Why I pay others to do tasks I could do myself

When people talk about saving money, DIY is one of the first things that comes to mind.

Do all of this (and more) and you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

And that’s great. I know lots of folks that enjoy growing a lush garden resulting in delicious produce (that can be canned or frozen) in due season. There are people in my life that find doing laundry calming, and others that will happily take on any domestic project that comes their way. Personally, I enjoy doing the dishes.

While I’m happy spending time on the things that I like, there are certain things that I hate doing — and that I will happily outsource to others.

Am I perfectly capable of cleaning my home and mowing the lawn? Sure. But why should I spend the time doing these things when I can pay someone else to do them? Here are some reasons I spend money to outsource parts of my life.

Why I Outsource Tasks I Could Do Myself

I Can Make More Money

The number-one reasons I outsource tasks I could do myself is that by doing so, I make more money. Wait, what?

When I talk about spending $200 a month on lawn care or $20 an hour on house cleaning services, many people are surprised to find that I make money by outsourcing these mundane chores.

I’m a freelance writer, so any time I free up can be used to write an article, interview a source, or work on edits. Rather than spending two hours cleaning the house, I can pay someone $40 to do it instead — and make $500. That’s a net gain of $460 each week, or about $1,840 per month.

There have been times that I take my laptop with me to get the oil changed. Jiffy Lube takes care of it for $65 and I can do work amounting to about $200 in the time I’m sitting there. That’s a net gain of $135.

In the past, I’ve used services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh to plan my meals and deliver the ingredients. That saves me the time and hassle of meal planning and grocery shopping, and allowed me to focus on other things. However, with my travel schedule, these types of services haven’t been meeting my needs.

Instead, with Instacart now available in my area, I’ve switched to getting someone else to do the shopping, while I use a service like $5 Meal Plan to plan my meals and provide me with an ingredient list.

No matter how I do it, though, the cost of these services is much less than what I can make doing a little extra work. Whether you want more time to work on a side gig, or take action to grow your business, the investment you make in outsourcing can yield dividends later.

I Have More Time with My Son

I’ll be honest. I don’t spend every minute I save by outsourcing on work or business activities. I also use the time I save on things that matter to me.

In the past, my son and I spent a portion of each Saturday cleaning the house. That’s not a super fun way to make memories with your teenager. Now, instead of spending time on chores, we can go to the museum, take a hike, or ride our bikes. It’s possible to spend the whole afternoon playing board games if we want.

J.D.’s note: I once played Exploding Kittens with Miranda. When she saw that I liked the game, she simply gave me her personal copy. Wow. How cool is that?

Miranda and JD playing board games

Plus, now that my son is doing more with his friends and has the independence of a car, being able to spend time when we can is especially important. We can go out to lunch, and he can still have time to go to the movies with his friends later. Sometimes we work on our small herb garden together in the morning, and he plays video games with his friends in the afternoon.

When my son wants to talk, I don’t have to cut him off because errands are weighing on me. Instead, I can focus on my son, knowing that I’ve outsourced tasks like grocery shopping and cleaning to others.

I Have More Time (and Money) for Self-Care

Freeing up time also means I can make more money while having more time for me.

Let’s use my above example of cleaning the house. If I used all the cleaning time to work, that would get me an extra $1,840 per month. However, I don’t use all that time to work. I probably use about half the time to work. That’s still an extra $920 per month — and an extra four hours.

I can do what I like with those four hours. Maybe I get two manicures in that month. That’s two hours gone, and $100. I don’t have to worry about it, though, because I used half the extra time already to make extra money.

Miranda's manicure

Sometimes all I really want to do is just lay in bed for an extra hour and read. Or go to a movie by myself. Or, instead of work in the evening, binge-watch Netflix. Because I outsource mundane tasks that would otherwise fill my time, I can use half that saved time to make more money, and the rest of the time to do more of what I want, whether it’s baking cookies with my son, going out to lunch with a friend, or spending a Wednesday volunteering with a local service organization.

Outsourcing gives me more freedom and flexibility in my hours and in my spending. In fact, I recently discovered that the time I save (and the money I make) by having someone else handle the grocery shopping is just enough to cover personal training sessions each month. So now outsourcing has freed up the chance for me to improve my health.

Investing Extra Time and Money

I see outsourcing as a way to buy more time. And that makes it valuable. After all, time is a nonrenewable resource. That makes time more valuable than money. Purchasing that time allows me to make more choices and make the most of my time. Rather than spending time mowing the lawn or cleaning the house, I can make more money in a fraction of the time.

Take the lawn care, for example. It takes me about two hours a week to mow the lawn, trim the edges, and manage the weeds. That’s about eight hours a month from May through September, or five months. That’s 40 hours. I pay $200 per month, so $1,000 total. If I work half those hours, I can make about $5,000 extra dollars — and still have 20 hours left over to spread across those five months.

Because I outsource, I have extra time and extra money. I can use the extra time to invest in relationships with my loved ones, and to take extra time for myself. Those things pay dividends in goodwill with people I enjoy being with, as well as mental and physical health dividends for me.

The extra money can be invested as well. I might spend some of it on a trip to the spa, or to buy new camping gear, but a lot of it goes into my investment portfolio. Now that money is earning money, without the need for me to do more work for it. Or, I could take some of the money and invest it into my business, growing it so that it offers better returns down the road.

The benefits outsourcing has brought into my life by allowing me to buy more time — and use it in ways that are more profitable — have increased my quality of life, as well as improved my overall financial health.

Outsourcing in My Business

I’ve also found outsourcing helpful in my business. Over time, I’ve gradually outsourced social media posting, scheduling, podcast editing, tax preparation, and other tasks. Some of these tasks are outsourced to people, while others, like scheduling, are outsourced to free or low-cost software tools.

Just the time I save in posting on social media alone provides me with the ability to earn enough money to pay my social media manager and still have time and money left over for investment in other activities.

When outsourcing business tasks, it makes sense to identify your weaknesses. Rather than trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths, outsource your weaknesses and leverage your strengths into better profitably and improved outcomes.

J.D.’s note: This is precisely what’s been going on behind the scenes at Get Rich Slowly for the past six months. My strength is writing. That’s what I like to do, and that’s what I’m good at. The rest of modern blogging isn’t my forté. So, I brought on Tom to take care of marketing and monetization. We’re working with other folks to handle social media, etc. I’m focusing on my strengths and outsourcing the rest. Speaking of Tom, he interviewed Miranda about this very topic on his MapleMoney Show podcast.

How to Start Outsourcing

I didn’t start by outsourcing everything all at once. I couldn’t afford it.

Instead, I chose one thing to outsource — one thing I could afford. At first, it was house cleaning every other week, while my son and I continued doing the weekly cleaning in between. However, after a few months of making extra money with the freed-up time, I was able to expand to the weekly house cleaning service.

Review the time you spend on various tasks. What could you be doing instead? Could you use the time more profitably? If so, consider outsourcing the task and using your newly-freed time to make extra money. Pretty soon, you could discover that the extra money allows you to outsource the next time-consuming and mundane task.

However, if there are things you like doing, even if they take up time, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to do them. Do what makes you happy. And outsource the mundane tasks that hold you back from a better quality of life.

Author: Miranda Marquit

Miranda has been writing about money on the internet for 13 years. Her work has been published by a variety of outlets, including Forbes, Huffington Post, FOX Business, Yahoo! Finance, MSN Money, Marketwatch, NPR, and more. She’s the founder of the Money Tree Investing Podcast. When not writing or podcasting, Miranda enjoys board games, the outdoors, travel, and spending time with her son.

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17 States With an Estate or Inheritance Tax

Photo by maroke / Shutterstock.com

Have you gotten to retirement with a fat nest egg? Congratulations! All those years of toil and saving have paid off.

If you are exceedingly fortunate and plan to pass on a big inheritance to your children or a charity, you still have one big retirement-planning mission remaining: Protecting your wealth from disappearing into the coffers of state and federal governments.

Depending on where you live, achieving that goal can be difficult, or relatively easy. In fact, 33 states charge no estate or inheritance taxes.

But 12 states and the District of Columbia charge estate taxes, and six charge inheritance taxes.

And pity the poor residents of the alleged “Free” State — Maryland levies both types of taxes.

The full list of such states, and the District of Columbia, in each category is as follows:

States that charge estate taxes

  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

States that charge inheritance taxes

  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania

Estate taxes versus inheritance taxes

Your estate is taxed based on the total value of everything you own at the time of your death. According to Nolo:

“This includes all the obvious assets, like real estate and bank accounts, plus some that aren’t so obvious — for example, the proceeds of a life insurance policy that the deceased person owned.”

By contrast, inheritance taxes depend on who inherits your assets. For example, taxes may not be due if your spouse inherits your assets, but taxes might be due if the assets go to your children or someone more distantly related to you.

If you live in one of the states on the two lists above, don’t panic. Estate taxes typically are assessed only if your assets exceed a certain level, such as $1 million. And some states have much higher thresholds.

As for inheritance taxes, rates typically are modest if you leave your assets to close relatives. For example, Nolo says that in Nebraska, close relatives who inherit $40,000 or less face no taxes, and just 1% is charged on assets over that amount left to those family members.

However, taxes of 13% will be due in Nebraska on amounts above $15,000 left to more distant relatives, and 18% will be due on amounts above $10,000 that you leave to others, such as nonrelatives or organizations.

Avoiding these taxes

The higher exemption levels associated with most state estate and inheritance tax systems are not much solace to people with very large estates who hope to pass down their cash.

So, what can you do if you are in this fortunate circumstance? You could move to a new state or accept your fate, while taking solace in the knowledge that federal tax reform legislation significantly raised the exemption levels for federal estate taxes.

In 2019, your estate will not be subject to federal estate taxes unless your assets exceed $11.4 million — then, the tax will apply only to the amount above $11.4 million.

Creating a trust is another option. Trusts are often used to bypass estate taxes, as Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson details in “Ask Stacy: I’m Afraid to Leave an Inheritance for My Kids — What Should I Do?”

For more tips on protecting your assets from taxes, check out “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate.” And if you’re looking for a good deal on the estate documents you need, head over to the website of Money Talks News partner Rocket Lawyer.

Would you move to avoid estate or inheritance taxes? Sound off in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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HELOC: Understanding Home Equity Lines of Credit

At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

A home equity line of credit, or HELOC, is a second mortgage that gives you access to cash based on the value of your home. You can draw from a home equity line of credit and repay all or some of it monthly, somewhat like a credit card.

With a HELOC, you borrow against your equity, which is the home’s value minus the amount you owe on the primary mortgage. This means:

  • You could lose the home to foreclosure if you don’t make the payments because you use the home as collateral.
  • You have to have plenty of equity to get a HELOC. Typically, a HELOC lets you borrow up to 85% of the home’s value minus the amount you owe on the loans.

The best reason to get a home equity line of credit is for something like a major repair or remodeling project that increases the value of your home. A reason not to get a HELOC is the risk of losing your home if you can’t pay back what you borrow.

MORE: Our take on the best HELOC lenders

Do I qualify for a home equity line of credit?

To get a home equity line of credit, you’ll typically need a debt-to-income ratio in the lower 40s or less, a credit score of 620 or higher and home value that’s at least 15% more than you owe.

How a HELOC works

Much like a credit card that allows you to borrow against your spending limit as often as needed, a HELOC gives you the flexibility to borrow against your home equity, repay and repeat.

Say you have a $500,000 home with a balance of $300,000 on your first mortgage and your lender is allowing you to access up to 85% of your home’s equity. You can establish a HELOC with up to a $125,000 limit:

  • $500,000 x 85% = $425,000.
  • $425,000 – $300,000 = $125,000, your maximum line of credit limit.

Most HELOCs have variable interest rates. This means that as baseline interest rates go up or down, the interest rate on your HELOC will adjust, too.

To set your rate, the lender will start with an index rate, like the prime rate or Libor (a benchmark rate used by many banks), then add a markup depending on your credit profile. Variable rates leave you vulnerable to rising interest rates, so be sure to take this into account.

How do you pay back a home equity line of credit?

A HELOC has two phases. First is the draw period, followed by the repayment period.

A HELOC has two phases. First is the draw period, followed by the repayment period.

During the draw period, you can borrow from the credit line by checkbook or card. The minimum payments often are interest-only, but you can pay principal if you wish. The length of the draw period varies; it’s often 10 years.

During the repayment period, you no longer borrow against the credit line. Instead, you pay it back in monthly installments that include principal and interest. With the addition of principal, the monthly payments can rise sharply compared with the draw period. The length of the repayment period varies; it’s often 20 years.

Home equity loan or line of credit?

While a HELOC behaves like a revolving line of credit, letting you tap your home’s value in just the amount you need as you need it, a home equity loan provides a lump-sum withdrawal that’s paid back in installments.

Home equity loans are usually issued with a fixed interest rate. This can save you future payment shocks if interest rates are rising. Work with your lender to decide which option is best for your financing needs.

» MORE: Home equity loan vs. line of credit: pros and cons

Reasons to get a home equity line of credit

A HELOC is often used for home repairs and renovations. A bonus: The interest on your HELOC may be tax-deductible if you use the money to buy, build or substantially improve your home, according to the IRS.

Some use home equity lines of credit to pay for education. Financial advisors generally don’t recommend using a HELOC to pay for vacations and cars because those expenditures don’t build wealth, and may put you at risk of losing the home if you default on the loan.

Reasons to avoid a home equity line of credit

A HELOC introduces the risk of foreclosure if you can’t pay the loan. Consider tapping an emergency fund or taking out a personal loan instead.

Regardless of your goal, avoid a HELOC if:

Your income is unstable. If it’s possible that your income will change for the worse, a HELOC may be a bad idea. If you can’t keep up with your monthly payments, a lender might force you out of your home.

Those upfront costs may not be worth it if you need only a small line of credit.

You can’t afford the upfront costs. A HELOC may require an application fee, title search, appraisal, attorney’s fees and points. These charges can set you back hundreds of dollars.

You aren’t looking to borrow much money. Those upfront costs may not be worth it if you need only a small line of credit. In that case, you may be better off with a low-interest credit card, perhaps with an introductory interest-free period.

You can’t afford an interest rate increase. HELOCs have adjustable rates. The loan paperwork will disclose the lifetime cap, which is the highest-possible rate. Could you afford that? If not, think twice about getting the loan.

You’re using it for basic needs. If you need extra money for day-to-day purchases, and you’re having trouble just making ends meet, a HELOC isn’t worth the risk. Get your finances in shape before taking on additional debts.

Getting the best HELOC rate

This one’s on you: The more you research, the bigger your reward. As you look for the best deal on a home equity line of credit interest rate, get quotes from various lenders.

Get a quote and compare its rates with at least two other lenders.

First, make sure your credit score is in good shape. Then, check your primary bank or mortgage provider; it might offer discounts to existing customers. Get a quote and compare its rates with at least two other lenders. As you shop around, take note of introductory offers, initial rates that will expire at the end of a given term.

Look into the caps on your interest rate, both the lifetime cap, and a periodic cap if it applies. Caps are the maximum limits on interest rate increases. The annual percentage rate on your HELOC is most likely variable; it fluctuates with the market. Make sure you know the maximum rate you could pay — and that you can afford the payments based on it.

» MORE: 9 tips for getting the best HELOC rate

Steps for getting a home equity line of credit

Since a HELOC is a second mortgage, the process of getting one is similar to that of getting a mortgage to buy or refinance a home. You’ll provide some of the same documentation and demonstrate that you’re creditworthy. Here are the steps you’ll follow:

  1. Determine whether you have sufficient equity, using a HELOC calculator.
  2. Once you determine that you have enough equity, shop HELOC lenders.
  3. Gather your documentation before you apply so the process will go smoothly. See this checklist of documents needed for a mortgage preapproval.
  4. Once you have pulled together your documentation and selected a lender, apply for the HELOC.
  5. You’ll receive disclosures. Read them carefully and ask the lender questions. Make sure the HELOC will fit your needs. For example, does it require you to borrow thousands of dollars upfront (often called an initial draw)? Do you have to open a separate bank account to get the best rate on the HELOC?
  6. The underwriting process can take hours to weeks, and may involve getting an appraisal.
  7. The final step is the loan closing when you sign paperwork and the line of credit becomes available.

How a HELOC affects your credit score

Although a HELOC acts a lot like a credit card, giving you ongoing access to your home’s equity, there’s one big difference when it comes to your credit score: Some bureaus treat HELOCs of a certain size like installment loans rather than revolving lines of credit.

This means borrowing 100% of your HELOC limit may not have the same negative effect as maxing out your credit card. Like any line of credit, a new HELOC on your report will likely reduce your credit score temporarily.

» MORE: Get your free credit score report

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25 Ways to Save Money on Groceries

Wishing you could figure out how to save money on groceries? In this post, I share 25 simple ways you can lower your grocery bill — starting today!

Looking for more ways to save money on groceries? Check out my $70 Grocery Trip posts, How I Cut $80 Off Our Grocery Bill, and How We Lowered Our Grocery Bill By 60%.

how to save money on groceries

1. Plan a menu.

Want to save even more? Plan your menu based upon what you already have on hand and what’s on sale at the store.

Need help: Read my post on How to Plan a Menu.

2. Have a budget.

Need a ballpark figure for starting out? I recommend shooting for $20 to $30 per person per week. Then, work on slowly lowering that by 1-3% every month.

Tip: Use a calculator to keep tabs on how much you are spending as you add things to your cart at the store.

3. Use less meat.

View meat more as a condiment then as the main thing for your meal. To further your savings, try adding lentils to ground beef or beans and onions and tomatoes to taco meat.

Need more inspiration? Check out my post on How to Eat Less Meat.

how to save money on groceries

4. Shop the loss leaders.

These are the weekly specials — usually advertised on the front page of your store flyer — that are such great prices your store is taking a loss for you to buy them.

They are banking on the fact that you’ll come in to get these great deals and then buy a lot of others things, too. But hey, no one says you have to load up your cart with a bunch of other over-priced items!

5. Shop at more than one store.

Scout out all of the stores in your area and see which ones routinely have the best prices. Also, pay attention to weekly sales and specials at a few local stores. Plan your shopping trips based upon which store has the best deals that week.

Skeptical as to how this works? Check out my post on How to Shop at More Than One Store.

6. Use cash.

It’s a fact of life: If you only bring cash to the grocery story from your allotted grocery budget, you can’t go over budget! 🙂 Don’t knock this until you’ve tried it. It’s a surefire way to help you stay on track with your budget.

Need help getting started? Read my post on How to Shop With Cash Only.

7. Print or download some coupons.

Before shopping, take a few minutes to check out the Coupon Database for printable coupons or your store’s online coupons (if they offer them) to see if there are any coupons for items you are already planning to buy.

how to save money on groceries
8. Look for markdowns.

If your store offers markdowns, keep on the alert for these when shopping.

When you find a great deal, see if you have enough money in your budget to buy it. Consider swapping out something on your list for this item. (For instance, if you were planning to buy cereal and you find a great deal on boxed oatmeal that is less expensive, buy that instead.)

Need more tips? Check out my post on How to Find Markdowns at Kroger.

9. Eat from the pantry.

Occasionally challenge yourself to see how long you can go without going to the store. It’s amazing how creative you can get — especially if you view it like a fun game!

Want more inspiration? Read my post on How to Eat From the Pantry.

10. Use your freezer.

If you have a deep freeze, make sure you are using it by buying items when they are on their lowest prices and freezing them. Don’t have a deep freeze? Make use of every nook and cranny of what little freezer space you have!

Need tips for using your freezer? Here’s my post on How to Become Best Friends With Your Freezer!

11. Buy ahead.

Most items routinely go on sale every 12 weeks at the grocery store. My goal is to never pay full price for any item. Instead, I try to stock up when it is on the lowest price. I aim to buy enough to tide me over until the next sale.

Find some of my best tips here for practicing the Buy Ahead Principle.

how to save money on groceries

12. Plan your menu based upon what you already have on hand.

The more you buy ahead when items are on sale (see #11), the less you’ll spend on groceries. Plus, the more you’ll be able to plan a menu based upon what you already have on hand.

Before making a grocery list, always look through your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard to see what you already have. Do you really need to go to the store or can you make do with what you have?

13. Use Swagbucks to buy groceries.

Get into the habit of turning on the Swagbucks videos or doing some things on the Swagbucks site every day. You can do this while you’re relaxing and watching a show at night. Or while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew in the morning.

By making Swagbucks a simple part of your day, you can pretty easily earn up to $25 in Amazon gift cards each month. Use these gift cards toward grocery items that are on sale on Amazon to save more.

14. Have a leftovers night.

Once a week, have a Clean Out the Fridge Night for dinner. Pull out all the odds and ends and serve a leftover Buffet. This can be a fun — and unique — dinner. Plus, it encourages people to use what you already have!

Bonus tip: Having a leftovers night once a week means you don’t have to cook dinner one night each week!

how to save on groceries

15. Don’t be a brand “snob”.

Buy the store brand or off brand whenever possible. (The only exception I make to this rule is when I can get the name brand marked down or on a great sale. If it’s cheaper to buy the name brand, you better believe I’ll buy it!)

Tip: I have more tips here on why you should stop being a brand snob.

16. Drink more water.

Buying fewer soft drinks and other beverages can significantly reduce your grocery bill over the course of a year. Plus, water is just plain better for you!

17. Make your own snacks.

Challenge yourself to find simple homemade snack ideas that are frugal and your family will enjoy. You can find some of our favorite snack items here.

(Bonus tip: I keep a snack stash of items that I find on great deals and just bring out a few things from this stash each week. This way, there are always

18. Sign up for cashback apps.

Download the iBotta, Fetch, and Shopkick apps. See if you can earn kicks from Shopkick when you go to the grocery store. Then, scan your receipt on Fetch after shopping to earn a little cashback. Finally, check to see if you purchased anything that qualifies for cash back from iBotta.

how to save money on groceries

19. Have a meatless meal once a week.

Meatless doesn’t have to mean bland and tasteless! Some of our favorite meatless meals are lasagna casserole (we leave out the ground beef) and pancakes and eggs.

20. Buy whatever produce is on sale or marked down.

We typically only buy produce if it’s on sale or marked down. Yes, it means we usually only have 2-3 different veggies and 2-3 different fruits that week (unless I found lots of different sales/markdowns), but because the sales change each week, we eat lots of different veggies and fruits over the course of a few months.

I aim to pay no more than $0.99 per pound for fruit and can usually always find at least 1-2 fruits that are that inexpensive (well, plus bananas which are always cheaper than $0.99/lb!)

21. Find a blogger covering deals at your local store.

Don’t spend hours looking for deals if there is already a blogger doing all of the legwork for you! Search for your local city/town + “coupon matchups” or “deal blogger”.

If that doesn’t pull anything up, try searching for the towns around you. For those of you who live in a very small town, you might not find anything. However, if you live in a decent-sized town, there’s a good chance you’ll find someone — maybe even multiple bloggers!

If you still can’t find anything, then search your store’s name and “coupon match-ups” or “deal blogger”.

how to save money on groceries

22. Don’t shop on an empty stomach.

This is a very basic tip, but it is one that is often overlooked. If you go into a store when you are really hungry, you’re going to have a lot less willpower and self control. And thus, you’ll likely spend more money and struggle to pass up impulse purchases.

23. Stick to simple meals with inexpensive ingredients.

When you’re planning your menu, think about how much your recipes will cost you to make.

It doesn’t have to be a scientific to-the-penny figure, but just having a good idea that there is a $10 difference between the price of making one meal as opposed to another meal can help you decide whether you can afford to make something or perhaps should save it for a special occasion.

24. Shop at Dollar Tree.

Very few people think of buying grocery items at Dollar Tree. It can be a goldmine of great deals on groceries, though.

Please note: Not every deal at Dollar Tree is a good deal. However, many things — like lemon juice, brown rice, apple cider vinegar, bread, beans, and much more — can be a lot less than what you’d pay at the grocery store.

25. Don’t buy pre-packaged, unless it’s on a great sale!

Look for ways to cut down on pre-packaged purchases. In most cases, these are quite a bit pricier and not as healthful. The only time I will buy pre-packaged is if there’s a great rockbottom price (such as a markdown or a sale paired with a coupon).

What tips for saving on groceries would you add to my list? Tell us in the comments.

For More Ways to Save Money on Groceries:

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FDCPA Updates Could Mean Texts and Emails From Debt Collectors

Tired of debt collectors’ harassing calls? Their newest tactics could involve pestering you through texts and emails — maybe even on Facebook.

If a recently proposed update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is approved, collectors would be limited to calling you seven times a week per debt, but they could send you unlimited emails and texts.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking to update the law that was passed in 1977.

The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was originally passed to provide consumers with legal protection from abusive, unfair or deceptive debt collection practices.

Both consumer advocates and debt collection companies say the law is out of date, particularly since digital communications weren’t an option when the law was created, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.

However, based on his early analysis and discussions with others in the industry, McClary actually laughed when asked how the updates would help consumers more than the current law.

“I think a lot of consumer advocates are very concerned that there is less in here for the consumer and more in these rules for the debt collection agencies,” McClary said.

How FDCPA Updates Could Affect Debt Collections

We should start by emphasizing the proposed change was only released on Tuesday, so the experts are still sifting through the text and discussing how it could affect debt collection practices, according to McClary.

“But there are some things that people need to be aware that could actually make it a little bit more difficult for those who owe a debt and are being contacted by debt collectors,” he said.

Here’s how the changes could affect you.

How Many Calls From a Debt Collector Is Considered Harassment?

According to the proposed rule, anything over seven in one week in regards to a specific debt is considered harassment. And once the collector has spoken with the consumer, the collection agency must wait a week before calling the consumer again in regards to the debt.

That may seem reasonable, but many people who are overdue on debts rarely owe on only one account, McClary points out.  

“If you think about it, a person might not just owe one debt — they may have three debts in collections, so that’s 21 attempted contacts per week that would be allowed,” he said. “It’s easy to understand how this might add a little more stress than some of the regulations that are currently in place.”

How Debt Collectors Could Utilize Electronic Communications

The next part in the proposed law opens up options for other communications from debt collectors, including via email and text.

You’d have the option to unsubscribe from future communications via these methods, the proposed law states. It is designed to modernize communication options for consumers more used to using inboxes than mailboxes.

However, one of the protections within the current FDCPA is the right to demand a debt validation letter, which third-party debt collectors are required to send to you upon request.

Pro Tip

A debt validation letter must include how much you owe, who you owe it to and what action you can take. It is one of the main tools to catch mistakes or frauds.

If debt collectors send you an email, they could use it as an opportunity to start collecting payments without clearly explaining information you have the right to know, according to McClary.

“There’s the possibility that they could include DocuSign elements in these emails that allow for people to request validation of debt — or to enter into agreements to repay the debt,” he said.

And unlike phone calls, there’s no mention on a limit for the number of contacts when it comes to electronic communications.

Social Media Options for Debt Collection

The proposed change also left the door open for social media exchanges, which could offer new opportunities for collection agencies to reach consumers where they are.

However, the current law prohibits debt collectors from disclosing any information about the debt — or even the reason for the contact — to anyone other than the person who owes the debt, according to McClary. That discretion becomes more challenging in the world of social media.

“There’s one debt collector that even suggested that if some of the changes… go into effect, they’ll be able to use social media tools like WhatsApp to contact people,” McClary said. “That’s a little more alarming. There are privacy issues when you start talking about social media as a communications tool for debt collectors.”

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

For now, the changes to the FDCPA are only proposals, so you can still rely on mail communication options like debt validation letters and debt verification letters You can also demand that debt collectors stop contacting you at certain times or places (like your work), according to McClary.

He also notes that some states provide consumer protection above and beyond the FDCPA, which you can find out about by heading to your state’s attorney general website.

“These states are already looking at ways to update their own regulations once changes are put in place on a national level,” he said.

And as far as what the future may hold, “it’s really too soon to tell,” McClary said. “Exercise your right to control the conversation as the act is written in its present form.”

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then say hi to her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

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Diversification & How Your Investments Should Change Over Time

I hear the question all the time from new investors: “I have some money, but what should I invest it in?”

It’s the first question a person asks when they find themselves with excess cash for the first time in their lives. I see it in the personal finance group I administer on Facebook, I hear my wife talking to her former students about it, I even hear it from friends who have high salaries but no idea how to invest.

While it’s a question with plenty of right answers, the first way I answer it is by explaining asset allocation.

What Is Asset Allocation?

Like so many personal finance terms that sound confusing and intimidating, asset allocation is actually a simple concept.

Asset allocation is how you split your portfolio among different types of investments. On the most basic level, that means asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate, perhaps sprinkled with an “exotic” investment like cryptocurrency, fine art, or even wine.

For example, say Isabel Investor aims for her investments to comprise 80% stocks, 10% bonds, and 10% real estate. That’s her target asset allocation, at least for right now; both her target and her actual asset allocation will shift over time (more on that later).

She also has some cash set aside as an emergency fund. Because an emergency fund serves as a safety net rather than an investment, we won’t focus on cash reserves here, but it’s worth mentioning as it is still an asset.

Asset Allocation Tiers

I like to think of asset allocation as a series of tiers. The simplest tier is asset class.

1. Asset Class

Asset class is the percentage of your portfolio that goes into stocks, bonds, and so on.

But it’s not enough to say, “I want to invest 80% of my money in stocks.” There are millions of stocks, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in the world, and picking one company — or even one mutual fund — and investing in that alone as the “stocks” portion of your portfolio hardly makes for a balanced, diversified portfolio.

Fortunately, it’s easy to diversify within each asset class.

2. Region

The next tier of asset allocation is region. To continue the example above, Isabel aims for her portfolio to be 80% stocks, which she splits evenly between U.S. stocks and international stocks. Among international stocks, she splits them further between developed economies (such as Europe and Canada) and emerging markets or developing economies (such as Brazil and the United Arab Emirates).

Thus, among her stock investments, she aims for 50% U.S. stocks, 25% international developed nation stocks, and 25% emerging markets.

Isabel doesn’t have to pick and choose individual stocks. Instead, she invests in ETFs that track stock indexes in these different regions. She picks one or two ETFs for developed international stocks and one or two ETFs for emerging markets and calls it a day.

The same principle applies to bonds, real estate, and other asset classes. If Isabel invests in rental properties, she can buy one in Baltimore, another in Buffalo, and so forth. Or if her real estate investment is indirect, she can buy shares of a real estate investment trust (REIT) that invests in U.S. real estate and another that invests in European real estate.

3. Market Cap

At a more detailed level, investors can invest in stocks with different market capitalizations, or “caps” for short. Market cap is the total value of a company, as measured by its share price multiplied by the total number of shares on the market. Large-cap companies are generally large corporations; small-cap companies are smaller, which means they have more room to grow but less stability.

Among her U.S. stock investments, Isabel invests in an index fund that tracks small-cap stocks, another that tracks mid-cap stocks, and another that tracks large-cap stocks.

See how at each tier, Isabel gets more detailed in her asset allocation? Within both her U.S. and international stocks, she splits her investments further based on market cap.

Market Capitalization Marker Writing

How Detailed Should You Get?

In short, it’s up to you. You can get more and more detailed with your asset allocations to whatever extent you like. Beyond market cap, you can choose specific sectors to invest in, such as energy, technology, or utilities.

Within a sector, you can choose increasingly detailed specifications. Say Isabel invests some money in the tech sector among her U.S. small-cap stocks and picks a fund that invests in 3D printing companies. She can keep getting more and more detailed in her asset allocation tiers, all the way down to individual companies — or she can choose not to.

The more detailed you get, the more attention you should pay to your investments. I personally no longer pick individual stocks or even sectors because I didn’t like the stress or the feeling that I constantly needed to keep an eye on them. Sure, there’s a possibility for higher returns if you pick a stellar stock, but it costs time and effort to research and follow individual companies.

The level of detail you want to go into in your asset allocation is a personal choice based on your own stock investing strategy. I recommend going to the level of market cap at least and investing some money in large-cap funds and some in small-cap funds.

Why Asset Allocation Matters

Even if you’ve never invested a cent, you’ve heard the adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That’s the rationale behind the investing strategy of diversification. The goal of asset allocation is to balance high returns with manageable risk through diversification. Just imagine where you’d be if you had put every penny you had into Enron stock!

Sometimes stocks do well, but bond returns lag. Other times, stocks collapse, while bonds continue returning income. Real estate often does well even when stocks suffer a correction. The more you diversify, the less interrelated are the returns on your investments; for example, the relationship between U.S. real estate returns and European stock returns is distant.

Even within the stock portion of your portfolio, diversification is a great way to reduce risk in your stock investing while still earning high returns.

By strategically spreading your investments across multiple asset classes in multiple regions, and then splitting them even further within those regions, you can protect against a shock in one area having an outsized effect on your broader portfolio.

Why & How Asset Allocation Should Change With Age

Over the long term, stocks outperform bonds, and handily.

In a paper released by NYU’s Stern Business School, analysts showcased how $100 invested in 1928 would look after 90 years if it were invested in U.S. stocks versus U.S. government bonds. If invested in 10-year Treasury bonds, that $100 would have grown to $7,309.87 by the end of 2017, after adjusting for inflation.

Invested in the S&P 500 (U.S. large-cap stocks), that $100 would have ballooned into $399,885.98. That’s nearly 55 times higher than the $7,309.87 returned by bonds.

But stocks are far more volatile, making them a higher risk for retirees. While you’re working, saving, and investing, market dips represent an opportunity to buy stocks at a discount. You don’t need to sell any assets to pay your bills; you can ride out the dip without selling a single share if you so choose.

That changes in retirement. Instead of buying, you’re now selling, and when the market drops, you have to sell more shares to produce the same income. Market dips are all downside for retirees, which means volatile investments like stocks become a serious risk.

This unique risk that the market crashes within the first few years of retiring is known as sequence of returns risk, and investors have several strategies at their disposal to mitigate it.

The most common of these stock risk management strategies is to gradually shift your asset allocation away from stocks and toward bonds and other lower-risk asset classes as you get older.

The “Rule of 100”

In decades past, the rule of thumb preached by many financial advisors was to subtract your age from 100 to determine your “ideal” allocation in stocks, with the remaining balance to be invested in bonds. For example, by this “Rule of 100,” a 40-year-old should invest 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds.

But with people living longer, and with bond returns lower today than was typical in the 20th century, the Rule of 100 skews too conservative for most investors. Many financial advisors now recommend that investors subtract their age from 110 or 120 to determine an appropriate stocks-bonds asset allocation.

While it’s an improvement, even this rule is problematic. Where do other asset classes like real estate fit into the equation? And how do risk tolerance and job security impact the numbers?

As a general rule, investors with lower risk tolerance should subtract their age from 105 or 110 as a starting point for determining their asset allocation. Investors who don’t flinch at the idea of riding out the occasional market correction should subtract their age from 120 as a guideline for what percentage of their portfolio should be in stocks.

Remember, this is just a guideline, not a commandment written in stone. Don’t hesitate to personalize your own investing strategy and asset allocation, especially after speaking with a financial advisor.

Math Arithmetic Notebook Numbers Calculator Ruler

Target-Date Funds

If asset allocation has your head spinning and your blood pressure up, another option is just to let someone else set it for you.

That could include a financial advisor or money manager, but they can get expensive. These financial professionals typically require a minimum “assets under management” to take over active management of your investments. That minimum could be $100,000 or $10,000,000, but whatever it is, that puts them outside the reach of many Americans.

That’s why target-date funds have sprouted up in recent decades. A target-date fund lists a specific year when investors plan to retire, and its managers adjust the asset allocation accordingly. For example, someone looking to retire in 2025 could invest in the Vanguard Target Retirement 2025 Fund (VTTVX), which will continue shifting investments away from stocks and toward bonds over time. After the target retirement year, the fund continues operating and becoming more income-oriented and less growth-oriented.

My Own Asset Allocation Plan

As an investor, I fall on the more aggressive end of the spectrum. But here is my asset allocation strategy as an example, along with some tips for how you can make yours more conservative if you so choose.

In My 20s & 30s

I’m in my late 30s, and I currently invest in a mix of stocks and real estate, but no bonds.

Specifically, I aim for roughly 75% of my portfolio in stocks and 25% in real estate. I own rental properties, which can be a stable income-oriented investment, but only for skilled investors. Many investors are drawn to them because they feel more intuitive than stocks, but I only recommend them for the minority of people who are genuinely interested in learning about real estate investing. It’s less intuitive than it looks, and it takes time to learn how to do it without losing your shirt.

In contrast, stock investing — at least the way I do it — is often easier than it seems to new investors. I no longer try to pick stocks, and instead invest in index funds to gain broad exposure to different regions and market caps.

Here’s a peek at my approximate stock allocations and some of the funds I own:

  • U.S. Large-Cap: 17% of my stock portfolio (example fund: SCHX)
  • U.S. Mid-Cap: 16% (example fund: SCHM)
  • U.S. Small-Cap: 17% (example fund: SLYV)
  • International Large-Cap: 15% (example fund: FNDF)
  • International Small-Cap: 15% (example fund: FNDC)
  • Emerging Markets: 20% (example fund: VWO)

Anyone looking to lower their risk can lean more toward U.S. stocks, invest more in large-cap funds and less in small-cap funds, and invest less in emerging markets.

It’s also worth noting that investors have many options for investing in real estate beyond direct ownership. From REITs and mREITs to crowdfunding websites like Fundrise and private notes, real estate makes an excellent counterbalance to stocks. I invest in REITs and private notes, in addition to owning rental properties directly.

In My 40s & 50s

Through my 40s, I intend to continue splitting my investments roughly evenly between U.S. and international equity funds. In my 50s, I plan to scale back on emerging markets and small-cap international funds and put more into U.S. funds.

Again, as someone with real estate experience and an aggressive investing strategy, I invest more in real estate and less in bonds than the average person. I use real estate to serve the function of creating stability and income in my portfolio, much like bonds do for most people.

Because I plan to continue working and earning money later in life, I’m less eager to start adding bonds to my portfolio than the average person. By the time I reach my mid-50s, I plan on an asset allocation of roughly 55% stocks, 25% real estate, and 20% bonds.

A more conservative investor can reduce their real estate exposure in favor of bonds.

In My 60s & Beyond

Nearing retirement, I plan to continue the gradual shift away from emerging markets and small-cap funds. With the proceeds from this, I’ll start buying more high-yield funds paying substantial dividends and continue the shift toward bonds.

I will survey my real estate investments and sell any that fail to generate consistent income on a year-to-year basis. That money will increasingly go into both bonds and paying off debt.

As you approach retirement, eliminating debt is an excellent way to reduce risk. If I owned 15 rental properties with mortgages, I would consider selling 10 of them to pay off the mortgages on the other five, leaving me with five free-and-clear rental properties. That logic goes doubly for unsecured debts — pay them off, period.

Elderly Computer Retirement Investment Finance Plan Laptop

Forming Your Own Asset Allocation Strategy

As a starting point for asset allocation by age, subtract your age from 110 and invest that percentage of your portfolio in stocks. Conservative, highly risk-averse investors can use 100 or 105 instead of 110, and more aggressive investors can use 120. Invest the rest in bonds and possibly stable real estate investments if you’re younger, less risk-averse, and interested in learning how to invest in real estate.

Within your stock investments, more conservative investors should invest more heavily in U.S. large-cap funds. The more aggressive you want to be, the more you can invest in small-cap funds, international funds, and emerging market funds.

Again, these are merely guidelines — a starting place for your conversation about asset allocation rather than the final word.

If you’re comfortable and want to have full control over your account, you can get everything started with Ally Invest.

Another option is hiring a financial advisor. If you don’t want to hand over your entire portfolio to a stranger or pay high management fees, you can hire a financial advisor by the hour and sit down with them for an hour or two to form a plan customized to your finances.

You can also invest in a target-date fund and leave asset allocation to a professional fund manager. Just make sure you do your homework to verify that the fund is reputable and won’t skin you alive with expenses.

If you want to simple way of tracking your portfolio and its allocation you could try Personal Capital. They have a free investment checkup tool that will analyze your portfolio making sure you have the right allocation based on your risk tolerance and financial goals. Click here to try Personal Capital for free.

Portfolio Drift & Rebalancing

No discussion of asset allocation is complete without addressing portfolio drift and rebalancing. Because your portfolio is not a static entity, your asset allocation doesn’t politely stay frozen in place for you.

Over time, some investments inevitably outperform others, often dramatically. What started as a portfolio made up of 80% stocks and 20% bonds may drift to 90% stocks and 10% bonds in a bull market.

You need to review your investments periodically and rebalance your portfolio to return it to your target asset allocation. Continuing the example above, you would sell some of your stocks and buy bonds to return your asset allocation to 80% stocks and 20% bonds.

Keep in mind that even if your portfolio doesn’t drift at all, you still have to rebalance occasionally as your target asset allocation changes with age.

Final Word

New investors sometimes suffer analysis paralysis, hand-wringing and stressing about concepts like asset allocation. Don’t lose sleep over asset allocation; it’s better to invest with a technically “imbalanced” asset allocation than not to invest at all.

Remember the study comparing how $100 invested in 1928 would look 90 years later in stocks versus bonds? If left in cash and not invested at all, today you would have — drum roll, please — $100. Compare that with roughly $400,000 if you invested that money in stocks.

Asset allocation is all about diversifying your investments to balance strong returns with acceptable risk. A wide range of stock investments across multiple regions, market caps, and sectors reduces your exposure to any one company, sector, or country falling hard.

As you near retirement, put more into bonds. If you have some time left in your career, invest in stocks and invest wide and far, using index funds to make it easier to diversify. When in doubt, ask for help. It’s that simple.

What’s your strategy to diversify your investments?

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Is Your Retirement Plan to ‘Just Keep Working’? Three Reasons You’re Taking a Big Risk

If your retirement plan is simply to keep working, you’re taking a very big risk.

You may think the solution to not having enough money to retire is to work beyond the traditional retirement age of age 65. Just remember that life is full of surprises, and not all of them are pleasant. Holding down a job as a senior citizen can be difficult. If you don’t save for your retirement, you may find yourself both out of work and short of money.

“It’s OK to plan to work past 65, but it’s reckless to not have a contingency plan in case you aren’t able to,” says retirement and wealth management planner Brandon Renfro. “You may not be the only one to pay the price for lack of planning either. You could significantly burden your loved ones who will be responsible for caring for you.”

If you’re not saving for retirement, you’re in good company. Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning & Progress Study found that one in three Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings, and 21% of Americans have nothing saved at all for their elder years. That means they could survive only a few months on their savings, if they were forced to stop working.

What follows are three good reasons to prepare for your retirement, even if your plan is to never stop working.

1. You could experience health problems.

No one can count on enjoying good health indefinitely. Illnesses can strike anyone at any time. If you’re battling a debilitating condition, such as arthritis, heart disease, or cancer, working beyond age 65 may not be possible. You may be forced to retire early. When this happens, life is much easier if you’ve saved for retirement.

An illness doesn’t have to be catastrophic to sideline a career, notes Cynthia Corsetti, an executive coach and career transition expert based in Pennsylvania. Anything that interferes with your ability to perform in the workplace could lead to a job loss.

“It could be as simple as ‘I can’t sit at my computer eight hours a day,’” Corsetti says.
It’s not unusual for American workers to leave their jobs sooner than they anticipated. A 2018 Gallup poll found that the average retirement age reported for Americans currently out of the workplace was 61.

When workers are forced to retire before they reach Medicare-eligible age of 65, they typically have to pay for their own health insurance. Some may qualify for temporary coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA).

It’s fine to pursue lifelong employment as a goal. Just be aware that no one can depend on maintaining good health or having the opportunity to work indefinitely.

2. You could face age discrimination.

Age discrimination is an unpleasant fact of life in the workplace. Older workers often find themselves with fewer opportunities to work or advance their careers. Worse still, they’re often the first to go when companies decide to reduce their workforces.

Craig Bolanos, a financial advisor in the Chicago area finds age discrimination to be “a cold reality.” He recommends that older workers recognize and plan for the possibility of being laid off or having their hours cut.

“A prolonged job search could result because of being ‘older’ and result in underemployment as a best case scenario,” he says.

In a 2018 national survey of adults age 45 and older by AARP, 61% of respondents said they had seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Thirty-eight percent said age discrimination is common.

About one-quarter of those surveyed said they had heard negative remarks related to their age from colleagues or supervisors. Sixteen percent said they had not been hired for a job they applied for because of their age. Twelve percent said their age had caused them to miss out on an opportunity to get ahead at work.

3. Your job could disappear.

As the economy evolves, people often find themselves facing layoffs through no fault of their own. Older workers often are laid off because they’re earning more money than their younger colleagues. When older workers are laid off, it’s often difficult for them to find new jobs.

A data analysis reported in 2018 by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that more than half of older U.S. workers are forced out of longtime jobs before they choose to retire. Once out of the workforce, older people rarely regain the income and job stability they lost.

More than one-third of people over 50 who experience involuntary departures go on to face additional layoffs, the analysis found.

According to a 2018 report from AARP, people age 55 and older who are laid off are more likely than younger workers to remain unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, which can put great stress on personal finances. Being out of the workplace for that long also makes it more likely that work skills will erode.

When displaced older workers do find new jobs, they often take pay cuts, says Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant based in Iowa. They often end up working part-time to receive benefits, such as health insurance.

Planning for the unexpected

The best way to make sure you have enough money to carry you through your senior years is to save for your retirement now. It’s fine to plan on working beyond age 65, but no one knows when circumstances will compel them to end their career. The sooner you begin saving, the better off you’ll be.

“The steady earnings that many people count on in their 50s and 60s to build their retirement nest egg… often vanishes, altering expectations and creating economic hardship,” says Bolanos.

Saving for retirement is like buying an insurance policy. If you do keep working, you may never need it — but if your career ends unexpectedly, you’ll have ability to support yourself.

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An introduction to square-foot gardening

I grew up in the country. My family always had a vegetable garden. For us, gardening meant a large plot, plowed and raked, then planted with long, widely-space rows of vegetables. It also meant weeding and hoeing, weeding and hoeing. Lots and lots of weeding and hoeing.

Gardening was a chore.

When my ex-wife and I bought our first home, we both wanted a vegetable garden, but we didn’t want the drudgery that came with it. Besides, we didn’t have a big space in the country — we had an average city lot. Fortunately, we discovered Mel Bartholomew’s Square-Foot Gardening.

Bartholomew’s method allowed us to enjoy reasonable crop production in a small space. With his technique, almost any homeowner can grow her own food.

How Square-Foot Gardening Works

The square-foot gardening concept is simple: Build a raised bed. Divide the space into sections of one square-foot each. Lastly, plant vegetables (and/or flowers) in just the amount of space they need.

The advantages of this system include reduced workload, less watering, easy weeding (and not much of it), and easy access to your crops. This is a great way to learn to grow some of your own food.

Back in the 1990s, Kris and I had raised beds similar to these (from Flickr user johnyaya).

raised beds

We built our square-foot garden one Saturday in mid-April. I spent the morning constructing three raised beds out of two-by-sixes. Each bed was twelve feet long, four feet wide, and twelve inches tall. At the time, I most certainly was not a handyman, yet I was able to build these in just a few hours. It was fun.

Digging was less fun.

I spent the afternoon double-digging three patches in our lawn. We maneuvered the frames into place, leveled them, and then filled them with rich soil (purchased from a nearby nursery-supply center). Finally, we created a grid over each bed using tacks and twine. When we were finished, our raised beds looked like orderly grids.

After we built the raised beds and outlined the growing space, we followed the guidelines in Bartholomew’s book.

The ten basic tenets of square-foot gardening are:

  1. Layout. Arrange your garden in squares, not rows. Lay it out in roughly 48 inches (125cm) x 48 inches (125cm) planting areas.
  2. Boxes. Build boxes to hold a new soil mix above ground.
  3. Aisles. Space boxes 36 inches (100cm) apart to form walking aisles.
  4. Soil. Fill boxes with Bartholomew’s special soil mix: 1/3 blended compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 coarse vermiculite.
  5. Grid. Make a permanent square foot grid for the top of each box. (The book and website insist that this is a must. I think a temporary grid works fine.)
  6. Care. Never walk on your growing soil. Tend your garden from the aisles.
  7. Select. Plant a different flower, vegetable, or herb crop in each square foot, using one, four, nine, or sixteen plants per square foot.
  8. Plant. Conserve seeds. Plant only a pinch (two or three seeds) per hole. Place transplants in a slight saucer-shaped depression.
  9. Water. Water by hand from a bucket of sun-warmed water.
  10. Harvest. When you finish harvesting a square foot, add compost and replant it with a new and different crop.

You might, for example, plant a single tomato in a square, but you’d plant sixteen carrots in another. Using this system, you can cram a lot of garden into a small space and still get excellent yields.

The official square-foot gardening website includes several handy planting chart cheat sheets to help with planning and planting.

Square-Foot Gardening Cheat Sheet

My Square-Foot Garden

I haven’t had much of a garden since Kris and I got divorced seven years ago. When Kim and I bought our country acre in 2017, it came with three ramshackle raised beds. We’ve made the most of these — well, Kim has, anyhow — but not in any sort of systematic way.

This year, we took down a gangly cedar tree that dominated one corner of our yard. In its place, we planted three fruit trees, four blueberry bushes, and four grape vines. Last weekend, in a mad fit of productivity, I decided to add two new raised beds.

Using scavenged lumber (we have a stack of good stuff after replacing our carport and back deck), I build two solid boxes. I filled them with the dirt I’d removed when we put in the orchard in March. (Although it’s not the “official” square-foot gardening mixture, I topped the beds with bagged soil purchased from a local nursery.)

Because it’s far too late for me to start most plants from seed this year, I opted to purchase starts from the same nursery.

In the smaller raised bed, I started an herb garden.

Square-Foot Gardening (Herbs)

In the larger raised bed, I planted both flowers and some cool-climate veggies (such as carrots, lettuce, and peas).

Square-Foot Gardening (Flowers)

As you can see, I applied the square-foot methodology but I didn’t actually use a grid. (And because I don’t own a copy of the book anymore, I guessed at spacing.)

Within hours, the herb garden was infested with pests. (Probably because I planted some “pestnip”.)

Square-Foot Gardening (Animals)

In retrospect, I ought not to have planted catnip next to my other herbs. Avery has destroyed both catnip plants already, and he took out the winter savory in the process. (Plus, he damaged the cilantro and the parsley.)

Further Reading

I’m very excited to have a garden again. It’s been a l-o-n-g time since I’ve been serious about growing my own food. Plus, Kim is into it too. She’s been growing seedlings this spring, and she planted them out yesterday. Once the weather warms a bit more, she’ll plant some tomato and pepper and basil starts. By the end of the summer, we should have some good eating!

If you’d like to experiment with square-foot gardening, Mel Bartholomew’s book is excellent. But you can also find info online at the square-foot gardening forum and this terrific tutorial from Journey to Forever.

If you don’t have the time or space to construct raised beds, consider starting a container garden. Apartment-dwellers can get good results from plants grown in large self-watering pots on a patio or balcony. (Here’s a review of The Bountiful Container written by my ex-wife in 2008.)

In any event, now’s the time to get your garden space ready in many parts of the U.S. The danger of frost has passed for most of us. Garden fairs and plant sales have begun to pop up like weeds. Get out there and grow some food!

This is an updated version of an article originally published here on 21 April 2007. The info is the post is current, but some of the comments might be outdated.

Author: J.D. Roth

In 2006, J.D. founded Get Rich Slowly to document his quest to get out of debt. Over time, he learned how to save and how to invest. Today, he’s managed to reach early retirement! He wants to help you master your money — and your life. No scams. No gimmicks. Just smart money advice to help you reach your goals.

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NerdWallet Partners With Syndio in Commitment to Pay Equity for Employees

This post was written by Bernardo Teixeira, compensation nerd at NerdWallet.

Our mission at NerdWallet is to provide clarity for all of life’s financial decisions. This includes providing financial clarity for employees — or Nerds, as we call them — as well. We bring in guest speakers, provide a learning stipend, and are committed to equal pay for equal work.

To fulfill this commitment we partnered with Syndio, an HR analytics company that promotes fairness in every stage of employment, starting with equal pay. As a part of this partnership, today we’re announcing our commitment to equal pay standards with Syndio and the National Women’s Law Center.

This year, we ran our first pay equity analysis and are proud to report that there were no statistically significant pay differences based on gender or ethnicity when controlling for factors such as job level, experience and job function. This is a great validation of our compensation practices, designed to guarantee consistency and fairness. We want Nerds to feel confident that they’re being paid fairly and know that NerdWallet has their back. As a part of this commitment, we’re holding ourselves accountable to reevaluating pay across the company twice yearly.

To learn more about our commitment to equal pay standard, check out our announcement with Syndio. Interested in learning more about NerdWallet or joining our growing team? Visit nerdwallet.com/careers to see our open positions or reach out to [email protected] — we’d love to connect!

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