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How a Spending Freeze Can Save Your Finances

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
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Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target, Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise, Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Cheryl Lock
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Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Survey: Most Americans Have Raided Their Retirement Savings

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Successfully saving for retirement requires dedication and self-restraint, but more than half the country admits to robbing their future selves in order to satisfy today’s spending needs, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney. While the economic pressures bearing down on workers today make their actions understandable, the hard truth is that many Americans are turning an already-difficult task that much harder by tapping into their retirement savings early.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 52% of respondents admit to tapping their retirement savings account early for a purpose other than retiring: 23% have done so to pay off debt, 17% for a down payment on a home, 11% for college tuition, 9% for medical expenses, and 3% for some other reason.
  • About 29% say there are some scenarios where it is a good idea to withdraw money early from a retirement savings account.
  • Around 60% of respondents do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea, and 15% have no clue.
  • Almost 25% are unhappy with their retirement savings. 47% are happy with the amount saved, and about 28% are neither happy nor unhappy.
  • Finally, 27% have never thought about how much money they’ll need in retirement.

Why are Americans tapping their retirement savings early?

The two main reasons respondents cited for withdrawing money from their retirement savings are as American as apple pie: home ownership and personal debt. According to the survey, 23% of those making an early withdrawal did so to help pay down non-medical debt, while 17% needed the money for a down payment on a home.

Although the housing market appears to be cooling off compared to just a few years ago, a down payment on a home still requires a significant chunk of change — experts recommend a down payment equaling 20% of the total mortgage to optimize your mortgage payments.

Personal debt, from credit cards to student loans, remains a fixture of everyday economic reality for millions of Americans. In other words, the stressors that cause workers to raid their retirement funds don’t look like they will decrease appreciably in the foreseeable future.

Which Americans are withdrawing money the most?

Breaking down the demographics, older savers are less likely to withdraw money from their retirement fund than younger savers. 54% of millennial savers say they’ve taken an early withdrawal from a retirement savings account, compared with 50% of Gen Xers and 43% of baby boomers. This stands to reason considering that many millennials have now entered the stage of life where they are getting mortgages, starting families and taking on bigger financial obligations while also being decades away from the traditional retirement age. Millennials are also more likely to say that raiding your retirement fund is justified under certain circumstances, as seen in the chart below:

Just one of many bad retirement savings habits

Tapping into retirement funds — whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) or a traditional IRA — before the appropriate age almost always comes with a financial penalty in the form of additional taxes and fees. What is more, you’re diminishing the principle that fuels the compound interest you need to meet your retirement savings goals.

Unfortunately the survey reveals early withdrawals are just one of the many bad habits Americans engage in when it comes to retirement savings. This list of less-than-ideal practices includes:

  • 35% of Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are, 37% started saving at age 30 or above, and 12% started saving when they were older than 40.
  • 60% of Americans do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea and 15% have no clue.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t contribute enough to their employer-sponsored retirement account to get the maximum company match. Maximizing a company match is one of  your best ways to maximize your retirement savings. Among those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, just 17% of respondents contribute 10% or more of their take-home pay. Almost 5% contribute nothing at all, and nearly 6% are unclear about how much they contribute.

  • Approximately 42% of respondents have made the mistake of withdrawing their entire balance from an employer-sponsored retirement plan when changing jobs without rolling it over – and nearly 15% have done so more than once. A little more than 47% of millennials admit to this faux pas.

The most damning finding of all is that 27% of those surveyed have never thought about how much they’ll need in retirement. And while “ignorance is bliss” may hold true when it comes to some things in life, this expression should not apply to your retirement plans.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

Generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here