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Don’t overlook the value of your 401(k)

Are-investors-saving-for-retirement

We know how 401(k)’s work. Money is pulled out of your paycheck before it ever lands in your bank account and, if you’re lucky, your company matches your contribution up to a certain percent and the money grows tax deferred in the account until retirement.

The 401(k), for most people, has become the primary savings tool for creating a retirement nest egg. It is a great option, but many people still feel saving for retirement is difficult and hardly simple. According to our Wells Fargo middle class study released in October of this year (during National Save for Retirement week), more than two thirds of Americans said that “saving for Retirement is harder” than they anticipated.There’s good news:your 401(k) provides you with an an easy way to save; the hardest part is getting started and staying on-track amidst day-to-day financial priorities. And I get it, just because it’s available to you doesn’t mean it’s simple. But it can be; if you know the steps you should take, and see the difference it makes once you’ve started.

There’s more good news.

In our recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index, non-retired investors say that offering a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k), is the most important benefit their employer provides (61%), besides health insurance, beating out paid time off, life insurance and stock options.

What-do-investors-think

Why is this good news? Of those polled, more than six in 10 (69%) non-retired investors have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan, and 96% of those with access are actively contributing to their plan. That’s something to celebrate.And here’s more; we also learned that of non-retired investors:

  • 91% are currently saving
  • 86% percent say that their employer matches some part of their contributions, and 81% say this is “very important” in helping to save for retirement
  • 7 in 10 believe they could save more and the median additional amount they estimate they could save each month is $250.

So if you’re one of the many that has access to a 401(k), and you’re taking advantage of it, be proud. It’s one of the most important tools you have to help you reach your retirement goals. If you haven’t started saving yet, don’t worry; it’s never too late. Just commit to creating a plan to help you achieve your goals and then take small steps to achieve them.

Moral of the story: if you have a 401(k) available to you at work, take advantage of it. If you’re not sure you can afford to save more, discover how little changes to your spending, ones that are realistic to your budget, can have a big impact on how much you save for retirement.

Withdrawals are subject to ordinary income tax and may be subject to a federal 10% penalty if taken prior to age 59.

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5 tips to keep the cost of moving down

Moving is costly; there’s very little way around it. Here are 5 tips to keep the cost of moving down.

Moving is costly; there’s very little way around it. Here are 5 tips to keep the cost of moving down.

Moving is costly; there’s very little way around it. But it is at times necessary, and at other times worth the investment — when you’re downsizing, for example, or moving for a job that comes with a salary increase. Most experts say that when all is said and done, you should expect to pay about 10% of your current home’s sale price in relocation costs. Still, there are ways to keep those costs down. Here are five:

  1. Negotiate real estate agent commissions. In general, you’ll pay between 5% and 6% in agent fees when you sell a home. To lower that amount, meet with several agents and ask if they’re willing to negotiate. Some are more likely to lower their fee if your home is priced fairly high — because they’re making more money, anyway — or if you’re willing to price it really aggressively, which could result in a fast sale and less work on the agent’s part.
  2. Consider selling your home yourself. If you can’t get a agent to budge on commission, consider listing with a service like ForSaleByOwner.com , which allows you access to all-important MLS listings (which make your home searchable online). You’ll do all of the work, but the site will help you price the home and even find the paperwork you need to complete the sale. The service starts at around $80.
  3. Streamline your stuff. The less you move, the less it costs, so a relocation is a great opportunity to get rid of everything you don’t need, particularly if you’re moving to a smaller home and can’t fit it all anyway. Be honest with yourself about what you need to keep and what should be tossed or donated. Bonus: If you donate, you’ll be able to take a tax deduction on the fair market value of the items, money you can add to your moving budget.
  4. Time your move right. If you can, move mid-month, when movers aren’t as busy and are therefore more likely to cut you a deal. Prices are generally higher at the end and beginning of each month, when more people are shifting residences.
  5. DIY. No, it might not be worth carrying all those boxes and heavy pieces of furniture yourself. But anything you can do on your own will save you money. Even simply getting organized before the movers arrive will cut down on their time spent if you’re paying by the hour. But packing up yourself, instead of hiring movers to pack and transport your belongings, will cut costs significantly. You’ll save on packing materials this way as well — find boxes at local liquor or big box stores for free (ask friend who’ve moved recently if you can recycle theirs), and use cushy items you have to move anyway, like bed sheets and towels, instead of bubble wrap to pack fragile items.
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Less is more

I got a little cray-cray. I sent my husband on a dangerous Black Friday mission for Barbie Jeeps. I HAD TO HAVE THOSE JEEPS.

I got a little cray-cray. I sent my husband on a dangerous Black Friday mission for Barbie Jeeps. I HAD TO HAVE THOSE JEEPS.

Less is more, right? For the most part when we talk about money, we’re talking about being responsible: saving for retirement, planning college tuition for our kids (or hoping to be able to help them financially), or building a safety net should something happen to keep us from being able to make more money.

For some people, and I’ve been there myself, it’s about keeping the lights on, paying rent and hoping you’ll be able to stretch your money when it comes to buying groceries.

I’ve been that girl at the checkout, flushing with embarrassment when I had to count out change to pay for a package of chicken breasts or having to decide which items to put away.

In either scenario, our goal is usually the same: spend less, save more. In a culture filled with consumerism, sometimes, this feels impossible. I don’t think anyone sets out to keep up with “The Joneses” but nevertheless, it’s easy to get there.

You take your children to extravagant birthday parties and start to feel like the cake and backyard play date you’d planned for your own child isn’t enough. Your kid is going to be so disappointed if their party is super lame! Where’s Jr’s clown, bouncy house, cotton candy machine and elephant rides (I’m stretching a little bit here.) But before you know it, you’re spending more to keep your ankle biters from possibly being sad— and honestly, who can be sad when there’s cake?

We’re the guilty ones.

We’re the ones who make decisions on how to spend our money and what to spend it on.

I make an effort (sometimes feebly) not to give my kids everything they want, or even everything I could give them. Because I want them to know how it feels to want something so badly they have to work hard and save their money to buy it for themselves.

I want them to experience the satisfaction of achieving a goal.

And I need them to realize, from their own experience, that nothing in life is free.

Do I actually follow through with this philosophy? Not all the time. I’m a spender, remember? It takes serious restraint (and occasionally, my husband checking the bank statement, calling me and saying, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”) for me to hold back.

One year, at Christmas , I got a little cray-cray. I sent my husband on a dangerous Black Friday mission for Barbie Jeeps. When I say it was dangerous— blood was shed. Not his, but still. (BTW, the fight was over towels. I’m so serious.) Back to my greediness— I HAD TO HAVE THOSE JEEPS.

Had my kids asked for them? Nope.

Were they a good deal? Sure— if you need a few hundred dollars worth of Barbie Jeep. But we didn’t, the girls hadn’t even asked for them, for crying out loud!

The next morning, I saw the Jeeps and was filled with guilt and regret. And on top of that? They were too small, even for my toddler. I don’t know any infants with the motor skills to drive a vehicle, even if it is made of plastic. But apparently there’s a market for that, and somewhere in this country, there is a 9-month-old leaving skid marks somewhere other than her diaper.

I asked my husband to take the cars back. I’m fairly certain the only reason he didn’t ask for a divorce right then and there, is because he’s a saver and didn’t want to spend the money, anyway.

There’s nothing wrong with splurging and indulging. Only you can know when you’ve gone overboard and I’m certainly not throwin’ shade at anybody, but I think a message we all need to hear from time to time is this: less is more.

My family is striving for less stuff and more joy over the things we do have. We’re a work in progress— but I’m still getting that elephant for Sadie’s 6th birthday.

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5 tips for how to prepare to sell your house during a relocation

Getting ready to move involves so many items on a to-do list that you may not have even considered staging your home.  But the longer a home sits on the market, the less likely you are to get a full-price offer.

Getting ready to move involves so many items on a to-do list that you may not have even considered staging your home. But the longer a home sits on the market, the less likely you are to get a full-price offer.

When it comes time to put their homes on the market, many sellers these days are investing in a bit of home staging — a few new accessories or a fresh coat of (neutral) paint that help a house put its best foot forward. In a piece of recent research , business professors from the College of William & Mary, Johns Hopkins University and Old Dominion University did a little digging into the practice. Their results: Staging won’t get a buyer to pony up more cash, but it can help the home make a better first impression, which can lead to a faster sale.

Getting ready to move involves so many items on a to-do list that you may not have even considered staging your home. But the longer a home sits on the market, the less likely you are to get a full-price offer. That’s why real estate experts have come around to believing that staging is an important step to take before you list your house. But you don’t have to hire a professional to do it. Here’s, how to give your home a spit shine yourself:

Bump up the curb appeal. It’s what’s going to get buyers to slow down and give your property a second look. Keep the lawn mowed, the garden beds weeded, and touch-up the paint on your mailbox. Plant new bushes in front of your stoop if the old ones are looking at little scraggily, and if your house has a porch, show of its potential with a few Adirondack chairs. Repainting the front door can catch a potential buyer’s eye as well.

Understand where to invest. Each year, remodeling magazine publishes a report on the cost versus value of popular home improvements. I like to consult it to find out where I should spend my discretionary home maintenance dollars. To reiterate the importance of curb appeal, replacing your entry door with a new steel version tops their list — doing so could get a you 96% return on your investment. In general, little upgrades like this are going to give you the most bang for your buck. New garage doors are high on the list as well.

Get rid of clutter. Think of this as s a free way to give your home a new look. Buyers want to be able to visualize themselves in your home, and a cluster of your family photos on the mantel or a pile of your junk mail on the kitchen table takes away from the experience. Now is the time to sort through the mess and streamline. Get rid of or pack away the things you don’t need before you schedule any showings. (And here’s a tip: Go on Facebook and Google the name of your town and the word sale. Chances are there’s a makeshift ongoing yard sale or two that you can use to unload items that have value. I sold a set of patio furniture and my children’s old bedroom furniture this way – both in less than a day.)

Spruce up anything that looks dingy or broken. That means touching up baseboards and door frames, scrubbing your grout, shining your kitchen faucet (or replacing it if necessary) and painting any rooms that are in need of a fresh coat or are an out-of-the-box shade. I’ve watched House Hunters enough to know that despite real estate agents stressing that paint is an easy fix, buyers definitely notice it first and factor it into their buying decision.

Schedule a practice walk through. First with your agent, who knows what buyers want and can quickly point out clutter that should be hidden, closets that should be cleaned and light fixtures that should be replaced. Then, ask a few friends to come over and give you honest feedback regarding what they’d notice as a potential buyer.

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Is healthy aging the oxymoron of our generation?

Is healthy aging the oxymoron of our generation? September was Healthy Aging month , and I found it a good time to take stock of my health discipline. For those of you in denial that you are aging at all, let me harsh your buzz by saying – you are aging. But are you aging in a healthy or unhealthy way?

A study in Current Biology found clues around why females may outlive males in the animal kingdom. The study was with fruit flies – it seems their one month life is a good gauge for us. That study talked about mitochondrial DNA factors that cause men to age and die more rapidly than females. Most statistics show women are living longer than men by 7 years, and we need to make sure those seven years are good ones. We need to focus on how to age well.

In my situation, we have a household with three females, and we likely all will live into our 90s. Our daughter was born in 2003 so there is a chance she will see 2103 – the 22nd century! I believe living longer is a good thing if you are staying healthy, able to be active, able to enjoy life. There is an opportunity, and potential issue, for women related to greater longevity – we want that longevity to be a positive, not a negative.

My view of healthy aging is to live through mid-life without the need of significant drugs and surgeries that can compromise your system. Yet, staying healthy is easier said than done when we are taking care of kids, parents, work groups, nonprofits, etc. Being able to sleep enough, eat fresh foods, exercise and live moderately is an amazing challenge. I exercise each day, but I fail miserably at the other three. Just as savings discipline is critical, health discipline will be my next great area to conquer. So, is healthy aging a possibility or an oxymoron? How are you aging healthily?

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4 tips to see if downsizing your home is worth it

it’s not surprising that many people resist downsizing, because the stress of moving — everything from finding a new home to packing up to making a place for yourself in a new city or town — doesn’t seem worth it

it’s not surprising that many people resist downsizing, because the stress of moving — everything from finding a new home to packing up to making a place for yourself in a new city or town — doesn’t seem worth it

The older we get, the more likely we are to be set in our ways. And so it’s not surprising that many people resist downsizing, because the stress of moving — everything from finding a new home to packing up to making a place for yourself in a new city or town — doesn’t seem worth it. And in some cases, it’s probably not.

If you’re planning to move to an area and home that is every bit as expensive as the one you currently live in, you’re not going to save any cash and in fact, the process will end up costing you money when you factor in the expenses of relocation. But if you’re truly downsizing — in other words, trading in a more expensive home for one that cuts your monthly expenses significantly — the trouble of relocating will likely pay off. Sometimes big. So how do you know the difference?

Do the math. Downsizing can add cash to your wallet if you play your cards right — essentially, it releases savings that are tied up in your house, as long as you sell that home and buy or rent one that is less expensive. The difference, then, becomes your savings. You can do the math on your own, or use a calculator like the ones created by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Their Squared Away site can help you figure out how moving will impact your finances.

Consider all costs. It costs money to move – but how much? Figure about 10% of the sale price of your house, when all is said and done, according to the Boston College research. That includes a 5% broker fee for the sale, the costs to fix up your home to get it ready to sell, a little money to fix up the new home, and the cost of actually moving your things. On a $250,000 house, that’s $25,000.

Invest the difference. If you’re smart, you can not only shave your monthly expenses but actually earn an income from a move. The key is to put the money you’re not spending to work for you. Let’s take an example from the Squared Away site: Say you sell that $250,000 home. Subtract the aforementioned 10% for moving costs and you’ve got $225,000. Then let’s say you buy a home that costs $150,000 instead. You’ve got $75,000 to add to savings. Invest that and pull out 4% per year and you’ll have $3,000 extra a year.

Don’t delay. The sooner you make the move, the sooner the money you free up can start working for you. Plus, moving is more difficult as you age — you might continue to put it off, and adjusting to a new area will become harder. So once you’ve made the decision to make a change, jump on it.

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Are you a spender or a saver?

Take the quiz and find out if you're a spender or a saver!

Take the quiz and find out if you’re a spender or a saver!

Take the quiz and find out if you’re a spender or a saver!

On a trip to the grocery store you:

  1. Have a meal plan in your hand. You only get the items on your list and buy generic brands whenever you can.
  2. Go to the store with a loose idea of what you’ll make for dinner and get distracted by sale items.

Acorn squash?? You’ve always wanted to try that. You have no idea how to cook it or what exactly you’ll do with it, but you saw it on Iron Chef and it looked amazing!

You need a bar of soap, which is right by the makeup aisle so you take a little stroll. Whoa— there are two bottles of nail polish you must have. They are only $4 each, a bargain!

When you get home you realize you bought an acorn squash 3 weeks ago and it’s rotting in your produce drawer. That nail polish? Almost identical to two colors you already have.

When you go to dinner with friends, you:

  1. Check prices and try to stay within your weekly budget. You only allow yourself to order one cocktail because they’re $12 and you could buy a whole bottle of wine at Trader Joe’s with that money!
  2. Order whatever you want- you only live once! You earned this, you deserve it. Sure you did the same thing last weekend and have nothing in your fridge but it’s the weekend!

Who cares if the special is $40 and you’re not even sure that quail egg amuse bouche with a basil chiffonade and bison paupiette are even food items? Your server says they only have a few left and if you don’t hurry, you are going to miss out!

You’ll take that and another $15 appletini, please.

When watching television, you:

  1. Don’t even pay attention when 800-number ads promising 200% of free products. IF they are even watching TV– why pay exorbitant prices for cable when you can livestream content from so many great websites?
  2. Have possibly called a 1-800 number and ordered something because it’s “such a great deal!” Do you need 300 pieces of food storage containers? Do you have space for them in your cabinets? You don’t know and don’t care! You’re only paying for 50 pieces and the rest are FREE!!! That’s 250 food containers for zero dollars- what a steal! Laugh at the ridiculous quantities offered. Who in the world needs 300 of anything??

If you answered with 2′s— we should never, EVER go shopping together. Because, y’all— I’m a spender.

I get distracted in grocery stores, don’t look at prices as often as I should and buy nail polish even though I end up going to a nail salon to get my nails painted for $6– my five-year-old can paint nails better than I can.

I want to be a saver and if you do, here are a few tips that you may find helpful:

  • Never go to the grocery store hungry— everything looks delicious.
  • Make a meal plan once a week and a list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Google “meal plans,” there are a countless number of websites that offer meal plans for little to no charge— including a grocery list.

One of my favorite sites is The Fresh 20 . They offer weekly meal plans based on your diet. Gluten-free? Paleo? Vegetarian? No problem. There is a list of pantry staples and every week you’ll buy 20 fresh ingredients. They even save time by making meal prep simpler— cook two pounds of ground beef then divide it for two separate meals, etc.

  • Be accountable.

My husband is a saver so he is in charge of our weekly budget. We moved from me swiping my debit card at the grocery store to a cash system. I have $200 cash to buy groceries for the week. Knowing how much I can spend helps me stay focused and away from the makeup aisle. And if I have money left over at the end of the week, I might just get my nails done and order an extra cocktail at dinner.

If you don’t have a significant other, talk to a close friend about your finances and ask them to help you to think through purchases before spending freely. Just knowing someone else is aware of your spending may be enough for you to get focused.

Living within a budget isn’t as easy as it often sounds. But think how much better you’ll feel when you aren’t shoving 300 pieces of plastic containers into cabinets, drawers, the pantry, the laundry room, your son’s closet, the guest bathroom and underneath your bed!

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Should we spend money on experiences?

jean 11 24

Does spending money on experiences or things make more sense? Is there a correlation between money and happiness? There are things that we need, no doubt, to make our lives easier and more comfortable. There are things that we want and when we possess them, we truly enjoy them, and the money well spent. But sometimes our hard earned cash is better used when we spend money on experiences. Because, in our minds, we can relive them over and over again. So, it’s not always a question of choosing one or the other but instead a matter of spending money wisely. This is a perfect example of how to spend money.

What is the relationship between money and happiness? Well, let me first ask you, what was the first concert you ever went to? I’ll bet you don’t have to think very long – and neither do I. I went to see James Taylor play at a theater in Pittsburgh with my best friend Susan Rosenberg. Yes, I was one of those girls – and so was she – who at 14 or 15 knew every word to You’ve Got A Friend. This is why, I suppose, it meant so much to me when my husband surprised me with tickets to see James Taylor in a wonderful open-air theater. I’ve written before about how spending money on experiences trumps spending money on things but this one I lived. We pulled off New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway, parked our car amidst the tailgaters, and headed in. We grabbed a beer to share (they were 24 oz. – who drinks beers this big?), looked over the line-up of upcoming acts, and found our way to our row.

I don’t mean to brag and I don’t want tell you how to spend your money or for you to go on a spending spree and lose sight of your goals. But, our seats were so good that I shot a few pictures and tweeted them out from the audience, like the one above. What I didn’t do was ask my husband how much the tickets cost. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to know. Over the past few days I’ve shared with friends the line-up of songs, the feel of the crowd and the amazing number of stars. I’ve had Shower the People playing on a constant loop within my head. And I’ve thought a lot about my friend Susan, who passed away this year, and how much she would have loved being there with me – and vice versa. But even if they were as expensive as a trip to Broadway, they were worth it and it was truly money well spent. It’s like I always say, Money Rule #1: Personal finance is more personal than it is finance.

What are you experiences? What do you think?

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Women are making great strides

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades.

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades.

Despite the fact that many of us feel our progress in the workforce has been glacial, women have made great strides over the last several decades. Over the years that I’ve been working, I’ve personally seen many changes firsthand, and I see the pride that many women feel in their own professional accomplishments reflected in the latest Wells Fargo Affluent Women Retirement survey. It’s good to see that these women have a great sense of pride around earning money. A majority (93%) say they “enjoy making and accumulating money” and 94% say “I’ve worked hard to create my wealth.”

I remember a conversation with my husband when our children were young. I had just returned home from the office, exhausted and as usual, worrying that I wasn’t handling either work or family very well. He told me that while he had never discussed it with me before, my ability to provide for our family was a great relief to him. He knew that if anything happened to him, I would be able to care for myself and our children. I’ll never forget how that made me feel – I was a strong and equal partner in our relationship, and in our financial life.

For many women, however, this is not the case. This survey found that women are primarily in charge of the money decisions for the household, and about eight out of 10 manage the household budget, purchasing decisions and pay the bills. But while they are doing a lot of work in seeing where their hard-earned money goes, just 46 percent are taking primary responsibility for choosing and managing investment accounts. The good news is that the younger women surveyed, those in their 40s, are managing their investments more, at a rate of 56 percent. And hopefully they will continue that trend by being involved in the investment decisions which will greatly impact their lifestyle in retirement.

While there may be skepticism about the stock market, two-thirds of affluent women credit the stock market for their wealth. More than three-fourths feel the stock market is the best way to grow savings for the long term. They even get excited watching their assets grow through good investments rather than earning it and saving it. This is an encouraging shift that’s taking place.

Some other interesting findings from affluent working women:

  • 62 percent believe that women can “have it all” when it comes to balancing their career and family; however that is the goal for only 38 percent of them
  • 58 percent are struggling with work-life balance

Over my life, I have found that you constantly have to adjust your priorities as life comes at you. I had a manager who told me that in life you will have to juggle a lot of balls, and the important thing was not to drop the glass ones. There is sacrifice involved and that’s why you have to prioritize what matters most—at the time you may be struggling with work-life balance as many women are.

What does “having it all” mean to you? Is that your goal? How are some ways you deal with work-life balance?

Stocks offer long-term growth potential, but may fluctuate more and provide less current income than other investments. An investment in the stock market should be made with an understanding of the risks associated with common stocks, including market fluctuations.

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5 benefits of charitable giving

Here’s some good news: As a country, we’re very philanthropic — over 95% of households give to charity, at an average of nearly $3,000 annually, according to statistics from the National Philanthropic Trust.

That’s great news, not only for charities, but also for ourselves. Research shows that giving back — whether with money or your time — helps us simultaneously as it helps the causes we’re supporting. How? Let me count the ways:

Giving makes us happier, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. You’re likely to get more of a mood boost from giving money to others rather than spending it on yourself. As a bonus, the actual amount contributed doesn’t seem to matter, which means you can give as much as you can afford and still feel good about it. And although this research didn’t say so the research I conducted for my book The Ten Commandments of Financial Happiness did, giving time through volunteering provides an uptick in happiness as well.

It promotes gratitude. When you give to charity, or volunteer your time, it can highlight all of the good things going on in your own life. It gives you perspective and that shines a light on all that you should be grateful for. If you want to make the most of this, take the time every night to write down three good things that happened in your day. At the end of the week, go back and read them. You’ll start to notice a pattern of good things happening in your life and that will give you an even bigger gratitude boost.

It sparks a chain reaction, potentially causing others to up their generosity game. We’ve all heard of someone whose day has been brightened by a pay-it-forward effort — the driver in the car in front of you picks up the tab for your dinner at the drive in, or someone in line for coffee pays for the next person. These pay-it-forward sprees have gone unbroken for days, like the case of this Connecticut Starbucks that kept it up through over 1,000 customers. Generosity leads to more generosity, and that’s never a bad thing.

It keeps us healthy. According to the Cleveland Clinic , giving can lower blood pressure, decrease stress levels, help alleviate depression and increase self-esteem. I’d say much of that goes back to the happiness boost we get from giving — when we feel good mentally, we’re more likely to feel good physically.

It’s tax deductible. Okay, so this last one is a little self-serving. But if you itemize your taxes, giving to a tax-exempt charity can save you a bit of cash. You can deduct any cash donations, as well as money spent volunteering (but not the cost of your time). You can also deduct the fair market value of goods donated. Be sure to get a receipt for any property or money you donate.

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