5 Free Ways to Show Your Spouse You Love Them

relationships financial planning family The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Catherine Alford. Cat is a freelance personal finance writer who blogs at www.BudgetBlonde.com

People always told me that marriage gets really tough when you have kids. I never knew what they meant until now of course. At first I thought, shouldn’t having children bring you closer together as you both soak in the amazing miracle of raising a little human (or two)? Well the answer is both yes and no, but at this point, mostly no!

With so many demands on both of us, the most time we spend together is when we’re side by side in the kitchen at 11 p.m. washing bottles and trying to squeeze in as many chores as possible before we both collapse in bed out of exhaustion. It’s a really hectic and crazy time for us, and sometimes we love it and sometimes we really miss sleeping in on Saturday mornings.

We know we’re lucky beyond belief to have two healthy and beautiful children, but I think it’s completely normal to go through a rollercoaster of emotions as a new parent. At least, that’s what I always tell myself.

So, whether you’re elbow deep in diapers like us, empty nesters, or blissful newlyweds, here are some ways you can show your spouse you love them for free and keep the love alive even when things get busy or downright crazy.


Let Them Sleep In

If there are tasks to do in the morning like taking the dog out, making breakfast, feeding tiny humans, or other chores in general, let your spouse sleep!

Whether you have kids or not, chances are as soon as you wake up, you probably have to at least make coffee right? Well, I can tell you from experience that it’s pretty much the best surprise ever to wake up and have all of these things already finished.

If you do this for your spouse I can promise you that when 9:00 rolls around, they’ll wake up so confused wondering how they were able to sleep so long. The bonus for you is that they’ll likely be in a good mood for the rest of the day. I know I always am when I can sleep a little more.


Write a Love Note

It doesn’t have to be sappy. It doesn’t have to be long. Just jot a quick, “I love you” on a scrap piece of paper and put it on the kitchen counter. It only takes a minute. You can even be funny or silly or witty. Write a joke or put down a funny memory. Just do it because it’s free and it will make them smile.


Make Them Their Favorite Meal

We tend to save favorite meals for birthdays or special occasions, but I think we should make our spouse’s favorite meal randomly and surprise them. Frankly my husband would be so happy and impressed if I planned and made dinner at all because I absolutely hate to cook. So, he’d probably love me forever if he walked in to steaks or a Thanksgiving style dinner. Actually, he’d probably think an alien spaceship came and took me and replaced me with some evil-yet-awesome-cook twin. Still, as I write this, I realize I should probably do this more!


Print Out a Picture

We never print out pictures anymore. Gone are the days when grandparents would take out a whole roll of pictures from their wallets. Now we have smart phones that we let people flip through. However, one of the best gifts I ever got from my husband was tiny little magnets that he had made from my Instagram feed. He picked several different photos that were taken during my pregnancy and with friends. They are all up on my fridge now and are actually a nice, flat, clutter free way to hold up important things on the fridge.


Give Them Some Affection

I was walking through the mall with my husband and twins, and suddenly it felt like every single couple was holding hands. Didn’t we used to hold hands all the time I thought. It took me about two seconds to grab his hand, but then we had to hold hands one on top of each other while we pushed the stroller. Ah, young married love when you have kids! Still, a little affection and attention goes a long way!

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how busy you are. The above tips prove that you can easily show your spouse you love them in small ways that don’t cost a dime. There’s no need to buy a dozen roses or even make reservations at expensive restaurants. Just a little attention, a few thoughtful notes, or even a simple hug can go a very long way in the midst of our busy and chaotic lives.

How about you all? How do you show your spouse you care?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/epsos/6943704482/in/

5 Reasons Why You Should NEVER Own A Storage Unit

storage units saving money frugal living financial planning The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Derek Sall. Derek is the owner of the blog, LifeAndMyFinances.com, where he teaches people how to get out of debt, save money, and become wealthy.

Do you realize how incredibly huge the self-storage industry is?

While it seems that no one talks about it, many of us own storage units to store stuff that doesn’t fit in our house very well. It seems logical until you begin to understand the mass of storage that is being funded each month. Believe it or not, there are over 2 billion square feet of storage units currently rented out in America, which is enough to fit each one of its citizens if they simply stood shoulder to shoulder in those very same units! Isn’t that just sick? Why on earth do we need so much storage space outside of what can fit in our house?

Here are my five top reasons why you should NEVER own a storage unit.


1) You’re wasting your money on rent

So what is the typical cost of one of these storage units? In my area (where everything seems to cost much less when compared to other parts of the country), a simple 5’ x 10’ space can cost $47 a month. This initially doesn’t sound like too much, but what if we extrapolated that out to a year? The yearly cost of this small storage space is $564. Over the course of a few years, this expense really starts to add up!


2) You’re wasting your money on stuff

A very small fraction of people are using storage units temporarily (many think their unit is temporary, but they soon become lifers as their stuff begins to pile up), which means that they simply have more stuff than they have room to put it! How is this even possible? How can we possibly accumulate more stuff than a typical house can hold? The very notion of this is ludicrous.

Did you know there is a movement going on called, “The Tiny House movement?” This is where people sell the majority of their stuff and scale down to a 150 square foot living space. Oddly enough, many people seem happier to live in that tighter space with less stuff than they did with their large house and storage units full of stuff.

You simply do not need all of that stuff and are therefore wasting your money.


3) You could be infesting your home

Supposedly, storage units are completely clean and you should have no worries when it comes to bringing those boxes back into your home. In my opinion, bugs are everywhere, and I am sure that there are plenty of people that brought some crazy stuff back into their homes when they opened up their storage box. You could be releasing spiders into your home, or maybe even mice or snakes. I think I’d rather just limit my stuff and reduce the odds of this from happening!


4) You’re wasting money on fuel

Storage units aren’t typically right around the corner. When you need something out of your unit, you have to hop in your car, drive a number of miles, and then return home. Each time you do this, you are burning fuel which is taking money right out of your pocket. If you could fit all of your stuff in your home like a normal human being, you wouldn’t waste any fuel at all! By renting a storage unit, you are increasing your expenses by more than just the unit rental fee.


5) You are wasting your precious time

I saved this reason for last, but it is (in my opinion) the most important reason to avoid renting out a storage unit. Do you realize how much time is wasted at these places? You first need to load up your stuff, then drive it over there, and then unload it. Then, at times you need to drive back to the unit to try to find something that you decided you actually need, and then good luck finding it amongst your boxes!

Each moment of our lives is valuable because once those minutes and hours are gone, there is no getting them back! Which would you prefer doing? Rummaging through boxes in a cold, damp, garage or hiking through the mountains, enjoying the beautiful scenery that will be etched in your mind for life? I could make a list of 1,000,000 things that I would like to do with my time, and sifting through a storage unit would still not make the list.

Before you go out and waste your money, fuel, and time on a storage unit, be sure to ask yourself if you really need it. Perhaps instead, it’s time to sell some of your stuff.

How about you all? Have you ever spent your money on a storage unit?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeepersmedia/14950689245/in/

Which Job Hunting Expenses Are Tax Deductible?

jobs job security job loss job change career change career The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Kevin Mercadante, who is a freelance professional personal finance blogger for hire, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, OutOfYourRut.com. He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

Job hunting expenses are one of those tax deductions that are often forgotten, even at tax time. The problem is often either that the expenses are not particularly high, or that they’re not high enough to reach and exceed the IRS threshold beyond which they become tax-deductible. That’s why it’s good to review the tax deductibility of job hunting expenses from time to time.

Job hunting expenses can only be deducted if you itemize expenses on your income tax return. They are reported on Form 1040, Schedule A as a miscellaneous deduction (yes, you must itemize to deduct most job hunting expenses). You can deduct them even for jobs you don’t actually land.

If you have particularly large job hunting expenses, such as those related to an out-of-state job search, they could be significant and rise to the level of an important tax deduction.

Which job hunting expenses are tax-deductible?

Administrative Job Hunting Expenses

These are the more typical job hunting expenses, and can include:

  • Third party resume preparation
  • Printing and postage
  • Paid phone calls
  • Career counseling costs

As a rule, you will only be able to deduct expenses that are paid directly to a third-party provider. Unfortunately, this means that you will also be unable to deduct expenses for the pro-rata cost of making phone calls on your cell phone plan.

As is always the case with income tax deductions, make sure that you keep copies of invoices and payments for any expenses you incur. You can only deduct what you can prove, and that will require a paper trail.

Third Party Fees

Third-party fees are also deductible under job hunting expenses, although it is pretty rare for an employee to pay these. They would include job placement fees paid to recruiting firms, however these are customarily paid by employers, and not by employees. Though for the record, for my first job taken out of college, I did get stuck paying half of a placement fee due to the fact that I graduated into the middle of a wicked recession. So it is possible under certain circumstances you may end up paying for it.

There are also instances in which you as the employee will pay the placement fee, however it will be reimbursed by the employer if you remain employed with them for a certain minimum amount of time. If the employer does reimburse you, the fee will not be deductible by you. And if you do deduct payment of the fee one year, any reimbursement coming in subsequent years will need to be reported as income.

Travel and Transportation Expenses Related to the Job Search

This is where you are most likely to see the most significant – and deductible – job hunting expenses. You can deduct expenses related to the cost of travel, whether you are doing so locally or for out of town interviews.

Deductible expenses include:

  • Travel expenses, like air fare
  • Car rental fees
  • Auto mileage (56 cents per mile for 2014)
  • Baggage fees
  • Hotel and lodging costs
  • Connecting and local transportation (trains, subways, buses, cabs, etc)

When deducting these expenses, you must be sure that they are incurred primarily for job hunting purposes. If you travel to Orlando to go to a job interview, and then end up spending the rest of the week at Disney World, it is entirely possible that the IRS will overturn your deduction on audit based on the fact that the trip was primarily taken for pleasure and not for job hunting purposes.


Relocation Costs

Relocation costs can be the most significant income tax deduction that you can get as a result of a job search. In order to deduct moving expenses on your tax return you must meet three tests:

Your move is closely related to the start of work. Per the IRS, the move must be “incurred within 1 year from the date you first reported to work at the new location.”

Time. If you are an employee, you must work full time for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months after moving to the new location. The requirement for self-employed persons is 78 weeks.

Distance. There is a 50 mile rule in order for you to be able to deduct relocation costs. The new location must be at least 50 miles farther from your former home than your old main job location was from your former home. For example, if you lived 20 miles from your old job, you will have to move at least 70 miles from your current home in order for the cost of the move to be deductible.

The advantage with moving costs is that you don’t have to itemize in order to deduct them, nor are they subject to the 2% of AGI reduction (that we’ll discuss below). You can actually deduct them on Page 1 of Form 1040, which will also lower your AGI for other deduction purposes.

Relocation costs can be a lot more complicated than time permits us to present here. Please see IRS Publication 521 for a more in depth description of what relocation expenses are allowed, as well as consideration of the many special provisions within the allowance.

Your Job Hunting Expenses Are Subject to Reduction!

According to IRS regulations, you can only deduct job hunting expenses to the degree that they exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income (AGI). If your AGI was $100,000 for the tax year, you will only be able to deduct job hunting expenses to the degree that they exceed $2,000, or 2% of your AGI.

The good news is that there other expenses that count toward the 2% threshold, including tax preparation fees, investment related expenses, and un-reimbursed employee business expenses. You may find yourself exceeding the threshold very easily if you have other such expenses, or if you are unemployed for much of the tax year, so the threshold will be an extremely low number.

Per the IRS:

You cannot deduct these expenses if:

  • You are looking for a job in a new occupation (more on this in the next section),
  • There was a substantial break between the ending of your last job and your looking for a new one, or
  • You are looking for a job for the first time

Sources: IRS Publication 529, and Job Search Expenses Can be Tax Deductible

And that isn’t the only limit either…


You Can Only Deduct Job Hunting Expenses Related to a Job in the Same Career Field You’re Already In

If the 2% of AGI limit doesn’t seem fair, it gets even worse. You cannot deduct job hunting expenses if they are for the purpose of moving into a different career. The deduction applies only if you are moving to a job within the same career field.

This doesn’t make a whole life sense, considering you are more likely to occur large job hunting expenses if you are looking to move into a different field. After all, that would likely involve sending out more resumes, going on more interviews, and a greater likelihood of extending the job search to other states.

But perhaps that’s the reason why this restriction exists – the government is looking to minimize the loss of tax revenues related to the more costly job hunt that would be involved if you are moving into an entirely different career.

It gets worse still. If you are a recent graduate searching for your first job, the expenses you incur will not be considered deductible because – technically speaking – you are moving into a new career.

Despite the limitations, job hunting expenses may be worth paying close attention to in the event that you have a very low income in the year that you’re claiming them, or they are mostly comprised of moving expenses, or if the total amount is substantial.

How about you all? Have you ever been able to deduct job hunting expenses in the past?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***PHOTO: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ftmeade/14675342103/sizes/n/

Lazy Guide to Building Credit

The following post is by Amanda Green. Enjoy! 

It is easy to end up with poor credit. Far easier than people realize. The good news is, even if you are lazy you can still build up and repair your credit.

Don’t know where to start? That’s okay. I’m here to give you a few good tips on reviving your poor credit score and scoring those awesome credit cards no matter how lazy you are.

1) Address Outstanding Debt

I think we all know I’m not talking about wonderful debt, because there is no such thing. Hey, we’re all a little lazy when it comes to this, especially if we have a lot of outstanding debt. The truth is, if you have a lot of outstanding debt (particularly from medical bills or credit cards) you have to address those debts to have any hope of improving your credit score.

If you don’t feel like dealing with this yourself (and it can be overwhelming), don’t worry. You can hire out a company like Lexington Law, who specializes in reducing debt and credit repair services. It takes the trouble and puts it in someone else’s hands. It’s the perfect solution if you know you can’t (or won’t) deal with it on your own.

2) Get Secured Credit Cards

Whoever came up with this idea was brilliant. A secured credit card is a card for people who have poor credit and are looking to build their score back up again. The idea is pretty simple.

  • You apply for the secured card and establish a credit limit.
  • You put down the deposit based on the credit limit (usually 50-100% of the limit).
  • You use the card with the deposited balance.
  • You reload the card just like any other pre-paid card.

The bank that holds the account reports to balance to the credit bureaus to establish a stable credit card that is controlled. There can be a fee associated with these cards, so find out for sure and read the fine print.

3) Join a Credit Union

Credit unions are like banks, but they are owned by the customers. That means that the credit unions aren’t out for profits like regular banks. As a result, they are able to offer higher return on interest, and lower interest rates on their credit cards and loans. The beauty is that credit unions still report to the credit bureaus, so you can build your credit and increase your chances at getting better rates at the same time.

Once you have established yourself with the credit union, find out if you can qualify for a low interest personal loan or a home refinance. By using a personal loan through the credit union to pay off credit card debt, you are ensuring that you will have it all paid off by a certain date.

4) Budget

Sounds like a no-brainer. The truth is a lack of budget is one of the main reasons people find themselves in this mess to begin with. If you ever want to climb out of debt you have to create a budget and stick with it. Make it reasonable and effortless, and you are more likely to succeed at sticking to it.

Try to avoid using credit cards as much as possible. They will only throw you further into debt.

Do Country Club Memberships Make Financial Sense?

saving money financial planning country clubs The following is a post by MPFJ staff writer, Sally, the blogger behind TinyApartmentDesign.com, a blog about design, living well, and simple, tiny spaces. Enjoy! 

My first introduction to country clubs was the classic Simpsons episode “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield”, when Marge buys a discounted pink Chanel suit and soon ends up spending time with the idle rich of Springfield Country Club.

I’ve since spent lots of time around the “clubs”, whether I was working there (as a hostess one summer) or visiting for work and alumni functions. In California, there are a number of prestigious clubs, which may not be as old as East Coast clubs, but are still heavyweights with big price tags for memberships, like the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, the Jonathan Club, and the Bel Air Bay Club, to name a few. There are also plenty of yacht clubs and country clubs with hefty admissions fees (usually a one-time fee) and ongoing annual dues. Some of these clubs have the added social clout that require one or two current members to “sponsor” or nominate the potential member into the club’s ranks. If it all sounds very exclusive, well, it was designed to be that way. Country clubs and other private clubs are pretty much know for exclusivity, promoting a homogenous membership (if not racially, then socioeconomically) and associating among themselves. Think “Not Our Kind, Dear” and other heavily entitled phrases used flippantly.

So, why would you ever want to join a country club? Well, there’s the golf, tennis and swimming facilities. Many have a club restaurant, and it can become a place for all of your social gatherings. One acquaintance who’s been a country club member since birth explained why he and his wife are now becoming full members into the same club: they have all of their family gatherings at the club, celebrate lots of holidays at the club, many of their friends are members of the club. It’s not a lifestyle I can relate to exactly, but I understand the comfort factor, and the convenience factor.

The actual cost varies wildly. Some clubs in Southern California have a smaller initiation fee and annual dues, like $10,000 and $3,000, respectively. Others are known for $60,000+ fees for a full member plus $10,000 in annual dues. On top of that, some clubs may require you spend a certain amount each month in the restaurant and pro shop. This is definitely a luxury expense unless the cost of playing tennis or golf in your area is much higher on a per-use basis than joining a club. But I’ve never seen an area that doesn’t have at least one public tennis court and a public golf course with reasonable fees.  Personally, while the idea of belonging to a club is appealing, and I like the thought of taking friends and out of town guests to my club, I don’t think I would ever join any club just because of its long history of exclusion and segregation.

How about you all? What do you think, would you join a country club or are you already a member? 

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Image: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1369498