July 29

How Can I Retire If I'm Self-employed?

retirement

It’s been nagging me that I don’t have a retirement plan in place. I mean, I had a couple of 401K plans at my previous employers, but since I only had a few hundred dollars in those, I cashed them in to help cover costs when I was between jobs (i.e. having kids).

Now that I’m self-employed, I realize that, like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, aka, Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. With no retirement fund in place, I don’t feel very responsible. How can I retire if I’m self-employed? I didn’t have a clue.

So, I started digging around, and found some great suggestions for retirement plans for self-employed people like me, courtesy of Forbes magazine. Take a look and see for yourself if one of these would be good for you.

SEP-IRA

If you work for yourself, this is a good choice because you can set aside up to 25% of your net self-employment earnings, up to a certain amount. The simplified employee pension is built up with pretax dollars, so you can reduce your tax liability by setting aside a little extra at tax time to reduce the taxes you owe.

It’s not a great choice if you have employees, though, since you have to also make contributions to their SEP-IRA’s as well.

SOLO 401K

This one operates a bit like a traditional 401K, allowing you to borrow against the account if you absolutely need to, but it also allows you to contribute as both an employer and an employee, allowing you to set aside more pre-tax dollars.

Simple IRA

This is more of a savings incentive plan for self-employed people with a few employees. You match their contributions to their own IRA, but can deduct the contributions from your own liability. If you need to pull money out, there are hefty fees and fines, so this is more of a long-term saving plan rather than a last minute effort to secure a comfortable retirement.

Baffled by all the terminology related to these plans, or still just not sure which is right for you? I would recommend speaking to a customer service agent at a reputable financial firm. Vanguard, T. Rowe Price and Fidelity are all very good at explaining the different options available to self-employed people, and any one of them will likely steer you to the best choice for your individual needs.

Have you got your retirement plan in place? How are you planning to afford your ‘golden years’? Please feel free to share in the comments section below!

March 29

Spring Clean Your Finances

Five things you can do right now to improve your family finances!

I was just reading up on a few of Dave Ramsey’s posts on his website when I found this great article. I love Dave’s no nonsense approach to getting control of your money, and these tips are so easy, you can do them today!

1. Review all your insurance policies.

Dave makes a great point about reviewing all your insurance policies–home, life, and auto–in order to see if your circumstances have changed and to see whether policy changes could save you money.

2. Cut the grocery spending.

Rather than using coupons to save on shopping, Dave advises his readers to try cutting the monthly food budget by $10, and moving that money to another area of your budget. You could use this to pay off extra debt, or simply put it into a savings account. You won’t have to sacrifice much, and the money could be put to much better use in another part of your budget.

3. Review your cell phone plan.

This one is definitely worth doing, because most of us never use every feature of our plan that we pay for. Data usage is on particular area where people often overpay, so check your usage and see if you could save money by lowering your data limit.

4. Combine two items into one.

I really like this tip…it is especially useful for people like me who tend to break their budget down into waaaay too many categories. He suggests combining budget items to save money. You could combine things like ‘eating out’ and ‘entertainment’ to save more money every month.

5. Take a look at the kids’ extracurricular activities.

Again, this one hits home with me. It can get very expensive trying to keep three kids happy and entertained with their hobbies and after school activities, not to mention overwhelming for the kids if their schedules get too out of hand. Pick one favorite activity, and find the least expensive way to do it, and everyone wins!

What tips do you have for tweaking your budget this spring?

February 2

'Cut the Cord': How One Short Ebook Can Save You Hundreds Of Dollars On Cable And Satellite

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It’s Sunday morning here in South Carolina, and we are chilling out, watching back to back episodes of ‘The Middle’ on TV. I don’t have a DVR, they aren’t ‘on demand’ with a cable company or satellite, but they are absolutely free to watch, at least a few episodes worth!

Two years ago we were paying way too much for cable television. Almost two hundred bucks a month kept my kids glued to the box, bickering over the remote control, and left my husband and I wondering what the heck we were even paying for. We could hardly ever find movies that we hadn’t seen, and our DVR was full of shows I never had time to watch.

Sound familiar?

I went on a money-saving, sanity restoring mission to get my family watching TV differently, so I started looking at my options. I posted about my experience with the Roku, which we love, but we use so many other methods to watch our favorite movies and shows, and we don’t spend a fortune doing it, either!

I decided to write a short ebook talking about the resources that we use at my house that brought our TV costs down from nearly $200 a month to under a hundred, including our super high speed Internet. I don’t expect everyone who reads this book to immediately jump ship from their cable or satellite providers, but I hope they can glean a few bits of information that will help them cut costs.

After all, who couldn’t use a little more money every month?

Visit your Amazon site in your country to download ‘Cut the Cord’ by Jessica Brooke Woods for FREE February 2nd and 3rd to get a look for yourself.

Cut the Cord at Amazon.ca

Cut the Cord on Amazon.co.uk

Cut the Cord on Amazon.com.au

Hope you save a bundle…please share your experiences with saving money on your cable or satellite costs in the comments section!

January 5

Product Review: Saving Money With Roku

In the ebook I wrote about ditching your cable or satellite in order to save money (coming soon!), I listed some useful products and services that can help you achieve those savings. Here’s the first of those in depth product reviews for you. Enjoy!

When I first heard of Roku, I had no idea what it was. A friend told me to check it out if I liked ‘funny British shows and weird stuff’, but also a lot of really good programming, too.

I went online to do my homework and started by visiting Roku’s website (www.roku.com) and took a look at their information. Then, I went to Walmart and looked at the box. Then I repeated these two steps about three times, LOL, because I am terribly indecisive about new things! BUT, I really should not have worried.

Even if you don’t want to ditch your cable, I really recommend a Roku box as an alternative to a second receiver. It offers so much, for a really reasonable price, you’ll probably fall madly in love and want to break up with your cable company after all.

What it is

A Roku box (there are also streaming sticks available) is a set top box that connects to any HDMI television and your high speed Internet. It has ‘channels’ you can download, from Netflix to Amazon Prime and more obscure Internet only channels on subjects from meditation to moneymaking.

Not every channel is a premium service; there are a few that are completely free and show older movies and TV shows. There are also a few games you can download, such as Angry Birds. Some games are free, others cost $1-3 or so. We’ve only ever downloaded the free stuff, but it’s more than we could ever watch.

We bought our box about three years ago, so prices are probably lower now. We bought the HD model, but now I think they’re all pretty Hi Def.

You can get a box with a regular remote control or one with a motion controlled one for gaming. It’s so easy to use, even my toddler can scroll through the channels (we just have the plain remote).

Here are the pros and cons of the Roku.

Pros

Easy to use
Relatively inexpensive
Loads of content, much of which is free
Always adding channels
Several games available for the kiddos

Cons

Some content requires subscriptions (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.)
You may already have a game console or other device that offers the best channels, but the other content is pretty good, too.

For Amazon’s supply of Roku products, click Here.

Here are some of the most popular Roku products Amazon sells:

Let me know if you’ve tried Roku’s products, and if so, do you love it?

December 31

Goodbye 2013, Hello New You!

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Happy New Year…almost! I just wanted to wish you a very happy New Year…I know that good things are coming your way in 2014!

This is typically the time when we all make those resolutions, you know the ones…lose weight, get out of debt, change our lives for the better. Well, for what it’s worth, I want to help you make 2014 the year that you make your financial goals come true.

I will be showing you some great ways to save money, earn more money, do more with the money you already have, and generally improve your financial situation. I hope you’ll join me in making 2014 the year that all your financial worries disappear!

Happy New Year!

Jess

November 29

Depression and Your Money

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Depression is a sneaky illness. It can creep up on you or hit you like a smack in the face, depending on your circumstances. The ads on television remind us that ‘depression hurts’, but it can also wreck your finances.

Speaking from experience, as someone who has battled clinical depression since I was a teenager, I know exactly how depression can affect your money, both in the way you earn it and the way you manage it. Depression can make it impossible to focus on the day to day business of managing your money, making you miss payments or spend money without keeping track of it. It can even affect your ability to earn money to support yourself and your family.

You can actually become depressed from having money worries. This type of situational depression is extremely common, especially around the holiday season. If you are sitting under a mountain of debt and facing a Christmas with few gifts, it can be extremely stressful.

Getting Help for Depression

How can you cope with depression that’s affecting your finances? To start with, understand that it’s okay to ask for help. Whether you choose to see a doctor or therapist, or you rely on your friends and family to help you through the tough times, know that it’s extremely important to accept help.

There is no shame in being depressed. In many cases, depression is an illness caused by an imbalance in the brain, just like ADHD or ADD. In these cases a doctor can help, but even if your depression is a result of being overly stressed, there are ways you can feel better and take control of your life and money again.

1. First and foremost, if you are feeling severely depressed and considering harming yourself, go see your doctor! You may benefit from an antidepressant that can help you start to feel better. Sometimes, just getting a diagnosis and talking to a professional can help you feel more in control.

2. Whether your depression is situational or something you’ve battled your entire life, you’ll benefit from getting some exercise daily and eating healthily. Taking care of your physical well-being can also help improve your mental health, so make it a priority to take care of yourself.

3. If you are feeling depressed because you don’t seem to have enough money to make ends meet, make a list of your financial priorities. Food, shelter, healthcare and transportation are the minimum basics. Everything else, including debts, can be addressed once your basic needs are met. Just making a list and having a plan can help you feel more in control.

4. Don’t give into self-medicating your depression through overspending or binging on food or alcohol. It won’t help, and it will make your situation worse!

5. Talk to someone. Whether you turn to your doctor, your spouse or just a trusted friend, don’t suffer in silence. Often, just discussing your depression with someone who understands can help you feel a lot better.

I hope that if you are struggling with depression you do seek help…we all deserve to feel happy and hopeful, no matter what our finances look like!

Do you have any helpful tips to share for dealing with depression and your money? Please feel free to share below!

October 16

5 Top Tips for a Cheaper Halloween This Year

Yes, I know Halloween is just a few weeks away…my eight year old has been reminding me hourly. Seriously, just the thought of dressing up and scaring her little sister, plus eating all that candy, has her getting goofy already! She wants a very expensive costume, I want to save money…sound familiar? If so, read on to see how you can make Halloween less expensive, but no less fun, this year!

1. Popping tags at the thrift shop
You know that song by Maclemore, ‘Poppin Tags’…well, he’s one smart dude, because that’s exactly where I go first for costume ideas. I go to the local thrift shop and look for inspiration…not just at the clothes but any accessories that you might need. Some of the bargain bin items that no one wants are perfect accessories for monsters, hobos, tacky celebrities…you get the picture. Plus, you won’t mind cutting up clothes you paid a buck for if you need to cannibalize something to create the perfect costume.

2. If you can’t buy it, make it
Or, make something that looks as close to it as possible. I can’t sew to save my life, even though I have a really nice sewing machine. But, I can superglue like nobody’s business. And what on earth did you think double sided tape was for? It’s just one night, bodge it, fake, do whatever but make it!

3. Accessorize to emphasize
If your homemade costume looks like crap, then distract the locals with some great makeup. Halloween makeup is cheap, especially if you supplement with stuff out of your own makeup stash. Don’t we all have a few butt ugly colours we know we’ll never wear, just waiting to transform your child into something slightly hideous? No? Just me then…but seriously, if you aren’t good at Facepainting, ask a friend who is to help out. If you both help each other your kids will be ready twice as fast, and eating candy in no time!

4. Candy do’s and don’ts
Skip the high end candy that costs a fortune…try watching the salespapers at places like Walgreen’s, CVS and the Dollar stores for specials on things like peppermints, dum dums, and gum. Believe it or not, kids still like the cheap stuff. Plus, those little beggers can’t be choosers, right? 🙂

5. Safety first
Don’t send the kids out without an adult and some way of being seen. We love flashlights, but my kids tend to shine those in people’s eyes because they are sort of careless. I also love decking them out in glow sticks from the Dollar Tree. They love wearing them, I don’t mind paying a buck for a pack full of them. If they don’t have them, or if you don’t have a Dollar Tree near you, Amazon usually has a great selection for a very decent price, like the ones below.

Finally, remind your kids to eat NOTHING til you’ve checked it. That way, you get first pick of the goodies as a reward for all your hard work. Isn’t being a parent AWESOME?!

Share your Halloween money saving tips-serious and otherwise-right here!

September 18

How Much Money Can You Save With Amazon Prime?

The answer is, it depends.

I signed up for Amazon Prime in 2012 when we decided to get rid of our cable television. I was intrigued by the benefits that they claimed to offer, including the free ebook lending for Kindle owners and free 2 day shipping on Millions of products. I also liked the fact that they had a large selection of free to stream movies for Prime account members. Even though we already had Netflix, Amazon had some things in their Prime section that Netflix did not.

I do some work through Amazon’s Mturk platform, and I can use my money to buy Amazon gift cards which are basically instant credit to buy lots of stuff from Amazon, including buying digital editions of movies and TV series through the site.

I already shopped at Amazon, and I tried to always find free shipping options, but couldn’t always. But, I did notice a LOT of the things I bought were Prime eligible, so I was really curious. I investigated, and here is what I found.

Movies: Currently Amazon has over 40,000 movies and television shows available to stream or download. Over 15,000 of these are available free to Prime members. Of course, that number could go up as new titles are added. One cool thing: CBS’ ‘Under the Dome’ is available on Prime pretty quick after it airs on TV. Even Hulu doesn’t have it!

Free 2 Day Shipping: There are literally millions of items that qualify for this, from clothes to food to toys and baby gear and household items and…you get the point, right? It’s a BUNCH of stuff. If you consider what shipping costs for most items, you’d probably save the cost of your annual subscription cost in a few purchases.

Free Kindle Books: Kindle owners can borrow from up to 350,000 Kindle ebooks, including best sellers and new releases. I don’t have a Kindle, but my son does, and I have ‘borrowed’ it to borrow a few. WELL WORTH IT in my opinion!
If you don’t have a Kindle, you should consider getting a Kindle Fire …it’s a great tablet for reading and watching movies!

Cost: A year’s subscription to Amazon Prime cost $79. That breaks down to $6.58/month. It’s less than Netflix or Hulu Plus, and it has more benefits to me.

Bottom line: We renewed our subscription this year. We are thrilled with Amazon Prime and the whole process. I’ve ordered items from Amazon 7 times this year and never paid a penny on shipping. Plus, I’ll probably buy more than a few Christmas presents on there, all Amazon Prime eligible, of course!

So, I’d say you could save a HUGE amount of money with a Prime membership, especially if you reduce your cable or satellite package at the same time. After all, with 40,000+ movies and TV shows to watch, who needs cable?

SPECIAL PROMOTION ALERT!!!

Amazon Prime is offering a free 30 day trial. This is an amazing opportunity to try it out, and with free 2 day shipping you could buy a ton of Christmas presents and never pay shipping!

Join Amazon Prime – Watch Over 40,000 Movies

Do you use Amazon Prime? How do you save money on your online shopping and movie watching?

September 6

Grab These Bargains in September for Biggest Savings!

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Ahh, September…the kids are back in school, summer is a quickly fading memory and Christmas will be here before you can even say ‘Happy Halloween’. Before you develop a severe case of seasonal affective disorder let me share a great secret with you…September is an awesome month for bargains!

Lifehacker.com posted a great piece as part of a twelve month guide to ‘what to buy, when’, and here’s what they have to say about September.

“Big appliances: Stoves, washing machines, and other gear that’s way too big to fit into your car starts appearing in showrooms… But you’re not buying that stuff—you’re wisely watching the stuff that’s still new, but just slightly older, get real markdowns to make room for the new stuff.”

Don’t be suckered in by low sales prices if you don’t really need the item. Most new appliances have a pretty long lifespan these days, and repairs are almost always cheaper than buying new.

“Cars: Now is the sweet spot between last year’s inventory needing to move quicker off the lot and all that inventory being gone. Go in on a weekday morning if you can to get the sales staff’s full attention, and try to keep track of cars you like, then watch how long they sit on the lot. If you’ve got a favorite that isn’t moving, that’s the time to sweep in for the much better deal.”

Don’t forget that new cars, even last year’s models, lose value very quickly. Take a look at the used cars on the lot. Many of these come with partial warranties and are a better value for your money.

“Wines: Somewhat obvious, sure, but you can also lock down some hard-to-find, small-run wines in the early fall harvest season…”

Umm, why wait to buy wine? I didn’t get this one! Then again, I buy my wine by the box, LOL!

“Holiday airfare: As we’ve suggested, the cheapest time to buy a ticket is eight weeks before a flight. Guess what’s just about eight weeks from now? Start buying your airfare for Thanksgiving, then wait a bit and grab any tickets you need for the longer December holidays.”

Totally agree with this for one main reason: planning ahead and around busy travel days is just smart practice. Last minute tickets during the holiday season is a real no-no…it’s too expensive and impossible to get tickets on the days and times you want.

“Laptops: Just because you don’t happen to be re-enrolling in undergraduate studies, or (thank your lucky stars) heading back to high school, doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a sweet back to school laptop deal. If you are in school, hey, we admire your ability to manage free blog reading time and your studies.”

The Labor Day sales start off a small frenzy of bargains as shops try to clear space for newer models in time for Christmas. Grab a bargain for yourself or your student this month.

Great deals on laptops from Amazon–click here!

“Grills and Lawn Mowers: As you might imagine, the people are looking one way (toward fall and winter indoor things), while retailers are looking back at the grills and lawn maintenance stuff they didn’t sell. ”

My husband and I always shop a season behind for this very reason. Right now we are browsing the gardening stuff, but come January we’ll be hitting up the Christmas decorations!

Grab a grill at bargain prices!

“Shrubs, Bushes, and Other Landscaping Plants: If you’ve got a warm area to keep plants, or you live in an area where growing happens all year, now’s the time to jump in…”

If you live in a moderate or warm climate, September is great planting time. Nights are cool but not cold, and the soil is warm enough for roots to thrive. I like the fact that the heat doesn’t kill you when you gardening September, too!

Have you snagged any bargains this month? Please share below!

August 15

Christmas is Coming

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My youngest daughter looks pretty freaked out about Christmas in this photo, and I usually feel the same way about the holiday once the excitement of the back to school rush settles down. By Halloween I’m practically hyperventilating about all the gifts I have to buy, food I have to cook and visits to family that I should, but probably won’t, get around to making.

Sound familiar?

Dave Ramsey (oh, God, I love that man!) always says that it shouldn’t come as any surprise to us that we will need to budget for Christmas. It’s not an unexpected emergency, and it always happens at the same time every year. But, still, many of us freak out and do some crazy silly things during the holidays.

My personal bad habit is twofold; I overspend and don’t budget enough for gifts. Or, rather, I set an amount that looks reasonable on paper but once I get into the stores my husband and I can’t seem to accommodate all our gifts on the suddenly miniscule budget.

This year, I’m ahead of the game. Hopefully. I figured that if I put aside $25 each week, starting this week, I’ll have nearly $500 by Christmas. That will definitely help cover the cost of all those gifts and goodies during the holiday season!

Consider this: If you can only manage $10 each week, starting from today, you’ll have $190 put away for the holidays. That’s like, two McDonalds breakfasts a week, or a couple of ‘good’ coffees. You can probably even shave ten bucks off your grocery expenses each week and slide that money over into a red and green envelope for some real holiday fun! Better yet, keep it up all year long for an almost effortless $520 bucks for next year.

See if your bank offers a Christmas club account that holds your savings, possibly pays a little interest, and mails you a check sometime in October or November. Set up an automatic transfer of ten bucks, or whatever you can afford, each week from your checking to the Christmas account, and lose a whole lot of stress in the process!

Excuse me while I go pat myself on the back for being ahead of the game, LOL! I think I’ll indulge in a little early Christmas shopping. If you want, feel free to join me over at My British Christmas !

Got any tips for saving for Christmas? Please share…we love it when you do!