Saving

Why You Need a Will (and How to Get One!)


“I’m 35, single, and in good health. I don’t need a will!”

Yes, you do.

I’m going to talk about estate planning today, which isn’t exciting or glamorous, but it is definitely an uncomfortable subject. Here are some compelling reasons why you should consider getting a will, and how you can do it without too much hassle.

  1. Protect your assets. I rent, so on paper, it may look like I don’t own much. But if you add in my car, retirement accounts, my business, and my other assets, it all adds up. Having a will means I know what I am worth, and I know my interests are protected.
  1. Have your wishes fulfilled. My will includes instructions to be cremated and having my ashes scattered. I know from conversations with my parents they would prefer to bury me. But my will trumps their wishes and I don’t leave my final wishes to chance. It’s spelled out in black and white.
  1. Spare your loved ones. Many of us know people who pass away without wills and relatives and friends come out of the woodwork, all wanting valuables or a piece of the deceased’s estate. This can cause heartache and ruptures in the family as it drags out in the courts. Do you want to subject your family to that kind of grief? Having a will guarantees squabbles won’t arise after your death, and preserves the peace.
  1. You really never know. I am young and healthy, but sadly none of us know what the future holds. A very dear friend of mine died at 33 years old. She had no will, and her heart-broken parents had to go through her estate and determine what she owed. It was so difficult for them to take care of all her paperwork. I don’t want my parents to have to go through that, so my will has specific instructions, and my sister is my executor.

I gave my parents power of attorney over me before I moved to France for a year. They were baffled why I would do such a thing, saying nothing bad would happen to me. Well, at the end of my trip, my appendix ruptured and I got a blood infection. I very nearly didn’t make it home. But because they had power of attorney over me, I made it legally easier for them to bring me home to the States in case I did die. I was only 23.                                                                                                                    

As a Dave Ramsey fan, I followed his advice and got my will drawn up at USLegalForms.Com. They offer state-specific wills you can fill out online and are valid legal documents. At $49.95 for a PDF or $59.95 for a paper form, it certainly is a budget-friendly way to draw up a will. Rates may vary depending on your state, but it is certainly worth investigating. There are other websites like LegalZoom.com which offer wills created online for a reasonable cost. It pays to do your research!

Of course you can meet with a lawyer and draw up a will. That is advantageous because you are dealing with real people who know you and can amend the will whenever you need it. Be prepared to spend $300-$1,000, but that is money well spent!

Hopefully this blog post has given you some food for thought and will have you consider creating a will. Think about your loved ones. Do you want to put them through anxiety and additional grief of taking care of your estate with no written directives?

Of course not. So look into getting a will started. Now.

Do you have a will? Why or why not? Comment below!

When to Save and When to Splurge on Clothing

To spend or not to spend…that is the question.

There are a lot of budget fashionistas out there who will spend a little money on ready-to-wear items every season. But Plus One Women are a little more discerning. We would prefer to have nicer things if we know they will last.

This week, I’m taking a look at various items of clothing to determine which ones I recommend saving on, and which ones to splurge on. I don’t cover workout clothes, loungewear, undies, or jammies. Instead, I focus on wardrobe staples you will wear either to work or out and about.

Splurge

  • Sweaters – I don’t skimp on sweaters. Because they are the bulk of my winter wardrobe and I prefer cashmere, I go for quality over quantity. The only exception is black cardigans – I love them but wear them so hard, they rarely last year to year.
  • Coats – Midwest winters are brutal. So why would you skimp on a poor quality coat? I had to invest in a new one this year, only because I had gained so much weight that my coat of three winters no longer fit. I got a stylish wool coat that will last me for several years. It wasn’t cheap, but I know I will get my money’s worth out of it.
  • Shoes – This is the item I am least likely to save on. I have awful feet – bunions, pronation, and all. So why would I spend $25 on a crummy pair of shoes that falls apart in a few weeks? My shoes may not be cheap or sexy, but they are comfortable and last me for years.
  • Dresses – Since I only wear two dresses a season, I am meticulous about how they fit, and this is one where you get what you pay for. When I try on cheaper dresses, I am almost always disappointed how they fit. But a good quality dress will fit you like a glove and wear well through many washings.
  • Jeans – I only own one pair of jeans. You heard me right. After searching high and low, I found a pair that covers my stomach, makes my butt look good, and emphasizes my long legs. Yeah, they cost $100, but they’ve lasted almost three years. Can you say the same about a $40 pair?

Save

  • Scarves – These colorful nomads of your wardrobe don’t have to cost a lot. You can find them at discount stores in all sorts of gorgeous patterns that won’t break the bank. Have fun with them!
  • T-shirts and camis – Because they usually don’t tend to last long, there’s no sense in spending big bucks on them. Unless you find a style that really flatters you and you buy all the colors, tees and camis aren’t investment pieces.
  • Trousers – Because I know what Lane Bryant size I am, as soon as I wear out a pair of trousers, I have no problem buying another pair. I put pants through a lot: weight fluctuation, chub rub, contorting in different positions at work or even relaxing on the couch. My experience is expensive trousers don’t hold up any better.
  • Skirts – Because hemlines and silhouettes change, go ahead and have fun with skirts. They’re an easy item to wear and care for. I will spend money on a quality wool pencil skirt, but that’s it.

Save or Splurge

  • Purses – It’s your call. Personally I prefer to pay a little more for one quality black purse. But if you like different colors for the seasons, buying inexpensive purses adds a great pop of color!
  • Tops – For me, it just depends. I have shirts from Target and shirts I paid nearly $100 for. I would prefer to spend a little more to wear a shirt that fits really well than $30 for something that looks like a box on me. Again, I care about fit and quality, not price.

I hope that gives you some idea of how I price out my clothing. I’m not a snob for preferring quality clothes – they are investment pieces in my capsule wardrobe and I save money in the long run by shopping less because I buy clothing that holds up for years instead of months.

What is the one fashion item you always splurge on? Comment below!

Are Warehouse Stores Worth the Price?

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To Costco or not to Costco?

That is the question. Whether ‘tis smarter to pay the annual fee for the privilege of buying a $4.99 rotisserie chicken or 45 rolls of toilet paper at a time, I want to examine the pros and cons of warehouse stores to see if you really get your money’s worth.

  1. Depending on what you buy, the savings can add up. You are probably not going to buy everything at a warehouse store. But when I was a Sam’s Club member, the money I saved in kitty litter paid for my $45 annual membership. Per pound, a 42-pound bag of litter was half the price of litter at the grocery store – a savings of over $100 a year if I bought litter at the grocery store once a month. (Yes, I have a fat cat. I go through a lot of litter.)
  1. Extra bonuses. While Costco and Sam’s Club don’t usually accept coupons, they do have specials in their circulars and mailings. Depending on when you sign up, you can get gift cards to Sam’s and extra sign-up bonuses, such as free food items and/or free upgraded membership.
  1. Cheap eats! When I was a member of Costco, one of my favorite things to do was grab a $1.50 jumbo hot dog and soda before I started shopping. Warehouse stores offer fast, convenient food for low prices. And while not haute cuisine, it’s hard to say “no” to such a cheap meal. And it is genius marketing on Costco’s part to keep that $1.50 combo meal value price the same for the last 30 years.

And don’t forget the samples!


 

But at the same time, there are drawbacks to warehouse stores.

  1. Do you really have room for two quarts of parsley or 30 rolls of paper towels? If you live in an apartment or small house, space is at a premium. It is wise to buy only what you really use and have room to store. While I can easily stash the 42-bag of aforementioned kitty litter, I have less room for a 30-pack of paper towels, which would take me over 5 years to use.
  1. Convenience factor. I loathe grocery shopping. I do all my shopping at one store, even if another item is on sale at another store nearby. For me, my time is more valuable than running errands all over town. So while I may save a few bucks at a warehouse store, I don’t have the patience to go there once a month. I just want to get my shopping over and done with!
  1. Contributing to local economy. While Costco is almost legendary on how well they pay and treat their employees, the same cannot be said of Sam’s. Because I like to support local businesses, I try to shop the locally owned/operated stores and support local jobs with my spending dollars.

In the end, the decision is a question of cost versus convenience. The savings are undeniable, but I personally cannot stand the hassle factor. I think the wisest thing to do would be to pool resources and go in on a “family” membership with a family member or friend who is like family!

What is your experience with warehouse savings? Comment below!

How to Shop for Auto Insurance & Not Get Screwed

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It was another envelope with a familiar logo in the corner. Great, time to pay my auto insurance. Not an unexpected expense, but not welcome, either.

The corners of my lips took a downward turn as I read the contents. My auto insurance increased almost 10%.

Seriously?! I hadn’t filed any claims, gotten any tickets, moved, or had any problems with the insurance company, and this was the thanks I got?

Time to fight back.

Disgusted, I did what any good capitalist does—I comparison-shopped.

Maybe you don’t think much about insurance. Maybe you bargain hunt as much as I do. Or perhaps you’ve had the same auto insurance provider since high school. Whatever the case, stop and think about whether or not it’s time to do a little research. You may save hundreds of dollars on your auto insurance policy.

Let me preface these tips by saying I haven’t had an auto accident or ticket since the Clinton administration *furiously knocks on wood so as to not tempt fate*. I also have good credit, I own my sensible Toyota outright, and I live in a very cheap part of the country (I pay about one-sixth of what my ex-roommate who lives in New York City does). There is no perfect solution when comparison-shopping, but these are three good tips to get you on your way:

Call around to get price quotes. Call me old-fashioned, but this is how I prefer to do it. About once a year, I pour a glass of wine and call three or four different insurance companies to compare. It takes about 30-45 minutes, and I get a good idea where I can get the best deal on insurance. I have an Excel spreadsheet (see below) and I can keep track of who charges how much. I like that visual comparison right in front of me. I also like being able to speak with CSRs (customer service representatives) to investigate what types of discounts I qualify for.

  Company A Company B Company C
Body Injury Liability      
Medical Payments      
Underinsured Motorist      
Uninsured Motorist      
Property Damage Liability      
Comprehensive      
Collision      
Roadside Assistance      
Vehicle Rental      
Other      
Total

 Get quotes online. This is probably the easiest way to check out different price points. There are dozen of websites who will compare policies for you across many providers. I tried a couple of the big ones, Progressive and Esurance, and was surprised that the quotes I got were pretty close in price to the human I talked to. But it was still 5% cheaper to make a few calls and talk to actual human beings.

 Hire an insurance broker. If you don’t have the time or energy to do your own comparison-shopping, you can always have an auto insurance broker do the work for you. While I have never done this myself, there are definitely some benefits, the most important being you have a honest-to-God person who knows your name and zip code. And if you ever get involved in an accident, you have someone in your corner. This might be the most expensive way to go—their commissions usually run about 10%—but if you place high value on that personal touch, that’s something you cannot put a price tag on.

Whether you prefer the phone, online, or an insurance broker, it is a really smart idea to price out your auto insurance. I’m glad I did, because not only did I avoid a 10% increase, I actually saved 5% on what my soon-to-expire policy had been. It may go up in the next six months, but so long as I know I have freedom of choice, I will never hesitate to shop around for the best rate!

When was the last time you compared auto insurance policies? Comment below and tell us your story!

 

*Meme credit: https://www.tumblr.com/search/insurance%20humor.

5 Reasons You Should Totally Do Your Own Taxes

even-taxes-can-bring-down-Jerry-MaguireApril 15 is lurking around the corner. Like an extra serving of beets or an unwanted guest. You know it’s there. You know you have to deal with it, but you just don’t want to.

If you are like 27 million American households, you may decide to do your taxes yourself and file with the IRS.1 But how will you know if it’s right for you? In the first of this two-part series, I will cover if you should file taxes yourself—either on paper or with tax software. Next week, we will cover if you should hire a professional to handle it.

While it may seem daunting when you first think about it, here are reasons you should consider doing your own taxes:

  1. It is less expensive. The cost of hiring someone to do your own taxes varies greatly, but it can be as little as $100 to over $400, according to the National Society of Accountants.2 If you file your own taxes on IRS.gov, it costs you nothing. TurboTax, America’s number one tax preparation software, is $35 to file federal taxes (depending on the package you choose), and $37 per state you file in. That can add up to some pretty serious savings while you wait for your tax return!
  1. The 1040EZ really IS easy! If you have an uncomplicated financial situation, the 1040EZ is totally the way to go. I have finished it by hand in about two hours. The 1040EZ form is for anyone who:
  • Is without dependents
  • Earns less than $100,000
  • Has no student loan interest deductions
  • Is under age 65

The regular 1040 form takes a little more time, but I can knock it out in an afternoon or evening. Another advantage of online software is that it makes it even easier to file because they ask “Yes/No” questions and walk you through the process step by step. There is a reason I used TurboTax for nearly 10 years—convenience and ease of use!

  1. It is an excellent way to take stock of your financial picture. For many years, I never balanced a checkbook or was sure how much I had in retirement. But every late winter/early spring, I would get my documents out to assess my finances. It is an excellent reminder time to stop and take stock of where you are and where you want to be with your money. Are you saving enough for retirement? Are you making your money work for you instead for working for your money? Those hours you spend doing your taxes are time well spent because you can set new goals and reaffirm your commitment to being financially savvy!

 

  1. It’s like riding a bicycle. The first time I filed my taxes in my 20s was a bit of a challenge—especially the state forms (which I personally think are a lot more complicated than federal forms) and I had no one to help me. But the good news is that it got a little easier every year because I learned a little more with every return I filed. By the time I filed my last return on my own in 2014, I filed with TurboTax in about an hour.
  1. Lots of help is available. If the thought of doing your own taxes still sends chills down your spine, take heart. There are so many free resources available to help you do it! If you make less than $54,000, you may qualify for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). These are IRS-certified volunteers who can walk you through the process. I promise it isn’t nearly as scary to have someone explain it to you!

There are also a myriad of resources online, from IRS.gov to blogs and search engine results. You are not alone in this process! Is there a friend or family member you can enlist to help you out? Or have a tax-filing party where you sit down with your forms (maybe a bottle of wine), and help each other out? The more the merrier!

From the low cost to the self-reflection it generates, doing your own taxes makes a lot of sense. I think doing your own taxes is the mark of a strong, confident, and independent Plus One Woman. You have the dignity of taking control of your financial destiny and have learned something about yourself in the process.

Have you ever filed your own taxes? Comment below and let me know how it went!

1 https://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/More-Taxpayers-Filing-from-Home-Computers-in-2014–Many-Taxpayers-Eligible-to-Use-Free-File.

2 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-much-do-you-pay-for-tax-prep/.