When It Comes to Financial Solutions, There’s No Place Like Home.

Homeownership: more than just the cornerstone of the American Dream, it can be a powerful tool for improving your financial future. While renting can be a smart financial choice for someone starting out or starting over, owning your own home offers a multitude of benefits—not the least of which is the ability to build equity.

For practical purposes, equity can be defined as the difference between your home’s value and the balance owed on your mortgage. Since most mortgage installments are comprised of interest and principal amounts, each payment chips away at mortgage’s remaining balance, resulting in a larger difference between the property’s value and what you still owe. That difference is your equity. And while equity is reassuring in theory, it can be even better when you make that equity work for you.

Loan vs. Line: Find the right home equity option for you.

Because your house’s value offers relatively stable collateral, equity lenders assume lower risk than creditors offering unsecured loans or credit lines. Less risk for the lender means better rates for you. Traditionally, home equity loans and lines of credit feature more attractive interest rates than credit cards, making them ideal for larger purchases. But before you decide to put your equity to work for you, it’s important to know the difference between a Home Equity Loan and a Home Equity Line of Credit. Understanding the benefits of each can help you determine which is best for you.

Home Equity Loan
By allowing you to borrow a lump sum at once, these loans let you lock in an interest rate and payment terms for the length of the loan. While interest is charged on the total amount from the beginning, the security of a fixed rate makes home equity loans a reliable choice for larger projects that involve one-time expenses. Popular uses for home equity loans include:

  • Home renovation projects
  • Consolidation of high-interest debt
  • Establishing an emergency fund

Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC)

Essentially a credit account that allows you to borrow against the equity in your home, a HELOC gives you a cost-effective way to access the funds you need only when you need them. While you can borrow smaller amounts at a time, a HELOC usually features an adjustable interest rate tied to the standard market rate. Depending on the current financial climate, this could lead to fluctuating interest rates and payment amounts over time. However, since you can borrow smaller amounts and pay interest on the amount borrowed as opposed to the full credit limit, this option is ideal for gaining access to funds while maximizing your cash flow. Common uses for a Home Equity Line of Credit include:

  • Smaller home improvements
  • Funding a small business venture
  • Higher education expenses

As with any major financial decision, it pays to discuss all the details with a financial expert. So, before you decide which home equity option is right for you, schedule an appointment with a Scient representative mortgage specialist to determine the best solution for your financial needs.

8 Valuable Freebies at Your Local Library

To many people, public libraries represent buildings full of books, nothing more. Libraries are where a person goes to look up information or borrow a novel, but if you’re not interested in reading, there’s no reason to visit one.

Many modern libraries buck this trend. They provide books, to be sure. They also offer many other types of resources and entertainment items and provide a central place for varied activities and services, almost all for free.

Here are eight valuable, free resources offered by many public libraries in America.

 

Movies. 

Like they do with books, many libraries now offer movies for checkout. The selection often matches that of a video store, with the difference being that you can check out movies for multiple nights for free. 

The selection isn’t limited to dry documentaries. Libraries often acquire copies of newly released blockbusters, comedies, romances, dramas – anything you would find at your local Redbox or on Netflix – minus the cost.

 

Audiobooks. 

Most libraries have a robust audiobook selection, which is a great option if you’re about to depart on a long road trip. They provide entertainment while allowing you to keep your eyes on the road.

As with their book selection, most libraries offer a wide variety of audiobooks of all kinds. You’ll find exciting fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, literary fiction, mystery and romance. You’ll find nonfiction in all flavors, including biographies, military histories, business books, personal finance books and many others. If you have an interest, the library likely has an audiobook to match.

 

Community groups. 

Libraries often provide a meeting place for community groups of all types, not just book clubs. While the selection might be limited at smaller libraries, larger libraries typically offer meetings for many kinds of groups, from political groups and discussion forums to youth groups and special-interest groups.

Many libraries have a number of meeting rooms set aside for just this purpose, closed off from the rest of the library, so people can converse without disturbing quiet spaces. You don’t have to keep your voice down at these meetings.

 

Public presentations. 

Libraries often have an auditorium in which public presentations are given on all kinds of topics. Visiting authors will present on the topic of their book. Politicians will hold public question-and-answer sessions. Local experts will talk about their specific area of expertise.

Most libraries keep a schedule of their free presentations on their websites. You can also stop in and pick up a printed copy if you prefer.

 

Attraction passes. 

Many libraries have arrangements with local attractions, such as zoos, museums and theaters, to provide passes that can be “checked out” from the library. You simply stop by the library, check out a pass, just as you would with a book, then use that pass to visit the local attraction for free.

This is a great way for your family to visit a nearby museum, zoo, aquarium or other attraction of interest without the expense.

 

Internet access. 

If you ever need to access the internet while traveling or when internet access is unavailable at home, check the local library. Almost all libraries offer free high-speed internet access to the community with little restriction on usage. Many libraries have computers available for use as well, which is perfect for checking a website or two. 

Many larger libraries even offer an “internet help desk” service where they will answer questions and help people with internet-related difficulties.

 

Tools. 

A new feature in many libraries is tool and machine rental. Libraries offer patrons the ability to check out items that can be used to build or repair things at home.

Many larger libraries even have small “maker spaces” where volunteers offer classes on how to use various tools for making and repairing items.

 

E-books. 

Libraries are stepping into the digital era by offering the ability to check out e-books that you can read on your phone, tablet or home computer. Often, you can check these out without even visiting the library, as the checkout process is handled by an app or a website.

Many libraries use the OverDrive platform as a checkout service for e-books. Simply go to the app, choose the book you want and “check it out” for a number of days. It’s then available on your phone or tablet for your reading convenience.

Your local public library offers far more than just piles of dusty books. The next time you’re near the library, stop in for a while and see what it has on offer. You might just find yourself leaving with a new movie in hand or a new addition to your social calendar.


This article originally appeared on U.S. News and was written by Trent Hamm.

Plan a Blockbuster Valentine Date on a Budget

From picking the right card to choosing the perfect flowers to selecting the best chocolates, planning for Valentine’s Day can be daunting. When you get it right, the smile on your Valentine’s face is priceless. If you miss the mark, well, so does Cupid’s arrow. The risk/reward scenario is the stuff romantic comedies are made of. But there’s a big difference between Hollywood hijinks and real life. The difference? Budgets.

 

Movie Magic vs. Real Life

While cinematic screenplays portray extravagant splurges that make audiences swoon, most of us don’t have the unlimited finances required to take a hot air balloon ride over Central Park while a string symphony serenades us from below. So, is it possible to plan a successful Valentine’s date without breaking the bank? Absolutely.

Creating a budget-friendly Valentine’s Day that’s memorable for all the right reasons requires purposeful thought and advanced planning—just like your budget itself. This is not the time to keep up with the proverbial Joneses; don’t waste energy comparing your ideas with anyone else’s. When it comes to making February 14th something special, individuality wins. If you’re looking for a few tips to spark your frugal creativity, we’ve got you covered.

 

4 Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day on a Budget

  • Cook at home. Go out for dessert.
    Whether you decide to cook dinner for your date or prepare a meal together, staying in lets you plan the menu around your budget and enjoy the experience of crafting your own culinary adventure. After leisurely dining at home, you can venture out for a delicious dessert knowing you’ve missed the overcrowded restaurants and overpriced entrees.
  • Coupons can be your friend.
    Can we get real for a minute? Free food tastes better. It just does. And if you’re looking to counter the unfair stigma attached to coupons, consider the following scenario: If you have $50 to spend on dinner, that means you can get two meals that cost $25 each. If you have $50 and a Buy-One-Get-One coupon from sites like restaurant.com or Living Social, you can each enjoy a $50 meal. Doesn’t sound like a difficult decision, does it?
  • Pick a plant instead of flowers.
    With many florists inflating prices by as much as 100% for Valentine’s Day, buying traditional flower arrangements can an expensive proposition. Instead of giving your date a bundle of flowers that will be gone in a couple weeks, plan a date that includes selecting a plant that will provide beauty for years to come. The shared experience provides an excellent chance to learn each other’s tastes and preferences, which may prove helpful for future Valentine’s Days.
  • Visit museums and art galleries.
    If you live in an area that has a museum or art gallery, many of these venues offer free or low-cost admission. In addition to giving your date a touch of culture, the subjective nature of art and exhibits offers endless opportunities for conversation, lessening the chances of awkward silence throughout the evening.

Sticking to a budget can be tough, especially when you’re trying to impress your date. But if our favorite rom-coms have taught us anything, it’s the fact that over-the-top spending may seem fun, but it rarely leads to happily ever after. Whether you use the tips above or come up with creative ideas of your own, being smart with your Valentine’s Day spending is a great way to craft a feel-good story that will leave you cheering when the credits roll. And who knows, if all goes well, there might even be a sequel!

 

3 Best Ways to Give Your Grown Kids Financial Gifts

This article originally appeared on Next Avenue and was written by Trey Smith.


Many parents believe it’s better to give their grown kids money when their children could use the cash rather than leaving it to them as an inheritance. But making such financial gifts can involve a distinct psychological downside: the potential for encouraging dependency that can develop if your adult children come to expect your help.

Even if you can afford to make regular cash infusions, you may be concerned about the potential for sapping your kids’ motivation to succeed financially. Regular checks engender regular expectations. If you write your kids a check annually three consecutive years, your generosity may become habit-forming for them.

I call this the Rule of Three. The first check is greatly appreciated, the second one is appreciated, but less of a surprise and the third is still appreciated. but no surprise at all. After the third time, they may come to expect a check every year.

 

3 Strategies for Financial Gifts to Grown Kids

As a financial adviser who has helped many clients make such gifts, I’ve found that these familial strategies work the best for the parents and their grown kids:

 

1. Keep it irregular. 

Vary the time of year you send checks, and don’t send them every year.

While dependency stems from expectation, breaking things up creates doubt, reducing reliability and dependence.

 

2. Don’t always give money directly. 

There are various ways to assist your grown kids indirectly. These include paying their uninsured medical expenses, helping out with a purchase by a grandchild (such as a first car), providing cash for a home remodeling contractor’s fees and covering some expenses for a first baby (such as a stroller, a car seat, a crib or a year’s supply of diapers).

Varying the impetus and circumstances of your assistance tends to make gifts unexpected and appreciated windfalls, instead of something recipients come to count on.

 

3. Confine your help to rare occasions. 

For example, expenses for key anniversaries or birthdays could qualify. After all, how often does your daughter have a 10th wedding anniversary or her son have a 16th birthday? Another irregular impetus would be the need for plane fare and lodging to attend family reunions, assuming these events aren’t annual or bi-annual.

Another example: occasional family vacations for the extended family.

Of course, the Internal Revenue Service puts limits on how much you can give without tax consequences. Under current law, single people may make cash gifts to an individual totaling $14,000 a year without any tax liability for the recipient. Spouses each may give $14,000 a year to the same recipient, meaning a limit of $28,000 on each gift from the couple. (These figures or rules could change with tax reform.)

It doesn’t matter to Uncle Sam whether recipients are relatives; but check your state’s tax rules because they may be different. There are no limits on how many people you can give this amount to annually.

Since estates of $5.4 million and up are currently subject to federal estate tax (states limits vary), for some wealthy individuals, perennially giving away money over the long haul could be part of a plan to reduce the size of their taxable estates.

But even the wealthy may want find ways to keep this assistance unpredictable. That way, they can help their grown children without handicapping their self-reliance.

House Hunters: Learn From My Rookie Mistakes

This article was written by Deborah Meyer and originally appeared on Kiplinger


When I bought my first home in my 20s, I had worked hard and saved for a down payment. But I didn’t do all the homework a buyer should do. Looking back years later, here are seven financial tips for house hunters today.

Is it possible for you to delve into home ownership without all the facts? YES.

One of my three biggest financial mistakes was buying a home just one year out of college without truly considering all financial implications. Read this article if you’re looking to purchase a home and don’t want to make similar missteps.

Here are several places where I went wrong when I bought my first home, years ago. I didn’t do my homework. I failed to investigate historical housing prices to judge whether the asking price was greater than the true value. I saved aggressively as a young adult and managed to scrimp together 10% for a down-payment on a $150,000 starter home in Saint Louis at age 23. Ideally, you should save at least 20% for a down-payment. Otherwise, you must take out an extra loan or pay private mortgage insurance (PMI). I choose PMI and regret it.

The home was old and charming — built in the 1920s — and lacked energy-efficient upgrades. Heating bills easily ran $300 monthly in the winter, and the tiny window air conditioning unit on the second floor did not suffice during hot summers. I poured over $20,000 in renovations to improve my first house and sold it four years later for the same $150,000 purchase price. Ouch! 

When you purchase a home, steer clear of traps and focus on these recommendations instead:

 

1. Improve your credit score prior to the purchase.

Annualcreditreport.com allows you to access your credit report for free every 12 months from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Review the report in detail for errors or issues. Here’s a full list of tips to repair and increase your credit score.

 

2. Plan to stay in your home at least five years.

The newly proposed House and Senate tax overhaul bills stipulate that you will need to live in your primary residence at least five of the prior eight years to exclude the gain on the subsequent sale of your home. Right now, the law uses two of the prior five years for the gain-exclusion calculation, but legislators are hoping to expand the look-back period to five years. This should curtail flippers, who move from house to house every two years without paying income tax when they sell. Regardless of whether this bill passes, real estate commissions and other closing costs make it very difficult to turn a profit (outside of rehabbed houses) if you spend less than five years in the property.

 

3. Hire a buyer’s agent who is looking after your best interest.

As a buyer, you don’t pay a commission to your real estate agent; that cost is borne by the seller. However, not all real estate agents are created equal. Some are focused exclusively on acting as a seller’s agent or buyer’s agent. Others run both sides of the table. Exercise caution if your agent is also the listing agent for the home you are most interested in purchasing — there’s an inherent conflict of interest. 

 

4. Do your homework.

If you are looking to buy in an area with young families, school districts are very important for resale value. Explore the price history on sites like Zillow to understand when and for how much the home previously sold. Pay attention to how long the home has been on the market and others like it to negotiate purchase price.

 

5. Consider “hidden” costs of homeownership.

Have at least 20% available in cash for a down-payment. Without that target percentage, you will either pay PMI until the loan value is 80% of the appraised home value, or you might take out a “piggyback” home equity line at a higher interest rate than a traditional mortgage to make up the difference in order to avoid PMI. Closing costs, moving expenses, new furnishings and appliances should also be considered. Contemplate ongoing costs like real estate taxes, homeowners insurance and utility bills as well.

 

6. Budget for home improvements early.

Make a list, prioritizing the improvements you want to make and the timeline for completion. Don’t focus strictly on aesthetics like new flooring, painting or enhancing an unfinished basement. When will the roof and windows need to be updated? Driveway refinished? Air conditioning unit and furnace replaced? As a woman who spends most of her time inside the house, it’s tempting to focus on the interior. Yet the exterior and home systems are more costly projects that should not be ignored.

 

7. Get pre-approved.

Pre-approval for a mortgage gives you a better idea of how much house you can afford. Just because you are pre-approved for a $400,000 loan doesn’t mean you need to go and find a home in that price range. Determine your monthly payment and see if it fits into your personal budget. Don’t forget about the hidden costs and home improvement projects discussed above. Give yourself some wiggle room. I encourage many clients to stay under the maximum pre-approval amount to meet other saving and lifestyle goals. 

This list was not intended to scare you. Rather, knowledge is power. Purchasing your first home or moving into a new home is a big decision, one that makes sense to get some expert guidance on. As a comprehensive financial planner, I help clients reach their big-picture financial goals, and homeownership is an important piece of the puzzle.

 

Ring in the New Year with a Focus on Financial Fitness

When it comes to the most popular New Year’s traditions, making a resolution ranks right up there with countdowns, ball drops, and off-key renditions of Auld Lang Syne.

Year after year, health-related goals top the list of New Year’s resolutions, and 2018 is no exception. Whether it’s getting back in the gym, taking a daily walk, or simply trying to eat better, most of us are familiar with re-focusing on healthy habits when January rolls around.

While the new year may be a great time to improve your physical health, it offers a perfect opportunity to boost your financial health as well.
 

Determine Your Starting Point

Like any good coach will tell you, it’s impossible to know how far you’ve come unless you know where you started. Before starting you on a new workout program, most trainers would administer a basic fitness test to measure your current strength, conditioning, flexibility, and power. Similarly, an honest assessment of your current checking, savings, investments, cash flow, and credit can provide a snapshot of your financial baseline and help identify areas for improvement.
 

Five Keys to Financial Fitness

  • Checking: When it comes to your checking account, do you find yourself treating overdraft protection as a lifeline instead of a safety net? Brush up your banking skills by visiting CheckRight, a self-paced, online course designed to help you manage your money with confidence.
  • Savings: It’s almost impossible to predict when car problems or job losses might happen, but setting aside 3-6 months of living expenses in an emergency fund can help smooth out those unexpected bumps in the road. Save early, save often.
  • Investments: The key to long-term financial success is making your money work for you. If you haven’t started planning for the future, there’s no time like the present to begin. Scient members receive a complimentary financial review, so contact our financial advisor for expert advice on college savings accounts, IRA options, 401(k)’s, and more.
  • Cash Flow: When you need to make a big purchase, using credit cards can tie up your money in an endless cycle of interest payments. A personal loan or home equity line of credit can offer the financing you need—often with lower interest rates than most credit cards. That means you can hang onto more of your hard-earned money each month.
  • Credit: Investments are one way to put your money to work, the Visa® Signature Helix card is another. By making purchases with your credit card and paying the balance off each month, you can strengthen your credit rating and earn money-saving rewards on dining, entertainment, and travel.

As you commit to getting financially fit in 2018, remember that progress is better than perfection. Focus on making small, manageable improvements, and when you look back at the end of the year, there’s a good chance you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how far you’ve come.

What Your Credit Cards Are Really Costing You

This article was written by  and originally appeared on CNN Money.


Credit card debt is costing you nearly $1,000 per year

5 Steps to Building Your 2018 Budget

This article originally appeared on US News and was written by Stacy Rapacon


As you’re closing one year and resolving to make the next one even better – in whatever way you have in mind – remember that your financial plan has to be ready for the new year, too. You need to go over what you did with your money in 2017 and consider what expenses you’ll face in 2018. In short, you need a budget.

“While [budgeting’s] not necessarily anyone’s favorite part of the financial planning process, it’s a really important part because that’s where you can uncover opportunities or problems,” says Chantel Bonneau, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual. “And it really gives us the data to take action from there.”

Here are five steps to build your budget for the new year.

 

1. Review the past year. 

Looking at your cash flow from 2017 will give you a good idea of what you can expect in 2018. Dig into the details as deep as you can, going over your bank account and credit card statements from throughout the year to see where all your money went. 

Sound like a lot of work? You can get some digital assistance. “Some great budgeting tools are out there,” says Rachel Rabinovich, financial planner at Society of Grownups, a financial planning firm focused on educating people on money matters. “These apps use charts and graphs to show you exactly where you’ve spent your money.”

She recommends financial apps Mint and Dollarbird. You can also see what tools your banks and credit card issuers provide. They’d only allow you to track the money you keep with those particular accounts, but if you use just one debit or credit card for most of your spending, that might be all you need.

Also don’t discount the power of pen and paper – or an Excel spreadsheet. Manually tracking your spending can give you a good opportunity to closely study your spending habits. “It can help people really grasp what they’ve spent,” Rabinovich says.

 

2. Predict the future. 

Next consider what new expenses you may need to add to your budget. For example, if you have one (or nine) weddings you plan to attend in 2018, you can price out what you’ll need to save for those parties now.

You also want to think about the irregular bills that pop up at random, such as insurance payments and taxes. And don’t forget special events, including birthdays, anniversaries and the holidays.

Bonneau suggests using one of two strategies to tackle such costs. You can put a price tag on the expense and save up for it bit by bit each month. You can also add another 10 percent to your spending plan for “miscellaneous budget needs,” she says. So if you typically plan to spend $4,000 per month, add another $400 per month for these kinds of extras.

 

3. Know your goals. 

Beyond covering your current bills, you need to think about financing your future. This may include short-term goals, such as taking a nice vacation this summer or buying a car, or long-term goals, such as purchasing a home or retiring. Figure out how much you’ll need to achieve each goal and work that savings into your budget.

Rabinovich recommends setting aside funds for each goal in its own savings account. Alternatively, she suggests using a system such as online bank Simple’s checking account, which allows you to create separate virtual envelopes for your various stashes of cash. So within the one account, you can label your savings for, say, emergencies, travel, car buying, holiday shopping, etc. “Naming them helps you to stay mindful about not tapping into them for other needs,” Rabinovich says.

 

4. Adjust as necessary.

With all the numbers laid out, you can really see whether your cash flow is heading where you want it to go. You might find that your expenses outweigh your income – a big no-no for good financial health. Or that you spend more than you’d like on discretionary items while coming up short on savings.

If that’s the case, spot where you can afford to nip and tuck your spending habits. Financial planner Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Maryland, notes that people’s eating habits often offer a good place to save. She suggests committing to brown-bagging your lunch at least one day a week, more if possible.

And if you have children, she encourages you to include them in tackling the budget. If there’s something they want to buy, or a camp or class they’d like to join, make a plan with them to get it. Having your family act as a team can help keep your money plans on track, as well as teach your kids good habits from an early age. “Get them involved,” she says. “You want them to be part of the solution.”

Bonneau advises you to “try and find at least one recurring payment that you can cancel.” It might be a subscription to a magazine you don’t get to look at all the time, a meal kit you might be tiring of or a streaming service you don’t often use. The cost for each might seem minimal, but “all of those little dollars add up,” she says.

Whatever small space you can find in your budget to make more room for savings is worthwhile. “The amount doesn’t really matter,” Cheng says. “The most important thing is you start saving.”

 

5. Make room for change. 

This new year brings with it some new challenges. Congress is currently working out tax reform details, and talk of health care reform persists. Either issue could cost you, so you should stay aware of how each unfolds. “You need to make sure you’re really clear on what changes are going to impact you,” Bonneau says.

But remain calm. “It’s hard to know what will really be written into law,” Rabinovich says. “Just don’t panic, and don’t make any drastic moves yet.” She suggests meeting with a tax professional to help you navigate the situation.

Whatever changes come in the new year, you and your budget should be ready. “Know that there’s always flux, whether through the government, your job or just your life,” Bonneau says. “It’s important to slow down – the beginning of the year is a great time to do that – and really think through what’s coming up in this next year that you need to budget for.”


9 Healthy New Year’s Eating Strategies

This article originally appeared on RealSimple and was written by Karen Asp. 


 Strategy 1: Bring Your Own Food

Contribute a healthy dish to a gathering to ensure there’s something you can indulge in.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat the best-for-you offerings first. For example, hot soup as a first course―especially when it’s broth-based, not cream-based―can help you avoid eating too much during the main course.
  2. Stand more than an arm’s length away from munchies, like a bowl of nuts or chips, while you chat so you’re not tempted to raise your hand to your mouth every few seconds.
  3. Concentrate on your meal while you’re eating it. Focus on chewing your food well and enjoying the smell, taste, and texture of each item. Research shows that mealtime multitasking (whether at home or at a party) can make you pop mindless calories into your mouth. Of course, dinner-party conversation is only natural, but try to set your food down until you’re finished chatting so you are more aware of what you’re taking in.

 

Strategy 2: Don’t Go Hungry to the Mall

To cut down on the lure of the food court, never go to the mall on an empty stomach.

Tricks to Try

  1. Plan your shopping route so you don’t pass the Cinnabon stand a dozen times. The obvious reason? Both sights and smells can coax you to eat, and with some vendors purposefully wafting their aromas your way, saying no can feel impossible.
  2. Choose a proper restaurant over the grab-and-go food court whenever you can. And request a table away from loud sounds and distractions, which can cause you to eat more. The bright lights and noisy hard surfaces can speed up the rate at which you eat and lead to overeating.
  3. Avoid fast-food places that emphasize red in their color schemes. Red has been shown to stimulate the appetite more than many other colors, and many restaurants add it to their decor, in everything from the flowers on the table to the squiggles on the plates.

 

Strategy 3: Keep Track of What You Eat

Maintain a food diary to help you stay committed to your goals.

Tricks to Try

  1. Weigh yourself daily and use that number to guide your actions. (Food diaries are helpful, but only if you’re totally honest and diligent about recording every morsel you eat.) Research has shown that women who step on the scale every day and then act accordingly, either increasing their exercise or being stricter about their eating, are 82 percent less likely to regain lost weight than those who don’t weigh in as often.
  2. Zip yourself into your favorite pair of slim-fitting pants once a week and note how they fit. Too tight? Adjust your eating and exercise habits. Just right? Keep up the good work.

 

Strategy 4: Eat Before Going to a Party

Before going out, have a healthy snack to curb your appetite.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat breakfast. This has been shown to prevent overeating later in the day.
  2. Limit the number of high-calorie foods on your party plate. Research has shown that when faced with a variety of foods with different tastes, textures, smells, shapes, and colors, people eat more―regardless of their true hunger level. Cutting down on your personal smorgasbord can decrease what you end up eating by 20 to 40 percent.
  3. Choose foods wisely, filling your plate with low-calorie items, such as leafy green salads, vegetable dishes, and lean proteins, and taking smaller portions of the richer ones. That way, you can eat a larger amount of food for fewer calories and not feel deprived.
  4. Pop a sugar-free mint in your mouth. When you’ve had enough (and don’t want to eat more), the feeling of a fresh palate can curb additional noshing.

 

Strategy 5: Keep Healthy Snacks at the Office

Stash healthy foods in your desk at work so you’re not as tempted by the treats piling up at the office.

Tricks to Try

  1. Try to keep communal office goodies out of view, either in an area that isn’t as highly trafficked as the kitchen or the break room or in dark containers or covered dishes. In one study, people ate 26 percent more Hershey’s Kisses when the candies were in clear dishes versus white ones. And when the chocolates were placed six feet away, the average person ate only four a day, as opposed to nine a day when they were within arm’s reach.
  2. Before you allow yourself a splurge, do something healthy, like eating a piece of fruit, walking around the office for five minutes, or climbing a few flights of stairs.
  3. Plan on taking whatever tempts you home, and delay the daily indulgence until just before bedtime. At that point, you’re less likely to crave another treat immediately than you would during your afternoon coffee break, especially if the whole box is no longer around.

 

Strategy 6: Manage Portion Size

Take sensible portions so you don’t end up eating too much.

Tricks to Try

  1. Use smaller plates and serving utensils. Try a salad or dessert plate for the main course and a teaspoon to serve yourself. What looks like a normal portion on a 12-inch plate or a troughlike bowl can, in fact, be sinfully huge. In one study conducted at the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, even nutrition experts served themselves 31 percent more ice cream when using oversize bowls compared with smaller bowls. The size of the serving utensil mattered, too: Subjects served themselves 57 percent more when they used a three-ounce scoop versus a smaller scoop.
  2. Pour drinks into tall, skinny glasses, not the fat, wide kind. Other studies at Cornell have shown that people are more likely to pour 30 percent more liquid into squatter vessels.

 

Strategy 7: Control Your Environment

You plan to use sheer willpower during large family dinners.

Tricks to Try

  1. Eat with a small group when you can. One study found that dining with six or more people can cause you to eat 76 percent more, most likely because the meal can last so long. (After an hour of staring at the stuffing, you’re more likely to have seconds.) At a big sit-down supper, be the last one to start and the second one to stop eating.
  2. Sit next to a fellow healthy eater (there’s strength in numbers). Or sidle up to that uncle who eats slowly, so his pace can slow yours.
  3. Wait for all the food to be on the table before making your selections. People who make their choices all at once eat about 14 percent less than do those who keep refilling when each plate is passed.
  4. Keep visual evidence around of what you’ve consumed so you don’t forget. Leave an empty bottle of wine or beer in view and you’ll be less tempted to drink more.

 

Strategy 8: Keep Up the Exercise

You’re determined to squeeze in at least one or two workouts a week, no matter how busy you get.

Tricks to Try

  1. Break it up. If you don’t have time for your daily four-mile walk, do a few 10- or 15-minute spurts of exercise throughout the day (to accumulate the surgeon general’s recommendation of 30 minutes a day). They can be just as effective at maintaining overall fitness as one continuous workout.
  2. Tell yourself that all the running around you’re doing can help keep your weight in check. In one Harvard study, people who were simply told that they did enough in their daily lives to meet the surgeon general’s recommendations lost weight and body fat without consciously changing a thing. A possible reason? Believing that what they were doing was having a positive effect may have led to subtle changes in their overall health behaviors.

 

Strategy 9: Choose Your Indulgences

You intend to stave off feelings of deprivation by allowing yourself a “cheat” day a week.

Tricks to Try

  1. Plan in advance to eat a little more and be a little more flexible at this time of year, when you face daily temptations. That way, you can savor the culinary joys of the holidays a little more often and you’ll be less likely to binge. For instance, rather than inhaling four sugar cookies on your cheat day, allow yourself one as a dessert when the mood strikes. Then make one little switch during the day to account for those calories―maybe skipping that morning latte or cutting out an afternoon snack.
  2. Choose your indulgences wisely. Instead of wasting calories on foods that you can have at any time of the year, pick items that are truly special and unique to the season.

Do Your Financial Goals Spark Joy?

This article originally appeared on success.com and was written by Stefanie O’Connell.


Within the confines of my cozy New York City apartment, I’m in a constant battle against clutter. At least once a quarter I get entirely fed up with the routine of storing, shifting and lifting to find whatever I need at the back of my closet.

So naturally, Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, piqued my interest. Unlike standard questions of practicality, frequency of use and sentimental value often used to assess what is and isn’t worth keeping, her KonMari Method distills the process of decluttering down to one central question: Does it spark joy?

That is, does the item in question—be it an old Halloween costume, an unopened waffle iron or a worn-out sofa bed—contribute to your life in a way that brings you joy?

Kondo encourages readers to approach the task of tidying up through an emotional lens rather than a purely practical one—the result of which is life-changing, as both the title of her book and my own experience suggest. No more trading precious space to hold onto something just because it was a gift or because it cost a lot of money or because it might come in handy someday. It’s surprisingly liberating.

Even though Kondo doesn’t specifically address finances in her book, it struck me how well the KonMari method could be applied to money.

What if the barometer for what makes a worthwhile purchase or investment wasn’t, Will I use this? But, Will this bring me joy that lasts beyond the moment of transaction?

Although necessities like rent, utilities and health insurance might not feel particularly joyful, the effect of such purchases—safety, shelter, warmth and the safeguard of good health care—certainly do. Similarly, financial to-do’s like paying off debt and saving for retirement might not seem inherently joyful, but consider what satisfying those financial to-do’s can afford you: the extra money to take a dream trip or the funds you need to finally launch your own business. Defining your financial goals through the framework of the joy they can afford you will help you find the motivation you need to achieve them.

If we shift our focus to affording more of the things we love, as Kondo suggests, rather than cutting back, perhaps managing our money can also become a process driven by joy rather than sacrifice. Through this lens, saving money is no longer about what you have to give up. It’s about what you stand to gain.

“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of,” Kondo writes.

Start by identifying what you love in life and what you want to enjoy in the future—a home, the flexibility to travel, more time to enjoy with friends and family. Then identify the financial goals needed to support these pursuits.

Review your expenditures and notice where your spending isn’t aligned with your stated priorities.

Use the spark-joy approach to redirect your financial habits toward supporting your long-term happiness. Keep these big goals and spending priorities top of mind by staying focused on the joy of having and achieving them rather than focusing on where you can cut back and what you might have done wrong with your finances in the past.