Hitting the Books Again? Here’s How to Financially Prepare for Grad School

Deia Schlosberg had been working as an environmental educator, teaching students about issues concerning conservation and sustainability. While she loved teaching, she wanted to reach people on a larger scale about the importance of protecting the environment. So she decided to follow her dream of becoming a filmmaker—a dream that would require her to return to school for a graduate degree. She had no idea at the time that it would lead to becoming an award-winning documentarian.

While Schlosberg’s choice may have paid off, learning how to pay for grad school as a working adult can be a challenge. There are various benefits to getting an advanced degree: You can learn more, you can earn more, you can further advance in your current job or prepare for a career change. However, you might also find yourself stressed by the expense and resulting debt of it all, especially if you have kids, a home or other financial commitments. So a big question on your mind could be, “How much should I save for grad school?”

To financially prepare for grad school it’s important to weigh the benefits and stressors that surround getting an advanced degree.

Below are some lessons on how to financially prepare for grad school to help you determine if and when you should go back to school. If you haven’t yet decided if graduate school is right for you, see section 1 for tips on how to decide. If you already know you want to go back to school, skip to section 2.

1. Decide if going back to school is right for you

Getting an advanced degree may seem like a ticket to success, but depending on your chosen area of study, the outcome may vary. For Schlosberg, it was a bit of a risk. It can be difficult to get a break in the film industry, and going to grad school could mean carrying around debt for a long time. Is this the type of outcome you would be willing to accept?

According to Emma Johnson, best-selling author, career consultant and founder of Wealthysinglemommy.com, there are a few things you can do to help you decide whether or not going back to school is right for you:

  • Do your homework. When considering how to pay for grad school as a working adult, research your degree options and the jobs to which they might lead. Compare cost and compatibility—for instance, will classes for the program align with your work schedule? Once you’ve determined what kind of occupation you may pursue after grad school, search online for information about that occupation’s average earnings.
  • Solidify your goals. You may find clarity in writing out your goals for going back to school. Some benefits are tangible, like earning more money, building a professional network and gaining skills. Others might be less tangible, such as finding personal fulfillment. Once you know your goals, it will be easier to determine if a graduate degree makes personal and professional sense.

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“Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree is—i.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field.”

– Deia Schlosberg, filmmaker
  • Give your degree program a test run. Consider taking classes that relate to the degree you are interested in getting in grad school. These classes can give you a taste of the subject matter you’ll be studying and help you meet people involved in the field. Also, if prerequisites are required for your advanced degree, they often cost less online or at a community college, which is important to remember when thinking about how to prepare your finances before grad school. Make sure the course credits will be accepted at the graduate school you plan to attend.
  • Take a hands-on approach. To level up in your existing career or find out what it’s like in a new field before making the change, get some work-related experience first. For instance, to learn more about moving up in your own field, get out and meet those higher level professionals by attending conferences and networking events. The same tactic applies if you want to change careers.

2. Know how much you need to save

How to pay for grad school as a working adult can be complicated, but you’ve decided you’re ready for it. Plus, hitting the books at a time when saving for retirement or your child’s education could be at the forefront makes the task of how to prepare your finances before grad school even more critical.

Understanding how to prepare your finances before grad school becomes more complicated if you’re also budgeting for a retirement plan or child’s education.

Figuring out how much to save for grad school begins with determining the cost of attendance. Here are a couple ways to do that, according to Johnson:

  • Do the research. Once you have found a school and degree that you like, visit the school’s web site. Some schools may provide the cost of tuition, fees and estimated costs for books, supplies and transportation. Costs can vary tremendously, depending on various factors: whether you attend full or part time, whether you attend a public or private school, whether you are an in-state or out-of-state resident and the time it takes to get your degree.
  • Determine your budget. Once you have a handle on the school-related costs, build a spreadsheet that accounts for these costs and projects monthly income and living expenses. Working through a savings plan beforehand can help you financially prepare for grad school by showing just how much you’ll need to budget for monthly on tuition plus living expenses. Once you determine these factors, you’ll get a better idea of what you need to save up.
  • Create a savings buffer. After you determine your monthly costs, pad that number. “Your savings should not only depend on tuition but also what the degree is—i.e., how easy it will be to repay once you are working in the desired field,” Schlosberg says. She saved a little more than she estimated, giving herself an extra cushion to cover some of the potential risk to her finances.

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“You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources.”

– Emma Johnson, career consultant

3. Allow yourself a flexible timeline

One key factor in planning the timeline for earning your graduate degree: Don’t be in a rush. If you need to, create the time to save. It may not be necessary to go back to school full time or finish on a particular schedule, Johnson says. She mentions these possible paths to earning your degree when planning how to pay for grad school as a working adult:

  • Consider a side hustle. One option is to go to school full time and take on a side hustle. You may not make as much as you did as a full-time employee, but the income can complement your savings. It may also allow you to concentrate more on your degree and finish faster.
  • Attend part time. Go to school part time (nights and weekends) while working. It will take longer, but it will also minimize your debt, which could be better in the long run.
  • Take it slowly. Only sign up for a class or two—whatever you can afford—and continue to work. This part-time “lite” approach may take even longer, but could help you avoid overextending yourself financially or sliding into debt.
  • Take online classes. Consider online programs that could lower the cost of tuition and allow you to continue working full time.
If you’re wondering how to pay for grad school as a working adult, consider attending school part time and taking online classes.

4. Take advantage of potential cost-saving benefits

So you’ve done your research on how much you need to save while determining how to prepare your finances before grad school. But there are ways to potentially cut or eliminate some of those costs. What comes next are some solutions that may help pay your grad school bills:

  • Consider loans, financial aid and scholarships. “I took out some student loans for living expenses, but I tried to pay off my tuition as I went by working through school,” Schlosberg says. Graduate students may also be eligible for different types of scholarships and grants, which is aid that does not need to be paid back. Depending on your area of study, scholarships and grants can also be obtained through federal and state organizations, private foundations, public companies and professional organizations.
  • Ask your employer to pay the tuition. One way to financially prepare for grad school is to talk to your manager or human resources representative to find out if your current employer would help pay for, or fully fund, your degree through tuition reimbursement. This is most likely if you plan to move up the ladder and use your new skills on behalf of the company.
  • Take advantage of in-state tuition. Some people move to the same state as their desired school to try to get a break on tuition. “I moved to Montana and worked a couple jobs for a year before applying so I could get in-state tuition,” says Schlosberg. Whether you are already a resident or you move to a new state, be sure to determine how long you need to be a resident to qualify for in-state tuition at your desired university.
  • Cut back on discretionary expenses. Seemingly small things like adjusting your lifestyle to lower your monthly costs, which could mean fewer lattes and dinners out, might go a long way in resolving how to prepare your finances before grad school. “You may have to downscale your career and current lifestyle to go back to school, which may be a worthwhile investment of time and resources,” Johnson says.
When determining how to financially prepare for graduate school, consider scholarships, in-state tuition and tuition reimbursement.

Financially prepare for grad school and get a new start

Answering the question of how to pay for grad school as a working adult requires significant research and preparation, but some say it’s worth it, including Schlosberg. It not only gave her a whole new start, but a wealth of knowledge going forward to nurture her future endeavors. “Getting a graduate degree gave me the confidence to jump into a new career. I met an amazing network of people,” Schlosberg says.

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But an advanced degree may not be a necessity. While it could look impressive on a resume, for many employers, a master’s degree is not a requirement. “Whatever you do, don’t go back to school just for the sake of getting a degree,” Johnson says. When thinking about how to financially prepare for graduate school, make sure it fits into your financial picture and that you’re able to “weigh your sacrifices against future gains,” she says.

The post Hitting the Books Again? Here’s How to Financially Prepare for Grad School appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents

Everyone knows that raising kids can put a serious squeeze on your budget. Beyond covering day-to-day living expenses, there are all of those extras to consider—sports, after-school activities, braces, a first car. Oh, and don’t forget about college.

Add caring for elderly parents to the mix, and balancing your financial and family obligations could become even more difficult.

“It can be an emotional and financial roller coaster, being pushed and pulled in multiple directions at the same time,” says financial life planner and author Michael F. Kay.

The “sandwich generation”—which describes people that are raising children and taking care of aging parents—is growing as Baby Boomers continue to age.

According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives. Aside from a time commitment, you may also be committing part of your budget to caregiving expenses like food, medications and doctor’s appointments.

Budgeting tips for the sandwich generation include communicating with parents.

When you’re caught in the caregiving crunch, you might be wondering: How do I take care of my parents and kids without going broke?

The answer lies in how you approach budgeting and saving. These money strategies for the sandwich generation and budgeting tips for the sandwich generation can help you balance your financial and family priorities:

Communicate with parents

Quentara Costa, a certified financial planner and founder of investment advisory service POWWOW, LLC, served as caregiver for her father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, while also managing a career and starting a family. That experience taught her two very important budgeting tips for the sandwich generation.

First, communication is key, and a money strategy for the sandwich generation is to talk with your parents about what they need in terms of care. “It should all start with a frank discussion and plan, preferably prior to any significant health crisis,” Costa says.

Second, run the numbers so you have a realistic understanding of caregiving costs, including how much parents will cover financially and what you can afford to contribute.

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17 percent of adult children serve as caregivers for their parents at some point in their lives.

– The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College

Involve kids in financial discussions

While you’re talking over expectations with your parents, take time to do the same with your kids. Caregiving for your parents may be part of the discussion, but these talks can also be an opportunity for you and your children to talk about your family’s bigger financial picture.

With younger kids, for example, that might involve talking about how an allowance can be earned and used. You could teach kids about money using a savings account and discuss the difference between needs and wants. These lessons can help lay a solid money foundation as they as move into their tween and teen years when discussions might become more complex.

When figuring out how to budget for the sandwich generation, try including your kids in financial decisions.

If your teen is on the verge of getting their driver’s license, for example, their expectation might be that you’ll help them buy a car or help with insurance and registration costs. Communicating about who will be contributing to these types of large expenses is a good money strategy for the sandwich generation.

The same goes for college, which can easily be one of the biggest expenses for parents and important when learning how to budget for the sandwich generation. If your budget as a caregiver can’t also accommodate full college tuition, your kids need to know that early on to help with their educational choices.

Talking over expectations—yours and theirs—can help you determine which schools are within reach financially, what scholarship or grant options may be available and whether your student is able to contribute to their education costs through work-study or a part-time job.

Consider the impact of caregiving on your income

When thinking about how to budget for the sandwich generation, consider that caring for aging parents can directly affect your earning potential if you have to cut back on the number of hours you work. The impact to your income will be more significant if you are the primary caregiver and not leveraging other care options, such as an in-home nurse, senior care facility or help from another adult child.

Costa says taking time away from work can be difficult if you’re the primary breadwinner or if your family is dual-income dependent. Losing some or all of your income, even temporarily, could make it challenging to meet your everyday expenses.

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“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement.”

– Quentara Costa, certified financial planner

When you’re facing a reduced income, how to budget for the sandwich generation is really about getting clear on needs versus wants. Start with a thorough spending review.

Are there expenses you might be able to reduce or eliminate while you’re providing care? How much do you need to earn each month to maintain your family’s standard of living? Keeping your family’s needs in focus and shaping your budget around them is a money strategy for the sandwich generation that can keep you from overextending yourself financially.

“Protect your capital from poor decisions made from emotions,” financial life planner Kay says. “It’s too easy when you’re stretched beyond reason to make in-the-heat-of-the-moment decisions that ultimately are not in anyone’s best interest.”

Keep saving in sight

One of the most important money strategies for the sandwich generation is continuing to save for short- and long-term financial goals.

“Very rarely do I recommend putting caregiving ahead of the client’s own cash reserve and retirement,” financial planner Costa says. “While the intention to put others before ourselves is noble, you may actually be pulling the next generation backwards due to your lack of self-planning.”

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Making regular contributions to your 401(k), an individual retirement account or an IRA CD should still be a priority. Adding to your emergency savings each month—even if you have to reduce the amount you normally save to fit new caregiving expenses into your budget—can help prepare you for unexpected expenses or the occasional cash flow shortfall. Contributing to a 529 college savings plan or a Coverdell ESA is a budgeting tip for the sandwich generation that can help you build a cushion for your children once they’re ready for college life.

When you are learning how to budget for the sandwich generation, don’t forget about your children’s savings goals. If there’s something specific they want to save for, help them figure out how much they need to save and a timeline for reaching their goal.

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Ask for help if you need it

A big part of learning how to budget for the sandwich generation is finding resources you can leverage to help balance your family commitments. In the case of aging parents, there may be state or federal programs that can help with the cost of care.

Remember to also loop in your siblings or other family members when researching budgeting tips for the sandwich generation. If you have siblings or relatives, engage them in an open discussion about what they can contribute, financially or in terms of caregiving assistance, to your parents. Getting them involved and asking them to share some of the load can help you balance caregiving for parents while still making sure that you and your family’s financial outlook remains bright.

The post Budgeting Tips for the Sandwich Generation: How to Care for Kids and Parents appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

How to Throw a Bridal Shower on a Budget: A Guide for the Frugal Host

Between impressive floral arches and customized sugar cookies, throwing a picture-perfect bridal shower aimed at being a social media showstopper can be pricey.

CostHelper.com, a website that compares the cost of services, reports that a typical bridal shower can run from $15 to $40 per person for a luncheon or party in a private room at a mid-range restaurant. If you’re going all out with an elaborate bridal shower, you could be talking $40 to $150 or more (gasp!) per person. Even a small, elaborate bridal shower (think 15 guests) could cost between $600 and $2,250—and that’s before invitations, decorations and cake.

The good news is you can actually honor the bride and your budget at the same time. A bridal shower with simple refreshments at the host’s home, for example, can cost $10 to $15 or less per person, according to CostHelper.com. You just need to employ some creative tips for budget bridal showers to make the event more affordable.

What is the best way to plan a bridal shower on a budget? Follow these six tips as you prepare to shower the bride, and there’s a good chance you’ll have more fun and less financial stress:

1. Zero in on important goals

Before you even begin to plan a bridal shower on a budget, you need to know the goals upfront so you can understand where you should be investing your time and money. Sit down with the bride (or, if it’s a surprise, consult a friend or family member of the betrothed) and establish expectations and a budget to match.

Personal finance coach Emma Leigh Geiser shares her starting tip for budget bridal showers: “Plan an event that honors who the bride truly is and what you can provide, without sacrificing your financial well-being.”

Geiser, who helps women in their 20s and 30s with personal financial challenges, recommends learning what the bride envisions for her celebration and which traditions are most important to her. Be upfront about how much you can realistically afford to spend on the bridal shower, Geiser says. And don’t be shy about saying the bridal shower is your gift to the bride.

If the bride’s priority is to have her bridal shower at a high-priced restaurant, find creative ways to lower other costs to still plan a bridal shower on a budget. Bring your own cake to the venue, for example, exclude alcohol from the menu or keep the guest list small. If the bride is a foodie and wants guests to dine on gourmet dishes, you could spend most of the budget on a favorite caterer, but then consider hosting the event at someone’s home and doing minimal decor so budget isn’t needed elsewhere.

Finding out what's truly important to the bride can help you plan a bridal shower on a budget.

2. Delegate tasks

If you’re wondering how to throw a bridal shower on a budget, know that you don’t have to foot the entire cost of the party yourself. Consider co-hosting with the rest of the bridal party or one of the bride’s family members, or delegating specific tasks to willing volunteers.

When personal finance blogger Becky Beach had her bridal shower, catering was delegated to her sister-in-law. “She knows how to throw a bridal shower on a budget,” Beach says. Deputized to handle the food, her sister-in-law served inexpensive bites purchased from a wholesale club, including sausage-roll appetizers, crab cakes, apple crisp tartlets and cream puffs. (With this lineup, who needs a main meal?!)

Assigning smaller purchases to other bridesmaids and close family members is a good tip for budget bridal showers because it can make the overall cost of the event much more manageable for the host. For example, if you delegate tasks or items that cost $30 each to six people, you’ll save $180. Some popular responsibilities to dole out include:

  • Appetizers
  • Dessert
  • Drinks
  • Invitations
  • Favors
  • Games
  • Prizes for games

3. Let the theme choose you

You don’t have to necessarily come up with a theme first. Among the tips for budget bridal showers is to take inventory of what props or decorations are available to you for free. Do you know someone who threw a bridal shower and has leftover decor or favors? Perhaps a friend’s home decor items will fit the bill—like globes and vintage-inspired items, which can be transformed into an exotic travel theme.

If you're wondering how to throw a bridal shower on a budget, keep an eye out for decor items that can create a theme−not the other way around.

Even store clearance items can be repurposed to help dictate your theme’s direction. For example, a home decor or craft store might have steeply discounted artwork. The trick is to look past the art and focus on the frame, Beach says. Can you replace the artwork with a picture of the happy couple? Maybe you can remove the glass altogether, glue twine to the back and use it for hanging wedding wishes from the guests.

Learning how to throw a bridal shower on a budget becomes easier if you’re able to snag off-season items from a party or outdoor store—such as tiki lamps or beach house decorations—which could make for a wonderful fall island or Hawaiian theme.

When planning a bridal shower on a budget, don’t forget to ask friends and family members if you can borrow other party items, such as cake stands, vases and tablecloths. They might even have unopened gifts or stationery sets that you can use as prizes for games.

4. Do the invitations, games and decorations for less

Sending out mid-range traditional invitations by mail can cost $3 to $4 per guest, according to data from CostHelper.com. Invitation costs can add up quickly when you are trying to plan a bridal shower on a budget.

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“Plan an event that honors who the bride truly is and what you can provide, without sacrificing your financial well-being.”

– Emma Leigh Geiser, personal finance coach

If you’re open to skipping snail mail, you can leverage online invitation services that allow you to create your own designs and send to however many guests you’d like for free, Geiser says. You can easily save around $100 on invitations for a guest list of 30 by going the route of a free online invite. Some services may provide you templates to choose from, or they may include advertisements, but they do the trick nicely.

If you’re wondering how to throw a bridal shower on a budget and still keep guests entertained, search online for bridal shower games that can be printed for free or a nominal cost. You could also go the DIY route if you’re so inclined. For example, have guests try to guess what is in the bride’s purse—it’s even more fun if the bride doesn’t know this game will be played.

As far as decorating goes, focus your efforts on one area that will make the biggest impression. If the bridal shower is hosted in someone’s home, go all out decorating only one room. If the bridal shower is at a venue, like a restaurant, work on fancying up only one wall. Whether at a home or a venue, this area can serve as the focal point of the event and give the bride and guests the perfect spot for photos.

5. Make low-cost venues work

When you’re planning a bridal shower on a budget, opt for a low-cost venue that has built-in unique characteristics. “Choose a space that is its own fantastic backdrop,” Geiser says. She recommends a house with natural light and great landscaping in order to cut down on decorating costs.

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Hosting the party at a bride’s friend’s or family member’s home is ideal, since it would be free. “We all know at least one person who has a killer house; ask them if they wouldn’t mind hosting,” Geiser says. (Be sure to preview the site in advance of the bridal shower.) Another good choice: Apartment buildings and condos often have clubhouses or event rooms that can be used for free or rented for a nominal fee. See if any of your bride’s family or friends have access to these areas.

Other local resources can serve as low-cost venues when you’re working on how to throw a bridal shower on a budget. A park, for example, might have a nice garden or even an indoor space that could be used. Research your town’s online municipal pages for tips on how to secure local venues. Some sites might require a nominal fee, early bookings or have other restrictions, so work on booking a space as soon as you have a bridal shower date in mind.

6. Cut food costs by keeping things simple

Whether you are hosting the bridal shower at a restaurant or at someone’s home, schedule a morning brunch or appetizers and salads in the late afternoon when guests are in-between meals. Breakfast dishes, such as an egg casserole or French toast bake, can often cost less to make than a meat-centered entree, Beach adds.

Keeping food simple is a great tip when you're trying to plan a bridal shower on a budget.

If you are in charge of preparing food, stick with quick and easy options as a tip for budget bridal showers. “You don’t have to cook and create everything yourself,” Beach says. “There are so many beautifully crafted hors d’oeuvres you can get prepackaged.”

If you are hosting the bridal shower at a restaurant, ask if they offer a buffet option instead of sit-down catering: Choosing a buffet meal is typically about 30 to 50 percent cheaper than a sit-down meal, according to Eventective, which helps you find venues and event services.

If you’ve got your heart set on sit-down dining, narrow down the menu options in advance. You or the restaurant can make a simple printout of a few entree choices and not share full menus with guests. (Adding the bride’s name to the top of a personalized menu is also a nice touch.) In addition to being a tip for budget bridal showers, this strategy can also streamline the ordering and serving process so you have more time for games and opening gifts. Win-win!

.block-quote_5front { background-image: url(https://865cd2fc18498405a75a-f8cbe8cb758c89f0cd738fe08520ecb9.ssl.cf5.rackcdn.com/online-banking/banking-topics/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/5front-730×500.jpg); } @media (min-width: 730px) { .block-quote_5front { background-image: url(https://865cd2fc18498405a75a-f8cbe8cb758c89f0cd738fe08520ecb9.ssl.cf5.rackcdn.com/online-banking/banking-topics/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/5front-1600×600.jpg); } }

Choosing a buffet meal is typically about 30 to 50 percent cheaper than a sit-down meal.

– Eventective, special event and venue services

Keep track of the expenses when planning a bridal shower on a budget

You can master how to throw a bridal shower on a budget if you determine the guest-of-honor’s goals from the start. Another tip to remember when you plan a bridal shower on a budget is to track your expenses throughout the planning and hosting process to make sure you’re staying on budget.

If you are splitting costs with friends and family, remember to get reimbursed—preferably before the event, so you don’t have to worry about tracking people down to talk about business while celebrating.

As Geiser says, “What actually makes the event are the attendees, the conversation and the fun you create as a group celebrating the bride.”

The post How to Throw a Bridal Shower on a Budget: A Guide for the Frugal Host appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

What Is Cash Back?

What Is Cash Back?

Cash back is a rewards benefit that many credit cards offer to cardholders. By taking advantage of it, you’ll receive back a prespecified percentage of certain purchases you make. Many credit card companies will provide higher cash back rates on certain types of purchases, such as airfare, gas, food and more. Cash back is just one way that credit cards offer rewards, as mileage and points are some alternatives.

Before you spend too much money with your credit cards, make sure you have a financial plan in place. Speak with a financial advisor today.

What Is Cash Back?

The most commonly recognized style of cash back is what you have likely seen advertised as cash back credit cards. This specifically refers to earning a certain percentage of your credit card purchases back as cash rewards. However, cash back rates vary widely, as do the categories that they apply to.

You usually won’t see credit card cash back rates higher than 5%, while 1% is the typically minimum you will earn. Cash back categorization is significantly more complex though, with a merchant category code (MCC) system being the main organizing force.

MCCs run the entire cash back industry, as they ultimately decide how each purchase you make is classified. These designations coincide with cash back rates set by the issuer of your card. For example, you could use your card for a $50 dinner at a steakhouse, which has a “restaurant” code. If your card offers a 2% cash back rate on all spending at restaurants, you’d earn $1 cash back.

Familiar alternatives to cash back include point- and mile-based programs, though many cardholders are partial to cash back. Cash back affords cardholders an independence that is ideal, since you can redeem it for nearly anything.

Popular Cash Back Credit Cards

What Is Cash Back?

Discover, American Express, Mastercard and Visa all have cash back rewards credit cards available for prospective cardholders. Each abide by their own set of regulations, though card issuers decide on cash back rates, promotions and bonuses. Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Capital One represent some of the most active card issuers on the market today.

Below are a few examples of what you can expect to earn when looking for a cash back credit card:

Cash Back Credit Cards Card Name Cash Back Rates Cash Back Bonus Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi 4% cash back on eligible gas up to $7,000 per year, 3% cash back on eligible travel and restaurants, 2% cash back in-store and online with Costco and 1% cash back elsewhere None Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card 3% cash back in a category of your choosing, 2% cash back at grocery stores and wholesale clubs and 1% cash back on all other purchases (up to a quarterly cap of $2,500 in combined grocery/wholesale club/choice category purchases) $200 bonus cash back for spending at least $1,000 over your first 90 days Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 1.5% cash back everywhere $150 cash back bonus when you spend $500 during your first three months Citi Double Cash Card 1% cash back on your purchases and another 1% cash back when you pay your bill None Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card Unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back on groceries and 1% cash back elsewhere $300 cash back bonus for $3,000 spent over your first three months TD Cash Visa® Credit Card 3% cash back on dining, 2% cash back at supermarkets and 1% cash back on everything else Earn $150 cash back when spending $500 within the first 90 days (See Terms) USAA Preferred Cash Rewards Visa Signature Unlimited 1.5% cash back on everything None Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express 3% cash back on up to $6,000/year at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%), 2% cash back at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores and 1% cash back on other purchases $150 bonus cash back for spending $1,000 over your first six months Getting Cash Back at Retailers

What Is Cash Back?

Picture this: you’re buying some groceries on a Sunday morning, but know you’ll need $40 cash to fill up your car with some gas later. You could swipe your debit card at the supermarket and then head over to the ATM. Or you could ask for cash back right from the cashier, eliminating the extra errand.

The above situation represents the alternative definition of cash back. It’s ultimately the use of a cash register as if you were swiping your debit card at the ATM. When you request cash back from a cashier, your bank account will be charged the amount you asked for. This enables the funds to be pulled from your account so the cash can be placed in your hand.

Although this generally only applies to debit cards, there are a few exceptions for credit cards. Discover® allows cardholders to ask for cash back at more than 50 large retail stores without a transaction fee.

Bottom Line

There are many benefits to utilizing credit card rewards programs. But spending money that technically isn’t yours will always involve some level of risk. If you’re in good financial shape, though, cash back and other types of credit card rewards can help you take more vacations, save money on purchases and more.

Credit Card Tips

  • Managing your credit cards and any debt you accumulate using them is a major part of your long-term financial outlook. Consider working with a financial advisor to make sure you’re managing your money with your goals for the future in mind. SmartAsset’s free matching tool can connect you with up to three advisors in your area. Get started now.
  • If you’re someone who wants freedom when spending credit card rewards, you may prefer cash back to a points- or mileage-based reward system. However, keep in mind that cash back rates are sometimes less than those in point-centric programs.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the issuer.

Advertiser Disclosure: The card offers that appear on this site are from companies from which SmartAsset.com receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). SmartAsset.com does not include all card companies or all card offers available in the marketplace.

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The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly

If you get paid every two weeks, you’ve probably noticed extra money coming your way certain months. Maybe you even thought your company’s payroll made a mistake! But it’s no mistake. You get two magical months like this a year: when you suddenly have a third paycheck and—the best part is—your monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joy—provided you have a plan for that extra income.

Why does this happen in the first place? If you’re paid biweekly, you get 26 paychecks throughout the 52-week year. That means two months out of the year, you end up getting three paychecks instead of your regular two.

Those two extra paychecks can go a long way. But without a plan in mind, they can also disappear. Fast. The first budgeting trick to saving two paychecks is to find out when they will hit your account. Grab a calendar and write down your paydays for every month in a given year and highlight the two extras. Maybe even put calendar reminders in your phone so you can track when the additional funds will hit your account. The extra paychecks will fall on different days every year, so tracking them in advance is key.

Samuel Deane, a founding partner of New York City-based wealth management firm Deane Financial, says there isn’t one correct way to budget with an extra paycheck, but that it should depend on your personal situation and financial goals. You could decide to give yourself some extra room in your budget throughout the year, for example, or use the extra money for something specific.

There are a few different ways to budget with an extra paycheck.

How can I budget for an extra paycheck? Consider these 5 budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly:

1. Pay down (mainly) high-interest debt

Once you’re done jumping for joy at the realization of the third paycheck, consider how your budget with an extra paycheck could help you pay down debt. “The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt,” Deane says.

Before paying off debt with your new budget with an extra paycheck, make a list of all of your debts organized by balance and annual percentage rate (APR). Paying off the debt with the highest APR could save you the most money because you’re paying the most to carry a balance. Paying down a few low-APR, low-balance debts can also help you gain momentum and bring other financial benefits. For instance, if you owe close to your credit limit on a credit card, the high credit utilization—or card balance to credit limit ratio—could negatively impact your credit score.

If your budget with an extra paycheck includes debt repayment, you’ll start to owe less and have less interest accruing each month, freeing up even more cash from subsequent paychecks.

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“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”

– Samuel Deane, a founding partner of wealth management firm Deane Financial

2. Build an emergency fund

Paying down debt isn’t the only way to budget with an extra paycheck. “Taking a look at whether you have a sufficient emergency fund is pretty important,” says Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management.

An emergency fund of three to six months of your regular expenses can help you weather financial setbacks, such as a lost job or medical emergency, without having to take on new debt. Keeping these funds separate from your regular checking and savings accounts can help you keep them earmarked for the unexpected (and reduce the temptation to dip into them for non-emergency expenses). Places to keep your emergency fund include a high-yield savings account, certificate of deposit or money market account.

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If creating an emergency fund or adding to an existing one is on your to-do list, a budgeting trick to save two paychecks is to automatically transfer your extra paychecks into your emergency fund account.

3. Save for a big goal

If you want to save for a goal like a new car or home, or contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, contributing two full paychecks out of 26 can be a good start. “If a client is debt-free and doing well, they might be able to focus on other goals,” Deane says. If you’ve got a financial goal in mind, a budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly is to transfer your two extra paychecks from your checking account to a savings or retirement account right away.

Using your extra paycheck to save for a goal, like a new home or new car, is a smart budgeting hack if you're paid biweekly.

If you have a 401(k) through an employer and already contribute enough to get your maximum annual match, Deane says you may want to consider a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is for retirement, but it also allows first-time homebuyers who have held their account for at least five years to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a home, Deane says. Your budget with an extra paycheck could then go to either major goal.

Even loftier, “you could put aside money to start a business,” Deane says. If you plan on starting a business someday you could put away the paychecks annually and let those savings build as start-up capital.

4. Get ahead on bills

If you already have an emergency fund, are currently debt-free and are making good progress on your savings goals, try this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly and get a third paycheck: Pay certain monthly bills ahead of time.

“If you have the ability to prepay some of your bills, it can ease anxiety in the coming months,” Deane says.

Before using this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly, check with your providers to confirm that you will not be met with a prepayment penalty, and get up to speed on any prepayment limitations. Some providers may even offer a discount or incentive if you pay something like a car insurance bill all at once. You could also explore whether or not prepaying your bills makes sense for utilities, your cellphone or rent.

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5. Fund much-needed rewards

If you’re looking for budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly, consider that managing money isn’t only about dollars and cents. Emotions often play an important part in personal finance, and they’re often the root cause of people’s decisions. Accepting this fact could be an important part of successfully managing your money.

“From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, people should reward themselves for being responsible,” Stous says. “Basically, treat yourself.”

Perhaps you need a vacation from the daily grind, want to enrich or educate yourself or your family or simply want to get a date night at your favorite restaurant on the calendar. A budgeting trick to save two paychecks could be supplemented with some spending on yourself.

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“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

– Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting trick to save two paychecks

When you’re deciding how to budget with an extra paycheck, you might find yourself going back and forth between options.

“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt-reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal,” Stous says. “On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

Even though budgeting solutions are not the same for everyone, being disciplined and proactive about the savings opportunity of a third paycheck can help you form a strong foundation for your financial future.

The post The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

The Average Salary of a Pharmacist

The Average Salary of a Pharmacist.

If you’ve been to the pharmacy lately, you may have found yourself wondering how much pharmacists make. Being a pharmacist, at least at the retail level, involves a lot of standing, long shifts and dealing with customers. In other words, it might not be for everyone. On the plus side, salaries in the field are on the high side, with an average annual salary of $123,670. 

The Average Salary of a Pharmacist: The Basics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual salary of a pharmacist in May 2018 was $123,670 per year. The highest-paid 10% of pharmacists earn a mean annual wage of $161,250. The lowest-paid 10% of pharmacists make an average of $87,790. So, no matter where you end up on the pharmacist income scale your annual wage is likely to be much higher than the annual income of the average American.

The BLS also provides a job outlook for the professions it studies. The job outlook shows the percent by which a field will grow (or shrink) between 2016 and 2026. The job outlook for pharmacists is 6%, which is just shy of the 7% average across all fields. Between 2016 and 2026, the BLS projects the field will add 17,400 jobs.

Where Pharmacists Make the Most

The Average Salary of a Pharmacist

The BLS also looks at state and metro-area data on the jobs the Bureau studies. So where does it pay the most to be a pharmacist? The top-paying state for pharmacists is Alaska, with a mean annual wage for pharmacists of $139,880. Other high-paying states are California ($139,690), Vermont ($135,420), Maine ($133,050) and Wisconsin ($132,400).

The top-paying metro area for pharmacists is Tyler, TX, with an annual mean wage of $174,870. Other high-paying metro areas are Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA ($155,330); Vallejo-Fairfield, CA ($153,820); Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA ($151,590) and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA ($149,790).

Becoming a Pharmacist

In order to get a job as a pharmacist, you first have to get a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, also known as a Pharm.D. A Pharm.D. is a postgraduate degree, but most programs only require applicants to have two years of undergraduate education under their belts. Many future pharmacists will spend two years taking prerequisite courses like chemistry, biology and physics. Then, they’ll matriculate and spend the next four years in pharmacy school.

Once you have your degree, you’ll need to pass two exams to receive your license. The first is The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), which assesses your knowledge and skills. The second is either a state specific test or the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). This tests your knowledge of pharmacy law specific to the state you’ll be practicing in.

The Cost of Becoming a Pharmacist

The Average Salary of a Pharmacist

Becoming a pharmacist requires years of study and, for most people, taking on student debt. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
Graduating Student Survey, 84.8% of pharmacists-in-training borrowed money to complete their Pharm.D. degree program. Of the survey respondents who borrowed money, the median amount borrowed (across public and private institutions) was $160,000.

Bottom Line

While pharmacists have an advanced degree and a high salary, they are often working in a retail setting. And retail, with its heavy emphasis on customer service, isn’t for everyone. Still, the high pay and job security, along with the intellectual and public-service aspects of working as a pharmacist, might make it worth it. If you’re thinking of becoming a pharmacist, it’s a good idea to talk to some professionals in the field before you commit to an expensive course of study.

Tips for Forging a Career Path

  • Your salary dictates a lot of your financial life, such as how much you can afford to pay in rent and the slice of your paycheck that goes to taxes. However, there are some principles that apply no matter your income bracket, like having an emergency fund and saving for retirement.
  • Need help managing your money and growing your nest egg? You should probably be working with a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.

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Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com