4 things to do before you ask for a raise

It's the most wonderful time of the year -- no, not the holidays -- performance-review season at work! Now is when many employers evaluate their employees' contributions to the organization's mission and bottom line, and then make decisions about raises, bonuses, and promotions accordingly. So it's a great time to ask for a raise.

But if you aren't able to make a good case for yourself, then you might find that not only is your career becoming stagnant but also that you could be first on the chopping block in the event of corporate (or wider) economic misfortune. Assuming you don't want to be considered disposable in the eyes of your employer, here are some tactics and strategies to implement before you ask for a raise. They might just help increase your chances of success.

1. Use your initial job interview to set the stage.

Remember how nobody cares about your money more than you do? Well, nobody cares about your career more than you do, either. In fact, in many ways your career and your money are arguably the same thing.

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More about...Career

Student loan repayment and the ethics of personal finance

[This is the third installment in a series examining repaying student loans. Part I was a best practices guide for repaying student loans. Part II discussed an alternative payment plan, Revised Pay As You Earn or REPAYE.]

In my last post on REPAYE, the new student loan repayment program, I mentioned that it might be possible to artificially lower your adjusted gross income (AGI) in order to lower your required monthly payments under REPAYE.

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More about...Debt, Taxes

What are Pay as you Earn (REPAYE) Student Loans?

[This is the second installment in a series examining repaying student loans. Part I was a best practices guide for repaying student loans.]

Pay As You Earn (PAYE) was introduced in December 2012 and has been widely touted as one of the best options for those struggling to pay back their student loans. Why is this? PAYE is an income-driven payment plan for federal student loans that caps the monthly payment amount at 10 percent of your discretionary income.

The U.S. Department of Education considers discretionary income to be "the difference between your income and 150 percent of the poverty guideline for your family size and state of residence." So let's do some math using the following assumptions:

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What is an apprenticeship?

Given that student loan debt in the U.S. tops $1.2 trillion and the average graduate owed over $30,000 in 2015, it's no surprise topics like how to start paying student loans are necessary.

However, if you're still in school or are still saving for college (or you have kids or grandkids in that category), there's an option for reducing or eliminating the amount of student loans you take out: apprenticeship programs.

What is an Apprenticeship Program?

Apprentice in construction with mentor

The basic idea behind apprenticeships is that students/apprentices learn by doing. While apprenticeships used to be a very common way for people to train for a wide variety of professions, as higher education became ubiquitous, the apprenticeship model fell out of fashion.

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More about...Planning

What discounts can I get with a student ID?

Student discounts are an interesting topic. They don't typically give you a discount for anything on campus, because those amenities are paid for by your tuition and "miscellaneous registration fees" -- though lots of student groups on campus offer free food in exchange for your attendance and involvement at their events.

No, student discounts are actually given at the discretion of retailers and service providers. And often, they are not advertised.

So how do you find out about and take advantage of these opportunities? The simple answer is to ask.

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More about...Frugality

Brown bag lunch strategies for grown-ups

Eating out for lunch. For many of us, it's one of the biggest temptations we face at work every day because it's a tasty, convenient excuse to get out of the office and socialize (or not!) with our coworkers. But there are good reasons not to eat out for lunch too -- like how long it takes, how bad it can be for the waistline, how much it costs (not to mention that it just makes it harder to reach your financial goals).

A couple years ago, Visa's 2013 Lunch Survey pegged the expense at about $10 per outing and "an average of $18 per week or $936 per year." (The national average is 1.8 times per week according to the survey.) It might be even more today.

Young women out to lunch

So if you're looking for ways to whittle down debt or boost your online high-yield savings account, packing a brown-bag lunch could be the frugal hack that does the trick.

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More about...Frugality, Food, Planning

Money moves for graduates: How to set up a budget

If you are a recent graduate, congratulations and best wishes for your success!

Whether you were lucky enough to have a job lined up right after completing your degree or not, whether you graduated without student loan debt or your new balance rivals the national average of $30,000, you still need to get your financial life in place. So now that the celebrating is behind you, it's time to get to work. What are your next steps?

Here's a primer to get you started.

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More about...Budgeting

How to start paying student loans – best practices guide

[This is the first installment in a series examining repaying student loans. Part II will discuss an alternative payment plan, Revised Pay As You Earn or REPAYE.]

As someone who started off her debt reduction journey on Get Rich Slowly with some pretty astronomical student loan debt, I've learned the hard way about the repayment process. And with school starting up again and many feeling tempted to borrow, I wanted to share some of that retrospectively gained wisdom.

A staggering number of college grads start their careers with student loan debt, and many of them struggle to get ahead as a result.

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More about...Budgeting, Debt

How much does it cost to start a side gig?

So you're thinking to start a side gig. Congratulations! Whether you are trying to pay off debt or just trying to fully fund your savings account, a side gig can help you reach your financial goals.

But be aware: There is a grain of truth to the old adage, "You have to spend money to make money." Exactly how much money are we talking?

The cost of starting a side gig depends on several factors, so let's explore some of the costs you are likely to encounter regardless of your new business focus.

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More about...Planning, Side Hustles

Meal plans and delivery programs — costly or cost-effective?

The three biggest items in most people's budgets are usually housing, transportation, and food. That's because they are needs; but like most needs, costs can range from the inexpensive, no-frills version to the outrageously expensively extravagances seen on some reality TV shows. For example, you could live in a studio apartment or a mansion, take shanks' mare or drive a luxury car, slap a PB & J together at home or eat out at a five-star restaurant.

What you choose depends on your means (what you can afford) and your priorities (what's important to you). Maybe you are willing to make all your meals at home so you can drive your dream car. Or maybe you're willing to bike or take the bus … to your favorite restaurants on a weekly basis. If you are debt-free, stashing some cash in a high-yield savings account, saving for retirement, and meeting all your other financial goals, more power to you.

I am willing to bet, though, that most people are seeking a happy medium in all categories. Nothing too expensive, but a home and car that are safe and comfortable, and food that's tasty and convenient. When it comes to food, even if you are eating at home, there are more options today than ever before: Having your groceries, or even fully-cooked meals, delivered are all possibilities to meal-plan and save some cash. But not every option is equally cost-effective. Here are a few options, with some pros and cons. Continue reading...

More about...Food