How to Budget Around Essential Expenses

Even for experienced professionals, forming a budget can be difficult. Indeed, determining how best to save money and avoid unnecessary costs is something that nearly everyone struggles with from time to time. Unfortunately, some people make the mistake of forgoing essential expenses when creating a personal budget and face terrible consequences as a result. Though it may be difficult, it is possible to form a working budget that accommodates everything a person needs to live a happy, healthy life. Here are a few tips you can use to accomplish this for yourself:

Define “Essential”

These days, many people don’t know how to separate things that they want from things that they need. While it’s not easy to pass up fun products like fancy air fresheners or novelty coffee mugs, the reality is that if you’re working on a tight budget, you can’t afford to spend capital on frivolous items.

On the other hand, it’s also important not to go over-the-top and to cut out a service or product you truly need. Some of those expenses –– such as ones related to living arrangements or food –– are obvious. However other essential services, like medical costs or health insurance, may seem less necessary when a person faces financial trouble. Skipping trips to the doctor’s or forgoing certain important preventative tests, though, could leave you vulnerable to a number of potentially dangerous health conditions like STDs. (You can visit samedaystdtesting.com for more information on this subject.)

It may take some time, but making these tough calls and setting the parameters of a budget now will save you time and money moving forward.

Eschew Name Brands

Groceries, prescription drugs, clothes –– these are indisputably essential items. However, smart budgeters can manage their expenses more effectively by avoiding “name brands” that come at a premium. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice style for substance in this regard.

Pick up a Side Hustle

If you’ve got free time, then you have a myriad of options to supplement your income. Signing up for a rideshare service, taking surveys for cash, –– even walking neighborhood dogs can help you earn extra cash quickly

Look for Long-Term Value

Essential expenses aren’t likely to go away with time. After all, people will always need somewhere to stay, food to eat, etc. Capable budgeters can use this knowledge to their advantage, though. For instance, it’s often possible to apply for a mortgage on a home purchase that actually costs less than the rental payments of an equivalent property. Finding opportunities to exploit long-term value can help you get out of debt and make budgeting easier with time.

Debt Relief and Student Loans: What You Should Know

Student loan debt: if you have it, you know just how much of a drag it can be. Unfortunately, student loan debt is so prevalent. Today, the cost of tuition is rising at about triple the rate of inflation at many universities across the country. Because of this, many graduates are wondering about debt relief and how it can tie into their student loan picture.

These waters can be murky, though. What is the connection between debt relief and student loans? How do the two work together? Here’s what you need to know:

Student Loans and Debt Relief

Many student loan borrowers are surprised to learn that the answer to their debt relief prayers might be sitting right in front of them. In fact, they may already be participating with it. It’s called “Income Driven Student Loan Repayment.” Under these plans, offered by Federal Student Loan Lenders, a student makes a payment based on how much they earn each year.

If the student’s income is too low and the borrower cannot afford to make payments, the Government will reduce monthly payments back to a manageable amount. If, after about 20 or 25 years, the debt load is still too high (but the student has made on-time payments consistently) the debt load is forgiven.

While many people don’t associate these plans with debt relief, they work the same way. Debt relief happens when a lender accommodates a borrower’s financial reality. Typically, debt relief plans lower or forgive a portion of the debt to make it more manageable for a borrower. This is what the Government is attempting to offer through income-driven loan repayment.

Programs for Student Debt Relief

When it comes to student loan repayment, the Government doesn’t alter old plans as frequently as it creates new ones. Two of the newest are Pay as You Earn (PAYE) and Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE). Here are the differences between each, according to Debt.org:

  • You need to show “financial hardship” which simply means that the payments under the income-driven repayment plans will be lower than what you would have to pay on the 10-Year Standard Plan.
  • You must also be a new borrower as of October 1, 2007, to enroll in PAYE, but there is no new borrower condition to enroll in REPAYE.
  • You need to have received a loan distribution as of October 1, 2011, or else you’ll need to consolidate your loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan to be eligible.

Additionally, you may have some loan forgiveness options based on your career path of choice. People in the “helping professions” (therapy and medicine, for example) may be able to get a portion of their loans paid back by agreeing to work in an underserved community. If you want to learn more about your student loan debt relief options, talk to your lender or a certified debt relief organization.

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Meta: If you have questions about student loan debt relief, you’re not alone. Learn more about the situation and what you can expect here.

How to Build a Sustainable Work Culture with Your Team

The term work culture refers to the character of your business and what it stands for in terms of success and goals. It also includes the tradition and beliefs that make your organisation different and unique.

Workplace culture can impact your organisation in a number of different ways, which is why you can’t afford to ignore it. The culture of a company will come from the top, down. Those in the higher management positions will be in a position to inform the attitude of the rest of the business. As the old saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. For an organisation, the losses are potentially huge.

As a manager or CEO, you should be focused on building a sustainable work culture. A sustainable work culture is a positive one as it helps improve overall employee performance, attracts and retains talented team members, creates workplace satisfaction and boosts commitment to productivity.

Work as a Team

Teamwork makes the dream work – it is that simple. You can develop a positive corporate culture by making people know that their participation and contributions matter. Relating to your employees as team members rather than ‘underlings’ is one of the easy ways to achieve this.

Make Work Fun

Brett Harned says that “Happy people are productive people.” Your workplace shouldn’t have an atmosphere of rigidity and seriousness. Make it fun and introduce company activities other than the job itself such as contests or games, and lunchtime activities.

You can also set up a social platform where the team can express themselves freely. It takes the stress off work, and as Brett maintains, it aids productivity.

Place a Premium on Employee Wellness

It is impossible to build a sustainable work culture in an organisation that isn’t bothered about the wellbeing of its employees. People can’t perform optimally if their physical, mental, or emotional health isn’t at its best.

As an employer, play your part by providing resources and tools for the overall wellbeing of your team. Also, you’d do well to have a compensation package in the event of work-related issues. If your team is well aware that the leadership cares enough, they will repay that gesture with improved performance because they feel valued.

Create Individual and Collective Goals

Creating goals with the team gives everyone a sense of purpose and responsibility. At no point in time should your team work with no clearly defined goals. Creating goals is also an opportunity to re-emphasise and realise the organisation’s standards and culture, and encourage everyone to give their best.

Show Appreciation

In the same way, while under-appreciation can make an employee decide it’s time to move on, appreciating employees can make them stay and do more. A simple handwritten letter to team members, a handshake, a pat on the back, or a smile can work the magic. You could also host regular events to appreciate employees openly. It won’t hurt to throw in financial incentives too.

Conclusion

Positive workplace culture is very rewarding and beneficial. Strive to build a sustainable work culture by following these tips, and remember that your team should be at the centre of it.

Important Facts About Land Erosion and How to Prevent It

Land erosion is a naturally occurring process involving natural elements such as water, ice, wind, and gravity that end up removing the fertilized soil on the upper surface of the earth exposing the rocks.

Thankfully, there are a number of ways to not only identify signs of land erosion but also prevent it from happening using methods such as an erosion control blanket. Below is some useful information you might want to know about this natural phenomenon:

What Areas Are Most Likely to Be Affected by Land Erosion?

There are quite a number of places that are most affected by land erosion. It is, therefore, a great idea for you to be knowledgeable about the subject so that you can know the right way to protect your soil from losing its fertility by means of rigorous erosion. The first place most affected by erosion is the valleys or slopes.

This is because of two things – gravity and rainwater. The same also goes with areas along rivers. This happens because of the constant rush of water which will, in the long run, loosen the soil around the banks and will result in massive erosion.

You’ll also realize that areas with aggressive winds, as well as snow, will be most affected by land erosion. This applies to areas known for constant snowing since ice has the same effects as water. That said, it’s important for you to note these areas and find the best ways to eliminate the issues effectively.

What Are the Courses of Land Erosion?

There are quite a number of causes of land erosion, one of them being poor farming practices. Farmers who are always tilling land near river banks or valleys are strongly advised against tilling near the edges as it encourages land erosion due to running water as well as gravity.

As mentioned before snowing and wild winds can be incredible sources of land erosion. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways one can reduce these elements from damaging the soil as we shall discuss below. Another rather notorious cause of land erosion is deforestation.

Trees play a very important role when it comes to curbing land erosion thanks to their roots that hold the soil firmly together. They also can break the speed of the water as well as winds. That means cutting down the trees will end up doing more harm than good.

Curbing Land Erosion and Conserving Natural Resources

The first effective way to stop land erosion is by planting trees, as well as grass, on the areas most affected. Doing so will prevent erosion from happing since the cover and the roots will end up consolidating the soil together thus preventing the water from collecting it all downstream. Farmers can also stop cultivating land on sloppy areas as well as near riverbanks. This way, they won’t have to worry much about the silt running down with the water and depleting the natural resources in the soil. You can also use an erosion curbing blanket which will protect the soil from the adverse effects of erosion. These blankets will keep the topsoil intact while the seedlings are taking root and protecting them at all times.

You can also reduce the dire effects of land erosion by adding more rocks or mulch in and around the edges of your farm. Mulch and rocks also happen to be very efficient absorbers of water and will reduce the speed of running water which will, in turn, spare the topsoil from being washed away and the natural resources with it.

Land erosion, if not put in check, can lead to a lot of unfortunate circumstances. For starters, the land will lose all of its fertility and there is also a likelihood of accidents occurring in the form of landslides or mudslides. Thankfully, following any of the above-mentioned methods can end up saving you a lot of problems by simply putting a stop to erosion altogether.

There is no shame in asking for help when it comes to curbing soil or land erosion. Thankfully, there are specialists out there who will be more than willing to be of assistance. That said, feel free to use the Internet to find much-needed assistance before the situation gets worse.

Making Your Income Last Through Retirement

Retirement is your reward for the decades of hard work – and you deserve to enjoy a comfortable retirement, but the truth is that many people aren’t able to relish this time because of lack of planning ahead to ensure they have enough savings to fund retirement. Therefore, being aware of your financial investment situation and subsequently, identifying areas that may require improvement is necessary for your post-retirement financial well being.

Here are the five important decisions to help you when planning for retirement.

Guaranteed life or living annuity?

The two primary risks that should be taken under advisement are either: running out of savings, or your money’s buying power is negatively affected by inflation. Guaranteed life and living annuities – or a combination of both – can help to manage the above mentioned risks.

Guaranteed annuity: Protects you from potentially running out of savings by giving you a predefined sum of money for the rest of your life. The amount is determined by age, and the present inflation rate. 

Advantages: Protected from overspending;you won’t outlive your savings

Disadvantages: Inflexible terms and conditions; your money cannot be inherited by a beneficiary or transferred to a living annuity.

Living annuity: Much more flexible terms and conditions than a guaranteed annuity.

Advantages: The death benefit of the investment will be paid to the nominated beneficiaries; lump-sum payments to beneficiaries are allowed; the money can be transferred to another living annuity or can be paid in cash.

Disadvantages: Susceptible to market risks and doesn’t have the same longevity.

How to choose an appropriate draw down rate?

A ‘draw down rate’ is the amount of money on which you need to survive. The rate ranges from 2.5% to 17.5% and so your financial goals should be taken into consideration when deciding on the specific rate. It’s a good idea to enlist the services of an independent financial advisor; he/she will be able to discuss/analyse your financial objectives with you and provide options and insight.

How should you allocate your assets?

The allocation of your assets is a key part of investment when choosing a living annuity because it allows for investment growth even if you’re drawing an income. A financial advisor may suggest that approximately half of your assets be invested in equities – they have the potential to give high returns over the long term but are susceptible to market fluctuations.

How you should account for inflation

In order for your money to not lose value, inflation needs to be understood and taken into consideration – don’t underestimate its potential negative impact.

Here’s an example to help you: If your draw down rate is 4%, and you assume an inflation rate of 5%, this means that you need a minimum of 9% return rate. Anything less than 9% will not be beneficial as you will lose money.

Should your draw down rate be increased annually?

Yes. It is important to review and adjust for the inflation rate on an annual basis. A recommendation of a 50% asset allocation, a 4% draw down rate, in line with inflation adjustment guidelines, has been suggested to be a successful combination for a comfortable financial future post retirement.

The Financial Impacts on Families Due to Government Shutdown

The United States is currently going through the longest government shutdown in its history. Partial government shutdown or full government shutdown, it doesn’t matter. The pain of the unpaid government workers, laid-off associated contractors, and numerous businesses that either supply the government, depend on government workers for its business or have any kind of interaction with the government are experiencing great pains.

This is not a red pain or blue pain. Instead, it’s a green pain because the economic impact puts a strain on personal bank accounts regardless of personal politics. Although government agencies have published some seemingly tone-deaf tips about how their workers can survive this shutdown, they’ve mostly fallen flat. They don’t account for the fact that most families affected by the shutdown are those who get personal loans for bad credit to pay the bills. Garage sales and mystery shopper gigs aren’t going to get the job done.

Friday, January 11, 2019, was the first day government workers missed a paycheck. That means that those financially hurt by the government shutdown are starting to see even more magnified effects on their personal finances. Many workers who have to still work during the shutdown got a pay stub that said their normal hours worked but $0.00 for pay. While the government may have itself on ‘pause,’ one’s bills, creditors and grocery needs are ever constant and far from being patient during this stoppage.

The immediate and measurable need of cash creates financial instability for those impacted by the shutdown. Some people’s homes will move into delinquency and/or foreclosure. People’s credit ratings will be impacted because of their inability to meet their monthly payments. News has promoted stories of individuals unable to get proper health care or medicine. All of these scenarios will have long term impacts, ranging far beyond whenever the government does open back up for business.

What to Do in Order to Survive the Shutdown

The following offers a few tips of things that you can do to help survive this shut down:

  • Consider borrowing money to pay bills until the shutdown ends (including from friends, family, your retirement savings, loans, and credit cards);
  • Contact your creditors in order to see if they offer any special assistance as someone impacted by the government shutdown;
  • File for unemployment, if eligible, so that at least a portion of your normal pay will be made available to you;
  • Some employees have even started GoFundMe pages in order to seek assistance from the general public; and
  • Contact your local elected officials to voice your concern and personal situation so that they can advocate on your behalf.

Avoiding bankruptcy is a key to these steps so that you’re not penalized for the actions of the government in your personal life. Avoiding bankruptcy outside of a government shutdown can usually be helped by visiting with a credit counseling agency, so that is something that you might want to do now as well.

Although this government shutdown is the longest ever, the shutdowns are happening more frequently than ever before. Thus, there is a good possibility that you might be in this situation all over again sometime in the near future. Whether it’s a delay on receiving your tax refund or being able to go to court, the shutdowns are like a pebble in a pond and the ripples will expand far beyond where the pebble hit the water.

Shopping Around in the Digital Age

We all love a bargain and, thanks to the internet, there’s usually always a host of deals to be had somewhere, all just the click of a mouse button away. What’s more, ease of browsing through search engines allows us to find multiple locations to buy exactly what we want, quicker than it’ll take you to read this article.

Focus on the Time of Year

Convenience and reputation often tend to attract the most custom, along with a vast range of diverse products, which is undoubtedly why the leading internet shopping sites in 2018 were Amazon, eBay and Walmart. However, just because they’re the biggest and most famous, offering a one-stop-shop for practically everything you could want, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than other online stores.

Any savvy shopper will always make a point of comparing prices between stores as a matter of principle and, sometimes, the bigger name stores can offer some of the best prices and discounts. However, price shouldn’t always be the deciding factor when buying something online, given there are lots of other factors one should perhaps consider when deciding what constitutes a good deal.

Image Source: @knowledge_18 via Twitter

One interesting approach is to plan for the year ahead, given that certain products can fluctuate greatly in price depending on the season or month of the year. We’re all familiar with Black Friday in November, although, it might not always be the best time for a good deal. For example, if you’re shopping for home decor and furnishings, big-box stores frequently offer some of their best deals around Memorial Day in May. Likewise, a good time to buy home appliances can be September and the week leading up to Labor Day, with many retailers offering great clearance deals.

Articles of clothing are also affected by the seasons, as brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers alike rotate their inventories. If you’re looking for a bikini for the summer holidays or some garden furniture, then you’ll usually pay more for them when demand is highest, from June through August. Buy them during the springtime with early deals or, even better, wait until autumn and think of the following year, when retailers want to clear their stock at knockdown prices.

Smarter Gambling

While it’s fair to say that online gambling might not be considered the most financially sustainable pastime, it’s a popular pursuit that many of us do still enjoy. Indeed, placing bets and playing casino games via the internet has become so popular that the global online market is expected to generate revenues in excess of $74 billion by 2023 according to marketwatch.com reports, with the online gambling industry growing consistently by around 10% year on year since 2017.

Along with traditional table games such as poker, blackjack and roulette, amongst the most popular are the slots games and they can be promoted in a variety of different ways. While some casinos offer deposit bonus deals, crediting new user accounts with a free cash bonus based upon the first amount they deposit, others offer free spins for their slots, without the need to place an initial deposit after signing up.

Image Source: @gBitcoincasino via via Twitter

Getting something for nothing may seem too good to be true but Oddschecker has compared and listed online casino deals, highlighting those with free spin no deposit offers, how they can be used and how such offers vary from casino to casino. For example, some of the free spins are limited to very small stakes, must be used in one particular slot game, or used by a certain date; although it is possible to play without spending a single cent.

Nevertheless, always read the terms and conditions carefully, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. Shop around to find the best offer that suits the way you play and for the kind of games you enjoy playing, whether it’s free spins or cash bonus, when opening a new account. Likewise, never deposit more than you can afford and are willing to lose, because while the chance of winning is always enticing, and the games can be great fun, it’s always sensible to set yourself a limit and stick with it.

Digital vs Traditional Purchases

Remember when video games, computer software and movies came in a box? Well, the internet and faster-than-ever connection speeds have forever changed how we consume digital products. Back in the old days, we went to a retailer and got a physical product in a box, something we could hold in our hands, usually with a neatly printed and detailed instruction manual, and perhaps even some other gimmicks such as collectibles or accessories thrown in.

These days, few want DVD cases, software or game boxes cluttering up their homes, aside perhaps from the most ardent collectors. True, doing away with needless packaging removes the environmental footprint left by the plastic and paper waste. However, one would assume that might also mean a reduction in price given there’s no packaging required, though if you’ll forgive the pun, it isn’t always the case.

Image Source: @pcgamer via Twitter

Many movie, game and software prices have actually risen, instead of falling, with online retailers and publishers citing the increased cost of servers to host the library of their products, or bandwidth needed to meet the volume of download demands. The main convenience for the buyer is they can get what they want “on demand” pretty much instantly, downloading their product whenever they want, without the need to leave the comfort of their home and visit a traditional retail store.

Yet, many video games, software and movies can still be purchased at traditional retail stores, in boxes and on disc, cheaper than their digital download equivalent. That would appear to defy all logic but nonetheless, it’s still true for even some of the latest releases. For now, that is, because the future points towards more digital downloads, online streaming, and even software as a service, requiring a subscription rather than a one-off purchase. The option of buying boxed products cheaper is looking like it’ll head the way of the dinosaurs in the next few years, so grab your bargains while you can.

Whether it’s shopping around for physical products, making digital purchases or gambling online, shopping around is just as important as it was when we used to walk down Main Street, peering through store windows at the offers and sales. As ever, keep browsing and don’t plump for the first deal you see, as there could well be a better on just around the corner.