One of the best things you can do for your finances long-term is to start a savings habit. For many of us, though, the idea of setting aside money in a life already cash-strapped seems daunting.

Saving is important, though. It should be a goal for you, especially considering that a rainy day fund can help stave off financial catastrophe. According to a recent Bankrate survey, 28% of Americans have no emergency savings at all. If you are in that group, it’s time to start a savings habit. Here are five tips that can help you on your way:

1. Start with Any Amount

Many people get discouraged because they think they need to set aside a certain amount of money each week, or it’s “not worth it.” The truth is that any amount that you can set aside is better than $0. If you can start with $1 per day ($7 per week), that’s what you do. It doesn’t seem like much, but the idea is to start a savings habit. You can move on from there. But the first step is to get into the mindset that you are going to save something — no matter what.

2. Review and Boost Your Savings

Once you have established that you will set aside money for savings, it’s time to review your amount and add it to your savings. After you become comfortable with what you’re setting aside, add more. If you’ve been setting aside $10 per week, boost the amount to $15 per week after a couple of months. Down the road, you can boost your savings even further as you become more comfortable.

3. Look for Things to Cut from Your Budget

Experts estimate that you waste between 10% and 15% of your household income each month. This means that you are probably spending money on things you don’t actually need, or even want. And even if you really need something, there are ways to spend less on it. At the very least, check out online shopping portals to see if you can find a discount. For example, let’s say you need to buy a bottle of lotion that you need for your skin. Instead of going directly to walmart.com, why not go to Capital One Shopping’s Walmart page to see if there’s a coupon or cashback offer first? Rather than wasting that money, consider putting it toward building your financial future. Look for wasteful spending to cut from your budget, reduce your spending, and then redirect that money into your savings habit.

4. Create a Rewards System

If you want to stay motivated, you can set up a rewards system for your savings habit. You do need to be careful about this because you don’t want your rewards to cost you money. Instead, think about things you can do that might be out of the ordinary, but that doesn’t cost. Maybe you can check out a new book or movie from the library after you save for a certain number of weeks. Perhaps you can reward yourself with a lazy weekend afternoon when you boost your weekly savings amount. Figure out what you would enjoy, and use it to reward yourself for your efforts.

5. Make it Automatic

Automatic savings can help you keep up without thinking about it. Arrange regular transfers from your checking account to your savings account. If you have the option, have money withheld from your paycheck each month and deposited into a savings account. It’s also possible to use a tool like Digit.co to use an algorithm to automatically figure out how much you could be saving and doing it for you. Look for ways to make it automatic so you don’t have to think about it, and you might be surprised at how fast your account grows.

Now that summer is here and the kids are out of school, you are probably looking for ways to save money. The good news is that it is possible to save money this summer if you plan ahead and consider what’s available for a low cost — or even for free.

1. Free Activities for the Kids

Sending the kids to the water park or taking them on a big vacation can get pricey. Instead, look around and see what’s available for free. Many libraries and zoos offer free reading programs and animal information sessions. Also, don’t forget about nationwide initiatives like Free Museum Day once a month.

You don’t have to limit yourself to free activities for the kids when you’re saving money this summer, either. Look for concerts in the park, and gallery walks. These can be great for kids, as well as for the adults.

Even if you can’t find a lot of free activities for the kids, there is the possibility that there are low-cost activities. Look for summer band programs through your school that might cost a fraction of private lessons, as well as low-cost workshops offered by local organizations.

2. Plan Staycations and Camping

You don’t need to go on a big summer vacation to make good memories. My son and I usually go camping three or four times a summer, including going with extended family. It’s an inexpensive way to have fun and make amazing memories.

Plan staycations as well. Sometimes we take a day trip to a nearby historical site. We pack a picnic and visit a waterfall a few hours away. It doesn’t cost very much, and it’s a great way to enjoy each other’s company and do something fun and out of the ordinary. At the very least, you can do something unusual like bring the laptop outside and stream a movie in a tent on the lawn or have a picnic on the living room floor.

3. Avoid Using the Air Conditioner as Much as Possible

One of the biggest money leaks you’ll have during the summer is the air conditioner. You can save money on utilities by doing what you can to make your home energy efficient and then running the air as little as possible. I usually open the windows at night and run fans to circulate the air. Then, first thing in the morning, I shut the windows while it’s still cool. It keeps the house manageable until mid to late afternoon. After that, we usually spend time downstairs, where it’s naturally cool.

You can also avoid using the air conditioner in your efforts at saving money this summer by leaving the house. If you have an inexpensive public pool, you can spend the hottest portion of your day there, or you can go to the mall (as long as you don’t spend your money buying things).

There are a number of tips and tricks that can help you avoid turning on the air conditioner for most of the day. I even find that going to the cheap movie theater once a week to stay out of the house costs less than running the air conditioner.

Combine different strategies, and you might be surprised at how much money you can save this summer.

Until my husband asked for a divorce a little more than a year ago, I hadn’t thought much about the impact of divorce on taxes. Now that I’ve been through a tax season with a brand new filing status, I’ve learned a few things about how your divorce can change your taxes.

Spousal Support is Income, Child Support is Not

One of the first things to realize about taxes and divorce is that spousal support should be reported as taxable income. If you receive it, it counts as income. If you pay it, you can deduct it from your income. My divorce decree doesn’t include spousal support, so it’s not an issue for me.

Child support is a different story. My ex pays child support, and he pays it happily. Because our country expects parents to financially support their children, child support isn’t considered income to the recipient, and the paying party can’t deduct it. However, it’s important that the money received in child support go toward the benefit of the child. I don’t spend the money sent for my son on anything other than taking care of him. My ex and I agreed that I’ll put half of what he sends in my son’s 529 account and use the other half to help with paying for his clothing and extracurricular activities.

New Filing Status = New Tax Bracket

In many cases, a new filing status can mean a new tax bracket. In my case, because I have custody of my son, I file as head of household. This means I don’t have quite the benefit I had when married, but my brackets are more favorable than someone filing single. My ex saw a jump into the next tax bracket because the gap in our incomes was closing just when he asked for a divorce. He found himself in the 25% bracket, instead of the 15% bracket, where we were as joint filers.

You also need to be clear on who is able to claim your children as dependents. Only one of you can claim your children. It should be spelled out in your divorce decree. Because my son lives with me 100% of the time, it was easy for us to agree that I would claim him. However, things might be different depending on how your custody works out. Someone who pays more in child support while having the kids 50% of the time might get the deduction. Or, if you have multiple children, you can each claim some. Others deduct in alternating years. However you do it, it’s important to be on the same page so that there aren’t mix ups at tax time.

SE Tax Increase

While my tax bracket didn’t change, my tax bill is going to be much bigger going forward. Because my business used to be run with my ex, we could assign income in a way that reduced my own FICA taxes. I had a lower self-employed tax. Now that I’ve had to dissolve my old business and start a new one, all of the income is assigned to me. That means my self-employment tax bill has gone up by quite a lot. So, even though I’m in a lower tax bracket than my ex, I will pay more in taxes going forward.

Carefully think about taxes and divorce, and consider consulting an expert if you aren’t sure how to proceed.

Most of us groan each month when it’s time to pay insurance premiums. Insurance is one of those things that matters a lot to your finances because it can protect your assets. Paying your premiums can protect you against a situation later on that results in bigger losses. Most of us can’t pay to replace a whole house, or handle the kinds of hospital bills you wind up with when you have a major injury.

Just because you have to pay for insurance doesn’t mean that you get nothing from it. Here’s how to get the most out of your insurance policies:

1. Understand What’s Included in Coverage

Pay attention to your coverage. You might be surprised at some of the items included in your coverage. Health plans are required to cover the cost of a preventative visit each year. There’s no reason not to go to the doctor for an annual checkup if it doesn’t cost you anything. Many car insurance policies offer coverage for rental cars. No need to pay for the extra coverage when you already have the coverage you need. From home insurance policies that cover theft (even when someone steals out of your car) to the trip cancellation coverage you might have just from using a credit card, understanding your coverage can help you use what’s already available to you. You’re paying premiums, so you might as well take advantage of what you’re entitled to.

2. Look for Flexibility

Some insurance policies are flexible and come with various riders that can make the product better work for you. Find out whether or not there are some flexibility, including some life insurance policies that come with long-term care riders. This can help you tailor your coverage a little bit so that you cover a long-term care situation in addition to ensuring that your family is protected in the event of your death.

You might also have other flexibility in coverage for your car or home insurance policies. Find out what is available to you so that you can get a policy that fits your needs.

3. Check for Discounts

If you want to get more bang for your buck, look for discounts. Many insurance companies will give you a discount if you have more than one policy with them. Look for ways to get a multi-line discount. On top of that, if you are married, some life insurance and long-term care policies offer couple discounts. If you both get a policy, you can see an overall discount. This can make sense in many cases.

When I was growing up, my parents got a discount on my car insurance coverage because I had good grades. Today, I am with an insurance company that refunds my 25% of my premiums when I go three years without a claim. Find out if you qualify for special discounts, and do what you can to maintain those. When combined with other ways to make the most of your insurance policies, you can save money, protect your assets, and do so without breaking the bank.

No matter how much we try to avoid materialism, at some point you will probably end up buying something. Purchases are necessary since few of us can grow or make everything we need. You probably even buy things that you want, even if you do try to limit the amount of stuff cluttering up your house.

Being a smarter consumer can help you save money and reduce unnecessary purchases. As you try to figure out what makes the most sense for you, here are 3 tips that can help you make better buying choices:

1. Start with What You Value

Before you buy anything, know your values. Figure out what is important to you. Too often, we make poor spending decisions because we aren’t clear on values and priorities. It’s easy to make impulse purchases when you don’t have a framework for deciding whether or not something is worth buying.

Sit down and work out your long-term goals, and identify your values. Then, create priorities for your finances and your spending. You will be a smarter consumer when you change your spending habits to match with what really matters to you. Before you buy something, ask yourself if it meets a need or helps you reach your lifestyle and financial goals. If a purchase doesn’t move you forward, don’t make it.

2. Comparison Shop

Looking for the best deal isn’t just about saving money. The cheapest item isn’t always the best choice for you, or the item that will save you the most money in the long run. Pay attention to quality as you comparison shop. When you decide you need to make a purchase, take the time to compare your options, and figure out what will offer the best quality in the long run. The fewer times you can buy something (like tools or shoes), the better off you will be in the long run. Comparison shopping is a good way to get an idea of what is likely to offer you the best bang for your buck. You want to be a smarter consumer who gets the most value for your money, rather than someone who just gets things because they are cheap. (And what happens when the poor quality means you have to turn around and spend more later?)

3. Look for Deals

Don’t forget about the deals. After you have shopped around, and you know your purchase is in line with your values, it’s time to look for deals. You can use coupon and rebate sites to find promo codes and savings. From free shipping to 50% off (or more), it’s possible for you to get even more out of your purchases. You can also use rebates and loyalty programs to stack deals and reduce your overall costs. Before you buy something, check to see if there is a coupon, discount, or rebate associated with it. Checking doesn’t take very much time at all, and you can stretch your dollars even further when you take the time to see if you can get a discount.

As you look for ways to be a smarter consumer, you will save money and enjoy higher-quality items — and a higher quality of life.

Is Your Debt a Yo-Yo Diet?

by Miranda Marquit · 0 comments

We hear a lot about how yo-yo dieting can cause problems with weight gain. Each time you drastically diet in order to hit a weight loss goal, and then finish the diet, the weight comes back faster and in greater amounts.

In some ways, debt can be like a yo-yo diet. You might aggressively pay down the debt, but what happens when you finish paying it off?

Many people who have paid down debt quickly find themselves back in debt again later. Part of the biggest issue with staying out of debt once you pay off your obligations is the fact that you haven’t really tackled the root cause of the debt.

Yo-Yo Debt

When you’re caught in a cycle of yo-yo dieting, you aren’t actually changing your daily, regular habits. Instead, you end up viewing the weight as the problem, and you make unsustainable changes to your routine in order to reach a specific goal. Once you reach that goal, you revert to your old behaviors because you are unable to keep up with the drastic changes you made to lose 10, 20, or 30 pounds. Pretty soon, you find yourself regaining all that weight — and then some.

In some cases, debt can have the same problem. You might aggressively tackle your debt, paying off a few thousand dollars in a short period of time. It feels really good to reach that goal, but have you really changed your money habits? Some of the extreme strategies you employ to tackle your debt might not be sustainable in the long term. Old habits re-assert themselves, and your debt comes creeping back. In some cases, it can come back bigger than ever.

Smaller, Lasting Changes

As I fight with my weight yet again, I’m taking a different approach. Instead of aiming at a weight goal and doing what it takes to reach that goal in the shortest amount of time, I’m slowly changing my habits. I’m adding more exercise to my regimen. I’m slowly replacing some of my nutritional choices.

These smaller changes mean that my weight loss is proceeding at a slow rate. However, it also means that I am more likely to maintain better health over time. Because I’m changing my habits to tackle the causes of my yo-yo weight situation, things feel different this time. I feel like I’ll be able to stick with the changes I’m making because they aren’t huge. They are more sustainable over time.

You can take a similar approach with debt. Smaller changes can help you make the most of your money, and reduce your debt at a sustainable rate. You might not be able to claim dramatic results, but you are more likely to have better long-term financial habits. Small changes to the way you approach your money can add up over time, and they can also be more sustainable, allowing you to stick with them, rather than losing your resolve later.

In the end, getting off the yo-yo cycle requires making changes to your lifestyle. Once you change your lifestyle in a sustainable way, you are less likely to give up down the road.

Good credit is one of the most important things you can develop in your financial life. Your good credit can open doors for financial opportunities — and not just for loans.

In the last couple of years, I’ve seen firsthand how beneficial good credit can be.

Save Money When You Borrow

The most obvious benefit of good credit is the savings you receive on your interest charges when you borrow. Years ago, when my then-husband and I bought a home, we saved thousands of dollars during the time we had our mortgage because our good credit scores qualified us for the lowest rates.

I also saved money the last time I bought a car. That loan will be paid off this year, and I’ve kept the loan this whole time because the low 1.9% interest rate is easily beat by putting what I would have put toward paying off the car early into investments. I’ve seen returns of much better than 1.9% annualized since borrowing for my car.

Even my credit cards and personal line of credit come with lower interest rates, thanks to my credit. I rarely pay interest on these accounts, but on the rare occasions that I do carry a balance, it costs me much less than it would if I didn’t have good credit and had to pay a higher interest rate.

Other Financial Benefits of Good Credit

I currently receive a discount on my monthly car insurance premium because I have good credit. That’s a nice perk to enjoy, and I get it even though I’m not borrowing from the insurance company.

My recent cross-country moves have also been made easier because of my good credit. When we moved to Pennsylvania, the luxury apartment complex we wanted to live in required a credit check. Likewise, I wasn’t able to move into my current rental home in Idaho until after I passed a credit check. Without good credit, you might not be able to move into the rental you prefer because you are rejected in favor of someone else. My utility company also required a credit check before hooking me up.

There is also an element of peace of mind due to my good credit. I have been able to have liquidity. This came in handy when I moved across the country, and it is comforting now that I have medical bills due to a recent injury and an unexpectedly high tax bill due to my recent divorce.

Knowing that I have options (even if those options require a little borrowing) provides me with peace of mind. While I don’t expect to max out all of my available credit, it’s nice to know that there’s a backup plan if I need it.

Even if you don’t plan to borrow for anything, your credit matters. It’s how financial services companies make judgments about you. Bad credit can cost you more than you might expect, and good credit can open doors and save you money — even if you aren’t working with a lender.

One of my favorite strategies for getting the most out of life or any experience, and definitely getting the most for my money, is loyalty stacking. It’s possible to use credit card rewards for frugal travel, and you can get even more when you stack your loyalty points and rewards. This works in areas other than travel as well.

Using Rewards Credit Cards to Buy Through Rebate Websites

If you want to start stacking the savings, sign up for rebate websites and use your rewards credit card to make purchases. You can do this with sites like Ebates. I also use this strategy for Swagbucks. When shopping through these sites, you receive points or cash back when you make regular purchases. This can be one way to get a little extra money back on things you would buy anyway.

However, you take it another level when you pay with a rewards credit card. You’ll get the rebate, but you’ll also build more points with your rewards card. Those rewards will translate into more cash back or free travel down the road. When I know that I’m going to make a big purchase, I look to see if I get an advantage by shopping via one of these sites. A good example was a recent travel booking through Orbitz. I shopped using Swagbucks, which meant that I received extra SBs for each dollar spent. My purchase also resulted in Orbitz rewards for that separate loyalty program, and I made the booking with a rewards card.

In the end, I wound up with three different rewards for one purchase that I would have made anyway.

This strategy can also work well if you plan to buy clothing online, or make other major purchases. There’s no reason to enjoy the benefits of only one rewards program when it’s possible for you to take advantage of two or more programs with the same purchase.

A similar strategy can be used with partnership programs. My airline miles card comes with special discounts when I use particular partners. In fact, I was able to directly connect my airline miles program from my credit card with my rental car loyalty program and my hotel loyalty program. Even Amtrak was a partner. By connecting all of these accounts, I end up with special discounts and even extra points in all the programs just by making a regular purchase. While I don’t get as many loyalty points as for a direct purchase, the partnership bonus is still well worth it.

Being able to connect and stack loyalty programs has been a great way for me to accelerate my rewards accumulation and come out ahead overall. It’s a good way to save money on a variety of things. As long as you have a strategy, save up for big purchases, stick to your plan, and pay off any credit card bills before you end up with high interest payments, you should be able to save a little extra money without getting into debt.

You might be surprised at how effective credit cards can be when it comes to frugal living. Too often, we think of credit cards as a tool of debt. However, the reality is that with savvy use, credit cards can actually contribute to your frugal lifestyle. This is because many credit cards offer rewards programs. These rewards programs can provide you with cash back and other perks, just for spending money as you normally would.

One of the areas where credit card rewards can be especially helpful is when it comes to frugal travel.

Use Credit Card Rewards for Frugal Travel

Last Christmas, my son and I traveled back east to spend time with family. Because I used credit card rewards to help pay for my airfare our total cost was about $250 to fly. When you consider that round trip plane tickets between my hometown and my destination were about $600 apiece, you can see that we saved $950 on our airfare.

These savings came because I use my airline card for all of my regular spending. I even use it to pay my rent. As a result I build up rewards quickly and can use them to travel. As long as I keep with my regular spending patterns, and I pay off my credit card each month, I don’t have to worry about getting into debt and paying high interest rates.

I combined my credit card rewards with the loyalty reward from my preferred hotel chain, and manage to save another few hundred dollars on lodging.

My parents using branded rewards credit card for their hotels. As a result, they were able to stay for free when they traveled to England a few years ago. Being able to save money on travel is one way to live a frugal lifestyle. The reward you choose

The rewards you choose should match with your preferences. Make it a point to use your rewards credit card on everyday purchases so that you can save up your rewards to use and make your frugal travel dreams come true. Just make sure you actually have the money in the bank so that you can pay off credit card at the end of each billing cycle.

Other Strategies for Frugal Travel

For best results, combine your credit card rewards program with other strategies for frugal travel. Look for ways to save money using promo codes and special deals. I have a loyalty points for hotel chains, the train, and even at the travel aggregator Expedia. Using these points along with my credit cards, It means that I almost never pay full price for any trip.

You can also use a frugal travel strategies like going in the off-season, and being willing to fly red-eye. Is also a good idea to plan for food by shopping at a local groceries instead of going to restaurants or bringing your own food on a road trip. My family used to save a lot of money growing up because my parents planned ahead for food, rather than always buying it at expensive restaurants.

With the right planning, travel doesn’t have to break the bank. Combine credit card rewards and loyalty rewards with other frugal travel strategies, and you might be surprised at how far you can go.

One of the growing trends when it comes to making money is the so-called gig economy. The gig economy is the result of a rising technology that allows people to use the Internet and their computers to make money on their own terms to some degree. The gig economy is characterized by independent contractors and small jobs done one after another.

As a freelance writer, I am a major part of the gig economy. I take jobs as they come and get paid for that as I complete them. I work from home, set my own hours, and even set my own rates.

A new report from Thumbtack digs into the gig economy and what it means. The report breaks down different types of gigs and looks at the job satisfaction associated with different types objects in this growing segment of the job economy.

Skilled Professionals vs. Low-Skilled Professionals in the Gig Economy

According to the thumbtacks study, there are different marketplaces and platformsBased on whether or not someone is offering something skilled or something that requires less skill. Some of the skills-based platforms that Thumbtack looked at includes those that involve writing, graphic design, web development, and software development.

On the other hand, low skilled gigs include the kinds of things that you would find on commoditized platforms like Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, and Grubhub.

With both of these types of gigs, it is possible to use technology like computers and phones to find people willing to pay you for various tasks. However, when are you taking gigs on a commoditized platform, you are more likely to have someone else set your rate for you. When you develop the skills that allow you to do more advanced work, you are more likely to be able to set your own rate and make a little more money.

Another item that Thumbtack addressed in its report is the fact that jobs done by skilled professionals are a lot more likely to resist automation and outsourcing. On the other hand, on-demand gigs that require fewer skills might be subject to automation. Thumbtack cites the possibility of self-driving cars taking away the gigs currently available to ridesharing drivers for Uber and Lyft.

On top of that, the report found that skilled professionals are more likely to report higher job satisfaction. The study indicates that 84% of skilled professionals love what they do. On the other hand in the general working population, only 29% of Americans say they are engaged at work.

Skilled professionals also have better job opportunities overall, according to the survey. They are more likely to be able to do work independently and remotely. Many freelancers can take advantage of work done for those who live across the country or even on the other side of the world. If you are driving for a rideshare company, you are limited to your local area.

As you consider how you might fit into the gig economy, think about what skills and attributes you have. You might be surprised to discover that you can make a little extra money on the side by getting involved in the gig economy.