Category Archives: Ways to Save Money

Tips for Moving with Children

Last month I got to sit down with my friends at Northwood Realty for a Think Tank session on moving with children. To be honest with you, it’s something I haven’t done yet–partially because our current housing situation is affordable, and partially because Holy Overwhelm.

I have moved a lot, though, in my pre-kid life. It was great to sit down with a bunch of other moms who had been through the ringer, and real estate agents who had done it themselves as parents and helped their clients through the process more than a few times.

I feel a lot better about the whole thing now, and better prepared for next year when we take the plunge.

What we came up with was a treasure trove of knowledge gained from first-hand experience. Here’s some of the best of it:

Such a wealth of knowledge on how to move with kids! Actually feel prepared now!

Smart Prepping for a Frugal Move with Children

We’ve been saying we’re going to move “next year” for a couple of years now. But this time we mean it.

How do I know?

We’ve actually started going through our stuff. Doing so early means we won’t have to move as much–which will save us money. It also means that we’re able to list and sell all our extra stuff before the big day.

It’s a smart move, too, because it means as the seasons roll around, we’ll be able to pack progressively. Once those winter coats are off for the last time, they’ll get packed up. That’s one less box we’ll have to worry about come late Spring.

I picked up some additional tips about moving prep from the fine mothers and real estate agents at our Think Tank, too:

  • If you don’t know where to donate something, especially kids’ toys, clothing or gear, think Women’s Shelters. They often have women and children rotating in and out and always have a need.
  • Pack smaller boxes so everyone can help with the move. I always packed larger boxes and went into beast mode on moving day so it wouldn’t take as long, but now that we’ll have kiddos along for the ride I see the value in going small.
  • Get free boxes at the grocery store or other retailer that frequently receives shipments. They’re typically really strong and most places just break them down at the end of the night. You might have to come after close, but usually if you ask a manger if you can take some off their hands they’ll be more than happy to help.
  • Label and color code. It’s smart to label each box according to which room it will go into. That way, if you have friends coming to help, they won’t be guessing as to which room “Johnny’s Trophies” should end up in. But if you have preliterate children, using colored tape to coordinate with each room can be super helpful, too.

Buying a Home with Children

One thing that really surprised me was that, at least in the South Western PA market, it doesn’t really matter financially when you move. The price difference in housing is negligible, so you should do it whenever works best for your family.

Helping Kids Transition

If you want to move in the summer, though, it was advised that you start looking early. And if you want to move in the summer to help your kids transition, there were some great tips to make things run more smoothly:

  • Enroll your children in sports in their new district–and do it early. This helps them get to know people so they have some friendly faces on their first day.
  • Involve your kids in the house hunt. This can help them feel involved–and also alert you to safety hazards you may not have noticed. I will note that when my parents did this, they picked what I thought was the wrong house. And I still hold it against them. Kidding! Kind of.
  • Hire a sitter to come with you on the house hunt. This way the kids can stay involved, but the show can go on if there’s a meltdown. Pay the babysitter per house–it’s more motivating for them to stay on that way!
  • Get the children’s bedrooms set up first. It will help make their new surroundings more comforting.

Get Your Money Straight

Many of these tips go for any house hunting endeavor–it’s important to have your budget straight. When you’re figuring out how much you need to have saved before buying a home, don’t forget to look beyond the down payment and monthly mortgage payments. You’ll also need money for:

  • Closing costs
  • Home inspection
  • Escrow
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Any applicable HOA fees
  • Hand money

It’s important to be honest with your real estate agent about your financial situation, too. Many of the agents at the Think Tank said this is hard for people, because money and pride go hand-in-hand. But your agent is there to help you, and has a fiduciary duty to act in your best interests. If you’re not completely forthcoming, it will all come out anyways–potentially messing up a deal or resulting in lost time looking at houses you can’t truly afford.

SPECIAL NOTE FOR PA BUYERS: You cannot receive gifts to cover costs in the home buying process in the state of Pennsylvania. If you live in another state, be sure to check your local laws before banking on any gift money.

You’ll also want to get pre-qualified before shopping. In markets like the one we have in Pittsburgh, sellers won’t even look at your offer if you want a contingency clause added while you try to find financing.

Selling a Home With Children

Keeping your house ready for last-minute tours is stressful. Keeping it clean and ready with kids? That’s panic-mode stressful.

Here are some top-notch tips I gleaned for prepping your house to move:

  • Keep all the toys in one room. And make sure it isn’t on the ground floor if at all possible. While in reality your children may have taken over the house, no one wants to buy that reality–even if they have kids themselves. Let them fantasize.
  • Get some laundry baskets ready. Got a call from your agent saying that someone wants to come see the house in an hour? As in one hour? As in sixty minutes from NOW? If you have a couple of laundry baskets ready to go, you can round up all the toys, books and other odds and ends your kids have taken out of that dedicated room, throw them in the basket, and then throw them in the trunk of your car as you get ready to leave.
    Last-minute showings can be inconvenient, but staying flexible is key in helping your home sell quickly.
  • Don’t worry about seasonality. At least in our local housing market, there is no best time of year to sell. In fact, the agents we spoke with said the holidays were one of their favorite times to sell because the houses were done up so beautifully for the festivities. (January is also when a ton of companies do relocations, so there are generally plenty of buyers.)
  • Animals are more of a distraction than children. If you have pets, you may want to temporarily house them somewhere else. If the buyer isn’t a dog person, they may have a hard time overlooking your German Shepard while they’re trying to fall in love with your house. Or the litter your cat spilled outside the box after you meticulously cleaned it up before loading your laundry baskets into the car.
    Temporarily housing with a friend or family member is also less stressful for your furry friend, too. Strangers can be scary–especially when your pet doesn’t fully understand what’s going on.

Protect Yourself

Again: strangers can be scary. While you hope the buyer’s agent is looking out for you, you simply don’t know who is going to be in your home. Be sure to lock up any:

  • Cash
  • Checkbooks
  • Credit cards/Banking information
  • Jewelry
  • Firearms
  • Medication
  • Anything else of value or potential harm

Ready to List!

Ready to list? Here’s some things you can do to help get your house off the market quickly:

  • Have an open house immediately after you list. This helps create pressure.
  • If you can coordinate listing with your vacation, you’ve got an ideal situation. You clean your house before you leave and have nobody to mess it up for a week–or however long you’re gone. The realtors cited many examples where the home sold before the family was even back in town!
  • Continue promoting even if you have a contract. Because, unfortunately, contracts do sometimes fall through.

Have you moved with children?

Would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

 

 

 

*I have been compensated for my time at this event and the writing of this post.  Regardless, all opinions are 100% my own and 100% honest.*

3 Tips for Moving on a Tight Budget

Saving this for our next move! Great tips on how to move on a tight budget.

Moving house is stressful for a wide number of reasons.

One, you may have to start packing while you’re still working a full-time job and taking care of a family.

Two, you may have a lot of things to pack, but no clear idea of how to go about it.

Three, you may have fond memories of your current home and circle of friends and feel a little depressed about leaving it all behind.

And four, you may have to do things in a hurry, perhaps because of a job relocation.

There are lots of things to consider when moving house. Fortunately, there are also plenty of simple, effective strategies to help you get things sorted out quickly so that your move will go smoothly. Here are 3 big ideas to make your move easier:

1. Figure out how you’ll move.

It’s important to figure out the logistics of your move before you take any action. A clear idea of how you’re going to move will make it easier for everything else to fall into place.

Deciding on how to move usually boils down to figuring out whether you should do-it-yourself or hire a reputable professional business like the North American moving company. If you’re thinking of spending as little as possible to move, you might assume that it would be more labor intensive but less expensive to do it yourself. While you might be right about how much work is involved in doing everything yourself, you could be wrong about it being cost-effective.

The only reason making your own move appears cheaper is because you don’t see all of your costs totaled up ahead of time. Instead, you’re dealing with multiple costs that occur over a stretch of time. For instance, there are the costs of hiring a moving van, buying your family and friends’ thank-you lunches and dinners for volunteering to help you move, the cost of moving equipment and materials, checking in at weigh stations, increased tolls and so on.

Since these costs accumulate in a random, often unpredictable way, they could add up to more than you had reckoned. By comparison, professional movers usually have a streamlined process that often results in large cost savings for the consumer.

Besides the financial costs, you also have to consider the cost of time and labor. If you’re planning on a DIY move you have to ask some hard questions.

  • How much time do your family and friends have available to help you with your move?
  • Will you be coming home exhausted from work in the evening and then start packing until midnight for weeks on end?
  • Will your family and friends have enough time to come over and help you out with everything that needs to get done?
  • Will things get packed properly and loaded safely or will hasty packing result in plenty of breakages of some of your best stuff?
  • Will you be able to find enough strong people to move the large, heavy appliances and furniture into the truck?

Many of these problems could be alleviated if a professional moving company sends over some able bodied people to help you pack your stuff.

2. Minimize how much stuff you have to move.

If you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you’ve probably accumulated a lot more stuff than you realized. When you look around your apartment or house, you might be surprised to come across things you no longer like or need. You’ll discover clothes that just don’t fit anymore and electronic gadgets that are now obsolete.

You should consider decluttering as much as you can. It’s a total waste of time and money to pack and transport all this excess to your new home.

Here is a simple strategy for decluttering:

  1. Empty out a room so that you have plenty of free space.
  2. Go around the house and collect everything that you don’t want to take with you and dump it into the empty room.
  3. Use four large boxes to sort through what you now have in the spare room. You will need a box for trash; a box for recycling; a box for donations to family and friends; and a box for putting everything you can’t make a decision on in the moment.

3. Avoid spending more than necessary.

Don’t buy boxes, but simply collect boxes from local stores who throw or recycle their boxes after they have received a shipment of new products. Also, cut off all your utility bills before your date of departure because many utility companies won’t pro-rate your invoices. Otherwise, you might be paying for an extra month of services.

These 3 big tips will help mitigate some of the stress of moving. Moving houses is often considered a major life stressor, exhausting both physically and emotionally. In fact, it’s considered as difficult as relationship breakups, divorces, and starting a new job. And, of course, it becomes even more stressful if you have a limited budget and a tight deadline to meet.

 

 

This post is contributed and brought to you by Abby Locker.

Should I Buy Auto Insurance on My Rental Car?

Shoot! I didn't realize I was already covered! Will definitely be reconsidering buying extra insurance the next time I rent a car.

Getting ready to purchase auto insurance on that rental?

Hold your horses.

I totally get that you don’t want to be held liable should the worst happen. After all, you’re renting a car for convenience or vacation—the last thing you want to do is worry about the unknown.

But you also don’t want to spend more money than you have to. If you are purchasing an auto rental on a credit card, you may already have coverage. You may also have coverage if you carry a regular auto policy.

Don’t automatically agree to paying yet another premium. First, call up your credit card and insurance companies to see what you already have.

Auto Insurance Offered Through Your Credit Card

If you are paying for your rental with a credit card, you may already have coverage. These policies most often cover damages caused by collision and theft.

Let’s look at PenFed’s Platinum Rewards Visa Signature® Card. As long as you paid for the rental entirely with this card and only had authorized drivers per your rental agreement operating the vehicle, coverage includes:

  • Physical damage to the vehicle
  • Theft of the vehicle
  • Towing charges as long as they’re reasonable
  • Valid loss-of-use charges imposed and substantiated by the auto rental company

If you’re renting domestically, coverage only applies to vehicles rented 15 days or less. If you’re out of the country, it applies to rentals of 31 days or less.

Not all vehicles are covered. For example, if you wanted to roll around in a Ferrari, you wouldn’t qualify for coverage. The same goes if you sign a rental agreement for any luxe vehicle or a van, motorcycle, moped, open-bed vehicle, or antique auto.

These exceptions are pretty standard across card companies, but it’s always a good idea to give your benefits administrator a quick ring before signing to make sure your specific make and model will be eligible for coverage.

The only thing you have to do to accept coverage is definitively decline the insurance the rental agency is offering you. In writing.

Your Own Auto Insurance

If you have auto insurance, the following areas will generally be covered by your own policy:

  • Liability to others’ property in case of property damage
  • Liability for others’ medical bills in case of a crash
  • Medical expenses for you and others in your vehicle

This is a good time to review your coverage limits. If they’re too low, up them.

If you carry a renter’s or homeowner’s policy, your personal effects will typically be covered in case of theft—even though you’re not at home, and even though you’re in a rental car.

Your auto policy should also cover damages due to collision or theft, but if you have a deductible the policy on your credit card should help make up the difference. You’ll either have no out-of-pocket costs or be reimbursed for expenses in those two areas.

What Insurance Should You Buy from a Rental Agency?

If you do not have your own auto insurance policy, it’s wise to purchase the liability coverage from the rental agency, even if you have collision and theft covered via your credit card.

If you and everyone in your car carry health insurance, you can probably skip the medical coverage—unless someone knows they have an astronomical deductible or low coverage limits.

If you don’t carry homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, get on that. You should have it anyways. But if you don’t currently have a policy and you’re traveling with belongings you’d be remiss without, it’s not a bad idea to sign on for the personal effects coverage, too.

 

 

This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union. The views expressed in the article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Pentagon Federal Credit Union. PenFed Credit Union is an Equal Housing Lender and is federally insured by the NCUA.

How to Get Out of Paying Your Security Deposit

Um, this is freaking amazing. This company helps you move into your new place without the huge security deposit---lifesaver!

When we moved into the place we’re living now, we had to have just shy of $2,500 on hand. That included first month’s rent, last month’s rent and a security deposit.

That’s an insane amount of money when you’re making just above minimum wage—which we were. We’re fortunate that our income has gone up since then, but even still, security deposits are one of the big expenses that have made staying put rather than moving a better financial choice for us over the past few years. Even if we get our full security deposit back, rent inflation has gotten a little crazy lately, which means the deposit refund wouldn’t cover the security deposit at our hypothetical new place.

Get Out of Paying Your Security Deposit

What if you could eliminate that security deposit? It seems like a dream, but in an era of progressive financial products, it’s not.

Jetty, an insurance company that serves city-dwellers like us, has this really cool product called Passport Deposit. Essentially, you’re buying a surety bond through Jetty. You purchase this bond for 17.5% of the cost of your security deposit. Then, you don’t have to pay your security deposit up front.

Your landlord is the recipient, and carries no risk. Jetty is literally insuring that you won’t trash the place. If you do, you’ll have to pay for damages. So don’t mess your place up.

If we were to move right now, we’d likely be looking at a place with a minimum monthly rent of $1,100. That means our security deposit would also likely be $1,100.

Yikes.

We could save for that for sure. But to be honest, it’s preferable for me to not have to pay that much upfront.

With Jetty, we’d only have to pay $192.50. We wouldn’t get that money back, but we could take the other $907.50 and invest it. Assuming a 6% annual return, we’d have made that $192.50 back and then some by 2020. Within 11 years, we would have more than doubled our initial investment.

That’s way better than throwing it all at a security deposit that will lie dormant for the duration of your rental period.

If you don’t have the $1,100 upfront, to invest or give to the landlord, Jetty’s Passport Deposit can be a lifeline. While I don’t advocate for living outside your means, the reality is that the rental market is wreaking havoc on American families. We frequently like to think about housing from a buyer/seller perspective, but since the bubble burst in 2008, renters have been paying a steep price.

If you can afford the rent, are a responsible tenant and just don’t have the extra money for the security deposit, this product can help you get into your place with a lot less stress.

When You Don’t Meet Income Requirements

The last time we moved, we were lucky that our landlord didn’t set income requirements. Like I said, we were making just above minimum wage.

We’ve never missed a month, by the way. Even in hard economic times.

A lot of other landlords did, though, and it disqualified us from moving to those locations. We aren’t talking about luxe high rises with amazing city vista views, either. We’re talking about basic, affordable housing.

The only place I could find where we made 3x-4x the monthly rent every month had a blanket hanging in the stairwell, separating us from our future neighbors, and a busted up stove. When I asked the potential landlord about replacing it so we could do things like cook, he said, “Well, that’s expensive.”

Yeah.

Let’s take our $1,100 per month place as an example again. With kids in Pittsburgh, one of the most stable housing markets in the country, we’re talking about some pretty basic housing. It likely won’t be in a blighted neighborhood, but it’s not going to be in a super ritzy part of the city, either.

To make 3x-4x monthly rent, you’d have to be pulling in $3,300 to $4,400 per month. Fifty percent of families in this country make under $68,000 per year. While people at the top of the $0-$68,000 income range would have no issue meeting those standards, those in the middle of the pack would. And do.

That’s why Jetty also has Passport Lease. If you don’t meet income requirements, you typically will need a cosigner. The standards for that cosigner are typically higher, requiring that they make 8x-10x your monthly rent.

With Passport Lease, you don’t need a cosigner. You can move in without meeting the income requirement for a one-time fee of 5%-10% of your annual rent on a 12-month lease. On the $1,100 place, that would be $660-$1320.

While it’s not ideal to have to pay an extra fee, it is worth it if Passport Lease can get you and your family into a safe and healthy home.

Be a Responsible Renter

Only move into a place if you know you’ll be able to pay the rent on time each and every month. Cover yourself with renters insurance—which is insanely affordable and covers you in times of disaster, theft or liability. Take care of the place while you live there.

If you do all of these things and the barrier to entry is still just too high, look to Jetty’s Passport. It’s an innovative new product that can help you get your foot in the door.

 

This post is brought to you by Jetty Insurance, who has recently expanded into the Pittsburgh region.

Using Cashback Rewards for Travel

I can't believe I never thought of this---you don't have to use "travel" rewards to get free travel. You can use cashback rewards instead!

I’ve been doing a good bit of traveling this year. My itinerary includes a litany of states and at least two foreign countries.

But I kind of hate spending money.

That means I’ve been doing a good bit of signing up for credit card bonuses to offset the costs. It’s funny—if you do a lot of this over a one-year period, you start to run out of well-known cards to apply for.

Not too long ago, I had hit up all of the big, flexible bonuses that you can use as a credit statement against travel costs. I may apply for these cards again in the future, but I don’t like to take too much advantage and there wasn’t enough time to “churn,” anyways.

So I started looking at alternatives. I started looking at cards with smaller bonus rewards—but also lower spending limits. That was a total win.

Then I got to thinking that I should probably look at straight cashback cards, too. If all I was getting was a statement credit, the cash rewards would still allow me to pay for travel. In fact, if I wanted it to pay for something else, like a park ticket, that wouldn’t normally be counted as a travel expense, I totally could with a cash rewards card.

So I got to looking.

Thinking about using credit cards for rewards? Stop now and read this first!

Using Cash Rewards Cards for Travel

I liked what I found. There are a lot of options out there with decent rewards and relatively low minimum spends. That’s good for people like me who have started to max out the options with heavy-hitting bonuses due to wanting so much free stuff. By the way, yes, I have a great credit score.

But it’s also good for people who don’t have as much income and therefore can’t afford to take on $3,000 spends over the course of 60 or 90 days.

Let’s look at how this works:

PenFed just came out with the brand spankin’ new Power Cash Rewards Visa Signature® Card. With it, you earn 1.5 cents back for every dollar you spend on purchases—regardless of where you spend it.

That alone is a big deal as a lot of cash back cards offer rotating categories. They often reward you with a high point value within a certain category, but lower points on everything else. The kicker is that those categories tend to change every quarter, and you typically have to manually register or call in if you want the inflated bonus.

A lot to keep on top of. It makes 1.5 cents per dollar back every single time you spend pretty attractive.

On top of that 1.5% back, this card also currently offers a $100 bonus when you spend $1,500 on it within 90 days of opening your account. By the time you’ve spent enough to earn the incentive, you’ll receive $122.50 total. One hundred for the bonus and $22.50 per the 1.5% cash back.

This statement credit can negate any purchase on the card—including park tickets!

Earn More by Becoming a Member

With this particular card, there’s a further incentive if you want to earn even more cash back on every purchase. If you have either a military affiliation or a PenFed Access America Checking Account—which is a fabulous idea anyways and can easily be attained without military service—your cash back rate will jump up to 2%.

That means by the time you reached the minimum spend for the bonus, you’d have $130 total instead of $122.50.

It also means that if you spend an average of $500 per month on your card, your cash back rewards will add up to $120/year rather than the $90/year that you’d receive at the 1.5% rate.

How Cash Back Rewards are Helping Me

I’m pretty sure we’re going to get next-to-free park tickets thanks to using this method. I’m glad I didn’t just throw my hands up in the air and declare there were no other options left.

I also love that while cash back cards can help the travelers out there, they can help add value to people’s lives even if they have financial priorities that don’t include hopping on a plane.

But they only add value if you use them correctly. Please remember to charge responsibly.

*This post is in collaboration with PenFed Credit Union.*

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