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Save Money on Back to “School” Supplies in 2020

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This school season, families across the country are moving to remote learning. You may find yourself in this situation by choice — or not.

No matter the reason your kids are taking part in virtual education, of course you want to do everything you can to make sure they’re successful in this new school year.

One way, as parents, we can do this is to make sure our kids have all the tools they need. And even though this school year looks different than anything we’ve seen before, there are still some tried and true ways to save money on back to school supplies — even as your shopping list evolves from “Crayola crayons” to “cheap laptops.” Here’s how to get all your distance learning supplies without breaking the bank.

Good news, penny pinchers! You don’t have to buy an expensive laptop for your child to excel at distance learning.

Build a Budget-Friendly Learning Space

If you can, create an area in your home where your child can complete his or her studies. It could be the desk in their room, a table in the den, or even a place in the basement. Nothing fancy. Just let your child help decorate with a few small touches they’re excited about — even things you already have at home.

It doesn’t matter as much where you set this up as much as that you do. (Of course, you’ll want to set up shop somewhere close to you if you have a child in elementary school who needs help with the lessons. If you have a college student home from campus, they’ll probably want to be as far away from you as possible …)

In their little space, your kids will then be able to sit down and have everything they need, right at their fingertips. It also provides them the opportunity to “go to school” but heading to that designated spot. You might even encourage them to keep their school projects in their backpack and tote it back and forth from their bedroom to their “classroom” to create a little separation between home and “school.”

Of course, not all families have the space for this. If that’s you, create a school “box” (even an old lunch box for their art supplies!) that has everything your child needs so that each day, when they begin their schoolwork, they have all their essential distance learning materials right there ready to go.

Chromebook vs Laptop for Distance Learning

If your school provides students with a laptop for home use, you do not need to make any investments here. But if you’re not that lucky and you don’t have an old business laptop collecting dust somewhere, you’ll need to buy your student a device, and that can be a big ticket item. You might be wondering if you need to buy your kid an expensive laptop.

Fortunately, I’m here to say that most kids DO NOT need a full-blown laptop. (Nor do they need the latest Macbook Pro or whatever’s trendy in retina display or touch screen technology or the fastest processor available, no matter what they tell you.) They can do their remote learning and complete any assignment all through a simple Chromebook.

A Chromebook only allows your student the ability to connect to the Internet. It looks like a laptop but does not have software programs and apps like a regular laptop. Instead, there are online “in the cloud” versions of software (for things like word processing) that allow your child to do anything you can do on a laptop, but on a much less robust machine.

For this reason, they’re a more affordable option for parents. You can often find them for less than $300 through most retailers, and there are a lot of laptop deals out there right now because the demand is so high.

Chromebooks run Google’s Chrome OS (operating system) — hence the name — and are sold by many electronics companies, so you’ll see lots of options, such as:

  • HP Chromebook
  • Acer Chromebook
  • Samsung Chromebook
  • Lenovo Ideapad
  • Dell Chromebook

Don’t stress about finding the perfect one. They all do the same thing. The one feature I suggest paying attention to is battery life — the longer, the better so the teacher doesn’t go dark in the middle of a lesson plan.

If your older child for some reason needs more than what a Chromebook allows, consider buying a used, cheap Windows laptop. Check your local classifieds, online neighborhood groups, and Facebook groups for leads on a refurbished laptop. Ask friends and family — even your employer — if they have a cheap laptop they’d be willing to sell or let you borrow.

Negotiate for a Cheaper Internet Bill

Your Internet connection is one resource you should not overlook.

The worst thing that could happen is your child is in the middle of taking a test or an important lesson when the connection buffers or goes down.

Your provider will have options — you’ll probably need one that can handle many devices online at the same time — and may offer pricing bundles that fit your budget. And as always, don’t be afraid to negotiate for a cheaper Internet bill!

Save on the New Must-Have for 2020: Blue Blocking Glasses

Your child is going to spend a lot of time looking at a computer screen — probably not one with the biggest screen size. That can lead to tired eyes. After extended screen time, your child may have blurred vision, be tired, or end up with red eyes.

One way to help combat eye strain is through the use of blue blocking glasses, which help block the blue lights that are emitted from the screen.

In addition to using the glasses, encourage your child to take several breaks throughout the days to lessen the strain and give the eyes some much needed rest.

Sunshine Is Free!

Ensure your child has proper lighting for reading. If their “classroom” is in a well-lit space, you may not need anything more.

But if you don’t have very good lighting, get a table lamp to add to your student’s desk or table. You may want to consider purchasing an LED lamp because that can compensate for the reduced amount of natural lighting that is helpful for learning. The good news with this purchase is at least that LED lights last forever.

How to Save Money on School Clothes

Distance learning or not, most kids want to be seen in “the right” clothes when they hit a certain age. Instead of spending a bunch of money on brand-name, brand-new clothes, use up a gift card from their favorite brand that’s been sitting around or try some “vintage” items at consignment shops. A lot of popular brands have outlet stores where you can get great deals, too. (Just watch out that you don’t buy more than what you need!)

And maybe your kids will take a page from so many parents’ clothing playbook these days: Business up top, pajamas on the bottom. That’s half as many clothing items to buy — those jeans can be expensive! 😉

How to Save on the Standard School Supplies List

Just because your child is doing virtual learning this year doesn’t mean you can skip your standard fall school shopping trip for office supplies.

Make sure they have these school essentials:

  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Markers
  • Binders
  • Folders
  • Crayons
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Highlighters

There may be other requirements, such as colored pencils or glue sticks. If you’re not sure what you need, review your child’s school supply list (for regular, in-person attendance) and get the same things for your student this year.

I love a good dollar store and go shopping at Dollar Tree and Dollar General year-round — back to school time included! If you don’t have one near you and are pressed for time (do you know a parent who isn’t?!), don’t worry. Many stores run back-to-school sales on the basics, and you might get an even better deal at a big box store like Walmart or Target by combining the sale price with a coupon or the store’s loyalty program or app.

Stay Sane With Dollar Store Organizers

Make sure you have tubs, bins and storage containers to keep track of all those supplies.

Use paper sorters to separate the work by subject. Use pencil cups to sort markers, pencils, and art supplies.

You can find great, cheap options at a thrift store, dollar store, or garage sale — or maybe you can even make some containers using upcycled items from around the house. (Bonus: Making your own storage containers can be a craft project to keep the kids occupied before all the e-learning begins.)

Save Money on Additional School Supplies for Virtual Learning

External Hard Drive

Computers crash. It happens. Having an external drive allows your child to back up their work so they never lose anything at all. (These are also great for backing up all your family’s digital photos.) Watch for deals or coupons at your local big box electronics retailer. Check membership clubs like Costco for good prices, and consider applying any Amazon store credit you’ve built up toward your hard drive purchase.

Whiteboard

A white board is a very helpful tool for learning. It can be used for your child to track their work or can be used for daily lessons.

If you plan to add it to a wall, use command strips so you an easily take it down — both to move it around the house and to allow your student to have next to them as they work out that complicated math problem. And there’s nothing worse than hunting for a dry erase marker when you need one, so buy a pack now to save frustration and money later.

Planner

Your child needs to keep track of his or her daily work, and that’s where a planner helps. They will be able to write down the work that needs to be done and any upcoming assignments.

A planner is also excellent for letting your child cross off items when they’re done. There is nothing more satisfying than scratching through that big project they worked hard to complete! Save money by creating one page of a planner tailored to your child’s school needs and making photocopies for the following days/weeks.

Webcam Cover

Many Chromebooks and laptops are equipped with a webcam. If yours is not, you will need to get one.

One thing I would also recommend getting for your webcam (whether built in or not) is something to cover the camera when not in use. I don’t mean to alarm you, but there are some scary people who know how to hack these cameras and could spy on your child. A simple piece of black paper or cardboard clipped over the camera using clothespins should do the trick.

Headphones or Earbuds

One simple way to stay focused when learning is to drown out any noises. Wearing earbuds or headphones will allow your child to focus 100% on the lesson being taught. As with the computer, you don’t need to spend a lot of money on name brand options to get the job done here.

Mouse

Touchpads are great, but they can be more difficult for small children to use (or even your big kid). Getting a mouse ensures they can navigate the platform they are using for their online learning. A wireless mouse can eat through batteries, so if you’re concerned about that expense, look for one with a cord you plug into the computer.

Timer

Breaks are important for kids. Using a timer can help.

When your child is getting tired of learning, he or she can glance at the timer in front of them and see they have only five more minutes until they get to close their computer or put down the pencil. Use an old stopwatch or egg timer, or if your student is set up at the kitchen table, turn on the timer on the oven or microwave.

Saving Money on Back to School Supplies in 2020

Yes, you’ll need to make some additional investments this year for your child to be successful with remote learning. But as a parent, education is the best gift you can give them. And as a fellow penny pincher, you now know you don’t need to break the bank doing it.

What other money-saving hacks are you using during this time of remote learning? Please share in the comments below!

The post Save Money on Back to “School” Supplies in 2020 appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.



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How to Buy a Second Home that Pays for Itself

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Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that home sales were up more than 17% in June 2020 from the month before, and up more than 13% compared to the year prior. Those who have the means to buy a second home are wise to take on mortgage debt (or reorganize their current debt) in today’s low interest environment.

With low 30-year mortgage rates, owning a rental property that “pays for itself” through monthly rental income is especially lucrative with a significantly lower mortgage payment. If you’re curious about buying a second home and renting it out, keep reading to find out about the major issues you should be aware of, the hidden costs of becoming a landlord, and more. 

Important Factors When Buying a Short-Term Rental

The issues involved in buying a rental home varies dramatically depending on where you plan to purchase. After all, buying a ski lodge in an area with seasonal tourism and attractions might require different considerations than buying a home in a major metropolitan area where tourists visit all year long.

But there are some factors every potential landlord should consider regardless of location. Here are a few of the most important considerations:

  • Location. Consumers rent vacation homes almost anywhere, but you’ll want to make sure you’re looking at homes in an area where short-term rentals are popular and viable. You can do some basic research on AirDNA.co, a short-term rental data and analytics service, or check competing rentals in the area you’re considering.
  • Property Management Fees. If you plan to use a property management company to manage your short-term rental instead of managing it yourself, you should find out how much other owners pay for management. Also, compare listing fees for your second home with a platform like Airbnb or VRBO.
  • Taxes. Property taxes can be higher on second homes since you don’t qualify for a homestead exemption. This means higher fixed costs each month, which could make it more difficult to cover your mortgage with rental income.
  • Competition. Check whether a rental area you’re considering is full of competing rentals that are never full. You can find this information on VRBO or Airbnb by looking at various rentals and checking their booking calendars.
  • Potential Rental Fees. Check rental sites to see how much you might be able to charge for your second home on a nightly, weekly, or monthly basis. 

5 Steps to Rent Your Second Home

Before purchasing a second home, take time to run different scenarios using realistic numbers based on the rental market you’re targeting. From there, the following steps can guide you through preparing your property for the short-term rental market.

1. Research the Market

First, you’ll want to have a general understanding of the rental market you’re entering. How much does the average short-term rental go for each night or each week? What is the average vacancy rate for rentals on an annual basis? 

Research your local rental market, the average price of rentals in your area, various features offered by competing rentals, and more.

Action Item: Dig into these figures by using AirDNA.co. Just enter a zip code or town, and you’ll find out the average nightly rate, occupancy rate, revenue, and more. Although some of the site’s features require a monthly subscription, you can find out basic information about your rental market for free.

2. Know Your Numbers

You need to know an array of real numbers before renting your second home, including the following:

  • Average nightly rate
  • Average occupancy rate
  • Fixed costs, such as your mortgage payment, taxes, and insurance for the rental
  • Property management fees and costs for cleaning between tenants
  • Additional fixed costs for things like trash pickup, internet access, and cable television
  • Costs for marketing your space on a platform like VRBO or Airbnb, which could be a flat fee or 3% of your rental fee depending on the platform

You’ll use these numbers to figure out the average monthly operating cost for your second home, and the potential income you might be able to bring in. Without running these numbers first, you wind up in a situation where your short-term rental doesn’t pay for itself, and where you’re having to supplement operating expenses every month. 

Action Item: Gather every cost involved in operating your specific short-term rental, and then tally everything up with monthly and annual figures that you can plan for.

3. Buy the Right Insurance

If you plan on using your second home as a short-term rental, you’ll need to buy vacation rental insurance. This type of homeowners insurance is different from the type you’d buy for your primary residence. It’s even unique from landlord insurance coverage since you need to have insurance in place for your second home and its contents.

Some vacation rental policies let you pay per use, and they provide the benefits of homeowners insurance (like property coverage, liability, and more) plus special protection when your property is rented to a third party. 

Action Item: Shop around for a homeowners insurance plan that’s geared specifically to vacation rentals. See our top picks for the best homeowners insurance companies out there.

4. Create a Property Management Plan

If you live near your second home, you might want to manage it yourself. There’s nothing wrong with this option, but you should plan on receiving calls and dealing with problems at all hours of the day. 

Many short-term rental owners pay a property management company to communicate with their tenants, manage each rental period, and handle any issues that pop up. Property managers can also set up cleanings between each rental and help with marketing your property. 

Action Item: Create a property management plan and account for any costs. Most property managers charge 25% to 30% of the rental cost on an ongoing basis, so you can’t ignore this component of owning a short-term rental. 

5. Market Your Space

Make sure you appropriately market your space, which typically means paying for professional photos and creating an accurate, inviting listing on your chosen platforms. Your property manager might help you create a marketing plan for your vacation rental, but you can DIY this component of your side business if you’re tech- and media-savvy. 

Action Item: Hire a photographer to take professional photos of your rental, and craft your rental description and listing. 

Risks of Purchasing a Short-Term Rental

Becoming a landlord isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s plenty that can go wrong, but here are the main risks to plan for:

  • Government roadblocks. In destinations from New York City to Barcelona, government officials have been cracking down on short-term rentals and trying to limit their ability to operate. New rules could make running your business more costly, difficult, or even impossible. 
  • Your home could be damaged beyond repair. If you read the Airbnb message boards and other landlord forums, you’ll find an endless supply of nightmare rental stories of houses getting trashed and rentals enduring thousands of dollars in damage. 
  • Housing market crash. If the housing market crashes again like it did in 2008, you might find you owe more than your second home is worth at a time when it’s increasingly difficult to find renters. 
  • Reliance on tourism. As we’ve seen during the pandemic, circumstances beyond our control can bring travel and tourism to a screeching halt. Since short-term rentals typically rely on tourism to stay afloat, decreases in travel can affect the viability of your business, quickly.
  • High ongoing costs and fees. Higher property taxes, property management fees, cleaning fees and maintenance costs can make operating a short-term rental costly in the long-term. If you don’t account for all costs and fees involved, you might wind up losing money on your vacation home instead of having the property “pay for itself”.

The Bottom Line

A short-term rental can be a viable business opportunity, depending on where you want to buy and the specifics of the local rental market. But there are a lot of factors to consider before taking the leap. 

Before investing hundreds of thousands of dollars, think over all of the potential costs and risks involved. You’ll want to ensure that you’ve done comprehensive research and have run the numbers for every possible scenario to make an informed decision.

The post How to Buy a Second Home that Pays for Itself appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.



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The 10 Best Short Term Investments

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Right now, the market is at all time highs, and at some point in the future, it will inevitably pull back. While investing is long term, you might have short-er term goals that require short term investments.

If you’re a young investor and don’t want to see an immediate decline in your portfolio, now’s a good time to consider short term investment options. Short term investments typically don’t see the growth of longer term investments, but that’s because they are designed with safety and a short amount of time in mind.

However, millennials honestly haven’t experienced a prolonged bear or flat market. While the Great Recession was tough, millennials have seen their net worth’s grow. However, in periods of uncertainty, it can make sense to invest in short term investments.

Also, for millennials who may be looking at life events in the near future (such as buying a house or having a baby), having short term investments that are much less likely to lose value could make a lot of sense.

If you’re a young investor looking for a place to stash some cash for the short term, here are ten of the best ways to do it.

1. Online Checking and Savings Accounts

Online checking and savings accounts are one of the best short term investments for several reasons:

  1. They have higher interest rates than traditional accounts
  2. They are completely safe: your accounts are FDIC insured up to $250,000
  3. You can access your money any time and don’t have to worry about losing interest as a result

However, to get the very best rates from online checking and savings account, you typically have to do one of the following:

  1. Contribute a certain amount to the account (say $10,000 minimum)
  2. Sign up for direct deposit into the account
  3. Use your debit card for a certain number of transactions each month

If you’re going to be doing those types of transactions anyway, signing up for one of these accounts can make a lot of sense. And to make these accounts even more attractive, interest rates have been rising the last few months making yields go higher.

Our favorite online savings account right now is CIT Bank. They offer 0.60% APY online savings accounts with just a $100 minimum deposit! Check out CIT Bank here.

Check out the other best high yield savings accounts here.

2. Money Market Accounts

Money market accounts are very similar to online savings accounts, with one exception. Money market accounts typically aren’t FDIC insured. As a result, you actually can earn a little higher interest rate on the account versus a typical savings account.

Money market accounts typically have account minimums that you have to consider as well, especially if you want to earn the best rate.

Our favorite money market account right now is CIT Bank. They offer 0.60% APY money market accounts with just a $100 minimum deposit! Check out CIT Bank here.

Check out our list of the best online bank accounts for your money.

3. Certificates Of Deposit (CDs)

Certificate of deposits (CDs) are the next best place that you can stash money as a short term investment. CDs are bank products that require you to keep the money in the account for the term listed – anywhere from 90 days to 5 years. In exchange for locking your money up for that time, the bank will pay you a higher interest rate than you would normally receive in a savings account.

The great thing about CDs is that they are also FDIC insured to the current limit of $250,000. If you want to get fancy and you have more than $250,000, you can also sign up for CDARS, which allows you to save millions in CDs and have them insured.

Our favorite CD of the moment is the CIT Bank 11-Month Penalty Free CD! Yes, penalty free! Check it out.

We maintain a list of the best CD rates daily if you want to explore other options.

4. Short Term Bond Funds

Moving away from banking products and into investment products, another area that you may consider is investing in short term bonds. These are bonds that have maturities of less than one year, which makes them less susceptible to interest rate hikes and stock market events. It doesn’t mean they won’t lose value, but they typically move less in price than longer maturity bonds.

There are three key categories for bonds:

  1. U.S. Government Issued Bonds
  2. Corporate Bonds
  3. Municipal Bonds

With government bonds, your repayment is backed by the U.S. government, so your risk is minimal. However, with corporate bonds and municipal bonds, the bonds are backed by local cities and companies, which increased the risk significantly. 

However, it’s important to note that investing in a bond fund is different than investing in a single bond, and if you invest in a bond fund, your principal can go up or down significantly. Here’s a detailed breakdown of why this happens: Buying a Bond Fund vs. Buying A Single Bond.

If you do want to invest in bonds, you have to do this through a brokerage. The best brokerage I’ve found for both buying individual bonds and bond funds is TD Ameritrade. TD Ameritrade has a bond screener built into it’s platform that makes it really easy to search for individual bonds to buy, and gives you a breakdown of all aspects of the bond.

Also, TD Ameritrade offers a $0 minimum IRA and hundreds of commission-free ETFs.

5. Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS)

Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS) are a type of government bond that merits their own section. These are specially designed bonds that adjust for inflation, which makes them suitable for short term investments as well as long term investments. TIPS automatically increase what they pay out in interest based on the current rate of inflation, so if it rises, so does the payout.

What this does for bondholders is protect the price of the bond. In a traditional bond, if interest rates rise, the price of the bond drops, because new investors can buy new bonds at a higher interest rate. But since TIPS adjust for inflation, the price of the bond will not drop as much – giving investors more safety in the short term.

You can invest in TIPS at a discount brokerage like TD Ameritrade. Some of the most common ETFs that invest in TIPs (and are commission-free at TD Ameritrade):

  • STPZ – PIMCO 1-5 Year U.S. TIPS Index
  • TIP – iShares TIPS Bond ETF

6. Floating Rate Funds

Floating rate funds are a very interesting investment that don’t get discussed very often – but they are a really good (albeit risky) short term investment. Floating rate funds are mutual funds and ETFs that invest in bonds and other debt that have variable interest rates. Most of these funds are invested in short term debt – usually 60 to 90 days – and most of the debt is issued by banks and corporations.

In times when interest rates are rising, floating rate funds are poised to take advantage of it since they are consistently rolling over bonds in their portfolio every 2-3 months. These funds also tend to pay out good dividends as a result of the underlying bonds in their portfolios.

However, these funds are risky, because many invest via leverage, which means they take on debt to invest in other debt. And most funds also invest in higher risk bonds, seeking higher returns.

If you want to invest in a floating rate fund, you have to do this at a brokerage as well. TD Ameritrade is a great choice for this as well. The most common floating rate funds are:

  • FLOT – iShares Floating Rate Bond ETF
  • FLRN – Barclay’s Capital Investment Grade Floating Rate ETF
  • FLTR – VanEck Vectors Floating Rate ETF
  • FLRT – Pacific Asset Enhanced Floating Rate ETF

7. Selling Covered Calls

The last “true” investment strategy that you can use in the short term is to sell covered calls on stocks that you already own. When you sell a call on a stock you own, another investor pays you a premium for the right to buy your stock at a given price. If the stock never reaches that price by expiration, you simply keep the premium and move on.  However, if the stock does reach that price, you’re forced to sell your shares at that price.

In flat or declining markets, selling covered calls can make sense because you can potentially earn extra cash, while having little risk that you’ll have to sell your shares. Even if you do sell, you may be happy with the price received anyway.

To invest in options, you need a discount brokerage that supports this. TD Ameritrade has some of the best options trading tools available through their ThinkorSwim platform.

Related: Best Options Trading Platforms

8. Pay Off Student Loan Debt

Do you want a guaranteed return on your money over the short run? Well, the best guaranteed return you can get is paying off your student loan debt. Typical student loan debt interest rates vary from 4-8%, with many Federal loans at 6.8%. If you simply pay off your debt, you can see an instant return on your money of 6.8% or more, depending on your interest rate.

Maybe you can’t afford to pay it all off right now. Well, you could still look at refinancing your student loan debt to get a lower interest rate and save some money.

We recommend Credible to refinance your student loan debt. You can get up to a $750 bonus when you refinance by using our special link: Credible >>

9. Pay Off Credit Card Debt

Similar to getting out of student loan debt, if you pay off your credit card debt you can see an instant return on your money. This is a great way to use some cash to help yourself in the short term.

There are very few investments that can equal the return of paying off credit card debt. With the average interest rate on credit card debt over 12%, you’ll be lucky to match that in the stock market once in your life. So, if you have the cash to spare, pay down your credit card debt as quickly as possible.

If you’re struggling to figure out a way out of credit card debt, we recommend first deciding on an approach, and then using the right tool to get out of debt.

For the approach, you can choose between the debt snowball and debt avalanche. Once you have a method, you can look at tools.

First, you need to get financially organized. Use a free tool like Personal Capital to get started. You can link all your accounts and see where you stand financially.

Next, consider either:

  1. Balance Transfer: If you can qualify for a balance transfer credit card, you have the potential to save money. Many cards offer a promotional 0% balance transfer for a set period of time, so this can save you interest on your credit card debt while you work to pay it off.
  2. Personal Loan: This may sound counter-intuitive, but most personal loans are actually used to consolidate and manage credit card debt. By getting a new personal loan at a low rate, you can use that money to pay off all your other cards. Now you have just one payment to make. Compare personal loans at Credible here.

10. Peer To Peer Lending

Finally, you could invest in peer to peer loans through companies like LendingClub and Prosper. These aren’t completely short term investments – many loans are for 1-3 years, with some longer loans now available. However, that is shorter than what you’d traditionally want to invest for in the stock market.

With peer to peer lending, you get a higher return on your investment, but there is the risk that the borrower won’t pay back the loan, causing you to lose money. Many smart peer to peer lenders spread out their money across a large amount of loans. Instead of investing $1,000 in just one loan, they many invest $50 per loan across 20 different loans. That way, if one loan fails, they still have 19 other loans to make up the difference.

One of the great aspects of peer to peer lending is that you get paid monthly on these loans, and the payments are a combination of principal and interest. So, after several months, you’ll typically have enough to invest in more loans immediately, thereby increasing your potential return.

We are huge fans of LendingClub as a CD alternative, and you can sign up for LendingClub here

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about short term investments.

What makes a short term investment?

A short term investment is one that has a time frame of less than 5 years. Typically, short term investments are done to be more stable – but at the end of the day, it’s all about time frame.

Are short term investments risky?

They can be. The duration of the investment does not imply less risk. While some short term investments are risk-free (like savings accounts), others are extremely risky (like peer to peer lending).

Who should consider short term investments?

Anyone who is looking for an investment duration of less than 5 years. While it’s common to think people nearing retirement may need a short term investment, any age – including young adults – can benefit.

Is debt payoff an investment?

We think so! Paying off debt is a guaranteed return, especially in the short term.

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Final Thoughts

Finding short term investments can be tough. It’s a bit counter intuitive to invest, but only for a short period of time. As a result, you’ll typically see investments with lower returns, but also have lower risk of loss.

What are your favorite short term investments?

The post The 10 Best Short Term Investments appeared first on The College Investor.



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Socially Responsible Investing: Is It Also More Profitable?

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Since the Dawn of Mustachianism in 2011, the same question has come up over and over again:

“MMM,

I see your point that index fund investing is the best option. But when you buy the index, you’re getting oil companies, factory farm slaughterhouses and a million other dirty stories.

How can I get the benefits of investing for early retirement without contributing to the decline of humanity?”

And in these nine years since then, the movement towards socially responsible investing has only grown. Public pension funds have started to “divest” from oil company stocks, and various social issues like human rights, child labor, climate change or corporate corruption have bubbled to the surface at different times.

And all of this has led to the exploding new field of Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), and a growing array of new ways to do it.

So it seems that this is not just a passing trend – people just might be starting to care a bit more. And since capitalism is just an expression of human behavior, the nature of capitalism itself may be starting to change.

This leads us naturally to the question:

What can I do with my money to help fix the world? And even better, is there a way I can make money in the process of fixing it?

The answer is a good, solid “Probably.”

As long as you don’t get too hung up on getting every last detail perfect, because just like real life, investing is a haphazard and approximate and unpredictable thing. But by understanding the big picture, you can make slightly better decisions on average, which lead to slightly better results. And slightly better results, stacked up consistently over time, can lead to a much better life, or even a much better world.

This is true in all of the main areas we care about – personal wealth, fitness and health, even relationships and happiness. And while your money and investments are certainly not the most important thing in life, they are still worthy of a bit of easy and effective optimization.

So anyway, the first thing to understand with SRI is, “what problem am I trying to solve?”

The answer is, “You are trying to make your investing (especially index fund investing) have a better impact on the world.”

On its own, index fund investing is ridiculously simple. You just get an account at any brokerage like Vanguard, Etrade, Schwab or whatever, and dump all your money into one exchange-traded fund: VTI.

When you do this, you are buying a stake in 3500 companies at once(!), which is both impressive and overwhelming. How do you even know what you are holding?

Well, this is all public information, and easily available with a quick Google search. For example, here’s a list of the top 90 holdings in VTI (click for larger):

Top 90 holdings in Vanguard’s VTI Exchange Traded Fund

As you can see, the biggest chunk of money is allocated to today’s tech darlings, because this index fund is weighted according to market value, and these are the most valuable companies in the US today.

Through a convenient coincidence, the total value of the VTI fund happens to be just under $1 trillion dollars, which means you can just throw a decimal point after the ten billions digit of market value to get a percentage. In other words, about 4.7% of your money will go towards Apple stock, 4.4 towards Microsoft, and so on. Together, these top 90 companies are worth more than the remaining 3,410 companies combined, so these are what really drive your retirement account.

And within this list, you will see some of the usual suspects: Exxon and Chevron (oil), Philip Morris (tobacco), Raytheon and Lockheed (bombs), and so on.

But what about the less-usual suspects? For example, I happen to think that sugar, and especially sugar-packed beverages like Coke, is the biggest killer in the developed world – a major contributor to 2 million of the 2.8 million deaths each year in the US alone. Should I exclude that from my portfolio too?

And what about drug and insurance companies – aren’t they behind the political stalemate and high costs of the US healthcare system? Comcast funded some election disinformation campaigns here in my home town in the early 2010s, should I exclude them too? And if you’re part of a religion that is against charging interest on loans, or in favor of pasta and Pirate costumes, or against a spherical Earth, or any number of additional ornate rules, you may have still more preferences.

The higher your desire for perfection, the more difficult this exercise will become. However, if you are like me and you just want to get most of the desired result with minimal effort, you might simply have a look at the Vanguard fund called ESGV.

ESG stands for “Environmental, Social and Governance”, and in practice it just means “We have tried to avoid some of the shittier companies according to some fairly simple rules.”

And the result is this:

Vanguard’s ESGV Exchange traded fund (ETF) – top 90 holdings

The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s almost the same. In fact, the top five holdings – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet (Google) and Netflix not far behind, collectively referred to as the FAANG stocks – are completely unchanged – and this means that there will be plenty of correlation between these funds.

It’s also the reason that the stock market as a whole has recovered so quickly from this COVID-era recession: small businesses like restaurants and hair salons have been destroyed by the shutdowns, but big companies that benefit from people staying at home and using computers and phones are making more money than ever. The stock market isn’t the whole economy, it’s just the publicly traded companies, which are the big ones.

But let’s look at the biggest differences between the normal index fund versus the social version.

The following large companies listed on the left are missing in the ESGV fund, in order of size. And to make up the difference, the stake in the companies on the right have been boosted up to take their place in your portfolio.

Main differences between VTI and ESGV (source: etfrc)

The omission of Berkshire Hathaway was a bit of a shocker, as it is run with solid ethical principles by Warren Buffett, one of the worlds most generous philanthropists. And in fact the modern day nerd-saint Bill Gates is on the Berkshire board of directors, another person whose work I follow and respect greatly.

(side note: Apparently the company fails on the “independent governance” category. And Buffett disputes this category, but in his characteristic way has decided to say, “Fuck it, I’ma just keep doing my own thing with my half-trillion dollar empire over here and you can have fun with your little committee” – I’m paraphrasing a bit but he totally did say that.)

Furthermore, both funds hold the factory meat king Tyson foods, while neither holds Roundup-happy Monsanto, because it was bought by the German conglomerate Bayer AG a while back. Nextera is a giant electric utility in the Southeastern US that claims to be the world’s largest generator of renewable energy. Some do-gooders are against nuclear power, while others (including me) think it’s the Bee’s Knees and we should keep advancing it. And all this just goes to show how nobody will agree 100% on what makes a good socially responsible fund.

But What About The Performance?

In the past, some investors were nervous about giving up oil companies in their portfolio, because while it was a dirty substance, it was also what made the world go round – which meant it was a cash cow.

Now, however, oil is on its way out as renewable energy and battery storage have crossed the cost parity threshold – meaning it’s cheaper to make power (and vehicles) that don’t use oil. In its place, technology is the new cash cow, and tech is heavily represented in the ESG funds. The result:

Traditional index fund (VTI) vs Socially Responsible equivalent (ESGV)

As you can see, the performance has been similar but the ESG fund has done significantly better in the (admittedly short) time since it was introduced at Vanguard.

Of course, we have no idea if this will continue, but the point is that at least our thesis is not a ridiculous one – environmentally sustainable companies do have an advantage, if the world gradually starts to care more about these things. And if you look at the share price of Tesla and other companies that surround it in electric transportation and energy storage, you will see that there are many trillions of dollars already lining up to benefit from this transition. And the very presence of so much investment money creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Tesla is now building or expanding five of the world’s largest factories on three continents simultaneously.

So What Should You Do? (and what I do myself)

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My latest home-brewed ebike project – this one can reach 42MPH / 67km/hr!

First of all, it helps to remember a fundamental piece of economics: your spending dollars will probably have a much bigger impact than your investment dollars. This is because you are sending a direct message to the world rather than an indirect one:

When you buy a new gasoline-powered Subaru (or a tank of gas for your existing guzzler) or a steak at the grocery store, or a plane ticket, you are telling those companies directly that consumers want more of these products, so they will produce more of them immediately.

When you buy shares in Exxon, you are only subtly raising the demand for those shares, which raises the average price, making it ever-so-slightly easier for Exxon to maybe issue more shares in the future. In other words, you are making it easier for them to access capital. But capital is only useful if there is demand for their products. And with oil there is a nearly constant surplus, which is why OPEC and other cartels need to work together to artificially restrict supply, just to keep prices up.

Plus, as a shareholder you are theoretically eligible to place votes and influence the future direction of companies – even companies that you don’t like. If you look up the field of “shareholder activism”, you’ll see this is a tradition that goes way back.

So I have tried to take a few simple steps on the consumer side myself, and I find it quite satisfying: Insulating the shit out of all of my properties, building a DIY solar electric array on one of them, and buying one electric car so far to eliminate local gas burning. And a few electric bikes including a super fast one I made myself.

Each one of these steps has provided a very high economic return, percentage-wise, but that still leaves a lot of money to account for, which brings us back to stock investing.

As someone who loves simplicity, I have done this:

  • Bought almost entirely VTI (or similar Vanguard funds) from 2000-2015
  • Started experimenting with Betterment in 2015, liked it, and have been adding a percentage of my ongoing savings to that account to that since then. (Note that Betterment now also offers a socially responsible portfolio option.)
  • Switched the dividend re-investing of my old Vanguard VTI over to Vanguard ESGV, to avoid “wash sales” in making the most of Betterment’s tax loss harvesting feature.
  • Bought some shares of Berkshire Hathaway separately, and also make a few sentimental investments in local businesses, including the MMM HQ Coworking space.

But you could choose to be more hardcore in your ESG/SRI investing:

  • Buy your own basket of stocks based on the index, but with different weighting based on your own values
  • Spend more money on other things that generate or save money (a bigger solar array on your house, better insulation, electric car, an ebike to reduce car trips, etc.)
  • Invest in local businesses of your choice, rental real estate, community solar projects, or other things which generate passive income – publicly traded stocks are just one of many ways to fund an early retirement!

Like most areas of life, investing is not something you have to do perfectly in order to succeed – even socially responsible investing. If you apply the 80/20 rule to get the big picture right, you have probably found the Sweet Spot and you can move on to the next area of life to optimize.

In the Comments:
What is your own investment strategy? Have you thought at all about this ESG / SRI stuff? Did this article bring anything new to the table?



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