Dear Penny: My Sister Moved in With Dad, Says She Can’t Be Evicted

Dear Penny,

I am a 30-year-old who has built a stable and happy life after growing up in a family that was often unstable emotionally and financially. I love them, but as I become more successful, my family needs more and more of my support. 

My sister and her son moved into my father’s one-bedroom apartment in July, which is against the lease. I was very against this living situation because it’s way too small for two adults and a rambunctious child. My sister said she had no other options because she has terrible credit, little savings and an eviction. She was laid off for not having child care and is collecting unemployment. My father was struggling to pay for his apartment, as well. 

Their relationship has deteriorated. I don’t think they can continue living together. My aunt  co-signed for my father’s apartment and says my father can stay in her spare bedroom if he works with her to fix his finances. My aunt has been trying to help me, as she knows I am overwhelmed mediating their arguments and finances.

I told my sister we will need to find another place for her to live after April, and that I would co-sign if she sat down with me to go over her finances. She cried and said it would be impossible to find a place being unemployed, and that no one cares about her ending up homeless. 

She said she will refuse to leave the apartment if management doesn’t let her take over the lease. She believes that since she is a single mother with a child, they won’t be able to evict her. I’ve explained there could be negative consequences on her tenant record and for my aunt since she’s the co-signer,  but my sister says everything will be fine. 

I don’t want to hold my sister’s past mistakes against her, and COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted single mothers. She has been better with her money the last three months, but she has been very irresponsible in the past. (Example: paying for breast implants.) She can’t stay with me because I’m a head of house in my alma mater’s dorm, which grants me and my partner a free apartment. 

How should I proceed with my sister? Am I being too supportive, or not supportive enough? I feel guilty even having my own financial goals when my family is struggling. 

Sister Struggles

Dear Sister,

When someone tells you they’re about to behave terribly, listen. I don’t care if your sister has been more responsible for three months. She obviously doesn’t plan to be responsible moving forward. She’s also made it clear that she’s up for a fight. Please don’t co-sign for her and let her take down your credit in the process.

This is a problem between your sister, your dad and your aunt. I certainly feel for your aunt. I get that you’re both trying to help each other work through this mess. But you’re both ascribing magical thinking to your fix-it powers for your dad’s and sister’s financial messes. Nothing in your letter suggests that either one is interested in help.

If I were your aunt, I’d talk to an attorney who specializes in tenant law ASAP. You can suggest she do so. You also need to tell your sister you’re no longer in a position to co-sign. She’s going to cry and scream about how you’re ruining her life. Tell her by phone so you can hang up if things get out of hand.

The beauty here is that your living situation legitimately gives you a reason your sister and nephew can’t move in. I’d urge you to hang onto this arrangement as long as you can so you can develop firm boundaries. It’s OK to use dorm rules as an excuse while you get comfortable making it clear that you’re done bailing out your family.

Your signature probably isn’t the only thing standing between your sister and homelessness. Maybe she’s eligible for public housing, or she has friends who will let her couch surf. I’m not going to waste any energy exploring these options, though, because this is not your problem.

But here’s the trade-off: You don’t get to have an opinion even if you’re “very against” whatever living situation your sister comes up with. The second you weigh in, you’re throwing your sister a lasso. Don’t allow her to drag you back in.

This may seem like a money problem, but deep down it isn’t. Yes, life would be easier if you could buy your dad and your sister separate homes on opposite sides of town. But I suspect they’d still leave you emotionally drained. Emotional vampires always do.

Your financial goals are completely unrelated to your family’s struggles. The sooner you can separate the two, the better off you’ll be. Please don’t feel guilty for using your money to make good decisions for yourself instead of enabling your family’s bad ones.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

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.

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How to Buy a Used Car, Step By Step

New cars are sleek, shiny, full of impressive tech and smell amazing — mmm, new car smell. But they also come with price tags that can take your breath away — and not in a good way.

According to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of a new car in November 2020 was more than $39,000. Yowser.

If you’re in the market for a set of wheels that’s more affordable, steer your sights over to the used car lot to save a little money. Or even a lot of money.

Why Buying a Used Car Is a Smart Money Move

If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a car as a depreciating asset, it’s true. The longer you have a car, the less it’s worth. The first year of owning a new vehicle is when depreciation really packs a punch.

Jim Sharifi, formerly a content editor at Carfax, said research shows a new vehicle can lose as much as 10% of its value within the first month.

“In the first year of ownership, depreciation can continue, and that same car could be worth up to 20% less than its original sale price,” he said.

When you buy a used car, the original owner has already taken that initial hit on depreciation and the price you pay accounts for that, so you don’t have to shell out as much cash.

Just because you’re buying a car at a lower price point doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck with a clunker that was manufactured decades ago. Cars that are just two or three years old often hit dealership lots when their previous owners reach the end of their lease.

Those vehicles often have low mileage and are in great condition, having had only one previous owner. Sometimes they even still retain a hint of that new car smell.

So that covers the why. Now let’s get into how to buy a used car.

The Best Time to Buy a Used Car

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Unlike new car releases, used cars come on the market throughout the year. It all depends on when their previous owners end their leases, put them up for sale or decide to trade in their vehicles.

However, there are certain times when you’re more likely to score a better deal.

Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book, said when dealerships host big sales events for new models that can also benefit used car shoppers.

“[Dealerships] will have more used vehicle inventory as a result of those types of promotions,” he said.

Think of the big sales that fall around holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.

The end of a model year — around September or October — is another good time to shop, DeLorenzo noted, as salespeople are looking to make deals to clear out their used vehicle stock to make room for new inventory.

It’s best to avoid shopping for a car on the weekend when there’s an influx of customers and sales staff is spread thin, Sharifi said. You’ll get more attention from the sales team by visiting on off hours, specifically on weekdays.

“The end of the month (or the end of a quarter) can also be a good time to strike a deal, since dealerships may need to hit monthly or quarterly sales goals,” he said.

Of course, when you need a car might not align with a particular sale or time of month. Shopping for a vehicle before you’re in critical need of one will allow you time to search for the best deal rather than having to settle for something quick.

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Where to Shop for a Used Car — and Where to Avoid

Where you shop for a used car matters so you can avoid purchasing a lemon.

DeLorenzo recommends shopping at franchised car dealerships that have certified pre-owned cars — used vehicles that have been thoroughly inspected and typically come with some type of warranty coverage. Non-certified cars aren’t bad — and they’ll typically cost less — but they’re more likely to have higher mileage and more maintenance needs.

Be wary of independent car lots that boast they can make you a deal regardless of your credit or circumstance.

“Typically they’ll try to get you in with a low price, but you may not be getting the best quality car,” he said. “The other thing is that if you get your financing through those types of dealers, they typically charge you a much higher interest rate.”

Pro Tip

DeLorenzo recommends pre-qualifying for a loan at a bank or credit union before visiting a dealership. You can compare the offer with the dealer’s financing terms for better negotiating leverage.

For any dealer you visit, do some due diligence and check customer reviews online. If you know others who’ve recently purchased a car, ask for recommendations.

Outside of dealerships, look for cars online at trusted sites like Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Carfax or Edmunds — or buy from a private seller.

When you’re buying from a private party, you may be able to get more accurate information about how they’ve driven and maintained the vehicle and what particular issues it might have, said Ron Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.

However, you also need to be OK with buying the vehicle as-is and securing your own financing. And be sure the owner has clear title to the car — in other words, don’t let anyone sell you a car they don’t legitimately own.

If cost is your primary concern, a private seller is likely to offer a lower price. A dealer folds overhead, repairs and marketing into its price.

What to Look for When Buying a Used Car

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Knowing when and where to buy a used car is just half the battle. Figuring out how to vet a used car can be tough, especially if you have little to no car knowledge.

These tips will give you some guidance to make a good choice.

1. Find a Vehicle That Fits Your Needs

It’s easy to focus on the numbers — age of the car, mileage and cost — but you also want to make sure you’re buying a car that’ll fit your needs for however long you expect to have it. If you have a growing family, you might want to rethink that two-door coupe or compact vehicle.

“You want to make sure there’s enough room for you,” Montoya said. “Take a look at the cargo area. Take a look at how easy it is to see out of the vehicle. Test out the entertainment system.”

2. Determine How ‘Used’ You’re Willing to Go

The older a car is, the cheaper it’ll be — but the more it’s likely to have issues requiring repair. Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to what they’re willing to handle. A general rule of thumb is that a car is driven about 12,000 miles per year. A higher average could mean the car has more wear and tear.

Montoya said used car buyers must strike a balance between the age of the car, the amount of miles and what price they’re willing to pay.

Buying an extended warranty or service plan can give you peace of mind that certain repairs or maintenance jobs will be covered.

Pro Tip

Montoya said plans sold by auto manufacturers or reputable dealerships are better options than those sold by third-party companies. Make sure you understand exactly what your plan covers.

3. Make Sure The Price is Right

Before you accept a sales price, research the value of the car to make sure you’re not overpaying. Carfax, Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds all have price appraisal tools online.

You can also compare similar vehicles on the market to get an estimate of a car’s value, but keep in mind, no two used vehicles will be the same due to how they were driven and maintained. Use all this information when you sit down to negotiate — and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t think you’re getting a fair price.

When you’re budgeting for a car purchase, make sure you’re factoring in all the associated costs, like sales tax, insurance and getting the car registered.

4. Check the History of the Car

Sometimes just looking at a car will give you some idea of its history. Rust, worn out pedals and a side panel painted in a different color are red flags.

But don’t just assume a car’s history. Getting the car’s history report, such as through Carfax, is a crucial step when buying a used car.

You’ll have to purchase the report if you’re buying from a private seller, so wait until you’re seriously interested in a particular vehicle. If you’re buying from a dealership, the salesperson should provide a copy of the vehicle history report for free.

Sharifi said to watch out for discrepancies with the odometer reading and if there’s a branded title, which indicates that the car has been significantly compromised in some way.

“Severe accidents and instances where a car has been declared a total loss should signal the buyer to use caution,” he said. “That said, a small fender bender shouldn’t always mean that a buyer should walk away from a great deal.”

5. Go for a Test Drive

Always, always, always take a car for a spin before buying it. If you can bring a mechanic with you, even better.

“Some general things you can do on your own without being super knowledgeable about cars is [to] turn off the radio [and] listen for any strange noises,” Montoya said. “See if the steering wheel stays straight when you drive down the road. Does it pull to one side? Look at the tires to see how old they are.”

Pro Tip

Don’t just look at the tires’ tread. Each tire should include a four-digit number marking the month and year it was manufactured. Tires older than six years can be dried out and need replacing.

For any used car purchase, but especially if you’re buying from a private seller, have your mechanic inspect the vehicle before committing to buy.

Knowing the ins and outs of how to buy a used car will make the whole process less stressful and, most importantly, save you money.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Former staff writer Carson Kohler contributed to this post.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

6 Cheap Super Bowl Snacks to Serve With the Big Game

Everyone knows that Super Bowl time is snack time.

But this year, given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you may be staying home to watch the game rather than heading to a big bash or going to a bar or restaurant and plunking down big bucks.

However you decide to watch the game, you can still enjoy some classic Super Bowl snacks.

6 Cheap Super Bowl Snacks to Enjoy With the Big Game

1. Chex Party Mix

Everyone loves this crunchy, salty snack. While there are thousands of different ways to make it, this time-tested recipe from The Spruce Eats is super easy and will appeal to the garlic lovers in your crowd.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 60 minutes

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • 3 cups corn Chex cereal
  • 2 cups wheat Chex cereal
  • 1 ½ cups mixed nuts
  • 1 cup small pretzels
  • 1 cup garlic-flavored bagel chips
  • 1 cup mini pretzel rods

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in Worcestershire sauce, seasoned salt, garlic salt and onion powder. Add everything else and toss thoroughly until well-coated. Bake for one hour, stirring the batch every 15 minutes. Let cool and store in an airtight container.

2. Honey Garlic Crockpot Meatballs

For a hearty main course, this incredibly easy meatball recipe from Family Fresh Meals will keep your crew happy. Serve them over noodles or rice for a main dish, or just let people enjoy them as an appetizer.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

You’ll need:

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 (28 oz) bag fully cooked, frozen meatballs

Mix together the brown sugar, honey, ketchup, soy sauce and garlic. Next, place the meatballs in a three- or four-quart crockpot and cover in sauce, tossing to coat. Turn the crockpot on low for four hours and stir occasionally.

3. Baked Mozzarella Sticks

Enjoy the diner classic at home with The Spruce Eats recipe for baked mozzarella sticks.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

You’ll need:

  • ½ cup brown rice flour
  • ¼ cup tapioca flour
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 sticks of low-moisture, part skim milk mozzarella string cheese (cut in half crosswise and frozen for 3-4 hours)
  • Grapeseed oil for frying
  • Marinara or other sauce for dipping

Add grapeseed oil to a skillet, and then mix the flours, parmesan, garlic powder, salt and black pepper in a shallow dish. Beat the eggs and add them to a separate dish. Coat the cheese, alternating between the dry mixture and the egg. Make sure to cover the entirety of the cheese pieces, including the ends.

Next, heat the oil in the pan to 360 degrees and then drop the frozen cheese into it. Turn them every 20 to 30 seconds until they are a golden brown color. Place the cheese on paper towels to absorb the excess oil, and then transfer them to a platter for serving.

4. Pigs in a Blanket

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Go with the classic childhood favorite: buttery dough enveloping tasty mini-sausages. Pillsbury has a great recipe for pigs in a blanket. 

You’ll need:

  • 2 cans (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
  • 48 cocktail-sized smoked linked sausages

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Unroll all the dough and pull into 16 triangles. Cut each triangle into three narrow triangles. Roll a sausage link up in each triangle of dough. Place them on unlined baking sheets. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating halfway through. Serve warm.

5. Crockpot Beer Cheese Dip

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

This snack from The Spruce Eats just may be the most indulgent one on this list. Have it with pretzels or tortilla chips — or even try something fancier like apples and vegetables.

  • 1/2 cup beer
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 pound processed cheese spread loaf, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • You’ll also need food to dip into it; The Spruce Eats suggests not only tortilla chips and hard and soft pretzels but also apples, crackers, bread cubes and assorted vegetables.

Combine the beer, Tabasco sauce and processed cheese spread in a slow cooker. Add more Tabasco sauce if you prefer a spicier treat. Cover and cook on high for 40 minutes. Once the cheese has melted, stir it to make it smooth. Keep it in the slow cooker on low and serve with the dippers.

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6. Restaurant-Style Buffalo Chicken Wings

It really is possible to enjoy restaurant-style buffalo chicken wings at home. This recipe from AllRecipes takes more time than others on the list, but that’s only because you need to chill the chicken before cooking it.

Prep time: 60-90 minutes (includes time to chill ingredients before cooking)

Cook time: 15 minutes

  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 10 chicken wings
  • oil for deep frying
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup hot sauce
  • 1 dash ground black pepper
  • 1 dash garlic powder

Mix flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt in a small bowl. Put the chicken wings in a nonporous glass dish or bowl and then sprinkle the flour mixture on top, evenly coating the wings. Cover the dish and refrigerate it for 60-90 minutes.

Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 375 degrees. Mix butter, hot sauce, pepper and garlic butter in a small saucepan and then put it over low heat. Stir until the butter melts and blend the mixture thoroughly. Then remove it from the heat.

Remove the wings from the refrigerator and fry them in the hot oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove them from the heat, put them in a serving bowl, add the hot sauce mixture and stir before serving.

Kristen Pope is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder. Editor Sushil Cheema contributed to this post.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Here Are 6 Easy, Healthy and Cheap Breakfast Ideas

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the Most Important Meal. But when it’s 7 a.m., you’ve got hungry kids who need to be fed and out the door and your brain simply can’t deal with constructing another meal — you might easily resort to the usual: cereal & milk or frozen waffles. And by “you,” I mean, “I.”

So I turned to nutritionists who offered healthy, cheap breakfast ideas for everyone who is too frazzled to create their own (me!).

Cheap Breakfast Ideas and Advice, from Nutritionists

Here’s what the experts told us.

Why is breakfast important? 

“You’re literally breaking a fast and restoring your body with all the nutrients and energy it needs to take on the day,” says Rachel Naar, a registered dietician in New York.

What should you always include in your morning meal?

Aim to get whole foods and whole grains, Naar says. Plus, you should get a carbohydrate and a protein: You are the most insulin-resistant in the morning, so protein helps with blood sugar stabilization/ glycemic control, she says.

What ingredients should you always have at home for a budget-friendly breakfast?

Old fashioned rolled oats, eggs, milk, plain yogurt, frozen fruit, frozen spinach, nut butter and toast, says Rebecca Clyde, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Salt Lake City.

“I love these ingredients because I can make yogurt bowls, overnight oats, smoothies and eggs, all of which are quick and portable.”

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Six Simple Breakfast Recipes

Some of these can be made ahead.

Overnight oats

By Rebecca Clyde

½ cup of dry Old Fashioned Oats oats

½ cup milk (any type)

½ cup of Greek yogurt

Optional: ½ sliced banana, 1 tsp peanut butter powder and chia seeds, ½ cup frozen berries

Directions: The night before (or a few days before), put the fruit and oats into a mason jar. Pour the milk over it. Seal. Put it into the refrigerator. Make this up to four days before eating. Eat cold, or warm it up in the microwave.

Whole grain toast with nut butter, topped with fruit or honey and cinnamon

By Rachel Naar

Whole grain toast

Nut butter

Any fruit

Honey or cinnamon

Directions Self-explanatory

Smoothie

By Monica Ruiz-Noriega, of Vigeo Nutrition

1 cup of frozen berries

Handful of fresh or frozen spinach

¼ of a banana

½ avocado

Scoop of protein powder

1 cup plain yogurt or liquid of choice

Directions Blend everything together. Make the night before if desired.

Oatmeal muffins

By Melissa Schuster, registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York

3 ripe bananas

2 cups oats

1 egg

¼ cup milk of choice

½ tbsp baking powder

½ tbsp cinnamon

1 cup blueberries

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1 tbsp chia seeds (optional)

Directions Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mash the bananas in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Line muffin tins with liners or oil spray. Bake for 20 minutes. Enjoy with melted peanut butter or tahini, or top with Greek yogurt.

Egg vegetable quiche cups

By Melissa Schuster

1 bag of frozen pepper

1 bag of frozen spinach

12 eggs

Directions Defrost the spinach and peppers. Whisk the eggs, and mix them with the vegetables. Ladle everything into muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through. These can be cooked ahead of time.

Yogurt with mix-ins

By Len Lopez, nutritionist and chiropractic sports physician

12 oz whole plain yogurt

Optional: hemp seeds, pecans, dark chocolate chips, cinnamon, raw honey and milk.

Directions Mix yogurt with your choice of toppings. Prepare ahead if desired.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Store Brand vs. Name Brand: How to Save Money on Everyday Stuff

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.
A shopper at Publix would save .72 or about 35% by buying the store-brand version of these eight items over their name-brand alternatives. A shopper at Walmart would save .10 or nearly 45%.
Most store-brand products are made to closely compare to their name-brand products. If you check the ingredients, sometimes you’ll find they’re made of the exact same stuff — though the recipes may differ slightly. What the decision really comes down to is preference.
We often default to certain brands when shopping simply because of the name on the package — and the reputation that comes along with it, thanks to clever advertising.
“I will use generic for anything but my hair products,” said community member KellyFromKeene.”Otherwise, [with] food, clothes [and] household supplies, I will get the generic if the ingredients are the same.”
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Ultimately, the decision to buy a store-brand product or your favorite name brand is a subjective one. There’s trial and error involved, and in some cases you might land right back on the premium paper towels because you find that they really do pick more up, and quicker.

Comparing the Cost of Store Brand Vs. Name Brand

But on the shelves next to those items you can often find a comparable store-brand version that costs less — sometimes significantly less. We often refer to these as generic products. Sometimes these rival versions are even made in the same manufacturing facilities and have little to no noticeable differences.
The greater the grocery haul, the greater the savings by choosing the cheaper alternative. And since you likely go shopping more than once a month, you could see a significant difference in your monthly budget by swapping out name-brand items.

Product Store Brand at Publix Name Brand at Publix Store Brand at Walmart Name Brand at Walmart
Oreos $2.59 $3.89 $1.63 $2.72
Jif peanut butter $2.39 $2.72 $1.58 $2.22
Cheerios $1.93 $4.19 $1.23 $2.82
Kraft cheddar cheese $3.85 $4.19 $2.08 $2.38
Diet Coke, 2-liter $0.75 $2.19 $0.68 $1.74
Dove body wash $3.99 $6.81 $3.47 $5.58
Adult extra-strength Tylenol $6.99 $10.29 $1.98 $9.47
Children’s Motrin $4.99 $7.49 $3.94 $5.97
Total $27.48 $41.77 $16.59 $32.90

We buy Bounty paper towels because they’re the “quicker picker-upper” and Frosted Flakes because “they’re gr-r-reat.”
When deciding between store brand and name brand, keep these things in mind:
(Note: Prices were sourced on Feb. 19, 2020 at stores located in St. Petersburg, Florida. Sales tax was not factored into this example.)
But before your next shopping trip, it’s worth considering how much money you could save if you take a few name brand items off your list.

Store Brand Vs. Name Brand: How to Decide


“Recently, I tried my store’s brand of peanut butter,” Sthom continued. “I’m partial to smooth [Jif] but the store’s organic smooth brand was less than .00 — around .18, unbelievably — and was just as good if not better.”
“I definitely try to choose store brand, at least initially. Sometimes, I can tell the difference,” said community member Sthom. “For example, I tried my store’s brand of filters for my Brita: I could tell the difference immediately, so I switched back. That happens sometimes.
Sometimes going with the store brand is a matter of trial and error.
Community member Jobelle Collie said she’s partial to Dove bar soap, Olay moisturizer and Palmolive green dishwashing liquid but buys generic trash bags, office supplies and kitchen staples like salt, pepper and sugar.
Since store-brand merchandise costs less money than name-brand counterparts, a common perception is that they’re of lesser quality.
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.
What’s in a name? A lot actually.
Editor’s note:  This post was originally published in February 2020.
I visited two stores — Publix (a southeastern grocery store chain) and Walmart — to do a little price comparison.

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Tips for Weighing Store Brand vs. Name Brand Products

Consider that I only used eight items in this example. When’s the last time you went to the grocery store and walked away with just eight things?

  1. Try swapping out the name-brand version of single-ingredient items — like flour, rice, milk and eggs — for the store-brand version. You may find there’s less variation in taste or quality than multi-ingredient items like cookies or soup.
  2. Use spices or other ingredients you have at home to dress up a store-brand product — for example, adding basil and garlic to a jar of pasta sauce.
  3. All store brands aren’t created equal. You may dislike the taste of store-brand cereal or the quality of store-brand toilet paper at one grocer, but another store’s products could be more on par with the name brands.
  4. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires generic medications (over-the-counter and prescription) to have the same active ingredient, strength and dosage form as the name-brand equivalent. Both products should be medically equal.
  5. Store sales and coupons can cause name-brand products to cost less than the store version. Store brands aren’t always the cheapest option. This is a great time to indulge in your preferred brand and save money.

One reason name-brand items are more expensive is because it costs money to market those products to the public. Consumers pay the price for those commercial jingles that stick in their heads.
But that’s not always true.
We asked The Penny Hoarder community members about buying store-brand items over name brand. Respondents said they often choose store-brand products to save money but still have name-brand preferences when it comes to certain items, despite any cost savings.

How to Copy Warren Buffet’s Biggest Investment of 2020

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Warren Buffett is notoriously a good investor. Sure, he’s made some mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but whatever move he makes, you can bet he’s thought it through, and it will pay off — big time.

Which is why when Mr. Buffett made his biggest stock purchase of the year into Apple, we thought, “Isn’t it too late to do that?” Apple is already trading at the highest price it ever has. It feels out of reach for us non-billionaires.

But it turns out, that’s not the case. While we don’t have the ability to own $111 billion (yes, billion with a B) in AAPL shares, we can still get our hands on some — and reap the rewards as the market goes up.

One of our favorite ways to get into the stock market and be a part of infamous big-tech returns, without risking billions is through a free app called Stash.

It lets you be a part of something that’s normally exclusive to the richest of the rich — on Stash you can buy pieces of other companies — including Buffett’s choices — for as little as $1.

That’s right — you can invest in pieces of well-known companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and more for as little as $1. The best part? If these companies profit, so can you. Some companies even send you a check every quarter for your share of the profits, called dividends.1

It takes two minutes to sign up, and it’s totally secure. With Stash, all your investments are protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) — that’s industry talk for, “Your money’s safe.”2

Plus, when you use the link above, Stash will give you a $5 sign-up bonus once you deposit $5 into your account.*

Kari Faber is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

1Not all stocks pay out dividends, and there is no guarantee that dividends will be paid each year.

2To note, SIPC coverage does not insure against the potential loss of market value.

For Securities priced over $1,000, purchase of fractional shares starts at $0.05.

*Offer is subject to Promotion Terms and Conditions. To be eligible to participate in this Promotion and receive the bonus, you must successfully open an individual brokerage account in good standing, link a funding account to your Invest account AND deposit $5.00 into your Invest account.

The Penny Hoarder is a Paid Affiliate/partner of Stash. 

Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or tax advice. Investing involves risk. 

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Things Break. How to Make Sure Your Emergency Fund Can Cover Them

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Your washing machine. Your car. Your front tooth.

If any of those broke right now, would you be able to get it fixed immediately? Or would you have to walk around with a gap in your smile for months until you could get the money together?

If you can’t afford to pay to fix it today, you’re not alone. Most people don’t have $400 saved in case of an emergency either. So before your car breaks down on the side of the road on your way to an interview, make sure you have a solid emergency fund of at least $500.

Don’t know how to get there? Having a budget (that you actually stick to) can help you get there. Here’s one budgeting strategy we recommend, and four other tips that can help you keep your expenses in line.

1. The 50/30/20 Budgeting Rule

The 50/30/20 rule is one of the simplest budgeting methods out there, which is why you’ve probably heard us talk about it before if you’re a regular TPH reader. There are no fancy spreadsheets or pricy apps to download (unless you want to), and it’s very straightforward.

Here’s how it shakes out: 50% of your monthly take home income goes to your essentials — your rent, your groceries, your minimum debt payments, and other necessities. 30% of your cash goes to the fun stuff, and 20% is dedicated to your financial goals. That could be paying more than the minimum on your debts or adding to your investments. And it definitely includes building up your emergency fund!

If you take a look at your budget and realized you don’t have enough leftover to contribute to your emergency fund, here are a few ways to help balance your budget:

2. Cut More Than $500 From One Of Your Must-Have Bills

You’re probably overpaying the bills you have to pay each month. But you can cut those expenses down, without sacrificing anything. Maybe even enough to cover that window your kid just smashed with a ball. Definitely enough to grow your emergency fund a meaningful amount.

So, when’s the last time you checked car insurance prices?

You should shop your options every six months or so — it could save you some serious money. Let’s be real, though. It’s probably not the first thing you think about when you wake up. But it doesn’t have to be.

A website called Insure.com makes it super easy to compare car insurance prices. All you have to do is enter your ZIP code and your age, and it’ll show you your options.

Using Insure.com, people have saved an average of $540 a year.

Yup. That could be $500 back in your pocket just for taking a few minutes to look at your options.

3. Earn Up to $225 in Easy, Extra Cash

If we told you you could get free money just for watching videos on your computer, you’d probably laugh. It’s too good to be true, right? But we’re serious. You can really add up to a few hundred bucks to your emergency savings with some mindless entertainment.

A website called InboxDollars will pay you to watch short video clips online. One minute you might watch someone bake brownies and the next you might get the latest updates on Kardashian drama.

All you have to do is choose which videos you want to watch and answer a few quick questions about them afterward. Brands pay InboxDollars to get these videos in front of viewers, and it passes a cut onto you.

InboxDollars won’t make you rich, but it’s possible to get up to $225 per month watching these videos. It’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and you’ll immediately earn a $5 bonus to get you started.

4. Ask This Website to Pay Your Credit Card Bill This Month

Just by paying the minimum amount on your credit cards, you are extending the life of your debt exponentially — not to mention the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars you’re wasting on interest payments. You could be using that money to beef up your emergency savings, instead.

The truth is, your credit card company is happy to let you pay just the minimum every month. It’s getting rich by ripping you off with high interest rates — some up to nearly 30%. But a website called AmOne wants to help.

If you owe your credit card companies $50,000 or less, AmOne will match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every single one of your balances.

The benefit? You’ll be left with one bill to pay each month. And because personal loans have lower interest rates (AmOne rates start at 3.49% APR), you’ll get out of debt that much faster. Plus: No credit card payment this month.

AmOne keeps your information confidential and secure, which is probably why after 20 years in business, it still has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau.

It takes two minutes to see if you qualify for up to $50,000 online. You do need to give AmOne a real phone number in order to qualify, but don’t worry — they won’t spam you with phone calls.

5. Get a Side Gig And Make More Money

Let’s face it — if your monthly income is less than what your monthly expenses are (and you’ve run out of things to cut), you need more money.

Well, we all could use more money. And by earning a little bit extra each month, we could make sure we’re never taken by surprise when an ER visit tries to drain our savings.

Luckily, earning money has never been easier with the rise of the “Gig Economy”. Here are 31 simple ways to make money online. Which one could you do to pad your emergency savings?

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

RVing on a Budget: The Biggest Costs and How to Save

What you may know about RVing: It’s a great, cheap way to travel, or even a low-cost alternative for living full time.

What you may not know: RVing costs can stack up, and even eclipse the cost of traditional car-and-hotel travel, or living in a sticks-and-bricks home.

Here, we’ll detail the primary expenses associated with the RV lifestyle, with tips to help you reduce them.

How to Go RVing on a Budget

As someone who’s traveled extensively by RV, and even lived in a travel trailer, I know exactly how much of a burden RVing can be on your budget. Here’s what I’ve learned.

The Vehicle Itself

The first thing you need to go RVing … is an RV. And depending on how you source it, this first purchase can be very pricy.

First-timers are more likely to rent than buy, but if you end up falling in love with the lifestyle, you should know that even modest motorhomes cost tens of thousands of dollars. Super luxurious ones go for over $1 million. (Yes, seriously.)

Travel trailers tend to be less expensive than motorcoaches for a comparable level of quality, from entry level all the way up to the top. Keep in mind, though, that you need a vehicle capable of towing the rig around.

A young man sweeps out an RV

But let’s go back to the rental option. Expect to see per-night prices of $250 or more, which can easily outstrip a moderately priced hotel room. Additional fees for mileage and insurance can push your bottom line even higher.

Consider looking at peer-to-peer RV rental marketplaces, like RVshare or Outdoorsy, where you can rent a rig directly from its private owner, which often means lower rental prices. (Think of it like Airbnb for RVs.)

You may also be able to find super-cheap rentals through RV relocation deals, in which you serve as a rental company’s courier, delivering RVs to destinations where they are in demand. In return, you get use of the rig for a steal — but keep in mind you’ll be limited in your ability to personalize your itinerary. You’ll have to stick to the company’s route and timetable.

As far as buying is concerned, shop around — and consider shopping gently used. RV does stand for recreational vehicle, after all, and although the loan you take out might look more like a mortgage than auto financing, you probably aren’t going to be building equity. You don’t want to go too old, because maintenance starts to become a problem, but something three to five years old could save you a nice chunk of change.

A motorhome travels through Arches National Park, Utah.

Fuel

The appeal of RVs is simple: You get to bring everything along with you for the trip, including the kitchen sink.

But all of those accommodations and extras are weighty, which means that all but the smallest RVs are pretty serious gas guzzlers. Case in point: The largest Class A motorhomes get as little as 4-6 miles to the gallon.

If you’re hoping to save at the pump, consider taking a vacation closer to home or narrowing down to a single destination. Not only will you spend less money on gas, you’ll also spend less of your time driving.

Campsite Accommodation Costs

Many people think you can load up into an RV, hit the road and just pull off to the side when you’re ready to catch some sleep.

But in most cases, that’s not true. Although some rest stops and big box store parking lots allow overnight RV parking, many do not. Besides, do you really want to spend your vacation sleeping under the glare of 24/7 floodlights?

The most comfortable campgrounds — the ones where you can hook up to electricity, water, and sewer connections — can cost a pretty penny, especially in highly sought-after destinations. Malibu Beach may be an extreme example, but during peak seasons, you’re looking at about $100 per night for a basic site, and up to $230 for a premium location. (Remember, that’s on top of your rental price. And fuel.)

A woman makes coffee in her travel trailer.

But you can find resort-style accommodations for $35 to $50 per night, often with discounts available for veterans, military members or those staying a week or longer. There are also a variety of camping discount clubs that can help you score lower-cost campground accommodations.

You’ll also want to look into state parks, which often offer RV sites with hookups for prices much lower than privately owned campgrounds (though they may not have a cell signal).

Finally, there are places you can camp for free (or super cheap), but even in an RV, you’ll kind of be roughing it. On BLM-managed land and in certain other wilderness locations, you can do “dispersed” camping, otherwise known as “boondocking” or “dry camping” — basically, camping without any hookups.

But you need to check ahead of time to make sure that cool-looking space is actually okay to park in and not privately owned. There isn’t always appropriate signage, and if you accidentally end up in someone’s backyard, you may be asked to move or even ticketed. Some great resources for finding spots include Campendium and FreeCampsites.net.

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Maintenance and Storage

If you buy an RV, you should be prepared for costs associated with maintenance — and, if you can’t park it on your own property, storage. In Portland, Oregon, I pay $75 a month to keep my travel trailer in an uncovered lot. More desirable, secure storage is almost $200.

Then there are the maintenance costs of both the vehicular and household systems of an RV, which need regular upkeep. Doing it yourself may be time intensive, but even a minor trip to the repair shop can mean a major bill.

It’s best if you already have a place in mind to keep it — and the initiative to learn some DIY mechanics. There’s a YouTube tutorial for most RV repair and maintenance basics.

Overall, the great thing about RVing is that the expenses are easily modified to fit almost any budget — you may just have to rethink which RV you drive, where you’re going and how you’ll be staying once you get there.

Jamie Cattanach’s work has been featured at Fodor’s, Yahoo, SELF, The Huffington Post, The Motley Fool and other outlets. Learn more at www.jamiecattanach.com.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Save for Retirement in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s

You probably don’t need us to tell you that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. But let’s face it: For a lot of people, the problem isn’t that they don’t understand how compounding works. They start saving late because their paychecks will only stretch so far.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your golden years are fast-approaching, saving and investing whatever you can will help make your retirement more comfortable. We’ll discuss how to save for retirement during each decade, along with the hurdles you may face at different stages of life.

How Much Should You Save for Retirement?

A good rule of thumb is to save between 10% and 20% of pre-tax income for retirement. But the truth is, the actual amount you need to save for retirement depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • Your age. If you get a late start, you’ll need to save more.
  • Whether your employer matches contributions. The 10% to 20% guideline includes your employer’s match. So if your employer matches your contributions dollar-for-dollar, you may be able to get away with less.
  • How aggressively you invest. Taking more risk usually leads to larger returns, but your losses will be steeper if the stock market tanks.
  • How long you plan to spend in retirement. It’s impossible to predict how long you’ll be able to work or how long you’ll live. But if you plan to retire early or people in your family often live into their mid-90s, you’ll want to save more.

How to Save for Retirement at Every Age

Now that you’re ready to start saving, here’s a decade-by-decade breakdown of savings strategies and how to make your retirement a priority.

Saving for Retirement in Your 20s

A dollar invested in your 20s is worth more than a dollar invested in your 30s or 40s. The problem: When you’re living on an entry-level salary, you just don’t have that many dollars to invest, particularly if you have student loan debt.

Prioritize Your 401(k) Match

If your company offers a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan or any retirement account with matching contributions, contribute enough to get the full match — unless of course you wouldn’t be able to pay bills as a result. The stock market delivers annual returns of about 8% on average. But if your employer gives you a 50% match, you’re getting a 50% return on your contribution before your money is even invested. That’s free money no investor would ever pass up.

Pay off High-Interest Debt

After getting that employer match, focus on tackling any high-interest debt. Those 8% average annual stock market returns pale in comparison to the average 16% interest rate for people who have credit card debt. In a typical year, you’d expect a  $100 investment could earn you $8. Put that $100 toward your balance? You’re guaranteed to save $16.

Take More Risks

Look, we’re not telling you to throw your money into risky investments like bitcoin or the penny stock your cousin won’t shut up about. But when you start investing, you’ll probably answer some questions to assess your risk tolerance. Take on as much risk as you can mentally handle, which means you’ll invest mostly in stocks with a small percentage in bonds. Don’t worry too much about a stock market crash. Missing out on growth is a bigger concern right now.

Build Your Emergency Fund

Building an emergency fund that could cover your expenses for three to six months is a great way to safeguard your retirement savings. That way you won’t need to tap your growing nest egg in a cash crunch. This isn’t money you should have invested, though. Keep it in a high-yield savings account, a money market account or a certificate of deposit (CD).

Tame Lifestyle Inflation

We want you to enjoy those much-deserved raises ahead of you — but keep lifestyle inflation in check. Don’t spend every dollar each time your paycheck gets higher. Commit to investing a certain percentage of each raise and then use the rest as you please.

Saving for Retirement in Your 30s

If you’re just starting to save in your 30s, the picture isn’t too dire. You still have about three decades left until retirement, but it’s essential not to delay any further. Saving may be a challenge now, though, if you’ve added kids and homeownership to the mix.

Invest in an IRA

Opening a Roth IRA is a great way to supplement your savings if you’ve only been investing in your 401(k) thus far. A Roth IRA is a solid bet because you’ll get tax-free money in retirement.

In both 2020 and 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over 50. The deadline to contribute isn’t until tax day for any given year, so you can still make 2020 contributions until April 15, 2021. If you earn too much to fund a Roth IRA, or you want the tax break now (even though it means paying taxes in retirement), you can contribute to a traditional IRA.

Your investment options with a 401(k) are limited. But with an IRA, you can invest in whatever stocks, bonds, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) you choose.

Pro Tip

If you or your spouse isn’t working but you can afford to save for retirement, consider a spousal IRA. It’s a regular IRA, but the working spouse funds it for the non-earning spouse. 

Avoid Mixing Retirement Money With Other Savings

You’re allowed to take a 401(k) loan for a home purchase. The Roth IRA rules give you the flexibility to use your investment money for a first-time home purchase or college tuition. You’re also allowed to withdraw your contributions whenever you want. Wait, though. That doesn’t mean you should.

The obvious drawback is that you’re taking money out of the market before it’s had time to compound. But there’s another downside. It’s hard to figure out if you’re on track for your retirement goals when your Roth IRA is doing double duty as a college savings account or down payment fund.

Start a 529 Plan While Your Kids Are Young

Saving for your own future takes higher priority than saving for your kids’ college. But if your retirement funds are in shipshape, opening a 529 plan to save for your children’s education is a smart move. Not only will you keep the money separate from your nest egg, but by planning for their education early, you’ll avoid having to tap your savings for their needs later on.

Keep Investing When the Stock Market Crashes

The stock market has a major meltdown like the March 2020 COVID-19 crash about once a decade. But when a crash happens in your 30s, it’s often the first time you have enough invested to see your net worth take a hit. Don’t let panic take over. No cashing out. Commit to dollar-cost averaging and keep investing as usual, even when you’re terrified.

Saving for Retirement in Your 40s

If you’re in your 40s and started saving early, you may have a healthy nest egg by now. But if you’re behind on your retirement goals, now is the time to ramp things up. You still have plenty of time to save, but you’ve missed out on those early years of compounding.

Continue Taking Enough Risk

You may feel like you can afford less investment risk in your 40s, but you still realistically have another two decades left until retirement. Your money still has — and needs — plenty of time to grow. Stay invested mostly in stocks, even if it’s more unnerving than ever when you see the stock market tank.

Put Your Retirement Above Your Kids’ College Fund

You can only afford to pay for your kids’ college if you’re on track for retirement. Talk to your kids early on about what you can afford, as well their options for avoiding massive student loan debt, including attending a cheaper school, getting financial aid, and working while going to school. Your options for funding your retirement are much more limited.

Keep Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates are historically low — well below 3% as of December 2020. Your potential returns are much higher for investing, so you’re better off putting extra money into your retirement accounts. If you haven’t already done so, consider refinancing your mortgage to get the lowest rate.

Invest Even More

Now is the time to invest even more if you can afford to. Keep getting that full employer 401(k) match. Beyond that, try to max out your IRA contributions. If you have extra money to invest on top of that, consider allocating more to your 401(k). Or you could invest in a taxable brokerage account if you want more flexibility on how to invest.

Meet With a Financial Adviser

You’re about halfway through your working years when you’re in your 40s. Now is a good time to meet with a financial adviser. If you can’t afford one, a financial counselor is typically less expensive. They’ll focus on fundamentals like budgeting and paying off debt, rather than giving investment advice.

A woman waves her hands in the air as she overlooks a mountainous view in Alaska.

Saving for Retirement in Your 50s

By your 50s, those retirement years that once seemed like they were an eternity away are getting closer. Maybe that’s an exciting prospect — or perhaps it fills you with dread. Whether you want to keep working forever or retirement can’t come soon enough, now is the perfect time to start setting goals for when you want to retire and what you want your retirement to look like.

Review Your Asset Allocation

In your 50s, you may want to start shifting more into safe assets, like bonds or CDs. Your money has less time to recover from a stock market crash. Be careful, though. You still want to be invested in stocks so you can earn returns that will keep your money growing. With interest rates likely to stay low through 2023, bonds and CDs probably won’t earn enough to keep pace with inflation.

Take Advantage of Catch-up Contributions

If you’re behind on retirement savings, give your funds a boost using catch-up contributions. In 2020 and 2021, you can contribute:

  • $1,000 extra to a Roth or traditional IRA (or split the money between the two) once you’re 50
  • $6,500 extra to your 401(k) once you’re 50
  • $1,000 extra to a health savings account (HSA) once you’re 55.

Work More if You’re Behind

Your window for catching up on retirement savings is getting smaller now. So if you’re behind, consider your options for earning extra money to put into your nest egg. You could take on a side hustle, take on freelance work or work overtime if that’s a possibility to bring in extra cash. Even if you intend to work for another decade or two, many people are forced to retire earlier than they planned. It’s essential that you earn as much as possible while you can.

Pay off Your Remaining Debt

Since your 50s is often when you start shifting away from high-growth mode and into safer investments, now is a good time to use extra money to pay off lower-interest debt, including your mortgage. Retirement will be much more relaxing if you can enjoy it debt-free.

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Saving for Retirement in Your 60s

Hooray, you’ve made it! Hopefully your retirement goals are looking attainable by now after working for decades to get here. But you still have some big decisions to make. Someone in their 60s in 2021 could easily spend another two to three decades in retirement. Your challenge now is to make that hard-earned money last as long as possible.

Make a Retirement Budget

Start planning your retirement budget at least a couple years before you actually retire. Financial planners generally recommend replacing about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Common income sources for seniors include:

  • Social Security benefits. Monthly benefits replace about 40% of pre-retirement income for the average senior.
  • Retirement account withdrawals. Money you take out from your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and IRA.
  • Defined-benefit pensions. These are increasingly rare in the private sector, but still somewhat common for those retiring from a career in public service.
  • Annuities. Though controversial in the personal finance world, an annuity could make sense if you’re worried about outliving your savings.
  • Other investment income. Some seniors supplement their retirement and Social Security income with earnings from real estate investments or dividend stocks, for example.
  • Part-time work. A part-time job can help you delay dipping into your retirement savings account, giving your money more time to grow.

You can plan on some expenses going away. You won’t be paying payroll taxes or making retirement contributions, for example, and maybe your mortgage will be paid off. But you generally don’t want to plan for any budget cuts that are too drastic.

Even though some of your expenses will decrease, health care costs eat up a large chunk of senior income, even once you’re eligible for Medicare coverage — and they usually increase much faster than inflation.

Develop Your Social Security Strategy

You can take your Social Security benefits as early as 62 or as late as age 70. But the earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly benefits will be. If your retirement funds are lacking, delaying as long as you can is usually the best solution. Taking your benefit at 70 vs. 62 will result in monthly checks that are about 76% higher. However, if you have significant health problems, taking benefits earlier may pay off.

Pro Tip

Use Social Security’s Retirement Estimator to estimate what your monthly benefit will be.

Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Withdraw

Once you’ve made your retirement budget and estimated how much Social Security you’ll receive, you can estimate how much you’ll be able to safely withdraw from your retirement accounts. A common retirement planning guideline is the 4% rule: You withdraw no more than 4% of your retirement savings in the first year, then adjust the amount for inflation.

If you have a Roth IRA, you can let that money grow as long as you want and then enjoy it tax-free. But you’ll have to take required minimum distributions, or RMDs, beginning at age 72 if you have a 401(k) or a traditional IRA. These are mandatory distributions based on your life expectancy. The penalties for not taking them are stiff: You’ll owe the IRS 50% of the amount you were supposed to withdraw.

Keep Investing While You’re Working

Avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts while you’re still working. Once you’re over age 59 ½, you won’t pay an early withdrawal penalty, but you want to avoid touching your retirement funds for as long as possible.

Instead, continue to invest in your retirement plans as long as you’re still earning money. But do so cautiously. Keep money out of the stock market if you’ll need it in the next five years or so, since your money doesn’t have much time to recover from a stock market crash in your 60s.

A Final Thought: Make Your Retirement About You

Whether you’re still working or you’re already enjoying your golden years, this part is essential: You need to prioritize you. That means your retirement savings goals need to come before bailing out family members, or paying for college for your children and grandchildren. After all, no one else is going to come to the rescue if you get to retirement with no savings.

If you’re like most people, you’ll work for decades to get to retirement. The earlier you start planning for it, the more stress-free it will be.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

9 Surprising Windex Uses (Aside From Cleaning Glass)

Vinegar isn’t the only super performer in your kitchen.

Windex — that simple $3 spray you keep under your sink — can be used to clean the interior of your car, to detail jewelry and even to unstick zippers.

Your store shelves probably carry several varieties of Windex, so if you’re cleaning fabric, stick with the clear version, and if you’re using it for a car, use the Windex Ammonia-free Glass Cleaner.

Aside from those suggestions, any of the Windex variations will do the job.

Here are 9 surprisingly effective uses for that familiar blue (or sometimes clear) bottle.

1. Moving Large Pieces of Furniture

Los Angeles-based interior designer John Linden uses Windex to slide large items that are stuck or too heavy to move.

“All we need to do is to spritz some in front of the objects we want to move before pushing the item,” Linden says. He’s then able to easily move that piece of furniture to its place.

As long as you use the ammonia-free version of Windex, you can use it on any type of flooring, including hardwood.

2. Cleaning Carpets and Upholstered Furniture

You thought Windex only worked on glass? Linden says he’ll often spray Windex onto small stains, leaving it for 20 minutes to soak. Then he wipes right off the furniture.

Make sure to use the clear formula for this, as the blue formula may leave its own stains.

3. Insect Repellant

The smell of ammonia is strongly disliked by many insects, says Andrew Barker, founder of Homeowner Costs. As a result, Barker suggests spraying Windex by open windows and doors to keep bugs at bay.

4. Clean Your Car

Windex is also a great cleanser for cars, says Deidre Fisher, owner of Simply Bliss Cleaning in Salt Lake City, Utah. Use it on window and mirror smudges, on dashboards, the steering wheel and any plastic and leather surface.

It’s also great for cleaning the screens and dials. “I just recommend spraying the cloth first and not the electronics directly,” Fisher says.

5. Washing Makeup Brushes

Makeup artist and lifestyle blogger Kerrin Jackson has been using Windex to clean her brushes and airbrush parts for more than a decade.

“They make light work of breaking down the alcohol-based makeups and heavy-duty body makeup products that can sometimes be stubborn and difficult to clean from the inner workings of the airbrush parts,” Jackson says.

6. De-greasing Your Kitchen

Use Windex on your exhaust fans and range hoods in your kitchen, suggests Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, president of ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba, a cleaning company in Chicago.

Rodriguez-Zaba suggests spraying Windex on the surfaces and letting it stand for 5-10 minutes, then wiping it clean and rinsing with water to remove any remaining chemical residue.

7. Cleaning Your TV Screen

Got a dusty TV? Dust is usually very prevalent on televisions because everyone is scared to clean them. But spray some Windex on a soft cloth and you’re good to go, says Abe Navas, general manager of Emily’s Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas.

8. Removing Stains From Clothing

It works well for red wine, tomato sauce, ketchup and more, says Jen Stark, founder of Happy DIY Home, a gardening and home improvement blog.

“You can lightly spray the stain with Windex and let it sit for 15 minutes, as long as the clothing item isn’t a delicate silk,” Stark said. “Get a clean cloth and blot at the stain before rinsing it in cold water.”

Follow this by washing the clothing as recommended. Make sure you use clear Windex for this task.

9. Cleaning Patio Furniture and Outdoor Surfaces

Benjamin Nguyen, owner of Full Color Cleaners, says he uses Windex to clean his patio furniture, making it look as good as new. It will clean everything from the furniture to outdoor surfaces, including brick.

For this task, go the extra mile and snag the Windex Outdoor Concentrated Cleaner, which is a 32 oz. spray bottle that attaches onto a hose ($27.66). Spray onto your aluminum siding, your brick, your windows — and with this tool, you won’t even need a ladder to do it.

Danielle Braff is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.

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.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com