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2020 has been a hard year. This July we want to reflect on independence a little differently. 

We’re going to help you figure out what it means to you and start you on a plan to get there.

What is financial freedom?

Financial freedom means different things to different people. In fact, it’s had to. 

We have a lack of financial inclusion  to thank, at least in part. Traditionally, marginalized people have been excluded from resources that privileged groups were not. 

This Forbes article says there are eight levels to financial freedom.

Today, we’re going to keep the definition simple and inclusive. Financial freedom is the ability to make enough money to lead the type of life you want without financial pressure. 

Yes, it’s very broad. We know. But it also gives you the freedom to decide what that means to you. 

How do I achieve financial freedom?

Using our definition, here are the steps you can take toward your financial freedom. 

1.Track your money

Tracking spending used to be very difficult. Very few of us have the time to track every single transaction we make throughout the day, but don’t worry—now, there are tools do it for you

Online banking companies and budgeting software are making it easier than ever before to let tech do the heavy lifting. 

Sync your bank with your software and your spending automatically gets tracked. 

Since half of American households live paycheck to paycheck, it’s important to know what you’re spending. Without much disposable income, you want to keep a close eye on what’s coming in and what’s going out. 

Set yourself up with digital tools. Use them for a month and get to the bottom of where your money goes. 

Figure out your needs and wants in your monthly spending. Calculate how much you need to cover your basic expenses like rent, food, and water. Then, figure out how much money you need to cover your wants comfortably.

Freedom means being able to cover your luxuries, too, so let’s plan for it.

2. Build your safety net

For everyone, financial freedom means having enough cash on hand to deal with the unexpected. 

Once you can see your current spending, you can make the right changes. You’ll quickly see where you can trim fat. 

That might mean ditching a couple of subscription services you don’t need, scaling back on late-night pizza orders, or cutting back on online shopping. 

With the changes you make, start building an emergency account. Generally three months of basic expenses is a good emergency account.

Calculate how much you want to set aside and then make a timeline to reach it.. 

When you’ve hit your emergency goal, keep saving into a savings or retirement account to make your money grow.

3. Define what financial freedom means to you

What does financial freedom mean to you?

For some, it may mean cutting all major expenses, selling valuables, and moving to a low-rent area working only a few hours a week. For many, it means working a steady job and building savings to retire at 70. 

The two important pieces are that you know how much money you need to be happy and making a plan to get there.

4. Reach for the sky

Once you’ve made your definition, it’s time to invest in resources to get there. 

If you’re taking the traditional route of rising through your industry, look at other successful people and try to copy their success. Ask professionals for advice. Take community college courses. Put in as many hours as you can and ask for feedback.

You may want to change industries, which may mean setbacks. Make some budget cuts to speed up your savings to build a small nest egg to help with the transition. 

5. Share your success

Nobody is an island and nobody becomes successful without help. A community is only as strong as its most impacted people.

When you do reach financial freedom or success—whatever that means to you—give back. Try to help people less fortunate than yourselves get what you got, learn what you learned.

And it’s never too early to start.

Progress may be slow, but if you start now by next July you can be somewhere.

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We’re in an unprecedented time. 

2020 brought more change in the last six months than most of us had in the last five years. If you’re feeling pressure, you’re not alone. 

We don’t have all the answers, but we do have some resources that can help. Here are our seven favorite ways to take care of yourself—and they’re all free. 

1. Meditate

Meditation isn’t just for yogis anymore. Over the years, more and more studies show the benefits of regular meditation.

These are a few of the most common benefits people see:

If you’ve never meditated, don’t worry. There’s many tools to get you started.

Headspace is an easy-to-use app that offers a two week free trial.

When your two weeks are up and you don’t want to subscribe, check out YouTube and Spotify. Both have many guided meditations you can use. 

Meditation doesn’t have to be hard. Sitting by yourself even for five minutes, breathing deeply and observing your thoughts, can be a game-changer. 

2. Get outside

Ever noticed feeling better after even five minutes outside? There’s science behind that. 

When you go outside, you get vitamin D from the sun, which helps fight depression and illness. 

On top of that, spending time outside is linked to increased energy, stronger immunity, and improved focus. 

So, go for a stroll through your neighborhood, visit a local park, or hike a local trail. You might be surprised how good you feel. 

3. Get moving

You already know that physical activity makes a huge difference in your physical wellness. 

Exercise also has mental health benefits like reducing depression and anxiety. 

Plus, it helps you sleep better at night. Anyone who’s ever struggled with quality sleep knows that good rest and feeling good go hand in hand. 

And you don’t even need to hit the gym. Walking, biking, yoga, surfing, or Pilates are all great ways to get active. 

Find something you enjoy so you can stick with it. 

4. Host game day

2020 made us isolate to protect our health and communities. But not seeing friends and family can take its toll. (Sorry, extroverts.)

Reconnect with your people over a game night. You can do this over Zoom or at an outdoor space. 

Games like cornhole and spikeball are good for more active crowds and mafia is better if you want something more relaxed. 

If games aren’t really your thing, look for other ways to plug in with the people who matter most to you. Social connection is important for your physical and mental wellbeing. 

5. Celebrate a self-care Saturday

Introverts, we see you and here’s your tip.

Schedule a self-care day. 

Bubble baths and candles are great but so is a day of Animal Crossing 

You know yourself, so you’re the best person to treat yourself right. Set aside some time and do it.

6. Give back

Giving back to your community can have a bunch of benefits for you. Those include short-term perks like a rush of dopamine (the neurotransmitter in your brain linked to pleasure) and long-lasting ones like increased life expectancy 

There are many ways to do community work. If you’re passionate about the environment, you can pick up trash in your neighborhood. If you want to support social equality, find a march and join. If you love kids, find a way to volunteer with an after-school program.

There are many ways to do community work. Do what works for you and aligns with your interests.

7. Pause and reflect

Practicing mindfulness, or being in the present moment, can help you decrease stress and improve compassion, focus, and relationships. We live in such a go-go-go world, it can be hard to slow down.

Give yourself the gift of some time to pause and reflect. Practicing gratitude is a great way to be mindful. 

Think about all the good things in your life. Write them down. Now focus on them. That’s it

You’re probably sick of hearing how trying these times are every time your TV show goes to commercial. But it’s worth noting the toll this year’s taking on you and actively working to protect your wellbeing. We hope these tips help. 

We all have a part to play in beating racism. How much you can do is a personal choice, but it’ll take everyone doing something to create lasting change. 

Today we’re focusing on ally-ship, what it means, and how you can be an ally in your day-to-day life.

What does being an ally mean?

Being an ally means standing up for people in marginalized communities, even though you’re not a member of that community. 

It doesn’t mean that you understand exactly what people in these communities feel, but you’re actively trying to learn and take action to support them.

How to be an ally

Ally-ship is about action. These are some basic steps you can take to help in the fight against systemic racism.

1. Reflect

Think about how you, a non-black person, interacts with black people. Think about ways you have treated black people different from non-black people. This is othering.

Racism takes many forms. When you act on these prejudices, you’re performing microaggressions. Microagressions are subtle and sometimes unconscious forms of discrimination. 

The first step in ally-ship is confronting our own biases. Start by asking yourself these questions:

2. Educate

Education begins with you. Before you can make a difference with others you need to understand the issues.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite materials for understanding the issues.

Books:

Films:

Each of these are on Netflix.

3. Check in

Reach out to your black friends, family, neighbors, loved ones, and colleagues. Right now is an emotional time and company can help.

Ask how you can provide support, and listen. 

Some people will need more active support and others will need time and space. 

Remember to respect their wishes.

4. Give

Remember: action is the name of the game.

If you can, donate to and support black-owned non-profits, businesses, and initiatives.

Here’s a list of some resources you can support:

5. Don’t give up

This journey is a lifelong commitment. Change starts now, but getting justice will take time.

It’s okay to get discouraged, but it’s important to keep fighting. Any challenge worth overcoming has obstacles.

Here are some actions to take on:

Embrace discomfort: Don’t excuse racist behavior with your friends, family, and coworkers. Everyone needs to move forward if we want equality.

Growth doesn’t always come easy, so get used to tough conversations.

Start young: Learning starts in the home. We have a duty to educate our children about these issues. 

It’s never too early to start teaching people about racism.

Keep supporting: It’s easier to support, when these issues are in the news, but the work needs your sustained support.

Don’t give up or forget about systemic racism once the attention has died down. 

AI researcher and writer Eliezer Yudkowsky said this: “You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.”Society needs individual people to contribute to progress. It needs you. 

 

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Budget-Friendly Father’s Day Gifts and Things To Do

Father’s Day is coming up, but you don’t have to break the bank to show your dad you care.

It’s the thought that counts, but that doesn’t mean he’ll know how much you saved. Here’s a list our favorite budget-friendly gifts and activities for you dad.

Gifts

Lifetime REI membership
Best for: The outdoor dad.

He’ll be able to find the latest top-of-the-line gear while earning 10% back on everything he buys. If he’s not already an REI member, he’ll appreciate this gift for life.

Cost: $20

Coffee subscription
Best for: The dad who drinks more coffee than water.

A coffee subscription sends new beans to his door whenever he wants. This gift will protect your dad from waking up one morning and realizing he’s out of coffee—scary times.

Cost: Starts at $15 per shipment

Funny socks
Best for: The dad sense of humor.

When you’re a kid socks are the most boring gift, but like wine they get better with age. If you’re creative, you can find socks printed with your dad’s favorite sports team, swear words, or Bob Ross’s face.

Cost: Starts at $10/pair

Beard scissors
Best for: The lumberdad.

There’s nothing worse than trying to cut hair with dull shears. Make your dad’s grooming routine more enjoyable with beard and moustache scissors. 

Cost: $20

Taco cookbook
Best for: The dad who likes to eat.

Everybody loves tacos, including your dad. Legendary actor and dad Danny Trejo wrote a cookbook full of recipes and advice on creating authentic tacos, and it has great reviews so far. 

Cost: $20.40 for hardcover or $12.99 for Kindle

Exploding Kittens
Best for: The competitive dad.

Any tabletop game will do, but Exploding Kittens is hilarious and easy to learn. Get ready for some family friendly exploding feline fun.

Cost: $19.99

Things to Do

Go for a hike
Best for: The active dad.

This one’s easy. Look up a new trail and take him there.  Make sure you check the difficulty level of the path ahead of time and bring plenty of water.

Cost: Free

Go fishing
Best for: The fisher dad. 

If you can wrangle your old pole out of the garage, spend the day on your local river bank with the old man. Many dads would call this heaven. 

Remember to get a fishing license for the day if your area requires it.

Cost: $20 or less for the fishing license

Plan a wine or beer tasting
Best for: The dad who likes the finer things. 

Grab a few bottles and set up a tasting at home. Any dad who enjoys sipping a glass after work will appreciate it, not to mention his favorite brewery has been closed for months.

Cost: Around $20

Grill out
Best for: All dads. Bring over some meat and veggies, and help prep. 

You’ll get quality time for the price of a few burgers.

Cost: Less than $20 for the food

Go camping
Best for: The rugged dad.

Escape from the city with your old man. All you need is some food, a campsite, and the best ghost story you can think of.

Cost: About $20 for the campsite

Play a board game
Best for: The dad who just got Exploding Kittens (or any other tabletop game). 

Some dads prefer to stay home, and that’s okay.  Whip out the new boardgame gift. Loser makes dad breakfast in the morning.

Cost: Free

Even if you’re low on funds, you can make Father’s Day memorable. Be creative and more importantly: be present. Choosing something fun and affordable makes your bank account happy, but more importantly your dad.

 

With schools closed across the country, parents working from home, and especially if you’re under a shelter-in-place order, there’s a good chance the whole family will get stir crazy soon. Finding fun activities for kids and the entire family is becoming a priority for many. 

Parents and guardians can help maintain a sense of normalcy by making sure their children stick to a regular schedule during the day. But that begs the question of how they should fill up that schedule. If you’re looking for activities to keep your kids entertained and active (at a safe distance from others, of course), and want to ensure they don’t fall too far behind in school, here’s how to start. 

Staying in school outside the classroom

If your child’s teachers sent a packet of school work home, you may already have a good idea of where to start. However, you might not have the time to review, correct, or explain each lesson. That’s where additional education-focused resources can help. 

Khan Academy is an excellent free option that offers age-specific curriculum and courses. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, it’s put together suggested daily schedules for students who are four to 18 years old. And there are parent and teacher resources that can help you navigate the change. 

If your children are in high school, this is also a great time to start college prep. Check out the Common Application website, where you can find steps that 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th graders should be taking. And review its guides for preparing to apply to private colleges to gain a better understanding of the application requirements. 

High school students can also prepare for the standardized tests that many colleges require. A partnership between Khan Academy and College Board gives you access to free preparation materials and practice SAT tests. For high school juniors, it’s also a good time to start working on college essays, while both juniors and seniors can look for and apply to scholarships

Make use of technology

Your kids are missing their peers and friends, but social distancing doesn’t have to completely disrupt their social activities. If they have devices of their own, they may already be talking and playing with their friends throughout the day. But you may need to step in to facilitate this type of interaction with younger children.

After checking in with their friends’ parents, you can set up virtual playdates using FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, or whatever platform you prefer. Perhaps they can continue a school activity together but apart, or it may be an opportunity for an extended show and tell of all of their toys. 

If you’ve run through your supply of children’s books—or have a teen who’s an avid reader—the Libby App gives you free access to libraries’ ebook and audio collections. While some libraries systems require you to already have a library card to use the app, others allow you to register through the app based on your phone number’s area code. 

When you need to quickly find something to keep a child entertained or distracted, you can start with Common Sense Media. The site reviews and categorizes media to help you find age-appropriate movies, shows, books, games, and apps. It’s free to browse, but there’s a $3 monthly subscription if you want a curated list of suggestions based on your child’s age. 

Things that don’t involve a screen

Taking time away from screens is beneficial for everyone. Even if many of the educational and entertainment options involve a screen, part of the daily routine should be outside playtime if the weather permits. If not, indoor non-screen activities like building forts, making Play-Doh, baking cookies, or enjoying craft time will have to do. 

You could also put together a list of potential chores or projects that could be done each day. Set aside an hour or two for “list activities,” perhaps with the reward of personal screen time after they complete a task. 

In preparation for an extended school closure, you may also want to consider signing up for an activity subscription box. These aren’t free—they cost around $25 to $35 a month—but they can keep things fresh and often have an educational component to them. 

For example, KiwiCo is a STEM-focused option that sends projects and instructions based on your child’s age, Sensory TheraPLAY Box encourages self-regulation skills, and Girls Can Crate is specifically aimed at empowering girls. 

Share ideas with other parents

If there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus, it’s the sense of unity and camaraderie that can emerge when we’re all in a fight together. School, street, and neighborhood groups are springing up, and people are quick to gather and share resources to help those who are facing various stressors and hardships. 

Here’s an overview of several free sites for kids activities that was shared on Reddit, and an ever-growing Google Sheet with over 275 enrichment activities for kids. 

Also, remember to take care of yourself. You may feel pressure to parent a certain way or fill the day with a specific “best” option. But it’s an unprecedented time that requires creativity and flexibility. If your child or children end up watching kid-friendly movies for half a day, so be it. They’re safe, you’re safe, and you’re helping keep others safe—and that’s the main goal of staying home. 

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo or The Bancorp Bank.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou

Bank Account Services provided by The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

You may have made a few grocery runs while preparing to hunker down as part of your city’s effort to keep the coronavirus transmission. Now, your fridge and pantry are loaded with the basics and, hopefully, a few treats. But you’ve got to figure out how to keep those hearty essentials—like rice and beans—exciting for the next few weeks. 

We’ve chosen five basic ingredients: rice, beans, spinach, ground beef, and peanut butter, and explore ways to make flavorful dishes while avoiding expensive add-ons. 

Brighten up your rice 

Rice is a staple across the world for good reasons. It’s inexpensive, fills you up, and is great to have on hand. And by adding a few vegetables or spices, you can quickly transform a somewhat bland grain into the main course. 

One of the most well-known rice centerpieces is paella, and a vegetable-focused twist on the Spanish dish can keep the cost down. You can also use turmeric rather than saffron to add vibrancy and flavor to your paella. For example, here’s a one-pot turmeric and coconut rice recipe that’s not quite paella but hits the mark for tasty rice.

easy meal with rice

easy meal with rice

The Simple Veganista has a recipe that specifically calls out the turmeric substitute as an option. While Cookie and Kate’s recipe highlights the variety of vegetables you can use and forgoes both saffron and turmeric. You could follow either, or use one as inspiration for your own creation.

Use beans as your base

Your pantry may be stacked with cans, and at least a few are certain to be filled with beans. There’s a good chance you even grabbed a few extra cans “just because” as you made your way through the grocery store. From dips to chilis, there are dozens of ways to use these protein-packed dry or canned goods.

One option is to start with a southwest bean salad. AllRecipes offers up two varieties, one based on black beans and another on kidney and cannellini beans. Typically the salads also include tomatoes, canned corn, and onions. Plus, a combination of spices, a taco mix packet, or a homemade dressing. 

From here, you can eat it on its own or use it as the base for yet another dish depending on what you have on hand. Add a grain or meat, and the bean salad becomes stuffing for bell peppers. Or, a little hot sauce and a tortilla is all you need for a simple taco. 

Learn to make fresh spinach pasta

Fresh spinach is a healthy leafy green that can, unfortunately, quickly spoil. Its versatility somewhat makes up for that drawback as you can throw it in with your morning scrambled eggs or add it to just about any salad. But if you’re stuck at home with extra time, why not try something a little harder, and likely more rewarding. Use your spinach to make your own pasta. 

While it can be intimidating to those who’ve never tried before, homemade pasta is inexpensive and relatively easy to make. A basic dough only requires flour, eggs, and water, although you’ll want some olive oil on hand and salt for your pasta water. It can also be a fun activity for kids who want to join you in the kitchen. 

The AllRecipe five-ingredient spinach pasta (spinach, flour, eggs, olive oil, and salt) has easy-to-follow instructions but require a pasta machine. If you don’t have one of these specialty machines, you can use a food processor instead (here’s a video tutorial). Or, you can do everything by hand.

Turn ground beef into comfort food

Ground beef is a flexible meat option that doubles as a base or topping.  If you’re trying to navigate various responsibilities at home, a crockpot lasagna could be an easy option. It only requires about 30 minutes of prep. Then you can let your slow cooker do the work and in several hours you’ll have a comfort meal for the whole family. 

The linked recipe calls for ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, which may require another grocery-store run. So, you can save this one for when you’re ready to make a mid-pandemic outing. Cheese can also quickly become expensive, but to save money you can opt for pecorino romano instead of parmesan and commenters point to using cottage cheese as a substitute for ricotta. 

Go beyond peanut butter and jelly

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a go-to lunch, and apple slices and peanut butter make a great snack. But you can also use this calorie-packed spread as a base for a hearty breakfast by whipping up some chocolate peanut butter pancakes. If that feels too much like dessert, and some bananas to make it “healthy.” 

When mornings tend to be hectic, preparing overnight oats ahead of time may be the better option. Mix your peanut butter with oats, milk or yogurt, and cinnamon in a jar or cup, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. It’s also a great way to use up any berries, nuts, or seeds you have, as you can throw them into the mix. 

Stay safe and nourished

While COVID-19 puts much of the country on edge, it’s especially important to keep yourself and your family well-fed. Partially, you’ll want to turn to your comfort foods, and that’s certainly fitting right now. But you can also spice up your days by finding a new to use an ingredient that’s starting to feel too familiar.

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo or The Bancorp Bank.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou

Bank Account Services provided by The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

 

Maybe you quit your job to turn your side hustle into a thriving business. Or, you may be between jobs or working part-time without benefits. Or quite simply you don’t know what to do if you’re not sure that you can afford health insurance. 

No matter the reason, you’re on your own when it comes to finding health insurance. 

The process can be confusing—and the coverage may be expensive—but here’s a brief overview of your options.

Continue your coverage with COBRA

If you had employer-provided group health insurance, you may be able to keep your insurance regardless of why you left. The insurance will continue to cover your family as well.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) gives you this right, and you’ll have at least 60 days to claim the COBRA coverage. You can usually stay on your COBRA plan for up to 18 months, although sometimes the coverage can continue beyond that point.

The downside is you’ll have to pay for the entire insurance premium plus an administrative fee, which can make this kind of coverage prohibitively expensive. There are sometimes exceptions when an employer agrees to cover part of the cost but they might not be required to help.

Additionally, COBRA doesn’t apply to every employee and you might not be eligible if you worked for the federal government or a small business that had fewer than 20 employees. However, check your state laws as well, as some states have mini-COBRA plans that require small businesses to offer a similar benefit.  

If you want to learn more, visit U.S. Department of Labor’s page about COBRA plans.

Sign up for a new insurance plan

You can generally only enroll in a new health insurance plan (either through HealthCare.gov, your state’s marketplace, or directly with an insurance company) during the enrollment period at the end and beginning of each year. 

However, you’re eligible for a special enrollment period if you lose your employer-sponsored coverage within the last 60 days, or expect to lose your coverage in the next 60 days. Getting married, divorced, a family member passing away, or having a child can also lead to special enrollment periods.

Purchasing a plan through HealthCare.gov or your state’s marketplace may be the best options as you could qualify for a “premium tax credit” that lowers your monthly premium amount. The value of the tax credit depends on your household’s size and income for the year. You also can’t be eligible for health insurance through a government program or file your tax return as Married Filing Separately (although, there are some exceptions) to claim the credit. 

If you’ve lost a job or are just starting a business, the lower income could help you qualify for a larger credit. However, don’t forget to update your income if you start working again or begin making more money than you expected. Whether you claim too much or not enough, everything gets evened out when you file your federal tax return. 

Look into Medicaid and CHIP

Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs offer free or low-cost health coverage to qualified low-income individuals and families. If you apply for health insurance through HealthCare.gov or your state marketplace, you’ll automatically be told if you qualify for one of these programs. 

Unlike other health insurance plans and programs, there’s no special or open enrollment periods for Medicaid and Chip—you can apply at any time. However, 13 states haven’t expanded Medicaid coverage, meaning you can’t qualify based on having a low-income alone. You may only be able to qualify if you meet the state’s income and additional requirements, such as being a parent, caregiver, pregnant women, elderly, or disabled.  

Final options—go uninsured or opt for a catastrophic plan

Starting in 2019, you’ll no longer have to pay a federal tax penalty if you go without health insurance. However, some states enacted their own tax penalties for residents who don’t have coverage, and you’ll be on the hook for the entire bill if you’re sick or injured and need help.

Some people have opted for joining lower-cost health care sharing ministries (HCSMs), cooperative groups that cover the cost of some medical procedures for members. However, unlike insurance options, you could be denied based on preexisting conditions (or related medical costs might not be covered), have a cap on benefits, and there could be restrictions on certain types of service (such as birth control or mental health benefits. 

Another option could be a catastrophic health insurance plan. These plans have high deductibles ($7,900 in 2019), don’t qualify for a tax credit, and are only available to you if you’re under 30 years old or qualify for an affordability exemption if other options are too expensive. 

The premiums are also much lower than you’ll find with other plans, and the plan could help protect you from having to pass on care or declare bankruptcy after a medical emergency. The plans also include preventative services and three primary care visits each year (even before you hit your deductible), which you can use to address health concerns before they become emergencies. 

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo or The Bancorp Bank.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou

Bank Account Services provided by The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

 

How much money do you need to spend to prepare for coronavirus or another emergency?

The answer is: probably not as much you might fear. 

If you’re reading headlines, watching the news, and talking to friends, you know that people are starting to ask themselves what they need to prepare for the potential spread of Covid-19 in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best thing you can do is prevent exposure to the virus—please take a moment to review the CDC recommendations.

Before your wallet takes a beating in a shopping spree, here is a roundup of some of the expert guidelines.

What to spend money on to prepare for coronavirus

How to make your own hand sanitizer for $7

If you’ve already gone to the store and seen the empty shelves where hand sanitizer is usually sold, there is a cheap-and-easy solution: Make your own. 

You can do this with aloe vera gel and rubbing alcohol, according to this formula on WikiHow. A 32-ounce bottle of generic Isopropyl rubbing alcohol is $1.99 (Target.com) and a generic clear bottle of aloe vera gel is $4.99 (Target.com).

Washing your hands costs $0

The number one action experts are recommending as of early March is practicing good hygiene in the form of regular hand-washing. Here are guidelines from the CDC on handwashing technique.

What to do with your money?

Stay the course. Fears around Covid-19 rattled markets at the end of February (along with other factors according to analysts)—but experts generally recommend staying the course with your investments even when markets get bumpy. 

However, this is a good time to shore up your household finances and make plans for any potential income disruption or future bills. This could be where your emergency fund will need to come in handy.

If you’re planning to travel, consider travel insurance though read the fine print as exclusions could apply. Short-term disability insurance might be another type of insurance to consider, but again there could be exclusions.

Health insurance—and medical bills generally—will likely be a growing issue as the impact on public health becomes more clear. According to the New York Times, a day-long stay in a hospital costs $4,293 on average. 

Also take a moment to consolidate money that your various accounts into one pot (such as a high-yield savings account), or reviewing with friends and family your plan if someone does get sick. 

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Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

We all know shopping for food can add up. The total may vary depending where you live but it’s generally in the hundreds of dollars each month. Don’t worry, though, there are lots of ways for you to shop within your budget even if you’re not into coupon clipping. Here at Varo, we took an informal social media poll and discovered that 75% of people shop on a weekly or biweekly basis.

5 habits that can help you save money on groceries 

Make trade-offs if you buy organic

An insight from the poll suggested that 54% of people like to buy organic food, which tends to be more expensive. That means you might have to make a tradeoff in your budget. If you value eating organic foods then maybe your budget for groceries should be higher than your budget for other things in life. 

However, if you would like to maximize the amount of food you can buy with a lower budget, then chances are you might have to skip the organic aisle. (You might check out this list which can help you decide what is worth splurging on organic — and where it doesn’t matter so much.) 

Compare prices inside the store—and between stores

Another 56% of people who took the poll said they compare prices between food items at the store. Let’s see how that works and take a closer look at these blueberries for example. At a local store in Berkeley, Calif., blueberries were sold for $0.69 (pint), $1.29 (pint), $1.59 (18 oz) basket, and $3.29 (organic pint). Although most stores have just one price for blueberries, you may encounter stores with more than one option or perhaps you may start to realize that they are priced differently at different stores. 

Why are there so many different options? Well, it might depend on the ripeness of the blueberries. (Usually the price drops when they are extremely ripe!)It could also be that some are organic ($3.29 a pint). Whichever option you choose, make sure you don’t just grab the first basket you see. Take a moment to look at all your options and buy according to your preference, how soon you think you’ll eat them, and your budget.  

It’s also important to compare store item prices between the local stores nearest you. Again in Berkeley, Trader Joe’s sells cage-free eggs for $1.99 a dozen at its lowest price while most other nearby stores sell $1.99 for half a dozen and for $2.99 for a dozen (see images below). The prices between different types of eggs often reflect the way they were made — free range= pay more.

Figure out how much more you can save with bulk items

If you had to pay for a single egg every time you ate one, would you rather back 24 cents or 33 cents? You’d probably take the cheaper one, all else being equal. But this is where stores often get you — you only get that cheaper price if you buy in bulk. Take this example from our Berkeley grocery store outing.

The offers we saw were:“ $2.99 for a dozen of eggs or half a dozen for $1.99.”That’s $0.33 an egg with the half or $0.24 with a dozen, you may want to reconsider buying just half, and instead, buy the dozen.

So ask yourself, how many eggs you think you’ll eat realistically? If a dozen isn’t worth saving almost 10 cents per egg, then maybe losing out on those extra pennies won’t matter to you. It’s all up to your preferences. 

It may also be cheaper and more efficient for you to shop at a store that does not pre-package most of its produce. That way, you can pick and choose how much you are realistically able to consume and afford (make sure to weigh your produce). The point is: make sure you’re getting the most value for your lifestyle.   

Budget your spending for groceries

Our poll showed 53% of shoppers don’t have a budget when they grocery shop. If you’re trying to save money, that could get tricky. Here’s a better idea for students and other people on tight budgets:

Figure out how many times you’ll dine out a week, including those dinner hangouts you plan with your friends. You can budget eating out separately from eating in or you can combine them with the cost of your groceries. To put into perspective, if you dine out every day with an average meal priced between $10-14, you’ll be spending $30-$42 for three meals a day, which adds up to $210 – $294 a week. However, if you cook at home, it could range from $5-8 a meal, which ends up being $105 – $168 a week. Imagine saving $105 – $126 a week! 

The main point is, have a budget set and stick to it. If you have a hard time making a budget or would like to checkout a few deals, you can try these apps: Mint, Shopper App, SavingStar,  Groupon. In addition, here are some low-budget foods you can make at home 

Shop after you eat, not before

We’ve all been guilty of having eyes that are bigger than our stomaches — also called projection bias. It’s one reason it’s tempting to buy more food at the store when you are hungry: you’re convinced that you’ll eat everything you buy for the future.

To prevent spending more than you need to and potentially save yourself some money, eat meals before you go grocery shopping. After you eat, you’ll be satiated and your appetite would less likely dominate your decisions in the store. That way you won’t let your eyes get bigger than your stomach.

Feeling good about your money

Now that you’ve saved between $5-10, you can use that to cover your ride-share home or put it in your savings jar. In a month, that will be worth a whole Saturday night out. For example, if you save $5-10 per grocery visit, that could add up to $60-75 each month, which rounds to about $900 a year. With these habits, you’re guaranteed to save money on every trip to the store. It takes repetition and time to really turn these tips into habits, but saving a few dollars each time can go a long way for your savings goals. 

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo or The Bancorp Bank.

Stephanie Li is an intern at Varo and a third-year college student studying economics and cognitive science. These are a few habits she adopted on her grocery runs. She observed shopping habits of several consumers and wanted to share a few that have helped her save at least $7 each time. 

Bank Account Services provided by The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.

The Varo Visa® Debit Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted.

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).

 

Between commuting, work, chores, and kids, the week can quickly become overwhelming. It’s certainly a lot to juggle, and that’s before you add in socializing, extracurriculars, and finding some time for yourself. 

Your weekend — which doesn’t necessarily fall on a Saturday and Sunday — might seem too short as it is. However, if you can set aside a little prep time, you may find you could save time and money during the week to come. 

1. Feed your future self

Meal prep may be the first thing to come to mind, and rightly so. Preparing lunches and dinners in a large batch, or at least creating lists of what you’re going to make, can keep you from a last-minute splurge on delivery or eating out.

Not only will you be saving money, you’ll avoid the pressure and anxiety that comes from having to decide what to make on a hangry stomach. Bonus points here, because a nutritious diet can also help keep rising stress stay at bay.

There are many ways to meal prep, and identifying what makes sense for you and your family might require a little trial and error. It starts with making a plan, and getting to the grocery store. 

Next, it might mean making a large batch of basics (such as veggies or meat that can be a base for a variety of lunches and dinners) works best. If you prefer to graze throughout the day, prepare a variety of snacks that you can quickly grab as you head to work. Even if you’re buying frozen lunches to take with you through the week, chances are those cost less than eating at a restaurant throughout the week.

2. Set aside time for life admin 

Set a standing date with yourself every week or two to review the bills and logistics that come with being an adult. 

Take care of bills that aren’t on autopay to ensure you don’t wind up with late fees, compare your bank account balance to upcoming major expenses, and schedule appointments. If you’re keeping a budget, take a moment to see where you stand. You could also review your subscriptions (to make sure you’re not paying for something you don’t use), order gifts for upcoming birthdays, or anything else that you’ve pushed off until “later.” 

The tasks often don’t take a long time, but staying on top of things piece by piece means you don’t miss bills and incur late fees.

3. Calendar your self-care

When it comes to prioritizing, taking care of yourself is often the easiest task to move to the bottom of the list. Sometimes other commitments take precedence, and other times, you might not realize the need for self-care until you’re burnt out.

It doesn’t matter what you pick for self-care — could be working out at the gym or taking a long walk with your dog or reading a book — as long as it recharges you. To start, review your calendar for the upcoming week, find times when you can incorporate self-care, and figure out ways to make a commitment now when your willpower is strong. 

If getting grounded is what you need, add 10- to 15-minute appointments (with yourself) to your calendar that are strictly for decompressing — perhaps that means using a meditation app, stretching, or zoning out with a few cute cat videos. 

4. Create your own uniform

Planning outfits for the week offers multiple benefits. First, you can hit the snooze button in the morning and stay in bed a little longer. Second, you’re eliminating a decision from your morning, which can help combat daily decision fatigue. Third, you might even save yourself money if find a few outfits which you feel you could wear on repeat during the week (e.g., black shirt and blue jeans, every day, like Steve Jobs.)

Your work and lifestyle will inevitably play a major role in these decisions. But even if you have a work outfit that never changes, think about which clothes make sense for when you’re heading to the gym, a happy hour, or something else after work. 

5. Plan your transportation

A stealth expense often comes in the form in the guise of having to get places fast or not keeping your ride in decent condition. Starting the week with a full tank of gas can literally keep you going. 

Remember, if you stack rewards from various gas perk programs, you can often save a bundle. If you don’t have to drive — and can carpool or use public transportation — using the weekend to figure out your plan can save you money and time too. If you can save $20 on tolls and gas every week, that’s more than $1,000 you can save in a year.

The bottom line

While adding extra work to the weekends can seem like a chore, planning ahead of time is often easier and less stressful than leaving things until the last minute. And remember, you don’t have to do all of the things above, pick what suits your needs best. 

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou

Links to external websites are not managed by Varo or The Bancorp Bank.

Bank Account Services provided by The Bancorp Bank; Member FDIC.

The Varo Visa® Debit Card is issued by The Bancorp Bank pursuant to a license from Visa U.S.A. Inc and may be used everywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. 

Opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed here by customers, users, or others, are those of the respective author(s) or contributor(s) and do not necessarily state or reflect those of The Bancorp Bank (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s).