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Starting a Blog: How to Make Money with a Blog for Beginners

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Welcome to part two of our journey to make to make 500 dollars a month blogging.

In today’s installment, we are doing to discuss how to make money with a blog.

If you missed the first installment of our experiment, make sure to check out: Starting a Blog: Journey to Making $500/Mo Online.

Now just a heads up, this post will probably feel like taking a drink from a firehose, especially for beginners. However, we have a lot to cover, so I will do my best to break everything down. Since everyone reading this will have a different level of experience with this information, if you are feeling overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, feel free to leave a comment below.

So, without further ado, let us jump into the blogging deep end!

How to Make Money with a Blog

The very first step in building a profitable blog, it to create a blog business plan. A vast majority of bloggers launch their sites with what I would call the ‘Field of Dream’s plan; if you build it, they will come. “They” being traffic and money.

Many blogs start of as a hobby, where the owner may pen their personal experience or discuss their passion or hobby. These bloggers may be fortunate enough that their hobby blog attracts enough interest and readership that then can turn their hobby into a money-making venture.

However, this approach won’t work for our goal. If you recall from our last post in the series, we have just six months and a 1000 dollar starting budget to make money online. This is going to require that we be extremely deliberate in our approach.

Everything we do, spending money, crafting posts, investing time, etc., must explicitly serve our purpose to make money.

To pull off our task, we must create a business play to spell out exactly how we plan to make money with the blog. Which, of course, brings up and vital topic to discuss quickly, how the heck to blogs make money anyway.

How to Monetize a Blog

When it comes to making money with your blog, the possibilities are virtually endless. The massive money-making blogs that get all the press usually use a combination of methods. However, for the sake of brevity, we will cover the most common ways sites make money.

A full discussion on how to monetize a blog is beyond the scope of this discussion, but here is a quick overview.

  1. Display Advertising. If you have spent any time visiting websites, you have likely come across display advertising. Advertisers place ads in blog posts and articles online, and often on the sidebar or other locations of a website. Website owners may make money each time one of these ads is seen or if a reader clicks on the advertisement.
  2. Affiliate Links. Think of affiliate links like getting a commission for recommending a product or service. If someone clicks on your affiliate link and makes a purchase, you get a portion of the sale.
  3. Sponsored Posts. A sponsored post is when a brand hires you to write a post to recommend their product or service to your readers. Brands will often engage bloggers to discuss their company to spread the word about their brand.
  4. Donations/PayWall. If you have ever visited a website like the Wall St. Journal, you may notice they only let you read a snippet of the post, and you have to subscribe to read the rest, which is a paywall. Donations are kind of like a paywall, yet you are reliant on the goodness of strangers to fund your blog.
  5. Sell a Product/Service. This is simple; you sell a product or service on your website. Blog owners routinely sell eBooks, courses, consulting services, technical work, or creative works like art or jewelry.

Note: If you would like to learn more about how to monetize a blog, check out our guide to Google Adsense alternatives

Our Plan

With our new plan, we have six months to make $500 a month, we also only have a 1k budget. So, we need to start making some money fast, like yesterday. We will need to invest money in marketing and growing the site, and a thousand bucks only go so far.

Plus, the blog will incur some operating costs, hosting, email providers, etc.

Additionally, I would like to make more than 500 a month, so I’m going to need some cash to toss “fuel on the fire” if you will. Our plan really dictates how we will choose to monetize the website.

Let’s Break it Down

Making money with display advertising requires a lot of traffic. The most accessible form of display advertising is Google Adsense, which pays so little most new bloggers don’t even bother with it. The next step up in the world of display advertising is premium networks like Monumetric, MediaVine, and Adthrive.

  • Monumetric requires 10k monthly page views to join their program. A new blog starting can hit 10k in a few months with hard work and determination. Monumetric pays exponentially better than Google Adsense and is generally the first ad network bloggers join.
  • MediaVine requires 50k monthly sessions to join. A new blog could hit those levels in a few months if they worked in beast mode and had some money and skills to toss at the project.
  • Adthirve requires 100k monthly pages views and is the hardest of the ad networks to get approval for. A new blogger could reach these kinds of levels in 9 months to a year with a high volume of publishing and lots of promotion and marketing of the blog.

We plan to limit our labor to 8 hours or less a week, so out of the three ad networks, Monumetric is our only real shot of getting into an ad network. We worked with Monumetric previously on another website, and they can pay competitively to the bigger networks. However, their customer service and onboarding kind of sucks.

I have had friends qualify to join Monumetric, and it has taken them two months or more and countless emails to get ads set up. So even if we manage to hit 10K monthly sessions in our first month or two, it’s doubtful we can get ads generating enough money in time to reinvest and grow the site to $500 a month before our time runs out.

TL: DR Ads require tons of traffic to install and make money, and we don’t have time for that.

Display ads will play a role in our long-term goals, but won’t be our priority in the first six months.

Similarly, donations/paywall and sponsored posts both require a large volume of traffic. A brand is not going to pay a new blog with hardly any audience or readership stacks of cash to promote them. Relying on donations or a paywall leaves too much to chance, and if we are going to launch a second site, I’m “in it to win it.”

So, our only real shot at making quick cash is affiliates and/or selling our own product. Selling a product/service is an extremely compelling way to make money from a blog. However, I do not have the time to build out a product/service for this experiment.

We will need to revisit a product service down the road when cash is rolling in.

That leaves us with affiliates, recommending products and services to our fledgling readership is going to be the fastest way to make money. Unlike display ads that require a large volume of traffic to earn cash, we can start generating revenue with affiliates almost immediately.

Our plan dictates our business model; we will use affiliates to generate quick cash to reinvest in the site and grow traffic until we can get into a premium ad network or launch other forms of monetization.

Blogging for Money

Now comes the fun part; we have a basic plan in place and know how we expect to make money. There are two approaches we can use to move forward. We can decide what niche/topic we want to blog about and then find the best affiliates offers for that niche. Alternatively, we can choose what affiliate products we want to promote and use that to dictate the type of blog we wish to launch.

Since I have some sense of what products and services treat customers well from running Your Money Geek, I will use the later to determine what niche site to launch. However, for those that wish to build your blog based on your preferred niche, we will be sure to discuss options for the former.

In our next post, we will cover the best affiliate offers for beginners and cover the fundamentals of affiliate marketing. This might sound like putting the cart before the house, but recall, we need to be very explicit in everything we do.

Knowing how we plan to make money, who we expect to target, and what offers we wish to promote will influence how we establish the website and set up our processes.

Stay tuned for our next post!

The post Starting a Blog: How to Make Money with a Blog for Beginners appeared first on Your Money Geek.



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Here’s Your Plan to Retire in Ten Years

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The average American has only a little over $200,000 saved for retirement by age 65. It’s a small wonder that 50% of married couples and 70% of individuals receive 50% or more of their retirement income from Social Security.

But that doesn’t have to be you. In fact, you don’t even need to wait until you’re 65 to retire. It’s possible you can retire in 10 years – as in 10 years from where you are right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 35, or 45, with the right mix of discipline, commitment, and financial strategies, it’s a goal you can reach.

Many thousands of others have already done it, which means you can too. And you can do it even if you have no money saved for retirement right now.

Here’s how…

But first, let’s touch on a few important concepts.

Determine “Your Numbers”

What are your numbers? The amount of income you’ll need each year to live in retirement, and the amount of money you’ll need in your portfolio to produce that income.

Let’s say you decide you’ll need $40,000 per year to live in retirement. It’s possible to determine the amount you’ll need to have saved to provide that income.

It’s known loosely as the safe withdrawal rate. It’s a theory mostly, but one that’s been shown to be reliable in a number of studies.

It holds that if you withdraw it no more than 4% from your investment portfolio each year, you’ll have an income for life, and your portfolio will remain intact.

It works something like this: if you earn an average of 7% on your portfolio in retirement, and withdraw 4% for living expenses, that will leave 3% in the portfolio to cover inflation.

If we look at the rate of inflation going back to 1990, it ranged between 1.1% to 5.3% per year, with an average of something less than 3%. Over the past 20 years the average has been closer to 2%. But since early retirement will bring long-term planning consequences, let’s go with 3% as an average.

Can You Earn an Average of 7% Annually for the Rest of Your Life?

Investing is all about playing the long-term averages, and that’s what works in your favor.

Here’s how:

The average return in stocks has been about 10% per year going all the way back to 1928. It varies quite a bit from one year to the next, but that’s the return you can expect over 20 or 30 years.

Meanwhile, safe investments, like high-yield online savings accounts, are currently paying between 1% and 2% per year. But to be conservative, let’s go with 1.5% for our calculations.

If you create an investment portfolio comprising 65% stocks and 35% in high-yield online savings, you can achieve a 7% average annual return.

Here’s how it breaks down:

65% invested in stocks at 10% per year will generate a 6.5 % return.
35% invested in high yield online savings at 1.5% per year will generate a 0.525 return.

The combination of the two will produce an average annual return of 7.025%. That will allow you to withdraw 4% each year for living expenses and retain the remaining roughly 3% in your portfolio to cover inflation.

Why have only 65% in stocks when a higher allocation will get you a bigger return?

If you’re planning to rely on your investments for the rest of your life, you’ll need to build some safety into your portfolio. A 35% allocation in safe assets means that even if the stock market takes a big hit, your portfolio won’t go down with it.

Another important point on this front is that though interest rates are low by historical standards right now, that situation could change. If interest rates were to return to 5%, the savings allocation would make a much bigger contribution to your annual returns, and do it risk-free.

Back to “Your Numbers”

Now that you can see how the 4% safe withdrawal rate works mechanically, it’s time to determine your portfolio number.

If you need $40,000 in income, you can determine your portfolio size by multiplying that number by 25. Why 25? If you really like math, you can divide $40,000 by 4%, and you’ll get $1 million.

But for those of us who don’t like mathematical formulas and number-crunching, it’s easier to simply multiply your income number by 25 to get your portfolio size.

If you multiply $40,000 by 25, you’ll get $1 million. It’s just a simpler calculation, and it’ll get you to the portfolio amount you need quickly.

Commit to Your Numbers

I’ve used $40,000 as an income number for retirement, but it’ll be different for everyone. For example, if you have other income sources you expect to continue in retirement you may need less. But if you want a little bit more fun and luxury in your life, you’ll probably need more.

I’ve only used this number as an example. You can come up with an income number that will work for you. As you can see from my calculations above, your portfolio number will be determined by your income number.

You’ll need to know both.

For example, if you think you’ll need $50,000, you’ll need to build a portfolio of $1.25 million ($50,000 X 25). If you’ll need $100,000 in income, your portfolio will need to reach $2.5 million ($100,000 X 25).

To reach your goal, you’ll need to work toward three objectives:

  1. Saving the money needed to build your portfolio.
  2. Earning a return on your investments that will not only help you build your portfolio, but also keep it growing once you retire.
  3. Implement spending reductions and controls that will enable you to live on what will probably be less money than you are right now.

If you plan to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to commit to all three. Your retirement income and portfolio numbers must serve as a guiding light from now on. As you can easily imagine, retiring in 10 years is a tall order. You won’t get there by taking shortcuts. You’ll need to achieve all three objectives to reach your goal. That’ll take a 100% commitment but it’s the only way to make it happen.

Now let’s look at creating a timetable.

Year 1: Set the Plan to Start Saving

The average person probably saves between 10% and 15% of their pay toward retirement. But if you hope to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to save a lot more. Like 30%, 40%, 50%, or even more.

That’s going to take more than a little bit of sacrifice, and it may not happen right away. That’s why you may need to commit the better part of the first year to getting this phase in full working order.

The best way to start is by implementing a budget immediately. If you’ve never done that in the past, you may need to get help. You can do that by selecting a budgeting application that will show you how.

Your budget should include a generous allocation toward savings. It’s possible that at the beginning of the year you’ll only be able to commit to 15% or 20%. Don’t be discouraged – that’s an excellent start if you’ve never been a saver in the past.

But as you move forward, you’ll need to increase the percentage. For example, you might start by saving 20% of your income. But you can double that percentage by increasing it by 2% each month for 10 months. That will get you to 40%, which may work for you.

If it won’t, commit to continued, gradual increases in savings, even if you have to move them into Year 2.

You should know that anyone who’s committed to a high savings level has found that it gets easier over time. That’s why it’s so important to start in the first year.

Year 2: Focus on Increasing Your Income

There are two ways you can do this: increase your job income or create additional sources of income.

Let’s look at the benefit of each.

  1. Increase your job income. Early retirement shouldn’t mean abandoning your career plans. By continuing to move forward on your job, higher income should follow. That will provide the extra funds to save even more money. But there’s a second purpose for building up your career. If for any reason you may need to rely on a source of earned income when you retire, returning to your current career can be the easiest and most profitable way to make it happen. Most likely, you’ll be able to work in some reduced capacity, like part-time, remote work, contract, or freelancing within your industry, or even with your current employer. Continuing to increase your income on your job will also help if you find it will take longer than 10 years to reach your retirement goal.
  2. Create additional sources of income. What I’m talking about here is creating a side hustle to go along with your full time job. Not only will this generate an additional income while you’re preparing for retirement, but it can also provide a valuable postretirement income source. That would keep you from needing to go back to your current career to earn additional income. One of the best ways to create a side hustle is by making money online. It will not only enable you to make money no matter where you choose to live after retirement, but it holds the potential to make a lot of money. I’ve managed to create seven different income sources using this method. You can do something similar. Begin building a side hustle in Year 2, and you’ll have plenty of extra income when retirement arrives.

Year 3: Focus on Increasing ROI on your Savings

By Year 3 you should be committing to learning all you can about investing. The more you know, the higher your investment returns will be. It will not only enable you to build your retirement portfolio faster, but it can also provide higher returns when you finally retire.

There are ways you can increase your returns, largely by moving into different investment platforms.

For example, if you want to dramatically increase your fixed-income earnings, investing at least some of your bond portfolio in Lending Club can increase your interest income dramatically. Many investors are reporting returns of 7% to 10% per year.

You may also want to allocate part of your stock portfolio toward some type of real estate investing. That will not only provide high returns, but it will also diversify your portfolio in years when stocks are not performing well. Real estate crowdfunding platforms, like Fundrise can provide returns similar to stocks, and sometimes higher. Check out the many different ways you can invest in real estate to improve your return on investment.

If you’re not having much luck with investing, or you don’t have a serious commitment to it, look into investing through a robo-advisor. Those are automated, online investment platforms that provide full portfolio management for a very low fee. That includes building your portfolio, rebalancing it as necessary, reinvesting dividends, and even minimizing your investment-related taxes.

A robo-advisor like Betterment can manage your portfolio for 0.25% per year. That’s $250 for a $100,000 portfolio, or $2,500 for a $1 million portfolio. But if you’d like investing with a more personal touch, you may want to consider Personal Capital. They charge a higher fee, at 0.89%, but also provide financial planning advice, as well as regular access to live investment advisors.

Year 4: Focus on Reducing Your Spending

Cutting your spending is a strategy that needs to be implemented in Year 1. But those reductions will need to become progressive as each year goes by. And it’ll be even more important as your income grows, since there’s always a temptation to spend more as you earn more. That process even has a name – lifestyle inflation. You’ll need to avoid it.

The purpose of reducing spending is twofold:

  1. to free up more money for savings
  2. to lower your cost of living in anticipation of retirement.

Both are equally important. But the second part may be even more so. That’s because early retirement almost certainly requires you to change lifelong spending patterns.

For example, if you’ve been used to living in a large home, driving a late model car, and taking expensive vacations, it may take you several years to unwind those patterns. Put another way, you’ll need to find less expensive ways to create an enjoyable life. And you’ll need to have that well underway before you finally retire. Unfortunately, retirement and an opulent lifestyle are incompatible.

Focus on ways you can reduce your spending. You’ve probably already guessed that involves a lot more than clipping coupons and cutting your cable TV subscription. And in fact, it may require either cutting some very large expenses – like your housing and transportation – or reducing or eliminating dozens of smaller expenses.

There will be tough choices to be made. After all, cutting spending is something like going on a money diet. You’ll do well to think about your ultimate objective – early retirement – to help you embrace the short-term sacrifice.

Ultimately, retirement is about lowering your living expenses to a point where you can live comfortably without working. You may need to remind yourself of that on a regular basis.

Year 5 – 10: Assess and Plan Your Path to Retirement

At this point, you’re moving into the second half of your decade-long early retirement preparation. Generally speaking, you’ll want to concentrate mainly on staying the course. But at the same time, you’ll want to look for ways to increase savings, income and return on investment, and reduce spending.

You may not need to do anything dramatic in those areas at this point. But you should be alert to any ideas or strategies that can improve your performance in each. Small improvements in multiple strategies can dramatically speed your progress. That should be your goal at this point.

But perhaps most important will be guarding against complacency. By now, your overall financial situation will have already improved substantially. This is not the time to take a break. Keep pressing forward until you reach the point where you can finally retire.

Final Thoughts

Why am I stressing the importance of commitment to your early retirement goal? It’s easier than you think to get distracted, especially when you’re making a major change in your life. But while early retirement is certainly possible, it’s not easy. You’ll need to maintain laser beam focus to reach the goal in 10 years.

It will help you to realize the many options that will be open to you once your early retirement goal. Free from needing to make a living, you’ll have the choice to spend your time enjoying your life more, or pursuing opportunities that may even have the potential to make you wealthy.

It’s the kind of thing that happens once financial stress is gone from your life. But before you reach that point, you’ll need to be fully committed to getting there. 

The post Here’s Your Plan to Retire in Ten Years appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.



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How To Pay For College: The Best Order Of Operations

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How To Pay For CollegeHow To Pay For College

Mountains of student loans are what most people think of when it comes to paying for college.

Student loans are a source of funding for most students but they should actually be your last option. Student loans accrue a lot of interest and take years to pay off. In fact, a study from the OneWisconsin Institute finds that it takes graduates of Wisconsin universities 19.7 years to pay off a bachelor’s degree and 23 years to pay off a graduate degree.

Knowing that students loans will likely be a source of funding, there is still an order of operations to follow when seeking out funding sources for college. After reviewing your financial aid award notification, you’ll have to think about how you’re going to pay for school.

In this article, we’ve provided the main groups of funding sources. Start with the top group and work your way down to the last (i.e., worse) option, which is student loans. By following this guide, there’s a chance you can reduce the amount of student loans needed to finance college. For a lucky few, they may find student loans are not even necessary.

Here’s our take on the “best’ order of operations to pay for college. It’s important to note that this is more like a “pie” than a strict order. The more you can contribute from the “earlier” slices, the less you’ll have to borrow. And there is no “strict” rules here – but you should definitely use free money before other funds.

1. Scholarships and Grants

Gift aid is part of your financial aid award. This is money that does not have to be paid back. It includes grants, scholarships, and any source of private funding that doesn’t require you to pay it back.

Of course, it depends on getting your FAFSA submitted on time.

Some students might realize a large amount of scholarships and grants. Others might not be able to get as much. 

Don’t forget to apply for private scholarships and grants as well – don’t just depend on your school. This sounds crazy, but I recommend high schoolers apply to at least 50 scholarships.

To make it easy, we also have this guide to Scholarships and Grants By State.

Check out these guides:

2. Your Own Savings (as a student)

Saving for college requires planning. If you’re one of a small group who has accumulated money for college, it’s time to put it to work.

Maybe you’ve been saving your graduation money, or you’ve received birthday funds over time. Maybe grandma even left you some money to pay for college when you were younger.

If you have your own student savings, using it to pay for college is a great first step. 

3. Your Earnings (as a student)

Additionally, using your current income will help cut down on any loans you might need. If you don’t have any savings, use what you can from current income to help fund college.

A lot of people forget that they can earn money before going to school (i.e. the best summer jobs for college students), or even work full time during school.

I personally worked full time while going to university. I worked five days per week – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights, and during the day on Saturdays and Sundays. I tried to schedule my classes for Tuesday and Thursday, or if necessary, before work on the other days.

Don’t know about ways to earn as a student? Check out our 100+ Ways To Make Money In College.

4. Parents Savings For College

Next on the list is any money your parents may have put aside for school. This could be in the form of a 529 college savings account, or other savings vehicle. 

Many parents have started saving for college for their students at a young age. Leveraging money in a tax deferred plan like a 529 savings account can be a great way to pay for the majority of school (if the money is there).

Parents might also have other savings set aside for their child. It’s important to have conversations about parental contributions early, so that everyone involved in the “paying for college” debate knows what to expect.

5. Parents Current Income

Along with a student’s income, a parent’s income is also a primary source of paying for college. Even if parent’s have saved very much, they may be able to contribute a little bit towards the cost of college every year simply through their current salary.

Some parents may be able to contribute much more than others, but every little bit that can be sent in to avoid borrowing for school is a huge win.

Note: Some states give tax deductions or tax credits for 529 plan contributions. You can contribute and withdraw in the same year in most states – making it potentially worthwhile to use your current income to contribute to a 529 plan, then pay for college from there.

See our guide: 529 Plan Rules By State.

6. Fellowships and Assistantships 

If you are attending graduate school, a fellowship is a great source of funding. It is awarded to graduate students based on merit. It allows the graduate student to focus on their studies rather than having to work or teach. Fellowships do not have to be paid back. They also look great on CVs and carry a certain cachet.

“It’s basically the Harry Potter scar on your forehead indicating you’re an amazing scholar,” stated Meredith Drake Reitan, associate dean for graduate fellowships at the USC Graduate School.

“The fellowship program is about research potential,” she said. “Faculty members might say, ‘They’re not ready to apply to for the NSF Fellowship because their research hasn’t quite jelled.’ But that’s actually right where the NSF wants them — it’s designed to be an early career accelerator.”

The takeaway: don’t think you aren’t qualified for a fellowship. They are certainly worth applying to. Speak with your educational counselor or advisor about how and which ones may have the highest potential for successful acceptance.

7. Aid Through School Work-Related Programs

We continue down the list and come to work-related programs that are meant to provide a flexible schedule around your classes. At this point, you’ve exhausted all forms of funding that don’t require work exchange or loans. We’re now moving into funding sources that will require some sort of payback.

Work studies are common on college campuses. These programs are usually tied into your financial aid award. They allow you to work on campus within a flexible schedule. Pay is usually minimum wage, but you can’t beat the flexible schedule provided by these programs. While it is a smaller source of funding, depending on your class schedule, it might be the only type of job you can take on.

Assistantships are usually reserved for graduate students. These programs are similar to work studies except they are teaching positions. Often the student will teach lower-level classes in areas they are very familiar with.

8. Federal Student Loans

We’ve come to one of the last option as a source for funding college. This is money that must be paid back, will accrue interest and often has some type of origination fee. For many students, it’s difficult to avoid taking on loans.

Federal loans have a fairly low interest rate, which often does not exceed the single digits. As reported by StudentAid.ed.gov, loans first disbursed on or after 7/1/20 and before 7/1/21 have the following interest rates:

  • Direct Subsidized (undergraduate): 2.75%
  • Direct Unsubsidized (undergraduate): 2.75%
  • Direct Unsubsidized (graduate or professional): 4.30%
  • Direct PLUS: (parents and graduate or professional students): 5.30%

In regards to loans for college, you aren’t likely to find a better deal anywhere else.

Don’t believe us? Check out the Best Student Loan Rates here.

If you need to get a student loan, here’s the process on How To Apply For A Student Loan (Both Federal and Private).

9. Private Student Loans

Private loans are another and final option. These may be loans from banks or other lenders that are non-government. They will have higher interest rates than government loans and won’t provide the same advantages such as hardship, forbearance, and fixed interest rates.

Private student loans should really be a last resort, and before borrowing, you should really do a full Return On Investment Calculation of your college expenses to even see if college is worth it.

We recommend students shop and compare private loan options before taking them out. Credible is an excellent choice because you can compare about 10 different lenders in 2 minutes and see what you qualify for. Check out Credible here.

You can also see the full list of private student loan options here: Best Private Student Loans.

Final Thoughts

Paying for college can be a challenge. It’s a huge sum of money, and there are a lot of different ways to go about it.

I like to think about it as a pie – each one of the steps above is a slice, and you can try to make some bigger to minimize others. 

The bottom line here is that you don’t need to borrow the entire amount for school. There are many different ways to pay for college if you work at it.

The post How To Pay For College: The Best Order Of Operations appeared first on The College Investor.



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Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever

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A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.

Canadian Readers – we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.

Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.

If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:

  • mobile phone service (2 people): $160

“NO!!!!”
is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.

Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:

  • Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.

And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.

So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:

Christian Smith, along with colleagues at GiveWell in San Francisco, circa 2016

My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.

But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.

This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.

So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).

So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.

Meet The Coverage Critic

Chris, engaged in some recent Coverage Criticicism at MMM-HQ

I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.

So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.

What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?

Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations. 

How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.

Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.

On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:

  • Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
  • Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
  • All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”

However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck.  So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.

A Few Quick Examples:

Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).

T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.

Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).

Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).

Ting: Limited use family plans for under $15 per line each month.

[MMM note – even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]

Okay, What About Phones?

With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.

If you really want something fancy, consider the Google Pixel 3a or the recently released, second-generation iPhone SE. Both of these are amazing phones and about half as expensive as an iPhone 11.

——————————————-

Mobile Phone Service 101

If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.

The Wireless Market

There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:

  • Verizon (most coverage)
  • AT&T (2nd best coverage)
  • T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
  • Sprint (worst coverage)

Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.

While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers – offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.

Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.

For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.

With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.

MMM’s Conclusion

From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.

Thanks for joining the team, Chris!

*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.

The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.



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