How to Maximize Rewards on Everyday Spending

Woman using credit card on everyday spending

While many rewards enthusiasts focus on signing up for new credit cards to earn signup bonuses, not everyone has the time or desire to play the signup game. There is effort involved in tracking multiple cards, annual fees, and rewards programs, after all, and some people don’t want to spend their time or mental energy this way.

If you’re someone who falls into this category, you may be better off maximizing one or two cards instead of chasing rewards. Fortunately, you can earn plenty of rewards over time if you’re savvy about your card’s benefits and bonus categories.

The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. Here are some tips that can help.

Brainstorm every bill you could pay with a credit card

Because rewards cards offer points based on each dollar you spend, maximizing the amount you can spend on credit is the best way to boost your rewards haul. The smartest strategy to use here is figuring out how many of your monthly bills you can pay with a credit card.

While you may not be notified or aware, it’s possible that bills you’ve been paying with a check or debit card for years can be paid with a credit card without any fees. While your bills may vary, some expenses you should try to pay with a credit card include:

  • Rent
  • Utility bills like electric or gas
  • Health insurance
  • Cable television and internet
  • Cell phone
  • Taxes
  • Daycare
  • Auto and home insurance
  • Subscription services
  • College tuition or student loans
  • Medical bills
  • Lawn care

Keep in mind that these are just some of the bills you could be paying with credit. Depending on your situation, you could have additional, uncommon expenses to cover that could be paid with credit with ease.

Also, remember that these additional bills should be paid with credit on top of your everyday expenses like groceries, dining out, gas or bus fare, and miscellaneous spending. Every time you buy something in person or online, you should strive to pay with your rewards card if you can.

Leverage your rewards card bonus categories

It’s also important to leverage your favorite card bonus categories, whatever they may be. This is especially important if you have a few cards with different bonus categories since you’ll want to make sure you’re using the right card for bills that let you earn bonus points.

Let’s say you have a travel credit card that earns 3x points on dining and travel and another card that earns 6x points at the grocery store. In that case, you would be smart to use the travel card for dining and travel purchases and your other card when you stock up on food. While the amount of rewards you earn with individual purchases may seem nominal, using the right card for the right purchase can help you earn a lot more rewards over time.

Set up auto-pay bills to be paid with credit

Most of us have bills set up to be paid automatically, whether it’s our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, gym membership, or utility bills. Make sure each bill you have set up to be paid automatically is set up to be paid with your rewards card and not a debit card. This way, you can earn rewards points on those expenses every month.

Use shopping portals and dining clubs

Many flexible rewards programs, frequent flyer programs, and hotel loyalty programs have shopping portals you can access to earn extra points. Major airlines like American, Delta, and United also have shopping portals that work similarly. (See also: How to Maximize Rewards Through Credit Card Shopping Portals)

Some programs like Southwest and Delta also offer dining clubs. These programs let you earn additional points or miles just for dining at participating restaurants in your area. It’s easy and it’s free to join, so you may as well earn extra miles on your spending if you’re going to dine out anyway. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Airline Dining Rewards Programs)

How much the average family can earn

If you are skeptical the average family can rack up meaningful rewards without signing up for new cards over and over again, look at how this might work in real life. For example, imagine a family of four with two rewards card-toting adults. Across the two of them, they have:

  • A cash back card that earns 2% back
     
  • A travel credit card that earns 3% on dining and travel
     
  • A rewards card that earns 6% cash back at the grocery store on up to $6,000 in spending each year

To figure out how much this family might earn, we used Bureau of Labor Statistics spending averages from 2017. Here’s a rundown of that data for the year plus how much a family could earn in rewards over 12 months based on average expenses:

  • Food at home ($4,363): $261.78 in rewards at 6%
     
  • Food away from home ($3,365): $100.95 at 3%
     
  • Utilities, fuels, and public services ($3,836): $76.72 at 2%
     
  • Household operations ($1,412): $28.24 at 2%
     
  • Household supplies ($755): $45.30 at 6%
     
  • Household furnishings and equipment ($1,987): $39.74 at 2%
     
  • Apparel and services ($1,833): $36.66 at 2%
     
  • Gasoline and motor oil ($1,968): $39.36 at 2%
     
  • Other vehicle expenses ($2,842): $56.84 at 2%
     
  • Healthcare ($4,928): $98.56 at 2%
     
  • Entertainment ($3,203): $64.06 at 2%
     
  • Personal care products ($762): $45.72 at 6%
     
  • Education ($1,491): $29.82 at 2%

Total rewards: $923.75

While $900+ is a lot to earn in rewards within a year, you have the potential to earn a lot more. After all, these are just some of the expenses the average family faces and not all of them. If you could pay some additional big bills with credit each month like daycare or your rent, you could significantly add to your bottom line.

What to watch out for

While maximizing rewards cards is a smart idea if you’re using them already anyway, there are always pitfalls to be aware of when you’re using a credit card. Here’s what to watch out for during your quest for more cash back and travel rewards.

Fees for using credit

While there are many bills you can pay with credit without a fee, some vendors, merchants, and service providers charge a fee to use a credit card as payment. Fees are especially prevalent on bills such as utilities, cable or internet, rent, and insurance. Make sure to verify you aren’t being charged a fee to use credit before you proceed.

Annual fees

Don’t forget that some rewards cards charge annual fees. These fees may be worth it depending on your spending and rewards haul, but you should always factor them into the equation to make sure each fee is worth paying. If you’re against paying annual fees, look for rewards cards that don’t charge one.

Budgeting mishaps

Using a credit card for all your expenses may simplify your financial life, but it could also cause your budget to fall out of whack. Make sure you’re only spending on purchases you planned to make anyway, and that you’re tracking your spending and paying off your credit cards regularly.

Debt

Never use credit cards for purchases you can’t afford to repay if you’re pursuing rewards. The interest you’ll pay will always be much more than the rewards you earn. If you’re worried using credit will cause you to rack up debt you can’t afford to repay, you’re better off sticking to cash or debit instead.

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Want to maximise your credit card rewards? The key to getting the most out of your rewards cards is understanding how they work and looking for opportunities to earn more points on your everyday spending. We’ve got the ultimate tips and tricks to help you save money and earn more rewards! | #creditcards #rewardsprogram #creditcardrewards


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How We Paid Off Over $45K of Debt in 11 Months

It seems pretty normal to me now but people still drop their jaws when I tell them we’ve paid over $45K on our loans in less than a year. We still have a year to go and most days I…

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How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s nothing like falling in love and finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. But when it’s time to shop for rings, it’s easy to get discouraged by the price tags. Just how much should you spend on an engagement ring? We’ll dive into the topic and discuss ways to save on the big purchase.

Find out not: How much do I need to save for retirement?

What the Average Engagement Ring Costs

Maybe you can’t buy love. But if you’re in the market for an engagement ring, you’ll quickly realize that it won’t be cheap. According to the Knot’s 2016 Real Weddings Study, Americans spent an average of $6,163 on engagement rings, up from $5,871 in 2015. Wedding bands for the bride and engagement rings combined cost between $5,968 and $6,258.

If you want your wedding to happen sooner rather than later, keep in mind that on average, couples spend more than $30,000 to tie the knot. That’s roughly how much you can expect to pay for everything from your wedding reception and DJ to your cake and your photographer. Location matters when it comes to weddings, however, so you might be able to save some money by choosing a more affordable place to host your ceremony.

How Much Should I Spend?

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

Conventional wisdom says that anyone planning to propose to their partner should prepare to spend at least two or three months of their salary on an engagement ring. But spending too much isn’t a good idea for various reasons.

A recent study conducted by Emory University connected pricey rings to divorce rates. Men who spent more money on rings for their fiancees were more likely to end their marriages. That’s a possible long-term consequence of overspending on an engagement ring. In the short term, using a large percentage of your money to buy a ring might prevent you from using those funds to pay bills or stay on top of your debt, which can hurt your credit score.

If the marriage doesn’t work out and your ex-spouse decides to sell their diamond engagement ring, its value won’t be nearly as high as it was when it was first purchased. That’s why diamond rings can be such bad investments.

So exactly how much should you spend on an engagement ring? It’s a good idea to make sure that the price you pay doesn’t prevent you or your partner from accomplishing whatever you’re planning to achieve in the future, whether that’s buying a house or having a child. Rather than following an old-school societal notion that says you should spend x amount of money on a ring, it’s best to spend an amount that won’t compromise your financial goals or jeopardize the status of your relationship.

How to Save on the Ring

If you don’t want the engagement ring you’re buying to break the bank, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the rings and what makes some more expensive than others. Diamonds are the gems most commonly used in engagement rings, and if you’re buying one for your significant other, it’s important to familiarize yourself with what jewelers refer to as the four C’s: clarity, cut, color and carat weight.

In terms of clarity, the best diamonds are flawless, meaning that they don’t have any blemishes when viewed under a microscope with 10 power magnification. Since no one’s eyesight is that powerful, you can get away with choosing a diamond with a lower clarity grade that costs less. Getting a diamond that has fewer carats (meaning that it weighs less) or getting one that isn’t completely colorless can also lower its overall price.

Or don’t get a diamond at all. Your partner might be just as happy with a simple band, a white sapphire or an emerald ring and it probably won’t cost as much as a diamond engagement ring. Shopping for your ring at a vintage store, looking for one online rather than in-person and getting a ring with a series of smaller stones surrounding the center stone (also known as a halo ring) are a few additional ways to save when buying a ring.

Final Word

How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring?

There’s no need to spend a fortune on an engagement ring. And you don’t have to feel guilty about cutting corners in order to find one that you can afford to buy.

Like any other major purchase, it’s a good idea to take time to save up for a ring. If you have to take on more credit card debt or a personal loan in order to buy an engagement ring, it’s a good idea to find out how long it’ll take to pay off your debt. It isn’t wise to begin a marriage by digging yourself (and your partner) into a deep financial hole.

Tips for Getting Financially Ready for Marriage

  • If you haven’t already, start talking about money. It’s important to establish an open dialogue and make sure you understand and respect each other’s money values.
  • You might also consider sit down with a financial advisor before the big day. A financial advisor can help you identify your financial goals and come up with a financial plan for your life as a married couple. A matching tool (like ours) can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to three fiduciaries who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

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The post How Much Should You Spend on an Engagement Ring? appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

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9 Ways to Support Small Businesses Without Breaking the Bank

We all have our favorite small businesses, including our go-to date night restaurant and favorite thrift store. These places serve more than great food and looks — they build jobs in the community, put children through school, and are the realization of your neighbor’s dream. 

These stores are built on hard work and love, and supply some of the best quality products you can find. Small businesses are a great sign of a thriving economy, but they’re also the first to suffer from economic downturns, like 2020’s COVID-19 recession. This is why it’s more important than ever to find ways to support your community’s businesses.

There are many reasons why small business success is vital. Not just for the economy but for our communities. That’s why Small Business Saturday (November 28) is one of our favorite times of the year, and why we collected these ways you can support small businesses without breaking the bank (or leaving the house!).

Shop Small Businesses

Shopping small is the easiest way to support community businesses and clear your holiday list. Shopping locally doesn’t have to drain your wallet, either.

Small businesses generate 44% of U.S. economic activity.

1. Skip the Hallmark Card and Support a Local Artist

Cards are a classic gift for any and all celebrations. They’re small, affordable, and easy to personalize. This year skip the grocery store and see what artists you can support while still getting beautiful and unique gifts for your family and friends. 

Most cities will have galleries, boutiques, and even tourist shops that display locally printed and designed cards to choose from. If you don’t have a shop near you, you can browse thousands of creators on Etsy to find the perfect design for each of your loved ones. 

2. Send Gift Cards

Gift cards are perfect for acquaintances, long-distance giving, and little acts of kindness every now and then. Instead of collecting Amazon and Starbucks cards, see what your local spots have to offer. 

Most restaurants and stores offer a gift card option, and you don’t have to waste the plastic! Send your gift via email to anyone, anywhere. So go ahead and thank your first mentor for their glowing reference with a gift card to their favorite coffee shop. 

3. Shop Throughout the Year

It’s true that handmade products can get pricey, but you’re ultimately paying for quality. If you’re already pinching pennies for the holiday season, start thinking about next year. Buying gifts for loved ones as you find them throughout the year is the best way to collect beautiful gifts without using credit. Plus, small businesses can use the boost year-round. 

Show Support From Home

Mockup showing someone fill in an instagram story template with favorite shops.

Download button for instagram story template.

Most of us have a budget that prevents us from buying a new wardrobe every month and eating out every weekday, so it just isn’t feasible to buy from all of our favorite local artisans all of the time. That doesn’t mean you don’t love them, you’ll just have to get creative to show your support from home. 

4. Share Your Favorite Products

When you do buy something new, take a photo! Sharing your favorite finds online and tagging the store is a great way to promote their products and quality to your friends and family. Even if you’re not buying, sharing a wishlist or their newest product could earn them another sale or new followers. 

“I think people forget that their voice has influence, whether they are a huge celebrity or a humble stay at home mom. It’s amazing just what one post can do for small business.” — Autumn Grant, The Kind Poppy

5. Write a Review

You should let the world know when you find a shop you love. From Google and Yelp to a company Facebook page, leave a review to let others know they’re in good hands. Positive reviews are some of the best tools businesses have to convert sales. 

“These types [local] of businesses live and die by word of mouth. Their reviews are everything to them. Now that everyone can look up the average rating of a business or service, it’s vital for businesses to collect positive, honest reviews.” — Dan Bailey, WikiLawn Lawn Care

If you do leave reviews, detailed thoughts and photos perform the best. These give the consumer plenty of information and help your review seem authentic. Plus, reviews can help platforms like Etsy and Google know the business is valued. 

6. Refer a Friend

Tell your friends when you find a new shop or service and share the love. Your friends trust you and likely have a lot of shared interests, so this word of mouth is a great way for businesses to earn customers. 

“A referral is the single best compliment to a business owner. Trust me.” — Brian Robben, Robben Media

If you have friends and family from out of town you may also want to keep your favorite businesses in mind for when they visit. Keep a list of local restaurants, cafes, services, and shops that they can’t get anywhere else and take your friends on a local tour. 

Keep in Touch

Businesses have more ways than ever to keep you in the know, so make sure you’re subscribed to keep in touch! Newsletters and social media are a good way to keep your local faves and their promotional offers top of mind. 

Mockup showing someone filling in their wishlist on instagram.

Download button for holiday wishlist instagram template.

7. Sign-up For Newsletters

Most businesses send regular emails to notify you and other customers of their store details and deals. Newsletters are great ways to find coupons, sales, and new items you’ll adore. Just subscribing isn’t enough, though. Make sure you actually read their news and whitelist the email so you never miss a thing. 

8. Follow and Interact With Their Social Channels

Social media is another easy way to stay in the know; it can also organically promote a business. When you follow a business, platforms learn more about who else may be interested in their offers. Stay active and like and comment on their posts, too, to increase their visibility and trust with other shoppers. 

9. Swing By the Shop

Ultimately, the best way to support a business is to stop by and visit. You never know when something will catch your eye, and it’s a great way to share your find with friends. You may also get the chance to talk with the owner and learn more about the business while sharing your support. 

“Drop a note to them of encouragement. Tell them why you love them and what they mean to you and the community…We’ve been absolutely floored when people have taken time out of their day to write us a note, telling us how much they like us/our product.” — Meaghan Tomas, Pinch Spice Market

No matter the product or service, small business owners will appreciate hearing that you love their shop and can benefit from your support. Tag a friend, buy a gift card, or write a review to help your favorite stores without busting your budget. 
Small Business Administration | G1ve 

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What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave

Prepping for a new baby’s arrival might kick your nesting instinct into high gear, as you make sure everything is just right before the big day. One thing to add to your new-baby to-do list is figuring out how to financially prepare for maternity leave if you’ll be taking time away from work.

Lauren Mochizuki, a nurse and budgeting expert at personal finance blog Casa Mochi, took time off from work for the births of both her children. Because she had only partial paid leave each time, she says a budget was critical in making sure money wasn’t a source of stress.

“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time,” Mochizuki says.

But the question “How do I budget for maternity leave?” is a big one. One thing’s for sure—the answer will be different for everyone, since not everyone’s leave or financial situation is the same. What matters most is taking action early to get a grip on your finances while there’s still time to plan.

Before you get caught up in the new-baby glow, here’s what you need to do to financially prepare for maternity leave:

1. Estimate how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last

To financially prepare for maternity leave, you need to know how long you plan to be away from work without pay.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave from work per year for certain family and medical reasons, including for the birth of a child. Some employers may also offer a period of paid leave for new parents.

The amount of unpaid maternity leave you take will determine the budget you’ll need while you’re away.

When estimating how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last, Mochizuki says to consider how much unpaid leave you plan to take based on your personal needs and budget. For example, you could find you’re not able to take the full period offered by FMLA after reviewing your expenses (more on that below) and how much you have in savings.

Even if your employer does offer paid maternity leave, you may decide to extend your time at home by supplementing your paid leave with unpaid time off, Mochizuki says.

Keep in mind that despite all of your budgeting for maternity leave, your health and the health of your baby may also influence how much unpaid time off you take and how long your maternity leave budget needs to stretch.

As you’re financially preparing for maternity leave, make sure your spouse or partner is also considering what benefits may be available to them through their employer. Together you should know what benefits are available for maternity or paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, and how to apply for them as you jointly navigate the budgeting for maternity leave process. You can then decide how to coordinate the amount of time each of you should take and when that leave should begin.

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Contact your HR department to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy, how to apply for leave and whether there are any conditions you need to meet to qualify for leave. Ask if you’re able to leverage sick days, vacation days or short-term disability for paid maternity leave.

2. Babyproof your budget

When budgeting for maternity leave, make sure you review your current monthly budget to assess how budgeting for a new baby fits in.

In Mochizuki’s case, she and her husband added a category to save for maternity leave within their existing budget for household expenses (e.g., mortgage, utilities, groceries).

“We treated it as another emergency fund, meaning we had a goal of how much we wanted to save and we kept working and saving until we reached that goal,” Mochizuki says.

Figure out what new expenses might be added to your budget and which existing ones might reduce to financially prepare for maternity leave.

As you financially prepare for maternity leave, consider the following questions:

  • What new expenses need to be added to your budget? Diapers, for instance, can cost a family around $900 per year, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. You may also be spending money on formula, bottles, wipes, clothes and toys for your new one, all of which can increase your monthly budget. And don’t forget the cost of any new products or items that mom will need along the way. Running the numbers with a first-year baby costs calculator can help you accurately estimate your new expenses and help with financial planning for new parents.
  • Will any of your current spending be reduced while you’re on leave? As you think about the new expenses you’ll need to add when budgeting for maternity leave, don’t forget the ones you may be able to nix. For example, your budget may dip when it comes to commuting costs if you’re not driving or using public transit to get to work every day. If you have room in your budget for meals out or entertainment expenses, those may naturally be cut if you’re eating at home more often and taking it easy with the little one.

3. Tighten up the budget—then tighten some more

Once you’ve evaluated your budget, consider whether you can streamline it further as you financially prepare for maternity leave. This can help ease any loss of income associated with taking time off or counter the new expenses you’ve added to your maternity leave budget.

Becky Beach, founder of Mom Beach, a personal finance blog for moms, says that to make her maternity leave budget work—which included three months of unpaid leave—she and her husband got serious about reducing unnecessary expenses.

Find ways to reduce costs on bills like insurance and groceries to help save for maternity leave.

Cut existing costs

As you budget for maternity leave, go through your existing budget by each spending category.

“The best tip is to cut costs on things you don’t need, like subscriptions, movie streaming services, new clothes, eating out, date nights, etc.,” Beach says. “That money should be earmarked for your new baby’s food, clothes and diapers.”

Cutting out those discretionary “wants” is an obvious choice, but look more closely at other ways you could save. For example, could you negotiate a better deal on your car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Can you better plan and prep for meals to save money on food costs? How about reducing your internet service package or refinancing your debt?

Find ways to earn

Something else to consider as you budget for maternity leave is how you could add income back into your budget if all or part of your leave is unpaid and you want to try and close some of the income gap. For example, before your maternity leave starts, you could turn selling unwanted household items into a side hustle you can do while working full time to bring in some extra cash and declutter before baby arrives.

Reduce new costs

As you save for maternity leave, also think about how you could reduce expenses associated with welcoming a new baby. Rather than buying brand-new furniture or clothing, for example, you could buy those things gently used from consignment shops, friends or relatives and online marketplaces. If someone is planning to throw a baby shower on your behalf, you could create a specific wish list of items you’d prefer to receive as gifts in order to offset costs.

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4. Set a savings goal and give every dollar a purpose

When Beach and her husband saved for maternity leave, they set out to save $20,000 prior to their baby’s birth. They cut their spending, used coupons and lived frugally to make it happen.

In Beach’s case, they chose $20,000 since that’s what she would have earned over her three-month maternity leave, had she been working. You might use a similar guideline to choose a savings goal. If you’re receiving paid leave, you may strive to save enough to cover your new expenses.

Setting a savings goal and tracking expenses before the new baby arrives is an easy way to save for maternity leave.

As you make your plan to save for maternity leave, make sure to account for your loss of income and the new expenses in your maternity leave budget. Don’t forget to factor in any savings you already have set aside and plan to use to help you financially prepare for maternity leave.

Once you’ve come up with your savings target, consider dividing your maternity savings into different buckets, or categories, to help ensure the funds last as long as you need them to. This could also make it harder to overspend in any one category.

For instance, when saving for maternity leave, you may leverage buckets like:

  • Planned baby expenses
  • Unexpected baby costs or emergencies
  • Mother and baby healthcare

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“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time.”

– Lauren Mochizuki, budgeting expert at Casa Mochi

Budgeting for maternity leave—and beyond

Once maternity leave ends, your budget will evolve again as your income changes and new baby-related expenses are introduced. As you prepare to go back to work, review your budget again and factor in any new costs. For example, in-home childcare or daycare may be something you have to account for, along with ongoing healthcare costs for new-baby checkups.

Then, schedule a regular date going forward to review your budget and expenses as your baby grows. You can do this once at the beginning or end of the month or every payday. Take a look at your income and expenses to see what has increased or decreased and what adjustments, if any, you need to make to keep your budget running smoothly.

Budgeting for maternity leave takes a little time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort. Knowing that your finances are in order lets you relax and enjoy making memories—instead of stressing over money.

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