Backdoor Roth IRA – Definition & How to Make These Contributions

Saving for retirement is important for everyone. It’s difficult to live off Social Security benefits alone, so most people will need to supplement their retirement income with their own savings.

Many people have access to retirement plans like 401(k)s through their employers. If you don’t have access to a 401(k), or simply want to save more or have more control over your retirement savings, you might consider opening an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

An IRA is a special type of account that is designed for retirement savings. You can open IRAs at many banks and with most brokerage companies. If you put money in an IRA, you can receive tax benefits, but you also restrict your ability to withdraw that money.

One drawback of traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs is that they limit the amount that you can contribute and exclude some people from contributing based on their income. However, there are ways to get around these limits.

What Is a Roth IRA?

For Roth IRAs, you pay taxes as normal when you contribute money to the account. However, withdrawals from the account are completely tax-free. That means you don’t have to pay any tax on your investment gains or dividends you receive in the account.

This can save you a lot of money in taxes compared to investing in a taxable brokerage account.

For comparison, a traditional IRA lets you deduct your contributions from your income, reducing your income tax bill immediately. However, you have to pay income tax on all the money you withdraw, including earnings, meaning you are deferring your taxes to a later date.

Roth IRAs are designed for retirement savings, so there are rules about withdrawing from the account.

Because you’ve already paid taxes on the money you contribute to a Roth IRA, you can withdraw contributions without penalty or taxation. However, the earnings in the account — the gains from your investment activities — are subject to penalties if you withdraw them before you turn 59 ½.

If you’ve had the account open for fewer than five years, you have to pay a 10% penalty and income tax on any earnings you withdraw. If you’ve had the account open for at least five years, you may be able to avoid taxes but will have to pay the 10% penalty on early withdrawals.

In some situations, such as paying for a first-time home purchase or paying for medical expenses, you may be able to avoid these taxes and penalties.

Once you turn 59 ½, you can make withdrawals from the account freely as long as it has been open for at least five years.


Roth IRA Contribution and Income Limits

The government places limits on the amount of money that you can contribute to a Roth IRA each year. The limits are based on your age and your income.

In general, for 2020, you can contribute up to the lesser of your taxable income for the year or $6,000. If you are age 55 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000.

If you have a high enough income, the amount that you can contribute will begin to decrease until it reaches $0. The income maximum varies depending on your filing status.

Full Roth IRA Contribution Allowed Partial Roth IRA Contribution Allowed No Roth IRA Contribution Allowed
Single or Head of Household tax filing status Earned less than $124,000 Earned $124,000 to $138,999 Earned $139,000 or more
Married, filing separately tax filing status, did not live with spouse during the year Earned less than $124,000 Earned $124,000 to $138,999 Earned $139,000 or more
Married, filing separately tax filing status, did live with spouse during the year Earned less than $10,000 N/A Earned $10,000 or more
Married, filing jointly, or qualified widower tax filing statuses Earned less than $196,000 Earned $196,000 to $205,999 Earned $206,000 or more

These income limits use your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI), which is your gross income minus certain deductions such as contributions to employer retirement plans and student loan interest.


What Is a Backdoor Roth?

A backdoor Roth is a strategy people use to get around the income limits on Roth IRA contributions by contributing to a traditional IRA and then converting the balance to a Roth IRA.

Imagine that you’re fortunate enough to have an income of $150,000 as a single person. You probably have a good amount of money to invest for retirement, but the government won’t let you contribute to a Roth IRA.

You can use a backdoor Roth to get funds into your Roth IRA without breaking the income maximum rules. Traditional IRA contributions, unlike Roth IRAs contributions, are not limited by your income.

That means that you can contribute money to a traditional IRA no matter how much you make, and then roll those funds into a Roth IRA.

Pro tip: Have you considered hiring a financial advisor but don’t want to pay the high fees? Enter Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. When you sign up, you’ll work closely with an advisor to create a custom investment plan that can help you meet your financial goals.


How to Make Backdoor Roth Contributions

Making a backdoor Roth contribution is relatively easy.

1. Contribute to a Traditional IRA

To start, contribute the amount that you want to put in your Roth IRA to a traditional IRA.

When you contribute money to a traditional IRA, you can usually deduct those contributions from your income when you file your tax return. However, like Roth IRAs, there are income maximums for deducting traditional IRA contributions.

If you make more than the maximum allowed, you can still contribute to a traditional IRA, but you cannot deduct that contribution from your income when filing your tax return.

Because you’re rolling your money into a Roth IRA anyway, you’ll have to pay taxes, meaning you don’t have to worry about making too much to take the deduction.

2. Roll Your Traditional IRA Into a Roth IRA

Once you’ve contributed to an IRA, you want to roll that money into a Roth IRA.

A rollover lets you convert some or all of your traditional IRA balance into a Roth IRA balance. In effect, you can completely dodge the income limit for Roth IRA contributions using this strategy. Your broker can typically help you with the rollover process, making it relatively easy.

When you roll your traditional IRA’s balance into a Roth IRA, you pay income taxes on the amount you roll over.

The Pro-Rata Rule

Before you make a backdoor Roth contribution, you need to keep in mind one rule surrounding traditional IRAs and rollovers: the pro-rata rule.

To understand the pro-rata rule, picture your traditional IRA as having two buckets. One bucket includes money you deducted from your income and thus haven’t paid taxes on yet. The other includes money you contributed that you could not deduct from your income, possibly because you made too much money that year.

You need to track the buckets separately because although you have to pay income tax on pre-tax contributions when you withdraw them, you don’t have to pay them on post-tax contributions. If you did, you’d be paying taxes on the same income twice.

The pro-rata rule states that you must roll a proportional amount of each bucket into a Roth IRA when performing a rollover, meaning you can’t choose which bucket of money to roll over. This can have significant tax implications depending on how much pre-tax money you already have invested.

Avoiding the Pro-Rata Rule

The only way to avoid the pro-rata rule is to roll over your entire traditional IRA balance. If you make too much to contribute to a Roth IRA in the first place, you’re in a high tax bracket, resulting in a large tax bill as part of the rollover if you already have funds in your traditional IRA.

Keep in mind, the pro-rata rule looks at all of your IRAs and other pre-tax accounts, even if you keep them at different brokerages. You can’t open accounts in different places to dodge the rule.

3. Pay the Taxes Owed

When you roll money from a traditional IRA, you have to pay income tax on the money you roll over, unless the rollover is entirely composed of nondeductible contributions. If you’re rolling a large amount, you’ll want to have some money set aside to cover this cost.

To keep costs low, it might be worth timing your rollover for a year where your income is low, which means you’ll be in a lower tax bracket when you owe the tax on the amount rolled from your traditional to your Roth IRA.

Ultimately, backdoor Roth IRA contributions work best if you have little or no money in your traditional IRA. Asking a tax professional or a financial planner is a good idea if you want help with the process.


Advantages of Backdoor Roth Contributions

There are a number of reasons to consider backdoor Roth contributions.

1. Avoid Income Limits

The obvious benefit of backdoor Roth contributions is that they let you get around the income limits imposed by the IRS.

If you make too much to contribute to a Roth IRA, you probably have some extra money to save for the future. A backdoor Roth lets you get all of the advantages of a Roth IRA despite the income limits.

2. Tax-Free Growth

Money in a Roth IRA grows tax-free. You don’t pay taxes when you take money out of the account and the money you earn from your investments isn’t taxed either.

If you’re planning to invest the money anyway, by putting it in a Roth IRA, you’re getting the benefit of tax-free growth and only losing the freedom to withdraw earnings before you turn 59 ½.


Disadvantages of Backdoor Roth Contributions

Before using a backdoor Roth, consider these drawbacks.

1. Complexity

Making backdoor Roth contributions involves a few steps. You have to put money into a traditional IRA, then initiate a rollover to a Roth IRA.

If you have your traditional and Roth IRAs at the same company, your brokerage can probably help with the process, but there are a few moving parts.

You also have to make sure you submit the correct forms when you file your taxes to indicate your contributions and rollovers.

2. Combining Pre- and Post-Tax Money Is Messy

The pro-rata rule for rollovers means that backdoor Roth contributions work best if you don’t have any money in a traditional IRA.

If you do have some funds in your traditional IRA and don’t want to move the full balance of the account to your Roth IRA, you’ll be rolling a combination of pre- and post-tax funds into your Roth and leaving a combination of both in your traditional IRA.

This means you have to be diligent with your recordkeeping to make sure you don’t pay taxes on your post-tax traditional IRA funds when you withdraw money from the account in retirement.

You also have to pay taxes on any money rolled from a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA in the year you perform the rollover, which you need to plan for.


The Mega Backdoor Roth

Related to the backdoor Roth IRA is the mega backdoor Roth IRA. In rare cases, people can use a quirk of their 401(k) plan to get past the Roth IRA contribution limit, putting tens of thousands of dollars into their Roth IRAs each year.

401(k) Contribution Limits

A 401(k) is a retirement plan provided by employers as a benefit for their employees. One of the advantages of 401(k)s is their much higher contribution limits compared to IRAs.

For 2020, the individual limit for a 401(k) is $19,500 when it comes to deducting contributions from your taxes.

However, the true limit for 401(k)s is triple that number, $58,500. This limit includes all contributions made by the individual and their employer. Employees can deduct the first $19,500 they contribute and employers can contribute another $39,000 without the employee paying taxes on those employer contributions.

A small number of employers allow their employees to make post-tax, non-Roth contributions to their 401(k)s. This is like making nondeductible contributions to a traditional IRA.

You put money into the 401(k) but still pay taxes on the contributions. If your employer allows these types of contributions, you can add your own post-tax money to the account up to the $58,500 limit.

Typically, when you leave an employer, you can roll the balance of your 401(k) into your IRA. Most employers don’t let you roll your 401(k) into an IRA or make withdrawals from the account while you’re still employed. However, a small number of employers do allow these in-service distributions.

Performing a Mega Backdoor Roth Rollover

If your employer lets you make both post-tax, non-Roth contributions and allows in-service distributions, you have access to the mega backdoor Roth IRA.

To make a mega backdoor Roth contribution, contribute post-tax, non-Roth funds to your 401(k), then perform an in-service rollover of that money from your 401(k) to your Roth IRA.

Using this strategy, you can put as much as $39,000 extra into your Roth IRA each year, increasing your tax-advantaged investments by a huge amount.

Unfortunately, 401(k) plans that allow both post-tax, non-Roth contributions, and in-service distributions are incredibly uncommon, meaning that most people won’t be able to use this strategy.

However, if you run your own business or are self-employed, there’s nothing stopping you from designing your retirement plan to offer these options.


Final Word

Roth IRAs are one of the best ways to save for retirement, but if you make too much money, the IRS won’t let you contribute to the account.

For those with incomes high enough that they can’t contribute to a Roth IRA but who want to save more toward retirement, a backdoor Roth IRA contribution can help get around the limits.

If you’d rather keep the money out of retirement accounts and easy to access, you can always consider opening a taxable brokerage account. If you’re a hands-off investor, you can also think about using a robo-advisor to manage your portfolio.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Should I Install a Low-Flow Showerhead to Save Water?

From your cable and Internet bill to utilities like heat and electricity, there are a lot of costs that must be added into your monthly budget (as I discovered upon moving into my first apartment). There are always ways, however, of cutting back on those expenses. You can save water and lower your water heating costs by installing a low-flow showerhead.

What is a Low-Flow Showerhead?

In short, a low-flow showerhead is one that comes with a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute or less. While this still seems like quite a bit of water, these showerheads can actually decrease your shower water usage by about half.

A regular showerhead has a water flow of about 3.8 gallons per minute, so if you took an eight minute shower, you would be using approximately 30 gallons of water. But with a low-flow showerhead, you would only use about 20 gallons.

With this fixture, you’ll also need less energy to heat your shower, reducing your power bills.

How do Low-Flow Showerheads Work?

With a low-flow showerhead, it may not feel like you’re using less water, but you are. The showerhead restricts water flow while still maintaining a strong pressure, giving you the experience of a normal shower.

Aerating showerheads mix air in with the water stream. This maintains strong water pressure while still using less water than a traditional showerhead. However, because there is air combined with the water, the temperature may not stay as hot for as long as traditional showerheads.

A non-aerating showerhead doesn’t use air; instead, it pulses to keep the pressure strong. The water with a non-aerating showerhead tends to be hotter because there is no introduction of air.

How to Measure Your Current Flow Rate

In order to discover whether you would benefit from a low-flow showerhead, it’s important to figure out the flow rate of your current fixture. Turn on your shower and let the water run into a bucket for 10 seconds, then turn it off.
Measure the amount of water that’s in your bucket, then multiply that figure by six. The number you end up with will be your water flow per minute, or gallons per minute. If your shower is releasing about 3.8 gallons or more per minute, think about replacing your current showerhead with a low-flow fixture.

Here’s another helpful rule of thumb: If it takes fewer than 20 seconds for your showerhead to fill up a 1-gallon bucket, you could benefit from installing a more environmentally friendly fixture.

Which Low-Flow Showerhead is Best for Your Bathroom?

If you’ve chosen to get a low-flow showerhead for your bathroom, then you must decide which type you would like. You could opt for the traditional stationary model or a handheld showerhead that’s attached to a flexible hose.

While handheld models may offer convenience, they’re typically a bit more expensive than the stationary fixtures. However, a handheld showerhead may be slightly more environmentally friendly than the traditional model because there is less distance between the showerhead and your body.

Other Green Bathroom Ideas

Installing a low-flow showerhead isn’t the only way you can go green. Here are a few other bathroom ideas that may lower your overall energy costs:

Use Green Cleaning Products: Some bathroom cleaners contain harsh chemicals, which is why it’s more environmentally friendly (and often cheaper) to just make your own.

For instance, a tub cleaner can be made using 2/3 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup vegetable oil-based liquid soap, 1/2 cup water and 2 tablespoons vinegar. Mildew can be removed by mixing 1/2 cup vinegar with 1/2 cup borax.

Rethink Your Towels: Think about swapping your current regular cotton towels for towels made from organic cotton. This material requires the use of fewer pesticides, natural dyes and softeners, making it better for your skin and for the environment.

Bamboo towels are another eco-friendly choice, as bamboo is a fast-growing sustainable alternative to cotton, not to mention it has antibacterial properties.

Fix Leaks: A simple leak in your tub or sink might not seem like a big deal, but you may actually be losing a lot of water. Talk to your landlord about the problem and get it fixed as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can put a bucket under the leak and use the collected water to hydrate your houseplants.

Replace Your Shower Curtain: Many shower curtains are made of polyvinyl chloride, otherwise known as PVC plastic. The material actually releases chemical gases, and it can’t be recycled. Instead, opt for a PVC-free shower curtain. Hemp shower curtains, for instance, are resistant to mold and mildew.

Take Shorter Showers: A low-flow showerhead can only do so much to save water when you’re taking extremely long showers. Do your best to cut back on your bathing time by creating a five-minute playlist of a song or two. This way, you’ll know exactly how long you have before you should turn off the water.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

The Perfect Storm for Retirees

Today’s retirees are unlike any other retirees in history: They’re living longer, and many of them want to spend more in retirement than previous generations. At the same time, the fear of running out of money is incredibly common, and for good reason.

The bargain made decades ago in the transition from defined benefit pension plans to the modern 401(k) gave workers control over their savings but also transferred longevity risk from the employer to the worker. As such, these days few retirees can rely on a significant pension and must make their savings last for decades. This may be even more difficult considering that we could see persistently low interest rates, higher inflation and market volatility in the coming years.

The result? Today’s retirees could face a perfect storm, and they may have to use different financial planning strategies than retirees of the past.

Low Interest Rates

The Federal Reserve recently announced that it would maintain the target federal funds rate (the benchmark for most interest rates) at a range of 0% to 0.25%. The Fed cut rates down to this level in March of last year in hopes of combating the crippling economic effects of the pandemic, and it may not raise them for years. Interest rates are expected to stay where they are until 2023. Even when they rise, they could stay relatively low for some time.

As the U.S. government borrowings increase dramatically, the motivation for holding rates down increases. This combination works in favor of immense government borrowing, but for retirees it creates an intrinsic tax in the form of persistently low rates paid on savings. Borrowers love low rates as much as savers detest them. This truth is very much in play today. This poses a problem to retirees who want to earn a reasonable rate of return while minimizing their investment risk.

The Potential for Inflation

Coupled with persistently low interest rates, retirees could face increased inflation in the coming years. Government spending increased significantly due to COVID, with the CARES Act costing $2.2 trillion and the American Rescue Plan Act costing $1.9 trillion alone. The Federal Reserve has said that there is potential for “transient” inflation in the coming months and that it would allow inflation to rise above 2% for some time. While most experts don’t think it’s likely that we’ll return to the high inflation rates of the 1970s, even a normal inflation rate is cause for concern among those nearing and in retirement. Over the course of a long retirement, inflation can eat away at savings significantly.

Consider this: After 20 years with a 2% inflation rate (the Fed’s “target” interest rate), $1 million would only have the buying power of $672,971.

The combination of low interest rates and higher inflation may drive many retirees to take on more market risk than they normally would to account for that.

Market Risk

Those nearing retirement and recently retired can expose themselves to sequence-of-returns risk if they take on too much market risk. This is when a portfolio experiences a significant drop in value while the owner is withdrawing funds, owing to nothing more than unlucky timing. This risk is actuated by the timing of the age of the individual retiree and when they plan to retire, not something anyone usually times around market levels or investment performance but rather around lifestyle or even health factors. As a result, often the portfolio cannot fully recover as the market bounces back, due to the burden of regular withdrawals, and may be left significantly reduced.

Today’s retirees live in an uncertain world with an uncertain market. No one could have predicted the pandemic or its economic effects, and similarly, no one can predict where the market will be next year, in five years or in 10 years. While younger investors can ride out periods of volatility, retirees who are relying on their investments for income may have significantly lower risk tolerance and need to rethink their retirement investment strategy.

Is There a Solution?

This leaves many retirees in a perfect storm. They need to make their savings last longer than any previous generation, but with interest rates at historic lows, they may feel pressured to subject their savings to too much market risk in hopes of earning a reasonable rate of return. The most fundamental step to take is committing to regularized, frequent reviews with your financial adviser. Depending on portfolio size and complexity, this is most often quarterly, but should be no less frequent than every six months. This time investment keeps retirees attuned to shifts in the portfolio that will sustain them for decades to come.

Finally, consider the breadth of options available to your adviser, or on the retail platform you use if you are self-managed. Sometimes having the right tool is everything in getting the job done.  Often advisers have a greater breadth of options available that can more than offset their cost. Remember there are options beyond equities. The best advisers have access to guaranteed income insurance products, market linked certificates of deposits and other “structured assets.” This basket of solutions can provide downside protection ranging from a buffer of say 10%-20% all the way to being fully guaranteed by the issuing insurer or commercial bank. Even within the markets themselves, there are asset managers who create stock and bond portfolios that focus on a specific downside target first, emphasizing downside protection above growth right from the start.

Although market risk remains, it’s true that by focusing on acceptable downside first, those portfolios are likely to weather downturns better even if they do surrender some upside as an offset. And while none of these approaches is perfect, they can work as a component to offset a portion of the market risk retirees probably need to endure for decades to come.

The article and opinions in this publication are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. We suggest that you consult your accountant, tax, or legal advisor with regard to your individual situation. Securities offered through Kalos Capital Inc. and Investment Advisory Services offered through Kalos Management Inc., both at 11525 Park Woods Circle, Alpharetta GA 30005, (678) 356-1100. SouthPark Capital is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Kalos Capital or Kalos Management.

CEO, SouthPark Capital

George Terlizzi has worked in business for more than 25 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, dealmaker and executive for early and mid-stage companies. He has substantial concentrations in finance, technology, consulting and numerous forms of transaction work. Today George advises wealth clients individually and sets the strategic vision for SouthPark Capital. George’s insatiable curiosity, action-oriented approach, and broad-ranging interests are invaluable to those he advises.

Source: kiplinger.com

16 Best Ways to Save Money at Pottery Barn in 2021 – Discounts & Sales

If you’ve ever gone shopping for home decor, furniture, and bedding, you’ve probably visited a Pottery Barn.

The Williams Sonoma subsidiary is best known for its upscale products and stunning floor displays. Since its founding in 1949, Pottery Barn has branched out into Pottery Barn Kids and Pottery Barn Teens to appeal to a wider audience.

Despite these changes, Pottery Barn has always maintained a premium status for their brand. But if you’re shopping on a tight budget, there are numerous creative ways to save money at Pottery Barn.

Between in-store hacks and ways to save money on furniture and home furnishings, you probably don’t have to pay full price when you hit up this popular retailer.

Best Ways to Save Money at Pottery Barn

Pottery Barn is unlikely to compete on pricing with more affordable retailers like Ikea. But you don’t have to pay full price just because a store is stylish.

Many money-saving Pottery Barn hacks can help you make your next home furnishings upgrade affordable without sacrificing quality.

1. Join The Key Loyalty Program

The easiest saving trick every shopper can use is to join The Key member rewards program. This loyalty program extends to Williams Sonoma’s family of brands, meaning it covers Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barns along with Mark and Graham, and West Elm.

Joining The Key is free. You start by picking your favorite brand and then sign up for The Key through that brand’s website. To sign up, provide your name, email, address, phone number, and birthday.

Once you’re a member, benefits include:

  • Earring 3% cash back across the family of brands
  • Getting exclusive access to new deals and releases
  • Using Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma’s free design service

You can redeem cash back as store credit across any Williams Sonoma family store once you reach $15. You can use cash-back rewards from The Key program with your cash-back credit card rewards to increase your savings, and you can redeem your balance online or in-store.

2. Follow Local Stores on Social Media

You can follow Pottery Barn on social media if you want general updates about sales and country-wide initiatives. However, truly frugal shoppers are better off following their local stores.

Local store pages are useful for several reasons. For starters, you can reference them to find store hours or a contact number and to check whether the store’s open on holidays.

Additionally, local stores post photos of their inventory and sales. That’s when you can find specific pieces on clearance or products that are only in stock at your preferred location.

But note that not every Pottery Barn has a local Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

3. Sign Up for Pottery Barn Emails

If you want a low-effort way to save, sign up for the Pottery Barn email list.

Subscribers receive information about exclusive sales and promotions, so you can wait for a sale or event before you shop. You also learn about new Pottery Barn products and upcoming store events.

4. Use Online Pottery Barn Coupons

Another trick to save money at Pottery Barn is to use online coupons.

There are numerous online coupon databases you can search for deals, including:

These websites let you activate online coupon codes before shopping, potentially earning percent discounts and perks like free shipping.

Similarly, you can also use shopping browser extensions for online shopping to automatically apply available coupons at checkout. Two popular browser extensions that work with Pottery Barn are Capital One Shopping and Honey.

Both extensions apply coupon codes at checkout, ensuring you don’t miss out on savings. Both platforms also let you earn rewards by shopping at hundreds of partner retailers.

An advantage of using extensions over coupon websites is that you don’t waste time manually searching for coupon codes on the Internet. However, it’s important to note that coupon codes don’t always work, and you might find a particular website or extension works better for you than others.

Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the Capital One Shopping extension using the links we provided.

5. Shop With Discount Gift Cards

If you shop at Pottery Barn frequently or are planning a shopping spree, buying discount gift cards is a simple way to save more money.

People regularly sell unwanted gift cards to marketplaces that then resell them at a discount. Usually, discounts range from 1% to 2%, so you can buy a $50 Pottery Barn gift card for around $48.

That’s not a lot, but for larger purchases, discount percentages often increase. For example, on some discount gift card websites, you can find $100 and $500 Pottery Barn gift cards with $10 to $20 discounts.

Some popular gift card marketplaces include:

Gift card availability and denominations vary based on supply and demand. Raise generally has the most extensive collection, and you can usually find Pottery Barn gift cards ranging from $25 to $100.

Plus, new members get a 10% discount bonus with the coupon code “FIRST” for a maximum savings of $20.

Since more significant discounts provide the most savings, the key is to plan your Pottery Barn shopping trip. That way, you know exactly how much money you need and don’t overspend on gift cards.

6. Understand Shipping Rates

At Pottery Barn, shipping costs depend on your total order price and whether you want standard shipping or next-day shipping. Standard shipping arrives in four to five business days and upgrading to next-day costs $26.

To potentially save more, consult Pottery Barn’s shipping rates and fees table. For orders under $200, you’re looking at up to $21 in shipping fees. However, orders of $200.01 or more charge 10% in shipping until you reach $3,000 or more, at which point shipping costs drop to 5% of your total order value.

If you’re on a massive Pottery Barn shopping spree, consider what a 5% or 10% shipping rate does to your bill.

For example, at $2,900, you’re looking at $290 in shipping costs. However, spending $100 more to reach $3,000 brings shipping costs to $150, netting you $40 in total savings.

If you’re close to a shipping-reduction threshold but don’t need anything else, ask friends and family if they need anything or think about any upcoming gifts for birthdays and holidays. But crunch the numbers.

If buying a low-cost product still saves you significant cash, it’s worth it. You can always donate unwanted merchandise and get a charitable donation tax deduction. Just check the sale and clearance section for deals.

Finally, look for products that are available for pickup when shopping online. If you live near a Pottery Barn, making the drive is probably worth it to avoid paying for shipping.

7. Shop on Clearance

If you want to find Pottery Barn products at a discount, your best bet is to wait for a clearance sale or floor sales event.

Pottery Barn’s website has a sales section, so you can begin your search for deals online. But visiting your local Pottery Barn allows you to find markdown products the retailer doesn’t advertise online.

Occasionally, Pottery Barn also sells floor models during floor sales events. That includes furniture and other inventory previously used for in-store displays, which the company can’t sell as new. This inventory often has minor scratches or dents but is sold at a discount.

If you don’t mind buying furniture with a potential scratch or two, floor sales are worth keeping an eye on. Alternatively, check the online clearance section regularly to look for deals.

8. Shop Off-Season

Chances are you’ve tried shopping off-season to save money on clothing or back-to-school supplies. But have you ever considered shopping off-season for home decor?

Like other retailers, Pottery Barn rotates their floor displays and inventory to match the upcoming season. So you can buy a set of summer linens and bright throw pillows as you enter the fall to save money in the long run.

9. Visit a Pottery Barn Outlet Store

Pottery Barn has several outlet stores where you can find floor models, returns, overstocked inventory, and slightly damaged or worn inventory it can’t sell in regular stores.

Essentially, outlet stores help Pottery Barn liquidate excess and gently used merchandise, which means you can potentially find discounts.

Currently, the following states have one or more outlet locations:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Just remember: Outlet prices aren’t always lower than the regular retailer, and you should also factor travel time into your bargain hunt. When in doubt, call ahead and ask for specific pricing on pieces you’re considering and for a store attendant to check product availability.

You can also sign up for Pottery Barn Outlet emails to receive outlet store-specific newsletters about new product arrivals and deals.

10. Buy Gently Used Pottery Barn Products

If you don’t live near an outlet, you can shop at companies that resell used and like-new Pottery Barn products at lower prices.

Several websites where you can find used Pottery Barn products include:

You can also shop on auction sites like eBay if you don’t mind bidding and potentially negotiating with sellers.

Selection can be limited when looking at resellers, but the effort is worth it if you find your next living room set or coffee table for half the price.

11. Use the Pottery Barn or Other Cash-Back Credit Card

The Pottery Barn credit card is perfect if you’re a serious Pottery Barn shopper. There are zero fees and plenty of perks. For example:

  • Earn 10% back for shopping at Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, and Pottery Barn Teens when you spend $250 or more on a single purchase.
  • Receive early access to sales, limited-edition collaborations, and information on new arrivals.
  • Shop for $0 down with 12 months of financing on purchases of $750 or more.

The 10% back in reward points is the primary selling point for this card. For example, if you spend $3,000 redesigning your living room, that’s $300 in rewards — not bad for a no-fee credit card.

However, you must spend $250 in one transaction to get the reward, which severely limits the usefulness of this card if you don’t spend much money on your Pottery Barn trips.

If that’s the case, shop with some type of cash-back credit card to maximize savings.

Cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited® (read our Chase Freedom Unlimited review) and American Express Blue Cash Preferred® card (read our American Express Blue Cash Preferred review)  are excellent options that have welcome bonuses and cash-back rewards for everyday spending, making them a better choice if you don’t frequently shop at Pottery Barn.

12. Take Advantage of the Military Discount

If you’re an active military member or veteran, you and your family can take advantage of Pottery Barn’s 15%-off military discount. This discount also applies to Pottery Barn Kids and Teens as well as Williams Sonoma.

Plus, military members also get 10% off on electronics at Williams Sonoma.

13. Create an Online Registry

If you have an upcoming wedding or want to save money on newborn expenses, Pottery Barn has registries you can use to save money.

The Pottery Barn wedding registry helps your wedding guests shop for gifts you’re actually going to use. Plus, you can add products from any retailer in the Williams Sonoma family of brands to a single registry.

You can also ask a registry expert to help you craft a registry list that suits your style.

After the wedding date, you get a 10% completion discount for up to six months, meaning you have six months to buy out the remaining merchandise on your registry at a discount.

The baby registry from Pottery Barn Kids works the same way, except you get a 20% completion bonus.

14. Save on your New Move

Paying for moving supplies to pack and ship all your stuff adds up fast.

Thankfully, Pottery Barn has several incentives to help keep moving costs down. For starters, you get $15 off when you spend $75 or more on Sherwin-Williams paint.

Since 2 gallons of Sherwin-Williams paint typically costs between $75 and $150, depending on the paint type, that’s generally enough to paint an average-size room if you’re applying two coats.

Note that Sherwin-Williams is on the pricier side, so unless you’re in love with one of its colors or need high-quality paint to cover up darker colors, brands like Behr and Valspar are typically more budget-friendly.

You can also sign up for the New Mover Program to receive a welcome catalog and design advice for your new home. Pottery Barn also offers free design services to new movers.

However, the best part of the moving program is the installation service. The retailer can mount your TV, hang curtains, paint your new home, and assist with other installation and assembly for a small fee.

First, verify the Pottery Barn in your area offers this service. Then get a quote and compare the price to hiring another professional or doing the work yourself.

15. Use the Pottery Barn Employee Discount

Pottery Barn employees get up to 40% off regularly priced merchandise and an additional 20% off on clearance. So if you’re looking for a side gig and have a redesign project coming up, applying to Pottery Barn could be worth it.

Plus, you can use the extra money to help pay for your upcoming project and take the sting out of paying for it with your regular paycheck.

The Williams Sonoma family of brands hires throughout the year, especially during the holidays, so keep an eye out for job postings if you’re considering this saving trick.

16. DIY Pottery Barn Knockoffs

Crafty shoppers might be better off getting creative than paying higher prices for official Pottery Barn items.

If you’re open to a DIY project, start by searching for Pottery Barn knockoffs on Pinterest. A single search yields hundreds of knockoff ideas, tutorials, and decor ideas you can use to transform your home while staying on budget.

Some design bloggers also focus on knockoff DIYs. Knock Off Decor has a category that’s full of Pottery Barn DIY projects that can save you money.

Often, these projects involve purchasing more affordable materials from places like the dollar store or a local hardware store. Some projects simply involve upcycling existing pieces of furniture to match Pottery Barn’s aesthetic.

Just remember to consider your time and level of experience before taking on a DIY project. If you can score massive savings and enjoy working with your hands, the knock-off route is one of the best ways to decorate your home on a budget.

But if you’re busy or just all thumbs, it’s probably a waste of time.


Final Word

Saving money and scoring discounts probably aren’t the first things that come to mind when you think of Pottery Barn. But it’s possible.

However, you should still shop around, especially if you have a massive home renovation project coming up. Retailers like Wayfair, Overstock, Crate & Barrel, and even general retailers like Target often carry cheaper alternatives to Pottery Barn products.

You might have to get creative and mix and match products from different retailers to achieve that Pottery Barn aesthetic. But if shopping at Pottery Barn alternatives saves you money and matches your design vision, it’s worth the effort.

If you’re committed to Pottery Barn, give yourself as much time as you can when planning your home makeover. If you can wait a few months for a clearance event or for specific pieces to go on sale, you can furnish your home with high-quality furniture and home decor without spending a fortune.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Dear Penny: I Have $700K, but Spending Gives Me Panic Attacks

Dear Penny,

I’m a 61-year-old woman with $700,000 saved for retirement. I own my own home (with a mortgage), and I have more than five months of daily expenses in a cash account. I have a few investment accounts in addition to the cash and I basically follow a 60/20/20 budget for my after-tax and after-retirement dollars.  

Why can’t I stop freaking out about money? I save for home repairs, and then freak out when I write the check. I save for a new car and then freak out when it’s time to buy it. I HAVE THE MONEY.

I’m not poor, but I have been cash poor in the past. I have always saved for retirement, but I can’t stop freaking out. And by freaking out, I mean literally days of heart-pounding panic attacks where Xanax is my only friend.  

How do other people handle this? 

-L.

Dear L.,

Fear is healthy to a degree. It’s what makes us wear our seatbelts and avoid dark alleys at night. Some level of money-related fear is also a good thing. If you didn’t worry there was a chance you’d run out of it, why wouldn’t you spend every dollar?

But there’s a big difference between healthy fear and the serious anxiety that you’re experiencing. An advice columnist is no substitute for mental health treatment. Whatever you do, it’s essential that you discuss your anxiety with a professional.

I wish I could tell you that $700,000 is more than enough for you. But that wouldn’t be an honest answer. There’s no way I can tell you with certainty that any level of savings is a guarantee you’ll never run out of money. Even billionaires wind up in bankruptcy court. But there’s plenty you can do to reduce the risk of whatever outcome you fear.

Financial health isn’t just about any one number. That $700,000 could be more than enough if you live in a low-cost area and plan to work for several more years. But if you live in Manhattan, you want to retire next year and people in your family frequently live past 100, it could leave you woefully short. Context is what matters here. The amount you have saved is meaningless without knowing your lifestyle, goals and concerns.

What I’m wondering is how much actual planning you’ve done beyond just saving. Do you have an age in mind for when you want to retire? Have you thought about when you’ll take Social Security? Do you plan to stay in your home and, if so, will you be mortgage-free by the time you retire?

All of this may seem overwhelming to think about when money already causes you so much stress. But worrying constantly plays a mind trick on you. You spend so much brain space and energy on worrying that it can feel like you’re actually taking action.

I want you to do what seems counterintuitive and think about the absolute worst-case scenarios. But I don’t want you doing this alone. I’d urge you to meet with a financial adviser, since you have the means to do so.

Write down your biggest fears so that you can discuss them together. Are you afraid of outliving your savings? Are you worried the market will crash right as you’re about to retire? Or that health care costs will eat up your retirement budget?

A financial adviser doesn’t have any special sourcery that can guarantee none of these things will happen. What they can do, though, is help you reduce the risk of those worst-case scenarios. If you’re worried about running out of money, they can help you plan how much you’ll safely be able to withdraw from retirement accounts and when you should take Social Security. Of course they can’t stop a stock market crash from happening, but they can make sure your investments are safely allocated based on your goals.

It sounds like you’re someone with a low risk tolerance, which means you probably want to invest conservatively. Perhaps a good investment for you would be to pay off that mortgage using a chunk of that savings. Will it be scary to fork over that much money at once? Of course, especially since the interest savings will probably pale compared to your investment returns. But if you can sleep more soundly knowing that what’s probably your biggest expense is taken care of, it could be worth it. I’m not saying that’s something you should absolutely do, but it’s worth discussing with your financial pro.

I suspect that when you think realistically about your worst-case scenarios, you’ll realize things aren’t as dire as you imagined. Suppose for some reason you had to quit working tomorrow. Your plans for retirement would probably change significantly. But at the same time, you wouldn’t be left without food or a home.

You say you’ve been cash poor in the past. Yet you overcame that and even managed to save for retirement when you didn’t have much money. You aren’t doomed to repeat your past.

I think if you do what’s scary and face your fears head-on — with the help of both a financial and a mental health professional — you can reduce the anxiety you feel about money. That’s not to say you’ll never worry about money again. But you can get to a place where fears about money aren’t dominating your life.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How do annuities work?

A mother and her daughter play together.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

Many people know about 401(k)s and IRAs, but there are many other options for retirement planning and wealth-building. Find out more about annuities and whether this option might be right for you.

What is an annuity?

Annuities are a type of insurance product, but instead of insuring yourself or your property against potential future losses, annuities let you insure income. Specifically, they help ensure that you will receive an agreed-upon amount of money periodically at some point in the future, which makes them a popular vehicle for retirement planning.

Annuities are a type of income insurance product that helps ensure that you will receive an agreed-upon amount of money periodically in the future, which makes them a popular vehicle for retirement planning.

How annuities work

The basic concept behind annuities is that you purchase a product now. You pay for it either in a lump sum or via agreed-upon payments—sometimes in the form of insurance premiums over a period of years.

In exchange, at some point in the future, you begin to receive payments on your annuity. Those payments typically come periodically, such as monthly, quarterly or annually. Depending on the annuity product you purchase, you can receive those payments for a certain period of time or for the rest of your life once the annuity payout begins.

You can generally expect to get back more in annuity payments than you pay into the product. That’s why they’re considered an investment. The reason for this is that your annuity purchase price or premium payments are put into a pot with all the other payments being made by annuity customers for that product or provider. Those funds are invested, and the earnings over time result in a profit for you and the insurance provider.

The main types of annuities

How much you can earn, when and how it pays out and the risk associated with your investment all depend on what type of annuity you buy. The types of annuities are summarized below to help you determine if any might be a good choice for you.

Deferred annuities versus immediate annuities

The first major decision to make when purchasing an annuity is whether you want a deferred or immediate annuity. Deferred annuities begin paying out at some agreed-upon point in the future, making them potential vehicles for retirement planning. Immediate annuities start paying out immediately, which might make them a better option if you’re close to retirement or want to ensure a certain level of income in the near future.

Three categories of annuities

Once you decide when you want your payouts to begin, you’ll need to pick a more specific type of annuity to invest in. Both immediate and deferred annuities have three major categories which are outlined below.

3 types of annuities

1. Fixed annuities

Fixed annuities are those that pay out an agreed-upon, guaranteed amount each time you receive income. This can be a good option if you want a stable income you can count on. The downside of fixed annuities is that the lower risk comes with lower potential reward from a returns perspective.

2. Fixed indexed annuities

Fixed indexed annuities guarantee at least a minimum amount paid out, so they can help provide stability for your budget. But part of your returns is tied to the performance of a market index. Market indexes include options such as the Dow Jones or S&P 500. If you have a fixed indexed annuity, then you might earn more payout than the minimum if the market performs well in a given period.

3. Variable annuities

Variable annuities are tied to a group of mutual funds. The amount of your annuity payouts depends on the performance of those funds. That can mean greater long-term reward, but it also comes with more risk than either of the other two categories of annuities.

Can you withdraw your money early?

You may be able to withdraw money from an annuity early if you find that you need your investment back or can’t wait until payouts are scheduled to begin. But this can be a costly move.

First, if you take money out of a retirement account, including some annuities, before reaching retirement age, the IRS may levy a 10% penalty. You’ll also have to pay any applicable taxes on the income.

For the purposes of annuities, penalties and taxes are only paid on the amount you earned on the investment. You’re not taxed on the amount you paid into the annuity because you were already taxed on that amount when you earned it the first time.

In some cases, the IRS waives the 10% penalty. Such cases include the total disability of the annuity owner or the annuity owner taking early withdrawals to pay for qualified education expenses.

How are annuities taxed?

Taxes on annuities can be complex, so it’s important to consult a tax professional to understand what your tax burden might be. Typically, payments you make toward an annuity are not made with pre-tax dollars. That means the money you pay into an annuity is already taxed, and you won’t pay income tax on it again in the future.

But you might owe taxes on any earnings you make from the investment. That means when you begin to receive payouts, you will have to report the income and calculate how much of it is taxable.

Is an annuity right for you?

Deciding whether any investment is right for you is an individual matter. You must look at your current financial state, your goals for the future and the level of risk you’re comfortable with. Since annuities are based on contracts, they’re typically considered less risky than stock market investments, but no investment is 100% guaranteed. Consider talking to a financial adviser to understand what investment and retirement planning options might be right for you.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs

When I was little, my parents used to tell me to not let the bed bugs bite when they would tuck me in at night. Back then, the phrase was almost comforting, and I didn’t think much of it. After all, I didn’t know exactly what they were.

Now that I’m older and know that bed bugs are very real, that statement suddenly comes with a much scarier connotation. The last thing I want to think about before I shut my eyes is sleeping with bed bugs.

If you don’t already know what a bed bug is, they’re small, brown insects that resemble an apple seed. They feed off of the blood of other animals and humans, so they definitely don’t make for good bunkmates.

Here’s a brief guide on bed bug prevention and how to get rid of them if you have an infestation:

1. Buy Encasements for Your Bed

Purchasing an encasement for your bed and box spring won’t necessarily prevent bed bugs from getting to your mattress, but it does make them easier to get rid of. The encasement stops the bugs from being able to get inside the mattress, forcing them to crawl on the exterior.

This makes the bugs very easy to spot, and you can then take the proper steps to get rid of them, which I’ll get to later.

2. Be Careful About Returning from Vacation

It can be easy to pick up bed bugs when you travel, as they tend to hide in hotel mattresses and box springs. Therefore, it’s best to unpack your suitcase somewhere other than your bedroom.

Throw all of your clothes directly into the wash, and make sure to vacuum your suitcase before putting it back into storage.

3. Regularly Wash Sheets and Clothing

While bed sheets can be a pain to take on and off, you should still wash them once a week. Dust, debris, and sweat can build up over time, and washing the sheets frequently in hot water kills those germs and potential bed bugs.

If there are any stains or spots, use a damp cloth and some upholstery shampoo to remove them. Make sure to wring out the cloth, as you don’t want to soak the mattress – this will only damage the padding and attract mold and bacteria.

4. Make Sure You’re Dealing With Bed Bugs

Don’t jump to conclusions if you wake up with a bite. There could be other insects responsible, like mosquitos, spiders, fleas or ticks. It’s important to know how to identify a bed bug. Typically, they’re the size of an apple seed, brown in color and have a flat, oval-shaped body.

They may be more reddish-brown if they recently ate. You should also look for bed bug eggs, which are pearl white and the size of a pinhead. If you’re still unsure what insect you’re dealing with, you can call pest control to help figure it out.

5. Clean Your Bedding

If you do discover that you have a bed bug infestation, the first step is to clean all of your sheets, pillows, blankets, clothing, etc. Put everything in the washer in hot water, and dry them on the highest dryer setting as well.

Next, scrub your mattress (especially the seams) to get rid of the bed bugs and any eggs that may be there. After scrubbing, vacuum all surfaces of your room. When you’ve finished, take out the vacuum bag, put it inside a resealable container and set it in a garbage can outside. You don’t want any bed bugs escaping back into your room.

6. Hire Pest Control

While you can certainly clean up infested areas, getting rid of bed bugs for good typically requires the use of chemical treatments. Using chemicals on your own can be tricky, because not all treatments are safe for your mattress, or you, for that matter. You may want to call a pest control professional to ensure you exterminate your bed bugs properly.

It’s worth it to pay a professional to get it done, as you’ll rest easy knowing those pests won’t be returning. Make sure to choose the proper professional by going through dependable referral directories.

Any good company will give you a quote before treatment, so you know exactly what you’ll have to pay. These pest experts may also fill you in on how to prevent bed bugs in the future and work with you until your bug problem is completely gone.

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Source: apartmentguide.com

12 Cheapest Small Towns in America

Small-town living has plenty of perks: light traffic, a strong sense of community and a slower pace of life. Perhaps best of all, there’s the cost of living, which typically is cheaper in small towns than in expensive big cities.

To get a better sense of what inexpensive small-town living really has to offer, we compiled a list of the 12 cheapest small towns in America, with small towns defined as places with populations of 10,000 to 50,000 people. We based our rankings on the Council for Community and Economic Research’s (C2ER) calculations of living expenses in 269 urban areas. C2ER’s expansive study tracks prices for housing, utilities, healthcare, groceries, transportation and miscellaneous goods and services (such as going to a movie theater or hair salon).

It goes without saying that you should weigh the pros and cons before you pack up and relocate to one of the 12 cheapest small towns in America. While a low cost of living is attractive, it can be offset by issues such as scarce jobs, small paychecks or a lack of things to do in the area. Plan an extended visit to ensure the small town fits your lifestyle.

The most recent Council for Community and Economic Research’s (C2ER) Cost of Living Index, published February 2021, is based on price data collected during the first three quarters of 2020. City-level data on city populations, household incomes and home values come from the U.S. Census Bureau. Unemployment rates come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of April 7 for the period ended February 2021.

1 of 12

Benton Harbor, Mich.

photo of lighthouse and pierphoto of lighthouse and pier
  • Cost of living: 12.6% below U.S. average
  • City population: 9,843
  • Median household income: $21,916 (U.S.: $65,712)
  • Median home value: $63,300 (U.S.: $240,500)
  • Unemployment rate: 6.0% (U.S.: 6.0%)

Benton Harbor sits by the shores of Lake Michigan about 50 miles west of Kalamazoo, which is one of the cheapest larger cities in the U.S. The small town’s biggest claim to fame is that it’s home to Whirlpool (WHR), the global manufacturer of washers, dryers, refrigerators and a range of other home appliances.

But despite being host to a Fortune 500 company, Benton Harbor is among America’s cheapest small towns, boasting a cost of living that’s more than 12% below the national average.

True, median income is roughly a third of the national level, but the unemployment rate is in line with the country as a whole. Poverty and crime are also high in Benton Harbor – factors that contribute to a median home value that’s an eye-popping 74% lower than the national median. Indeed, housing-related costs, including rents and mortgages, are 32% cheaper in Benton Harbor, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

Neighboring St. Joseph, about the same size as Benton Harbor, is a popular beach resort town with significantly higher household incomes and home values.

2 of 12

Hutchinson, Kan.

Strataca salt mine Strataca salt mine
  • Cost of living: 13.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 40,914
  • Median household income: $46,927
  • Median home value: $96,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Hutchinson, known as “Hutch” by the locals, is about an hour’s drive northwest from Wichita. Founded in the early 1870s as a railroad town, Hutch soon became known for its salt deposits, which were first discovered in 1887.

Today, Hutch is synonymous with the Kansas State Fair, which it hosts annually. The town is also home to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Basketball Tournament. Local cultural attractions include the Fox Theatre, which opened in 1931. The grand movie palace is considered to be among the finest examples of theater art deco architecture in the Midwest.

Where Hutch stands out among America’s cheapest small towns is that it boasts the lowest housing costs on this list. Indeed, they run 41.3% below the national average. Apartment rents are 43% lower than national average, while home prices come in at a 40% discount.

However, other major costs of living aren’t too far off from what the average American pays. Although prices for groceries are almost 7% lower than the national average, healthcare and miscellaneous goods & services are essentially the same as the U.S. average.

3 of 12

Meridian, Miss.

photo of a courthousephoto of a courthouse
  • Cost of living: 14.1% below U.S. average
  • City population: 37,848
  • Median household income: $32,422
  • Median home value: $83,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.7%

Meridian was rebuilt from 1890 to 1930 after being almost totally destroyed in the Civil War. As a result, it has not one but nine registered historic districts. The Highland Park Dentzel Carousel, dating back to 1909, is one of the more whimsical ones.

Meridian’s other claim to fame is as the birthplace of Jimmie Rodgers, known as the “Father of Country Music.” Music remains a centerpiece of Meridian’s cultural scene to this day.

Today, the federal government plays an important role in its economic life, as Naval Air Station Meridian and Key Field are two of the largest employers.

Happily, the men and women in uniform, and Meridian’s civilian citizens, catch a break on expenses. The cost of living stands 14.1% below the U.S. average; what really pushes Meridian into America’s absolute cheapest small towns are its comparatively modest housing costs. Indeed, housing expenses are a third lower than what the average American pays.

4 of 12

Burlington, Iowa

photo of a bridge in Iowaphoto of a bridge in Iowa
  • Cost of living: 14.3% below U.S. average
  • City population: 24,974
  • Median household income: $47,540
  • Median home value: $93,200 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.9%

Burlington sits on the Mississippi River, about 165 miles east of Des Moines. Manufacturing has long been a staple of the area economy, but a number of major employers have left over the years. Today, top employers include Great River Health System and American Ordnance, which makes ammunition for the U.S. military.

Utilities in Burlington are close to 12% more expensive than the national average and healthcare costs are essentially the same. Inexpensive housing is what makes Burlington a truly affordable small town. Housing-related costs are 35% cheaper compared to what the average American pays. Rents, on average, are almost 40% lower than the national average.

True, median incomes are 28% lower than the national figure, but then, median home values are cheaper by more than 60%.

5 of 12

Ponca City, Okla.

photo of a courthouse in Ponca City, OKphoto of a courthouse in Ponca City, OK
  • Cost of living: 14.5% below U.S. average
  • City population: 24,134
  • Median household income: $44,043
  • Median home value: $96,600 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%

Ponca City traces its lineage back to the days of the Land Run of 1893, when pioneers decided to build a town in north-central Oklahoma near the Arkansas River and a freshwater spring. Not long after its founding, enterprising oil men successfully drilled wells in the area, and Ponca City remains an oil town to this day. The area’s largest employers include energy companies such as Schlumberger (SLB), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Phillips 66 (PSX).

Household incomes are well below the national median, but housing is a heck of a deal. The median value of a Ponca City home is just $96,600. Nationally, it’s $240,500. Indeed, total housing costs are just two-thirds of what the average American pays, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index. Residents also catch a break on healthcare, which is 12.4% less expensive.

Although it’s among the cheapest small towns in America, Ponca City’s low costs of living do come at a cost of their own: The town sits pretty much in the middle of Tornado Alley.

6 of 12

Martinsville, Va.

photo of Martinsville Speedwayphoto of Martinsville Speedway
  • Cost of living: 15.2% below U.S. average
  • City population: 12,852
  • Median household income: $34,371
  • Median home value: $87,700 
  • Unemployment rate: 9.8%

Martinsville needs no introduction to race fans. The tiny Virginia town, an hour’s drive south of Roanoke, lays claim to the Martinsville Speedway of NASCAR fame. Racing enthusiasts laud the short track for its tight turns and intimate seating.

Beyond the track, manufacturing has always been central to the area’s economy, and although a number of firms have moved on over the past decades, factory work remains important. Major employers include Eastman Chemical (EMN), a manufacturer of plastics, and Monogram Foods.

Martinsville has a rich history dating back to colonial times, and the town boasts multiple historic districts and historic sites including the John Waddey Carter House and the Dry Bridge School.

But Martinsville also is notable as one of America’s cheapest small towns. Housing expenses are 32% below the national average. Fittingly for a racing town, gasoline is about 6% cheaper per gallon.

7 of 12

Salina, Kan.

photo of downtown Salina, KSphoto of downtown Salina, KS
  • Cost of living: 16.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 46,998
  • Median household income: $50,490
  • Median home value: $129,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.3%

The small town of Salina sits at the intersection of Interstates 70 and 135, about 90 miles north of Wichita and 180 miles west of Kansas City.

Manufacturing and healthcare are among the town’s most important industries. Major employers include Schwan’s Company, the maker of Tony’s frozen pizza; Great Plains Manufacturing, which serves the agricultural industry; and the Salina Regional Health Center. Salina is also home to several institutions of higher education, including the University of Kansas School of Medicine Salina Campus and Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.

This economic mix is producing both low unemployment and low living costs. Housing expenses run two-thirds of the national average, according to C2ER. Groceries are cheaper too, running about 8% lower than the national average.

Utility bills, however, take a bit of a bite. In Salina, they’re almost 2% higher than the U.S. average.

8 of 12

Statesboro, Ga.

courthouse Statesboro, GAcourthouse Statesboro, GA
  • Cost of living: 16.8% below U.S. average
  • City population: 31,495
  • Median household income: $29,203
  • Median home value: $113,600 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.8%

As home to the flagship campus of Georgia Southern University, Statesboro offers many of the benefits of college-town living but at exceedingly affordable prices. Thanks to its status as an academic hub, cultural attractions tied to the local university include a performing arts center, symphony, museum, planetarium and botanic gardens.

Another perk? The charming city of Savannah is just an hour’s drive to the southeast.

Although the university is the area’s largest employer, manufacturing jobs also play an important part in the local economy. At the same time, it should be noted that Statesboro has a high poverty rate, or 41.8% vs. 13.3% for the state of Georgia as a whole.

Statesboro’s place among America’s cheapest small towns is largely due to housing costs, which are about 32% lower compared with the national average, while healthcare runs roughly 14% below average. For example, a visit to a doctor costs about 24% less in Statesboro. Dental care is about a fifth less expensive, according to the C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

9 of 12

Tupelo, Miss.

photo of house where Elvis Presley was bornphoto of house where Elvis Presley was born
  • Cost of living: 19% below U.S. average
  • City population: 38,271
  • Median household income: $50,694
  • Median home value: $145,400 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.6%

Tupelo’s biggest claim to fame is being the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Indeed, the town, 100 miles southeast of Memphis’s Graceland, is looking forward to hosting its 23rd annual Elvis Festival in June. (Last year’s gathering was a virtual-only affair.)

Not a fan of The King? The cultural scene also includes the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Tupelo Automobile Museum. But Tupelo’s second-biggest claim to fame is arguably its super-low living costs. Electric and gas bills are about 12% lower than the national average, according to the Cost of Living Index. Housing is 34% cheaper and groceries go for 16% less.

For residents not making a living as Elvis impersonators, major employers include North Mississippi Health Services, Cooper Tire & Rubber (CTB) and BancorpSouth (BXS), which is headquartered in Tupelo.

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Richmond, Ind.

Amish man in horse and buggyAmish man in horse and buggy
  • Cost of living: 19.1% below U.S. average
  • City population: 35,539
  • Median household income: $39,724
  • Median home value: $88,400 
  • Unemployment rate: 5.1%

Few cities of any size can claim Richmond’s place in the early history of recorded jazz. Some of the first jazz records were made in this small town, featuring greats such as Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. There’s a Walk of Fame celebrating jazz and other artists who recorded with Richmond’s Gennett Records.

While jazz will always be part of its history, today’s Richmond, which is an hour’s drive west from Dayton, Ohio, is known more for its colleges and seminaries. They include Indiana University East, the Earlham School of Religion (part of Quaker-influenced Earlham College) and the Bethany Theological Seminary.

Inexpensive housing is a key to Richmond’s place among our nation’s cheapest small towns. Residents spend 34% less on housing than the average American does. Apartment rents are about half the national average. Average home prices are 26% less. Healthcare is also a bargain. For example, a visit to the eye doctor costs about 50% less than the national average. An appointment with a physician is cheaper by a third.

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Muskogee, Okla.

museum in Muskogee, OKmuseum in Muskogee, OK
  • Cost of living: 19.2% below U.S. average
  • City population: 37,624
  • Median household income: $38,194
  • Median home value: $92,300 
  • Unemployment rate: 6.3%

Muskogee packs a lot of history, culture and colleges into a small package.

Located about 50 miles south of Tulsa, the town traces its roots back to 1817. It’s home to four institutions of higher learning, as well as the Oklahoma School for the Blind. Jim Thorpe – All-American, the 1951 film starring Burt Lancaster, was shot on the campus of what was then known as the Bacone Indian University in Muskogee. The town also boasts six museums and the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

And let’s not forget what is arguably the town’s most famous appearance in popular culture – Merle Haggard’s hit song “Okie from Muskogee,” which became an emblem of Vietnam-era America. 

Today, the area’s employers include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, a VA medical center and paper company Georgia-Pacific.

But what really puts Muskogee on the map is its ultra-low cost of living. The biggest break comes from housing-related expenses, which are more than 35% lower than the national average, according to C2ER’s Cost of Living Index. Transportation, groceries and healthcare are notably cheaper, too.

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Pittsburg, Kan.

Russ Hall at Pittsburg State UniversityRuss Hall at Pittsburg State University
  • Cost of living: 19.4% below U.S. average
  • City population: 20,171
  • Median household income: $34,956
  • Median home value: $88,500 
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%

The cheapest small town in America is Pittsburg, Kan., based on the 269 urban areas analyzed by C2ER’s Cost of Living Index.

Pittsburg is about a two-hour drive due south from Kansas City on Route 69. When you get there, you’ll find a small town with a cost of living more than 19% below the national average.

Once upon a time, the town was known for its abundance of coal and the Southern and Eastern European immigrants who worked the mines. Today, the area relies more heavily on higher education, thanks to the presence of Pittsburg State University. Famous alumni of Pittsburg’s local university include actor Gary Busey and Brian Moorman, retired two-time Pro Bowl punter for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Although median incomes are almost $31,000 below the national average, median home prices are a whopping $152,000 cheaper. That helps make housing costs 37.2% less expensive than what the average American pays. A myriad of other items are cheap, as well. For example, a haircut will set you back an average of $14.82 vs. $18.88 nationally. Shampoo costs 89 cents, whereas the average American pays $1.05.

Source: kiplinger.com