If you’re interested in entering the housing market but haven’t found success via traditional financing methods, you may be encouraged to know that there are options to aid people who require an alternative approach. Consider these financial “hacks” as you contemplate their validity and usefulness in regard to your situation.

The Dreaded Down Payment

The down payment, which tradition has long put at 20 percent, has discouraged many potential homebuyers from pursuing their dream home. In fact, the average down payment these days is more like 11 percent, which should be good news for a great many Americans, especially those who are in the market for the first time. It’s worth your while to do some research in the area you want to live. You could find out, based on the average down payment for homes there, that a down payment is within your capabilities after all.

If you still don’t think you have enough, there might be help waiting in the form of government assistance. US Department of Agriculture and Veterans Administration loans make available mortgages with no down payments, and the Federal Housing Administration offers low-down-payment loans as long as your credit score is at least 500.

Come in Low

Most homebuyers pay every bit of what they can afford when purchasing a home, particularly if it’s a property they’ve fallen in love with. It’s a typical approach, but it can leave you without much in the way of reserve funding when something goes wrong, like a flooded basement or a major appliance that suddenly decides to call it quits. Try spending a bit below what you believe you can afford and leave yourself with some cushion for when the unexpected does happen.

A Tax Break

There are also hacks that can help you get a tax break. If you buy a home for less than it was appraised, ask the county tax assessor about lowering your taxes to match the purchase price, which will save you some money year to year.

Under List Price

Another good way to save some bucks is to look for homes in an area where the percentage of those that sell for less than their listing price is comparatively high. That gives you an opportunity to get something of a bargain, depending on the area and the kind of house you’re looking for. You might also look for homes that have been on the market for longer than usual and find out what the problem is. You could discover that the “problem” is something that is really no problem for you. People have all kinds of reasons for passing on a house, and some of them just come down to personality, quirks, or an overly picky buyer.

For example, it could be a property without a lot of natural light, or a maybe it only has a one-car garage instead of two. Whatever the reason, determine whether it’s something you can live with or make an upgrade later on that will resolve the problem. This can be an excellent approach if you’re looking for a good price and an opportunity to create equity with some improvements.

Sometimes, purchasing a house you love just requires some outside-the-box thinking and a willingness to try something a little offbeat. There’s no rule that says you have to do everything a realtor advises or approach financing in the traditional manner. Sometimes, there’s a way that just works better for your situation.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

You’ve got big plans: two kids and a dog, an illustrious career, and maybe even an early retirement. But turning your dreams for life into reality takes a lot of planning, and many people struggle to transform goals into action.

This is where life planning comes in. Life planning helps you create the life you imagine for yourself and make the most of your time. Here’s how you do it.

What is Life Planning?

Life planning is the process of taking stock of your current situation in life, identifying your goals, and planning the steps needed to get from Point A to Point B.

When you create a life plan, you’ll establish your greatest priorities in life. These may be family, career, buying your dream home, financial security, community service, or something else. For each priority area, you’ll establish where you are now and where you want to be in one to two years, five years, and at the end of your life. You’ll identify the challenges that stand in the way of those goals, and create action plans to overcome obstacles and find success.

What Makes a Successful Life Plan?

Creating a successful life plan starts with a strong sense of self. You need to have an understanding of your passions, your values, and your strengths and weaknesses. You may not know exactly where you want to be 30 years from now, but you should have a rough idea.

When you’re creating goals for your life, it’s important to make them specific and measurable. Instead of saying, “I want to pay for my children’s college,” say, “I want to set aside $X into a 529 plan each year, so that each child will have $X to use for college.”

It’s also crucial to be realistic when you’re creating a life plan, otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Factor in the unexpected such as children, repairs, and illnesses. Take into consideration what is happening now as well such as job layoffs or a family member’s addiction. A life plan is a plan, but sometimes plans change, and that’s okay.

What Does a Life Plan Include?

There’s a lot to consider when you’re planning out an entire life, and your life planning categories will depend on your personal priorities. However, there are a few basics that all life plans should include:

  • Career: What kind of upward mobility and salary growth does your career path offer? Do you plan on making any career changes? If so, will you need further education?
  • Retirement: At what age do you plan to retire, and how much money will you need to live comfortably? Will you stay in your home as you age or move into a care facility?
  • Homeownership: Do you plan to purchase a home or rent? How much does a home cost in your market and how will you save for a down payment?
  • Children: Do you plan on having children? How many, and at what age? Will they attend private school or public school? Will you save for your children’s college education, and how much?
  • Life Insurance and a Will: How will you care for your family if something happens to you or your spouse? Who will handle your assets when you die, and how can they access them?

How to Get Started

If you’re not sure where to start, it may be helpful to meet with a financial life planner who can help flesh out your goals and create a financial strategy plan that supports them. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by life planning, but a professional can help you break it down into manageable, actionable steps. And if you’re thinking you’re not ready for life planning, remember that no plan is set in stone. If your goals or circumstances change as life progresses, you can always revisit your life plan and adapt it to meet evolving needs.

Image via Pixabay by Pexels

Is your day job stifling your creativity? Thanks to the gig economy, artists can focus more on their calling while still earning a living. Side gigs offer profitable and flexible work, leaving plenty of time to create.

Untraditional, flexible, and efficient. Freedom and flexibility are key motivations for more workers than ever, as the gig economy provides opportunities to balance dreams with basic needs and obligations. As Investopedia explains, by leaving the walls and restrictions of traditional workplaces, workers are embracing temporary and freelance work to enjoy the benefits of flexing their schedules and workloads. While that means dropping paid time off and the convenience of your employer saving money toward retirement on your behalf, for many artists, it’s a worthy tradeoff. It’s a chance to shift your work schedule so you can pursue your craft, cultivate skills and foster ideas. When you engage in a side gig, you can work almost anywhere, any time, so long as you have an internet connection and a computer or tablet. Some gig workers even function via smartphone.

Do you have what it takes? In order to be successful as a gig worker, you need to have self-discipline. This applies not only in your work habits, but also your spending habits. There isn’t a time card to punch every morning and no boss to write you up if you oversleep, nor is there a payroll department withholding funds to pay your taxes or insurance costs. Thankfully, just as there are a number of tech tools for engaging gig work, there are similar tools to support you in your endeavors. For instance, some apps are designed especially for freelancers needing assistance with time management. And as U.S. News & World Report explains, there are retirement accounts for people who are self-employed. You also can enroll in a health savings account to help with your medical costs. You should track both your income and your expenses relating to your work, and find out from a tax professional what is deductible and what isn’t.

What’s your gig? A great side gig offers you an opportunity to stretch your wings and exercise your skills. It should be something you enjoy and have talent for, or at least are proficient at doing. While you may not love bookkeeping as much as you love designing websites, if you’re highly skilled at crunching numbers and still learning about web design, you may find a more lucrative position balancing books while you develop your skills for designing websites. Finding a great side gig is extremely achievable. Depending on your abilities and interests, the possibilities are almost endless, and as Business Insider notes, many of them pay quite well. You can engage through a platform for virtually instant clientele, so you need to decide what your gig should be. If you love working out, you can be a fitness instructor, or if you have a favorite school subject, become a tutor. There are opportunities for drivers, project assistants, business consultants, and software developers. If you’re great with dogs, you can become a dog walker or offer dog-boarding services. And the beauty of it all is that you can try it on for size. If something isn’t working out as expected, simply shift gears into a different gig.

Promote your new venture. Once you jump into your side gig, don’t keep it a secret! Even if you’re engaging through a platform that helps market your abilities, it’s wise to promote your side gig on your own. Set up accounts on social media that are dedicated to your new endeavor, create a website, and purchase business cards to hand out to friends, family members and new clients. Word of mouth will help drum up business, expanding your customer base and getting you noticed.

Opportunities and endeavors. If it’s time to engage your creative efforts more fully, a side gig can be the answer. Decide what skills you can offer and what you will enjoy, find tools to support your new venture, and promote your work. Thanks to the flexibility of the gig economy, you can make ends meet while still pursuing your artistic dreams!

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Many Americans are finding these days that their job either isn’t enough to satisfy them creatively or can’t pay the bills. For some, however, there’s not an option to leave after spending years building up a career, and others are simply curious about what else is out there but don’t want to take a big risk and end up regretting it. That’s where the sharing economy comes in.

While the term itself is fairly broad in definition, the sharing economy basically involves any business that can be done in collaboration with someone else. Ridesharing services like Uber, websites like eBay, services such as Airbnb, and any business that utilizes crowdsourcing or crowdfunding are considered to be part of the sharing economy. It’s possible to run your own business using this model, which would allow you to set your own hours and work for yourself, but it’s important to know how to get started and what to avoid in order to make it a success.

Keep reading for some great tips on how to do just that.

Figure Out What Your Needs Are

The type of business you decide to go into should be dependent on your needs. Think about the amount of time you’ll be able to put into it, whether you’ll need startup funds, and what the demand is in your area or online for your particular service. Do your research, especially when it comes to offering something to the public (such as a room in your home) to make sure you won’t be in over your head.

Keep Business and Pleasure Separate

No matter which business you choose to go into, it’s imperative that you keep everything separate when it comes to finances. Set up a separate bank account for your business, apply for a company credit card, and keep separate books. This way, there will never be any questions when tax time rolls around.


Whether you want to sell vintage clothing on eBay or start funding a project on Kickstarter, you’re going to need to know how to network and spread the word about your goods and services. Talking to people to let them know about your business will not only help you grow, it will connect you with important contacts who could help you down the line. Look online for conventions and other events you can attend and get support from your local community by sharing your business via fliers and word-of-mouth.

Have a Solid At-Home Workspace

One of the hardest things about working from home is finding a place to get things done without distraction and, as many entrepreneurs will tell you, there is always a distraction at home. Whether it’s your child who needs a ride to soccer practice or the siren song of your couch and Netflix, your home provides ample opportunity to put things off, which is a big no-no when it comes to working for yourself. The best way to prevent this is to create a workspace that allows you to get things done distraction-free. If you don’t have an office, use a room with a door and talk to your family members about the rules so you won’t be interrupted.

Entering the sharing economy can be hugely beneficial, but it requires a good plan so you can protect yourself, especially in the beginning. Being smart about your first moves and taking your time will help you make good decisions and, ultimately, help you make your business a success.

Photo via Pixabay by Rawpixel

With the percentage of high-power women CEOs dropping to barely 4%, women today still face amazing challenges in the business world. Hope is not lost for the fairer sex, however, as the following five women clearly demonstrate. These ladies prove that “a man’s world” has plenty of room for the ladies.

Marissa Mayer

In 2012 at just 37-years old, Marissa Mayer, who Forbes claims to have a net worth of $540 million, become the youngest CEO in Yahoo’s history. This after a long career at Google – Mayer was actually one of the first Google employees and the search engine’s first female engineer. Upon her appointment with Yahoo, Mayer shook Silicon Valley’s foundation by announcing that she was also pregnant. Career lesson: Don’t be afraid to go after what you want, even if it means going against the grain.

Meg Whitman

Former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman is a Harvard Business School graduate with a net worth of more than $2.5 billion dollars. At 60-years of age, she is the CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprises and been on the forefront of the global tech giant’s cloud computing revolution. When Whitman joined HPE in 2011, the company was in financial turmoil and filled with a boardroom of executives who simply couldn’t get along. Career lesson: Embrace challenges and don’t be afraid to succeed in the face of adversity.

Denise Morrison

Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell Soup Company, comes from a long line of successful women, including her sister Maggie Wilderotter. According to the Wall Street Journal, Wilderotter is a former executive with Frontier Communications who currently works alongside the aforementioned Meg Whitman at HPE in Palo Alto, California. Morrison has held high-ranking positions at Nestlé, Nabisco, and Kraft Foods and became the first female CEO of Campbell after serving the company for a number of years. An advocate for change, Morrison has made Campbell Soup a household name once again by introducing innovative products to appeal to millennials. Career lesson: Face an ever-changing marketplace with optimism and new ideas.

Sarah Blakely

You might not know her name, but chances are you know her pet project and billion-dollar company intimately. Blakely is the founder of Spanx, which is recognizable as an essential piece of shapewear touted by celebrities on nearly every red carpet event for the last decade. Sarah’s undergarment company was swept under the rug numerous times before her passion finally paid off. Blakely is a shining example of how a small business can upend the market and drive demand for a new kind of product. She reinforces the fact that passion is more important than financial gain in the world of women entrepreneurship. Career lesson: Find a niche and be the best at what you do.

Madam C.J. Walker

Sarah Breedlove was born shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation and was the first generation of her African-American family that wasn’t shackled by the chains of slavery. This doesn’t mean she didn’t face adversity; being a black woman in post-Civil War America made it all the more difficult for Breedlove to make a name in the beauty industry. But, that’s just what she did when she rebranded herself as the exotic French coiffure maven Madam C.J. Walker. The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, founded in 1910, helped Breedlove break two notable boundaries as the first self-made female millionaire and also the first black millionaire in America. Career lesson: Find a way to make yourself stand out in a competitive environment and market yourself accordingly.

Though historically women have been expected to manage nothing more than the home, these ladies prove that women have more to bring to the table than just dinner.

Image via Pixabay

As your child transitions into a teenager, you may find that communication becomes a struggle or even non-existent. However, as your child matures, they experience an increased desire for autonomy and privacy, a need to try out different identities, greater investment in their peers, and physiological changes. This period of transition is vital, and it is important that you know how to effectively talk with your child about issues such as school, friends, or relationships without adding to their anxiety.

Things to Avoid

As you seek to build a positive relationship with your teenager, it is important to keep the channels of communication open and avoid unhelpful ways of communicating such as nagging, lecturing, or criticizing. Avoid closed questions, which stops the conversation before it even starts by requiring only a short, simple answer without the opportunity to elaborate further. For example, asking, ‘Did you have a good day?’ may imply that you expect them to have good day and can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Instead, opt for an opener such as ‘Tell me more about your day’ or ‘You seem happy/stressed, tell me about it.’

As your teenager talks with you, practice listening without judgment or criticism, and realize that they will sometimes have to find their own solutions to problems and may not take your advice or suggestions. Keep a listening ear and continue making efforts to facilitate conversation, demonstrating that you are someone they can trust and confide in.

Be wary of talk-blockers such as negative body language like crossed arms or facial expressions such as scowling, raised eyebrows, eye rolling, or smirking. Non-verbal sounds such as sighs or groans and the tone of your voice need to be kept in check as well. If you find that the conversation is making you or your child angry or upset, consider stepping away for a bit to let everyone cool down and return to the conversation later when the tension has subsided. Disagreements will happen, but don’t let them be a wedge in your communication with your teenager.

Keys to Effective Communication

When it comes to communicating with your teenager, a good rule of thumb is to be a good listener and simply talk with them. Every conversation you have doesn’t have to be about serious issues such as relationships or academics. Start off by telling them about your day and asking specific questions about theirs. As they talk, remember everything they say and ask questions to demonstrate that you are actively listening and care about what they have to say.

Sometimes teenagers are reluctant to talk, even if you are trying to help, so take it a step further by taking an interest in their interests. Help them with a school project or play a video game together. Consider finding a hobby to do together such as cooking, sewing, or a new sport. Communicating with your teenager is important in order to learn about what issues they are having, but you should be paying attention to nonverbal cues as well. It is normal for children to change as they age and mature, but pay close attention to changes in your child’s mood, behavior, energy level, or appetite.

If you notice that your teenager has stopped wanting to do things they once enjoyed, or see a change in their ability to function daily due to anxiety, talk with your teen about it and be supportive. You may be able to talk them through the anxieties they are feeling, but if the anxiety persists or they are suffering from depression, consider seeking the help of a professional.

Strive to have a meaningful conversation with your teenager every day, rather than just when you want to talk about issues or concerns. Effective communication is important in being able to identify areas your child may be struggling, and offering advice, guidance, and support without adding to the anxiety of growing up.

Photo By: Unsplash

It may seem overwhelming to think about changing your daily habits to include healthier ones, but there are actually several small ways you can achieve this. The key is not to focus on one area, such as eating better, but break it up into many different tasks that cover the needs of your mind, body, and soul.

It also helps to get creative when thinking about the best ways to incorporate healthy habits into your everyday activities. Here are a few of the best ways to get started.

Invest in some good appliances

If you’re like most Americans, you work long hours and can’t seem to find much free time; many families feel rushed at the end of the workday to get dinner ready, which results in a lot of fast food dinners. Not only is this not the healthiest option, it also gets expensive. Instead of relying on the drive-thru, find some good crock-pot recipes, prepare the pot the night before and set it in the fridge. Then, set it to cook before leaving for work in the morning. This way, you’ll have a nice pot roast with veggies ready to eat when you get home.

It’s also a good idea to have a blender and food processor on hand, as these are great tools for making smoothies and chopping up salads, respectively. You can also make homemade guacamole and salsa, which have a whole lot of healthy ingredients and can be taken to work for a snack.

Get some rest

Ensuring you get enough good sleep is imperative, no matter how busy your schedule is. It can be tempting to stay up late in order to get in some extra free time once the kids go to bed, but if you have to get up early you’ll be burnt out by the end of the week. Set a bedtime and stick to it, and do something relaxing before you lie down to make sure you won’t have trouble falling asleep.

Drink more water

Most of us don’t drink the recommended amount of water every day, which (depending on your body type and activities) can be anywhere from 64 to 70 ounces, so it’s important to keep a water bottle with you all day long. That way, you can continuously drink water and keep track of how much you’re taking in.

Make things easier on yourself

If you want to get up earlier in the morning in order to go for a run before work, set out your workout clothes, shoes, phone, and earbuds to make it easier to get ready.

Set small, achievable goals

If you want to start cooking healthy meals but don’t currently cook at all, don’t come out of the gate expecting to suddenly begin cooking 7 nights a week. Instead, create a goal you’re likely to achieve: start with 1 or 2 nights a week and increase from there. Similarly, if you want to start working out, but don’t currently get any exercise, start small: stick to at-home workouts where you can focus on proper form and build a healthy foundation. Master the basic push-up, plank, lunge and squat, then build upon that and consider joining a gym where you can incorporate more fitness equipment into your routine.

Create obligations around your workouts

If motivation is a problem area for you, one way to overcome that hurdle is to tie an obligation to your fitness time. There are a few relatively easy ways you might do that. For example, you could start a physically active side gig, perhaps as a mover. Or become a workout buddy with a friend. When you have plans to go on a Saturday morning hike with your friend, it will be a lot harder to let yourself sleep in. You won’t want to let them down and you’ll look forward to hanging out with them. You could also sign up to participate in an upcoming 5K or fun run. Don’t make it too intimidating, but knowing you have a deadline for getting in shape will give you a boost when you’d rather sit on the couch.

Take your lunch

You’ve likely seen those weekly meal prep videos online, and maybe you liked the idea but didn’t think it would work for you. It’s easy to whip up a meal on Sunday night, however, and freeze portions for the entire week. Chicken and rice with veggies, homemade vegetable soup, and vegetable curry are just a few of the tasty options you have to choose from, and it will save you money if you’re not eating fast food on your lunch break. Don’t forget to pack healthy snacks, too, such as fruit, nuts, and whole grain crackers or pretzels.

Reduce stress

Stress can make or break even the best efforts to improve one’s health and can cause physical issues, such as headaches and fatigue. Do your best to identify and eliminate areas of your life that may be contributing to increased stress levels.

Making strides to improve your health can be easy if you break off small pieces at a time and set reasonable goals. You can do this!

Photo via Pixabay

Tips to Help You Practice Self-Care During Your Workout

Too often self-care is mistaken for self-indulgence. Instead, self-care and mindfulness are about self-awareness and the ability to address your mental health needs. While many people can justify prioritizing exercise, for some reason, the same logic cannot be applied to self-care when emotional health is equally as important as physical health.

Not that much time is required to practice effective self-care on a daily basis. In fact, there are many ways that you can incorporate mindfulness into your routine.

During Your Workout

If you are someone who is serious about their health, you may already hit the gym or take workout classes. Health.com says that the gym is one of the best places to practice self-care and mindfulness.

Limiting distractions is a great place to start. Turn off your phone and stay present in what you are doing. This allows you to fully pay attention to your body so you can keep from overexerting yourself. Knowing that you need to allow yourself some recovery time after an intense workout is an excellent example of self-awareness.

Be sure to take advantage of your warm-up and cool down, too. Use this time to practice breathing exercises and work on emptying your mind.

Making Time in Your Day

If you do not have an established weekly workout routine, it may seem like an impossible task to create one. However, building a well-rounded exercise and self-care routine will help increase your physical and mental health. You should be aiming to exercise for about 20-60 minutes a day about 3-6 days a week.

In fact, there are plenty of opportunities in your schedule to carve out time to work out. You can set your alarm an hour early and hit the gym before you start your day, which has the added bonus of not having to worry about it later. Or, take advantage of an hour lunch break by going for a walk in a nearby park, working out at a local gym, or attending an exercise class. Stepping out of the office will also help clear your head and mentally prepare you for the second half of the day. Or, if you live in an area with good weather, consider turning your commute into a workout by biking or jogging.

Mark It on Your Calendar

After establishing how much extra time you have in a day, pick a few days and times of the week that work best for you, and add them as repeating appointments. This will reduce the risk of over-scheduling and help you visualize and mentally prepare for the workouts.

This may mean learning to say no to your friends or telling your boss that you cannot take on any extra work. Remember, there is nothing wrong with prioritizing yourself. Use your “you” time to do something you enjoy. Indulge in a long bath, insist on taking your full lunch break, eat that delicious slice of cake, or take that exercise class you’ve been dying to take.

Self-Care Sprints

Self-care should be a daily practice. If you cannot make it to the gym one day or if you take a down day to rest your body, this does not mean you should take a day off from mindfulness as well. No matter how busy your day, you can step away from what you are doing for 15, 10, or even 5 minutes to check in with your emotional well-being.

The Huffington Post recommends doing self-care sprints for busy schedules. This can be taking a 10-minute walk to clear your head, using 15 minutes to declutter your desk, or spending 5 minutes before you go to bed to meditate.

Putting Yourself First

There is nothing selfish about taking time during your day to practice self-care. It is necessary for creating a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. Make it a priority to carve out time in your daily routine to practice. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Photo courtesy of Pexels.