How to Host a Money Stress Free Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season. It’s the countdown to Christmas, the first real family gathering since Easter or Fourth of July. For some people, it’s the only time they see their families. For many of us, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate gratitude and to be surrounded by the people you love most.

For others, it’s a stressful, labor-intensive, marathon that only ends when your last uncle leaves. In many instances, the end of Thanksgiving is the best part.

That’s not the only problem. Hosting Thanksgiving is a huge financial endeavor. Feeding a dozen people (or more) can be a huge strain, especially on top of other holiday expenses.

But this year can be different. This year, you’ll be composed, organized and dare I say it, even frugal. This year you’ll actually be glad for Thanksgiving. Want to learn how? Read on.

Ask for More Help

It’s not uncommon if you’re hosting Thanksgiving to take on all the work yourself. Especially if you’re a young adult, hosting your first Thanksgiving is a sign that you’re a real grown-up.

Paying for a Thanksgiving meal for a dozen people can add up quickly and sometimes there’s no reason why you should take on the burden by yourself. Ask everyone who’s coming to bring a side dish while you take on the responsibility of cooking the turkey. If you delegate sides appropriately, you can end up with a meal that not only costs less but is less time-intensive.

If you feel odd about asking people to pitch in, don’t. Almost everyone is happy to help, especially if it means they get to decide how they want to make the stuffing.

Choose Chicken

Buying a turkey on Thanksgiving is a quintessential tradition, but it can also be a costly one. A whole turkey can cost $1.50 per pound compared to the average whole chicken which can be less than $1 per pound.

If your friends and family aren’t die-hard traditionalists, you can probably get away with serving the latter bird. If you really plan ahead you can find a chicken on sale so you spend even less.

If you still want to do a turkey, buy one pound of turkey per guest instead of 1.5-2 pounds. You don’t need to have a ton of turkey leftovers, especially since it’s so expensive.

Aim for Fewer Leftovers

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a meal of Thanksgiving leftovers the next day. I love to pick out my favorites and make a smorgasbord sandwich out of them. But if you’re not careful you might end up with too many leftovers that you can’t use up before they go bad. If this has always been the case, then aim to cut back and have as little remaining as possible. When you do have leftovers, freeze a few so they don’t go bad.

You can freeze anything from cranberry sauce to stuffing to turkey. Dairy items sometimes lose consistency in the freezing process, but it’s still worth trying. When you do freezer meals remember to label them and put them in the freezer right away you won’t forget.

Watch Where You Buy Groceries

It’s always important to comparison shop your groceries, but it’s never more important than on a big holiday. Every store will have its own specials and deals and you might be surprised where you find the best option. My husband and I have recently been shopping a lot at Aldi, a chain more popular in the south in the Midwest. It’s a grocery store without a lot of extra frills so you can find deals way better than any of the other national brands.

We’ve also discovered the secret of ethnic grocery stores where produce prices are often 50% of what I see in my neighborhood grocery store. Before buying your Thanksgiving fixings, check out those stores to see if what you need is cheaper. Remember no one cares if you’re buying generic marshmallows for your sweet potato casserole. They just care that you follow Grandma’s recipe.

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Simplify your Meals

If you’re like me, you probably have a variety of picky eaters in your family. Some people are vegan, some are vegetarian and some are changing their diet every week.

That can make it tempting to make a few different kinds of the same meal to please everyone, but making green bean casserole for your Whole30 aunt and a version for everyone else just isn’t cost-efficient. Take everyone’s diet into account and find a version that will suit everyone instead of making slightly different ones. You don’t need to be like Monica from Friends making three different kinds of mashed potatoes so Ross, Phoebe, and Joey will all be happy.

Use Easy Decorations

Everyone wants the Martha Stewart-Thanksgiving centerpiece, but few of us are that crafty. Instead, use squash in a decorative bowl as your centerpiece. It’ll look more natural and minimalist. Plus you won’t have to throw away the decor when the meal’s over.

If you have little cousins you can also enlist them to make pretty decorations before the meal gets started. If you do decide to buy decorations, make sure you store them properly so they can be used next year too.

Skip the Fancy Dinnerware

I’m one of those millennials who skipped the traditional bridal registry in favor of a honeymoon fund so I never got a ceramic gravy boat or silver platter when I got married. That means that when I host people I put chips in a mixing bowl and leave the dip in the package it came in. So far I’ve found that none of my guests care how I’m serving the food as long as it’s good.

Your Thanksgiving family and friends won’t mind either. Don’t feel like you have to rush out to get serveware that matches. If you truly don’t have a large enough platter head to Goodwill or a thrift store where you can find all those items for just a few dollars.

The post How to Host a Money Stress Free Thanksgiving appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget

It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget.  Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change.  In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip.  Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store.  Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!

1. Check mail for coupons and ads

Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away!  Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up.  Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.

2. Make a grocery list.

I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money).  Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.

3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.

If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt.  Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.

4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.

The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling.  That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan.  Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.

5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area.  When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.

6. Buy frozen veggies.

While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies.  One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer.  Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.

7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.

There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves).  On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.

That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that.  I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices.  Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.

8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery. 

Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery.  Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you.  If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.

9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.

While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher.  I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer.  My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!

10. Buy Bulk Bin items.

You know those bulk bins at the grocery store?  That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money!  Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs.  What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.

Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes.  Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes.  I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month.  Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store.  But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!

 

The post Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics

If you’re one of those investors with very little time to research and invest in individual stocks, it might be a good idea to look into investing in mutual funds.

Whether your goal is to save money for retirement, or for a down payment to buy a house, mutual funds are low-cost and effective way to invest your money.

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What is a mutual fund?

A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which investors, like you ad me, pool their money together. They use the money to invest in securities such as stocks and bonds. A professional manages the funds.

In addition, mutual funds are cost efficient. They offer diversification to your portfolio. They have low minimum investment requirements.

These factors make mutual funds among the best investment vehicles to use. If you’re a beginner investor, you should consider investing in mutual funds or index funds.

Investing in the stock market in general, can be intimidating. If you are just starting out and don’t feel confident in your investing knowledge, you may value the advice of a financial advisor.

Types of mutual funds

There are different types of mutual funds. They are stock funds, bond funds, and money market funds.

Which funds you choose depends on your risk tolerance. While mutual funds in general are less risky than investing in individual stocks, some funds are riskier than others.

However, you can choose a combination of these three types of funds to diversify your portfolio.

  • Stock funds: a stock fund is a fund that invests heavily in stocks. However, that does not mean stock funds do not have other securities, i.e., bonds. It’s just that the majority of the money invested is in stocks.
  • Bond funds: if you don’t want your portfolio to fluctuate in value as stocks do, then you should consider bond funds.
  • Money market funds: money market funds are funds that you invest in if you tend to tap into your investment in the short term.
  • Sector funds. As the name suggests, sector funds are funds that invests in one particular sector or industry. For example, a fund that invests only in the health care industry is a sector fund. These mutual funds lack diversification. Therefore, you should avoid them or use them in conjunction to another mutual fund.

Additional funds

  • Index funds. Index funds seek to track the performance of a particular index, such as the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of 500 large U.S. company stocks or the CRSP US Small Cap Index. When you invest in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index fund, you’re essentially buying a piece of the 500 largest publicly traded US companies. Index funds don’t jump around. They stay invested in the market. 
  • Income funds: These funds focus invest primarily in corporate bonds. They also invest in some high-dividend stocks.
  • Balance funds: The portfolio of these funds have a mixed of stocks and bonds. Those funds enjoy capital growth and income dividend.

Related Article: 3 Ways to Protect Your Portfolio from the Volatile Stock Market

The advantages of mutual funds

Diversification. You’ve probably heard the popular saying “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, it applies to mutual funds. Mutual funds invest in stocks or bonds from dozens of companies in several industries.

Thus, your risk is spread. If a stock of a company is not doing well, a stock from another company can balance it out. While most funds are diversified, some are not.

For example, sector funds which invest in a specific industry such as real estate can be risky if that industry is not doing well.

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Professional Management.

Mutual funds are professionally managed. These fund managers are well educated and experienced. Their job is to analyze data, research companies and find the best investments for the fund.

Thus, investing in mutual funds can be a huge time saver for those who have very little time and those who lack expertise in the matter.

Cost Efficiency. The operating expenses and the cost that you pay to sell or buy a fund are cheaper than trading in individual securities on your own. For example, the best Vanguard mutual funds have operating expenses as low as 0.04%. So by keeping expenses low, these funds can help boost your returns.

Low or Reasonable Minimum Investment. The majority of mutual funds, Vanguard mutual funds, for example, have a reasonable minimum requirement. Some funds even have a minimum of $1,000 and provide a monthly investment plan where you can start with as little as $50 a month.

Related Article: 7 Secrets Smart Professionals Use to Choose Financial Advisors

The disadvantage of mutual funds.

While there are several benefits to investing in mutual funds, there are some disadvantages as well. 

Active Fund Management. Mutual funds are actively managed. That means fund mangers are always on the look out for the best securities to purchase. That also means they can easily make mistakes.

Cost/expenses. While cost and expenses of investing in individual stocks are significantly higher than mutual funds, cost of a mutual fund can nonetheless be significant.

High cost can have a negative effect on your investment return. These fees are deducted from your mutual fund’s balance every year. Other fees can apply as well. So always find a company with a low cost. 

How you make money with mutual funds.

You make money with mutual funds the same way you would with individual stocks: dividend, capital gain and appreciation.

Dividend: Dividends are cash distributions from a company to its shareholders. Some companies offer dividends; others do not. And those who do pay out dividends are not obligated to do so. And the amount of dividends can vary from year to year.

As a mutual fund investor, you may receive dividend income on a regular basis.

Mutual funds offer dividend reinvestment plans. This means that instead of receiving a cash payment, you can reinvest your dividend income into buying more shares in the fund.

Capital gain distribution: in addition to receiving dividend income from the fund, you make money with mutual funds when you make a profit by selling a stock. This is called “capital gain.”

Capital gain occurs when the fund manager sells stocks for more he bought them for. The resulting profits can be paid out to the fund’s shareholders. Just as dividend income, you have the choice to reinvest your gains in the fund.

Appreciation: If stocks in your fund have appreciated in value, the price per share of the fund will increase as well. So whether you hold your shares for a short term or long term, you stand to make a profit when the shares rise. 

Best mutual funds.

Now that you know mutual funds make excellent investments, finding the best mutual funds can be overwhelming. 

Vanguard mutual funds.

Vanguard mutual funds are the best out there, because they are relatively cheaper; they are of high quality; a professional manage them; and their operating expenses are relative low. 

Here is a list of the best Vanguard mutual funds that you should invest in:

  • Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Funds
  • Vanguard 500 Index (VFIAX)
  • Total International Stock index Fund
  • Vanguard Health Care Investor

Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund 

If you’re looking for a diversified mutual fund, this Vanguard mutual fund is for you. The Vanguard’s VTSAX provides exposure to the entire U.S. stock market which includes stocks from large, medium and small U.S companies.

The top companies include Microsoft, Apple, Amazon. In addition, the expenses are relatively (0.04%). It has a minimum initial investment of $3,000, making it one of the best vanguard stock funds out there.

Vanguard S&P 500 (VFIAX)

The Vanguard 500 Index fund may be appropriate for you if you prefer a mutual fund that focuses on U.S. equities. This fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500, which means it holds about 500 of the largest U.S. stocks.

The largest U.S. companies included in this fund are Facebook, Alphabet/Google, Apple, and Amazon. This index fund has an expense ration of 0.04% and a reasonable minimum initial investment of $3,000.

Vanguard Total International Stock Market

You should consider the Vanguard International Stock Market fund of you prefer a mutual fund that invests in foreign stocks.

This international stock fund exposes its shareholders to over 6,000 non-U.S. stocks from several countries in both developed markets and emerging markets. The minimum investment is also $3,000 with an expense ratio of 0.11%.

Vanguard Health Care Investor

Sector funds are not usually a good idea, because the lack diversification. Sector funds are funds that invest in a specific industry like real estate or health care. However, if you want a fund to complement your portfolio, the Vanguard Health Care Investor is a good choice.

This Vanguard mutual fund offers investors exposure to U.S. and foreign equities focusing in the health care industry. The expense ration is a little bit higher, 0.34%. However, the minimum initial investment is $3,000, making it one of the cheapest Vanguard mutual funds.

Bottom Line

Mutual funds are great options for beginner investors or investors who have little time to research and invest in individual stocks. When you buy into these low cost investments, you’re essentially buying shares from companies.

Your money are pooled together with those of other investors. If you intend to invest in low cost investment funds, you must know which ones are the best. When it comes to saving money on fees and getting a good return on your investment, Vanguard mutual funds are among the best funds out there.

They provide professional management, diversity, low cost, income and price appreciation.

What’s Next: 5 Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

  • If you have questions beyond knowing which of the best Vanguard mutual funds to invest, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning for retirement, saving, etc).
  • Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.
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The post What Are Mutual Funds? Understanding The Basics appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com

Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It?

We’re living in an age of convenience. Groceries can be delivered, clothes can be picked out for you and just about every TV show and movie ever made can be beamed straight into your living room. If I had the money, I could get pretty much everything I need without ever leaving my house.

But unfortunately, I don’t have the money. Do you?

As our society has collectively fallen in love with subscription services, many of us have let them take over our budget. Because these are recurring expenses, it’s all too easy to sign up and forget about your card being charged every month.

It’s time to finally ask yourself -are all of these subscription services worth the money?

Are You Spending Too Much on Subscription Services?

Before you can decide if meal subscription and delivery services are eating up too much of your budget, you have to figure out how much you’re spending on them. This is a very subjective and personal question that depends on your income, total spending and other goals.

Look at your monthly subscription and food delivery spending in Mint, checking to see if the numbers align with your budget. Take the time to sort and categorize the transactions if you haven’t done so in a while. It may help to look through several month’s worth of expenses, because some subscription services like FabFitFun only ship once a quarter.

Spending may also vary based on the seasons or other external factors. You may spend more on food delivery services during final exams because you’re too busy to meal plan. If the seasons change and you don’t have any clothes, you may spend more on personal styling services.

Once you have an accurate account of how much you spend, compare it to your income and other expenses. Spending $50 a week on a meal kit service doesn’t mean anything without context. You need to know how that compares to your other expenses.

How to Cut Down on Subscription Services

If you found that you’re overspending on subscription services, it doesn’t mean that you need to cut them out entirely. Think about how much value each service provides to your life, and prioritize where your money is going.

Make a list of all the subscription services you currently have and how much you spend on them each month. Then rank the subscription and delivery services from most important to least.

Write down how often you actually use the products or services. Be honest with yourself. The goal is to keep the boxes and services that you actually use, love and enjoy on a regular basis. This can help you identify which services don’t fit into your lifestyle – or budget.

Try to be as objective and ruthless as possible here. Yes, you may love getting the monthly Stitch Fix box in the mail, but do you actually keep the clothes they send? Learning to cook with Blue Apron may be a worthy goal, but do you actually like the meals they send?

Once you have a list of essential subscriptions, look at your budget again and determine how much money is left for those services. If the available amount is greater than the total cost, you’re in the clear.

However, if the amount is more than you can afford, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. If you absolutely can’t bear the thought of parting with your subscriptions, you’ll have to look at cuts you can make in other spending categories.

How to Save on Subscription Services

Chances are, you’re paying more for some of your subscription services than is absolutely necessary. Most video streaming services let you watch multiple screens at once so you can split it with friends or family. Some even have student deals if you have a university email address. Your school may even have its own special agreements with certain providers.

If there are a lot of subscription services you want to keep, consider alternating which ones you use throughout the year. Most subscription and delivery services make it easy to cancel and resubscribe later.

For example, if you have a beauty box subscription and a bathroom full of toiletries, quit the service until you’ve used most of the products. Many of these products expire, so you’ll be saving money and cutting down on waste.

If you subscribe services but only use them during a particular season, like a streaming service tied to a seasonal sport, get rid of them and reactivate when you’re ready. You can also do this with streaming services that only have a few shows you’re interested in. Once you’re done watching Stranger Things, for example, you can deactivate your Netflix membership for no penalty.

Seek Alternative Ways to Save

Looking for cheaper versions of your favorite services can also help you avoid overspending. Some grocery stores now have meal kits similar to Blue Apron or HelloFresh. It’s not as convenient, but it’s a much more affordable alternative.

Many companies give customers referral codes they can send out to friends and family. When people use your referral codes, you’ll earn free credit or cash. For example, Barkbox provides a free month if someone signs up for a six or 12-month membership through your referral link.

Sometimes companies will have a special coupon for new customers that use referral codes, like Stitch Fix who provide a $25 bonus for both the new customer and the one who referred them.

You can share these links on social media, by text or through email. Some programs have a limit on how much you can earn with referral codes, but it never hurts to try. If you end up exceeding that amount, you can apply for their official affiliate program to earn cash instead of credit.

If you do cancel a program, check your bank account to make sure you’re no longer paying for it. Some services are guilty of occasionally charging former subscribers even after they’ve quit.

Which subscription service are you going to cut back on this year? Let us know in the comments!

The post Are All the Food Delivery and Subscription Services Worth It? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com