What Is an HOA, or Homeowners Association?

When searching for a home, knowing everything you can about the home and the neighborhood you may move into is important. One thing that home buyers should look for is whether or not they would like to live in a neighborhood or community with an HOA. HOA stands for Homeowner’s Association, and many homes are located within HOAs due to their rise in popularity in recent years.

Common Questions About HOAs 

What is an HOA? 

HOAs are a group of Homeowners in the area that are typically elected or volunteered. Then they form a board of directors that govern common interests in their community or neighborhood. Homeowners in areas with HOAs typically have to pay fees to cover the use and maintenance of amenities in the area. For example, if you owned a home with an HOA in a community or neighborhood with a pool and park, you would be paying the fee for the maintenance of that pool and park. The board of directors for the HOA will not receive any of the money from the monthly fees; they are unpaid. Instead, the fees go to the maintenance, and the HOA makes decisions on the maintenance that needs to be done and who should do it.  

How much do HOAs cost? 

HOAs usually charge a fee monthly. How much this fee is will depend on where you live. Therefore, the cost of every HOA fee varies drastically. But if you want to live in a neighborhood with an HOA, expect the fees to typically cost you hundreds of dollars a year.  

What do HOA fees cover? 

HOA fees typically cover: 

  • Maintenance of Pool 
  • Maintenance of Parks  
  • Trash Removal  
  • Landscaping of Community Areas 
  • Pest Control of Community Areas

What are the typical responsibilities of an HOA?  

The responsibilities of the HOA include the maintenance of the neighborhood along with making any rules that serve common interests. For rules, the board of directors would be responsible for setting these rules as well as listening to complaints from the community and handling them. Plus, if a community member broke a rule, they would be in charge of notifying them and/or issuing them a fine. Along with maintenance and rules, HOA board members are also in charge of holding meetings to address issues and concerns with everyone in the neighborhood. These meetings would be open to the community who pays fees, so anyone should be able to voice any concerns they have. And if you don’t like the board of directors for the HOA in your area, it’s important to note that you can always volunteer to join or be elected to the board. 

What are some pros and cons of having an HOA? 

No matter what choice you make in life, there are always some pros and cons. It’s up to you to determine whether the pros outweigh the cons of living in a community or neighborhood with an HOA. The pros of the HOA are that the amenities in your area, such as the pool or the park, will be maintained and taken care of. A con of an HOA could be the excessive number of rules those amenities may have because of the HOA.  

Something that could be a pro or a con of having an HOA is the monthly fee you have to pay. The HOA fee could be a pro because of everything it covers, but it could be a con if it costs too much or the HOA does not keep up with maintenance or residents of that area like they are supposed to. One final con is that the HOA may issue too many fines, such as you not maintaining your lawn or having a clothesline, or even having too many pieces of outdoor furniture. If your HOA is like this, you may not enjoy living in your home. That’s why it’s important to talk to your neighbors about the HOA before buying the home.  

Whether you’re buying a house for the first time or the third time, it’s essential to know whether or not your home is in an HOA to ensure you and your family are getting the perfect experience inside and outside your home. 


Helen Wells

Hi! I’m Helen Wells, the Content Writer Intern here at Homes.com. In my spare time, you can find me either reading a novel, watching the latest TV drama, or hanging out with my friends. Follow me on Twitter at @hawells21.  

Source: homes.com

How Much Does It Cost to Furnish an Apartment?

Price out the essential furniture to determine your budget and start shopping.

Furnishing an entire apartment is challenging. That’s because buying furniture takes both time and money. You also need to understand your taste and how the new apartment needs to function. It’s hard to determine a furniture budget beforehand because the cost to furnish an apartment can vary widely.

So, how much does it cost to furnish an apartment? That depends.

How much space do you need to fill? Are you bringing furniture with you or do you need to buy everything after you move in? Do you prefer vintage and antiques or do you like things shiny and new? Is it an unfurnished apartment or is some furniture provided? How much time, money and energy can you devote to the project?

Determine your furniture budget

To determine the cost of furnishing your new apartment, first determine what furniture is essential to you and learn the average cost. Then, make a list of furniture you already have and a list of what you need.

Invest more in items you’ll use every day and classic styles that will stand the test of time. Buying used furniture or accepting secondhand items can keep furniture costs low.

Decide on your essential furniture

Everyone needs a place to eat and sleep. But the exact furniture we need varies from household to household. A sturdy desk and a comfortable chair are the top priorities for people who work from home, while a large dining set is a must for roommates and families who gather around the table every night.

“You do not need to adhere to the notion of needing a ‘complete set of furniture’ in any room of your home,” Tate Swanson, boutique and marketing manager of The Sitting Room in Excelsior, MN. “I suggest starting with the biggest piece, whether it be your bed or your dining room table, and then fill in from there.”

If you’re setting up a new apartment, purchase the essential furnishings first. These are just the basics, the bare minimum that you’ll need to spend the night in your own space. Budget $25 for a plastic shower curtain liner, soap and cleaning supplies to get through your first week.

We’ve listed the ballpark cost of each item. It assumes you’re purchasing the item new, but it doesn’t include tax, assembly or delivery costs. Prices might change over time or vary by region.

Mattress

Mattress

Mattress

A quality mattress and box spring support your back and neck, so you can sleep well and wake up refreshed. A typical price is $500 to $1,200. A twin bed costs less than a queen or king.

Always buy a new mattress. An old mattress won’t offer proper support and could be full of allergens like mold or dust mites. Even worse, it could have bedbugs that infest your whole apartment.

Bed frame

A bed frame evenly distributes your weight and supports the mattress. A basic metal frame starts at around $80. Decorative options (like platform beds, sleigh beds and trundle beds) may include storage, headboards and footboards. But they’ll also cost you more, too.

Sofa or loveseat

A sofa anchors the living room, so choose wisely. You want something comfortable that works with the budget and your style. Styles range from a compact love seat for two to a family-size sectional sofa.

Sofa prices ($300 to $2,600) reflect this variety. A slipcover can make an old sofa work in a new room for much less.

Dining furniture

Dining room furniture

Dining room furniture

You can find a dining table and chairs made of metal, stone, wood or glass. You can also find the table and dining chairs of the same material, or you can mix and match. Buy enough chairs for all household members and frequent guests.

If you have a counter, reserve $150 to $400 for bar seating. The average cost for a dining table and chairs is $400 to $1,200.

“Plan for a minimum of three feet of space from the edge of the table to the walls to allow space for chairs to move in and out,” suggests Swanson. “The table shape and size are determined by the size and shape of the room. A lot of dining rooms are rectangular, so a rectangle or oval table often works best.”

Secondary furniture

Furnishing an apartment doesn’t have to happen all at once. If your apartment budget is tight, you can buy the essentials and add them as you go. This gives you time to save money, invest in quality or find the perfect piece to reflect your style.

Bedroom furniture

Bedroom furniture includes dressers and nightstands. Small rooms might only need one or the other, while a larger room adequately accommodates both.

The amount of furniture you need depends on the number of bedrooms you have. So, the cost of furnishing a one-bedroom apartment will almost always be cheaper than a larger unit.

A typical dresser costs $150 to $350. You can find nightstands (around $100 each) that are a simple table or a larger unit with drawers for additional storage space.

Bookshelves

Bookshelves

Bookshelves

Bookshelves are often living room furniture. But they’re useful in bedrooms, dining rooms and offices, too. They can also line hallways or awkward nooks.

If you have books, plants, art or a collection to display, you’ll need a few shelves. They cost between $80 and $275, so budget accordingly.

Floor lamps

As you settle into your new apartment, you’ll notice that the overhead lights don’t illuminate every inch of the space. You might need to buy a floor lamp or two.

Place them in dark corners, on either side of the sofa or provide ambient light in the dining room or bedroom. Floor lamps cost an average of $50 to $175 each.

Table lamps

Table lamps are a type of task lighting, which means they illuminate a particular activity zone. So, put a table lamp on your desk or near your favorite armchair. They also work well on nightstands, bookshelves, dressers and anywhere else you need a small pool of light.

They’re functional, so you won’t know exactly how many you need until you’ve arranged your furniture.

Desk and office chair

Desk and office chair

Desk and office chair

Choose a desk based on the work surface and storage you need. Make sure it doesn’t overwhelm the space or block doors and windows.

The average desk costs between $140 and $300. A basic chair can cost between $75 and $150. An ergonomic chair will cost more, but it’s a good investment for people who spend hours at a desk.

Additional seating

Most living rooms need seating for four or five people. This usually includes a couch and an accent chair or two. But a bench or a pair of stuffed ottomans can work if the room is small, irregularly shaped or if you have a limited furnishing budget.

A single armchair sells for $175–$500 at full retail price. Ottomans are cheaper at $50–$200 each.

TV stand or entertainment center

You can’t drill holes in the wall if you want your security deposit back. So, an apartment living room needs a TV stand. The right stand puts the television at a comfortable viewing level. It can also hide cords, video game consoles, speakers and other entertainment systems. Some offer extra storage, too. Most cost $150–$400.

The decorative flourishes

Choosing wall art, plants and home décor is one of the most enjoyable (and least stressful) parts of furnishing an apartment. You don’t need to study interior design to understand your own personal style. Pick colors and pieces you love to make your new space feel like home.

Rugs

Rugs

Rugs

Rugs ($150 to $500) are both decorative and functional. They warm up cold floors, provide a safe surface for kids and pets and add a pop of color to a room.

Use a large area rug to anchor a dining room or living area. Smaller scatter rugs work well in front of the kitchen sink, in the entryway or inside the front door, while bathmats offer traction on slippery floors.

Decorative tables

Once you have seating in the living room, you need a place to put your coffee or display a lamp. Depending on your square footage, a coffee table or a few side tables will complete the room.

A new coffee table averages $130 to $350, while side tables cost $100 and up. You can find these tables in almost any material: wood, plastic, metal, even vintage crates and reclaimed lumber.

Mirrors

For some renters, the bathroom mirror is enough. But if you want a full-length mirror to check your outfit or a mini mirror to apply lipstick as you head out the door, set aside $80 to $400. (Large decorative mirrors double as art and make up the high end of this estimate.) Check your lease to see if you can mount them on the wall before you buy.

Window coverings

Even unfurnished apartments usually come with basic window coverings. Ask your landlord if you can install decorative curtains and curtain rods ($50 to $150).

Art

Wall art

Wall art

Art is an easy way to add personality to your apartment. The price ranges from a few dollars for student work, mass-produced prints and postcards to thousands of dollars for art purchased in a gallery. Budget $100 to $150 for art and frames.

Miscellaneous home décor

Set aside $50 to $100 for the little details that make a house a home. Put soft bath towels and a decorative shower curtain in the bathroom. Put fresh flowers in a pretty vase, burn candles and display plants along the windowsill. These individual touches make the space your own.

A fully furnished apartment

If furnishing an apartment feels overwhelming, you can rent a furnished apartment instead. A fully furnished apartment will contain a sofa, coffee table and living room seating. The kitchen and the bathroom will be functional. (You may have to provide cleaning supplies and towels.) The bedroom will contain a bed and basic storage, although the add-ons vary widely.

Buying new apartment furniture

You can buy new furniture at several price points. The average person sources furniture from a variety of new and used vendors to keep the cost of furnishing their apartment within their budget. To avoid bedbugs, allergens and water damage, buy upholstered chairs, sofas and mattresses new.

Furniture stores

furniture store

furniture store

Furniture stores let you see and test furniture before you buy it. Most stores offer delivery and assembly assistance. This furniture is high-quality and designed to last, so it’s more expensive.

Many stores offer financing and specials like 0% interest or deferred payments to counteract the higher prices. Just remember, if you have to begin paying immediately or have a high-interest rate, you’re not really saving money. Wait for holiday discounts, instead. Presidents Day and Labor Day are some of the most popular times for furniture sales.

Home furnishing stores

Specialty home shops like Pottery Barn, Anthropologie and West Elm offer an artfully edited selection of furniture and décor. From budget-friendly IKEA to high-end RH (formerly Restoration Hardware), there’s a home furnishings shop for most budgets.

The merchandise is seasonal, so buy before it’s gone. The store’s aesthetic will be consistent from season to season, so the items you buy over the years will work together.

Big box stores

Big box stores have traditionally offered decorative accents, textiles and art. But now, they’ve branched out into furniture, as well.

Target offers the items listed above, as well as lighting, TV stands and a selection of living room furniture and storage options. Walmart sells all that, too, plus dining room sets, office furniture, bedroom sets and mattresses.

Shop online

Shop online

Shop online

Shopping online can save you money. You can’t try things before you buy them, but having something shipped to your door is very convenient. Many home furnishings stores and big-box retailers also offer online shopping.

Amazon is a good place to browse many vendors. You can also add assembly assistance to your cart before checking out for a small fee. Wayfair offers a variety of styles and financing options. Burrow specializes in modular, expandable furniture.

Liquidation stores

For new furniture for less, head to a liquidation store. These companies purchase unsold inventory from other shops, then sell it to customers for less than retail value. The furniture selection and style vary from store to store, but most have mass-market appeal.

Pre-owned furniture

Buying used furniture has many benefits. The cost of furnishing an apartment goes down when you can buy at least some items secondhand. Buying more affordable furniture means you can splurge on other items.

Since you’re buying something that already exists, you reduce waste and shrink your carbon footprint. And when you purchase old furniture, you’re giving a time-tested gem new life. Furniture from many eras makes your home feel curated and distinctive.

Hand-me-downs

Friends, relatives, old roommates and colleagues are a great source of secondhand furniture. They might give you the furniture. Or, you can trade or offer cash.

Buy nothing groups

Buy nothing groups have popped up on social media over the last decade. Participants can trade, lend, gift or share items, but they can’t pay money for goods and services.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for items you need,” suggests Sarah Cottrell, a Minneapolis resident who has sourced children’s furniture and books this way. “I think it’s best to approach it with less of a scarcity mindset and only take things into your home that you truly want.”

Resale shops, consignment stores and thrift shops

Consignment furniture

Consignment furniture

Resale shops sell previously owned goods at a discount. The average prices are much lower than retail, so your dollar goes further. And your local thrift store is often a non-profit organization that gives back to the community, so your money helps others.

There are over 25,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops in the U.S., according to the Association of Resale Professionals. Some, like Habitat ReStore, focus on building materials, furniture and appliances. Others offer home décor and furnishings.

Craigslist, online classifieds and Facebook yard sale groups

After scouting the thrift shops, Craigslist and other online classifieds are a logical next step. They make it easy to search for used goods in your own city. Study photos carefully, don’t pay without seeing something first and only meet strangers in public places.

Yard sales and garage sales

Garage and yard sales are a great way to keep the cost of furnishing an apartment low. They’re a good source of furniture, home décor and accent pieces. Look for listings on Facebook or Craigslist. Or, search the Garage Sales Tracker for sales near you.

Flea markets, antique shops and estate sales

Find vintage items with character at antique shops and antique malls. Or, search for treasures at flea markets and estate sales.

Antique sellers and flea market vendors often specialize in certain styles and eras and can guide you to items you’ll like. Estate sales often include the contents of an entire house, condo or apartment. They’re a great source for well-made but cheap furniture that has already lasted for generations.

Keep calm and furnish on

Buying furniture can feel overwhelming at first. And, the cost to furnish an apartment can vary. But learning how to furnish an apartment is a life skill. And just like any skill, it gets easier with time and practice.

The information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute financial advice. Furniture prices listed here do not constitute a pricing guarantee as they can vary by source.

Source: rent.com

Chapter 07: Using the 50-30-20 Rule to Budget

Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further

So far in this series, we’ve answered important questions about budgeting, such as “What is a budget?” and “Why is budgeting beneficial?” This series has been focusing on how using a budget can help you keep your spending in check and ensure your savings goals are on track.

One way to do that is using Mint’s free 50/30/20 calculator to budget.

The 50/30/20 rule (also referred to as the 50/20/30 rule) is one method of budgeting that can help you keep your spending in alignment with your savings goals. Budgets should be about more than just paying your bills on time—the right budget can help you determine how much you should be spending, and on what.

The 50/30/20 rule can serve as a great tool to help you diversify your financial profile, reach dynamic savings goals, and foster overall financial health.

In this post, we’re taking you through the steps of budgeting using the 50/30/20 approach so that you can learn how to set up a budget that’s sustainable, effective, and simple. Use the links below to navigate or read all the way through to absorb all of our tips on how to budget using the 50/30/20 method:

In the previous chapters, we discussed what to include in a budget and the various ways you can create your own budget, like with a budget template. If you haven’t read through them already, we highly recommend going through them to get a comprehensive overview of budgeting.

What is the 50/30/20 Budgeting Rule?

The 50/30/20 budgeting rule–also referred to as the 50/20/30 budgeting rule–divides after-tax income into three different buckets:

  • Essentials (50%)
  • Wants (30%)
  • Savings (20%)

Essentials: 50% of your income

To begin abiding by this rule, set aside no more than half of your income for the absolute necessities in your life. This might seem like a high percentage (and, at 50%, it is), but once you consider everything that falls into this category it begins to make a bit more sense.

This will include your living expenses each month, which are essential expenses that you would almost certainly have to pay, regardless of where you lived, where you worked, or what your future plans happen to include. In general, these expenses are nearly the same for everyone and include:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Transportation costs
  • Utility bills

The percentage lets you adjust, while still maintaining a sound, balanced budget. And remember, it’s more about the total sum than individual costs. For instance, some people live in high-rent areas, yet can walk to work, while others enjoy much lower housing costs, but transportation is far more expensive.

How much your essential expenses cost will differ for each person depending on where they live and what their lifestyle is. If you’re thinking of relocating to a different part of the country, it’s a good idea to calculate your cost of living beforehand so you can know if you can realistically afford to live in that area based on your current total income.

Wants: 30% of your income

The second category, and the one that can make the most difference in your budget, is unnecessary expenses that enhance your lifestyle. Some financial experts consider this category completely discretionary, but in modern society, many of these so-called luxuries have taken on more of a mandatory status. It all depends on what you want out of life and what you’re willing to sacrifice.

These personal lifestyle expenses include items such as:

  • Your cell phone plan
  • Cable bill
  • Trips to the coffee shop
  • Savings for travel
  • Gym memberships
  • Weekend trips
  • Dining out

If you travel extensively or work on-the-go, your cell phone plan is probably more of a necessity than a luxury. However, you have some wiggle room since you can decide upon the tier of the service you’re paying for.

Only you can decide which of your expenses can be designated as “personal,” and which ones are truly obligatory. Similar to how no more than 50 percent of your income should go toward essential expenses, 30 percent is the maximum amount you should spend on personal choices. The fewer costs you have in this category, the more progress you’ll make paying down debt and securing your future.

Savings: 20% of your income

The next step is to dedicate 20% of your take-home pay toward savings. This is essentially how much you should set aside from your paycheck each month for savings. This can include different types of savings like:

  • Savings plans
  • Retirement accounts
  • Debt payments
  • Rainy-day funds

These are all things you should add to, but which wouldn’t endanger your life or leave you homeless if you didn’t. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but hopefully you get the gist. This category of expenses should only be paid after your essentials are already taken care of and before you even think about anything in the last category of personal spending.

Think of this as your “get ahead” category where you can challenge yourself to save. Whereas 50%(or less) of your income is the goal for essentials, 20%—or more—should be your goal as far as obligations are concerned. You’ll pay off debt quicker and make more significant strides toward a frustration-free future by devoting as much of your income as you can to this category.

The term “retirement” might not carry a sense of urgency when you’re only 24 years old, but it certainly will become more pressing in decades to come. Just keep in mind the advantage of starting early is you will earn compounding interest the longer you let this fund grow.

You don’t want to cash out your 401k to be able to pay off debt. The more you put towards savings now, the quicker you can pay off your debt and achieve financial stability.

Use our compound interest calculator to see how your money can grow over time.

Establishing good habits will last a lifetime. You don’t need a higher paying job to follow the tenets of the 50/30/20 rule; anyone can do it. Since this is a percentage-based system, the same proportions apply whether you’re earning an entry-level salary and living in a studio apartment, or if you’re years into your career and about to buy your first home.

A note of caution, though: Try not to take this rule too literally. The proportions are sound, but your life is unlike anyone else’s. What this plan does is provide a framework for you to work within. Once you review your income and expenses and determine what’s essential and what’s not, only then you can create a budget that helps you make the most of your money. Years from now, you can still fall back on the same guidelines to help your budget evolve as your life does.

Give our 50/30/20 budgeting calculator a try to see how this budgeting method works:

50/30/20 Budget Calculator

Here’s how much you have for:

Essentials$0.00

Wants$0.00

Savings$0.00

Ask Yourself: Why is a 50/30/20 Budget Necessary?

According to Consumer.gov, there are plenty of different reasons why people start a budget:

  • To save up for a large expense such as a house, car, or vacation
  • Put a security deposit on an apartment
  • To reduce spending habits
  • To improve their credit score
  • To eliminate debt
  • To break the paycheck to paycheck cycle

Identifying the reason why you’re budgeting with the 50/30/20 method can help you stay motivated and create a better plan to reach your goal. It’s kind of like the “eye on the prize” mentality. If you’re tempted to splurge, you can use your overarching goal to bring you back to your saving senses. So ask yourself: why am I starting to budget? What do I want to achieve?

Additionally, if you’re saving up for something specific, try to determine an exact number so that you can regularly evaluate whether or not your budget is on track throughout the week, month, or year.

How to Budget with the 50/30/20 Rule

To make the most of this budgeting method, consider following the steps below:

Deep Dive Into Your Current Spending Habits

Before implementing a 50/30/20 budget, take a long, hard look in the mirror (or maybe your wallet, rather). We’re talking about analyzing your spending habits. Think about whether you tend to overspend on:

  • Clothes
  • Shoes
  • Food
  • Drinks

Figuring out your spending vices from the very beginning will help you learn how to use a 50/30/20 budget that effectively cuts spending where you need it most.

Take a look at your bank and credit card statements over the last few months and see if you can find any common trends. If you find that you’re overspending on going out for food and drinks, come up with a plan for how you can avoid this scenario.

There are plenty of ways to budget and save money without compromising your social life, such as:

  • Cook dinner at home before you go out
  • Have a potluck with friends
  • Find happy hour specials around town.

You can also try budgeting for groceries to make sure your eyes aren’t bigger than your stomach and you don’t overspend every time you step foot into the grocery store. The 50/30/20 budget rule is a good way to figure out exactly how much you have to spend on certain expenses.

Pro Tip: Using Mint’s easy budget categorization, you can identify where you can cut back on unnecessary expenses.

Identify Irregular Large Ticket Expenses in the “Wants” Category

Of course, there are expenses in life that we simply can’t avoid. Maybe you need to make a repair on your vehicle, or perhaps you’re putting a down payment on a house in the next six months. Oftentimes these bills are necessary expenses, so you’ll have to factor them into your budget.

When you’re coming up with your 50/30/20 budget, take a moment to look at your calendar so that you can plan for these expenses and adjust your spending in the time before and after you incur the expense.

Add Up All Income

Totaling your income is an important first step when learning how to budget your money using the 50/30/20 rule, but it’s not always as simple as it sounds. Depending on your job, you might have a relatively steady paycheck or one that fluctuates from month to month. If the latter is the case, collect your paychecks from the last six months and find the average income between them.

The last thing you want to happen is to end up in a budget deficit, which is when your spending is greater than your income. If you’re finding that you’re not able to meet that 20% for savings each month, that might mean it’s time to make some changes.

There are various ways you can increase your savings each month, such as:

  • Consider a minimalist lifestyle to cut back on some of your expenses
  • Increase your income with an additional stream of income
  • Negotiate your salary with your current employer

If you want an additional stream of income, but don’t want to leave the house to do so, you should look into how you can make money at home.

What Are the Benefits of the 50/30/20 Rule?

There are many benefits of using the 50/30/20 rule to budget:

  • It can help you get on top of your finances: The 50/30/20 rule is a simple way to get on top of your finances so you make sure you’re not spending beyond your means.
  • It can help you make a financial plan: Everyone’s financial plan looks different, but using the 50/30/20 rule is a great way to outline your finances so that you can figure out exactly what you need to do to achieve your goals. For example, if your goal is to invest more, the 50/30/20 rule will help you figure out exactly how much you need to put towards investments.
  • It’s easier to use than some other budgeting tools: There are a myriad of different budgeting tools and methods out there. Some people use financial calculators to calculate their budget, some people use a journal to write down all their expenses. But the 50/30/20 budget rule is often much easier to use than most other budgeting tools. It clearly outlines your expenses and savings so you can figure out if you’re staying on track with your finances.

Is the 50/30/20 Budget Right for You?

The 50/30/20 budget isn’t the only option. Other popular methods include:

  • Zero-sum: The principle of the zero-sum budget is that you must allocate each and every dollar you earn toward a specific expense, savings account, debt, or disposable income account. This style can help deter unnecessary spending because you’ll know exactly how much you have to spend on what items.
  • Envelope budgeting: Swiping your card left and right is easy—but the envelope method doesn’t let you succumb to this temptation. Rather than using your card to spend, you use a predetermined amount of cash as your spending pool, nothing more.

Choosing a budgeting style that works for you depends on a variety of factors; there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to budgeting and saving money. That said, the 50/30/20 tends to be a simple yet effective option for getting started on your budgeting journey.

Main Takeaways: How to Budget Using the 50/30/20 Rule

Here are the key tenets of the 50/30/20 rule of budgeting:

  • This budget rule is a simple method that can help you reach your financial goals.
  • This budgeting method stipulates that you spend no more than 50% of your after-tax income on needs.
  • The remaining after-tax income should be split up between 30% wants or “lifestyle” purchases, and 20% to savings or debt repayment.
  • This style of budgeting is a good way to save up for larger expenses, reduce your spending habits, and break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
  • The 50/30/20 budget rule is a much more straightforward budgeting method than some of the other common strategies.

Try the 50/30/20 Budgeting Rule & Take Control of Your Finances

Mint offers budgeting software and a helpful budgeting calculator that makes it easy to live in accordance with the 50/30/20 rule (or any budget that suits your lifestyle) so that you can live life to its fullest. After spending just a little bit of time determining which of your expenses fall into which category, you can create your very first budget and keep track of it every day. And when your situation undoubtedly changes, Mint lets you adjust, so your budget can change with you.

Sign up for your free account today, build your 50/30/20 budget, and make this the year you build a strong foundation for your future.

Now that you know what the 50/30/20 budget rule is and how you can use Mint to make a budget, you can move onto the next chapter in the series, which covers zero-based budgeting. Continue reading our series to learn more about how budgeting can help you reach your goals and achieve financial stability.

Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further

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Source: mint.intuit.com

The Best Apartment Flooring Options When Living With Pets

Choosing the right flooring will help ensure a smooth rental experience for both you and your pets.

Pet owners know it’s important to consider units with pet-friendly floors. For most pet owners, the damage from pet claws and pet stains are their biggest concerns. Choosing a pet-friendly flooring to resist pet stains and is extremely scratch resistant is ideal. Be sure to read your lease agreement as many landlords often add a clause about pets. It’s worth taking the time to find the best pet-friendly apartment possible.

Here are some things a pet owner may want to consider when choosing the best floor option for both you and your furry friends in kitchens, family rooms or living rooms.

What’s the best flooring for living with pets?

Finding flooring types with a scratch-resistant finish for our furry friends isn’t easy, especially if you’re seeking the best flooring for dogs since they’re generally more active than cats. A dog’s nails, even when they’re clipped regularly, can do damage to wood floors. Other things to consider are stains caused by liquids, whether it’s urine or water from a water bowl.

Each type of flooring has a list of pros and cons. Dog owners might choose waterproof flooring options because they’re easier to clean after they walk their dogs while a cat or dog owner may look for the right flooring based on how easy it is to wipe off pet hair.

hardwood floors are the best apartment flooring when living with pets.

hardwood floors are the best apartment flooring when living with pets.

Most common types of floors in apartments

Most apartments have hardwood floors, luxury vinyl flooring or laminate flooring in the living room and dining room areas. Kitchens usually feature ceramic tile, vinyl flooring or porcelain tile because these are more water-resistant than hardwood flooring. Water and wood don’t like to mix so you’ll want to avoid using a mop with water or soap-based cleaners on any type of wood floor.

Not as common but also found in homes are cork flooring, bamboo flooring, luxury vinyl plank, concrete floors and natural stone.

Choosing the best type of flooring based on pet use

To help minimize the way scratches appear on floors, consider lighter stains, woods with more grains or lighter-colored tiles if leaning toward vinyl, laminate or ceramic options. The disadvantage of lighter colors is they might show more dirt trekked in from the outdoors.

Think about your pet and how they navigate their spaces in your apartment. If they can go weeks with unclipped claws and scratches are a bigger issue, go lighter. If trekking in dirt from walks is a problem, go with more patterns or darker colors.

dog on hardwood

dog on hardwood

Are solid hardwood floors good for pets?

Not all hardwood is the same. Homes can feature different types of wood species, grains, styles and thickness levels. It’s best to consider your budget and the look you want before buying or installing this type of flooring.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), it’s possible for pet owners to enjoy having a solid hardwood floor with some considerations. If you’re a wood floor lover, make sure you trim your dog’s nails regularly and you wipe up any messes immediately — whether accidents or muddy paw marks.

The organization also recommends engineered hardwood flooring with the most scratch-resistant finish available as one of the best flooring for dogs if you want that wood floor look. Another recommendation by AKC is to choose the hardest wood you can find, such as teak, mesquite or hard maple, if you’re adding new flooring. “Wood with a matte or low-gloss look will do a better job at hiding scratches,” the organization notes. “And be sure to finish your floor with a scratch-resistant finish.”

Hardwood floors offer a few benefits from a general lifestyle and use perspective. You can usually include them in any décor, whether traditional or modern and installed in most spaces. You can buff or refinish them multiple times before you’re left with a thin layer and need to replace the entire floor.

Refinishing damaged hardwoods

The manufacturing process of some engineered hardwood floors allows you to refinish after sanding. For best results, it’s best if the wear layer is thick. Ideally, you want the wear layer at least three millimeters thick, otherwise, you run the risk of damaging the floor to the point that you’ll need to replace it.

Still, even in high traffic areas, a simple buffing can usually remove unsightly scratches without needing to go through the expense and trouble of refinishing.

Some negatives of hardwood floors: water and wood don’t like to mix so you’ll want to avoid using a mop with water or soap-based cleaners on any type of wood flooring. Instead, use cleaners designed for wood and keep a duster nearby to clean up any messes. Also, wood can get expensive to buy and install. Finding options that are more readily available, such as walnut or ash, can help keep this flooring option more affordable than opting for exotic hardwood species where you’ll be paying a premium.

Other flooring options besides hardwood floors

Another option? Go with distressed or reclaimed wood. While not pet-proof, these flooring options look scratched and well-loved so any marks from pets’ nails aren’t noticeable.

Not a hardwood floor since it’s technically a grass, bamboo flooring has similar features to hardwood and between the two options, is usually slightly more affordable flooring of the two.

Is laminate flooring stain-resistant?

Laminate flooring is the favorite thanks to its stain resistance and durability. It’s also less expensive than hardwood, luxury vinyl tile, ceramic tile and natural stone. When paired with a strong sealant layer, it’s relatively scratch-proof, making it ideal as flooring if you have pets at home.

Laminate flooring can get slippery for pets so finishing it with some texture will help keep those paws from skidding all over the place. Like any flooring, you want to wipe off any surface moisture and keep towels handy by doors where pets walk in and out to clean up any excess moisture or dirt that trails inside.

cleaning floors

cleaning floors

Caring for floors when you have pets

Not everyone has a say in which type of floor comes with their apartment or home. The best types are the ones that make it easy to keep clean and you’re not stuck giving up your security deposit because the floors need refinishing or replacing.

If you have any type of tile, such as porcelain, luxury vinyl or ceramic tile, keep in mind you’ll need to clean grout lines, as well as the tile when things get wet or dirty.

If you find an apartment you love but the flooring will be an issue with your pet, be proactive and think of solutions that will make everyone happier. Some pet owners throw down a thin-piled rug on hardwood, for example, to make it easier for their pets to walk around. Others will add that little mat beneath their pet’s food and water bowl to catch any spills and not let water sit on the floor for too long. If a room has thick or shag-type carpet and your pet can avoid that room, cordon off the room with a baby or pet gate.

Best floors when living with pets

Pets make our lives fuller and more fun and according to the Humane Society, 72 percent of renters have pets. Since more of us have pets than don’t, choosing apartments that are a good match to our lifestyle will go a long way toward an enjoyable rental experience. Taking the time to consider an apartment based on its amenities, whether that means the building includes a pool or a dog run, is one thing. But it’s overlooked details like flooring that sometimes get missed when looking at a place.

If you have pets, it’s a good idea to review apartments based on how your life, and the life of your pet, would be easier and more enjoyable. While flooring isn’t obvious, choosing the best flooring when living with pets will help you both enjoy the place and be as stress-free as possible.

Source: rent.com

NYC Penthouse Rented by Kerry Washington Now On the Market for $25M

A full-floor penthouse in Manhattan’s Upper West Side is on the market for $25 million.

The actress Kerry Washington rented the unit for nearly a year while she was performing in the Broadway play “American Son” in 2019.

Records show that the aerie last sold in 2016 for $19.7 million.

Since that purchase, the property has been offered as a luxury rental. Around the time Washington lived there, the residence was listed at $68,000 a month.

It’s a pricey pad, but one that the star could well afford. In 2018, Washington was ranked No. 8 in a Forbes list of television’s highest-paid actresses, raking in a reported $11 million in a year.

The Bronx-born performer, who is based in L.A., didn’t have a home in her hometown. But she did succeed in making this empty apartment quite homey.

Showstopping space

The star gave the bare rooms a major makeover. Washington showed off the results of the stylish interior collaboration with RH Interior Design in an Architectural Digest feature.

[embedded content]

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The element that drew her in may well entice a buyer.

“The view in this apartment is ridiculous,” Washington told AD. “What made us first fall in love with this place was the view.”

The glorious, full-floor “sky mansion” offers 100 feet of Hudson River frontage, along with Manhattan skyline views, and a peek of New Jersey.

Washington has since left the building, but during her time there, she decorated the space with cool charcoal gray paint on the walls and 3-D-printed paintings from a company founded by her friend and fellow actor in “Scandal,” Portia de Rossi.

Her video tour showcased her favorite spots—including a den filled with a pillow-strewn sofa.

“That Cloud couch is dangerous—I never wanted to get up,” Washington said.

The room also features a wet bar and wine fridge, along with those spectacular river views.

Media room with bar

(Will Ellis for DDreps)

The huge kitchen wound up as a family gathering spot, with seating at the marble waterfall island, and room for a round dining table as well.

It features Miele and Sub-Zero appliances, and a shiny, stainless-steel tile backsplash. At the time, the window panes were covered with hearts that Washington and her family had decorated and pasted up.

Kitchen

(Will Ellis for DDreps)

Home’s highlights

Since the Emmy winner’s departure, the place has been cleaned out and repainted, so none of her personal touches remain.

With 6,000 square feet, the six-bedroom, 7.5-bathroom penthouse is likely to require the services of an interior designer to fill the space.

No matter how the next owner chooses to decorate, the walls of glass will provide a dramatic backdrop.

Highlights of the home include key-locked elevators and a 60-foot great room with a double-sided fireplace separating the dining area. Bathed in sunlight, the bright space offers plenty of room for entertaining, or simply ogling those views.

Living room

(Will Ellis for DDreps)

Other spaces include an office, a primary bedroom suite with walk-in closets, a dressing area, and two bathrooms.

Bedroom

(Will Ellis for DDreps)

The building itself boasts 50,000 square feet of amenities, including a gym, swimming pool, rock-climbing wall, and indoor playground.

Washington, 45, is probably best known for her role as Olivia Pope in the TV series “Scandal.” She has also starred in such movies as “Ray” and “Django Unchained.” She reprised her Broadway role of “American Son” on Netflix in 2019.

Carolina Bravo with Serhant holds the listing.

Source: realtor.com

8 Tips to Build an Emergency Kit on a Budget

No matter where you live, you are not immune from disasters. Floridians and Gulf Coast residents frequently deal with hurricanes, Californians with wildfires, Oklahomans with tornadoes and Minnesotans with blizzards.

But one thing remains the same with all natural disasters: You need an emergency kit.

Hopefully you keep sufficient batteries, bottled water and canned food in your home in case of emergencies. If not, it’s time to stock up.

Sure, you could plunk down more than $200 or so on a one-size-fits-all emergency kit filled with stuff you probably won’t need. But preparing for a natural disaster doesn’t have to be expensive. These eight tips will help you economically build an emergency survival kit that’s tailored to you and your family’s needs.

How to Build an Emergency Kit for Less

When building your emergency kit on a budget, there are several things to do to make sure you have everything you might require in an emergency.

1. Decide What You Need in Your Emergency Kit

The Red Cross suggests keeping bare essentials like water, non-perishable food, extra batteries, clothes, blankets, flashlights and medicine on hand to prepare for a natural disaster.

If you live in an apartment, fallen trees or limbs won’t be your responsibility to clean up. But if you’re a homeowner, you could have major yard work on your hands after a storm. Think about what tools and supplies you may need — or what you could borrow.

Check with neighbors to see what equipment they have, then pool together for the cleanup. You may already have a lot of the tools — chainsaws, clippers, shovels, etc. — you need for post-disaster cleanup.

Figure out what your emergency kit needs and prioritize those items. Your list will have to take into consideration family members, who may range from very young to very old. Think about toys to distract the little ones, for instance, and make sure you know your elder family members’ medication needs.

But don’t get carried away — you’ll probably just need food for a week or so, not a fully-stocked shelter on a desert island.

2. Prep for Free

Some of your preparation won’t cost you a dime. It’s all about gathering stuff you already have, like cell phone chargers, maps and emergency cash. Just make sure all these items are in an easy-to-reach place, since you’ll need to grab them quickly rather than scrambling to find them if you suddenly need to evacuate.

Instead of buying it by the flat, consider bottling your own water. Use bleach-purified, leftover two-liter bottles and municipal water treated with water purification tablets. Just don’t use milk or juice cartons, which can harbor bacteria. Date your bottles and replace them every six months.

If you’ll need water for hygienic purposes, clean your bathtub, then fill it with cold water. It won’t be potable, but you can use it to flush toilets and keep yourself clean. Filling the tub is only a tactic for those who will be staying in their homes and will not be required to evacuate.

The CDC recommends storing at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation. You should aim for at least a two-week supply (and more, if you have the space to store it).

3. Store Enough Non-Perishable Food

Along with water, you’ll need to make sure you have enough food to last your household several days.

The federal government’s disaster prep website, Ready.gov, recommends stocking up on non-perishable food items like dry cereal, canned goods, granola bars, peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts, canned juice and non-perishable pasteurized milk (plus the necessary comfort foods, in case you needed more reasons to stock up your favorite cookies). These are all items you can keep an eye on for sales when doing your regular grocery shopping. Stock up using BOGO or money-off deals or look for these items at discount grocery stores.

You’ll also need to consider any special food requirements in your household. If you have a baby, stock up on jars of puree and cans of formula. Keep your family’s tastes in mind as well; don’t buy 10 cans of tuna if no one in your household likes fish.

As a storm is approaching and if it’s safe for one last swing through the grocery store, buy a bag of apples or oranges. It’s nice to have something fresh to eat, and those fruits tend to keep for a while.

A first aid kit is photographed in a studio with a blue background.
Getty Images

4. Create a First-Aid Kit

Make sure you have the essentials to treat any wounds or other injuries that occur during the emergency. Whether you wait out a blizzard at home or evacuate your house to avoid a wildfire, you need to have a first aid kit stocked with bandages, gauze, tweezers, antiseptic cream and painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

While you can buy a ready-made first-aid kit, it’s often cheaper to buy the individual items separately and build your own first-aid kit. Look for cheaper bandages at the dollar store and keep an eye out for sales on first-aid kit essentials at Walgreens or CVS.

The best first-aid kits are tailored to what you need, so if you tend to break out in hives under stress, make sure you have an antihistamine in your emergency kit to help treat your symptoms when they occur.

Keep a large first-aid kit at home and a smaller one in your car in case you need to evacuate. The one in your car can come in handy during everyday adventures as well as when you’re evacuating during a natural disaster.

5. Collect Cost-Effective Items

When you have to buy items, use coupons and smart hacks to your advantage: Use cash back sites to earn rebates and watch for deals at stores like CVS, Walmart or your local dollar store.

When you pick up extra batteries, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and bandages, make sure to buy generic — they’ll work just as well as the brand name stuff. Check out the dollar store for these items, and while you’re there, pick up some emergency entertainment: crayons and coloring books for the kids and a pack of cards or two for adults.

You can save further by buying in bulk, so long as you do so smartly. Emergency rations of paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, personal hygiene items, batteries and bottled water are a perfect opportunity to take advantage of those savings. If you’re buying bulk items that might expire or you know you’ll never use all of, consider asking a neighbor or friend to split the purchase.

Finally, consider battery-free emergency additions, like wind-up flashlights and weather radios. If you’re going to be without electricity, you’ll definitely want a handheld cell phone charger, which you can keep charged and prepared beforehand.

6. Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money on disaster preparedness is to play the long game: Look for sales in your day-to-day life and stock up, way before a storm starts brewing. Cans of tuna on BOGO? Put your “get-ones” into your stash. Canned vegetables on clearance? Buy a bunch to keep on hand for an emergency.

Oh, and don’t forget the Fix-a-Flat tire repair aerosol that can temporarily patch a flat tire. This comes in handy if you have to evacuate via a rough road and run over something that punctures a tire. You can find this product at your local grocery store, Walmart or Target.

The more you avoid a last-minute disaster-prep rush, the better: Vendors can be prone to price gouging even though there are laws in place in some states that prohibits jacking up prices just before and after a disaster. Planning ahead helps ensure you have what you need to make it through the emergency without having to drop a bunch of money on water or fight someone for the last pack of TP.

In case you do need a last-minute item, include “disaster prep” in your savings budget. Set aside $20 a month or so, and consider it part of your emergency fund — because that’s exactly what it is.

7. Gather Important Documents

One important part of any emergency kit that not many people may consider involves personal documents. If you store things like your birth certificate, social security card and car title in a heavy safe in your basement, chances are you won’t think to haul it out of the house with you if you’re being pounded by a hurricane or your home is on fire.

And, in an emergency, you never know when you will need these items — particularly if you get displaced.

Instead, store original copies of your important personal documents away from your house (like in a safety deposit box at your bank) and make backups that you can keep with you in a folder, on a flash drive or saved in the cloud.

Which Documents to Copy

Make sure you keep copies of anything you might need if you’re evacuated from your home during an emergency. Here’s a list of everything you might need a copy of:

  • Birth, marriage, adoption and death certificates.
  • Medical records such as your health insurance card, prescription information and contact info for your health providers.
  • Passport, social security card and driver’s license.
  • Home and car title, mortgage papers, etc.
  • Any personal mementos like photos and letters.

Where to Keep the Copies

It’s a good idea to scan each of these documents and keep them somewhere safe. There are several places you can choose to store your records digitally (and safely), including the following.

  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • IDrive

Many of these options offer a certain amount of storage for free, but you can pay for more space if you need it. Make sure you have a secure password for wherever you store your important documents. Cloud technology has come a long way since its inception but can still be vulnerable to hackers, so you want to make it as hard as possible for anyone but you to access your account.

Call out box

Don’t put off digitizing old photos. Do it little by little and you’ll be ready when disaster strikes. Check out our tips for digitizing photos affordably.

8. Important Phone Numbers

If your cell phone died and you had no power to charge it, would you remember your significant other’s phone number? What about needing to call an official government organization to help with emergency management?

Keep a small notebook in your emergency kit with emergency contact information written down, as well as the official website address for FEMA or your local municipality so you can look up disaster-relief information.

Even if you live somewhere that’s sheltered from most natural disasters, you never know when the unexpected can happen. That’s why it’s vital to have a well-stocked emergency kit on hand to help you through a disaster or unexpected hardship, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

After all, it’s better to be over-prepared and not use your kit than lose power in a freak snowstorm and have nothing to help you ride it out.

Ohio-based Catherine Hiles is a British writer and editor living and working in the U.S. She has a degree in communications from the University of Chester in the U.K. and writes about finance, cars, pet ownership and parenting. Information gathered by contributor Jamie Cattanach was used in this post. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Tips to Build an Emergency Kit on a Budget

No matter where you live, you are not immune from disasters. Floridians and Gulf Coast residents frequently deal with hurricanes, Californians with wildfires, Oklahomans with tornadoes and Minnesotans with blizzards.

But one thing remains the same with all natural disasters: You need an emergency kit.

Hopefully you keep sufficient batteries, bottled water and canned food in your home in case of emergencies. If not, it’s time to stock up.

Sure, you could plunk down more than $200 or so on a one-size-fits-all emergency kit filled with stuff you probably won’t need. But preparing for a natural disaster doesn’t have to be expensive. These eight tips will help you economically build an emergency survival kit that’s tailored to you and your family’s needs.

How to Build an Emergency Kit for Less

When building your emergency kit on a budget, there are several things to do to make sure you have everything you might require in an emergency.

1. Decide What You Need in Your Emergency Kit

The Red Cross suggests keeping bare essentials like water, non-perishable food, extra batteries, clothes, blankets, flashlights and medicine on hand to prepare for a natural disaster.

If you live in an apartment, fallen trees or limbs won’t be your responsibility to clean up. But if you’re a homeowner, you could have major yard work on your hands after a storm. Think about what tools and supplies you may need — or what you could borrow.

Check with neighbors to see what equipment they have, then pool together for the cleanup. You may already have a lot of the tools — chainsaws, clippers, shovels, etc. — you need for post-disaster cleanup.

Figure out what your emergency kit needs and prioritize those items. Your list will have to take into consideration family members, who may range from very young to very old. Think about toys to distract the little ones, for instance, and make sure you know your elder family members’ medication needs.

But don’t get carried away — you’ll probably just need food for a week or so, not a fully-stocked shelter on a desert island.

2. Prep for Free

Some of your preparation won’t cost you a dime. It’s all about gathering stuff you already have, like cell phone chargers, maps and emergency cash. Just make sure all these items are in an easy-to-reach place, since you’ll need to grab them quickly rather than scrambling to find them if you suddenly need to evacuate.

Instead of buying it by the flat, consider bottling your own water. Use bleach-purified, leftover two-liter bottles and municipal water treated with water purification tablets. Just don’t use milk or juice cartons, which can harbor bacteria. Date your bottles and replace them every six months.

If you’ll need water for hygienic purposes, clean your bathtub, then fill it with cold water. It won’t be potable, but you can use it to flush toilets and keep yourself clean. Filling the tub is only a tactic for those who will be staying in their homes and will not be required to evacuate.

The CDC recommends storing at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for drinking and sanitation. You should aim for at least a two-week supply (and more, if you have the space to store it).

3. Store Enough Non-Perishable Food

Along with water, you’ll need to make sure you have enough food to last your household several days.

The federal government’s disaster prep website, Ready.gov, recommends stocking up on non-perishable food items like dry cereal, canned goods, granola bars, peanut butter, dried fruit and nuts, canned juice and non-perishable pasteurized milk (plus the necessary comfort foods, in case you needed more reasons to stock up your favorite cookies). These are all items you can keep an eye on for sales when doing your regular grocery shopping. Stock up using BOGO or money-off deals or look for these items at discount grocery stores.

You’ll also need to consider any special food requirements in your household. If you have a baby, stock up on jars of puree and cans of formula. Keep your family’s tastes in mind as well; don’t buy 10 cans of tuna if no one in your household likes fish.

As a storm is approaching and if it’s safe for one last swing through the grocery store, buy a bag of apples or oranges. It’s nice to have something fresh to eat, and those fruits tend to keep for a while.

A first aid kit is photographed in a studio with a blue background.
Getty Images

4. Create a First-Aid Kit

Make sure you have the essentials to treat any wounds or other injuries that occur during the emergency. Whether you wait out a blizzard at home or evacuate your house to avoid a wildfire, you need to have a first aid kit stocked with bandages, gauze, tweezers, antiseptic cream and painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

While you can buy a ready-made first-aid kit, it’s often cheaper to buy the individual items separately and build your own first-aid kit. Look for cheaper bandages at the dollar store and keep an eye out for sales on first-aid kit essentials at Walgreens or CVS.

The best first-aid kits are tailored to what you need, so if you tend to break out in hives under stress, make sure you have an antihistamine in your emergency kit to help treat your symptoms when they occur.

Keep a large first-aid kit at home and a smaller one in your car in case you need to evacuate. The one in your car can come in handy during everyday adventures as well as when you’re evacuating during a natural disaster.

5. Collect Cost-Effective Items

When you have to buy items, use coupons and smart hacks to your advantage: Use cash back sites to earn rebates and watch for deals at stores like CVS, Walmart or your local dollar store.

When you pick up extra batteries, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and bandages, make sure to buy generic — they’ll work just as well as the brand name stuff. Check out the dollar store for these items, and while you’re there, pick up some emergency entertainment: crayons and coloring books for the kids and a pack of cards or two for adults.

You can save further by buying in bulk, so long as you do so smartly. Emergency rations of paper towels, toilet paper, canned goods, personal hygiene items, batteries and bottled water are a perfect opportunity to take advantage of those savings. If you’re buying bulk items that might expire or you know you’ll never use all of, consider asking a neighbor or friend to split the purchase.

Finally, consider battery-free emergency additions, like wind-up flashlights and weather radios. If you’re going to be without electricity, you’ll definitely want a handheld cell phone charger, which you can keep charged and prepared beforehand.

6. Plan Ahead

One of the best ways to save money on disaster preparedness is to play the long game: Look for sales in your day-to-day life and stock up, way before a storm starts brewing. Cans of tuna on BOGO? Put your “get-ones” into your stash. Canned vegetables on clearance? Buy a bunch to keep on hand for an emergency.

Oh, and don’t forget the Fix-a-Flat tire repair aerosol that can temporarily patch a flat tire. This comes in handy if you have to evacuate via a rough road and run over something that punctures a tire. You can find this product at your local grocery store, Walmart or Target.

The more you avoid a last-minute disaster-prep rush, the better: Vendors can be prone to price gouging even though there are laws in place in some states that prohibits jacking up prices just before and after a disaster. Planning ahead helps ensure you have what you need to make it through the emergency without having to drop a bunch of money on water or fight someone for the last pack of TP.

In case you do need a last-minute item, include “disaster prep” in your savings budget. Set aside $20 a month or so, and consider it part of your emergency fund — because that’s exactly what it is.

7. Gather Important Documents

One important part of any emergency kit that not many people may consider involves personal documents. If you store things like your birth certificate, social security card and car title in a heavy safe in your basement, chances are you won’t think to haul it out of the house with you if you’re being pounded by a hurricane or your home is on fire.

And, in an emergency, you never know when you will need these items — particularly if you get displaced.

Instead, store original copies of your important personal documents away from your house (like in a safety deposit box at your bank) and make backups that you can keep with you in a folder, on a flash drive or saved in the cloud.

Which Documents to Copy

Make sure you keep copies of anything you might need if you’re evacuated from your home during an emergency. Here’s a list of everything you might need a copy of:

  • Birth, marriage, adoption and death certificates.
  • Medical records such as your health insurance card, prescription information and contact info for your health providers.
  • Passport, social security card and driver’s license.
  • Home and car title, mortgage papers, etc.
  • Any personal mementos like photos and letters.

Where to Keep the Copies

It’s a good idea to scan each of these documents and keep them somewhere safe. There are several places you can choose to store your records digitally (and safely), including the following.

  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Amazon Cloud Drive
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • IDrive

Many of these options offer a certain amount of storage for free, but you can pay for more space if you need it. Make sure you have a secure password for wherever you store your important documents. Cloud technology has come a long way since its inception but can still be vulnerable to hackers, so you want to make it as hard as possible for anyone but you to access your account.

Call out box

Don’t put off digitizing old photos. Do it little by little and you’ll be ready when disaster strikes. Check out our tips for digitizing photos affordably.

8. Important Phone Numbers

If your cell phone died and you had no power to charge it, would you remember your significant other’s phone number? What about needing to call an official government organization to help with emergency management?

Keep a small notebook in your emergency kit with emergency contact information written down, as well as the official website address for FEMA or your local municipality so you can look up disaster-relief information.

Even if you live somewhere that’s sheltered from most natural disasters, you never know when the unexpected can happen. That’s why it’s vital to have a well-stocked emergency kit on hand to help you through a disaster or unexpected hardship, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

After all, it’s better to be over-prepared and not use your kit than lose power in a freak snowstorm and have nothing to help you ride it out.

Ohio-based Catherine Hiles is a British writer and editor living and working in the U.S. She has a degree in communications from the University of Chester in the U.K. and writes about finance, cars, pet ownership and parenting. Information gathered by contributor Jamie Cattanach was used in this post. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Examining the Different Types of Student Loans

With the average annual cost of college for the 2021-2022 school year $10,740 for public four-year in-state and $38,070 for private non-profit four-year schools, it’s not uncommon for students to use loans to help pay for their education.

The two major umbrellas to consider are federal student loans and private student loans. Federal student loans are those backed by the U.S. Department of Education, while private student loans are offered through financial institutions such as banks, online lenders, and credit unions.

Knowing what types of student loans are available to you and understanding your student loan statement can help you figure out the best way to save money in the long run.

What Are The Different Types of Student Loans?

One of the first things to understand is the difference between federal and private student loans.

Federal student loans are loans offered by the government, at a fixed interest rate and with certain restrictions. Depending on borrower needs, students could qualify for either subsidized or unsubsidized federal loans (more on those, later). Federal student loans come with protections for borrowers’ loans like income-driven repayment options, deferment, forbearance, and access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Most federal student loans also have annual lending limits .

For some students, federal student loans aren’t enough to cover the cost of a college education. Some turn to scholarships, grants, or a part-time job to fill in the gaps. Other students rely on private student loans, offered by lenders and financial institutions, to cover the cost of college.

Applying for Federal Student Loans

The first step in the federal student loan process is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). That will involve compiling some family financial history. Even students who don’t think they’ll qualify for financial aid will likely still want to fill out a FAFSA. All federal student loans require a FAFSA first. And some schools use information from the FAFSA to determine eligibility for other types of aid like scholarships or grants.

All federal student loans require a FAFSA first.

After filling out the FAFSA, students will receive a financial aid package which includes any federal aid awarded to the student including grants, work study, and loans. Depending on financial circumstances, the loans will either be subsidized or unsubsidized.

The Different Types of Federal Student Loans

Think of federal student loans as an overarching category. There are different types of federal student loans, each of which have different eligibility requirements, borrower maximums (or not), and interest rates. Understanding all your options means you’ll be better prepared to determine the best way to finance your education.

Recommended: Private Student Loans vs. Federal Student Loans

For the 2022-2023 school year, the interest rate on Direct Subsidized or Unsubsidized loans for undergraduates is 4.99%, the rate on Direct Unsubsidized loans for graduate and professional students is 6.54%, and the rate on Direct PLUS loans for graduate students, professional students, and parents is 7.54%. The interest rates on federal student loans are fixed and are set annually by Congress.

Direct Subsidized vs. Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Direct loans, also known as Stafford Loans, can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. With a subsidized student loan, the government will cover the accrued interest while the borrower is enrolled in school, during the grace period, and during any periods of deferment. Not having to pay interest on your loans during school can really help—especially since interest accrues and capitalizes, or gets added to the principal loan amount, and then accrues more interest. There are no subsidized federal loans for graduate students—only for undergrads.

The government does not pay the interest on unsubsidized Direct loans. That means, even while you’re in school, the loans are accruing interest. You don’t have to make payments on the loans while you’re a full-time student, but interest is building up. As the interest accrues, it is added to the loan’s principal.

Recommended: Student Loan Grace Periods: What You Need to Know

That’s why it’s possible to have a higher remaining loan balance than the initial loan amount after graduation. Individuals with an unsubsidized student loan do have the option to make interest-only payments on the loan during periods of deferment, including while they’re in school, but are not required to do so.

Federal loans have fixed interest rates (that are set annually), meaning they don’t change over the life of the loan.

Federal student loan borrowing limits vary depending on factors like your year in school and whether or not you are a dependent student. For example, first-year undergrads who are considered independent or whose parents are not able to take out parent loans have a maximum borrowing amount of $9,500 (of which only $3,500 can be subsidized) annually. The maximum for dependent students is $5,500 in their first year, with the same $3,500 cap on subsidized loans.

PLUS Loans

Direct PLUS loans can be borrowed directly by a graduate student, or Parent PLUS loans can be taken out by an undergrad’s parents. PLUS loans, in both forms, have the same benefits as other federal loans in that the interest rate is fixed and there are flexible repayment options.

Unlike other federal loans, PLUS loans require a credit check. They’re designed for graduate and professional students, who have had more time to build up a credit score. The maximum PLUS loan amount you can borrow is the full cost of tuition less any other financial assistance.

When taking out student loans for college, a lot of the options depend on your FAFSA and what’s determined to be your family’s financial need or ability to pay. If you’re a dependent student , then there will likely be some expectation of parental contribution and your parents may be offered the option of taking out Parent PLUS loans.

Parent PLUS loans are similar to Direct PLUS loans, except parents are expected to begin repaying the loan while the student is still in school—though they can request a deferment until graduation.

Direct Consolidation Loans

After graduation, students might have a number of different federal student loans. That can obviously be confusing. If you want to consolidate all federal loans into one place, then you may be able to pool them into a Direct Consolidation Loan. This allows you to only make one monthly payment towards all your federal student loans.

A Direct Consolidation loan will not lower your overall interest rate.

A Direct Consolidation loan will not lower your overall interest rate. The interest rate on your new Direct Consolidation Loan is simply a weighted average of the interest rates, rounded up to the nearest eighth of a percent, of your existing federal loans. Consolidation could also wipe out any history of payments you were making toward PSLF. Only federal loans can be consolidated with a Direct Consolidation Loan.

Related: A Look Into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program

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Private Student Loans

Students who don’t receive enough funding from the federal government, may look to private student loans as an option to finance their education. Private loans are offered by lenders such as banks, online lenders, and credit unions.

Applying for Private Student Loans

Private lenders do not use the FAFSA to determine a potential borrower’s creditworthiness. Instead, students interested in borrowing private loans will fill out a loan application directly with a lender. Before applying, lenders will generally allow people to get a quote to see if they pre-qualify and at what rates. This can be helpful when evaluating different lenders.

The terms, interest rates, and borrowing limits on private loans may vary by lender. Lenders will use factors like the borrower’s credit score to determine the interest rate they qualify for. When borrowing a private student loan you’ll generally have the option to choose between a fixed or variable interest rate.

Student loan repayment options will be determined by your lender. Some offer deferment plans while the borrower is enrolled in school and others require payments to start as soon as the loan is disbursed.

Another private student loan option is to consolidate or refinance your existing student loans after graduation. This might be beneficial if it lowers your interest rate and saves you money over the life of your loan. Federal student loans offer unique borrower benefits and protections like income-driven repayment plans. Refinancing federal loans eliminates them from these benefits.

Understanding the Student Loan Statement

When you take out a loan, you sign a promissory note, which outlines the interest rate, loan amount, and repayment terms. If you hold federal student loans, when you graduate you select a repayment plan. If you don’t do anything, you’ll automatically be put on the Standard Repayment plan.

For most federal loans, the Standard Repayment plan is a set monthly payment for up to 10 years. There are a few other repayment plans to choose from, including four income-driven repayment plans. The different plans allow you to pay back your loan over different time periods. The longer the repayment term, the more you’ll pay in interest over the life of the loan.

When you look at your student loan statement, you’ll see each loan listed as the total loan amount, how much principal remains, how much interest has accrued since your last payment, your current interest rate, and how much your current monthly payment is—in addition to any fees, such as late fees, you might owe.

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The Benefits of Refinancing Student Loans

It’s possible to consolidate both federal and private student loans into one new loan when you refinance your student loans with a private lender. If an applicant qualifies for a lower interest rate and a shorter term, it could reduce the amount of money paid in interest over the life of the loan.

Make sure to weigh the benefits that come with your federal loans against the value of refinancing. When you refinance federal loans they will no longer be eligible for federal borrower protections.

Some private lenders offer similar borrower protections. For example, borrowers who refinance with SoFi may qualify for Unemployment Protection. This can help eligible borrowers pause their loan payments if they unexpectedly lose their job through no fault of their own. To see what refinancing could mean for you, take a look at SoFi’s student loan refinancing calculator.

The Takeaway

The two main categories of student loans are private and federal. Federal loans are awarded to students based on information they provide in their FAFSA annually. Federal loans have a fixed interest rate and are eligible for a variety of repayment plans, as determined by the U.S. Department of Education.

Undergrads may qualify for unsubsidized or subsidized federal loans, depending on their financial need. Graduate students may qualify for unsubsidized loans or PLUS loans. Parents of undergraduates may also borrow Parent PLUS loans.

Private student loans are offered by private financial institutions. In order to borrow a private student loan, individuals will generally need to file an application with a lender. The lender will review factors like the applicant’s credit history, among others, in order to determine the terms they qualify for.

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SoFi Student Loan Refinance
IF YOU ARE LOOKING TO REFINANCE FEDERAL STUDENT LOANS PLEASE BE AWARE OF RECENT LEGISLATIVE CHANGES THAT HAVE SUSPENDED ALL FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PAYMENTS AND WAIVED INTEREST CHARGES ON FEDERALLY HELD LOANS UNTIL SEPTEMBER 1, 2022 DUE TO COVID-19. PLEASE CAREFULLY CONSIDER THESE CHANGES BEFORE REFINANCING FEDERALLY HELD LOANS WITH SOFI, SINCE IN DOING SO YOU WILL NO LONGER QUALIFY FOR THE FEDERAL LOAN PAYMENT SUSPENSION, INTEREST WAIVER, OR ANY OTHER CURRENT OR FUTURE BENEFITS APPLICABLE TO FEDERAL LOANS. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
Notice: SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income-Driven Repayment plans, including Income-Contingent Repayment or PAYE. SoFi always recommends that you consult a qualified financial advisor to discuss what is best for your unique situation.

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5 Budget-Friendly Staycation Ideas For The Summer

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Summer is typically a time when many families look to take some time off. With school out, the traditional “summer vacation” brings back memories of kids stuffed in the back of a minivan, on the road to some exotic (or less-than-exotic) destination. As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more families are looking for ideas to get out of the house without having to travel too much. 

For most vacations, the two biggest costs are lodging and the travel costs to get to the final destination. Planning a staycation minimizes or eliminates these two costs, helping you to have a great time while keeping things budget-friendly. Here are a few budget-friendly staycation ideas for the summer.

What is a Staycation?

A staycation is a portmanteau of the words “stay-at-home” and “vacation” and is, as the name implies, a way to take a vacation without traveling too much. Staycations can come in many different flavors. In some staycations, you take a variety of day trips but return each night to your own home. In other staycations, you might travel to more local or regional destinations instead of going too far.

Be a Tourist in Your Own City

One of the most popular staycation ideas is to be a tourist in your own city. To take a staycation like this, you might look at some of the top things to do in your city. Look at your city not as a resident, but as a tourist — what would a tourist do if they only had a few days to visit your hometown? 

Chances are good that even if you’ve lived there for many years you may not have seen all of those attractions. Take a few days to visit some of those sites and see your city from a fresh new perspective. A few years ago, my family and I spent a few days touring our hometown of Cincinnati like tourists. We went to the top of the tallest building in the city, visited the US Air Force Museum, saw a Cincinnati Reds game, and had a great time. Each night we came back home and stayed in our own beds.

Camping

Another staycation idea is to hit the great outdoors. While camping may bring back traumatic memories of childhood summer camps gone bad, there are a lot of different ways to camp these days. In addition to a traditional tent in a campsite, many state and national parks offer cabins and other “glamping” experiences that you might enjoy more. That can give you the right mix of both outdoor and indoor comforts.

Movie Night

Another budget-friendly staycation idea for this summer is to have a movie night (or two). In order to make a movie night more of a staycation, consider how you can spice things up a bit. You don’t want to just turn on Netflix for a few hours and call it a movie night! Some ideas include renting a projection screen, moving your movie night outside, or combining movie night with a special dinner.

Visit the Beach

A day at the beach is something that many people enjoy and can be a great thing to include in any staycation. Of course, how you might visit a beach will depend quite a bit on where you actually live. Still, even if you don’t live near the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, you can still include a beach day on your vacation. Consider spending the day at a nearby lake or river, or even just visiting a local swimming pool.

Food Tour in Your Own City

Another great staycation idea is to have a food tour in your own city. Many cities have sponsored food tours or tours that you can pay for. Depending on your budget, interests, or the number of people in your family, that can be an option. But if you’re looking to keep things under budget, consider doing your own city food tour. Depending on where you live and how long you’ve lived there, you probably already know the restaurants and foods your city is famous for. Take a day and visit a few of them to make your own food tour at a fraction of the cost.

The Bottom Line

It’s important to your mental health to be able to take a break from the regular daily grind and get away for a bit. But taking a vacation doesn’t have to break the bank. The two biggest costs for most vacations are your lodging costs and the travel costs to get to your destination. Planning a staycation minimizes or eliminates these two costs, helping you to stay within your budget while still having a great time.

Which of these staycation ideas do you like most? What would you add to the list?

Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further

Dan Miller

Dan Miller is a freelance writer and founder of PointsWithACrew.com, a site that helps families to travel for free / cheap. His home base is in Cincinnati, but he tries to travel the world as much as possible with his wife and 6 kids. More from Dan Miller

Source: mint.intuit.com