How to Make Healthy Chocolate At Home

healthy-choc

If you're a sweet tooth you're going to love this super easy chocolate recipe you can whip up at home. All you'll need is 3 ingredients plus any toppings you might like to include.

The nutritional information is for half a bar of chocolate.

Healthy Chocolate at Home

  • Melt the coconut oil gently on a low heat if required. 

  • Mix cacao powder and agave nectar together with the coconut oil until a smooth paste is formed. 

  • Allow the mixture to cool and thicken slightly in the fridge before spreading evenly on a flat piece of baking paper.

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Healthy Eater
  • Once the mixture is spread thinly on the baking paper, you may choose to add some toppings. For example crushed nuts, goji berries, sea salt etc. 
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Healthy Eater
  • Place the baking paper in the freezer for around 30minutes to fully harden. 

  • Break the chocolate off the baking paper and enjoy! 

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Healthy Eater

Written by Claire Bladen for Healthy Eater and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Healthy Eater

Five Quick Healthy Recipes

Five Quick Healthy Recipes

Cook up delicious, memorable, fat loss-friendly meals in less time than it takes to read this article

We have a confession. We called the recipes in this article “15-Minute Feasts” because it sounds catchy. But most of these recipes don’t take 15 minutes to make… they actually take less than that. OK, if you lost one or both hands in a vending-machine accident so you’re cooking with hooks, you may need longer. But barring that, we’re talking an average of eight to ten minutes, start to finish. And they taste fantastic: creamy pasta, gravy-soaked beef, rich chicken stew, spicy buffalo chicken rolls. Oh, and did we mention that they’re all high in protein, fibre, good fats and other super healthy things too? Your days of being so tired you “have to” order in pizza are over. These meals will land on your plate a lot faster – and treat your body a lot better.

Buffalo Chicken Rolls

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Coach

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)

2tbsp coconut oil 4 big handfuls cooked rotisserie chicken, shredded 125ml barbecue or hot sauce 4 wholewheat rolls 115g blue cheese, crumbled 2 celery stalks, cut into 7-8cm pieces

To Make (Prep time 3 minutes, cook time 5-6 minutes)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once it’s melted, add the chicken and sauce and cook for three to four minutes until warmed through. Evenly divide chicken between rolls. Scatter blue cheese over the chicken and serve with celery.

Nutrition (per serving): 491 calories, 33g protein, 19g carbs, 31g fat

Italian Pork

Ingredients (Makes 2 servings)

1tsp coconut oil 4 pork cutlets, 70g each Salt and pepper 5 garlic cloves, crushed 400g frozen pepper-and-onion mix 400g canned whole peeled plum tomatoes 200g canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

To Make (Prep time 1 minute, cook time 5-7 minutes)

Heat the oil in a skillet. Season both sides of each pork cutlet with salt and pepper, place it in the skillet and brown each side evenly over high heat, about one minute per side. Remove the browned pork and set aside. Reduce the heat slightly and add the garlic to skillet. Cook until golden brown, about one minute. Add the onion-and-pepper mix, tomatoes and beans. Bring to a simmer. Once simmering, add the pork and cook until heated through, about four minutes. Once the pork is cooked, serve.

Nutrition (per serving): 454 calories, 49g protein, 50g carbs, 7g fat

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp With Pasta

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Coach

Ingredients (Makes 2 servings)

1tsp coconut oil 3tbsp garlic (use pre-chopped) Pinch of crushed chillies 300g organic courgette (about 2 medium), washed and cut into 1cm slices, then halved 450g shirataki noodles (or similar), rinsed, drained and cut into 7-12cm pieces 340g peeled and cooked prawns or shrimp 60ml fresh lemon juice Salt

To Make (Prep time 2 minutes, cook time 5 minutes)

Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring until it turns golden brown. Add the chilli flakes and courgette and cook until the courgette is soft, about two minutes. Add the noodles and shrimp and cook, stirring until any excess liquid has evaporated (about two minutes). Once all liquid has evaporated, add the lemon juice and turn off the heat. Season with salt to taste, and serve immediately.

Nutrition (per serving): 305 calories, 43g protein, 21g carbs, 6g fat

White Bean And Chicken-Sausage Stew

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Coach

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)

1tbsp coconut oil 4-6 cooked chicken sausages 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 400g canned cannellini beans, rinsed 400ml low-sodium organic chicken broth 400g canned chopped tomatoes Thick handful of kale leaves, torn into 5cm pieces Sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste

To Make (Prep time 4 minutes, cook time 7-11 minutes)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot or pan. Add the sausages and brown for two to three minutes. Add the garlic, beans, broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add the kale. Stir occasionally until the kale has wilted (two to three minutes). Add salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Nutrition (per serving): 252 calories, 20g protein, 25g carbs, 9g fat

Beef And Broccoli Stir-Fry

Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)

1tsp coconut oil 340g grass-fed beef tenderloin, sliced into strips Salt and pepper, to taste 400g broccoli florets 320g cooked rice 2½tbsp instant brown gravy mixed with 250ml cold water 6tbsp sugar-free, reduced-sodium teriyaki sauce

To Make (Prep time 2 minutes, cook time 6–8 minutes)

Heat half the oil in a skillet over high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper, then add half the meat to the skillet and brown evenly, stirring, for one minute. Remove the beef and set aside on a plate. Add the remaining oil and repeat the process with the remaining beef. Reduce the heat in the now empty pan, add broccoli and rice and cook for two to three minutes. Add the gravy and teriyaki sauce to the pan and simmer until thickened, stirring as needed (around one minute). Put the beef back in, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Nutrition (per serving): 672 calories, 60g protein, 56g carbs, 20g fat

These recipes first appeared in the US edition of Men’s Fitness

Written by Meghan Lehmann for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Coach

An Insider’s Guide to the Virginia Creeper Trail

Steam locomotives and railroads conjure up images of a mostly bygone era. What was once the heartbeat of the Industrial Revolution, has now been reborn and repackaged, ironically enough, as an environmentally sustainable green space for outdoor recreation. Around the 1970s many railroads were abandoned leaving an industrial scar on the land and a vacant resource in desperate need of a renaissance. Stepping in to fill that void, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was formed in 1986 and began to convert old railroad tracks into multi-use paths. It is in this storyline that the Virginia Creeper trail (VCT) was born.

Fall on the Creeper Trail.
Fall on the Creeper Trail.

JR P

The history of the VCT is as long and twisty as a railroad itself. Where the VCT lies today was once part of the Norfolk & Western Railway’s Abingdon Line. Starting in the 1800s, trains began transporting timber from old-growth forests located atop Whitetop Mountain to a lumber mill in Damascus, Virginia. The line earned the nickname of “The Virginia Creeper” due to the sluggish speed it travelled up and down the steep mountain grades. In fact, rail workers were able to walk beside the train and pick berries before hopping back on. By the late 1920s the local lumber industry had shut down, and for the next 50 years the line served as a passenger train helping to connect the isolated mountain towns in the region.

By the late 1970s, Abingdon dentist Dr. French Moore Jr. began to champion the idea of converting the defunct rail line into a trail. He met fierce opposition from some of his neighbors and locals in other towns along the line who feared the change that this new resource might bring. Moore persevered. With help from his state senator, Rick Boucher, and the backing of the National Park Service, he was able to see his vision come to fruition in 1987 when the entire 34.3-mile Virginia Creeper Trail was opened to the public.

Today the VCT is considered one of best rail trails in the eastern United States, regularly attracting thousands of visitors each year. That tourism traffic has turned the towns of Abingdon and Damascus into recreation hubs, providing a base of operations not just for the Creeper Trail but for Southwest Virginia’s other outdoor hidden gems. Areas like Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Grayson Highlands State Park, and Iron Mountain Trail are all easily accessible from these towns and offer plenty of options for a multi-day trip to the region.

The VCT is tucked into a sparsely populated corner of Virginia and runs from Abingdon to Whitetop Mountain on the Virginia/North Carolina border. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians share the crushed-limestone and hard-packed dirt trail. It’s extremely popular with families looking to have an all-day, or even overnight, bike trip. Kids will love the downhill, coasting friendly nature of the trail from Whitetop to Damascus. At times the trail parallels Whitetop Laurel Creek through a deep narrow gorge where there are both spectacular whitewater rapids and the occasional quiet swimming hole. At other times the trail crosses trestles, some of which are more than 500 feet high and afford insanely beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. White steeple churches and homes from an early era dot the landscape as you enter and exit towns.

A perfect day for a ride.
A perfect day for a ride.

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Another draw of the VCT is the availability of rental bikes and shuttles. How does a 17-mile downhill ride sound? Several outfitters will rent you the bikes and shuttle you to Whitetop Station where you can cruise back to Damascus, aided significantly by gravity. Or take the full 34-mile ride all the way back to Abingdon to experience the entire trail. In Abingdon the Virginia Creeper Trail Bike Shop will provide everything you need. In Damascus, you’ll find a half dozen outfitters providing shuttle services and bikes to help you enjoy the trail.

Hitting the trails.
Hitting the trails.

US Forest Service – Southern Region

As much as the VCT is a tour through nature, you are never too far away from amenities. Every 8 miles or so there is a restaurant and restrooms. Damascus and Abingdon are the two biggest towns and offer a wide range of options. Creeper Trail Café, Mojo’s Trailside Café and Coffeehouse, and Damascus Old Mill are located in Damascus. Old Alvarado Station is located halfway between Damascus and Abingdon. These are popular spots and cover all the bases for food and drinks. In addition to the bike outfitters in the region, Sundog Outfitters in Damascus and Highland Ski and Outdoor Center in Abingdon offer a wide assortment of backcountry goods for those taking to the trail.

Piggybacking on the popularity of the VCT, local fly fishing, rafting, and zipline outfitters have sprung up making the area even more vacation-worthy. If you are an avid mountain biker who seeks out backcountry adventure, you would be hard pressed to find a better area to ride. There are tons of gnarly ridgeline trails (Iron Mountain being the most popular, but only one of many) that are kept in great shape by motorbikes, but are just as fun on mountain bikes.

Boulderers will find a few gems along the VCT and a lifetime’s worth of projects in Grayson Highland State Park. Sport climbers and trad climbers will be amazed at the quality of the sandstone found at the recently re-opened Hidden Valley, near Abingdon.

Misty morning on the trail.
Misty morning on the trail.

JR P

The VCT is growing in popularity and every year more and more visitors discover what this region of Southwest Virginia has to offer. Folks like Lawrence “The Legend” Dye, who has spent the better part of 25 years advocating for the Virginia Creeper trail by riding it daily, logging nearly 200,000 miles on it. The trail has replaced the locomotive culture that once was the lifeline of the region. The famous steam locomotive photographer O. Winston Link chronicled the Norfolk and Western line, with his most famous photograph titled, “Maud Bows to the Virginia Creeper.” This photo documents the definitive end of the horse-drawn buggy era and showcases the new “steel horse” era. Coincidentally, I’d like to think if Link were still around today he would snap another photograph highlighting one of the many steam locomotive relics alongside the VCT, bowing to the human-powered transport found on the trail today.

Written by Joe DeGaetano for RootsRated in partnership with Abingdon and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

The Rise of Pop-Up Shops

The Rise of Pop-Up Shops

Physical stores are a sprouting trend for digitally native direct-to-consumer brands

Leading retailers of all industries and sizes are continuing to seek innovative ways to bring exceptional consumer experiences to their customers in the midst of ever-evolving market competition. For direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands native to online environments, the most recent trend has been branching out into the real world and giving physical locations a shot with pop-up shops. Pop-up stores are short-term, experiential locations that are often used to test the waters around establishing long-term physical retail stores.

The Benefits of Establishing Short-Term Physical Locations

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Business2Community

Many successful D2C brands are beginning to see the value in establishing a temporary physical presence, and it’s easy to see why. Transitioning from online to retail locations can help strengthen brands, build strong customer experiences, and improve retention and loyalty rates. Consumers love the convenience that they receive from D2C retailers online, but there’s something unique about being able to see, feel, touch, and experience a product and its brand in person.

Developing an omnichannel presence that includes physical locations is a savvy strategy; however, the world of physical retail is starkly different from that of online retail. As a result, many D2C companies are hesitant to commit without first testing the waters.

Temporary physical locations provide several benefits to D2C retailers who are considering establishing brick-and-mortar locations. For one, they provide them with the ability to see how customers will react to their products in person. They can also help influence key decisions on crafting the ideal in-store experience for future, permanent physical locations.

Understanding Audience’s Real-World Behavior

Establishing a pop-up presence takes thought and a great deal of planning, especially when it comes to selecting a location. While brands know their target consumers, they likely don’t have the data and insight into their consumers’ competitive shopping behaviors or other real-world visitation patterns. This is where the value of** location data comes into play.**

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Business2Community

By uncovering insights about customers’ real-world behavior, such as chains and categories they frequently visit, their length of stay, time of day they visit, and where they’re coming from, D2C retailers can begin to collect valuable information about customer’s preferences and patterns to analyze and use to develop future strategies.

Furthermore, many D2C companies who have established a strong online presence can use these temporary locations to spread awareness about their brand in the real world, which makes pop-up stores powerful brand activation tools. This is especially the case when the experience is exceptional — we are living in the social media age where experiences can be documented and shared extensively by customers and influencers. But in order to build that brand awareness, D2C’s should be looking into activating location-based targeting tactics to bring awareness to consumers when they are nearby stores, greatly increasing the likelihood of them stopping in.

From Clicks to Bricks – Who’s Popping Up?

Companies of all shapes and sizes are beginning to see the value in establishing temporary pop-up shops, from the Dollar Shave Club to Warby Parker. Handbag company Dagne Dover announced the opening of a pop-up shop in NYC’s chic SOHO area in June 2018 to see how much space they would need in the event they were to open up a permanent location.

Online bra manufacturer, ThirdLove, also opened up a concept store in the same area this past summer in an effort to meet the demands of customers looking to connect with the brand face-to-face. Even meal kit service company Blue Apron opened up a location for one month in New York City, where they provided customers with cooking classes and the ability to purchase “grab-and-go” products.

Outside of opening up their own stores, several brands are bringing the brand experience to already established chains such as Target and Walmart. Building relationships outside of an online environment is not a thing of the past, and the successful brands are recognizing the value.

“Consumers are looking for a lot more from brands now than ever before—you have to engage them at multiple touchpoints.” – Andrea Hippeau, principal at venture capital firm, Lerer Hippeau*

Hippeau’s firm won’t even consider funding D2C startups that don’t have a plan to move into offline retail operations.

A Location Strategy Can Serve As a Permanent Solution

The key to success in building a physical retail presence, whether temporary or permanent, lies in a solid location strategy. With the help of location data, companies can analyze foot traffic trends to compare the density patterns of various sites and make the most optimal choice. Location data can also be used to target consumers based on population demographics and identify the most ideal locations for temporary pop-up stores or permanent locations. It can further be leveraged to assess competing locations within a potential site’s area and used to craft forecasts for redirecting business from such competitors.

Direct-to-consumer companies are increasingly turning to the physical world to further strengthen their brands and provide exceptional real-life experiences for their customers. These companies are realizing the importance of establishing an omnichannel presence for their consumers and are beginning to tackle offline retail head-on. But will they be able to master the art of click-to-brick in the long run? Only time will tell.

Written by Liz Weinsten for Business2Community and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by JOSHUA COLEMAN

4 Uncommon Items You Can Donate To A Charitable Cause

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Besides clothes and books, here’s four uncommon items you wouldn’t think to donate.

As you tidy up your home and office, more than likely you will find items that are no longer of good use or “spark joy” for you. You’ve probably donated piles of clothes, books, or useless knick-knacks and appliances throughout the years. Often, most of those items’ value doesn’t even add up enough to qualify for a charitable donation deduction – or perhaps we’re just too lazy to add up the value of all those shoes and shirts. If you’re like me, I just take it to Goodwill and wave goodbye to those items.

However, there are 4 uncommon items you can donate that carry a greater fair market value that may be worth your while to keep the receipt and consider using for a charitable deduction:

1. Cars, boats, and airplanes (If you’re on this level, more power to you!).

2. Taxidermy property, which the IRS defines as “any work of art that is the reproduction or preservation of an animal, in whole or in part.” (very interesting!)

3. Patents and other intellectual property, including copyrights and trademarks.

4. Shares of stocks held in your investment account. (Yes! You can donate the shares instead of cash.)

Keep in mind that the IRS requires you to obtain a receipt from the qualified organization with a description of the property donated for any contribution above $250. Keep these receipts in a safe place so you don’t find yourself scrambling to collect them once it’s time to file.

THE BOTTOM LINE

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Capital Benchmark Partners

You may be too lazy to add up all the small goods you donate to charities like Goodwill because they don’t even amount enough to take a tax deduction. However, if you are donating larger ticket items such as stocks, cars, intellectual property, and taxidermy property, then it may be worth your while to keep a record of that donated property as it could be a considerable charitable tax deduction.

Written by Capital Benchmark Partners and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Capital Benchmark Partners

Do animals have legal rights?

Do animals have legal rights 01

Non-human rights is a term coined by animal welfare activist and lawyer Steven Wise, who has campaigned for three decades to achieve actual legal rights for members of species other than our own. His organization, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), is working “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project is using the legal system to establish a precedent for animal rights, first for chimpanzees and eventually for other animal species. Credit: Patrick Bouquet, FlickrCC

According to NhRP, nonhuman animals are still considered property in the eyes of the law. Even those animals that we know possess feelings, emotions and higher forms of intelligence—great apes, elephants, dolphins, whales—have no more legal standing than a shoe, a table or a car.

“These are complex animals who have deep emotions, understand each other’s minds, live in complicated societies, transmit culture, use sophisticated communication, solve difficult problems, and even mourn the loss of their loved ones,” reports the group. “Just like humans.”

“But they are still considered property, poached and taken from their natural habitat, separated and held against their will, subjected to cruel experimentation, exploited for entertainment, sold on the black market, used, abused and treated like objects for our amusement and financial gain,” says NhRP, adding that such experiences can scar animals for life. “Yet the law affords them no rights, allowing humans to do with them whatever we want.”

Wise and company would like to see animals who are confined for use in research or entertainment have the opportunity to live out their days in a wildlife sanctuary with a hospitable climate where they can enjoy “bodily liberty” to pursue their free will. NhRP is working to first establish a legal precedent that nonhumans can have legal rights in the U.S. judicial system. The organization filed its first cases in New York State in December 2013 representing four individual chimpanzees being used in research labs and for entertainment purposes, and hopes to expand its caseload to other nonhuman species in the near future.

In the meantime, NhRP is looking for the help of volunteer lawyers, scientists, mathematicians and predictive analysis professionals interested in lending their expertise to the fight for recognizing the legal rights of nonhumans.

“Over the coming years, we will be filing as many cases as we can afford, so contributions are very important, too,” reports the group. “We also need funds to help establish sanctuaries for the animals we’re working to free from captivity.”

Why should we care that animals have legal rights too? Steven Wise is fond of quoting Abraham Lincoln, who said: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free.” If we don’t want to live in a world where humans are enslaved, why should we tolerate similar treatment of our closest animal relatives and other sentient beings great and small? Whether or not the chimps he is fighting for ever get to a sanctuary, Steven Wise will forever go down in history as the Abraham Lincoln of the non-human rights movement.

Written by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss for EarthTalk and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Andre Mouton

Do You Need to See a Financial Therapist?

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Many of us could use the advice of a financial advisor when it comes to areas like investing, consolidating debt, and planning for retirement. Some of us need more than financial knowledge or advice that only addresses the number side of the equation though. We also need help addressing our emotional relationship with money. This task isn't as well-suited for a financial planner as it is for a financial therapist.

Financial therapy is a rather new field, as the Financial Therapy Association has only been around since 2010. The concept of therapy isn't new at all though. Just as someone might need a therapist's help to deal with thought patterns and emotions surrounding their relationships with family, spouses, or friends, we all have a very real relationship with money that might need similar attention.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, it might be time to see a financial therapist:

  • Do you feel frequently depressed or anxious about your finances or making financial decisions?
  • Do you think about what to do about your finances obsessively but fail to follow through with changes?
  • Have you tried to make positive changes like saving money, but keep failing or falling back into old habits?
  • Do you suspect you could be sabotaging your own goals?

Like any kind of therapy, financial therapy is designed to help you get to the place where you can help yourself. That means a financial therapist isn't going to give you advice about which stocks to pick or which budget plan will work best for you (although they might refer you to a financial expert who can help with that). Rather, the therapist will ask you questions that causes you to think about the situation differently.

A financial therapist might ask you to talk about your overall money goals, your past financial failings, or how your parents handle money (it's no secret that we get a lot of our money mindsets from our parents!). They might also ask you to do a word association test that revolves around money. By talking things out, it becomes easier to identify the negative emotional and mental underpinnings of your relationship with money and then move on to tackling them.

Like traditional therapists, financial therapists will recommend a variety of psychological techniques and practical steps to help you change your behaviors. For example, if you're struggling to save money, they might help you find motivation by focusing on how good you felt the last time you were successful at it. If you discover that spending money on yourself makes you feel guilty or anxious, they might help you set up a system that makes it feel safe to do so and reinforces it as a positive way to care for yourself.

If you think you might benefit from seeing a financial therapist, it will be hard to find a professional with that exact certification, although some universities are starting to offer programs of study in financial therapy. Most who title themselves as a financial therapist will have a combination of financial training and psychology or counseling degrees. The best place to look is through the online Financial Therapy Association's directory.

Whether we seek out financial therapy or choose to deal with our emotional and mental hang-ups around money in other ways, it's helpful for all of us to examine the impact of this relationship on our current habits, financial situation, and goals. What do you think will happen if you talk to a therapist about money? Do you think you will benefit from financial therapy?

Written by Jessica Sommerfield for MoneyNing and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by MoneyNing

4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Buying A Home

home

Gauge your financial and situational readiness before purchasing your first home.

The housing market has been hot, and we’ve seen a major uptick in inquiries about home ownership. The decision to buy a home should not be taken lightly. Owning a home is a long-term investment and time commitment.

Your readiness may depend on

(1) what stage of life you’re in,

(2) what you want to financially accomplish in the 2 to 3 years after you buy a new house,

(3) and other financial goals you want to simultaneously tackle.

Home ownership is not as simple as comparing what you currently pay in rent to what your monthly mortgage would be.

Those who rent and want to buy a home often say: “I feel like I am just throwing away money at rent and not owning anything at the end of the day.”

That is true. When you rent, the landlord is responsible for the maintenance expense. You’re just paying rent, and maybe renter’s insurance on top of it. That’s it. When you own a home, you’re not just paying the mortgage. There are property taxes, maintenance expenses, and home insurance. You may also encounter HOAs and PMI costs. As reported by CNBC, homeowners pay 33% to 93% more for housing each month than renters.

Want to buy a home? Answer these 4 questions first to determine your readiness for this type of large investment.

(1) If you had to move within the next 2 to 5 years for any reason, can you handle the costs, planning, and logistics of selling your home vs keeping it to rent it out? Do you even want to bother with these responsibilities?

Rather than owning a home, renting may be better for those who are in the beginning stages of developing their careers. Perhaps you live in Atlanta and you get a wonderful job offer in another state. It’s much easier to pack your bags and sign off on a lease than dealing with the logistics of selling your home or becoming a landlord.

(2) If you are buying a home with the intention of leasing it in the future, are you realistic about the responsibilities of being a landlord?

Is your house in an area where there’s a demand for renting, and will you be able to make a monthly profit? As a landlord, you are still responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the home as well as any expenses you may incur looking for a responsible tenant.

(3) Have you done your due diligence of understanding the housing market?

Home ownership is an investment. The value of your home will fluctuate throughout the years depending on how the economy performs. Also, your home is part of your net worth, so make sure it’s in a location that can sustain its value or has the potential to increase in value. Keep in mind interest rates as well!

(4) Besides having enough for your down payment, do you have enough money to meet the additional expenses that will arise during the home-buying process?

You will likely need to tap into your current cash reserves to pay for closing costs and upfront lender fees, on top of the down payment necessary. These additional expenses throughout the home-buying process catch many first-time home buyers of guard.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Buying a home can be an expensive process and is time-consuming. Owning a home can cost you more in the short term if you don’t perform thorough due diligence and evaluate all the expenses. More importantly, you need to have an honest assessment of your financial planning and determine whether you will have enough cash flow to meet the demands of home ownership in the long run.

Written by Capital Benchmark Partners and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Capital Benchmark Partners

How Secure Is Your Home Safe?

safe

“Safe” and “secure” are not synonymous—know how to secure your safe!

For many people, keeping a modest amount of cash at home for unexpected expenses provides them with peace of mind. If you are one of those people, keeping that cash safe and secure should be your foremost concern. Instead of hiding your cash in an unusual (TV set) or usual (sock drawer) location, consider storing it in a fire resistant and waterproof safe.

However, remember that safes are only secure when used properly. For example, a safe that is not secured to a wall or floor can be easily carried away by humans and flood waters.

We’ve compiled a list of common types of safes and locks to consider for at-home use:

1. Diversion safes that hide in plain sight.

Pro: Small and portable.

Con: Be wary of prying eyes when you open the safe.

2. Wall and floor safes are accessible without taking up space.

Pro: They are easily shielded, disguised, or hidden behind other household items.

Con: Installation can be time and labor intensive.

3. The traditional combination dial lock.

Pro: Immune to power outages and other electronic issues.

Con: Generally, the code is set prior to purchase and can’t be changed. If you did ever need to alter the code, you’d need to hire a locksmith or safe technician.

4. The electronic (digital) safe with a keypad.

Pro: Codes can be changed—important if you want to change your combination on a regular basis for security purposes.

Con: Don’t let the batteries die or you’ll be temporarily locked out of your safe.

5. The secure and reliable key only safe.

Pro: Low cost and low maintenance.

Con: Don’t let the keys fall into the wrong hands or you’ll easily compromise the security of your cash and other valuables.

While there is no foolproof way to completely protect your cash from theft or a natural disaster, having a safe can minimize your risk of loss. The type of safe or lock used to secure your valuables will depend on your specific needs and preferences, but any option will probably provide more security than your mattress.

And although it’s important to secure your cash, don’t have a safe that is “too secure,” meaning that no one, including yourself, can get into it. Make sure you always have the means to unlock the safe.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Security is a top priority for at-home safes and so is accessibility. Choose a safe style and lock type that fits your lifestyle to reduce your risk of loss. But don’t forget the unlock code or where you hid the key.

Written by Capital Benchmark Partners and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Capital Benchmark Partners

Have You Made Your Year-End Money Moves?

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Santa Claus isn’t the only one who should be making a list and checking it twice.

As we approach the holiday season and the end of yet another year, it can be tempting to put off financial decisions until next January.

Before you get caught up in the hectic year-end bustle, review your finances to determine whether you’re on track to meet the financial goals you set out to accomplish this year.

Here is a checklist to simplify your planning.

ESTIMATE YOUR 2019 TAX LIABILITY

Consult with your CPA or tax advisor to estimate how much you may owe for 2019. Review your last paystub to see how much you have paid so far year-to-date in taxes. Also, double-check every line item on your paystub to make sure your employer is withholding the correct amount and paying you correctly.

If you may owe more than anticipated, consider contributing more to your tax deferred retirement accounts to reduce your income tax liability.

BE MINDFUL OF ANNUAL RETIREMENT CONTRIBUTION LIMITS & DEADLINES

Roth IRA and Traditional IRA Contributions

Deadline: April 15, 2020.

Contribution limit: $6,000. If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000. Keep in mind that the total contribution to your Traditional and Roth IRAs combined cannot exceed $6,000.

Roth IRA Conversions

Deadline: December 31, 2019.

401(k) and 403(b) Contributions

Deadline: December 31, 2019.

Contribution limit: $19,000. If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $6,000.

SIMPLE IRA Contributions

Deadline: December 31, 2019.

Contribution limit: $13,000. If you are age 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $3,000.

SEP IRA Contributions

Deadline: April 15, 2020. Contributions for a given tax year can be made up to the final tax filing date, including extensions.

Contribution limit: Contributions are limited to the lesser of 25% compensation or $56,000.

CHECK YOUR ACCOUNT BALANCES

How much do you have saved so far in your emergency savings account, investment accounts, and retirement accounts? Is the balance where you want it to be or do you need to contribute more to meet your annual savings goal in each type of account?

DETERMINE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE SPENT SO FAR THIS YEAR

You can download a report from your checking and credit card accounts that summarize your total spending year-to-date. Is it within or over the budget you established for the year?

This should help you set a clear budget for your holiday spending. That includes gifts, holiday parties, holiday event and entertainment fees, etc.

Lastly, if travel is a large part of your annual budget, now is a great time to start planning and mapping out your travel for 2020. Many airlines and hotels offer deals and discounted packages from now until after the New Year.

THE BOTTOM LINE

It’s never too early to start planning for the new year ahead. It may seem comfortably far away, but time passes quickly.

Before you set out to do your holiday shopping this year, invest in yourself first.

Written by Capital Benchmark Partners and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

Featured image provided by Capital Benchmark Partners