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Income Splitting Tax Strategy – Spousal Investment Loan

income splitting tax strategy - spousal investment loan

A couple of years ago, I wrote about income splitting strategies to help reduce family taxes in the scenario that one spouse makes significantly more income than the other.  Strategies such as:

  1. Contributing to the lower-income spouses TFSA (no attribution rules for TFSA contributions);
  2. Maintaining separate bank accounts where the higher income spouse pays for household expenses, while the lower-income spouse contributes to a taxable investment account;
  3. Contributing to a spousal RRSP;
  4. Spousal investment loans; and,
  5. Pension splitting (you can split RRIF when you turn 65).

You can read more detail on these income splitting strategies here.  One strategy that has been coming up lately revolves around the strategy of spousal investment loans. 

How a Spousal Investment Loan Works

A spousal investment loan strategy is where a higher-income spouse loans money to the lower-income spouse for the purposes of investing and staying onside with CRA.  You would think that one spouse could simply give money to another spouse to invest in a taxable account. However, CRA does not allow this with its defined attribution rules. 

Essentially, any gains and taxation from those investments would be attributed back to the higher income spouse if the funds are simply gifted from the higher income spouse to the other.

A spousal investment loan is essentially the same as a regular investment loan, except it is one spouse lending money to the other, instead of the bank doing the lending.  Providing the loan is put towards a taxable investment account, the interest is tax-deductible by the lower-income spouse, and the investments will face lower taxation. 

The higher income spouse would need to report the interest income when filing taxes.  How much interest is expected?  CRA publishes, on a quarterly basis, a prescribed interest rate which is the lowest that can be charged for a spousal loan.  As of today (August 2019), the prescribed rate is 2%.  The beauty of the loan is that once it’s issued, the interest rate stays fixed for the term of the loan.

The Savings

If you have a handle on the other income splitting strategies listed above and still have excess cash to invest in a non-registered account, then a spousal investment loan can make a difference.  How much?  Let’s take a look at an example.

  • A family with one spouse making $100,000/year in Ontario and the other a stay-at-home spouse earning $0/year.  Say the higher income spouse has been saving her/his bonuses over the years and has accumulated $100,000 to loan to the lower-income spouse to start a taxable portfolio.
  • If the higher income spouse invests the money in a taxable account, according to taxtips.ca, dividends are taxed at 25.38% and capital gains at 21.70%.  
  • On the other hand, if the lower-income spouse invests the money, the dividends are taxed at -6.86% (yes negative!) and capital gains at 10.03%
  • The lower-income spouse would need to pay interest on the loan ($2,000 but also tax-deductible), and the higher income spouse would need to pay tax on the interest income (~$868).
  • Building a dividend growth portfolio yielding 4% (and assume no selling) would result in $4,000 in dividends for the year.  The lower-income spouse would pay $0 in tax, while the higher income spouse would have needed to pay $1,015.20 in tax if invested in his/her own investment account. This results in an annual savings of $147.20 ($1,015.20-$868).  Since it’s a dividend growth portfolio, the growing dividends will result in the savings growing by 14% to 20% per year (assuming dividend growth of 5% – 10% per year).
  • The savings shown above do not include capital gains tax savings which would result from selling off the portfolio in the future to possibly fund retirement.

The savings really escalate as the income difference rises.  Let’s take a look at another example with one spouse being a physician making $300k/year and a stay at home spouse.  Using the same investment portfolio above:

  • The lower-income spouse would need to pay interest on the loan ($2,000 but also tax-deductible), and the higher income spouse would need to pay tax on the interest income (~$1,070.60).
  • Building a dividend growth portfolio yielding 4% (and assume no selling) would result in $4,000 in dividends for the year.  The lower-income spouse would pay $0 in tax, while the higher income spouse would have needed to pay $1,573.60 (39.34% tax on dividends) in tax without using spousal investment loan. This results in an annual savings of $503 ($1,573.60-$1,070.60).  Since it’s a dividend growth portfolio, the growing dividends will result in the savings growing by 14% to 20% per year (assuming dividend growth of 5% – 10% per year).
  • Doubling the spousal loan to $200,000 will result in interest tax of $2,141.20, but a dividend tax savings of $3,151.20.  This results in a net savings of $1,010/year (and increasing with dividend raises).  Again, this does not include capital gains tax savings.

Not only does this result in savings today, but during retirement would result in more even income and reduced family taxation. 

Final Thoughts

While other income splitting strategies should be implemented first prior to utilizing a spousal investment loan: like setting up separate accounts; contributing to the lower-income spouses TFSA; and, setting up a spousal RRSP; there are extra tax savings to be had using the spousal investment loan strategy.

As you can see from the examples above, the larger the income difference between the spouses, the greater the savings.  In addition, the larger the loan, the bigger the savings.

There are some caveats, however.  Savings are not as apparent when the investment funds are used for a lower dividend portfolio, like an index ETF portfolio.   Building a lower dividend portfolio would result in lower savings now, but capital gains tax savings down the road. 

You’ll need to work out the numbers to see if this strategy will work for you and your family.  For us, we are just about finished setting up a spousal RRSP with a favorite discount broker, and the next step will be a spousal investment loan to continue building our dividend income streams.

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Lemonade Insurance 2019: Home & Renters

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Lemonade offers both homeowners and renter’s insurance on a peer-to-peer platform that relies on technology to underwrite insurance policies and make claims decisioning.

Lemonade uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make the fastest claims decisions in the world, topping out at 3 seconds. Some claims are handed instantly, , and the rest are handled by a team of professionals dedicated to resolving your claims. Lemonade even has an almost 5-star rating on its mobile app.

Despite its user-friendly website and mobile app, incredibly easy signup process, and competitive pricing, there are some drawbacks to Lemonade. First, they only offer homeowners and renter’s insurance, so you cannot get any kind of bundling discount. Lemonade is currently available in about half of the states right now, though they have active plans to expand into additional states.

How does Lemonade Insurance work?

  • Lemonade offers low-cost homeowners and renter’s insurance made easy online.
  • Limited to a few select states, though high ratings in those states.
  • Automatic claims processing on up to 30% of its claims.
  • Peer-to-peer platform that gives back to charity when certain financial requirements are met.
  • Lemonade Insurance reviews are mostly positive.

Lemonade Insurance Overview

Price Homeowners insurance starting at $25/month and renter’s insurance starting at $5/month
Best For People who want basic, affordable coverage for their homes and property
Not For People who prefer to bundle their policies for discounts

The Claim

The innovative new company, Lemonade Insurance, promises to change the game with their new homeowners and renter’s insurance policies. They claim that they offer “instant everything”, taking only 90 seconds to get insured and 3 minutes to get paid for a claim. They also claim to have some of the lowest starting prices for homeowners and renter’s insurance, at $25 per month and $5 per month, respectively.

Is Lemonade’s claim true?

Sort of. Lemonade Insurance falls a little short on some of its claims, and they’ll even admit it, but overall they have a very high customer satisfaction rate, which lends a lot of credibility to the company. While it does take only a few seconds to get insured, they only instantly approve 30% of their claims. That means over half of their claims require a manual override to get approved. This falls short of “instant everything” by a long shot. Their starting prices are some of the lowest in the industry. Homeowners insurance starts at only $25 per month, and renter’s insurance starts at just $5 per month. They’ll even help you switch to Lemonade by helping you cancel your old insurance.

The Simple Dollar’s deep dive

Lemonade makes their insurance policy accessible to everyone on their website. Some of their coverage and perks include:

  • Flexible insurance plans: you can adjust your coverage with Lemonade so that you are only getting the coverage you need, or so that you’re getting the coverage you want. Adjustments can be made to your liability insurance as well as your property coverage. If you have more valuable items in your home, you want higher property coverage limits. They even offer separate coverage for electronic devices like your laptop or smartphone, so your property coverage isn’t depleted with those items.
  • Lowest monthly prices available: renter’s insurance starts at $5 per month, but it goes up quickly from there depending on where you live and what coverage limits you select; homeowners insurance starts at $25 per month and goes up from there depending on what coverage limits are selected.
  • Quick insurance policy: boasting an approval time of 90 seconds, Lemonade offers a fast signup application so you can get started with your insurance policy in a matter of minutes. This will require some information from you, like personal information and vehicle information, so try to have that handy when you get ready to sign up for their insurance.
  • Easy mobile app: with all of the modern conveniences, Lemonade offers a mobile app that is very user-friendly. You can sign up for insurance through their app, file claims through the app, and even upload photos of your accident through the app. It’s very comprehensive, designed with you in mind.
  • Instant claims approval: though only 30% of claims are approved instantly, most claims are paid quickly. Any claim that isn’t automatically approved by their AI technology will be approved manually by their professional team. Claims can still be paid in as little as three minutes.
  • Peer-to-peer platform: Lemonade has a unique platform in that they operate differently from other insurance agencies. Rather than keeping all of the profits for themselves, Lemonade keeps a flat fee of 20% to cover expenses, reinsures the rest of the money, and whatever is left between reinsurance and expenses is given back to charity. Lemonade doesn’t keep profits for themselves, so their priorities are a little different than most insurance companies.
  • Giveback program: Lemonade lets its insured customers choose charities that the company will donate its profits to. You choose that charity when you sign up with Lemonade, and every year they send the unclaimed money to the charity of your choice. They limit the donations to 40% of their income, but that’s a pretty big donation either way it goes.

Cost rundown

Lemonade Insurance will have different prices for different people living in different homes. Construction material may be a factor in your insurance premiums, as will the location in which you live, the size of your home, and the coverage limits you select for your property. Monthly premiums start at $5 for renter’s insurance and $25 for homeowners insurance. Increasing your coverage limits will increase your premium.

If you can afford the higher coverage limits, you should definitely purchase them. This will ensure that all of your physical property is covered in the event of a flood, fire or theft. (A side note: flood insurance is separate coverage provided by the National Flood Insurance Program. Ask about it if you live in a flood-prone area.) However, don’t purchase more coverage than you need or you’ll be throwing away your money on insurance that doesn’t have any benefit.

To determine how much coverage you need, there are some things to consider. One important consideration is how much property you own. To determine this number, do a physical inventory of your whole home. Make a list of everything you own, then find approximate retail values for them. Once you have a total of what everything in your home costs, you can then choose insurance coverage that will fit that limit. You may be surprised at how much everything in your home is worth!

One last thing to note: you may not have a lot of flexibility with your liability limits, but that’s okay. If anything is going to be high, you want it to be the coverage you need in case someone gets hurt at your home. If you have a dog or other pet, you may want to consider increasing your liability insurance in case of a bite.

Alternatives to Lemonade

When you get a quote from Lemonade, we recommend shopping around and getting quotes from 2-3 additional places. To compare prices accurately, make sure to choose the same coverage limits for property and liability that you choose with Lemonade. However, once you have a base premium and know which option is best for you, then you can choose a company that has additional coverage in line with what you need. Compare prices carefully and read the fine print. You want to make sure what natural disasters and events are covered under your policy.

If you would rather not purchase homeowners or renter’s insurance, you’ll need to take some steps to protect yourself and your property. The first thing we recommend is to start an emergency fund or savings account. You’ll want to put money up every month, rather than paying monthly premiums, so that when something does happen, you can cover the expenses. This is especially important if you have a pool or a dog, which are common liabilities that can cost a lot of money to a homeowner or renter.

If you do choose to invest in homeowners or renter’s insurance, you want to be sure your coverage actually covers everything you need it to cover. For example, if you have a dog that bites someone, that can cost upwards of $75,000 per incident. The standard liability amount is $100,000, which would cut it close with a dog bite. If you have multiple dogs, or dogs that interact with people frequently, it may be wise to increase your liability coverage in case something does happen with one of them.

Take some time to do some research and work out the numbers for yourself. Keep in mind that if you have a mortgage or rent an apartment, you may be required to have insurance, especially for liabilities. A homeowners insurance policy can save you money when it comes to things like a leaking water heater or busted pipe, and renter’s insurance can protect your property if something happens to your apartment. And if you choose not to go with insurance, make sure to put enough money aside to handle any property damage you incur.

The competition

There are a lot of options on the market for homeowners and renter’s insurance. Lemonade Insurance is a great choice for people who don’t need to bundle their policies and only need basic coverage. But what if you want additional coverage for your business, or you want to protect your hedges? If you want a different kind of company, try out one of these competitors:

  • Allstate: One thing Allstate has everyone beat in is their optional coverage and discounts. With Allstate, you can get optional coverage for water backups, yard and garden property (including landscaping), and business property, among other things. Discounts include a welcome discount, a discount for theft or fire protection and discounts for safety features on your home, like hail-resistant roofs and storm shutters.
  • American Family: American Family offers fairly basic coverage for homeowners insurance, but they do offer some additional optional coverage options that may be more beneficial to some homeowners, like credit theft protection and matching siding coverage. They also offer additional coverage options for their renter’s insurance policies.
  • Assurant: If you just need renter’s insurance, and don’t need a policy for a home or a car, Assurant is a great choice with competitive prices. They only offer renter’s insurance, so they are specialists in that area. This is a great choice for apartment dwellers, and you can get connected to Assurant through other insurance providers or through their website directly.
  • Nationwide: Nationwide is a great choice for people who want to bundle their homeowners/renter’s insurance with their auto policies, pet insurance, and personal umbrella policies. Nationwide offers plenty of additional coverage options, like flood insurance and replacement cost coverage. If you want a full-service insurance provider, Nationwide may be the right fit.
  • State Farm: State Farm is one of the leading providers of insurance in the United States, and they have ratings to prove it. What they don’t have is a comprehensive overview of their additional coverage options and discounts. You’ll need to speak to an agent for the best quotes with State Farm.

What Others Are Saying

  • Forbes touts the benefits of automation and technology in their review of Lemonade’s insurance policies. They also highlight the high marks Lemonade received from customer reviews. Forbes says of the agency, “Automation also allows Lemonade to offer policies at a very low price: renters insurance starting at $5 a month and homeowners starting at $25. On the review site Clearsurance, Lemonade ranks second in customer satisfaction for renters insurance, behind only USAA.”
  • Inc.com highlights Lemonade’s technology and company culture, but points out some of the complications with an automated claims process. “This approach works only in the simplest situations,” says David Paige, an attorney who has spent 28 years representing and advising insurance companies. “I think the only people who will respond favorably will be the people who have a very uncomplicated property claims with relatively low dollar amounts.”

The Bottom Line

With their generous giveback program and low premiums, Lemonade is a great choice for people looking for basic, easy homeowners and renter’s insurance policies. Lemonade Insurance reviews are positive and encouraging, and their mobile app has an extremely high rating. While they may not offer discounts for bundling services, the other benefits may outweigh that particular disadvantage for some people. Lemonade Insurance is your best bet for affordable premiums and fast, convenient service.

The post Lemonade Insurance 2019: Home & Renters appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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What do loan comparison rates actually mean?

When you’re buying a home, it can sometimes seem like you’re expected to learn a whole new language.

Property Home House FamilyTerms like “loan to value ratio”, “conditional approval” and “comparison rates” are bandied about on TV ads and in make revealing accounts- and if you don’t understand what they actually mean you could find yourself in a recognise of annoyance when it comes time to sign contracts and shackle yourself to a 30 -year financial commitment.

With interest rates at record lows, you’ll start to become familiar with control the “comparison rates” popping up all over lender advertising, in addition to the chose or variable pace associated with the credit product.

But what does a comparison pace even mean- and how can you use it to help you make a smart home loan decision?

Actual charge version comparison charge

These two multitudes are different, generally by a few cases one-tenths of a percentage, but rarely by up to 1.5%.

ad_build_wealthWhile a few cases tenths of a percent may not seem like much, when you’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars( plus the impact of combination interest ), it makes even a tiny divergence in interest rates can add up to a huge amount of money over the life of a home loan.

Therefore, it’s pretty important that you know what these frequencies mean.

So, if not to confuse and befuddle unsuspecting homebuyers as they parade towards their goal of its ownership, what is the purpose of comparison charges?

You can thank the Australian Government for introducing comparison paces; they stirred it mandatory to expose similarity rate alongside any interest rate advertised for a ascribe concoction, including home equity loan, back in 2003.

House Model With Pile Of Dollar Bills, Calculator, Pen And Plant Pots On Table With Garden Background For Business, Finance, Banking, And Saving Money.“Comparison rate” is another term for “average annual percentage rate”, and it’s there to help you calculate the true costs of servicing the loan, once all of the fees and charges have been included.

That way, you can compare lends from different lenders and find yourself the best deal- we’ll time pause for a second as you have an “Aha! ” moment over why they are called “comparison rates”…

Put simply, when you’re researching home loan, you’ll need to know not only the interest rate payable on the funds you’re borrowing, but likewise any additional charges like application costs, constitution fees and monthly or yearly account-keeping fees. You’d too need to factor in low-spirited introductory proportions that restored to higher charges after a few years- is your brain suffer yet ?!

This would involve hours of research and wearing out some of the buttons on your calculator to do by yourself.

And, unless you really love maths, your time is probably better expended actually home hunting.

So, the likenes charge takes care of all this for you

You’ll be able to see, at a glance, which loan works out cheaper overall, formerly all those extra bits and pieces have been considered.

Home LoanSometimes this means that you are better off choosing a loan a slightly higher interest rate, but lower fees and charges, as the one with the lowest advertised interest rates might not actually work out to be the smartest monetary option for you in the long run.

Sounds astounding, right?

But wait- there’s a catch!

How accurate the analogy pace is for your unique circumstances will be affected by factors including the fees and charges we mentioned above, as well as the duration of the credit, repayment frequency, and how much the credit is for.

Comparison charges are calculated based on principal and interest credits of $150,000, taken out over 25 years.

This is obviously not the standard Aussie home loan, with the majority of us paying back mortgages several times this amount, and numerous prefer 30 -year periods to abate the sting of the monthly repayment.

This is probably the most important thing to note about similarity proportions- they are true and correct only for the illustration held, which is likely to be vastly different from your own situation.

Online CalculatorsIt really is about time for comparison charges brought up to date with the times, as a likenes around the $500,000 marking “couldve been” much more useful to modern borrowers.

All of which is to say…

When considering comparison paces, you still need to be vigilant and use online calculators or check with your broker to ensure the product works well for you.

Comparison paces likewise don’t take into account bills like fragment fees, late payment fees or redraw fees.

They likewise don’t consider how inclusions such as offset chronicles or the ability to repay the loan early will impact the overall cost.

When it comes to figuring out how all these variables will affect your home equity credit, there’s no substitute for sitting down with your controller or mortgage agent and their trusty calculator, and exploring each possible scenario so you can induce the highest possible business decision for you.

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Read more: propertyupdate.com.au

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7 Books I Finished in July

Want to know what books I finished in July? In 2019, I’m sharing the books I read each month and what my honest thoughts were on those books. If you love books, you don’t want to miss this post! (You can see all of my book reviews for this year here.)

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I set a goal to finish 80 books in 2019 and a second goal that 40 of those books will be books I already own. (You can see which books I picked to read from those I already own here).

By the way, I’m truly loving using GoodReads to track my reading. You all were right! It is really motivational to see my progress! And I’ve been ahead on my goal for the last month!

I finished 7 books in June —- yay! Here’s what I read + my honest thoughts on each of the books:

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Becoming Mrs. Lewis

I am so conflicted on what to say about this book. On the one hand, it was a very well-written story that was pretty captivating, but on the other hand, I struggled to like it.

It’s the unconventional love story of C.S. Lewis and his wife. It was both beautiful and tragic and not at all what I expected.

I wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t.

Some of that was because I think there was too much fiction woven in and I didn’t know what was fact and what was fiction — and that bothered me. Some of it was because I was concerned with Lewis’ relationship with Joy when she was still married. If it were true, from my vantage point, it felt like it crossed some lines of emotional attachment that shouldn’t happen between two people when one of them is married.

If I could tie up this review with a bow, I would. But I can’t. Because I just don’t know what to say or think about this book.

Have you read it? If so, please let me know what you thought of it. And please let me know if you disagree with me and why! I really wish I could be persuaded to like it.

Verdict: 3 stars

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Begin Again

This book moved me at a deep level. While I felt like sometimes I wasn’t poetic enough to understand the depths of what was being communicated.

It felt so raw and honest and vulnerable and yet so beautiful and rich and inspiring. I didn’t want it to end.

Two of the quotes that were the most meaningful to me:

“We don’t get to the truth while we’re deeply invested in what’s false.”

“God’s story is a narrative of emancipation.”

Of all the books I read in July, this was my favorite… thus, the 4-star verdict.

Verdict: 4 stars

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Preach to Yourself

I wanted to love this book and I did love many parts of it. But I felt like it was hard to slog through at times. Some of the chapters felt really long and drawn out.

And yet, some of the sections were so powerful and so important. For instance, this passage is GOLD:

“Many of us — maybe all of us — don’t live what we say we believe… We say we depend on God, but we act like we’ve got to make it happen on our own. We say we believe God can heal, but we’re walking around with decades-old wounds. We say we believe God is at work, but we’re asleep at the wheel of the one life He’s given us.”

So, despite some of the chapters feeling longer than necessary, this book has some very valuable stuff and is worth the read.

Verdicts: 3 stars

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Last Christmas in Paris

This book had been recommended to me as one to read since I loved The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It’s the love story of a soldier at war and his friend’s sister at home.

They began writing letters just to keep each other company. But slowly, ever so slowly, it morphed into more. It’s a fairly slow-developing story, but there is a lot of history woven throughout and I learned quite a bit about World War I. (I realized I have read a lot about World War II, but very few books about World War I.)

The book is epistolary, which means the story is told through letters and telegrams. I found it fascinating in the afterward to discover that the authors wrote the bones of this book as actual letters back and forth.

Verdicts: 3 stars

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It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way

Lysa always has a way with words to penetrate your heart and challenge you, while also drawing you in with her funny and authentic story-telling.

For some reason, though, unlike her others books I’ve read, I felt like this book was missing something. I’m not sure if it’s because she wrote it while still very much in the midst of the story that is a big story arc for the book or if it was something else. I couldn’t put a finger on it.

I do feel like the book would be a real encouragement to someone who is going through a difficult time when life feelings overwhelming, hard, and just doesn’t make sense.

Verdict: 3 stars

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Kind is the New Classy

This is a quick read (or listen) and definitely had some valuable content. However, I have to admit that I was sort of turned off by how the author seemed to often name drop or drop in unnecessary details that just felt kind of prideful.

I hesitate to ever say negative things about authors (because I am one!) and I know that we all come at things differently and only God knows someone’s heart. However, I hadn’t said anything to Jesse about this and was listening to the book when he was in the room and he picked up on this same thing, too.

I think there is a lot of helpful inspiration in this book, I just struggled to love it because I kept getting hung up on the presentation.

Verdict: 3 stars

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Beauty Maker

Monica asked me if I would write an endorsement for her brand-new book. Since I love her work, I said yes!
Here was the endorsement I wrote after reading it:
In Beauty Maker, Monica invites us on a journey to cultivating more beauty — in our surroundings and in our souls. Her words inspired me to prioritize taking time to create more beauty in our home and to prioritize taking time to be a noticer of the beauty that is all around me.
My favorite part of the book? The rich and yet simple photos that showcase how Monica lives out her message in her everyday life.

Verdict: 3 stars

Important & Super Honest Note:

I’m kind of not wanting to hit publish on this post. Why did I ever commit to writing honest reviews of all the books I read anyway?? I want to be truthful, but I also want to be kind and gracious… and I struggled with how to strike that balance well in my reviews today.

I want you to know that I’m not going to sugarcoat my feelings, but I also know that authors are real people who have put so much effort into their books that it’s hard for me to write reviews that feel like they leave toward being negative. Ugh. This is the part of my job that is so hard sometimes.

If you felt I didn’t communicate graciously or you are the author of any of these books and you felt hurt by what I wrote, please let me know. This is an area where I’m still a big work in progress and I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone if I can help it!

What have you been reading recently? Any books you think I really need to read soon? I’d love to know!

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Which financial advice should you trust?

Commenting on a recent article, Carmine Red asked an excellent question:

How do you evaluate the financial advice you get from other sources? Specifically, how do you decide if some piece of advice is for you, or if you should discard some adjacent advice. Is there an amount of pick-and-choose?

GRS definitely doesn’t seem like a dogmatic 100% one-way-of-doing things site, so I’d love to hear about the critical thinking you employ, and that I’m sure we can all use a little of since we’re getting bombarded by financial “do this!” or “don’t do this” instructions from so many different dimensions.

Carmine is right: GRS is not dogmatic. From the start, my top admonition has been “do what works for you”. By this I mean that you should test financial advice to see if it works for you and your situation. There’s little (if any) advice that applies to 100% of people in 100% of cases. Life is messy. Money is messy.

So, how can you decide whom to trust? How can you evaluate a piece of financial advice to decide whether it has merit? And if the financial advice does have merit, how can you tell if it’s right for yor life?

Today, let’s take a deep dive into this question. Let’s explore how to evaluate all of the financial advice you get — from the internet, from television, and in real life.

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How to Evaluate Financial Advice

Before I answer Carmine’s question directly, I want to approach it obliquely. If you find this section boring, please skip to the next one. I won’t hold it against you!

In 1940, Mortimer J. Adler published How to Read a Book, which contained 400 pages of advice on doing something that most people would argue needs no instruction. In 1967, he revised the book and turned it into a little masterpiece.

In the revised edition, Adler argues that there are four levels of reading:

  1. Elementary Reading. At this basic level, the reader is able to answer the question, “What does the sentence say?” But reading at this stage is a mechanical act.
  2. Inspectional Reading. At this level, a reader’s aim is to get the most from a book (or article) in a minimum of time. “Inspectional reading is the art of skimming systematically,” Adler writes. Your aim is to get a surface understanding of the book, to answer the question, “What is this book about?”
  3. Analytical Reading. At this level, you’re doing the best, most complete and thorough reading of a book that you can do. Inspectional reading is done quickly. Analytical reading is done without a time limit. Its aim is understanding. This is the sort of reading that most of us do most of the time.
  4. Synoptical reading. At the fourth (and highest) level of reading, we read comparatively. “When reading synoptically,” Adler says, “the reader reads many books, not just one, and places them in relation to one another.” My ongoing project to read about the history of retirement? That’s synoptic reading.

What has this to do with evaluating financial advice? Well, I think similar principles apply. When you receive a piece of financial advice from somebody, or you read a recommendation online, there are four levels of evaluation.

  1. Elementary evaluation. When you pick up a piece of financial advice, start by asking yourself “What does this advice say?” You’re not trying to judge its merits. You’re merely trying to parse the recommendation. Believe it or not, you can throw some stuff out at this level because it doesn’t say anything. Or what it says is nonsensical. (I don’t mean nonsensical as in “I disagree with it”. I mean nonsensical as in it literally makes no sense.)
  2. Inspectional evaluation. Next ask, “What is this advice about? What is the overall message? What is its core argument?” You’re not trying to understand nuance here. You’re trying to get the main point. For instance, in Mr. Money Mustache’s popular article “The Shockingly Simple Math Behind Early Retirement”, the core argument is “the more you save, the sooner you can retire”. The main point of the article you’re reading right now is: “There are smart ways to evaluate financial advice. Here are a few.”
  3. Analytical evaluation. The biggest part of evaluating financial advice is taking time to analyze it, to examine the advice in detail, to really understand it. This usually means asking “why?” Why is the person giving this advice? What’s their motivation and what does this advice aim to accomplish? (The rest of this article offers some tips for applying this step.)
  4. Synoptical evaluation. Lastly, if you’re evaluating important advice (such as how much to spend on a house), you should make time to do some comparative evaluation. What do other people have to say? Why do they agree? Why do they disagree? How does this advice fit in to what you already know and what you’re already doing?

Here at Get Rich Slowly, one of my primary aims is to “evaluate synoptically”. I don’t want this site to be one-dimensional. When I write my articles, I try my best to draw from a variety of disciplines and sources. I look for differing opinions. Does that mean I stray from strict personal finance sometimes? Yes, absolutely. But it makes the writing more interesting for me and, I hope, for you.

Okay, that’s some semi-helpful, high-level philosophical stuff about evaluating financial advice. Now let’s look at how to put this into practice. How do you actually analyze financial advice to decide whether it’s good or not?

I think it helps to ask four questions.

Does This Advice Mesh with Reality?

Some advice sets off my Bullshit Detector. Rhonda Byrne’s mega-bestseller The Secret [my review] is a classic example of this. Byrne claims that your life is created by the things you think about. There’s an element of truth to this, but she takes it to an illogical extreme.

I mean, look at this bullshit:

Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to its source. And that source is You.

[…]

To lose weight, don’t focus on “losing weight”. Instead, focus on your perfect weight. Feel the feelings of your perfect weight, and you will summon it to you.

It takes no time for the Universe to manifest what you want. It is as easy to manifest one dollar as it is to manifest one million dollars.

The financial “advice” in The Secret is premium, high-grade bullshit. It doesn’t mesh with reality. I know from experience that I cannot “manifest” a million dollars. I cannot “visualize checks in the mail” and then have them magically appear. (Seriously, that’s one of the bullet points in her book: “Visualize checks in the mail.”)

This is an easy example. Usually, it’s more difficult to determine whether financial advice is reality-based.

For instance, there are a lot of investing systems out there. Their proponents sincerely believe in them. They can be passionate when they explain how their systems work. Testing whether or not investing advice meshes with reality can be complicated and confusing. I find situations like this frustrating, which is why I try to avoid overly complicated advice in favor of simplicity.

This brings up a tangential but important point. When possible, I favor simplicity.

Yes, absolutely yes, money can be messy. It can be complicated. And not all complicated advice is bad advice. Some complicated advice is great, in fact. Todd Tresidder at Financial Mentor has built his entire brand on complicated advice. But he’s not a charlatan. He’s the real deal.

For me, though, Todd’s financial advice is overly complicated. I prefer simple. I’m an “80% solution” kind of guy. That’s why I’m good with Dave Ramsey’s version of the debt snowball, even if it’s not mathematically optimal. That’s why I like investing in index funds. These strategies are simple and effective even if they don’t provide optimal results.

Is This Person Qualified to Give This Advice?

I’ve found that people are quick to offer advice on subjects for which they have little or no understanding. And, in fact, it’s usually the people who know the most about a subject who are slowest to make suggestions — and their suggestions are full of caveats and qualifications.

I have several friends who love Bitcoin as an “investment opportunity”, for example. Yet, these same friends don’t understand the fundamentals of basic investing. It’s difficult for me to take their cryptocurrency recommendations seriously when they can’t explain what a stock is and why you might want to own one. Or a bond. Or any other traditional investment. They might understand the technical details behind Bitcoin, but they don’t understand investing, so I don’t listen when they try to sell this as an investment opportunity.

This same principle applies to financial gurus. Sometimes an expert in one field tries to offer advice in a related field, but that advice isn’t necessarily good.

  • Dave Ramsey is an expert on debt reduction. He’s lived it. He’s been teaching about it for twenty years. He knows what works and what doesn’t. I trust his debt advice. I do not trust Ramsey’s investing advice. He makes bold claims that are demonstrably false.
  • On the other hand, I trust Warren Buffett’s investment advice. He’s one of the greatest investors the world has ever known. When he says that 99% of investors ought to use index funds, that carries a lot of weight. But if he were to offer advice on getting out of debt, I would treat it with some skepticism. Buffett has never been in debt and cannot understand what the experience is like.

I can’t think of any expert I trust 100% about all topics. I don’t believe it’s possible for a person to know everything about everything. Plus, so much of personal finance is personal, right? Sometimes an expert’s advice might be right for most people but, for whatever reason, it might not be right for you.

I am not a trained financial professional, and I try to make that abundantly clear at all times. Anything I know, I’ve learned from the school of hard knocks. Because of this, I do my best to be transparent about what I do and do not know.

When I write about investing, for instance, I cite my sources. I explain where I’m getting my information and why I believe it. I don’t expect you to accept my recommendations because I am the one making them. But if I can show you how I learned something, maybe it’ll be useful for you too.

On the other hand, I’m an expert at making mistakes. You should trust me there haha.

How Does This Person Profit from Their Advice?

I’m generally a positive, trusting fellow. I’m probably too trusting. I believe that people are generally good.

That said, I’ve learned to be skeptical when people offer financial advice. Do they have an ulterior motive? How might they benefit from the advice they’re offering? If they benefit, how does that color their recommendation?

I’ll offer me and my colleagues as prime examples.

I’ve written before about how bloggers walk the thin green line. Most bloggers mean well, but their intentions get clouded when they see how much money they can make writing about this product or that service. Their advice can turn from selfless to selfish.

Here’s a specific example. I almost never trust online credit card and bank reviews. These reviews are not objective. Their aim isn’t to provide you with the info you need to make a decision, but to encourage you to sign up for an account. And bloggers employ all sorts of subtle methods to make that happen. I don’t like it.

This is the primary reason you’ve never seen me do a credit card review. I do want to review the card I use most often, though, and I’ve been working on an article about it for nine months now. When I publish that post, you can be sure the review is based on my experience and I’ll offer disclaimers if I make money from the review.

(Trivia: Until this year, I had never made a penny from credit cards. Zero dollars. Zero cents. That’s changed now, though, since the introduction of our travel credit card tool. Now I’ve made a few hundred dollars from credit cards.)

At the opposite extreme, look at somebody like Mr. Money Mustache. When he writes about things like getting rich with bikes, he has no ulterior motive. He’s not trying to trick you into putting money into his pocket by buying a bike. He doesn’t profit from this recommendation.

Instead, this is something that Pete believes. He believes that biking is better for your health and your wealth. It’s advice he adheres to himself, that he puts into practice daily. And because this is genuine advice without a financial motive, I’m more likely to accept its validity.

This idea even applies to professionals. A real-estate agent is probably prevented from steering you to the most expensive house, but there’s nothing preventing her from spouting nonsense like, “You should buy as much home as you can afford.” That’s dangerous advice that puts people into precarious financial situations — yet generates a bigger commission for the agent.

Always ask yourself how the person giving advice stands to benefit from the advice they’re offering.

What Are the Other Options?

When you’re trying to decice whether or not to accept a piece of financial advice, explore other alternatives. Seek other options and approaches.

It’s very rare in the world of money (and the world in general) that there’s just one way “right” way to do something. There are often multiple good approaches to a problem. This can make it tough to pick the one that’s best for you.

Budgeting is a great example. There are dozens (hundreds?) of different approaches to building a household budget. Choosing a system can be overwhelming. How can you decide which choice is best?

Honestly, you can’t. And you shouldn’t even try.

Instead, forget about “best”. Focus on “good”. When selecting a budget system, use trial and error until you find one that works well for you. Once you’ve found a budget that works, stop actively pursuing other options. Don’t close yourself off to the idea that you might stumble upon a better option in the future, but stop expending energy trying to find a perfect solution when you already have one that works.

A corollary to this principle is that you shouldn’t stick with a piece of advice simply because somebody told you that it’s the best (or the “right”) way to do something. Who cares? If the best (or “right”) way isn’t effective for you, then let it go.

My friend Paula Pant once told me, “An imperfect plan you’ll stick with is better than a perfect plan you won’t.” Exactly.

From day one, my motto here at Get Rich Slowly has been: Do what works for you. If something isn’t effective for you and your situation, abandon it. Don’t stick with something out of the mistaken belief that you’re a failure for choosing another option.

Guidelines for Evaluating Financial Advice

Evaluating financial advice is an extension of critical thinking as a whole. If you become a better critical thinker, you’ll make better decisions regarding the advice you receive. And the more you practice, the better you’ll become.

The ultimate cheatsheet for critical thinking

For my part, I’ve been reading about personal finance extensively for the past fifteen years. In that time, I’ve read (and heard and viewed) all sorts of advice, much of it contradictory. At first, I found this confusing. In time, though, I’ve developed a set of rules (or guidelines, if you prefer) to help me better evaluate the financial advice I receive.

Here are a few:

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. (I want to say, “It always is” — but I hate absolutes.)
  • Verify, verify, verify. Don’t blindly follow somebody’s advice. If someone makes a suggestion that sounds reasonable, research what others say both for and against the suggestion.
  • Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you’re an atheist, don’t ignore Dave Ramsey’s debt advice simply because he’s Christian. If you’re conservative, don’t dismiss Elizabeth Warren’s balanced money formula simply because she’s socialist. Even folks you don’t like can have smart ideas.
  • Favor simplicity. Complicated advice and complicated systems too often hide flaws and problems and traps. Plus, complexity leads to misunderstanding. With money, simplicity is a virtue.
  • You don’t have to take every piece of good advice. I recognize, for example, that real-estate investing can be profitable. It’s an excellent way to build wealth. Still, I don’t want to do it — so I don’t.
  • Check certifications, when applicable (especially when asking for technical and/or legal advice). You can good advice from folks without credentials, and you can get bad advice from experts. But generally speaking, qualified experts are a terrific resource.

Plus, I’ve learned to ask four basic questions when I’m evaluating a new piece of financial advice.

  • How does the person giving the advice profit from it?
  • How do I benefit from the advice?
  • How does society benefit from the advice?
  • Has the other person been successful following their own advice?

This last question is important. If this article weren’t so long already, I’d dive deeper into it. But let’s quickly use Bitcoin and index funds as an example. When people recommend Bitcoin to me, I ask how they’ve done with their “investments” in cryptocurrency. (Typical answer: Not well.) Same thing with index funds: “How have you done?” (Typical answer: Fairly well.)

People love to throw out advice that either they don’t follow or that hasn’t actually worked for them. I’m not sure why that is, but it’s true.

For my part, I try to steer clear of things I don’t understand. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. But when I make mistakes, I try to fix them as quickly as possible. Also I’m willing to learn. When I started GRS in 2006, I didn’t know what an index fund was. I thought investing was all about picking stocks. Then I learned about passive investing. Today, I have a more nuanced approach.

The post Which financial advice should you trust? appeared first on Get Rich Slowly.

Questions About 529 ABLE, Reusable Food Storage, Pizza Delivery, and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Frustrated about financial future
2. Rolling over 401(k)
3. Closing out old checking account
4. Reusable food storage, not glass
5. Family fight over estate planning
6. Simple little pizza tip
7. Disowned due to politics
8. 529 plan for special needs?
9. Cheap standing desk recommendations?
10. Managed mutual funds
11. Book suggestions for work focus?
12. Pen and paper beats stylus?

This week, I had to do a significant amount of editing of letters to the mailbag in order to help preserve the privacy of readers.

I do some editing to almost every question sent in. If nothing else, I assign an “anonymous” name by default to each question, either one suggested by the person sending it or of my own choosing.

If a question goes into anything personal, I usually try to “blur” the details so that person can’t be identified in any way. I used to do this very little, but there was at least one situation where a mailbag letter was identified by another friend or family member and it caused some issues, so since then, I have done my best to edit many of the non-relevant details without changing the meat of the question.

There are two letters in particular in this week’s mailbag that needed a lot of editing. I almost didn’t even include one of them, but I felt it was emblematic of a struggle that a lot of families are going through.

Rest assured, when you read some of the stories in the mailbag, know that I am doing what I can to keep their identity private while also sharing worthwhile info that can help lots of people. I want to keep the core of the story as true as I can without actually harming people’s lives, so that the question and response together are a net benefit to lots of people.

On with the questions.

Q1: Frustrated about financial future

I am 32 years old, married to 34 year old, two kids 6 and 4. I feel like every financial decision I have made as an adult is terrible and leaves me with no good options for our future. I chose a college major that doesn’t earn well and went way into debt for it and married someone else on more or less the same path. There is just no way to earn a good living with my degree in zoology unless I am top 1% in the field and have a lot of other skills to go along with it (meaning I am not Jack Hanna). My wife majored in liberal arts which seems to qualify her to be a receptionist and she has struggled hard to find anything else. Her parents gave us the down payment for a house which we bought intending to have kids but the mortgage and the student loans eat up almost every dime we have. We have refinanced all loans but now we’ll be paying stuff off for at least another decade but at least we can survive for the moment. We don’t have the resources for one of us to go back to school unless we sell this house, and any sort of job change would be a disaster as we currently work opposite shifts and can take care of our kids. They will both be in school in the fall though. I don’t know how to even start making our situation more stable. We can barely build up an emergency fund and then something always comes along to eat the whole thing. Where do we even start? I feel so frustrated when I think about it.
– Marc

If you’re feeling really frustrated about your future, I advise you to start by looking at the good things in your life. It is really hard to make good decisions when you feel strongly negative about everything. What good things does your life hold? Your marriage. Your kids. Do you enjoy your current job even if it doesn’t pay well? It sounds like it’s in your field, which means you probably enjoy it at least somewhat. You have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food on your belly, and you have access to basically unlimited entertainment. You have a ton of good in your life.

Once you realize that most areas of your life are pretty good, it’s easier to whittle things down to just the areas that are problematic and make big changes to those areas, because overall life frustration is a lot less of an issue. Ask yourself what you would want to realistically change about your life in the next five years. If everything went well in your life, what would things look like five years from now? Ten years from now? Does a good life for you involve some degree of financial freedom? Does it involve a similar job, or a radically different job? Does it involve staying married? Does it involve your kids? Does it involve your house? What things need to be in this picture to constitute a life you love?

Now, contrast that picture with where you are now. What are the differences? Do you see a job change? Do you see some financial stability?

Whatever those changes are, those should be your five year goals. “I want to achieve X in five years.” Now, start breaking those goals down into smaller and smaller pieces. “To achieve X in five years, I need to do Y this year.” “To do Y this year, I need to do Z this month.” “To do Z this month, I really need to do A this week.” “To finish up A this week, I need to do B today.” Boom – there’s your first step. Do that thing for today and do it well. Make it a priority.

You may find it hard to actually know what those pieces are. If you do, research it. “How do I do X?” Google that question and do some reading. I tend to find answers for questions like this on websites like this one, where people are writing about their actual experiences, so I can see what worked for them.

Remember, you want to retain the numerous pieces of your life that you like, radically change the pieces you don’t, and somewhat change the pieces that are relatively unimportant to you if they help you to change the pieces you don’t like. For example, you probably don’t want to change your relationship with your kids – that’s awesome – but you perhaps really want to build a big emergency fund and then start paying off debt. What are the things you don’t care about that you can tweak? For example, what things are in your closets that you could sell off because they aren’t really important to you? What entertainment services could you cut because you don’t actually use them too much? What items could you start buying in store brand form instead? How could you cut your energy bill as much as possible? Maybe your current home isn’t really that big of a deal to you, so you could consider selling it and moving to something a little smaller and more cost efficient. Those are all probably things that you just don’t really care about, so cut them hard in the service of things you do care about.

The starting point, though, is recognizing that most of your life is pretty good and that you really only have a few specific things that you would want to improve. One of them is obviously your finances. Remember that your finances are just one area of your life and many other areas are great, and then ask yourself how you can fix just this one area. This isn’t about tearing down the house that is your life; it’s more like repainting and rearranging one of the rooms in your life.

Q2: Rolling over 401(k)

How do you know whether it is a good idea to roll over an old 401(k) from a previous job into the one at your current job? All articles on this seem really complicated. Gotta be an easier way.
– Asa

Here’s the easiest way to figure this out.

Just go into your old 401(k) and pull up the investment that all of your money is invested in. Then, go into your new 401(k) and pull up a very similar investment, the closest thing to it you can find. This is easy if you’re looking at target retirement funds or the like.

Now, just compare the two. The two things you’re really looking at are average annual return over the last ten years (you want to use the same number of years for both) as well as the expense ratio for both, something that they should list and should be easy to find. You want to go with the one with the higher average annual return over the last several years unless they’re super close. If they’re very close in terms of return, choose the one with the lower expense ratio.

If that’s the new 401(k), roll it over. If that’s the old 401(k), leave the money there.

That’s really all you need to do. You can go into a ton of nuance with this, but this will give you the right answer 99.9% of the time, and even in the other 0.1% of the time, you’re not going to lose significantly.

Q3: Closing out old checking account

I have about $1,600 sitting in an old checking account at my hometown bank. I have been using it as an emergency fund but I am wondering if I should just close it and move it to my current bank. Thoughts?
– Fred

I think that leaving it in the old bank is a good idea if it is easy to access if you’re intentionally doing it but hard to access on the spur of the moment. For example, if you have a debit card for that account somewhere in your home but you don’t carry that card with you, that means the account is actually pretty good for an emergency fund.

The only thing I would change is that I would move that money into a savings account or, even better, a money market account at that bank, as long as it’s still accessible via the ATM card. That way, while it’s sitting there just functioning as an emergency fund, it’s at least earning some interest. Many money market accounts right now earn between 1-2% interest, which means that your account would be growing about $20 a year in value without you lifting a finger once you make that move.

I generally think it’s a great idea to have your emergency fund stashed at a different bank than the one you currently use for your active banking, keeping your debit card in a known place in your home but not carrying it with you. That way, you can easily get the money if you’re intending to do so, but it’s not right there at your convenience if you’re out and about and suddenly want to buy something. You want the money to stick around for real emergencies.

Q4: Reusable food storage, not glass

I bought a bundle of reusable food storage containers for keeping leftovers and taking them to work. They were made of supposedly “unbreakable” glass, but I’ve already shattered several of them and cut my foot really badly. Obviously I should be using plastic containers but I don’t know where to start. I get about $60 in Amazon credit a month so what should I buy?
– Calista

It really depends on what you’re using them for. There are some containers that are best as meal containers to take to work. Others work well as food storage in the fridge and freezer. Still others work better for storing small amounts of food for home leftovers. If you’re clumsy (aren’t we all?), glass is probably best only used for dishes that you plan to directly stick in the oven. We use a few Pyrex baking dishes for this purpose. For plastic food storage, I guess all I can really do is offer a few specific recommendations that I use myself.

For general purpose food containers, these RubberMaid containers are probably my current favorites. The lids lock on really well, they do wonderfully in the freezer, and they work in the microwave without a bit of concern. The only thing that they won’t do is go in the oven, as noted earlier. If you want to use these for toting meals back and forth to work and want to keep different items separate, you’ll want separate ones for entrees and sides. These containers handle about 80% of our home food container use these days, alongside food packaging that we’ve kept around for re-use and the items below.

If you want meal containers with separate compartments, such as keeping (say) a sandwich, chips, and grapes separate so you can take it to work for lunch, these bento boxes are probably my choice. I don’t use containers like this regularly, but we have a few like this and they do really well.

As of late, I have been exploring sous vide cooking (meaning items cook low and slow in a sealed container inside of a water bath) as an alternative to using a slow cooker and I have to give a nod to these silicone reusable bags. Basically, imagine a highly reusable Ziploc bag that’s really easy to clean. If you find you use Ziplocs a lot, consider replacing them with these to cut down on your regular re-buys and the amount of plastic you’re tossing.

Q5: Family fight over estate planning

We recently had a private dinner for my father’s 75th birthday with my parents, all of my siblings, and our families, about 20 people all told. He is in very poor health and the doctors estimate he has three or so months to live. He is refusing all medical treatment besides palliative care to keep pain at bay. During the meal, he announced that he had named a family friend as executor of his estate and that he was leaving all of it in equal amounts to all of his grandchildren upon his passing, and that this had all been in place for a while. His grandchildren range in age from about 30 to a newborn and each will receive somewhere around $500K from the estate.

Immediately my youngest brother who doesn’t have any children blew a gasket. He loudly yelled that he was being “cut out of the family,” called us all a bunch of names, and walked out. He has refused to speak to anyone for a week and blocked most of us on social media.

To be clear, I don’t blame him for being upset over this situation. I think he acted childish, but it was out of an emotion that I understand.

I made the quiet suggestion to my father that he include my youngest brother as a “share” in the division amongst grandchildren and he just bluntly refused the idea and wouldn’t even consider it. He called him a few choice names.

What can we do here? I don’t even know where to start. I don’t want there to be a giant family rift over the estate planning but there is also a lot of money at stake. My father should be free to do as he wants but I also understand my brother is very hurt right now.
– Michelle

Before we get started, I changed a lot of little details about this story in order to make this publishable, as I am almost sure that in its original form if anyone in this family had read this email, they would have been rather upset to have their dirty laundry aired. I did my best to retain the meaningful threads, but a lot of details were changed to protect the innocent here.

First of all, I think both your father and your brother have good reason to be upset. I think that your brother may have overreacted in that moment, but he’s hurt and rightfully so. He feels cut out of his family. That hurt has nothing to do with money. At the same time, your father is being a bit unforgiving of your brother’s response. Again, that feeling has nothing to do with money. You identified all of this very well, I think, and I’m in agreement with this. At the same time, we are talking about life-changing amounts of money for everyone involved, and particularly your brother. There is going to be a huge difference in your brother’s life going forward if he gets a share or if he doesn’t; the impact on the grandchildren will be relatively small either way.

The first thing I would do is sit down with your father and ask him whether or not his intent with that decision was to leave your youngest brother out of the estate, or whether it was an unintentional side effect that he didn’t really consider. Those two avenues have to be handled differently.

If it was intentional, that your father had considered your younger brother before establishing this plan and choosing to leave him and his descendants out, you need to figure out what exactly caused this division and figure out if some form of healing can occur before your father passes away. There is clearly a relationship gap there and you have to fix that relationship gap. At the same time, your siblings and you need to make sure that there is no issue between each of you and your brother regardless of your father. There may be a strong sense of “everyone versus me” from him, a sense of being cut off, and you need to absolutely make it clear that you do not want him cut off, that you want him to be a part of your life.

If it was an unintentional slight and now your father is mostly just upset out of embarrassment and out of a little frustration with your brother’s response, that can be the source of healing. Give things a bit of time to cool off, and then talk to your father about whether he’d be willing to alter the plans again. Point out that this is really important in terms of making sure the family is strong when he passes away, even if he’s frustrated at how your brother responded.

In either case, you really need to open up communication with your brother. You have to make it crystal clear that you understand his perspective, you agree that it’s not particularly fair, that you love him and want him in your life, and that what you want more than anything is something that everyone can live with before your father passes away and the rift is never able to be healed. This will obviously be easier if it was an unintentional move by your father, but it needs to happen either way.

I would not openly discuss the possibility of going behind your father’s plans and manually giving your brother a share. Not only is this disrespectful of your father’s plans, it also makes you guys appear to be against him as well if you consider it and choose not to do it. This shouldn’t even be a consideration.

Overall, this isn’t a situation that can be rectified with legal means. You have to work with the people and relationships now. You’re probably going to have to dig through some family laundry in the process.

I fully expect quite a few readers to chime in on this.

Q6: Simple little pizza tip

I wanted to share this little thing we started doing that I think is a great example of “frugal thinking.” We have a Friday night family tradition of ordering pizza and watching a movie together. We used to all get home, talk about what kind of pizza we wanted, and order it for delivery. There was usually a delivery fee and then we’d also tip the driver, which usually added up to an extra $10 on top of the pizza cost.

For the last few weeks we have been talking about the pizza we want on Thursday night and I put a reminder on my phone to order pizza in the afternoon. I am always the last one home on Fridays anyway. I commute within a few blocks of several pizza places so I just order it mid afternoon when my reminder comes up and have it ready for pickup about 15 minutes after I leave work.

It takes maybe 5 minutes to do this and saves us $10 each week. If I did this every week for a year that’s about $500 in savings.

Just rethink what you’re doing when you spend money. You can save a lot without really changing much about your actual routines by just thinking it through a little and asking yourself if there’s a better way. Don’t just throw money at the problem!
– Jeremy

This is exactly the kind of frugal thinking that really makes a difference when it comes to financial success. So often, people assume that being smart with their money means undergoing some kind of radical life transformation. Sure, there are situations where that’s the right choice, but for many people who are just living paycheck to paycheck, a few shifts like these make an enormous difference.

If you make $50,000 a year, saving $500 a year is literally a 1% savings rate. If this is your new pizza strategy, you can go to your HR office and bump up your 401(k) savings by 1%, or you can have $10 a week transferred automatically into your emergency fund by your bank.

In either case, you’re putting away real money for the future, and that’s going to have a multiplicative effect. That $500 a year in retirement is going to grow at about 7% a year until you retire, meaning it adds up to thousands. That emergency fund will be over $1,000 in just two years, and it will make the difference of having to put a car repair on a credit card and having to pay it off slowly over the course of a few years (with lots of interest payments) or just paying it off all at once (with no interest), meaning it’s going to multiply, too.

It all comes back to moves like this, where you’re driving a block out of your way to save $10 once a week. Maybe you just buy a bunch of store brands instead of name brands at the grocery store and cut your weekly grocery store bill by $20. As long as you do something smart with the savings and not just spend it on some other minor fleeting desire, little changes like those will grow and grow and grow over time.

(We actually have the same tradition of having pizza and a movie on Friday evenings. There aren’t many pizza options nearby so Sarah usually picks it up on her way home from work (or else I make it). In other words, we’re in the same exact boat as you except delivery was basically never an option.)

Q7: Disowned due to politics

I am 23. I graduated from college two years ago and have a good entry level job on a low rung on my career ladder with good prospects for moving up. I grew up in a very conservative family and would now describe myself as moderate. I have three older siblings who are very conservative. I was born about ten years later as a “surprise” child.

In the last few years, my parents have seemingly moved very far to the political extreme. I have tried to avoid discussing politics when visiting them at holidays and at other times. I’m not politically active but I feel uncomfortable with some of the ideas being promoted out there by people. I don’t even like talking about politics if I can avoid it.

At holidays, my parents would make these extreme statements and then expect me to completely agree with them and I would usually say as little as possible and try to change the subject but in the last 2-3 years the subject seems to always be politics.

I went to visit them over the Fourth of July and they had a cookout with a bunch of their friends. The talk was almost entirely political and much of the stuff said made me uncomfortable, so I excused myself and went in the house and started looking at my phone.

My father came in with a few of his friends and I overheard him refer to me as a “liberal” and then as a “disappointment.” I just got up, grabbed my stuff, and drove home.

I got a phone call that evening from my parents who told me that they were “cutting me off.” This isn’t really a financial problem for me as they haven’t paid for anything for me in years aside from meals when I would visit them and they would sometimes take me out for dinner when they would visit me.

Since then, I have texted them a couple of times with no response. My brothers aren’t responding to my texts either. My sister still texts with me and says that this will all eventually blow over.

I always thought that my family would always be there for me. I just want to be able to go home and watch a movie with them and laugh like we used to or watch a football game with my dad without him sitting there talking about how evil everything is and spending the first half yelling about players standing for the anthem. I always felt secure that if things went really bad in my life I could rely on them and now that is completely gone and for what? I didn’t want to talk about politics?

I am writing I guess because I need to vent, and I’m wondering what I can do to kind of replace that sense of security in my life. My guess is that I just need a big emergency fund. Do you have any suggestions for me?
– Thomas

This is another story from a reader that I chose to edit significantly, cutting out some specific identifying material and altering some specifics to help avoid dredging up a specific family issue.

In terms of your family issues, I think the only thing to do is to give it time. There are a lot of elements in the world right now that are encouraging Americans to be politically extreme (to both the left and right) and on edge, and while those elements are out in force, this is just the reality of things. I would spend some time reflecting on whether or not you’re actually expressing some views and causing conflict yourself, but from this story, you don’t seem to be doing much of that.

In terms of your own finances, you’re correct in that the best thing you can do to “replace” that sense of security you got from your parents, the best thing you can do is have a healthy emergency fund. That way, if you lose a job, you can rely on that instead.

It’s also a very good idea to put in extra effort to have a robust resume that makes you a good candidate for lots of jobs, and make sure you have a health care package that can help you if you get really sick.

A final note, and I’m going to put this in bold: don’t let your political beliefs of the moment shred lifelong immediate family relationships. Your political beliefs will change over time – almost everyone’s views do. Do you believe all of the same things that you believed 20 years ago? 10 years ago? It’s not worth shredding a lifelong close relationship just because of your current views. If you are stating viewpoints that are deeply upsetting to a family member that you’ve been close with for your (or their) entire life, spend some serious time reflecting on whether those views are right and whether you’re being excessively influenced by the media you’re consuming. At the very least, have enough respect for that relationship to cut out the political talk for a while. I don’t care which end of the spectrum you’re on or which end the other person is on, if you’re expressing views that a loved one considers abhorrent, you should be spending time in self-reflection about that view and about the influences in your life that are bringing you to that view, and you should be putting your best non-political foot forward to keep that personal relationship healthy. (This is not to say that there aren’t toxic relationships that you’re better off without, but that if you’re going down that road, stop and re-think things very carefully.)

Q8: 529 plan for special needs?

My wife and I are having a baby due in December! We are already making tons of plans and we are starting a 529 plan with myself as a beneficiary now so that we can change it to the baby after he or she is born to get a jump on college savings.

Which brings us to our question. A friend of ours has a special needs child. What do we do with 529 money if we have a child with special needs? Can 529 money be used for special needs education expenses?
– Aaron

529 money can’t be used directly for special needs education expenses. However, money in a 529 can be rolled over into a 529 ABLE account at a rate of $15,000 per year without tax penalty.

So, what is a 529 ABLE account? It’s basically a variation on a 529 in which the money in the account can be used to pay for qualifying expenses for adults with special needs. Their parents put money into the account as they grow and once they reach adulthood, the money in their 529 ABLE account can be used to pay for qualifying expenses tax free without affecting their eligibility for Medicaid, SSI, and other such programs. Here are more details on 529 ABLE programs.

So, your plan is a good one. You can start saving now in a normal 529 and if your child goes to college, the money in that account can help them. If your child has special needs and has other uses for that money, then moving it over to a 529 ABLE is easy and can help in that situation, too.

Q9: Cheap standing desk recommendations?

I work from home 3/5 days per week and want to switch to a standing desk at home for my own health. There’s a lot of walking around when I’m at the office but very little when I’m at home. Do you have recommendations for a good inexpensive standing desk? Most seem really pricy.
– Gerald

Basically, all you really need to do is have a stable way to elevate your monitor, keyboard, and mouse above your current desk so that you can comfortably stand instead of sitting. There are a lot of ways to do this. If you already have a desk, just get yourself a single large heavy duty board, collect some soda cans or paint cans, and put the board across the cans, like this. Boom! Standing desk for a few bucks. This is actually a pretty stable setup – it’s only going to fall over in an earthquake.

If you want a more stable setup, a friend of mine uses a small variation on this IKEA hack. Basically, it’s made up of an IKEA Lack side table with two Viktor shelves bolted on top of it – total cost around $30.

You’ll want to play around with the exact height of everything. The easiest method, if it’s going to be permanently a standing desk, is to put some blocks underneath the desk itself before putting anything on top of it. Just make sure it’s exactly how you like it before bolting anything firmly in place.

I personally love my standing desk. It’s just a very simple frame with open space underneath it which I use for work-related storage. It’s stable and I stand at it for about six hours a day, with regular short breaks.

Q10: Managed mutual funds

I’m wondering if you think Ally Invest’s Managed Portfolios are a good option? There’s a 0.30% advisory fee and they invest money in diversified ETFs. Is there a better alternative maybe with Vanguard? I’m looking for an easy way to invest additional money after maxing out my Roth IRA, and my employer doesn’t currently offer a 401k.
– Erica

Mutual funds come in two general types. One is actively managed funds, of which the funds you mention are an example. These funds are run by people who study investments carefully and try to find bargains and those are the things that the fund invests in. It’s guided by people (or, these days, a mix of people and computer programs – the ones you mention specifically seems to promote itself as a robe-fund, which means it relies heavily on computer programs and semi-automatic investment). On the other hand, you have index funds, in which there are a simple set of rules that govern what investments are bought by the fund, and thus they need a lot less “people power” to run.

Managed funds aim to beat the market. The people (or computer programs) involved hope to find investments that do better than the average investment of the type they’re looking at. However, managed funds tend to have a middling track record – they’ll beat the market some years and perhaps more years than not, but they don’t do it anywhere near every time. In doing this, however, they charge relatively high fees. That fund you mention is actually on the lower end in terms of fees for managed funds.

On the other hand, index funds aim to match the market. They often just buy a little bit of everything to achieve that. At the same time, because much less people power is needed to pull that off, they tend to charge much lower fees. Many index funds have fees that are around a quarter as much as the fund you’re describing.

My philosophy is to just buy index funds. They usually manage to come very close to the market average even after fees. Managed funds tend to be all over the place, both from fund to fund and from year to year. On the whole, managed funds after fees will beat index funds after fees a little less than half the time.

From what I was able to find, this is a good example of a group of managed funds. They fall into a general nebulous group of “robo-funds,” which basically means they involve fewer actual people than many actively managed funds and rely on computer programs to automate some of the investing, but the investing strategy is managed by a person rather than a rule. This means that the fees are going to be significantly lower than the typical managed fund. It’s almost a hybrid between a managed fund and an index fund. The reviews I could find and the information about the fund that’s publicly available all seem to be solid.

I tend to personally believe in and put my money in index funds, but this is what I consider to be a good example of a fund using a different strategy. If you feel good about it, then go for it. It doesn’t set off any red flags for me, though it’s a type of investment that doesn’t match the kind of investments I choose for myself.

Q11: Book suggestions for work focus?

Followed your suggestion and asked my boss for a performance review. He said my work is excellent when I complete it but that I seem to be often distracted and doing things unrelated to it and that if I were on task better he would promote me to senior level which would involve a good pay bump. I know my boss, this is not a false carrot. He suggested I simply try to notice when I am distracted at first and then try to fix it and he is right, I get distracted all the time at work. I can focus really well sometimes but at other times it’s awful. Do you have any general suggestions or book suggestions for this? You’ve helped with great career advice and money advice already and seem to have good ideas in these areas.
– Marcus

I guess I can describe the things I do when I’m working to help me focus. When I really want to focus on my work for a while, I do a set routine of things. I put my phone on “Do Not Disturb” mode and make sure I have distracting websites blocked on my computer. I make a cup of coffee and a cup of tea and put them on my desk for easy access. I open up a blank page in a notebook and put a pen by it so I can jot down any fleeting ideas that pop into my head and don’t get completely distracted by them. I go to the bathroom. I stretch a little bit. I close the door between my work area and the rest of the house. I put on some noise cancelling headphones and put on some ambient music or white noise. Then, I get down to work.

There are two key things to point out here. One, I’m basically eliminating as many paths to distraction as I can. My phone. Distracting websites. Random thoughts. People walking in. Environmental noises. Momentary thirst. I block out all of that stuff. Two, I’m trying to get into a “flow state,” which is a state in which I am so focused on my task I lose track of time and space. Not only am I incredibly productive when I get into that state, it also feels good. Getting into that state is one of my favorite things about working. I want to be able to get into that state and stay there for as long as I can ride it.

There are two books that really stand out for me in terms of this kind of professional focus: Deep Work by Cal Newport and Flow by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I’ve written about both books before (here and here) and I’ll likely eventually do a “Books with Impact” deep writeup about each one. They both do a wonderful job of addressing that very issue: how do people who work in situations where they need to deeply focus to produce great work manage to actually achieve that focus and utilize it for the best possible work output, particularly without burning themselves out? Together, I think these two books address that really well.

Q12: Pen and paper beats stylus?

In response to this in your mailbag “I haven’t quite pieced this out yet. Is it habit? Is paper really better than a stylus for me? I’m not sure, but I know that I prefer both paper and stylus to typing when I’m trying to figure out something or work it out in my head.”: I am an occupational therapist and a common theory in our field is that the higher the resistance, the higher the kinesthetic benefit and sensory input. Pen and paper writing typically has more physical resistance than stylus to tablet and it may just be that you are physically working just that tiny bit harder to write words on paper that helps!
– Kerry

That actually makes a lot of sense, and it explains why using a stylus on the iPad screen causes the things I write to stick in my mind better than writing but seemingly not quite as well as pen on paper. It makes me think that perhaps a stylus with a “rougher” surface to write on might stick in my head more like pen on paper does. I know that such things are out there, but I also know they’re quite expensive, and I’m not going to fork over the cash just to test the theory.

Instead, I’ll probably just stick to pen and paper when I really want to process ideas as I’m writing them, while stylus and paper works really well when I want to retain the big picture and have notes for permanent review later. Typing is mostly only good for sharing ideas with others, I think.

If I were back in college, I’d still be all paper all the time in the classroom. I used to fill up entire notebooks with notes, especially later on in my college career when I understood what I needed to do to succeed.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

The post Questions About 529 ABLE, Reusable Food Storage, Pizza Delivery, and More! appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Walgreens Back To School Deals for the week of August 18-24, 2019

Check out these amazing deals Walgreens is offering this week.

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Here are the back to school deals at Walgreens for the week of August 18-24, 2019:

Wexford 2-Pocket Folders – 7/$1

Wexford Mini Highlighter – 7/$1

Elmer’s Glue Stick 3 ct or Elmer’s Glue – $0.49

Paper Mate Pens – $0.49

Index Cards – $0.49

Composition Book – $0.49

Crayola Colored Pencils – $0.99

Crayola Markers – $0.99

Filler Paper 230 ct – $1.50

Papermate Mechanical Pencils – $1.99

Ticonderoga Pencils 24 pk – $1.99

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Be sure to check out all of the Best 2019 Back To School Deals! Don’t forget you can also sign up for our daily email newsletter to get all of the best back to school deals emailed to you every week! And be sure to check out my post on 5 Simple Ways to Save on Back to School Deals.

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25 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Sell on eBay, From Pine Cones to Dentures

Are you getting ready for a yard sale? Maybe just trying to declutter?

Before you throw out the “useless” stuff kicking around your home, you might want to check this list.

A little research yielded some surprising things that you can sell on eBay. 

1. Empty Boxes

What? Yes, empty boxes will sell on eBay, depending on what the boxes are for.

In general, higher-end product and brand boxes sell well.

A specific example could be American Girl Doll Boxes. These boxes sell for good money because the dolls are frequently archived, and people who purchase used dolls like to give their children the “new doll” experience by putting it in a genuine American Girl Doll box.

If you buy a brand-new doll (approximately $125) you can earn back some of the money you spent by selling the box.

Other good sellers: iPhone boxes and boxes from luxury brands such as Chanel, Hermes and Tiffany & Co.

2. Cords

Old phone chargers (even your ancient ones), power cords to video game systems, computers, USB cords and camera cords will often sell.

They may not sell for a ton of money, but every little bit counts. If you were planning to throw them out anyway, why not earn a few bucks?

Because these items are small, they’re also cheap and easy to ship. 

3. Instruction Manuals

Nowadays, you can find most instruction manuals online. However, vintage manuals or even just older manuals may not be.

These can often be sold for some money.

If you no longer even have that item the manual corresponds to, why not make some money off it?

4. Installation CDs/Drivers

If you have an older computer, printer or copier, it is possible that the drivers you need to install haven’t been put on the web.

Sell these old discs on eBay for some cash. If your printer dies, before tossing out the instructions/CD ROMs, check whether they have any value on eBay.

5. K-Cups

Do you have a Keurig at home? Or maybe your Keurig died and you’re choosing not to replace it?

Sometimes we all fall into the trap of buying in bulk for certain items. This is usually the best way to get a good deal on K-Cups.

But if your machine dies or you simply don’t like the flavored coffee, you’re stuck with all these K-Cups you can’t use. Sell these partial boxes on eBay. You may not be able to completely recoup what you spent, but anything is better than nothing.

Be sure to display the expiration dates and explain that the boxes are not complete. Be prepared to answer questions about why the boxes are opened.

6. My Coke Codes Rewards

People sell huge baggies of My Coke Rewards caps and codes. If your family members are big soda drinkers, but you don’t want to use the codes, why not sell them on eBay?

This is an instance where you could potentially offer free shipping. Or skip it altogether and manually type the codes into a message to the buyer after completing the transaction.

7. Box tops for Education

You can frequently find bundles of box tops on eBay. Some schools offer competitions and prizes to classes that collect the most, so parents are looking for cheap ways to get these codes.

If you find yourself just throwing them out, stop. Maybe you’d be more tempted to clip them if you could earn some cash.

8. Gift Cards

Have you ever gotten a gift card to a restaurant or store you don’t particularly like or a place that isn’t local? What do you do?

You could re-gift the card to someone else. Or you can sell it on eBay.

This also works with partial gift cards. If you only have a few dollars left on a card, someone will still purchase it. 

People purchase used gift cards for many reasons. They may want to give a card to a certain store but don’t live near one. Or they may live in another country.

You can offer free shipping and instead email the buyer the code and PIN. But some buyers will want the physical card. Keep in mind you need to be exact about much is on the card. 

9. Remotes

When your television breaks and you replace it, the remote probably still works. Rather than tossing it out with the TV, see if it has any value on eBay.

For every TV that dies, there may be someone out there who broke their remote and needs a replacement. 

You should note the specific make and model TV the remote goes with. Be sure to specify the condition and whether or not you’re including batteries.

10. Broken Electronics/Appliances

You can sell broken cellphones, laptops, video game systems, blenders and other items on eBay.

All you need to do is be clear the item is not working and is intended for parts only. If you are particularly skilled, you can even dismantle items, such as vacuums, and sell the parts individually.

When selling devices for parts, consider your safety, identity and personal information. You are taking the risk that someone can fix that item, and if you used it for banking or shopping online, it could still contain your personal information. Scrub that information before selling.

11. Craft Supplies

You can always find people looking online for vintage patterns, modern patterns, knitting needles, thread, buttons and more crafting items.

Yarn and material can be particularly popular because they are difficult to match if you can’t find the exact lot number. Before you toss out antique lace or other sewing materials, take a peek at the listings on eBay.

12. Discontinued Products  

Chances are when an item is discontinued, someone out there is still using it or looking for the parts.

Be sure to check eBay before you toss the item in your yard sale. 

This is also a great way to unload old toys. Sometimes people don’t start collecting a certain toy line until after the item is discontinued.

In some cases, even items with damaged or missing pieces can still be sold. Just make sure you’re honest about the condition.

13. Large Pine Cones

Seriously, a dozen large pine cones list for between $8 and $14. The best thing about this is if you live in the country, near woods or have pine trees on your property, they’re free! Pine cones are fairly lightweight, which makes them cheap to ship.

Think about other things you may have around your property or area such as real fall leaves which have been pressed and dried. Anyone can do that!

14. Used Clothes

Did you realize you can sell your used clothes on eBay?

Keep in mind that this might not earn you big bucks, but it will net more than you would make at a yard sale. Obviously, better name brands sell for more money.

However, common items in great condition sell very well. For example, standard black dress pants may have a good market, and children’s clothing tends to sell exceptionally well on eBay.

15. Empty Toilet Paper Rolls

You probably think I’m joking. I’m totally serious.

Cardboard toilet paper rolls will sell on eBay because they make great craft supplies for kids. They may not sell for a ton of money. But what else were you planning to do with them?

16. Perfume and Makeup Samples

Whether someone has a favorite product or is looking to try something new, perfume and makeup samples can do well on eBay.

Just be clear with the name and age of the product. How often do you get free samples that you have no intention of using, so you just toss them out?

17. Junk

Seriously. Items with the words “junk drawer” are plentiful on eBay.  

Remember the saying, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” Before you dump that junk drawer in the garbage, see if anyone will snag it online.

This can also work for items you have — but have no idea what they are. Simply include the word “junk” or “miscellaneous” in the listing title.

18. Dentures

Yes, that’s right. Dentures can (and do) sell on eBay.

If you don’t happen to have any sets of dentures sitting around, denture supplies like cases and cleaners will also sell.

19. Empty Perfume Bottles

These are huge hits with crafters, people planning weddings and other artsy enthusiasts. Empty perfume bottles can sell for good cash.

What a great idea for something you’d otherwise just toss! Think about other containers you might be able to sell, too.

20. Vintage Women’s Panties

Panties, as well as other vintage clothing items, can be hot sellers on eBay. You might be surprised how frequently these items are bought and sold.

Before you take all of those old clothes to the thrift store, be sure to check eBay.

21. Magazines  

Current or vintage magazines can sell incredibly well depending on the publication, condition, featured articles and other factors. 

Be sure to list any specifics in terms of the name, date, volume/issue number and condition. This information will help someone seeking a specific issue. Also, some catalogs will sell, especially vintage ones.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

22. Empty Egg Cartons

Say what? Yes, people buy empty egg cartons on eBay.

They can be used for a variety of things such as crafts or selling eggs from backyard chickens.

Because they are lightweight and can easily stack inside one another, they’re easy to ship.

23. Old Computer Software

Before you toss out old computer games and other CD ROMs from your old devices, take a peek at eBay. It can be very hard to find some of these old CD ROMs and programs, so yours might fetch a premium.

Even if you no longer have the disc, empty CD and DVD cases can also be sold on eBay.

24. Themed Items

Are you tired of spending lots of money trying to complete your perfect kitchen theme? Chances are other people feel the same way.

Before you give away pig-(or rooster-, or cow-, or horse-, or well, you get the idea) themed items, take a peek on eBay and see what they’re going for.

Consider selling a “lot” of themed items rather than individual ones. You’d be surprised what sells.

25. Old Coffee Mugs

If you’re anything like me, coffee mugs seem to just pile up. Go on a trip, get a mug. Friends give you mugs because you drink coffee. Someone sees a coffee mug with your name on it.

You get the idea. Old coffee mugs can be sold on eBay because somewhere someone might be looking for the one you have. People like to replace their favorite items if they break or wear out. Your mug doesn’t necessarily need to be a collectible.

Some of the most popular coffee mugs are old Starbucks mugs. Next time you’re walking around a thrift store, check out the mug section.

This post was originally published at I Am That Lady, where Lauren Greutman writes about getting out of $40,000 in debt by learning how to meal plan. She now teaches others how to meal plan and enjoy life on a budget.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save MORE Money

Are you looking to save money but find it hard to stick to a schedule?

It might help if you make a game of it and challenge yourself. When you “gamify” your monetary goals and challenge yourself to stick to them, the whole process can become something much fun.

It can be too hard to remain motivated or to maintain interest in scrimping and saving. If you’ve tried saving before with no blessing, you might want to try one of these challenges instead that should hopefully promote you to keep working towards your savings purposes!

1. Track your expenses 7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save Money | Stay At Home Mum

via efsco.com.au

The trick with this challenge is to remember to move every single thing you deplete for 30 epoches. No buy is too small to keep off the directory! The impression is that once you start to write down exactly how much coin you are spending- and probably consuming on pointless purchases – you’ll start to doubled anticipate before you part with your currency. By the end of the 30 eras you will hopefully have saved a lot more money than you would have if you hadn’t been tracking where the dollars go.

2. 52 Weeks challenge 7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save Money | Stay At Home Mum

via thewhoot.com.au

This is an easy one that is also very popular. All you have to do is positioned coin in a cup once a week. How it use is on the Monday of the first week, you made$ 1 in a pot. On the Monday of the second week you introduced$ 2 in the container. On the third week you kept$ 3 in the cup. You keep going, each week depositing a dollar extent that corresponds with what week of the challenge you are up to. Once you reach week 52 and settled $52 in the pot you should have saved $1,378.

3. Banned Spending challenge 7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save Money | Stay At Home Mum

via ethicalfashionspace.com

With this challenge you are only allowed to spend money on the requisites- food, mortgage, hire, electricity and so on- and nothing else.

This means you stay away from diners, takeaway, browsing, alcohol and other luxury parts. Think of it in terms of “needs” versus “wants”. Eliminate spending on the craves for a period of time and watch the dollars start to rack up.

4. Spare Change challenge 7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save Money | Stay At Home Mum

via tucsonlocalmedia.com

This is another easy one involving a receptacle. At the end of every day, check what modify “youve got in” your wallet and prostrate it into a jar. Some epoches you will have nothing, or only a little bit of shrapnel. Other dates you might have a whole lot of coin. If “youre gonna” punished fairly, you’ll find the money will start to pile up.( Note: I have personally failed these new challenges as my husband obstructed taking the money to pay for parking meters and to buy cans of Pepsi Max from vending machine. You will need to have everyone in the house agree NOT to touch your coin stockpile !)

5. Pay Yourself Too challenge 7 Ways To Challenge Yourself To Save Money | Stay At Home Mum

via thefederalist-gary.blogspot.com

This one is a bit risky and expects some discipline, but it comes down to this: for every dollar you spend on “wants”( the non all-importants of life) you are able to employ a dollar in a savings account. So if you expend $100 on a brand-new duet of shoes that you don’t need, you need to chuck $100 in the bank. Seeing as the cost of each item is now going to be double because you have to pay yourself as well, you will rethink whether or not you want to buy it in the first place.

6. Set up an automatic transpose to a savings account

Stay At Home Mum

This compels the least effort of all because you can automate it.

Create a savings account at a bank- preferably with a brand-new bank where you don’t have your other accounts so there’s less temptation to dip into it. If you can don’t even set up online access or get an ATM card – you want to make it as hard as is practicable for yourself can be allowed to get to this money.

Next, lay out an automatic transportation to it. You might want to do it monthly, or to become the move happen when you know you have pay coming in( once a week or formerly a fortnight ). It doesn’t matter, as long as you have regular payments being send there. This mode you are squirrelling away fund for a rainy day- and after a while you’ll have a awesome cache of currency!

7. Replace Your Costly Habits challenge

Stay At Home Mum

If you know you have bad wonts when it comes to spending- like going through the drive-thru for dinner instead of cooking or not checking premiums properly at the supermarket, you might want to harness this challenge.

Replace your bad wonts with brand-new ones- maybe scheme your meals, cook in volume, actively keep an eye on catalogue specials. Taking capital of how you consume coin and predominating it in can see interests virtually straight away!

Once you’ve got your new savings dress in place, try to determine them adhere so you can continue to benefit!

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Lentil Casserole, Dish Soap, and Frugal Filters

My mother-in-law makes this absolutely delicious lentil casserole. I’m not sure of her exact recipe, but I know from home experimentation that this is a close approximation:

Lentil Casserole

1 pound dry lentils
2 cups water
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced mushrooms (optional)
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tablespoons “savory” seasoning (equal parts thyme, cumin, coriander, paprika, black pepper, red pepper flakes, oregano, with two parts salt)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix all ingredients except cheese thoroughly and spread in 9″ by 13″ baking dish evenly. Cover with aluminum foil (or other cover) and bake for 105 minutes. Add shredded cheese evenly on top and remove aluminum foil. Bake for 5-10 more minutes until cheese is thoroughly melted. Serve.

Great.. So What About It?

Several years ago, I had a minor medical issue that forced me to make some dietary changes. My mother-in-law, being the treasure she is, spent time figuring out recipes that would be in line with my needed dietary changes and still be enjoyable for the rest of the family, and in that process she came across this lentil casserole recipe.

It turned out to be a pretty big hit, and now it’s in the regular rotation of dishes that she makes when we come to visit. Everyone likes it at least reasonably well, and I particularly love it because it just hits this perfect savory taste and texture that I really enjoy.

A few years ago, I asked her where she came up with the recipe and she started pulling cookbooks out of various places. They had Post-It notes and other paper scraps thrown in to mark specific recipes.

From what I was able to understand, she simply goes through and marks recipes that are both inexpensive and seem tasty, and preferably ones that are easy. With cookbooks that have hundreds of recipes each, it’s usually easy to find recipes that hit all three criteria.

When I added a few specific dietary requirements, she went through her marked recipes and noted which ones met those new requirements as well, which still left her with a pretty significant list.

The Frugal Filter

What I found interesting about this process, and why I felt writing about it was worthwhile, is that “low cost” was really only one of her filters when choosing recipes to try. If a recipe didn’t seem tasty to her or to the people she was making it for, she didn’t bother. If a recipe seemed overly complicated, she didn’t bother. She did not simply go for the first recipe that was “cheap.”

I point this out because the idea that “inexpensiveness” is the primary or only filter people use when spending money is a very common misunderstanding of frugality.

If “the less expensive, the better” is your main filter for processing choices, then you’re being a cheapskate and you’re probably making a lot of suboptimal choices. You are most definitely not being frugal, and if you adopt that approach in life, you’re quickly going to head down a path of misery unless you are wired very differently in terms of internal rewards than most people.

Here’s the truth about frugality, at least as I see it.

When most of us are called upon to make a decision with a lot of options – and that’s how a lot of decisions are in the modern world – we typically use a handful of filters almost instinctively to quickly reduce the number of choices. That’s really the only efficient way to make a lot of modern life manageable. Without a bunch of instinctive filters, we’d go into lockdown just going through the supermarket or strolling through Target or deciding what website to visit or what movie to watch or what book to read or how to get to work.

Let’s say I’m at the store and I see “dish soap” on my list. I head to the section with dish soap and, lo and behold, there are a ton of options. If I stand there looking at all of the options, I’m never going to make a decision.

So, I start applying filters very quickly, almost without thinking. I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again. I don’t like these three brands, so I’ll skip them. I prefer lemon-scented soap. Consumer Reports says that these two kinds are really bad. Right there, we’ve cut things down to three or four options to actually look at.

All frugality really says is this: once you’ve applied those filters, apply another one where you seek the lowest price per use among those you’d choose from anyway. That’s it.

Now, that’s not quite the end of the road. If you start applying a frugal filter to your decisions, it’s a good idea to give careful thought to the instinctive filters you’re already applying.

Let’s use that dish soap example again. Once I started really buying into frugality, I found that applying the frugal filter to the remaining choices usually pointed me toward a good choice, but I found myself wondering why I had eliminated some of the others from consideration. I had instinctively eliminated the store brand. Why? I couldn’t think of a good reason for it. I had instinctively eliminated a couple of other brands, too, and I wasn’t sure why. I often used Consumer Reports as a tool to avoid dodgy brands, but why not use it to elevate a few good ones instead and eliminate the others?

So, my original filtering process looked like this:

I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again. I don’t like these three brands, so I’ll skip them. I prefer lemon-scented soap. Consumer Reports says that these two kinds are really bad. Of the three that are left, this one looks the best.

When I first started being frugal and applying the “lowest price” filter, the filtering process looked like this:

I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again. I don’t like these three brands, so I’ll skip them. I prefer lemon-scented soap. Consumer Reports says that these two kinds are really bad. Of the three that are left, this one is the least expensive.

After thinking about it a little more and questioning a lot of my assumptions, my filtering process for buying dish soap now looks a lot like this:

I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again. Consumer Reports says that these three brands are consistently good. I know the store brand is good, too, so I’ll include that. I don’t like lavender scent, so I’ll toss out these two. Of the three that are left, this one is the least expensive.

I like to think of frugality this way: frugality is about adding a “lowest cost” filter to your already-existing purchasing decisions, but it’s also an encouragement to rethink the filters you’ve always relied on to make purchases.

Back to the Lentil Casserole

This is basically the same idea that my mother-in-law applied to her choice to make lentil casserole for the first time for all of us.

She had a ton of recipes in front of her. She needed to filter them quickly. So, she applied a number of filters.

One was the “frugal filter”: it had to be cheap.

On top of that were a few others, which she used to determine what would make for a good meal: would people like it? would it be relatively easy to make? are the ingredients easy to acquire? There’s also the dietary filter: does it match Trent’s dietary concerns at the moment?

Here’s what’s worth noting: all of those filters are based on some value that’s important to her, much like the example of filters applied to buying dish soap.

She cares about her financial future, so she uses the it has to be cheap filter.

She wants to make a meal her family will enjoy because she cares about them, so she uses the will people like it filter.

She wants to have free time to spend with the family when they visit, so she uses the is it relatively easy to make filter.

She has relatively low access to ingredients and wants to, if possible, rely on things she already has on hand, so she uses the are the ingredients easy to get filter.

She cares about my health, so she uses the can Trent eat it filter.

After all of those filters are applied, she’s left with a small pool of choices, and from that she can make a more nuanced decision.

Low price is just one thing of importance among many in the things considered by a frugal person. It is not the only thing considered, nor is it the primary thing considered. The choice of lentil casserole is about a wide range of the things she cares about, not just money.

Adopting Frugal Behavior Is a Sign of Changing Values

As I noted earlier, however, adding a “low price” filter due to a fresh desire to be frugal is usually a sign that you’re probably going to reconsider a lot of the other filters you commonly use as well.

People don’t wake up one morning and decide to start cutting costs. There’s usually something going on in their lives, an ongoing change, that brings them to the conclusion that they need to apply different approaches to their finances.

For some, it might simply be a result of growing a bit older. Maybe you had a child or you’re now married or in a serious relationship. Maybe a career change is happening and your passions are changing. Maybe you’ve learned new things about the world and your perceptions of many things are shifting.

Whatever it might be, a renewed approach to frugality is very frequently a sign of shifting values in other areas of life, which means that it’s a great time to reconsider those other filters you use for making decisions.

For example, for me, adopting a more frugal and financially responsible mindset was directly due to a simultaneous significant change in my work environment, the birth of my first child, and the realization that some of my long term goals weren’t coming true. That triggered a lot of changes in terms of how I saw the world, and it was in that moment of internal rethinking of life that I moved in a very frugal direction.

However, there were many more values changing than just my money use – frugality was just one thing changing as a result of my changing values. I was now considering my child – a lot. I was now much more concerned about my own mental well being. I was feeling like I needed to make a career change that better matched the life I wanted to live. I was feeling like the ways I was spending my time and money weren’t in line with what I wanted out of life. Those things were just the start.

Frugality emerged from those changing values, but there were shifts in lots of things I cared about, and those shifts encouraged me to think carefully about all of the filters I used to make decisions, not just buying things, but how I used my time, my attention and focus, my energy, and so on.

Looking at Values Isn’t Easy or Obvious

The thing is, thinking about things in terms of what you value isn’t always easy or obvious. Quite often, we see the change in what we value by noticing that something makes sense in a way that it didn’t make sense before, or that something that used to seem like the right thing to do isn’t the right thing any more.

Sometimes, we just accept those changes without a second thought. At other times, we find those little nudges a bit troubling and ignore them until they become so overwhelming that we have to pay attention.

I’ll give you a great example of this. About nine months before my financial turnaround began, I was already noticing a lot of elements in my life that I was unhappy with. I could see a lot of little things in my life that were bringing me down, but I still wasn’t quite there. I wasn’t quite ready to change things. It took an even bigger impact, an inability to pay the bills, to bring about real action and change.

What I’ve learned since then is that when you start getting those nudges, pay attention. It means that your values are changing or something else subtle is going on that’s not in line with what you want out of life, and you’re far better off figuring it out when it’s a molehill than when it’s a mountain.

But how can you see this? I usually see it by looking real close at a decision I’ve made that I’m not happy with or, sometimes, a decision I’m far happier with than I expected.

Look at the Filters

Sometimes I’ll do something and then, a few minutes later or a few days or maybe a month or two later, I’ll think to myself, “I messed that up.” Occasionally, When I have that feeling, I know that something has shifted in my values that isn’t yet reflected in how I’m making decisions or behaving, and that means I need to figure it out or I’m going to keep screwing up. But how do I do this?

For me, the most effective way to do this is to look really close at that decision. This technique is often known as an “after action report;” here’s a summary of the general concept.

Basically, I try, to the best of my ability, to figure out exactly why I made that decision without judging it, then I go through and judge my reasoning. In other words, I try to figure out what filters I used to make that decision, then I question all of those filters.

I do that kind of thinking when I’m driving around or, sometimes, when I’m writing a personal journal entry. I just break it down as much as I possibly can, almost to a comical level, and then I look at all of those pieces.

So, let’s roll back to that dish soap example one more time. My old school decision making process looked like this:

I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again. I don’t like these three brands, so I’ll skip them. I prefer lemon-scented soap. Consumer Reports says that these two kinds are really bad. Of the three that are left, this one looks the best.

Let’s say I later realize that the end decision I made was a bad one. Where did my decision making process go wrong? I’ll then rip that decision making process to shreds and try to tease out all of those filters.

I don’t want a tiny container because it’ll run out super quick and I’ll have to buy it again.
I don’t like these three brands, so I’ll skip them.
I prefer lemon-scented soap.
Consumer Reports says that these two kinds are really bad.
Of the three that are left, this one looks the best.

Was the problem that I chose a big container? Probably not.

Was the problem that I skipped over certain brands? Maybe. Why did I skip over them? What’s wrong with Brand X and Brand Y? This thought process led to the revelation that store brands aren’t really bad after all.

Was the problem that I insisted on lemon-scented soap? Maybe. Why did I insist on that? What’s wrong with scentless soap, or other scents? This thought process made me realize that I actually just didn’t like one or two scents, not that I particularly loved lemon.

Was the problem that I used Consumer Reports to eliminate bad brands? Maybe. Why did I do that? Why not use Consumer Reports for recommendations rather than eliminations? This thought process made me rethink how I used consumer reviews, focusing more on the common elements of positive reviews rather than one or two outlying negative reviews.

Was the problem with my choice between the final three? Well, why did I decide to choose the one that I did? Maybe I simply left out something I really care about in this final decision making process. This thought process made me realize that “low price” really should be in there, because otherwise I am spending more money and not really gaining anything I care about.

This might seem like obsessive nuance, but it really isn’t. If, by doing this, I reset some filters that I use over and over and over again for all kinds of decisions, then I am going to consistently make good ones in my life. I won’t come home with a bunch of purchases and not really understand why I made them or where all the money went. I won’t be troubled by having wasted a bunch of time on things that weren’t important to me. Or, at least, I’ll fall into those situations a lot less often.

I find that when I think about those filters in this deep way and conclude that there’s a better way to do it, it doesn’t take a whole lot of reinforcement or repetition to use the better filter.

In other words, doing this every once in a while for a single seemingly minor decision often ends up making a lot of decisions in my life a lot better in very short order. I’m far from perfect at this and I sometimes don’t evaluate the decisions that I should be looking at, but I know that when I actually do a deep dive on a poor (or a surprisingly good) decision, I end up doing everything better.

Again, a sudden urge to spend less is often a sign that you should be doing a few of these deep dives. It’s a sign that your values are changing in some way, and this is a perfect time to look at things with fresh eyes and make sure that the choices you’re making really are in line with what you care about now rather than in the past.

Making Better Decisions

A frugal and financially smart person is simply a person whose decision making filters include a desire to keep costs low and avoid unnecessary purchases. It is not their only filter, just one among many. Having said that, a person who values that kind of thinking often has other filters that line up well alongside it, because those filters are based on deep personal values that we have.

For example, frugal people often want to get the best value item, which doesn’t always mean the lowest cost item. It means the item that does the best job for the dollar, and that usually means knowing which items actually perform well and do the job you want. That goes beyond just trusting a brand name, because often the product that does the best job for the dollar is a “no name” product, a store brand.

A frugal person usually cares deeply about something else in their lives as well, whether it’s personal freedom or keeping their stress low or a strong spiritual life or philosophical stance. Often, their frugality is a way of expressing that value – for example, many spiritual and philosophical traditions hold frugality dear – or a way of achieving that value – frugality is an effective way to lower the daily “background stress” of life.

Those values are expressed in many ways, and the filters we use to make decisions are a powerful one. Those filters also provide a window into our values – they work both ways.

So, whenever you feel like you’ve made a spending misstep, or you get a sense that you’re making decisions that aren’t in line with what you really care about, or you feel like your life is running off the tracks of what you want from it, dive deep into some of those errant decisions, whether they’re big ones (like where to live or what job to take or whether to get married) or little ones (like what to make for supper or what kind of dish soap to buy).

You’ll often see the problem very quickly, and fixing that broken filter can make an enormous difference.

Good luck.

The post Lentil Casserole, Dish Soap, and Frugal Filters appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Baskin Robbins: Get ice cream scoops for just $1.70 on August 31, 2019!

Celebrate the end of summer with ice cream from Baskin Robbins!

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Baskin Robbins is offering ice cream scoops for just $1.70 all day on Saturday, August 31, 2019.

This deal is also valid on the 31st of each month for the rest of this year — October and December.

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These 6 Stores Buy Used Clothes. Here’s How to Get the Best Cash Offer

Do me a favor and take a quick look in your closet. Overflowing, right?

Well, there’s a solution to that problem: selling your used clothes. 

It’s a win-win, and you don’t have to wait for a spring-cleaning binge to get started. In fact, you should do it seasonally to stay in vogue. 

So tear a page from the Marie Kondo playbook and make one big pile of all your clothes. Yes, even your winter gear from the living room closet. Definitely the swimsuit collection. And all the baby shower clothes that you never even used, too.

You may surprise yourself with the amount of clothes you have once you get them all in one place. Kondo recommends that as you sift through your stuff, you ask yourself, “Does this item spark joy?”

Nope? Then sell it. 

Where to Sell Used Clothes

A woman looks through clothing on a store rack.

Plenty of apps and websites like Poshmark, Threadflip, Etsy and eBay allow you to sell used clothes online. But maybe you don’t have the technical know-how (or the patience) to do it yourself. Don’t fret.

There are several other brick-and-mortar places to pawn off your used clothes, shoes, handbags, accessories — even baby clothes, toys and supplies — to get cash in your pocket by the end of the day.

Uptown Cheapskate

Want to pop some tags? Uptown Cheapskate is your place. It’s located in 21 states and is a cross between a trendy boutique and a thrift store for young adults. You can sell or trade in men’s and women’s clothes at any of its locations. Trade-ins get 25% bonus store credit. 

Brands that do well at Uptown Cheapskate include Urban Outfitters, Levi’s and H&M. If you’re unsure if your clothes will fit in style-wise, visit its website for more info on trending brands and styles.

Buffalo Exchange

Founded back in 1974, Buffalo Exchange has remained family owned as it has expanded to 18 states and the District of Columbia. The company is a firm believer in reusing and recycling clothes to reduce waste and pollution (and save cash). Each store also partners with local charities. 

Pro Tip

If you don’t live near a Buffalo Exchange, the company also has a sell-by-mail program.

Buffalo Exchange accepts a wide array of clothes for both men and women — vintage, athletic wear, plus sizes and more. Contrary to its name, it does not accept bison at this time. Sorry in advance.

Clothes Mentor

Clothes Mentor is a one-stop shop for fashionable women’s clothing sized 0 to 26 and maternity wear. It’s a hub for those who want designer brands without designer price tags.

Clothes that sell well include Armani, Banana Republic, Saks Fifth Avenue, White House Black Market and others. Shoes, accessories, jewelry and handbags are also accepted. Clothes Mentor has 136 stores across 30 states and, at certain locations, offers personal shoppers who tailor outfits to suit your tastes.

Plato’s Closet

Ah, the ole standby, Plato’s Closet. You may not have known this was a clothing exchange store, but it’s likely that you’ve caught a glimpse of one of its more than 480 locations in North America — probably tucked between your local Chinese buffet and the grocery store.

Plato’s is Winmark Corp.’s most successful clothing exchange franchise, and it’s aimed at teens and young adults. Everyday styles from Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, H&M, Nike and Obey are typically in demand. 

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Plato’s Closet also buys athletic wear, shoes and accessories. 

To see if your wardrobe surplus is a good fit for Plato’s, browse its website for other brands and styles that sell well.

Style Encore

Another solid option from Winmark Corp. is Style Encore. It’s like Plato’s sibling, only slightly older and more sophisticated.

Style Encore accepts women’s clothing from brands like Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Coach and Kate Spade. Like Clothes Mentor, Style Encore has personal stylists to help you look like a million bucks (without spending a million).

It’s Winmark’s newest clothing exchange brand, so locations aren’t as comprehensive as Plato’s. Double-check the store locator to find the closest one to you.

Once Upon a Child

Last but not least in Winmark’s clothing resale portfolio is Once Upon a Child. 

It’s no surprise that child care expenses are a budget buster, but this store can help keep costs down when it comes to baby clothes, supplies and even furniture. 

In addition to children’s clothes sized preemie to youth 20, Once Upon a Child will buy used cribs, cradles, strollers, baby electronics, halloween costumes and toys. Even more good news for parents: You won’t have to look very far. Once Upon a Child has more than 380 stores across the U.S. and Canada.

Local Consignment Shops

If none of the above stores fit the bill, you can always try your nearest consignment shop. 

These shops work a little differently than clothing exchanges, because consignment stores may not pay you until your item sells. That means it’s unlikely you’ll walk out with a pocketful of cash. It’s also difficult to predict what brands they will buy, because most local stores don’t have databases and metrics to go off of. Sales are often based on personal taste or season.

But hey, anything is better than leaving unused clothes tucked away in the furthest corner of your shelf for years to come. 

How to Get the Most Cash From Your Clothes

A woman sorts clothing.

Some things are guesswork when trying to sell your clothes. Stock and styles change, so it’s hard to say for sure which brand or outfit will sell. However, there are a few things you should always take into consideration, no matter the item or the store. 

Following these few guidelines will ensure you get the best quote possible.

Clean and Fold Your Clothes

If it seems like I’m wagging my finger, it’s because I’m wagging my finger.

Almost every store listed above recommends washing your clothes before taking them in. Since your payout is based on an associate’s quote after they carefully check each item, you don’t want dirt or food caked to your shirt. It’ll definitely go in the “no” pile.

Pro Tip

In general, to keep colors bright, you can soak your clothes in salt. Only wash them as needed — inside out and in cool water to avoid fading.

Likewise, super wrinkly clothes come across as unwashed, and you don’t want to give that impression. So be sure to fold them neatly before taking them in.

Use a Nice Basket or Hamper to Carry Your Clothes

Quick! What do you think of when you see trash bags?

Trash, right? Not clothes. 

Presentation matters. The associates checking your clothes don’t want to sift through trash bags. So after you’ve washed all the clothes you want to sell, fold them and place them in a basket, hamper or box that you can take to the store. 

Check for Damage or Pit Stains

If you were a shopper, would you buy a shirt that had pit stains or a missing pocket? Didn’t think so. The stores work the same way. They don’t want damaged, stained or heavily faded clothing.

Before you take your clothes in, examine them under a bright light to check for tears or discoloration.

Sell Your Clothes Often

Buffalo Exchange’s biggest tip is to buy or sell your clothes every three months. That way, your clothes cache will always be in style, which means more money in your pocket when you sell.

Since most clothing exchanges buy with seasons in mind, it may be best to wait till spring or summer before purging your bathing suits.

Unless you live in Florida. Then January’s probably fine. 

Adam Hardy is a staff writer  at The Penny Hoarder. He believes in the life-changing power of selling  all  most of your things. Read his ​full bio here​, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Brigette’s $95 Grocery Shopping Trip and Weekly Menu Plan for 6

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Aldi

2 64-oz cartons Orange Juice – $3.18

2 64-oz cartons Whole Milk – $1.40

1 Can Whipping Cream – $1.99

1 32-oz carton Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt – $3.39

4 single-serving sized cartos Flavored Greek Yogurts – $2.36

4 dozen Eggs – $3.12

2 16-oz cartons Egg Whites – $3.38

2 16-oz bags Shredded Mozzarella Cheese – $3.98

2 16-oz bags Shredded Cheddar Cheese – $3.98

1 8-oz pkg Colby Jack Sliced Cheese – $1.19

1 can Parmesan Cheese – $2.19

2 bags Riced Cauliflower – $3.78

1 48-oz bag Frozen Boneless Chicken Breasts – $5.39

1 16-oz pkg Sliced Deli Meat – $2.15

1 pkg Sliced Pepperoni – $1.99

2 cans Green Beans – $0.78

1 2-lb bag Red Onions – $1.79

1 bag Mini Sweet Peppers – $1.79

1 bag Baby Carrots – $0.85

1 bunch Bananas – $0.92

2 Avocados – $1.30

1 bag Radishes – $0.79

1 6-ct pkg Applesauce Cups – $1.25

1 16-oz bag Mini Cucumbers – $1.99

1 10-lb bag Russet Potatoes – $2.49

1 3-lb bag Sweet Potatoes – $1.69

1 can Garbanzo Beans – $0.38

1 pkg Zucchini – $1.19

2 pkgs Broccoli Crowns – $2.98

2 4-ct pkgs Sweet Corn – $3.38

1 large tub Organic Spring Mix – $3.39

1 3-lb bag Lemons – $1.69

1 carton Strawberries – $1.25

1 Cauliflower – $1.49

3 large bags Red Grapes (@ $0.89/lb) – $5.69

1 1-lb box Butter Quarters – $2.19

1 pkg Turkey Bacon – $1.89

1 loaf French Bread, reduced to $0.50

1 pkg Flour Tortillas – $0.65

1 loaf Sandwich Bread – $0.65

1 pkg Hot Dog Buns – $0.59

1 pkg Rice Cakes – $1.15

1 can Baking Powder – $0.99

1 jar Onion Powder – $0.95

1 can Olive Oil Cooking Spray – $1.35

1 jar Honey – $3.69

1 pkg Taco Seasoning Mix – $0.39

Grocery Total for the Week: $95.57 

(This is a little more than I usually spend – but this is our first real grocery trip since getting back from vacation, and the fridge was getting pretty bare!)

Weekly Menu Plan

Breakfasts

Everyone is responsible for making/cleaning up their own breakfasts. Choices include:

Fried/Scrambled/Boiled Eggs, Veggie Omelets, Cereal, Fruit, Yogurt, Smoothies, Oatmeal

Lunches

Rice Cakes with Peanut Butter and Honey, Bananas, Carrots

Cheese Quesadillas, Grapes, Mini Cucumbers x 2

Baked Sweet Potatoes, Cottage Cheese, Peaches (gift from friends who visited a local orchard), Carrots

Deli Meat/Cheese Sandwiches, Grapes, Mini Peppers x 2

Leftovers

Dinners

Spaghetti Carbonara (family recipe, very similar to this), Garlic Bread, Tossed Salad

Hot Dogs on the Grill, Baked French Fries, Corn on the Cob, Applesauce

Pour-A-Pan Pizza, (I will be omitting the sausage and the green pepper), Roasted Cauliflower, Grapes

Crockpot Italian Chicken, Green Beans, Biscuits

Build-Your-Own-Taco-Salad Bar (Seasoned Ground Beef, Lettuce, Shredded Cheddar Cheese, Salsa, Avocados, Plain Greek Yogurt, Fritos)

Lemon Chicken With Broccoli, Rice/Cauliflower Rice, Peaches

Leftovers

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5 Moves to Make If Your Kids’ Extracurriculars Are Busting the Budget

Extracurricular activities are great for children. They help kids learn new things and perfect their skills. They provide opportunities to bond with peers and a constructive use of time. They look great on college and scholarship applications.

But all that enrichment comes at a cost. And these nonessential additions to the household budget can be expensive to keep up with — especially when you have multiple children with multiple interests.

Huntington Bank and Communities in Schools’ 2019 Backpack Index estimates extracurricular fees average about $150 for elementary students, $250 for middle school students and $350 for high school students.

Of course, there are parents who spend much more. A 2017 Capital One poll found that over a third of those surveyed planned to spend more than $1,000 per kid on extracurricular activities for the school year.

If the cost of after-school activities concerns you, consider these ways to make them more affordable.

1. Turn to Government or Nonprofit Programs

Before signing your kids up for private music lessons or a traveling sports league, check to see if there are similar offerings located at or sponsored by your local:

  • School
  • Church
  • Library system
  • YMCA
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Police Athletic League
  • Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts
  • United Way
  • Salvation Army
  • City or county parks and recreation department
  • Community college
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2. Ask About Discounts

Be thrifty and save where you can by asking the activity provider about discounts. Is there a trial period where you kid can take a class or two for free before signing up for the season? Can you get a discounted rate for being a returning participant, enrolling more than one child or recommending another family to sign up?

Some programs offer a reduced rate if you register before a certain date, if you sign up for a package of sessions or if you volunteer to coach. Others offer scholarships or set their prices on a sliding scale based on income. You might want to ask if the organization will allow you to set up a payment plan rather than requiring all the money upfront.

Pro Tip

Check discount sites like Groupon or Living Social for current deals on activities.

3. Reduce the Associated Costs of After-School Activities

The cost to enroll your child in an activity is rarely the only expense you’ll encounter. Equipment, supplies, uniforms, fundraisers, travel and performance tickets can greatly increase your investment.

Find ways to lower these additional costs whenever possible. Arrange a carpool with team members. Buy secondhand equipment and attire. Limit the family members who attend smaller performances throughout the year, and save up so everyone can attend the major show at the end of the season.

4. DIY Your Extracurriculars

Your kid can get the benefits of participating in an activity without it being a formal program that you pay for. Consider your children’s interests and figure out how to pursue them on an individual scale.

If your kid is into music, hit up YouTube for free tutorials. There are tons of cooking blogs with detailed recipes for those who want to master baking. Your library may provide free access to software to learn a foreign language.

Tap into your network of family, friends and neighbors to expose your child to different pursuits. Commit to teaching their kids about a skill you’ve mastered in exchange. It might be a bigger investment in time, but you can save a lot of money by creating your own means of developing your child’s interests.

5. Talk to Your Kids About Making Sacrifices

There may be times where you simply have to say no to your kid’s request to enroll in another extracurricular activity. If you don’t have the funds and you’d have to charge expenses on a credit card, you should reevaluate things.

Parents never want to put financial stress on their kids, but it’s okay to be up-front about the limitations of your budget. This might mean having your kids choose one sport to commit to rather than two, or asking if they prefer dance lessons over vacationing at the beach next summer.

If you have teenagers, get them to contribute to their extracurricular expenses with money from babysitting, mowing lawns or a part-time job. Depending on the activity, you can challenge your child to turn their hobby into an entrepreneurial pursuit — like selling handmade bracelets at local festivals or giving piano lessons to younger kids.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a parent who’s always looking for ways to save money.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

This Week’s $70 Grocery Budget + Menu Plan

Want to see what we bought for this week’s $70 grocery budget? I’m currently challenging myself to stick with a $70 budget for our family of five. This includes almost all of our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners + most household products (toiletries, laundry soap, etc.).

For live updates, be sure to follow my Instagram Stories. See all posts on my $70 Grocery Budget here.

Because of our traveling the last 4 weeks, I haven’t posted our grocery budget + menu plan posts. It feels good to be back to it now that school has started and we’re back into the swing of a more normal routine.

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Speaking of school starting, here’s a real-life photo from the first day: Kathrynne headed out to a 4-day back to school camp (her school starts with an all-school 4-day camp!), Silas all ready for his first day in his uniform, and Kaitlynn sporting a thermometer because she had a low grade fever and had to stay home.

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I couldn’t believe this HUGE cart full of egg noodles marked down to $0.69 each at Kroger this week!

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But I didn’t buy them because Kroger has Private Selection on pasta for $0.50 when you buy 5 participating items.

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Kroger Shopping Trip #1:

  • Kroger breakfast links — free with coupons from Kroger mailer
  • 2 canisters of breadcrumbs — on closeout for $0.47 each
  • Kroger peanut butter — free with coupons from Kroger mailer
  • A&W Cream Soda — free with coupon mailed to me
  • Quest bar — free with Freebie Friday coupon
  • 1 can Kroger green beans — marked down to $0.29
  • 2 cans of hominy — marked down to $0.29 each
  • Turkey Hill Tea — marked down to $0.39
  • Kroger broth — marked down to $0.69
  • 3 boxes of Kroger toaster pastries — marked down to $0.59 each
  • 1 bag of peppers — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 cantaloupe — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 bag of onions/avocados — marked down to $0.99
  • 1 can Simple Truth green beans — marked down to $0.49
  • 1 package of egg roll wraps — marked down to $0.49
  • 2 bags of Blue Corn chips — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 1 package of Oscar Mayer hot dogs — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 2 bags of Goldfish — $0.99 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 4 packages of Private Selection pasta — $0.50 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 1 box of oatmeal — used $0.40/1 Kroger digital coupon = $1.09 after coupon
  • Total with tax: $18.95

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Kaitlynn and I flew to Portland, Maine for me to speak at the Food Allergy Blogger’s Conference. One of the best parts of speaking at food blogging conferences? The BEST gift sacks full of yummy food and snacks from sponsors!

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Kroger Shopping Trip #2

  • Kroger whole wheat flour — marked down to $1.69
  • Brown rice — marked down to $1.19
  • 3 packages of Eckrich sausage — $1.69 each when you buy 5 participating items
  • 5 packages of cheese — $0.99 each with Friday-Saturday deal
  • 2 boxes of Cheerios — $1.49 when you buy 5 participating items — used $1/2 Kroger digital coupon = $0.99 each
  • Bag of grapefruit/lime juice — $0.99
  • Tub of lettuce — marked down to $1.79
  • 1 dozen cage-free eggs — $2.50
  • 1 back to school brownie bites — marked down to $2.49
  • Total with tax: $25.09

Sprouts Shopping Trip

  • Bartlett Pears — $0.95
  • 3 18-oz. cartons of blueberries — $1.98 each
  • Peaches — $1.09
  • Water — $1.98
  • Total with tax: $10.64

BigLots Shopping Trip

  • 2 bags of chips — $0.25 each
  • 2 double packs of English Muffins — $1.40 each
  • 4 packages of Keebler cookies — $0.25 each
  • 4 to-go cups — $0.25 each
  • 4 bags of peanuts — $0.25 each
  • Total with tax: $7.26

$70 Grocery Budget + Menu Plan

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I couldn’t believe the great deals we found at BigLots! It reminded me of the Christian County Discount Freight & Grocery last week!

What We Ate This Past Week

Note: When you see the meals below, please remember this: I buy ahead often. Which means that when I find a great deal on something I know we’ll use, I buy as much as I can afford in our budget to have on hand.

This means that you aren’t going to see all of the groceries my shopping trip that I used to make all of the meals we ate.

Please also remember that I’m putting this out there and it’s not a perfectly balanced menu. This is just really what we ate — and I hope that it encourages you to see the real-ness and lack of perfection here.

Breakfasts:

Lunches:

  • Ham Sandwiches, Granola Bars, Yogurt, Capri Sun, Salad, Leftovers, Fruit,

Snacks:

  • Cookies, Popcorn, Ice Cream, Go-Gurts

Dinners:

  • Sunday — Chicken Noodle Soup, Oyster Crackers
  • Monday — Fend for Yourself
  • Tuesday — Chick-fil-A
  • Wednesday — Smoked Ribs
  • Thursday — Chicken Noodle Soup, Bran Muffins
  • Friday — Chicken Rice Casserole, Cantaloupe, Roasted Broccoli
  • Saturday — Leftovers

Total spent on groceries: $61.94

Cashback earned this week: 308 points for submitting my receipts to Fetch rewardsinternet marketing course

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