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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As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.
Extensive Plants and Greenery
A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.
As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.
There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.
Usable Outdoor Furniture
Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.
A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.
Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.
Acting Quickly Out of Emotion
Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.
Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.
Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation
Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.
If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.
Donating Unusable Materials
Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.
Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.
Strictly Giving at Year's End
As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.
With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.
Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.
The Age of Your House
Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.
The One-Percent Rule
An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.
The Square-Foot Rule
Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.
The Mix and Match Method
Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.
Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.