Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts
Showing posts with label international stock market. Show all posts

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Exploring the Connections Between Your Parental Life and Your Financial Life

This is the fifth entry in an eight part series exploring the connections between your finances and other areas of your life.

A few weeks ago, I started a series exploring the connections between personal finance and the other “spheres” of my life. The first entry covered the connections between one’s physical life and financial life, the second entry covered the connections between one’s mental and spiritual life and financial life, the third entry covered the connections between one’s intellectual life and financial life, the fourth entry covered the connections between one’s marital life and financial life and today we’re looking at one’s parental life and financial life.

As noted in the first entry, I tend to view life as a bunch of “spheres,” or areas of focus. I really like Michael Hyatt’s list of nine such “spheres”: physical, mental/spiritual, intellectual, social, marital, parental, avocational (hobbies), vocational, and financial – they cover much of what life is all about. I’ve come to view these spheres as deeply interconnected, in that success in one sphere is usually linked in some significant ways to success in other spheres (and failures are similarly connected) and that knowing the connections can help people figure out how to succeed in both areas at once.

Today, we’re going to look at the parental sphere and how it connects to one’s financial life.

What Is “Parental Life”?

This one’s pretty simple: it’s the part of your life where you’re serving as a parental figure to a child or even to another adult. You offer basic needs, emotional care, life advice, and instruction, and that’s just the start. Involved parenthood builds a lifelong relationship that both parent and child can benefit from in numerous ways.

The responsibility of parenthood has an enormous number of financial implications. Here are just some of them.

First of all, the basic care of children is expensive. It starts with the medical costs of pregnancy and birth. Once the baby arrives, you have eighteen years (at least) of food, clothing, and shelter ahead of you for that child. There are child care costs, educational costs, gifts, and on and on and on.

The expenses can sometimes seem endless. There’s always an extra meal to prepare, a fee for some school event, a book that’s needed, a birthday that’s coming up. From birth to independence, it’s a relentless flood of expenses.

Second, setting your children up for a successful future can also be a real financial burden. Even if you can afford to get your child all the way through high school, there’s the issue of postsecondary education, which is probably the single biggest expense they’ll face in their lives aside from possibly buying a house.

Are you going to help your child with those expenses? How much? If you step up to pay for everything at a top notch school, that’s an enormous six figure financial burden. Even if you don’t help that much, it’s still a major financial cost that needs a lot of planning and saving.

Third, there are significant tax benefits and other financial benefits of being a parent. There are a lot of expenses, but there are also a lot of benefits. You have an extra deduction on your taxes. There are child care tax benefits. There are many community opportunities open to children and families. These things don’t balance everything out, but they certainly help.

If you’re struggling with your income, there are many programs out there that provide additional aid if you’re caring for a child, ensuring that they always have food on the table and that their basic educational needs are met.

Finally, having a healthy relationship with your adult children confers significant financial and life benefits on both of you. If you do your parenting job well and have a little luck to boot, you’ll eventually grow into an adult relationship with your child where you help each other out in a myriad of ways. You might provide some free child care for grandchildren. They might make dinner for you regularly.

Sometimes, these situations even turn into cohabitation, where everyone involved shares the financial burdens of maintaining a home, saving a tremendous amount of money for everyone involved.

Being a parent is a big personal and financial burden. It takes a lot of work, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Here are five low cost strategies I use for maintaining and improving my own parental life.

Strategy #0 – Love, Forgive, and Be Patient

Before I get into those strategies, though, there are three principles that underlie all of these things. It is extremely hard to be an effective parent if you’re not bringing three key elements to the table.

Love your child without condition. This doesn’t mean jumping in and making everything easy for them. This doesn’t mean protecting them from every difficulty. This doesn’t mean excusing their mistakes and protecting them from all consequence. This doesn’t mean never having consequences.

It means giving them love that they don’t have to worry about. It means that you are their “safe place” where they will feel love no matter what path their life follows or what mistakes they make. As a parent, you can provide that. It’s not easy at times, but it’s a key foundation of good parenting.

Forgive your child’s mistakes. Your child isn’t perfect. Your child is learning how to be a functional human being in the world, and you are the primary teacher of that functionality. You’re going to see your child stumble in that learning quite often.

Forgive those stumbles. Minimize the mistakes they make and don’t hold those mistakes against them. That doesn’t mean ignore them – it means help them move past those mistakes and then move past them yourself.

Be patient with your child. They won’t always conform to exactly what you want, nor should they. They won’t always know how to succeed at first, and some kids take a long time to figure it out.

Be patient. Don’t expect perfection today or even tomorrow. Look for a step in the right direction, not a completed journey.

Strategy #1 – Have Genuine and Meaningful Time Together on a Very Frequent Basis

One of the biggest issues that many families have is that they get comfortable with their individual routines and responsibilities and begin to let genuine and meaningful time spent together fall through the cracks.

The parents have their jobs to worry about and all of the issues of maintaining a household and the myriad of other issues in their lives. The children have schoolwork and their own burgeoning social lives and often endless extracurricular activities.

It is incredibly easy, especially as children grow into adolescence and then into their teen years, to let genuine and meaningful time fall by the wayside. This causes families to lose touch with each other as people, especially when the people in that equation are changing.

One of the most powerful things you can do as a parent is to make genuine quality time with your family a very routine and sacrosanct thing. Aim to have dinner at the dinner table together at least five nights a week. Have a pizza and movie night together at least once a week. Play a board game together at least once a week. Go on a day-long adventure on a weekend day at least once a month.

Schedule these things. Literally put them in your calendar. Make them unchangeable. When they’re happening, everyone puts down their cell phones and turns them off.

This is a window to really get to know who your children are as people, to know what they’re interested in and are passionate about, what their good features are and their bad ones, what their life concerns are. The thing is, they learn the same things about you, even if you don’t always directly notice it. That bond grows, but it only grows if you work on it consistently.

Strategy #2 – Focus on the Value of Effort Rather Than Results

When you’re encouraging your child, focus on the effort they’re putting forth. Talk about the value of working hard and how it translates into skills and success automatically.

When you’re complimenting your child on success, focus on the hard work that got them there. Point out how you’re proud of the hard work that they’ve put in and you’re glad to see it paying off.

Don’t focus on the results. Focus on the process that brings good results.

If you focus on the results too much, so will your kids. They won’t worry about the process of hard work that it takes to get there. They’ll look for shortcuts to the results that they think everyone cares the most about, and that almost always has bad results. Not only have they not actually built any genuine skills, they’re often very tempted to do unethical things to get those results, because they believe that only the end results matter.

Don’t worry about the results. Focus on the homework and the studying rather than the test grade, because if they do the homework and the studying, the test grade will probably be pretty good. Focus on the practice rather than the results of the game, because if they work hard in practice, the end results will probably be pretty good.

Be there for the big game. Applaud the good report card. But just as much, if not more, compliment the effort spent on studying and on practice and on preparation. When you do cheer on the result, make sure that they know you’re cheering for the hard work they put in and admiring that inevitable result.

Strategy #3 – Catch (and Mildly Reward) Your Kids Being Good

Parents are often seen as disciplinarians, catching their child misbehaving and doling out penalties for doing so. While that might be a method for curbing bad behavior, it doesn’t actually do anything to encourage good behavior.

A much better approach is to catch your children doing good things and mildly reward them in some fashion.

One thing I like to do is watch for my children doing the right thing when they don’t think I’m watching and then report on it positively at the dinner table. I’ll perhaps see my oldest son studying on his own time for a science test and I’ll point out at the dinner table how I saw that and how I’m proud of him and how he’s nailing it. I’ll see my daughter helping out a neighbor on her own and I’ll tell everyone about that the next night at dinner.

We’ll often extend privileges a little bit. We have some tight restrictions on screen time at our house and if I’ve seen our children doing something good, I’ll extend it a little bit.

Sometimes, I’ll even give a small material reward of some kind on a very irregular basis. I’ve bought my children an item at the store before in an unexpected moment or give them an extra $5 before they go to a sleepover, telling them that I’m proud of them for having done something really right. This is much less common than the spoken compliment at the dinner table, however.

The point isn’t the reward. The point is that I noticed them doing the right thing and I acknowledged it in some significant and positive way. Doing this requires being observant and aware of what your children are doing, which is always valuable.

Strategy #4 – Be Consistent and Clear

When you have expectations for your children, be consistent and clear about them. Both are important.

Consistency means that the standards are always the same and don’t vary from moment to moment. If you expect your child to do things one way after school one day and then another way after school another day, that’s inconsistent. They often won’t know what you expect, and then you’ll find yourself frustrated that they’re not “doing what they’re supposed to,” and you’re begging for conflict. Expect the same standards all the time.

Clear means that there’s no question what it is that’s expected. One thing I’ve found as a parent is that clarity often makes a world of difference when it comes to communicating with a child. Things that are clear to you aren’t always clear to them. When you say “clean your room,” what does that really mean? You might know it to mean “make your bed, throw away any trash, do any laundry and put it away, and put any items on your floor and desk top and dresser where they belong.” This might not necessarily be clear to the child.

One thing I find very helpful in parenting is a checklist. If I expect them to follow a certain routine, like after school chores or something like that, I make up a checklist that they can follow so that they understand what they’re responsible for. I laminate the sheet so that they can check things off with a dry erase marker.

The same thing should be true when it comes to consequences for misbehavior. If you’re going to provide a consequence for misbehavior, it should be consistent in that it fits what the misbehavior was and is in line with past consequences, and it should be clear in that your child knows exactly what the issue is.

Without consistency and clarity in everything you do as a parent, you create mistrust. Your child doesn’t know what they did wrong, nor are they able to actually tie the consequence in any meaningful way to what they did wrong. If the consequence is arbitrary and wildly varying, then it’s not really a consequence but just a random event to fear and avoid.

Strategy #5 – Be a Good Role Model in Every Way You Can

In the end, the best thing you can do as a parent is to model the type of adult you want your child to be as much as you possibly can. Your child is going to take cues from you throughout their childhood and, yes, even well into their teen years and adulthood. When I look for it, I see myself still taking cues from my parents when we interact.

If you want your children to be model citizens aiming themselves for success in the world, then you should do everything you can to be a model citizen aiming yourself for success in the world. If you want your child to be a good, caring person who is involved in a positive way in their community, then you need to be a good caring person who is involved in a positive way in your community.

You need to be consistent about it, too. Volunteering a couple of times doesn’t make you a good role model for volunteering. Being nice to people sometimes but then talking bad behind their back doesn’t make you a prime example of how to build good healthy trusting relationships.

Ask yourself what kind of people you want your children to be, then be that person as much as you possibly can. You can’t make your children be that kind of person, of course, because genetics plays a role here, but you can certainly nudge them constantly in that direction.

Have you ever noticed how, in a lot of ways, kids take after their parents? The neighborhood jerk often has bully kids? It’s because kids take a lot of cues from their parents. Give your kids good cues all the time.

This is hard. It means that you’re constantly striving to be on your best behavior in all aspects of your life. However, not only will this set a great example for your kids, but it will pay benefits for you in your life, too.

Final Thoughts

Parenting is the single hardest job I’ve ever taken on in my life. My goal is to raise three fully independent self-sufficient children with good character who as adults don’t need me in their lives for support but want me in their lives because we bring so much value into each other’s existence.

That is hard work. That is expensive work. It takes a lot of paying attention and effort and love.

It pays off, though. It pays off when I see my kids doing the right thing without needing to be told to do so. It pays off when I see them creating marvelous things. It pays off when I see them identifying problems to be solved and putting in the hard work to solve them right.

Parenting is tough, but it’s worth it.

The post Exploring the Connections Between Your Parental Life and Your Financial Life appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Simple Living, Big Ambitions

A topic that has come up (in somewhat different forms) independently in several different areas of my life recently is that of trying to balance the idea of simple and frugal living with living an ambitious life.

Let’s say, for example, that you have enormous career ambitions. You want to be CEO of a company, or maybe you want to design the next product that literally everyone’s using. You have huge career goals and dream of all of the trappings that will come with it.

Maybe you have other big goals, like running for Congress. Maybe you’re part of a homeschooling collective and also want to run a side business. Maybe you want to be a great writer whose work is read by tens of thousands.

Perhaps you simply dream of living a life that has a perfect balance of family, marriage, parenting, social time, interesting career, hobbies, and community projects.

All of those things are ambitious. All of those things are a serious draw on a person’s focus. All of those things add difficult wrinkles to a person’s everyday life.

How do those things square up with frugality or the idea of “simple living”? How can a person on a fast career track or with a bunch of sprawling ambitions lead a simple and frugal life?

I think that Sarah and I come as close as anyone I know to achieving this balance.

Sarah and I both have careers. We work at maintaining our marriage. We’re parents to three school aged children. Sarah and I are both involved in the community and both currently hold and have held leadership positions in the past. We have large social networks – I’ve had more than a dozen friends over for dinner parties in just the last week. We both have involved hobbies that we’re passionate about.

At the same time, I actually think of my life as being pretty simple. We live well below our means and save a pretty sizable portion of our income. I (mostly) have time for the things I want to do in my life, though I do have a sizable someday/maybe list. We eat most of our meals at home with our family gathered around the table together at least once a day (on schooldays) and often two or three times a day (on weekends).

How do we achieve that balance? Here are some things that I’ve figured out over the years.

I want to start by talking about how we view frugality. Frugality, to us, means maximizing the value of one’s dollar. It means spending as little as possible in the areas we don’t care about so that we always have money for the things that we do care about. We do our best to reflect that principle in all of our spending choices.

For example, we buy a lot of store brand items for most of our household needs and many of our food needs. We’re really careful about major purchases and take our time with them, doing research and shopping around. We go dirt cheap on the things that aren’t a big deal to us, and we often don’t spend money at all on non-essential things that aren’t in line with what we care about.

The fundamental key here is having a strong grip on what’s actually important to us and what isn’t. At the point in our lives when we got into real financial trouble, we didn’t have a strong grip on what mattered and what didn’t. We felt the need to have “the best” of everything, even in areas we didn’t really care about. Whenever we were idle, we felt the “need” to treat ourselves, even when we didn’t really want anything. Impulsive desires often ruled the day and often ruled our spending choices, even though those impulses would fade really quickly.

The big shift in our spending occurred when we realized that the number of things we actually really cared about in the long term of our life was rather small. There were lots of things we impulsively desired, but those impulses never stuck around. In the bad old days, we’d dive into those impulses, spending our money on them and then wondering where it all went. Now, we basically just say no to almost all of those impulses. This makes the rare impulsive thing really special, for one, but it also means that we have an abundance of money for the other things in our life.

Here’s the thing: This philosophy of frugality spreads out to one’s entire life. The basics are clear: Spend minimal time and energy on the portions of your life that you don’t care about so that you have plenty of time and energy for the portions of your life that you do care about.

This required me to sit down and ask myself what parts of my life were really truly important to me. What parts did I want to succeed strongly in? Which parts did I not really care about that much?

Here’s the thing: If you try to succeed strongly at everything, you’re going to fail. There simply isn’t enough time and energy in a given life to succeed at every single thing that you might want to succeed at. It doesn’t exist.

A much better approach is this one. Consider your life as a whole. What three things do you really want to be known for, above all else? What three words do you want written on your tombstone?

Everything else is secondary. Everything else should be lived as simply as possible, in terms of minimum commitments of time and energy.

For me, the three words I think I want on my tombstone right now are father, husband, and mentor. Everything else is secondary to those to me and are often seen by me in terms of how they can help me fulfill those main three words.

So, what does that mean for the rest of my life?

I want simple routines in terms of my basic life requirements. For example, I have no need to dress fancy to fulfill those roles most of the time, so I have a very straightforward wardrobe that makes me dress pretty much the same every day. It’s presentable and very simple. Being “fashionable” or “well dressed” isn’t going to be on my tombstone.

I aim to avoid spending time on anything that’s either not in line with those key roles or isn’t recharging me to be maximally effective at those key roles. Hobby time, for example, should either be really effective at recharging me or else it’s something I’m actively doing with people for whom I’m either a parent, a spouse, or a mentor of some kind. This actually has a lot of implications. Here are some of them:

+ I rarely watch television except as a family event.
+ I try to read books that will help me grow as a person.
+ I exercise to keep my body and mind healthy, and I often exercise with family.
+ I try to eat healthy simple meals.
+ If I’m tired, I go to bed rather than trying to eke out another hour of low productivity (which also means I wake up with an hour’s less sleep, which makes tomorrow bad).
+ I try to make all household tasks as efficient as possible, which leads into things like just defaulting to buying store brands when at the grocery store.

I regularly put aside time to rethink the big goals of my life. This is the kind of “big picture” thinking that a lot of people skip out on. Once every three months, I spend a few hours really reflecting on my life as a whole. Am I happy with how things are? Am I happy with where I’m headed? It’s okay if the answers aren’t positive. It gives me a chance to change or update those big goals I have in my life.

While many of these specific strategies are practical ones, they all come back to one key idea: Focus on a few areas of your life that really matter to you and simplify everything else in terms of money, time, focus, and energy. For me, the best way to do that is to cut out things where I’m just idling without purpose, make ordinary tasks into the simplest routines I can, get plenty of sleep, do things that maintain health and energy, and minimize my financial spending on things that aren’t either directly a part of those big goals or directly supporting those big goals.

The reality is that you can’t have everything in life. You can’t simultaneously hit a grand slam in every single area of your life. There isn’t the time nor the energy for it. Rather, choose a few areas of your life where you really want to hit a grand slam, make them the focus, and then go super simple in all of the other areas. This is basically the philosophy of frugality applied beyond money – it’s applied to time, energy, and focus, too.

Good luck!

Read more by Trent Hamm

The post Simple Living, Big Ambitions appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Frugal Food Spending for One: A Case Study

This week, my wife is visiting her sisters and my children are visiting their grandparents, which leaves me at home alone. I’m using that time to work, take care of a long checklist of tasks, catch up with some old friends, and have a few really long uninterrupted blocks of times for some hobbies.

This was also a great opportunity for me to actually examine the costs of food preparation for a single person because, well, for nine days at least, I’m basically living like a single person. For one grocery cycle, I’m only concerned about preparing meals for myself, not for anyone else.

My question, then, is how can I prepare frugal meals for myself? What exactly would I, with years of practice in cutting costs, do to make meal planning as inexpensive as possible?

My plan was simple. I’m spending the whole week trying to eat as I believe I would if I were truly single again. This means eating a healthy diet, focusing on foods I like, and keeping costs low and meal preparation efforts low, too.

It’s important to note that I don’t want to rely on eating out or convenience foods much if at all. Many single people get into a routine of eating a lot of convenient foods or eating out frequently because they don’t believe the effort of preparing food at home and cleaning up afterwards is “worth it” for a meal for themselves.

According to the USDA data, a single male ages 19-50 should be able to eat for a week on $43.10 using the “thrifty” meal plan – their inexpensive estimate. Their “liberal” estimate is $85.30 (I honestly look at that number and think, “For me? For a week? Seriously?”).

My goal, then, is to have meals I like that are easily prepared for a full week for $43, with the only thing I’m relying on that I already have are small amounts of spices in the cupboard. I’m also assuming I already have adequate containers to store items in the fridge and equipment for cooking basic meals. That $40 buys everything else.

I start where I always do, with meal planning.

The Make-Ahead Strategy

If I were single, what I would often do is make several meals at once when I was preparing a meal and then put the leftovers in individual containers for meals later in the week (if I put them in the fridge) or in the future (if I put containers in the freezer). This would be a pretty routine thing for me.

So, for example, I might make a pot of soup that’s big enough for four meals for me. I’d eat one when it was finished, put another one in a container for the fridge for a meal in a day or two, and put two more in the freezer.

What that would mean is that after a while, I’d partially be relying on meals from the freezer for my meals for the week, allowing me a lot more variety in terms of meals. However, for this week alone, I’ll probably just eat all of the meals I prepare and store them all in the fridge. I might store a few in the freezer if I don’t end up eating them, but the intent is to eat everything I make this week.

Thus, my plan is to make one hot breakfast that I can split into four personal meals, storing three of them, and then have a simple or cold breakfast the other three days. For the other 14 meals throughout the week, I’m essentially preparing four meals for a full-sized family, then dividing those up into individual meal containers and eating them later in the week.

Meal Planning

Thus, my actual meal plan might look like this, assuming I buy groceries on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday evening: Prepare meal A, eat meal A, set aside three individual containers of meal A for later in the week.

Sunday morning: Prepare hot breakfast, eat hot breakfast, set aside three individual containers of hot breakfast for later in the week.
Sunday lunch: Meal A container
Sunday dinner: Prepare meal B, eat meal B, set aside three individual containers of meal B for later in the week.

Monday morning: Cold breakfast
Monday lunch: Meal B container
Monday dinner: Prepare meal C, eat meal C, set aside three individual containers of meal C for later in the week.

Tuesday morning: Hot breakfast container
Tuesday lunch: Meal C container
Tuesday dinner: Meal A container

Wednesday morning: Cold breakfast
Wednesday lunch: Meal B container
Wednesday dinner: Prepare meal D, eat meal D, set aside three individual containers of meal D for later in the week.

Thursday morning: Hot breakfast container
Thursday lunch: Meal D container
Thursday dinner: Meal C container

Friday morning: Cold breakfast
Thursday lunch: Meal A container
Thursday dinner: Meal D container

Saturday morning: Hot breakfast container
Saturday lunch: Meal B container
Saturday dinner: Meal C container

At this point, I still have a meal D container to stow away in the freezer for later. I can also obviously move around the meal containers to my personal preference.

The Specific Meals

So, for all five of those meals I prepare, I’m going to want meals that reheat well and ideally freeze well, as well as meals that I can prepare easily that I like. Ideally, the meals are inexpensive as well. When figuring out the specific meals, I do as I always do even with my full family here, which is look at the grocery store flyer and somewhat base my choices on what’s on sale.

What you actually choose for each meal is a matter of personal preference, of course, but here’s what I chose for this week.

My hot breakfast was a basic vegetarian egg casserole, similar to this recipe from Kitchen Addiction. I used a flash-frozen mix of chopped onions and green peppers that is sold at my local store to cut down on the chopping time and I changed some of the other ingredients to fit my personal tastes. The total cost of this meal was about $6 in ingredients.

My cold breakfast is a box of my favorite breakfast cereal and some almond milk. Easy enough. This covered three meals and cost about $6.50, but left some leftovers for the next week.

Meal “A” is a slow cooker full of vegetarian chili. I actually prepared this for my inexpensive game day knowing that there would be plenty left over, and I was right. The cost for this was about $2 in ingredients by my estimation.

Meal “B” is a spaghetti bake. I actually just made a very simple pot of spaghetti, using a full box of pasta and a jar of pasta sauce, and ate a normal spaghetti meal with some steamed and seasoned vegetables on the side. I then took the leftover pasta, put it in a casserole pan, added some of the leftover cheese from the breakfast casserole to the top, and baked it. Then, I quartered that casserole for four separate meal containers. The cost of this was about $6, mostly for the sauce (as I’m kind of picky about pasta sauce).

Meal “C” is a stir fry meal served over rice. I basically bought some typical stir fry vegetables – onions, bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, and peas – and stir fried them, adding a sauce I like and serving it all over cooked rice. I made enough to prepare three easily reheatable containers of it for future meals. The total cost of this meal was about $7.

Meal “D” was a personal favorite of mine, what I call a “vegetarian Reuben.” It’s basically a grilled sandwich on rye bread with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, gruyere cheese, and a fried egg instead of the corned beef. I love love love these sandwiches and this was definitely my unhealthy and expensive meal for the week. The total cost for ingredients here was about $9, but there were a lot of things left over for the future.

I also bought a lot of on-sale low cost fresh fruits and a few bags of flash frozen vegetables, adding up to another $11 but actually leaving me with leftovers.

My total grocery bill was about $47.50. This was a little higher than my $43.10 target, but it also involves a lot of leftovers for the following week. I won’t have to buy cereal or almond milk, there will be some fruit left over, there will be at least one meal in the freezer, there are many leftover ingredients that I could use for meal prep in the future, and this is actually stretching for 22 meals, not just 21.

Supplementation

With many of these meals, I’m going to want super healthy and convenient foods on the side. I basically eat some sort of fruit with every meal, often an apple or a banana or a pear, so I’ll buy some fresh fruit at the store as well. I noted this above.

I also bought a few bags of flash frozen vegetables, which are really easy to steam. I season them thoroughly depending on what flavors I want – again, not really hard.

For beverages, I mostly drink water, so there’s no need to buy any beverages. I do drink black coffee most mornings, but I actually have a lot of beans already on hand, so I didn’t count this.

How Did This Actually Work Out?

Here are some notes on the experience.

As I write this, I’ve already prepared all of the meals and I just have a series of meal containers in the fridge. I enjoyed all of the meals and they all seem to reheat well (I don’t know this for sure about the reuben sandwiches, but I usually reheat sandwiches in the oven rather than the microwave and many have turned out fine over the years).

Almost every meal I’ve eaten has been accompanied by a fruit on the side, either a clementine, an apple, or a banana. Some of the meals have also had steamed vegetables on the side, often seasoned with just sea salt and black pepper.

All of my lunches are “hot,” which isn’t probably something I would do all the time if I was doing this. Quite often, my lunches would be a very simple peanut butter and banana sandwich, because peanut butter and banana sandwiches are amazing. Not doing this actually inflated the cost of the week, because I could have cut this down to three prepared meals very easily.

For that matter, it would be easy to just prepare a bunch of peanut butter sandwiches, individually package them in reusable containers, and keep them in the fridge, if I wanted to do that.

Having meals in the fridge in containers is super convenient. I grab them, pop them in the microwave, and they’re ready to eat in just a couple of minutes. Since they’re all things I like, I don’t really get tired of them, either.

My favorite reusable meal containers, by the way, are these Glasslock meal containers. They’re just great. We also have a number of Rubbermaid containers picked up here and there. I’ve used other containers in the past and they’ve often ended up cracking and warping and becoming unusable.

If I did this system with the same exact three to five meals every week, it would get kind of boring. This system works great, but it requires a large pool of meals to draw from, something I’ll get back to in a minute.

In theory, if I were single for the foreseeable future, I would use this system but prepare a lot of meals in the first few weeks. I’d probably make 15 “quadruple” meals in the first two weeks or so. After that, I’d be in “maintenance” mode, where I only make four a week as described above, but the “meal container” meals would have far more variety because I’d have a wide variety of them in the freezer.

So, the first two weeks might involve two weekends where I make four “quadruple” meals, saving one container of each in the fridge for use later in the week and freezing two. I’d also attempt to make “quadruple” meals during the week as much as I could (probably four times a week, doing things like soup in the slow cooker) and then saving one container of each in the fridge for later in the week and freezing two.

So, if I make eight meals a week for two weeks and freeze two containers from each of those meals, I’d have 32 containers in the freezer, two containers for each of 16 meals.

After that, I could just use that plan of “make a quadruple meal, save one in the fridge, freeze two” for four meals a week. I’d also pull meals out of the freezer throughout the week and have a ton of choice for those.

The nice thing about this system is the flexibility. If I end up going to lunch with someone and we’re brown-bagging, I just take a container along with me. If I go out, I just have an extra container in the fridge. If I go out for dinner one night, no problem – there are always meals at home waiting for me. It’s really flexible around what I want to do.

Additional Meal Ideas

I have a lot of experience with “meal prep days,” as Sarah and I have both made lots and lots of extra meals for the purpose of using them later in the week or just freezing them. A good “meal prep” meal is one that you’re happy to eat now and later and one that reheats well and survives freezing well.

Here are some things that really pass the test. They’re meals I like that are easy to divide into individual portion, freeze well, and reheat reheat well.

Stir fry reheats really well and offers a ton of variety. You can season it with curry or with soy sauce or with any number of other sauces. You can vary the vegetables a lot. You can add meat if you wish (or tofu). This is a great choice for regular use.

Soups without noodles are fantastic. The only bad part of reheating soups is that noodles just turn to mush and some grain-based ingredients (like barley) aren’t the best, but the vegetables and meat and liquid all reheat really well. I particularly like reheated chili – I usually think it’s better the second time around. I also really like blended soups.

Burritos They’re easy to individually package and reheat fairly well, though I prefer to reheat them in the oven or in a skillet rather than in the microwave. If you must use the microwave, wrap them in a paper towel.

Casseroles Most casseroles freeze well, even ones with pasta in them such as lasagna. The lower proportion of liquid (as compared to soups) seems to be a big factor in this.

Rice and beans Seasoned rice and beans (with or without a meat of some kind) tend to reheat very well. They tend to taste a little different than the initial meal and usually warrant the addition of hot sauce upon reheating, in my experience.

Hamburgers or black bean burgers freeze well after being cooked without changing quality or texture significantly. I’m referring, of course, to just the patty; you’ll want to assemble the full sandwich when reheating.

Those categories alone provide tons of room for meals that freeze well. In general, the only thing I’m really wary of freezing are flour-based items that are wet, such as pasta, as they can often end up with a bad texture. Having said that, casseroles with pasta often turn out well.

Final Thoughts

You absolutely can eat an inexpensive, varied, and tasty diet at a low price if you’re a single person. The trick is to prepare family-sized meals that reheat well so that you don’t have to go to the kitchen to prepare a complex meal for one person every single night; rather, you can rely on “convenience” meals that you’ve made yourself. (That isn’t to say you might not occasionally eat a convenience meal, but that it doesn’t – and probably shouldn’t – have to be the back bone of your diet.)

Don’t avoid the kitchen if you’re single. Rather, embrace it. Make meals you love without worrying about anyone else, and then package them so they’re convenient to eat again in the future. You’ll make many meals super convenient and save a ton of money, too.

Good luck!

Read more by Trent Hamm

The post Frugal Food Spending for One: A Case Study appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How to Host an Inexpensive Game Day

This past weekend, I hosted a full game day for more than a dozen people at my home (it literally was just me this time, as my wife was visiting her sisters and my children were visiting the grandparents). This game day covered the full afternoon and evening and resulted in literally dozens of board and card games played at my home, as well as some people stopping in the middle to watch some college basketball games. I think everyone had fun – I know I did.

The catch, of course, is that I wanted to keep it cheap. While I loved the idea of hosting a lot of friends from the various community game groups I’ve been a part of, I didn’t want to shell out a lot of cash for it. My goal was to have a fun experience for all on the smallest budget I could afford.

Here’s what I did to pull it off.

Offer Up a Flexible and Inexpensive Meal

The food I provided centered around two slow cookers full of soup that was mostly assembled from ingredients I already had on hand, purchased at sales over the past month. I made a meaty chili and a vegetarian bean soup with a somewhat similar recipe (I ad-libbed the vegetarian soup so there really isn’t a recipe for it).

The recipes themselves were inexpensive, focusing on beans and spices as the chief ingredients. I used dry beans, which I soaked overnight and boiled first thing in the morning, and simple ingredients.

For the chili, I followed a simple recipe. I just put all of this stuff in the slow cooker and turned it on low (I actually doubled it due to the number of guests):

– 1 pound ground beef, cooked
– 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans, or one can of black beans
– 1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans, or one can of kidney beans
– 2 tomatoes, diced, or a can of diced tomatoes
– 1 can tomato sauce
– 1/4 red onion, chopped
– 1 chopped bell pepper, whatever color you like
– 1 1/2 tablespoons of “chili mix”

The “chili mix” is a jar of mixed dry spices we keep in the cupboard just for chili. It consists of the following:

– 4 tablespoons of chili powder
– 1 teaspoon garlic powder
– 1 teaspoon onion powder
– 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
– 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
– 1 teaspoon dried oregano
– 2 teaspoons paprika
– 2 tablespoons ground cumin
– 3 teaspoons sea salt
– 4 teaspoons black pepper

Again, if you have a big jar and eat chili frequently, you can certainly double or triple this mix.

My estimate is that the double batch of the meaty chili cost about $7 and the vegetarian soup cost about $2 in ingredients. I probably spent another $5 on chili toppings (shredded cheese, oyster crackers, sour cream).

The advantages of having chili as a centerpiece meal is many. First of all, it can stay in a slow cooker for many hours and be tasty over much of that time frame – it’s ready to eat after three hours on low and although the flavor profile changes a lot, it’s still quite good after ten hours or so on low. It’s easy to prepare, as you just dump all of the ingredients in the slow cooker and turn it on low – the only extra effort is cooking the ground beef. It’s also flexible, as people can modify it to their tastes with hot sauce, shredded cheese, oyster crackers, and sour cream.

My total cost for the food was about $14 (according to my receipt from the grocery store) and that was my only cost for the day. I also had two pizzas on hand, but both of those were free pizzas from coupons.

It is well worth noting that $14 is probably less than I would spend driving to a community game night and back and buying an inexpensive dinner for myself while at that game night. In other words, my dinner party for a dozen people was probably cheaper than actually going to a community game night by myself.

Move as Much Meal Prep as Possible Off Stage

One big advantage of doing meal prep in a slow cooker for a dinner party like this is that you can do virtually all of the meal prep before anyone arrives, allowing you to spend time with the guests rather than hanging out in the kitchen.

I strongly encourage anyone hosting a dinner party to do every possible bit of meal prep that they can “off stage,” meaning before the guests come. If you can, have the meal already cooking when guests arrive (a slow cooker is great for this). If not, have everything chopped and prepped and as assembled as you possibly can so that the time invested in getting everything ready when the guests arrive is minimal.

How does this keep the event “cheap”? It’s actually a really good way to avoid a meal emergency, honestly, and meal emergencies during a dinner party are either very costly (you’re suddenly ordering delivery or something) or socially disastrous.

Encourage Everyone to Bring a Snack or a Drink

One way that I kept the cost low on this event is that I asked each person that was coming to either bring a snack or a drink. Each attendee had a particular “assignment” – bring a sweet snack, bring a savory snack, bring a non-alcoholic beverage to share (like a 12 pack of soda), or bring an alcoholic beverage to share (like a 6 pack of beer).

For the attendees, this is a simple thing to do. They could literally grab it at the grocery store a mile from my house. It also allows them to come in the door bearing a “gift” for the host – always a polite thing to do – and allows them some freedom of choice in terms of what to get.

For me as the host, it was a great way to keep costs low. I didn’t have to spring for snacks. I didn’t have to spring for drinks (I did have some additional beverages on hand just in case, but they were never tapped into). Those extra costs were simply covered by others.

Encourage Everyone to Have a Game They’re Willing to Teach

Since it was a game day, I also asked everyone to bring a game or two or three that they were willing to teach to others. Most of the people I invited were avid board and card gamers, so this wasn’t a problem at all.

If your party is going to have a mix of people who game regularly and people who do not, make sure to ask the people who do play games regularly to bring their favorite gateway game that they can teach. Trust me – if they play many tabletop games, they’ll have a gateway game or two that they like on their shelf.

This, along with my own game collection, provided a ton of entertainment for everyone for a full day. We usually had two or three games going at all times throughout the day and evening, with people taking turns teaching.

Maximize Table Space by Borrowing Folding Tables and Chairs

If you have a large number of people, that means you’re going to need plenty of table space. The best rule of thumb for a game day is to make sure you have a chair for each person and a number of tables equal to the number of people coming divided by four, rounded up.

For me, this meant having three tables. Two of them were large tables already in our home, but we needed a third, so I borrowed a sturdy card table from a friend for the day.

If you need more table space, simply ask around your social network and particularly amongst your guests if they have any sturdy folding tables with a large table surface and then ask to borrow it for the day. If you need to borrow chairs, folding chairs will work just fine.

Have ‘Break Space’ for Non-Gamers, Too

Even though everyone I invited was excited to play games for most of the day, some people did want to take breaks at various points. I left one room in our home game-free and it included a television and plenty of comfortable seating.

During part of the day, some people retreated into that room to watch college basketball while others continued to play games.

Don’t Sweat Perfection – Just Focus on Good

Many people freak out over the idea of having a gathering like this in their own home. They get stressed out over the cleaning and the setup necessary to feel confident about the event’s success.

One thing to remember is that you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be good. No one’s house is ever perfect, and most guests not only don’t mind a lot of imperfections, but often don’t notice them.

Our house is far from perfect, but I just spent some time cleaning and organizing and it was fine. One good strategy is to simply sit out everything that guests might need so they have much less reason to poke into cupboards and such. I sat out bowls, plates, and cups on the counter for guests to snag as needed. I also sat out a big recycling bin for people to easily place cans to be recycled.

Again, the goal isn’t perfection. The goal is comfort and fun. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect or organized to be comfortable and to have fun, and your guests won’t mind or won’t notice any issues.

Final Thoughts

This game day was quite successful. I know that in the aftermath people were sending each other messages asking about games played, requesting the chili recipe, and saying thank you and wondering if there was going to be another one.

The key point is this: it’s very possible to host a very low cost game day at your home with a bit of advance thought and preplanning. I highly recommend providing flexible food from a slow cooker that enables people to eat when its convenient, encouraging guests to bring beverages and snacks, and just providing lots of clear table space and chairs.

It’s a great way to spend a weekend afternoon and evening with friends without being very expensive at all! Good luck!

The post How to Host an Inexpensive Game Day appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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LendingPoint Personal Loans Review

Founded in 2014, LendingPoint is an innovative online lender with headquarters in Kennesaw, Georgia. With help from its robust digital platform, LendingPoint offers personal loans of up to $25,000 with repayment terms that last up to 48 months.

Unlike some other lenders in the online space, LendingPoint doesn’t just focus on borrowers with excellent credit; they offer personal loans for consumers with credit scores as low as 585. While LendingPoint unsecured loans can be used for any reason, many of their customers use their funds to consolidate high-interest debt.

If your credit isn’t great but you need to borrow money for whatever reason, LendingPoint may be one of the only lenders willing to grant you a personal loan. Keep reading to learn more about this lender’s personal loan options, who they’re good for, and how to apply.

 

LendingPoint Personal Loans: Key Takeaways

  • Borrow up to $25,000 and receive your loan funds as soon as the next business day.
  • You may be able to qualify with a credit score as low as 585.
  • Fixed interest rates range from 9.99% to 35.99%.
  • Repay your loan with terms between 24 and 48 months.
  • You may be required to pay an origination fee of up to 6% of your loan amount.
  • There are no prepayment penalties for paying your loan off early.

LendingPoint: Personal Loans for Borrowers with Bad Credit

While some personal lenders focus their offerings on prime borrowers, LendingPoint takes the opposite approach. This lender dedicates most of their business to those with low credit scores and shaky credit histories, which is good news for consumers with few bad credit loan options available to them.

That’s part of the reason LendingPoint loans can charge an origination fee of up to 6% as well as interest rates as high as 35.99% APR. This lender charges higher rates and fees to make up for the additional risk, which is passed on to the consumer upfront and in each monthly payment they make.

If you’re wondering why anyone would take out a personal loan with an APR up to 35.99%, the answer is simple — cost. Consumers stuck in a cycle of taking out payday loans with APRs up to 400% can use a loan from LendingPoint to consolidate their debt and pay it off once and for all.

LendingPoint personal loans may not be the cheapest option available, but they do offer a way for consumers to consolidate debt with exorbitantly high interest rates. A personal loan can also help you go from making multiple loan payments to just one each month, which can help you simplify your financial life.

A final upside of LendingPoint personal loans is the fact you can apply for a loan and receive funding without ever stepping foot into a bank. The entire process can be completed online, including your full loan application.

LendingPoint even makes it possible to get preapproved for a loan without a hard inquiry to your credit report, which can be beneficial if you want to gauge your ability get funding but worry about harming your credit score.

Where LendingPoint Comes Up Short

LendingPoint does make their loans available to borrowers with poor credit, but those who qualify will pay heavily for the privilege of borrowing. We already mentioned the fact you may be required to pay an origination fee of up to 6% of your loan amount — and that borrowers with poor credit could be stuck paying interest rates as high as 35.99% APR.

These terms can make LendingPoint loans an expensive proposition. The lender even offers the following loan example on their website to illustrate:

“A $10,000 loan with an origination fee of 6% for a period of 24 months with an APR of 24.0980% may have a payment of $529.20 per month (actual terms and rate depend on credit history, income and other factors). The total amount due under the loan terms provided as an example in this disclaimer includes the origination fee financed in addition to loan amount, which is $12,700.80.”

Aside from cost, also note that LendingPoint doesn’t offer personal loans in West Virginia. They do offer loans in 49 states, however, along with the District of Columbia.

Finally, you’ll want to think long and hard about applying for a loan from LendingPoint if your credit is in good shape. It’s true their loans are available to borrowers with a wide range of credit scores, but LendingPoint doesn’t offer the best starting rates for individuals with excellent credit. If you have a high credit score and strong credit history, you’ll probably qualify for some of the best personal loans out there, with lower starting APRs and no origination fees.

LendingPoint Personal Loans are Best for:

  • Consumers with poor credit who need to borrow up to $25,000.
  • Anyone with payday loans they need to pay off at a lower interest rate.
  • Consumers who can’t qualify for a loan with the lowest APR available and no fees.

How We Rate LendingPoint

At The Simple Dollar, we aim to provide a general overview of a lender’s products and services through a standard rating process. After a thorough research and discovery period, here’s how LendingPoint stacks up:

LendingPoint at a Glance
Overall Rating
🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
Affordability (interest rates, fees, and terms) 🌕🌕🌕🌑🌑
Availability (credit requirements, geographic reach) 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
Ease of Use 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌕
Transparency 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑

How to Apply for a Personal Loan With LendingPoint

To qualify for a personal loan from LendingPoint, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Be able to provide a government-issued photo ID.
  • Have a valid Social Security number.
  • Earn at least $20,000 per year from employment, retirement, or another source.
  • Have a verifiable bank account in your own name.
  • Live in a state LendingPoint operates in.

If you meet the minimum requirements for a LendingPoint loan, you can start the process by getting pre-qualified for one of their loans. To check which offers you may qualify for, all you need to provide is your desired loan amount, your name, your birth date, your email, your address, your income, and the last four digits of your Social Security number.

If you like the offers you’re matched with, you can move forward with a full loan application by submitting your full Social Security number, driver’s license, bank account information, a voided check, and pay stubs or proof of income.

Based on the information you submit, your credit score, and your income, LendingPoint may be able to approve your loan within a few minutes. After all loan documentation is verified, it’s possible you could have your loan funds deposited in your bank account as soon as the next business day.

The Bottom Line

LendingPoint doesn’t offer the least expensive borrowing options available, but they do extend loans to consumers with less than perfect credit. If your credit isn’t great, it’s possible they may even be the only lender willing to work with you outside of payday lenders and other unsavory options.

Before you apply for a loan with LendingPoint, however, it makes sense to see if you’re pre-qualified, and if so, with what terms. Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of paying a high interest rate and an origination fee if required, and only move forward if the personal loan you applied for works for your budget and your goals.

Related Articles: 

The post LendingPoint Personal Loans Review appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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Citizens Bank Personal Loans Review

Citizens Bank is part of Citizens Financial Group, one of the largest financial institutions in the nation. Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, this company boasted a whopping $158.6 billion in assets in the third quarter of 2018.

In addition to its online banking platform, Citizens Bank offers 24/7 customer service and 2,900 ATMs nationwide. The bank also has brick-and-mortar branches in 11 states along with a broad range of financial products ranging from savings accounts to mortgage loans and home equity loans.

Citizens Bank is also a popular option for personal loans, and for good reason. Citizens Bank personal loans come with lower ongoing costs than many competing loans, and consumers with good credit can qualify for a low APR.

Keep reading to learn more about Citizens Bank personal loans, their rates and terms, and who they’re best for.

Citizens Bank Personal Loans: Key Takeaways

  • Take out an unsecured personal loan with rates between 7.83% and 20.89% APR.
  • Receive an APR discount of up to 0.50% off for customer loyalty or automatic payments.
  • Citizens Bank personal loans come with no application fee, no annual fee, no origination fee, and no hidden fees.
  • Borrow up to $50,000 and repay your loan for up to 7 years.
  • Receive your loan funds in as little as two business days.

Citizens Bank Personal Loans: Borrow Money with No Fees

Like the best personal loans at some other major banks and online lenders, Citizens Bank offers loans with no fees required. This can make them a lot more affordable than some competing loans that charge an origination fee of up to 6% of your loan amount. With no fees to speak of, Citizens Bank personal loans only require you to repay the amount of money you borrow plus interest charges.

Speaking of interest, Citizens Bank personal loans come with an APR between 7.83% and 20.89% depending on your creditworthiness. You may also qualify for a “Loyalty Discount” if you have other qualifying accounts with Citizens Bank, or if you set up your account for automatic payments each month.

Citizens Bank personal loans let you borrow up to $50,000, which is significantly higher than some lenders that set loan limits of $35,000 or less. You can also repay a personal loan from this lender for up to 84 months, which can help you secure a lower monthly payment each month.

We appreciate the fact Citizens Bank lets borrowers get “pre-qualified” for a loan online with only a soft pull on their credit report. This allows consumers to see if they may qualify — and at what kind of rate — without a hard inquiry to their credit report or any damage to their credit score.

To qualify for a personal loan from Citizens Bank, you’ll need to have a consistent history of on-time bill payments and a minimum income of $24,000. You also need to be a U.S. citizen and have a valid Social Security number. No minimum credit score is specified, however, so we’re unsure how low your score can be to qualify.

Here’s an example of how Citizen’s Bank personal loans can look based on your credit score and the interest rate you qualify for:

Where Citizens Bank Personal Loans Come Up Short

It’s hard to complain about personal loans with low rates and no fees, which is why Citizens Bank gets high marks overall. The main downside of loans from this bank boils down to how their offerings compare to some competitors.

For example, several other top lenders in the personal loan space with no fees have a much lower starting APR. With personal loans from Earnest, for example, the lowest APR for borrowers with great credit is 6.99%. When it comes to personal loans from Marcus by Goldman Sachs, the lowest APR is 5.99%. Each of these lenders also offer loans with no fees — no origination fee, no application fee, no annual fee, and no hidden fees.

Another potential downside of Citizen’s Bank personal loans is the fact they don’t list a minimum credit score requirement. This means you could go through the trouble to apply with a hard inquiry on your credit report only to miss out on a loan altogether. You can get “pre-qualified” with only a soft inquiry, but you’ll still have to complete a full application, and there is no guarantee.

Who Citizens Bank Personal Loans are Best for:

  • Consumers who can qualify for the lowest APR available and prefer a personal loan with no fees.
  • Anyone who needs to borrow up to $50,000.
  • Borrowers who need a longer repayment timeline of up to 84 months.

How We Rate Citizen’s Bank Personal Loans

At The Simple Dollar, we aim to provide a general overview of a lender’s products and services through a standard rating process. After a thorough research and discovery period, here’s how Citizen’s Bank stacks up:

Citizens Bank Personal Loans at a Glance
Overall Rating
🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
Affordability (interest rates, fees, and terms) 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
Availability (credit requirements, geographic reach) 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌑
Ease of Use 🌕🌕🌕🌕🌕
Transparency 🌕🌕🌕🌑🌑

How to Apply for a Personal Loan from Citizens Bank

Thanks to its robust online platform, applying for a personal loan from Citizens Bank is an easy feat. It all starts with heading to their website and entering your zip code. If you live in an area serviced directly by Citizens Bank, you’ll be able to get pre-qualified for a personal loan directly on their site. If you live in an area not directly serviced by Citizens Bank, on the other hand, you’ll be sent to apply for your personal loan through Citizen One — a lending division of Citizens Bank with a broader area of coverage.

The process to apply is the same either way. Getting pre-qualified for a personal loan will require you to submit the following information:

  • Desired loan amount
  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Social security number
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Address of residence

Once you submit this information, you’ll receive a loan quote that includes the interest rate you qualify for and how much you can borrow. If you choose to accept, Citizens Bank may be able to deposit your loan funds in your bank account in as little as two business days.

The Bottom Line

When you need to borrow money and pay it off over several years, a personal loan is often your best bet. Unlike credit cards with variable interest rates and uncertain terms, personal loans come with fixed interest rates, fixed monthly payments, and a fixed repayment policy. This means you can borrow money and know exactly how much you’ll pay each month — and exactly when it will be paid off.

Citizens Bank offers some of the best loans in this space since they come with no origination fee, no annual fee, and no hidden fees. This lender also lets you borrow significantly more than some of the competitors — up to $50,000 — which can be helpful if you need to borrow more than some other lenders offer.

Before you apply with Citizens Bank, however, it can pay to shop around with a few different lenders. Make sure to make an “apples to apples” comparison that considers each loan’s APR, repayment term, monthly payment, and loan fees.

Related Articles: 

The post Citizens Bank Personal Loans Review appeared first on The Simple Dollar.

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