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Tuesday September 26th 2017

Urban Homesteading: Are You Made Out For It?

Due to the current economic crisis, people are being faced with problems on how to pay for their different necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter. Some people try different methods such as cutting spending and not going out as much. While this is a good idea, there are other alternatives such as urban homesteading. What exactly is urban homesteading?

Growing Your Own in the City

Well, urban homesteading is basically a way of saving money. Instead of driving to the grocery store to pick up food, you will be growing it yourself. Growing a garden may seem like a hassle, but you may also find that you really enjoy the process as you learn more and become more experienced. The current place that you live may not allow you to grow a garden; this may seem like a problem, but there are most likely places in your community where you can grow a garden. These places are generally called community gardens.

Community Gardens

People love community gardens because not only can you grow whatever you wish, but you will also meet people in the process. Since others will most likely have the same ideals as yourself, you should have no problems in getting along with your fellow gardeners. Who knows? You might just find one of your better friends or a lifelong partner while gardening. If you don’t, you will still get to know some amazing people and save a ton of money.

Chickens

You can also start raising chickens as well. Like gardening, this may sound like more hassle than it’s worth as well. Urban homesteading isn’t made out for everyone; you must learn to enjoy this way of life. Some people are cut out for it and others are not. You will probably find out right away if you really love it or not. Eventually, it could grow on you though. Also, before buying the chickens, you should check out the area regulations. Some cities may not allow them within certain parts.

Making Your Produce Last

You should also read up on some different ways of food preservation such as canning your foods. This will make it so they last much longer, and you will end up saving money since they won’t go bad as quickly. There will also be risked that you will be faced with when you can foods, so you should make sure you read up on those and realize how to prevent these risks.

Other Ways to Save

If you really want to save money, you can learn to make your own clothes. This is something that may take a lot of time, but you can save a lot of money in doing so. With urban homesteading, you can make the city feel like a country because you will be creating your own food. You will be saving money and not be caught up in the fast-paced city life. If you are a city dweller, then urban homesteading would definitely not be for you. However, it is a great way to save money and it is recommended for anyone.

This guest post comes from LowIncomeApartmentFinder.com, a site that helps locate cheap apartments and low income loans for those in need.


A Gap Year Can Help You Save More for College

A gap year is time that you take off after graduating high school instead of entering college right away. Students can use this time many ways. Some use it for personal enrichment, traveling or volunteering through organizations like AdventuresCrossCountry.com. For some, the concept of a gap year is becoming desirable as a way to deal with disillusionment over the economy and a poor job market. It gives them a chance to decide if they want college at all.

A Working Gap Year

While programs for travel and volunteerism are noble endeavors, some students are deciding instead to use the time to try different trades and make extra money to put towards college. This fruitful approach to a gap year gives students a clearer picture of what studies they want to take once they enter college and it gives them some extra money to help pay for an education. These students can take a few months in a gap year program but spend most of the year in the working world.

An Open Learning Environment

At this time in their lives, many students are still ready to learn, but perhaps not ready for solid structured environments. This makes a gap year an excellent option for high school seniors who are looking to gain new skills by learning new skills at jobs outside of traditional classrooms.

Character Building

A gap year can also give students feelings of pride, accomplishment and independence, all of which will make their college experiences more productive. Many gap year students choose to live on their own and some students will choose an experience that takes them far from the comforts of home. This gives students a glimpse of live outside their comfort zones and prepares them to live independently once they start college. They learn how to become self-reliant, an important skill for later success.

A Safe Place to Fail

Another aspect of a gap year that appeals to students is the chance to learn from mistakes when they will not cause permanent damage to their college records. Not every experience will be successful and students who learn to cope with failure will be better prepared to handle both failure and success in the future. They learn how strong they really are when they see themselves overcoming failures and moving on to new endeavors.

Advantage over the Competition

A gap year also provides students with experiences that most college freshman will not have. In certain highly competitive fields, a gap year can be a clear advantage, showing a student’s ability to work hard and persevere. It can also open other avenues and opportunities to explore while in college, such as studying abroad. Above all, the different jobs they work allow students to mature and become more focused, which are skills that will be to their advantage when beginning their college years. The jobs they work during a gap year will also create a comforting nest egg that can be used for emergencies during college years.


Never Miss Mileage Deductions Again

If you own a small business or are an employee with business mileage, you know that the mileage deduction can save you money on your taxes. The rate is going up in 2011 to 51¢ per mile, making it an even more lucrative deduction. However, keeping track of mileage can be a hassle; forgetting to record trips, having to guess at mileage and keeping up with written logs can be time consuming and stressful. There’s a handy little gadget that can take those problems off your hands; it’s called CarCheckup, and it makes keeping up with mileage virtually painless.

CarCheckup

The device is very small and lightweight; all you do is plug it into the onboard diagnostic port in your vehicle and it automatically records your trips. Any car made in 1996 or later will be equipped with the port. It tells the date, the start and stop time of each trip and miles driven. You download the data into your computer using Excel or the CarCheckup software; from there you can enter a purpose for each trip, whether business or pleasure, and record notes about each trip if you desire. It even allows you to create customized reports. It takes the stress out of providing documentation for the IRS as well; Jennifer Funkhouser, co-founder of CarCheckup, points out that it provides all the documentation necessary.

Other Uses

Besides tracking business mileage, the CarCheckup has other useful features as well – it can be used to monitor teen driving since it tracks time idling, time spent at different speeds, acceleration, hard breaking, etc. It also reads trouble codes in your car’s computer and provides an explanation if your car’s engine light comes on. The $150 price tag for the device seems more than fair for the time and effort you will save and should even pay for itself over time since you will not miss mileage deductions anymore.

Write Offs May Not Last Forever

Take advantage of this and other deductions while you can, though. If the Obama administration has its way, many tax deductions may be reduced or phased out in an effort to reduce the nation’s spiraling deficits. President Obama recently announced that he wants to limit itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2% of Americans; he also wants to reform the tax code. He wants tax reform, both individual and corporate, “that closes loopholes and produces a system which is simpler, fairer and not rigged in favor of those who can afford lawyers and accountants to game it.”

The president supports his Fiscal Commission’s recommendations, one of which would eliminate all deductions and credits. Another option being tossed around is setting a trigger to limit popular tax deductions until Congress can get legislation enacted to reform the code. The administration has stated that everything is on the table with regards to fiscal reform, so it’s likely that we could see reductions or eliminations of such deductions in the future. Until then, continue to take advantage of every tax break available before they disappear.


Can I Deduct the Cost of My Diet Program?

In this tough economy, everyone wants to minimize taxes by finding more deductions. One category of deductions for those that itemize is medical expenses. Medical expenses are entered in the first section of Schedule A of Form 1040. Along with other items like mortgage interest, real estate taxes and charitable contributions, medical expenses can reduce your taxable income. And lower taxable income means lower taxes.

So what are qualified medical expenses? The IRS defines them as expenses for the prevention or treatment of physical or mental defects or illnesses. Generally, things like doctor and dentist fees, hospital services, prescription drugs, transportation for medical care, treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as various items like eyeglasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc. are deductible as medical expenses.

When Weight Loss is Deductible

In some cases, costs of weight-loss programs can even be deductible. However, before writing off the costs of those Weight Watchers or Nutrisystem meals, be aware that there are some pretty strict requirements. If you are just looking to improve your health or appearance or even if a doctor recommends a weight-loss program for your overall well-being, the costs will not be deductible.

The IRS only allows deductions for these programs if they are treating a specific medical condition, such as hypertension or obesity, that has been diagnosed by a physician. This would include membership fees and meeting fees in a weight-loss program. However, gym, health club and spa dues are not deductible expenses, though separate fees for weight-loss activities can be deducted. Generally, the cost of diet foods and beverages will not be deductible because they are substituted for foods that meet normal nutritional needs.

Many Restrictions Apply

Occasionally, special foods can be deductible expenses; however, they must meet three criteria. First, they must not satisfy normal nutritional needs. Secondly, they must alleviate or treat an illness. Third, a doctor must substantiate the need for the special food. Even if foods meet all three criteria, only the cost that exceeds the cost of a normal diet is deductible.

You Must Meet the Medical Threshold First

Further, medical expenses must meet a threshold before they can be included on Schedule A; they must exceed 7.5% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI). So, for example, if a taxpayer’s AGI is $50,000, total medical expenses must exceed $3,750 before they can be included as itemized deductions. With the strict rules on deducting the cost of weight-loss programs and the relatively high threshold for medical expense deductions, in most cases, diet and weight-loss program expenses will not be deductible against federal income taxes. Still, for a taxpayer with relatively high medical bills who meets the IRS requirements for weight-loss program expenses, it might be worth calculating the possible deduction. Every little bit helps.


Using Credit Cards to Finance Your Startup

Credit cards should never be considered your first choice for raising capital for your startup business. The risks in running your credit balances up are too high for a business that has not yet proven itself stable. That said, there are some situations that could benefit from the short term or carefully structured use of a credit card to cover certain costs. If you plan to use credit for business funding, track your purchases carefully and pay the cards down as soon as possible.

Recognize the Risk Up Front

A personal credit card can seem like a convenient way to cover many of the costs of starting your business. The trouble with using your own card for a brand new business is that you have no guarantee that your business will be able to pay the balance down within a reasonable amount of time. The safest way to gain capital for a startup is through a traditional small business loan through a bank you trust. The interest rates on credit cards can be as much as 10% higher than a standard loan’s interest rates, which means you will pay 10 times as much for your credit card loan over the long run.

Use Balance Transfers to Your Benefit

If you choose to carry a high balance on your credit card after purchasing items such as desks, office chairs, printers, computers, and other operating equipment, watch your balance and interest rates carefully. If you have more than one credit card, you might benefit from transferring the balance from one card to another. Many credit card companies offer special discounted rates for customers who transfer balances. The balance transfer could save you several months of high interest rates on your card’s balance.

Create a Plan for Paying off the Balance

Before you swipe the card for the business purchase, have a plan in place for paying the card off. You should be able to project your expected company earnings for the near future. Figure out how soon you can pay off the card’s balance in full based on your sales projections. Once you make the purchases, pay the minimum required payments on the card until you reach your expected payoff date. Always have a backup plan in case your company does not do as well as you expect it to do within the time frame you have selected.

Credit to Cover Cash Flow

One of the most powerful uses of a credit card for a business is as a stop gap cash flow resource. When you submit an invoice to a client, you never know how long it will actually take the client to pay you back. You can loan your company the amount of the invoice by using your credit card during the time between submitting the invoice and receiving payment. When the payment is received, you can use it to cover the charges you had to make with your card. The credit card can keep your company solvent without depending on the payment time frame of your client. Of course, this method relies on timely payments from your clients.

The bottom line is that using a credit card to finance your startup is a risky endeavor. Use your credit wisely and be careful to maintain full control lest the credit cards begin to inhibit your business growth.


Three Small Business Misconceptions to Avoid

Starting a new business can be an exciting time. You are opening a new phase of your life that depends on your talents and abilities more than any endeavor of your life. Just be sure to understand what you are getting into before you cut all ties to your day job.

Overcoming the Odds

Running a small business takes a lot of work, a solid understanding of management, and a little luck. Research shows that every new small business has only a 50 percent chance of succeeding in the first five years. You will need to spend a lot of time building and nurturing your business before you can expect to begin to overcome those odds and reap rewards. One of the first things to do is eliminate any misconceptions you may have about running a small business.

1. Self Reliance is the Key to Happiness

It can be refreshing to be at the top of the ladder when you own your business. You don’t have a boss to report to, and you get to make all of the decisions on your own. Unfortunately, you still have to make all the decisions on your own. You are responsible for the big choices and the small ones that will keep your business running or run it into the ground. You receive credit for success and the blame for failures. This requires a balanced temperament and thick skin.

2. A Fresh New Idea is All You Need

Most successful small businesses are not brand new ideas. Most of them offer familiar products and services in a new way. The danger of presenting a brand new idea to the market is that customers may not realize a need for that new product. You might be better off with something people can already relate to and understand. It is easier to break into an established market than it is to create a brand new market on your own. You are better off differentiating yourself with your take on an existing product rather than creating an entirely new idea.

3. Setting Your Own Hours Means More Free Time

It’s tempting to look at a small business owner’s hours and be jealous. After all, they can choose when to work and when to stay home. Unfortunately, the line between work and play becomes very fuzzy when you run a business. You may find yourself working at all hours while you struggle to get your business of the ground. In the meantime, relationships will suffer.

It’s important to understand that being a small business owner is a lifestyle choice. You will probably spend twice as many hours working on your self-owned business than you would ever spend working for someone else. Of course, if you’re doing what you love, it rarely feels like work.


Do it Now: Five Steps You can Take Now to Fix Your Broken Finances

When you find yourself in a financial hole, it can be overwhelming to dig your way out again. These five tips can get you past the initial sense of hopelessness and in motion toward erasing your debt and living within your means once again.

1. Create a Daily Spending Journal

Dieters who are serious about dieting write down everything they eat in a day. If you are serious about correcting your finances, you need to write down everything that you spend in a day. You may be surprised how much you are spending for small, incidental items. If you spend a couple of dollars every day on a snack from the vending machine, that adds up to ten dollars in a regular work week. Write down everything you buy for at least a week so that you will be able to see where your money is really going.

2. Write Down a Budget

It sounds simple, but writing down your budget is the best way to track your spending. Begin by listing all of your regular bills and the dates they are due. Then give yourself spending money for other thngs that you buy regularly, like groceries and gasoline. Make sure you give yourself some extra cash to spend on fun things as well as the necessities. Your budget should also include a certain amount toward savings every month, even if it is a small amount.

3. Check Your Credit Report

Everyone is allowed to check their credit reports once a year through three different services. Take advantage of the opportunity to see where your credit rating is and why. Look through the listings to make sure that all of the information is accurate. Understanding your current credit rating will help you make changes that will improve your numbers.

4. Stash Some Cash for Different Purposes

Keep some envelopes or jars in your house where you can keep cash that you might need during the week. One stash could cover unexpected expenses from your kids. Another stash could be kept for play money that you can use to eat out or go to a movie. Having these separate stashes ensures that you will have the money you need for certain purposes without needing to stray from your budget. Sometimes just knowing that you have a little money set aside for a fun activity will make you feel less urgent about going out, so you might actually save that money for another day.

5. Clear the Clutter From Your Home Office

Go through your home office or computer and clean it out. Keeping your files organized will help you keep your finances organized. If your paperwork is a huge stack on the edge of your desk, bills and other important documents can get buried or lost. Create a place where you can keep bills that need to be paid, and put your bills in that place as soon as you bring them in from the mailbox. If you make it a habit, it will be easy to stay organized.


Three Ways to Stretch Your Retirement Savings Further

It can be difficult to figure out how much you should spend of your retirement funds each year once you are no longer working. You don’t want to run through your retirement too quickly because it would leave you without any money for your final years. On the other hand, you don’t want to draw out less than you could be drawing so that you have to survive on less than you could have. The ideal situation would involve drawing out the maximum amount each year without depleting the account before you are ready.

Following the 4% Rule

Traditional economists have suggested that a retirement income should consist of 4% of the overall savings. If you limit yourself to using 4% of your retirement each year, you should be able to maintain your account throughout your retirement years without sacrificing too much or going broke. This general rule of thumb has been used with varied success for at least 50 years by many retirees.

Problems with 4%

The trouble with the 4% rule is that it is not flexible enough to handle the fluctuations of the stock market and interest rates where most of the retirement fund is being held. If the stock market is down, a retiree will have less money in their account than they expected, and they will receive a smaller amount of spending cash when they withdraw their 4%. If the market is booming, the retiree could accrue more savings than they planned for, which would leave them with a larger account that they did not take advantage of. The volatility of the markets requires a more varied approach toward retirement spending for the best results.

Financial Engines Plan

This retirement plan controls your retirement funds by investing them more precisely. The majority of a 401(k) fund, for example, would be invested in bonds to cover your minimum spending requirements. The stable nature of bonds keeps your retirement fund safe for your basic needs. The rest of the fund is invested heavily into stocks, which can create larger payouts. The possibility of wide shifts in losses and gains through the stock investments are countered by the safer bond investments that guarantee that your savings will always cover your standard budget. If the stock market booms while you are invested, your payouts could increase and you could enjoy additional financial boosts during your retirement years.

GuidedChoice Investing

GuidedChoice is an investment firm that offers a special program for retirement portfolios. The GuidedSpending program allows you to test out several different types of investment packages before you choose one. You can learn for yourself which combination of stocks and bonds will provide the best return for you. This program relies more on stocks than the Financial Engines plan. GuidedSpending is a complicated system that would be difficult to duplicate on your own, so you would need to hire the firm to help you manage your funds if you choose to use this system. The fees are relatively small, however, and GuidedChoice will manage all of your investments for you.


Will Pay as you Drive Insurance Save You Money?

Pay as you drive insurance plans are becoming more popular as more states approve the option. With a pay as you drive car insurance policy, drivers only pay for insurance to cover the actual miles that they drive. If someone drives fewer miles, their rates should go down accordingly. The mileage is tracked by an electronic device that can be installed on the steering wheel of any car. The device sends information back to the insurance company, where it is used to formulate the current month’s insurance rates.

Reducing Your Mileage will Impact Your Rates

State Farm insurance company reports that reducing your annual mileage by as little as 500 miles will create a noticeable difference in your insurance premium. Some drivers have the flexibility to adjust their driving schedules so that they put fewer miles on the odometer. Other drivers have very few options when it comes to the amount of driving they do on a daily basis. Drivers who are not able to reduce their mileage will not benefit much from a new pay as you drive policy.

Reckless Driving Patterns Could Balance Lower Rates

The data collecting device that is installed in your car tracks more than just how far you drive. It also reports driving patterns that could be interpreted as risky by the insurance company. Drivers who regularly make fast stops and accelerate quickly from a stop may see their rates adjusted upward to cover their higher likelihood of being involved in an accident. If a driver cannot adjust their driving habits to meet the insurance company’s safety standards, they will probably not see their rates improve while they are participating in a pay as you drive program. In fact, they may see their rates increase.

State Farm Program Offers Immediate Discount

In California, State Farm customers have the option of reporting their mileage once a month rather than installing the electronic device. Drivers who choose to report their own mileage are immediately offered a discount when they sign up for the program. This is the best pay as you drive policy for people who are concerned about the electronic reporting devices being an invasion of their privacy. All drivers who are enrolled in the program will save money right away because of the discount that they receive simply for agreeing to participate in the plan.

Adjusting Driving Habits Will Save you Money

In the long run, drivers have the ability to choose how much money they save through a pay as you drive insurance plan. The people who will see the biggest savings on their insurance premiums will be those who find alternatives to driving and consolidate their trips so that they spend less time on the road. Drivers who adjust their habits behind the wheel so that they drive more safely will also see a difference in their bills. When a customer has the flexibility to stop driving as much, he or she has the ability to control the savings on a monthly basis.


How Much Car Can You Handle?

When you start shopping for a car, it is important to remember that there are more expenses involved in car ownership than just the initial sticker price. Once you pay for the car, you will need to purchase the title, pay the state taxes, and deal with regular maintenance costs. The amount of insurance that you carry on your vehicle may depend on what kind of car you purchased and how you paid for it. Many lien holders will expect you to carry full comprehensive coverage as long as the car is being paid off. Because of the various expenses involved in car ownership aside from just the sticker price, you must consider all expenses before you understand how much you can afford to pay for a car.

Factor in Tax and Registration Costs

The tax and registration costs can vary depending on the age of the car and the state you live in. The older the car is, the less expensive it will be to purchase and the lower the tax rate will be. Usually the tag and title is less expensive on an older car, as well. Make sure you remember to factor in the possible costs of registering your car when you are building your car shopping budget. You can get an estimated tax and title cost for any car by calling your local tag agent or looking the information up on the state department of motor vehicles website.

Monthly Maintenance Budget

Once you own your car, you will need to keep it running in good condition. There are several parts that will wear out eventually due to the normal operation of the car. Create a savings account or space in your budget to cover regular maintenance, like oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid checks. Car tires can be expensive, and the kind of car you buy will make a difference. Remember to look into the tire size and the typical costs for replacing tires on the models that you are interested in.

Planning for Insurance Payments

Your insurance costs are based on several factors. Some of those factors are directly related to the kind of car you purchase. A brand new car should be covered with a comprehensive policy to make sure that the car can be repaired or replaced if it is involved in an accident. Comprehensive coverage can be more expensive, but it is a necessity on a new car because repair work on new vehicles is also very expensive. If you plan to purchase your car through a loan, you may be required to carry full comprehensive coverage. Make sure you can afford to make those insurance payments once you have purchased the car.

You can lower your car insurance costs by purchasing slightly older vehicles. Look into the types of cars that are stolen most often in your area and avoid buying those cars. You can find information about local crime rates online, or you could contact your local police department to find out where the information is compiled. Some research into the safety ratings of the cars you are interested in can also save you money on your car insurance. The safer your car is, the less you will need to pay.