How to Make a Side Income Running a Vending Machine Business

As we continue to make our way through COVID-19, many people are still looking for ways to get items they need without physical contact with another person.

Vending machines serve that purpose — and make money for the machine’s owner.

Owning and operating vending machines is big business, providing passive income without any specialized skills. It’s also called automatic merchandising.

Basically, all you need to get started is some startup money to buy a machine, a good location and the right products.

The Vending Machine Business During COVID-19

Revenue for the vending machine industry was $24.2 billion in 2019, up 3% from the year before.

That data came from the Automatic Merchandiser’s Annual State of the Industry Survey — before the full impact of COVID-19 hit.

There were 2,175,756 vending machines in service in 2019 in a variety of locations including:

  • Manufacturing areas
  • Offices
  • Retail spaces
  • Hotels/motels
  • Schools
  • Hospitals and nursing homes
  • Universities/colleges
  • Correctional facilities
  • Military bases
  • Restaurants, bars and clubs

Cold beverages were the top-selling product category. A majority of vending machines involve food and beverage products including sodas, coffee, snacks and candy.

There are also machines for bulk vending like gumballs, stickers, toys, novelties and more. During COVID-19, machines popped up selling masks and hand sanitizer.

At places like airports, vending machines often sell tech accessories and travel essentials like neck pillows, blankets and eye masks. Laundry rooms in residential buildings often have machines with detergent and fabric softener.

With many offices, businesses and other public spaces closed or restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the vending industry is certainly taking a hit.

“We’re in a tough, tough industry right now with COVID-19. A lot of stores don’t want the machines there, they don’t want the kids congregating, they don’t want people touching them,” said Scott Ausmus, director of manufacturing for National Entertainment Network, Inc. and president of the National Bulk Vendors Association.

He grew up in the vending business. The machines he sells and operates are the novelty kind, offering things like stuffed animals, toys and gumballs. Many are in restaurants and entertainment venues like bowling centers.

Many factors make owning a vending machine an attractive business venture.

The startup costs are relatively low, sometimes around $2,000. The work is flexible and often doesn’t require much day-to-day involvement. The risk is comparatively low and there is growth potential.

“There’s a higher profit in the gumball then there is anything else,” Ausmus said. “The cost of goods is low on the gumballs and everybody likes gum, so everybody still purchases a gumball and so that is a winner for a lot of people.”

Starting a Vending Machine Business

While the startup costs are low and the income is often passive, owning vending machines is not without risk. You must be able to understand your own financial situation and how much you can afford to invest.

There is the cost of the machine, the cost of inventory, personnel to keep it stocked, maintenance and more.

The more perishable the product and the busier the area, the more of your time the machine will take.

“If (your machine location has) a big break room and a lot of employees, you would have to be there once a day to fill your machines up because that’s how busy they are,” Ausmus said. Other machines like toys and candy don’t require as much restocking.

One of the first steps in starting a vending machine business is finding your niche and deciding what to sell. That takes a bit of research and knowing who your customer is.

“You gotta buy the right product. If you buy the wrong product, it won’t move and you won’t make any money and you certainly don’t want to throw [product] away,” Ausmus said. “You’ve got to have the variety for people and find out which ones they want and that’s what you restock with, what sells.”

Vending machine businesses are scalable, meaning it’s possible to start small and expand. You don’t have to wait for payments because customers pay when they purchase an item.

Location, Location, Location

To put yourself in the best position to be profitable means finding the right location.

Places with lots of foot traffic are good. Before COVID-19, that meant schools and universities, malls, office parks, etc.

Think about where people need to wait. While waiting, they may get hungry or thirsty. Ausmus’ novelty machines need kids around.

“One of the hardest things to do is to locate a location,” he said.

Location can be about trial and error.

“It’s really not a bad risk to put it in a location and find out that it’s not making enough money. … You can remove it and move it to the next one until you find that right location,” Ausmus said.

When looking for locations, be prepared to approach the owner or landlord with a business plan for the machine.

Also be prepared to:

  • Pay a percentage of sales or other fee for having your machine in their location.
  • Pay for the electricity the machine uses.
  • Ensure the security of the machine. There is money inside a machine as well as inventory. Theft and vandalism are always possible.
  • Research state and local laws and regulations.
  • Pay sales tax on the revenue the machine generates.

Key Purchase: Your Vending Machine

Then you will need an actual vending machine. There are several types, and prices vary depending on what is in the machine, whether it needs refrigeration or heating, and the interactivity.

Buying directly from a manufacturer or supplier is one option, as is purchasing on a secondary market. Some companies also rent machines. Ausmus cautioned to make sure there are spare parts and support available for what you buy.

Machines range from about $1,500 for a used or refurbished machine to several thousands for a new, high-end machine with many technical features.

Some machines have:

  • Remote monitoring software: This helps keep track of how the machine is working and notifies the operator if something is wrong.
  • Low stock alerts: Notify the operator when items needs replacing.
  • Vending management systems (VMS): Tracks sales and other data to help owners make better business decisions.
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Running a Vending Machine Business

While owning vending machines does not require any special skills, it is a business.

You will need inventory and someone to keep the machine stocked and maintained. This may require a van or truck.

Perishables need to be stocked more often than other items. Learning some basic maintenance skills could keep you from having to hire someone if there is a problem with the machine.

Different types of machines have different capabilities. Some take only cash while others will process credit or debit cards. Some models have touch screens or voice capabilities.

“Make sure that you have your phone number on the machine, and that the store location knows your phone number,” said Ausmus. “If somebody didn’t get what they wanted, make sure the store can give them a refund and you pay the refund back to that store. Then get out there as soon as you can to fix the machine so that you can continue to make money.”

Automatic merchandising isn’t for everyone, but owning and operating a vending machine can be a good business. Being able to retrieve the money you make and restock your machines easily is the key.

“Then you only work probably three days a month, basically on the whole gig,” said Ausmus. “Three four days a month can make somebody a good little extra income.”

Tiffani Sherman is a Florida-based freelance reporter with more than 25 years of experience writing about finance, health, travel and other topics.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

5 Steps to Take When Budgeting for a Career Break

Not everyone’s career path is a 40+ year marathon working full time until you can finally come up for air in your golden years.

Sometimes you need a little break along the way.

Taking time away from the workforce — whether it’s to travel, take care of loved ones, learn a new skill or whatever — can be a beneficial thing. But money — or the lack thereof — is what stops many people from even considering it.

With some significant planning and budgeting, however, it’s possible to make your career break dreams a reality. Here are five steps you should take when budgeting for a career break.

5 Steps for Career Break Budgeting

1. Think About What Your Career Break Will Look Like

People take career breaks for a number of reasons. Take some time to reflect on why you are planning time away from the workforce and what you intend to do.

When thinking about what your new day-to-day will look like, try to get as detailed as possible. Hone in on aspects that will affect you financially.

How long will your break last? When would you like it to start? Will you be staying at home or traveling the world? What adventures would you like to experience?

While it’s nice to dream about your best life ever, you’ve got to be practical too. Ranking what you want to do with your newfound free time will be helpful if you have to cut your list down to fit what you can afford.

2. Explore What Your Costs Will Be During Your Break

After you’ve fantasized what your work break will look like, it’s time to focus on the numbers. You’ve got to know what your expenses will be in order to determine whether your plans are realistic.

If you don’t already budget your income and track your expenses, now’s the time to start. Your budget will give you a good idea of how much you spend on essentials and where you can cut costs as you save up for leave.

Research all the additional costs you expect to incur during your break. If you’re taking extended parental leave after the birth of a child, you’ll be dealing with a ton of new baby-related expenses. If you’re taking time off to travel, you’ve got to pay for transportation and lodging.

The length of your break will also be a big factor here. Obviously, the longer you’re away from the workforce, the more money you’ll need saved up.

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3. Set Up a Sinking Fund to Cover Expenses on Your Break

If you haven’t heard the term “sinking fund,” that’s just personal-finance speak for a stash of savings that you regularly contribute to over time to break up a big expense.

Once you’ve estimated the overall expenses for your leave, divide that by how many months you have left to come up with your target monthly savings goal.

Pro Tip

Switch to a bare-bones budget or try these other ways to save money fast so you can free up cash to add to your sinking fund.

If you already have existing savings you want to use to fund your career break, that will cut down on how much you’ll need to put aside each month — just make sure you don’t touch your emergency fund!

Your emergency savings should only be used on an actual emergency — like if you get into a car accident or Fido needs to be rushed to the pet hospital. Being away from work won’t make you immune to emergencies, so do not plan to use your emergency fund to tide you through your break.

In fact, before you focus on building up your sinking fund, you ought to have adequate savings in an emergency fund first.

A woman helps her mother up from a chair outside in their garden.

4. Explore Opportunities to Make Money On Your Break

If you’re able to make money while you’re away from work, you’ll be less financially burdened. You won’t have to save up as much or worry about burning through your entire savings.

The first income stream you should explore is your current job. Taking a career break doesn’t necessarily mean calling it quits where you work now.

Depending on what type of leave you’re taking, your job may be protected and you might be able to continue collecting your salary — or a percentage of your current pay.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of a child, to deal with a serious health condition or to care for an ill or injured family member. While this type of leave is unpaid, you’ll continue to be covered under their workplace health insurance plan and there may be the possibility of coupling this leave with short-term disability pay.

Pro Tip

President Joe Biden’s proposed coronavirus stimulus package includes extending the expired paid time off policies for sick workers and those needing to care for family members due to COVID-19.

Find out if your employer offers any other paid leave programs — whether that’s parental leave, unlimited PTO or sabbaticals. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Employee Benefits Survey, 27% of employers offered paid parental leave, 6% offered unlimited paid leave and 5% offered a paid sabbatical program.

Another 11% of employers surveyed offered an unpaid sabbatical program. While unpaid leave isn’t as ideal as paid leave, it gives you peace of mind that you’ll have a job to come back to after your break.

Other options to make money during your leave include picking up a side gig, bringing in passive income, renting out rooms (or your entire place) on Airbnb or selling your belongings.

If you need to pick up a little work while you’re on a career break, just make sure it doesn’t conflict with the reason you needed to take leave in the first place.

5. Develop a Re-Entry Plan

You need to plan for all aspects of your career break — including your transition back to the workforce.

Your budget needs to not only cover your expenses while you’re backpacking through Europe or nursing your elderly mother back to health. You’ve got to add a cushion for that period at the end where you’re actively seeking your next gig.

While data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average length of unemployment is about 23 weeks, how long it’ll take you to find new work will vary depending on your industry and the position you’re seeking.

Plan to keep up with contacts in your field and engage in relevant volunteer work or continued education while you’re away to improve your chances of quickly finding a new job.

If your savings run low toward the end of your leave, don’t brush off finding a bridge job — a temporary role to help you pay the bills while you search for better opportunities.

Pro Tip

A resume gap isn’t the kiss of death it used to be. You can even craft a way to include side gigs on your resume.

A career break should provide you with freedom to pursue something outside of your typical work life. You don’t want that freedom to drag you deeper into debt or put you in a worse financial position if you can avoid it.

Do your best to budget for more time than you’ll need so you can enjoy your career break stress free.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips

Working from home has its perks. There’s the money saved from skipping the commute, and just think about all of that time you get back by avoiding crowded freeways or public transit during rush hour. As far as workplace attire goes, few employees would trade “work-from-home casual” for dress slacks.

But while working from home affords some new freedoms, it also creates new challenges. One of your biggest tasks is to create a productive, ergonomically correct workplace in your home without breaking the bank. If this sounds familiar, you’re probably asking yourself, “How can I set up a home office on a budget?”

Whether you’ve always worked from home as a freelancer or started during the pandemic, these expert tips will help you get started as you design your home office on a budget:

From finding the right location to choosing the ideal furniture, these tips will help you create your home office on a budget.

Strive for an ergonomically correct home office

Being home all day creates an unexpected obstacle: pain. Many workers find that transitioning from a well-equipped office to a makeshift setup at home leads to discomfort. That’s because many of them go from having a spacious desk, comfortable chair, and monitor and keyboard in their office building to working from a laptop in their living room.

If you suffer from neck pain or eye strain when working from home, you may be feeling the effects of poor ergonomics. Ergonomics, commonly known as the science of work, aims to optimize productivity and health in a workspace.

As a physical therapist with more than 25 years of experience, Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert, knows this issue all too well. Loesing’s company performs ergonomic assessments for businesses and home offices. Over the years, she has seen countless clients suffering from neck, back or other health issues due to poorly designed workspaces. But it doesn’t have to be that way, Loesing says.

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“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

There are relatively easy ways to transform an ergonomic nightmare into a well-functioning home office on a budget—even if you’re stationed at the kitchen table, she says. And the investment is worth it.

“Having an ergonomically correct workstation enhances productivity and generally overall happiness at work,” Loesing says. “For those who are able to designate a certain space in their home where they can work without distractions—maybe even a window with a view and the flexibility to work at your own pace—it has been proven this makes for a happier employee.”

Who doesn’t want to boost their health, productivity and happiness in one fell swoop?

Find the optimal location for your at-home workspace

When setting up a home office for remote work, location should be your first decision, says design consultant Linda Varone, author of “The Smarter Home Office.” Depending on your living situation, there may be an obvious answer, such as that spare room you’ve always thought could become an office space.

If you don’t have a dedicated office, don’t despair. While you design your home office on a budget, think creatively about where it can be.

Varone once visited a client’s home to help reconfigure her workspace. The client was running a business from a table in the hallway. “At the end of each workday, she had to pack everything up and store it in the closet in the guest room,” Varone says.

But as Varone learned, guests only stayed over two weeks a year, leaving the room empty the rest of the time. It hadn’t occurred to the business owner, but turning the guest room into a home office for most of the year was the perfect solution.

If you’re setting up a home office for remote work, picking the optimal location for your workspace should be your first step.

“There are some simple, simple ways that people can rethink their home office without a big investment and make that space really work for them,” Varone says.

In addition to using a guest room, a dining or living room can also function as a home office on a budget.

Establish the ideal setup for your workstation

Once you’ve decided on the room, determine the location for your workstation, Varone says. As you plan your home office, consider placing your desk or table near a window, allowing for natural light and an occasional glimpse of nature. Don’t face directly outside; instead, aim for a line of sight that’s perpendicular to the window, Varone says. That’s because, even on an overcast day, you’d be looking into too much bright light if you’re facing the window.

“What’s happening is your eyes are adjusting back and forth between the bright sunlight that you’re facing and the darker light of your computer screen,” Varone says. “And that ends up being really fatiguing for the eye.”

If you live with others, the biggest challenge will be privacy. Try to clearly define the boundaries of your “office” if you can, such as with an area rug, she says. Then ask your roommates or family members not to enter your space while you’re working, apart from an emergency.

When you're planning a home office, try to clearly define the boundaries of your workspace if you live with others.

If you use a multipurpose space, be sure to tidy everything up at the end of the day, Varone says. Taking the 10 minutes or so to clean up your “office” will reduce clutter. Ultimately, a clutter-free space can reduce your stress and boost your productivity.

“That also has a benefit of becoming a little ritual and helping you say, ‘All right, my workday is over,’” Varone says. “‘Now I can focus on my personal life.’”

Choose your furniture wisely

Now that you’ve found the perfect location for your home office on a budget, focus on finding the perfect work surface. Maybe it’s a traditional desk. Or it could be your dining room table or kitchen counter.

If you do need to buy a desk or chair, don’t feel like you need to spend a fortune. Try looking for a used office furniture store or liquidator in your area, Varone recommends. You could even try searching online marketplaces for a gently used model.

When planning a home office and considering your work surface, what matters most is the height.

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The average desk is 29 inches high, Loesing says. This will likely accommodate someone who’s 5’8”, she acknowledges, but for everyone else? It will take some adjusting to make it fit for them.

That’s where your chair comes in. Most people don’t need a high-end office swivel chair to work comfortably. As long as you can adjust the height of your chair to fit you and your desk, you’ll have a comfortable setup.

It’s important to adjust the height of your chair to achieve a neutral position, Loesing says. If you don’t have the instructions from the manufacturer on how to adjust your model, try searching for videos online, she adds.

One more chair takeaway from Loesing?

“If you can’t spend a dime, at least get as comfortable as you can where you’re sitting, and sit all the way back in your chair,” Loesing says. “When you don’t sit so your back is against the backrest, you’re using your back muscles all day long instead of them being at rest.”

When you design your home office on a budget, make sure your chair and work surface allow you to get into a comfortable sitting position.

Adjust your furniture and equipment

As you continue planning a home office, you’ll likely find that your computer is your most important piece of equipment. But it can also lead to neck strain. Whether it’s a laptop or an external monitor, Loesing says screen placement is key. In fact, she says it’s the single most important feature to address—as well as the most commonly disregarded one.

While you plan your home office, Loesing recommends keeping the following ergonomic guidelines in mind to help avoid neck strain:

  • Align your monitor so your eyes are level with the screen. (That’s typically about 4” from the top of the monitor.)
  • Place your feet flat on the floor and your knees at about a 90-degree angle with the ground.
  • Place your arms at about a 90-degree angle from the writing surface so your shoulders are relaxed.

If you only have a laptop, and no monitor, you still have options for raising your screen to eye-level. “There are budget-friendly laptop risers on the market,” Loesing says. “If you don’t want to spend any money, you can place books or reams of paper to bring the screen up to eye level.”

When setting up a home office for remote work and thinking about your arm placement, note that Varone is a strong advocate for an external keyboard. If you’re working at a desk that has a keyboard tray built into it, that’s a great way to keep your arms at about a 90-degree angle, she says. If you don’t have a built-in tray, she says you can improvise by placing your keyboard on an inexpensive laptop table situated directly under your desk.

While the exact adjustments will vary depending on your equipment, height and budget, the focus is on acquiring a neutral position or a position where there’s no strain on anything, Loesing says.

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“With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

– Karen Loesing, owner of The Ergonomic Expert

Stand if it suits you

If you’re intrigued by the idea of a standing desk, you’re not alone. Standing desk sales have soared over the last decade, buoyed by reports of the dangers of too much sitting.

“Static postures (e.g., sitting all day in front of a computer) present more fatigue than dynamic working,” Loesing says. “With the addition of standing desks, which encourage movement, employees often find they have significantly more energy at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to buy an official standing desk to reap the benefits when planning a home office. “The least expensive way would be to take a laptop and place it up high on a built-in high counter using a compact wireless keyboard and mouse,” Loesing says.

Even if you don’t have a standing desk—makeshift or otherwise—you can still incorporate movement and circulation into your workday. Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 20 minutes, Loesing suggests.

For an even better boost, combine this with a popular guideline known as the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, give your eyes a break by looking out a window at something at least 20 feet away, and do so for at least 20 seconds.

Don’t forget the ambience and accessories

Your desk, chair and computer are the major players when you’re setting up a home office for remote work. But there are a few additional items to consider, like lighting, plants and sound.

Setting up a home office for remote work should include some thinking around ambiance, like lighting, plants and sound.

Your overhead light fixture likely isn’t enough, as it will create shadows and can be too weak by the time it reaches your workspace, Varone says. She recommends investing in a table lamp that creates a wider spread of light in your area. Pick one with a translucent shade that will softly diffuse the light and make it easier on your eyes.

As you’re planning your home office, Varone also recommends incorporating a potted plant or flower into your workspace. Not only can it help purify the air and boost your mood, a natural element can contribute to a restful atmosphere.

Working from home means working with home noises—especially if you’re in an environment with roommates, a partner or little ones. To keep the noise down, consider noise-canceling headphones for a quieter workspace and clearer meetings. Other budget-friendly options? Try placing a towel under the door to block out noise from other rooms, Loesing says. Consider curtains instead of blinds, since they’re better at blocking out sound. Even pillows or large cushions can help reduce noise, she adds.

After you’ve taken care of the essentials and if you have the space and money, think about adding a reading chair to your home office. You can use this as a space to review documents or do some deep thinking, Varone says. It can be a welcome respite from your desk while keeping you in the office area, she adds.

When planning a home office, think about adding a reading chair to your space.

One last tip? Add a personal touch, whether it’s a framed family photo or a souvenir from your travels. It’s your home office, after all. Let your personality shine.

Set up a home office for remote work that allows you to thrive

Now that you know how to create a home office on a budget, you’re ready to make a space that works well for you. Whether you’re an experienced remote worker or a newbie, you can apply these expert tips to set up an office that’s functional and keeps you motivated day in and day out.

Ready to break in your new home office? Keep that motivation going by learning how to increase your earning potential this year.

The post Planning a Home Office? Check Out These Budget-Friendly Tips appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

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How Much Should You Spend on Rent?

One of the most exciting parts of becoming an adult is moving out of your old place and starting your own life. However, as is the case with most major life events, moving out comes with a lot of added responsibility. Part of this duty is knowing and understanding your budget when shopping for the perfect apartment, condo, duplex, or rental house. So how much should you really spend on rent?

The 30 Percent Threshold

The first step in deciding how much you should spend on rent is calculating how much rent you can afford. This is done by finding your fixed income-to-rent ratio. Simply put, this is the percentage of your income that is budgeted towards rent.

As a general rule of thumb, allocating 30 percent of your net income towards rent is a good place to start. Government studies consider people who spend more than 30 percent on living expenses to be “cost-burdened,” and those who spend 50 percent or more to be “severely cost-burdened.”

When calculating your income-to-rent ratio, keep in mind that you should be using your total household income. If you live with a roommate or partner, be sure to factor in their income as well to ensure you’re finding a rent range that’s appropriate for your income level.

If you’re still unsure as to how much rent you can afford, consider an affordability calculator. Remember to consult a financial advisor before entering into a lease if you’re unsure if you’ll be able to make rent.

Consider the 50/30/20 Rule

Consider the 50:30:20 Rule

After you’ve set a fixed income-to-rent ratio, consider the 50/20/30 rule to round out your budget. This rule suggests that 50 percent of your income goes to essentials, 20 percent goes to savings, and the remaining 30 percent goes to non-essential, personal expenses. In this case, rent falls under “essentials.” Also included in this category are any expenses that are absolutely necessary, such as utilities, food, and transportation.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation in which you make $4,000 per month. Under the 50/20/30 rule with a fixed income-to-rent ratio of 30 percent, you have $2,000 (50 percent) per month to spend on essential living expenses. $1,200 (30 percent) goes to rent, leaving you with $800 per month for other necessary expenses such as utilities and food.

Remember to Budget for Additional Expenses

Now that you’ve budgeted for rent and essential utilities, it’s time to make a plan for how you’re going to furnish your apartment. One of the biggest shocks of moving out on your own is how expensive filling a home can be. From kitchen utensils to lightbulbs and everything in between, it can be pricey to make your space perfect.

For the most part, furniture falls under the 30 percent of personal, non-essential expenses. Consider planning ahead before a move and saving for home goods so that you don’t go into major debt when it comes time to move out.

Be on the Lookout for Savings

If your budget is slightly out of reach for your dream apartment, try to nix unnecessary costs to see if you can make it work. Look for ways to cut down on utilities, insurance, groceries, and rent.

Utilities: Water, heat, and electricity are all necessities, but your TV service isn’t. Cut the cord on TV and mobile services that may not serve you and your budget anymore. Consider swapping out your light bulbs for eco-friendly and energy-efficient light bulbs to cut down your electric bill.

Insurance: Instead of paying monthly renters insurance rates, save a fraction of the cost by paying your yearly cost in full. If you have a roommate, ask to share a policy together at a premium rate.

Groceries: Swap your nights out for a homemade meal. You can save up to $832 a year with this simple habit change. When grocery shopping, add up costs as you shop to ensure your budget stays on track.

Rent: One of the best ways to save on rent is to split the bill. Consider getting roommates to save 50 percent or more on your monthly rent.

A lease is not something to be entered into lightly. Biting off more rent than you can chew can lead to unpaid rent, which can damage your credit score and make it harder to find an apartment or buy a home in the future. By implementing these best practices, you’ll hopefully find a balance between finding a place you love and still having room in your budget for a little bit of fun.

Sources: US Census Bureau

The post How Much Should You Spend on Rent? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

6 Essentials for an In-Home Movie Theater

While winter weather can make going outside seem less than inviting, you can entertain your family indoors with your favorite movies and shows in a home theater. With a little help, your theater setup might make the cold a little more bearable. Here are six must-haves for your home theater.

1. Theater Seating
Comfortable leather recliners with cushy armrests are a staple of any home theater. The amount of seats is reliant on the size of your space; viewers shouldn’t feel too cramped. Also, the distance you place them from your screen depends on the screen’s size. An easy way to determine seat distance is to take the horizontal length of your screen and multiply it by two to get the minimum distance. Multiply it by five to get the maximum distance. For example: A 60-inch screen would have a minimum distance of 120 inches, or ten feet, and a maximum distance of 300 inches, or 25 feet.

2. Video Projector
Installing a quality video projector can ensure that you and your viewers enjoy the best picture possible. Pay attention to the projector’s throw distance, or the distance at which it should be placed away from your screen. Also, consider how far down you should hang your projector and at what angle to tilt it. Most projectors have vertical lens shift, which allows you to adjust the projection regardless of how you mount your projector. For those that don’t, hang your projector with an extension pipe so that you can adjust the hanging distance to perfect the projected image.

3. Projector Screen and Lighting
For screen placement, pick a wall where light does not fall on it directly. You can even paint your walls a dark color to avoid glare. Mount the screen on your wall so the bottom is between two or three feet off the ground. This helps every seat in your theater achieve the perfect view. Try adding dimmable overhead lights to add an authentic cinema feeling.

4. Surround Sound
The most common speaker system for home theaters is 5.1 surround sound. This six-speaker system is comprised of five full-range speakers and one low-range speaker known as the woofer. The ideal setup for 5.1 surround sound is three speakers and the woofer toward the front of the room, with the remaining two on either side of the back end of the room. Place each speaker at least 20 inches from the wall. If six speakers seem excessive, try a simple three speaker setup with a speaker in front of your screen and two others to the left and right.

5. Sound Paneling and Acoustics
Rectangular windowless rooms generally have better acoustics than square ones, but you might not be able to remodel just for your home theater. Sound absorption panels to prevent echoes, although standard dry wall paneling is usually adequate acoustic material for home theaters. Installing carpeting may also improve the acoustics of your in-home theater and add a level of comfort for viewers.

6. Mini Fridge
Keep a small refrigerator in your home theater and stock it with refreshments that are easily accessible. After all, you won’t have to stand in line and worry about missing your movie when you’re home! You may also want to stock old movie favorites like popcorn and candy in a non-refrigerated unit in the theater. Just don’t eat too loudly during the movie.

With these home theater features, being snowed in this winter might not seem so bad!

The post 6 Essentials for an In-Home Movie Theater first appeared on Century 21®.

Source: century21.com

How to Save for Retirement in Your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s

You probably don’t need us to tell you that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. But let’s face it: For a lot of people, the problem isn’t that they don’t understand how compounding works. They start saving late because their paychecks will only stretch so far.

Whether you’re in your 20s or your golden years are fast-approaching, saving and investing whatever you can will help make your retirement more comfortable. We’ll discuss how to save for retirement during each decade, along with the hurdles you may face at different stages of life.

How Much Should You Save for Retirement?

A good rule of thumb is to save between 10% and 20% of pre-tax income for retirement. But the truth is, the actual amount you need to save for retirement depends on a lot of factors, including:

  • Your age. If you get a late start, you’ll need to save more.
  • Whether your employer matches contributions. The 10% to 20% guideline includes your employer’s match. So if your employer matches your contributions dollar-for-dollar, you may be able to get away with less.
  • How aggressively you invest. Taking more risk usually leads to larger returns, but your losses will be steeper if the stock market tanks.
  • How long you plan to spend in retirement. It’s impossible to predict how long you’ll be able to work or how long you’ll live. But if you plan to retire early or people in your family often live into their mid-90s, you’ll want to save more.

How to Save for Retirement at Every Age

Now that you’re ready to start saving, here’s a decade-by-decade breakdown of savings strategies and how to make your retirement a priority.

Saving for Retirement in Your 20s

A dollar invested in your 20s is worth more than a dollar invested in your 30s or 40s. The problem: When you’re living on an entry-level salary, you just don’t have that many dollars to invest, particularly if you have student loan debt.

Prioritize Your 401(k) Match

If your company offers a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan or any retirement account with matching contributions, contribute enough to get the full match — unless of course you wouldn’t be able to pay bills as a result. The stock market delivers annual returns of about 8% on average. But if your employer gives you a 50% match, you’re getting a 50% return on your contribution before your money is even invested. That’s free money no investor would ever pass up.

Pay off High-Interest Debt

After getting that employer match, focus on tackling any high-interest debt. Those 8% average annual stock market returns pale in comparison to the average 16% interest rate for people who have credit card debt. In a typical year, you’d expect a  $100 investment could earn you $8. Put that $100 toward your balance? You’re guaranteed to save $16.

Take More Risks

Look, we’re not telling you to throw your money into risky investments like bitcoin or the penny stock your cousin won’t shut up about. But when you start investing, you’ll probably answer some questions to assess your risk tolerance. Take on as much risk as you can mentally handle, which means you’ll invest mostly in stocks with a small percentage in bonds. Don’t worry too much about a stock market crash. Missing out on growth is a bigger concern right now.

Build Your Emergency Fund

Building an emergency fund that could cover your expenses for three to six months is a great way to safeguard your retirement savings. That way you won’t need to tap your growing nest egg in a cash crunch. This isn’t money you should have invested, though. Keep it in a high-yield savings account, a money market account or a certificate of deposit (CD).

Tame Lifestyle Inflation

We want you to enjoy those much-deserved raises ahead of you — but keep lifestyle inflation in check. Don’t spend every dollar each time your paycheck gets higher. Commit to investing a certain percentage of each raise and then use the rest as you please.

Saving for Retirement in Your 30s

If you’re just starting to save in your 30s, the picture isn’t too dire. You still have about three decades left until retirement, but it’s essential not to delay any further. Saving may be a challenge now, though, if you’ve added kids and homeownership to the mix.

Invest in an IRA

Opening a Roth IRA is a great way to supplement your savings if you’ve only been investing in your 401(k) thus far. A Roth IRA is a solid bet because you’ll get tax-free money in retirement.

In both 2020 and 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if you’re over 50. The deadline to contribute isn’t until tax day for any given year, so you can still make 2020 contributions until April 15, 2021. If you earn too much to fund a Roth IRA, or you want the tax break now (even though it means paying taxes in retirement), you can contribute to a traditional IRA.

Your investment options with a 401(k) are limited. But with an IRA, you can invest in whatever stocks, bonds, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) you choose.

Pro Tip

If you or your spouse isn’t working but you can afford to save for retirement, consider a spousal IRA. It’s a regular IRA, but the working spouse funds it for the non-earning spouse. 

Avoid Mixing Retirement Money With Other Savings

You’re allowed to take a 401(k) loan for a home purchase. The Roth IRA rules give you the flexibility to use your investment money for a first-time home purchase or college tuition. You’re also allowed to withdraw your contributions whenever you want. Wait, though. That doesn’t mean you should.

The obvious drawback is that you’re taking money out of the market before it’s had time to compound. But there’s another downside. It’s hard to figure out if you’re on track for your retirement goals when your Roth IRA is doing double duty as a college savings account or down payment fund.

Start a 529 Plan While Your Kids Are Young

Saving for your own future takes higher priority than saving for your kids’ college. But if your retirement funds are in shipshape, opening a 529 plan to save for your children’s education is a smart move. Not only will you keep the money separate from your nest egg, but by planning for their education early, you’ll avoid having to tap your savings for their needs later on.

Keep Investing When the Stock Market Crashes

The stock market has a major meltdown like the March 2020 COVID-19 crash about once a decade. But when a crash happens in your 30s, it’s often the first time you have enough invested to see your net worth take a hit. Don’t let panic take over. No cashing out. Commit to dollar-cost averaging and keep investing as usual, even when you’re terrified.

Saving for Retirement in Your 40s

If you’re in your 40s and started saving early, you may have a healthy nest egg by now. But if you’re behind on your retirement goals, now is the time to ramp things up. You still have plenty of time to save, but you’ve missed out on those early years of compounding.

Continue Taking Enough Risk

You may feel like you can afford less investment risk in your 40s, but you still realistically have another two decades left until retirement. Your money still has — and needs — plenty of time to grow. Stay invested mostly in stocks, even if it’s more unnerving than ever when you see the stock market tank.

Put Your Retirement Above Your Kids’ College Fund

You can only afford to pay for your kids’ college if you’re on track for retirement. Talk to your kids early on about what you can afford, as well their options for avoiding massive student loan debt, including attending a cheaper school, getting financial aid, and working while going to school. Your options for funding your retirement are much more limited.

Keep Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates are historically low — well below 3% as of December 2020. Your potential returns are much higher for investing, so you’re better off putting extra money into your retirement accounts. If you haven’t already done so, consider refinancing your mortgage to get the lowest rate.

Invest Even More

Now is the time to invest even more if you can afford to. Keep getting that full employer 401(k) match. Beyond that, try to max out your IRA contributions. If you have extra money to invest on top of that, consider allocating more to your 401(k). Or you could invest in a taxable brokerage account if you want more flexibility on how to invest.

Meet With a Financial Adviser

You’re about halfway through your working years when you’re in your 40s. Now is a good time to meet with a financial adviser. If you can’t afford one, a financial counselor is typically less expensive. They’ll focus on fundamentals like budgeting and paying off debt, rather than giving investment advice.

A woman waves her hands in the air as she overlooks a mountainous view in Alaska.

Saving for Retirement in Your 50s

By your 50s, those retirement years that once seemed like they were an eternity away are getting closer. Maybe that’s an exciting prospect — or perhaps it fills you with dread. Whether you want to keep working forever or retirement can’t come soon enough, now is the perfect time to start setting goals for when you want to retire and what you want your retirement to look like.

Review Your Asset Allocation

In your 50s, you may want to start shifting more into safe assets, like bonds or CDs. Your money has less time to recover from a stock market crash. Be careful, though. You still want to be invested in stocks so you can earn returns that will keep your money growing. With interest rates likely to stay low through 2023, bonds and CDs probably won’t earn enough to keep pace with inflation.

Take Advantage of Catch-up Contributions

If you’re behind on retirement savings, give your funds a boost using catch-up contributions. In 2020 and 2021, you can contribute:

  • $1,000 extra to a Roth or traditional IRA (or split the money between the two) once you’re 50
  • $6,500 extra to your 401(k) once you’re 50
  • $1,000 extra to a health savings account (HSA) once you’re 55.

Work More if You’re Behind

Your window for catching up on retirement savings is getting smaller now. So if you’re behind, consider your options for earning extra money to put into your nest egg. You could take on a side hustle, take on freelance work or work overtime if that’s a possibility to bring in extra cash. Even if you intend to work for another decade or two, many people are forced to retire earlier than they planned. It’s essential that you earn as much as possible while you can.

Pay off Your Remaining Debt

Since your 50s is often when you start shifting away from high-growth mode and into safer investments, now is a good time to use extra money to pay off lower-interest debt, including your mortgage. Retirement will be much more relaxing if you can enjoy it debt-free.

FROM THE RETIREMENT FORUM
Re-locating
1/5/21 @ 2:53 PM
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Military pension & SS
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TSP and mortgage
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Saving for Retirement in Your 60s

Hooray, you’ve made it! Hopefully your retirement goals are looking attainable by now after working for decades to get here. But you still have some big decisions to make. Someone in their 60s in 2021 could easily spend another two to three decades in retirement. Your challenge now is to make that hard-earned money last as long as possible.

Make a Retirement Budget

Start planning your retirement budget at least a couple years before you actually retire. Financial planners generally recommend replacing about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Common income sources for seniors include:

  • Social Security benefits. Monthly benefits replace about 40% of pre-retirement income for the average senior.
  • Retirement account withdrawals. Money you take out from your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and IRA.
  • Defined-benefit pensions. These are increasingly rare in the private sector, but still somewhat common for those retiring from a career in public service.
  • Annuities. Though controversial in the personal finance world, an annuity could make sense if you’re worried about outliving your savings.
  • Other investment income. Some seniors supplement their retirement and Social Security income with earnings from real estate investments or dividend stocks, for example.
  • Part-time work. A part-time job can help you delay dipping into your retirement savings account, giving your money more time to grow.

You can plan on some expenses going away. You won’t be paying payroll taxes or making retirement contributions, for example, and maybe your mortgage will be paid off. But you generally don’t want to plan for any budget cuts that are too drastic.

Even though some of your expenses will decrease, health care costs eat up a large chunk of senior income, even once you’re eligible for Medicare coverage — and they usually increase much faster than inflation.

Develop Your Social Security Strategy

You can take your Social Security benefits as early as 62 or as late as age 70. But the earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly benefits will be. If your retirement funds are lacking, delaying as long as you can is usually the best solution. Taking your benefit at 70 vs. 62 will result in monthly checks that are about 76% higher. However, if you have significant health problems, taking benefits earlier may pay off.

Pro Tip

Use Social Security’s Retirement Estimator to estimate what your monthly benefit will be.

Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Withdraw

Once you’ve made your retirement budget and estimated how much Social Security you’ll receive, you can estimate how much you’ll be able to safely withdraw from your retirement accounts. A common retirement planning guideline is the 4% rule: You withdraw no more than 4% of your retirement savings in the first year, then adjust the amount for inflation.

If you have a Roth IRA, you can let that money grow as long as you want and then enjoy it tax-free. But you’ll have to take required minimum distributions, or RMDs, beginning at age 72 if you have a 401(k) or a traditional IRA. These are mandatory distributions based on your life expectancy. The penalties for not taking them are stiff: You’ll owe the IRS 50% of the amount you were supposed to withdraw.

Keep Investing While You’re Working

Avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts while you’re still working. Once you’re over age 59 ½, you won’t pay an early withdrawal penalty, but you want to avoid touching your retirement funds for as long as possible.

Instead, continue to invest in your retirement plans as long as you’re still earning money. But do so cautiously. Keep money out of the stock market if you’ll need it in the next five years or so, since your money doesn’t have much time to recover from a stock market crash in your 60s.

A Final Thought: Make Your Retirement About You

Whether you’re still working or you’re already enjoying your golden years, this part is essential: You need to prioritize you. That means your retirement savings goals need to come before bailing out family members, or paying for college for your children and grandchildren. After all, no one else is going to come to the rescue if you get to retirement with no savings.

If you’re like most people, you’ll work for decades to get to retirement. The earlier you start planning for it, the more stress-free it will be.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com