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Luke Landes

10 Easy Ways to Save Money

This article was written by in Saving. 22 comments.

This year, I’ve spent more money than ever. I’ve been able to swing these extra expenses — including lots of fun new gadgets I’d put off buying for years — without hurting my budget. But now, I’m ready to pull back and start ramping up my savings again.

We all know that Americans are generally terrible at saving for retirement. But it turns out that we’re also pretty bad at saving in the short term, too. In fact, nearly 60% of Americans don’t even have $500 in savings. Yikes!

Here’s the reality, though: saving a bit of money doesn’t actually take much effort. I’m planning to use these ten low-effort ways to save money over the next year. Want to join?

1. Automate your savings

Chances are you already use direct deposit for your paycheck. If not, it’s time to get with the program. With direct deposit, your money goes straight to the bank. It’s more convenient for you and your employer. Plus, it lets you automate your decision-making about savings.

Instead of deciding how much to save each payday, you can set your account to automatically move money from checking to savings. Your paycheck will hit your account, and your savings will disappear from that account almost simultaneously. It’s much easier to save money that you never see in your checking account!

Even if you start by moving only $5 or $10 per paycheck to a high-yield savings account, you’ll have more saved at the end of the year than you would have otherwise.

2. Collect your excess coins

I enjoy looking through circulating coins, on the off chance that I discover a rare specimen, such as a silver quarter. No, it doesn’t happen often; most of the good stuff has been removed from circulation by other collectors or knowledgeable bank tellers.

But while I’m saving my daily change in a glass jar, I’m also saving myself from spending that money. Every so often, I roll the coins with free sleeves from the bank and take them in for deposit.

What if you don’t typically spend cash? If you usually swipe your card instead of spending cash, you may not have any loose change to save. In this case, check out apps like Qoins.

You can connect this app directly to your checking account. Each time you spend, it’ll round up to the next dollar and “save” the change from that transaction. Once you reach a certain threshold amount, the app will put that change towards a debt.

Other similar apps, such as Digit and Acorns, use this concept to sock away change in a savings account or investing account. These apps act like a virtual change jar, putting the dregs of your daily transactions towards important financial goals.

3. Use goal jars

You’ve seen those jars in country shops. They are short, wide-mouthed clay pottery or stoneware jars with cork tops.

On the outside of the jars, they are labeled using varying levels of wit. In these jars, you can set aside money you’d like to budget for “retirement,” “kids’ education,” “dreams,” or the “Harley fund.”

Again, these are a great option if you typically spend with cash. You can make them even more powerful if you dedicate certain “leftover” money to these jars.

Say you normally spend $125 for a weeks’ worth of groceries at the grocery store. One week, you get creative with meal planning and couponing and you only spend $115. Put the extra $10 — which you normally would have spent — into a goal jar.

You can do this virtually, too. More and more banks are offering free savings accounts, and some checking accounts offer unlimited free “sub-accounts.” Open several, then label them for specific goals.

Related: Variety of Savings Accounts: Where I Keep My Cash

You can split up your extra money at the end of the month to these accounts, or just throw in “saved” money whenever you can. For instance, if you usually spend $10 on your work lunch, but bring a lunch from home, toss the $7 you saved into one of your savings accounts.

4. Form a budget, but budget for fun

A budget can be the most depressing part of personal finance if you let it be. I tend to avoid budgets, but if my income fails to meet my expenses, I’ll have to reconsider this approach.

The key, though, is that budgets should be flexible. Budgeting isn’t about limiting yourself to only the most frugal spending. It’s about realizing that sometimes you have to sacrifice in one category to pay for another.

Want to eat out more? Great! Be a super frugal grocery shopper when you do eat at home. Want to travel? Awesome! You may have to give up purchasing some of those new electronic gadgets.

A budget that saves you money is usually one that has at least some “fun” spending built in. You can only seriously restrict your spending for so long before you make yourself more likely to go on a spending binge. So, make sure you write in some fun — whether that’s dining out, saving up for travel, or working on a hobby. Then, stick to it!

If you need a jump start, here are the best budgeting tools to track your money.

5. Find ways to make your hobby cheaper

Hobbies can be expensive. Just ask anyone with a Faberge egg collection! Many hobbies require materials and monetary investments, and this can really add up over time.

Just like budgeting for your “fun,” though, you should budget some money for your hobbies. Of course, moderation is key here. Try not to spend too much, especially to the detriment of the rest of your budget.

Here are some tips to help you manage that hobby spending:

  • Get good at finding your supplies on sale or secondhand. If your hobby is crafting, sign up for coupons from all the local craft stores. You can often save 50% or more on your craft materials. Into biking? Consider buying your gear secondhand to save big.
  • Figure out how to make money from your hobby. Turning your hobby into a side business is an excellent way to make money. But even if your hobby doesn’t turn a profit, selling what you create can cover most or all of the expenses associated with your hobby.
  • Make the most of what you have. It’s easy to overspend on your hobby thinking you need the next big thing. If you sew, it’s tempting to upgrade your machine every couple of years, whether you need to or not. And if you hike, adding on ever more cool gear is tempting. The truth, though, is that you can probably enjoy your hobby without these things. I’d suggest instituting at least a one or two month waiting period before you can spend on pricey hobby-related items. In that time frame, you might just find that you don’t need the upgrade after all.

6. Sell stuff online

If you were thinking of having a yard sale, think again. By selling your unwanted items online, you’ll reach a much wider audience, including more of those who appreciate what you have to offer. Plus, online buyers will often pay more because they’re looking for exactly what you have.

Luckily, you’ve got a ton of options for selling online. Don’t want to mess with shipping heavy or bulky items? Check out your local Facebook sale group to make sales locally. Or list your items on Craigslist.

For smaller items that are easier to ship, you often don’t even have to take them to the post office for shipping. You can set up a package service to pick up the item from your home after you print the label. This makes selling items on eBay and other sites easier than ever.

Some sites, such as Swap.com and Thredup, will pay you for your old, lightly-used clothing and accessories. Swap gives you a shipping label to use, and Thredup will actually send you a bag for shipping your items in.

7. Start a new hobby

Are you currently working on an expensive hobby that’s draining your money? Consider starting a new one that actually makes money.

Some hobbies are great micro businesses. Maybe yours won’t make loads of money. But even if your hobby can pay for itself, you can have your leisure for free. Here are some ideas for hobbies you can turn into extra cash:

  • Building or fixing computers: This one’s easy to turn into a money-maker. Just become the local go-to guy for fixing or customizing computers.
  • Arts and crafts: Any sort of art or craft hobby likely has a market. And these hobbies can be expensive, so it’s a good idea to try selling your wares as you make them. Again, even if you just cover the cost of your materials to start, that lets you enjoy your hobby without spending loads of extra money.
  • Gardening: You can, of course, save some money for your family by growing fruits and vegetables you’d otherwise buy. But if you’ve got an eye for planning out beautiful flower beds, too, offer your services at installing and maintaining others’ landscaping.
  • Pets: One or two pets are great, but pets get expensive. If you love to spend time with animals but can’t afford to add any more to your family, consider starting a pet-sitting or pet walking business.

8. Ask for a raise

Sometimes it’s that simple. If it’s been a while since you’ve gotten a raise, or if you’ve recently taken on more responsibility, now is the time to ask.

First, put together your list of recent accomplishments. Hard numbers will often do more than anything else to actually get you that raise. Then, set up a meeting with your supervisor to talk specifically about your raise, or what you can do to earn one if you’re not quite there yet.

Of course, if the goal is to save more money, you should know what you’re going to do with that raise ahead of time. Adding it to your paycheck is a good way to start frittering away that extra money without even knowing where it’s going.Instead, consider directing that money straight to your savings account or 401(k), before it even hits your bank account.

9. Negotiate to work from home

More and more businesses are allowing or even welcoming their employees to work from home. And working from home can help you save loads of money.

Here are just some of the expenses that you can cut back by working from home, even one or two days per week:

  • Gas and car maintenance
  • Parking, if yours is paid daily, and toll roads
  • Dry cleaning or other clothing expenses
  • Less wear and tear on your more expensive work clothes
  • Eating out for lunch, work coffees, etc.
  • Time is money — if you cut out your commute, you have more time for side hustles or hobbies, and less time with the kids in childcare.

Plus, when you work from home, you can often find time to get extra things done around the house, which is just an added bonus!

Resource: Ten Tips For Cutting Car Expenses

10. Cut back on your monthly bills

Saving on things like groceries and dining out is great. But it takes a concerted effort and planning month after month.

An easier way to save right away is to cut back on those recurring monthly bills that you barely think about paying. This includes things like car and home insurance, phone and internet bills, recurring monthly subscriptions, cable, and more.

These are the types of bills that you should price shop at least once a year. So if it’s been more than a year since you last made sure you were getting the best possible rates in these areas, take a few hours to shop around. Start by calling your current providers and asking what they can do to lower your bill; sometimes, you can get a new discount just by asking for one.

Saving on these bills will save you money month after month. Just be sure to keep a running total of how much you’re saving, and then direct that amount to your savings account each month!

Learn More About Cutting the Cord

How else are you saving? Let us know in the comments.

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There was once a time when the word “millionaire” carried cachet. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word was first used in French in the early eighteenth century and in English nearly a century later. Regardless of your station in French society in 1719, achieving a net worth of one million livres was notable.

The same would be true for one million U.S. dollars a century later. Only a small percentage of society could be listed within a roster of millionaires.

Millionaires are easier to find today. Inflation and the erosion of the dollar’s value — continuously, over the course of multiple decades — has put the goal of acquiring a million dollars within reach for more Americans. Of course, the club is no longer the exclusive party it once was. When the term became popular, the millionaires were most likely the heads of multi-national corporations. These are the same folks who are most likely to be multi-billionaires today.

Of course, a million dollars is still an admirable financial target. (I say “target” because I’m hesitant to call any financial milestone a goal. Goals are related to why one might set a financial target, not the target itself.) Outside of real estate equity, though, most households won’t have assets worth one million dollars.

It Isn’t Worth What It Once Was

This next part may sound odd, especially considering this is a country where 50 million people are living in poverty, according to the U.S. census. However, a net worth of one million dollars isn’t really a demarcation line between the rich and the not-rich.

Retiring with a net worth of one million dollars in investable assets might allow you to withdraw $50,000 a year for 20 years using the simplest calculation. That’s fine, except that an annual income of $50,000 while living in the United States would probably not provide the lavish lifestyle historically associated with the idea of the millionaire.

If you want to live the life of the upper class, you’ll need a net worth well north of one million dollars. That way, you can generate an annual income of six or seven digits.

Related: How Much Do You Really Need to Retire?

Millionaire Mystique

Yet the concept of the millionaire still carries some mystique. The success of the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko is evidence of this.

The 2010 edition of book is ranked #1 in wealth management by Amazon, even today. The book’s subtitle is “The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy,” which is interesting. The authors didn’t seek out the “wealthy” for their advice and tips for this book. They interviewed mere millionaires.

The premise is that today’s millionaires achieve their status by living below their means, spending less than they earn, and making financial choices that weigh future possibilities against today’s media-driven desires.

The authors show that the neighbor with an old car still running well is more likely to be financially secure than the neighbor whose fancy car requires unaffordable lease payments. People become millionaires by owning small businesses rather than working for a large corporation in middle management.

There is nothing wrong with this advice. It may inspire some readers to get started making better financial choices. However, it won’t lead to “wealth,” as represented by the socially-inherited concept of the millionaire. If we want the best advice for creating a lifestyle in which money is no longer a concern and the fulfillment of desires is not limited by wealth, ignore the millionaires and look to the multi-billionaires.

Learn More: How to Build Wealth and Make Life Easier

Look Toward the Top

Forget about the neighbor who owns the auto repair business. Don’t waste your time looking for advice from financial bloggers like me. While keeping in mind that wealth itself is not a goal — your goal should be what you want to do with your life when you have access to as much capital as you need — take a look at the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Two categories stand out.

First, there are the business owners who started their companies small. Millionaires kept their businesses small, while these individuals, like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and the Waltons, took their businesses a few steps farther.

Next, the list includes people whose business is investing in businesses, like Warren Buffett and George Soros. Use your money — as well as other people’s money — to create wealth.

This is easier when you have a lot to give. Warren Buffett gets sweetheart deals on his investments because a billion dollars from Berkshire Hathaway is more newsworthy, media-positive, and encouraging to other mimicking investors than a billion dollars from a conglomerate of Chinese or Middle Eastern investors.

Don’t be fooled. You’ll need to work incredibly hard and be blessed with an inordinate amount of luck to become this wealthy. Paving your way to one million dollars, however, isn’t quite the challenge it once was.

Aim Higher

“Aim high” was the recruiting slogan for the U.S. Air Force, and it applies here.

Lionizing millionaires seems like a good way to come up with financial advice that applies to a mass audience. However, I can almost guarantee that today’s recent college graduate planning to retire with assets worth one million dollars forty years in the future will be gravely disappointed. It won’t be because he or she couldn’t meet that goal, either. It’ll be because the sum isn’t going to provide the financial security expected.

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In the past, I’ve discussed whether couples should sign a prenuptial agreement before marriage. While sometimes controversial, a good prenup can protect both individuals were the marriage to result in irreconcilable differences.

Signing a legal document of this type could be helpful if the couple owns substantial assets or if the couple has a wide disparity in income or wealth. If either or both of the individuals own businesses, a prenup could protect those assets — not to mention the lives of any employees relying on those businesses.

With a growing number of adults moving in together before marriage, more people are looking for the protections of a prenuptial agreement without the benefits of getting married. A 2014 Pew Research poll found that 23 percent of adult men and 17 percent of adult women had never been married. However, about a quarter of the “never-married” crowd were currently cohabitating. This means that a good number of unmarried adults are living together without any sort of legal protection.

The Legal Risks of Cohabitation

Cohabitating may seem like a way to get some of the relational benefits of marriage without the legal risks. But, actually, it too can cause legal issues if the relationship ends. Plus, what if you cohabitate for years in a deeply committed partnership, and want to care for your significant other? Having prior legal arrangements can protect your partner, should something happen to you unexpectedly. Beyond that, many unmarried couples also have children. A prenup-like arrangement can protect those kids in the case of a breakup or death.

Related: How Should Couples Combine Finances?

For these reasons, a growing number of unmarried couples are forming legal cohabitation arrangements. These legally-binding contracts, which are drawn up by an attorney, protect each person’s assets, address child custody and support obligations, and more. In short, they cover a lot of the same territory as prenuptial agreements… even if marriage isn’t on the horizon.

What Should Be Covered?

Of course, cohabitation agreements — like prenups — should include asset protection as needed. They should also deal with issues of splitting common assets. But that’s not all these agreements should include. You should also consider:

  • Who owns what. Even if you don’t have a business or significant assets, you’re likely bringing some items into the partnership. Your agreement should speak to who owns (and owes) what coming into the arrangement.
  • Who pays what. These agreements can act, in part, as a sort of rental contract. This piece is necessary if you’re splitting expenses in a jointly-owned property. It’s even more necessary if one partner is moving into a home that the other partner owns.
  • Deed of waiver. If your partner is moving into a home you own and plans to pay rent, consider this option. It basically says that this person has no stake in your home should you break up. You can have this document drawn up separately from your cohabitation agreement, or work this into your larger agreement.
  • How things are divided. You may not want to keep a tally of who buys every dish in the cupboard while you’re living together. Avoid this by spelling out how you’ll divide property if you should split up. You can set it up so that what you bring into the relationship goes out with you. If it is purchased jointly, you can divide it up.
  • Childcare arrangements. What happens if you should have children? Will one partner stay home to care for them while the other works? Things can get tricky in this sort of situation. So, think ahead of time about how you’ll care for any children you might bring into the relationship — even if you aren’t currently planning to have any.

Learn More: Child Care Cost Analysis — Is It Worth the Expense?

  • Child support arrangements. If you should split up, who will support the children and what might custody look like? Writing these rules into your agreement can prevent a mess later.
  • Anything else you want to cover. If you’re working with a lawyer to draw up such a contract, you can customize it. Before you prepare your contract, talk about things like:
    • What happens if one partner wants to take time off work to start a business?
    • Who handles chores and maintenance tasks?
    • Should you void parts of the contract in the case of infidelity?
    • What about pets?

To Make it Legally Binding

The cost of a lawyer’s time and expertise to create a cohabitation agreement may be high. Sure, you can get templates that cover the bare bones basics online. But it’s often better to go with the lawyer. They’ll advise you and make sure that the contract doesn’t have any holes. And, of course, you’ll need to go through any processes involved with signing or notarizing the document to make it legally binding.

Don’t Forget About Your Will

Even with a cohabitation agreement, you should both have a will, as well. Cohabitation doesn’t offer the same protections for the surviving partner as marriage. Even if you want all of your assets to go to your partner, that gets tricky without a legal document saying so. Consider writing or revising your wills at the same time that you’re creating your cohabitation agreement. This will help ensure that your assets are disbursed how you want.

Learn More: 3 Must-Have Estate Planning Documents

Prenuptial agreements are important. But cohabitation agreements may be even more so. Without a legal marriage bond, you may be opening yourself up to more complicated legal situations.

Do you believe these cohabitation agreements are necessary? Would you sign one?

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Wherever you are on your path towards financial independence, it’s important to think about what would happen to your financial accounts if you were unexpectedly pass away. It seems like a morbid thought, but planning for the well-being of your family is essential.

Even if you don’t yet have a spouse or children, thinking ahead financially is still important. It could smooth the way for any friends or extended family members who will deal with your affairs, should you die.

Obviously, this process involves creating the proper wills and trusts. But one more simple step could help your heirs avoid some problems: designating beneficiaries.

Even if all of your financial assets are properly distributed in your will, your heirs may get tied up in probate dealing with specific financial accounts unless you designate beneficiaries. The good thing is that you can easily add beneficiaries to most accounts, bypassing the harrowing (and potentially expensive!) probate process. The beneficiaries designated on your account will only need some basic paperwork to receive money left in that account following your death.

Related: How Much Life Insurance Should You Have?

Not sure how to add these designees to your accounts, or even which accounts need beneficiaries in the first place? We’re here to help!

Banking Deal: Earn 1.15% APY on an FDIC-insured savings account at Barclays.

Adding Beneficiaries to a Checking or Savings Account

You can add a beneficiary or a payable-on-death (POD) to most savings and checking accounts. Sometimes your bank will ask for this information when you’re opening a new account, but they don’t always. And sometimes you can’t add or change beneficiaries online.

If your bank has a brick-and-mortar branch, you may need to visit the personal banker with the beneficiary or with that person’s information, including address and Social Security number to add them to your account or change beneficiaries.

Dealing with an online-only bank or one that doesn’t have a location in your area? Call the bank directly to ask how you can designate beneficiaries for each of your accounts.

Read More: The Best Online Savings Accounts With High Interest Rates

Unfortunately, some banks (including ING Direct) doesn’t allow accountholders to designate beneficiaries. If this is an issue for you, consider moving your money to another bank that does allow for a payable-on-death designation.

You can also address this bank specifically in your will or trust. Again, even a will or trust may not remove all the headaches associated with accessing a bank account’s balance after your death. But if you like everything else about your bank account, aside from the fact that it doesn’t allow for a payable-on-death beneficiary, you may not want to switch banks. In this case, just ensure that the bank account is covered in your will.

Beneficiaries on Investment Accounts

Brokerages and banks will usually ask for a beneficiary when you open an investment account of any kind. Even if you don’t plan to save massive amounts of money in any given account, be sure you designate a beneficiary right away. You never know how that account balance could grow between now and when you might pass away.

Plus, a small account balance gives you even more incentive to name a beneficiary. In the case of accounts with a relatively small balance, probate fees could eat up the entire account balance if you aren’t careful.

Related: Evaluating an Investment Portfolio

Insurance Policies

Policies like life insurance will obviously ask for a beneficiary right away, since their point is to benefit your heirs should something happen to you. Still, you’ll want to be sure that these policies are kept up-to-date with your recent beneficiaries.

What About Joint Accounts?

You might think about skirting around the need for a beneficiary by naming a joint account owner, instead. In some cases, this can be appropriate. For instance, if you and your spouse combine finances, it’s appropriate to have most of your basic checking and savings accounts in both spouse’s names, even if you actively manage most of the money.

Naming your spouse as a co-owner on your accounts usually makes sense, but naming another person as co-owner may not. For instance, adding an adult child to your account gives that child the power to withdraw from your account at any time, even before your death. Also, the co-owner will inherit your account upon your death, even if you’d prefer to name multiple beneficiaries.

Other issues to consider include credit issues on the part of the account co-owner. If your joint account owner gets into financial difficulty, creditors could come after the balance of your account, even if the co-owner has never contributed to that account.

Read More: Joint Accounts vs Authorized Users — Are They The Same?

Joint accounts could be a viable solution for skirting around probate issues in some cases, but there are plenty of potential dangers to consider, as well.

Compiling Your Financial Information

Of course, you can designate a beneficiary on every one of your fifteen different bank accounts. But that doesn’t do a whole lot of good if your beneficiary doesn’t even know about the accounts after your death. This is why it’s so important to keep a file — whether electronic or physical — of all of your personal financial information.

Learn About Building a Money Binder to Prepare Your Finances for Your Death

Maintaining a money binder is an excellent way to keep all of your financial information together, including account log-in information. Just having a list of where you maintain all of your accounts and who the beneficiaries for those accounts are gives your heirs a place to begin.

Changing the Beneficiaries

One thing to keep in mind is that you’ll need to keep your beneficiaries up to date. Any major life event, such as a marriage or divorce, or the birth or death of a child, means you need to look over your account beneficiaries to make sure they’re still accurate. Also be sure that your account beneficiaries are listed in the appropriate order. This is important if you, for instance, want to account to pass first to your spouse but then to your child if your spouse has also passed away.

When you’re changing the beneficiaries on your accounts, be sure to also change that beneficiaries in your will so that they match. Mismatches between your will and your account beneficiaries can create major hangups for your heirs! Whenever you update one, double check the other to ensure that it’s correct.

More Complicated Situations

As you move towards financial independence, you’ll begin to enter on to more complicated financial situations which might require true estate planning. After all, you don’t want to see all your hard work and careful planning go to waste when your beneficiaries are heavily taxed on what you leave behind!

Related: Save Your Heirs On Taxes By Being Generous Now

Keep this in mind as you progress through your financial goals. If you’re well into the millions of dollars of assets, it’s probably time to do more than just designate beneficiaries and set up a basic will. At this point, you’re likely looking at trusts and other inheritance issues.

Still, though, even if you pull in a professional estate planner, you’ll have to take this step to ensure that all of your accounts are set up with beneficiaries that match your estate plan.

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Is Being a Landlord the Right Move for You?

by Luke Landes

Given the option, owning assets that produce income is a much better financial strategy than owning assets that generate expenses. If you own a house or apartment for your own residence, for example, you have a lot of expenses. You will need to pay for maintenance, repairs, taxes, mortgage interest, landscaping, and utilities. Or you […]

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Financially Supporting Your Parents: 7 Steps to Take

by Luke Landes

It’s a fact: multigenerational households are becoming more common in the United States. In the ’50s, it wasn’t unusual for older adults to live with their grown children and possibly grandchildren. That living arrangement trended downward for several decades, but saw a big upswing between 2000 and 2014. In fact, in 2014, 19 percent of Americans […]

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Appeal Your House’s Assessment to Lower Your Property Tax Bill

by Luke Landes

Though I’ve lived in the D.C. area for the past 5 years, I still haven’t bought a home here. It just hasn’t made sense yet, especially since I’m not sure how many more years I’ll choose to stay in this area. The properties I do own are located back in Texas and stay consistently rented […]

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Should High Schools Require Money Management Classes?

by Luke Landes

It’s common knowledge that kids today aren’t learning the same things that we learned when we were younger. Take cursive, for instance. Forty-six states have implemented Common Core Standards on at least some level, which eliminates mandatory teaching of cursive in the elementary school curriculum. While children are instead learning how to type and use […]

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Are Credit Card Annual Fees Worthwhile?

by Luke Landes

The best credit card deals are often spoiled by an annual fee. Annual fees can range from about $50 to $2,500, with the high end reserved for the super-select American Express Centurion Card (the “black card”). In return for this fee, credit card issuers provide a range of benefits beyond what typical no-fee cards offer. […]

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How to Pay a Tax Bill You Can’t Afford

by Luke Landes

It’s a good thing I’ve been saving a good portion of my income for the past year. Even with making estimated tax payments — the last of which was due on January 16 — I still have a significant tax bill this year, thanks to increased income. Many taxpayers dread filing their taxes, even if […]

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