Ask the Readers: What Do You Do for Fun While You’re Stuck at Home?

It is strongly recommended (and in some places mandated) that we all stay home as much as possible to avoid unknowingly spreading COVID-19. If you like spending time out and about, whether socializing with friends or enjoying local attractions, being stuck at home can sound really boring…but it doesn’t have to be! Let’s share some ideas on fun things you can do right at home.

What do you do for fun while you’re stuck at home? Are there any resources that have been particularly helpful in finding things for you and your family to do? What free activities would you recommend to others?

Tell us what you’re doing for fun while you’re stuck at home and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We’re doing three giveaways — here’s how you can win:

  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Tweet about our giveaway for an entry.
  • Visit our Facebook page for an entry.
  • Follow @janetonthemoney on Twitter.

Use our Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards:

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Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, March 30th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific. Winners will be announced after March 30th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
     
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook or Twitter.
     
  • You must be 18 and U.S. resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

Source: wisebread.com

Ask the Readers: What Are You Most Thankful For?

As the year is winding down and we celebrate the holiday that’s all about gratitude (and food), it’s a good time to reflect on the things we’re thankful for.

What are you most thankful for? What impact does it have on your life? Has it changed your lifestyle in any way?

Tell us what you’re most thankful for and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We’re doing three giveaways — here’s how you can win:

  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Tweet about our giveaway for an entry.
  • Visit our Facebook page for an entry.
  • Follow @janetonthemoney on Twitter.

Use our Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, November 25th at 11:59 p.m. Pacific. Winners will be announced after November 25th on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
     
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook or Twitter.
     
  • You must be 18 and U.S. resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

Source: wisebread.com

Ask the Readers: How Do You Fight the Winter Blues?

Many of us experience the winter blues as the days get colder and darker, some of us may experience it more severely as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Fortunately, there are steps you can take if you’re feeling usually gloomy or lethargic, such as getting natural light whenever you can or doing moderate exercise.

How do you fight the winter blues? What works as a quick pick-me-up when you’re feeling down?

Tell us how you fight the winter blues and we’ll enter you in a drawing to win a $20 Amazon Gift Card!

Win 1 of 3 $20 Amazon Gift Cards

We’re doing three giveaways — here’s how you can win:

  • Follow us on Twitter
  • Tweet about our giveaway for an entry.
  • Visit our Facebook page for an entry.
  • Follow @janetonthemoney on Twitter.

Use our Rafflecopter widget for your chance to win one of three Amazon Gift Cards:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, December 2nd at 11:59 p.m. Pacific. Winners will be announced after December 2nd on the original post. Winners will also be contacted via email.
     
  • This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered, or associated with Facebook or Twitter.
     
  • You must be 18 and U.S. resident to enter. Void where prohibited.

Good Luck!

Source: wisebread.com

When Is It Worth It to Hire an Accountant to Do Your Taxes?

When tax season rolls around, it’s easy to entertain the idea of hiring someone to do your tax return for you. Rather than spending a frustrating afternoon filling out forms and trying to wrap your head around complex tax terminology, how nice would it be to hire an accountant this tax season and call it a day?

While you certainly could do that — and if you have the money, I won’t try to stop you — there’s a good chance that hiring an accountant to do fill out your tax return would be like hiring a construction crew to help you build a dog house. In other words, you’d be wasting your money.

But there are circumstances — like when you need tax preparation for your business taxes or when you have failed to file your taxes in a previous year — where hiring a tax accountant isn’t just a smart idea – it could actually save you hundreds and even thousands by having a pro prepare your taxes. In that case, working with an accountant, instead of using tax prep or accounting software is actually the frugal choice.

Here’s what you need to know about when it makes sense to hire an accountant to file your taxes.

When you don’t need an accountant

The truth is, most of you probably don’t need to hire an accountant to file your taxes. If you have a traditional job that sends a W2 and you don’t itemize deductions, hiring an accountant would probably be overkill and you can file taxes for yourself.

Software like TurboTax or TaxAct should be more than adequate to handle a tax return for an individual or couple with only the basic tax forms. This type of software also tends to be much more affordable than a professional accountant when it comes to filing to pay income tax, which can cost between $200 and $500 on average. Software usually costs less than $60. If you earn under a certain amount, you may even get it for free.

If you can’t afford tax software or still want to talk to someone one-on-one about your taxes, you can often find free help. Many local libraries offer free tax assistance from qualified volunteers. It’s also important to remember that tax laws vary by state and if your return is complicated you may want to hire a CPA who can also help with tax planning.

When you should hire an accountant

Hiring an accountant is worth the extra cost when you run your own business, itemize deductions, own a rental property or have another complicated situation. Anyone who went through a divorce adopted a child or sold a business within the past year may have a radically different tax situation than most. This is where an accountant can help.

Some people say using tax software is the same as an accountant because the tax software will use the same deductions. The difference is that an accountant will poke around and ask questions to figure out which deductions you’re eligible for. The tax software assumes you know which deductions apply to you.

Even though accountants can be expensive upfront, hiring one could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. This is one instance where paying a premium is well worth the cost.

Here are some situations an accountant could help you with:

If you’re a business owner

Consumers who are self-employed or run their own small business should hire an accountant to avoid missing out on key deductions. For example, if you’re a yoga instructor, you may not realize you can deduct mileage to the yoga studio. This is just one example of many significant deductions you could be overlooking.

A qualified accountant will know how to ask the right questions. If you rent out a room on Airbnb, the accountant may ask if you buy cleaning supplies, extra sheets or toiletries just for that room.

These may be items you’d never think to include on a tax return.

Even if your business is only a side hustle, you may still benefit from hiring an accountant.

If you own rental property

Landlords will also benefit from a professional accountant. There are several deductions applicable to those who own real estate, and an accountant can help you identify which deductions apply to you.

An accountant may also recommend different ways to structure your rental property to maximize your tax deductions and add more legal protections. This will benefit you not just for this tax season, but for every tax season to come.

If you itemize deductions

About 30% of taxpayers in 2016 itemized their taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center. Itemizing taxes mostly applies to high earners or those with unusual circumstances.

If you’re having trouble deciding between itemizing or taking the standard deduction, a professional can help you choose the best course of action. If you do itemize, you want to make sure it’s done correctly.

If you want audit protection

The IRS audits about 1 in 140 people. The more money you make, the more at risk you are of getting audited. If you and your spouse make more than $500,000 a year, it may be worthwhile to hire an accountant just for the audit protection.

Audit protection means the accountant or the accounting firm will pay for any fees and interest owed if you’re audited by the IRS. They’ll also represent you in talking to the IRS about the audit.

This will be an extra cost on top of preparing your return, so make sure to buy audit protection before the accountant is done preparing your taxes. Most accountants won’t let you buy audit protection once they’ve submitted your return.

How to hire an accountant

The key to hiring an accountant is to find someone with experience in your particular area who can help with federal and state tax preparation as well as things that may apply to you including the self-employment tax. Whether you’re a business owner, a landlord with 10 properties or someone who recently inherited a large estate, you should be able to find an accountant who specializes in people like you. They’ll be more qualified to find the right deductions that apply to your specific circumstances.

Ask other people in your industry or those in a similar situation for their accountant or CPA recommendations. If they don’t have any recommendations, find an organization or association related to your occupation, and email them. They may have a list of referrals or a forum where you can pose the question and get the help you need in filing taxes to maximize your tax refund.

Before you decide on an accountant or firm, do some research of your own and schedule a phone call or in-person meeting. You want to be completely confident in your choice, and even something like a clash of personalities can make the experience more stressful than it has to be.

–By Zina Kumok

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Is a Sam’s Club Membership Worth It Just for Gas?

From chicken drumsticks to paper towels or even a trampoline, you can find just about anything at warehouse clubs like Sam’s. But what if you don’t have any use for a 10-lb bag of sugar or 32 rolls of paper towels?

If you drive a lot, a Sam’s Club membership may make sense just based on the gas savings alone. Let’s look at some numbers.

How Much Does a Sam’s Club Membership Save on Gas?

A basic Sam’s Club membership costs $45 per year and gives you access to the gas stations at all warehouse club locations. However, Sam’s Club has been running promotions to entice people to join so you may pay less than the membership sticker price. (And check to see if Groupon has a deal on membership as it often does.)

Depending on the membership savings you score, the following math may work even better for your situation.

To run this test, let’s assume that you drive a Toyota Camry and you fill-up the 14-gallon tank with gas once a week. This means you go through 728 gallons of gas a year. We will assume that Sam’s Club gas costs on average $0.10 less than other gas stations.

This means you will save around $73 per year if you fill up your car only at Sam’s Club gas stations. If you also get the Sam’s Club Mastercard, you will get an additional 5% back on gas purchases on the first $6,000 per year then 1% after.

For this calculation, we will assume that gas costs $2 a gallon. If you go through 728 gallons per year and you fill up on gas at Sam’s Club using their credit card to pay, you will save $145.60. Subtracting the cost of the membership ($45) gives you savings of $100.

If you don’t get the Sam’s Club Mastercard, your savings come out to a more modest $28 per year.

The difference between the price of gas at my local gas station and at the nearest Sam’s Club is even bigger in my neighborhood. My local gas station is charging $2.05 for a gallon of regular gas while the Sam’s Club gas station sells the same gallon for $1.89.

Here’s a screenshot from the GasBuddy app showing the most recent prices for both:

That’s a difference of $0.16, which would increase the savings. However, the nearest Sam’s Club gas station is almost three miles away, which would eat into my savings and make it more inconvenient. (You can mitigate that by getting gas when you actually shop at Sam’s, which should save you money compared to a regular grocery store.)

Does it Make Sense to Get a Sam’s Club Membership for Gas?

If you drive a big car such as a truck or an SUV, the $0.10 – $0.15 per gallon you can save with a Sam’s Club membership can make a difference. This is also the case if you drive a long way for work, so you need to fill up more often.

One thing to consider is the location of the nearest Sam’s Club gas station. If you have one on your way to work or close to your house, getting a membership to save on gas could make sense.

However, if you have to drive several miles each time to fill up on gas, this will cut into your savings. The inconvenience factor will also make it less likely that you will use the Sam’s Club gas stations.

Warehouse clubs can also be a great place to get deals on other items for your household. If you have a family, you can easily save more than the annual membership cost on staple foods and household goods.

Do you have a Sam’s Club membership? Have you found it worth it just on the gas savings alone? Share your experience in the comments. 

–Veneta Lusk

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Is Costco Membership Worth it for Gas Alone?

I grew up in Kansas, but have lived in San Diego for the past four years. Instinctively, I knew gas prices would be more expensive in California. No matter, I thought. My Costco membership card might just dampen the blow from gasoline costs. But I had my doubts.

Is a Costco membership worth it for gas alone? I decided to put this to the test in San Diego. There are a few factors that could sway your decision, including how many cars you have, how often you drive, and how many miles you drive in a given week.

Here’s what you need to know on whether a Costco membership is worth it for gas alone.

How much does a Costco membership cost?

First, let’s take a look at what an annual Costco membership costs. The Gold Star membership fee is $60 for the year, which is Costco’s baseline package. Upgrade to the Gold Star Executive card for $120 and you can receive 2% back on most purchases (up to $1,000 a year).

The kicker? The Gold Star Executive rewards program doesn’t apply to purchases made using Costco’s gasoline services. If you want to buy a membership card based solely on getting a gas discount, you should opt for the regular Gold Star membership.

What is the cost difference between Costco gas and a regular gas station?

You probably came to the conclusion that Costco creates a Kirkland Signature brand for every brand-name equivalent. Costco gas is no different. According to a Mashed article, Costco is able to sell gas below the market price because it means more trips inside the stores from members who are swinging by to fill up their tanks.

To put this to the test, I called my local Costco and asked what the going price of gas was today. Regular unleaded gas was priced at $3.29 per gallon. Subject to change, of course.

Then, I called up a Mobil gas station, just two miles down the road from Costco. The cost of gas was $3.99 per gallon if you pay in cash or $4.19 per gallon if you pay with a debit or credit card. It had me thinking, what was the price difference between Costco and Mobil if you filled up at each one for a month?

For this example, I’ll use a car that can hold 12 gallons of gas and factor in at least three full fill-ups per month.

Costco membership
Costco Gold Star membership cost per month $5
Costco gas price per gallon (unleaded, paid with debit or credit card) $3.29
Number of gallons per fill-up 12
Number of fill-ups per month 3
Total cost $123.44
Mobil gas station example
Mobil gas price per gallon (unleaded, paid with debit or credit card) $4.19
Number of gallons per fill-up 12
Number of fill-ups per month 3
Total cost per month $150.84

Talk about a whopper of savings. Even when you factor in the annual membership broken down each month, you still save nearly $27 a month in gas. Though you’ll need to consider other factors before jumping on the bandwagon.

Other factors before you head to Costco

While you most likely can save money fueling up at Costco, it may not be the best fit. You might not have a Costco close by to make it convenient to fill up each time. Plus, Costco gas tends to be more popular in high cost of living areas, which means longer wait times. I once waited 20 minutes in the Costco gas line. You’d think Costco was giving it away for free in Southern California.

Consider how often you drive your car, too. The average one-way commute time is just over 26 minutes, according to the United States Census Bureau. If you work from home or live within walking distance to several points of interest, it may not make sense for you to throw down $60 bucks on a Costco membership just for gas.

And what if you have multiple cars? Multiple cars mean multiple trips to the pump. A Costco membership could look really good when you factor in several cars (since the price of joining Costco comes with a card for your spouse).

Yes, Costco makes sense just for gas

This is a huge resounding yes for me when it comes to getting a Costco membership for gas alone. Especially if you live in a high cost of living area. In the example above, you could recoup the cost of a regular Costco membership after two months with gas savings alone. The cost savings could fuel your next vacation. At nearly a $1 difference between Costco and Mobil, it makes sense to fuel up with Costco.

–By Justine Nelson

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

How Much Will Cutting the Cord Save You?

Cord-cutting will save you money but for many people, that’s only part of the equation. Yes, you want to spend less on cable, but you want to do that without sacrificing too many shows you enjoy watching. So, before you rip the Band-Aid off, look at the facts, and find out exactly what cord-cutting would look like for you.

The cord-cutting decision is a big one. You need to weigh how much you’ll save vs. how much you’ll miss out on. What price do you put on being excluded from conversations about the latest shows and sports on cable? Are we talking about significant savings or significant pain here?

To start, let’s take a look at the numbers to figure out what you’re really paying per month for movies and TV shows.

What are you really paying for your viewing pleasure?

If your family is like 78% of U.S. households, you are spending an average monthly payment of $107 to subscribe to a pay-TV service (either traditional cable television, a satellite service, or a streaming option. That’s a number which has steadily inched up year after year.

When you have a family like mine, you may have also committed to several online streaming services. It’s hard to say no when friends on social media gush about must-see programs like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, and The Mandalorian’s baby Yoda on Disney+.

Together an average family entertainment package — cable plus streaming services — can add up to over $140 per month, and that doesn’t include games.

How much are you spending?

And with so many cable options and a new “must-have” streaming service popping up seemingly every day, it’s easy to zoom past the average, if you’re not paying attention. Even if you stick to “the basics,” the amount you can spend can pile up fast.

Entertainment payments per month:

  • Cable bill: $107. U.S. average (according to a 2018 study by Leichtman Research Group)
  • Netflix for two H.D. streams: $12.99 (assuming you’re not borrowing a friend’s password!)
  • Amazon Prime: $12.99 (or a bulk bargain at $119 per year)
  • Hulu: $11.99

Pro tip: You can cut and paste this information into a spreadsheet to start your family budget for the new year.

Why not call and cancel cable right now?

Heck, you could save yourself $100 if you just cut the cord right now. But before you spend that money on last-minute holiday gifts, you should find out how much more your cable provider (which is generally also your internet provider) will charge you for broadband once you drop cable.  It’s generally at least $10 more a month without a bundle discount but, in some cases, the cost increase to get internet alone can be much higher, so, you have to weigh your actual savings.

Those fancy streaming subscriptions need a high-speed internet connection. Your cable/internet provider knows that and intends to make as much money off you as possible even if you cut the cord — this is especially true if you live in a market with only one provider (that also happens to be the cable company you just jilted).

I live in a rural area with broadband available only via Comcast. So, for us, it’s pay up or get ready to listen to the cows and the crickets. Our introductory rate was about $50 per month, not including setup and fees. Find out if you have a choice. Search for broadband and DSL providers in your zip code. The vast majority will offer service that’s fast enough to stream on multiple devices but be careful to read the fine print as what speeds the company promises to deliver. You will need service that’s 25 to 50 Mbps (megabits per second) in order to stream video well.

Before you cut the cord, do your research! If there’s competition in your area for internet service, try to negotiate a discount. It costs nothing to try, and you could save real money.

Pro tip: Some cable companies will offer you a “skinny” bundle with the major broadcast networks for just a few dollars more than getting internet alone. Ask before you fully cut the cord.

Prioritize your happiness

Cutting the cord almost certainly means losing access to some programming. That makes it a hard decision even when the savings will be significant. It’s important to look at your personal and family viewing habits before you make any decisions.

If you watch a lot of network television and live sports, then keeping cable might make sense for you. Or, if you prefer the content on streaming services, then go in that direction.

Consumers have more choices when it comes to television than ever before. That can be daunting – it’s easy to buy more than you can consume.

The good news is that most streaming services don’t penalize you for joining, watching what you want, and then leaving. Mix and match in order to find the right blend for you. That may mean leaving cable or opting for a smaller package.

Your options are plentiful and the choice is in your hands…though you’ll probably want to talk it through with all the other TV viewers in your home so you don’t accidentally inflict significant pain for relatively insignificant savings.

–By Nic DeSmet

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

HOW TO SPLURGE THS HOLIDAY (WITHOUT BLOWING YOUR BUDGET)

Several years ago, 2010 to be exact, my husband and I made our final payment on our debt. We were officially debt free!!

It felt amazing. We had done it through a lot of hard work and sacrifice.  We had done all we could to save so we could throw loads of money at our debt.

A few months later the holidays rolled around.  Now, one may think that we went crazy to celebrate, but we didn’t.

We still set a budget. We saved.  But the funny thing is that it allowed us to splurge too!

Our family had worked together to pay off our bills.  We had sacrificed dining out. We had not taken vacations.

I clipped coupons. My husband and I sold items.

It was a lot of sacrifice but it was very well worth it.  We had achieved our goal.

And, we wanted to celebrate.

We decided to have a little extra fun that first Christmas.  And, being smart about it allowed us to do what we wanted.

LESS CAN BE MORE

We told our kids that they would only get 2 presents under the tree from Mom and Dad. That allowed us to spend a bit more on the big-ticket item on Christmas.

They did not miss opening more presents. In fact, they did not even notice there was less there.

GIVE THE PRACTICAL

Some of the gifts that we gave to our kids and one another were things that were needed.  There were pajamas under the tree and a new coat from grandma.

Putting the focus on adding more gifts by including needed items allowed more from the holiday budget to be spent on the fun things!

SAVE ALL YEAR LONG

Once our debt was paid-in-full, we had a bit more money left over each month.  We did not spend it.  We put it into savings.

For example, our car payment ran a bit over $300 a month.  We did not up our food spending or go out to dinner. Instead, we paid ourselves.

And, we also continued with our savings methods at the store. We used the same budget methods applied to get out of debt. But, rather than send money to creditors, we paid ourselves.

We were able to save hundreds every single month. Then, when the holidays came, we had a bit more money to spend to get the extra things we wanted.

USE YOUR BUDGET

Your budget is still necessary for the holidays.  You need to make sure. You follow it. Budget for the big-ticket items and find a way to make the numbers work.

That is exactly what we did as well.  We had our budget. We knew we wanted to buy our kids a video game system that was around $200.

That was a big amount for a single item for them.  We simply adjusted some of our spending and also found less expensive items to go along with the game platform.

Whatever you do, never spend more than you have in the bank or saved. Never go into debt to pay for the holidays.

REMEMBER THE REASON FOR THE SEASON

It is easy to get swept in the “stuff” when it comes to the holidays. But, that is not what matters.

Family and friends are what to focus on. If you can’t do the splurge – then don’t.  Your kids or spouse will love you no matter what.

What they need most is to know you are there for them and that you have that chance to be together and celebrate the warmth of the season.

Focus on traditions. That may mean matching PJs the night before, reading the “Christmas Story” before bed, or having Kung Pao chicken for lunch on Christmas day.

The holidays are about more than splurging and spending money. Never forget that.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com