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Meet 2 Families Who Earn Six Figures and Still Feel Broke

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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
Julianne Pepitone |

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

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.

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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The 10 Best Budgeting Apps – MagnifyMoney’s Favorites

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 10 Best Budgeting Apps

There are a myriad of different reasons you might want to use a budgeting app, and, luckily, in the age of digital technology, there’s no shortage of options to meet the consumer demand. You may want to track your expenses, but pen and paper haven’t been doing it for you. You may want to get to a point where you’re not living paycheck to paycheck. You may even want to get an app that’s going to help you determine your net worth.

We’ve taken a look at some of the best options on the market to help you figure out which will best suit your needs.

Mint

Mint is one of the oldest and most celebrated names in the budgeting app game. It allows you to link all of your financial accounts, giving you detailed analytics for your spending habits, net worth, and current budget, though it does not allow you to set budgets for future months.

Pros and Cons

While this may be the historical Cadillac of budgeting apps, it’s certainly not perfect. Depending on your needs, Mint can either be the best thing on earth, or a frustrating find. We’ll start with the positives:

  • It’s free
  • You can link up with accounts from almost any financial institution
  • The features and analytics can’t be beat. Mint gives you a detailed profile, looking at your money in many different ways

There are a couple negatives, though:

  • Mint has ads, often disguised as helpful hints. You’ve spent too much money on ATM fees, so why not switch to an account that returns all ATM fees at the end of the month? Or why don’t you switch to a lower-interest credit card? When you act on any of these suggestions, Mint collects a commission for suggesting the product
  • In the past year, users have reported consistent, and often unresolved, issues with syncing accounts regularly. This is a major problem, as without up-to-date data from your financial institution, all of Mint’s great charts and analytics won’t be accurate

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.44.03 AM

You Need a Budget, or YNAB, ranks as one of Mint’s oldest and strongest competitors, though in reality the apps perform different tasks altogether. Where Mint analyzes the present and the past, YNAB is all about funding the future.

The newest version of the app allows you to import data from your financial institution, or you can choose to enter your income and expenses manually. Every time you receive income, YNAB will have you assign each dollar a job. That job may be rent, it may be grocery money, or it may be a night out on the town. It encourages you to think of far-off, or annual expenses as goals that should receive a little funding each month, and to not spend money until it has “aged” for at least 30 days, which means you’ll be at least a month ahead with your finances. This gets you out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, and on to financial peace.

Pros and Cons

YNAB is as much a lifestyle change as it is an app. That means for all its wonderfulness, it may not meet every last person’s needs.

Here are the wonderful things:

  • It encourages healthy financial habits in its very structure
  • User interface is simple and easy to navigate
  • Can share same account information across multiple devices
  • No ads

These are the things that may mean it’s not a match made in heaven:

  • If you’re looking for analysis and trend data, this may not be the app for you
  • Cost is $5 per month, or $50 a year. If you’re a college student, you can get YNAB4 for free, but the newest version with the option to link bank accounts, rather than use manual entry, does not yet have this discount option
  • The phone app must be used in conjunction with the desktop app, where you’ll find more features than on the small screen

LevelMoney

Level Money prides itself on being a simplistic budgeting app that gets the job done. It allows you to import your account data from your financial institutions, but with its newest update, it may have gone too simplistic. Features users loved like Budgeting Goals and Daily Spend have been eliminated in the name of minimalism.

Pros and Cons

Though some features have been removed, Level Money may still be the app for you depending on your budgeting goals. It does have some great qualities:

  • It’s free
  • There are no ads or product pushes, even since Level Money was acquired by Capital One last year
  • Because this app pulls your data from your financial institution, it is a lot less time consuming than manually entering each paycheck and expense
  • Simple user interface that is easy to navigate

There are those cons, however:

  • Decreased features since last update
  • Newest update has also led to some user issues with bill entry, login, and saving entered data

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.46.42 AM

Toshl Finance puts a fun spin on your traditional budgeting app while still integrating analytics. Friendly Toshl monsters greet you as you enter expenses, log income, or import data from your financial institution. It takes the best of both worlds by taking a hard look at your data from past and current months, and presenting it to you in easy-to-understand graphs. Simultaneously, it uses that data to help you make plans for future months.

Pros and Cons

If you have more than two accounts you would like to link with Toshl Finance, or want to create more than two budgets, you will have to upgrade from the free account to Toshl Pro. Pro costs $1.99 per month or $19.99 a year. It’s not the highest price we’ve seen for premium level service, and you may be able to get away with the free version depending on where you keep your money.

Not all aspects of Toshl Finance are valued on a case-by-case basis. Here are some of the straight-up positives:

  • Fun interface
  • Free option that is likely viable for many users
  • Ability to analyze the past while still aiding in future planning
  • No ads

There are potential negatives, as well:

  • Most of the analysis is done wholly on the web-based app, but it does link to your phone where it has more limited features
  • Toshl Pro comes with a fee, which may be inconvenient for users with multiple financial accounts, or a need for multiple budgets
  • The newest update created some problems with syncing between the web- and phone-based interfaces, but Toshl has proven extremely responsive, and quickly provided a fix

EveryDollar

EveryDollar is Dave Ramsey’s budgeting app. It operates with many of the same goals as Mint, with a few, key differences. The first is that Ramsey’s app allows you to budget for future months and events. However, another difference is that while the app is marketed as free, it only remains so if you manually enter you income, and all transactions. To link to your accounts at financial institutions, you must pay a $99 a year fee. The user interface is cleaner, though, and arguably easier to use.

Pros and Cons

There are a lot of things we like about EveryDollar. Here are some of the major selling points:

  • Free option if you’re okay with manually entering all of your transactions
  • Ability to budget for future months
  • Clean interface
  • Much like YNAB, you give “every dollar” a job, which is where the name comes from
  • If you are a Dave Ramsey fan, this app also allows you to track your progress in each of his 7 Baby Steps

This app may not be for you if you find any of the following cumbersome:

  • $99 annual fee if you want to link accounts from your financial institutions
  • While there are no ads, you are encouraged to seek help in specific financial situations from Ramsey’s Endorsed Local Providers (or ELPs.)

mvelopes

If you’re a Dave Ramsey fan, you’ve likely heard of the envelope budgeting system in which you put cash into designated envelopes for the month. When your envelope is empty, you aren’t allowed to spend more on that line-item in your budget.

Mvelopes takes that idea, and makes it digital. They believe in the system, but recognize that an increasing amount of people have eliminated cash from their monetary repertoire.

Pros and Cons

The envelope system has been applauded by many, and taking it digital only makes sense in our digital age. This app definitely has some advantages:

  • The basic app is free with up to four linked accounts from your financial institutions and 25 spending envelopes
  • Can help you make a mental shift to reduce overspending in problem categories
  • Makes budgeting for future goals a breeze
  • Few problems reported with syncing of accounts
  • Net worth tracking available

It also comes with its own set of disadvantages:

  • User interface is not always intuitive
  • No historical data provided
  • You will be enticed to buy additional products. Mvelopes Premier allows you unlimited bank accounts and envelopes, along with live chat assistance, but will cost you $95 a year. Mvelopes also actively markets Money4Life Coaching products through the app, which lack a transparent pricing structure

Prosper DailyProsper Daily (formerly BillGuard) is an identity protection platform disguised as a budgeting app. While it handles the budgeting part of its job well, and is easy to navigate, it’s not as pretty as some of the other apps that make the list. Where its real power lies is in its ability to keep you posted on potential fraudulent charges, which are aggregated from flagged transactions from other users’ accounts. If a transaction is flagged, and Prosper Daily finds a similar charge on any of your cards or accounts, you’ll be notified, giving you the ability to take proper action before things get out of hand.

The budgeting and general alerts all come as a part of its free package, but more advanced features like 3-bureau credit monitoring, and black market surveillance will run you $9.99 a month, or $83.99 a year.

Pros and Cons

While its unique features are one-of-a-kind for our list, Prosper Daily’s budgeting app has a lot to offer if you’re looking for something simple that allows you to import data from your financial institution:

  • It’s free, unless you want upgraded identity protection products
  • Clean interface, though not as detailed as something like Mint
  • Consistent reliability in functionality
  • No ads

There are but few drawbacks:

  • Additional identity protection features will cost you more money; research what you’re purchasing so you fully understand what exactly is protected
  • Analytics are not as in-depth as other budgeting apps that made our list

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 11.51.21 AM

Wally is a basic budgeting app that allows you to record your expenses, and income, along with a savings goal. It does not have the capability to link bank accounts, but that may be an advantage to those with concerns about the privacy of their financial data. While all of the apps listed are generally known to be secure, the public as a whole does still have some apprehension about putting all of their banking data in one place on their phone. This app circumvents that concern by only allowing manual entries.

For this roundup, we tried Wally+, which is still in Beta. This version of the app allows you to take pictures of your receipt, uploading them directly into the app, and linking them to specific expenses. You can also use Foursquare to log the location of your purchase.

Pros and Cons

Wally has a lot going for it if you are looking for a bare-bones budgeting app:

  • It’s free with no ads, and no pressure to spend on an upgraded product
  • Ability to set savings goals
  • Basic tracking available
  • Easily upload and access pictures of your receipts
  • Ability to enter future expenses

If you’re looking for something beyond the basics, you may want to look somewhere else, as Wally does have its limitations:

  • Because it is manual entry, the app is only going to be accurate if you are recording every last expense and portion of your income
  • Tracking and analytics are not advanced
  • While the app is pretty, navigation is not always intuitive. We had to play around a lot to figure out how to bring up future expenses, and appropriately categorize expenses. This may be fixed as it goes through the Beta process

Spendbook

Spendbook is a budgeting app that makes the entire process simple. You manually log expenses and income into a beautiful, easy-to-use app, and keep track of your money through easy-to-understand graphs and basic analytics. While all of your data stays on your iPhone exclusively, Spendbook has tapped into the same visual pleasures as social media networks like Snapchat and Instagram, allowing you to upload pictures accompanying your purchases.

Pros and Cons

This beautiful app has some good things going for it:

  • Ease of use is second to none
  • Basic analytics are provided for a big picture view of your month-to-month financial health.
  • Can budget for future events
  • Manual entry, which can be a plus for those hyper-concerned about security
  • No ads or prompts to upgrade

It also has some pretty significant restrictions:

  • Costs $1.99
  • Only available for iPhones
  • Cannot link bank accounts, or sync data between devices. What you manually enter on your phone stays on your phone, and cannot be edited or accessed elsewhere

BUDGT

BUDGT is similar to Spendbook in that you can’t link bank accounts or sync data between devices. It is also only available in iTunes, but it does have some features that its competitor does not. On top of basic, day-to-day budgeting, you are able to export your data as a CSV file. You can use multiple currencies, and set reminders to log your daily expenses.

Pros and Cons

BUDGT is a basic budgeting app that goes a little beyond the basic. If you’re looking for something in between super simplistic and extremely analytical, this may be the app for you. Here’s why:

  • It will help you keep on top of tracking your spending habits with its daily reminders
  • You can export your data to run your own analytics if you so desire
  • User interface is easy to navigate
  • End-of-month projections are provided to help keep you on track as you make your daily purchases
  • No ads

BUDGT does have its own set of limitations:

  • It’s only available in iTunes
  • Cost is $1.99
  • Cannot sync your data with other devices aside from CSV export, or import data from your financial institution
  • Because BUDGT is very much focused on helping you with your day-to-day finances, big picture analytics and planning may be insufficient for some users

Ultimately, picking the app that’s right for you boils down to identifying your own, unique needs. If you want an app that is going to revolutionize your financial habits, consider YNAB. If you want an app that will help you track your expenses without asking for all of your banking data, Spendbook may be for you. For those looking for a combination of analytics and the ability to plan for future expenses, Toshl Finance has a lot of potential.

Personal finance is above all else personal. When you’re considering budgeting apps, the same sentiment will hold true.

Brynne Conroy
Brynne Conroy |

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

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3 Small Changes You Can Make Every Day to Help With Your Finances

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.

Finances

If the thought of getting your finances in order for financial security 10, 20, even 30 years down the road really scares you, then consider taking things just one day at a time, instead. While the big picture is always important, if you can make small changes to your finances each and every day, those changes will really make a difference over the years, and you’ll have barely even noticed that you’ve been putting in the effort.

But what changes can you make today that will influence your finances for the future? Nick Clements, a former banker and co-founder of MagnifyMoney, has some thoughts.

1. Know (and stick to) your budget for today

Having a budget is one thing, but realizing that budgets fluctuate with lifestyle factors (moving to a more expensive apartment, increases in cell or utility bills, a raise a work) and actually sticking to them every single day is another. For starters, take a little bit of time every month to take a look at how your budget is working for you, and to readjust if any of your monthly financial factors have changed. Perhaps you have visitors coming and you’ll need to budget a bit extra for entertainment when they’re in town, or maybe this is one of those months where you need to do a really thorough shop and stock up on all the pantry essentials you’ve used up over the last few months. Whatever the case, budgeting for any extra costs up ahead will help you avoid feeling blindsided by them. To help keep you on track, Clements suggests using a financial app like Level Money, which helps you understand how much you can afford to spend today, while also keeping you within your overall budget. After all, as Clements put it, “if you don’t know your limit, you will definitely go over it.”

2. Don’t make knee-jerk reactions

The name of the game when it comes to personal finance is to not panic, especially when it comes to investing. “Your stock investments should be long-term,” says Clements, “and selling in a panic only harms you over the long haul.” So instead of checking in on your portfolio every single day, try making it a point to only look at it every few months, or even every year. Doing so more frequently could cause you to make a costly mistake.

3. Avoid impulse purchases

One of a budgeter’s biggest dilemmas is making those impulse purchases. In fact, one survey found that a whopping 76 percent of the average shopper’s purchasing decisions were being made when they were actually in the store. Adding superfluous items to spending can really blow a person’s finances, and over time, all those little additional purchases will start to add up. Avoid shopping online (one study from research and consulting firm User Interface Engineering found that impulse purchases represent almost 40 percent of all the money spent on e-commerce sites), shop with buddy (as long as they’re financially responsible, too!), since they may be more likely to talk you out of making of-the-minute purchases, and try to avoid shopping during times of stress or when you’re upset (purchasing items to make us happy when we’re feeling low is a fairly common way to fall into the impulse shopping trap). When all else fails, and you just know you can’t help but impulse shop a little, add some wiggle room in your monthly budget for just that, this way you’ll be able to pick up something just have to have, but you won’t have to worry about the financial repercussions of your impulse shopping habit.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

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

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3 Money Resets to Make In 2016

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.

Geeting advice on future investments

A new year could mean a fresh start for your finances. It’s possible to make some changes to your current economic situation without setting unreasonable or unattainable goals — and you’ll feel better for having done so. A few basic things to look into include:

Reset No. 1: Your Budget

If your budget’s gathering dust from the last time you checked it, and you’ve had a few promotions and raises thrown in the mix since then as well, it’s probably time to reassess where your money is going on a daily basis. Assuming you don’t have credit card debt (which, if you do, should be your No. 1 priority to pay down), the biggest things to check for are what you’re putting away for retirement and in savings. If those numbers haven’t changed, despite the fact that you’re now making more money, that probably means you’ve simply supplemented your discretionary spending instead, which isn’t great. First, ask yourself if your emergency savings fund has cash for about six months’ worth of expenses in it. If not, start there. If your emergency savings is fine, see if you can handle contributing more to your company 401(k) or your supplemental account. You might not love the idea of taking from your entertainment fund to stock up on your savings right now, but the second you need to pull from it because your car broke down or your roof started leaking, you’ll sure be glad you have it.

If you need a little help with your budget, check out this piece for four easy strategies to help get you started, or this piece about how to slash your grocery spending.

Reset No. 2: Your Portfolio

If your current idea of a retirement plan is leaving your chunk of money sitting in a money market, now would be a good time to rethink that strategy. Investing in low-cost index funds is the best way to grow your money fast enough to keep up with rising inflation. In laymen’s terms, this means that as costs go up, so will the amount of money you’re earning on your investments, which means you’ll hopefully be able to think about retiring in comfort, when that time comes.

Besides keeping too much of your money in liquid assets, check out this piece for a few more things you might be doing wrong with your cash.

Reset No. 3: Start a Holiday Savings Account

If you struggled through this season to attend all the parties and buy all the gifts you wanted to, now’s a great time to open a brand-spanking new savings account and label it ‘For the Holidays Only’. This way you can start saving a little big from each paycheck in this account set aside specifically for next year’s holiday season. As an added bonus, now is a great time to open a savings account that will earn you interest. Check out this piece for some of the best savings accounts options of 2015, and this one to compare different savings account options based on your location and how much you’d like to put away.

Cheryl Lock
Cheryl Lock |

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

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Life Events, Pay Down My Debt, Strategies to Save

8 Money Resolutions You Haven’t Considered

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.

Black woman using credit card and laptop

With the holidays winding down, many of us are shifting our focus toward the New Year. And that means the annual brainstorm of resolutions. With massive amounts of cash spent on holiday gifts, it’s not surprising financial resolutions are top of mind.

A study from Fidelity found the top three financial resolutions have been consistent for the past four years — save more, pay off debt, and spend less. However, financial resolutions declined 28% between 2014 and 2015. Why? Respondents are feeling better about their finances.

Despite the decrease in financial resolutions and increased confidence about money, Fidelity also discovered 51% of respondents who made resolutions are better off financially. And 49% found breaking resolutions into smaller, short-term goals made them more attainable.

Are you ready to work toward a more prosperous 2016? But you are not sure where to get started? Here are 8 important money resolutions you probably haven’t considered:

1. Pick up a Side Hustle

Is there still a significant gap between what you’re earning and how much you’d like to be earning? If you’re still months away from your annual review and you’re not expecting any quarterly bonuses, it may be time to pick up a side hustle.

There are countless options for earning extra money in your spare time. And many side hustles can even be done from the comfort of your home. Think about your own diverse skillset. Chances are you have multiple talents to offer. And you could use these talents to save a busy person a lot of time.

Personally, I’ve earned a steady side income from blogging, freelance writing, and social media consulting. In the past, I’ve waited tables, sold beer at Tennessee Titans games, and been hired as a production assistant or runner for concerts.

What are some ways you could earn extra money in 2016?

2. Stop Obsessing Over the Latte Factor

Let’s face it — your monthly expenses can only be cut down so low. And skipping that cup of coffee with an important new contact really isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Rather than depriving yourself with extreme frugality, redirect that energy and think about the big picture. Focus on activities that can help you earn more money rather than constantly trying to cut back. If your frugal lifestyle is getting in the way of your career or side business, it’s time to rethink your priorities.

3. Learn How To Save on Taxes

When it’s time to file your taxes, nothing is more frustrating than endlessly searching for business expense receipts, education costs, medical bills, and more. Why not create a system to stay more organized all year?

If your tax situation has become more complicated, it may pay off to seek professional advice from a certified public accountant. They can provide tailored advice for your unique financial situation and offer suggestions for getting ahead of next year’s tax bill.

[7 Ways to Minimize Taxes on Your Side Income]

4. Dive Deep into Your Company Benefits

When was the last time you reviewed your employer’s benefits package? The beginning of the year is a great time to carefully check these details to make sure you’re not leaving anything on the table. This may include looking closely at the details of your health insurance, health savings account (HSA), retirement plan, vacation policy, and other on-the-job perks. Don’t overlook the benefits you’ve worked hard to earn. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you discover something you don’t understand.

5. Talk To Your Parents About Their Retirement

Ready for a wake up call? The median retirement savings for 55 to 64-year-olds was only $14,500 in 2013. And the average 65-year-old American can expect to live for nearly 20 years.

It’s never a fun or comfortable topic, but it pays to talk to your parents about their plans for retirement. Why? You could be on the hook for their excessive spending or debt problems. Get ahead of potential issues by having these conversations as early as possible. You’ll have more time to work on solutions together.

6. Create a Will

Many adults don’t start thinking about a will until they’ve had children because it can determine future guardianship. But it’s smart move to start planning before that.

Even if you’re young and healthy, it’s never too early to draft a will. If something happened to you, the last thing you’d want is loved ones arguing over your assets. Or even worse, letting your state of residence determine what happens to your estate.

An estate-planning attorney can help you write a will. And you’ll want to name a trustworthy executor to carry out your wishes. It’s a good idea to periodically review your will and make changes as needed.

7. Budget For Self-Care

Did you know burnout can be as bad for productivity as illness? The American Institute of Stress has indicated almost half of all American workers are showing symptoms of burnout.

So how can it be avoided? Experts recommend taking time to socialize, develop interests outside of work, exercise, and take time to relax. Instead of stressing about these added expenses, make room for them in your budget. Bottom line? Don’t be stingy when it comes to self-care.

[Creating an Emergency Fund While Saddled with Debt]

8. Establish an Emergency Fun Fund

On top of a healthy self-care budget, it’s important to prepare for unexpected fun stuff. The concept of an emergency fun fund was introduced to me by MagnifyMoney’s Erin Lowry.

She described it as some extra money she’d stashed away for last-minute weekend trips out of New York City or an impromptu celebratory dinner, because it’s important to recharge. And you may be willing to treat yourself more often if you’ve planned for it in advance.

Looking Ahead

Saving more, paying off debt, and spending less are important financial resolutions. But where should you begin? As Fidelity’s survey revealed, breaking goals down into smaller, more manageable chunks may be the secret to actually accomplishing them. Try and imagine your future self, one year from today. And ask yourself, what do you want to have accomplished?

Kate Dore
Kate Dore |

Kate Dore is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Kate at kate@magnifymoney.com

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