3 Ways to Fund Your 401k on a Tight Budget

If your employer offers 401k matching and you’re not contributing enough to max it out, you’re missing out on free money. 

The problem is, if you’re living on a tight budget, taking money off your paycheck to contribute to your 401k may not seem like an option.

So what’s the solution? Well, you either need to stretch your dollars further to live on less, or you need to start making money outside of your regular job to cover some expenses.

The three tips below will help you do both of those things.

Before getting started, check with your HR representative to see how much you need to contribute each year to max out your employer’s 401k match. Once you know that, you’ll have a solid goal to strive for.

1. Cut Your Big Expenses

You’ve probably heard it a million times, “cut your expenses” “make a budget” “spend less” yeah… it’s a lot easier said than done. However, it’s also a lot easier to cut back than it is to make more money, which is why it should be the first place you start.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to tell you to stop buying Starbucks or to stop going out with your friends on the weekends, that would probably just make you miserable.

Instead, let’s start by focusing on three of your biggest expenses. According to the Bureau of Labor, the average American spends over 50% of his/her annual income in these three categories:

  • Housing (27%)
  • Food (10.5%)
  • Transportation (13%)

If you can cut back on those three categories, you should be able to make a big dent in your living expenses. 

So first, let’s talk about housing. Here’s the reality: 

A lot of people have too much house

If you’re spending most of your time in the same two rooms and you have a three-bedroom apartment, maybe try to downsize, get a roommate, or rent out your spare room part-time on Airbnb.

To cut down your food expenses, one of the best things you can do is start cooking from home more often. You don’t have to slave away for hours every night either. Instead, come up with a meal planning schedule and start cooking meals in bulk to save time. 

Last but not least is transportation. To cut costs here, try walking, biking, or taking transit when you can. Carpooling to work is another excellent way to save. It’s also essential to keep your car regularly maintained to avoid expensive repairs in the future. 

2. Moderate Your Wants

Wants are things that you buy because they make your life more enjoyable. You don’t need them to survive, you just like having them.

Some examples of wants would be your Netflix subscription, going out with friends, buying new clothes, things like that.

And yes, I know I said above that I wouldn’t tell you to stop buying Starbucks or going out with friends on the weekends, but here’s the thing:

It all needs to be in moderation.

If after cutting your three big expenses you’re still living paycheck to paycheck because you’re spending hundreds of dollars on entertainment, clothes, and coffee every month, that’s when you know there’s a problem.

To fix that problem, here’s what I recommend doing:

First, track your spending for a month. You can use an app to do this, or you can write all of your purchases down on a piece of paper. 

Once you have an idea of where your money is going, try to cut back little by little. Here are just a few ideas on how to do that:

  • Make coffee at home and have Starbucks as a treat every once in a while
  • Use Groupon for cheap group activities on the weekend (or do something free)
  • Use a cashback website or app when shopping for clothes (or buy second hand)

Remember, this isn’t about torturing yourself. It’s about living within your means and getting the most value out of each dollar you spend. Once you’re making some more money, you can consider increasing your “wants” budget. 

3. Increase Your Income

If after cutting expenses and moderating your wants you still can’t contribute enough to your 401k to max out your employer match, your last option is to find a way to increase your income. 

There are two main ways to do this:

  • Get a raise or promotion; or
  • Start a side hustle

If you’re going to ask for a raise or promotion, check out these tips from Forbes to increase your chance of success.

If the raise doesn’t work out, it’s time to get into the entrepreneurial spirit. Starting a side hustle isn’t easy, but if you put in the work, the extra income can be life-changing. 

Here are just five examples of things you could do to make extra money in your spare time:

  • Freelance writing – The demand for written content these days is high, so there’s always work to be found.
  • Virtual assisting – As a virtual assistant, you’d be doing a variety of administrative tasks for a business such as responding to emails, researching, scheduling calls, etc. If you already have experience with this, you’ll have an easier time finding online work.
  • Delivery driving – Uber, Lyft, Instacart, SkipTheDishes, the list goes on. There are so many delivery jobs you can do if you have a car, and most let you work whenever you want. 
  • Flipping products – Thrift stores, retail clearance sections, garage sales, etc. These are all places that contain potential products that you could resell. There are people making thousands of dollars a month doing this part-time.
  • Online tutoring – If you like to teach, there are a ton of online tutoring jobs for you to choose from that pay $20/hr or more. Most allow you to work on your own schedule as well. 

If none of those interest you, think about what skills you have to offer that someone would be willing to pay for. There are a ton of opportunities out there!

Conclusion

Just because you’re on a tight budget doesn’t mean you should put off retirement planning.

After you’ve cut your big expenses, moderated your wants, and possibly started making some extra money with a side hustle, you can slowly start taking more money off your paycheck to contribute to your 401k.

 

About the Author

Dylan Houlihan is a personal finance blogger who shares money-making methods and money management tips on his blog, swiftsalary.com.

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3 Ways to Approach Retirement Like a College Entrance Exam

Remember sweating right out of your flip-flops as you waited in line to take your ACT or SAT test as a high school student? Recall how your heart raced and how much you wanted to melt behind the dumpster in the parking lot? (Or, if you didn’t take a college entrance exam think back to how you felt about taking some other big test during school.) 

At the risk of reliving your worst nightmare, let’s talk about how to approach retirement like a college entrance exam — without the extreme nervousness. Unlike an interminable test, retirement can even be a fun prospect to envision — whether it’s 30, 20 or merely five years away. 

Retirement = ACT or SAT/Differences between them?

(See how I tried to make that header look like a math problem?) 

So, these days, the ACT test has four required sections: English, math, reading and science. Naturally, these are done in order and the test supervisor is instructed to utter every single word verbatim from the ACT-provided app. Everyone has the same amount of time, the same number of questions and is allowed the exact prescribed break time (depending on the stinginess of the proctor).

Luckily, retirement planning doesn’t have to be so rigid. After all, none of us has the same goals, risk tolerance or timeline — so our asset allocation should reflect that.

So, if retirement savings is so much more flexible, how does it have anything to do with a standardized test? 

For both, preparation is key. For example, if, on the day of the exam, you oversleep, careen into the parking lot on only two of your car’s wheels and forget your #2 pencils, how well do you think you’ll do on the test?

You probably won’t get a 36 (the highest score possible on the ACT).

Same with retirement. If you approach retirement with the equivalent of tousled hair and sleep in your eyes, the preparedness factor goes down a couple of notches. Here are some steps you can take.

1. Actively participate in a prep class.

A lot of high school students take an ACT or SAT prep class prior to taking the test. Why not flip that idea toward retirement? Consider taking an actual class. For example, Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University offers lots of great ideas about money and retirement. 

Don’t forget to iron out your goals. Obviously, if you take an ACT prep class, your goal is to get the best score possible. What are your goals in retirement? Jet-setting around the world? Babysitting grandkids in Iowa? Figure out what you plan to do early on so you have a savings goal to aim for. 

Most experts say you’ll need roughly 70 percent to 80 percent of your current annual income in order to live comfortably. You might consider sources like Social Security, but it’s probably a good bet that your personal savings will provide your primary source of income.

Set yourself up for success in reaching your goals. Read. A lot. If you feel like you need person-to-person financial advice, consider reaching out to a financial advisor. And get a broker. Benzinga offers a great list. Blooom can help you untangle your investments, too.

Aren’t sure of your goals or are nearing retirement age? It’s never too late to formulate a plan or start saving. The more you can save at any age, the better off you’ll be. So go ahead, take that prep class — and drink in the actionable steps the class recommends. 

2. Practice: Envision lots of scenarios.

Let’s say you’re a high school kid and you’ve taken your ACT prep class. What should you do next? Your guidance counselor would probably recommend checking out one of those massive test books from the library or getting a few practice ACTs off the internet. Then, you’ll go home, have your sister squeak her chair while you take the test (to get used to distractions) and launch into various timed tests. 

It’s obviously hard to “practice” for retirement, so your best bet would be to do some math. There are lots of retirement calculators available (just Google it) but also seriously consider all of your scenarios: “If X happens, then Y will happen.” (See? It’s just like a math problem on the ACT.) 

What are the scenarios you might want to envision? 

  • What if you changed your retirement age?
  • What if you upped or decreased your retirement spending? 
  • How about changing your asset allocation?
  • What if your income sources change? (Maybe you’ll take on another job or generate passive income through rental properties instead of fully retiring). 
  • If you’re married, what if one of you decides to work longer than the other? 
  • What if you tried to withdraw Social Security later?
  • Will you decide not to move? Or will you have the moving van parked in the lot, waiting for the second your retirement party ends?

I’m sure you can think of an endless number of possibilities here that depend on your personal situation. What scenarios can you envision transpiring? It’s important to articulate the possibilities to help you pinpoint even more closely how much you’ll need to save for retirement. 

3. Follow through: You’re in the homestretch!

Once you’ve taken the practice tests and strategized how long it’ll take you to finish all the math problems in 60 minutes (is it truly possible to do one per minute?) it’s time to (eek!)… take the test.

Similarly, now that you’ve thought about retirement, planned for it and have even gone so far as to envision yourself on a beach… or wherever you’ve decided you want to land, it’s time to put your plans into action. 

Save, save, save, save, save. Make sure you save at least an hour of your take-home pay per day, and make it automatic. A portion of your paycheck must automatically move into your 401(k) plan or savings so you don’t even have to think about it. Depending on your age and what you already have in savings, you may need to save a bit more. 

After you’ve saved for a while, there’s truly nothing more exciting than logging into your retirement accounts to see the nest egg you’ve built. And with compound interest (the addition of interest to the principal, or in other words, interest on interest), multiple trips around the world may be closer than you think. 

Pencils down

You may now close the test booklet. Okay, I’ll stop making you relive a terribly unpleasant experience but the point is, it’s possible to approach retirement in a series of steps. Like the ACT, you don’t take every test at once. You divide it into fourths — so do the same with your retirement planning.

Remember, retirement planning can be fun — and when you’re living your best life in your golden years, whether that’s in Costa Rica or the Midwest, you’ll be glad you prepped hard for the “real-life” test. 

 

About the Author

Melissa Brock is the lead gen editor at Benzinga. She spent 12 years working in the admission office of her alma mater, Central College. She knows a thing or two about giving ACT tests to hundreds of nervous college-bound students and is bummed that the ACT (or high school algebra, for that matter) doesn’t include real-life examples of compound interest and how it works its magic on investment savings.  

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3 Ways to Know if You’re Ready to Buy a House

Everyone’s dream is to have a house they can call their own. You can move freely, hang pictures on the wall, remodel whenever you want, and your children can run around the house without fear of ruining anything. You can paint the wall any color you like and you can even customize your house. All those perks are difficult to get at a rental home.
The decision to own a home however should not be taken lightly. Among my physician friends, about half of them regret buying a house and the other half loves owning a home.
To make your decision easier, we have cut down all the tips we know to just 3 digestible ways to know if you are ready to buy a house.
Before we dive in, let us debunk the myth that renting is throwing money away. Yes! Your grandma is wrong.

Renting is throwing money away. False.

Lots of people, especially the older generation have that belief that renting is throwing money away. This led many people to buy a house when they were not ready to own.
There is an opportunity cost for money. This is about understanding the time value of money. The money at hand today is worth more than the same amount in the future. It is important to ask yourself, can the present money be used towards a better financial goal than buying a home?
Let us use a $500,000 house as an example. It is advisable and actually the best financial move to put down 20%. This allows you to avoid the private mortgage insurance (PMI). If we assume a yearly average interest rate of 8%, which is not outrageous, as SP 500 yield an average close to 10% in the past 90 years.
Down payment for $500,000 house is $100,000. If the 100k was invested in stocks, instead of buying a house, would be worth about 1.1 million dollars in 30 years.
3 Ways to Know If You Are Ready to Buy a House

1. You Have No Major debt

This one is straightforward. Unless you are buying your house cash down, you will be incurring more debt when you buy a house. This is particularly important for young graduates with significant student loan. I am a medical doctor, so I have good experience with student loan burden. Most doctors leave medical school with northwards of $200,000 loan.

According to student loan hero,, Americans owe over $1.56 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 45 million borrowers. Undergraduates on average leave school with $34,000 debt. That was an increase of about 70 percent from a decade ago.
Now, visualize adding a 400,000 mortgage on top of $200,000 medical school and $34,000 undergraduate student loan, that’s a $634,000 debt grave you just dug for yourself!! That is soul crushing. With interest, this just compound over time, and you might end up paying double the amount or more by the time you finish paying off your loans.
My advice is to take your time; don’t rush to purchase a home. Focus on settling your current debts before getting into another debt!
That was exactly what we did. Between my wife and I, we owed about $300,000 in student loans, and we hustled to pay it off as a priority. Now we are debt free. At least until we buy a house.

2. You Have An Adequate Emergency Fund

Many financial gurus including Dave Ramsey emphasize having an adequate emergency fund as a priority step in personal finance. In fact the 7 baby steps to financial freedom start with funding a mini emergency fund as step 1.
Emergency fund is even more important if you want to buy a home as it is not fun to be house broke.
An emergency fund by definition is extra cash that you save up and reserve for unforeseen circumstances. The general consensus is that everyone needs at least 3 – 6 months of living expenses saved up somewhere.
As a home owner, you would want to be on the side of caution and do at least 6 months. House comes with increase spending and emergencies will happen and you can’t just call your landlord anymore. You are now your own landlord. With one major disaster, ones financial journey could come to a sudden halt. An emergency fund can tapper a disaster to just a bump in the road. Emergency fund gives you a peace of mind.
It is generally recommended to have at least 1% of the cost of your home saved up every year for maintenance. Going back to our $500,00 home, you would need $5,000 yearly for maintenance. I will aim for 3%.

3. You Have A Secure Job

Job stability is very important factor in your decision to buy a house. I know what you are thinking, this is too obvious. You need a job to pay for the mortgage consistently otherwise your house will be claimed by the bank.
My main reason for bringing up this point is because it takes 3-5 years to break even on a new home at a bare minimum. So, if you are to own your home for less than 3 years, you would most likely come out ahead better if you rented. If you are not thinking of staying in your job for more than 3 years or it is not stable enough, it is better to rent until situation gets more stable.
You can play around with the rent versus buy calculator here to see when you will break even.
While waiting, this would also give you enough time to save for the 20% down payment, thereby getting the best interest rate and less monthly mortgage payments.
A $350,000 dollar home for example in my area in Arkansas will rent for $2100. When I plugged those numbers into the rent versus buy calculator here, it says buying will be cheaper than renting after 4 years.
The calculation is murkier than that when you consider the fact that we live in a 4 bedroom house for $1,400 monthly. So buying that $350,000 home will mean paying higher than our rent in mortgage. The rent vs buy calculator estimated 12 years until buying outweigh renting.

Summary
I know you are very excited and itching to buy a home, it is a very nice thing to desire and it is an important part of quality of life. But before you take the plunge, checks to see if you have the three requirements above. Are you up to your neck in debt? Do you have a solid emergency fund? And is your job so secure that you know you will be in the area for more than 3 years? If you are a triple yes on those questions, then you are ready to start looking.

About the Author
Dr. Breathe Easy Finance is run by Dr. Adebayo Fasanya, a pulmonary critical care doctor. After paying off $300,000 in student loan in less than a year into his real job, he embarked on a journey to improve financial literacy among young professionals. His main categories are getting out of debt, money saving tips, investment tips, and side hustle tips.

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3 Ways to Pay Off Debt and Have a Happy Marriage

Are you struggling to pay off your debt? Do you feel stuck with no end in sight? Does your frustration and stress with your finances carry over to your marriage and cause fights?

Luckily for you, there are many ways you can pay off that debt and keep a happy healthy marriage. 

Hi, my name is Kelan Kline blogger and business owner of The Savvy Couple. Over the last three years, my wife Brittany and I have been able to grow our blogging side hustle and turn it into a six-figure per year online business

Doing so enabled us to pay off over $25,000 in student loan debt in under 5 months! 

Today in this article I want to share with you the three most effective ways we were able to pay off our debt and keep a healthy marriage.

1) Organize Your Finances 

If you don’t know this already financial stress is the leading cause of divorce. Makes perfect sense, personal finance can be extremely stressful! 

To give yourself the best chance of destroying your debt and keeping a happy marriage in the process, it’s of the utmost importance to get on the same page when it comes to money. 

So what does it look like to actually manage your money effectively? Simply follow these steps. 

  1. Collect and Write Down Your Assets and Liabilities
  2. Calculate Your Net Worth
  3. Create Your Monthly Budget: Income vs. Expenses
  4. Calculate Your Overall Cash Flow
  5. Get a Hold of Your Credit Scores and Reports
  6. Evaluate Your Personal Finance
  7. Create Monthly and Yearly Budgets
  8. Get Motivated
  9. Ongoing Review
  10. Relax and Take a Deep Breath

It all starts with taking action. You cannot expect things to change without taking immediate action and committing to following through. 

Even if it is starting with a simple monthly budget template you need to take action starting today. 

Once you get everything down on paper it is time to start putting a plan in place on how you are going to attack your debt. 

Financial expert Dave Ramsey preaches using the snowball method to attack your debt so you can take advantage of the emotions of seeing debt quickly go to the wayside. 

Don’t try to take emotions out of personal finance. There is a reason that the word “personal” is included. 

2) Start a Side Hustle Together

This is one of the most effective ways to pay off debt with your spouse quickly. Find something you are both extremely passionate about. Something you both talk about nonstop and comes up in conversations all the time.  

Then find a way to make money with that passion through starting a side hustle. 

Love playing music? Start teaching music lessons.

Love staying fit? Become a fitness coach. 

Love camping? Look into work camping gigs. 

Love marketing? Start a lead generation business

Love cooking? Start a food blog or YouTube channel. 

Love kids? Start a daycare. 

The options are literally endless you just have to get creative when brainstorming your side hustle ideas

The best part is we live in a very digital age and having the ability to make money online has never been easier. Which is great because you can spend more time with your family. 

Having this passion project with your spouse is not only going to help you connect more, but it has the possibility of making some serious money that you can put right towards your debt. 

Even $100/month extra can go a long way at chipping away your debt over time. Get hustling! 

3) Prioritize Your Spending 

One thing that is never talked about enough is learning how to live a frugal lifestyle and prioritizing your spending. 

Many people get confused when they hear the word frugal. They think of cheap people hoarding their money. When in fact being frugal means always finding the best value for your hard-earned money. 

It’s much faster to and more efficient to cut your living expenses than going out to try to make more money. 

Go back through your budget from time to time and see where your expenses are coming from. 

The three biggest expense categories you should really comb through are housing, food, and transportation. 

Start by looking for ways to save money in these categories. That could mean going out to eat less, living in a smaller home or apartment, and buying a reliable used car instead of brand new. 

Then, go through the smaller categories such as your monthly subscriptions, cosmetics, streaming services, internet, utilities, etc. to see if there are any frugal ways to save. 

A dollar saved is another dollar you can put towards your debt. 

The next time you go to make a purchase look at the cost and convert it into the time you would have to spend working to pay for it. 

Those $150 shoes won’t look so enticing anymore. Nor will that $250 purse. 

 

Final Thoughts on Paying Off Debt and Keeping Your Marriage Happy 

At the end of the day, marriage is hard. It takes a lot of continuous effort, self-sacrifice, and communication to achieve your dreams together. 

Take some time to really lay out what your dream life looks like and the steps you need to take to get there. 

A couple that dreams together stays together. 

 

About the Authors 

The Savvy Couple struggled for years to find the right career paths and pay down $40,000 of student loan debt. They buckled down and got serious learning everything they possibly could about personal finance. That’s when they knew a traditional career path was not going to cut it. They decided to start their own personal finance blog as a side hustle in 2016 and have not looked back.

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3 Ways to Prep for Retirement While Side Hustling

According to a 2018 survey conducted by Bankrate, 37% of Americans have a side hustle. The same study also showed that the average side hustler can make an extra $8,000 per year!

Thanks to the gig economy and endless opportunities online, having a profitable side hustle is more realistic now than ever. Regardless of your schedule, family obligations, or experience, you can find a way to make extra money if you want to.

While the Bankrate survey showed that 38% of side hustlers use that extra money to cover regular living expenses, there are some very powerful ways that a side hustle can also help you to prepare for retirement.

1. Max Out Your 401(k) Contributions

One of the most common reasons why people don’t contribute to a 401(k) plan is because they say they don’t make enough money. If the salary from your job leaves you with very little discretionary income, a side hustle can be one of the best ways to improve the situation. 

With the extra money from your side hustle to help with covering living expenses, you may be able to start contributing to a 401(k) on a regular basis. And if you’re already contributing a little, the income from a side hustle may allow you to increase your contributions significantly.

The first priority should be to contribute enough to qualify for the full matching contribution offered by your employer. If your side hustle allows you to contribute more, that’s even better.

A 401(k) isn’t the only option. You can also contribute to other tax-advantaged retirement plans like a Traditional IRA or Roth IRA.

2. Have a Long Term Focus (Build an Asset)

Side hustles come in all different shapes and sizes. If you’re simply looking for some extra money to cover bills or to have a little more for saving and investing, a simple weekend job can provide what you’re looking for. But if you’re looking to maximize the long-term impact of your side hustle, you may want to consider an approach that allows you to build a business.

Side hustles like blogging, creating an e-commerce business, or starting some other sort of business may not allow you to start making money as quickly, but it can be the more lucrative approach in the long run. 

A business is an asset that can continue to bring value in the future. If you’re working as a rideshare driver for your side hustle, as soon as you stop driving, you’ll also stop making money. But if you create a successful business, which is possible as a side hustle, you may be able to increase your income without working more hours. You’ll also have the asset to sell at some point in the future, which can be a huge factor in your retirement plan. The lump sum from selling your business may be enough to put you over the hump for retirement.

3. Decide How You Want to Use Your Time After Retirement

When you retire from a traditional job, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop working completely and that you can never generate more income. Many retirees find that they like to use their time productively.

A side hustle can be extremely beneficial as a source of income after retirement. If your side hustle involves something that you enjoy, it can allow you to stay active and make some extra money without the stress of a traditional job.

Your post-retirement side hustle may be more about staying busy, or the income from the side hustle may be an integral part of your monthly budget. Either way, there are some significant benefits.

It’s a good idea to think about what you enjoy doing and how you might want to spend your time in retirement. There are plenty of hobbies that make money and you may be able to incorporate one of your own hobbies into a side hustle that you can continue after retirement. One option would be to start a blog, website, podcast, or YouTube channel related to your hobby and plan to continue to grow that online business post-retirement

While retirement may not be the primary motivation for your side hustle, there are definitely some very significant ways that a side hustle can help you to prepare for retirement. Be sure to consider the big picture if you’re a side hustler so you can get the biggest impact for the extra hours that you’re putting in.

 

About the Author

Marc Andre is the founder of the personal finance blog Vital Dollar. He has been a self-employed internet marketer and blogger since 2008, a business that originally started as a side hustle.

 

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