What Does it Mean to Rent to Own?

Some things you don’t want to rent to own. Bowling shoes, for instance. But a home? Yes indeed, that’s a great option for many people.

A rent-to-own agreement is a solid option for people who long to live in an honest-to-goodness home, but who can’t get a mortgage or don’t have a lot of down payment money. Any legal agreement requires intense scrutiny and understanding, so read up on the basics of rent to own before going any further. It’s for your own good, promise.

What does rent to own mean?

The phrase “rent to own” is fairly straightforward.

Renters pay a set amount per month in rent. On top of that, the renter also pays a preset amount. These extra funds go into an escrow account for future use as a down payment on this particular home. This is also known as a rent credit or rent premium and is usually 20 percent above-market rent.

So, a person could pay $1,000 per month in rent, plus $250 per month for the eventual down payment. Think of it as forced saving, if you will. It’s also standard for the renter to put down 3 to 5 percent of the home’s value as a nonrefundable deposit before taking residence.

Rent-to-own agreements can vary in length but are usually one to three years.

A rent-to-town lease agreement A rent-to-town lease agreement

Types of rent to own agreements

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that legal mumbo jumbo sounds the same, so it means the same. In fact, that’s a pretty financially perilous error. There are a number of different ways to structure a rent-to-own agreement. These are the two most common.

Option to buy agreement

This type of agreement lets the tenant choose whether or not to buy the home at the end of the agreed-upon period. The risk here is that if the renter chooses not to purchase the home they forfeit any accrued rent premiums, not to mention the option fee. Ouch. This is also known as a lease-option agreement. In order to proceed at the end of the agreement, the renter must obtain a mortgage. The owner cannot sell the home out from under the renter during the agreement. The renter can also opt not to buy the home at the end of the agreement. The purchase price is usually frozen at the beginning.

Obligation-to-buy agreement

Also known as a lease-purchase agreement, there’s no wiggle room here. This type of contract means that you will buy the home once the lease expires. Hence, the word “obligation.” If you don’t buy the house, you’ll lose any premiums paid during the process. There might also be legal ramifications. Clearly, this is a much riskier option.

How to rent to own

So you want to rent to own. How do you go about it? Here are some solid options.

Find a real estate agent

It might be tempting to do the legwork yourself, but a great agent can save you tons of time and money. First, they have access to search resources and property networks that you don’t. Second, they work with sellers all the time and can spot crooks from a mile away. They are also adept at helping to negotiate a contract that’s reasonable to both the tenant and the seller.

Find a rent-to-own program

Companies have emerged in recent years that will actually buy the home you’re interested in, and agree to lease it to you for a period of time. After which you can choose whether or not to purchase. Renter and seller choose a purchase price at the beginning, which is a big boon for the renter if the market trends upward.

One of the most well-known such companies is Home Partners of America, which doesn’t even require the renter to build equity during the process. This is ideal in areas where rentals are scarce, such as good school districts.

Approach the landlord directly

Perhaps you’re already renting a home that you love. Ask the landlord if he’s interested in selling in the future. Who knows? He might be about ready to cash out. Or, keep an eye on the real estate listings. If a home hasn’t sold after a long time with no movement the owner could entertain other options.

A backyard of a blue house. A backyard of a blue house.

Things to remember before you rent-to-own

Whether you use an agent or not, denote in the contract if the landlord or the tenant (you) is responsible for home maintenance, repairs, landscaping, homeowners association dues, property taxes and so on. Failure to do so could cause some nasty and expensive surprises.

Also, complete a thorough home inspection before you sign the contract. No one wants to rent to own a home with a major foundation or other pricey problem. While you’re at it, check out the seller’s disclosure to find out about any hidden past problems.

Lastly, make sure to discuss your situation with a future lender. You’ll need to be able to afford the home in one to three years. Are you on the right path? If not, what needs to change?

Pros and cons of rent-to-own

  • Pro: A rent-to-own agreement with a rent credit forces the renter to put away money. Saving for the future is a good thing!
  • Pro: Rent to owns are a good way to break into a desirable area.
  • Pro: The purchase price is typically set at the beginning of the agreement, so this could be great if the market explodes.
  • Pro: A contract leaves little doubt as to who’s on the hook for what.
  • Con: If a renter chooses not to purchase the home they forfeit rent credit money (and any deposit).
  • Con: Many rent-to-own homes are not located in such desirable areas, so it might take extra legwork and patience to find one.
  • Con: The market could also tank, leaving you to weigh whether to pay more than the current value of the home or not.
  • Con: Be sure to follow your contract to a “t,” so that you don’t wind up losing a deposit or get fined.

There’s no place like a rent-to-own home

The path to homeownership has changed tremendously just in the last decade or two. As long as you consult with trusted experts and weigh your individual situation carefully, selecting a rent-to-own home is a great route to take.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice. Readers are encouraged to seek professional legal or financial advice as they may deem it necessary.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

9 Pantry Essentials to Stock Up on if You Want to Cook More

A father cooks in the kitchen while he holds his infant daughter

Marcelo Avila holds his daughter while cooking dinner in St. Petersburg, Fla. Keeping some basic pantry essentials on hand allows you to whip up tasty meals with minimal effort. Some basics include pasta sauce, chicken broth and coconut milk. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

You finished another long day at work, and you’re ready to kick back.

But you’re hangry, and the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot stove and make dinner.

We’ve all been there. Saving money doesn’t mean becoming a superhuman who can ignore the stress of the day to create a three-course, budget-friendly meal.

Saving money on food comes down to working smarter, not harder. And that starts with keeping some basic pantry essentials on hand at all times, so you can whip up tasty meals with minimal effort (and thinking).

The Budget Cook’s 9 Kitchen Pantry Essentials

If you’re trying to cut down on eating out and looking to stock your cabinets on the cheap, grab these pantry essentials to build quick and easy low-cost meals.

1. Whole Grains and Breads

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Tortillas
Oatmeal, Quinoa, rice and tortillas in a kitchen.
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Quinoa and rice are standard bases for taco bowls, curries and fried rice. What you may not realize is that oatmeal is just as versatile. In addition to overnight oats and oatmeal cookies, you can create a savory breakfast bowl by adding some cheese and an egg.

Throw anything between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich, or add some cheese in a tortilla and call it a quesadilla. These vessels are a tasty way to mix up the delivery of leftovers to your mouth.

Reducing food waste for the win!

2. Pasta

  • Spaghetti
  • Penne

You don’t necessarily need these specific noodles, but a long noodle and a short noodle will do all the things you need noodles to do.

Say that 10 times fast.

Your short noodle can make mac and cheese or a great pasta primavera with leftover veggies. Long noodles are made for a good sauce like Alfredo, pesto or marinara.

3. Beans and Legumes

  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
Beans and lentils in glass jars
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Beans and legumes cost a fraction of the price of meat, making them an affordable way to add protein to soups, chilis and tacos. Roasted chickpeas make a healthy salad topper, while lentils are great for a fantastic curry.

You can buy these canned, but buying them dry is even cheaper. Bonus: You can store them in decorative jars, and friends will think you know what you’re doing in the kitchen.

4. Baking

  • All-purpose flour
  • White sugar

All-purpose or whole-wheat flour is essential for more than just cakes and breads. You can use it to make your own pancake mix, biscuits or even fresh egg pasta. Flour is also used as a thickener in homemade sauces.

A little sugar can make a yummy sweet-and-savory sauce or quick fruit crisp in the microwave.

Sugar shouldn’t be a staple in your diet, but it’s necessary in your kitchen. You’re likely to consume less sugar when you make your sweets at home instead of buying them at the store.

5. Nuts and Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Almonds and pumpkin seeds
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Basic nuts and seeds have a dual purpose: They’re a great snack on their own, and they give a nice crunchy texture to salads, oatmeal and baked goods.

They’re also ultra healthy. Pumpkin seeds are chock-full of nutrients — just 1 ounce has 7 grams of protein. Nuts also contain a hefty dose of healthy fats and nutrients, so skip the chips and keep these tiny gems on hand.

6. Oil and Vinegar

  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil
  • White vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar

You can make some awesome marinades and salad dressings with this classic combo. Apple cider vinegar makes a tasty vinaigrette; add sesame oil to peanut butter and soy sauce to create your own peanut sauce.

If you want to expand your oil and vinegar inventory, balsamic and rice vinegars add a lot of options to your pantry arsenal.

7. Condiments and Sauces

  • Mayonnaise
  • Dijon mustard
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot sauce
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter
mustard, peanut butter, honey and soy sauce jars
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Much like oil and vinegar, condiments and sauces give new life to bland meats and veggies. Mix Dijon with a little oil and vinegar for a salad dressing. I’ve found that a little hot sauce corrects all recipe mistakes.

Peanut butter toast makes a great snack — and we’ve found that, surprisingly, there are a lot of household uses for it, too.

If you’ve already got a lot of condiments to work with, don’t let them die in your fridge. There are several ways to put them to good use.

8. Herbs and Aromatics

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic
  • Cumin
  • Italian seasoning
  • Crushed red pepper

Salt and pepper are a given. But buying pre-minced garlic saves time — and allows you to add fresh garlic to anything. Cumin is a staple in Mexican dishes.

Italian seasoning is a frugal life hack. It includes all the seasonings you want in the ratio you want them, without having to buy seven different bottles.

And crushed red pepper is an easy one to have on hand because you can always refill your container with the packets that come with your pizza.

9.Canned Goods

  • Tomatoes
  • Pasta sauce
  • Coconut milk
  • Stock or bouillon
pasta sauce, broth and coconut milk on a kitchen counter
Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Coconut milk, stock and tomatoes are necessary bases for many soups, chilis and curries. You can also cook rice and quinoa in stock or coconut milk to add some flavor.

It’s always nice to have a fancy pasta sauce on hand if you don’t have time to make your own — even though it’s really easy.

And if you’re embarking on a pantry challenge by eating what’s on hand before buying additional groceries, having ample canned goods will help you tie together some delicious meals.

Jen Smith is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Understand the Type of Homeowners Insurance You Need

Home is where the heart is. Often, it is also where the heartache is when disaster strikes. Long before something goes wrong, you need to ask “How much homeowners insurance do I need?”

Homeowners insurance protects your home and possessions against a variety of perils including damage or theft, and also natural disasters such as flood, hurricanes, fires and earthquakes.

“Homeowner’s coverage provides financial protection, that’s really what it’s all about,” said Mark Friedlander, director of corporate communications at Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Mortgage companies require a certain amount of coverage, but unlike car insurance, there aren’t any state mandates requiring people to have it.

“If you don’t have a mortgage, you are not obligated to buy homeowners coverage and we think that’s a critical error that people make because unless you have a lot of money set aside, you’re going to have financial hit and you’re not going to be protected,” Friedlander explained.

Even if you do the minimum to satisfy your mortgage company, it often isn’t enough. Friedlander said most people make the mistake of not having enough insurance to adequately protect themselves and their families.

So how much homeowners insurance do you need?

Home Insurance Basics

If you’re doing the smart thing and asking yourself, how much homeowners insurance do I need, it’s best if you understand some of the basics of the policies.

Policies generally cover:

  • Damage to the interior or exterior of your house from a covered disaster. The types of disasters are listed in the policy. Usually if the specific event is not listed, it is probably not covered.
  • Contents of your home if damaged or destroyed in a covered event or if they are stolen.
  • Personal liability for damage or injuries caused by you, a family member, or pet.
  • Housing and other expenses while your home is repaired or rebuilt after a covered event.

Within each policy, there are basically three levels of coverage. This becomes important after a covered event when you begin to repair or rebuild.

  • Actual Cash Value: This covers the house (structure) plus the value of belongings inside with a deduction for depreciation. You will get paid for what the items are currently worth, not necessarily what you paid for them. This is the least expensive coverage.
  • Replacement Cost: This covers the house plus the value of belongings without depreciation. This coverage would allow you to rebuild or repair up to the original value of the home and policy coverage limits.
  • Guaranteed or Extended Replacement Value/Cost: This is the most expensive but most comprehensive of coverages and provides the best financial protection for you. It covers the cost to repair or rebuild even if more than the policy limit, usually with a ceiling of 20 to 25%. In addition to this, many policies have additional coverage you can buy that will cover the cost to comply with current building codes that may not have been around when the house was initially built.

“A lot of times, actual cash value policies are for homes that don’t qualify for replacement cost policies. They are not in as good of shape or have an older roof or something like that,” said Craig Peterson, an agency owner for American Family Insurance in Overland Park, Kansas. He usually recommends no less than replacement cost policies to his clients.

As important as it is to know what types of coverage you have and what situations are covered, it is as important to know what is not covered at all or may be covered with additional restrictions or different deductibles.

Different policies cover different perils for different types of structures like a condo, renter’s policy, etc. The policies have designinations from HO-0 to HO-8.

There are also differences when it comes to paying things like additional living expenses, hotels, meals, etc., if your home is uninhabitable.

For more information about the basics of home insurance polices and what they cover, What Home Insurance Actually Covers (and Where You’re on Your Own) can answer many of your questions.

How Much Homeowners Insurance Do I Need?

So how much home insurance coverage do you need to buy? There are many factors to consider.

Basically, you need to look at what your house would cost to rebuild, the likelihood of certain types of disasters in your area, the value of your possessions and your liability exposure.

“You are preparing for the worst case scenario, not for a minor claim. You need to be prepared for a catastrophic loss,” Friedlander said. “That’s possible whether it’s hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires. In virtually any part of the country you are living somewhere where you could sustain a catastrophic loss and lose your entire home.”

A village is flooded from a hurricane in this aerial photo.
Getty Images

Rebuilding Cost

After a disaster, you want to make sure you can cover the costs of repairs or rebuilding.

The cost to rebuild your house is not the same as your home’s market value. In most cases, the land your house sits on will still be there after a catastrophe, so you do not need to insure that value.

“What we typically see is a majority of homeowners are underinsured,” Friedlander said. “Unfortunately, many of the homeowners purchase insurance protection to satisfy their mortgage lender but they confuse the real estate value of their home with what it would cost to rebuild it.”

So don’t focus on what you paid for the house, it’s market value, how much you owe on your mortgage or the property tax assessment.

“Most companies use a replacement cost calculator where we plug in the square footage, bedrooms, bathrooms, all the features we can about the house,” Peterson explained. “It gives us a valuation based on the cost to rebuild and we base the coverage on that.”

Consider what type of coverage you want (actual cost, replacement cost, or guaranteed replacement cost) when you are shopping for policies.

Friedlander said actual cash value saves some money on premiums, but warns you will get less in the event of a major loss. Replacement cost coverage is about 10% more in premiums but you will get about 30 to 50% more when you file a claim.

Peterson said it is important to make sure when you’re shopping for insurance that unique things that happen in your area are covered. Depending where you live, you  might need additional coverage for earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, sinkholes, etc., that are not generally part of coverage.

Value of Possessions

To know how much coverage you need, you need to know what you own. Placing a value on your possessions is important.

“The important thing is to do a home inventory and kind of assess what your valuables are and determine what the value of everything is so that you’re at the right level of protection.” Friedlander said.

Go room by room and consider taking photos or videos. Make sure to include things like:

  • Kitchenware
  • Furniture
  • Clothing
  • Electronics
  • Expensive valuables
  • Camping and sports equipment

You do not need to include your cars in this property inventory because vehicles are not covered by homeowners policies even if they are parked in the garage.

“Most of the time the personal property coverage is a straight percentage of the dwelling coverage, typically, 70 to 75%,” Peterson said, adding that is usually enough to cover contents.

On most policies, there is often a limit on pricier items like jewelry, art, furs, silver, or electronics. So if a fire destroys your house and you lose $10,000 worth of jewelry, your policy might only cover $1,000 of that.

To make sure all of your items are covered, Peterson recommended a separate personal articles policy to protect those pricey items.

Liability Coverage

The liability section of your homeowners policy covers bodily injury or damage that policyholders or their family members (including pets) cause to others.

If your dog bites your neighbor and sues you for medical care, this part of policy could cover you. If your child throws a ball and it accidentally breaks the neighbor’s window, this part of the policy could cover you. If your friend falls at your house on a chipped floor and sues you, this part of the policy could cover you.

Liability coverage will also pay for the cost of defending yourself in court and any court awards up to the limit of the policy.

“The risk of not having enough liability coverage is that you’re going to be on the hook for anything beyond your coverage,” Peterson warned.

He said dog bites are his most common liability claims and he sees people all the time who do not believe they need it because they think nobody would ever sue them.

“We find that a lot with insurance. People don’t want to pay for things until they have a problem and then they wish they had. People are nice until something happens.”

The Insurance Information Institute recommends at least $300,000 in coverage but many policies only include $100,000. The more assets you have, the more coverage you need.

If you have more in assets than you have liability coverage for in your homeowners policy, you might consider an umbrella policy which extends your coverage to an amount you decide.

To determine how much liability coverage you need, add up the value of your assets, including your home. Make sure to include the following assets when figuring liability:

  • Vehicles
  • Investments
  • Future wages
  • Personal belongings
  • Money in bank accounts
  • Real estate besides primary residence

Peterson said if you have something that could pose a risk to others like a pool or trampoline on your property, you need to be especially aware of the amount of liability coverage you have.

You don’t need to figure out everything alone. A good insurance agent should be able guide you through the process of answering the question of how much homeowners insurance do I need.

“We always recommend meeting with your insurance professional once a year. We call it an insurance checkup,” Friedlander said. “Review all your coverages and make sure you are protected.”

Not having enough coverage can be a big mistake.

“People think that things can never happen to them and then they wish after the fact that they had taken a little more time and maybe gone for some of the coverages that they decided not to take,” Peterson said. “The biggest mistake people make is they try to save money on their policy iInstead of making sure that they’re covered properly.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Zebra Insurance Review Reveals Good and Bad

Kids these days may never know the pain of spending hours pouring through web pages to generate various auto insurance quotes or (gasp!) having to actually call and talk to insurance agents about what kinds of premiums they could offer. That’s because of the advent of car insurance comparison sites like The Zebra. Our Zebra insurance review shows the site is a good place to start your search but it may not have all the answers you need.

How The Zebra Got Its Stripes

The Zebra was started nearly a decade ago, back in 2012, building off the astronomical success of Google and mirroring the structure of travel sites such as Priceline, Hotwire and Kayak. The difference? The Zebra allows users to compare rates for insurance. The company is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and as part of its “All Stripes Are Welcome” mantra, is very focused on diversity and inclusion.

Initially, The Zebra specialized exclusively in auto insurance (and this Zebra insurance review is primarily concerned with The Zebra’s performance in the realm of car insurance providers), but in recent years, the insurance comparison company has branched out to renters insurance, homeowners insurance and life insurance. And on the horizon: RV insurance, boat insurance and more.

Since its inception, The Zebra website has produced more than 6.5 million insurance quotes. Currently, The Zebra’s provider partnerships total more than 200 car insurance companies, including big names like USAA, Progressive, State Farm, Liberty Mutual, All State, Erie, Esurance, Nationwide and Metlife. The Zebra promises that it has no allegiances to any auto insurance providers, though my experience (detailed in the next section) suggests otherwise.

Fun Fact: Last year, The Zebra became the first U.S. employer to cover employees’ pet adoption fees. (No zebra adoptions permitted — yet.)

How The Zebra Works: A Review

Getting a car insurance quote from The Zebra takes fewer than five minutes. In fact, I was able to generate three sample auto insurance quotes in under 10.

Ready to see your personalized auto insurance rates? Here’s what you’ll need to input on the site:

  • Your ZIP code. To begin the process, The Zebra needs to know where you live. Car insurance laws and policies vary from state to state, so it’s important to choose the state in which you are actually licensed. (So if you’re going to school in Kentucky but still have Mom’s address in Ohio, you’ll technically need to use your mother’s ZIP code back home.)
  • The basics. After inputting your ZIP code, The Zebra will want some basic details. You’ll need to specify whether you have auto insurance, whether you own or rent (and type of home) and why you are shopping for car insurance.
  • Your vehicle details. Not only will you need to input your year, make and model, but you will also need the trim details. Depending on the manufacturer, you may also need to know which engine or drivetrain you have, as some automakers include those in trim distinctions. If you need to insure more than one vehicle on the policy, you have the option to add up to four more. Next, you need to input information about that vehicle: whether you own or lease the vehicle, how you use it and the number of miles you drive each year.
  • The drivers. To start, fill in the information about yourself: first and last name, birthdate and address. Then, you’ll need to specify gender (Note: Despite being a company that prides itself on diversity, The Zebra currently only has options for “male” and “female”), marital status, credit score range*, level of education, how long you have been continuously insured, current insurance provider, bodily injury limits of your current coverage and details about any accidents or tickets you’ve received in the last three years. If you indicate that you are married, you must include information about your spouse. You also have the option to add others to your auto insurance policy, such as domestic partners or children.

*Credit score options include Excellent (720+), Good (680 to 719), Average (580 to 679) and Poor (below 580). The Zebra prompts you to select “Good” if you don’t know your credit score, but you better believe that they will be pulling your credit score before actually letting you sign on the (digital) dotted line.

After inputting your information, The Zebra will take a few moments to calculate auto insurance quotes for you. Each time I generated a quote, I was shown results in ascending order of price, with the cheapest on top. (Each time, Progressive also had an unpriced quote at the very top of every fake quote I generated, which seemed to be a sketchy paid placement. So much for that no allegiance thing.)

A progressive ad appears.
This “ad” appeared at the top of every search that was conducted.

Once you have your auto insurance quotes, you can use the “Explore quotes at $XX/$XX bodily injury limits” link at the top to customize whether you view their Minimum, Basic, Better or Best coverage options. That’s helpful for those who like to be hands off, but if you want to customize your coverage beyond that (perhaps you want everything provided in Basic coverage but want to add roadside assistance, which doesn’t kick in unless you upgrade to Better), you’ll have to work with each insurance company directly.

This screen grab shows steps to building your policy.
Being able to select a level of coverage is nice as a starting point, but I wish you could then go in and further customize to your liking.

For each quote you are provided, you can see the name of the insurance company and the price in a big blue bubble. If you want more information, you can click the small “What’s covered” language, which I missed when creating my first two insurance quotes. The bright blue is definitely meant to draw your eyes so you immediately click into the quote without reading the fine print: a solid user experience decision or shady business practice? The jury’s out.

When you expand “What’s covered,” The Zebra does an excellent job of providing an overview on — what else? — the Overview tab. On the left is a paragraph about the auto insurance company for those who prefer their information that way while the right is for visual learners, with brief phrases about the benefits of the insurance policy and helpful iconography.

The “What’s covered” pop-out also has tabs on coverage and pricing. The coverage tab shows you whether this quote includes auto insurance options such as bodily injury liability, property damage liability, uninsured motorist bodily, uninsured motorist property, personal injury protection (PIP), collision (and its deductible), comprehensive (and its deductible), roadside assistance and rental reimbursement.

Here is where The Zebra could really be improved; I’d love to be able to see that the policy I’m looking at has, for example, a $1,000 deductible for collision and comprehensive and no coverage for rental reimbursement and then be able to edit to my liking. Then, the associated rate would dynamically update to reflect that change. Alas, that is not offered.

Finally, the pricing tab shows policy length, the first month price, how much you’ll pay in future months and the pay-in-full price.

Sample Quotes from The Zebra

To understand what the insurance comparison experience and pricing were like with The Zebra site, I created three auto insurance quotes: one for single 30-year-old Joe Schmoe, one for elderly married couple Johnny Tsunami and Daisy Duke and one for young college student Minerva McGonagall (because why not).

Quote #1

The first quote, for Joe Schmoe, was built off my own data:

  • Own a house
  • 30 years old
  • Owns a 2017 Subaru Crosstrek that is fully paid off
  • Unmarried
  • Excellent credit score
  • Male
  • 5,000 miles a year (I’ve been working from home for three years, and my odometer is happy with that decision)
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Discounts: Employed full-time, paperless billing and auto-pay

Here were the top auto insurance quotes this profile generated:

One of the quotes generated from Zebra Insurance comparison.

These insurance rates are in line with what I currently pay, so The Zebra seems right on the money here. But as far as its claim that it can save me money on my current auto insurance rate? Not so much.

Quote #2

For the second quote, I used happily married Johnny Tsunami and Daisy Duke:

  • Own a condo
  • Early 60s
  • Making payments on a 2020 BMW 7 Series (they have expensive tastes)
  • Married
  • Excellent credit score
  • Male and female
  • 12,000 miles a year
  • Master’s degree
  • Discounts: Employed full-time, paperless, auto-pay and pay in full upfront

This couple received the following auto insurance quotes:

One of the quotes generated from Zebra Insurance comparison.

Quote #3

Finally, Minerve McGonagall, who is putting herself through school, input the following details for her auto insurance quote:

  • Rents an apartment
  • 22 years old
  • Makes payments on a 2009 Chevy Cobalt
  • Unmarried
  • Average credit score
  • Female
  • 15,000 miles a year
  • One accident and two tickets on her record
  • Some college but no degree yet
  • Discounts: Employed full-time and paperless billing (is not comfortable with auto-pay)

The Zebra generated these quotes for this driver:

One of the quotes generated from Zebra Insurance comparison.

The Zebra claims it can save drivers up to $670 a year on auto insurance. That, I cannot verify. I can only share that what The Zebra quoted me is in line with my current insurance rate, so I wouldn’t get any savings.

What We Like About The Zebra

The Zebra’s insurance comparison is certainly an excellent tool to get a sense for what you will need to pay for insurance and compare quotes. At the least, you can use the information from The Zebra to make an informed decision when shopping for insurance directly with providers.

Here’s what I liked about The Zebra

  • It was fast and easy to get my quotes.
  • It detailed the discounts I was eligible for. Discounts include the following: paperless delivery, multi-vehicle, auto-pay, safe driver, pay in full, currently insured, currently employed, low mileage, excellent/good credit, and homeownership.
  • It provides a good foundation for your research.

What We Don’t Like About The Zebra

That said, there was a fair amount I didn’t like about The Zebra:

  • The Zebra works with over 200 auto insurance companies, but I probably couldn’t name more than 10 car insurance companies myself. Some of the companies suggested to me were brands I’d never heard of, and when it comes to something as important as car insurance, brand recognition is important to me as a shopper.
  • I couldn’t customize my coverage. If you are the type of savvy shopper who knows how much insurance you need and the exact deductibles and add-ons you’d like, this tool isn’t for you.
  • The Zebra patently lies about spam, and I have the receipts to prove it.

My Experience with The Zebra and Spam

I don’t like to give my email address out to just anybody (call me old-fashioned), so I was apprehensive when completing my fake quotes. But I’m a millennial consumer who knows the deal so I entered my email address.

Besides, The Zebra assured me they wouldn’t spam me. No, really:

A saying that says they won't send you spam.

But as soon as The Zebra had generated my quotes, my phone lit up with the sound of unwanted communication. It took just seconds for two emails to enter my inbox:

Spam from Geico.
It was at this moment that I realized I’d have to come clean about getting my first quote as Joe Schmoe in my review.

I did read online in a Better Business Bureau thread that, at one time, The Zebra used to require phone numbers for a quote and would immediately place spam phone calls (sometimes before users could read the quotes they were just provided), but The Zebra acknowledged that this was less than ideal and has since removed the phone number requirement in its auto insurance quote process.

What Customers Are Saying About The Zebra

So The Zebra’s insurance comparison site didn’t seem right for me, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s not a great resource for others. At the least, I do maintain it’s a good tool for preliminary research. Perhaps I’m just old-school, but I want to do more digging and customization on my own to make sure I’m getting the best deal.

But all in all, The Zebra has wonderful customer reviews. It’s got a great score on BBB (an A, currently) and a 4.8 out of 5 overall satisfaction rating on Shopper Approved (with 1,683 5-star reviews out of 1,989 ratings total, at time of writing). Across the board, customer reviews on Shopper Approved highlight users’ satisfaction with The Zebra’s products, price and customer service.

With that said, it’s worth giving The Zebra a shot, if only to see what kinds of quotes you might get and then supplement with additional research. And if you’re worried about the spam, here’s a tip from a friend: You can still see the quotes even if you provide a fake email.

Timothy Moore is a market research editing and graphic design manager and a freelance writer and editor covering topics on personal finance, travel, careers, education, pet care and automotive. He has worked in the field since 2012 with publications like The Penny Hoarder, Debt.com, Ladders, WDW Magazine, Glassdoor and The News Wheel. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Budget for Food and Cut Down on Waste When Single

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Welcome back to the collaboration between Mint and Brewing Happiness. I’m Haley, the girl behind Brewing Happiness – a blog about celebrating the small healthy choices we make in our lives, complete with recipes for everybody! I’m here to give you tips on living a healthy, happy life on a budget.

Today I’m going to give you my best tips for food budgeting as a single person. It can be harder to approach food budgeting, groceries especially, as a party of one, because there’s no one to help consume food before it goes bad. Never fear! I’ve got some good tips on how to avoid spoiled food and lower your overall expenditures.

Let’s start with the basics, how much should you be spending on food per month? This obviously differs per person, but a good marker is 10-15% of your monthly income after taxes. This is for groceries, eating out, alcohol, and coffee. So if you make $40,000 a year after taxes, your food budget would be between $333-$500 per month.

If you want to begin to trim down your spending, I suggest looking at alcohol and coffee first. Try making fancy coffee at home, instead of spending money out. Cut down the nights you drink to one (or two.) Then begin to look at your eating out/ordering-in habits. This can take up a large portion of your budget quickly if you aren’t careful. So become conscious of the unneeded spending in these categories, and trim them down as much as possible.

From there you can begin to focus on your weekly groceries. I always suggest stocking up your pantry with tons of dried grains, beans, legumes, as well as cans of chickpeas, beans, corn, tomatoes, etc. This might be a higher upfront cost, but down the road it will allow you to simply purchase produce week by week, instead of buying complete meals. Dried grains, beans and legumes will stay good in an airtight container for a year or longer, so you won’t have to worry about restocking often. Plus this way, you can just cook a small portion of each in order to feed one and not waste food.

Speaking of food waste, I find that to be one of the most challenging aspects of buying food for one. Produce can go back quickly if you aren’t paying attention, and you can feel like you are wasting food and money. I have four methods to help combat food waste, when you notice your food is looking less than stellar.

  • Freeze it. If produce starts to go bad, cut it up and freeze it to use later for soups, smoothies or sauces. I also suggest freezing things like bread, so that you never have to worry about it getting moldy and losing a whole loaf.
  • Blend it. Add less than stellar produce to your blender and make a smoothie or juice out of it instead of throwing it out. You can also do this with parts of produce you might normally discard, like beet greens and carrot tops.
  • Make soup or stock. That thyme that’s going bad and that half an onion in the back of your refrigerator will make a great soup or stock. Throw your extra produce (or even animal bones) into a pot and make a soup or broth that will help to preserve the food for longer. This way you get a new meal out of old produce.
  • Eat, kitchen-sink style. Throw all of your bits and bobs in a bowl with some lettuce or a grain from your pantry, add a sauce and voila – you have a new meal! This will help you get the full bang for your buck on everything you buy at the grocery.

With any food budget, there is always the internal struggle that comes at the end of each week or month. You’ve grown tired of everything in your refrigerator and pantry and you just want to give in and order food. This is when I highly suggest having or making a fun sauce to go on your meal. This always helps to change the flavor profile enough that I can avoid the temptation to order in.

My sauce suggestions are: Never-Fail Salad Dressing, Mango Basil Hot Sauce, Creamy “Peanut” Sauce, Easy and Healthy Teriyaki Sauce, Cilantro Lime Hemp Dressing, or Sweet Onion Dressing.

My final tip for singles is to treat yourself! Have a special night in with friends or buy yourself your favorite chocolate bar. Every budget needs some room for special treats.

And don’t forget about dates! Those are often food expenses too that you can’t forget to leave room for! If money is tight, I suggest reallocating your “treat yourself” fund toward this expense.

Eating for one shouldn’t be complicated or hard. Hopefully this article helped spark some ideas on how to make your budget work for you. There is no need to waste money or food just because you are one person!

Follow along!

Over the next few months I’ll be covering a variety of ways to be healthy on a budget. Keep an eye out for those and head over to Brewing Happiness for healthy recipe inspiration in the meantime!

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Source: mint.intuit.com