7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to take stock of your financial situation as you head into 2021. 2020 has been a strange year, and a difficult year for many people. With many people’s health and/or economic livelihoods affected by COVID-19, many people’s situation looks very different than it did back in January. As we head into a new year, here are a few things that you can do to improve your finances before the end of 2020.

#1 Put at least $1000 into an emergency fund

If you don’t have an emergency fund set up to handle unexpected expenses, that is a good first step to putting yourself on a solid financial footing. $1000 may not be enough to handle every possible thing that could go wrong, but it can be enough to handle your car breaking down or an unexpected home expense. If you don’t have at least a minimal emergency fund in place, make a plan for how you can start one before the end of the year.

#2 Fully fund your retirement accounts

401k, IRAs, and other retirement accounts have an annual contribution limit that caps the amount that you’re able to contribute each year. Before the end of the year, set aside some time to go through each of your accounts that have an annual contribution limit. Decide for which of those accounts it makes sense to fund before the end of the year.

#3 Consider donating to charity

With the increased standard deduction available in recent tax years, not as many people itemize their deductions. But if you do itemize your deductions, then remember that your charitable contribution may be tax-deductible. If you make that charitable contribution before the end of the year, you may be able to deduct it in this tax year — otherwise, you’ll have to wait an entire year before you’re able to deduct it.

READ MORE: 5 Best Credit Cards When You Make Charitable Donations

If you’ve already made charitable contributions in 2020, make sure that you have them documented and ready to include on your tax return.

#4 Make sure you have a financial security plan in place

Still, using the same username and password on every internet site? It may be time to get a financial security plan in place. With data breaches always a possibility now’s as good a time as any to take some steps to minimize your risk in case of a data breach or a hacker accessing your financial information. One thing that you can do before the end of the year is to set up a password manager to put some variety into your passwords. Another thing is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on your important financial accounts.

#5 Review your credit report

Each year you are entitled to a free three-bureau credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, and the end of the year can be a good time to do that. If you already have a Mint account, you have access to your credit score at any time, but reviewing your actual credit report can make a big difference to your credit report. Between 10 and 21 percent of people have errors on their credit report, and clearing up incorrect or inaccurate information can raise your credit score.

#6 Use up any money in your FSA

Flexible spending accounts can be a great way to save money on health expenses. An FSA is typically set up through your employer and allows you to make pre-tax contributions. Any money that you contribute to your FSA is not subject to tax, and you can use that money to get reimbursed for many different types of health expenses. The only downside is that most FSA plans are use-it or lose-it plans. So any money that is left in the FSA at the end of the year is forfeited. Check the details of your plan, and make sure that you use all the money in your FSA before the end of the year.

#7 Set your financial goals for 2021

Finally, the end of the year can be a great time to set up your financial goals for 2021. You don’t have to wait until January to start up a new resolution. Meet and talk with your spouse, family, or trusted friends and advisors. Decide where you want to be in one year, in five years and beyond, and start taking the steps to get yourself there.

The post 7 Money Steps to Take Before 2021 appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Want to upgrade your tech in 2021? Use these Amex Business cards – The Points Guy

The new year is a great time to reevaluate your needs — both in your wallet and in your office. I personally just upgraded some of my tech, and some business owners may be considering the same. If you have plans to upgrade your tech in 2021, now is a great time to take advantage …

Source: thepointsguy.com

2021 Personal Finance Calendar: Keeping Your Finances On Track In The New Year

With key financial responsibilities like insurance, taxes, and retirement savings bouncing around your head, what should you focus on and when in 2021?With key financial responsibilities like insurance, taxes, and retirement savings bouncing around your head, what should you focus on and when in 2021?

The post 2021 Personal Finance Calendar: Keeping Your Finances On Track In The New Year appeared first on Money Under 30.

Source: moneyunder30.com

Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic

2020 has shaped all of us in some way or another financially. Whether it is being reminded of the importance of living within our means or saving for a rainy day, these positive financial habits and lessons are timeless and ones we can take into the new year. 

While everyone is on a very unique financial journey, we can still learn from each other. As we wrap up this year, it’s important to reflect on some of these positive financial habits and lessons and take the ones we need into 2021. Here are some of the top financial lessons:

Living Within Your Means

It’s been said for years, centuries even, that one should live within one’s means. Well, I think a lot of people were reminded of this financial principle given the year we’ve had. Living within your means is another way of saying don’t spend more than you earn. I would take it one step further to say, set up your financial budget so you pay yourself first. Then only spend what is leftover on all the fun or variable items.

Setting up your budget in the Mint app or updating your budget in Mint to reflect the changes in your income or expenses is a great activity to do before the year ends. Follow the 50/20/30 rule of thumb and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you spending more than you earn?
  • Are there fixed bills you can reduce so you can save more for your financial goals? 
  • Can you reduce your variable spending and save that money instead?

The idea is to find a balance that allows you to pay for your fixed bills, save automatically every month and then only spend what is left over. If you don’t have the money, then you cannot use debt to buy something. This is a great way to get back in touch with reality and also appreciate your money more. 

Have a Cash Cushion

Having a cash cushion gives you peace of mind since you know that if anything unexpected comes up, which of course always happens in life, you have money that is easy to liquidate to pay for it versus paying it with debt or taking from long-term investments. Having an adequate cash cushion this year offered some people a huge sigh of relief when they lost their job or perhaps had reduced income for a few months. With a cash cushion or rainy day fund, they were still able to cover their bills with their savings.

Many people are making it their 2021 goal to build, replenish, or maintain their cash cushion.  Typically, you want a cash cushion of about 3- 6 months of your core expenses. Your cash cushion is usually held in a high-yield saving account that you can access immediately if needed. However, you want to think of it almost as out of sight out of mind so it’s really there for bigger emergencies or opportunities that come up.

Asset Allocation 

Having the right asset allocation and understanding your risk tolerance and timeframe of your investments is always important. With a lot of uncertainty and volatility in the stock market this year, more and more people are paying attention to their portfolio allocation and learning what that really means when it comes to risk and returns. Learning more about which investments you actually hold within your 401(k) or IRA is always important. I think the lesson this year reminded everybody that it’s your money and it’s up to you to know.

Even if you have an investment manager helping you, you still need to understand how your portfolio is allocated and what that means in terms of risk and what you can expect in portfolio volatility (ups and downs) versus the overall stock market. A lot of people watch the news and hear the stock market is going up or down, but fail to realize that may not be how your portfolio is actually performing. So get clear. Make sure that your portfolio matches your long term goal of retirement and risk tolerance and don’t make any irrational short term decisions with your long-term money based on the stock market volatility or what the news and media are showcasing.

Right Insurance Coverage

We have all been reminded of the importance of health this year. Our own health and the health of our loved ones should be a top priority. It’s also an extremely important part of financial success over time. It is said, insurance is the glue that can hold everything together in your financial life if something catastrophic happens. Insurances such as health, auto, home, disability, life, long-term care, business, etc. are really important but having the right insurance policy and coverage in place for each is the most important part.

Take time and review all the insurance coverage you have and make sure it is up to date and still accurate given your life circumstances and wishes. Sometimes you may have a life insurance policy in place for years but fail to realize there is now a better product in the marketplace with more coverage or better terms. With any insurance, it is wise to never cancel a policy before you a full review and new policy to replace it already in place. The last thing you want is to be uninsured. Make sure you also have an adequate estate plan whether it’s a trust or will that showcases your wishes very clearly. This way, you can communicate that with your trust/will executor’s, beneficiaries, family members, etc. so they are clear on everything as well. 

Financial lessons will always be there. Year after year, life throws us challenges and successes to remind us of what is most important. Take time, reflect, and get a game plan in place for 2021 that takes everything you have learned up until now into account. This will help you set the tone for an abundant and thriving new financial year. 

The post Financial Lessons Learned During the Pandemic appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Why Set Impossible Goals for 2021? [The Ultimate New Year’s Savings Hack]

In the 1980s, self-driving cars and smartphones without antennas were only things you’d see in movies — unimaginable futuristic goals. Now, these “impossible” inventions are part of people’s everyday lives. These innovative ideas were thought to be outlandish years ago until creators like Elon Musk and IBM’s team put their impossible goals to the test.

Impossible goals are things you want to achieve that seem out of the ordinary — ones that feel as if you may never reach them, even in your wildest dreams. These goals could be turning your dream side hustle into a full-time job or building your savings from zero in the next year to buy your dream home.

While the end result seems unreachable, a mix of motivation, determination, and hard work can get you further than you think. To see the strategic process of setting and achieving your biggest life goals, keep reading our jump to our infographic below.

What’s an Impossible Goal?

An impossible goal is a goal you think you could never achieve. Becoming a millionaire, buying your dream home, or starting a business may be your life goal, but one too big that you never set out to achieve. Instead, you may stick to your current routine and believe you should live life in the comfort zone.

Becoming a millionaire usually requires investing time, confidence, and a lot of hard work — things that may challenge you. But when you think about the highest achievers, most of them had to put in the effort and believe in themselves when nobody else did.

Flashback to 1995 when nobody believed in the “internet store” that came to be Amazon. While that was considered impossible years ago, Amazon’s now made over $280 billion dollars.

In other words, when you make your impossible goals a priority, you may be pleasantly surprised by your progress. We share how to set hard financial goals, why you should set them, and how these goals could transform your financial portfolio this year.

Impossible Goals Set by the Rich and Famous

4 Reasons to Reach for the “Impossible”

Impossible goals challenge you to shift your way of thinking — getting comfortable out of the safety zone. They help fine-tune your focus for daunting tasks you’re willing to put in the time and work for. Whether you’re looking to become a millionaire, buy your dream house, or pay down your debts, here’s why you should set goals for things you think you could never achieve.

1. You May Be Pleasantly Surprised

Everything seems impossible until you do it. When you’re in elementary school, maybe you thought getting a four-year college degree would be out of reach. Regardless, you put in the time and hard work to become a college grad years later. The same goes for your potential goal to write a book. You may think it’s hopeless to write a few hundred pages in the next year, but you may find it attainable once you hit the halfway point.

2. You Check Off Micro-Goals Along the Way

It’s hard to set your goals too low when you’re trying to reach for the stars. In the past, you may have set small goals like being more mindful with your money. While mindfulness practices are extremely beneficial for your budget, you may need more of a push to save for your dream home. By setting impossible goals, you may find it easier to reach your savings goal this year. You may have no idea how to do it, but your goal is to figure it out. Side hustles, a new job, or starting a business are all potential starting points.

3. It May Not Be as Hard as You Think

It can be uncomfortable to try something for the first time, so to avoid the doubts of reaching your goals, create a strategic plan. Download and print out our printable to breakdown each impossible goal. Start with your big goals and break them down into mini-goals. For example, if you want to start an online ecommerce store, researching the perfect website platform is a good starting point.

4. What Do You Have to Lose?

If you already live a comfortable life, you may only have experiences to gain and nothing to lose. When embarking on this journey, check in with yourself every month. Note all the lessons you learned and how far you’ve come. You most likely will face failures, but you’ll be failing forward rather than backwards. Your first ecommerce product launch may not have gone smoothly, but you may know how to improve for the next time around.

Impossible Goals Roadmap

Impossible Goals Download Button

How To Set Impossible Budgeting Goals in 6 Steps

If your impossible goal is related to finances, your mindfulness, time, and dedication will be required to put you on a path towards your dream life. To get started, follow our step-by-step guide below.

Step 1: Map Out Your Dream Lifestyle

  • Get out a journal and map out your dream life. Some starter questions may be:
  • Do you want to afford that house you’ve always dreamt about?
  • Do you want to have a certain amount of money in your savings?
  • Are you hoping to turn your side hustle into a full-time job?
  • What do you find yourself daydreaming about?

Track all these daydreams in a notebook and curate the perfect action plan to achieve each goal.

Step 2: Outline Micro-goals to Reach Your Financial Goals

Now, list out mini-goals to achieve your desires. Start with the big “unachievable” goal and break it down into medium and small goals, then assign each mini-goal a due date. For example, saving $10,000 this year may take more than your current monthly earnings. To achieve this, you may create passive income streams. If that side hustle is to start a money-making blog, you may need to research steps to successfully launch your website.

Step 3: Believe and Act Like Your Future Self

Think of yourself as the future self you want to be. You may picture yourself with a certain home, financial portfolio, and lifestyle, but your current actions may not reflect your future self. Your future self may invest, but your current self is too intimidated to start. To act like your future self, consider doing the research and finding low-risk investments that suit you and your budget.

Step 4: If You Fail, Learn from Your Mistakes

When working towards your dream life, you may hit roadblocks and experience failures. As Oprah explains it, “there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.” While failure may happen, you’re able to learn from it and pivot. Every mistake you make, analyze it in your journal. Note what worked, what didn’t, and what you want to do better tomorrow to surpass this roadblock.

Step 5: Track Your Results Consistently

Host monthly meetings with yourself to see how far you’ve come. Consider creating a goal tracking system that suits you best. That may include checking your budgeting goals off in our app month after month. Find a system that works for you and note your growth at the end of each month. If you’re putting in the time and hard work, you’ll get closer to your goals in no time.

Step 6: Be Patient With Your Budget Goals

Throughout this journey, practice patience. Setting goals may be exciting and motivating, but when you’re faced with failures, you may feel hints of disappointment. To avoid a failure slump, be patient and open to learn from your mistakes. If you didn’t make what you wanted from your side hustle the first year, you’re that much closer than you were last year.

Why set your sights on hard goals? Everything feels out of reach until you do it. All it takes is motivation and determination to achieve the impossible. To boost your lifestyle, budget, and drive this New Year, consider setting goals that feel out of reach. Keep reading to see why these goals may be perfect for you. Why Set Impossible Goals for 2021? [The Ultimate New Year’s Savings Hack] appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Escape Debt in 2016

How to Escape Debt in 2016

The new year is right around the corner and if you’re like most people, you’ve probably got a running list of resolutions to achieve and milestones to reach. If getting out of debt ranks near the top, now’s the time to starting thinking about how you’re going to hit your goal. Developing a clear-cut action plan can get you that much closer to debt-free status in 2016.

1. Add up Your Debt

You can’t start attacking your debt until you know exactly how much you owe. The first step to paying down your debt is sitting down with all of your statements and adding up every penny that’s still outstanding. Once you know how deep in debt you are, you can move on to the next step.

2. Review Your Budget

A budget is a plan that sets limits on how you spend your money. If you don’t have one, it’s a good idea to put a budget together as soon as possible. If you do have a budget, you can go over it line by line to find costs you can cut out. By eliminating fees and unnecessary expenses like cable subscriptions, you’ll be able to use the money you save to pay off your debt.

3. Set Your Goals

How to Escape Debt in 2016

At this point in the process, you should have two numbers: the total amount of money you owe and the amount you can put toward your debt payments each month. Using those two figures, you should be able determine how long it’s going to take you to pay off your mortgage, student loans, personal loans and credit card debt.

Let’s say you owe your credit card issuer $25,000. If you have $500 in your budget that you can use to pay off that debt each month, you’ll be able to knock $6,000 off your card balance in a year. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll still need to factor in interest to get an accurate idea of how the balance will shrink from one year to the next.

4. Lower Your Interest Rates

Interest is a major obstacle when you’re trying to get out of debt. If you want to speed up the payment process, you can look for ways to shave down your rates. If you have high-interest credit card debt, for instance, transferring the balances to a card with a 0% promotional period can save you some money and reduce the amount of time it’ll take to get rid of your debt.

Refinancing might be worth considering if you have student loans, car loans or a mortgage. Just remember that completing a balance transfer or refinancing your debt isn’t necessarily free. Credit card companies typically charge a 3% fee for balance transfers and if you’re taking out a refinance loan, you might be on the hook for origination fees and other closing costs.

5. Increase Your Income

How to Escape Debt in 2016

Keeping a tight rein on your budget can go a long way. But that’s not the only way to escape debt. Pumping up your paycheck in the new year can also help you pay off your loans and increase your disposable income.

Asking your boss for a raise will directly increase your earnings, but there’s no guarantee that your supervisor will agree to your request. If you’re paid by the hour, you can always take on more hours at your current job. And if all else fails, you can start a side gig to bring in more money.

Hold Yourself Accountable

Having a plan to get out of debt in the new year won’t get you very far if you’re not 100% committed. Checking your progress regularly is a must, as is reviewing your budget and goals to make sure you’re staying on track.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/BsWei, ©iStock.com/marekuliasz, ©iStock.com/DragonImages

The post How to Escape Debt in 2016 appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com

Math Tips for Smart Shopping

Calculator in a Shopping CartI recently ran across a 2012 article from The Atlantic called The 11 Ways That Consumers Are Hopeless at Math. The title of this article hooked me, and as I began reading I found that there are indeed a few ways in which consumers misunderstand math – and pay the price as a result.

But I also found that most of the so-called “math tricks" that people get caught up in are really better described as number-based psychological hacks, which marketers use to extract every last penny from us that they can.

So it's not so much that consumers are hopeless at math as they are susceptible to being tricked. Which is precisely what a savvy shopper knows how to avoid.

What are some of these mathematical misunderstandings that you should be aware of? And what are some of the most common number-based psychological hacks? Those are exactly the questions we’ll be looking at today, as we finish up the year with a resolution to become even smarter shoppers in the new year.

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by NatureBox. Discover smarter snacking with a new NatureBox each month. Get your first box FREE when you go to naturebox.com/qdt.

How Much Bang For Your Buck?

The article I mentioned from The Atlantic begins with an anecdote that nicely points out one of the biggest flaws in the way the average consumer shops. Namely, that when it comes to pricing and deals, most people go with their gut instead of taking a few seconds to think things through.

Here's the story: Imagine you walk into a coffee shop, take a look at the day’s specials, and see a sign that says, “Today only, your choice—get 33% more coffee for the regular price, or pay 33% less for the regular amount of coffee!” If you were presented with these two options, which would you choose?

In truth, choosing the best deal isn't always just a question of numbers. For example, if you really wanted more than your regular amount of coffee that day, then the extra coffee option would be a fine choice. But that’s not really what I’m talking about here, so let’s rephrase the question a bit to focus on the math.

The real question is this: Which option is the better deal in terms of dollars spent per ounce of coffee? After all, that’s what we’re really talking about when we speak of being a savvy shopper—getting the most bang for your buck.

Most people's gut instinct is that the two deals are about equally as good.

Most people’s gut instinct is that the two deals—33% more coffee for the same price or the same amount of coffee for 33% less money—are equally as good. After all, they both have the same 33% in them. But let’s do the math to see if this assumption is really true.

Imagine your usual 8 oz. cup of coffee costs $2. In this case, the first option gives you about 1.33 x 8 oz. = 10.6 oz. of coffee for $2, while the second option gives you your usual 8 oz. of coffee for a price of 0.67 x $2 = $1.34. That means you pay $2 / 10.6 oz. = 18.9 cents/oz. with the first option, but only $1.34 / 8 oz. = 16.8 cents/oz. with the second.

So, clearly, the second option is a better deal. While it's tempting to get something "free" for the same amount you usually pay (the first option), in this case, getting the amount you actually want for less money is a better deal—especially if you don't really need that extra coffee anyway. And, as always, the math is there to back you up.


What’s the Best Deal?

People prefer to make choices between similar and easily-comparable options.

As I mentioned at the outset, most savvy shopping skills are really less about math and more about avoiding the number-based psychological hacks that marketers (would love to) play on you. While perusing the news this week, I found an article discussing a perfect example of this kind of sneaky hackery.

This example was originally described in Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, in which he talks about running across an advertisement to subscribe to the magazine The Economist. The advertisement lists 3 possible deals:

  1. Web-only subscription for $59/year
  2. Print-only subscription for $125/year
  3. Print + web subscription for $125/year

If confronted with these options, which would you choose? If you’re anything like the 100 MIT students that Dan Ariely posed this question to, you’d pick the print + web subscription for $125/year; 84% of the MIT students chose that offer, while 16% chose the cheaper web-only subscription.

Not surprisingly, nobody chose the middle print-only option. After all, it’s a pretty bad deal compared to the third option, which gives you the same thing plus something extra, all for the same price. But if that middle option is such a bad deal, why did the marketers even bother to include it?

To answer this question, Dan Ariely removed the second option from the list and presented the two remaining options to another group of 100 MIT students. This time, with just the $59 web-only and $125 print + web subscriptions to choose from, 68% chose the cheaper web-only subscription and 32% chose the print + web subscription. Remember, when all three options were available, 84% of students chose the more expensive option and only 16% chose the cheaper subscription.

So why did the marketers include that strange print-only subscription option? Because they also figured out that more people would choose the more expensive subscription if the print-only option was there.

What’s the math behind this? There isn’t any—this one is purely psychological. Sure, there are numbers involved, but all they’re really doing here is pointing out that people prefer to make choices between similar and easily-comparable options – so when they’re given the opportunity to do so, they will.

It may not be rational, but it is very real. And knowing how to spot this kind of trick is a big part of learning how to use math—or at least numbers—to be a more savvy shopper.

Wrap Up

Okay, that’s all the math we have time for today.

For more fun with math, please check out my book, The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. And remember to become a fan of The Math Dude on Facebook, where you’ll find lots of great math posted throughout the week. If you’re on Twitter, please follow me there, too.

Until next time, this is Jason Marshall with The Math Dude’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Make Math Easier. Thanks for reading, math fans!

Calculator-in-a-shopping cart image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Source: quickanddirtytips.com

Simple, Achievable New Year’s Resolutions That Will Make You Richer

Losing weight, exercising more, spending less, paying down debt: all common New Year’s resolutions many make, but few stick to. Changing the habits of a lifetime isn’t easy. But using a few simple tools makes it a lot more likely. In this week’s “Money!” podcast, we’re going to explore some wealth-creating New Year’s resolutions, and more importantly, we’re going to talk about some ways to get on…

Source: moneytalksnews.com