubs card

The AMC stubs program is a loyalty program for AMC theaters.   You scan or swipe it for every purchase and earn points. I decided to join the AMC stubs "premier" membership, which costs $15 for a one year membership. They have a free option as well, but the benefits aren’t as good.  I earn 100 points for every dollar spent. Once you get to 5,000 ($50 spent) points you get an automatic $5 added to your card to spend on anything at AMC.  The other perks are free size upgrades on popcorn and soda, cheaper ticket prices on Tuesdays, and waived convenience fees when buying tickets online.

Cons: There is no downfall to getting the free card - it’s free! For the premier benefits, you have to use it enough to justify the membership cost. 

In summary, there are a lot of apps that help you save money and require minimal effort. Give these a try to decide which ones are worth your time, but don’t forget to cancel any free subscriptions you don’t want to continue. 

Did I forget to include your favorite money saving app?  Email me and I will be sure to include them next time.  

Disclaimer: I do not get paid in any way from the apps or links mentioned above

How I use Mint.com

I use Mint.com to track expenses. While it is not the only automated system available, it is one of the most widely used and the price is right (free). That being said, I have a bit of a love / hate relationship with the program. I don't like being bombarded with advertisements and irrelevant recommendations, but it captures all of my monthly transactions across multiple accounts and provides clarity on our household spending versus our budget. Here is how I use it: Weekly: I log into Mint and let the accounts update (this takes a few minutes). Once they are updated, I go to "Transactions". View recent transactions and confirm they are categorized correctly.

Monthly: I go to "Budgets" and see how we did with our spending in various categories versus the budget. I focus on discretionary items like eating out and shopping since our mortgage, car payment and utilities don't really change month to month.

Monthly: I go back to "Overview" which is the homepage. Scroll down to the lower left-hand corner to view the Net Income chart. Make sure you are earning more than you are spending. If your goal is to have $1,000 / month surplus, the net income should consistently show around that amount.

Do not upload business accounts to Mint. Keep them separate for accounting and cash flow purposes. I use Quickbooks Online for business accounts and find it easy and effective once it is set up.

Other solutions I have heard of: You Need a Budget (YNAB), Toshl and Mvelopes. What system do you use? Email me at linda@planningwithinreach.com.