Why These 3 Families Chose to Live on a Single Income

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

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

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

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

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

Devra Thomas & Clinton Wilkinson

Morehead City, North Carolina

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

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

Their strategy: Zero-based budgeting and constant communication

Devra and Clinton swear by a zero-sum budget.

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

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

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

Where they run into obstacles

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

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

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

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

Sage & Emerson Evans

Salt Lake City, Utah

Annual Income: $50,000

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

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

Their strategy: deal-hunting and communication

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

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

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

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

Where they run into obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

Matt and Brit Casady

Rancho Cucamonga, California

Income: $60,000 – $70,000

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

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

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

Their strategy: thrifting and living two paydays ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where they run into obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

The post Why These 3 Families Chose to Live on a Single Income appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Put together a status report

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

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

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

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

2. Dig into your spending habits

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

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

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

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

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

3. Reassess your credit card situation

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

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

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

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

4. Start saving for something

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Stick to your plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post 5 Ways to Get Your Finances in Shape Before the Year Ends appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

11 Tips for Budgeting Monthly Bills on a Weekly Paycheck

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some tips:

Change your bill due dates if you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save your “extra” check

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

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

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

Chart your cash flow

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

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

Set aside money to cover bills in advance

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

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

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

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

Set aside funds for emergency expenses

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

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

Keep your spending money in a separate account

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

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

Make partial bill payments with every paycheck

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

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

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

Try not to splurge

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

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

Use apps to track your spending and saving

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

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

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

Keep your goals in mind

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

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

The post 11 Tips for Budgeting Monthly Bills on a Weekly Paycheck appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

Meet 2 Families Who Earn Six Figures and Still Feel Broke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six-Figure Incomes and Still in the Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finding the Free in Pricey Places

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Meet 2 Families Who Earn Six Figures and Still Feel Broke appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

How Much Have You Earned Over the Years? The Answer May Surprise You

Between housing, student loan payments, groceries and other expenses, you may sometimes wonder where all your money is going.

Between housing, student loan payments, groceries and other expenses, you may sometimes wonder where all your money is going.

Household debt can also be a drag on your income. With an average of $6,662 in credit card debt per U.S. household, you could be paying hundreds per month in debt payments. At the end of the month, it may feel like you didn’t earn anything at all.

But a tool from the Social Security Administration (SSA) shows you how much money you’ve really made over your lifetime. You may be shocked by how much income you’ve earned, especially if you don’t know where it all went.

How to Check Your Earnings Record

The SSA keeps track of your income and taxes paid for Social Social Security and Medicare using your tax returns. It uses this information to calculate your Social Security and Medicare benefits.

You can view your estimated benefits, along with your earnings record, through your designated my Social Security account. If you don’t already have an account, you can create one through the SSA website.

As you walk through the steps to create an account, you’ll need to provide the following:

● Full name, as shown on your Social Security card
● Social Security number
● Date of birth
● Home address
● Primary phone number

The SSA will then ask some multiple-choice questions to verify your identity. For example, you may be asked where you have lived in the past and to share information about your financial accounts.

Once you pass the verification test, you’ll create a username and password. The SSA will then ask for your email address to send you various communications about your account.

After you’ve created your online account, you can log into the site and see your estimated benefits at full retirement age (if you qualify), as well as your last reported earnings. There’s also a link to view your earnings record. Your earnings record includes a comprehensive list of your taxed Social Security and Medicare earnings for every year that you’ve worked.

You can then add up your yearly earnings to see how much you’ve earned since you joined the workforce. The tool is also helpful for seeing how your income has increased over time.

How to Keep More of Your Income

Now that you know how much you’ve made over the years, you may be wondering what happened to it all. Here are a few tips on how to keep better track of your money and hold onto more of it in the process.

1. Create a Budget

If you don’t already have one, then creating a budget is the first step to increasing your net cash flow, or the difference between your income and expenses. Keeping track of your transactions gives you a good idea of where you can cut back.

To set up your budget, start with your take-home pay (not gross income from your SSA earnings record). Then take a look at your expenses for the last month and categorize them. For example, you can create categories such as rent or mortgage payment, groceries, household items, entertainment, etc.

Next, determine areas where you can cut back and set a budget for each category for the following month. During that time, keep track of each transaction to make sure you stay within your spending limit for each category.

This process may be hard in the beginning, but it will get easier over time as you get used to your new habit. You can also compare and use budgeting apps to help make the process easier.

2. Tackle Your Debt

For some people, monthly debt payments make up a large portion of their expenses. Between credit cards, an auto loan and a mortgage, you may be paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month toward your household debt.

If you have student debt, for example, consider refinancing your student loans to lower your payment, interest rate or both. Also consider other strategies to pay off debt, such as the debt-snowball or avalanche methods. These approaches help you target one debt at a time, rolling your payments into other debts as you pay each one off. (You can keep tabs on how your debt is affecting your credit by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

3. Use Bonuses & Tax Refunds Wisely

Once you get into the swing of budgeting, it can be easy to manage your monthly paychecks.

But getting a small windfall in the form of a bonus or tax refund can make it easy to rationalize spending money on things you don’t need. Instead of wasting that money, use it to pay off debt. You can also save it for a rainy day or a future goal.

4. Consider Moving

If you live in a state with income tax, you may be missing out on extra cash every year. There are nine states with no income tax on wages and earnings you could consider moving to — if that’s a feasible strategy for you:

● Alaska
● Florida
● Nevada
● New Hampshire
● South Dakota
● Tennessee
● Texas
● Washington
● Wyoming

Of course, where you live isn’t just a matter of how much you pay in taxes, as your family, friends and job won’t likely come with you. What’s more, some states may make up for having no individual income tax by taxing more heavily in other areas. Make sure you do your research before considering a big move.

Treat Your Money Like You’ve Earned It

You work hard for your money, and it can be devastating to look back at how much you’ve earned over the years and wonder what happened to it all. The better you manage your money, the more of it you’ll keep.

As you budget, pay down debt and learn other money-management techniques, you’ll be able to look back again a few years from now with confidence that you’re on the track toward financial independence.

Image: StockLib

The post How Much Have You Earned Over the Years? The Answer May Surprise You appeared first on Credit.com.

The Pros & Cons of Sharing Your Finances as a Married Couple

We’ve collected the pros and cons of combining your finances and keeping them separate so you can decide which method will work for you.

For years, the standard financial advice for couples was to combine their finances. All income, debts and expenditures belong to both parties, so why not put them together?

Combining finances makes sense for many reasons, but not everyone wants to take this direction. If you’re preparing to tie the knot, you might wonder which option is best for you. We’ve collected the pros and cons of combining your finances and keeping them separate so you can decide which method will work for you.

The Pros of Combining Your Finances

Combining your finances can be tricky, especially if both parties have their own debts, accounts and assets coming into the marriage. But it might be worth it for the following reasons:

Women May Have Greater Security

Other research shows that women have greater security when they combine finances with their spouses. That might seem counterintuitive, but remember, women are typically more prone to income interruptions, as they may take time off to start families.

It Keeps Things Simple

Splitting finances may work for some couples, but it can also lead to complicated conversations. Who pays which bills? Should you split evenly when there’s income disparity? Who should pick up the check on date night? If all the money is going into and coming out of the same pot, it may help simplify things.

It Allows for More Flexibility

When you can rely on your spouse to foot the bill while you take parental leave, go back to school or start a new business, you may be more likely to take certain career risks. And in the long run, those risks can be good for the couple if they pan out. If, on the other hand, you have to keep paying your share of the bills, you might be less likely to take the leap.

It Creates Shared Goals

When all the money comes from the same place, the couple needs to communicate. That can be a good thing, as couples can thrive on having common financial goals to work toward.

The Cons of Combining Your Finances

Combining finances may not be the solution for everyone. This strategy also has some potential downsides:

Making Debt a Bigger Issue

If one partner comes into the marriage with big financial problems — including hefty debt or terrible credit — that can turn the relationship sour. In these instances, it can sometimes be better to separate accounts while the indebted spouse works on their finances. (You can keep tabs on your finances by viewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

You Can Feel Constrained

As an adult, it’s natural to want to spend your money however you see fit. After all, you earned it. When all the money is combined, you may not get to spend on those personal things you have in mind, especially if your spouse has a say in your spending.

It Can Cause Arguments

What if each spouse has a different idea of what financial responsibility looks like? Maybe one spouse prefers to pay down the mortgage, while the other thinks it’s wise to invest. Or maybe one spouse is frugal, while the other’s a spendthrift. In this case, combining finances requires take serious communication and the ability to compromise.

The Pros of Keeping Things Separate

There are plenty of ways to keep your finances separate. Some partners split expenses down the middle while others split them according to who earns more money. Some partners maintain a joint account for overarching expenses like housing but hold separate accounts for everything else. Regardless of how you do it, keeping separate finances can be good for a few reasons:

Keeping Spouses From One Another’s Messes

If you’re going into marriage with a lot of student loan debt or an otherwise complex financial situation, you may want to keep your money — and money problems — to yourself. This can make your spouse more comfortable and shield them from disaster in an emergency.

Giving Both Spouses More Autonomy

Perhaps the main reason couples decide not to combine finances is because they like having autonomy. Having control over your own money may cut down on fights and allow each spouse to meet their own financial goals.

The Cons of Keeping Things Separate

Here are a few reasons to avoid this option:

It Can Devalue a Spouse

Splitting household expenses by income may seem like a good idea, but it can make each spouse feel their value in the marriage is tied to their salary. However, splitting things 50-50 can make things stressful for the spouse who earns less.

It May Diminish Risk-Taking Ability

As we noted above, one of the advantages of a joint financial approach is that it allows for risk taking. When you have your spouse’s income to fall back on, you can go start a business or have a baby. The opposite may be true of couples who split their finances, unless the couple works out a system to allow for such ventures.

For many couples, the best approach to will be somewhere in between. My husband and I, for instance, combine most of our finances. But we each maintain a separate checking account for “fun money.” We can transfer a predetermined amount of money out of the joint checking account each month and spend that money however we wish. This helps us have a bit more autonomy, but ensures we’re still on the same page about our finances.

Whichever approach you choose, keep evaluating what works and what doesn’t. And don’t be afraid to discuss your feelings and change your approach if things aren’t working.

Image: PeopleImages

The post The Pros & Cons of Sharing Your Finances as a Married Couple appeared first on Credit.com.

16 Ways for Broke College Students to Cut Costs

Budgeting can be a struggle for many college students.

Every college student is familiar with the struggle of budgeting. Between tuition, housing and dining hall meal plans, college doesn’t come cheap. Unfortunately, many of these mandatory expenses make college students pressed for money the moment they step on campus. According to the National Center for Education Statistics about 85% of four-year college students receive some type of financial aid, which suggests most students on campus don’t have the financial resources to splurge whenever they feel like it.

To help you during your time at college, here are 16 tips that can help you save money, and in some cases, time or the environment.

1. Show Your Student ID While Making Purchases

College students spend a lot of money, so small business owners are very appreciative of the presence of a university. Many local businesses in college towns, and surrounding cities, give college students discounts so long as they show their university IDs.

2. Buy Things in Bulk

Toiletries, food, water, cleaning supplies, socks — you name it, college students should buy it in bulk if their living situation has enough storage space. Making bulk purchases at stores like Costco, Target or Walmart can help you save in the long run. Plus, if you end up with extra food or supplies, you can sell that inventory to friends or hall mates.

3. Use Groupon or Other Online Coupon Services

Groupon currently has an offer where college students get 25% off local deals. Taking advantage of these discounts can help college students save on services like haircuts, yoga classes, manicures, fitness gyms and more.

4. Take Public Transportation

It’s true we’re living in the age of Uber and Lyft, and sure, it might be faster to drive most places, but you’ll save so much cash in college if you take public transportation. Plus, utilizing buses and trains is better for the environment.

5. Use Cash Instead of Credit

Research from NYU professor Priya Raghubir and University of Maryland professor Joydeep Srivastava shows that using physical cash makes people less likely to overspend because they “feel the outflow of money” more directly. Spending too much on a credit card can also lead to high interest charges if you don’t pay the balance in time. Cost-conscious college students may want to trade plastic for paper. (See how your credit card spending affects your finances with a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com.)

6. Find Free Food on Campus

College campuses are overflowing with student organizations and sports teams, so there’s usually something happening on campus all the time. One of the main ways clubs get people to come to their events: free food. Scoping out events with complimentary food will save you a few bucks, and you might meet new friends by checking out a performance or club meeting.

7. Buy Online or Used Textbooks

New hardback textbooks are some of the expensive required materials a professor can expect you to buy. Instead of buying an actual textbook, go for an online version, which can be much cheaper. If an online version of a textbook doesn’t exist, try to buy a used version from a friend or an online site.

8. Sell Your Textbooks at the End of the School Year

When all your books pile up after finals, don’t just take them home and let them collect dust on the shelf. Instead, sell them to underclassmen you know, or use services like bookscouter.com or half.com to sell them. Some university bookstores buy back textbooks as well.

9. Track Your Spending

College students often go wrong when they make numerous purchases but eventually lose track of them due to having so much on their minds. Utilizing an app like Mint or even a trusty pen and notebook, students can track their spending and see if they’re adhering to their budgets. If you are constantly aware of how much you’re spending, you’ll be less likely to spend money on unnecessary items.

10. Don’t Sign Up for Subscriptions You Can’t Afford

While Netflix and Hulu might seem reasonably inexpensive, those seven to ten bucks a month quickly add up! If you really need a binge-watching fix, you can always borrow DVDs from the library on campus. Other subscription services like Amazon Prime, Spotify and Pandora can also cause you to lose money over time. Canceling those services can help students avoid monthly payments that rack up.

11. Borrow Books From the Library

Along similar lines, some English or humanities classes require five or more books per semester. To save money, borrow the books from the library instead of buying new paperbacks every time.

12. Get Free Refills on Coffee & Tea

It can be super difficult to stay away from caffeine, especially when you’re a college student spending long hours in the library. To save money, head to a chain that gives out free refills on your favorite caffeinated drinks. Starbucks offers free refills of hot, or iced, brewed coffee and tea. Most McDonald’s and Panera Bread locations also provide free refills on hot drinks, and soft drinks, too.

13. Keep Snacks on You During the Day

Food at campus cafes or markets, or even in vending machines, can be overpriced. So when it’s time for an afternoon snack, make sure you’re prepared with snacks of your own. This way, you’ll save a few cents or dollars each time you get hungry, and eventually that money accumulates.

14. Go Thrift Shopping

Besides being a fun activity to do with friends, thrift shopping is a great way to save money. It’s a smart move to save money on trendy clothes you might not wear for very long, especially in college towns or cities with ever changing weather.

15. Skip the School Supplies

Instead of wasting money on pencils, notebooks and highlighters, take notes on your laptop or tablet. Not only does this trick save the environment, but also it allows you to avoid unnecessary spending on school supplies you’ll just have to repurchase for the next school year.

16. Cut Back on Buying Music

Sure, iTunes is great, but constantly buying the newest songs from your favorite artists can be a big hit to your wallet. To save, consider using a service like Spotify or Pandora to get free music whenever you want. If you really can’t stand advertisements, Spotify offers a student discount for its premium subscription that comes without ads!

Want a few more ways to save money? Here are 50 free things you can get this year

Image: gradyreese 

The post 16 Ways for Broke College Students to Cut Costs appeared first on Credit.com.

How a Spending Freeze Can Save Your Finances

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

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

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

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

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

How to Do a Spending Freeze — the Right Way

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

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

Set a time limit and stick to it.

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

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

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

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

Make a list of things that really matter.

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

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

Set yourself up for success.

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

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

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

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

Tell EVERYONE and get them to join you

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be too rigid.

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

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

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

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

Set a purpose for the money you’ll save.

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

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

Hide the money (from yourself).

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

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

A final word

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

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

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

The post How a Spending Freeze Can Save Your Finances appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

6 Money Questions to Ask Before Having a Baby

Almost nothing else in life will have as much of a financial impact, so make sure you get on the same page before baby comes.

There are plenty of times when discussing finances with our significant others is a good idea. Before moving in together or getting married, or before a big move or a new job, are all good examples.

Another important time to talk about finances is before you have a baby. Almost nothing else in life will have as much of a financial impact, so making sure you’re on the same page before baby comes is a smart move. If you’re stumped on where to start, consider asking your partner the following questions.

1. Who Will Stay Home With Baby? 

Perhaps the biggest financial conversation you’ll have with your significant other is whether one of you will stay home with baby, even if only for a limited time. According to recent statistics from Childcare Aware of America, “the cost of child care in every state rivals families’ annual expenditures on housing, transportation and the cost of tuition at a four-year, public university.” Plus, the study added, “in 38 states, the cost of infant care exceeds 10% of the state’s median income for a two-parent family.”

Childcare is expensive, but quitting to stay home with a baby means potentially losing healthcare options, access to retirement accounts and matches, paid vacation and sick days, not to mention the mental stimulation and social advantages many get from their jobs. These are all important things to discuss.

2. How Will Our Lifestyle Change? 

People make life with a baby work in many scenarios, and what you’re comfortable with will be up to you, but it should be discussed. If you’re in a one-bedroom city apartment and think you can make it work, try it. If an upgrade is in the near future, or you’d like to start putting away money to purchase a house, that’s a conversation to have.

3. Will We Save for Our Child’s Education? 

Not everyone can afford to save for their child’s college, and that’s fine. But if it’s something you’d like to consider, start discussing it now. Because of compound interest, the earlier you start saving for your goal, the more you’ll have for your child when they turn 18.

It’s not just whether you’ll save but how much you want to save that should be discussed. Will you save enough money to cover the full cost of tuition at a private college? How about at an Ivy League school? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to chat with your partner so you can figure out what additional monthly savings would mean for your monthly budget. (Chatting with a financial adviser about your financial picture might be smart as well. Remember, experts say not to save for your child’s education if it means having to curb your retirement savings.)

4. Do We Need a Bigger Car or a Second One? 

My husband and I managed to live together for eight years before we bought a second car. (In fact, for six of those years we had no car, since we lived in Manhattan and didn’t need one.) We realized, however, that with a baby on the way it was important for us to be able to hop in a car at a moment’s notice, so we decided to lease one. Whether to lease or buy was a big discussion, as was how much car we could afford and what safety features were most important to us, particularly in rugged Colorado.

If you and your significant other have two cars, it’s worth discussing their safety and if it might be time to upgrade now that you’ll be driving a little one around.

5. How Much Can We Budget for Baby? 

For many young families, most of the basics are supplied by loving friends and family at a baby shower. Soon, however, your child will grow, and when she does, you’ll need lots of new stuff.

Before baby arrives, sit down and have an overall budget chat so you can determine what wiggle room you have to devote to baby. Even if you don’t end up spending that cash in the first couple of months, try putting it in a special savings account labeled “For Baby” so you have a cushion to fall back on once those new expenses start piling up. (Not sure where your finances stand? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

6. Are the Proper Insurance Policies in Place?

With baby on the way, it might be a good time to start thinking about certain policies to put in place. Short-term disability, for example, is important, should one of you become unable to work for a period of time. (Be sure to check with your employer to find out your options.) Creating a will and naming guardians is important as well, and you’ll want to set up a life insurance policy for both parents.

Image: Pekic

The post 6 Money Questions to Ask Before Having a Baby appeared first on Credit.com.

11 Reasons Why Cash Is Still King

Here are 11 reasons why you might want to pay with cash — or at least keep some on hand.

All I wanted was some cilantro and onions, and I didn’t have the money. Correction: I had the money, but it was in my bank account, not in my pocket. The corner fruit market I go to when I need a couple of quick ingredients only accepts cash for small transactions. My plastic wasn’t going to help me.

My wallet was empty, but my husband had a couple bucks in his pocket, so dinner was saved. But the experience made me remember sometimes it pays to have old-fashioned currency on hand.

Not all Americans agree cash is still king. About a third of people in the U.S. never or rarely carry cash, and 34% said they would go completely cashless if they could, a 2017 ING International survey found.

These days, you can use cards or mobile payments for everything, from taxis to paying the babysitter, meaning it’s easier than ever to live without cash. At some stores — such as Amazon’s brick-and-mortar bookshops — paying with cash isn’t an option. But a fully cashless society isn’t here yet, and there are still good excuses for keeping a few bills tucked in your wallet.

Here are 11 reasons why you might want to pay with cash — or at least keep some on hand.

1. It’s Accepted (Almost) Everywhere

Unlike your American Express or Discover Card, cash is accepted almost everywhere. Most merchants in the U.S. happily take greenbacks for payments, even as they refuse to run your credit or debit cards for smaller purchases. Of course, the flip side of the cash-only (or cash-preferred) business is the one that requires you to pay with a card. That’s a perfectly legal practice, and one common in certain industries. So it’s smart to carry both cash and plastic. (Here are the best low-interest cards to consider.)

2. It’s Useful in Emergencies

Credit cards are convenient, until they don’t work or aren’t available. If the power goes out or your wallet is stolen, you’ll be happy you have some paper money tucked in a cookie jar. In fact, the government includes cash on its disaster supplies list, along with essentials such as food, water and prescription medications. Although you shouldn’t hide your life savings under your mattress, $100 or $200 will buy gas or food if the unexpected happens.

3. It Can Save You Money & Hassle When Traveling

You need cash if you’re on the road, especially if you’re venturing abroad. Not only are cards not accepted everywhere, but pockets get picked, ATMs eat debit cards and other misadventures can befall you. Cold, hard cash can get you out of a jam almost anywhere. It’s best to carry a small traveler’s emergency fund on you separate from your main wallet and leave the rest of your cash and a backup credit card in the hotel safe.

4. Your Server Will Love You

You can add your tip to your credit card receipt when you pay the bill for dinner, or you could make your server smile and leave the cash on the table. Your waiter or waitress will be able to collect their earnings right away, rather than waiting for your tip to show up on their paycheck. Plus, restaurant managers sometimes take credit card fees out of tips that show up on cards, which means less for your hard-working server.

Cash is also useful for other tipping situations. The maid or bellhop at the hotel isn’t carrying a Square reader in their pocket, and if you want to tip your Uber driver, you’ll need bills because there’s no way to tip in the app.

5. You Might Get a Discount

Card issuers charge businesses a small fee for processing transactions. Some businesses pass the charge on to customers in the form of an extra fee. Others, especially in states where such surcharges aren’t allowed, offer cash-payment discounts. For consumers, the difference is one of semantics, but the point is sometimes cash will save you money. Cash discounts are especially common at gas stations in certain areas, where you’ll usually save 5 to 10 cents a gallon if you pay with paper rather than a card.

Gas stations aren’t the only ones cutting prices for those with greenbacks. Doctors might slash bills for uninsured patients if they can pay their bill in cash. Jewelry stores might also offer cash discounts.

6. You’ll Spend Less

Do you really spend more when you pay with plastic instead of cash? Studies say yes. Researchers at MIT found people who were told to use a credit card instead of cash were willing to pay more for purchases. Another study found people paying with cash were more likely to focus on an item’s cost, rather than its benefits. In a third study, consumers who were urged to pay cash for small purchases had less debt after six months than those who didn’t receive the same advice.

7. You’ll Enjoy Your Purchases More

Not only will you spend less when you pay with cash, you’ll also get more enjoyment out of what you buy. We have greater emotional attachment to purchases we make with cash than those we put on credit, a study published in the Journal of Consumer research found.

8. You Won’t Run up Debt

If you’re one of the many Americans who have trouble using credit responsibly, going cash-only has a significant benefit: You won’t be able to run up more debt on your cards. Give yourself a cash budget for the week and stick to it. If the money isn’t in your wallet, you can’t spend it.

9. It’s Perfect for Certain Types of Budgeting

Some people give themselves a cash budget to control discretionary spending, but they still use cards for other purchases. Others go all-in with cash, switching over to what’s commonly called the “envelope system.” Popularized by author Dave Ramsey, this approach to budgeting involves dividing all your money for a month into different envelopes — say, $400 for groceries, $200 for gas and $100 for lunches at work.

You only use money from the grocery envelope to pay for groceries, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. The rigidity of the envelope system doesn’t appeal to everyone, but for those trying to live within a strict budget, it works.

10. Your Bad Credit Won’t Be an Issue

So reckless credit card use or other financial problems have tanked your credit score. That means you’ll pay a premium in the form of higher interest next time you need to borrow money. But if you can pay cash instead, you can minimize or avoid the bad-credit penalty. (Not sure where your credit stands? You can view two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

Use hard currency for your next used car and you won’t have to deal with crummy loan terms. At the furniture store, you might not qualify for the special financing, but showing up with a wallet full of $100 bills could earn you an even better deal: a cash discount.

11. Your Purchases Stay Private

There’s a reason criminals like to do business in cash: It’s hard to trace. But even law-abiding citizens who value their privacy appreciate the anonymity of cash transactions.

Aside from the possibility of identity theft, credit card companies and retail stores sell your purchase data, which marketers then use to try to sell you more stuff. In one infamous case, a teen’s purchases at Target clued the store in to the fact she was pregnant. The chain then sent the mom-to-be some coupons for baby stuff, much to the surprise of her parents.

The Cons of Paying With Cash

Cash has advantages, but there’s a reason most of us don’t rely on it exclusively. For one, it’s difficult or impossible to use it in certain situations. If you want to pay cash for your plane ticket, you’ll need to make a special trip to the airport, and renting a car without plastic is difficult.

There are drawbacks to cash that go beyond inconvenience. Cash can be lost or destroyed. You won’t get perks, such as purchase protection, that you get with some credit cards. Rewards points are nonexistent, and some people find it harder to keep track of cash purchases than those on cards. The disadvantages of sticking strictly to cash are enough to make a hybrid solution — cards for some purchases, cash for others — the right choice for most people.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

Image: LarsZahnerPhotography 

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