As I prepare to move (again), I’ve been thinking about my living arrangements. I prefer renting to buying, since I like living in an apartment or condo community. I like the idea of someone else handling all of the maintenance, and having access to amenities like a community pool and a fitness room. I also prefer communities that are within walking distance of conveniences like groceries, shopping and public transit.

Unfortunately, I might not have the option of renting something I want when I move to a new town. While the cost of living is low, the town I am moving to is lacking in amenities, and there aren’t a lot of choices in the part of town I need to move to. As a result, I am thinking of buying — although it pains me to consider the possibility.

Getting ready to buy means that I need to consider the following 4 things before I pull the trigger:

1. Affordability

The first thing to think about is affordability. How much house can you afford? And it’s not just the principal and interest you need to worry about. Don’t forget about the property taxes, home insurance costs, utility costs, maintenance costs and repair costs. You can use the 30% rule as a starting point to get an idea of what you might be able to afford each month, but you need to be careful with these types of rules of thumb. Be sure that you are comfortable with your monthly cost. I like to keep all of my housing related expenses to 25% of my monthly net income. That leaves me a lot of breathing room — even if it means that I can’t get something big.

2. Other Debt

Part of the affordability equation is debt. Do you have other debt? How much do you have? I’m not uncomfortable buying even though I have student loan debt and a car loan. My payments are affordable, and the interest rates are low. In the case of the student loans, the interest is also tax deductible. However, if you have a lot of high interest credit card debt, saddling yourself with a huge mortgage probably isn’t the best idea. Get rid of some of that debt first.

3. Lifestyle

Once you have a good idea of where you stand financially, you can start thinking about other factors that are likely to influence your buying choice. Lifestyle is a big consideration when you are buying. I like flexibility and freedom, so tying myself down to a home seems like a bad move. On the other hand, I plan to remain in one place for several years, so stability during those six years is a big deal. Buying can provide that.

Other lifestyle considerations include what amenities you like to have, and whether or not you want to take care of maintenance issues yourself. I am looking into buying a condo or twin home. These often have HOAs involved that will at least take care of snow removal and the lawn. Many communities also come with clubhouse amenities that I like. It’s not ideal, but it works when renting isn’t an option for me.

4. Location

Finally, make sure you are happy with the location. My son will need to go to school, so I am buying near the schools he will attend. Additionally, I will be on the side of town closer to my parents and other members of my support system. This is important in my situation. Other considerations might include proximity to dining, entertainment and shopping. I don’t have much of a choice in these areas, and public transit is practically non-existent, so these aren’t considerations for me, although they might be for someone else.

What do you look for when you are shopping around for a home?

I’m getting ready to move across the country again. It’s not under the happiest of circumstances, and it’s not my first choice, but it’s the most practical thing for me to do, mostly because I’ll be moving to a place with a lower cost of living.

When you’re trying to live a frugal lifestyle, one of the best things you can do is pay attention to the cost of living, and attempt to live in a place with a lower cost of living. You’ll find it easier to save money when you consider location, since it’s often easier to make your dollars stretch in a place that doesn’t charge high prices for everything.

Smaller Income Doesn’t Always Mean Lower Disposable Income

One of the reasons that some people are reluctant to move to a place with a lower cost of living is due to the fact that incomes are often smaller as well. However, just because a smaller income is involved it doesn’t mean that your disposable income is lower.

If you’re living in an expensive city, you might have to pay 50% of your income each month on housing, and another 10% on food. That’s 60% of your income right there. If you are making $4,000 per month, that means that you spend $2,400 on housing and food, leaving you $1,600 for other costs.

Now consider living in an area with a lower cost of living. You can actually find housing that only takes 25% of your income and you spend 5% of your income on food. If you are making $2,500 a month in this town, you still end up keeping $1,750 for expenses other than housing and food.

This example isn’t far-fetched. I had a relative who experienced this difference when he moved from an expensive California city to a town in northern Utah. He had an extra $150 every month, and it was easier to save in other ways, too, since everything from entertainment to transportation was cheaper, and his state taxes were lower. In the end, he was able to live more comfortably on less than he did when he had a higher salary.

My decision to move to Idaho isn’t even going to come with a specific drop in income because I work from home. However, I am still experiencing a drop in household income, and I know that my situation will be easier to manage if I can move to an area that is less expensive. I want my dollars to go further, and I want to be able to travel and maintain my lifestyle. Moving to a less expensive place will allow me to achieve these goals.

Not everyone has the luxury of being able to choose when and where to move. However, if you have the chance to decide where you are going to live next, carefully weigh your decision. You might be surprised to discover that cost of living matters so much more than income, and that your frugal lifestyle is easier to maintain when your location isn’t constantly draining your budget with the cost of simple survival.

When we think of using coupons, we often see the coupons as the frugality strategy designed to put more money in our pockets. But what if you could save money using coupons and promo codes and get cash back? That’s the idea behind cash back sites like Ebates on top of its coupons and promo codes.

Buying Through Cash Back Sites and Getting a Discount

When you make a purchase through these sites, you get a portion of what you spent back in rewards. If you spend $100 at a store that offers 4% cash back, the site explains, you get $4. One of the things I like about these program is that you don’t get this money as an account credit or promo credit. This cash back is actually made as a payment to you. You can choose a check or PayPal to receive your money.

It is important to note, though, that there is a lag when it comes to receiving your cash back payments. Your payment won’t be processed until after the return period (usually 60 days, or after the travel is completed in case of travel purchases). That means that it might take more than two or three months receive cash back payment, as long as you meet the payment threshold of $10 for the month being processed. Once you get into a rhythm, the process tends to smooth out a bit.

Different stores come with different cash back offers, ranging from less than 1% cash back to 5% cash back. On top of receiving the cash back, you can also still apply coupons and promo codes. If you really want to boost your rewards using these sites, you can pay for your purchase with a cash back credit card. You’ll still get your cash back through the cash back site, enjoy whatever discount you qualify for, and be able to get cash back from your credit card as well. It’s a great way to maximize any savings that you are looking for when shopping online.

Of course, no matter what program you are using for cash back or coupon savings, you do need to be careful. It’s important only to buy what you would normally purchase. Don’t go out of your way to make new purchases just because of a coupon or a cash back opportunity. As long as you are careful to create a spending plan or budget, and you use these tools in conjunction with your planned spending, you can come out ahead. And, if you use a credit card, don’t forget to pay off the balance. A month of interest can wipe out any of your cash back rewards and other savings.

Once again, I am moving across the country. It’s been less than a year since my last cross-country move, and this isn’t my idea of a good time, but here we are. The good news is that many of the lessons I’ve learned in past moves are still fresh in my mind. Not only that, but I’ve got some good advice from consumer expert Andrea Woroch. As I pack up my belongings (and leave some behind), I’m considering ways I can spend less on this move. Here are 5 tips that Woroch has for saving money on moving costs:

1. Haggle

The first rule of saving money on anything is comparison shopping. This works in the world of moving as well as anyplace else. “Call around to gather quotes from moving companies and haggle for the best deal,” says Woroch. “Make sure to give the company a precise estimate of boxings and furniture you are planning to move.”

Woroch points out that if you end up moving more than you mentioned in your estimate, you will be charged. Many moving companies will send someone out to look at your belongings and estimate a move price. You can use this guide when approaching other companies.

Next, make sure that you haggle prices. I recently called a moving company and haggled them down on price. The result is a savings of more than $2,000 total on my move.

2. Use Coupons

Even when it’s time to move, you can use coupons. If you plan to rent a moving truck and drive it yourself, look for coupons and promo codes. You can also ask about referrals. I decided to use a “pack it yourself” service with storage containers this time. However, with a referral from the company, I can save 25% off when hiring professional packers.

3. Hire Packers and Other Helpers

The hybrid move is growing in popularity. This type of move involves you renting a moving truck and preparing to drive it, but paying for professionals to help you pack. Woroch says that companies like Hire A Helper can provide you with affordable packing help. You can haggle and use coupons when hiring these helpers as well. It’s a nice way to get the convenience of professional movers, without having to pay the costs.

4. Choose the Right Time

My moving company is dropping off the storage containers on a Tuesday and picking them up on a Wednesday. This mid-week move means a lower rate than a move that would take place over the weekend. “If possible, schedule your move for the beginning or middle of the month to find cheaper truck rental rates as well as savings on professional services,” says Woroch. Ask for different rate quotes based on different days.

5. Packing Supplies

We still had a number of boxes from last year’s move, so packing supplies aren’t a problem for me. Woroch suggests asking neighbors for boxes. You can also visit stores for their discarded boxes. When buying bubble wrap and packing tape, use store brands instead of name brands. You’ll save money and still get the job done.

Planning and preparation, plus a little creative thinking, can help you save money on your next move.

Many of us have a goal to pay off debt. However, when you’ve been working toward the goal of paying off debt for a long time, it can be difficult to adjust once you have reached your objective. This is especially true if you have taken a long-term approach to your debt pay down, employing the debt siege method.

Now that you’re debt free, it can be tough to figure out what to do with the money that used to go toward your debt payments. Here are some things to consider as you try to figure out how to remain debt free and put that money to good use.

Don’t Increase Your Spending on Other Things

One of the most tempting things to do in this situation is to increase your spending on other things. Now that you no longer have to make debt payments, it’s easy to get carried away in dreams of new furniture, more date nights, and more eating out. However, before you start spending this money, take a step back.

You are probably used to a more frugal lifestyle now, and that isn’t a bad thing. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating, you don’t want to turn the fact that you are now debt-free into a situation in which you engage in lifestyle inflation. Remember that there is a good chance that out of control spending is what led to your debt situation to begin with, so you don’t want to end up back where you started. Think twice before spending that “extra” money each month — especially if the spending results in a long-term lifestyle upgrade.

Put That Money Into Something Else

Since you are already used to making monthly payments, now is a good time to put that money into something else. Increase your retirement account contributions. Boost your emergency fund. Start a 529 account for your child’s college education.

You don’t even have to put the entire amount toward the same thing each month. You could easily divide the money up. Put part of it toward the future, and then start setting the rest aside for other specific goals. You can use the money to save up for a vacation, or to save up to buy a new car. You might even begin saving up for a down payment on a home. Even if you use the money for something like a vacation or car, it helps that you are saving up for it, rather than using the money for some sort of instant gratification or expense that will add to your monthly burdens.

Before you start spending the money, sit down and make a plan for it. Think about how your goals and priorities have changed since you have paid off your debt, and think about what you want your financial future to look like. Set new goals based on the future, and you will be able to come up with a better plan for your money than simply frittering it away on things that don’t really matter to you in the long run.

One of the most powerful things you can do for your finances is to track your spending. The reality is that many of us spend money without really thinking about it. When we don’t stop to think about our spending, it’s easy to lose track of how much we’ve really spent. The widespread use of credit and debit cards adds to this since swiping plastic takes away the awareness that comes when you use cash.

An interesting app that was recently brought to my attention encourages you to track your spending each time you make a purchase. On top of that, the app, called Family Fortune, syncs up the purchase with the rest of the family. That way, you can keep up with spending. I can see where this would be useful; there have been many times when my husband has bought something at the same time I’m spending money elsewhere, and there have been snafus.

Track Your Spending Quickly and Easily

Family Fortune is designed for iOS and Android. You can download it and so can other members of your family. When you make a purchase, simply open the app and record it. Your budget situation is instantly updated, and those synced up with you see the information in real time. That way, you’re all on the same page.

While I like the planning aspect of Family Fortune, what I really love is the tracking aspect. Expense tracking is very important if you want to see where your money is going. This app can allow you to see where you are spending your money, analyze your patterns, and see where you need to make changes. This is vital if you want to make long-term improvements to your finances.

Since many of us don’t know where our money is going, it can be difficult to identify problem areas. Additionally, just the act of pausing when making a purchase can help you re-evaluate it. Consumerism has become too easy in today’s world. Today, it’s too simple to swipe a card and not think about your purchase. If you can use an app to enter your spending in immediately, it forces you to consider what you are doing.

Is the purchase really important to you? Is it necessary? What will you really get out of this purchase? Processing this information is important if you want to start paying attention and making better choices with your money.

Coordinating with Your Family

Finally, Family Fortune can make it easier for your to coordinate with your family. You can keep everyone on the same page and up to speed in a way that makes sense for all of you. This way, before you spend, you can make sure you have the money available in a certain budget category — or in the account. Many accounts have been overdrawn due to the fact that spouses are spending money without consulting each other. With a synced app, it’s easier to make sure you are all working for the same things. I also like how this app can help you set goals, and then work toward them together, since you are all looking at the same information.

This app is free to download, and has the potential to change the way you and your family deal with money.

When it comes to money, we all seem to be in different places. That’s okay; after all, personal finance is very personal. Confidence, though, plays a factor in how well we do over time with money. And, if you’re a woman, there’s a good chance that your lack of confidence when it comes to money — especially investing — is holding you back.

Women are Less Confident about Money

According to a recent study put out by Fidelity, women are less confident about money, and talking about money, than men. Only 47 percent of women say that they are confident about discussing money and investing with a financial professional on their own.

Women are also hesitant when it comes to investing. Research indicates that women are more likely to carefully consider investment decisions — and hesitate because they are unsure. However, even though many women have savings habits, 60 percent of them worry about not having enough money to last through retirement.

Part of this confidence gap in terms of having enough money has a lot to do with the fact that, in our society, women are still more likely to be caregivers and stay home. Their earnings are often lower, and they don’t have a lot to fall back on. As a result, they have a harder time saving up for retirement, and miss on earning power. Add that to a reluctance to invest, and that can make it difficult for women to build for a solid financial future.

Get More Involved

Whether you are a woman or a man, it’s a good idea to be involved in your finances. Fidelity’s research indicates that many women are ready to get more involved with their finances. According to the survey, 83 percent want to be more financially involved in the next year, and 92 percent want to learn more about financial planning. This could also indicate an interest in understanding investing a little more.

Knowledge and involvement can help build confidence. No matter where you are at when it comes to money management, and no matter how little confidence you feel right now, the reality is that you can be more involved, and you do have the opportunity to boost your abilities. Just learning about how money works and taking a more active role can help you improve your chances of success down the road.

Once you know more about investing, especially how beneficial (and easy) long term investing strategies like indexing can be, it’s easier to feel confident about your abilities. You don’t need to turn into the world’s greatest stock picker, or be in charge of every aspect of your family’s finances. However, if you know what’s going on, and you have a solid grasp of the situation, you will be more confident about your retirement future. You will also be more confident if you have to step in to manage money, perhaps due to your life partner being incapacitated in some way.

When it comes to money management and investing, knowledge and confidence can go a long way. Do what you can to cultivate your own abilities and you’ll reap the benefits.

If you’ve ever talked to a real estate agent, you’re likely to come away thinking that buying a home is the best investment you’ll ever make. Buying a home can be a good forced savings plan (at the end of your mortgage, you have a big asset that you can tap into later, usually be selling for a large chunk of capital), but the home you live is rarely a true financial investment.

It’s even worse in certain circumstances. I bought my home thinking of it more as an emotional investment, and something that could allow us to break even over rent. In the end, while it did provide some emotional satisfaction and stability, it ended up costing more than I would have liked — and costing more than we would have spent in rent for the years we were in the house — with no return.

Before you buy, says Rocky Lalvani, a Financial Coach and MBA, carefully think about the situation. There are 4 red flags that indicate that buying a home is probably not the right move for you:

1. You Plan to Move Soon

This is one of the biggest reasons to avoid buying a home. Lalvani says you should plan to live in an area for five to seven years if you plan to buy. “By the time you pay selling costs and everything you spent on making the house yours, it’s hard to get ahead,” he points out.

2. You are in a Low Rent Area

Lalvani says that if you live in an area where rents are considerably less than your monthly mortgage would be, you should think twice. This is especially true if the taxes, upkeep, and insurance far outstrip rents. You might be better off renting and then taking the difference and investing it. You are more likely to see real gains over time, including gains that beat inflation.

3. The Home You are Considering is Expensive for the Neighborhood

You don’t want to buy the most expensive home in a neighborhood, says Lalvani. “The cheapest home tends to do best on a resale.” If the cheapest home in a neighborhood isn’t quite what you want, look for something that is midrange. Stay away from the high end, because you’ll want to sell it, and buyers may not go for the expensive upgrades.

4. The Area is in Decline

One of the best things you can do before you buy a home is research the location. Real estate is very local, and you want to take a look at the neighborhood. What’s nearby? Have home prices been stagnant? Are they in decline? Are a lot of people moving out to be in better school districts? You don’t want to jump on board a sinking ship; you might not be able to get rid of the home later if the area continues to decline.

In the end, the decision to buy is very personal. Carefully consider your options, and don’t be afraid to decide to rent if that will work out better for your situation.

Lately, I’ve been dabbling a little bit in dividend investing. Many people are surprised at this because I’m such a boring investor. The bulk of my investing happens via indexing, so investing in dividend stocks seems a little out of character for me. However, once you realize how easy it is to invest in dividends — and how you can do it with a small amount of money to start — you might be willing to give it a try yourself.

Dividend Index Funds

If you know me at all, it’s no surprise that my dividend investing strategy involves indexing. (You didn’t think I’d be stock-picking, did you?) There are plenty of dividend index mutual funds and dividend index ETFs out there. These investments are low-cost, with low fees. In some cases, depending on where you purchase your shares, you might be able to avoid paying transaction fees when you make your purchases.

Not only are dividend index funds inexpensive, but it’s possible to start investing in them with a relatively small amount of money. You might be able to open an account with a brokerage with a minimum of as little as $500 to get started. And, if you’re willing to agree to an automatic investment plan and invest a set amount of money each month, you might be able to start dividend index investing with as little as $100 a month.

Dollar Cost Averaging

One of the best long-term investing strategies for those of us without a great deal of wealth is dollar cost averaging. With this investing strategy, you invest a set amount of money each month. Your money buys as many shares (and sometimes partial shares) as possible. So, if a share of an index fund costs $75, and you invest $100 each month, you buy 1.5 shares. Of course, during months when the market is struggling, the price will go lower, and your money will buy more shares. Later, as the price goes higher, your bottom line benefits because you have a larger number of shares, bought when prices were lower.

Over time, the market tends to gain. While there is always the possibility that the market will lose someday and never recover, that has yet to happen.

With dividend investing, this strategy works well because you are paid dividends on your index fund. I have arranged for my dividends to be paid back into my account, to buy more shares when they are paid. This means that my portfolio grows at an even faster rate. As you reinvest your dividends and keep using dollar cost averaging to buy more shares, your dividend payouts increase because you have a higher number of shares. The cycle repeats itself over time, helping you build up. If you have two or three decades to let your money grow, this can be a great way to boost your wealth.

In the end, there’s no need to pick stocks or come up with a large amount of capital if you want to be a dividend investor. You can get started with a relatively small amount of money, and use index funds to reduce your risk. As long as you are consistent, you will be surprised at how much wealth you can build over time.

3 Ways to Travel for Less

by Miranda Marquit · 0 comments

When it comes to travel, I’m always looking for ways to spend less money. This is important to me because I like to travel. If I can save money on one trip, I can use that money for another trip. The more I save, the more chances I have to travel. As I look for ways to spend less on travel, here are 3 ways that I manage to save:

1. Get Someone Else to Pay

This is the best possible way to travel. If you have a company that requires you to travel, you can see new places on someone else’s dime. You might not be able to choose your destination, but at least you’ll get to see something new. Another drawback of relying on someone else to pay for your travel and make arrangements is that you might not get to choose your flight times. This has happened to me before. I’m not overly fond of taking a red-eye, but I’m willing to deal with it in the name of travel.

I’ve had others pay for my travel in the past. There have been times when clients want me to travel to meet them, and they have paid for my airfare and hotel. When I speak at conferences, I am comped for various expenses. From meals to hotel to airfare, if you can get someone else to pay for at least a portion of your trip, you are winning.

2. Travel During Unpopular Times

If you don’t mind going on a family vacation during the school year, it’s possible to pay less when you go to various destinations. Additionally, there are certain days of the week, and times of the day, that are unpopular. As a result, you can get lower rates on your airfare to travel during these times so that airlines can fill more seats. This same principle applies to hotel rooms as well. Your mid-week rate is likely to be lower than your weekend rate. If you are flexible in your travel, you can save a surprising amount of money — even hundreds of dollars. This has worked well for me in the past. It’s good that I have a flexible “job” so that I can take advantage of these opportunities.

3. Discounts and Loyalty Programs

Finally, I like to take advantage of discounts and loyalty programs. I’ve been able to get free flights using credit card rewards and frequent flier programs. I have a credit card reward program attached to my most used airline and I earn free flights faster. On top of that, I get free hotel stays through a hotel loyalty program. I even signed up to earn points and rewards through one of the travel aggregators, further reducing my costs. In the past, I’ve used a coupon code, then applied points to reduce the cost of a travel package.

Also, pay attention to partner programs with your loyalty points. Sometimes, you can get a discount on rental cars, or earn double points for certain transactions. Watch for sales, promo codes, and activity specials with your programs so that you can snag applicable deals when they show up.

By combining these strategies, I’ve made travel more affordable than I ever thought, and saved thousands of dollars over the last several years.