Got Extra Cash? Here Are 11 Smart Purchases Under $400

Here's a list of smart purchases you should never feel bad about buying.

There’s always a lot of talk about how to be financially responsible and increase wealth with very little money. Many Americans live paycheck to paycheck. But put some real numbers behind that generic statement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey of 2015 reports an average household income per consumer unit (think entire household of family members or single, financially independent people living alone or with other people) is $69,629. And the consumer’s unit average yearly expenses is $55,978.

Let’s say you dedicate those yearly expenses to standard things, such as food, housing, transportation and insurance. While the actual percentage breakdown per expense differs from household to household, depending on your family picture, you’ll still be dedicating a good chunk of your income to various necessities each month.

If we continue with this logic, the money you have left over — that unreasonably small portion of your salary that remains after paying bills — is what many would dub “play money.” The average consumer unit will have about $13,000 a year to play. (Speaking of “play money,” here’s how to stop buying stuff you can’t afford.)

With all that extra cash, what can we do? Of course, we could blow it on a steak dinner or splurge for the newest tech gadget. But what are a few smart items we should buy when we have the opportunity? We’ve compiled a list of smart purchases you should never feel bad about buying. And the best part? They’re all less than $400.

1. Student Loans

The average recent graduate has about $37,172 in student loan debt and pays about $351 per month toward the loan, according to Student Loan Hero. For those who are super strapped for cash, they might choose to defer their loans to a later date or skate by paying just the minimum. But the interest will kill you. One of the smartest things you can do with extra cash is to pay more into your loans when you can afford to do so. It’s a solid bet that added expenses will pop up eventually, and staying ahead of the curve means one less financial burden down the road. (Check out some tips for paying off your student loans here.)

2. An Interview Suit

Even if you’re not in the job market, investing in an interview suit is a wise decision. You never know when you’ll need a go-to outfit for networking events, conferences or a random “I’ve got someone I want you to connect with” meeting. Shopping for the perfect outfit is a lot more bearable when you’re not under duress or in a time crunch. Instead, you can browse for sales. You’ll find cheaper options in many locations, but a nice suit should put you right around that $400 mark. (What else can you do to get yourself ready for a job interview? Check your credit — many employers look at a version of your credit as part of the application process, so it’s helpful to know where yours stands. You can see two of your credit scores — absolutely free — on Credit.com.)

3. A Durable Mattress

What does anything matter if you don’t get a good night’s sleep? When you have extra cash at the end of the month, put it toward a high-quality mattress that will ensure you wake up ready to tackle each morning with spunk. High-quality mattresses come at a price. But they also last for years. You could spend thousands on a name-brand mattress, but a foam mattress from IKEA could work just as well.

4. Digital File Protection

External hard drives and online storage are perfect for backing up all those vacation shots, your wedding album and imperative side-business files. Hard drives are easy to find online, and they’ll run you about $82 for one with worthwhile storage capacity. Online storage pricing varies when it comes to options and personal preferences, but you can choose between services, such as Mozy, Dropbox or SugarSync. These cloud-storage providers charge a monthly fee but give discounts for yearly subscriptions. Expect to pay between $28.98 and $99.99 per year.

5. Online Classes

The most successful people will tell you learning never stops. As workforce trends continue to change, the need for specialized expertise grows. Devoting a few extra bucks to improving your knowledge is a practical expense. Maybe you want to become a better public speaker. Or pick up a new hobby to clear your head at night. And maybe you’ve heard tech gurus ramble about an increasing demand for coding professionals. Buy books, go online and enroll in a course. Do whatever you can to set yourself up for future success.

6. A Commuter Bike

Why spend what you could save? One of the smartest purchases you can make with $400 or less is a commuter bike. When considering what you’d also pay for gas, maintenance and car insurance, a commuter bike will pay for itself. There are definitely good, better and best when it comes to bikes, but you could find a quality road bike for around $300.

7. An Emergency Fund

It’s never a bad idea to start establishing an emergency fund. Experts say three months’ worth of expenses is a reasonable amount of cash to stash away just in case. A good trick is to make your savings automatic. Once you’re unable to see your money coming in, it’s easier to get by without it and find ways to work with what you have. Then, when you break your arm doing back flips off a boat or blow a radiator in your car, it’s covered.

8. Retirement Savings

Expanding on the previous point, try to accumulate as much wealth as you can for early retirement. Consider creating a moderately aggressive investment plan by opening IRAs, 401K accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. Take advantage of your employer opportunities and set up automatic contributions to your company’s 401K plan. Start at a respectable 3% contribution, and gradually increase it until you get to at least 10%. When in doubt, seek a fiduciary financial planner.

9. Solid Clothing

Some of us find it absolutely insane to buy a pair of jeans that cost more than $39.99. However, quality clothing items, such as boots and winter coats, hold up over time. And the money you shell out is worth it later. Reddit’s Buy It for Life adheres to this philosophy. This subreddit aims to “emphasize products that are durable, practical, proven and made to last.” It might seem insane to pay $219 for insulated L.L. Bean Duck Boots, but you’ll be grateful when they’re still keeping your toes warm and dry 10 years later.

10. A Coffee Maker

Does life really exist without coffee? Another smart purchase is to invest in a solid coffee maker. If you fancy those specialty drinks, you could buy a combination machine from DeLonghi for $162 on Amazon. Considering the price of specialty drinks from coffee shops — and our dependency on caffeine — this is a purchase that will pay for itself in a matter of weeks.

11. Various Fitness Programs

There’s no safer bet than to invest in your health. Health equals wealth, right? Whether you buy a treadmill for $399.99 or invest in various meal prep services popular for those always on the go, they’re all worthwhile expenses.

Depending on your employer, you might also be eligible to receive reimbursements for health-related expenses, such as gym memberships, fitness classes or playing in sports leagues. While you’re at it, look into other reimbursement programs you might be eligible for, such as cellphone plans, moving costs or professional-development classes.

This article originally appeared on The Cheat Sheet.  

Image: kovaciclea

The post Got Extra Cash? Here Are 11 Smart Purchases Under $400 appeared first on Credit.com.

5 Ways to Break a Sweat Without Breaking the Bank

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Gym memberships are expensive. And with Americans getting in better shape in preparation for the summer, more are joining fitness facilities. But there are plenty of ways to shed pounds and tone your body throughout the course of your everyday life without spending a dime.

1. Stretches to Start

Determining how well your day starts off is entirely up to you. If you ever feel achy or sluggish in the morning, it may have to do with more than just starting off with a healthy breakfast. Stretching your body out when you wake up is known to stimulate, energize and help you avoid injury throughout your daily routine. Setting aside a total of less than a half hour each morning for stretching can make a world of difference in your daily life.

2. Take the Stairs

When you get into your office building lobby in the morning after battling fellow commuters, the last thing you may want is physical activity. But opting for the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is a great way to burn calories, according to Men’s Fitness. When you take the stairs, you greatly improve your aerobic fitness and running speed thanks to the leg muscle mass you use.

3. Bike When Possible

The average American commutes a half hour to work, sitting in their car, slowly creeping down the highway. But this half hour would be better spent participating in physical activity other than lifting a donut to your mouth and pressing your foot on the gas. Consider that a 185-pound man will burn 335 calories on a half-hour, casual bike ride. Also, if you live in a bigger city like New York or Chicago, you might have better access to bike-sharing programs allowing you to get around with ease.

4. Core Workouts Before Bed

At the end of the day, after you’ve burned all these calories, toning your core will be much easier. So doing a few exercises for your midsection will help you burn through that spare tire in no time.

5. Watch What You Eat

Be careful not to fall into the I-can-eat-anything trap, though. Many people who workout assume they can eat whatever they want and still lose weight. Unfortunately, this is more of a one-step-forward, two-steps-back mentality. So striking a balance between an active lifestyle and a healthy diet are essential to finding happiness with your self image.

Eating well can also help you to save tons of money on food, especially if you’re willing to cook a little. You’ll find that planning ahead is key, as is using some smart shopping techniques.

Following a passive regimen like this one won’t help you gain pounds of muscle mass, but these tips will help you shed pounds, tone your body and flatten your stomach. And most importantly, it will help you pinch pennies while you do it.

Remember, keeping your credit score in top shape is also a huge deal when it comes to saving money over your lifetime. If you’d like to see how you can improve your financial fitness, check out Credit.com’s lifetime cost of debt calculator. You can also check your free credit scores, updated monthly, to see where you can make improvements on your credit report.

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Image: Xavier Arnau

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