The holidays are a money vacuum. Between gift shopping, shipping fees, and other spread-good-cheer expenses, you've busted your budget without spending a dime on yourself. (Okay, maybe there were a few things you purchased for yourself, because sales!). The bottom line is that you've been working around the clock the past year, paying your dues at your day job and making that side hustle happen on nights and weekends, only to see your hard-earned cash melt away by the time the holidays come along. All you want for Christmas is the promise of a real vacation. You need it. You deserve it. You can't possibly afford it. Or can you?
It is possible to get away on even the most meager budget. All it takes is a little research, some planning, and a dash of creativity. In fact, you might even save money with a little luck. Consider this post your holiday present from us: We're giving you the tools to plan the getaway you thought you couldn't afford, because it's been a hell of a year and you could really use a vacation.
Travel Rewards and Points
You may already have a credit card that delivers airline miles or points towards travel. If you do, tally up how much you've got to play with and whether there are ways to double your points through purchasing from specific retailers or at specific times during the billing cycle.
If you don't have a travel rewards card, Nerdwallet has a handy breakdown of the best options this year. They also have some tips for choosing the right card for your budget and making the most of it depending on when you're looking to travel. For example, if you choose a card with a big sign-up bonus that promises mega-travel rewards points once you spend an initial amount of money in the first few months, you could be earning while you're purchasing holiday gifts. So consider signing up when you're shopping the most (aka right now).
You also should consider which type of card is right for you. "Travel credit cards fall into two basic categories: co-branded cards and general travel cards," according to Nerdwallet. "Co-branded cards carry the name of an airline or hotel chain, and the rewards you earn are redeemable only with that airline or hotel. If you regularly fly one airline or stay at one hotel chain, they can be a great choice. They also offer perks such as free checked bags or hotel upgrades. General travel cards offer more flexibility. Their rewards come as points that you can redeem for any travel expense, or even transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs." Check out your options here and start racking up those miles.
Last Minute Deals
Tours & Hotels
So you've blocked out vacation time, but you're too broke to book travel. There are apps for that. At Fareness you can plug in your dates and current location, and retrieve a list of the cheapest flights to various destinations. If you're hankering for an ocean view, icruise offers a ton of last-minute deals on cruise-ships looking to fill up empty rooms at bargain rates. (Four nights on Carnival for $479? Pretty solid.) Expedia also has a killer last-minute travel section where you can find deals up to 70 percent off. If you want to save even more money, checkout iCarpool and take a roadtrip with a new friend.
Timing is everything
There are some rules of thumb when it comes to booking airfare—at 5am and on Sundays you're likely to find the cheapest rates, according to Skyscanner. But wait, the app Hopper does the work for you, monitoring flights to your destination and alerting you when the airfare is lowest.
If your credit card offers a flexible points plan, you may be able to use those points on hotel rooms. Some cards also have deals with resort chains to provide discounts on booking or double the rewards when you book the room so you can put those points towards your flight. If your eyes are crossing, here's another option: check Groupon Getaways. The site offers package deals around the world for an average 50 to 70 percent off. Many of these deals include meals, tours, or other perks that will save you extra bucks.
Maybe you're not in the position to look for a deal of any kind. Maybe you need a place to stay that's 100 percent free AND doesn't suck. We're here for you. Your first option is to consider a house swap. Sites like HomeExchange and GuestToGuest connect you with others both nationally and internationally looking to do home exchanges. If you want to avoid paying any signup fees, the DIY version is called social media. Post some pics of your pad and ask your community if anyone out of town is interested in a swap. You can also AirBnB your pad (depending on the laws in your state) and earn enough to put the money towards your vacation—and even save some bucks too. If loaning out your home isn't an option, there's still hope. Sites like Housesitter and apps like Couchsurfing offer members an array of getaways that cost you zilch. If you're a pet lover, you can also offer your services on Petsit or to your pals on social media. The holidays are an optimal time for this, with so many people leaving town. You might even find yourself on a sweet staycation in your hometown—far, far away from your roommates and your messy bedroom. You're welcome.
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- 9 Easy Tips for Traveling on a Tight Budget | Skyscanner ›
- How to Plan an Awesome Family Vacation on a Budget ›
Sometimes there is no choice—a home needs to be sold in the winter.
Spring may be the most popular time to put your house on the market, but homes do sell in the colder months. With fewer houses available, your home may be someone's only choice when house hunting in your neighborhood. As your neighbors hold out until spring, you'll already be done and ready to shop for your next house!
Here are a few tips for selling a home in the winter to get you on the right track.
Keep Paths Safe and Landscaping Fresh
Landscaping is the last thing on a homeowner's mind in the winter. Everything was cut back in the fall and may now be covered in snow. Still, take a walk around the house and yard to check everything out. Branches may have fallen from heavy snow, leaving a mess in the yard. Keep everything neat and tidy.
The last thing you need is a potential buyer slipping on the ice-covered walk in front of your house. Buyers often consider those moments bad omens, and this can affect their decisions. Shovel, snow blow, spread salt—do whatever you have to do to keep the driveway and walking paths clear, and don't forget the porch and deck.
Make the Inside Warm and Cozy
In cold weather, buyers won't spend a lot of time examining a home's exterior. Instead, impress them with the inside by creating an atmosphere which causes them to want to move in.
When there's time, leave wintery types of snacks and drinks, such as hot cocoa and cookies, available on a table during showings. This gives your home a welcoming feel to buyers.
Light the fireplace (if you have one) for a lovely ambience and set your thermostat to a comfortable setting. A warm home in the winter is much more appealing than a chilly one.
Make Your Home Less Personal
Understandably, this can be a tough thought for homeowners. After all, you've spent years creating memories in your home. To buyers, though, they need to picture it as their own. Too much personality makes that difficult.
It's always important to stage your home in a way that makes it look clean, comfortable, and move-in ready. Don't feel offended by the idea of taking family pictures down and replacing them with generic décor. This will help your home sell faster by helping buyers envision their own things there.
Cleanliness and Maintenance
Clean, clean, and clean some more. Make appliances, counters, and floors shine. No matter how old your home is, it needs to feel like new to potential buyers. If you aren't into dusting, now is the time to try. Don't forget window coverings that might need washing.
Be prepared ahead of time for home inspections by taking care of maintenance now. HVAC systems, plumbing, and electrical should all be up to code and running smoothly.
Use these tips for selling a home in the winter, exercise patience during the slower months, and your home will sell before you know it.
Entering your 20s means you'll quickly need to learn how to navigate the world of personal finances, much of which you probably didn't learn in college or high school courses.
Without any previous lessons on finances, it can be challenging to know where to start. Follow this guide as we outline the financial decisions you'll need to make in your 20s.
Setting a Budget
The first step to being a fiscally responsible young adult is setting a budget. Your budget will determine many future financial decisions, from where you can live to what splurges you can make. Look at the expenses you currently owe every month and your projected income to determine how much you should be spending on bills, daily expenses, etc.
Getting rid of your debt as early as possible is a critical step for newly independent 20-year-olds. However, some may not be able to get rid of debt as soon as they hope. Once again, look at your budget, then decide if you'd like to put more toward tackling debt now or pay your loans as they come.
While you may be able to hold onto your parents' insurance until 26, you'll have to choose your own plans sooner or later. From health insurance to renter's and car insurance, you shouldn't skip an opportunity to cover yourself in the case of an accident. Find a provider and plan you're comfortable with, and get your coverage as soon as possible.
Saving for a Rainy Day
Navigating how to save is another critical financial decision you'll have to make in your 20s. Living paycheck to paycheck is not a sustainable course of action. Even putting a small portion of your wages into a savings account can make a big difference—especially if an emergency you didn't prepare for occurs.
Starting To Invest
Investing is a scary topic for young adults, but it's a great way to build wealth. Starting to invest as a young adult will set you up for success on your long-term financial plan. However, be sure to conduct research before jumping into the market to decide when, where, and how much you'd like to invest.
Your 20s are an optimal time to learn and grow. One area of life you'll undoubtedly learn a lot about is managing finances. Use this guide to help you get started on the path to becoming a fiscally responsible adult.
Tax deductions can be tricky to understand if you're new to the finance world.
One of the biggest sources of confusion is knowing what you can and can't deduct from your taxes. Deductions can be a massive financial boon for a lot of people, yet not everyone files for them correctly. This causes people to miss out on money that should be theirs. We'll go over some of the most common tax deductions that are overlooked, so you don't get shortchanged when Tax Day comes.
When you start regularly giving to charity, even if the donations are small, you'll want to start getting itemized receipts for your donations. These receipts will help you write off these charitable contributions on your taxes. You can even write off supplies that you bought for use in a charitable cause or any miles you drove on your car while in service to a charity. Make those donations to the Purple Heart Pickup with an open heart, but make sure you get your deduction on top of that.
Student Loan Interest Payments
Student loans take up a significant amount of a lot of people's money. If you're one of these people, make sure that you get a deduction on the amount of interest you paid off in the last year. What's important to remember is that even if you aren't someone's dependent, you can write off the money someone else gave you to pay for said student loans. If someone else helped you pay off part of your loan, don't think that means you can't still get a deduction on that sum.
Child and Dependent Care Credit
If you have a reimbursement account through your job that pays for child or dependent care, you might be forgiven for forgetting about this particular tax credit. However, you can use these funds for a tax credit if you file for them correctly. This is hugely important because this is an opportunity to receive a full tax credit, not just a deduction. You're losing money you could be directly receiving if you don't file for this credit.
Jury Pay Given to Your Employer
A lesser-known tax deduction that often gets overlooked is the money you can deduct from jury pay you gave to your employer. It may not be the most exciting thing to come out of jury duty, especially after handing over any money you receive to your employer, but you do get to deduct however much money your employer made you hand over after you finished jury duty.
Credit for Saving
While this credit is more for people that are working part-time or for those that have a retired spouse, you can get a tax credit for contributing to a 401(k) or another retirement savings plan. This is also a great incentive for those that are just starting out in their careers and need another reason to start saving for the future.