The Ultimate College Senior Checklist

Earning a college degree is no easy feat. Think countless late-night cram sessions, tedious loan applications, heavy textbooks to haul around. For some college seniors, June cannot come fast enough, and it’s understandable why senioritis kicks in. That said, there’s still a lot of important work to do before crossing that graduation stage.

From jumping through the logistical hoops of making it to graduation day to launching a job search and addressing student loan payments, there are a lot of important pre-graduation to-do’s that may require prompt attention.

Here’s a comprehensive checklist that will help college seniors be prepared to graduate and enter the working world.

Dotting I’s and Crossing T’s

Ideally, before senior year begins (or sooner for those planning to graduate early), students should meet with their guidance counselor to make sure they have all of their ducks in a row in order to graduate. Switching majors, studying abroad, or misunderstanding degree requirements can lead to confusion about which classes must be taken to graduate.

Before setting a class schedule for the year, it can’t hurt to double-check with a college counselor that all requirements are being met. Some schools even have a certain amount of community service or chapel hours required in order to graduate, so again, it’s smart to confirm that everything is moving along as it should be.

Preparing for the graduation ceremony needs to be done in advance. Colleges and universities often require students to apply to graduate and register their planned attendance at the ceremony well ahead of the actual day.

To streamline the process, many schools have grad fairs where students can pick up their commencement tickets; buy a cap and gown, class rings and commencement announcements; and ask questions about the logistics of graduation day.

Transcripts can come in handy when applying for jobs and graduate school programs, so picking up a few copies while still on campus can save time down the road. And don’t forget to turn in those library books! No one will want to trek back to campus after graduation to pay late fees.

Getting a Jumpstart on a Job Search

It’s no secret that college graduates flood the job market each June, so getting ahead of the pack can make job searching a little easier. Applying for jobs earlier in the spring can lessen the competition and give seniors confidence that they have a job lined up when they graduate.

If launching a full-blown job search during school isn’t possible, college seniors can at least take steps toward preparing for the job search.

Stop by the career center and see what resources it can provide. Schools have a career center for a reason! Most are ready to help students prepare their resumes and perfect their cover letters, and they typically have job postings from companies looking to hire recent graduates.

Some career centers may offer mock interviews so students can hone those skills, or they may provide support when issues arise during a job search. Popping by between classes to see what services are offered will only take a few minutes.

At the very least, college seniors can poke around online job boards and research local companies to see what opportunities are out there.

Making Connections

As a student, it may feel like having a professional network is unattainable, but many build one while in school without realizing it. One easy way to get a head start on a job search, without doing too much work during a hectic final year of school, is to focus on building relationships and requesting references.

Professors, employers, and intern supervisors can all provide references that can strengthen a job search. Finding that first job out of college can be tricky, when resumes are on the shorter side, so a handful of strong references can make all the difference.

While requesting references, college seniors should tell their connections what career path they’re hoping to pursue. One never knows where the next opportunity might come from.

Paying Back Student Loans

Preparing to navigate life after college can be overwhelming, especially when it comes to finances. No one wants to think about student loan payments, but it can be helpful to start making repayment plans before graduation day.

Try beginning the planning process by simply looking up the current balance for each student loan held, including both federal and private loans. Then note when the grace period ends for each loan and when the lender expects payment. It’s important to plan to make loan payments on time each month, as that can boost a credit score.

Lenders usually provide repayment information during the grace period, including repayment options. Many federal student loans qualify for a minimum of one income-driven or income-based repayment plan.

Federal student loans may qualify for a variety of repayment plans, such as the Standard Repayment Plan, Graduated Repayment Plan, Extended Repayment Plans, Revised Pay As You Earn Repayment Plan, Income-Based Repayment Plan, Income-Contingent Repayment Plan, and Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan. It is important to carefully research each payment plan before choosing one.

For private student loan repayment, it is best to speak directly with the loan originator about repayment options. Many private student loans require payments while the borrower is still in school, but some offer deferred repayment. After the grace period, the borrower will have to make principal and interest payments. Some lenders offer repayment programs with budget flexibility.

Whether students or their parents chose to take out federal or private student loans (or both), reviewing all possible repayment plan options can provide choices. And who doesn’t like choices?

One Loan, One Monthly Payment

Some graduates may want to consider refinancing or consolidating their student debt.

Borrowers who have federal student loans may qualify for a Direct Consolidation Loan after they graduate, leave school, or drop below half-time enrollment.

Consolidating multiple federal loans into one allows borrowers to make just one loan payment each month. In some cases, the repayment schedule may be extended, resulting in lower payments, after consolidating (but increasing the period of time to repay loans usually means making more payments and paying more total interest).

Refinancing allows the borrower to convert multiple loans—federal and/or private—into one new private loan with a new interest rate, repayment term, and monthly payment. The goal is a lower interest rate. (It’s worth noting that refinancing a federal loan into a private loan can lead to losing benefits only available through federal lenders, such as public service forgiveness and economic hardship programs.)

Refinancing can be a good solution for working graduates who have high-interest, unsubsidized Direct Loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and/or private loans.

If that sounds like a good fit, SoFi offers student loan refinancing with zero origination fees or prepayment penalties. Getting prequalified online is quick and easy.

Learn more about SoFi Student Loan Refinancing options and benefits.



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 THE END OF SEPTEMBER 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.

Checking Your Rates: To check the rates and terms you may qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit pull that will not affect your credit score. A hard credit pull, which may impact your credit score, is required if you apply for a SoFi product after being pre-qualified.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
External Websites: The information and analysis provided through hyperlinks to third party websites, while believed to be accurate, cannot be guaranteed by SoFi. Links are provided for informational purposes and should not be viewed as an endorsement.

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Source: sofi.com

How to Make a Retirement Budget So You Don’t Outlive Your Savings

You’ve spent decades in the workforce earning a living, your schedule dictated by the demands of the job. All the while, you’ve been steadily adding to your savings so that one day you could get to this point. Retirement.

Now, there’s no alarm to wake you up in the mornings and no boss to answer to. You can finally get around to crossing items off your bucket list — or simply have the opportunity to catch a midweek matinee movie.

The world is your oyster.

Life may feel more relaxed and carefree, but that doesn’t mean you no longer have financial responsibilities. In fact, now’s the time you might need to be even more diligent about budgeting your money.

Living on What You Have Saved

When you say goodbye to your 9-to-5, you also say goodbye to your regular paycheck. You’ll rely on Social Security benefits, the money in your retirement accounts and any additional income, like a pension, to cover your expenses.

Sticking to a budget is vital so your retirement savings last. That money you’ve squirreled away in your working years has to stretch for decades. Remember, life on a fixed income means there are no bonuses, overtime or promotions to increase your cash flow.

How Much Should You Have Saved?

If you’re already retired or nearing retirement age, hopefully you’ve done the math to determine whether you’ll have enough money to keep you afloat.

One popular rule of thumb is to have 25 times your average annual expenses saved up. But how much money you need in retirement depends on many factors, like your age, where you live and the type of retirement you want to enjoy.

If you want to retire at 60, rent a highrise in New York City and travel every couple of months, you’ll need considerably more money than a retiree who leaves the workforce at 70, lives in a paid-off home in rural North Dakota and just stays home and knits.

There are also a lot of unknowns in retirement — like what medical conditions you could develop and exactly how many years you’ll need your money to stretch.

That’s why it’s important to have robust retirement savings and be cognizant of your spending in your golden years.

How to Make the Most of Your Nest Egg

To make your savings last, you’ve got to be prudent about how much you withdraw each year.

“The gold standard has always been 4%, but new research has revealed a different number,” said Chuck Czajka, a certified estate planner and owner of Macro Money Concepts in Stuart, Florida.

He said withdrawing 3% a year instead gives you a 90% success rate to last through a 25-year retirement.

Keep in mind, once you’ve determined how much you can withdraw per year, you’ll want to divide that amount by 12 to come up with how much to withdraw each month. Czajka recommends withdrawing money from your retirement accounts on a monthly basis rather than taking out all you’d need for a whole year.

Meeting with a financial adviser can help you come up with a personalized plan to fit your individual situation.

“As people approach retirement, they should work with a retirement professional to determine their expected retirement income,” said Lisa Bamburg, a registered investment adviser and owner of Insurance Advantage in Jacksonville, Arkansas.

Two grandmothers dress in funky classes and brightly colored shirts.
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Factoring in Income Beyond Your Savings

In addition to the money you’ve saved in your 401(k), individual retirement account (IRA) or other investment accounts, a portion of your retirement income will come from Social Security benefits.

You can start collecting Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but you’ll receive less money per month than if you waited until full retirement age — 66 or 67, depending on when you were born.

If you delay claiming Social Security benefits past your full retirement age, you’ll receive even more each month. However, there’s no additional increase once you’ve reached age 70.

Pro Tip

This calculator from the Social Security Administration gives you a rough idea of your retirement benefits. This retirement estimator is more accurate but requires plugging in your personal info.

In addition to Social Security, you might have other sources of retirement income, like money from a pension plan or an annuity.

A report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found that many retirees don’t have a great diversity in their retirement income, though more income sources provide for a more secure retirement.

The report found less than 7% of older Americans have retirement income that’s made up of a combination of Social Security, a pension plan and a retirement contribution plan like a 401(k). About 40% rely on Social Security alone.

“Social Security benefits typically are not the equivalent of what it takes for most people to maintain their standard of living,” Bamburg said.

The Social Security Administration states its retirement benefits only replace about 40% of earnings for people with average wages — more for low-income workers and less for those in higher income brackets.

How to Create a Retirement Budget

Once you determine what your retirement income will be, it’s time to make your retirement budget.

If you’ve already been budgeting, you’re off to a great start, though your new budget will likely differ from that of your working days.

Take Stock of Your Essential Expenses

First you’ve got to get an overall look at your current spending. If you don’t already have a budget or track your spending, pull out the past several months of bank or credit card statements. Dig up old receipts if you tend to pay in cash.

Reviewing the past three months will help you find what you spend on average, but an even deeper dive — looking at the last six to 12 months — will give you a more accurate picture and will reveal things like your annual car insurance bill and holiday spending.

Group your spending into categories to get a good picture of where your money’s going. You’ll have fixed expenses, like your mortgage, where the cost stays the same each month. Other expenses, like groceries or utilities, will vary. For those, you should calculate your average monthly spend.

Account for Changes

After leaving the workforce, you’ll probably notice some differences in your spending. You’ll no longer have to pay for downtown parking near the office, dry cleaning your suits or pricey lunches with coworkers. Your monthly retirement contributions will be a thing of the past.

However, not everything will be budget cuts. You’ll have to account for new retirement expenses, like health care premiums your employer previously covered. If you’re 65, you can get health insurance through Medicare, but it’s likely you’ll have increased out-of-pocket medical costs as you age.

And of course, now that you have an influx in free time, you can pursue the things you’ve always wanted to do — which means more new expenses.

A group of retired women have fun.
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Make Room for Fun in Your Retirement Budget

A big part of retirement planning is determining what type of lifestyle you want to have when you’re no longer at work 40 hours a week.

Do you want to travel? Spend more time with your grandkids? Explore a new hobby? After you’ve covered your essential expenses, how you spend what’s left in your budget is totally up to you.

Don’t forget to include run-of-the-mill discretionary expenses, like cable, magazine subscriptions and dining out. It won’t all be cruise ships and Broadway plays.

If you’re married, be sure to share your vision for retirement with your partner, so you’re both on the same page about how you’ll spend your time and money.

Adjusting Expectations to Reality

As you create your monthly budget, you may discover you don’t have nearly as much money as you thought you’d have in retirement. That doesn’t mean you have to live out the rest of your life kicking yourself for not saving more. You have a few options to get by.

Take another look at your living expenses. Are there any ways you can cut costs? Slash your food spending with these tips to save money on groceries. Consider downsizing to a smaller home.

When it comes to your discretionary spending, look for ways to enjoy a more frugal retirement. Take advantage of senior discounts. Check out free activities at your local community center. Find ways to save money on traveling.

Although retirement means leaving your working days behind, you may find it necessary to pick up a side gig or part-time job to supplement your income. Seek out opportunities that match your interests so it doesn’t feel like work.

Don’t forget to enjoy this new stage of life. You worked hard — you deserve it.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Couponing Do’s & Don’ts — How to Save Money Shopping With Coupons

You’ve probably already used coupons at some point in your life. According to a 2020 survey by Statista, almost 90% of respondents reported having used coupons for shopping. Considering that coupons provide a fast, free way to reduce spending on groceries and essentials, it’s clear why coupons are so popular.

But to make your couponing efforts more successful, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the tips and tricks successful couponers use. The last thing you want to do is waste time collecting coupons only to realize none of them is valid when you’re checking out.

If you’re relatively new to couponing, start slowly by bringing a few paper coupons to your next shopping trip. Over time, you can incorporate more of these couponing do’s and don’ts to save more.

Couponing Do’s

Couponing doesn’t have to feel like a marathon or take up hours of your week. By following one or more of these couponing do’s, you can start to trim your monthly spending — and ultimately save more money.

1. Do Know Where to Find Coupons

The most basic step in starting to coupon is to collect them. Ideally, you can gradually build a stash of coupons for the stores and brands you frequently shop so you can always find some savings at the register.

To begin your coupon hunt, plan your weekly meals around sale products if possible. That helps you find discounts without even having to coupon. To find in-store sales, look for digital flyers on grocery store websites.

Another resource is Flipp, a free app that provides weekly flyers, deals, and online coupons for over 2,000 stores. Flipp has weekly flyers for stores like Aldi, Kroger, and Walmart. You can clip deals you find to the in-app shopping list to help you keep track.

Once your virtual or paper shopping list has all the food you need for the week, finish the list with any household essentials you need to restock, like toilet paper or cleaning supplies. You’re now ready to track down coupons for everything on your shopping list.

There are several free websites you can use to print paper coupons. These websites include coupon databases and brand websites like:

Coupons.com, Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot, and Valpak also have mobile apps that let you find and redeem digital coupons at the register. If you don’t want to spend time and money printing coupons, apps are your best resource. You can also try other mobile coupon apps like Grocery Pal and The Coupons App, which have digital coupons for grocery stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Kroger, Food Lion, Safeway, and Publix.

Between paper and digital coupons, you should find savings on some of the products on your weekly shopping list. If you can’t track down a specific coupon, searching online for the product name plus “coupon” is another tactic to try.

Finally, if you subscribe to a Sunday paper or get coupons and ad flyers in the mail, take a few minutes to scan for coupons you need. If you spot an incredible coupon for a product you buy regularly, you can scoop up a few extra newspapers on discount at a dollar store the following day or look online for the same coupon.

Also, don’t forget to check out those coupons they print out at the register after checkout (sometimes called Catalina coupons). Those are typically based on your specific purchases, so there may be something in there you can use. Others may be percent-off discounts on your total sale price if you spend over a certain amount.

You don’t have to go overboard and find duplicates of every coupon for your shopping list. Find as many as you can, and remember to check expiration dates so you shop in time to save.

2. Do Combine Coupons With Cash-Back Rewards Apps

Coupons usually provide a percent discount or certain dollar-off amount to let you save. But if you want to save even more on your weekly grocery haul, you can use cash-back rewards apps to earn rebates for buying certain products.

Just like searching for coupons, you can research rebate opportunities before heading to the store to earn cash back for products you were going to buy anyway. Popular rewards apps you can use include:

  • Ibotta. Earn cash back for buying specific products from Ibotta partners and uploading your receipt to the app for proof of purchase. Ibotta works with over 1,000 brands, and there are always offers on groceries and everyday essentials. You can redeem cash back through PayPal, Venmo, or free gift cards when you reach $20. Read our Ibotta review for more information.
  • Fetch Rewards. If you like Ibotta, Fetch Rewards is another must-download app. With Fetch Rewards, you earn points for buying products from dozens of popular brands. An advantage of Fetch Rewards is that you can redeem many free gift cards once you reach $3, which is possible in a single shopping trip. Read our Fetch Rewards review for more information.
  • Checkout 51. Checkout 51 is similar to Ibotta. Download Checkout 51, select offers to shop for, and upload your receipt to earn rewards. Checkout 51 works at stores like Aldi, Albertsons, Costco, Kroger, Meijer, and Walmart. You get a check when you earn $20 in cash back. Read our Checkout 51 review for more information.

There’s still nothing wrong with using paper coupons or mobile coupon apps if that’s all you have time for. But to save even more, it’s worth trying cash-back rewards apps alongside your couponing efforts.

3. Do Sign Up for Store Savings Cards

Sign up for rewards cards at the stores where you shop. Store rewards cards typically provide shoppers with additional savings in the form of reward points or discounts. Plus, some loyalty programs also send additional coupons in the mail.

Reward cards also help you earn more with Ibotta since you can connect cards from retailers like Meijer, Kroger, and Wegmans to your account. Once you connect a card, Ibotta automatically detects whether your purchase qualifies for cash back and pays you.

4. Do Stay Organized to Maximize Savings

Organize coupons to keep them easily accessible when you shop. The last thing you want is to miss a coupon when checking out or — even worse— forget your coupons at home.

Your organizational system doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. For casual couponers, a coupon wallet on Amazon costs around $10 and comes with dividers to group coupons into different sections, like meat or produce.

If you prefer managing everything from your smartphone, you can also use the free SnipSnap app to transform paper coupons into digital ones. Once you snap a picture of a paper coupon, Snip Snap uploads it to its database so you can use it while on the go. The app also tracks expiration dates and sends reminders about expiring coupons.

5. Do Know Your Store’s Coupon Policy

Does your grocer double coupons, price-match, accept competitor coupons, or give rain checks if sale goods are out of stock? If you don’t know, research coupon policies online. Grocery stores and general retailers like Walmart and Target outline coupon rules on their websites. To find a policy, use a browser to search for the name of your store of choice plus “coupon policy” (for example, “Kroger coupon policy”) or look for a frequently asked questions section on the website. These policies help you save even more money, and they aren’t always prominently advertised. Things to stay informed about include:

  • Price Matching. Stores don’t like losing a potential sale because a competitor has a slightly lower price tag, so many are willing to price match. Price matching is when a store adjusts its price to match a sale at another local store.
  • Competitor Coupons. Your store may accept competitors’ coupons, but you should clarify who their competitors are. For example, Publix accepts coupons for competitors’ private-label products, whereas Meijer doesn’t take competitor coupons at all. But some stores are more specific than Publix. Lowes Foods accepts competitor coupons only from select competitors, like Aldi, Food Lion, Target, and Walmart.
  • Rain Checks. When you want to buy an out-of-stock product, some stores issue rain checks, which guarantee the current price when it’s back in stock. But many stores have specific rules for rain checks. For example, Publix only issues one rain check per household per day (in addition to other, sometimes product-specific restrictions).

6. Do Know Local Stores’ Best Deals & Sale Patterns

You can get the most out of any coupon when you shop at the stores with the best deals for that product type, such as canned goods or toiletries.

That requires paying attention as you shop around. Over time, you learn each local store’s pricing quirks and sale patterns. For example, perhaps your local Walmart’s bakery section regularly puts bread and bagels on sale during certain days of the week. Or maybe your town’s Kroger has better prices and more frequent discounts on frozen meals than your local Publix.

As you learn this type of information, you can be more selective about where you shop for individual products. You don’t have to waste time and gas shopping at multiple stores for a single grocery trip, but for specific products, it can make sense to coupon at stores that are more likely to have deals or just better prices on that product category.

7. Do Start Slowly

When you first start couponing, it feels intimidating if you’re redeeming dozens of coupons and have a lot of numbers to crunch.

For your first few shopping trips, focus on the highest-value coupons, the ones you know are worth using. That might look like bringing three 50%-off coupons or your highest-dollar-value-off coupons.

You can even try using coupons on sale products, but don’t get too creative until you’re comfortable calculating whether things are good deals and handing over coupons at the register.

8. Do Try Stacking Coupons

Combining a coupon with a store sale is a simple way to stack savings. But you don’t have to limit yourself to just stacking coupons with sale prices. Stores like Dollar General, Meijer, and Target let you stack a manufacturer’s coupon and store coupons to save even more.

For example, if Target has Planters peanuts on sale for $2, you can use a $1 Target coupon for Planters products and a $1 Planters manufacturer’s coupon to score a free can of peanuts. You can find store coupons online or in your favorite store’s weekly flyers.

If you can’t get something for free, try stacking coupons with store sales and apps like Ibotta to maximize savings.

For example, there’s a 50%-off clearance sale on a $3.99 Red Baron pepperoni pizza, bringing the price down to $2. If you have a $1 manufacturer coupon, the price is just $1. But since Ibotta has a $0.75 rebate on Red Baron pepperoni pizza, you just scored an entire pizza for only $0.25.

To top it all off, shop with a cash-back credit card to earn even more. The goal of couponing is to find deals whenever possible and get creative to stretch the value of every dollar you spend.

9. Do Use the Overage

When your coupons exceed the sale price of a product, it produces an overage. While that doesn’t invalidate the coupons, most often, that means you get the product for $0.

However, certain retailers apply overages toward other products in your shopping cart. For example, say you get an overage of $0.50 on a box of Betty Crocker chocolate cake mix by using a manufacturer coupon and sale price. Overage-allowing retailers apply the $0.50 overage to another product in your cart.

Walmart and Kroger are two major retailers that apply overages to your cart. And Walmart is one of the few retailers that pays cash back for overages (except on purchases made using government benefits, so save coupons for purchases you make when you’re not using your SNAP and WIC benefits). Kroger issues overages on a merchandise return card (essentially, a Kroger gift card). If you’re in doubt, look up your store’s coupon policy online to learn about overage rules.

10. Do Present Coupons in the Right Order

You can maximize your savings by handing the cashier your coupons in a specific order. For example, if you have a store coupon for $5 off a $20 purchase, use that coupon first. Otherwise, your other coupons might negate the $5 coupon by discounting the total amount of the sale to less than $20.

Some stores automatically apply your coupons correctly, so the order doesn’t always matter. But to be safe, give the cashier the price-minimum coupon before you use any other coupons.

11. Do Get in & Get Out

Know what you plan to buy before you go to the store, and stick to your shopping list.

If you stay in the store too long, you become susceptible to their marketing ploys, and you may end up spending more money. Get in, get the deals, and then get out.

If you shop during less busy grocery shopping hours, like during the week or at night, your trips will also be faster than battling weekend shopping crowds.

12. Do Stock Up

If you spot an incredible couponing opportunity on nonperishable goods or products you use frequently, it’s generally a smart move to stock up. It ensures you benefit from the deal as much as possible and lets you use more coupons before they expire. It’s an excellent way to set up long-term emergency food and supply storage.

Stacking coupons and store sales lets you score the lowest price possible when stocking up. For example, if Green Giant canned corn is on sale for $0.99 per can and you have several BOGO coupons or manufacturer coupons for $0.50 off per can, you can stock up on as many cans as possible to build your food storage for less than half the regular price.

Some stores limit the number of sale products you can purchase at once. If a store puts a limit on something and you need more of it, visit other store locations to create your stockpile.

Stocking up also lets you be pickier about when you use coupons. For example, if you run out of toilet paper, shop your emergency pantry first. You can replace your emergency supplies when you’re able to stack a sale and a coupon rather than buying full-price TP without a coupon.

That’s especially important for edible pantry goods. Canned and dried foods last a long time, but even they eventually go bad. This method ensures your emergency supplies are always safe to eat. If you have to throw them away, you won’t save any money (and may be in trouble if you need them during a bona fide emergency).

But before you come home with 30 cans of creamed corn, make sure you have a place to store it. You can convert a small area of your home, like a guest room closet or second bathroom linen closet, into your emergency pantry.

13. Do Donate the Excess

When couponing, you sometimes encounter scenarios where you can get so much of a free or cheap product that you can’t even use it all before it expires. It’s still a better deal than purchasing without a coupon, but the thought of letting all that product go bad doesn’t sit well with most people.

Instead of turning down an incredible deal, look into ways to donate excess couponing successes to people in need. Charities like homeless shelters, food banks, and women’s shelters make excellent candidates for donations. You can also reach out to local churches and community outreach programs to see if they need certain supplies.

You may even be able to take a charitable contribution tax deduction.


Couponing Don’ts

If you ever watched shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing,” successful couponing looks like hours of dumpster diving for coupon flyers, endless clipping, and (in some cases) being way too frugal.

But couponing doesn’t have to become your full-time job. You don’t need to make things overly complex either. As long as you follow couponing best practices and avoid some common couponing mistakes, your savings can benefit without transforming your living room into a coupon-clipping factory.

1. Don’t Shop Without a Meal Plan

Shopping with a meal plan is an often overlooked couponing tip, but it’s crucial to saving money. If you don’t have a plan to use the products you’re buying each week, you’re more likely to waste food.

Additionally, shopping without a menu makes you more likely to buy convenience food: frozen pizzas, hot dogs, and other fast meals. While these are delicious, they’re not conducive to eating healthy on a budget.

When building your shopping list, plan dishes that line up with products you have coupons for. For example, you find a $1-off coupon for two bags of Sargento cheese, a $0.25 coupon for Classico pasta sauce, and a coupon for $1 off two boxes of Mueller’s pasta. You can plan to make lasagna for dinner one night that week and macaroni and cheese as a side for another meal.

Or perhaps you find a coupon for an ingredient that’s central to many dishes, like chicken or ground beef, that also happens to be on sale. You can plan to make several recipes that use that ingredient, then stack the sale and coupon for even more savings.

If that sounds intimidating, affordable meal-planning services like $5 Meal Plan provide a month’s worth of dinner recipes and various breakfast and lunch ideas for only $5 per month.

2. Don’t Use a Coupon on a Full-Price Product

If you use a $1-off coupon on a full-price two-pack of SlimFast protein drinks for $5.68, you still pay $2.34 per beverage. But if you wait until SlimFast is on sale, you can save even more money. For example, if SlimFast goes on sale for 20% off, you can buy two drinks for $4.54, use your coupon, and pay $3.54, or $1.77 each, saving nearly 40% on your purchase.

That’s why operating with an emergency pantry is such a good idea. If you need to restock on an ingredient or product that day, you have to use coupons even if you miss a sale (or worse, pay full price without a coupon). But if you can afford to wait, you can save money in the long run by shopping during sale periods and with coupons more often.

3. Don’t Buy Something Just Because It’s on Sale

Don’t let sale prices trick you into buying something you don’t typically use just because it looks like a deal. If you use coupons without thinking, you inevitably buy things that are a waste of money or products that expire before you have a chance to use them.

Jumping on every great deal out there significantly lightens your wallet and defeats the whole purpose of couponing. That said, if you find a fantastic deal on something you can donate, there’s nothing wrong with couponing for charity.

4. Don’t Be Brand-Loyal

Prego or Ragu spaghetti sauce? Skippy peanut butter or Jif? Which brand should you buy? The answer: whichever one you can get the cheapest using your coupons.

Many people start couponing because of a major life event, like job loss, pregnancy, or too much debt. Those aren’t the times to be brand-loyal. You need to save money, and you can’t do that if you pass on deals because you prefer specific brands.

And sometimes, the cheapest bet is to go with the store brand, even if it means passing up on a coupon or sale for another brand.

For example, at Walmart, the Great Value line is extensive, covering a range of affordable grocery products and everyday essentials. If your coupons can’t beat Great Value, it’s probably best to save them for another time.

Plus, many retailers give coupons for their own brands through register coupons and coupon mailers, so you can still find ways to save on already affordable store brands.

5. Don’t Use Every Coupon

Some coupons don’t represent real savings. For example, a coupon for $0.50 off two boxes of brand-name cereal doesn’t result in much savings. That’s only $0.25 off each box. Even during a good sale, the coupon may not take the total price down to a better deal than the store brand. Wait for a better coupon and another sale.

Sometimes, you also have good coupons nearing their expiration dates but no sales on the goods you need. Let them expire. You don’t have to use the coupons, especially if you have to buy a brand name at full price to do so.

Couponing is about saving money, not getting good deals on brand-name products.

If you really need something, buy one or two of them now and wait for a sale to buy in bulk.

6. Don’t Waste Time

It’s easy to fall into the couponing trap of spending so much time searching for deals and preparing to shop that you’re turning couponing into a part-time job (there are better side gigs to make extra money).

Start by asking yourself how much time you want to dedicate to couponing. The answer could be 15 minutes on Sunday to look through coupon apps or a couple of hours every week to do more thorough research.

With a time commitment in mind, you should also work efficiently. Some tips to save time when couponing include:

  • Only clipping paper coupons you know you’re going to use
  • Turning clipping into a family activity (don’t forget safety scissors for the younger ones)
  • Linking store loyalty cards with apps like Ibotta to avoid preselecting rebates before shopping

You can also order groceries online and use coupons to save both time and money. Online grocery shopping gives you plenty of time to scout deals and coupons and do the math without feeling pressured. It also saves you from clever marketing tactics that induce impulse buys. They try to do the same things online, but you have more time to talk yourself out of it. And you can typically use the same or similar coupons online you do in stores.

For example, at Kroger, you can load digital coupons onto your Kroger Plus card and have them automatically apply to your online grocery order. And if you pick up the order, you can also use paper coupons (Kroger only accepts their own digital coupons for delivery). Just make sure you hit any free pickup minimums to ensure you’re really saving.

As long as couponing is enjoyable and effective, you’re on the right track. Plus, as you gain experience, you’ll find certain coupon apps or websites work best for your shopping habits and become even more efficient at growing your coupon supply.

7. Don’t Print Coupons You Don’t Use

Online printable coupons from websites like Coupons.com can save money. But you still use computer paper and ink to print the coupons, which costs money and wastes paper.

Many people print every online coupon available and then throw most of them away. Print online coupons as you need them. Save any you’re interested in but don’t need as a PDF or browser bookmark.


Final Word

In many ways, learning to coupon is a series of stages. At first, you use a few tips that are convenient to save, like buying products you have coupons for. As you become more comfortable, you start to mix in tricks like coupon stacking and simply using more coupons per shopping trip. If you start loving the process, you eventually graduate to extreme couponing, where it’s possible to score entire grocery hauls for almost pennies on the dollar if you get it right.

Whatever stage you’re in, the goal of couponing is to save more of your money. How much time you spend on it is up to you.

Source: moneycrashers.com

Wondering What to Do With Overripe Avocados? Try These 11 Recipes

You’ve probably tossed more than a few avocados into the trash after missing that (very slim) window between being perfectly ripe and turning brown, mushy and gross. And avocados are expensive, so that’s good money you’re throwing away.

Here’s a little secret, though: As long as there’s vibrant green meat somewhere inside (just scrape away the brown spots), that brown avocado can still be seriously yummy.

Never again will I toss an avocado just because it’s past prime guacamole-making texture. In my never-ending quest to save money on groceries and reduce food waste, I’ve discovered a few overripe avocado recipes, and lemme tell ya’, they’re delicious.

What to Do With Overripe Avocados: 11 Recipes to Try

Sauces, dressings, desserts and even drinks, we’ve got your overripe avocado needs covered.

Sauces and Dressings

The easiest way to fancy up any meal (and use up those avocados) is by making a simple sauce or dressing. Five minutes, a food processor and voila!

1. Magic Green Sauce

This photo shows green sauce in a jar.
Getty Images

This sauce from Lindsay over at Pinch of Yum is made with all green foods — right down to the pistachios. It’s a delicious velvety sauce you can use as a veggie dip, salad dressing or marinade (think creamy chimichurri), or spread it on a sandwich for an extra-fresh kick. Magic, I tell you.

2. Creamy Avocado Vinaigrette

I knew about yogurt-based avocado dressings, but they’re always a little overwhelming with nothing to cut the rich, yogurty, buttery taste. This recipe from Chef Emeril himself is my new thing. It’s light and refreshing, and it has worked on every salad I’ve put it on so far.

Appetizers and Snacks

Arguably the best types of foods.

3. Avocado Nut Bread

In the same way you would turn your brown bananas into delicious banana bread, try making this avocado nut bread from Food with your overripe avocados. I love any version of veggie bread, but the added bonus here is that the bread turns out green. (I think maybe I never outgrew the whole funny-colored foods fascination — purple ketchup, where you at?)

4. Corn and Avocado Fritters

If you’re one of those people wrapped up in a sordid love affair with avocado, try dipping these corn and avocado fritters from Give Recipe into the magic green sauce for a seriously avocado-y snack. Snacks on snacks on snacks.

Lunch and Dinner

Even in a main dish, the diva avocado manages to take center stage.

5. Avocado Egg Salad

For this one from All Recipes, you want to let the avocado go an extra day or two past peak ripeness anyway because it will be softer and creamier. So it’s perfect for those of us who aren’t able to time an avocado intentionally.

6. Avocado Pasta

Pasta is such a heavy meal — so it’s strictly a comfort food in my eyes. But this stuff? This glorious, light, refreshing dish from Damn Delicious puts pasta back in my regular dinner rotation.

7. Blackened Chicken With Avocado Cream Sauce

This one from Popculture is a winner winner chicken dinner (um, yeah, I did have to say that). Again, that avocado cream sauce is the perfect place for a mushy avocado because it all gets smoothed out in the food processor anyway.

Desserts

I know, I know… healthy foods and desserts shouldn’t mix. But just hear me out: I promise only good things lie ahead with these dessert avocado recipes.

8. Chocolate Caramel Avocado Brownies

Do I even need to say anything about this recipe from Mike over at The Iron You?

Chocolate? Yes please. Caramel? Keep it coming. A healthier spin on my favorite food group? Done and done. (Wait — brownies are a food group, right?)

9. Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Two cups of chocolate avocado pudding
Getty Images

Since chocolate by the spoonful is never not a good idea, I commend to your attention to this offering from All Recipes. It has just six ingredients — five if you hold the cinnamon — and is ready in 30 minutes.

Drinks

What’s next, an avocado cocktail?! Um, yes, actually.

10. Avocado Margarita

The thing is, I’ve never met a margarita I didn’t get along with — for the evening, anyway. But I think this light and creamy margarita from Bon Appetit is about to set the bar (pun intended) pretty high.

11. Smoooooothies

Smoothies might just be the easiest way to disguise the texture of a mushy brown avocado. And while there’s no wrong way to make a smoothie, this recipe from Real Simple has the added bonus of using up your not-so-perfect apples, too. But really, avocados go well with just about any smoothie ingredients given their buttery, almost nutty flavor.

Bonus Round: Avocado Face Mask

If you still can’t handle the thought of eating an avocado that’s past its prime, you could try a do-it-yourself avocado face mask. Over at Natural Beauty Tips, you’ll find a few different versions that all call for basic pantry ingredients, so you won’t have to make an extra trip to the store.

Consider this the beginning of the rest of your avocado-filled life — no more throwing your grocery budget in the trash.

Grace Schweizer is the email content writer at The Penny Hoarder. 

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Source: thepennyhoarder.com

7 Tips on How to Take Pictures of Items to Sell

To put it simply: knowing how to take pictures of items to sell online has almost as much of an impact on your success as the actual object. It’s the presentation, the first way a shopper sees your product.
Before Christine Soojung Han of Vintage Sooj even shoots a photograph, she asks herself some philosophical questions. What is she trying to achieve with this photograph? What is she hoping to emulate or what kind of mood does she want to evoke? In essence, what story is she telling with the photograph.
Lighting was the first piece of advice that Chen offered. Finding the right place in your home is a matter of finding south-facing windows and, ideally, more than one window. You want to have lots of natural light. How the light comes through your window will change by season and time of day.

Pro Advice on How to Take Pictures of Items to Sell Online

Han found natural light to be too fickle. She started out with simply soft sunlight, but that was too dependent on the weather. So she bought soft boxes for light and studio lighting for about 0 and that upgraded her lighting set-up.

1. Decide What Style Photography You Want

“Avoid a crazy wallpaper wall,” she said. “That’s not for everybody and it really becomes a distraction. You want to be able to look at your furniture and not your wallpaper.”
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Chen would post as many photos as possible if she could, but social media sites limit how many photos a seller can post. Chen’s adage is: take as many photos as possible. More photos offer more details and more chances for someone to fall in love with your item.

2. Find the Right Background. Be Consistent.

Ready to stop worrying about money?
You don’t have to have fancy equipment to start: smartphone cameras work fine.
When Han first started, she used props in some of her photos, like pampas grass or a stool. She found the props to be distracting, so now she models the clothes in most of her photos and adds accessories to the outfits. She doesn’t want to take attention away from the product itself.
But don’t worry, we’re about to let you in on some tips to make bank on. We consulted with the pros so you don’t have to do all of that legwork. Instead, let two eCommerce gurus guide you through the art of putting your best foot forward — photographically speaking, that is.
For Chen, staging is pivotal to creating a lived-in scene with her furniture. The important thing with staging is to strike a balance between domestic beauty and distraction. Chen suggests simple objects like a round mirror or a couple of white or black-covered books. She always likes to have vases on hand to hold flowers cut from her garden.
With clothing, much of that comes down to style: do you want something moodier with shadow or do you want crisp and clean images? Is this a stylized portrait or is this simply about the clothes? Researching and having a style of image in mind that you want to achieve makes it easier from the outset.

3. Lighting Matters

Elizabeth Djinis is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
Chen takes photos to show how deep a dresser drawer is or what the top surface looks like. She shares photos of the furniture legs and hardware, because that can make a difference to a buyer and is often another aspect of her design. If she can add a video, she does. A video gives people the sense of the full scope of an item and what it looks like in natural daylight.

4. Stage Your Photograph

Chen echoes the same premise for furniture.
When it comes to furniture product photos, Chen says, capturing the details is key. What makes your piece special? Take a photo of that. Examples of Chen’s clean photo styling can be studied on Instagram.

5. Capture the Details of Your Items

Chen calls taking a good photo “50% of the work.” She recently bought a dresser online for . Although Chen usually sands, paints and refurbishes the furniture she sells, this piece was in such good shape that she did nothing to it. She took some well-lit and aesthetically appealing photos and sold it for 5. She made almost 0 off of the dresser with little additional work.
Both Han and Chen say photos have made a difference in attracting buyers. Han will often reshoot a piece that hasn’t sold after some time. She might try different lighting or a different background to highlight the piece. Once she posts that new photo, she can usually sell the item right away.

6. Edit Your Photos

Often, entrepreneurs who start an online business aren’t photographers. Sometimes, they don’t even have a background in a creative industry and it’s unlikely they will have camera equipment beyond their smartphones. They’re passionate about their businesses selling vintage clothing or refurbishing vintage furniture, but they’re self-taught. For many, the internet has been their teacher.

7. Use Multiple Photos

Chen doesn’t like to use artificial lighting, because she finds it changes the color of the furniture in photos.

Photos Make a Difference

The axiom “photo, photo, photo” may be to online selling what “location, location, location” is to real estate.
“You see people use printed backgrounds or landscapes, but I think, no matter what you decide to use, it shouldn’t be distracting, because you want the attention to be on the clothing,” Han said.
Both Han and Sara Chen of the upcycled furniture company Sara Chen Design suggest keeping the background clean and neutral. Chen uses white walls as her backdrop, but in the last year, she has spruced it up by adding board and batten wood paneling to her staging wall. Chen has a space in her house specifically designated for staging, a luxury not everyone has.
Han, who started her business in a tiny apartment, began taking photos with a bedsheet as her background. That got tedious because she had to steam the wrinkles out each time. Now, she uses color paper backdrops that she bought cheaply from a photographer who was looking to downsize equipment. Examples of Han’s backgrounds can be studied on Etsy. Scroll through the pages to see where she used bedsheets. <!–

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“Photos make such a big difference,” Chen said. “You need to take time to take better photos if you want to sell for more money.”

The Consequences of Gray Divorce

Divorce rates overall are increasing but it is notable that the number of divorces for those over age 65 has tripled in the last 25 years.

The term “gray divorce” was coined by the AARP to describe adults 50 and up who are going through a separation. Rising gray divorce rates can be attributed to several factors: Being divorced is no longer stigmatized as it may have been in the past; people are living longer; family circumstances and relationship dynamics have changed; and people have different in lifestyle expectations.

Divorce is difficult for both parties, but unfortunately, gray divorces often have more difficult outcomes for women rather than men. Regardless of gender, divorce deals a financial blow to both spouses. For those over 50, it can be more difficult to rebuild financially because you don’t have several decades of work ahead. Likewise, if one spouse has been out of the workforce for many years to care for children, he or she may not have the same career progress or earning potential. Additionally, although you likely don’t have custody issues for minor children to consider in a gray divorce, your grown children may get involved and perhaps might even take one side or the other.

If you are going through a divorce at any age, you need to carefully consider the financial issues involved. But if you are experiencing a gray divorce, there are some issues that merit specific attention:

  1. Division of assets. At this stage of life, it is likely that your financial situation is complicated. You should consider consulting a financial adviser, particularly one with specialized divorce certifications, such as a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® professional, to help you understand how the division of retirement assets works and to help you separate marital assets from non-marital assets.
  2. Social Security. It is very important to know your options for drawing on your Social Security benefits. In many cases, it is more advantageous for one spouse to consider drawing off the higher earning spouse’s benefits, but there are specific requirements to be able to do so.
  3. Health insurance. If you are not yet 65, you will not qualify for Medicare and may have been covered under a spouse’s employer-sponsored health insurance. If that is the case, you need to plan for the gap in years until you qualify for Medicare and understand how COBRA benefits, the cost of individual health coverage and the policy coverage limits apply to your personal health insurance needs. You may also consider whether you need long-term care insurance if you are single, as many married people assume their spouse would handle caregiving if needed.
  4. Estate planning. After a divorce, you need to create an updated estate plan and draw up new documents to replace those that you had in place with your former spouse. It is important to make sure you have updated your beneficiaries and named those that should now have your powers of attorney for financial and health care matters. If you remarry, you will need to review and revise again to be sure your plans reflect your wishes at that time, as well.
  5. Tax considerations. Alimony may be part of a gray divorce settlement, and the tax consequences for both the payor and the payee need to be understood. In general, the receiver of the alimony will owe income tax on the payment and there is no longer a tax deduction for the payor. Additionally, it is important to understand the tax implications of the assets that are being divided in settlement discussions. A home worth $500,000 that has appreciated in value by $100,000 has different tax treatment than an investment account worth $500,000 with a $100,000 capital gain. Again, a qualified financial adviser and tax professional are very helpful in understanding the tax treatment of your proposed asset split and future income tax expectations.

Divorce at any age can be devastating, but having a clear vision of what you want your next chapter in life to look like – along with a trusted financial adviser – will help you avoid mistakes that could lead to financial heartbreak. The good news is, the AARP survey that first identified the gray divorce phenomenon also noted that 76% of people who divorced late in life felt they had made the right choice for a fresh start.

Mercer Advisors Inc. is the parent company of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. and is not involved with investment services. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an investment advisor with the SEC. Content, research, tools and stock or option symbols are for educational and illustrative purposes only and do not imply a recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell a particular security or to engage in any particular investment strategy. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of publication and are subject to change. Some of the research and ratings shown in this presentation come from third parties that are not affiliated with Mercer Advisors. The information is believed to be accurate, but is not guaranteed or warranted by Mercer Advisors
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the CFP® certification mark, the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification mark, and the CFP® certification mark (with plaque design) logo in the United States, which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.

Managing Director of Client Experience, Mercer Advisors

Kara Duckworth is the Managing Director of Client Experience at Mercer Advisors and also leads the company’s InvestHERs program, focused on providing financial planning to serve the specific needs of women. She is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst®. She is a frequent public speaker on financial planning topics and has been quoted in numerous industry publications.

Source: kiplinger.com

Stock Market Today: Stocks Sag Despite Slew of Earnings Beats

Wall Street finished the week on a down note Friday, ignoring even more sterling first-quarter earnings reports.

John Butters, senior earnings analyst for FactSet, says that 60% of the S&P 500’s components have reported Q1 earnings, and, so far, 86% of those companies have reported a positive earnings-per-share surprise.

“If 86% is the final percentage, it will mark the highest percentage of S&P 500 companies reporting positive EPS surprises since FactSet began tracking this metric in 2008,” he says.

Estimates have been strong, too. “The second quarter marked the second-highest increase in the bottom-up EPS estimate during the first month of a quarter since FactSet began tracking this metric in 2002, trailing only Q1 2018 (+4.9%),” Butters adds.

Amazon.com (AMZN, -0.1%) was the latest to beat expectations, reporting profits of $15.79 per share that clobbered estimates for $9.45 and announcing a 44% surge in sales. Twitter (TWTR, -15.2%) earnings beat the Street as well, but shares plunged on disappointing numbers of “monetizable daily users” and Q2 revenue forecasts.

Sign up for Kiplinger’s FREE Closing Bell e-letter: Our daily look at the stock market’s moves, and what moves investors should make.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (-0.5% to 33,874), S&P 500 (-0.7% to 4,181) and Nasdaq Composite (-0.9% to 13,962) all finished in the red – and have effectively been flat over the past two weeks.

Ally Invest president Lule Demmissie suggests that investors are increasingly getting anxious. “The mindset has switched from ‘what could go right?’ to ‘what could go wrong?'” she says.

Other action in the stock market today:

  • Chevron (CVX, -3.6%) skidded after reporting first-quarter earnings. While Chevron beat on the bottom line, revenue fell short of expectations.
  • Fellow oil giant Exxon Mobil (XOM, -2.9%) also retreated today, as weakness in the energy sector overshadowed the company’s first profitable quarter in a year on stronger-than-expected revenue.
  • Skyworks Solutions (SWKS, -8.4%) was another post-earnings loser. The semiconductor name reported profit and revenue above estimates for its fiscal second quarter, but a tepid current-quarter outlook was the likely weight on shares.
  • The small-cap Russell 2000 dropped 1.3% to 2,266.
  • U.S. crude oil futures slumped 2.2% to settle at $63.58 per barrel.
  • Gold futures finished fractionally lower at $1,767.70 an ounce.
  • The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) jumped 5.4% to 18.56.
  • Bitcoin prices plunged 4.5% to $55,470. $52,951. $57,031.60 (Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day; prices reported here are as of 4 p.m. each trading day.)

And a quick reminder to Warren Buffett faithful that Berkshire Hathaway’s (BRK.B) annual meeting, which we preview here, will take place Saturday.

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A Boffo 100 Days for Biden

Despite Friday’s losses, President Joe Biden has now presided over one of the best market performances ever during an American president’s first 100 days in office.

For instance, the 8.6% gain for the Dow since inauguration is the best 100-day rally for any president since Lyndon Johnson, who was inaugurated in November 1963 and enjoyed a 9.2% run after 100 days. Many individual-share gains have been far more generous; 25 stocks have popped between 39% and 97% in Biden’s first few months.

And the S&P 500’s performance, on an annualized basis, puts Biden among the best presidents for investors of all time at this early stage.

Will that hold up throughout his presidency? We simply have no way of knowing. But what we do know is that Biden has clearly telegraphed his various policy proposals, from the stimulus package that cleared Congress in March to his recently proposed American Jobs Plan, and that allows investors to identify potential winners should the votes go the president’s way.

Read on as we take a fresh look at many stocks (and a couple of funds) that should continue to benefit if Biden continues to score policy wins.

Source: kiplinger.com

In-Laws Visiting? 15 Ways to Tidy Up in No Time

Let’s start off by saying that if your in-laws give ample notice before they step on your welcome mat, you’re in pretty good shape. In many families, in-laws are notorious for popping up at a moment’s notice, but that’s another topic for another day.

It doesn’t matter if your mother-in-law (MIL) and father-in-law (FIL) are arriving in two hours or two days, you surely want to do all you can to make sure your apartment is as presentable as possible. Do you worry about what your spouse’s mother will say if the cleanliness of your space isn’t up to her standards? Does she have the audacity to conduct a sneaky dust test with her fingertip as she slyly strolls through the apartment?

We understand that your place might never be spotless from top to bottom. And honestly, who has time for that? But if you’re focused on doing at least a little tidying up before the ‘rents make their debut, here are some crafty and creative ways to quickly get your pad in better shape.

  1. Focus on surfaces that tend to gather a lot of dust and fingerprints – TVs, computer screens, table tops, toilets, and mirrors. Grab a cleaning towel, spritz it with your favorite all-purpose cleaner – a really good smelling one – and do a lap or two around your apartment wiping down every surface within reach.

  2. Sink full of dishes? Either wash them quickly or load them into the dishwasher. Those who don’t own a dishwasher (or even if they do and it’s already full) sometimes resort to stashing dirty dishes in the oven. Odd choice, but this should be your last option only if you know for sure there are no plans for a home-cooked meal. Just know that if MIL decides to test your baking skills on a whim, the jig’s up. If you do end up giving in to this last minute trick, don’t forget to return the dishes to their rightful location once the in-laws have left the building.

  3. Scented candles will be a savior. The earlier you light them up, the better. No scents on deck? Here’s an easy alternative: boil a small pot of water and add slices of lemon or lime. No fresh citrus on hand? Sprinkle in some cinnamon or nutmeg. Learn how to make do with what you have!

  4. No time to get all your odds and ends completely out of sight? Group like items together. Random pens all over the apartment will appear disorderly, so gather them in a row on a side table instead. You can do the same by neatly stacking or lining up items like shoes, books, magazines, bathroom products, pencils, crayons, etc.

  5. Is one of your bedrooms just a complete disaster? Close the door and forbid anyone to enter. If the door locks, even better.

  6. Throw junk mail in the trash. Any other mail should go into a junk drawer, assuming there’s room.

  7. Will the in-laws be making their debut at night? Light dimmers will work wonders to keep your mess from taking center stage. Not only will it hide your mess, but it’ll set a calming ambiance.

  8. No time to sweep, mop and vacuum? Vacuums actually work pretty great on hard surfaces too, not just carpet. Just test out a small area first to make sure it doesn’t scratch your hardwood, tile or another solid surface.

  9. Grab a grocery or trash bag and take a lap around the apartment gathering items that need to be trashed.

  10. You can also use this bag trick to gather items for certain rooms. So if the living room is littered with items that belong in the home office, collect them in the bag and place the bag in the office to organize later.

  11. If the visit is really last minute, grab a basket or bag, gather everything that’s out of place and place the basket in an inconspicuous area like the laundry room, utility closet,  bathtub or on top of the fridge.

  12. Got pets? Give every sofa and chair a quick brush to get rid of pesky hairs.

  13. Empty the trash. This goes for the kitchen, bathroom and wherever else a waste bin might be located. Essential oils, carpet freshener, and cinnamon all are great for making an empty trash can smell good.

  14. Are the in-laws already en route? Power up iTunes, cue up your favorite three to five songs and press play. Vow to have your apartment looking new and improved by the time the playlist ends. You will also work up a good sweat, so pat yourself on the back for mastering the art of multitasking!

  15. If time runs out and you’re still not finished cleaning, strategically place the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the living room or hallway. Then declare, “Oh, you just caught me in the middle of cleaning up!” This message will convey that you acknowledge the mess and you’re tending to it. Hey, a little white lie never hurt anyone.

Does this list sound exhausting or even unrealistic? Here’s a radical idea: don’t clean at all. Welcome your in-laws with open arms. But if you see them giving your space a major side eye, politely let them know that you are a busy person and, on any given day, this is what your apartment looks like. Let us know how that goes.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Creatista

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Source: apartmentguide.com

How to Attract Remote Workers to Your Apartment Community

Thanks to the pandemic, the number of employees who work from home swelled over the past year. Even though offices are beginning to open, with workers returning to the workplace, surveys show that many plan to telework at least part-time in the future.

Apartment owners and managers need to take notice of this trend. After all, at a time when unemployment remains high, remote workers are employed – and capable of paying their rent. They also represent a large pool of prospective tenants, so targeting them can turn into a competitive advantage.

Here are three things you can do to attract the work-from-home cohort:

  • Provide the tools teleworkers need. High-speed internet service and reliable cell phone reception are a must. The 2020 NMHC/Kingsley Apartment Resident Preferences Report found that 92% of tenants want high-speed internet access, while 91% said the community amenity they most desire is reliable cell phone reception. Tenants are even willing to pay higher rent for high-speed internet — $35.05 per month more, the survey found.
  • Tweak your marketing plan. Help the prospect envision working in your space. Stage model units (live or virtually) to include work spaces in bedrooms, or create zoom-worthy spaces on balconies or rooftops.
  • Don’t focus only on attracting new tenants; meet the needs of existing ones. Happy tenants are more likely to renew their leases, saving you the cost of turnover. They also can be a source of referrals. Convert business centers from open spaces to individual offices, and add programming designed to meet the needs of remote workers, such as a poolside yoga class to relieve stress or an online time-management workshop. People are craving human interaction these days, and programming can enhance a sense of community.

Source: century21.com