Afford the Summer of Your Dreams by Building a Budget

As concerts, vacations and social gatherings resume, it can be easy to overspend on summer fun, especially coming off of a year of quarantine.

Creating a budget for summertime and beyond can help you keep track of your money, says certified financial planner Jason Dall’Acqua, president of Crest Wealth Advisors, based in Annapolis, Maryland. Dall’Acqua advises doing three things to prepare for building a budget.

How to prepare for your summer budget

  1. Assess your cash flow. Take a look at your cash flow, which is “the crux of everything that happens financially within your household,” says Dan Slagle, founding partner and CFP of Fyooz Financial Planning, a firm based in Rochester, Minnesota. Cash inflow is the money deposited into your account after taxes, while cash outflow is the money you spend on expenses.
  2. Review your habits. Habits have changed out of necessity over the past year. When quarantine became the norm, you may have bought more subscription services, takeout and grocery delivery. Now that the world is slowly opening back up, anticipating your expenses can help you budget. Think about the expenses and habits you didn’t have during quarantine, like driving, dining out, traveling and paying student loans.
  3. Set goals. Look to the future and consider making a list of all your short and long-term financial goals. Identifying your priorities before creating a budget could make the process easier.

4 steps to create a budget this summer

Once you’ve prepped for your budget, it’s time to create it. Dall’Acqua suggests four steps to create a budget:

  1. Understand your total household income. Take note of your total income, which includes wages, salaries, investments, savings, welfare or other government benefits and other ways you earn money.
  2. Include savings. No matter the season, putting aside money for the future is always a good idea, so work savings into your budget. Save money by contributing to a retirement plan like a 401(k) or IRA. Or stash your funds in a high-yield savings account.
  3. Determine all fixed expenses. Fixed expenses are recurring, so they are less likely to change monthly. These costs include housing expenses, utility bills and car payments.
  4. Allot for discretionary spending. This category includes expenses that vary monthly, like shopping and eating out. Budget for discretionary spending by allotting certain amounts of money for individual items. Or stay within the spending limits of a fixed sum of money. For example, you can budget $50 on eating out and $100 on shopping each month. Or budget a total of $500 to spend at your leisure each month.

Choose a budgeting method that works best for you. The 50/30/20 method is great because you break down your budget into percentages, and it’s easy to follow and track, says Bola Sokunbi, CEO of Clever Girl Finance. You contribute 50% of your income to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to your savings once you follow the steps above. To build your budget, you can use a simple Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, or a budgeting app and online tool with more features.

Revisit these steps and tweak your budget as needed — Dall’Acqua recommends at least one to two times a year. Even if your budget isn’t where you want it to be, don’t be discouraged. Sokunbi says it’s most important to do your best to save a little bit extra than planned and build your emergency fund.

Aysia Morton writes for NerdWallet. Email:

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Scam Alert: How to Spot a Bogus Job

Lots of us grew accustomed to commute-free jobs during the pandemic and are hoping to find a way to continue to work from home. Scammers hoping to capitalize on that are taking elaborate measures — as far as fake interviews and background checks — to get people’s personal data and/or money.

Lilly Gallaher of Pleasant Valley, New York, applied for several jobs online last year. After a brief online interview process, she appeared to land a position with McKesson, a large distributor of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. Gallaher was told she’d receive a check to cover her purchase of a computer workstation from its Venmo store. The procedure seemed odd, but she was reassured by the company’s size and reputation. Then the check bounced.

Another Venmo user noticed the transaction and let her know they’d been similarly scammed. When “McKesson” asked for her Social Security number, she refused to give it and reported the scam. Gallaher estimates she lost about $850.

According to the FBI, 16,879 people reported being victims of employment scams in 2020. Looking back, Gallaher says she ignored red flags because she felt assured by a known name and reputation. McKesson now has a “recruitment fraud alert” webpage warning about the scam.

How work-from-home interview scams hook victims

According to the FBI, the newest scams typically work like this:

  • Criminals create a domain name similar in appearance to a legitimate company. They may add a space or flip a digit in the URL — a change so small it’s likely to be overlooked.
  • Next they post job openings on job boards, directing applicants to the spoofed sites.
  • People applying either on job boards or the fake sites get an email requesting an interview, which is conducted remotely.
  • Applicants are told they got the job or are finalists.

After that, what happens can vary, but it tends to involve victims unwittingly revealing their Social Security and bank account numbers to criminals, losing money or unknowingly becoming involved in money laundering.

Know the signs

Job scams have long been a problem, but cloning websites and conducting fake online interviews is newer, says FBI Special Agent Jeanette Harper of El Paso, Texas.

Harper says college students and others with little experience with job interviews and offers are especially at risk.

To them, it may not seem odd to be asked for a driver’s license number early in the employment process or to be asked to pay for a background check. Other signs that could suggest a scam:

  • Interviews conducted by teleconference using email addresses rather than phone numbers.
  • Requirements that applicants purchase startup equipment from the company, sometimes specifying payment in the form of gift cards.
  • Requests for bank or credit card information, or other sensitive personal information.
  • Job postings that do not also appear on genuine company websites (type in the company URL yourself; don’t follow a link).
  • Requests that you pay for lists of job openings before they are published.
  • A request that you send money or packages overseas (it may be money laundering).

Even if you don’t hand over your Social Security number, your resume and list of references have value to an identity thief, says cybersecurity expert Adam Levin, host of the “What the Hack?” podcast and author of “Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves.”

Bits of information are “tiles in the mosaic of your life that an identity thief needs to effectively present themselves as you.” Even if you figure out it’s a scam and don’t lose a penny, you can’t retrieve the information, Levin says.

Another hallmark of a scam is a higher-than-expected salary for a relatively low-skill job. Recently, a Reddit poster warned about a Facebook ad for “ramp attendant jobs” paying $40 an hour. The ad assures would-be applicants that the messages being exchanged are encrypted and 100% safe. The employer is supposedly “Breez Airlines.” (Breeze Airways actually does exist.)

“Bad actors have scoped out these companies,” Levin says. “So many companies make available who works there and the kind of employees they are looking for.” That means the name of the person sending you an email may well match an actual person at the company. A cloned website can make it even harder to tell if a job is legit. Your best bet is to call the company, using contact information you looked up yourself and were not provided, and ask HR to confirm the opening you are applying for before you share any information.

Getting an offer quickly should also make you suspicious, Levin says. An on-the-spot offer might mean you are a target, not a potential employee.

Finally: “Trust your gut and ask questions,” Harper advises. Don’t ignore the feeling that something’s not right.

What to do if you think you were scammed

Whether you are applying for online jobs or not, your best protection against identity theft is a credit freeze. If someone has your Social Security number, a credit freeze can help keep them from opening new credit accounts using your personal data.

If you have given out credit card or bank account information, contact the issuer or financial institution as quickly as you can. Ask how you can limit the danger, whether that’s getting an updated credit card number or opening a different bank account.

You should also report an online job scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at The more information you are able to provide, in terms of names, emails, texts and the like, the better.

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Don’t Just Pay Your Bills — Pay Attention

Forget the daily $5 latte as an already timeworn example of less than mindful spending. One financial advisor had a client spending some $3,000 a month on sushi — without realizing it. The advisor convinced his client to track a month’s worth of spending and both of them were surprised by the results.

Solution: a decision about how much the client wanted to spend on sushi. Whether $3,000 or something less, it would become a part of a financial plan.

If you’re looking to build a cash cushion, sock away some savings and get ahead of your bills, it’s not a matter of sacrificing the things you enjoy.

It’s about paying attention.

What does it cost to be you?

Before he discusses investing a single dollar, Joe Lum, a certified financial planner in San Ramon, California, steers the first conversation with a client by asking “What does it cost to be you on a monthly basis?”

Some people may feel that managing money with a budget seems like following a diet to lose weight — making sacrifices and restricting behavior.

“It’s almost punishing yourself,” Lum says, “but it really doesn’t have to be that way.”

Knowing what you spend, monitoring those expenses regularly and avoiding falling back into old habits are the keys, he adds.

“Most people create a budget, not knowing how they spend money,” says Adam Hagerman, a Maryland-based certified financial planner. He says food expenses are often the “most out of whack” based on pre-budget perceptions — “what they think they spend versus what they actually do. It can sometimes be several hundred dollars difference.”

Dining out and entertainment expenses can also be higher than anticipated before doing a spending reality check.

Planning for occasional, but essential, expenses

Anticipating nonemergency, but still necessary, occasional expenses and setting aside money in advance can help you avoid dipping into long-term savings, such as for retirement, or tapping funds dedicated to true emergencies.

“What sometimes gets people tripped up are those known but periodic expenses. Things like tires on your car,” Hagerman says. “Not an exciting purchase and not something you have to do every single month, but when it comes, if you haven’t saved up for it, it kind of derails a lot of people.”

Hagerman helps clients build such cash cushions by creating “monthly rollover categories” of essential expenses. While an amount is budgeted monthly, the outlays happen only as needed.

Mindful spending

Hagerman believes it’s essential to see what you’ve spent in the past 30 days.

To curb discretionary expenses  — those wants rather than needs — he suggests setting aside cash buckets.

However, rather than the old-fashioned envelopes of cash dedicated to one category of spending or another, Hagerman is intrigued by a service called Qube Money.

It is a debit card with a zero balance until you allocate specific amounts to common budget categories. You authorize purchases in advance to be pulled from a digital envelope, called a Qube, before using the card. He says it’s a mindful way to discipline your spending without worrying about overdrafts.

“You’ve got to go into the app to load the money onto your debit card to even be able to make a purchase. That’s the definition of proactive budgeting,” Hagerman says. He says he’s not an investor in the service, but thinks it might be helpful if the app lives up to its potential.

Other budgeting apps, such as PocketGuard, Mint and You Need a Budget, use different strategies to track spending.

‘Vote’ for expenses you want to keep

Lum says that one of the biggest ironies is that we are urged to automate investing and saving. But the same hands-off approach to spending, such as recurring bill pay services, ApplePay and online purchases, can cause you to be unaware of where all your money is going.

“We’ve made it easier and easier to part with your money,” Lum says. “You could go seasons and seasons of your life without ever noticing that you haven’t actually saved any money.”

He recommends temporarily turning off autopay services so that you can “vote” for the expenses you want to keep.

Lum says once you’ve paid yourself first, then accounted for fixed expenses, you’ll be free to spend as you please, rather than feeling guilty about every little thing you’re buying. The goal, he tells clients, is to:

  1. Save 40 cents of every take-home dollar.
  2. Pay the essentials.

The rest, Lum says, is for fun spending. “You can be free and feel good about that, knowing that you’ve taken care of one and two,” he says.

Hal M. Bundrick, CFP writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @halmbundrick.

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Savings Tips for Newbies, Experts and Everyone in Between

When it comes to saving money, this year may look a little different from years past. The savings rate is lower than its peak of about 34% in April 2020, but Americans are still saving more than they did before the pandemic. This is according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, which defines savings as the amount left over after spending money and paying taxes.

Unemployment is still elevated, however, and those who have lost income may be finding it more difficult to save. Either way, it’s important to have a savings plan.

Whether you are flush with cash, not sure how to save money or somewhere in between, here are the actions you can take now to maximize your savings:

Unsure how to save

If you’ve found it difficult to save money lately, try these tips to strengthen your bottom line:

Cancel high bank fees and other unnecessary expenses. “Businesses conduct financial audits for their expenses. Why not conduct a personal audit for yourself to cut spending?” says Michael Foguth, founder of the financial advisory firm Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan.

If you have a bank account that charges a monthly fee of $5, that adds up to $60 every year. Consider switching to a free account. There are options at many top online banks.

Another example: Say you signed up for a streaming service at the start of the pandemic because you were mostly at home. But now, if you’re not watching TV as much, you could cut the service to save money, Foguth says.

Weigh options to increase cash. Consider taking on part-time work — job growth is increasing and there has been pressure on employers to increase wages — or sell unused belongings to raise cash. For help with major expenses, such as rent and medical bills, reach out to community organizations. The government website is a good place to find resources. Even temporary cash boosts could help you unload debt and give you room to create a savings plan.

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Saving a little at a time

Maybe you’re able to save occasionally but would like to save more. If you’re already putting the previous tips to use, try these action items:

Open a high-yield savings account. The average savings interest rate is a low 0.06% APY, but there are other accounts that pay many times more. With a high-rate savings account, your deposits earn more money while being safely parked in a federally backed bank account.

Set up auto transfers to savings. Move money from a checking account to savings before you get the chance to spend it — on each payday, for example. If you are able to transfer just $25 into savings every two weeks, you’d stash $650 by this time next year.

Bank bonus money. Decide now to save any extra money you receive, such as a cash birthday gift, tax refund or stimulus money that you don’t need immediately for expenses.

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Already saving, ready to maximize

Already have a savings plan and looking for ways to make the most of your money? If you’re using the previous tips, here’s how to make your money work harder:

Reevaluate spending goals. You may have some of your savings earmarked for a big ticket item. But for some people, the pandemic redefined what was important to them. Before you cash out, consider whether your previous goals match your current needs.

Economic conditions may also come into play. Alissa Johns, a real estate investor and small-business owner in Valparaiso, Indiana, and her husband originally set aside money to buy a new home in early 2021. But she says when they saw how tight housing inventory was and how construction prices were rising in the area, they chose to stay put.

Instead of moving, “we decided to refinance our current home loan and vacant land loan for lower interest rates,” Johns says. She adds that doing so allowed them to “decrease our monthly expenses and be able to put more money towards saving.”

Maximize your emergency fund. Experts recommend having at least three to six months of savings set aside for emergencies. If you have some savings but haven’t hit that mark, keep plugging away until you reach your goal. If your emergency fund is fully funded, you could focus on long-term financial goals.

Check out rewards accounts. Consider getting more value out of your spending by using checking accounts and credit cards that offer perks or promotional offers. The best rewards checking accounts, for example, earn interest, offer cash back on spending and may even offer a one-time sign-up bonus.

Top savings strategies may look different for people in different financial situations, but the most important step for anyone is to take action. Regardless of where you start, act now and you can put yourself in a position to increase savings this year and beyond.

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Margarette Burnette writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @Margarette.

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What Gen Z Can Learn From Millennials’ Money Mistakes

The jokes about millennials being perpetual children are aging about as quickly as millennials themselves. With the eldest of our generation pushing 40, lately we’re less about rosé all day and more about term life insurance.

The geriatric among us were already working (or trying to) when the Great Recession hit. And now, some of the eldest members of Generation Z are graduating in virtual ceremonies and taking those first wobbly baby deer steps into an uncertain pandemic-era economy. Listen, Gen Z, we know you make fun of our skinny jeans, but we also know the fear you’re masking behind those overconfident TikToks.

We get it, and we want to help. Think of millennials as your still-cool yet slightly out-of-touch older cousins. In 15 years, you’ll be us: trying to save for both a down payment and day care, wondering why your friends can afford to travel and you can’t, and feeling like you’ve missed the boat on opening a retirement account. Time flies, so listen up.

» MORE: 3 Ways millennials are getting money right

Don’t wait to get started — or to get help

Laying a good financial foundation isn’t one of those tasks you can put off until later. It’s easier to start when you’re younger, even if you don’t have much money yet because your life is likely less complicated.

Besides, if you approach money with a “meh” attitude in your 20s, you won’t have the savings later to do the things you need or want to do.

“The sooner you get your financial s— together, the less you’ll have to compromise,” says Priya Malani, founder and CEO of Stash Wealth, a financial advisory firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t wait to get help. Thanks to our recent embrace of virtual meetings, it’s never been easier to connect with a financial adviser without having to take a day off to go to their office. A word of caution, though: Bad money advice is everywhere, and it’s easy for influencers to seem like experts when they’re actually just brand ambassadors.

Nerdy tip: Financial advisors are available at a variety of price points. At NerdWallet, we recommend you work with licensed, registered, fee-only fiduciaries. That means they don’t make money through commissions for selling financial products.

Responsibly embrace credit cards

Building your credit history opens up a lot of possibilities, and credit cards are often a way to get started thanks to their relatively easy application processes.

“I think credit cards are misunderstood, and most people think of them as evil,” Malani says. “People don’t really realize how effective a tool they can be.”

With good or excellent credit scores, you have better odds of qualifying for more rewarding travel or cash-back credit cards, or loans with lower interest rates, which can save you a lot of money on a future car or home purchase. But to attain good credit (corresponding to a FICO score of 690 or higher), you need to understand how credit cards work, so you can pick a card that’s well-matched to your current situation and use the card carefully.

Brooks Dozier, a 35-year-old living in Overland Park, Kansas, was around 18 or 19 years old when he received a credit card offer in the mail. He accepted the offer, got the card and promptly maxed out his credit limit.

“I didn’t think about the consequences,” he says. But reality hit when the first credit card bill arrived. The account went into collections, and it took years for him to pay it off. Plus, the derogatory marks remained on his credit report for seven years.

Dozier’s advice to the next generation: “Please, read the fine print. Don’t just accept a credit card because they offer it to you because it can really put you behind.”

Malani recommends thinking of your credit card like a debit card that deducts money from your checking account once a month.

“You’re using someone else’s money,” she says. “Using it to enhance your lifestyle is the wrong way to think about it, and that’s where people get into trouble.”

Save for retirement and the short-term, too

A lot of financial advice can make you feel like a terrible person if you don’t make saving for retirement your top priority. Yes, saving for retirement is important, but with probably 40-ish years to go until you retire, you also need to save for short- and medium-term goals along the way.

You don’t want to have to wait until you’re in your late 60s to enjoy yourself. And I’m not just talking about big stuff like buying a house. It’s also hiring professional house cleaners, signing up your kid for the soccer team and getting adult braces — all the not-so-cheap things that you might want for yourself sometime in the near future. (Trust me when I say that the house cleaning is worth it.)

“At a national level, we’re sending very strong messages to this age group to start saving for retirement,” says Katherine Liola, founder and CEO of Concentric Private Wealth in McLean, Virginia. “You need to make sure that you’re also focusing on all the life that will happen before retirement.”

» UP NEXT: Gen Zers: How America’s newest adults are doing money

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

Sara Rathner writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @sarakrathner.

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Why a Cash-Back Credit Card Is a Good Place to Start

As more banks work to improve accessibility to credit cards and introduce cards that base eligibility on factors other than credit scores, there are bound to be more new applicants. If you’re among the consumers new to credit cards, you might be both intrigued and wary. A no-fee, flat-rate cash-back card could be the answer to your concerns.

Conflicting feelings about credit cards are understandable. Maybe you grew up in a family that didn’t use credit cards or know people who have gotten into debt trouble with them. A recent NerdWallet survey found that respondents had an average of $6,741 in credit card debt in 2020.

“Credit cards may have a bad reputation, but they actually are great financial-planning and money-management tools — so long as you use them correctly,” Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, said in an e-mail.

If you’ll be one of those first-time applicants for a credit card, here’s why a no-fee, flat-rate cash-back card could work for you.

Why no fee?

Many people dislike the idea of paying an annual fee for a rewards credit card, and there’s a good reason: It reduces the overall annual value of your rewards. For example, if you pay an annual fee of $100 on your card, but you only earn about $100 in cash back with it each year, you’d just be breaking even.

no-fee credit card, on the other hand, is a low commitment. If you end up disliking the card and want a different one, or you decide credit cards are not for you, you can stop using it with little consequence. You’re not out any money.

As a new cardholder, though, you’ll want to monitor your purchases closely. Do you find yourself overspending because it’s so easy to pay with a credit card? If so, credit cards might not be the best idea for you.

Note also that “no annual fee” doesn’t mean cost-free. You still could owe money if you don’t pay off the balance each month or you incur a late-payment fee, for example.

Why flat-rate rewards?

Simplicity is important with a first card, and it doesn’t get simpler than flat-rate rewards. With these cards, you’ll often get at least 1.5% cash back on all your purchases. You might even find a card that pays 2% cash back.

That rewards rate might not sound like much, but it adds up. Let’s say you normally spend $1,500 per month. If you put that amount on a flat-rate 2%-back card, you would get $360 back annually. That’s a significant amount of free money each year for spending you would ideally be doing anyway.

Some cash-back cards offer a higher percentage back, like 3% or 5%, but only on purchases from certain merchants, such as restaurants or gas stations. But those purchases might account for just a small portion of your overall spending, meaning a simpler flat-rate card could be a better choice. Also, bonus categories only add complexity, which you don’t want in your first card.

Why cash back?

“If you are looking for a card with incentives, consider one that offers flexibility and has rewards you will use,” Golden said.

Cash is the best rewards currency in terms of flexibility, because you can spend U.S. dollars on almost anything. It’s often rewarded in the form of a statement credit, so you reduce your next month’s bill. But you can also get cash rewards as a bank deposit or paper check with some cash-back cards.

By contrast, points and miles can be devalued by the issuer. It might require you to redeem more of its brand’s currency (e.g., Citi ThankYou points) for the purchase you want, whether that’s gift cards, merchandise or an airline ticket.

Long-term use

If you find you like using rewards credit cards and graduate to adding a card with bonus categories, you can still use the no-fee, flat-rate cash-back card.

A popular strategy is to use the bonus-categories card for spending in the categories, such as restaurants or gas stations. And then use your trusty flat-rate rewards card for everything else.

Gregory Karp writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @spendingsmart.

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How to Make Some Cash Before Heading Back to School

Whether you’re going back to high school or college classes this fall, you might as well return with some extra cash. And, no, it’s not too late to find a paying gig.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 9.3 million job openings in April — that’s the most since the BLS started tracking this data more than 20 years ago. So put yourself out there and try to snag one of those positions.

Here’s how to make money this summer:

4 tips for landing a summer job

1. Create a resume

Try a resume template through Microsoft Office software, the Google Docs online word processor or a job search site like Monster.

As for the contents of that resume, it’s OK if your work experience is lean or nonexistent. Include paid gigs if you can, like babysitting, as well as unpaid work you’re proud of, says Monster career expert Vicki Salemi. For example, volunteer experiences and school projects can make the cut, she says.

2. Tap the folks you know

At this point in the summer, it may be a little late to apply for positions via job boards. Weeks of emails and interviews could go by before you secure a job.

Instead, reach out to people you know. “I can assure you that everyone has a bigger personal network than they realize,” says Nickolas Lantz, executive director for University Experiential Learning at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Make a list of teachers, parents’ friends, friends’ parents, neighbors and other people who may be in a position to hire you. They may own or manage a business, for example, or need extra help with a project.

Prepare a succinct pitch about how you’re looking for a short-term, paid opportunity and that you’re eager to learn. Also mention how hiring you would benefit the person you’re contacting, Lantz says. For example, ask if there are opportunities for you to help them reach their business goals.

Once you’re ready, email your contact a personalized version of this note, along with your resume. Or better yet, call. That “old-school” approach will help you stand out, Lantz says. If you don’t want to catch your contact off guard, text or email first and set up a time to jump on the phone that week.

3. Show up in person

Here’s another efficient and effective approach that takes a bit of guts: Simply walk into a place of business and chat with the manager.

“Put on some professional attire and just go out there,” Lantz says. “You gotta get out of your comfort zone.”

Introduce yourself and politely ask if there are any opportunities for you this summer. And leave your resume. If you make a good impression, Lantz says, “you can really knock out weeks of back-and-forth emails and interviewing.”

As to where to make your in-person intro, try nearby businesses you patronize or note where you’ve seen hiring signs.

If that’s no help, consider that hires increased in accommodation and food services, according to the BLS report that reflects April. Also, in May, Domino’s, Applebee’s, Wendy’s and McDonald’s, as well as Home Depot and Lowe’s, were among the top 20 companies with the most job postings in the ZipRecruiter Marketplace, according to the job-search site’s report.

4. Prepare to work and learn

Between the labor shortage, your focus on seasonal work and your direct approach to job-seeking, you may be asked to begin right away. “Start to look today and expect to start working tomorrow,” Salemi says.

Once you clock in, be open to learning as you work. Use every job as an opportunity to practice being professional and working with others. In fact, your managers and coworkers this summer can become your references and mentors later.

Other ways to make money

If you’re unable or uninterested in securing an in-person job, or if you want a second way to make money this summer, consider these options.

Sell your stuff

Declutter and rake in some cash at the same time by hosting a yard or garage sale. Or sell stuff online through sites such as eBay or Shopify. If you aim to sell homemade pieces or artwork, try making money on Etsy.

Freelance online

If you’re down to park in front of the computer for a while, explore sites such as Fiverr and You may find paid opportunities for skills you’re looking to hone, such as writing, coding or managing social media accounts. If you’re younger than 18, check the age requirements of these freelance and marketplace sites before signing up.

As you scope out those sites and other online gigs, be careful with your information to avoid job scams. For example, click far, far away if asked to give your Social Security number, Salemi says. Search for user reviews of online money-making sites, as well as community forums like subreddits.

Also look for employer names within the Better Business Bureau website ( to see reviews, complaints and other company details.

Whether you earn your cash online or through an in-person job, well done. That’s one more gig to add to your resume for the next time you need to make money.

Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.

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In This Hot Used Car Market, Used Plug-Ins Can Be a Deal

With used car prices soaring and the cost of gas up nearly $1 over last year, a used electric vehicle — either a plug-in hybrid or an all-electric car — could be a real money saver.

The price of used cars has risen 48% year over year, according to the Manheim Used Vehicle Value Index. Now, with a shortage of used cars and fewer new cars being built because of a microprocessor shortage, the electric car market could provide a twofold bargain: lower vehicle purchase price and substantial savings on gas.

Manheim doesn’t break out trends for hybrid and electric vehicles, but a study by iSeeCars, a website that aggregates used car listings, found that from May 2020 to May 2021, the asking price for plug-in hybrids increased 5%, and all-electric cars went up 17%.

A used all-electric car is a great fit for in-town use if you have a gas car for longer trips or don’t mind renting when needed.  It could also be a great first car for teenagers. A plug-in hybrid, on the other hand, can replace any traditional gas-powered car.

Here’s what to look for and who might want to shop this growing alternative market.

What’s a PHEV? What’s an EV?

Plug-in electric vehicles fall into two general categories:

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Called PHEVs for short, these cars provide a limited all-electric range, then automatically switch to running on a gas engine. This eliminates the often-cited “range anxiety” that all-electric cars might trigger. The first PHEV on the market was the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, which provided up to 35 miles of all-electric range.

All-electric. These vehicles, sometimes called battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, have a large battery that provides all the power. As such, their range is less than that of most gas cars. The first mass-market BEV was the 2010 Nissan Leaf, which offered only 73 miles of range before requiring a recharge. The current Leaf provides 226 miles of range.

Now, that these electrified cars have been on the market for almost 10 years, there is a variety of vehicles to choose from, both as sedans and SUVs (electric pickup trucks are coming later this year). Excluding Tesla models, there are 52 plug-in and all-electric 2021 models on the market, according to iSeeCars.

How a used EV could save you money

Lower purchase price. Electric vehicles depreciate quickly — nearly 52% after three years, according to iSeeCars. This means that EVs coming off lease, typically after three years, could be a bargain. Prices for plug-in hybrids are somewhat stronger but still reflect large depreciation, the iSeeCars study found.

Incentives, rebates and perks. Reducing the cost of plug-in vehicles even further are incentives offered by state and local governments. For example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power offers a $1,500 rebate to its customers who buy a used PHEV. Other utilities offer rebates to offset the cost of a home charger. Perks can include access to carpool lanes and, in some shopping centers, free charging with convenient parking spaces located near store entrances.

Gas savings. A big appeal for electric cars, besides the reduced carbon footprint, is the savings on gas. A year’s worth of gas for a 2018 Toyota Camry LE would cost $1,500, while a 2018 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid driver would pay only $650, according to

Where to find used plug-in vehicles

The cheapest used all-electric vehicles will be older models with limited range; they’ll be more common in the areas where they were sold new, like California.

You’ll find low-mile examples under $10,000 for pure electric models such as the Mitsubishi i, Chevrolet Spark, first-generation Nissan Leaf, the Fiat 500 e and the Smart Fortwo electric drive. A budget of $20,000 brings in roomier vehicles with more range, such as the newer Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq and Chevrolet Bolt.

Among plug-in hybrid electrics, the widely available Chevrolet Volt was called “an affordable option” in a June EV pricing report by Recurrent Motors. It says the average price of a used Volt is $14,600 and the 2018 models sell for about $20,000.

Used plug-in versions of the Hyundai Ioniq, Toyota Prius Prime and Ford Fusion Energi also come in under $20,000. In some cases the plug-in models of these cars may be cheaper than their plain old hybrid counterparts.

Keep in mind that used car prices vary by region, so you will have to do your own searches to find the best deals.

Before you go electric

If you want to buy a used all-electric car, you should probably decide ahead of time where to charge it. People living in apartments are likely to find charging difficult unless there are power outlets in the parking area.

For homeowners, the problem is more easily solved. Since a plug-in hybrid has a much smaller battery, it won’t take long to charge using a typical household 120-volt outlet. But for all-electric vehicles, charging times can be cut down by installing a faster 240-volt charger. The charging station and installation cost $1,200, according to the home remodeling website Fixr.

If you’re brand new to the idea, spend a few minutes asking yourself if you should buy an electric vehicle at all.

Used EV shopping tips

If you decide to venture into the new world of used electrified cars, here are a few more things to consider:

  • The battery in all-electric cars deteriorates over time, providing less range. If possible, fully charge the car before buying to see how much range is available.
  • Plug-in hybrids are less vulnerable to battery degradation.
  • Research available incentives before buying and factor this into the big-picture purchase price.
  • Because there are fewer EVs and plug-ins available, you may have to search a larger area to find the one you want.

Philip Reed writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @AutoReed.

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Should You Take Money Advice From Reddit?

Should you take money advice from a stranger on the internet? In Reddit’s r/personalfinance channel, anonymous users exchange tips on buying homes, choosing insurance plans and managing very personal, nuanced money situations. (Think: “How do I handle my dying dad’s debts?”)

“It’s like crowdsourcing financial advice,” says Dana Eble, a public relations specialist based in Detroit who regularly browses r/personalfinance.

If you’re not a “Redditor” like Eble, think of the site like an old-school online forum. After signing up for free, you can share text, links and photos with an anonymous username. You can also upvote, downvote or reply to other people’s content. Posts and replies with the most upvotes rise to the top.

Reddit is organized by communities, called subreddits, based on interest. The r/personalfinance subreddit is home to 14.6 million members. Here’s what to consider if you’re one of those millions.

How Reddit can motivate and encourage

Being active and intentional with money helps you make the most of it. But for many, money is confusing to manage and uncomfortable to discuss.

Scrolling through other people’s questions, problems and advice can make the topic feel more normal and less scary.

The subreddit can even be motivating, particularly for those just starting to think about financial decisions, says Logan Murray, a Tempe, Arizona-based certified financial planner.

“Seeing peers move on with their finances may encourage you to do the same,” he says. “It can get the wheels turning.”

Murray also likes r/personalfinance for exchanging ideas, like brainstorming passive-income opportunities. With this strategy, he says, “people can choose what resonates with them.”

Millions of people sharing their money experiences may also help you feel less alone. After all, Eble says, the r/personalfinance subreddit is a positive community with “no shaming.”

She remembers the post of a distraught and embarrassed 20-something who had accumulated tons of debt and had to file for bankruptcy. The top reply was from someone saying how they had to do the same in their 20s and that it will be OK.

As for the advice — it’s a ‘mixed bag’

The r/personalfinance “Wiki” page is on Reddit but separate from the forum. It’s stuffed with useful, sound guidance on topics like how to budget and much more. Eble consulted it as she began building her emergency fund and learning about 401(k)s.

As for the posts and replies, the quality of advice is a “mixed bag,” says Jeff Ledford of Arlington, Virginia. He frequently browses and replies to r/personalfinance posts and is also a certified government financial manager.

Ledford says some posters must be professionals because their tips are “spot on.” But “there’s also a lot of advice out there that’s better off ignored.”

Curtis Bailey, a Cincinnati-based CFP, has also seen solid advice on the r/personalfinance subreddit, particularly when it comes to basics like managing debt and cash flow. But he’s also seen misinformation, about taxes, for example.

So it’s hard to tell which advice is worth following, and which is, well, garbage. In fact, Preston Cherry, a Green Bay, Wisconsin-based CFP,  describes Reddit’s r/personalfinance as an unfiltered “data dump” with “a lot of unverified information.”

Cherry points out that the country has a low financial literacy rate, which is likely reflected in a community-based platform. So the community aspect of Reddit “lowers the quality of information,” he says.

So should you follow advice from r/personalfinance?

Aim to use r/personalfinance more as a source of motivation than concrete advice. In addition to the fact that much of the channel’s advice is unverified, Cherry points out that “personal finances are in fact personal.”

What works for one Redditor won’t necessarily work for you, given that your circumstances and experiences are different.

As Murray concludes: “You’re responsible for your own decisions and to do your own research.”

If you’re considering taking advice from Reddit, first try to verify it elsewhere. Start with a Google search and look for web pages that cite the source of the information or advice, Bailey says. For example, the page may describe a study supporting the advice, show a calculation, or quote an expert or organization.

Try other sources of help

If you’re struggling with covering bills or managing debt, these websites may be more helpful than Reddit:

  • Get connected with resources and programs designed to help you cover basic needs.
  • (The National Foundation for Credit Counseling): Find more than a dozen financial calculators and other tools, like a monthly budget planner.
  • (The Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education): Register for free virtual financial counseling and coaching sessions.

To simply learn more about personal finance, Bailey recommends taking your reading offline. Rather than skimming one-off bits of advice, read personal finance books, which Bailey says may help you get “much more nuance and depth of understanding.” (Try “The Geometry of Wealth,” Bailey says.)

With a deeper understanding, you may feel more comfortable with money and better equipped to spot shoddy advice — on Reddit or elsewhere.

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

Laura McMullen writes for NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @lauraemcmullen.

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