Evaluating Your Emergency Fund

As Americans begin to recover from the daze and haze that was 2020, one of the biggest things that come to mind is the importance of emergency funds. So many people lost jobs, had hours cut, or were furloughed, and as a result, hundreds of thousands were displaced and struggled to make their rent or lost their housing all together. Others struggled to keep food on the table and relied on food banks and charities, as well as food programs or food stamps to ensure their families were fed. For many, life was a struggle, and their savings accounts were completely exhausted and emptied so that they could stay afloat. Even if you weren’t impacted by the pandemic, having savings set aside for the next big churn may still be weighing heavily on your mind. Let’s explore the practical issues surrounding creating and maintaining a healthy emergency fund!

Finding room in the budget

If you live paycheck-to-paycheck, it may seem near impossible to find room in the budget to save in any meaningful way. That mindset can lead to ignoring the problem completely. Even if you are only able to save $10 per paycheck, it’s still a start! Cut back on fast food, cut down on streaming services, or pick up a low-stress side-hustle to help pad that savings even just a little bit to get you going. Every dollar count, so count every dollar! Buy in bulk or off-brand at the grocery store and see how the savings add up over time.

How much should you have saved?

Before 2020, the standard advice was to have 3-6 months of monthly expenses set aside. In the post-pandemic world? You’d be better off saving about a year’s worth of expenses, or at the very least, a year’s worth of rent or mortgage payments set aside so that you can maintain a roof over your head while figuring out the rest.  That may seem like an insurmountable task, but by starting now, today, you begin the process of securing your own safety and security. And savings doesn’t just pertain to money… As we all saw last year in The Toilet Paper Rush, having a store of household goods, shelf-stable and frozen foods can be a boon when times are tough. Start thinking long-term sustainability and comfort. By picking up a few extra cans of vegetables each grocery trip, you can stock up for those leaner times.

Think Sustainable

In a world filled with disposables, think sustainable. You may spend a bit more upfront for goods but buying better quality products can save you big money in the long run. If you’ve got a product that you find yourself buying repeatedly due to wear and tear, it may be time to think of upgrading to something that will last longer and made sturdier. Those re-purchases can really add up over time! This applies to services too. If you’re spending $100/ month on yard maintenance, it’s time to re-evaluate if you’d be better served doing the yard work yourself. Same goes for pool services, laundry services and even your yearly extermination spraying. If it’s a service that you use out of convenience, weigh out whether your time is more precious than your money.

By trimming the fat and evaluating your current circumstances, you may find there are indeed places where you can trim the fat and save some cash.

Come back next week for more great discussion on finances, savings, and budgeting!

Keeping Kids Busy on A Budget

School is out for summer!! This means kids will underfoot and aching for something to do. Here’s our list of budget-friendly ways to keep your kids entertained and out of trouble all summer long!

Create Your Own Camp

No matter what your kids are passionate about, you can create a summer camp experience for them! If they want to explore cooking, check out some budget-friendly meal programs that come with ingredients and recipes. You’ll nurture your little chef’s kitchen escapades and save on the grocery bill and waste too! Let the kids pick what meals they’d like to prepare and explore different cuisines through culinary exploration while adding in some cultural education too! If you’ve got a STEM kid on your hands, check out Pinterest for some great, cheap science experiments to try out at home! A lot of the material you’ll already have under your sink or in the pantry! Have kids explore the scientific method and create a science journal so they can record their experiments, observations, and results!

Book Club

If you’ve got a bookworm on your hands, or want to create one, find a local or online book club! www.getepic.com is a great resource that will give your child access to thousands of titles, fun games and quizzes and an award system to help them track their progress for less than $3.50/ month or check out your local library for their summer reading lists!

Workshops

Home Depot, Michaels and other hobby and DIY companies often offer weekly kid’s workshops or even creativity camps where they can paint tiles, make flowerpots, and create cement garden plaques. Check out what’s available near you!

Geocaching!

Whether you want to explore your own neighborhood or take a little road trip, geocaching can make an adventure out of any outing! Geocaching lets you find and leave treasures for new explorers, learn about geography and mapping, and lets you get in touch with nature too! Learn more about geocaching here!

Local Nature Preserve

If you live in suburbia, it may be a little difficult to find ways to get some fresh air and get into nature. Check to see if your city or any neighboring cities have a riparian preserve. You’ll get a chance to stroll in nature, see new animals and birds and often, preserves will have guided hikes or children’s education programs!

Volunteer

For older kids, check out www.volunteermatch.org to find great ways to give back to the community and spend time making new friends!

There’s no shortage of ways to keep kids entertained on a budget, you just need a little inspiration and creativity! Help kids stay on a schedule, even while having a fun-filled summer!

Lumber and The Housing Market

There is no denying that it is a seller’s market. If you are a homeowner, you are likely fielding cold calls from companies offering cash for your home at least once a week, and if you are searching for a home to buy, you know that even the humblest of homes are being sold sometimes within hours of being placed on the market.

Due to how competitive the market is this year; potential buyers are turning to new construction in record numbers. But due to the lumber shortage, those buyers are looking at an average of $36,000 extra cost for a single-family home and an added $13,000 to the market value of a new multifamily home. About 1 in 4 homes for sale are newly build, the highest share on record. Historically, new homes make up around 1 in 10 of houses on the market. Lumber prices are setting new records daily, up 340% from a year ago according to wood products industry tracking firms.

The skyrocketing prices can be blames on various factors beyond simple high demand. Lumber tariffs caused the prices to rise over a year ago, but with the pandemic shutdowns, production came to a halt as well. Just as what has happened in the chip manufacturing industry, the wood industry saw extreme missteps in projected needs. The expectation was that the housing demand would remain at a stand-still for a long time. In fact, the reverse occurred. After a very brief pause in home purchases, demand came back with a boom. Homebuilders and lumber producers were caught off guard and the catch-up game has been challenged by the tariffs and lack of domestic supply. Until the industry can reach its full production potential, the shortage will persist and the difficulty in finding a home to buy will continue for the foreseeable future.

Summer Side Hustles

Summer is the perfect time start making some extra cash. People are vacationing and demand is high for all things recreational! Here’s some quick, easy ways to turn an easy profit!

Offer Tours

If you live someplace beautiful with hidden gems, offer to be a tour guide to travelers! You set your own schedule and your own hourly pay!

Rent Out Your Pool

Depending on where you live, your pool could make you up to $150 an hour. Sign up for Swimply today! Pools that offer guests use of a restroom always go for higher. Swimply also covers up to $1 million in insurance for owners.

Rent Out Your Recreational Toys!

If you have got a boat, a few jet skis, an ATV, or any other recreational vehicle, put it up for rent on GetMyBoat. You can even add a surcharge for vehicles returned without gas.

Rent Your Home for The Weekend

If you have plans to travel, make some of that money back by listing your home on Airbnb. You can easily cover your trip expenses! If you don’t plan to travel, ask a friend if you can crash for the weekend and list your pad anyways! You’ll can make some extra cash, spend time with loved ones, and splurge on dinner for everyone!

Delivery!

Sign up for Instacart, Lyft, Uber, or any other local delivery service in your free time. People spend more money for the convenience when it’s sweltering out, so take advantage!

Lifeguard

If you dream of spending the summer by the pool, why not make money while you’re at it? Lifeguards get paid anywhere from $15-$60 per hour!

Online Tutoring

There is always a need for tutors, and not just in those same old school subjects! You can make $20 an hour easily by teaching the elderly how to use the internet, Zoom and other social media sites. Drop a few flyers at your local senior center!

Think outside the box and find a need that you can fill while filling up your bank account!

Join us next week for more great information and personal finance tips!

Summer Savings: Cheap and Fun Staycation Ideas

If you’re still recovering from the economic stresses of 2020, you may be dreaming of a tropical paradise on a pauper’s budget. Never fear, we have got some solid, thrifty, and fun ideas to help you enjoy your time off!

Camp Out

If you’re up for a road trip, pack up the car and head to cooler climes for a weekend of camping! Rent, borrow or buy your camping gear for a low-cost vacation that will help you recharge and reconnect with nature!

Bucket List Your City

If you live in or near a metropolitan area, chances are you haven’t seen even a quarter of the wonders your city has to offer. Create a bucket list of museums, galleries, restaurants, and sights you always wanted to check out and start checking off some of those boxes! Use travel sites to help you find hidden gems you never even knew you had right down the road!

Wine Tasting or Beer Gardens

Depending on where you live, chances are your state has a few famous brews or vino choices you’ve yet to explore. Make a night of it and ask a few friends to each bring their favorite local beverage. Set out some candles on the patio and enjoy a night of flavor!

Rent local

If you can’t afford a luxury vacation, check out the prices of AirBnb or hotels near you. Try for non-peak days to save extra cash and avoid the rush too! Getting out of your own space and into something a little different can help you break out of that funk!

Bring the Spa Home

Create a spa experience in your own home and pamper yourself and a few close pals! Don your coziest robes or pajamas, give each other mani-pedis and facials, pop some champagne and enjoy a luxurious day in the comfort of your own home!

Music in the Park

Spend the evening on a blanket with a loved one, listening to music and enjoying the weather at a Music in the Park event. Check your local event pages to find one near you! Pack a picnic for added romance!

Rent A Hot Rod

Rent a Hot Rod or a convertible for the night and drive around in style! You’ll get a thrill out of the experience and it won’t break the bank!

There are tons of great ways to spend your staycation without feeling like you missed out. Get creative, save some major cash, and enjoy the world around you!

Come back next week for more great tips and info!

Getting in On the Card Game

If you haven’t heard, sports cards are back in vogue and in astronomical demand! Yes, sports cards, like MBA and NFL collectable cards from your childhood. In fact, the demand is so high that PSA Authentication and Grading Services, the gold standard in sports collectibles grading, has shut down several services due to overwhelming demand. They simply could no longer keep up with the boom.

This has left the industry in a tight spot. The backlog at PSA has reached over one million cards! But the shutdown of these services has not affected the massive rush that occurs with card drops. Card releases, or card “drops”, are scheduled release dates for card packs, boxes, and special edition trading cards. And the trend is on the rise.

In fact, Target has recently had to discontinue carrying cards in store out of an “abundance of caution” after a parking lot brawl that resulted in a man pulling a gun on 4 men who were attacking him over the collectibles. This news has resulted in much anticipation on Discord servers dedicated to card buying and selling. Target will continue to sell cards online, which means the ante is up for buyer’s savvy enough to use retail bots that can procure purchases in milliseconds after a card drop.

Why the hype?

One good buying day can result in resales with a profit of hundreds or thousands of dollars, and a few cards can even go for millions of dollars. The resurgence in popularity of the pastime can be chalked up to the pandemic. People had a lot of time on their hands to discover or rediscover a passion for trading cards. For some, it’s about being a part of the fandom. For others, it’s purely profit. For serious collectors, there are collectible funds formed for the purpose of buying and sitting on valuable cards. It is almost like a hedge fund for trading cards.

Will the trend continue?

There have been spikes in popularity of trading cards in nearly every decade since the 1950s. Manufactured scarcity by producers can keep the game going for years, driving up prices for cards. Many collectors hold out hope of finding their white whale that will sell for life-changing money. And for the lucky few, it does happen. Just last year a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in nearly perfect condition sold for $5.2 million.

The Bottom Line

Perhaps it’s time to go digging through the attic for your card binder or hit up your grandparents for theirs. You may just find your golden ticket.

Join us next week for more great information and education!

Student Loan Forgiveness

Student loan forgiveness has been a highlight in the news lately, and with the looming end of the student loan forbearance coming up in just a few months (September 30th, 2021) there’s no wonder why. America holds over $1.7 trillion in student debt. President Biden has expressed support of $10,000 forgiveness per person, though Democrats are pushing for a higher $50,000 forgiveness.

It seems that President Biden has swayed in his opinion on forgiveness, as on April 1st he asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona whether it was within the president’s power to cancel $50k in student loan debt. The Department of Education has not yet released its findings. Until the findings are released, we likely won’t see any major moves made. Biden might be able to sign an executive order to cancel some student loan debt per person, or Congress may have to pass a bill if cancellation is outside of Biden’s purview.

As it stands, there are currently a few forgiveness options for those who qualify.

  • If you have a disability, you may qualify for forgiveness and discharge of your student loans.
  • The Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a program that forgives federal direct student loans for borrowers that hold a government or non-profit job, after 120 qualifying on-time payments in an income-driven repayment plan. In recent years there has been some significant issues with this forgiveness program. Since 2007, when the program began, nearly 99% of applicants have not been approved. In 2020 it was found that the Office of Federal Student Aid had been mischaracterizing employers, causing qualified applicants to be labeled as ineligible.
  • Borrowers on an income-driven repayment plan, where the monthly payments are no more than 10% of the borrower’s discretionary income, can have their loan balance forgiven after 20 years for undergrads or 25 years for grad students.

The Wrap Up

Though we won’t know for sure whether student loan forgiveness is on the table yet, there is reason to be hopeful. Over 1 million Americans have signed petitions for forgiveness, and with mounting pressure from the democratic party to pursue student debt, we may see some relief sooner rather than later.

For more information you can visit www.studentaid.gov

Passive Income Ideas

Passive income may be a new concept for you, but we’ve got you covered! Passive income is income that doesn’t rely on a straight hours-worked structure. It is money made from rental property, limited partnership, or other avenues in which you are not trading hours of your life for a set income, and with little to no effort on your part. Sounds like the dream, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be. The barrier for entry on passive income may seem daunting, but in all actuality, it’s relatively easy to take the leap and start building your wealth now!

Selling Information Products

If you have any level of expertise in any area, chances are there is a market for the information you have. Writing an eBook or creating a webinar is ridiculously easy these days. And with the right marketing strategy, you can sell your information like hot cakes! Research your target demographic, create a few surveys and connect with beginner groups to figure out what novices want and need!

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is an easy way to generate passive income if you’re already building an online business or brand. Connecting with a good affiliate marketing program and keeping up to date on SEO best practices can help take your affiliate income to a whole new level.

Dividend Stocks

By investing in dividend stocks, and opting for a DRIP (dividend reinvestment plan), you can watch your investments grow as you sit idle and enjoy your wealth! This is a great way to ensure you have a comfortable retirement, or a relatively easy way to begin paying down debts.

Flipping Retail Products

If you have time on your hands, you can take advantage of online sales platforms like Amazon or eBay to sell products you find at very low prices. You can pocket the proceeds and make a killing on some great deals. This can also work well if you create a website to help generate interest in your products and deals. Just be sure there is a market for the items you purchase, otherwise you may end up with a garage full of products that won’t sell.

The Take Away

Passive income isn’t an unattainable goal that only the upper class can enjoy. Everyone starts somewhere and you can start today! Get creative and start expanding your passive income streams!

Join us next week for more great personal finance tips and information!

Planning A Vacation During A Pandemic

Though vaccines are rolling out at a steady pace and now available to the public readily, the nation has yet to reach herd immunity levels of vaccination. This can make planning a vacation a bit dicey, especially as cases rise sporadically across the states. We’ve compiled a handy list of tips to help you plan your vacation safely while getting the most bang for your buck!

Be Informed

If you are planning to vacation out of state or out of the country, check that state or country’s local regulations and mandates to ensure you are able to visit with minimal hassle. If you are flying, be sure you are up to date on airline requirements for safe travel. Check the safety protocols for your accommodations. You want to know what will be required of you, and what to expect from your stay. You definitely don’t want to be caught by surprise and have to quarantine for the entirety of your vacation!

Low Risk Vacations

If you are worried about your health but still need to get away, opt for a low-risk vacation. Check out your state’s national parks and campgrounds and get back in touch with nature! If camping isn’t your thing, check out cabin rentals! If you’re looking forward to a roadtrip, you’ll need to put in some extra work, depending on how far you’re planning to cruise. You will want to educate yourself on each state’s rules and regulations to ensure a smooth trip.

Hotel or AirBnB?

If you can, opt for a private AirBnb. You’ll have less contact with others and won’t have to worry about housekeeping entering your room and touching your stuff. Depending on your destination, AirBnB may be a cheaper alternative too!

Scheduling

Try to plan your vacation and outings around peak times so you can avoid big crowds. If you’re hitting the beach, choose to go in the middle of the week so you can avoid the weekend flocks of tourists! You’ll find a spot to soak up the sun much easier, and you’ll be able to practice social distancing much easier.

Hit The Pool

Outdoor pools offer the same lower levels of risk as beaches, but offer the added benefit of chlorine, which kills COVID. Just be sure to bring your own towels and avoid the locker rooms if possible.

Opt for Outdoor Events

Summertime is perfect for vacations because so many events are held outside and spaced out. Hit up a local farmer’s market, tour a farm or visit a wildlife sanctuary! There are tons of fun options that can be done safely!

You can still enjoy your vacation time and get some much needed rest and relaxation while minimizing your risks, financially and health-wise!

Come back next week for more helpful tricks and tips that will save you money and time!