Options for Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

Loan forgiveness is a trade-off. It’s about incentivizing graduates to work in low paying or otherwise undesirable positions in exchange for erasing or significantly reducing their student loan balance. Without these programs, important community institutions would be severely understaffed. If…

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7 Ways to Make Frugality a Joyful Choice, Not a Burden

Frugality is quite popular these days, but it’s hardly a novel concept. Frugality kept many families going during wartime and the Great Depression, and it has the power to improve our homes and lives today.

While circumstances can force us into frugality, and that’s not much fun, you can also enjoy life while being frugal. Here are some great ways to make a thrifty lifestyle a joyful choice and not a burden.

First, clarify your why

Why do you want to be a frugal person? What benefits will a frugal lifestyle bring that you can’t find any other way? To make your frugality a joyful choice, you need to have a solid reason for it.

Most of us don’t live frugally for the sheer fun of it—at least not at first. You probably have a reason to be frugal. Perhaps you’re saving for a downpayment on a home, paying off student loan debt, or reducing your budget to enjoy greater career freedom.

You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Clarify why you're planning to be more frugal. (You might have several reasons). Every time you struggle with forgoing a purchase to save money, remind yourself of the purpose behind it. You must have a reason for being frugal that is greater than your desire to spend money.

Your reasons are likely things that will add to your happiness one day. Buying a home, becoming debt-free, or cutting back on work hours may significantly improve your life, so those goals are worth the effort to be frugal.

7 strategies to make frugal living more enjoyable

1. Try a frugality challenge

Join a no-spend challenge where you only spend money on essentials for a month to see how much money you might save. This kind of thing isn’t meant to be a long-term change in habits, although some people might continue after the challenge is over.

The point of a frugality challenge or no-spend month (or year) is to reset your baseline. Change the default of how much money you spend each month. You may struggle at first, but it gets easier the longer you avoid spending.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels.

When the month of extreme frugality is over, don’t automatically resume spending at your former levels. Take some time to evaluate how you felt, what triggers tempted you, and what things you discovered you don’t really need or want anymore.

It’s OK if you start spending a bit more again, but be mindful about what you purchase. It’s like the Konmari method of decluttering your house, except with your finances: Let go of what is no longer serving you, and joyfully spend on the things that matter.

2. Focus on gratitude

Gratitude can make you a happier person. When you think about what you’re grateful for, it’s pretty hard to dwell on what you don’t have. Research has shown people who regularly express gratitude often feel more positive emotions, savor good experiences, and improve their health.

It’s much easier to save your money when you focus on your blessings. Writing a list of things you’re grateful for daily can help you feel more content and less likely to crave the temporary high of buying something new.

You can still have so much without spending a lot.

Frugality doesn’t take away things you enjoy. Yes, it often means shopping around to get a lower price or doing without something you didn’t need. But you can still have so much without spending a lot.

Examples of things that might be on your gratitude list:

  • Running water
  • Internet service
  • Virtual connectivity to friends and family across the globe
  • Food and drink
  • Modern conveniences (electricity, dishwashers, lawnmowers, etc.)
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Nature

3. Notice the benefits of frugality

The longer you follow a frugal lifestyle, the more benefits you’ll observe. As you forgo spending on things that perhaps were luxuries, pay attention to the benefits you experience, whether expected or unexpected. Some of the common benefits you might see include:

  • Feelings of joy for the small things
  • Preferring homemade meals to dining out
  • Appreciation for what you have
  • No more temptation to buy to impress people
  • Learning a new skill
  • Adopting other, healthier habits

The more you appreciate the benefits of your frugality, the easier it will become to keep following frugal principles.

4. Make bargain-hunting a game

When you need or want something, look for low- or no-cost ways to get it. Buy Nothing groups, Facebook Marketplace, local garage sales, or thrift stores may have the item you’re seeking for much less (or even free).

Frugality often means spending a little more time researching the item you need before rushing out and buying it. But you usually don’t need something instantly and can afford to wait a few days, weeks, or months. That time can save you a great deal of money. Plus, you get to enjoy the satisfaction of snagging a great deal.

5. Enjoy learning to DIY

If you’re just starting with frugal living, you may find yourself trying to fix something you usually would have replaced. Do-it-yourself tasks are an opportunity to learn.

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase.

When you choose to repair or reuse something rather than replacing it with a new one, think about how cool it is to learn something new. My husband loves YouTube for teaching him a ton of valuable skills, such as how to replace car brakes. Yes, this takes more of his time in a hands-on way, but he enjoys the challenge, saves money, and guess what? Now he knows how to do the same job in the future, saving us money for years to come.6. Make frugality your identity, not a phase

Look at frugality as a part of your identity rather than a difficult phase. Habits expert James Clear writes about this in his bestselling book Atomic Habits: “To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. You need to build identity-based habits.”

For instance, rather than stating your goal as “I want to save $200 this month,” try identifying yourself as someone who is joyfully frugal. Reframing your identity by saying, “I’m a frugal person” can be more effective than thinking, “I can’t wait until I can start spending money again.” All those little spending decisions are more manageable when you view everything as a means of honoring your values rather than temporarily denying yourself something.

7. Cultivate an abundance mindset

Consider how you talk about money in your day-to-day life. Try to pay attention to what you think and say about money throughout a typical week.

You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

If you often say things like “I can’t afford that,” you’re negatively framing your frugality. But if you say something like “I choose not to spend money on that,” you put the power in your hands. You’re making an intentional choice to prioritize what matters.

There’s a subtle yet essential difference in these perspectives. If you have a scarcity mindset where you don’t have enough and you always want more, it won’t get you anywhere. But if you cultivate an abundance mindset, you’ll see opportunities for the future and believe in your ability to realize those opportunities.

Frugality is fun … for real!

Honestly, frugality is a fantastic lifestyle that brings me endless joy every day. It’s exciting to look for ways to save money without sacrificing any of the things you love to do. I hope you’ll start finding the joy in frugality too.

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Seven things college freshmen don’t need — and ten they do

This article originally appeared on NerdWalletThose ubiquitous checklists of “dorm room essentials” for college freshmen are filled with items that will be ditched by the end of first semester.

Some parents “go to the store and grab a list like they did when their kids were in elementary and high school and just go straight down the list,” says Lisa Heffernan, mother of three sons and a college-shopping veteran. Or they buy things they only wish their students will use (looking at you, cleaning products).

You can safely skip about 70% of things on those lists, estimates Asha Dornfest, the author of Parent Hacks and mother of a rising college sophomore who’s home for the summer.

W

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What Is a Mortgage Refinance? 5 Ways to Know If It’s a Good Idea

Jason says:

Hi, Money Girl. I’m interested in refinancing and getting a lower interest rate on my mortgage; however, I may need to sell my home and relocate in a year or so. In that case, does a refinance still make sense? If so, what factors should I consider?

Jason, thanks for your question! It’s a perfect time for homeowners to consider refinancing because interest rates are at historic lows.

If you’re a homeowner, your mortgage payment is probably your largest monthly expense, so it’s wise to stay alert for opportunities to reduce it by refinancing. Plus, your financial circumstances and needs today may be very different than they were when you originally got your mortgage.

It’s a perfect time for homeowners to consider refinancing because interest rates are at historic lows.

I'll answer Jason’s question by reviewing what a mortgage refinance is, explaining common reasons to consider doing one, and covering five ways to know if it’s a good idea for your situation.

What is a mortgage refinance?

Refinancing is when you apply for a new loan to pay off an existing loan balance. The new loan could be with your same institution or with a different lender. The idea is to swap out a higher-interest loan for a lower-interest one, which decreases the amount of interest you have to pay and may also reduce your monthly payments.

When you take out a mortgage to buy a home, various factors determine the interest rate you get offered. While your credit, down payment, and income history are critical, lenders base mortgages on the prevailing interest rates. 

An interest rate is simply the cost of money for borrowers. Rates in the U.S. fluctuate according to the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve or Fed, which is our central bank. 

A good rule of thumb is to consider refinancing when the current rate dips at least one percentage point below what you’re paying for your mortgage.

When interest rates are low, it’s like money’s on sale, as strange as that sounds! Banks should display a big banner on their front door or website that reads “bargain basement prices on dollars” or “we sell money cheap” because that’s what happens when interest rates go down. Low rates are great for borrowers, but not so good for lenders. 

The Freddie Mac website shows historical data for interest rates on 30-year mortgages since 1971. In August 2020, the average for a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage was 2.94%. A year earlier, the same loan was 3.62%, and ten years before, it was 4.43%. 

Since interest rates change periodically, the rate you’re currently paying on a mortgage may be significantly different than the going rate. A good rule of thumb is to consider refinancing when the current rate dips at least one percentage point below what you’re paying for your mortgage.

What’s the cost to refinance a mortgage?

You need at least one percentage point between the going rate and yours because there’s a cost to do a refinance. Closing a loan means you must pay fees to various companies, including your lender or mortgage broker, property appraiser, closing agent or attorney, and surveyor. Plus, there are fees required by the local government for recording the mortgage, and maybe more costs, depending on where you live. 

The total upfront cost of a refinance depends on the lender and property location. It could be as high as 3% to 6% of your outstanding loan balance. The trick to knowing if it’s worth it is to figure out when you’d break even on those costs. In other words, when do you go from the red to black on the deal? 

If you pay for a refinance but don’t keep your home long enough to recoup the cost, you’ll lose money. But if you do keep the property beyond the financial break-even point (BEP), you’ll feel like a genius because you saved money in the long run!

If you pay for a refinance but don’t keep your home long enough to recoup the cost, you’ll lose money.

You may be able to roll closing costs for a refinance into the new loan, which means you would have nothing or little to pay out-of-pocket. But adding them increases the amount you borrow and may also increase the interest rate you pay for the life of the loan. For that reason, it’s essential to ask the lender for a side-by-side comparison of all the terms for each loan option so you can carefully evaluate them. 

So, how do you figure the BEP to know if doing a refinance is wise? Here’s a simple BEP formula: Refinance break-even point = Total closing costs / Monthly savings.

For instance, if your closing costs are $5,000 and you save $150 a month on your mortgage payment by refinancing, it would take 34 months or almost three years to recoup the cost. The calculation is $5,000 total costs / $150 savings per month = 33.3 months to break even.

For help crunching your numbers, check out the Refinance Breakeven Calculator at dinkytown.com.

Since how long you own your home after a refinance is critical for making it worthwhile, I’m glad that Jason brought it up in his question. For instance, if he finds out that he’d need to own his home for five years to break-even, but he only plans on staying in it for two years, that should be a deal-breaker.

How to get approved for a mortgage refinance

If you believe that doing a refinance could be wise, you’ll also need to consider if you qualify. Lenders have different underwriting requirements, but most require you to have a minimum amount of equity in your property.

Equity is the difference between your home’s market value today and what you owe on it. A critical ratio for refinancing is known as the loan-to-value or LTV.

For example, if your home value is $300,000 and you have a $150,000 mortgage outstanding, you have $150,000 in equity, an LTV ratio of 50%. But if you owed $250,000, that would be an LTV of 83%. 

You typically need an LTV less than 80% to qualify for a mortgage refinance.

You typically need an LTV less than 80% to qualify for a mortgage refinance. So, Jason should do some quick math to make sure he doesn’t owe more for his home than this threshold based on the current market value. Lenders may still work with you if you have a high LTV and good credit, but they may charge a higher interest rate.

If you have an existing FHA or VA mortgage, you may qualify for a “streamlined” refinance program that requires less paperwork and less equity than a conventional refinance. Check out the FHA Refinance program and the VA Refinance program to learn more.

Reasons to consider refinancing your mortgage

There are a variety of reasons why it may make sense for you to refinance a mortgage. Here are some situations when doing a refinance may be a good solution.

  • Rate-and-term refinance. This is when you get a new loan with a lower interest rate, a different term (length of the loan), or both. It’s probably the most common reason why homeowners refinance their mortgages. 

    Example: If you have a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at 5%, you could refinance with a 30-year mortgage at 3%. That would reduce your monthly payments and the amount of interest you pay over the life of the loan.
     

  • Cash-out refinance. This is when you get a larger loan than your existing mortgage, so you walk away from the closing with cash. 

    Example: Let’s say your home’s market value is $200,000, and your mortgage balance is $100,000. If you need $25,000 to pay for college or renovate your home, you could do a cash-out refinance for $125,000. After paying off the original mortgage of $100,000, you’d have $25,000 left over to spend any way you like.  
     

  • Cash-in refinance. This is when you pay cash at the closing to pay off an existing mortgage balance. That could be necessary if you don’t have enough equity to qualify for a refinance, or you owe more than your home is worth. 

    Example: You might do a cash-in refinance if having a lower LTV qualifies you for a lower mortgage rate or allows you to get rid of private mortgage insurance (PMI) payments. Read or listen to How to Avoid PMI on Your Home Loan for more information.

You may also need to refinance a mortgage if you want to remove a co-borrower, such as an ex-spouse, from your loan. But if one spouse doesn’t have sufficient income and credit to qualify for a refinance on his or her own, your best option may be to sell the property instead of refinancing the mortgage.

5 ways to know if it’s the right time to refinance

Here are five ways to know if doing a rate-and-term refinance is a good idea.

1. You have an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM)

Buying a home with an adjustable-rate mortgage comes with lots of advantages like a lower rate, a lower monthly payment, and being able to qualify for a larger loan compared to a fixed-rate mortgage. With an ARM, when interest rates go down, your monthly payments get smaller. 

Instead of worrying about how high your adjustable-rate payment could go, you might refinance to a fixed-rate loan.

But when ARM rates go up, you can feel panicked as your mortgage payment increases month after month. There are caps on annual increases, but your rate could double within just a few years if rates have a significant spike.

Instead of worrying about how high your adjustable-rate payment could go, you might refinance to a fixed-rate loan. That move would lock in a reasonable rate that will never change and make it easier to manage money and stick to a spending plan.

2. You could get a lower interest rate

If you bought a home when mortgage rates were higher than they are now, you’re in a great position to consider refinancing. As I mentioned, you need to do your homework to understand the cost and BEP fully. 

I recommend shopping for a refinance with the lender who holds your current mortgage, plus one or two different companies. Let your mortgage company know that you’re shopping for the best offer. They may be willing to waive specific fees if some of the necessary work, such as a title search, survey, or appraisal, is still current for your home.

3. You don’t plan on moving for several years

Once you know what a refinance will cost, make sure you’ll own your home long enough to pass the BEP, or you’ll end up losing money. For most homeowners, it typically takes owning your home for at least three years after a refinance to make it worthwhile.

4. You have enough home equity

As I mentioned, you typically need at least 20% equity to qualify for a refinance. If you have less, you may still find lenders that will work with you. However, unless your credit is excellent, you’ll typically pay a higher interest rate when you have low equity.

Also, if you don’t have 20% equity, lenders charge PMI. Adding that to your new loan could cut your savings and give you a much longer break-even point. 

5. Your finances are in good shape.

The higher your income and credit, and the lower your debt, the better your refinancing terms will be. If you’re unemployed or your credit took a dive due to a hardship, wait until your overall financial situation has improved before making a mortgage application. Good credit can save thousands in mortgage interest.

Good credit can save thousands in mortgage interest.

If you investigate doing a refinance and decide that it’s not worth the cost, another strategy to save money is to ask your lender for a mortgage modification on your existing loan. You may be able to negotiate modified terms, such as a lower interest rate, without having to pay for a full-blown refinance.

If you’re unsure how much home equity you have or know that you have very little, don’t let that stop you from inquiring about your refinancing options and saving money. Getting advice and refinancing quotes from your lender is free and will help you understand your range of financial options.

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8 Money-Saving Tips for Improving Your Bathroom’s Design

I don’t know about you, but for me, a bathroom goes well beyond its practical uses; within the past years, I’ve come to think about it as a sanctuary of sorts, that room of the house that’s dedicated to pampering, relaxing, and deconnecting — a place where I can enjoy some alone time and use […] More

The post 8 Money-Saving Tips for Improving Your Bathroom’s Design appeared first on Fancy Pants Homes.

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