How to Host Friendsgiving on a Budget

Thanksgiving is about spending time with family – both the family you were born with and the family you’ve chosen. That’s why Friendsgiving celebrations have become more popular in recent years. They give adults a chance to sit down and share a meal with friends they may not get to see much throughout the year.

But these gatherings aren’t always such a blessing for the host. The holidays are already an expensive time, and putting together a feast for a large group isn’t exactly cheap. So how can you throw a Friendsgiving celebration without breaking the bank?

Ask for Help

When you start planning your Friendsgiving, the key is to pitch the idea as a potluck. If you can get your friends to each bring a side or dessert, your costs will be reduced significantly.

Asking for help will also make the experience more enjoyable for you since you won’t have to cook five dishes for 15 people. Plus, your friends may have their own Thanksgiving specialties. One may have an old family recipe for pecan pie, while someone else may be a mac and cheese expert.

You can use a free site like SignUpGenius to decide who’s going to bring what. Insert the dishes you’d like people to bring, including appetizers, sides, and desserts. Friends who are a disaster in the kitchen can sign up to bring alcohol, plates, silverware, cups and other beverages.

Have the Event After Thanksgiving

To really save money on Friendsgiving, host the event a couple days after Thanksgiving. Many grocery stores will have major sales to push their pies, sides, and turkeys. Instead of shopping for TVs or clothes on Black Friday, you can hit up the grocery store.

Before you decide on this idea, make sure your friends will be around after Thanksgiving. This may work better if you go home for Thanksgiving and want to host a Friendsgiving for all your hometown friends.

Opt for Chicken

Turkey is the standard on Thanksgiving, but many of your guests will be fine with chicken. Ask your guests beforehand if they care if you serve chicken instead of turkey this year.

Chicken is usually cheaper than turkey, especially because turkey prices often spike right before Thanksgiving. You can also save time by buying a rotisserie chicken instead of roasting one yourself. Costco has a daily $4.99 rotisserie chicken deal, for example.

Ask about Dietary Restrictions

Dietary restrictions and special diets are more common these days, and it’s wise to ask your guests beforehand if they can’t have a particular kind of food. Not only is it thoughtful, but it could also keep you from having too many leftovers or wasting money making something only a couple people will eat.

Dietary restrictions can also change your budget, so it’s important to plan ahead if this will be the case. For example, if you have a friend who eats gluten-free items, let her bring the gluten-free rolls.

Freeze Food Correctly

Depending on how many friends come to your event, you may end up with a bunch of leftovers. Instead of throwing them away or putting everything in the fridge, you can freeze dishes to save for later.

Before freezing items, divide them into individual serving sizes. For example, instead of putting all the turkey into a gallon bag, divide it into several sandwich bags. That will make defrosting easier and faster, and will make it more likely that you’ll actually go through your leftovers.

Make sure to label the food with the date so you know how long it’s been in the fridge. Every couple weeks, defrost a new small batch of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Compare Fresh, Frozen and Canned

Brussel sprouts are priced differently, depending on whether you’re buying a fresh stalk or a frozen bag. The same goes for most types of food.

Before you buy what you need for Thanksgiving, make sure to compare the cost. Are frozen cranberries cheaper than fresh ones? Look at the price per ounce to compare things correctly.

Use Grocery-Saving Apps

Apps like Ibotta, Checkout 51 and BerryCart give money back when you scan the receipts from a shopping trip. You can also save money beforehand by checking the available offers before shopping.

Make sure to check for coupons and read the weekly ads before you go shopping. The differences may seem minimal, but they can add up quickly – especially if you’re the one buying most of the food.

Shop in Bulk

Some grocery stores have a bulk section where you can pick out spices, nuts, and grains from containers and jugs. You can measure out only as much as you need.

This is an easy way to make a recipe without wasting money. Here’s an example: You need to make the stuffing, and you have to buy sage and thyme. You never cook with sage and thyme, so buying a couple bottles of dried sage and thyme would be overkill.

Instead of buying a full bottle that will go stale by the time next Friendsgiving rolls around, you can buy it in bulk and measure out exactly how much you need.

Bring the right measuring spoon with you to the grocery store. For example, if you need a teaspoon of nutmeg, bring a teaspoon along so you can measure out exactly how much is required for the recipe.

Shop at Different Stores

Start hunting for deals a few weeks before Thanksgiving so you can get the best discounts possible. Many items will be fine in the fridge, the pantry or the freezer. For example, butter, pie crust, a frozen turkey and cans of green beans will all keep until the day of the event.

You can also save even more by shopping at discount chains like Aldi or at a scratch-and-dent store. Make sure to compare prices before you buy. Sometimes it’s easy to assume that one store has better prices, but it’s always best to actually compare costs.

Compare Ingredients vs. Prepared Foods

It’s almost always more frugal to make a dish from scratch, but there are exceptions. For example, making homemade stuffing means you need to buy a couple loaves of bread, celery, butter, onions and more. If you buy a box mix, you’ll spend a lot less and won’t waste any food.

A box mix may not taste as good, but it’s better than a Friendsgiving with no stuffing at all.

 

 

The post How to Host Friendsgiving on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Does a Meal Prep Service Make Sense for Your Budget?

Meal prep services have become increasingly more common over the past few years. During the COVID-19 pandemic when people limiting their trips out of the house, food delivery services increased drastically. In addition to straight food delivery like DoorDash or UberEats, services that delivered meal kits became more and more prevalent. While these meal prep services aren’t a great fit for everyone, they can make sense for certain budgets.

What Is a Meal Prep Service?

A meal prep service, also sometimes known as a meal kit, provides you with a certain number of meals per week. You select the number of meals and which meals you want, and they will be delivered to your door. The ingredients are measured out in exact serving sizes, usually to make one to four portions.

It is common for meal kit services to offer a certain number of “free” meals when you initially sign up. The idea is that you can try out the meal service for less of a financial commitment to see if it’s something that will work for you. 

One thing to be aware of is that these free meals usually don’t all come upfront. If you sign up for a deal that offers 10 “free” meals, you won’t just get 10 meals delivered to you for no cost. Instead, it might be a discount that is equivalent to 5 free meals for the first week, then 3 for the second week and 2 for the third week.

What Are Some Popular Meal Prep Services?

There are many, many meal prep services. Each of these meal kit companies shares several characteristics, though they sometimes differ in a few key areas. Here are a few of the most common meal prep services:

  • Blue Apron — Blue Apron has you choose from their Signature recipes, Wellness or Vegetarian. You can also pair your recipes with their monthly wine subscription. Cost is $63 for three meals a week for two people
  • Freshly — With Freshly, you can choose from 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 meals per week, with each serving one meal for one person. The cost starts as low as $8.49 per meal, plus shipping
  • Home Chef — With Home Chef, you can choose from a variety of different meals each week based on your preferences and dietary restrictions. Meal plans start as low as $6.99 per serving. You can also find Home Chef meal kits at select Kroger grocery stores nationwide.
  • HelloFresh — HelloFresh has over 27 fresh recipes each week designed by chefs and nutritionists. Prices start at $7.49 per serving and you can easily swap, skip or pause your order at any time

When Does a Meal Prep Service Make Sense?

While a meal kit or meal prep service may be more expensive than cooking your meals at home, it may make financial sense for some people. If you find you are eating most of your meals at restaurants, a meal prep service could save you a significant amount of money.

The best way to figure out if a meal prep service might make sense for you is to take a look at your current food budget. How much are you spending each week or month on food? Is that primarily spent on groceries, single meal deliveries, or restaurants? Track your spending with a tool like Mint to figure out where your money is going now. 

Then you can take a look at a few different meal prep kits and their prices to see if that might make sense for your budget. Remember that many of these companies offer introductory rates so you might even be able to try a few options to find one that works for you. Another thing to remember is that some of the meals might have large enough portions that they could work for leftover lunch the next day as well, further reducing your per-meal cost.

The Bottom Line

Using a meal prep service may be more expensive than buying your own food and cooking at home. But, if your culinary skills, time, or energy don’t allow that luxury right now, using meal kits might be cheaper and healthier than ordering delivery or eating at restaurants. You may even find preparing meal kits are a good first step to more confidence in making your own meals.

The post Does a Meal Prep Service Make Sense for Your Budget? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator

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Your grocery bill can add up fast. From dinner entrées to snacks, the amount you spend directly affects your other financial goals. Luckily, there are some guidelines to ensure you’re not overspending. 

Use the grocery calculator below to estimate your monthly and weekly food budget based on guidelines from the USDA’s monthly food plan. Input your family size and details below to calculate how much a nutritious grocery budget should cost you. Of course, every family is different. Some love coupons and leftovers, while others prefer fresh fish and aged cheese. Once you’ve established your budget, use the slider to adjust your estimate to your spending habits. 

Getting your food budget on point takes practice. With this grocery calculator and the right spending habits, you’ll have enough for your living expenses and exciting financial goals like paying off loans or buying a house.

Grocery Budget Calculator

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A moderate grocery budget will run you:

Weekly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

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Monthly Grocery Cost Food costs per individual are based on USDA research regarding Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and follow MyPyramid nutrition guidelines.

$0.00

What kind of spender are you?

Does your estimate look right? If your spending habits don’t add up, explore these other budget options and choose what’s best for your lifestyle.

Thrifty This is the USDA’s estimated food budget for families that receive food assistance like WIC or SNAP.

Cost-Conscious This is an ideal budget for nutritious meals if you’re looking to save a little extra cash with leftovers and coupons.

Moderate This is the standard for affordable, nutritious, and balanced portions for most families.

Generous This budget gives you some spending wiggle room for finer foods or extra portions.

See where the rest of your budget is going Sign up for Mint

Monthly Grocery Budget

Ever wonder how much you should spend on groceries? The average cost of food per month for one person ranges from $150 to $300, depending on age. However, these national averages vary based on where you live and the quality of your food purchases.

Here’s a monthly grocery budget for the average family. This is based on the national average and likely varies by location and shop. For instance, New York City grocers are going to be far more expensive than Kansas City shops. Additionally, organic grocery stores like Whole Foods are pricier than places like Walmart or Aldi.

You’ll also want to consider dietary choices, like gluten-free or vegan diets. These can significantly affect your budget, so consider planning your grocery list online to compare prices and find your preferred alternatives.

FAMILY SIZE SUGGESTED
MONTHLY BUDGET
1 person $251
2 people $553
3 people $722
4 people $892
5 people $1,060
6 people $1,230

Finding a reasonable monthly grocery budget ensures you and your family have what you need, while not overspending. Look back at previous months using a budgeting app or credit card statements to see what you’ve spent at the grocery store. Decide if you want to maintain your current budget or cut back.

Purchasing Groceries vs. Dining Out

Mockup of grocery list and food inventory printables with fresh produce

 

Download grocery list and inventory printables button.

Don’t forget what you spend at restaurants when you consider your food budget. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend 11 percent of their take-home income on food. It doesn’t all go towards groceries, though. Approximately six percent is spent on groceries, while five percent is spent dining out — including dates, lunches with coworkers, and Sunday brunch.

With this framework in mind, you can calculate your total food budget based on your take-home income. For example, Rita makes $3,500 per month after taxes. She would budget six percent for groceries ($210) and five percent for restaurants ($175). So she’ll need a total of $385 for food each month. With a little practice, she’ll better learn her habits and be able to accurately adjust her budget.

Tips for Reducing Your Budget

Illustration of grocery coupons and meal planner.

There are several ways to cut back on what you spend without sacrificing the quality and taste of your food. Trimming your food budget can help you stow away more for your financial goals, such as building an emergency fund or saving for a dream vacation.

Cut Coupons

Coupons are easy to find in the mail, in store, in your inbox, and even in a Google search. Many popular grocery stores are rolling out apps that track your coupons and savings. Be sure to download and register your email for new updates and sales. These usually work in person or online, so you can shop when and how you like. 

While a single coupon might not give you a large discount, you can save a lot with multiple coupons. It’s also important you make sure you actually need the item you’re purchasing instead of buying it for the sale. This can quickly get out of hand and push you over budget. 

Freeze Your Food

Freezing your fresh food before it goes bad helps your wallet and the environment. You can plan ahead and freeze prepared produce to save time on weekday cooking, or chop and freeze last week’s produce before shopping for more. Frozen vegetables are great in soups and stews, and you can use frozen fruits for healthy breakfast smoothies. 

Plan a Weekly Menu Ahead of Time

Plan your meals ahead of time to determine the food items and quantities you need before you head to the grocery store. This way you’re more likely to buy the exact items you need and can plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try to plan for recipes that use the same ingredients so there’s less to purchase. You can also make larger meals and plan leftovers for lunch so you have less to plan and purchase.

Download meal planning printable button.

Bring Lunches to Work 

A $13 lunch out might not seem like much, but it can blow your food budget fast if it becomes a habit. Push your monthly food budget further with delicious lunches from home. Salads, sandwiches, and leftovers are all easy, inexpensive, and nutritious. 

Buy Store Brands 

Many packaged products have a huge price disparity between brand name and generic items, and store brand items tend to be cheaper without sacrificing much quality. You can easily save 10 cents to a dollar per item, which adds up quickly over many trips. 

Shop at a More Affordable Store

Your local farmers market, chain grocery, and organic store will all offer different specialties and sales. Check out the different shops in your area to find the best combination of quality and price. Some stores might even offer bulk items — great for your favorite products and those with a long shelf-life. Choosing cheaper staple items like milk and yogurt can also make a huge difference over time. 

An accurate food budget that works for you helps you feel more confident and in control of your finances. Build a budget, learn your spending habits, and keep a grocery list to keep you on track and responsible so you can reach bigger goals, like a new vehicle or a down payment on a house. 

Sources: USA Today | EurekAlert | Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten-Free Diet

The post How Much Your Monthly Food Budget Should Be + Grocery Calculator appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget

It’s no secret that you can be healthy on a budget, but the real secret lies in how you can stay healthy and on budget.  Just like adapting to a new diet, staying on budget is all about behavior change.  In my previous article, I shared tips on eating healthy on a budget, and this time around, I’m digging a little deeper into how to stay on budget on a shopping trip.  Since I get groceries at least once per week, both for work projects and for my personal family shopping, I consider myself an expert in saving money at the grocery store.  Here are my top 10 tips for shopping at the grocery store on a budget, and don’t be surprised- some of these tips start even BEFORE you hit the store!

1. Check mail for coupons and ads

Cutting coupons may seem like a blast from the past, but if cutting out little pieces of paper can save $5 for my future, then I’ll be clipping away!  Each week, your mail includes ads from local grocery stores and coupons from major brands, so tossing that mail out is like throwing away money. Instead, look through that mail to find deals on your frequently used items, and anything special coming up.  Shopping ads especially help me to plan food for holidays, like for this budget-friendly spread for Fourth of July.

2. Make a grocery list.

I suggest planning out weekly meals and making a grocery list for it. This not only saves a lot of money, but will also save time in the grocery store and help reduce food waste (which is basically wasted money).  Going into the store with a list makes me feel more prepared and in control of what I spend. It’s pretty easy to say no to those extra treats in the cart if they’re not on my list.

3. Shop where you bag your own groceries.

If you have a grocery store in town where you bag your own groceries, chances are that store has the best prices since the savings on staff can be reflected on your receipt.  Plus, I like to bag my own groceries, as it gives me a final run-through of my purchase to make sure I didn’t forget anything, and I get to bag them exactly how I want.

4. Eat before to avoid impulse and unhealthy buys.

The biggest mistake in overspending at the grocery store is going shopping when your stomach’s growling.  That extra bag of chips gets half-way eaten before check-out at the register, and guess what?!?! It wasn’t on your grocery list, in your budget, OR on your meal plan.  Prevent that mistake by eating before a trip to the grocery store and it will be easier to stick to your plan.

5. Buy seasonal fruit and vegetables.

There are so many reasons why eating seasonally is better- less impact on the environment, more nutrients, and better taste- but buying produce in season is actually a great way to save money and eat healthy.  You don’t have to spend extra on foods that are imported from different regions when it’s growing in season in your area.  When produce is in season, it’s in abundance so farmers are able to give a better deal.

6. Buy frozen veggies.

While I stress that fresh is best, there are some times when it just makes sense to buy frozen veggies.  One reason would be because of cost. If there is a good sale on organic frozen peas, I’ll go ahead and purchase some ahead of time since I can store it in my freezer.  Another reason to buy frozen is because of seasonality. There is plenty of fresh and juicy corn available in the summer, but when it comes to winter months, I like to pull corn straight from my freezer.

7. Buy deli meat and cheese at the deli.

There is so much emphasis on how pre-packaged foods are more convenient, but these foods are not convenient on my wallet or my diet. When you buy foods that are already packaged, you’re paying for that extra packaging and all the costs that go along with that (from advertising, to transportation, to even stocking it on the shelves).  On top of that, buying food already packaged up can mean you end up wasting some of that food if you don’t use it.

That being said, I am all for soliciting the various departments of the grocery store and getting exactly how much I need, which means I pay for only that.  I get my sandwich meat and cheese from the deli and what I love is that I can tell them how much to slice, how many slices, and even how thick to make my slices.  Gone are the days of moldy cheese because I ran out of bread- now I know to shop for exactly what I need.

8. Buy bread and baked goods in the bakery. 

Speaking of bread, I also buy baked goods at the bakery.  Not only are these items usually made fresh in stores, they also skip all the fancy packaging and trickle all those savings to you.  If you’re seriously on a budget, some bakeries even sell day-old goods for a fraction of the cost.

9. Buy meat in bulk, cut and freeze.

While you’re visiting the different departments of the grocery store, don’t forget to make a stop to the butcher.  I like to buy meat in bulk and cut it to freeze for later. It’s so much cheaper to buy meat like this, and I love the convenience of having options to use in my freezer.  My biggest tip is if you’re going to make chicken, get the whole chicken because that’s considerably cheaper than one that’s cut. Aside from using just the meat, you can also make a delicious chicken broth with the carcass, which is a great way to use the whole animal and also save money even more!

10. Buy Bulk Bin items.

You know those bulk bins at the grocery store?  That section is like gold to me since every time I visit it, I’m saving money!  Since I’m usually developing recipes, it’s just easier to purchase the exact quantity of something, that way I know exactly how much something costs.  What’s even better is that I only have the amount needed for the recipe, and that leaves me with less food to waste each month. I absolutely dread throwing away food, because it’s like throwing away money, so by buying some ingredients in bulk, I know I’m using up what I need.

Using ingredients from bulk bins, I’m going to make aebleskiver, or Danish Pancakes.  Ever since I got a special pan, I’ve been obsessed with making these fun-size pancakes.  I usually don’t purchase separate pans for specialty foods, but I really got my money’s worth for this pan since I use it a few times each month.  Yes, I could buy these ingredients packaged up ahead of time, but it’s happened where I think I have enough flour for a recipe (usually after I already mixed up the other ingredients), but I don’t have enough so I have to waste my time with an emergency trip to the store.  But ever since I started using bulk bins, I know I have enough for my recipes every time, and when it comes to eating healthy on a budget, everything adds up!

 

The post Best Tips for Shopping at the Grocery Store on a Budget appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Financially Prepare to Buy Your First Home

Home-buying season is coming up. With the warmer weather approaching, home buyers are eagerly waiting to find their dream place.

Since buying a house is typically the biggest purchase you’ll make, preparing your finances can give you a significant win. For example, if your credit score is high enough, you can get more competitive rates with mortgage lenders.

Besides saving up for the down payment, there are other costs with the home buying process.

If you’re looking to become a homeowner soon, let me show you how to prepare your finances so that you can get a better deal on your house and still have money left over for other expenses!

Buying a House: More Than Just the Down Payment

While most attention is given to getting a good-sized down payment ready, there’s more involved than just your mortgage payments. 

Lenders are looking at factors like income, debt to income ratio, but a huge factor is also your credit score. Your credit score is based on your credit reports. You have three credit reports and scores from each of the credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Want the Best Rate? Boost Your Credit Score

While the exact algorithm isn’t publicly disclosed, we do know the key factors that go into calculating your score. 

  • 35% Payment History
  • 30% Amount Owed
  • 15% Length of Credit History
  • 10% New Credit
  • 10% Types of Credit

Looking at how things are weighted, if you want to make the biggest impact on your credit score, you need to focus on your payment history and keeping your debts in check.

Let’s see how you can improve them which can help you boost your score before you start your home search.

The first thing you need to do is to get a copy of your credit report and make sure that it is accurate. Believe it or not, there is a chance that your report may have a mistake. In fact, it’s been estimated that more than 20% have an inaccuracy on their credit report. While it might be a minor detail like a misspelled name, if there’s any error with your payments or if it shows an open account that isn’t yours, that can really hurt you.

Because of the pandemic, you can now get your credit reports for free weekly over at AnnualCredit Report.com. If you do find a problem, you can then file a dispute with the credit bureau. In the meantime, keep your payment history in tiptop shape by automating them using your bank or credit union’s bill pay system.

You also want to keep in mind since lenders are assessing your finances to make sure you can handle a mortgage, you’ll want to make sure that your debt to income ratio is fairly low. Paying down your high-interest debts can be a huge win. If they are credit cards, after you pay them off, you may want to keep the accounts open at least until after you’ve bought your house. Lenders typically look favorably for those who have unused lines of credit. If you want to avoid the temptation of using it, you can tuck away your credit cards in an inconvenient, but safe place around your house.

Figuring Out How Much House You Can (Comfortably) Afford

Now that your credit report is accurate and your score has improved, it’s time for the next step in preparing your finances – finding out how much house you can afford. Besides having your mortgage lender calculate how much you can afford, it is also wise that you run the number yourselves. Chances are you have other goals than just buying a house.

When we were house hunting for our first place, we ran the numbers and then we checked them against what the lender had. With their calculations, we could ‘afford’ a significantly more expensive house. We looked at our number again and quickly realized if we went with their maximum budget, we’d be able to buy a house, but nothing else.

You may be thinking the same way. You’d love to buy a house, but you also want some money left over to enjoy it and other goals. You won’t be able to achieve them if your budget is maxed out on your house. You need to see for yourselves what you’re comfortable with so you can be a homeowner and still hit your goals. So how do you find out how much house you can afford?

The rule of thumb is that you should try to keep your mortgage no more than 2 ½ to 3 times your annual income. Let’s say that your family’s annual income is $65,000. Using that guideline, you’d be looking at homes around $163,000 – $195,000. If you’re a family making $120,000, then you can enjoy hunting houses between $300,000 – $360,000 and still have some money left over for other dreams.

Once you know how much you need to save you can use features like Mint’s Goals to keep track of your progress with the down payment. I’ve noticed that having a visual reminder has motivated many families towards their goals. As you hit certain milestones, have a small celebration.

Why Your Down Payment Matters

One of the biggest reasons why’d you like a larger down payment is to avoid paying private mortgage insurance (PMI). That gives lenders and extra assurance with the money they’re lending, but it can be an unnecessary weight on you.

Start automating transfers into savings with each payment, even if it’s a smaller amount than you hoped. You can then beef up your down payments by redirecting any windfall income (like a bonus, stimulus check or tax refund) into your savings. Having a bigger stash can be a huge help when you buy your home!

Closing Costs: What You Need to Know

You’ve saved your down payment, found an agent, and have found your dream house. Your offer was accepted. Before you celebrate, keep in mind there are some more expenses that come with the closing process.

I pulled out the paperwork from when we were buying a house a few ago and here’s what I found:

  • Appraisal
  • Home Inspection
  • Homeowners’ Insurance
  • Transfer Taxes
  • Underwriting Fee
  • Loan Discount Points
  • Pre-Paid Interest
  • Property Tax
  • Pest Inspection

It probably seems like too much and to a degree, I can understand. Some of these fees are non-negotiable and while others aren’t. However, you want to be careful with which expenses you try to save on. Skipping a home inspection is not a smart move, even with a new build. Believe me, we’ve been there.

When we bought our first house, it was a new build and so we thought it would be fine to skip the inspection and save some cash. However, new builds don’t guarantee good work. We had small mistakes become big headaches and by the time we sold our place about five years later, we had to have all but one of the windows replaced.

Would the inspection help us catch all of these things? No, but it would’ve given us a clearer idea of expenses to expect. With our second house, we did get an inspection and not only did it help us understand what future projects we’d need to tackle, but we were also able to use it as a negotiation tool.

Your Thoughts

I hope these tips give you a jumpstart towards your goal of becoming a homeowner. I want you to buy a home that you love, but allows you to pursue all of your financial and family goals!

The post How to Financially Prepare to Buy Your First Home appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Gardening Tips That Save You Green

If you’re a gardener, chances are you know how rewarding growing your own food can be. Whether you run an at-home farm, tend to a small patch of blueberry bushes, or have an apartment window herb garden, you know how satisfying that harvest of something you’ve grown is. Gardening has been linked to some serious health benefits, too—even significantly lowering levels of cortisol and feelings of stress.

Turns out, growing your own food at home offers much more than a chance to get outside and get your hands dirty. Growing your food can be an incredibly cost-effective hobby, with a 600 square-foot garden producing about 300 pounds of fresh produce worth around $600 annually. When packs of seeds cost around $3 each, the opportunity to grow your investment, literally and figuratively, is clear.  

Just by planting and tending to tomatoes, lettuce, or potatoes, you could save some serious money as a result. The average American spends close to $6,800 a year on food, which equals 12.6 percent of their total spending. Of that, $760 is spent on fruits and vegetables. By spending under $100 to build up your own plot of fruits and veggies, you could save around $800 a year—money that you could then save or invest in more seeds to save even more at the grocery store!

You don’t need a green thumb to see how that math adds up. If you’re worried about a black thumb ruining your chances of saving some serious green yearly, learn more about gardening tips that will turn even the smallest of garden plots into a bountiful harvest. Plus, read up on the many benefits of gardening on your health and overall happiness—you’ll be grabbing gardening gloves and mulch before you know it!

Sources: Country Living | An Oregon Cottage | Balcony Garden Web | The Penny Hoarder | Earth Easy | PSECU | Good Housekeeping | AARP | Money 

The post Gardening Tips That Save You Green appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

FHA Streamline Refinance [Rates, Closing Costs & More]

FHA streamline refinancing is a quick and simple way to improve the terms on your home loan — but it only applies to those who have already taken out an FHA loan to finance the purchase of their property. This type of home loan also has different rates, requirements, and costs when compared to traditional mortgages. 

Homeowners with FHA loans may wonder whether a streamline refinance is the right financial move. In this post, we’re walking you through how FHA refinancing works, what you need to know about it, what costs to expect, and how they stack up against using a traditional mortgage refinance. 

Take a look at the topics we’ll cover here:

  • What is an FHA refinance? 
    • FHA streamline refinance
  • FHA streamline refinance closing costs and other expenses
  • FHA refinance: pros and cons
  • Key FHA streamline refinance takeaways

If you’re new to FHA loans and refinancing, we’ll start with some simple definitions. And if you already know what you need and are curious about costs, and pros & cons, you can skip ahead. 

(Note: If you’re looking for more general information on refinancing, be sure to check out our mortgage refinance guide for an in-depth look.)

What is an FHA refinance?

In order to understand an FHA refinance, let’s first explain what an FHA loan is. When you take out a mortgage, your lender — usually a bank or other lending agency — takes a risk on you. They’re betting that if they give you money to purchase property, you’ll be able to pay it back within a set timeframe. That’s why they charge interest: to earn money from the risk they’re taking. It’s also why lenders require extensive credit checks, background checks, closing costs, and fees. 

FHA loans work a little differently. One misconception is that the FHA issues the loans directly. In fact, you can still get an FHA loan from a bank or other lender; they just have to be FHA-approved. What makes a mortgage an FHA loan is that it is insured by the FHA, the Federal Housing Administration. 

Being insured by the FHA means that lenders are more willing to give you favorable terms, like a lower down payment, lower closing costs, and less strict credit score requirements than you might find when applying for a traditional mortgage. 

What does refinancing mean? When you refinance a mortgage, you negotiate the terms on your mortgage debt. Usually, people refinance their mortgage to shorten or lengthen the repayment period, get a lower interest rate, secure other more favorable conditions, or cash-out on home equity to complete a project. 

  • Should you refinance? Read our guide to find out more. 

FHA loans can also be refinanced by negotiating a new FHA loan, although the reasons for your refinance may be more restricted than with a traditional mortgage; for instance, you may not take out more than $500 in cash when taking out an FHA refinance. One popular option that people seek when refinancing an FHA loan is a streamline refinance.

FHA streamline refinance

An FHA streamline refinance is a fast and simple way to refinance an FHA loan. HUD.gov specifies that FHA streamline refinancing doesn’t mean you’ll pay any less in costs, just that the refinancing process has limited documentation and underwriting requirements. 

An FHA streamline refinance does come with a basic set of requirements, however. To get FHA streamline refinancing, you’ll need to make sure that you meet the following conditions:

  • You have an FHA-insured mortgage. If you have a traditional mortgage acquired through a bank, credit union, or lending agency and that loan is not FHA-insured, then you will be ineligible for an FHA streamline refinance. Instead, you may want to consider a traditional mortgage refinance.
  • Your mortgage payments must be current. If you are delinquent on your mortgage payments — that means you’ve missed payments or underpaid — you will not be eligible for an FHA streamline refinance. It’s also important to ask the individual lender what their bank or agency’s policies regarding delinquency are, as some lenders may have more strict requirements than others.
  • The refinance results in a tangible benefit to the borrower. The HUD website specifies that the loan must prove to be a tangible net benefit to the borrower in order for you to qualify. This might mean that you end up paying less overall, or you end up with a more favorable repayment period for your specific financial situation.
  • You may not take out more than $500 in cash while refinancing. Some traditional mortgage refinancing options, like cash-out refinancing, allow borrowers to take out a portion of the equity in their home as cash to be put toward high-cost expenditures or projects of their choosing. This is not an option for FHA streamline refinancing at amounts over $500. 

Streamline refinancing is a good option for some people in select circumstances. In order to make a more informed decision about whether an FHA streamline refinance is the best option for your mortgage, it’s important to know the costs, as well as the pros and cons. 

FHA streamline refinance closing costs and other expenses

As with any mortgage or mortgage refinance, there are a number of costs that come along with taking out an FHA mortgage or an FHA refinance. If you’re considering an FHA refinance, be sure to review these costs before making any final decisions, and weigh them against the potential costs of other financing and refinancing options. 

  • Interest. Like other home loans, there is interest attached to FHA mortgages. FHA streamline refinance rates can vary significantly depending on factors like your credit score, the individual bank, credit union, or lending agency you work with, and the economic conditions at the time — the way the economy is doing can raise and lower interest rates. Sometimes, FHA streamline refinance rates can be higher than traditional mortgage refinancing, so be sure to speak with a professional to learn about your options before committing.
  • Down payment. Most mortgages require you to make a down payment when applying, and the same applies for FHA mortgages. The good news is that these are generally low, which is one of the reasons why many seek out FHA mortgages. Additionally, depending on the specific loan product and the lender, you might not owe any money down when acquiring an FHA refinance.
  • Closing costs. There may be closing costs applied to your FHA streamline refinance depending on the specific lender you work with. Some lenders offer “no cost” refinancing, meaning that the borrower does not pay any closing costs when refinancing their FHA loan. However, the lender may increase the interest rate to offset the lack of closing costs, so be sure to thoroughly research your lender’s FHA refinancing before deciding. It’s also important to note that the closing cost amount cannot be added directly to the total cost of the mortgage for a streamline refinance.
  • Mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance premiums (MIP) are an extra amount that borrowers must pay to secure a mortgage when their down payment is low; for traditional mortgages, that’s typically below 20%. Mortgage insurance may be applied to your FHA loan depending on your downpayment and other financial factors like your credit score.
    • Note: The FHA may offer partial refunds on some mortgage insurance when you sign up for an FHA streamline refinance. To find out more, use the FHA MIP refund chart to get a better estimate of your potential refund. 

To find out more about possible costs and factors that go into refinancing, read our guide to the mortgage refinance process.

FHA refinance: pros and cons

As you consider your refinancing options, be sure to carefully think through the FHA streamline refinance pros and cons. 

Pros

  • Potential for more favorable terms or lower cost
  • Typically quick and easy to complete
  • Possible mortgage insurance premium refund
  • Lower credit requirements than a traditional mortgage refinance 

Cons

  • Interest rate may be higher depending on a number of factors, including the specific lender you work with and other factors
  • Requirements, like FHA streamline mortgages being restricted to FHA loans, and the requirement that you cannot be delinquent on your mortgage, may exclude some borrowers
  • Those looking for a cash-out refinance to fund home improvements or other large expenses may not be able to secure the funding they need through an FHA refinance

As with many financial products, the bottom line is that whether an FHA streamline refinance works for you depends on your specific financial situation. Understanding the specifics of your personal finances, where you are in your mortgage payments, and what options your lender has available is critical. 

Key FHA streamline refinance takeaways

Considering an FHA home loan or FHA streamline refinance? Keep these key takeaways in mind as you continue your research and assess what options suit your personal financial profile best.

  • FHA loans are mortgages approved and insured by the FHA; they have easier-to-meet requirements than many traditional mortgages. 
  • FHA streamline refinancing can help you secure more favorable terms on an FHA loan while also giving you the opportunity to reduce the amount you owe on mortgage insurance premiums. 
  • Streamline refinancing is quick and requires minimal documentation, but FHA streamline refinancing closing costs may still be applied; sometimes, these are factored into your new interest rate. 
  • Always research your options before settling for any particular mortgage or refinance product. Often, it’s smart to shop around before committing, that way you know you’re getting the best deal that you can get in light of your financial circumstances.

Sources:

HUD.gov | Investopedia 

The post FHA Streamline Refinance [Rates, Closing Costs & More] appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips

Have you ever sat down to go over your budget only to find out that you’ve outrageously overspent on food? Local, organic, artisan goods and trendy new restaurant outings with friends make it easy to do. With food being the second highest household expense behind mortgage or rent, our food choices have a huge impact on our budget. Using this monthly budget calculator can also help guide how to budget for food. 

You may be surprised to find out that the most nutrient-dense foods are often the most budget-friendly. It’s not only possible, but fun and easy to eat nourishing, delicious food while still sticking to your budget. Here are 11 ways to help you learn how to budget groceries.

1. Track Current Spending

Before you figure out what you should be spending on food, it’s important to figure out what you are spending on food. Keep grocery store receipts to get a realistic picture of your current spending habits. If you feel inclined, create a spreadsheet to break down your spending by category, including beverages, produce, etc. Once you’ve done this, you can get an idea of where to trim down spending.

2. Allocate a Percentage of Your Income

How much each household spends on food varies based on income level and how many people need to be fed. Consider using a grocery calculator if you’re not sure where to start. While people spent about 30 percent of their income on food in 1950, this percentage has dropped to 9–12 today. Consider allocating 10 percent of your income to food as a starting point, and increase from there if necessary.

3. Avoid Eating Out

This is the least fun tip, we promise. Eating out is a quick and easy way to ruin your food budget. If you’re actively dating or enjoy going out to eat with friends, be sure to factor restaurants into your food budget — and strictly adhere to your limit. Coffee drinkers, consider making your favorite concoctions at home.

4. Plan Your Meals

It’s much easier to stick to a budget when you have a plan. Plus, having a purpose for each grocery item you buy will ensure nothing goes to waste or just sits in your pantry unused. Don’t be afraid of simple salads or meatless Mondays. Not every meal has to be a gourmet, grandiose experience.

5. Keep a Fridge Grocery List

Keep a magnetized grocery list on your fridge so that you can replace items as needed. This ensures you’re buying food you know you’ll eat because you’re already used to buying it. Sticking to a list in the grocery store is an effective way to keep yourself accountable and not spend money on processed or pricey items — there’s no need to take a stroll down the candy aisle if it’s not on the list.

6. Eat Before You Go to the Store

If your mother gave you this advice growing up, she was onto something: according to a survey, shoppers spend an average of 64 percent more when hungry. Sticking to a budget is all about eliminating temptations, so plan to eat beforehand to eliminate tantalizing foods that will cause you to go over-budget.

7. Be Careful with Coupons

50 percent off ketchup is a great deal — unless you don’t need ketchup. Beware of coupons that claim you’ll “save” money. If the item isn’t on your list, you’re not saving at all, but rather spending on something you don’t truly need. This discretion is key to saving money at the grocery store.

8. Embrace the Bulk Section

Not only is the bulk section of your grocery store great for cheap, filling staples, but it’s also the perfect way to discover new foods and bring variety into your diet. Take the time to compare the price of buying pre-packaged goods versus bulk — it’s almost always cheaper to buy in bulk, plus eliminating unnecessary packaging is good for the planet.

Bonus: a diet rich in unprocessed, whole plant foods provides virtually every nutrient, ensuring optimal health and keeping you from spending an excess amount on healthcare costs.

9. Bring Lunch to Work

Picture this: you’re trying to stick to a strict food budget, and one day at work you realize it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry. But alas, you forgot to pack a lunch. All the meal planning and smart shopping in the world won’t solve the work-lunch-dilemma. Brown-bagging your lunch is key to ensuring your food budget is successful. Plus, it can be fun! Think mason jar salads and Thai curry bowls.

10. Love Your Leftovers

Would you ever consider throwing $640 cash into the trash? This is what the average American household does every year — only instead of cash, it’s $640 worth of food that’s wasted. With millions of undernourished people around the globe, throwing away food not only hurts our budget but is a waste of the world’s resources. Tossing food is no joke. Eat your leftovers.

11. Freeze Foods That Are Going Bad

To avoid wasting food, freeze things that look like they’re about to go bad. Fruit that’s past its prime can be frozen and used in smoothies. Make double batches of soups, sauces, and baked goods so you’ll always have an alternative to ordering takeout when you don’t feel like cooking.

Sticking to a food budget takes planning and discipline. While it may not seem fun at first, you’ll likely find that you enjoy cooking and trying a variety of new foods you wouldn’t have thought to use before. Being resourceful and cooking healthfully is a skill that will benefit your wallet and waistline for years to come.

 

Sources: Turbo | Fool | Forbes | Medical Daily | GO Banking Rates | Value Penguin

The post How to Budget Groceries: 11 Easy Tips appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

Do You Know How Much You’re Spending on Dining and Takeout?

Pretty much everyone upped their spending on take-out food in 2020 – and for good reason. With restaurants closed for indoor dining and grocery stores experiencing unpredictable staffing and inventory issues, many consumers chose to order out for the majority of their meals.

Now that things are slowly returning to normal, you may be wondering how to adjust your budget accordingly. We’ll walk you through how to determine the right amount to budget for take-out and dining, and give you some strategies to save money when ordering from your favorite restaurants.

How Much Should You Spend on Dining and Take-Out?

It’s hard to give an exact prescription for how much you should spend on take-out because it largely depends on the specifics of your budget and financial situation. In general, your food budget, including groceries and eating out, should make up between 10 and 15% of your income. Families with multiple children may spend more than that, so don’t worry if your percentage exceeds the recommendation.

If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, go through your transactions for the past few months and calculate the percentage.

John Bovard, CFP of Incline Wealth Advisors said consumers who have no credit card debt and invest 20% or more of their income in a retirement account can spend 10% of their post-tax income on take-out.

Ways to Save on Takeout

Want to keep your takeout tradition but still feel like you’re spending too much? Here are some tips to save money when ordering out from your favorite restaurants:

Pick up in person

Everyone knows that delivery fees add a huge surcharge to your total bill, but you might not realize how big the difference actually is. A New York Times article found that the same sandwich at Subway costs between 25% and 91% more when delivered, depending on the specific delivery app.

A $20 order could cost between $5 and $18.20 more if you get it delivered. The cost is generally higher during weekends and holidays.

Look for specials

Plan your take-out around restaurant specials. Follow restaurants on social media to see when they’re running discounts, like half-price oysters on Sundays or happy hour specials. When you’re picking up the food, ask someone behind the counter when the best deals are.

Restaurants often print coupon codes or discounts on their receipts, so don’t forget to check there.

Use discounted gift cards

Many restaurants and fast food places sell gift cards and often run special sales, like selling a $50 gift card for $45. This is especially popular during the holiday season.

Wholesale clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club regularly sell discounted gift cards to popular chains. For example, you can buy $100 worth of gift cards to California Pizza Kitchen for only $80 at Costco, or $75 worth of Domino’s gift cards for only $65.

You can also buy restaurant gift cards online through GiftCardGranny or CardCash, which sell gift cards for up to 10% off.

Skip dinner

Dinner is the most expensive meal of the day, so opt for breakfast or lunch if you’re eating out. If you get take-out a couple times a week, use one for dinner and the other for brunch or lunch.

Cash in rewards

Some restaurants have loyalty programs you can join with an email address or phone number, while others have an old-fashioned punch card system. Keep track of these rewards so you cash them out before they expire.

Order catering

If you’re eating with a group of people, see if the restaurant offers catering, which may be less expensive than ordering individual entrees. Everyone will have to eat the same thing, but it’s a great way to save money.

Sign up for restaurant emails

Both local and national restaurants often have email newsletters you can join to get extra discounts. For example, my favorite Mexican restaurant is constantly sending me emails for 10 or 15% off take-out.

Create a separate label for these emails so you can sort through them before ordering take-out. You can also add reminders on your phone to use the discounts before they expire.

Use a rewards credit card

Many credit cards offer points or cashback when you dine out, and some let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards. Look up the rewards policies for your current credit cards to see which one you should use for restaurants.

Consider opening a new card if you don’t have a dining rewards card. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 2% cashback for dining and also comes with a year of DashPass, the DoorDash subscription service with $0 delivery fees.

Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders earn 3% cashback on dining, get a free year’s worth of DashPass and also have $60 of DoorDash credit for the first year.

Most dining rewards cards have an annual fee, usually around $95, so don’t open one unless the cashback rewards will exceed the fee. Some card companies will waive the fee for the first year, allowing you to see if you’ll earn enough rewards to offset the fee. Some rewards credit cards also let you cash in points for restaurant gift cards.

Buy a food delivery subscription

If you don’t have easy access to transportation, then ordering delivery may be your best option.  In this case, consider signing up for a food delivery membership. DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Uber Eats all offer a monthly subscription for around $10. Each subscription comes with free delivery and other specials.

Before you sign up, calculate how often you order out and see if a monthly membership makes sense. If you have a neighbor or roommate, consider splitting a subscription with them to save even more money.

Many of these services have a free trial period, allowing you to gauge how much you’ll actually use them. Choose the app with the largest number of restaurants you like.

Use a browser extension

Browser extensions like Rakuten provide cashback when you order from delivery sites like Grubhub and Seamless. Just click on the Rakuten button on the top right of your browser when you visit either of those sites. You’ll earn up to 11% cashback with eligible orders.

The post Do You Know How Much You’re Spending on Dining and Takeout? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com