New to Budgeting? Try the 50/20/30 Rule

Wondering how to budget your money? This simple formula makes it easy.

Managing your money is imperative to help you find the best home within your budget. And no, back of the napkin math won’t cut it. Not only do you need to organize, but you also have to make difficult budgeting decisions about how to spend your cash. This can be overwhelming, but there’s one smart and simple strategy that makes budgeting a breeze. It’s called the 50/20/30 rule, and it can help you track how much you spend and where you can save more, by bucketing your finances into three categories: living essentials, savings, and personal spending. Here’s how it works.

What it is

The 50/20/30 rule helps you build a budget by narrowing your spending into three categories:

  • 50 percent of your income should go to living essentials. This includes your rent, utilities, and necessities like groceries and commuting to work. Keep in mind that this percentage is the maximum you should spend.
  • 20 percent of your income should go to financial goals, meaning your savings, investments, and debt-reduction payments. If you have loftier than average financial goals—like those who don’t have employer-supported retirement or those whose student debt consumes the whole 20 percent—might want to consider raising that figure.
  • 30 percent of your income should be used for personal spending. This is everything you buy that you want but don’t necessarily need: vacations, entertainment, and shopping. This lets you enjoy the money you earn, without going overboard—and you can certainly save if you spend less than 30 percent each month.

Why it works

  • Clarity and precision. Having just three simple categories lets you stay focused on your budget and goals as you move toward better financial stability.
  • Flexibility and freedom. It works across income levels by having three categories that are alterable depending on your individual circumstance. “The 50/20/30 budgeting guideline can work whether you are renting or paying down a mortgage,” says Kayse A. Kress, a certified financial planner in Hartford, Connecticut. “This type of budgeting approach allows for flexibility, which is key since everyone’s financial picture is different.”
  • Focus on the future. The savings category gives you a sure-fire way to pay down debt and save for major purchases, such as a down payment and retirement, says Doug Bellfy, a certified financial planner with Synergy Financial Planning in South Glastonbury, Connecticut. He recommends breaking the 20 percent category into 15 percent for retirement and 5 percent for a down payment on a future home.

How to get started

  1. Determine your monthly take-home pay. If you have a new job or salary, you can use a free online salary paycheck calculator. Use this starting point to split your money into the 50/20/30 guidelines. Remember that being self-employed may cause your income to fluctuate per month, so base your rental budgeting on your average monthly income.
  2. Examine your spending habits. Look at bank, debit card, and credit card statements and track all of your spending. Don’t leave out the mid-afternoon lattes, weekly happy hour with co-workers, or extra storage for your smartphone. If you live in a high-rent area, such as New York or San Francisco, you may find your living expenses surpass the 50 percent portion. If moving to a less-expensive area is not possible, the living expenses category should cut into the flexible personal spending category until your income rises to overcome the imbalance.
  3. Plan it out. If your spending doesn’t align with the 50/20/30 Rule, come up with a plan to shift some of your expenses into the correct categories buckets. You may need to cut back on splurges or look at a different set of rental listings than what you were planning. On the other hand, if you spend less on living essentials or personal expenses, allocate it to pay off debt or to save for the future.

Post courtesy of trulia.com

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5 Things to Consider When Shopping for an Investment Property

Real estate investments can be challenging, but also very rewarding. Passive income, stability, return on investment, tax benefits, appreciation – the financial advantages of hold-to-rent real estate can’t be denied. Understanding what type of investment property you’re looking for and who your target renters will be is essential in delivering a desirable product to the rental market.

 

Focus on these five critical criteria when shopping for an investment property to ensure your money works for you.

 

1. Desirable location. Location, location, location. In real estate, that timeless phrase holds true. Your property’s location will ultimately determine the overall success of your investment, affecting the amount of rent you can charge, the types of renters applying and your vacancy rate. Offering a rental surrounded by attractive amenities, shopping, convenient traffic routes, parks, entertainment and more will draw a steady stream of prospective tenants.

 

Before purchasing, research the local school ratings, job market, shifts in the rental market, design trends, local crime rates and any city codes that could potentially affect your property. The more desirable your location, the lower the risk becomes.

2. The numbers. Underwriting is a critical element of deciding which investment property to purchase. Allowing emotion to drive your decision making when searching is a detrimental mistake. Separate yourself from your likes and dislikes and focus on what the market is demanding in a rental. Positive cash flow is the end goal, as this is a source of income for you, not the home you’re planning to live in.

Constructing a financial plan and budget prior to purchasing is key as you’ll be covering not only the mortgage, but also taxes, maintenance, design costs, improvements and unforeseen complications. Accounting for overhead and average vacancy rates is something to be factored in when underwriting a potential purchase. Calculating what your true profit will be against your initial investment is what matters.

 

3. Low overhead. One key way to ensure you maximize your return is to choose an investment property that won’t require much maintenance and overhead. Commonly, longer-term rentals are lower maintenance than, say, vacation or student rentals. Steady long-term tenants will yield the best returns on your investment.

 

Often the less flashy, more median-priced rentals yield the steadiest returns year-over-year as compared to high-end, luxury rentals that require more maintenance. Also, consider whether you’ll be hiring a property manager or if you’ll be doing any maintenance yourself. Proximity to your income property will be important if you’re handling this aspect on your own.

 

4. Appreciation. The smartest investment is one that appreciates in value. As an investor, appreciation is two-fold: When you buy the property and when you sell it. The best approach is to find a property where only a few cosmetic updates will allow you to charge more per month and won’t cost you a lot. You will also save on your initial investment rather than hiring contractors to do the work, like a fresh coat of paint.

Generally, most land is going to appreciate a little over time, but you want an investment that increases in value more than the rest. Try and find an up-and-coming or already desirable area that has plans for future development. On the flipside, a neighborhood that’s safe and quiet for families could be just as desirable.

Consider the specific location of the property within its community. Is it on a busy thoroughfare or on a private cul de sac? Close to great local schools or in a high-density urban environment? These are all things that will help you forecast your property’s appreciation over time.

 

5. Practical wins the race. Of course you want your income property to be aesthetically appealing, but there’s a smart way to approach this aspect. A long-term rental is a strong, stable investment, but only when not trying to reinvent the wheel. Low risk equals “normal.” You don’t want to limit your audience of potential tenants by purchasing a highly specific property such as a historical Tudor-style home with unique interior features. You should be aiming for bright, open, clean and tasteful.

 

The more specific the rental is, the higher the risk your investment becomes. A practical rental property will ensure a steady flow of tenants, like a two-bedroom traditional house with 2 1/2 baths in good shape, close to shopping centers, local schools, nearby parks and on a quiet street. Or a more modern one-bed, one-bath in downtown with open layout and building amenities such as a gym and pool for a younger crowd. Educate yourself on the market where you’ll be investing, and choose a property that meets the demand and is appealing to a wide audience.

Post courtesy of realestate.usnews.com

Leafy Looks for Year-Round Enjoyment

Leaf-peeping is not just an autumnal activity, but a year-round pleasure in rooms where designers use foliage as a focal point or an eye-popping accent.

Designer Mitchell Hill says leaf motifs, like all florals, brighten rooms. In a kitchen, he used Schumacher’s Chiang Mai Dragon print, a leaf and floral pattern in an Art Deco-inspired chinoiserie motif, on the backs of island stools and for the curtains. By keeping the palette consistent throughout the room, he says, vibrant fabrics on chairs, curtains, and headboards offer color and texture, just like leaves do in their natural state. 

An abundance of leaf-inspired textiles with abstract patterns and unexpected palettes can help you layer the look in a room, even if the rest of the space isn’t outdoorsy. The patterns are painterly and loose, interpreted through the eyes of the textile artist, says designer Tami Ramsay of Cloth & Kind, a firm run by Ramsay and designer Krista Nye Nicholas.1508166836128

Cloth & Kind recovered a Palecek chair with the Hutan print by Caroline Cecil Textiles. Hutan, meaning “jungle” in Indonesian, brings foliage into the home with a hand-printed design on linen custom created using Pantone’s soft color palette. 

“It feels organic, and honestly, it’s also playful when you make a leaf pattern coral as opposed to green,” Ramsay says. “You’re not just seeing things that are a leaf in its normal state but kind of exploited and extracted out, not only in its color, but also in its shape.”1508166837192

Fall has swept leaves off the trees and onto a Donghia chair that Cloth & Kind upholstered in Menna fabric by Katie Leede & Co. The pattern is inspired by fan-shaped papyrus leaves falling in happy abundance, as Leede describes on her website.

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L’aviva Home’s Khovar collection, with patterns called vine, leaf and flower, presents foliage that appears as a hand-painted mural on fabric. Women in villages in northeastern India were commissioned for paintings that resulted in the patterns.

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Parker Kennedy Living’s preppy style took a tropical twist when it upholstered a CR Laine headboard with a banana leaf print for a Southeastern Designer Showhouse bedroom. Designers Lance Jackson and David Ecton showcased Dorothy Draper’s Brazilliance fabric in green and white with bamboo-pattern canopy drapes to channel Palm Beach chic in the Atlanta guest bedroom. 

You can use leaf prints in a variety of ways, from upholstery and draperies to framing fabrics and using remnants for cocktail napkins. A pillow, for example, is another simple leafy start.1508241284400

Claire Stevens Interior Design used the Banana Leaf print by Krane Home in sapphire on a lumbar pillow. 

“Just like it feels fabulous to have fresh flowers or even an arrangement with fresh greenery in it … adding those types of textural patterns bring a bit of that into the room all the time,” Ramsay says.
Post courtesy of HGTV.com

Should You Go Big With Your First House or Stick to a Starter Home?

For a majority of people, buying your first home is financially daunting. Beyond the paperwork and negotiating, there’s that big mortgage looming. Taking on such a substantial financial responsibility is enough to leave you wondering if you can even afford it. And if you’ve figured out that you can, there’s still the question of just how much house you can afford. The question inevitably looms: Even though it’s your first piece of property, should you extend your budget and reach for something a little bigger, shinier, and newer?

It’s certainly not a case in which you want to throw caution to the wind. First and foremost, you have to set a realistic price range.

“The most important factor in your success as a first-time home buyer is to live within a budget,” says Michele Lerner, author of “Homebuying: Tough Times, First Time, Any Time.” “It’s crucial to look realistically at your assets and your current and future income to evaluate what you can comfortably afford.”

Take it to the limit

There are some cases in which pushing your budget a bit could be a good idea. If you’re absolutely certain your income will rise—for example, if you’re about to finish medical school and know your salary as a doctor will be substantial in coming years—you might be a little safer stretching to your maximum purchase price.

If you do decide to go big from the get-go, keep in mind the costs you’ll incur beyond your mortgage payment. Lerner says you should include space in your budget for home repairs and maintenance (about 1% to 2% of the cost of the home you purchase), and you should have emergency savings for three to six months.

“It’s tempting to spend down to your last dollar to get the home you want, but that’s a risky proposition,” she says. “Owning a home can bring some unexpected surprises that renting doesn’t, such as a plumbing bill or a leaky roof.”

“I always try to get first-time buyers into manageable homes for them,” says Sean Keene of the Keene Group in Oregon. “It is no fun being house poor.“

Buy now or buy later?

If you determine that your needs won’t be met in a less-expensive home, or you’ll grow out of it quickly, you might want to wait until your income increases or you have more funds for a down payment.

Typically, it’s best to stay in a home for five to seven years in order to recoup your investment and build equity, Lerner says. That means looking ahead to see if the house you’re buying now is a good fit down the road.

In some markets, however, it makes sense to get into a hot market even if the house isn’t quite right, says Kathryn Bishop, a Realtor® in Studio City, CA.

“Buy the smaller house and get into the real estate market,” says Bishop. “Even if you don’t remodel it, it can appreciate in value faster and higher than interest from your bank.”

How to up your buying power for your first home

There are several down payment assistance programs for first-time home buyers.

If you’re considering buying a smaller home and remodeling it to meet your needs, Lerner suggests talking to your lender about financing your purchase and renovations with one loan. Home improvement loans may include the FHA 203(k) loan program and Fannie Mae’s HomeStyle loan program.

It can be tempting to extend your budget to get the house of your dreams but don’t get into a nightmare situation by stretching it too far.

Article courtesy of realtor.com

Ways To Cut Household Expenses And Save Money Each Month

The key to saving money is knowing where to trim your budget.

Paying bills is never fun, but it’s even less exciting when monthly expenses leave you eating noodles for the last few days before every payday. But you don’t necessarily have to sacrifice the lifestyle you want to live in an apartment or home you love. In fact, eliminating unnecessary household expenses is easier than you think.

Whether you’re living those big-city dreams in a studio apartment in San Francisco, CA, or moving into a single family home in Austin, TX, read on to find out how to eliminate or reduce monthly household expenses like grocery bills, insurance, and cellphone bills without disrupting your life.

7 Ways to Cut Household Expenses

  1. Head to the grocery store. Sure, you can’t eliminate the price of food when you are determining your budget. But do you really need to buy all of your groceries at Whole Foods and buy takeout for lunch every day?  Eating in doesn’t have to mean daily trips to the grocery store either. Research local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and talk with your neighbors or coworkers about sharing the weekly offerings — buying into a CSA with a group still gives you a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables while easing the stress of having to figure out a way to use every piece of produce delivered.
  2. Have a plan when you shop. Using coupons to cut expenses is easy, but it’s not for everyone. One top alternative for cutting those grocery expenses, sans couponing, is to know the cost of the top 20 things you buy most often (think milk, eggs, and butter). That way, when you see the prices go up (or down!), you’ll know if you’re getting a good deal. Small strategic changes in shopping can help you cut down on expenses over time.
  3. Lay off the landline. Be honest: When is the last time you used your landline? If your phone has followed you from rental to rental or remained unused in your home for years, it may be time to unplug it for good — and cut out that expense. However, if you have a home office and require a landline, it may be worth investing in a product that hooks up to your router and allows you to make voice calls around the country.
  4. Renegotiate your insurance rates. Car, health, rental, and homeowners insurance costs are negotiable. Insurance rates fluctuate often, so you could be missing out on a lower rate if you don’t shop around for new insurance at least once per year. Plus, competition is high among insurance companies, and you may qualify for certain discounts based on your age or risk with a different plan.
  5. Keep your home neat. A cleaning service can tempt even the neatest renter or homeowner, but you may be paying for more than you’re getting, especially if you live in a small apartment rental in NYC. It’s not uncommon to spend $150 or more on each cleaning. If you’re paying for a monthly maid service, that could add up to well over one month’s rent each year. Instead, dedicate 30 to 60 minutes each week to speed clean your place yourself and split the time into five to 10 minutes each day. That way, your space will never get out of control, and you won’t be tempted to dial your cleaning service for a quick fix.
  6. Switch from commuting to carpooling. While it may not seem fair that you have to drive an hour to work or pay for parking at your office, your best bet for trimming your transportation budget is to share the cost with coworkers or skip the parking space altogether. Make a plan to carpool a few days a week with co-workers who live closest to you, or ditch the car entirely and bike or take public transportation to work.
  7. Cut back on unnecessary pet expenses. Fido’s needs come first, of course, but when it comes to dog spas, doggie day care services, and accessories, it’s easy for the extras to pile up. Instead of taking your pooch to doggie daycare every day, find a local dog park to throw the ball and let him run loose with other dogs before you head to work. And instead of spending loads on grooming costs, renters can shop for apartment communities that include dog washes and grooming stations as amenities. Homeowners or renters without grooming stations should look into self-service wash shops that can cost as little as $10 per wash.

Post courtesy of Trulia.com

6 Financial Perks of Being a First-Time Homebuyer

From mortgage points to PMI, unlock the essential info about how homeownership affects your tax burden.

Hours after we closed on our first house, my husband and I sat in our empty new living room and stared at the walls. He was the first to speak, saying simply, “I thought it was painted.”

We learned a lot about that old house over the next 15 years. While we knew to expect some of the work, other tasks, such as needing to paint the walls, we figured out as we went along. One of the changes we didn’t anticipate was needing to make some adjustments to our tax forms.

The forms you fill out when you buy your house are just the beginning. We quickly understood that first-time homeowners have years of mortgage and insurance paperwork to look forward to. Then, of course, there are the taxes. To help you sort through that pile of paperwork and ensure you’re saving as much money as possible we did some research into tax benefits that can come from buying.

Six Tax Benefits for New Homeowners

1. You can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage.

The home mortgage interest deduction is probably the best-known tax benefit for homeowners. This deduction allows you to deduct all the interest you pay toward your home mortgage with a few exceptions, including these big ones:

  • Your mortgage can’t be more than $1 million.
  • Your mortgage must be secured by your home (unsecured loans don’t count).
  • Your mortgage must be on a qualified home, meaning your main or second home (vacation homes count too).

Don’t assume that if you are married and file a joint tax return, you have to own your home together to claim the interest. For purposes of the deduction, the home can be owned by you, your spouse, or jointly. The deduction counts the same either way.

And don’t worry about keeping track of how much you’re paying in interest versus principal each month. At the end of the year, your lender should issue you a form 1098, which reports the amount of interest you’ve paid during the year.

Warning: Since, as a first-time homeowner, you pay more interest than principal in the first few years. That number can be fairly sobering.

2. You may be able to deduct points.

Points are essentially prepaid interest that you offer upfront at closing to improve the rate on your mortgage. The more points you pay, the better deal you get.

You can deduct points in the year you pay them if you meet certain criteria. Included in the list (and it’s a long one): Points must be paid on a loan secured by your main home, and that loan must be to purchase or build your main home.

Pro tip: Points that you pay must also be within the range of what’s expected where you live — unusual transactions may cause you to lose the deduction.

3. Depending on the year and your income level, you may be able to deduct PMI.

Private mortgage insurance, or PMI, protects the bank in the event you default. PMI may be required as a condition of a mortgage for first-time homebuyers, especially if they can’t afford a large down payment.

For most years, PMI is not generally deductible, but the specific rules around it change annually. In 2016, if you made less than $109, 000 a year as a household, you could claim a tax deduction for the cost of PMI for both their primary home and any vacation homes. Check to see if the PMI deduction is a possibility as you are working on your taxes.

4. Real estate taxes are deductible.

Real estate taxes are imposed by state or local governments on the value of your property. Most banks or other mortgage lenders will factor the cost of your real estate taxes into your mortgage and put those amounts into an escrow account.

You can’t deduct the amounts paid into the escrow, but you can deduct the amounts paid out of it to cover the taxes (you’ll see this amount on a form 1098 issued by your lender at the end of the year).

If you don’t escrow for real estate taxes, you’ll deduct what you pay out of pocket directly to the tax authority.

And don’t forget about those taxes you paid at settlement. If you reimburse the seller for taxes already paid for the year, you get to deduct those too.

Those amounts won’t show up on a form 1098; you’ll need to check your settlement sheet for the totals.

5. Your other tax deductions may matter more.

To take advantage of these tax benefits, you have to itemize your deductions on your tax return.

For most taxpayers, this is a huge shift: in many cases, you’re moving from a form 1040-EZ to a form 1040 to list expenses on Schedule A.

In addition to interest, points, and taxes, Schedule A is where you would report deductions for charitable donations, medical expenses, and unreimbursed job expenses.

For itemizing deductions to make good financial sense, you generally want to have more total deductions than the standard deduction (for 2015, it’s $6,300 for individuals and $12,600 for married couples). Most taxpayers don’t reach those numbers — unless they’re homeowners.

The home mortgage interest deduction, in particular, tends to tip most homeowners over the standard deduction amount, making those other deductions (such as medical expenses) that might otherwise go unclaimed more valuable.

6. You’ll get capital gains tax relief down the road.

I know you just bought your home, but admit it: Resale value is something you considered when you chose your home. And different from other investments for which you’re taxed on the full value of any gain, you can exclude some of the gain attributable to your home when you sell.

Under current law, you can avoid paying tax on up to $250,000 of gain ($500,000 for married filing jointly) so long as you have owned and lived in the property for two of the last five years (those years of owning and inhabiting don’t have to be consecutive).

Gain over that amount is taxed at capital gains rates, which are generally more favorable than ordinary income tax rates.

 

Post courtesy of trulia.com

10 Easy Decorating Ideas for Fall

Ready to give your home a mini makeover for fall? Here are 10 autumn-inspired home decorating ideas we love.

1. Faux-liage

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Add an autumnal touch to an open bookcase with silk fall leaves, which you can find at your local craft store. Whether they’re pressed inside a picture frame or strategically placed along the shelves, autumn-colored leaves are sure to pump up the fall factor. Design by Layla Palmer

2. Paper Pretties

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Fall decorating doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if your material of choice is paper. Book pages, framed silhouettes, and a colorful pennant banner make an inexpensive impact in this living room. Design by Krista Janos

3. Less Is More

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Create a fresh, fall look with an orange-and-white palette. Here, white furniture and accessories, paired with a few orange accents create a sophisticated balance. Design by Melissa Smith

4. Pedestals and Pennants

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Pumpkins on pedestals and pennant banners made from fall-themed scrapbook paper or fabric will give an open hutch a healthy hint of autumn. Design by Sara Madrigal-Fehling

5. White Pumpkins

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Keep it simple with an elegant display of white, or ghost, pumpkins. For visual interest, stagger the heights by using stacks of old books or vintage scales as pedestals. Design by Beth Hunter

6. Painted Pumpkins

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Faux pumpkins and gourds painted in a monochromatic color scheme add understated elegance to this mantel. Design by Susie Harris

7. Birds of a Feather

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Pinecones, gourds, pheasant feathers and artificial owls add an organic, woodsy touch to this rustic, fall vignette. Design by Laura Putnam

8. Mason Jar Sconces

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Create quick-and-easy wall sconces this fall with a pair a vintage jars and some twine. Suspended from cup hooks in the ceiling and filled with cinnamon sticks and LED candles, these temporary sconces add warmth. Design by Holly Charlesworth

9. Natural Elements

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Weathered wood, antlers, rope and time-worn finishes make for a beautifully rustic, fall mantel display. Design by Catherine Beaver-Hawman

10. Spooky Stuff

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Inexpensive cheese cloth, skulls, a black wreath and decorative moss create one spook-tacular display. Design by Ashlie
Post and photos courtesy of HGTV.com