A single hospital visit can bankrupt you. What happens if you total your car and can’t afford a new ride? Make sure your assets are covered.

The idea of insurance doesn’t necessarily jive with the mindset of a young person. It took me way too long after college to really get serious about insuring my stuff. What’s life without a little risk, right?

In reality, that mindset doesn’t usually last through the first emergency or disaster that strikes while you’re uninsured. It’s easy to laugh it off when you’ve been lucky, but one bad day teaches you the importance of making sure you cover your assets.

Being a fully functioning adult requires that you be ready to protect what’s yours.

Why insurance is important.

Insurance is like wearing a helmet while you’re biking. You may not need it, but you’ll be glad you put it on when you take a tumble.

“Having quality auto, health, renter or homeowner, and life insurance is vital to protecting yourself and your family — or your future family — from the unexpected,” says blogger Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability.

But choosing an insurance company is hard work. First, decide what coverage you need. If you need both renters and car insurance, can you choose the same company and save money with a multi-policy account?

The two most important factors with insurance are the premium (how much you pay each month) and the deductible (how much you pay to file a claim and receive money from your insurance company). Your car insurance premium may cost $100 a month with a $500 deductible.

That means if you get into an accident and do $600 worth of damage to your car, you’ll have to pay the $500 deductible before your insurance covers the rest.

Car insurance.

Most companies offer a multi-car discount for families with more than one automobile. Premium rates vary based on how much coverage you have, so don’t base your judgment solely on how much you’ll pay each month.

For example, coverage for uninsured or underinsured drivers is optional, but often a good idea. When I got hit by an uninsured driver, my car suffered $3,000 worth of damage. My insurance company handled everything because I’d opted for that extra coverage.

This is a common theme in every area of insurance: risk tolerance. You need to toe the line between how much you’re willing to pay monthly, and how comfortable you are with the risk of being caught uninsured. In an ideal world, we could all afford comprehensive coverage in every area, but the real world is a little more restrictive.

Renters insurance.

Lee Huffman, who owns several rental properties, says he always recommends renters insurance to his tenants. Most renters policies cost less than $20 a month, but can reimburse you in case your valuables are stolen or damaged.

“As a rental property investor, we remind our renters that the landlord’s insurance covers the building only,” he says. “It does not cover any of the personal items of the renters, nor does it cover the renter in case someone gets hurt and tries to sue them.”

Take pictures of your most prized possessions and keep receipts for anything valuable. Those will help if they’re lost or damaged and you need to file a claim.

Health insurance.

The Affordable Care Act requires that you have health insurance or pay a fine. This year the fine will be 2.5% of your income or $695 per adult — whichever is greater. For example, if you have an adjusted gross income of $40,000, your fine will be $1,000.

One hospital visit can bankrupt you when you don’t have health insurance. You are your most valuable asset, so make sure that’s covered. Millennials in good health are often fine purchasing a high-deductible plan and paying a smaller premium. You can use a Health Savings Account in conjunction with your high-deductible plan for even better results.

Life insurance.

This type of insurance is vital if there’s someone relying on your income, like a spouse or child. If your spouse dies, can you afford to live without them? Can you pay the mortgage by yourself? Can you raise your child on one income? Single parents should consider purchasing life insurance so their children will have protection in case they pass away.

Rosenberg recommends term, not whole, life insurance for millennials. The younger you are when you purchase a policy, the cheaper it will be.

“You are never as young and healthy as you are today, which is the best time to lock in a 30 year policy,” he says.

Don’t let the unexpected ruin your finances. Cover your assets with the right insurance and you can shore up your finances from disaster.

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No one likes paying bills, but it’s a fact of adult life. Here’s how to make bills your bitch.

Paying bills sucks.

But proper adulting means you need to stay on top of your bills. Dominate them. Paying your bills on time can help you with your credit, and it ensures that you still have access to things like a place to live, your cell phone service, and electricity.

Your life will suffer if you get caught too far behind. When you don’t pay your bills, you can lose your apartment or house and all the other services you pay for. If you want to make your own decisions and live your life on your terms, you also have to be responsible and handle the business of paying bills.

You don’t have to do it on your own, though. Here are a few tools that can help you stay on top of your bills.

1. Make it automatic.

One of my favorite tools is automation. So many companies will let you automate you bill pay. My cell phone, Internet, car loan, and rent payment are all automated. Grocery delivery? Automatically taken care of each week. Same for the delivery from the dairy. Many power companies also set up recurring billing. I was even able to set up recurring automatic payments for the medical bills I incurred earlier this year.

The main downside to automation is that you have to stay on top of your bank account. If the money is coming out of your bank account, you need to make sure the money is in there and available. I like to use credit cards for most of my automated payments. This gives me a little breathing space when it comes to paying.

2. Use just any personal finance software.

If you aren’t tracking your spending and planning your bills, there’s a good chance you could wind up in trouble. Use personal finance software to track your income and expenses. You can also use it to plan ahead and test out how your bills will impact your cash flow later in the month.

My personal finance software (Moneydance) allows me to set up reminders and automatic transaction entries so I can look ahead and see what bills are coming up. You can also use your own personal finance software to remind you when bills are due.

3. Check out a calendar app.

paying-bills

There are plenty of calendar apps to set up reminders that can help you stay on top of your bills. Google Calendar and iCal from Apple are both good examples. If you do use these apps to pop up reminders for bills, set them to remind you at least 10 days in advance. You want to allow plenty of time for you to make your payment.

Whether you automate, schedule payments ahead of time, or write a check (really, though, who DOES that?), it’s important to look in and make sure everything is squared away. A little calendar reminder can be just the thing to keep you on top of the situation.

4. Designate a specific bill-paying time.

Pick a time of the week or the month to sit down and take care of money matters. I’m to the point where I mostly just check things out once a week. I have a specific time on Sunday (my least busy day) where I look into my accounts to ensure that there are no fraudulent purchases. Then I look in my personal finance software to see what bills are coming up. I verify that they are still on automatic withdrawal and that everything is on point. It takes me about 10 to 15 minutes.

Picking a time to have a sit-down with your money can at least help you pay all the bills due that week. You can also pick a bill-paying day and get everything paid for the whole month. Then you only have to worry about it one time each month, and that can help stay on top of your bills without a great deal of stress.

5. Ask for new due dates.

As you track your spending habits, eventually you’ll notice that sometimes it just doesn’t work out with due dates. Your bill due dates may not mesh with when you have money coming in from your job. If you contact your service providers, you might be able to choose your own due dates. Choose dates that allow you to get money in the bank so it all works out.

Paying bills is never fun, but it’s part of what you have to do as a proper (or even not-so-proper) adult. With a little help, though, you can get it done on time.

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Are you really adulting? Or are you checking things off a list? Just because you’re doing what others say you “should” doesn’t mean you’re truly adulting.

Now that most of my friends are close to 30, I’ve seen some pretty big changes in their lives: weddings, babies, mortgages. Our lives mirror our parents now more than they do our younger cousins: fewer frat parties, more 401(k)s.

It’s easy to feel like an adult as you cross off those big milestones. But all those changes don’t make you an adult. Being an adult is how you handle and go through life, not about the steps you hit on your way there.

Getting married.

A few weeks ago, I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen in three years. We chatted over dinner and he said he couldn’t believe I was married. I told him that married life is not any different than living with my boyfriend, which we’d done for almost two years before tying the knot.

Successful marriage requires you to be more considerate and thoughtful of the decisions you make, but just being married doesn’t make you any more of an adult. I’ve seen so many people get married for the wrong reasons — even though they knew it was a bad idea.

Marriage doesn’t require any sort of special adulting hall pass. Walking down the aisle can seem like an adult decision, but the reality is that all you really need is $20 and a piece of paper.

Getting married does not make you good at relationships, it doesn’t make you more mature and it certainly doesn’t make you happier. It can give you a tax break and a whole lot of wedding gifts, but marriage is really something you do because it feels right, not because you’re at “that point” your life.

Buying a new car.

If you’re used to driving around in a used car or your mom’s hand-me-down, buying a new shiny car can feel like the most adult decision. But buying a new car is one of the worst ways to start off your adult financial life.

A new car loses its value as soon as you drive off the lot, and the monthly payments can impact your ability to save for retirement, an emergency fund, or something else you really want.

I know it can feel embarrassing to drive an old car after all your friends have upgraded. I still had my 1999 Toyota Avalon that while most of my friends were driving cars actually produced in this millennium.

But I didn’t want a new car. I wanted to pay off my student loans, save for an emergency fund, and travel the world. New car payments would have only made all these things impossible.

Adulting is about creating a life you want and you’re happy with, not one that’s based on other people’s decisions or what society says you should have.

Buying a house.

Buying a house is the ultimate purchase. Until you buy a home, you’ve been living somewhere that doesn’t belong to you. For most people, a home is the biggest asset — and a mortgage is the biggest monthly expense.

A mortgage is not just something adults “do.” It’s a huge financial decision that you shouldn’t take on if you’re not ready for it. Just because everyone around you is buying houses doesn’t mean you have to get one too.

Buying a home can change the landscape of your financial future. It impacts whether or not you can move somewhere else for a better job or if you can afford to work on the road. A home can be a great investment or it can cost you thousands of dollars.

Bottom line.

Nothing automatically makes you an adult. Being an adult is about taking care of your responsibilities while creating a life that has value to you. It’s about being a person you’d be proud to be friends with. Buying a house or car or getting married doesn’t make you an adult. What you do with it does.

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What’s the ROI on grad school?

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Someone with a graduate degree is more likely to have higher lifetime earnings than someone with a bachelor’s degree. The difference is even bigger when compared to someone who hasn’t been to college or who hasn’t graduated from high school. Even though grad school can be expensive, it might still be worth.

On the other hand, just because grad school is supposed to lead to a higher-paying career doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for you. Grad school can be expensive, and it’s not always necessary. General trends may not apply to your specific situation. You don’t need to follow a path just because someone else marks it out, and you can’t assume that grad school will automatically result in more money.

Before you decide to go to grad school, carefully consider your situation. You need to do the research and carefully consider the options before you determine what makes the most sense for you and your situation.

Concepts

  • What are some of the reasons that grad school is considered a natural progression?
  • Understanding the factors that make a grad degree “worth it.”
  • Reasons to go to grad school, and reasons to avoid it.
  • What role does the prestige of the school play in determining whether or not grad school is worth it?
  • Consider the cost of grad school, and your return on investment.
  • Ways that grad school can impact your life, from family and relationships to your time availability.
  • How to determine whether or not you are ready to tackle grad school.
  • Tips for be realistic as you explore the idea of grad school.

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Resources

Georgetown UniversityGeorgetown study on college
PayScaleGraduate degree salaries
CNBCLaw school ROI

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It feels really great to save money, so do that.

Some people think that being frugal is the same as being cheap.

It’s not.

Being frugal is a lifestyle. Being cheap is a quality.  Neither is better than the other; they’re just both very different.  Being cheap is also considered a negative quality when in reality it’s another way of being financially responsible.

Being frugal ≠ cheap.

The difference between the two is that being cheap means you probably won’t spend money on anything of extreme value and you won’t pay for high quality. You are most likely to buy the item at the lowest cost.  And that’s O.K.  Being frugal means you plan where to spend your money and you don’t mind spending on quality as long as you’re getting the best deal possible.

Being frugal may also have a negative tone because frugal people are often considered cheap.  That’s a big misconception and, like I said, neither one is bad.  In fact, if everyone in the world lived a little more frugally and let themselves be cheap once in a while we would all probably have more savings and less debt.

Frugal = self control.

No one says that counting pennies isn’t smart. Well maybe they do, but they’re wrong.  If you take the time to compare prices, shop around, and really think twice before spending money, you have incredible self-control. That’s never a bad thing.

Avoiding impulse purchases and overspending (even on necessities) is a smart way to live because it makes sure you live within your means. It also helps you stay away from using credit cards just to make ends meet every month.

It may take more effort to say no to your favorite cookies at the supermarket because you don’t really need them or skip buying those new shoes because they aren’t on sale, but your bank account with thank you for the savings.

Saving is a natural high.

Think about the last time you saved $1.00 on bananas or $100 on a hotel room. Didn’t you feel great?  I know I did.  Saving money, even $0.50, is a great feeling. It means your hard earned money is going to work for you instead of you working for it.  Think about how much extra cash you would have in your pocket each month if you stretched every dollar to its possible limit.

Saving money is natural high and the only way to get that buzz is to spend less than you earn and buy things at lower prices than you planned.  Living on a budget is great, but living below budget is even better.

Use apps to make a grocery list to avoid impulse purchases and sign up for mailing lists to get weekly flyers. Find the lowest prices on everything from milk to bedroom furniture.

Being frugal gives freedom.

When you save money on one thing you can spend that money somewhere else.  Paying less for everything in your life opens doors for new opportunities.  Maybe being frugal helps you take an overdue vacation. Perhaps your frugal choices give you the new roof your house desperately needs. Maybe frugality helps pay off your student loans faster to avoid interest charges.  Whatever the reason, living on less helps you do more.

If you need motivation to save more money and live more frugally, make a list (or dream board) of all the things you want to do in life.  Prioritize these items realistically and start saving towards your number one goal.  You may even want to open a separate bank account to watch your savings grow.  Remember that every dollar saved is another step towards your goal.

All thanks to being frugal.

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Don’t let your hatred of exercise get in the way of your health.

I hate exercise for the sake of exercise.

However, I know physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. So I suck it up and exercise anyway. But that doesn’t mean I always follow a prescribed method of exercise that involves going to the gym or moving to a workout video.

Do something fun.

The fact that I don’t like exercise doesn’t mean that I refuse physical activity. Quite the opposite. I love being active. I enjoy riding my bike and hiking. I prefer walking to driving. I love swimming and playing tennis. I recently started fencing with my son and learning how to use a punching bag.

Your exercise time doesn’t have to include a boring routine that you hate. It doesn’t feel like exercise when I’m in the pool or sparring with my son. It’s exhilarating and enjoyable. I get a workout, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Find something active that you enjoy and use that as your primary method of exercise. It’s easier to stay motivated when it’s something you like, and you’re more likely to stick with it.

Break it up.

Sometimes you need to work on different aspects of your physical fitness. Most of my preferred activities involve cardio, and not much in the way of strength training. This means I need to devote some of my exercise time to strength training, even though it’s not my favorite.

I find yoga soothing, so I usually start with that. Many of the poses promote strength training using your body weight. If I start the day with five to 10 minutes of yoga, I feel good mentally and it is good for my body.

Throughout the day, though, I look for other ways to boost my strength training. Maybe it’s a few reps with the hand weights or a set of squats. Because I belong to a gym for the pool access, there are days I just suck it up and work out with the weight machines for strength training. But I do it in broken up doses so I don’t end up stuck doing something I hate for what feels like FOREVER.

You can do the same. Break your exercise into 10-minute chunks. Even if you are doing something you hate, you are more likely to stick with a regimen if you don’t have to block it all out and devote a whole half hour at a time to it.

Do something else at the same time.

Distract your mind by engaging in another activity at the same time you exercise. After I broke my wrist, I couldn’t engage in many of my preferred activities. Instead, I had to walk on the treadmill for most of my cardio. I hate that.

To take my mind off that fact, I listened to podcasts or brought my Kindle so I could read. Having my mind engaged allowed me to exercise without really registering how much I hated it. Some days I even answered email while on the treadmill.

I have friends who use a stationary bike while watching TV. They are distracted by the TV, but still get the exercise in. Use this technique to trick yourself into moving forward with exercise — even if you don’t normally like exercise.

Find a buddy.

Working out with a friend can feel like fun, instead of a chore. I don’t usually workout with someone, but there was a time when I had a walking buddy. He and I had similar fitness goals and we met twice a week to walk the track at the university.

Your workout buddy can also help you turn exercise into a game. Look for ways to reward yourselves for improved performance. You can even compete with each other, as long as you keep it friendly.

Don’t let your hatred of exercise keep you from developing a healthy habit. Trick yourself into exercise and you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish — and how much better you feel.

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Do you have a true concept of what is “real” about money after college?

I had plenty of money in college. I was rolling in it. My parents had given me a credit card so I could charge anything I needed, like groceries, utility bills, oil changes, and more. They paid my rent and didn’t ask questions when I spent more than $250 a month on food.

I worked during college, too – sometimes two jobs at once. Those jobs helped me buy what I wanted (which was a lot). If you’ve ever been to a college town, you know that there’s a plethora of shopping options nearby. Within a five-minute walk, I could access boutiques, vintage shops, and record stores.

If I wanted food, I could get anything delivered. Even if I had a fridge full of groceries, I’d get pizza, pad thai, or fried chicken delivered to my house. In a given month, I’d spend more than $100 on eating out.

I never told myself “no.”

That is, until I graduated.

Welcome to the real world.

The summer following graduation, I had an unpaid internship and a part-time job. For the first time, money was tight. I was paying my own rent that summer and commuting an hour one way (this is back when gas was close to $4 a gallon).

Suddenly, I had to reign in my spending. I said no to going out and shopping. I read blogs about couponing, cooking cheap meals, and getting free stuff.

That summer was a wake-up call. I couldn’t keep spending the same way. When I finally got a full-time job and started being totally responsible for all my bills, I realized how important it was to budget. I was only making about $28,000 a year, and after bills and student loan payments, there was hardly anything left.

Even though my budget was cramped, I decided I wanted to pay off my student loans early. I started tracking every dollar religiously. I was now saving money with the same intensity that I had spent money in college.

I found freebies, coupons, and special deals. I shopped at Aldi — my favorite discount grocery store — and stocked up on the essentials. I avoided eating out and always brought my lunch to work, even when it was Chef Boyardee ravioli.

In 2012, I created my blog to chronicle my debt payoff progress. I wanted to see if I could actually pay off my debt in three years. I thought my blog could serve as inspiration to anyone else trying to do the same thing.

A year after I started my first job after graduation, I got a new job and a small pay raise. When my rent went down, I put the difference toward my loans. Any time my expenses decreased, I just added that money toward my debt.

When my then-boyfriend and I moved with another friend, my rent was cut in half. Again, I put the amount I was saving toward paying down my student loans. That year, half of my paycheck went toward my debt. In November 2014, I made my last student loan payment.

Friends and family members started asking how I paid off my loans so quickly. I directed them to my blog, where I had written about my debt payoff journey. But soon I decided that I wanted to create one simple place where people could go and learn how to pay off their own student loans.

That’s why I created the Student Loan Knockout: A 20-Day Journey to Debt Freedom, my self-paced online course where you can learn the steps I took to become debt free. There are action items for each module and basic steps you can follow. This is not a course for finance experts. It’s for people like you feeling overwhelmed by your student loans and wondering where to turn.

In the real world of money after college, you need to make tough choices and get serious about your budget. Even though the road to debt freedom was filled with sacrifice, being debt free feels sweeter than any shopping spree or take-out meal.

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