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7 Ways to Save Money That Could End Up Backfiring

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Saving money is a noble goal. It can even become addictive, like a game. But if you’re not careful, your savings strategies might lead you to spend more money in the long run.

These seven stories will help remind you to always keep your long-term savings goal in mind. That way you aren’t blindsided by short-term “savings.”

Couponing

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Who hasn’t been enamored with the “Extreme Couponing” TV show, where people get carloads of groceries for free? They make coupons seem like the equivalent of cash dollars — but the only way you can use those dollars is to spend money first. This sets up a snag where overzealous consumers can easily be tricked into spending more money than they otherwise would have in the quest of using the Holy Coupon and their “savings.”

Kendal Perez, a savings expert with Coupon Sherpa, has some tips: “Coupons, Groupons, and vouchers of any kind that save you money on products, services, or experiences you wouldn’t otherwise be interested in are ones you should stay away from. Instead of clipping ‘interesting’ coupons from the Sunday circular or browsing Groupon when you’re bored, look for coupons on items you already intend to buy.”

Trying to save too much money

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Joseph Hogue, a chartered financial analyst and personal finance blogger, was in a familiar trap in his first professional job: He hated it and wanted to leave. So he tried saving up all of his cash so he could retire early.

“I fell into the financial equivalent of yo-yo dieting,” he says. He would take on as much work as possible before becoming burned out and blowing all of his hard-earned money in a spending spree.

He learned the hard way that it’s not enough just to make and save a ton of money. You also need to pace yourself, set realistic goals, and reward yourself along the way. Hogue’s advice? “Find something outside of work you enjoy doing to make all the effort and saving worthwhile.”

Growing your own vegetables

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Growing your own vegetables doesn’t seem like it would cost much money. Just throw some seeds in the ground and add water, right? Wrong.

Once you factor in everything you need to grow a garden — tools, soil amendments, fences, plants, hoses, etc. — costs can quickly spiral out of control. Still, you have to be careful about cutting corners. Joshua Crum, a personal finance blogger, found this out firsthand when he forgot to include wild-animal-proof fencing in his calculations. “I spent around $100 and tons of work on a garden. Wild animals came and ate everything I planted.”

If gardening is your thing, see if you can reduce your expenses by buying used equipment instead of new. Also consider planting cost-effective vegetables for the maximum return for your buck.

Not reading the fine print on a purchase

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There are a ton of ways to save money if you keep your eyes open. Receipt-scanning apps, rebates, sales, coupons, store loyalty cards — it’s a long list. The catch is that you have to carefully read the fine print so you can meet the requirements. Before you make a purchase with the intent of getting a rebate or some other discount, make sure you understand the terms and will actually benefit from the deal.

Mindy Jensen, community manager at BiggerPockets, recently found this out. She bought a ream of paper, expecting to use a rebate to have another free ream of paper shipped to her house. “I didn’t read the fine print, and the return was in the form of a store credit. I almost never shop there, so it was kind of a waste.”

In another incident she bought a bottle of alcohol specifically for a $5 rebate. “I have gotten in the habit of saying ‘No, thank you’ to receipts at the store, to save paper and the environment.” When she got home, she was stunned: “Guess what you need in order to get the rebate? A receipt. Of course, I felt like an idiot for not getting the receipt; having a proof that you purchased the product is a basic tenet to getting a rebate.”

Skimping on insurance

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No one likes paying their monthly insurance premium — until it comes time to make a claim.

According to Neil Richardson from the auto insurance comparison site The Zebra, getting just the minimum liability protection for your state “is simply too little financial protection to cover a number of common car insurance claims scenarios. People end up with huge bills because they wanted to save a few dollars off their premium.”

MagnifyMoney recommends checking what insurance options are available with your insurance broker. Ask yourself: Would you be able to fully cover the cost of any unfortunate events outside of the minimum coverage? If not, you might need to reconsider your insurance coverage.

Skipping doctor visits

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Going to the doctor is about as fun as stubbing your toe, not to mention being expensive. It’s pretty tempting to save some money by diagnosing yourself over the internet. Sometimes this works out, but it can have costly consequences if it doesn’t.

Abigail Perry, a personal finance blogger, once felt a urinary tract infection coming on but decided to treat it herself. It quickly turned into lower back pain, which was her signal that it was becoming more serious. She eventually ended up spending $75 to go to the emergency room, when a visit to her regular doctor would have had a $0 copay.

Perry’s advice is to “just go to the doctor. And if you can’t get an appointment there, find an urgent care clinic [rather than going to the emergency room, if possible]. Just be sure to bring a good book and a charge cord.”

Buying in bulk

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Smart shoppers know that the best way to save money is by looking at the per-unit price of each food item. This often means buying food in bulk. Even smarter shoppers know to take into account an item’s shelf life, so they can plan to use it before it goes bad.

But there’s more to it than that, like making sure you actually need what you’re buying. For example, Lisa Torres, a retired high school teacher, buys several boxes of Popsicles at a time when they go on sale during the hot New Hampshire summers. Buying Popsicles in bulk seems like a logical choice, because she’s going through a lot of them and they’ll keep for months. But Torres also likes buying fresh fruit in the summer, when some of her favorites are in season. When her family has both options as a snack, they tend to choose the Popsicles.

“The healthy fruit in the fridge goes bad because we are eating Popsicles instead of fruit,” she says. “And next week I have to buy more Popsicles.” Torres says she’s still working on making better buying decisions so she doesn’t waste food or money.

When buying in bulk, it’s always best to stop and think about whether you’ll be able to use all of the product, as well as if you have any alternatives at home. By keeping tabs on what you have at home and taking a minute to think before every purchase, you can successfully navigate these common savings pitfalls.

Lindsay VanSomeren
Lindsay VanSomeren |

Lindsay VanSomeren is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Lindsay here

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Why These 3 Families Chose to Live on a Single Income

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Before they decided to live off only one income, Devra Thomas, 39, and her husband, Clinton Wilkinson, 38, brought in a combined $50,000 annually working in corporate retail. When their daughter, Sophia, was born, they struggled to find ways to juggle their work schedules with child care.

“Since we were both working at the time, we really had to supplement with a lot of funky child care between parents, extended families, after school care, and babysitters,” says Devra.

Then Clinton got an opportunity for a raise and a job relocation. The family moved from outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to Morehead City, where their cost of living was lower and Clinton’s work commute was shorter. Devra, who was an arts administrator at the time, initially looked for work when they moved, but when she wasn’t able to find a job in her field in the area, she and Wilkinson changed their plan. They decided Devra would stay home so they could eliminate one significant expense: child care.

For the couple, deciding to live off one income was worth it if it meant they could simplify their lives. Still, choosing to live on a single income didn’t come without its own set of challenges.

Devra and Clinton, along with two other single-earner families, told MagnifyMoney why they chose to budget their lives on a single income and how they make it work. For this article, we define single-earner families as those in which one family member generates 80% or more of the total household’s income used to cover household expenses.

Devra Thomas & Clinton Wilkinson

Morehead City, North Carolina

Annual Income: $70,000 to $80,000

Clinton Wilkinson, 38, Devra Thomas, 39, and daughter, Sophia, 9. Source: Devra Thomas

Their strategy: Zero-based budgeting and constant communication

Devra and Clinton swear by a zero-sum budget.

“Every time we get paid, all of that money has a name,” says Devra. The couple sits together every two weeks to discuss and create their budget and make sure every dollar earned is fulfilling a purpose. They put each dollar they’ve earned in a spending category such as groceries, transportation, subscription services, utilities and savings.

Devra does some light freelance marketing and writing projects on the side, which helps supplement their income to the tune of about $10,000 per year. Any income she brings in from freelance work becomes what they call “play money.” It either gets added to savings or spent on something they want but haven’t been able to fit into their budget, like a date night.

For example, they’ve already earmarked funds for their anniversary in August. Every part of their date night is planned for, with money going into categories for the dinner, babysitter, hotel, someone to watch their dog, and other expenses.

Where they run into obstacles

Thomas and Wilkinson like their single-income lifestyle, but as their daughter, 10, gets older, the pressure to keep up with the Joneses increases.

“There are other things kids in school have that she says I wish I had … or it may even be an experience like going to Disney World,” says Wilkinson. When that happens they explain to her that those things are “not where [they] are choosing to put [their] priorities.”

They also advise their daughter to try making use of her community. If she wants to play with a toy a friend has, for example, she can borrow it from them, or vice versa.

Overall, making all of their financial decisions together has been a crucial element in making their strategy work. “That’s typically when we break our budget. When we weren’t communicating about spending,” says Thomas.

Sage & Emerson Evans

Salt Lake City, Utah

Annual Income: $50,000

Sage, 25, and Emerson Evans, 24. Source: Sage Evans

Salt Lake City, Utah newlyweds Sage and Emerson Evans chose to live on one income while Emerson focuses on applying to medical school. They have learned to manage their lifestyle on Sage’s $50,000 salary in digital marketing and public relations. Their hope is that investing in Emerson’s education will pay off by way of a higher salary later.

Their strategy: deal-hunting and communication

Sage and Emerson, both in their mid-20s, don’t follow a strict budget but they try to add at least $500 to their savings account each month. The couple spends the bulk of their income on things like dinner, cultural events, movies, and travel. But they have no student loan debt and only one car payment to manage.

Emerson says he’s used to pinching pennies because he grew up being frugal. He was able to qualify for the Pell grant and other scholarships to help pay for college. Although he isn’t working full time, he takes odd jobs on the weekend to earn pocket money for minor expenses like gas for his car or lunch outside of home.

“I make it so that Sage never has to send money my way,” says Emerson. “I know I’m not the income and I know I’m not working full time. I try to make sure I’m not a financial burden.” For example, if he doesn’t have money for lunch, he’ll simply skip lunch that day.

“He almost takes it too far,” says Sage, “I had to force him to buy a new pair of shoes.”

Where they run into obstacles

For Sage, adjusting to married life on a single income was tough. “I definitely had to learn to think of money as our money and not just my income,” Sage says about the transition.

“Part of it was just a personal problem that I had to overcome. Realizing that when you get married, me becomes we,”  she adds.

The couple has learned to communicate about things such as what qualifies as a large purchase and whether or not Sage had to inform her husband of what she’s doing with what’s technically ‘her’ income.

Sage imagines their roles will flip once Emerson completes medical school and earns a higher wage than hers or if she elects to stay at home after having children.

“We get by, but it’s definitely not an income I want to spend the rest of my life on,” says Sage.

Matt and Brit Casady

Rancho Cucamonga, California

Income: $60,000 – $70,000

Matt, 28, and Brit Casady, 26, and 1-year-old son. Source: Matt Casady.

Matt, 28, and Brit Casady, 26, decided to live on one income to save on childcare, which doesn’t come cheap in their hometown of Rancho Cucamonga, California. They manage on Matt’s salary as an online marketer for a self storage company, where he makes between $60,000 and $70,000 a year.

“We were scared at first but we knew that we wanted to live on one income because we didn’t want to have to pay for child care,” says Brit, adding she’s always wanted to be a stay at home mom. “That money that I’d be earning from working would be paying just for daycare. So financially, one income makes more sense.”

Their strategy: thrifting and living two paydays ahead

The couple decided to transition to a single-income household when they were expecting their son, now 1. They started by reducing their monthly bills by paying off both of their car loans and cutting back on unnecessary expenses. The couple also got lucky: Within six months of having their son, Matt got a new job that paid a higher salary. But the new job also meant relocating the family from their hometown in Lehi, Utah to Rancho Cucamonga, a vastly more expensive area.

All of the furniture in their new house is either a hand-me-down or was purchased used. The Casadys bargain shop at discount retailers when they want nice, designer clothes.

“We’re very cheap people. We don’t feel like we live a restricted life,” says Matt. The couple also finds deals on things like furniture and decor for their baby’s room by joining yard sale or thrifting groups on Facebook.

They use a Google spreadsheet to keep track of the monthly family budget. When Matt’s paycheck comes in, the couple takes no less than 20 percent of his take-home pay and adds it to their savings. After paying for fixed expenses, they put the remainder of their funds to a spending category. When they spend money, they record the amount, place and description of the purchase in the spreadsheet and subtract it from the limit in the spending category.

“It’s more freeing than it is restrictive when you know that the money that you’re spending isn’t going to prevent you from paying rent next month,” Matt says.

Brit earns $2,000 to $3,000 annually freelancing as a graphic designer. She says about 90% of the time, the money she makes is added to the couple’s savings account. If Matt gets a bonus, or the couple receives an influx of funds in a tax return, it’s treated the same way.

Where they run into obstacles

Moving to a more expensive place has presented some challenges. Housing alone costs about 69% more in Rancho Cucamonga than in Lehi, Utah, according to Sperling’s Best Places cost of living calculator.

“It’s definitely been a sticker shock. Rent alone is significantly more money,” says Matt. The couple says they have adjusted to the rise by staying frugal.

“The activities that we do are mostly free, so we can create memories versus [buying] things that cost a lot of money,” says Brit.

The couple also tries to avoid keeping score on things like who has spent more money from the ‘fun’ category in their budgeting. For example, Matt, a fan of USC football, may buy a ticket to a game for $150 and Brit may get her hair done for $90, but she doesn’t try to find another way to spend $60 afterward.

“Just because he spent more doesn’t mean I can spend more,” Brit says. “It helps us to stay in our budget and not compare [who spent what] so we are not constantly trying to level up.”

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Everyone has those New Year’s resolutions that, even with the best intentions, seem to fall by the wayside. While it might be too late for some, there’s still plenty of time left in 2017 to fulfill your financial goals.

Courtney Lindwall, 24, an editor in New York City, says she set out at the beginning of this year to spend less money eating out. While she’s been better lately, she says she didn’t start working toward the goal right away.

“Around March, I was finally like, ‘Enough,’ and have been a little stricter about it,” she says.

In fact, mid-year is the perfect time to re-evaluate your financial situation and find new motivation for saving, says Catalina Franco-Cicero, director of financial wellness and a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Clubs of America.

“We could all say that we get really excited at the beginning of the year,” Franco-Cicero says. “Then come summertime, we think, ‘Holy cow, I didn’t do anything. I really want to get remotivated.’”

Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says he also recommends reassessing financial goals mid-year. Making financial resolutions at the new year almost seems to “curse” them, he says, and there are many events to plan for financially in the second half of the year, such as back-to-school season and the holidays.

Here are five areas to evaluate to help you become more fiscally fit in the last half of 2017.

1. Put together a status report

You need to understand your financial situation in order to set goals for improving it. Finding the money to save or pay off debt can seem doubly daunting if you don’t know how you’re spending your money each day.

Evaluate the last six months’ worth of your expenses and income so you can plan for the rest of the year. McClary suggests reviewing the following things:

  • Your budget: Determine how much you’re spending each month on your home, car, food, and other living expenses.
  • Your debts: Make a list of all your debts, how much you owe on each one, the interest rates, and any pay schedules.
  • Your savings: Take stock of your savings accounts, including retirement accounts and emergency fund. Also think of things you would like to save for.
  • Your credit score. (If you’re not sure how, you can check out our guide to getting your free credit score.)

“Really give yourself a full picture of your financial situation so you can then go in and identify your best ways to save,” McClary says.

2. Dig into your spending habits

Once you have a high-level view of your finances, take a closer look at how you’re spending your money.

Franco-Cicero says she uses Mint, a money management tool, with her clients to help them categorize their transactions — a process people can easily turn into a habit.

Then, evaluate your discretionary spending to see what’s not necessary or where you can cut back. For example, consider reducing the amount you spend on subscription services or dining out and use the savings to pay off debt or to boost a savings account.

One thing to remember is seasonal expenses, like heating and cooling, McClary says.

“You want to make sure you’re making adjustments to your budget, while at the same time, being mindful of the expense categories that can change on a seasonal basis,” he says.

3. Reassess your credit card situation

A key step in reassessing your debt is taking a look at how much of a balance you carry on credit cards each month, how much you’re paying off each month, and how long it will take you to become debt free at that rate. You can figure this out with a credit card payoff calculator.

“Say [to yourself], ‘Hey, if I continue at the rate that I am going, will I ever be debt free?’” Franco-Cicero says.

Then create a plan to pay off your debt. McClary says the most important thing is to craft it around what motivates you the most. For example, if paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate motivates you, focus on that. If paying off the card with the lowest balance motivates you more, check that off first.

And even if it seems impossible to pay it off, he says there are benefits to chipping away at your credit card balance: Your minimum payments could go down, and using less of your credit line can help your credit score.

4. Start saving for something

We all know that we should be saving, whether it is for an emergency, retirement, or vacation. However, 23% of Americans don’t save any of their income, and only 38% report making good progress toward their savings needs, according to a 2017 survey from the Consumer Federation of America.

One of the best ways to become fiscally fit is to start saving for something that motivates you. You’re more likely to stick with saving toward a goal that you set for yourself, Franco-Cicero says.

If you don’t know where to start, she recommends a so-called “curveball” account.

“Curveball” accounts are similar to emergency funds in that they can help you cover unexpected expenses. The difference is that your “curveball” account would be used for things like replacing the worn-out tires on your car versus using your emergency fund to repair a blown transmission.

Now is also a good time to focus on saving for a house, McClary says, because you’ll have six to eight months to save before the next home-buying season. You can plan how much you need to save by looking at your existing savings, the cost of buying in your desired neighborhood, your debt-to-income ratio, and your credit standing.

No matter what you’re saving toward, McClary says an ambitious goal would be to save 20% of your monthly income between now and December.

If you make $2,000 a month after taxes, that means you would put about $400 toward savings each month. If you start in August, you could save $2,000 toward your goal by the end of the year.

5. Stick to your plan

Establishing where you are and where you want to be is only half of the battle when it comes to being fiscally fit by the end of 2017. Sticking with your action plan, as with all resolutions, can be the toughest part.

To be successful, Franco-Cicero suggests automating everything you can, from paying your bills each month to putting money into your savings account. This way, you don’t have to think about making sure a portion of your paycheck goes toward savings — your bank account will do it for you.

Franco-Cicero also says you should find a “money buddy” who knows your goals and can help you stay on track. Be sure to find someone who also has a financial goal and who will stick to a schedule so you can check in with each other. It’s a good idea to pick someone with whom you feel comfortable talking about money, not someone who you feel passes judgment on your purchases.

“We can be very lenient with ourselves, so you’ve got to find somebody who will hold you accountable,” she says.

Lindwall has had success following a similar approach. She says cooking more at home with her boyfriend has helped her stay on track toward her goal of eating out less.

“The biggest thing is getting someone else on board to do less expensive things with you,” she says.

Jana Lynn French
Jana Lynn French |

Jana Lynn French is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jana Lynn here

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11 Tips for Budgeting Monthly Bills on a Weekly Paycheck

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

While Chelsea Jackson finished her Early Childhood Education degree at Georgia Gwinnett College in 2016, she took a job as a cashier at a local grocery store. The 23-year-old earned $9.25 an hour and was paid on a weekly basis, bringing in about $250 with each paycheck.

Getting paid on a weekly basis, she says, came with its own set of challenges. She needed to figure out how to save enough from each paycheck to cover bills due later in the month while also meeting her immediate needs (food, gas, etc.) at the same time.

“When you get paid weekly you don’t really have a snapshot of what your true income is because it’s gone so fast,” says Jackson, who now works as a first grade teacher. “It’s such a little amount, you really don’t see how much you make until the end of the month when you add up your paychecks.”

More than 30% of U.S. businesses pay workers on a weekly basis, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Cashing a paycheck every week might sound like a great deal, but it can actually make budgeting for bills more challenging.

Exacerbating matters is the fact that workers who are paid weekly are already at a financial disadvantage, as they are more likely to earn less than their counterparts who are paid biweekly or monthly. Employees on weekly pay schedules earn an average of $18.62 per hour versus $24.81 (workers paid biweekly) and $28.45 (workers paid monthly), according to the BLS.

There are ways to adjust to a weekly pay schedule and still meet your financial obligations at the same time.

Here are some tips:

Change your bill due dates if you can

If you can, ask whatever entity is sending you a bill each month if you can move your due date to one that’s more convenient for your budgeting purposes.

“You kind of have to have one thing pushed back so it doesn’t hit you all at once,” says Shannon Arthur, 22, who receives a weekly paycheck as the assistant manager for a department store in Suwanee, Ga.

Arthur says her credit card bill comes during the second week on purpose. She called her credit card company to change the bill’s due date to better fit her payment schedule.

Work with your lenders when you can’t meet your due dates

If two bills overlap and there isn’t enough money in the bank for both, workers are left with a hard choice. Arthur found herself in that situation, and she knew she was going to be late paying her phone bill. She found that honesty worked in her favor.

“I just explained to [T-mobile] my situation,” she says. They allowed her to pay $20 of the bill that week, then pay the remainder the following week.

But she stresses making a good-faith effort to pay your bill on time if you’re going to ask for extra time as you’ll likely need to show you have a good payment history or the company may not allow you to pay later.

Save your “extra” check

When you’re paid weekly, you’ll have some months when you’ll receive five paychecks instead of four. “Those months should be used strategically,” says behavioral economist Richard Thaler.

He advises workers to budget based on receiving four paychecks each month and then use the the fifth, or “extra” paycheck to boost or address your financial goals.

“When it comes around, or if, perish the thought, there are outstanding credit card bills, pay them down,” says Thaler.

Chart your cash flow

Know exactly what money you have coming in and how much you have going out each month. Lauren J. Bauer, a financial adviser based in Greensboro, N.C., recommends creating a list of all of your bills. From there, calculate how much you need to withhold from each paycheck in order to cover those bills by their due date.

“It makes it easier than just writing down a total for all your bills and trying to get them paid when you think about it,” says Bauer. She says the chart makes it easy to see what you’ll spend by check, so that you know how much money you’ll have coming in and what you’re able to pay for that week.

Set aside money to cover bills in advance

“If you’re getting paid weekly, you need to develop a discipline to save for things that you pay for on a monthly basis,” says Peter Credon, a New York, N.Y.-based financial planner.

Jackson says she relied on a simple strategy to make sure her bills were paid on time. She strove to save up three months’ worth of expenses. Once her savings fund goal was met, rather than paying her bills with a bit of each paycheck, she used her savings to pay bills as they came. Then, she replenished some of the funds each time she was paid.

This strategy is all about taking back control of your budget.

“If you have enough money [set aside], you can prefund things in many aspects and have control,” Credon says. “You’re controlling your finances and how you spend your money.”

Set aside funds for emergency expenses

No matter how often you’re paid, you should build an emergency fund that holds enough money to cover about three to six months’ worth of your fixed expenses. It can help cover irregular or unexpected bills that don’t line up with your pay schedule, like an emergency dentist visit or a trip to the auto shop.

“The emergency fund helps keep you out of long-term debt,” says Credon. “Focus on building up a little more cash on the side to get yourself through the tougher times. He says you may even want to save a little more if you’re a shift worker and your hours fluctuate.

Keep your spending money in a separate account

An easy self-hack that helps combat overspending is to transfer funds you need to cover your expenses for the month to a designated checking account and restrict yourself to using only those funds each month. Automatically transfer the amount you wish to save to a separate savings account, so you’ll be less likely to spend it.

Putting the extra money in savings can help prevent you from getting used to a larger budget. It stops you from seeing you have more money in your budget for the next week and thinking you can overspend. You take that money out of the equation to keep your spending habits tamed.

Make partial bill payments with every paycheck

If you know the date and amount of an upcoming bill, you can get ready for the payment ahead of time to lessen your financial burden during the week when the bill arrives.

For example, let’s say your rent payment is $700 per month, but you receive only $400 per week. Each week, set aside $175 for your rent and reserve the leftover funds for other expenses.

This way, a large, recurring bill like a mortgage or student loan payment won’t eat up the majority of your paycheck the week the bill becomes due. Plus, you’ll already know you have the money to cover the bill.

Try not to splurge

When you’re paid weekly, you’re paid quite frequently, so it can be easy to feel like your next payday is right around the corner. But you may run out of money faster than you imagine. When Jackson was paid weekly, she was forced to be strict with herself because she wasn’t paid that much at a time.

“There were definitely weeks or months when I would splurge,” says Jackson. “Those six days [till the next paycheck] can feel like a really long time.”

Use apps to track your spending and saving

You can set bill reminders on your banking or budgeting applications to remind you when a bill will be due in the coming week or set alerts to let you know when you’re overspending in a category you’ve budgeted a limit for.

Jackson says she used the budgeting app Mint to reign in her spending on food since she realized she was overspending at the grocery store.

Don’t forget to check your credit report from time to time if you use credit cards or have loans you’re paying off. “If you’re paying your bills on time and promptly, you’re also building your credit score,” says Credon.

Keep your goals in mind

Admittedly, if you’re already struggling to live paycheck-to-paycheck, saving up can be tough, but it’s not impossible.

“Watching a budget isn’t fun because most people want to be able to do what they want when they want to,” adds Credon. He suggests building in some rewards — like getting to go on a date night once a month — to help stay on course. He says to think of longer-term goals to keep you going, like the ability to buy your own place or take a trip for a few weeks overseas.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Meet 2 Families Who Earn Six Figures and Still Feel Broke

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Although they have lived in the Washington, D.C. metro area all their lives, Lauren Orsini and her husband, John, don’t feel they can raise a family there, despite their six-figure income.

Lauren Orsini and her husband, John, live in Arlington, Va., and both grew up in the greater Washington, D.C. metro area. They attended all levels of schooling here, and their families still live close by. But as the couple looks toward a future with children, they don’t see how they can afford to stay in their hometown — even though they bring in more than $100,000 annually.

“The life that I’m living is unsustainable, and I know it,” says Lauren, 30. “But I’m so deeply rooted here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else, even though I know this won’t last forever.”

Their plight is reflected in the findings of a recent MagnifyMoney report, which analyzed the best and worst cities for a family earning six figures. On the list of 381 metro areas, the Washington, D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria, Va., region is dead last.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Lauren says. Though she and John, a government contractor, make just above $100,000 “it doesn’t go far here even though it sounds like a lot. And you can forget about buying a place.”

The couple shells out $1,700 monthly on their one-bedroom apartment, located in a 1960s building with no thermostat or washing machine. But Lauren loves the life that Arlington affords her, particularly its proximity to D.C. proper.

She takes Japanese lessons at the embassy. Her running club recently took a route to the Lincoln Memorial and back. She can hop on the metro to visit either of her two sisters. And she and John have always enjoyed commutes of less than 20 minutes.

“If you don’t live in Arlington, I can understand how outsiders would say, ‘Well, that’s a selfish decision — you can’t have everything,” Lauren admits. “But my world is here. I’m still close with my high school friends. John’s family is 90 minutes away. We can go see a show in D.C. or watch the fireworks in just a few minutes.”

Six-Figure Incomes and Still in the Red

But the convenience and excitement of D.C. life come with hefty costs, as the MagnifyMoney study showed. The analysis — which factored in basic expenses like taxes, housing, and transportation — was designed to see where a family earning $100,000 has the most wiggle room. The estimates assume a two-income household with two adults and one child, and cities are ranked by worst (least amount of money left over at the end of each month) to best (the most amount of money left over at the end of the month).

After the D.C. area, rounding out the bottom three are Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn., and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. By contrast, Tennessee is clearly the best state for six-figure households to stretch their dollars: Johnson City, Morristown, and Cleveland are the top three cities on MagnifyMoney’s list.

The differences are stark. In Johnson City, Tenn., total monthly expenses make up just 62% of total post-tax income, leaving a $2,400 surplus. In the D.C. area, expenses come to 105% monthly — meaning households making $100,000 are $315 in the red on average at the end of the month.

“We’re doing just fine for now, but when I think about a baby and buying a house, it’s not going to work,” Lauren says. “I check Redfin every day, as if some magical condo is going to spring up. We go through this cycle of house-hunting where we lower our standards more and more, and we still can’t find anything.”

Lauren and John have found homes they think they can afford: two bedrooms, maybe 980 square feet or so, for about $650,000. But these are often condos and townhouses with high homeowners association fees, which puts the homes far above budget.

It’s frustrating. And it’s why Lauren has seen friends, one by one, scuttle out to the suburbs in search of slightly more affordable real estate and space for a family. But as with the city, the ‘burbs come with a cost: a commute to D.C. of an hour or more. Lauren fears that would be untenable for John.

She wants to see her husband stay happy at his job, where he has worked for seven years. John is also slated for a promotion soon, which could help ease some of their worries. But Lauren doesn’t expect any windfall to solve the deeper barriers of raising a child in her hometown.

“We make six figures, we responsibly put money in savings and retirement, and it’s not enough,” Lauren says with a sigh. “What I think will happen is that we won’t be able to delay having a baby any longer, and life will become about what’s best for them. But for now, it’s hard to swallow any decision that will make our lifestyle worse.”

Finding the Free in Pricey Places

D.C.-area residents like Lauren and John — and city-dwellers all over the nation — are willing to pay sky-high rents because of all that cities have to offer. While some of those offerings are trendy restaurants and pricey shows, cities are also home to loads of free fun like museums, festivals, and block parties.

That’s part of why Shanon Lee, a mother of four living in D.C.-adjacent Alexandria, Va., isn’t “really feeling the crunch with my family. It’s easy to spend money [in the D.C area], of course, but it’s also easy not to, thanks to all of these events.”

Beyond free events for her kids — who range in ange from 4 to 21 — Shanon herself also scores frequent invitations to outings in her role as a filmmaker, artist, and writer. What’s more, Shanon’s live-in partner works in IT, and he can easily pick up side jobs like refurbishing computers.

“I know we’re lucky that we’re doing well, and he can make $2,000 in a heartbeat by grabbing a quick job if he wants,” Shanon says. “But lots of people I know are living with roommates even when they don’t want to. And in our last neighborhood, a bunch of families packed in grandparents too.”

Still, Shanon says she and her family are “always looking for ways to reduce our expenses.” She opted not to enroll her youngest in a preschool that would have cost $380 weekly, instead balancing her work-at-home life with caring for her child. The family currently pays $2,600 monthly to rent their townhome in Alexandria, though they’re looking to move a few blocks away where homes can rent for $1,900. After that? Unlike Lauren Orsini, Shanon doesn’t feel tied to the D.C. metro.

“It’s a transient area, and I’ve found it can be hard to form lasting relationships,” Shanon explains. “We don’t necessarily feel at home.”

Shanon isn’t sure where her family’s forever home will be, but she plans to choose a spot based on the basics.

“Our primary considerations are factors like cost of living, safety, and good school districts,” Shanon says. “You have to stay focused on the important things.”

Julianne Pepitone
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Julianne Pepitone is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julianne here

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How a Spending Freeze Can Save Your Finances

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Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo. saved $3,000 doing a 30-day spending freeze.

Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo. saved $3,000 doing a 30-day spending freeze. Photo courtesy of Laura Vondra.Just after the 2016 holiday season passed, recent empty-nester Laura Vondra, 49, from Black Hawk, Colo., realized she was at a new financial crossroads — after struggling to make ends meet for 30 years as a single mother of three, she was finally going to learn what it felt like to have wiggle room in her budget.

To jumpstart her new financial lease on life, she decided to try a spending freeze. Spending freezes are fairly straightforward but difficult to execute: for a set period of time, you stop spending money on anything that is not essential.

For Laura, a spending freeze would allow her to take full stock of her financial picture. At the time, she had over $110,000 in debt — a combination of student loans and credit card debt.

Her goal was to start a 30-day freeze beginning January 1, 2017. When the big day arrived, the registered nurse set the ground rules: she’d spend money only on gas and food (for herself and her trio of beloved cats, Baby Girl, Matilda, and Poppy). When she wasn’t shopping for essentials, she left her debit and credit cards at home.

At the end of the month, the results were undeniable: Laura had saved roughly $3,000 — one-half of her monthly earnings. She used the funds to completely pay off one of her credit cards. “Before, I always felt like I was broke, I was poor. This month showed me ‘no, you’re not.’ I could easily live off of what I make,” she told MagnifyMoney. “[I realized] I could actually live off of half of that.”

How to Do a Spending Freeze — the Right Way

The goal of a spending freeze is to reign in all unnecessary spending and help to jumpstart your savings goals.

While a spending freeze requires you to not do something, not spending money isn’t always the easy choice in our consumer-driven culture. Here are a few tips to steel your resolve when faced with the inevitable ad for something you really, really, really need want.

Set a time limit and stick to it.

Committing to a certain time frame will help you remember that your frugal period is only temporary, and prevent you from binge-spending when you get weary of sticking to your budget.

Everyone has a different frugality threshold. The spending freeze can help you test your limit. Start off with a shorter freeze, for maybe about a week, then extend it if it feels tolerable, and learn new financial habits along the way. Eventually you’ll be able to handle a no-spend month or even a year or two like some extreme budgeters have done.

Clemson, N.C., couple Jen and Jordan Harmon have gone on a 30-day spending freeze every January since 2014. For the parents of three, it began as a way to recover from holiday season spending.

“Christmas was awful [that year], and we had spent so much money. We were just miserable,” says Jen. Her father had passed away in early December 2013, and on top of those costs, the family had spent money on holiday gifts and fast food during the chaotic month.

Make a list of things that really matter.

Laura says her spending freeze was a way to take stock of what she really needed to spend money on — and what she didn’t. She began “spending [her] money on things that matter and on things that last, not just a dinner out or to get [her] nails done.”

She’s since focused on taking care of some things she didn’t think she would have been able to afford without going on the freeze, like eliminating her debt.

Set yourself up for success.

The more you plan ahead for your spending freeze, the easier it will be for you.

Laura, for example, planned ahead by brewing her own tea at home and bringing tea bags to the office to replace her daily $25 Starbucks habit.

The Harmons prepared lunches in advance so that Jordan wouldn’t feel pressured to spend money for food on his lunch break.

“It’s the convenience that really gets you,” says Jordan. “Once you break that habit, you realize going out to lunch may only be $5 a day, but it adds up.”

Tell EVERYONE and get them to join you

Telling your friends and family about your spending freeze is a great way to garner support for your no-spend trial as well as help you stay accountable.

When the Harmons announced their freeze on Facebook by making a spending-freeze group their friends could join, Jen said she was a little nervous, thinking, “What are people going to think?”

“I was surprised at the general positivity from friends. I thought one or two would sign up. It was like 20 people in the final group, which was more than I thought it would be,” says Jen.

You can also join groups like The Epic Spending Freeze Challenge and Bells Budget Spending Freeze on Facebook for support. Or, invite a friend or family member to join you. If your debt situation is complicated or you think you may need stronger debt support, groups like Financial Peace University and Debtors Anonymous can be good resources.

Laura joined a couple of spending-freeze groups on Facebook to keep herself motivated throughout the freeze.

“I remember talking a picture of my breakfast one morning, thinking ‘this is my last egg, I won’t have another egg until the end of January,’” she says. She says the image received several comments in the group from others who shared their final mid-month rations too.

Don’t be too rigid.

While social events can often come with a host of unexpected costs, you don’t have to avoid them altogether to have a successful freeze. Sometimes it just takes getting a little creative. You can look for free events in your area or plan nights in with your family or significant others.

Also, remember it’s your freeze, so you can bend the rules slightly for your sanity. When Laura received invites to hang out with friends at a local bar, she compromised — she ate a meal at home and purchased only drinks at the bar.

“I didn’t want to stay all month at home and be antisocial,” she says.

She made one more break for social life. In the final week of her freeze, Laura let her boyfriend — who was otherwise forbidden to spend money on her during the freeze — take her out to dinner using a buy-one-get-one-free coupon, so her meal was free.

Set a purpose for the money you’ll save.

You should be able to get a good idea of the amount of money you’ll save over the period when you first go over your spending-freeze budget. Give it a purpose. At the end of the freeze reward yourself with that thing you always wanted but could never find room in your budget for.

Jen Harmon, 32, and Jordan Harmon, 33, from Clemson, N.C. have completed a January spending freeze every year since 2014. Photo courtesy of Jen Harmon.

The Harmons said they are able to save a couple of hundred dollars each freeze, helping to boost their savings, and they’ve gotten into the habit of adding in the occasional no-spend week when necessary. So much so, that they were able to start saving to pay cash for a new family car. In 2016, the freeze helped boost their savings to buy a Prius that February. They say they would have financed the vehicle had it not been for what they learned practicing the spending freeze.

Hide the money (from yourself).

If you think you’ll have serious trouble keeping your hands off of your money, you could try hiding it from yourself to get that “out of sight, out of mind” effect. Transfer all of the money you won’t need to cover the essentials (or an emergency) to an online savings account or one-month CD with another bank.

When you check your main checking account and don’t see much money there to spend on impulse buys, you might be prevented from spending. On top of that, if you need the money, you’ll have to wait or work to get access to it since it will likely take a day or so for the funds to transfer. The wait may give you the time you need to think about the purchase before you buy.

A final word

Generally speaking, just about anyone can benefit from a spending freeze or no-spend period. The challenging spending break can help you develop a better mindset about how you use money and have lasting results on your day-to-day spending habits.

For example, Laura hasn’t tried another no-spend month, but now she’s found the money in her budget to pay $500 toward her credit card debt each month. She says once she eliminates $9,000 in credit debt, she’ll start making headway on about $100,000 in student loan debt.

She says the freeze helped her learn to spend her money on things that matter, not just on lifestyle perks like going out to dinner or getting her nails done. Building that mindset is the whole point of going on a spending freeze.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at brittney@magnifymoney.com

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Review: You Need a Budget (YNAB) — The Budgeting Tool That Makes Every Dollar Count

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

The Budgeting Tool That Makes Every Dollar Count

You Need a Budget (YNAB) is subscription-based budgeting software available both on desktop and mobile devices. Its trademark mantra is, “Give every dollar a job.” That means as you have money coming in, you assign it a budget category. Once you have one month’s worth of expenses fully funded, you can start budgeting funds for future months.

How Does ‘You Need a Budget’ Work?

When you first sign up for You Need a Budget, you will be asked to link your checking, savings, and credit card accounts. This allows the app to see exactly how much money you have at this very moment.

Next, you’ll add upcoming transactions like rent, utilities, and groceries. As you add these expenses, you’ll also be prioritizing them. The ones that are most important (generally rent or mortgage payments) will go on top, and the ones that are a little more frivolous like entertainment spending will go at the bottom.

After you’ve set up transactions you know are coming, you’ll be able to establish goals. You can set up goals by a date, in which case the app will tell you how much you have to save per month to meet your objective. You can also set them up by how many dollars you’d like to allocate toward them per month, in which case the app will tell you how long it will be until they are fully funded (or in the case of debt repayment goals, paid off).

6  January screen shot 1

You’ve linked accounts. You’ve accounted for bills and upcoming spending. You’ve set goals. Now it’s time to fund all of those things! You start with the money you have, and not a penny more. You assign each dollar to a certain line item, again, starting with the most important items at the top. Once you reach the end of your current funds, you won’t be able to budget any more until you get more cash in your hands.

If you are able to fully fund one whole month, then you can use any excess funds on hand to start funding the next month. The more you do this, the happier the founders of YNAB get. Their entire philosophy is that you should “age your dollars,” meaning the further in advance you can fund a transaction or goal, the more financial stability you will have.

How Much Does ‘You Need a Budget’ Cost?

Currently, You Need a Budget offers a 34-day free trial — no credit card required. After that, you will have to pay either $5 per month or $50 per year. Students get twelve months free, after which they’ll be eligible for a 10% discount for one year. If you have a previous version of YNAB, you’ll be able to score a 10% lifetime discount on the latest version.

Fine Print

Fine PrintYNAB is extremely transparent and seemingly ethical in their practices. They do not sell information to third parties, but may give others access to it in the course of business as they work to facilitate the software through companies such as Amazon Web Services and Finicity, which are two trusted names in the Fintech industry as far as security is concerned. Your data is always encrypted, and will be completely and irreversibly deleted upon request should you ever choose to close your account.

Pros and Cons

You Need a Budget is commonly recognized as one of the best budgeting apps around. That doesn’t mean that it’s perfect for everyone, though. Think through the pros and cons before downloading.

Pros

  • Transparent company.
  • Committed to security and positive user experience.
  • Helps you change your financial habits through a simple, yet revolutionary, process.
  • Prioritizes your expenses each month.
  • Forces you to address overspending.
  • Allows you to set goals.
  • Can be used by those who get paid regularly and receive W-2s or by freelancers.
  • There are user guides and lessons accessible to members to deepen your understanding of common personal finance principles and concepts.
  • There is a community where you can get support.

Cons

  • There is a price for your subscription.
  • This won’t be good software for you if you’re a percentage budgeter as the interface makes no allowance for that method.
  • At this point in time, there are no reports or analyses to help you disseminate your habits. They are promised on the horizon, though.

How Does ‘You Need a Budget’ Stack Up against the Competition?

YNAB is an extremely useful and user-friendly app. However, it does come with a fee and is far from the only budgeting software on the market. Here are some other options you may want to check out if the YNAB $50 annual subscription is getting you down:

Mint.com

While it may not use the “give every dollar a job” philosophy, Mint.com solves very similar budgeting problems in a very free way. It allows you to link accounts, plan for upcoming expenses, and set goals. It also provides charts and graphs to analyze your past behavior and provides your FICO score at no charge — two things YNAB doesn’t do. The biggest con to this no-cost application is that it is laden with ads.

Wally

If you don’t like the idea of your financial accounts being linked to a third-party app, another free option is Wally. When you use this app, you’ll have to be a lot more diligent at inputting your income and expense as none of it will be automated, but that’s the price you pay for keeping your bank account info completely separate.

Level Money

Level Money is a free app that allows you to link accounts, gives you insights into how much you have left to spend in any given category on any given day, and comes 100% ad-free. This app isn’t the best for the self-employed or those with variable income, and also isn’t as useful for those who make a lot of cash purchases.

Who Should Use You Need a Budget?

You Need a Budget is great for anyone who wants to get a hold on their money today, but doesn’t necessarily want to analyze their past spending. It’s developed for people who prefer budgeting by dollars rather than percentages, and comes with extra savings for students who are trying to establish good money habits at a younger age. It is time-tested, and is created by a company that has continually shown it cares for its customers.

Brynne Conroy
Brynne Conroy |

Brynne Conroy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brynne at brynne@magnifymoney.com

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Review: Toshl Finance Budgeting App

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Toshl Finance Budgeting App

When you’re looking for a budgeting app, you’ll find no shortage of options on the market. Yet few mix pragmatic finances with pure fun as successfully as Toshl Finance. As you move through its interface, you’ll be greeted by the Toshl monsters, who will guide and cheer you on.

What is Toshl Finance?

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.46.42 AMToshl Finance is a budgeting app that is accessible both via a web-based app and on virtually any mobile device. Toshl’s goal is to make money fun, so they’ve set up a friendly user interface to help you evaluate past spending habits, get a snapshot of your current finances, build realistic budgets for the future, and even remind you when bills are due.

How does Toshl Finance work?

When you sign up for Toshl Finance, you’ll be asked to open up your wallet to record your cash reserve. After you have your current cash status uploaded, you’ll have the option of linking your financial accounts.

Using the information from your financial institution, Toshl Finance will give you easy-to-understand charts displaying your spending habits and your current money situation. Using this information, you’ll then be able to build a budget based on your actual, recorded spending habits rather than guesses and assumptions.

What security features does Toshl Finance offer?

Toshl is big on encryption. The web app comes with SSL encryption. All data stored in the database is encrypted, as is all data exchanged between your devices. Passwords are even stored using a one-way hashing algorithm, meaning that even tech support won’t be able to hack your secret code.

What does it cost?

For many, using Toshl is free. However, if you have three or more financial accounts you want to link to your profile, you will need to upgrade. Also, if you want to create more than two budgets, you’ll have to switch to Toshl Pro, too.

Pro comes in at $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year. Along with being able to link unlimited accounts and create unlimited budgets, you’ll also be able to upload pictures of your receipts with this membership level.

If you upgrade and hate it, you can cancel and get a refund within the first 30 days.

Who is Toshl best for?

If you’re looking for a budgeting app that isn’t boring, Toshl is your best bet. The user interface is engaging without sacrificing any functionality. In fact, the ability to both look back and towards the future of your finances is something that’s not found in all budgeting apps, making this a great option for nearly everyone.

Toshl Pro presents interesting possibilities for freelancers or those that want to keep their business and personal finance budgets separate. Because you can add unlimited accounts and create separate budgets, you can simultaneously view your current big picture financial situation while still allotting your dollars to definitively separate endeavors (i.e. rent and groceries versus business cards and automation services.) The added bonus of being able to upload receipts is also great for record keeping.

What are the pros and cons of using Toshl Finance?

There are some amazing pros and a few cons to contemplate before deciding if Toshl Finance is the budgeting app for you.

Pros

  • Allows you to analyze past spending behaviors while also enabling you to budget for the future.
  • Encourages saving.
  • Reminds you when bills are due.
  • Free option is available for those with two or less financial accounts.
  • No ads.
  • Fun and functional interface

Cons

  • Marginal fee for those with 3+ financial accounts or the need for 3+ budgets.
  • Functionality on mobile is good, but limited. You will need to use the web app at least some of the time.
  • Focused on investing? If so, there are better options on the market.

How does Toshl Finance stack up against the competition?

If you find yourself uncomfortable with any of those negatives about the app, then you may want to look at another budgeting app. Here are three alternatives that may better fit your goals:

Personal Capital

Personal Capital Personal Capital has a roughly similar business structure to Toshl. There are no ads; it makes money through subscription memberships. With Personal Capital, though, you can invest directly through the app. If you’re less concerned about basic budgeting and more concerned about managing your investments, this may be the way to go.

Mint.com

MintDislike the idea of paying a subscription fee? Mint.com is an absolutely free budgeting app, regardless of how many accounts you want to link. While there won’t be fun little monsters to greet you, there will be tons of user-friendly charts to help you evaluate past spending and budget for the future. Because they don’t charge a fee for use, you will be inundated with ads.

YNAB

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.44.03 AMIf you’re looking to completely revamp your financial situation, you may need more help than the Toshl monsters can provide. You Need a Budget (or YNAB) is more about helping you change your lifestyle than simply helping you track your cash. It’s intensive, and won’t have cute little monsters along the way. It also won’t be as big of a help when you’re looking back at your finances retroactively. What it will do is whip you into shape for a better tomorrow, forcing you to reevaluate the way you think about and spend your paycheck. Fees are higher than Toshl at $5/month or $50/year, but may be worth it if you find yourself living paycheck to paycheck even though you’re making a comfortable income.

Overall, we like Toshl. If you’re looking for a comprehensive app that brings some levity into a traditionally boring chore, you won’t find too many other options that are able to meet Toshl’s combination of spirit and practicality.

Brynne Conroy
Brynne Conroy |

Brynne Conroy is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brynne at brynne@magnifymoney.com

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Banking Apps, Reviews

Does Mint.com Fit All Your Budgeting App Needs?

The editorial content on this page is not provided by any financial institution and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

All Your Budgeting App

There are so many online financial tools in 2016 that it’s hard to keep track of all of them. One of the most widely known tools is Mint.com. Started in 2006, Mint.com now has over 16 million users.

What is Mint.com?

MintMint.com is a website that provides you with an online software for 1) budgeting, 2) setting financial goals and 3) credit score reporting.

Budgeting: Through Mint.com’s budgeting software, you can connect their bank accounts, loans, credit cards, and other financial accounts, and Mint.com will track all transactions from the accounts (i.e. spending). Not only does Mint.com track spending and saving, but you can also see all transactions in charts and graphs, which makes visualizing budgets easier.

Goal Setting: You can set financial goals, and Mint.com will show the progress over time.

Credit Score Monitoring: Mint.com shows you your credit right on the dashboard of your account. While this is a credit score based off the Equifax credit-scoring model, it is still a credit score nonetheless and likely a close estimate to your FICO score.

How does Mint.com work?

After you signup for an account with Mint.com, you can connect your financial accounts very easily by entering in your financial account information (usernames and passwords). Your accounts will sync with Mint.com and your data will be updated automatically each time you log in to Mint.com. For these reasons, Mint.com is very user friendly and easy to use.

What security features does Mint.com offer?

To use Mint.com, you must provide their names and login information for all of the accounts that they will link to Mint.com. According to its website, Mint.com keeps login information “stored securely in a separate database using multi-layered hardware and software encryption to protect users” (read more about Mint.com’s security here).

Mint.com requires a two-step authentication before allowing you to access your account. This means that when you try to log in, they will first be asked to verify their identity through email or text messages.

Who is Mint.com best for?

Mint.com is best for you if you are just starting to budget, you want to have software do most of the work for you (versus paper budgets), and you want access to your information on mobile friendly devices.

Mint.com is great if you are a beginner who needs to get organized and if you are learning how to manage money and want to create a budget to track spending and meet financial goals. The web-design and features make Mint.com simple to use on any device, which means financial information is easily accessible on mobile devices.

What does Mint.com cost?

You can signup for Mint.com for free and continue to use Mint.com completely free of any charges.

Mint.com makes money not through users paying for the service, but through offering users financial products for which Mint.com gets a referral fee. So, you can use Mint.com completely free and clear, but you will find advertisements and offerings of financial products throughout the software. Be aware that products pushed to you on Mint are based on the fact the company gets a referral fee, so it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is the best fit for you.

What are the pros and cons of using Mint.com?

If you are deciding whether to use Mint.com, consider the following pros and cons.

Pros

  • Simple to use.
  • Goal-setting tools provided to help you meet your goals.
  • Provides a complete budgeting software system that links all accounts.
  • It’s completely free.
  • You have access to a free credit score.
  • You can visualize their saving and spending through graphs and charts.

Cons

  • Mint.com has a lot of advertisements and aims to get you to buy financial products, which may or may not be the best fit for you.
  • For advanced investors or budgeting experts, Mint.com may be too basic. There is no trading or actual investing through Mint.com.
  • Like any online tool, there is always a security risk of a hack and your data being compromised.

How does Mint Stack up Against the Competition?

Mint.com is not the only web-based program that offers budgeting. LevelMoney, EveryDollar, and Personal Capital are three alternatives to Mint.com.

LevelMoneyLevel Money is a simple program that makes budgeting very easy (by categorizing your spending as income, bills, save, and spendable). Level Money gives you a dollar amount that you can spend per day (this is helpful if you’re a big spender). Unlike Mint.com, which gives you a complete overview of your finances at any given time, Level Money aims to help you control your money and spend less. It’s like a moral compass for your money.

EveryDollarEveryDollar is a budgeting software system developed by Dave Ramsey’s team that allows users to track saving and spending under the zero sum budget strategy. Budgeting in EveryDollar is super fast and easy (even easier than Mint.com), but it costs. If you want the ability to link all your accounts to the app like you can with Mint, then you’ll need to pay $99 annually. There is less clicking and refreshing – everything you need to complete your budget is done on one page. However, EveryDollar doesn’t have the graphs and charts that Mint.com does with respect to reporting on your historical spending. For that reason, if you would like a more in depth tool, Mint.com may be better.

Personal CapitalPersonal Capital is similar to Mint.com with the additional feature of actual investing and no advertisements. You can actually invest your money with Personal Capital, unlike with Mint.com (read more about Personal Capital here). Otherwise, the features of Mint.com and Personal Capital are very similar – both use charts and graphs to show your financial snapshot and historical spending. One feature about Personal Capital that is nice is that it doesn’t have any advertisements because it makes money through people paying them for their services (i.e. investing with them). However, both services are free to use, so you can’t go wrong with either.

Should You Use Mint.com?

You should decide whether to use Mint.com by identifying whether it will help you.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide weather to use Mint.com.

  1. Are you just getting started budgeting?
  2. Do you need an online tool to help you track your saving and spending?
  3. Do you need encouragement and tracking software to achieve financial goals?
  4. Do you wish you had access to a free credit score?

If the answer is yes to these questions, then Mint.com may be a valuable tool for you to use. The bonus is that Mint.com is completely free and you can deactivate it at any time.

Natalie Bacon
Natalie Bacon |

Natalie Bacon is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Natalie at natalie@magnifymoney.com

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7 Things You Can Do This Morning For Your Finances

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7 Things You Can Do This Morning For Your Finances

Mornings can be a magical time, if you let them. Of course hitting the snooze button repeatedly and rushing around like crazy to find your other sock before running out the door is probably not going to be a situation that lends itself to productivity. On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who makes it a point to get a good night’s sleep, gets up at the same time every morning and accounts for a little bit of leisurely time before heading out the door, there are a couple of things that you could do in just a few extra minutes this morning that will help set your finances up for the rest of the day, week, month or even longer.

Consider adding some of these to your morning routine today.

1. Check your bank account for any fraudulent activity


Identity theft is no joke, and while we all hope that our banks and other financial institutions have our backs and are on the lookout for this type of activity, it’s also up to us to stay vigilant with our own accounts. Taking just a minute each morning to log on to your checking, savings and credit card accounts to make sure everything looks just as you left it will help alert you immediately to any suspicious activity so you can help put a stop to it. If you’ve linked all your accounts to a site that aggregates all your financial information for you (like Learnvest or Mint, for example), you’ll just have one place to log in each morning for an overall picture of all of your financial activity. (For more fraud protection tips to help avoid identity theft, read this piece.)

2. Map out your planned spending for the day

When you don’t have a plan, you’re likely to spend more — it’s that simple. Take just a minute or two this morning to sit down and consider what your day looks like and how your finances will factor in. Can you bring a lunch, or is there a lunch you need to attend with co-workers? Are you going out for drinks or dinner after work, or will you be eating at home? If you can map out where you’ll be spending throughout the day and about how much, you can more accurately figure out how to budget for the rest of the week.

3. Dress for the job you want

If you’re an assistant right now and you’d like to have your boss’s job some day, consider some of the small things you can do to help get yourself there, and do them. Even if your office tends to have a dress code that’s more casual leaning, if you care about how you present yourself to your colleagues at work, your boss will most likely take notice and appreciate the effort. 

4. Set up a two-step authorization system for your important financial accounts

You change your password frequently and it’s always something that no one in a million years could ever guess (or so you think). That must be enough, right? Maybe, maybe not. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your money, and taking two minutes this morning to set up a two-factor authorization for your important financial accounts can help you rest assured that you’re doing even more to protect yourself from costly fraudulent activity. If your financial institutions offer you a chance to add a second layer of protection to your login status (a verification code, fingerprint scan, security questions or other questions pertaining to your life that most likely only you would know), be sure you have this option turned on and set up. If you’re not sure, give them a call and ask.

5. Eat breakfast

Not only does eating breakfast at home mean you won’t be spending money on breakfast out, but studies have shown that eating breakfast leads to improved concentration and performance, which can only mean good things for your career prospects.

6. Google yourself


These days there’s a whole wide world on the Internet that we have to contend with, and taking a minute every morning to run a quick Google search of your name is a good way to stay on top of any information that might be floating out there about you, good or bad, old or new. If you find something that’s inaccurate you can always reach out and determine how to get it removed (which is far better than having someone else point it out to you).

7. Check your calendar

Do you have any birthday parties coming up? Is it your parents’ anniversary? Are you taking your dog to the vet for a checkup on Friday? Keeping an eye out on your upcoming activities for the day, week and even month will help you budget appropriately before these events happen, so you aren’t slammed with unforeseen costs the day of.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at cheryl@magnifymoney.com

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