Don’t Blow your Student Loan Check

 
Most student loan borrowers receive a student loan refund check before the beginning of every semester. The check represents the amount left over after the school has taken out what is owed for tuition, fees, and room and board (if applicable). Check amounts can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on each students unique situation.
If you (or your child) are about to receive a student loan refund check, here are five things to consider before spending the money.
It is not ‘free money’- It may seem like an effortless, easy windfall, especially to a starving college student. But it is not. You will be paying it back long after it (and whatever you buy with it) is gone, so avoid the temptation to spend freely on bar tabs, exotic travel and that tricked out new game system.You are legally bound to use it for education related expenses- When you signed your FSFSA application and student loan promissory notes, you agreed to spend your loan money only for education- related expenses. Any other use of the funds is considered a violation. Should the student aid office get wind of it, they are required to report it to the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Education.
You will probably need it later- While it may seem boring to save the money to use for groceries, books and supplies throughout the semester, it is the right thing to do. After all, do you really want to eat beans and rice every night for days at a time? ( Living expenses such as food and transportation are approved uses of student loan funds).
Consider giving it back- This one might be the last thing you think when you receive your check. But if you really don’t need it, don’t keep it. Returning it will lower the total amount of student loan debt you eventually need to pay back. It won’t be very much fun now, but your future self will thank you. Instructions for returning the money should be included with the check.
Use it to establish good financial habits- How you spend your student loan money can be the start of your lifetime financial habits, so use it wisely. Deposit it into savings, establish a budget and only withdraw the amount you budget for each week. Starting and sticking to these habits is a priceless lesson no amount of schooling can teach.

Start Small to Save Big – Easy Saving Solutionss

When looking for ways to save money, we often focus on the big things and completely overlook the small expenses that add up over time to eat away at potential savings. For example, paying a dollar and change for a bottle of water might seem insignificant, but doing it every day for a year can really make a dent into your savings plan. The key is to start thinking of the long-term impact of your choices rather than short-term gratification of buying something you want in the moment. 
Here is a breakdown of some everyday purchases and the long-term impact they can have on your financial health along with alternative saving solutions. Calculations are based on U.S. national average price and a five-day work week. 

Bottle of Water
* Average Price: $1.45

Per Week: $7.25
Per Month: $36.25
Per year: $435

Saving Solution:  Buy a case of bottled water from the warehouse club, which works out to a much cheaper per unit price. Better yet, get a refillable water bottle and fill it with filtered water as many times as you want. Many bottled waters are simply filtered municipal water anyway, so there is really no reason to pay extra for it. It is better for your wallet (and the environment, too). 

Coffeehouse Coffee
* Average Price: $3

Per Week: $15
Per Month: $60
Per Year: $720

Saving Solution: Make your coffee at home and take it in with you in an insulated travel mug. Even if you splurge on exotic beans, you will still save a bundle over buying from a coffeehouse. Better yet, embrace the free coffee offered at your office (if available) and bring in your own flavored creamer. 

Buying Lunch
* Average Price: $10

Per Week: $50
Per Month: $200
Per Year: $720

Saving Solution: Yikes! Do you really want to spend more than $2000 a year eating forgettable meals? Making your own lunch is not only cheaper, it is likely healthier, too. Beat boredom by trying new and interesting recipes, or cooking dinners with the intent of taking the leftovers for lunch. Use the money you save on lunch to take vacations instead. 

Happy Hour
* Average Price: $20

Per Week: $20
Per Month: $80
Per Year: $960

Saving Solution: It is always fun to let loose with coworkers after a hard week, but you do not have to hit the bar to do it. Invite people over for a BYOB happy hour and ask everyone to bring a snack or appetizer. Rotate houses to share hosting duties. 
Of course, there will be days where you don t feel like making lunch, or leaving your freshly made coffee sitting on the counter as you leave the house in a mad rush. Life happens. It is unrealistic to expect that yo will never need or want to spend money on purchases. The goal is to think before you spend, rather than getting to the end of the week and wondering why your wallet is empty and you have nothing tangible to show for it. 
Are you looking for more budgeting tips? Click here!

Are you Financially Fragile?

Are you familiar with the phrase ‘financially fragile’? It’s a phrase economists use to describe people who would not be able to pull together $2000 cash within 30 days. A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that more than a quarter of Americans fall into the financially fragile category. Even Vice President Joe Biden recently made headlines for declaring he didn’t have an emergency savings account ready to go.
While $2000 cash sounds like a lot of money (and it is), it represents what many people typically need in the event of an emergency such as a major car repair, unforeseen medical bills, or mandatory home repairs.
If you’ve suddenly realized that you’re financially fragile, there is no need to panic. But you need to start saving immediately to reach (and exceed) that coal of having $2000 emergency cash. Here are some ways you can do it.Get a Second Job or Pick Up Extra Hours-
Remember when you were a kid and you’d ask to do extra chores to make money above and beyond your regular allowance? This is the grown-up version of that. Working a part-time or weekend job for a few months and putting all of your pay toward your emergency fund will make it grow quickly. Or if you have a chance to pick up extra hours at your current job, do it. Just be sure any extra pay goes toward that $2000 goal.
Liquidate Your Assets-
 This is really just a fancy way of saying sell some stuff. Whether you have a yard sall, sell items on Craigslist or eBay or through consignment shops, you can cash in by selling things you no longer want, need or use. Look around your house for unused sports and fitness equipment, clothing with tags still attached, electronics – even your old cell phones. Just about anything in new or good working condition has a resale value. Deposit all the proceeds from what you sell into your emergency fund.
Cut Back on Expenses –
Challenge yourself to a few months of personal economic austerity measures and put the money saved towards your emergency savings goal. For starters, minimize dining out, take your lunch to work and skip the coffeehouse coffee every morning. Another great way to save is by switching to a streaming video service rather than paying for cable. You can also start using coupons and money-saving apps when you shop for groceries and household essentials. And if you’re feeling ambitious, start making staples like bread and yogurt from scratch.
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize- Remember that everything you are doing is to help you reach your $2000 emergency savings goal. The extra hours might be tiring and you might get bored with packing lunch every day , but it is all to give you piece of mind you need to remove yourself from the financially fragile category. You can do it.

Understand The Difference Between A Want And A Need

One of the most basic concepts when it comes to saving money is that we must learn how to determine our wants vs. our needs. No matter where you seek financial advice, you will see, or hear, that seemingly simple concept over and over again. 
At first glance, it does seem simple. Our needs are the things we we must have to sustain us day to day: food, shelter, clothing, personal care items, and in most cases safe, reliable transportation. Just about everything else can be classified as a want (though at times, it may seem like a need)- entertainment, electronics, leisure travel… the list of things we want is potentially endless. But even within the needs category, the lines can blur. We must have food every day, but we do not need to dine out to get it. We must be fully clothed to get out in public, but we don’t need the latest fashions to stay within the bounds of decency. 
We have become a culture of want, addicted to the rush of newness and convinced it is the road to happiness. So how can we stop wanting so much and appreciate simply meeting our needs? Here are a few ideas:
Take Inventory- Look around and evaluate everything you already have. Chances are you are far exceeding your basic need in almost every area. Work on cultivating a grateful attitude and appreciating relationships and experiences, more than material things. 
Avoid Temptation- Advertising – in all of its forms – is designed to make us want. Avoid it as much as possible by unsubscribing from retailers’ promotional emails, recording television shows and skipping through commercials, and carefully choosing the online content you consume. Break the habit of going digital ‘window shopping’ when you are bored.
Practice the One-In-One-Out Rule- Successful minimalists live by the concept. It simply means that anytime you bring a new item into your home, you must get rid of one that it the same or similar. So, a new pair of shoes in, an old pair of shoes out. New baseball cap in, old baseball cap out. You get the idea. It will be easy at first, since most of us have plenty to get rid of. But as you get down to items that truly matter to you, you will be less inclined to toss for something new. 
Factor in Hidden Costs- Often we purchase something new without thinking of the additional cost we will incur as a result. That shiny new vehicle is gorgeous, but what about the added costs of higher registration and insurance rates? The fancy new phone sure looks fun, but does that new data plan fit with your budget? When you stop to think about the total cost of something, you might discover you are perfectly content to keeping what you already have- until you truly need something new. 

4 Questions You Should Ask Before Deciding on Graduate School

So you have a bachelor’s degree, but you’re wondering what comes next. Maybe you want to unlock the door to your dream job. Maybe you’re ready for a promotion and a raise. Or maybe you think the job market is still too weak in your field. There are lots of reasons to consider a graduate degree, but be financially wise about it. Here are four questions you should ask when making this important – and potentially costly – decision.
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1. Do I need a graduate degree for my career?
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The first thing to ask is whether your dream job even requires a graduate degree in the first place. Doctors, of course, have to attend medical school, lawyers _almost _always have to grind through law school (though legal apprenticeships are allowable in some jurisdictions), and top-notch academics generally have PhD’s. But, for many high level jobs, graduate degrees aren’t needed, and relevant work experience can be just as good.
We crunched some federal labor market data on management occupations (which are generally the highest paying jobs) to show you just how wide the differences are across industries. If your career is in education or health, you may want to seriously consider grad school to advance: 36 percent of managers have a master’s degree or above. It’s different in the hospitality industry, where only 7 percent of managers have been to grad school. Of course, the numbers are just the beginning of the story, and even within industries the needs vary widely. So do your homework, including talking with people in your industry who can attest to a degree’s value, and figure out what the norm is for your career.
2. Will graduate school give me a salary bump?######
Next, ask yourself how a graduate degree will likely impact your salary after graduation. Again, every situation is unique, but we recut the federal labor market data to show you a typical “salary bump” from an advanced degree. If you work in government or health services, having an advanced degree can open up jobs that pay you 50 per cent more. For all you urban farmers out there, be mindful that your graduate work on Socrates doesn’t necessarily make you a successful avocado grower: the typical advanced degree holder in agriculture takes jobs that pay less. So don’t assume graduate school will always translate into a huge — or immediate — raise.
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3. What does graduate school cost – both in money and time?######
Many students rush to graduate school for the benefits – but make sure you carefully understand the costs too. Obviously there’s tuition (may range from $30k all the way up to $120k!), books, fees, and in some cases the room/board that you otherwise wouldn’t be paying. But there’s also what you give up to attend (what economists call opportunity costs): your old salary and career advancement. If you have to take out student loans to finance your education, these add interest costs and could impact your credit after school. Of course, you can lower the burden of these costs with scholarships, fellowships, and working in school.
Working while getting your graduate degree may mean you’ll be in school longer, and not every institution offers evening and weekend classes, but they don’t involve sacrificing salary or career advancement. Some companies may even set aside financial assistance for employees going to school; it never hurts to ask your HR department.
Think hard also about the length of your desired degree and the number of years you plan to work after graduating. A typical master’s is two years, while the typical PhD is around seven years. So even if a doctorate gives you a bigger weekly salary bump (which it doesn’t always), you still might make more over your whole career with a master’s because you spent less time in school. For similar reasons, you should investigate programs that meet on nights and weekends, letting you earn a regular salary and make progress to an advanced degree. Financially, this might be the better choice.
4. Are there better alternatives?######
Today, there are many alternatives to traditional grad school. If you explore these routes, consider their unique risks. Be particularly careful with for-profit universities or for-profit companies. Some are pioneering the future of education, and some are just making a quick buck.
A fast growing option is the online degree, many now offered by accredited and prestigious institutions. An online degree could give you the flexibility to earn credits while in school or taking care of a loved one. But also consider that you won’t get all of the benefits of in-person study groups, on-campus research facilities, and the ability to network with classmates. Taking classes online is also a different learning dynamic than in-person and may not be right for everyone.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) through sites like Coursera or edX are often low-cost and taught by faculty from top universities. These sites have also begun to offer certificates in specialized fields, which may be useful in demonstrating command of specific skills (such as a programming language). But so far these credentials aren’t really equivalent to a comprehensive graduate degree, and there isn’t reliable data yet if they affect your salary or your career advancement.
Skill-based boot camps are intense, on-site, 8-12 week programs that help you learn a discrete skill (particularly coding) fast. If you’re thinking about graduate school through the lens of _changing _careers then a boot camp may make sense, though understand that they are predominantly for-profit and still largely unregulated.
It may also pay off more to build up your portfolio of work on sites like Dribble, Github, or a personal blog. To some employers, especially in startups, real projects speak more than fancy degrees. Your personal projects also let you explore your passions, and passion can push many people to learn more than the fear of a bad grade.
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There are many reasons to go to graduate school – professional, intellectual, personal, etc. But whatever motivates you, a careful, clear-eyed weighing of the financial costs and benefits should be part of your decision.
 
Shouvik Banerjee is the Founder and CEO of AverPoint, a platform to bring crowd-verified evidence into editorial and marketing content. AverPoint’s mission is to empower authentic, evidence-driven brands like Mint.com give individuals the information to make better choices.

How to Compare Two Job Offers

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Weighing two separate job offers can seem like an embarrassment of riches. In today’s job-starved economy, the prospect of having your choice between two positions is a rare and enviable position.
But there’s also an element of anxiety with choosing between two offers. One could be the job of your dreams, and the other could be a short-lived stint in hell. So how can you tell the difference between the two?
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Compensation and Benefits######
It’s easy to look at two salaries and decide to take the job with the highest one. But that’s not giving you the full picture. Compensation can include bonuses, profit sharing, stock options, pension and other monetary benefits. Add these up to get a real idea of the total salaries.
After you’ve compared the salaries, the second step is to examine the benefits packages. These can include vacation days and holidays, sick days, healthcare, retirement plan, tuition reimbursement and other perks.
Health insurance is one of the most important to compare, since costs can vary wildly. Check out the premiums and deductibles first and then see if either plan offers dental or vision coverage (these could make a big difference in how much you pay). Depending on your health, those could be major factors in how much money you take home.
Paid time off is also a deciding factor for many. Earning more money is great, but not if you only get 10 vacation days a year (compared to 21 days at another job). Does the company have a policy of increasing your vacation time over the years? How long do you hope to be at this company? These are all important questions to consider in how you value the vacation policy offered.
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Commute######
Driving to and from work is ranked as one of the worst parts of anyone’s day. No matter how great a job is, a long commute can kill the joy of a new position. Plus, being far away from home can make it difficult to run errands during lunch, make it to your morning workout and get home in time to let the dog out. Be realistic with yourself about how much time you can spend on the road and still be able to walk through your front door at the end of the work day with some energy to spare.
Not only does a long commute expend your own energy, driving a long way will also cost more money and put more wear and tear on your car. You can use GasBuddy’s trip calculator to compare how much you’d spend in fuel costs between each job and see if the amount is significant.
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Company Culture######
Finding out the company culture before you start working is much harder than figuring out what the bonus structure is, but it could end up being more important.
Talk to other employees and ask them the following questions:

Is it permissible to take a sick day or do employees fight the flu to get to work?
Are you allowed to work from home occasionally?
Is vacation time sacred or does your boss expect to reach you at all times?

Even a job with great benefits and a high salary could become your worst nightmare if you’re supposed to sleep with your phone on and respond to urgent texts on weekends.
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Other Things to Take into Account######
Once you’ve done the research for the factors listed above, here are some other questions to consider:

Does the company support and pay for employee training such as classes, conferences, etc.?
Is there room for advancement?
Have there been any layoffs recently?
How easy is it to start new projects and take risks?
Do people frequently work overtime?
Can you create your schedule or are you expected to work when everyone else does?
Is the company well-respected in the industry?
Are there frequent business trips?
Will you have direct access to the higher ups or is there a lot of bureaucracy?

The last step – and probably the most important – is to choose confidently. No matter which offer you decide on, it’s crucial to remove as much doubt as possible from the process.
Once you’ve made your choice, your happiness and satisfaction is going to have more to do with your attitude than the job itself. If you’re constantly asking “what if,” you’ll find yourself fantasizing about an alternate reality that doesn’t exist. Even if your new job isn’t everything you expected, it’s important to remember that the other job could have been even worse.
 
_Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.**

Cost of Living in Major Metro Areas

There are multitude of reasons why you may decide to move from one city to another. Maybe you just landed a sweet high-paying job after graduating college or you’ve done the research and decided that moving would be a better option for starting your own business.
While it would be great to just pick-up and go, it’s not always that easy in real life. You could potentially move to a new location that is too expensive for you to live in. Can you live your ideal life in New York City if you’re only bringing in $50,000 a year? It would definitely be a challenge.To give you a better idea of the cost of living across the country, here are the twenty-five largest metro areas, ranked by population size, in the U.S. and a glimpse of how much it takes to live there.
25. Nashville-Davidson, TNThe cost of living in Tennessee’s state capital is s 0.80% lower than the U.S. average. A one bedroom apartment in the city center averages $1,343.40 per month, with utilities at around $130. If you were to have a three course meal at a mid-range restaurant, it would cost you about $50 for two people.
24. Washington D.C.Living in the nation’s capital isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive areas to live in the country, especially when it comes to public transportation and necessities. A 900 square foot apartment could cost you more than $2,000 per month, on top of $166 for utilities. Want to eat out for lunch? Expect to pay $13 for a basic meal.
23. Denver, COA one bedroom apartment in Denver could set you back around $1,500 per month, which is slightly higher than the national average. Utilities are around $130 and the cost of eating out for two people averages $60. If you’re active, expect to pay more for athletic shoes than the rest of country.
22. Seattle, WAResiding in the Great Northwest can get pricey. Monthly apartment rentals can range from $1,612 to $2,278. Prices for utilities are around $133/month. It’s worth noting, Seattle has some of the highest prices in the country for men’s haircuts and local cheeses.
21. Boston, MADepending on which section of Bean Town you live, monthly rent can be anywhere from $1,600 to $2,600. Utilities are around $145 and going out on the town isn’t overpriced, $65 for a meal for two. But, you can expect to pay higher prices on groceries like tomatoes and imported beer.
20. Memphis, TNMemphis is one of the more affordable places to live in the country, it’s actually 14.3 percent lower than the national average. Home prices average around $180,375, with the average two-bedroom/two-bathroom apartment going for $726 a month. However, grocery shopping can get pricey depending on the area. For example, a pound of ground beef costs $2.60.
19. El Paso, TXFor such a large metro area, the cost of living in El Paso isn’t too shabby. Rent for an apartment in the most expensive part of town is around $1,000. The price of clothing, gas, and even the internet are more affordable than most other areas – $35 for a pair of Levis, for example.
18. Detroit, MIWith prices ranging between $850 to $1,250, Motor City does offer some of the most reasonable apartment and home prices in the country. However, utilities are extremely high – over $250/month. That is outweighed though with the low cost of entertainment ($35 for a dinner for two), shopping ($39 for a pair of jeans), and just $27 for a monthly membership to a fitness club.
17. Charlotte, NCYou can find a place to rent in Charlotte between $750 to $1,600. While the cost of men’s haircuts, and potatoes, are more expensive than other areas in the country, Charlotte has some of the lowest prices for cleaning services and beer prices at local pubs.
16. Fort Worth, TXRenting a place in Fort Worth can range from $860 to $2,000 per month. Utilities are on the lower side, $123/month, as are one-way tickets for local transportation ($5) and dinner for two ($35).
15. Columbus, OHHousing prices in Ohio’s state capital (also the largest city in the state) run between $863 to $1,600. While cleaning services are some of the highest in the country, flat screen TVs are some of the cheapest ($304 for a 40”), as are beer prices in the local bars.
14. San Francisco, CASan Francisco is crazy expensive. In fact, the total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.6% higher than the U.S. average with home prices averaging more than $737,600. Renting a place isn’t much better since SF has the highest prices in the country: $4,650 for a two-bedroom apartment. Going to restaurants? Expect to pay $80 for a mid-range establishment. To make matters worse? Groceries and health care costs are more expensive here as well.
13. Indianapolis, INIf you enjoy working out, then you should know that Indianapolis has the cheapest gym memberships in it business district in the world. Indy also has some of the cheapest basic dining-out options in the country, around $11 for lunch. Housing ranges from just under $700 to just over $1,300 per month.
12. Jacksonville, FLThe cost of living in Jacksonville is actually 2% lower than the Florida average, as well as 8% lower than the national average. Apartment rentals can be found at around $920, a little higher than the national average, but the average mortgage payment ($878) is lower. Healthcare and utility prices are also lower than average.
11. Austin, TXLike many other metro areas, Austin has a flexible range for housing, usually from $878 to $1,880 per month. Utilities are around $179, but entertainment prices are favorable. A basic dinner for two? $37. Two tickets to the theater? $21.
10. San Jose, CAJust like its neighbor San Francisco, San Jose is ridiculously expensive. The cost of living is 16% higher than the California average and 57% higher than the national average. Groceries, housing, healthcare, and gasoline are all higher than the national average. For example, the average home price is a whopping is $575,100!
9. Dallas, TXRent per month in the Dig D can range from $820 to $1,168. Utility prices are average, around $142, as is going to a mid-range restaurant, $45 for two. One-way tickets for public transportation are low, $2.50, however a monthly pass is pricey at $80.00. On the plus, toothpaste and gas prices are among the cheapest in the country – only $1.26 for a tube of toothpaste!
8. San Diego, CAAre you surprised that the cost of living in San Diego is 44% higher than the national average, as well as 6% higher than the California average? The average of house price is more than $451,000, while monthly apartment rentals at $1,312. Transportation, healthcare, utilities, groceries, and good & services are all higher than the national average.
7. San Antonio, TXDid you know that San Antonio has the cheapest apple prices in the country at $2.34 for 2 pounds? The home of the Alamo also has the second cheapest public transportation prices in the country. On the downside, going to the theater is one of the most expensive with two tickets selling for $219. Housing prices range from $700 to $1,400 per month.
6. Phoenix, AZHousing prices in the dessert can be anywhere from $674 to $1,600 per month. Your utility bill could be pricey as well, around $180/month, but that’s expected since you’re running the air conditioner. Meals and groceries can be affordable, $50 for two people at a mid-range restaurant. Gas prices can be high, but a monthly public transportation pass costs $62.
5. Philadelphia, PAThe City of Brotherly Love can get expensive. Expect to dish out between $1,200 to $2,700 for a place to live each month. And, Philly has the third most expensive utility prices in the country on top of that. While the cuisine is some of the best country, having dinner at a nice Italian restaurant is the second most expensive in the U.S. costing an average of $119.
4. Houston, TXFor such a large metro area, you can actually stretch your money in Houston quite well. The cost of living is 11% lower than the national average. Food prices, health care, gasoline, and utilities are lower than average. You can even purchase a home for around $124,700.
3. Chicago, ILThe Windy City is a pricey area to live. In fact, ChiTown has some of the most expensive prices for jeans ($61), cappuccino ($5.19), and public transportation. Monthly rent can be anywhere from $900 to over $2,000, with utilities averaging $213.
2. Los Angeles, CASale prices on LA homes have appreciated 78.5% over the last five years. That means it would be hard to find a place to rent for under $900 per month. At least utility prices, $110, are cheaper than most other areas. Transportation is costly, gas prices are sometimes 55% more expensive than the national average. The cost of food and entertainment are also high. And, don’t get us started on the 9% sales tax.
1. New York, NYAs the largest city in the country, and such a popular tourist destination, it’s no surprise that the Big Apple is ridiculously expensive. For starters, New York has some of the most expensive housing prices that cost between $1,638 to $3,895 per month. Own a car? Expect to shell out $533 per month in parking downtown. Enjoying a meal at a modest restaurant? You’ll be spending at least $75. And, if you have any money left over, you may be able to afford to shop or enjoy a movie at $14 per ticket.
Before you move, CNN and Bankrate offer handy Cost of Living Calculators that compare your current expenses to your possible expenses in the area that you’re moving to.
Both calculators are great starting points to help you decide if it’s worth relocating or not based on factors like your salary and how much money you’ll be spending (or saving!) on housing, groceries, utilities, transportation, and health care.
 
John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online payments company Due.

How to Create Your First Budget

There are many milestones of being an adult. Signing your own lease for the first time, being able to rent a car, having someone call you ma’am.
But being an adult also means being responsible for your own finances. Like many things, you can’t have a successful financial future if you don’t plan for it. The best way to do that? Create a budget.
Creating a budget can seem daunting, but it just requires a series of steps. See below for help on creating your first budget.
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Track your expenses######
Before you can start a budget full of limits, you need to know how much you’re spending right now. Take two or three months to spend normally and track your transactions in Mint.
Fixed expenses like rent, insurance and utilities will be easier to monitor than variable expenses, such as groceries, entertainment and travel, which will fluctuate month-to-month.
You should also write down what your income is. That amount will be the same every month for many people, but if you work hourly, on commission or are self-employed, tracking your income for a few months will give you a good idea of how much you take take in each month.
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Write down your main goals######
Make a list of what you want to save for. Is there a friend’s wedding in Ireland in six months? Write that down. Do you want to buy a house in two years? Put it on the list.
Then, do some research on how much each of those goals will cost and write that amount down as well. Once you have the goal, the amount you need to save and when you want to achieve that goal, you can figure out how much you need to save per month to make it happen.
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List your debts######
Once you have your goals, income and expenses figured out, it’s time to write down everyone’s least favorite part of budgeting: your debt. Write down what you owe, what the interest rate is, how many months you have left and what your monthly payment is.
While you have to pay the minimum each month, you also have two strategies to choose from when it comes to paying off debt early.
You can choose to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most on how much total interest you pay each month.
Another popular method is to pay off your debts in order from smallest balance to largest balance. This will help you knock out your debts faster and make you feel like you’re making more progress toward your debt.
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Start a retirement plan######
One of the most important parts of budgeting is making room for a retirement plan. Ask your HR department if your employer offers a retirement plan and if you are eligible. Many 401k plans also have free matching funds so make sure to put in enough to receive the matching.
You can also start a retirement fund on your own if your company doesn’t offer one. Many people recommend investing in index funds through an IRA or individual retirement account. Robo advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront can create personalized retirement plans based on your age and other factors.
General recommendations say you should contribute between 10-15% of your salary toward your nest egg.
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Put it all together######
Create a spreadsheet and add up how much you spend each month, what you should save for your goals, how much you should put away for retirement and how much debt you owe. If those numbers add up and are less than what you earn, you’re golden.
But for many people, that amount is greater than what they earn. That’s when they have to make sacrifices and changes to their budget. Maybe they need to move to a new apartment and save on rent or eat out less. Maybe you should postpone your goal of buying a house or take a break from traveling until you pay off that credit card.
The key is to make sure you don’t spend more than you earn and have a little bit extra each month just in case.
 
_Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Debt Free After Three.**

5 Tips on How to Negotiate an Entry-Level Salary

Now that you’ve crushed it with your cover letter, blown everyone away with your resume, and aced your interview, it’s time to do what half of all new hires never even attempt: negotiate your salary.
If you’re a recent graduate hunting for work or a twentysomething switching careers, the thought of telling a potential employer how much you want to be paid probably makes you feel a little uncomfortable. But negotiating your entry-level salary could be one of the most important conversations of your professional life, and it can actually be a lot less intimidating if you’re prepared.
Start a new entry-level job earning the paycheck you deserve with these five salary negotiation tips.
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1. Identify your ask.######
Before entering into any negotiation, you’ve got to know what you want. Ask for a salary that’s too high, and you won’t be taken seriously. Too low, and you’re leaving money on the table. To find the sweet spot, get advice from friends in the industry or any job recruiters you might know.
Also check out sites like Salary.com and PayScale.com to learn what pros in your area are actually earning. You’ll end up with a range of results, and, if you’re confident in your abilities, assume you’re worth an amount on the higher end. Just be realistic about the number you land on, because if you don’t believe you’re worth what you’re asking for, neither will the person you’re negotiating with.
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2. Be prepared to brag.######
Before talking about your salary, make a bulleted list of your qualifications and previous accomplishments. Highlight anything that increased sales, reduced costs, or streamlined processes for former employers, and include any unique skills that could give you an edge compared to other candidates.
If you’ve never actually held a full-time job before, jot down any notable internship projects or relevant experience you’ve acquired from extracurricular activities. The idea is to impress your potential employer by letting her know everything you’ve done that makes you qualified to fill the position.
Stand in front of a mirror (or with some patient friends) and rehearse your spiel until it’s perfect. When you’re finally sitting down with the decision maker, hand her a copy of your list and draw attention to whichever items are most relevant to the position you hope to fill.
3. Act like you’ve been there before.######
If this is your first time negotiating, keep that under wraps. It’s normal to feel nervous, but stay confident by remembering you’ve made it this far for a reason. Give the impression that you’re an experienced negotiator by acting like one. You don’t need to be some Don Corleone, making offers your would-be boss can’t refuse, but it helps to maintain good eye contact, a positive attitude and a firm tone of voice.
If you’re sending a salary negotiation email, be sure to express your enthusiasm for the company and the position. In either case, it’s a good idea to fire away with any insightful questions you might have—just be sure not to over-communicate. If you find yourself talking too much, shut the front door and wait for your interviewer to make the next move.
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4. Don’t be first to mention money.######
When it comes to talking numbers, don’t be the one who brings up the topic, and never mention the salary you’d settle for. If you’re repeatedly asked to state the figure you had in mind, ask for 10 percent more than the number you settled on. This provides a solid buffer if and when your hopeful boss tries to talk you down. It’s also a good rule of thumb to request for a precise figure, rather than a nice round number. This is merely a psychological tactic, but it seems to work. In the case that your interviewer suggests an initial salary along the lines of what you had in mind, calmly restate the number then bite your tongue. More often than not, this approach results in increased offers.
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5. Stand your ground.######
If the amount your interviewer offers isn’t quite what you had in mind, don’t get ruffled. Keep your emotions in check, don’t take anything personally and repeat the reasons why you’re the best candidate for the job.
If your potential boss simply won’t budge, find out if there’s flexibility as far as benefits are concerned. If you can’t afford to pass up this opportunity, ask what you can do to increase your compensation in the near future. Set a date to revisit the topic and ask your new employer to put it on her calendar. And if, in the end, you’re just not feeling the offer, don’t be afraid to turn it down. It’s better to hold out for the pay you want than accept an amount you’re not able to live on.
You owe it to yourself to negotiate for every penny you’re worth. This is especially true considering that many companies calculate raises and pensions based on an employee’s initial salary. So start your career with confidence and earn what you deserve. Good luck in your negotiation.
 

Transitioning Your Finances to Life After College

Just graduated from college? Congratulations! You’ve made it to one of the major milestones in life, and you’re looking at a world of possibility.
So how do you make the most of starting this new, post-university phase of life? One of the most important things to understand as you transition from college student to real world, on-your-own adulting is how to start managing your money so you can not only pay all your expenses, but also start saving and build wealth.
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Create Your Own Systems######
Have you ever heard of engineering your environment to successfully build a new habit? Just like you might make a morning workout habit stick faster if you lay out your gym clothes the night before, you can take actions to set up systems that make building good financial habits easier.
In terms of your finances, engineering your environment means taking steps like:

Building and using a budget
Tracking your spending
Automating bills and other transactions, like monthly student loan payments
Automating transfers to savings

Using a budget creates a framework within which you can use your money. Tracking your spending makes you more aware of how you’re using your money within that budget. And automating transfers between your checking and savings accounts makes it easy
You can use a number of tools to help you develop and stick with a money management environment that works for you. For example, a tool like Mint provides a comprehensive overview of nearly every aspect of your finances — from your budget and spending to your credit score and investments — which makes it a great place to start.
Another app to consider is Digit, which makes small automated transfers from your checking into your savings. If you’d rather get a jumpstart on investing, try Acorns too. Acorns works in much the same way as Digit, but instead of putting small amounts of money into a savings account, the app invests the money for you.
Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to set up budgets, track spending, or create automated savings plan. What’s important is recognizing the need for a structure, and developing one that works for you.
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Manage Your Money When You Make More######
After graduation when you start your career in earnest, you’ll likely make more money than you did back in your college days. This is great for you, but it can also cause some financial problems if you don’t think ahead. In other words: mo’ money, mo’ problems
The biggest pitfall of earning more is succumbing to lifestyle inflation. This happens when you spend more as you earn more. Essentially, you build a spending habit — not a savings habit. And this is a problem because it’s extremely difficult to cut back your spending once you’ve adjusted to a certain level of luxury or lifestyle.
If you avoid lifestyle inflation from the very beginning and make saving at least 10% of your income a priority, you’ll always find it easier to save money no matter how much you make. You don’t have to start off saving 10% right away, but it’s a great goal to work toward as your income increases.
You should also take advantage of a full-time job with all the benefits it comes with as you start your career. Don’t wait to open a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan if any are available to you. If your company offers to match your contributions, put in at least enough to get the full match. That’s free money!
If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement account, you can still save as soon as you start working. Open a Roth IRA and save what you can. And remember, as you earn more, contribute more to retirement (instead of getting caught up in spending more).
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Continue Your (Financial) Education######
You may have just graduated from college, but don’t let learning end here. The best way to set yourself up for financial success in life is to continually seek to learn more about your money. Ask questions and seek answers. Do research. Get multiple opinions and consider different perspectives.
There are more resources available to you than ever before. In addition to personal finance, money management, or investing books that you can buy, tons of information about these subjects is available for free on blogs and podcasts. While most bloggers are sharing from personal experience, there’s a lot that you can learn from what other people have tried — and if nothing else, tuning into the conversation can keep you inspired and motivated to reach your own financial goals.
Staying interested and involved in your finances will help you better manage your money on a day-to-day basis and for the long-term. No one will care more about your cash than you do, and continuing to learn is without a doubt a prerequisite for building wealth.
 
Kali Hawlk is a freelance writer and the co-founder of Off The Rails, a free mentorship platform for creative women. She’s passionate about helping others do more with their money, their work, and their lives. Get in touch by tweeting @KaliHawlk.