Friday, September 30, 2016

Best Pet Insurance for 2016

Owning a pet isn’t cheap. The average lifetime cost of raising a dog is about $23,410, according to the American Kennel Club. A cat costs just a little less. So it’s understandable that someone might initially balk at the idea of buying pet insurance and spending even more on their animal. It can save you money in the long run, though; or at least offer you a financial safety net if your pet gets sick or injured.

Learn More on PetFirst's secure website

I researched which providers offered the most comprehensive coverage options at the most reasonable price. Of course, premiums will differ for each pet, depending on their age, breed, and the provider you’re getting the quote from, so it’s important to get multiple quotes from different providers to find the best price on the coverage you want. My top pick, PetFirst, is a good place to start. It offers unlimited lifetime benefits along with every coverage option you could want, including some not covered by any other insurer.

The Simple Dollar’s Top Picks for Best Pet Insurance

Each of these pet insurance providers offers customizable comprehensive medical and wellness coverage options at competitive pricing, as well as lower-rate plans, depending on what amount of coverage you want to purchase for your pet. To find the best policy, decide what coverage options you want, and then request a quote from each of these companies to find the lowest rate.

How I Found the Best Pet Insurance

Pet insurance isn’t like human health insurance. It doesn’t cover everything — or even some of the things you might expect, like regularly scheduled vet checkups (unless you purchase additional wellness coverage), or “pre-existing conditions,” which can be anything noticed by you or your veterinarian before the end of your new policy’s waiting period (which can be anywhere from 14 days to 12 months). That’s why it’s important to read the fine print on your policy, and to know exactly what’s covered and what’s not — and then decide if that’s going to be a good fit for you and your pet.

To find the best pet insurance companies, I researched every nationally available provider and requested quotes for my family’s 5-year-old mutt, Rigby, and for our two cats. I then weighed the pros and cons that each company offered, including:

Medical and Wellness Coverage Options

I looked for providers that offered the widest range of possible coverage options, including medical and wellness (routine care) policies, since those insurers will be the most likely to have an insurance plan that will work for the largest number of pet owners. While wellness coverage, which typically covers things like vaccines and dental cleanings, is generally not covered by basic pet insurance policies, there are exceptions where insurers will let you pay more to get some routine care included on your policy. Each of my top picks offers this option, but you certainly don’t have to purchase it.

Pre-existing conditions, which can be anything that needs treatment before the end of your pet insurance policy’s waiting period (ranging from 14 days to one year), aren’t covered by any pet insurance provider — so don’t expect them to be. That alone is a good reason to get your pet insured as soon as possible, and while they’re young. The best providers will still cover hereditary, congenital, and chronic conditions, however, so long as they’re not considered pre-existing, and will allow you to visit any licensed veterinarian for treatment, as well as purchase extra wellness coverage if you want it.

The most important medical coverage options include:

  • Pets Covered — The species of pets eligible to receive coverage. (All major providers offer coverage for dogs and cats, but only Nationwide currently provides policies for other animals.)
  • Accidents — Covers medical expenses in the event your pet gets injured in an accident.
  • Cancer Treatments — Covers cancer treatments for your pet.
  • Choose Your Own Vet — Provider allows your pet to receive treatment from any licensed veterinarian.
  • Chronic Conditions — Covers treatments for chronic conditions, like diabetes.
  • Congenital Conditions — Covers treatments for birth defects.
  • Hereditary Conditions — Covers treatments for any genetic disorders.
  • Emergency Visits — Covers emergency visits to the vet.
  • Hospitalization — Covers extended veterinary stays due to medical conditions.
  • Illness — Covers treatments for a variety of pet illnesses.
  • Imaging — Covers MRIs, X-rays, CT scans, and other medical-related imaging services.
  • Lab Tests — Covers veterinary lab tests.
  • Medications — Covers necessary medications for your pet.
  • Rehabilitation — Covers rehabilitation services for your pet.
  • Surgery — Covers any necessary surgeries for your pet.

The most important wellness coverage options include:

  • Dental Cleaning
  • Fecal Screening
  • Heartworm Tests
  • Microchipping
  • Spay/Neuter Procedures
  • Vaccines

A Note on Pricing

After ensuring that all of my top picks offered the pre-requisite coverage options, I looked at pricing — because if you can get more for less, why wouldn’t you? Like health or car insurance pricing, though, everyone’s pet insurance quote will be unique. We all have different pets at very different life stages, and with distinct health risks that each insurer takes into account when issuing a new policy and determining your premium. That’s why pet insurance policy prices are based on an animal’s gender, age, and even its weight and specific breed. Insurance for a cat, for example, is almost always going to be cheaper than for a dog, since cats tend to get sick and injured less often, and typically cost less to treat when they do.

Pet insurance premiums are based on your animal’s gender, age, and even it’s weight and specific breed.

Like any insurance policy, however, your cheapest pet insurance option isn’t going to necessarily be the best choice. Odds are, you’ll end up paying more in the event of a claim than if you had footed the bill for a policy with better coverage. That’s why I assessed my top picks on coverage options first, and then looked at pricing.

Still, if you want to have some idea of what you might pay, $60-$70 a month was my most often quoted range for 5-year-old Rigby — and this would be if I purchased the higher-end plans. But if you want to go with less coverage and get insurance for, say, $10 a month to cover a catastrophe or perhaps only some basic wellness treatments, those options are available through each of my top picks, too. It all depends on what level of financial risk you’re willing to take in the event you might have to pay a significant veterinary bill. Just remember: The more coverage you pay for through your monthly premium, the less you’ll have to pay in the event of a claim.

The Best Pet Insurance

Any of the following pet insurance providers will be able to offer you customizable policy options that allow you to have as much or as little coverage for your pet as you want, and at a competitive price. I recommend getting a quote from PetFirst to start, and then request quotes from the other providers on this list to find your best rate for the coverage that’s most important to you.

Learn More on PetFirst's secure website

PetFirst Highlights


  • Pays up to 90% of your vet bill
  • Unlimited lifetime benefits with an annual deductible (no matter how much care your pet needs, your policy will help cover it)
  • Covers periodontal disease for dogs (no other provider does)


PetFirst offers the most comprehensive coverage of the pet insurance companies I looked at. What impressed me the most was that it does not have lifetime payout limits or per-incident limits like other insurers; only annual limits. This means that if you have a young pet that develops a chronic condition, or needs surgery plus rehabilitation treatment, you won’t max out on your benefits early on and be left without coverage for future treatments or incidents. PetFirst’s robust annual coverage limits (up to $20,000) reset every 12-months, however, so ongoing treatments are guaranteed to be covered for the life of the pet, provided you stay under you policy’s annual limit.

The other way PetFirst stands out is with periodontal disease coverage. Covering this is impressive. A lot of insurers stay away from diseases of the teeth. They’ll fix your dog’s jaw if he’s hit by a car, but if he has gum disease? Forget about it. Generally, that’s because few pet owners take their dog to a doggie dentist (yes, there is such a thing; you often find them at animal hospitals or sophisticated vet practices), and dog dental diseases are fairly common (the most common disease in dogs and cats, in fact, and it’s very preventable, according to the American Veterinary Dental College). So many insurers stay away from this, knowing they’ll likely have to pay out.

Other Pet Insurance Companies to Consider


Nationwide Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

Currently the only provider in the U.S. to offer an avian and exotic pet plan

If you already have a Nationwide Insurance policy for your human needs, you'll save 5% on your pet insurance policy
ASPCA Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

No maximum age of pet allowed to be insured

No maximum annual benefit (but there are per-incident benefit limits, ranging from $2,500 to $7,000)
Embrace Highlights
Covers up to 90% of your vet bill

5% discount for paying your premium in full annually

No deductible or copay for any routine care procedures with the wellness plan, and there's no waiting period before being able to use this benefit

How Do I Know What Pet Insurance is Right for Me?

If you’re comparing one insurer to another, and the prices are about the same, you’ll want to compare deductibles next. There’s a big difference in paying off a $200 deductible versus a $500 one when your pet gets unexpectedly sick. Of course, the lower the deductible, the higher your monthly payment is going to be. For example: If I got a PetFirst Lifetime 10,000 plan for Rigby, I could pay about $67 a month with a $100 deductible. Now, I could choose to only pay about $37 a month for the same plan, but I’d have a $500 deductible, which would mean I’d be paying $500 out of pocket for any claim. There’s no right or wrong answer here. You have to weigh your own tolerance for risk, and then choose the deductible option that you’re going to be the most comfortable with.

You’ll also want to pay attention to each policy’s annual and lifetime limits. When I was researching Pets Best, for example, it was going to give me a $100 deductible for Rigby, which is attractive, but the maximum it would pay is $5,000 per year (70% of that, actually). What if Rigby had a $10,000 health problem? If we forget about the deductible for now to make the math easy, 70% of $5,000 is $3,500, so I’d be left paying $6,500 to the vet. That’s still far better than having to pay $10,000, of course, but you’ll want to factor in these limits when deciding what you’re willing to spend in the event you need to file a claim. Because of this, I might decide that instead of paying $31.30 a month, I’d be better off paying $46.16 a month and getting a $10,000 limit — and hoping nothing worse than a $10,000 injury or illness occurs. Or I may want to find a different policy with a higher annual limit, or none at all, like the ones PetFirst offers.

Should I Still Insure My Pet if it’s Not a Dog or Cat?

Nationwide is the only pet insurance company in the US that will insure “exotic pets,” which in pet insurance industry lingo means anything that’s not a cat or dog. It’s certainly not a bad idea to give Nationwide a call to get a quote for your exotic pet if you’re interested in purchasing insurance coverage for them. Nationwide doesn’t offer online quotes for exotics, the way it and other insurers will for cats and dogs, so you’re going to have to give the company a call if you want a quote.

The Bottom Line

No one plans on their pet getting sick or injured, but it can happen all the same. That’s why pet insurance can be a smart option if you want to be financially prepared for unexpected veterinary bills. Just be sure to sign on to a policy that actually covers the things you want it to, and request quotes from multiple providers to get the best rate possible. Hopefully, you will never need to file a claim on your pet insurance policy, but you’ll be glad you have it if you do. At the very least, you’ll have purchased some peace of mind.

The post Best Pet Insurance for 2016 appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Eight Discount Grocery Strategies That Will Keep Your Food and Household Prices Low

This week, we’ve taken a serious look at making your food cheap. We’ve looked at using a $1-per-meal strategy and then some ideas for implementing that strategy with very cheap recipes for snacks and light meals.

However, these strategies mostly focus on the actions you need to take in the kitchen to save money. In reality, the place where we spend most of our money on food is actually at the grocery store, and for my dollar, there are few ways to beat the savings that one can get from simply choosing a discount grocery store and making that your main place for grocery shopping.

Confession time: I am an avid discount grocery shopper.

That means that the vast majority of the time, I do my grocery shopping at a place that is known primarily for low prices. I go to the grocery store to shop for groceries, not for ambiance or samples or concierges or pretty displays. I want good prices on the things that I buy, and I want to get out of there as soon as I can.

In addition, I spend as little of my time as possible in the grocery store. I don’t view it as a “destination” or as a place to wander and hang out. I view it as a place to get the food that I need and get it home with the least possible time and money cost.

All of this adds up to minimal time and minimal money spent on grocery shopping. I go to the store with a plan, I’m confident that my store of choice has low prices and that my list has items that are on sale already, and I just take care of business.

Here are some of the specific strategies I use to make this work and keep my grocery bill as low as possible by taking advantage of discount grocery shopping.

Use an actual discount grocer and/or warehouse club.

This really is a pretty obvious first step. If you’re not shopping at a discount grocer, you’re spending money for things like packaging, advertising, and ambiance instead of food. To me, that’s a waste of money. I want my dollars to go toward food when I’m at the grocery store.

How do you find a discount grocer, and how do you know if a particular store is one? Consumer Reports actually already has a great little guide to discount supermarkets. Their top five discount chains? Trader Joe’s, Fareway (that’s where I shop!!), Market Basket, Costco, and WinCo. If you have any of those stores near you, you’ve got access to a discount grocer. I would personally add three more chains to that list – ALDI, Sam’s Club, and BJs.

Choose your ‘primary’ store and learn its layout.

The key is to choose a supermarket that you’ll use every week that has consistently lower prices than the competition. Price should be your focus. Sure, other stores may have better ambiance and more esoteric product selection (like Whole Foods or your local co-op), but you can take advantage of those for individual ingredients. Your main store should be price-focused and it should be your default stop for grocery shopping.

Once you’ve decided on your store, get to know the layout. If you shop there regularly, you should start picking it up by default anyway, but be extra mindful at first as to where everything is in the store. Don’t be afraid to actually draw a diagram on a piece of paper while you’re shopping there, not only for future reference but to aid you in memorizing where things are.

Why is this important? The next two steps should make it clear.

Watch the store flyer every week.

Most discount grocers go even further than their low everyday prices and put many items on sale each week, which they share with shoppers via their store flyer. They also share these flyers via their website.

Whenever you’re thinking about grocery shopping, stop first and visit the website of your preferred store and download their flyer. Use those on-sale items as the basis for your meal planning. Speaking of which…

Make a meal plan and grocery list before you go, and organize the grocery list to match the store’s layout.

This kind of ties the last two pieces together into one convenient strategy. You’ve got your flyer, so pick out some interesting ingredients from that sale flyer and use it as the basis for your meals for the week. Simply list what meal you’re going to have each day and make sure each one relies on a sale-price ingredient or something you already have on hand.

From that meal plan, build your grocery list by simply writing down the ingredients you need to pull off those meals. That’s really all you need to buy, after all.

Since you know the store layout, organize your list based on the layout of the store. Put all of your “bread aisle” items together. Put all of your “refrigerated” items together. Put all of your “freezer” items together. Put those sections on your list in an order so that you’ll just walk right from section to section as you go through the store. This makes a grocery store visit even faster since you’re not backtracking, and that means even fewer impulse items in your cart.

Stock up big on sale-priced nonperishables.

If your grocery store flyer includes a great sale price on a nonperishable item that you know you’ll use in future meals – like pasta, for example – don’t be afraid to hit that sale hard.

We’ll usually buy as many as 10 boxes of pasta (since we eat pasta once a week) when it’s on sale at the store. We’ll buy many, many cans of diced tomatoes if they’re on sale. We fill the cupboard with things like these because we know we’ll use them in the next month or two.

We don’t use this strategy for perishable items. If an item has any risk of going bad, we don’t buy it in bulk. We buy merely the amount we think we’re going to use.

Listen to uptempo music while you shop.

Grocery stores intentionally play music with a slow beat in order to encourage shoppers to walk more slowly in the store, which gives them more time to look at the goods on the shelf and then make impulse buys. Uptempo music in your ears overrides this, meaning you’ll move much more quickly from item to item.

In addition, the faster music that you choose will gently distract you away from the items on the shelves when you’re shopping so that impulse buys are much less likely to grab you. It also helps you to avoid hearing the audio advertisements that stores often play when you’re shopping – no more getting distracted by a “big sale on potato chips!”

Figure out the price per unit when buying a specific nonperishable item.

If an item isn’t going to go bad in your cupboard, you should almost always be buying the version that’s cheapest per unit – per ounce or per individual item.

Many stores will list the cost-per-unit right on the price label on the shelf, but if you’re not sure, the easiest way to figure it out yourself is to simply figure out a numerical count of how much “stuff” you’re getting – the weight is a good number – and then open up the calculator app on your phone. Enter the price of the item you’re looking at, then divide that by the amount of “stuff” you’re getting. That’s the price per unit for that item. Do the same calculation for other ones you want to compare and then go for the one with the lowest price per unit.

If an item is in multiple locations, compare the prices.

Even the best discount grocery stores will offer similar items in different places in the store with different prices. Take advantage of this.

My favorite example of this is the difference in prices between cheese and deli meat at the deli counter versus in the refrigerator section. You’ll often find the exact same brand of cheese in the refrigerator section – or at least some very similar alternatives – and the price will vary substantially. Often, there will be sales at the deli counter that don’t appear in the refrigerator section and vice versa. Thus, if you have “sliced cheese” or “deli meat” on your list, check both areas.

If you use these strategies, you’ll milk the maximum value for your dollar from your grocery store visit. Doing so lowers your food bill for the month, which means you have money left over for other elements in your life – paying down debt, building an emergency fund, saving for the future, or whatever else your dreams and plans may hold.

Good luck!

Related Articles:

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Naren Limbu Releases ‘Vanna Aaudaina’ Sequel And Well, We’ve Something To Say!

Who remembers ‘Vanna Aaudaina’? Pfft! Such a stupid question that is. Of course, everyone does and everyone still loves the song dearly and that’s why it is one of the most popular Nepali songs on YouTube with over 3.7 million views.

vanna-aaudaina

The 2012 song has now a sequel and seems like it took Naren almost four years to have the courage to tell her what he feels about her. His latest song ‘Mero Man Maa’ has been labelled as ‘Vanna Aaudaina II’ and we’re not exactly sure about how to feel about it. The description of the song says, “Found a couple of words, wrote some of them and gathered the courage to tell her. And that’s why I call this song ‘Vanna Aaaudaina II’.” First things first, we really think that a song is complete in itself and it doesn’t actually need a sequel. Sometimes an incomplete story is special but if you complete it, it might become ordinary. Plus, happy endings are quite too mainstream. The thing is, a lot of people could relate to ‘Vanna Aaudaina’ as it told their own story. There are lots of people who can never express what they feel about someone and keep on loving them without even letting them know. And that was the beauty of the song.

‘Mero Man Maa’ is an equally beautiful song and Naren Limbu succeeds in winning our hearts once again. But we don’t think it was necessary to label it as ‘Vanna Aaudaina’ sequel. We’re pretty sure that there are quite a lot of people who would disagree to our opinion. Looks like we like incomplete stories more than the complete ones. Anyways, let’s not debate on that because the important thing is, we’ve a beautiful new song. The song written, composed and performed by Limbu is arranged by Bizu Karmacharya. The music video starring Sanna Tsering Gurung is shot by Bryan Rai, edited by Binay Kansakar and directed by Naren Limbu himself. Wait, we just realized something. Naren couldn’t tell his feelings to Mala Limbu and after four years, he proposed Sanna instead. Just kidding! The music video is beautiful and Sanna looks gorgeous.

Watch the music video below and let us know what you think of it.

The post Naren Limbu Releases ‘Vanna Aaudaina’ Sequel And Well, We’ve Something To Say! appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Guaranteed Getaway: Credit Cards That Offer a Free Hotel Stay Each Year

While hotel points can go a long ways toward helping you achieve a heavily discounted trip, a free night’s stay can only sweeten the deal. Fortunately, a handful of hotel credit cards offer just that – a free night you can redeem every year, regardless of how many points you have.

Four Credit Cards that Offer a Free Hotel Stay Each Year

While some of these free nights are earned on your account anniversary, others are offered as a bonus for meeting a minimum spending requirement. If you’re interested in earning a free night or two, check out the following cards and details:

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card offers an array of free nights you can take advantage of. Not only do you earn two free weekend night certificates after spending $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days, but you score a free weekend night certificate on your account anniversary when you spend $10,000 on your card annually as well. A $75 annual fee does apply, but it is more than offset by the fact that two free nights can be worth up to $1,000.

The downside to this offer, however — at least for business travelers — is that your free nights are only good on weekends. After calling Citi, I confirmed that weekends include Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. So if you’re in the market for a Monday to Friday trip, you’ll be out of luck with this offer. But if you’re craving a weekend away, it might be perfect for your needs – and if you’re planning a week-long vacation, you can at least score two of the weekend nights for free.

Highlights:

Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Just like the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, the Marriott Rewards® Premier Credit Card offers a signup bonus in addition to a free night on your cardmember anniversary. Currently, this offer doles out 80,000 Marriott points after you spend $3,000 on your card within the first 90 days. As a bonus, you’ll get 7,500 additional points when you add an authorized user and they also make a purchase, plus one free night stay at any Category 1-5 property after you carry the card for 12 months. An $85 annual fee does apply, and it is not waived the first year.

Highlights:

Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card

The Club Carlson℠ Premier Rewards Visa Signature® Card offers a pretty sweet deal for people who love free hotel stays. With this card, you’ll earn an amazing 85,000 points after you spend $2,500 on your card within the first 90 days. As an added bonus, you’ll also get another 40,000 points each year on your cardmember anniversary. Since Category 1 properties start at just 9,000 points per night, you can stretch both bonuses fairly far. Plus, you’ll earn 10 points for every dollar spent at Club Carlson properties and five points for every dollar spent elsewhere.

Highlights:

IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card

The IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card offers one of the best “free night” promotions in the business. This is mostly because you can use the free night you earn each year on a hotel stay at any InterContinental Hotels Group property in the world. There are no limitations other than award availability, and you can easily stretch the value of this free night quite far by booking one of their high tier properties.

For example, an overnight at the InterContinental Le Moana Bora Bora can easily cost $600 per night, yet it is free with your annual free night certificate. Since this card also comes with a hefty signup bonus, it is a no-brainer if you love to travel and don’t mind staying only at InterContinental Hotels Group properties. Plus, the $49 annual fee is waived the first year.

Highlights:

How to Get the Most Out of Your Free Nights

While earning a free night or two can help you save on travel, it pays to be strategic about it. These tips can help you find the right offer and extract the most value out of your free night benefit:

Weigh the pros and cons of annual fees.

Although you may not want to pay an annual fee, doing so can garner a ton of value. After paying the $49 annual fee on the IHG® Rewards Club Select Credit Card, for example, you can easily score a hotel night worth $400 or more. If you’re fee-averse, you can also consider a no-fee rewards credit card instead.

Related:

Choose a hotel chain you’ll actually use.

A free night won’t do much good if you’ll never be able to use it. Before you sign up for a co-branded hotel credit card, make sure to browse available properties to make sure they’re in line with your expectations and travel habits. Also make sure your hotel brand actually has properties in countries and regions you plan to visit.

Book high-value properties with your free night.

When it comes to your free nights, you don’t want to use them at the cheap hotel or motel down the street if they’re valid at any of the hotel chain’s properties! To get the most value out of this benefit, stick to booking higher-end properties with your free night. Not only will this let you stay in nicer places than normal, but you’ll get more “bang for your buck” as well.

Consider pairing several travel or hotel credit cards for a longer trip.

If you can’t decide between hotel or travel credit cards, getting more than one might be your best bet. Consider getting a top-tier travel credit card with transferable points, plus a hotel credit card – or even two hotel credit cards that complement each other. The more points and free nights you earn, the easier it will be to piece together a longer trip out of your free nights.

Final Thoughts

Hotel points are great, but free nights are even better. And with any of these cards, you’ll get a little bit of both. If you pair one of these cards with an awesome travel or airline credit card, you might even be able to book the bulk of your upcoming vacation for just a fraction of the cost.

For the best travel deals, make sure to check out our comprehensive guides on the best travel and rewards cards on the market.

Related Articles:

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA: Retirement Showdown

An IRA, or individual retirement account, offers a tax-advantaged way to sock away money for retirement. There are actually many types of IRAs, but for most people, the choice boils down to two main options: a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA.

If you’re trying to decide whether to contribute to a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA, the very short answer is that a Roth IRA makes sense if you expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket in retirement. If you’re earning a lot now and expect to have a lower tax rate in retirement, then a traditional IRA would probably make more sense.

However, that answer certainly doesn’t hold true for everyone in every situation. So below we’ll get into the crucial differences between Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs, and explain a few situations where it might make sense to choose one over the other.

Featured Offers


Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA: Main Differences

Both Roth and traditional IRAs are excellent ways to save for your retirement, especially if you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan. However, there are some important differences between these two accounts, and they boil down to four main areas: eligibility, contributions, tax implications, and withdrawal rules.

Difference #1: Eligibility

We’ll start with eligibility, since your ability to choose a Roth IRA vs. a traditional IRA will depend on whether you even qualify.

Most people will be allowed to contribute to a traditional IRA. The only requirements are that a) you have earned taxable income during the year, and b) you must not be older than 70½ by the end of the year.

You must also have earned taxable income during the year to contribute to a Roth IRA, but unlike with traditional IRAs, there is no age limit. However, to contribute to a Roth IRA, your income must fall under a certain threshold. Here are the income restrictions on Roth IRAs, based on your 2016 tax filing status:

  • Single: You can contribute the full amount to a Roth IRA if your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is $117,000 or less. If your MAGI is $117,001 to $132,000, you can contribute a reduced amount; if it exceeds $132,000, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Married filing jointly: You can contribute the full amount if you make $184,000 or less. If your MAGI is between $184,001 and $194,000, you can contribute a reduced amount; if your MAGI exceeds $194,000, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • Married filing separately: Your MAGI cannot be more than $10,000 to contribute to a Roth IRA. If your MAGI is less than $10,000, you can contribute a reduced amount. Note that if you did not live with your spouse during the year, you can use the limits for single filers.

As you’ll note above, you can never contribute the full amount to a Roth IRA if you’re married filing separately, and the limit to make even a reduced contribution is very low.

Difference #2: Tax Benefits

Traditional IRA: With a traditional IRA, your contributions are tax-deductible the year you make them. However, you’ll pay income taxes on any IRA withdrawals you make in retirement.

This has the potentially beneficial effect of lowering your adjusted gross income during your prime earning years, and delaying your tax obligation until retirement, when you’ll likely be in a lower tax bracket anyway. (Note that you may only be able to deduct part of your traditional IRA contributions — or none at all — if you or your spouse are also covered by an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k).)

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA works in almost the opposite way: You pay taxes upfront to avoid paying them in retirement. You contribute after-tax income, meaning your contributions are never tax deductible in the year you make them. However, in retirement, all of your withdrawals are tax-free — including your original contributions and any investment gains.

Difference #3: Contribution Limits

Annual contribution limits are the same for Roth and traditional IRAs — mostly.

If you’re under age 50, you can contribute up to $5,500 a year to your traditional IRA. If you’re 50 or older, you can contribute up to $6,500 a year (sometimes called “catch-up contributions”). Both numbers are regardless of income.

The limits are the same with a Roth IRA, but Roth contribution limits can depend on your income. If you’re under age 50 and are allowed to contribute the full amount (see the “Eligibility” section above), you can contribute up to $5,500 each year. If you’re 50 or older and are allowed to contribute the full amount, you can contribute up to $6,500 a year.

If your income limits what you’re allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA, you’ll need to do some math to figure out your reduced contribution limit.

Difference #4: Withdrawal Rules

There are several rules governing when you can start to withdraw money from your IRA. Here are the crucial differences:

  • Early withdrawals: If you’re younger than age 59½, you won’t be able to take money out of your traditional IRA without paying a stiff 10% penalty. With a Roth IRA, you can withdraw contributions penalty-free at any time; however, you cannot withdraw earnings penalty-free before age 59½. You must have also have contributed to your Roth IRA for five years to avoid the penalty, regardless of your age.
  • Required minimum distributions: With traditional IRAs, you will be forced to begin taking money out in required minimum distributions once you reach age 70½. That’s not the case with Roth IRAs, which never require withdrawals during your lifetime.

With both types of IRAs, there are several exceptions that allow you to tap the money for certain situations without paying an early-withdrawal penalty. One of the most popular is the ability to use up to $10,000 toward purchasing your first home (or any home, regardless of whether it’s your first, as long as you haven’t owned a principal residence in two years).

You can also take penalty-free withdrawals from either kind of IRA to pay for qualified educational expenses or medical expenses, or if you opt for substantially equal periodic payments (SEPP).

Roth vs. Traditional IRA: Which Should I Choose?

Take a look at the chart below for a quick summary of the differences between traditional IRAs vs. Roth IRAs. If you need more help making a decision, we’ll also offer a few common scenarios below to help you choose.

Traditional IRA

Roth IRA

Age limitations to contribute?

Yes; must be younger than 70½

No

Income limitations to contribute?

No

Yes, cannot make over a certain amount depending on tax-filing status (see “Eligibility” for current limits)

Yearly contribution limit

$5,500 ($6,500 for age 50 and older)

$5,500 ($6,500 for age 50 and older); less for some, depending on income

Contributions tax deductible?

Yes, but potential limitations if you or your spouse are covered by employee retirement plan

No

Withdrawals (including contributions and earnings) tax-free?

No

Yes

Withdraw contributions penalty-free any time?

No

Yes

Conditions to avoid early-withdrawal penalty

Must be 59½ before making withdrawals (contributions and earnings)

Can withdraw contributions anytime, but must be 59½ before withdrawing earnings; must have made contributions for at least five years

Required age when you must begin making withdrawals?

Yes, at 70½

No

Choosing Between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA: A Few Case Studies

Assuming you’re eligible to contribute to either a Roth or traditional IRA (you’re younger than 70½, which means you’re eligible for a traditional IRA, and your income is low enough to allow Roth contributions), below are a few situations where one type might make more sense than the other.

Case No. 1: I think my tax rate will be lower (or higher) in retirement.

Assuming you are eligible for both types of IRAs, it’s time to get out your crystal ball. Are you expecting a significant bump in income by the time you retire? Would that increase in income bump you into the next tax bracket? If so, a Roth IRA might be a better choice. While your contributions won’t be tax-deductible now, you’ll be able to make your withdrawals down the road without facing a tax bill that’s made even bigger by your higher tax bracket.

On the flip side, if you’re in a high-income tax bracket now but think you’ll be retiring in a lower tax bracket, a traditional IRA could make more sense. The tax deduction on your contributions might be more valuable to you now, and your tax bill may be more modest in retirement.

Let’s look at a couple of examples using this investment calculator from Scottrade. Assuming moderate growth, putting the maximum $5,500 a year into an IRA for 20 years — or $110,000 in total contributions — would yield $264,000 in retirement savings. How much you ultimately pay in taxes on that money depends on a few factors (not the least of which is whether current tax laws remain unchanged, which we’ve assumed here for simplicity’s sake):

  • Jim uses a Roth IRA, so he pays full income taxes on his $110,000 in contributions, but will owe no taxes on the $154,000 in investment earnings. Assuming a 20% effective tax rate during his contribution years, he’ll pay a total of $22,000 in taxes on that $264,000, or 8.3%. Even if the balance continues to grow throughout his retirement, he still won’t owe any more in taxes — lowering his overall tax rate further.
  • Jane uses a traditional IRA, thereby deferring any tax obligations until retirement. Let’s assume that when she hits retirement, her effective tax rate drops from 20% to 10%. That means she pays half the rate that Jim did on her contributions — however, she’ll owe that amount on her investment earnings as well. She’ll ultimately pay $26,400 in taxes on the $264,000, or 10%, and will continue to owe taxes on any further investment gains.

Case No. 2: I might need to tap my IRA before age 59½.

Let’s be abundantly clear: Tapping your IRA early, whether it’s a Roth or traditional IRA, is very rarely a good idea. After all, your money can’t grow unless you’re willing to keep your hands off of it.

However, if you fear that you might need to tap your money early, a Roth will probably be a better choice. That’s because you’re allowed to withdraw your contributions (but not your earnings) at any age without paying an early-withdrawal penalty — after all, you’ve already paid taxes on them.

If you’ve been contributing the $5,500 maximum every year for awhile, that means you’ll have access to a significant pile of penalty-free cash. That’s not the case with traditional IRAs until you’re 59½, and even then, you will have to pay taxes on your withdrawals, too.

Case No. 3: I want my money to grow for as long as possible.

Perhaps you’ve diversified your retirement savings enough to know that you won’t need to tap your IRA for a long time, even past the age of 70½. Maybe you have named a beneficiary for your IRA and want to leave behind as much money as possible when you die.

In both cases, a Roth IRA probably is a better choice than a traditional IRA. That’s because traditional IRAs force you to begin taking withdrawals, called required minimum distributions, once you hit age 70½. If you want your money to keep growing, whether for your own benefit or someone else’s, a Roth will allow that to happen.

Made Your Choice? Now It’s Time to Find a Home for Your Money

If you’ve decided whether a Roth or traditional IRA is best for you, the next step is figuring out where you want to open your account. The Simple Dollar offers a guide to the best IRA Accounts that outlines four popular options, as well as more advice on the Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA question.

If you already have an employer-sponsored retirement account such as a 401(k) and are wondering whether it makes sense to open up an IRA as well, see Roth IRA vs. 401k? You May Not Have to Choose. And if you need advice about 401(k)-to-IRA rollovers, check out our step-by-step primer, see How to Do a 401(k) Rollover.

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31 Days to Financial Independence (Day 7): Cutting and Minimizing Debt

“31 Days to Financial Independence” is an ongoing series that appears every Thursday on The Simple Dollar. You might want to start this series from the beginning!

Last time, we talked about something that I referred to as the “big boost“: going through your rarely-used and unused possessions in order to sell them off and use the proceeds to get your bills up to date, build a small emergency fund, and get a head start on your debt repayment plan.

Today, we’re going to talk in detail about that debt repayment plan.

The reality is that 80% of Americans are carrying some form of debt, with the median amount of debt measuring $67,900 spread across mortgages, student loans, car loans, credit cards, and other consumer debts. That’s a lot of debt, no matter how you slice it. It equates to hundreds of dollars a month spent on debt repayment and interest.

Here’s the problem with that picture: when you have hundreds a month vanishing out of your wallet to cover debt repayment and interest, that’s hundreds a month that’s not being spent on building the future that you want. If you recall, most people spend the vast majority of their working hours just earning enough to keep the wheels spinning, and debt repayment is a part of that. If your “true hourly wage” is, say, $10 an hour and you’re spending $800 a month on debt repayments, that means you’re spending literally 20 hours of each workweek doing nothing more than working to pay off debt. Every dime from twenty hours of your workweek is vanishing into the debt repayment black hole. There are 168 hours in a week, which means that you’re literally spending 1/8th of your life working to repay debt.

To me, that’s not living. That’s not freedom.

Instead, it’s far better to be spending those hours working toward establishing financial independence and achieving the big life goals you have for yourself. Clearing out your debt and eliminating those monthly debt payments is a huge step in that direction.

But how do you get from here – a median debt level of $67,900 – to there – a debt level of $0?

The way to do that is by first implementing a debt repayment plan in which you have an organized and sensible plan for eliminating all of your debts, and then walking through each area of your spending to compress and eliminate wasteful expenses, which is the “fuel” you need to make that debt repayment plan run.

Today, we’re going to focus on that first part: the debt repayment plan.

A debt repayment plan is really simple. It’s nothing more than a list of all of your debts, organized by simple criteria (usually interest rate). Each month, you make minimum payments to all of the debts on the list along with the largest possible extra payment on the debt at the top of the list. When that top debt is paid off, you remove it from the list, so now you have a little more to contribute to large extra payments on the new top debt on your list. You just keep repeating this until the list is done, at which point you’re free from debt.

It’s a simple framework, of course, but there are quite a few little things you can do to really make this thing hum. Let’s get started.

Exercise #7: Building a Debt Repayment Plan

By the end of this exercise, you’re going to have a debt repayment plan in place. You will have optimized it so that you’re going to be spending as little money as possible to make debt payments, meaning you have the maximum amount of money available each month to really hammer that top debt. You will have used the money from your “big boost” to get it started, as well.

Let’s roll.

The first step is to simply collect together all of your debts into one place. Go through the last month or two of your mail and get out the most recent statements for all of your debts – your credit cards, your mortgage, your student loans, your car loans, and anything else. Collect all of these items together into one place before you get started.

Next, make sure that you have something with which you’re comfortable making a simple table. A couple pieces of paper and a pen would work really well. A spreadsheet program, if you’re comfortable with one, works like a champ.

What you’re going to do first is to create a simple table with six columns. The first column is the name of the debt. The second column is the current balance of the debt. The third column is the current interest rate of the debt. The fourth column is your current monthly debt payment. The fifth column is the account number for the debt. The final column is the customer service number for the debt. Leave some space next to the interest rate and the monthly payment on this table because ideally that number is going to change.

The next step? You’re going to contact each of these debt holders and look for a way to lower that interest rate. For each and every debt you have listed, call the customer service number and use your account information to talk to a customer service representative. Your goal at the end of the call is to achieve a lower interest rate on that debt.

Here are some tips for making this process really work well.

First, be polite, no matter what. Never, ever, ever get angry with a customer service representative. The truth is that the vast majority of them want to help you but are unable to do so, not because of their choice, but because of the company’s policies and tools. It’s very rarely the fault of a customer service rep if your situation can’t get resolved. However, if you get angry, all you’re doing is ensuring that the customer service rep that you’re talking to will never go the extra mile to try to find a resolution for you. If you’re polite and kind, you’re going to find that sometimes they will go above and beyond to help you, a result that anger will never achieve. If you get angry, get off the phone and channel that anger elsewhere.

Second, ask the customer service representative whether they have the capacity to change your interest rate or other aspects of your debt. If they do not, ask to speak to their supervisor or to someone who can. Don’t exhaust your breath talking to someone who can’t actually change anything about your situation.

Third, when you are able to talk to someone who can actually change aspects of your debt, emphasize that the reason you are calling is that your current financial situation makes continued steady payment of the debt under current terms difficult. Your financial situation is changing. You’re looking at the future now instead of the present, and you’re also recognizing how perilous your current financial state is. Emphasize the fact that you’re walking a financial tightrope right now and even the tiniest slip is going to cause some problems.

Fourth, be aware that they may reduce the credit limit on one of your credit cards or cancel it entirely. This is how some credit card companies respond to customers that they consider marginal. If you consistently keep a card fully paid off, this may be their response. Similarly, if you consistently stay at your credit limit and sometimes miss payments, they may respond by cutting your credit limit or closing the card. You should never be in a situation where a card closing causes you to be in financial distress, but if you are in such a situation, be aware that it can happen when you’re discussing a rate change with a credit card company.

Finally, focus more on a reduced interest rate, not reduced monthly payments. You might think that such things go hand in hand, but they sometimes do not. A reduced monthly payment will happen if there’s no change in the length of a loan, but if they’re also altering the length of your loan repayment, monthly payments can stay the same or even go up a little. That’s fine. Your goal is to minimize the amount of interest you pay over the long run.

What about refinancing? If you have a mortgage, one option you can consider to reduce your interest rate is mortgage refinancing. In fact, that’s the option that your mortgage holder will likely discuss with you if you call them. Refinancing essentially means that you’re starting over with a new mortgage, one with a new interest rate that reflects current interest rates and your own current financial state (if you have good credit, that means a pretty good rate).

You may want to shop around for refinancing options by talking to several banks that are in the business of refinancing. You should be seeking the lowest interest rate possible, even if that means some fees up front in the process.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your payments will go down. If you refinance a 30 year mortgage into a 15 year mortgage, you may actually see a small rise in your monthly payments, especially if you’re just a year or two into the mortgage. Don’t worry – it’s fine. It means that even if you make minimum payments, you’ll have the debt paid off much faster than before.

What about student loan consolidation? Again, student loan consolidation is an effective way to reduce the interest rates on your loans. You’ll similarly want to shop around for student loan consolidation options, and, again, you may end up in a situation where your overall payment goes up slightly if you agree to a shorter term with a lower interest rate. Over the long term, that’s a good thing.

As you go through the process of talking to each lender, you may find yourself reducing the interest rate and changing the monthly payment on your various debts. Mark those changes on your sheet by simply crossing out the original numbers and writing in the replacements. We’ll worry about organizing them later – for now, just replace the old data with the new data in the most convenient way possible.

Once you’ve talked to each and every lender and figured out your plans for student loan consolidation and/or home refinancing, you’re ready for the next step, which is converting all of this information into a debt repayment plan.

There are really two main options for doing this.

The first option is what I call the “least payment” model. If you use this route, you are going to be paying the least possible amount in interest payments to your lenders. Over the long term, your total bill is going to be lower than any other plan you might come up with.

So what’s the drawback? The drawback is that you may find yourself hammering away at a single debt for years without ever actually paying any debts off. If the first debt on your list has a big balance, it’s going to take quite a long time to get rid of it, especially if you’re making minimum payments on other debts. This can sometimes cause less persistent people to get frustrated and give up on their debt repayment plan.

The other option is the Dave Ramsey “debt snowball” model. With this model, you’re going to space out the payoffs of your loans so that you get to enjoy the victory of paying off a loan as regularly as possible. Ideally, you’ll experience that success over and over again frequently at first and then the celebrations spread out a little as you start facing your biggest debts.

The drawback here is that you might end up paying off debts in such a way that your total overall payments are a bit higher than they would be with the other plan. In other words, you might spend a little more with this plan over the long haul, but it’s better designed for the psychological benefits of success in paying off individual debts.

Both plans are perfectly fine. Both will get you to your destination and, honestly, unless your situation is extreme, the plans will likely end up being fairly similar in execution anyway.

So, pick one strategy and go with it.

Once you’ve decided on your strategy, you’re actually going to make your debt repayment plan.

Take that second sheet of paper (or a new spreadsheet document) and make the same columns – debt name, interest rate, current balance, monthly payment, account number, and customer service number. Except now you’re going to copy over data from the first table, but in a new order.

If you decided to use the “least payment” model, copy the debts over by interest rate, with the highest interest rate first. Write down the info for whatever debt has the highest interest rate in the first row, then cross it off the other page. Then, write down the info for the debt that now has the highest interest rate in the second row, and then cross it off the other page. Keep doing this until you’ve listed all your debts ordered by interest rate with the highest interest rate on top.

If you decided to use the Dave Ramsey “debt snowball” model, copy the debts over by remaining balance, with the lowest remaining balance first. Write down the info for whatever debt has the lowest remaining balance in the first row, then cross it off the other page. Then, write down the info for the debt that now has the lowest remaining balance in the second row, and then cross it off the other page. Keep doing this until you’ve listed all your debts ordered by remaining balance with the lowest remaining balance on top.

Regardless of the model you chose, this is now your debt repayment plan. Here’s how you use it.

Each month, you’re going to make a minimum monthly payment on every debt except for the one in the very first row. You need to do this to keep from accruing late fees and damaging your credit.

What about that debt in the very first row? Each month, you’re going to make the biggest possible payment you can on that debt. Throw every spare dime you can at it. Ideally, you can sometimes pay off the full debt with one payment, but many months that won’t quite work, so just make the biggest payment you can.

Whenever new bills come in, update the remaining balance and the monthly payment for each of your debts, then repeat this entire practice. Make minimum payments on each debt, then make a giant payment on the first debt on the list.

When the top debt is paid off, feel free to celebrate in some non-financial way! It’s a great step on your road to financial independence! The next step, then, is to move on to the next debt on the list. It now becomes the “first debt” in your plan, so you’ll make minimum payments on the rest of the debts and you’ll make a giant payment on that new “first debt.”

What you’ll find is that when you start paying off debts, it becomes easier and easier to make really big debt payments each month because you have one less minimum monthly payment to worry about. Instead, you can channel the money that used to go to that minimum monthly payment into a giant overpayment on the current top debt. You’ll find that the whole thing accelerates over time!

There are a few little caveats worth thinking about, though.

First of all, if you have any remaining money from your “big boost“, use it to make a giant initial payment on the first debt on your list. Perhaps you can pay the whole thing off… or even pay off the first couple debts. That’s a great way to get started on this whole plan.

Second, avoid adding any new debt unless you absolutely have to. If you find that you’re on the verge of putting things on the credit card because there’s no money left after your giant extra payment, don’t do it. Instead, next month, make your giant extra payment a little bit smaller and keep giving yourself breathing room in your day-to-day life.

Third, if an emergency causes you to pull money out of your emergency fund, slow down with your extra payments and refill the fund. Yes, sometimes things are going to happen that cause you to tap that emergency fund that we created last time. That’s okay. Just make sure that you refill the emergency fund. While you’re refilling, just make minimum payments on all of your debts and put a big lump of money into your emergency fund.

Finally, you’ll find that frugality amplifies this whole thing. Finding smart ways to cut your spending, even if it’s in a subtle way like reducing your electricity bill by $5 a month, ends up having an impact on this debt repayment plan. A $5 cut on your electricity bill means $5 more toward your debt repayment plan each month without any change in your lifestyle, which is an amazing thing!

That’s why, over the next several stops on this road to financial independence, we’re going to look at the pieces of the typical American budget, one by one, and look for ways to reduce those costs. The purpose isn’t to cause you to live a miserable life of austerity, but instead to “empty out the shallows,” a concept we talked about earlier in this series. You’re shooting to minimize the spending in the areas of your life that you care less about so that you can live the life you want to live in the handful of areas that you do really care about.

That means that throughout those entries, you should focus on cutting back mostly on the areas that don’t seem overly painful. Don’t get focused on the ideas that seem like they would really detract from your life – cutting there isn’t worth your time. Instead, focus on the other tactics, the ones that don’t interfere at all with the parts of your life that you want to go “deep” on.

See you next time!

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Mountain Runner Mira Rai’s Inspiring Story Is Now A Children’s Book In Singapore & Hong Kong

Founded by Chole Chick in 2014, Sisu Girls is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to encouraging and inspiring girls to step into themselves through sports and adventure. A graduate from the University of Canberra, Australia; Chick was awarded Young Australian of the Year in the UK. She says, “We believe you can give girls all the opportunities, education, and experiences in the world, but if they don’t have the self-confidence to utilise those skills they will never reach their highest potential. We need girls to understand they can walk their own life journey with confidence.” ‘Sisu’ is a Finnish word that loosely means determination and courage in English.

The organization based in Singapore and Hong Kong that has not only been organizing various adventure activities for girls but also publishing inspiring story books based on the lives of female role models has recently released a book titled ‘Mighty Mira’ that tells the story of Nepali mountain runner Mira Rai. The third book to have published in the Sisu Book Series, it’s a hard cover and fully illustrated book written by Chloe Chick and illustrated by Natalie Kwee. Books titled ‘Fearless Frosty’ and ‘Brave Beachley’ that tell the tales of New Zealander mountain runner Anna Forest and the seven-time world surf champion Layne Beachley respectively have been earlier published in the collection stories about courageous females.

mira-1

Photo: Sisu Girls

‘Mighty Mira’ is priced at AUD 35 (including shipping) and can be ordered online from HERE.

The mountain runner from Bhojpur, Nepal who has so far made Nepal proud at various mountain running competitions around the world had her knee surgery earlier this year in July after she had got injured during a race in the UK. Rai has been out of the trails this season and is likely to make a comeback early next year.

mira-2

Mira Rai (Right) With Anna Forest. Photo: Jordi Saragossa/Salomon

It feels great to see Mira inspiring the world. We are proud of her!

Cover Photo: Sisu Girls

The post Mountain Runner Mira Rai’s Inspiring Story Is Now A Children’s Book In Singapore & Hong Kong appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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A Girl’s Obsession About Becoming A ‘Kumari’ & Her Split Personality: This Film Will Thrill You!

Pranab Joshi who had debuted as a director with ‘Resham Filili’ last year had thoroughly entertained us with this Vinay Shrestha, Menuka Pradhan and Kameshwor Chaurasiya starrer comedy film. The director is back with a short film and this time, with a completely different genre. The 26-minute-film titled ‘Between Matina’ is a thriller that has Naswa Joshi in the lead and plays the title character who is obsessed with becoming the living goddess ‘Kumari’.

The film written by Susmita Maskey also stars Aresha Subedi, Sunita Thakur, Ram Raja Bhomi and Ruman Joshi. Directed by Pranab Joshi, the film is edited by Sushil Neupane. Talking about the film, “It’s a fictional film that revolves around a girl and how her life turns upside down when she is not chosen to be a ‘Kumari’. Originally a 45-minute-film has been shortened”, Joshi told NeoStuffs.

Watch the film below before you read our short explanation of the film at the bottom.

matina-1

A short explanation of the film, just in case: A girl is obsessed with becoming a ‘Kumari’ but as she fails to become one,the story takes a horrifying turn and reveals her multiple personality disorder – one of an ordinary girl and the other who thinks of herself as a ‘Kumari’ and as the result, she thinks that she has the power to punish the priest who had declared her unqualified to become ‘Kumari’. The film ends with a scene after eight years where she is seen kept inside an asylum as she has completely left or forgot her original personality and is now uncontrollable.

Comment below what did you think of the film.

The post A Girl’s Obsession About Becoming A ‘Kumari’ & Her Split Personality: This Film Will Thrill You! appeared first on NeoStuffs.

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Five Legitimate Passive Income Ideas

If someone gave you a million dollars, you’d never have to work again – but not for the reasons you think. The big leg up that a stack of cash provides isn’t the means to buy stuff with it now. It’s the ability to invest it so that your money works for you, while you potentially do nothing at all. This is called passive income, and you could argue that it’s new American dream.

Of course, no one is going to give you a million bucks so that you can quit your day job(s) and become a full-time margarita taste-tester. But you can get a tiny piece of that passive-income action, to the tune of an extra couple of hundred or thousand dollars a year, if you’re willing to invest a little time up front.

But First: A Note About Scams

No advice about generating passive income would be complete without this caveat: When you’re considering potential revenue ideas, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Nothing in life is truly free: To make money, you have to sell something. If your regular job is like most, you’re selling your labor and time. If you adopt one of these ideas, often you’ll be selling your data.

That’s not necessarily as scary as it sounds: If you use Facebook, for example, you’re doing the same thing, but for free. But it’s worth noting, especially since there’s a lot of fraud out there. If someone promises you money for nothing – or asks for your banking information, Social Security number, or other essential info – run. The real way they make money is by selling your identity.

The best way to evaluate potential frauds is to ask yourself what they get out of the exchange. If that’s not clear, think twice.

Five Legitimate Ways to Earn Passive Income

1. Share Your Mobile Browsing Habits

Google and Nielsen want to know which websites people like you visit, and for how long, and they’ll pay for the privilege of finding out. We’re not talking big money here – mostly between $50 and $150 a year – but if you have the storage space to download a few tracking apps at once, you could make an extra few hundred bucks a year just by sharing your data. The Penny Hoarder has a good roundup of these apps, including options for both iOS and Android devices.

2. Add Affiliate Links to Your Blog

If you’re already a blogger or have a topic you’re passionate about and want to share with a wider audience, adding affiliate links to blog posts is a great way to generate passive income. Affiliate programs like Amazon Associates or Commission Junction will pay you a commission on any sales generated through ads or links placed on your site.

Just remember that you’re legally required to make it clear that these links are advertising – and realize that you’re not going to make a dime if readers don’t trust you, so resist the urge to push shoddy products.

3. Use a Shopping Portal

Sites like Swagbucks and Ebates offer gift cards or points redeemable for purchases to users who search the web, answer surveys, or shop online using the portal as a starting point. That means you can buy what you were going to buy anyway, and generate a bit of extra revenue by doing your usual online shopping.

4. Make Your Car Into a Moving Billboard

If you don’t mind covering the family car in advertising, you could make as much as $400 a month to drive a moving billboard around town. Free Car Media covers participants’ cars in vinyl wraps featuring ads from various companies, and then pays the owners to drive their own wrapped car.

AOL reports that drivers are also expected to act as spokespeople for the product if anyone asks you questions about your ad-plastered car, so if you’re shy, this gig might not be for you.

5. Rent Your Driveway

Services such as JustPark and SPOT allow you to rent out your driveway or prime parking space for a few bucks at a time (about $30, by one account). If you live near a sports arena, concert venue, downtown area, or other popular destination, and don’t need your driveway, you could make extra money with very little effort through these services.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

15 Super-Cheap and Super-Simple Snacks, Sides, and Meals to Fill Your Belly

Two years ago, I wrote an incredibly popular article entitled 26 Favorite Cheap and Easy Meals. The post consisted of a big pile of my favorite inexpensive and pretty easy meals that I’ve prepared for myself and my family over the years. Almost all of them are far below $1 per serving and they’re all quite easy to prepare, too. (In fact, just yesterday, I wrote an article discussing how to use a $1 per meal strategy to save big on food costs.)

Still, even those recipes don’t add up to the level of cheapness and simplicity that I’m often looking for when I want a super-cheap or super-quick snack or light lunch during my workday. I love to run to the kitchen, grab something really easy and tasty, and get back to work quickly, but I also want it to be really inexpensive, too.

So, what I do is make a lot of different options available to me so that I can have a variety of things each day. I’ll grab one of these items for a super-quick and super-cheap snack or maybe grab two or three together for a light and cheap and super-fast lunch. I try to have as many of these things on the ready as I possibly can.

Yeah, sure, some of these may seem like common sense, but it’s often the common sense ideas that we overlook.

Here goes.

A hard-boiled egg It’s so simple, yet such a bargain. I can buy eggs at the store for $2 per dozen, then hard boil eight of them in a pan in about ten minutes. I’ll crack them, peel them, and then keep the eight peeled hard boiled eggs in a bowl in the fridge to be eaten in the next few days. You can just grab one, put a bit of salt and/or pepper on them, and gobble them down as you go on to your next task.

A poached egg on toast Toss a piece of toast in the toaster, then fill a bowl about half full with water. Crack an egg carefully right into the water, then cover it with a saucer and microwave it for about a minute for a pretty soft yolk or about a minute and twenty seconds for a harder yolk. You can fish it right out of the water with a slotted spoon and put it right on the toast for a quick “on the go” open faced breakfast (or lunch) sandwich.

Toast slathered with peanut butter A slice of bread costs a few cents, as does the amount of peanut butter that fits on a butter knife. Just toss a slice of bread in the toaster as you walk by, then grab it after it pops and spread the peanut butter across the top. I often eat a banana with this for a super-quick breakfast that’s got protein, fiber, grains, and a serving of fruit all in one batch.

Oatmeal Buy a jumbo container of rolled oats. Keep a half cup measuring cup inside of it. When you want a bowl, add a half cup of rolled oats to a bowl, pour a cup of water on top of it, and add a bit of honey for flavor. Stir it then microwave it for a minute. Warm, delicious oatmeal – and the total cost is much less than a quarter.

Sliced cucumbers and onions in vinegar water If our garden provides cucumbers or we find them on sale, we’ll take some home, slice them into thin slices, and put them in a bowl that’s about three parts water to one part vinegar. We’ll do the same with a small onion at the same time. The cucumbers pick up a wonderful flavor from the vinegar water, and it’s easy to just pinch a few out of the fridge, put a bit of salt and pepper on top, and gobble them down as a quick snack.

An open-faced tortilla/quesadilla with toppings A tortilla can be topped with just about anything while still being tasty. Peanut butter is a great topping, for starters, but you can use almost any kind of condiment or cheese that’s on sale from the store for a quick snack or a simple lunch. You can also toss it in the microwave for just a few seconds to warm it up or melt any cheese you put on it. Put a second tortilla on top (or fold it in half) to make a sandwich of sorts.

Homemade granola bars Mix 2 cups rolled oats, 1/4 cup honey, and 1/4 cup peanut butter together with any other additions you’d like to add (nuts, dried fruits, whatever you’ve found on sale), then add rolled oats until the ball just holds together. Put a piece of parchment paper into a baking pan, then press the ball down flat on the parchment paper (as flat as you’d like) and stick it in the fridge for a few hours. Pull out the pan and slice the bars – they’re ready to eat. You can keep them at room temperature or in the fridge; just eat ’em within a day or two. They don’t take long to make and then are ultra-convenient once you’ve assembled them.

Fresh fruits We almost always have bananas and apples sitting in our fruit bowl on the kitchen counter and we usually have a bowl of grapes in the fridge as well. It’s easy to just grab one and add it to your lunch as an extremely cheap and very healthy addition to the meal, or to grab one as an afternoon snack. The key, of course, is availability – having them right out there front and center makes it a lot easier to grab them as a tasty, low-cost, and super-quick snack or meal finisher. Seriously, just wander through the produce section of your store and grab whatever fruit is on sale this week; you’ll have a variety and they’ll always be cheap.

Fruit smoothies Just put some of the cheap fruit you bought at the store in the freezer. Then, when you want a smoothie, put some of the fruit in a blender, add a little bit of milk and a little bit of honey, and puree. You can look around for “recipes” but, honestly, almost any fruit combination that sounds good in your head will work. Try adding other things like a dollop of peanut butter. Super cheap, super easy, super delicious.

Rolled bananas Grab a tortilla, smear a butter knife’s worth of peanut butter on it, peel a banana, wrap the peanut butter tortilla around the banana, and enjoy. You might have $0.35 in ingredients there depending on the tortilla size and how much peanut butter you’re using. Regardless, it’s a tasty fast lunch that packs protein, fruit, and grains all together in a convenient item you can eat on your way out the door.

Seasoned popcorn People seem to associate this snack with movies, but microwaving some popcorn and putting it in a bowl with a bit of seasoning is a really really inexpensive snack. Just pop the popcorn, take what you want, and leave the rest out in a covered bowl for others to snack on (or for yourself to snack on later). Microwaveable popcorn bags can be had for a quarter; doing it yourself with a few drops of oil, a brown paper bag, and some popcorn from a jar is even less expensive.

Unseasoned almonds and peanuts Both can be had for less than $0.60 per ounce, which means you can grab a handful of these for a super-cheap snack. Nuts are incredibly filling and pretty healthy to boot – they’re almost perfect for taking the edge off the feeling of mid-afternoon hunger.

Tuna and crackers I pop open a $0.30 can of tuna, empty the contents into a small bowl, add a little bit of mayo and a pinch of salt and pepper, mix it with a fork, and grab six or so crackers out of the cupboard for a quick little lunch. It takes thirty seconds to prep this, it costs about $0.50 all told, and it can fill you up surprisingly well.

String cheese A giant bulk bag of string cheese reduces the cost per piece down to a dime or two. These individually wrapped snacks are a great little protein blast for whenever you need it and can even serve as a good side with a sandwich alongside a piece of fruit.

Cottage cheese I prefer this to yogurt, to be honest, because it works as both a savory or a sweet snack or side dish. Just keep a container in your fridge and put two or three tablespoons in a small bowl for a snack or on the side of your dinner plate for a quick side dish. It’s great with a bit of ground black pepper on it or mixed with a bit of honey for a sweet taste, and if you buy a large container, a big spoonful of it is literally just a few pennies in terms of cost.

If you mix and match these options and add some variety to each one, you can have nearly infinite cheap and tasty and (mostly) pretty healthy snacks and simple modular breakfasts and lunches, all for pennies per serving.

Good luck!

The post 15 Super-Cheap and Super-Simple Snacks, Sides, and Meals to Fill Your Belly appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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