Finding the right child care option for your family and your budget can feel like a Catch-22. You want the best for your kid — a friendly, well-qualified caregiver who will meet all your child’s needs.
But the best of anything is expensive, and you don’t want to be working so much just to afford child care that you never have time to see your kid.
This is where good budgeting comes in handy.
You need the reality of your financial situation to match up with the costs you’ll have to pay. Whether you’re early in your pregnancy or nearing the end of maternity leave, here’s what you need to have in mind when setting your child care budget.
Establish What You Can Afford for Your Child Care Budget
Child care can take up a significant chunk of parents’ budgets. Last year, The Penny Hoarder surveyed over 1,200 adults and found half spent at least 15% of their income on child care.
Unless you regularly have hundreds of dollars in surplus at the end of every month, finding the funds to pay for day care will require making changes.
Pull out your budget — or if you don’t regularly budget, pull out bank statements and receipts from the past few months and calculate the average of what you spend in each category. Now go through your expenditures and see where you can make cuts.
What nonessentials can you cut? See where you can reduce spending on dining out, entertainment, clothing and personal care.
Using the cash envelope system can help you stick to your spending limits. Once the cash in your envelopes is gone, no more spending until the next pay day.
Your essential spending isn’t off the hook either. Implement money-saving grocery shopping tips. Opt for a cheaper cell phone plan. Are you able to move to a more affordable home or downgrade to a less expensive car?
Another place you’ll want to analyze in your budget is what you’re spending to reach your financial goals. While it’s certainly prudent to pay more than the minimum on your debt and to exceed your employer’s 401(k) match, now might be time to focus on your most immediate financial challenge.
Of course, cutting your spending isn’t the only way to find room in your budget. Increasing your income is always a plus. Could you or your partner ask for a raise or secure a better-paying job? Are you able to pick up a side gig?
If you can find a way to increase your income without increasing the need for more hours of child care, you’ll be ahead of the game.
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Research Child Care Costs In Your Area
Next, you need to get familiar with how much child care costs where you live.
Try not to be intimidated by the scary claims that child care costs more than housing or college tuition. Yes, that can be true, but child care generally comes in a wide range of options at various price points.
Licensed caregivers who operate day cares out of their homes usually charge less than a formal child care center. Enrolling your little one in a center typically costs less than hiring a full-time nanny.
According to Care.com’s Cost of Care survey, parents in 2018 spent an average of $199 a week on in-home care, $213 a week for child care centers and $596 a week to have a nanny. However, costs vary greatly by region. What you pay can also depend on your child’s age. The younger your child is, the more expensive care generally will be.
After deciding what type of care you prefer, start researching options in your area. Get recommendations from people you know. Check sites like Care.com, ChildCare.gov and Child Care Aware of America. Search Facebook and Nextdoor for local providers and parenting groups.
Local parenting publications may have information or advertisements about child care centers. Your school system might operate a program for preschoolers or at least have some insight about which preschools their kindergartners are coming from.
When you’re vetting child care providers, you’ll want to ask a ton of questions to determine if they’d be a good fit. Cost isn’t the only important factor.
However, when asking about the rates, make sure to ask about registration fees, if meals or snacks are included and if there are any additional costs like supplies or field trips. Ask about the price of wrap-around care if standard hours don’t cover your typical work day. Consider the transportation costs involved in getting your child to and from child care.
Don’t forget to inquire about availability. It doesn’t matter that an option is perfect and affordable if families have to be on a waiting list for years.
Figure Out a Plan that Works for Your Family
Finding child care isn’t always as easy as determining how much you can spend and finding a place that fits your budget. Sometimes there just isn’t enough money to stretch.
Depending on your income and family size, your family might qualify for child care assistance via programs like Head Start, a government subsidy or financial aid through nonprofits like the YMCA or the United Way.
Some employers offer benefits for working parents, such as tuition discounts at day care centers or dependent care flexible spending accounts. Other companies allow employees to work remotely or bring their baby to the office.
Some parents in a pinch work out informal caregiving arrangements with grandparents or another family member. Plenty of parents find they have to make tough sacrifices, like quitting their jobs, working less hours or working schedules opposite of their partner so one parent is always home.
Child care costs can have a huge impact on your budget — and your life — but at least it’s only a temporary aspect of raising a child. You’ll hit some financial relief once your kid starts kindergarten. Then you can switch your focus to saving money for college!
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. [...]
Have you been avoiding setting up a retirement account because the information is overwhelming and complicated? Yeah, me too.
I’m not going to lie; if it wasn’t for the automatic enrollment in my employer’s 401(k) when I was 26, I wouldn’t have started saving for retirement when I did.
As my savings — and age — grow, so does my concern about retirement.
Why did I wait so long to start saving? Will it be enough when I retire? Is there more I can do now? I guess this means I’m full-on adulting.
Instead of worrying about what I can’t control, I’ve shifted my focus to what I can control: how much money I save and where I save it.
And so can you.
With a little research, personal questioning, and maybe even a list of pros and cons, I’ve figured out the right retirement savings option that fits my lifestyle.
Let’s see if we can help you find yours.
What Is a 401(k)?
A 401(k) is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan where contributions are generally deducted from your paycheck before taxes.
The money in your 401(k) grows over time due to investments made on your behalf in mutual funds, stocks and bonds. With a few exceptions, you cannot withdraw money from your 401(k) until you’re 59 ½ without a 10% penalty.
Your contributions are tax-deductible, but you must pay income taxes on the money you withdraw.
You’re not required to make withdrawals until you’re 70 ½. Then, you are required to take minimum distributions.
As of 2019, you can contribute up to $19,000 per year to a 401(k). There are no income restrictions, and your contributions do not count as taxable income.
When Should You Invest in a 401(k)?
A 401(k) might be a good retirement savings option for you if you answer “yes” to any of these questions:
Does your employer offer a 401(k) and match your contributions?
If so, this perk can maximize your retirement savings. It’s basically free money.
Is an automatic paycheck deduction in line with your saving style?
Payroll deductions are seamless and hassle-free. You never see the money, so you won’t be tempted to spend it.
Could you use the lower income tax?
All those automatic payroll deductions are pulled out before taxes, which reduces your annual taxable income. That could result in you falling into a lower tax bracket or receiving higher income tax returns.
Have you reached your IRA’s maximum annual contribution?
If you’ve hit the annual max contribution for a traditional or Roth IRA, you can still contribute to a 401(k). Its annual contribution limit of $19,000 allows for mega saving.
Are you in a high tax bracket and not ready to pay taxes on your investment?
If you are in a higher tax bracket, it might be better to pay lower taxes by putting pretax money into a 401(k). This is especially helpful if you think you may fall into a lower tax bracket when you’re ready to start making withdrawals.
What Is an IRA?
An IRA is an individual retirement account that is not attached to an employer. It stays with you regardless of where you live and work or your marital status.
You open an IRA on your own, and as of 2019, you can invest up to $6,000 per year — or $7,000 once you’re 50 or older — in addition to any 401(k) contributions.
You contribute when it’s convenient for you and choose what mutual funds, stocks and/or bonds you want to invest your money in.
Most IRAs do not have a minimum opening deposit, but there might be purchase requirements on some investments and a mandatory annual contribution.
Your contributions to an IRA may be fully tax-deductible depending on your financial situation, but your withdrawals are taxed as income. You can withdraw money from your IRA once you’re 59 ½ without the 10% early withdrawal penalty with a few exceptions. You’re also required to make a minimum annual withdrawal once you’re 70 ½.
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What About a Roth IRA?
Traditional and Roth IRAs are similar, but there are a few key differences.
One of the biggest distinctions is your contributions to a Roth IRA are taxed, meaning you pay taxes now instead of later. It’s totes tax-free on the back end, though. Woo!
Roth IRAs do have income limits. As of 2019, individuals who make more than $137,000 per year or married couples who make more than $203,000 a year cannot contribute.
Like a traditional IRA, maximum annual contributions for a Roth IRA are capped at $6,000 — or $7,000 once you’re 50 or older.
You can withdraw the money you contribute before age 59 ½ without penalty since you already paid taxes on it, but there’s a 10% penalty on the earnings if you withdraw it before 59 ½. You can skip the early withdrawal penalty if it’s for college, medical bills or first-time home purchases.
Unlike a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA has no mandatory distribution requirement, which means you will not be forced to take withdrawals at 70 ½.
As with a traditional IRA, you must make your own investments with a Roth IRA.
When to Invest in an IRA or a Roth IRA
Opening a traditional IRA or Roth IRA might be a good option if your situation fits some of the following criteria:
Your employer doesn’t offer a 401(k) match or other retirement plans.
IRAs are great DIY saving options because they’re not attached to an employer. An IRA allows you the freedom to invest on your terms regardless of your situation, especially if you don’t have access to a 401(k).
You’re a job hopper or don’t plan to stay at your current employer for long.
It’s becoming more common to change jobs frequently, and with it comes the pain of perpetually rolling over your old 401(k). An IRA stays in one location while you seize all the job opportunities.
You prefer to choose how and where your money is invested.
IRAs give you complete control over the type, quality and amount of investments. You can manage it yourself, whereas in a 401(k), you’re paying to have someone else manage it for you. It’s like making your own dinner at home or going out to eat. Essentially, an IRA is like picking the ingredients and setting the oven to “bake.”
You’re in a low tax bracket.
If you’re young and in a low tax bracket, consider a Roth IRA. Seriously, you pay the lowest possible taxes now and reap the rewards later.
If you plan to fall in a higher income bracket when you retire, or you don’t want to gamble on future tax rates.
Paying taxes on Roth IRA investments upfront is ideal if you’re studying for a high-income profession or climbing the corporate ladder. The more you earn, the more you’ll pay in taxes in the long run. There’s also risk with withdrawing later — who knows what the tax brackets might be in 30 to 50 years.
You’ve reached the maximum annual contribution limit on your 401(k).
If you’ve reached the $19,000 limit on your 401(k), you could still invest up to the maximum amount in an IRA.
You want to make a contribution for last year.
You can contribute to your IRA for the previous year up until the tax filing deadli [...]
Life insurance is one of those touchy subjects no one likes to talk about, let alone research or recognize its existence. In a world that’s all about living your best life, life insurance just doesn’t fit.
We’re here to tell you that not only is it OK to talk about life insurance, but finding the right type of policy can provide you with peace of mind.
One option to consider is whole life insurance.
What Is Whole Life Insurance, and How Does Cash Value Work?
So what is whole life insurance?
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance that pays out a benefit to the individual(s) you list as the recipients for your policy when you die.
But part of your policy goes toward a cash value component, which is basically a tax-deferred savings account you can take advantage of later in life.
You can use the cash value to:
Pay your premiums.
Take out loans at lower interest rates than you’d get from a bank.
Supplement your income, especially in retirement.
Create a new investment portfolio.
Whole life insurance is a guaranteed payout that you can’t outlive. Your beneficiaries will receive the payout upon your death unless you fail to make payments or cancel your policy (and pay expensive cancellation costs), or if your cause of death is excluded in your policy.
When you die, your heirs receive the listed death benefit — but not the cash value that rose while you were alive and making payments. Any remaining cash value goes to the insurance company, so it’s a benefit to take advantage of while you’re still alive.
Term vs. Whole Life Insurance
The biggest difference between term and whole life insurance policies is the amount of time that you are covered.
Term life insurance provides coverage for specific amounts of time, usually for set periods of anywhere from five to 30 years. But whole life insurance, as discussed above, is going to pay out eventually when you die as long as your premiums are paid.
When you choose term life insurance, you can get more coverage for lower premiums. Why? Because you’ll likely outlive your term, and the insurance company won’t have to pay out a death benefit. It also has no cash value.
Most people choose a set term life insurance, knowing they are paying a low premium purely on a policy that’s solely for financial protection in the case of their untimely death. If you look at it from a purely insurance standpoint, it’s like buying car insurance your whole life but never using it because you were never in a car wreck.
Many term life insurance policies allow you to convert your policy to whole life insurance, but you’ll typically pay a costly fee. Try to do your homework first and stick with the policy you pick.
Your premiums for personal whole life insurance are considered a personal expense, so they aren’t tax-deductible.
5 Types of Whole Life Insurance Policies
There are five main types of whole life insurance. Here’s a brief overview:
Traditional whole life insurance: Your premiums stay the same as long as you keep making them.
Single premium whole life insurance: One large lump payment you make upfront takes care of this policy.
Limited whole life insurance: You pick a set period, such as 20 years, for this whole life insurance option. You’ll still be insured your whole life, but you’ll only make payments during the set period, which means your payments are higher than they would be for traditional whole life insurance.
Modified premium whole life insurance: You pay lower premiums upfront, but they get more expensive as you age.
Survivorship life insurance: These policies allow you to insure two people and are popular among spouses. The catch? It pays out only after both policyholders have died. The benefit? It’s less expensive than paying for two separate whole life insurance policies.
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What Happens When a Whole Life Insurance Policy Lapses or Is Surrendered?
A whole life insurance policy lapses when the policyholder stops making monthly premium payments on time. The life insurance contract is labeled as no longer active, and the cash value built up on the policy is surrendered. Death benefits will no longer be paid out for these surrendered policies.
Some companies allow policyholders to restart their policies within a certain grace period and get their lapsed payments paid within this time frame. Read the fine print to make sure you understand the rules of your whole life insurance policy lapse clause. Typically, reinstatements cost more than one month’s premium payment.
Whole Life Insurance Pros and Cons
When you’re deciding whether a whole life insurance policy works for you, you have to weigh the pros and cons. The hard part? Decide what works best for you in your current financial situation while also weighing what works best in the long term for your beneficiaries.
What’s Good About Whole Life Insurance
Whole life insurance is appealing for several reasons, including:
It’s guaranteed and permanent. That means your beneficiary will receive a payout upon your death, no matter when you die, as long as you’ve made your payments and your cause of death isn’t excluded from the policy.
It’s a good option if you have dependents who will need a source of income after you die. The guaranteed payout makes it an appealing option for people with a disabled child, for example.
Your payments are usually fixed throughout the life of the policy. There are options to choose limited whole life insurance policies that have a set term limit or policies that change once you turn 65.
You can take advantage of the cash value while you’re still alive. Just keep in mind that the cash value takes a long time to build up, meaning you’ll likely be much older before you can take advantage of this benefit.
What’s Bad About Whole Life Insurance
Here are a few drawbacks to consider if you’re thinking about whole life insurance:
Higher premiums: You pay more for the guaranteed payout and lifelong coverage than you would for a term life policy.
The cash value is lost upon your death. While some people make the case that whole life insurance can be used as a long-term personal finance retirement planning tool, the fact that money is lost when you die doesn’t help this argument.
You’ll pay large fees to cancel the policy and withdraw the cash value. You’ll also pay income taxes on any earnings on the policy beyond what you paid for your premiums.
How to Choose Between Whole Life Insurance vs. Term Insurance
We get it. This is a difficult task no matter what. Life insurance company terms and conditions and the products and services they offer are complicated and difficult to digest. But here’s a quick summary of when to consider whole life insurance vs. term insurance.
Consider term insurance if:
You want to replace your income during a specific amount of time, e.g., while you’re raising children, paying off your mortgage, etc.
Need the lowest pre [...]
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Looking for free things to do in Madison, Wisconsin? Here are some places our family visited and did on a recent road trip there.
Want more free and cheap road trip ideas? Check out my 14-day series on our East Coast Road Trip.
An Impromptu Road Trip to 3 States
A few weeks ago, we took a sort of impromptu road trip to Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. If you’ve been following along here, you know our family goal to visit all 50 states and 7 continents by the time Kathrynne is 18 (she’s currently 14 and before this trip, we had 16 states and 5 continents to go).
We only had 5 days to hit the 3 states, so we decided to just pick one city to focus on in each state. After looking at the map, we looked at routes, and we ended up picking Madison, WI, Minneapolis, MN, and Des Moines, IA.
We had such a fun time in Madison and Minneapolis that I wanted to devote an entire post to each city to share photos and some of free and cheap things we did in Madison, WI and Minneapolis, MN. (Note: It was pouring rain and cold the whole time we were in Iowa so we didn’t end up getting to do much there. We’ll have to go back!)
Free Things to Do In Madison, Wisconsin
Jesse and I had both been to Wisconsin before many years ago, but the kids had never been. And none of us had ever been to Madison.
I did what I often do when we visit a new area and asked on Facebook and Instagram for your best suggestions of free and frugal things to do. You all give the best recommendations! I went through all of them and picked the top places that were suggested over and over again.
And here’s what we ended up doing…
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
First off, we went to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. Many of you had suggested this and you were so right.
The gardens were gorgeous! (It was also a completely beautiful day, which made the experience that much better!)
Admission to the outdoor gardens is completely FREE! There are 16 acres of gardens to walk through including:
A Thai Pavilion and Garden (This Thai Pavilion is the only one in the continental United States and the only one outside of Thailand surrounded by a garden.)
We loved the Rose Garden and the Herb Garden the best. They had a sundial in the Rose Garden that the kids had fun trying to read.
We also found a nest of baby birds! They seemed crazy hungry (aren’t baby birds always hungry, though??) and we waited awhile to see if the mama bird would come back.
We were afraid that she might dive bomb us if we got too close so we had someone watch out for her while I took a picture and video. 🙂
There is also an indoor Tropical Conservatory that costs $2 per person for admission. It is probably fantastic, but we were happy to just visit the free gardens!
I asked for restaurant recommendations and this Ian’s Pizza was one you all recommended over and over again. And you were again correct — it was delicious and had such a fun vibe!
Ian’s Pizza sells a variety of unique pizzas — by the slice. Or, you can order a full pizza and customize it.
We ordered a large pizza that was half Mac & Cheese (it was delicious!) and half Macadilla Killa. Plus, we ordered a side of 9 breadsticks. Our total was around $25 and this was more than enough to fill us all up (plus we took some leftovers back to the hotel!)
Excitement Outside the Capitol Building
We had parked close to the capitol building (parking was free on the weekends), so after a very late afternoon lunch, we went to explore the capitol. It’s free and open to the public, too.
We were detoured from visiting the capitol building by two ambulances and a lot of police cars with sirens blaring. They all pulled up up at a bus stop right outside the capitol building. We weren’t sure what happened, but it appeared maybe two guys had gotten into a fight and gotten hurt.
I’ve never seen something like that up so close and I felt a little weird just watching the whole thing, but it was also kind of fascinating to see it all go down, too.
(I don’t know that fascinating is the right word because these were people’s lives we are talking about. However, it felt like a scene from a movie or something! Gratefully, it appeared like both men were going to be okay and they both were conscious and breathing on their own when they were put on the ambulances and taken to the hospital.)
Wisconsin State Capitol Building
After that commotion outside the capitol, we finally made it inside. It was pretty incredible — as most capitol buildings seem to be! We had heard that there was a cool observation deck on the 6th floor so we went about figuring out how to get to that.
We walked up a bunch of stairs and tried multiple elevators (some only went to certain floors, etc.) I couldn’t believe they just let you explore like this!
We finally asked the security guard at the front desk how to get up to the top. It was then that we found out that they don’t let anyone up through the special elevator 30 minutes before closing! We had literally walked in the door 29 minutes before the building closes.
Oh well! At least we had quite a fun time trying to find it! 🙂
Henry Vilas Zoo
We then headed to the Henry Vilas Zoo — a FREE zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. I honestly couldn’t believe it.
It’s small and it was pretty crowded, but you can’t beat the price point of free! And it far exceeded my expectations of what a free zoo would be!
To my knowledge, I don’t ever recall actually seeing a real badger. So that was cool to see!
Our favorite exhibit, by far, was the Polar Bear exhibit. Not only cannot ever remember seeing a Polar Bear, this guy was in rare form and showing off for us!
Right outside the zoo was the Vilas Park beach. It would be a fun place to take a picnic or to swim in. It was also free and open to the public.
We didn’t have bathing suits on, but Silas and Kathrynne still got into the water for a bit!
The Cheese Chalet
Many people had told me we couldn’t come to Wisconsin without getting cheese curds. So we stopped at The Cheese Chalet on the way out of Madison to pick some up.
They had so many different kinds of cheese!
I wasn’t sure of the best kind of cheese curds to get (I forgot to ask you all about that!), so I just played it safe and went with marbled!
I had no idea the “cult following” that Culver’s has until I asked where we should eat in Madison. I learned that there will be one answer and one answer only for that question: Culver’s!
We actually have a Culver’s in our area, but I think Jesse has only taken the kids one time and that was a few years ago. I thought it was just a typical fast food place, but I was actually pretty impressed with it!
We each got to pick one treat (mine was the flavor of the day with double whipped cream — yum!). Needless to say, I’m pretty sure we will be back to Culver’s soon!
What other suggestions do you have for free or cheap things to do in Madison, Wisconsin? Tell us in the comments! [...]
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