Money Talk: How to Go From 😱 to 😎

Maybe math isn’t your best subject, or your parents’ money mistakes have you stressing about your own finances. Or maybe the thought of budgeting just makes you want to take a nap.

But you can’t be all 🙈🙉🙊 about money — dealing with it is part of becoming an adult. And understanding how to manage it responsibly will open up possibilities to travel, start your own business or (insert your dream here).

To make learning about money as painless as possible, we answered some basic questions that we hear from college students and recent grads all the time. (And we threw in some emojis, too, because that makes everything more fun).💃🎉😄

Question: I spend too much money — how do I save more?

Answer: Think of budgeting like dieting: If you restrict yourself too much, you’ll probably lose a few pounds at first but eventually go crazy and eat all the 🍕🍕🍕. Similarly, it’s unreasonable to expect yourself never to splurge on those concert tickets or that cool pair of shoes.

To keep a healthy balance, try this: Spend 50% of your money on necessities, 30% on wants and 20% on savings. Here’s how it would break down with $100:

$50 → 🏠💡🍎
$30 → 👠🍦🎬
$20 → 💵🐷🏦

Q: What is credit and how do I build it?

A: Your credit report is like a financial report card: It’s a record of how you’ve handled borrowed money, including whether you’ve paid your bills on time. Your credit score is like your GPA: It represents the information on your credit report with a number. The best score you can get is typically an 850, which is like acing all of your classes.💪💯🎉

Credit is one of those chicken-and-egg 🐣 problems: You need it to rent an apartment, get a car loan, take out a mortgage and even to open a cell phone plan. Basically, having good credit is the 🔑 to adulting. But how do you build credit if you’ve never borrowed money? Here are three ways:

1⃣ Get a credit card with a responsible relative who is willing to co-sign for you. (A co-signer = someone who promises to pay the bill if you don’t.)

2⃣ Open a secured credit card without a co-signer — you’ll just have to put down a 💵 deposit first.

3⃣ Ask to be added as an authorized user on a relative’s credit card. You’ll get the best of both worlds: You can swipe without being legally responsible for the bill, and in most cases, it builds your credit history. Just make sure the card issuer reports authorized users to the credit bureaus.

Once you have your new piece of plastic, use it responsibly. That means not going crazy at the mall and paying your bill on time every month.✅

Q: College is so expensive! How do I afford it?

A: Thinking about paying for college might have you feeling like 😧😭😱.

But you have options, including grants and scholarships, which = 🆓 money, and student loans, which = money you have to pay back.💸

In order to be eligible for any of that, you have to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Even if you don’t think you qualify for need-based aid, submit it anyway. The FAFSA is necessary to get federal student loans and some merit-based scholarships (aka, money you get based on your brains or talents ⚽🎵📝).

Q: I have a ton of student loan debt; what should I do?🚨🆘🚨

A: Paying back student loans stinks. But if you have federal loans, as most students do, there are ways to keep them from draining your bank account.

For instance, you can sign up for an income-driven repayment plan to tie your monthly payments to your income. And if your income is low enough, you could owe as little as $0 a month.

Some other options: If you’re dealing with a medical issue 🚑 or another stressful money situation, you can request a forbearance to temporarily hit “pause” on your monthly payments. And if you work for the government or a nonprofit, you may qualify for a loan forgiveness program.🙏

You can learn more about all these options through your loan servicer, so make sure you know who yours is. Hint: It’s the private company that manages your loans on behalf of the government. You can look it up by logging in to the Federal Student Aid website.

Congrats, you made it to the 🔚!. Until next time, this Nerd is signing out.🤓

 

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today College.

The article Money Talk: How to Go From 😱 to 😎 originally appeared on NerdWallet.

5 Tips to Manage the Variable Costs in Your Budget

It’s a good idea to have a budget, even if it’s an informal one. Some of us do pretty well with the fixed-cost part of the budget. Fixed costs are those that stay the same each month, like your rent or mortgage payment, cable package, gym membership, cell phone bill, car payment, the dating service you signed up for and can’t get out of. You know you’re going to have to pay the same amount each month, so you plan for it and cough it up regularly.

Your variable costs are harder to nail down, and those are the ones that can really blow your budget. A month of dining out a lot, buying a wedding present, replacing a muffler or paying your property tax bill, and your variable dollars are gone and then some.

These five tips will help you manage your variable expenses so you can stay on budget:

1. Get the most enjoyment for your money

You’re pretty much committed to your rent, but you’ve got leeway in what you do with your other money each month. If you really enjoy that Starbucks every morning, it’s probably OK to get it. The first sip, and the 30 sips after that one, make you feel good — and feeling good is one of the key reasons we earn and spend money. However, other things you spend on may be more from habit than for pleasure. You might actually prefer bringing your lunch from home rather than eating yet another dejected hamburger from the work cafeteria, thereby reducing a variable expense. Evaluate your purchases and make sure they give you pleasure equal to what you spend on them.

2. Pause before you purchase

One of the secrets to staying slim is to be mindful about what you eat. You’re supposed to ask yourself whether you really want that bag of M&M’s or whether an apple would be just as satisfying. (Yes, I do; no, it wouldn’t.) You can try to whittle down your expenses in the same way. Before you buy something, think about whether you really want or need it. Sometimes the act of pausing to think is enough to keep you from swiping your credit card.

3. Plan for seasonal expenses

It’s smart to look at the year ahead rather than just the month. Some expenses hit only every quarter (SiriusXM radio) or twice a year (dental cleaning copay). Other months offer the promise of reduced variable expenses (a week with generous in-laws at their lake house) or increased costs (because everyone in your family happened to be born in February). Acknowledging and accounting for the natural and regular seasonal variation in your expenses will help you better prepare for them, and may allow you to reduce them. 

4. Put your spending in perspective

Another great idea is to think about what you really want in terms of how much money you make. In our family, we say, “I like this sweater, but not $40 worth.” Or you can evaluate a dinner out or other expense based on the hours you’d work to pay for it. For instance, say your hourly rate after taxes is $18. A dinner charge of $80 means about four-and-a-half hours on the job for you.

5. Track your expenses

Part of the problem with variable expenses is tracking them accurately. You know how much the rent is, but you may not be aware of how much you’re really spending on food, toiletries, gas, travel, gifts and the many other expenses that crop up. Advocacy site America Saves recommends keeping a record of expenses. You can use the simple, old-fashioned method of writing down your variable expenses in a notebook for a month or two, or you can go higher-tech. Use “Notes” on your phone or a mobile budgeting app like Mint or one of the many others NerdWallet recently reviewed.

Slow and steady wins the race

To reduce your variable expenses successfully, you’ll need to pay attention to what you spend each day. That exercise can be tedious. It’s tiresome to have to watch, count and restrict yourself every day. However, over time your carefulness will come more easily and you’ll be more aware of the habits that increase your variable spending — and how to change them.

 

Kathryn Hauer, a certified financial planner, adjunct professor at Aiken Technical College and financial literacy educator, is the author of “Financial Advice for Blue Collar America.”

The article 5 Tips to Manage the Variable Costs in Your Budget originally appeared on NerdWallet.

A 3-Step Plan for New Grads With Student Debt

You’re a new grad, maybe in a new city with a new job, apartment and friends. But not all the new things about postgrad life are fun and sparkly; you likely have a new debt to deal with, too.

If you graduated in May, your first student loan payment will probably come due next month. And if you’re like a lot of recent graduates, you’re craving some structure amid all the newness. Follow this three-step plan to help you start chipping away at your student debt.

Step 1: Become an expert on your own loans

Start with the basics. You should be able to answer the following questions about your student loans to best know how to tackle them:

  • Who is your federal loan servicer?
  • How much do you owe total and what are your interest rates?
  • How much do you owe each month and when is your first payment due?

Find this information about your federal loans by logging into your Federal Student Aid account or checking with your loan servicer. If you have private loans, contact your lender.

Step 2: Budget for your monthly payments

A depressing reality of postgrad life is that you’ll need to make room in your budget for your student loan payments. Plan to pay the minimum amount due every month to keep your credit in good shape. Another tip: Set up autopay. In most cases, you’ll get a 0.25% interest rate discount for automating your payments.

It’s also a good time to figure out how your student loan payments will fit into your overall financial picture. Based on the 50/30/20 budgeting strategy, you should spend about 50% of your take-home earnings on needs, including your minimum student loan payments, rent and other necessary bills.

Step 3: Income too low? Adjust your payment plan

If your student loan payments eat up too much of your paycheck, switching to an income-driven repayment plan may be what you need. The plans base your minimum federal loan payment on your earnings and can lower your payments; depending on your income, you may not be required to pay anything. It sounds like a no-brainer, but keep in mind that they also increase the amount of interest you’ll pay in the long run.

If an income-driven plan makes sense for you, it’s free to sign up through the Department of Education. Apply on the Federal Student Aid website to get started.

Next steps

Once you get into the groove of making your monthly payments, check out ways to save money on your student loans:

  • Refinance your student loans to save money in interest. You’ll likely qualify if you have good credit and a high income compared to your other financial obligations.
  • Get federal loan forgiveness based on your employer or occupation. For instance, you’re eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you work for the government or a nonprofit.

 

Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.

The article A 3-Step Plan for New Grads With Student Debt originally appeared on NerdWallet.

4 Money Truths I Wish I Knew In College

I was the first person in my family to go to college. At least in a ‘regular’ way, at a young age! Both my parents attended college, but as fully mature adults.

My mom decided to go to college after she and my father divorced. Every once in a while, I would end up going to class with her.

While she worked on her degree, I worked on my second-grade homework.

Fast forward 10 years, and I found myself graduating from high school at age 17 and making my way to a college that I had never seen before, but that had awarded me a lot of money. There was no way I wouldn’t attend.

I was the first kid in my family to take the traditional route to college.

I studied AP English and history, did too many extra-curricular activities to count, and was incredibly prepared – except when it came to one huge thing: money.

I had no idea of all of the money-related issues that would come up, and no one in my family was aware of the financial issues that I would face.

Before You Arrive

You will begin experiencing the costs of attending college up to two years before you arrive. Students will start paying for standardized tests, and they’ll shell out hundreds of dollars just to submit college applications.

Before taking the SAT, see if you are eligible to receive a fee waiver for the test. According to the College Board website, if you are eligible for a fee waiver, you will also be eligible for four college application fee waivers for eligible schools. You will have to do some research to figure out which schools will waive the fee.

Once You’ve Applied

Start looking for as many scholarships as you possibly can. If you play the harmonica well, there just might be a scholarship waiting for you!

There are so many scholarships out there. Be the person who finds out about and applies for the random scholarships that you qualify for, and actually win the money because no one else thought about applying for them.

You can use apps like Scholly, developed by Christopher Gray, to help you find scholarships that are right for you.

Lack of Financial Skills

Lacking financial skills made me easy prey for credit card companies who enticed students with t-shirts, backpacks, and other useless stuff that we thought was necessary at the time.

Many schools now have offices dedicated to helping students manage their finances, so don’t feel weird if you lack money management skills. Start with the financial aid department to see what money management resources you can access on campus. Begin reading personal finance blogs and websites like CentSai.

Holidays Cost Money

I never returned home during my college years because it cost money to fly, and I didn’t have any money to spare. I did visit a friend’s home in NYC (I went to college in New York State). But I never imagined that I would never see home for four years due to my lack of money.

The problem with staying on campus during the holidays is that many universities will shut down the majority of their dormitories to cleaning and fix things.

You will typically be given notice about this, but many students may find themselves scrambling for a place to stay when the dorms are closed. Fortunately, I almost always lived in dorms that were open during the holidays.

The other issue with staying on campus during the holidays is that the majority of the dining halls will close, as well. So you may find yourself having to eat during very limited hours of the day, and you may need to purchase and prepare your own food, even if you have a campus meal plan.

It was tough being a broke kid on campus, but I now know that I wasn’t the only one. Hopefully, these tips will help you anticipate and avoid the financial pitfalls that I experienced in college because I had no one to show me the way. Now you have some guidance!

 

The article 4 Money Truths I Wish I Knew In College originally appeared on CentSaiAdulting.

10 Smart Money Moves That Take 10 Minutes

Whatever your financial goals — from building a nest egg to flying the coop for a dream vacation — you’re only 10 minutes away from being a step closer. Here are 10 quick ways to get your personal finances in order.

1. Bump up your 401(k) contribution

Contributing just 1% more of your paycheck toward a 401(k) will add thousands to your retirement savings. Want to squirrel away money even faster? If your employer matches contributions, increase yours to the maximum amount it will kick in. Otherwise, you’re leaving free money on the table.

2. Start an emergency fund

The median American household has less than a month’s worth of income in liquid savings, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s a scary position to be in if financial disaster strikes, such as a major medical problem not covered by health insurance.

Prepare for financial roadblocks by opening a savings account for emergencies. Arrange regular transfers from your checking account to ensure your rainy-day fund grows every month.

3. Fine-tune your tax withholdings

If your withholdings — the income tax removed from each paycheck — are too low, you could owe more at tax time than expected. Too high, and you’re essentially loaning the IRS money that could be earning interest for you elsewhere.

Contact your human resources department to adjust withholdings on your W4. The IRS withholding calculator can help you plan for your circumstances.

4. Set up overdraft alerts

Accidentally outspending your checking account is easy, and the accompanying fees can be a budget killer, especially if you buy several items while in the red. NerdWallet found maximum one-day penalties to be above $200 at several banks.

To avoid this pitfall, log in to your bank account and elect overdraft alerts. If your funds dip below a certain amount, you’ll get a warning text — your cue to stop spending.

5. Download your free credit report

Having poor credit can cost you, in the form of expenses such as higher car insurance and mortgage rates.

You’re entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com. Many credit card issuers also offer customers free FICO scores, making it easy to find out if your credit could use some TLC.

6. Seek late-payment forgiveness

Kicking yourself over missing a credit card payment? Although card issuers don’t advertise it, they may waive your late fee if you ask nicely, especially for first-time flubs.

7. Take a breath before you buy

Studies show the chemical high of shopping often outweighs the actual satisfaction from impulse purchases — as if the seldom-worn duds hanging in your closet weren’t proof enough.

Next time you feel the pull of the “buy now” button, try lifting your spirits another way first. Meditate, have a snack, go outside. You may be surprised how unnecessary that shiny new item seems afterward.

8. Shop at the FSA Store

Contributing to a flexible spending account is a great way to earmark money for medical costs during the year. But what if December comes and you’ve got a bunch of money still sitting in the account?

Rather than forfeit unused money at year’s end, burn up your remaining FSA bucks at fsastore.com — an online marketplace where you can stock up on sunscreen, bandages, contact lenses and other items.

9. Double-check your life insurance beneficiary

Life insurance policies typically last decades. A beneficiary you listed 20 or 30 years ago may not still be the person you want receiving the payout — for instance, if you named your spouse as the original beneficiary but have since remarried. After such a hefty cash investment, it’d be a shame to see the payoff inadvertently go to the wrong person.

10. Identify your no-fee ATMs

Settling for the first ATM you find is tempting when you’re on the go, but fees can add up fast. Consumers cough up nearly $5 for every out-of-network ATM transaction, on average, according to 2016 data from Informa Research Services.

Here’s a better option: Go to your bank’s online ATM locator or mobile app to scout no-fee machines near your usual haunts. Credit unions and small or online banks often reimburse fees at affiliate ATMs, too, which are hard to identify on your own.


Alex Glenn is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: aglenn@nerdwallet.com.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was first published by USA Today.

The article 10 Smart Money Moves That Take 10 Minutes originally appeared on NerdWallet.

How to Get Your Money Wizardry On With Harry Potter

Like most millennials, I grew up with Harry Potter. I stayed up all night reading after every book release, engaged in a nonstop debate with my brothers about which house the Sorting Hat would direct us to, and nearly cried when I didn’t get a Hogwarts letter on my eleventh birthday. (Let’s be real: I sobbed.)

I recently re-read the series to prepare for the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I noticed something that I had missed when I was younger. When I was a kid, the Harry Potter series taught me about friendship, courage, and Quidditch. As an adult, I found the books to be chock full of financial wisdom.

Money can’t buy happiness

The Malfoys have seemingly endless wealth, but they are bitter, cruel, and very unhappy. On the other hand, the Weasleys are one of the poorest magical families in the series, and undeniably the happiest. Money really isn’t everything.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

When Voldemort splits his soul seven ways and hides the pieces all over Britain, he isn’t just performing dark magic – he’s also applying a smart financial strategy! Pouring all your wealth into one investment or asset puts you at greater risk than dividing it up. That way, if you lose one investment (or Horcrux) you won’t be devastated.

Be upfront about purchase or loan terms

The goblins that work at Gringott’s Bank consider some purchases to be rentals. A goblin-made object is the property of the wizard that purchases it, but should be returned to the goblin that made it after the original buyer dies. Wizards have a different perspective – the Weasleys have passed on a goblin-made tiara for generations. When renting or buying, make sure that both parties understand the terms of the transaction, or you could end up in a sticky situation.

Only do business with people you trust

When Fred and George Weasley look for startup funding for their joke shop, they bet all their savings on the outcome of the Quidditch World Cup. Though they won the bet, Ludo Bagman (the man on the other end of the deal) refused to give them their winnings or even pay them back. Lesson learned: never make a deal with somebody you don’t trust.

Leave an inheritance to your children

Lily and James Potter were killed when Harry was only one-year-old. Though they weren’t around to raise Harry themselves, they had left him a small fortune that allowed Harry to get a great education and enjoy a fairly normal adolescence (for a wizard). Planning for the worst turned out to be for the best.

Hustling pays off

Fred and George Weasley turn their love of mischief into a highly successful business in just a few years. They stick to their areas of expertise (jokes and mayhem) and a familiar audience (Hogwarts students), and they create a veritable empire. After securing startup funding from Harry, they spend their last year at Hogwarts perfecting their most popular products and building a fan base. Even though they’re short on time and money, the Weasley twins hustle their way to a business success.

Some rewards aren’t worth the risk

Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons students submit their names to compete for the Triwizard Cup and its thousand-galleon prize, even though past competitors have died in the attempt. Mundungus Fletcher makes shady business deals and steals for a living, and he ends up in Azkaban prison for it. Sometimes, the risk isn’t worth the reward – working hard and being honest are safer bets.

Money means different things to different people 

To Draco Malfoy, money means influence – it’s how he bribes his way onto the Slytherin Quidditch team. Harry, who discovered his small fortune after years eating scraps and wearing hand-me-downs, doesn’t judge people by how much gold they have. Ron, who never had access to money, can be touchy and resentful when the topic comes up. When finances and friends mix, consider others’ feelings as well as your own.

Keep your money in a safe place

For wizards, this means Gringotts Bank, which Hagrid sums up in a phrase: “Yeh’d be mad ter try an’ rob it.” For all us muggles, a similarly reputable bank is an acceptable substitute.

Live within your means, esp. if you have kids

The Weasley family is big – seven-kids big. Magically-enlarged-house big. Too-many-people-to-fit-in-the-magically-enlarged-kitchen big. Though they rarely have the cash for extravagant gifts or vacations, all the Weasleys get a world-class education at Hogwarts, and they’re one of the happiest families around. By taking care of hand-me-downs, skipping extravagant purchases, and DIY-ing Christmas gifts and wedding decorations, they manage to stretch Mr. Weasley’s small government salary to care for seven kids.

Use windfalls, bonuses, and inheritances responsibly

When Harry learns that he inherited a small fortune, he doesn’t go spending it all at once. Even when he is tempted to blow it all on a Firebolt broomstick, he stops himself. Instead, he saves his money for necessities like cauldrons and apparition lessons. Don’t squander an inheritance, end-of-year bonus, or surprise windfall – if a 13-year-old wizard can control his spending, so can you.

 

The article How To Get Your Money Wizardry On With Harry Potter originally appeared on CentSaiAdulting.

5 Ways to Stash Cash and Still Eat Well in College

When you’re looking for ways to rein in your spending, a food budget can be a good place to start. But you don’t want to sacrifice your social life. Here are a few ways to enjoy those tailgating parties, coffee dates and roommate takeout nights without food costs draining your bank account.

1. Plan your spending

Divide your food budget into two categories: needs and wants. Food can easily walk a tightrope between the two, so use this strategy as a guide, not a rigid rule. If you’ve already paid for a campus meal plan that covers all of your weekly meals, most of your additional weekly food spending will fall into the want category. If you live off campus, consider your groceries as needs and impromptu drive-thru runs as wants.

Set weekly goals for each category based on what you can afford and what’s reasonable for your lifestyle and location. This budgeting calculator may help. Tweak your spending goals to develop a budget that works for you.

2. Understand your campus meal plan

Many schools charge a lump-sum dining hall fee per semester or bundle food and housing costs, so it can be hard to know what you’re really paying for each meal you eat on campus.

The cost per meal can vary widely by school, so use this college meal plan calculator to estimate yours. The dining plan may be your only option, because some schools require students living on campus to buy one. But if you have can opt out, you could save money by skipping the dining halls and buying groceries and the occasional meal out instead.

3. Cook at home on weeknights

Vowing to not order takeout is probably unrealistic, but try to cook at home at least during the week. You’ll be most successful if you plan ahead, so make meal prep part of your Sunday routine. To get started try vegetable curry, turkey avocado cubanos and lemon basil ramen stir fry.

4. Budget for splurges

It can feel impossible to resist that group pizza order after a late night out. You don’t have to deny yourself those indulgences, but come up with a way to curb too much impulse spending.

One idea: Use a prepaid debit card to hold your “want” food allowance. Look for one with minimal fees. Load a set amount onto the card each month, and when it runs out you’ll know it’s time to cut back until next month. For a similar effect without the fees that some prepaid cards charge, tuck a few bills in an envelope and use them to buy those midnight munchies. In both cases, the card and the cash — or lack of it — will say no when your willpower can’t.

5. Split bulk grocery items among your roommates

Buying pantry items in bulk can be cost-effective. But when you’re cooking for one, a 25-pound bag of rice could take you years to finish. To avoid waste and still reap the cost benefits, ask your roommates to split bulk amounts of nonperishable items like pasta, beans, oatmeal and nuts. Use Venmo or a similar money-transfer app to pay one another back.


Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: teddy@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @teddynykiel.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by USA Today College.

The article 5 Ways to Stash Cash and Still Eat Well in College originally appeared on NerdWallet.

What to Buy (and Skip) in November

November brings forth a cornucopia of sales: Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But that’s just the beginning of what this deal-driven month will produce. Here are the categories from which shoppers should be buying — and a couple they should skip — over the next few weeks to get the most for their money.

Buy: Electronics

Of all the products that will be on sale in November, electronics take center stage. Stores stuff the pages of their Black Friday ads with markdowns on tablets, gaming systems, smartwatches, smartphones and more.

Accordingly, shoppers should be patient and wait until Black Friday (Nov. 25) to make an electronics purchase. Some major retailers will kick off their Black Friday deals a day early, on Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to brave the crowds to get a deal, many stores will also give shoppers an opportunity to do their discount shopping online.

Skip: Bedding and linens

It’s a little too early to put a fresh set of sheets on the bed. January is your best bet for a deal on bedding and linens. Dating to the 1800s, stores have promoted bedding discounts called “white sales” at the beginning of each year as a way to bring shoppers into their home departments. In January 2016, bedding basics were slashed by 60% to 70% at stores like Wayfair and Macy’s. We expect similar levels of savings again in 2017.

Buy: Vacuums

Aside from spring cleaning season, November is a solid opportunity to add a new vacuum cleaner to your closet. Last year, Wal-Mart had a Dyson DC33 bagless upright vacuum on sale for $197 (regularly $269) as part of its Black Friday sale. Dyson, too, had a Thanksgiving weekend sale on its website, with select models marked down by hundreds of dollars. Expect these sweeping sales to land at the end of the month.

» MORE: What to buy every month of the year

Skip: Winter products

The first day of winter is fast approaching. Dec. 21 will mark a change in seasons, but retailers are already gearing up for the cold months by releasing winter apparel and sporting equipment early — usually at full price. Similarly, Christmas decorations now adorning store displays are more expensive when they first hit shelves than when they’re on their way out the door. Consider reserving your seasonal purchases until closer to Christmas.

Buy: Wedding dresses

Dress shops have been known to clear out racks of existing merchandise in the fall as they make way for brides to shop new styles. In fact, we spotted discounts on wedding gowns and bridesmaid dresses happening right now at David’s Bridal. Another insider tip: If you really want to save big, buy a dress that isn’t a wedding dress at all. Many stores sell white dresses in styles similar to wedding gowns, but if the dress isn’t labeled as such, it’ll generally cost you less.

Shop: Black Friday, Cyber Monday sales

We alluded to it earlier, but November is perhaps best known, at least in a shopping sense, for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest shopping days of the year. This year, Black Friday is on Nov. 25, and Cyber Monday is on Nov. 28.

If you’re planning a major purchase such as a refrigerator or computer, hold off until the end of the month. Major retailers like Best Buy, Target and Wal-Mart usually release Black Friday advertisements in the days or weeks before Black Friday to announce their upcoming deals and doorbusters. In 2015, Best Buy delivered a 49-inch Toshiba 1080p HDTV for $149.99. Among other deals, Target took 25% off all Beats wireless headphones for Black Friday and gave a coupon code for 15% off its entire website on Cyber Monday.

» MORE: When is Black Friday 2016 (Really)?

Bonus: Veterans Day

Veterans Day traditionally delivers military-specific discounts at retailers and restaurants to salute members of the armed forces, but savings extend to everyday shoppers as well. Last year, a variety of popular stores hosted patriotic promotions, including J.C. Penney, which reduced select home collection styles by 30% to 50%, and Sleepy’s, which took up to 65% off select mattresses. This year, Veterans Day is on Friday, Nov. 11, but sales will likely last throughout the weekend.


Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: courtney@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @courtneynerd.

The article What to Buy (and Skip) in November originally appeared on NerdWallet.

Ask Brianna: How Do I Save for Goals Other Than Retirement?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

“I know I should save for retirement, but that’s so far away. How do I also save for the things I want sooner, like a house, a vacation or a move to a new city?”

 

You’ll see me write about retirement over and over in this column — it comes with the territory as a personal finance writer. Talking retirement gets my planning, strategizing, and, yes, lecturing engines going, because Americans need encouragement. Almost half of families had no retirement account savings in 2013, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis of Federal Reserve data.

You’ll need to start saving now if you want your post-work years to be filled with excitement and possibility, not anxiety over how to pay your bills. But while you save, you can also live a varied, satisfying life in your 20s and 30s. Decide on your priorities, make a plan, and be savvy about where you put your money. Smart money management now means more fun stories to tell your grandkids when you’re happily retired later on.

Get your retirement savings on track

As a 20- or 30-something, you have one big advantage over older folks when saving for retirement: time. The money you earn on your investments has decades to grow, so you can save a little every month without drastically cutting back on other expenses. If you wait to save, you might have to make some tough sacrifices to catch up in your 40s and 50s.

Contribute to a 401(k) if you have one at work, and add enough to match your company’s contributions if they’re offered. Open an individual retirement account if you don’t have a 401(k). Aim to save 10% of your gross income for retirement, which can include an employer match.

Prioritize other goals

Pick your top nonretirement goals, decide when you want to achieve them, then create a savings plan. You can set up direct deposit at work so part of your paycheck goes straight into your savings account, says Damian Dunn, a financial planner and president of NextGen Financial Life Planning LLC in Auburn, Indiana. You’ll be less likely to spend your money if it’s not easily accessible, he says; federal law limits withdrawals from savings accounts to six per month.

Here’s how to save for the three common goals you mentioned in your question:

  • Down payment: Renting works just fine for many 20- and 30-somethings, especially if you want to be able to move easily. But if buying a house is a major dream of yours, start saving as early as you can to get close to the 20% down payment most conventional mortgage lenders prefer.

The best place to save depends on how soon you think you’ll buy. An online savings account is the most flexible, but a certificate of deposit, also known as a CD, will offer a higher interest rate if you can wait for four or five years. CDs require you to keep your money locked away at a bank or credit union for a certain amount of time, which will keep you from dipping into your account in the interim.

  • Travel: Online savings accounts are also ideal for upcoming trips; some let you set up sub-accounts you can name (say, “Costa Rica Adventure Fund”) to keep you motivated. Consider using a cash back or travel rewards credit card before your trip, especially if it has a sign-up bonus, to get discounted flights or hotel stays. Pay off your balance each month so you don’t pay interest, which is money that could go toward your vacation instead.
  • Moving: Your 20s is an ideal time to explore careers and live in different places. But with rent and student loans to pay, you’ll need to save money before you can run away to Los Angeles to pursue your acting dreams. Save at least six months’ worth of necessary expenses so you have a buffer if you can’t find a job right away. Before the move, try making extra money by negotiating down or canceling subscriptions like cable, taking on extra part-time work or socking away tax refunds and bonuses.

A full life is more than just planning for the future, and your postgrad job lets you afford the trips or leather jackets you could only covet when you were in college. You should enjoy those things in the decades before you retire. All you have to do is plan for them.


 

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

The article Ask Brianna: How Do I Save for Goals Other Than Retirement? originally appeared on NerdWallet.