Category Archives: Money Management

Celebrating 9 Years of Blogging with a Book #Giveaway

Nine years ago, I sat down at my computer and started this little blog. I was in school nontraditionally, young kids at home, scraping together every last penny I could.

It turns out I found a lot of pennies.

I figured I should probably share everything I was learning with other people; there must be someone else out there who could use this information. I wanted everyone to know all the money things I was learning. So I started sharing it on the internet.

I never imagined it would become my career. Yet in 2015, I went full-time.

I am eternally grateful for this journey. It’s allowed me to engineer my life around my family’s needs. It’s allowed me to provide for them reliably (until COVID.)

Just as importantly, it’s allowed me to connect with all of you. Through the years, you have been my support system — the reason I keep going.

Thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.

Year Nine in Review

Year nine has been…eventful.

It spanned a period of intense travel and professional efforts, and then a period of pandemic where I’ve had to reevaluate every business plan I ever had.

Here’s where we’ve been, friends.

Everything was dramatically different one year ago.

In the past few years, Femme Frugality has done a lot of work locally here in Pittsburgh. In 2019, event promotion was making up an increasing part of the business model.

I can’t help but look back at the 8-year mark, and fondly recall that it was celebrated by attending The Mattress Factory’s Solstice Party.

It was so much fun.

I skew introvert, but, dang, do I miss people lately.

We’ll get back to it. For now, though, stay safe. Parties and plays and all of the people-y things will be back in a safe way eventually. To be there for it, we’ve got to take care of our collective health now.

Summer Book Tour

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on a book tour to small towns and cities across the country. Those of you who came out to meet me — thank you. I remember each one of your stories and smart questions. Meeting you IRL was sustaining. I look back now with the perspective of pandemic and social distancing and find myself doubly grateful for the experience we shared.

If you’re looking for independent bookstores, here are a couple of my favorites that supported me on the road last summer:

Personal Finance by Women

Late last summer, Personal Finance by Women launched. We did some really cool things together, like get our members’ stories featured on major media sites. We used financial literacy to support the fight against the opioid crisis. Celebrated International Women’s Day together.

We tried to launch a series for Black History Month, but I had trouble trying to turn public-facing support into a dollar commitment from sponsors in a timely manner.

Then, I had to put Personal Finance by Women on pause earlier this year due to COVID time constraints. But we’re moving the content we had planned over here to Femme Frugality as a new addition to the Intersectional Finances series.

Keep your eyes out for it this summer!

In the meantime, one of the writers for this upcoming series — Jackie Cummings Koski — recently retired at age 49! Check out her MarketWatch FIRESTARTERS feature:

Plutus Awards

Last Fall, I was humbled to be nominated for two Plutus Awards. They were:

To clarify, the Intersectional Finances Series was not written by me. It’s merely hosted by Femme Frugality. All the recognition for that one goes to Choncé, ZJ, Nour, Taylor, Revanche and Kristine.

New Communities

In the past year, I’ve learned that while working to make the world immediately around you a better place may be a noble effort, there does come a point where your environment is so toxic that you have to walk away. Walk away from certain personal relationships. From certain business communities.

It’s painful, but it clears the way for better things.

I’m enjoying the search for those better things. While it’s overwhelming to be a newbie in some of my business communities all over again, I can already see the strength and opportunity in these new-to-me spaces. I’m looking forward to contributing and supporting.

I was honored to be awarded a grant from PEN America earlier this year, becoming a member of the organization.

Other great groups I’ve found have included a number of Binders groups for writers on Facebook, and Tarra Jackson’s DUALpreneur® community. I’m very new in all of these well-established spaces, and even so I’ve found so much support. I’m grateful and excited for this leg of the journey.

More community <3

If you’re looking for more community, I might not be super active with #PersonalFinancebyWomen long-form content and bigger projects at the moment.

But the hashtag is full of interesting new content all the time on Instagram, with contributions from a litany of amazing personal finance writers. Pushing 1,000 posts!

Join us!

The Feminist Financial Handbook Giveaway

To celebrate this year’s blogiversary, I am giving away five (5), signed copies of The Feminist Financial Handbook. Each person can win a maximum of one (1) copy.

You can enter through the entire month of July, up to 11:59p Eastern on July 31, 2020. This giveaway is open to people with mailing addresses in the US and Canada.

There are a lot of ways to enter, including following the women who shared their stories in the book:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Best of luck to all, and thank you for a great nine years!

Pandemic Money Hacks

As I find money tips that may help through this crisis, I’m sharing them in batches. You can find Batch 1 here.

Here’s what we’ve got in store for Batch 2:

You won’t lose unemployment if your employer illegally reopens in PA.

Governor Wolf.

Through this crisis, he has allowed public health and science to inform his decisions, and as a result, saved countless lives.

He has offered Pennsylvanians the opportunity to do the right thing voluntarily, but has also held businesses accountable when they openly flout the emergency orders put in place to protect the health of our citizens, our healthcare systems and our communities.

And now, he’s out there protecting your unemployment benefits.

Human lives over short-term profit.

Here is the full statement from the governor. Please read it knowing it comes from a twice-democratically-elected governor in a very purple state, regardless of the skewed images you might see on social media.

Basically, about half the state had restrictions partially lifted last week. But that’s not how people here were treating it.

More important to the people of Pennsylvania, that’s not how some employers wanted to treat it. There was this very real, lingering question:

If an employer opens up in an area where it’s been deemed unsafe to work, will you lose your unemployment by refusing to go back into a potentially unsafe environment?

Because maybe, just maybe, you’re not willing to die or kill your grandma for your employer?

The answer is, ‘No,’ according to Wolf’s statement.

At the time of writing this piece, in the state of Pennsylvania, if your business or locality is violating state orders by opening prematurely, you are completely within your bounds to refuse to go in to work. If you stay home, you will continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is a huge relief for anyone worried about their own health, or the health of the communities in which they live.

It’s a huge relief for the average person struggling economically through this mess as their employers attempt use them as pawns to manipulate financial benefit programs like PPP.

Mortgage Forbearance

If you’re struggling to pay your mortgage, or are a renter who would like to know what your landlord’s options might be before you approach them about a late rent payment, it’s going to be really helpful to understand the mortgage forbearance rules out there right now.

You can find some perspective from Justine at Live with Plum. As she notes, forbearance is not forgiveness; you’re still going to need a plan to pay this off.

If you’re a renter, you’ll want to check the Batch 1 tips to find out why it’s so vitally important to understand your landlord’s options.

Start Looking at Summer Food Programs Now

Even if you didn’t qualify for or rely on the school lunch program before COVID-19, you might now.

At least in Western Pennsylvania, most school districts are distributing food via a basic signup list, waiving income eligibility limits to make sure all the kids have food.

This eliminates a lot of the paperwork barriers that often impede people from getting the benefits they need, and reduces social shaming.

If you’ve never dealt with the school lunch program before, you may not have thought about the summer yet. Luckily, there are summer meal programs across the country funded by the USDA.

Ask your school district about summer meals now. These meals are sometimes administered by community nonprofits and recreational organizations rather than in schools.

But during the pandemic, things have undoubtedly changed.

The USDA provides a searchable map so you can find local sites. But at least here in Western PA, the map is telling me to do the same thing: Contact your school directly.

Traditionally, admission to these summer meal programs required a separate application. In this time of crisis, so much of your eligibility and access is going to depend on decisions made at the local level.

Get in touch with your district to make sure your kids have enough food over the summer. Make your plan now.

Because believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through May.

Do Home Loans Need to Be So Stressful?

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

One of the most daunting experiences of adult life is the anxiety-producing home loan. 

The constant hope that you will be able to maintain your income so you can make your mortgage payments on time can create a tension-filled life. 

Many of us sit with mountains of stress over the complications of maintaining and owning a home. It’s not uncommon to avoid financial problems by just hoping it solves itself if we keep making payments. Yet even when we’re avoidant, there’s always that constant worry that if things go wrong it could lead to the possibility of losing the house — despite our best efforts. 

If your mortgage provides more feelings of anxiety than security, it might help to know about the many helpful ways to reduce the stress of having a home loan. Yes, if you are in a bad spot with your mortgage, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

And it’s not necessarily the headlamp of an oncoming train. 

An Alternative to Foreclosure

There is an option available to homeowners who are no longer able to afford payments for any of several reasons — a way to get out from under the debt that their changing economic situations have left them with. 

If you are suddenly facing an uncertain and financially insecure future and still owe more than your house is worth, foreclosure isn’t the only way out. In cases where you believe a foreclosure to be around the corner, a slightly better options is short sales.

In the Ohio Valley, specialists like those at the Ohio Short Sale Center can help you determine if a short sale is a plausible option for you as a homeowner. You will have to move when your house sells, but it won’t be because the bank is kicking you out. 

In a short sale, the bank allows you to sell your home for less than you owe. The bank is taking a loss and so are you, but it’s better for the both of you than going through the losses that come along with foreclosure. 

Additional Financial Relief Options

More often than we realize, the value of homes can quickly change for several reasons, leaving many homes with a substantially reduced worth and owners with an existing loan that now exceeds the value of the property. Borrowing against your mortgage or property can also put you in a similar situation.

Or simply losing your job due to a pandemic.

You could consider a loan modification. This should be considered as an approach early on, and could involve options such as temporarily reduced interest rates, switching mortgage lenders, or restructuring of payments so the amounts become more manageable during the hardship you face. 

Temporary suspension of mortgage payments is sometimes an available option, but all of these options depend entirely on your financial lender. 

Whatever road you take, do so with the advice of a financial professional who knows the ins and outs of your entire, individualized financial situation. You can get the advice of a HUD-approved financial counselor for little to zero cost.

Learning Is Better Than Worrying

If you ever find yourself stressed out over your home loan or any other part of your financial situation, remember that knowledge is power. In the era of the internet, we’re lucky enough to live in a time when knowledge is literally at your fingertips. 

You don’t have to be great at trigonometry to ‘get’ personal finance, but putting effort into understanding how our finances work is something we can all benefit from greatly.

ABLE to Work Shelters More Money From Asset Tests

In honor of Autism Acceptance Month, Femme Frugality will be hosting a series of Wednesday articles that focus on the financial challenges and triumphs that Autistic poeple face and achieve. While this series is for Autism Acceptance Month, the following information applies to everyone with a disability diagnosed before age 26. Any dollar amounts referenced are for the 2020 tax year.

If you have a disability, the state often disallows you from doing things like building an emergency fund. They prevent you from doing so via asset tests.

Asset tests can prevent you from getting anything from SNAP benefits to Medicaid access.

Luckily, you can get around this asinine hindrance by keeping your money in an ABLE account — a 529 account which shelters your savings from asset tests. An ABLE account also allows your money to grow tax fee.

Qualified withdrawals from ABLE accounts are quite generous compared to a typical 529 account; you can pull money out for anything related to the disabled person’s life without penalty.

The amount you can save in an ABLE account annually is typically limited. But some employed adults can almost double these limits due to legislation called ABLE to Work.

How much can you normally save in an ABLE Account?

Typically, you can save $15,000/year in an ABLE account. Anyone can contribute towards this $15,000 max. It doesn’t matter if it’s you saving, or family and friends contributing towards your account.

How much extra can you save with ABLE to Work?

ABLE to Work is legislation that allows disabled adults with a job to stow away a little extra cash every year.

If you work a job and have an ABLE Account in your own name, you can save over the $15,000 limit with this legislation.

“The contribution limits for ABLE accounts and rules around ABLE accounts are determined by IRS codes,” explains Tricia Rosen of Access Financial Planning.

“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 made significant changes to ABLE accounts. It’s important to keep in mind the provisions of TCJA are only effective through December 31, 2025 at this time.”

So just how much extra can you save with the temporary TCJA changes under ABLE to Work?

That depends on how much you bring in.

Technically, you can save up to the federal poverty line. Right now, that’s an additional $12,490 if you’re in the contiguous US. In Hawaii, the limit is $14,380. In Alaska, it’s $15,600.

If you don’t make that much per year through your job, you can’t put that much in. The max you’re allowed to put in is up to your total annual earnings — as long as those earnings are below the federal poverty line where you live.

What’s the catch?

Yes, there is a catch.

You can only save the extra ABLE to Work amount if you do not participate in an employee-sponsored retirement plan.

Technically, defined contribution plans disqualify you. You might have a defined contribution plan if:

  • The savings burden is put on you as an employee rather than guaranteed by your employer — even though the plan is offered by an employer.
  • The amount you will have to withdraw in retirement is dependent upon your individual savings within this retirement account — combined with market performance.

Some common examples of defined contribution plans that would disqualify you from saving more with ABLE to Work include:

  • 401(k)
  • SEP IRA
  • 403(b)
  • 457(b)

Pension plans don’t count.

However, if you have a defined benefit plan through your employer — such as a pension — you qualify. You will be allowed to save the additional sum every year through ABLE to Work.

At least through 2025.

What if I have an ABLE Account across state lines?

What happens if you live in North Dakota but open an ABLE account from the state of Alaska?

Or live in Hawaii but open an ABLE account from the state of Iowa?

The additional amount you’re allowed to save is entirely dependent on your state of residence — not the state that administers your ABLE account.

That means the North Dakota resident is only allowed to save an additional $12,490. Even if they have an ABLE account from Alaska.

The Hawaii resident, however, would be allowed to save up to an additional $14,380. Even though their plan comes from Iowa in the contiguous United States.

What is the total amount you can save with ABLE to Work?

In 2020, the max allowable contributions including ABLE to Work are:

  • Contiguous US: $27,490
  • Hawaii: $29,380
  • Alaska: $30,600

Remember that if you earn less than the federal poverty line in any given year, your max allowable contribution amount will be less than the maxes available under ABLE to Work.

Additional Tax Benefits of ABLE to Work Act

The ABLE to Work Act — embedded in the TCJA — also allows you to count your first $2,000 of savings in an ABLE account towards the Savers Credit. This credit is typically reserved only for select retirement accounts. But until 2025, ABLE accounts make the cut.

As an individual tax filer, the max credit you could get would be $1,000 if you saved at least $2,000 in an eligible account. The amount doubles if you’re married and your spouse is doing the same thing.

This credit — which can be up to $1,000 — is non-refundable.

Non-refundable credits mean that if you owe the government $0, you can’t cash out the rest of your credit. It can reduce your tax, but it won’t get you cash in your pocket in and of itself.

529 rollovers are temporarily allowed. Well, kind of.

Many families can now also rollover funds from 529 accounts into an ABLE account, but they do have to meet certain requirements.

The real buzzkill on the 529 rollover change is that when you roll the funds over, they count as contributions for the year. So if you rolled over $15,000, you’d be able to contribute $0 more to your child’s ABLE account that year.

ABLE vs SSI Requirements

When your ABLE account exceeds $100,000 in total assets, it will start counting towards SSI asset tests. The max amount you can save in your account total varies by state.

It’s also important to note that SSI requirements are different from ABLE account requirements. SSI runs off of rules set by the SSA while ABLE is in the domain of the IRS. There may be instances where maxing out your ABLE account is detrimental to SSI or other state-administered benefits.

Always be careful to protect your benefits.

ABLE accounts are a great tool and a step in the right direction, but they do not solve all of the systemic financial obstacles the disability community faces.

4 Ways to Fund Emergency Medical Expenses

This post is brought to you and contributed by an outside writer.

Life can be unpredictable and situations can arise that totally throw us off — even those of us who’ve planned for the unexpected.

If you’ve recently experienced an unexpected emergency medical situation that you now have to find a way to pay for, you might be wondering what your options are when it comes to covering the cost. Especially if you’ve recently used your emergency fund for something else.

Take a look at four ways you can fund unexpected emergency medical situations.

1. Earn Some Extra Cash

If you can, find a way to earn some extra cash to cover your emergency medical expenses. These days, there are tons of ways to make money without any experience, such as delivering fast food with Door Dash, Uber Eats, Grub Hub, or Post Mates. You could also deliver groceries with companies like Shipt or Instacart.

Note: During the pandemic, you may decide it makes more sense to take care of your health and not participate in these service-based hustle opportunities.

Or you could complete tasks from your laptop with sites like Task Rabbit, sell on Etsy, walk dogs with Rover, babysit with Care.com, become an online tutor, or rent out a spare bedroom on Airbnb.

Find something you’d be comfortable with to start earning the money you need to cover your medical expenses.

2. Take Out a Personal Loan

Taking out a personal loan is another way to go if you check all three of these boxes:

  • You’re unable to earn extra money.
  • You can’t ask a family member.
  • You’ve got a decent credit score.

Personal loans are not the same as payday loans, which you should avoid. Payday loans are considered predatory and come with jaw-droppingly higher interest rates than traditional personal loans.

Instead, if you must borrow money, turn to a personal loan from a trusted lender. It helps to compare rates (and other factors) from various lenders before you make a decision on where to get your loan funds. That way you know you’re getting the lowest rate possible.

3. Get an Emergency Credit Card

Using an emergency credit card can help you cover unforeseen medical expenses like emergency room visits or unexpected surgeries. If you don’t already have a credit card for emergencies, consider applying for one from a reputable company like USAA. With a USAA credit card, get 2 percent cashback on your first $3,000 you spend on groceries every year.

You’ll also get up to 1.5 percent unlimited cash back on all of your other purchases — including your medical bills. There’s also no annual fee and no penalty APR.

You will have to pay interest, though, as with any credit card. So think long and hard about using one to pay your medical bills. If you can’t afford to pay it off by the end of the month, you could end up paying more in interest than if you had just set up a payment plan with the hospital.

4. Ask for a Payment Plan

Emergency room costs can get as high as $20,000 or more, depending on what you’re being treated for. If you can’t use any of the above methods, consider asking your medical service provider if they can put you on a payment plan so that you can pay off your balance over time.

Ask about financial assistance programs, too, because nonprofit hospital systems are legally required to provide them under the ACA. The income limits may be higher than you think; you should always apply even if you don’t think you’re poor.

Considering Your Options

The above information can keep help you cover unforeseen emergency medical situations that might arise. Figure out which options work best for you and get the process started as soon as possible.