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Best Online Bookkeeping Software for Small Businesses

If you tried hiring a bookkeeper before, then you know it can be expensive. You probably even considered DIYing it, but you know you can’t handle another task. You started your business so that you can do what you love, not all those administrative tasks. That’s why you need a bookkeeping software.

Bookkeeping software automatically tracks and categorizes your finances so you get a bite-sized view without the hassle of doing them yourself.

Here are some of the best bookkeeping software options that help small businesses focus on what’s important.

Best Online Bookkeeping Software: Bench

Bench helps entrepreneurs and small business owners through their cash-basis bookkeeping services. Founded in 2012, their software works on PC, Mac, and the iPhone app. You have the advantage of both software and dedicated bookkeepers working on your side with Bench.

Dedicated Bookkeepers

Working just like hired bookkeepers, Bench bookkeepers are in-house employees, so you don’t have to worry about your information being outsourced to someone overseas. Each bookkeeper at Bench goes through a rigorous background and criminal check, so rest assured that only trusted individuals have access to your books. They care about your business, want you to succeed, and work together as your virtual bookkeeping team.

Together, they work with an intuitive software to provide accurate, error-free books. For the first two months of your services, they’ll go over your books with you on the phone so you can better understand the process. These calls benefit both your team of bookkeepers and you because they get to better understand your business. 

Services

Your bookkeepers reconcile your accounts to catch any errors they may find, categorizes your transactions so you can see where you’re spending most of your money, and produces your financial statements which include an accurate income statement and balance sheet. If you make one-off transactions that your bookkeeping team can’t categorize, they’ll send you a quick message to ensure that your books are as accurate as possible. Your income statement and balance sheet (profit and loss) let you visualize how much you spend, have, and owe.

Bench connects with all major banks and leading paying platforms such as Square and Stripe. So, don’t worry about sending over your financial statements. Once you set it up, it’ll automatically sync every month. They understand that business gets tough so they won’t bother you every month for bank statements.

Timeframe

You can expect your books to be completed 15 business days after all financial documents are received. Once completed, your team will send you a message letting you know when you can review them. So, no more guessing about the status of your books.

If they see that your books aren’t adding up, they’ll make the necessary adjustments to ensure that they are tax-compliant. Additionally, if you’re behind on your books, no sweat. Bench helps you catch up on a year’s work in less than a month.

You get a Year-End Financial Package that takes all your financial information and has it ready for you and your accountant for tax season. You’ll have access to your income statement balance sheet, trial balance, journal entry summary, and general ledger.

Business taxes can be a tricky beast, which can make the process of choosing a tax provider overwhelming. Bench helps you tame it by connecting you with an expert that can help you file your taxes painlessly. If your CPA has any questions or needs to make a correction on your books, your bookkeeping team can work directly with them. It’ll save you the trouble of being the messenger. Also, everyone who needs to see your finances can log in to your account, making it easier for the job to get done.

Communication

The best online bookkeeping services will have multiple contact options. You can contact your team whenever you like via the Bench app and expect a reply within one business day. Real-time messaging lets you talk to your team and answer any questions that may be bugging you. 

Pricing

Bench services start at $135/month. But you can sign-up for a free trial to test it out. They understand that your business needs may change. If you ever need to transfer over to another software, you won’t be locked in with them. You can cancel at any time and take your books with you.

There are four pricing options that are based on monthly expenses: Micro, Boutique, Venture, Corporate. Each plan lets you customize pricing for multiple businesses, catch up on your books, and scalable plans to ensure that your business is getting the most out of their services.

Bench has your best interests in mind. While plans based on your monthly expenses may seem strange, it gives them a general understanding of how complex it’ll be to manage your books. Plus, it helps make their services more accessible to smaller businesses. 

Best Online Bookkeeping Close Second: Pilot

Pilot offers cash-basis and accrual bookkeeping services to startups and tech companies. It combines the strengths of both human and software to make sure your books are accurate and error-free. They’re a bookkeeping service that integrates a bookkeeping software that lets their team of bookkeepers use the software while you focus on your business.

Dedicated Bookkeepers

The best online bookkeeping service will have dedicated bookkeepers. Pilot is one of them. You’ll be working with the same in-house bookkeeper each month, so they’ll understand the ins-and-outs of your business. 

Services

Pilot integrates with the services you already use and automatically receives financial statements. You don’t have to worry about sending CSV files every month. They also do their bookkeeping with Quickbooks Online because most tax preps and other financial professionals know how to use the software.

Your bookkeeper works on profit and loss, balance sheet, cash flow statements, payroll, and balance sheet reconciliation. By the 15th of each month, you will receive a detailed report of your books. Once you receive your reports, your bookkeeper will also ask you any questions about the previous month financial statements.

When tax season comes, all your books will be in the Quickbooks Online software making it easy to use and access. Pilot also helps you during tax season by giving all the necessary information to a tax firm of your choice or recommending someone for you.

Communication

Support is included in the price. When you need to contact support, you’ll talk to, the person who is actually doing your books. Your bookkeeper will normally respond to your query in one business day.

Pricing

Pilot services start at $195/month. One thing to note is that when your business grows, the amount you’ll have to pay each month will grow as well. They don’t try to make you stay with them, even if you subscribed to their annual plan.

If you feel that you don’t need their services anymore, they’ll refund you for the remainder of the year. Since your books were done with Quickbooks Online you get immediate access to your books when you leave once you subscribe to Quickbooks.

Plans are based on your monthly expenses.

Best Online Bookkeeping Honorable Mention: RemoteBooksOnline

best online bookkeeping

RemoteBooksOnline is a bookkeeping and accounting service for small business owners.

Dedicated Bookkeepers

Bookkeepers at RemoteBooksOnline are certified in Quickbooks and work alongside the accountant leads to ensure that your bookkeeping is perfected.

Services

RemoteBooksOnline offers bookkeeping and accounting services. Your bookkeeper will track your financial records, invoices, and review your books weekly. They’ll enter and prepare your payroll for tax season and update year-end inventory and capital assets. They’ll also reconcile all bank and credit card accounts, create monthly profit and loss and balance sheet statements, update monthly inventory, sales, and other reports.

If you’re backed up on your books, then RemoteBooksOnline will have a year’s worth of books up-to-date in a week. Once your books are finished for the year, your lead accountant will go over them with you. If you’re happy with it and understand what’s going on, you’ll receive your Year End Financial Package for when you go file your taxes. Also, if your CPA has any questions about your books, then your lead accountant will talk to them directly.

Communication

Your lead accountant will be the person you contact with their bookkeeping questions. You’ll be able to contact them by phone or message. But if they’re not available and your question is pressing, then you can contact the support team for same day assistance as well.

You’ll hear from your lead accountant every quarter for a review meeting. During this meeting, you can discuss what’s going on in your business, financially.

Pricing

RemoteBooksOnline prices start at $95/month. Unlike the previous bookkeeping services, this one price by checking accounts. So, if you’re running one business checking account, you’ll pay the lower-tier plan. Most businesses, however, will fall into the intermediate plan which is between $130/month and $585/month.

Final Thoughts On the Best Online Bookkeeping

The best online bookkeeping service will be user-friendly and accessible. Bookkeeping doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task that leaves you frustrated. Our top choices here have plenty to offer aside from being innovative services. They can help you manage your finances without being overly complicated. Find the one that works for you and get started today.

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What Is The Best College Savings Option For My Child?

With the average 2017 college graduate having $39,000+ in student loans and the cost of college steadily increasing, parents cannot begin saving too soon for the college education of their children. As tuition costs continue to increase faster than inflation, simply saving for college with traditional savings accounts isn’t the best college savings option for many families. Instead, parents should consider a tax-advantage account that will increase in value simultaneously. Plus, the student or parent will (hopefully) not have a mountain of debt once they receive their diploma.

Below are a couple of different options to save for college. One or more options might be applicable to your situation.

529 College Savings Option

When the phrase “college savings option” is mentioned, the numbers 5-2-9 are probably the first thought to pop into many parents’ heads when planning for college. These savings accounts were first created in 1996. They allow parents to help their children squirrel away money for college without a tax bill.

529 accounts are funded with contributions. The earnings grow tax-free if the withdrawals are used for qualified college expenses such as tuition and fees, books, room and board, or other fees required to attend college. When applying for financial aid, the 529 plans are considered a parent’s asset. They will not penalize the child and their financial needs.

Investment Strategies With an 529 Fund

529 funds offer several different investments strategies. One option can be in individual investment funds. The other is investing with an age-based strategy that gradually shifts from more aggressive to more conservative investments as the withdrawal date approaches. The age-based investment strategy allows contributions to invest in riskier options when the child is still a newborn.

They have a better probability of producing higher yields than funds recommended for an 18-year-old high school senior that cannot afford for the savings plan to sharply drop in value two weeks before tuition is due. In other words, the parents of a 10-year old shouldn’t invest in an age-based portfolio intended for a toddler. The additional risk is not worth the potential reward.

How Much Do 529 College Plans Cost?

Most 529 plans do not charge any type of setup or maintenance fee but this can vary. As the contributions are invested in mutual funds, there might be a small operating fee to cover the trading and administrative functions. These same fees are charged to mutual funds also held in taxable brokerage accounts, 401Ks, and IRAs.

There are a couple different variations of 529 plans available. Most states offer their own college savings option. However, sometimes residents can join other state’s plans, even if their child will not attend a college in that state. For example, a Tennessee resident can invest in the Alaska 529 plan even if the child attends a college in Texas. If you are not pleased with the investment offerings or fees of your local state (or your state doesn’t offer a 529 plan), this is something to keep in mind. Just be sure that this is an option.

Some states also offer prepaid tuition plans. These plans are more restricting regarding eligibility and redemption rules. This is a good option if you are certain your child will be attending an in-state school. As nobody predicts college tuition to cease increasing significantly year-over-year, this is a good plan to consider. You can prepay $5,000 today for what might cost $10,000 in the future when your child finally attends college.

What If My Child Doesn’t Go To College?

The largest fear among parents with 529 plans is that their child does not attend college. It’s essentially like buying a car for their 16th birthday and they do not have a driver’s license. Thankfully, many 529 plans allow parents to transfer funds to other beneficiaries that will be attending college.

Unlike IRAs or 401Ks that have mandatory withdrawal dates, 529s can remain untouched for several years in case the child returns to college in the future. If college is nowhere on the radar, funds can also be withdrawn for a penalty. The penalties and transfer policies differ among the plans, so it pays to research the fine print.

Coverdell Education Savings Accounts

Originally called an Education IRA due to their investment flexibility, these savings accounts work similar to 529 savings plans but have stricter contribution limits and custodian rules. Education savings accounts are self-directed (unlike a 529 or 401k). This means the parent can invest in whatever stock or mutual fund they want to, not just the 13 or so choices that a state 529 or employer 401k plan offer.

Annual contributions are capped to $2,000 per child if parents make below $95,000 to $110,000 for single taxpayers and $190,000 to $220,000 for married taxpayers (similar to IRA contribution limits). Coverdell accounts are also federal tax-exempt. However, they are more subject to state income taxes than 529s.

These savings accounts (like 529s) also count the funds as the parents’ asset instead of the student’s asset, which can help with during the financial aid process. These types of savings accounts can also be used for K-12 education expenses, which can be helpful if the additional funds will not be needed for college.

A parent can withdraw funds that are not put to use for educational purposes for a penalty. Most plans also allow funds to “rollover” into a 529 account. Whether the child attends college or not, all contributions are irrevocable and belong to the child when they reach adulthood.

UGMA and UGTA Custodial Accounts

These two accounts are probably the worst option for dedicated savings accounts. They have the fewest tax deductions and the money belongs to the child when they reach the age of 18 or 21 (depending on when the plan determines the custodian account to terminate). They can spend the money for college or for anything else.

These accounts also consider all assets to be for the child. This can negatively impact applying and qualifying for additional financial aid when completing the FAFSA. One positive is that non-education withdrawals are not subject to the same penalties as 529 or Coverdell education savings accounts.

Roth IRA

Many people think that Roth IRAs are a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement. They are. But, one of the loopholes is the ability to withdraw contributions tax- and penalty-free for qualified educational expenses. The Roth IRA should have a history of at least five years. Additionally, the contribution limits are contingent to annual taxable income when funding the IRA.

You probably won’t be able to cover all the college expenses. However, this can also be a good hedge in case a child does not attend college. The funds can still be used for the original intent of being saved in a tax-advantaged retirement account. This unconventional “savings account” is a good secondary option to supplement a 529 or Coverdell account. It can also be a way for parents to contribute if their child is ready to attend college and participate in a college savings option.

Another “perk” saving with a ROTH IRA is that it is a better option because of tax savings and more lenient contribution limits. A ROTH IRA is self-directed. This allows parents to invest in stocks and funds that can pay higher yields than the options offered by a state 529 plan.

college savings option

Upromise

A final recommendation is also teaming up with Upromise that offers free college savings options and cash rewards for purchases through the Upromise shopping portal. These can be deposited into a Upromise GoalSaver savings account or 529 plan. The GoalSaver savings plan has a 10% match on all cash back rewards earned through the Upromise shopping portal (Upromise Rewards Account).

To qualify for the 10% bonus, the parent must maintain a minimum balance of $5,000. In addition to the match, Upromise also pays an annual $10 anniversary bonus. Additionally, they pay a $100 bonus on the third anniversary if the minimum deposit is maintained.

What College Savings Option Is The Best?

Every family will have different financial needs when it comes time to paying for college. The best and easiest college savings option is the 529 accounts because of the high contribution limits and the tax breaks. If a family has multiple children, it is likely that at least one child will attend college. Those funds can still be set up for use.

Just as investors recommend diversification, it’s not a bad idea to invest in two or three of the accounts mentioned above. Parents should definitely consider putting a certain portion of savings into a ROTH IRA that allows parents to self-direct investments. It is similar to a Coverdell account. However, the money is still the parents’ if the child does not go to college.

Signing up for a Upromise account is a good college savings option as well. It pays better than a traditional savings account. It has protections from stock market swings. Plus parents can earn Upromise rewards.

No matter how you save for college, it is never too early to start. Just like retirement, it pays to “save early and save often” as it will arrive sooner rather than later. Consider a college savings option to help.

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Best Cargo Box for a Cross Country Road Trip

From Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ to Chevy Chase’s ‘Vacation’, our culture has an enduring fascination with the travel journey. When I was six, my parents and I embarked on a six-week road trip from Kentucky to the Pacific and back, touching twenty states in the process. In the thirty years since that summer, I have boarded planes, trains, and automobiles with groups ranging upward to a dozen. Among the many lessons I learned the hard way, I discovered that no matter how nomadic you aspire to be, a large group of people brings a large amount of stuff. With a single vehicle carrying four or more, I strongly recommend stowing your gear top-side in a cargo box.

In that spirit, I’ve run down the best cargo box for a cross country road trip.

Best Cargo Box (Overall Winner): [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’18337b84-a40c-11e8-b5ab-f564e5b6dd7e’]

With the simple, appealing company slogan, ‘Take More Friends’, Yakima has built an empire of high-end gear transport. In 1979, two friends purchased a small machine shop in Yakima, Washington with the dream of filling a hole in the outdoor equipment industry – transport. By 1984, they were the official supplier of all bike racks for the 7-Eleven cycling team who brought home 9 gold medals from the summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

Spring-boarding from this international exposure, Yakima continued to expand, always keeping its focus on people and quality.  Their world class line of products includes our selection for best cargo box for a cross country road trip: the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’247a2efa-a40c-11e8-9e10-2d325f858641′].

Functionality

While the primary purpose of a car-top cargo box is simple, the execution is more complicated. A bit of simple math (80 mph x hundreds of miles x thousands of dollars-worth of gear) is enough to drive home the importance of making the right selection. First, let’s explore how the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’2e4e3443-a40c-11e8-a549-0de7a23a80ec’] qualifies as our pick for best cargo box in terms of functionality.

Capacity

Like most cartop carriers, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’38751539-a40c-11e8-bfc0-27d07108adc5′] comes in a range of sizes. For our review, I have detailed the specs of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox 18′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4f837c8c-a40c-11e8-9fe7-01b17b23ac6f’].

At 18 cubic feet, this is comparable to the ‘Extra Large’ carrier from other producers. Yakima advertises that the Skybox 18 holds the gear for up to 4 campers. With a max ski length of 215 cm (7 feet), the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’47f45e41-a40c-11e8-b787-015a19976f06′]specifically appeals to skiers.

Access/Ease of Use

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’59a1d190-a40c-11e8-b274-59e39411808b’] is capable of dual-side access, which is a big advantage for loading/unloading, especially in tight spaces or highway-side. Interior lid stiffeners enhance durability and increase the ease of opening and closing the box.

Vehicle Compatibility/Aerodynamics

The entire outdoor dimensions of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’63a9df9c-a40c-11e8-80ce-83dbea54ba25′] are 94” x 37” x 17”.  More importantly, the Skybox is adjustable to a minimum 24” and maximum 42” crossbar length. With a sleek carbonite lid, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6ca8e21c-a40c-11e8-9718-7d6b2004ae03′] is designed to cut down on wind resistance, and the tapered design decreases interference with a hatch-back vehicle.

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’74e61a97-a40c-11e8-a0fa-730232e78ea9′] requires a roof rack to attach to the vehicle and is compatible with a wide range of factory roof racks. I strongly suggest doing some research to ensure that the Skybox will fit with your vehicle. If you don’t have a roof rack, Yakima sells various compatible models.

Installation

Yakima advertises ‘tool free installation’ for the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7fe53298-a40c-11e8-8c85-015133bd3619′]. Simply open the box, release the levers, and loosen thumb-wheels. Then, place the box on top of your rack, slide the levers over the crossbars of the rack, tighten the thumb-wheels, and engage the levers.

All that said, the box is 52 pounds. Most people are going to need a buddy to get the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8a92a8c0-a40c-11e8-bd49-e91f710f6a7a’] in place for the first time.

Protection

When considering the best cargo box for a cross country road trip, the second major category we consider is protection. It’s no good properly storing all your valuable gear above your vehicle if weather or unwanted guests aren’t kept out. In this arena, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’94cd10cd-a40c-11e8-ad53-53eaaa69b260′] again outperforms its competitors.

Security

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9db94e22-a40c-11e8-84a6-cfb6d95fee31′] employs a SuperLatch™ security system. This patented mechanism securely attaches the lid to the base at several points. Also, note that the mechanisms to mount/release your Skybox from your vehicle are inside the box, so there is no way for an unauthorized individual to remove the Skybox.

The Skybox incorporates SKS (Same Key System) lockable cores. If you have multiple Yakima products, you can install identical cores, allowing you to utilize one key to access them all. The SKS cores do not release the key until the lock is properly engaged, preventing you from leaving the box unsecure or locking your keys inside.

Weatherproofing

As you would expect from our choice for best cargo box, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’aeec3ab1-a40c-11e8-b094-c799adfae713′] is completely waterproof. The box itself is constructed from 80% recycled carbonite, and the opening is lined with a tough gasket to seal the contents tightly. Yakima sells replacement seal strips if your gasket becomes damaged.

Appearance & Durability

Finally, let’s not forget that our choice for best cargo box will adorn your vehicle. It will be the first thing anyone notices when you pull into town. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’bdaffc6e-a40c-11e8-9c2a-c7bd0a652615′] is elegant and sleek. The textured, black carbonite compliments any vehicle color, and the aerodynamic shape is appealing to the eye. The same lid stiffeners that increase accessibility also add to the durability, prolonging the life of the Skybox.

Flaws But Not Deal Breakers

No product is perfect.  Let’s take a look at a couple of cases where the best cargo box misses the mark.

Dual-Side Access Makes It Difficult to Close

One of the major selling points of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cae2bca2-a40c-11e8-986e-332e1e7c2f9d’] can double as a detriment. The intricate hinges of the SuperLatch™ system allow access from both sides of the cargo box. However, some users complain that as they attempt to close one side, the Skybox pops open at the other side. A single operator may need to engage in some tedious side-switching to get the box closed.

Long Design Makes For a Tough Fit to Smaller Vehicles

Designed to appeal to the winter sports crowd, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox 18′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d48cf3cf-a40c-11e8-ad3c-8306706fd5ae’] is long enough for almost all ski lengths. This can make it a cumbersome fit for some smaller vehicles. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZL0′ text=’Yakima Skybox 16′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’dc4bd52a-a40c-11e8-87fa-73567c9dedcb’] is only 6’9”, compared to the Yakima Skybox 18’s 7’8”. Remember to always research the fit to your specific vehicle before buying a cargo box.

 

[amazon_link asins=’B00JQWHZII’ template=’Custom’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ text=” link_id=’58834f05-a4bb-11e8-83cd-cb86a9d5ed70′]

Best Cargo Box (Runner-Up): [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e60af2f1-a40c-11e8-958b-d742adefd59d’]

Founded by the Thulin family in 1942, the Swedish Thule Group is one of the largest and most well-respected producers of cargo carriers in the world. Thule’s motto ‘Bring Your Life’ encapsulates the company’s philosophy that everyone should be able to simply and safely transport their prized possessions to their destination. Like Yakima, Thule focuses almost exclusively on gear transport.

This attention to purpose makes their products top contenders for the best cargo box available today. Our pick for runner-up, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ed35352e-a40c-11e8-8c34-fb204bf5c223′], presents strongly in every category of consideration.

Functionality

To see why the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f6762256-a40c-11e8-8efd-35fd1ab78ff0′] qualifies for the runner-up best cargo box, let’s first look at how well it does what it is supposed to do.

Capacity

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fdb3ec96-a40c-11e8-a557-c9c734619527′]comes in a variety of sizes. For the sake of comparison, we will examine the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force XL’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’068e0221-a40d-11e8-b6a3-539103560f98′], which is 17 cubic feet. Although one cubic foot smaller than the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’12be6e34-a40d-11e8-9f38-6dc98747d1d0′], the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1980edca-a40d-11e8-931d-6dd49a7b3e39′] is still plenty large to carry the gear for four adventurers.

The max ski length is 198 cm, 17 cm shorter than the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’2b735986-a40d-11e8-963e-9f034c126cca’]. If you want something bigger, the Thule Force XXL is a whopping 21 cubic feet and holds skis of up to 220 cm.

Access/Ease of Use

Like the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’35107067-a40d-11e8-97ba-cb45f8cc726a’], the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3c2f1ac0-a40d-11e8-89f5-714a84d48719′] is dual-side opening. The built-in lift elements hold the lid open, allowing both hands to be free to access the gear.

Vehicle Compatibility/Aerodynamics

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’45c8d61a-a40d-11e8-be21-b33b5596f1b9′] requires a roof rack and is compatible with most factory models. Thule provides a ‘fit-chart’ for an easy reference. The shape is extremely aerodynamic.

The construction pushes air away from the box, increasing fuel efficiency and decreasing noise, whether or not the box is full. A diamond-textured aero-skin enhances durability and decreases wind-resistance.

Installation

Thule advertises a tool-free QuickGrip™ mounting system. Although it will certainly take both hands to lift the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’54191512-a40d-11e8-b69f-5b6463c89ad7′] onto your vehicle, from there it is a one-handed motion to finish the secure attachment to the roof rack.

Protection

Like our winner for best cargo box, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5c69fcb5-a40d-11e8-a1c4-3d9a45bda697′] has strong qualifications when it comes to security and weatherproofing.

Security

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’638c771a-a40d-11e8-8aeb-83c2667efafb’] has a patented SecureLock™ system on both sides of the carrier. An oversized, user-friendly locking mechanism is easy to operate, even while wearing gloves. The lock won’t release the key until it is securely fastened. Like the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7212934e-a40d-11e8-a2c7-0ff00c8b4649′], user access to the mounting system is within the compartment. This removes the risk that a thief can remove the entire cargo box with your gear inside.

Weatherproofing

Composed of five layers of ABS plastic, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7918d253-a40d-11e8-86d8-a9b7fae054a1′]’s aero-skin shell keeps contents safe from weather. A thick rubber seal completes the weatherproof construction.

Appearance & Durability

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’803c3714-a40d-11e8-9a66-17cb90a5bbee’] has a conservative, sophisticated style. Its deluxe features are largely concealed within the smooth exterior, which has operational and aesthetic value. Diamond-textured aero-skin completes the look and provides a high degree of durability.

Flaws But Not Deal Breakers

‘Weatherproof’ But Not ‘Waterproof’

Several reviewers note that the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’886f3677-a40d-11e8-8b52-e7a27e169f31′] tends to ‘gap’ at the front seal. This can allow air and potentially water into the interior of the box. Thule explains this as the difference between ‘Weatherproof’ and ‘Waterproof’. It’s up to you whether or not this is a satisfactory explanation.

Single Key Fits Multiple Units

Owners of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8df342ed-a40d-11e8-baf7-0dd3aa528c02′] have noted that their key works in the locks of other Thule products. While this may provide increased convenience, it is also a potential security risk.

Best Cargo Box (Best Soft-Sided): [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9515bd53-a40d-11e8-9d8f-85bc324f0de4′]

Hard-top cargo boxes are arguably the best option for car top cargo carriers. However, they have two significant potential drawbacks. They can be very expensive and can take up a lot of storage space when not in use. If you have a limited amount of either, a soft-sided cargo box can be a very attractive option.

Based out of wilderness-activity-Mecca Asheville, NC, Rightline is an automotive aftermarket equipment manufacturer. The company was founded a mere ten years ago by Loran Evans, the creator of Melon Bikes. Like Melon, Rightline emphasizes employee integrity, work ethic, and a holistic approach to manufacturing. The company considers input from both the employees and customers at multiple stages of the production. This value-driven methodology shows through in our pick for best soft-sided cargo box: the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9d264070-a40d-11e8-b76b-efe00fb1f0ee’].

Functionality

While the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a780b464-a40d-11e8-bc1c-9b10ac49f7e4′] and [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b01e35ef-a40d-11e8-a0ce-d1822b71e5d8′] have very similar functionality, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b7353e50-a40d-11e8-b3f1-578a5e8d9be3′] is a different type of product entirely. The soft-side construction provides definite advantages in some areas but falls short of the more defined structure in others. Let’s break these pros and cons down by category.

Capacity

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’bda0282e-a40d-11e8-8fd4-b33146026c58′] has 18 cubic feet of interior capacity, the same as the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c5fbe575-a40d-11e8-87e1-69706205571e’]. Unlike the Skybox, the dimensions are much closer to that of a cube: 48” L x 40” W x 19” H. This provides space for an increased amount of baggage but does not allow for skis, snowboards, or other long pieces of equipment.

The soft sides also allow a small degree of flex, where the hard sides of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d02cb101-a40d-11e8-b171-fbd300e90768′]and the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d9296973-a40d-11e8-b247-09035bd7a3ce’] do not.

Access/Ease of Use

Just as with the two hard-top contenders for best cargo box, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e1556423-a40d-11e8-bfbb-13c4b6ba104a’] can be accessed from both sides of the vehicle. The zipper extends around both long sides (left and right) and one short side (back) of the carrier. A disadvantage of the soft-sided cargo box is that, unless you flip it all the way forward the top/lid will not stay up while you are accessing your gear. This doesn’t provide any protection if it’s raining when you need to add or remove gear.

Vehicle Compatibility/Aerodynamics

Due to its short length and flexible construction, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’eaad5ca2-a40d-11e8-8153-15a7dfbcc5b7′] has almost universal vehicle compatibility. It is crucial to note that unlike the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f45a0377-a40d-11e8-986e-332e1e7c2f9d’] and [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fb2cfe17-a40d-11e8-a40d-f55e356df8db’], this soft-sided cartop carrier can function with or without a roof rack. This is a major advantage.  If you elect to install the cargo container directly on the car top, I suggest using some sort of protection against wear to the paint job. Rightline sells products to fit this need.

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’04ff55f6-a40e-11e8-bec0-27099766ae25′] is not as aerodynamic as its hard-top counterparts. Also, the aerodynamics continues to decrease if the compartment is not filled completely. Not only can this increase fuel consumption, it can be very noisy.

Installation

While it is a little more time-consuming, the installation of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0b80d504-a40e-11e8-9718-7d6b2004ae03′] is pretty straightforward and can be accomplished by a single person. Place the compartment on top of the vehicle and then attach the four mounting straps either to the roof rack or directly to the four door frames.

Protection

As you would expect, the protection afforded by the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’122daa1d-a40e-11e8-a572-d91100d4a1f1′] is different from that offered by the top two contenders for best cargo box.

Security

Inevitably the security provided by a soft-sided cartop carrier is less comprehensive than that of a hard-top cargo box. That said, Rightline has taken several steps to secure your valuables. The fabric is UV protected PVC Semi-Coated Mesh. This is a very tough, durable fabric that resists cutting. The reinforced zippers include a loop for utilizing a padlock to prevent intruders from unzipping the carrier.

Weatherproofing

Contrary to what you might expect, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1d492378-a40e-11e8-9f8a-2f6f754da676′] is not only ‘weatherproof’, it’s actually ‘waterproof’. The fabric, a UV protected PVC semi-coated mesh is waterproof. The stitching is welded to waterproof the seams.

Finally, the urethane coated ZipRight system prevents any water from entering at the zipper. Rightline has taken extensive steps to give this product top-of-the-line waterproof reliability.

Appearance & Durability

While appearance is largely subject, most people would say that the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’25f76e01-a40e-11e8-93d0-750c6663333c’] is functional, not stylish. However, the grey and black fabric with eye-catching Rightline wolf logo, do make for an attractive, if not slick, presentation.

The cargo carrier is made with premium materials and is highly durable. The UV protection keeps the fabric from fading in the sun, preserving the quality appearance through the seasons.

Flaws But Not Deal Breakers

Mounting Clips Difficult to Use Without a Roof Rack

Although a major potential advantage of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’309812f2-a40e-11e8-860f-05e6f5abfa2c’] is the ability to use it without a roof-top carrier, several reviewers mention difficulty mounting it securely. There is also the possibility that the mounting straps and clips will cause the seal on the car door to gap, exposing the interior of the vehicle to wind and precipitation.

Temperature Concerns With the Zippers and Seals

Sub-Freezing temperatures can begin to negatively impact the zippers and the seals that waterproof the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3cc3eb4f-a40e-11e8-ba64-973d218ffd4c’]. Temperature changes in combination with rubbing can cause a decrease in durability. This is an important word of caution for anyone traveling extensively at high elevations or upper latitudes.

All the Nitty Gritty

[amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’46584f6a-a40e-11e8-b9e6-3b2fef88c712′] [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4bf736fe-a40e-11e8-ac89-a935acf0f788′] [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’515f2f36-a40e-11e8-b319-37d3dc5c804a’]
Capacity 18 cubic feet 17 cubic feet 18 cubic feet
Weight 52 lbs 44 lbs 8.6 lbs
Dimensions 94″ x 37″ x 17″ 84″ x 34.5″ x 17″ 48″ x 40″ x 19″
Max Ski Length 215 cm 198 cm ——
Materials Carbonite Diamond-Textured Aero Skin PVC Semi-Coated Mesh
Box Opening Dual Side Dual Side ——
Needs Roof Rack Yes Yes No
Security Integrated SKS Lock System SecureLock None

The Bottom Line

Car-top carriers are excellent options for improving the quality of group travel by freeing up valuable interior real-estate for the comfort of your companions.

If you have the wallet and the storage for it, hard-sided carriers contend for the very best cargo box on the market. Both the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00JQWHZII’ text=’Yakima Skybox’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7050f019-a40e-11e8-ada4-fbd9f48876f7′] and the [amazon_textlink asin=’B009NN5Q2W’ text=’Thule Force’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’777dcad2-a40e-11e8-9945-23825d0449f7′] are excellent options in this arena. You really won’t go wrong with a purchase from these top producers.

If your situation doesn’t allow for something so lavish, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0012INT98′ text=’Rightline Gear Sport 3′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8ad87926-a40e-11e8-a469-bf02b5c7cf5f’] is the best soft-sided cargo box we considered. It will provide many of the same functions and will, most importantly, keep your gear safe and dry.

Before making an investment in a product that needs to work with other items you own (in this case your vehicle), take the time to carefully confirm compatibility. There are many online resources to give you the information you need to make an informed purchase.

Then, pack up, pick a point on the map, and go. Travel brings us all together in a way that remote communication cannot. Get out there and experience the world first-hand. See you at the next pit-stop!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I leave unattended items in my roof-top cargo carrier?

Depending on the type of cargo carrier you have, there are several security concerns. Cargo carrier keys may be interchangeable, allowing for the possibility that a stranger could use his or her key in your carrier. Obviously, cloth carriers can be cut. In short, items in the carrier will not be as secure as they are in your car.

The answer really comes down to your judgment. If you are in a low-crime area or will be gone a short period of time, you may be perfectly secure leaving your carrier full. If not, it may be better to take any valuables with you or store them in the car.

Q: Does adding a roof-top cargo carrier increase safety risks on the road?

This is an excellent question and one that doesn’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. First of all, always observe a few universal rules:

  • Don’t impede sight lines.
  • Only use the equipment as intended.
  • Don’t exceed the equipment’s advised weight/capacity limits.
  • Always secure the equipment using included/approved materials.

After that, consider certain physical differences in your vehicle such as a higher center of gravity and an increased overall weight (increasing stopping distances). A quick Google search for Safety Tips will reveal even more ways to increase your peace of mind when using a car top cargo box.

Want to increase your personal packing arsenal? Check out Rhonda Alamour’s article Best Luggage Sets for Travel of All Distances.

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Move Cross Country Cheaply and Prepared With These Tips

A move cross country is probably not on the top of a person’s “bucket list” to complete. Whether it is right around the corner or across the country, moving is a chore. It can be stressful, time-consuming, and expensive. The farther the haul, the more complex and pricier it gets.

Tips To Move Cross Country Cheaply

You need to dedicate funds for lodging, gas, and potentially hiring help to unload if you are moving to unfamiliar territory. You will probably also need to plan for any unexpected circumstances while driving cross country and startup rent fees for your new place. We know how stressful it can all be. We’ve come up with a few tips to help you prepare.

Best Time to Move Cross Country

Your schedule or circumstances might not allow you to dictate when you move, but it is normally cheaper to move during the week (instead of weekends or holidays) and during the non-summer months. Fewer people move during these times and there is less demand for trucks and trailers as a result. This can be especially helpful in saving money for your move cross country.

Planning The Move Cross Country

To maximize savings, you should start preparing for your move as soon as you have a good projection of when you will be moving. Your largest expenses will be transporting your goods from Point A to Point B. However, don’t forget to budget for gas, food, and lodging. If you decide to hire help to assist with loading or unloading, this can also eat into your wallet.

The first thing you should do is get price quotes to for renting a moving truck if you decide to move by yourself or by hiring a professional moving company. This can give you an idea of what you can afford and if you need to consider leaving some belongings behind to purchase the service you desire.

DIY Moving

The iconic image of moving cross country is renting a U-Haul with a car in tow and having the opportunity to look at America’s diverse scenery from green vegetation on the east coast to the dry desert in the southwest. Moving yourself is the cheapest option, especially if you do all the packing, loading, and unloading. There are services available that you can hire to exclusively help you load or unload the truck on moving days.

While U-Haul is the universal option for renting a truck, due to their number of rental locations, they might not be the cheapest truck rental company.

To rent the cheapest truck for your move, you should get price quotes from the following companies:

  • U-Haul
  • Enterprise
  • Penske
  • Budget
  • Ryder

If you have ever rented a car on vacation, you know that prices can vary significantly between the various rental agencies. It’s no different with moving companies. Depending on where you are moving from or moving to, some of the companies might not have nearby rental branches. You might only have one or two companies to choose from. Either way, you will not know if you are getting the best deal until you comparison shop.

Helping Out The Moving Company

This tidbit of advice probably will not help out much during the price quote phase, but, it’s not uncommon for rental companies to call people who are making cross-country moves to help move additional equipment. A week or two before your move, the company might call up asking if you can tow a trailer for part of the trek to another office and they will lower the cost of your bill accordingly. For example, if you are moving from Chicago to San Diego, you might be asked to move a storage unit from Nebraska to Nevada for $200.

This can make it cheaper to move, although you need to keep some things in mind before saying yes. Will the detour and additional weight cause you to drive slower than desired (i.e. more time on the road & possibly another night in the motel)? Or is the savings enough to offset the extra gas that will be burned?  Sometimes a “money-saving opportunity” might not be so good. If you can do it, it’s a win-win situation for you and the company.

Hire A Professional

If you have a lot of stuff or simply do not have the time or capability to move yourself, it is best to hire a professional. These people will load all your goods onto a semi-trailer and haul it where you want. Depending on your needs, you can also hire them to pack your goods.

Hiring a professional moving company costs a lot more than the DIY option, but it is very convenient. Who knows? By getting price quotes from full-service and rental companies, you might realize that hiring a professional might be comparable to moving on your own.

Some companies to consider are:

  • Allied
  • United
  • Graebel
  • Mayflower
  • Two Men & A Truck

This is just a partial list of companies that operate in most of the United States and specialize in cross country moves.  All the companies will provide you a price quote. By choosing a cross country mover, you have the same company pickup and deliver your goods. This not only saves you money, it can be a stress reliever simultaneously.

To save additional money, you can also check with your insurance company to see if they partner with any moving company.

To minimize stress when it comes time to unload your boxes at your new city, it is best to have a house or apartment already picked out so they can drive straight to your doorway. Sometimes this isn’t possible, and the moving company will keep your belongings in storage until you are ready to move-in. When items are stored, be aware that it’s not uncommon for some items to break or get lost in the warehouse due to the multiple handlings.

Other Ways To Save Money For Your Move Cross Country

Transporting your goods from your old house to your new house is the most expensive cost when making a move cross country, but there are some other “hidden” costs as well that can also be reduced or avoided.

Lodging

If you are making a cross-country move, chances are you will spend at least one night in a motel. One way to save money and time is to book reservations before you leave. This can be handy if you know how many hours or how far you are willing to drive each day and still have time to rest. It’s possible to save money by using hotel loyalty points, instead of paying cash.

Other options are to consider are apps such as Priceline, Hotwire, or Hotels.com that allow you to secure a reservation with the touch of your finger.

Boxes and Packaging Material

This is another small expense that can get expensive quickly. If you have an inkling that you will be moving, start collecting boxes and packaging material that you would use to protect fragile items. One good place to find sturdy boxes is at liquor stores. Those boxes are designed to ship glass bottles without breaking. You might not be able to find a wardrobe box but can get plenty of small and medium boxes.

You can also find boxes and other material advertised on Craigslist. As millions of people move each year, chances are you do not need to look too far for a person or business looking to get rid of their excess boxes for free or for next-to-nothing.

You can also use newspapers or the brown paper that comes in other packing boxes. With enough time, it is possible to collect enough boxes and paper for free that the only thing you will need to buy is tape.

Trimming Your Belongings

With each move, people have to prioritize what they really need to take and what needs to be left behind.  Some people are forced to make this choice when they realize all their belongings will not fit in the largest rental truck available and cannot rent a second truck to haul the excess. By knowing what you do not need, you might be able to move yourself compared to hiring a professional mover.

If you have the time, you can list your items on Craigslist or donate them to a thrift store for a tax deduction to at least earn some cash back. Don’t forget to pack up some tools to get you started.

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The Best Bread Pan for Baking Homemade Bread

Once you’ve measured, kneaded, proofed, and shaped your favorite homemade bread dough, how much does the pan you bake it in influence the final result? Quite a bit, actually! The color and texture of the finished loaf are dependent on the pan you use. That’s not all; once the bread is baked and sliced, your choice of bread pan affects the time it takes to clean up as well.

Who am I to recommend the best bread pan? I am an avid home baker and self-proclaimed cookware nerd. I’ve been making all of the bread (sweet and savory) my family of five can eat for nearly a decade. My start to this tasty hobby began through baking sandwich bread, and I’ve developed strong opinions about the best bread pans for homemade bread along the way.

After making hundreds of loaves of my own sandwich and sweet bread over the past ten years, I reach for my pick for the best bread pan (a [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fa0dba49-3674-11e8-9242-9395d528465b’]) every time, thanks to the fact that it bakes bread evenly without over browning and is incredibly easy to clean. To give you even more options, I have also narrowed down the myriad choices online and in the baking aisle to four of the best bread pans for both savory and sweet loaves. In this article, I will go over the pros and cons of our favorite bread pans.

Our top pick: [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’36edfd3f-3675-11e8-8ad6-7d3de4bd0853′]

This [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3eafebad-3675-11e8-bbaa-15d1d778e254′] is our number one choice for both savory and sweet breads because it bakes evenly without over browning and is incredibly easy to clean. I have never had a loaf stick in the pan after baking, including loaves that are notoriously difficult to remove like loaves with raisins or fruit in the dough.

Specs

The pan is made from heavy-gauge aluminized steel with a unique fluting to encourage the bread to release easily and prevent warping. If the professional-grade design looks familiar, it’s probably because USA Pan sells customized versions of its pans to many specialty baking stores around the country. Once I learned to recognize the signature fluting and design, I found it at high-end gourmet stores all over.

Although the non-stick coating is PTFE/PFOA free and dishwasher safe, I have never needed to use the dishwasher…or even an abrasive scrubber. A simple rinse with soap and water is all my pans ever need. The bread pan comes in multiple sizes, but I find the 1 lb. loaf pan to be just right for an everyday, multipurpose pan. This is the best bread pan for almost every situation I’ve come across in my years of regularly baking bread for my family of five.

 

[amazon_link asins=’B002UNMZOO’ template=’Custom’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ text=” link_id=’8fc278c0-36b4-11e8-ab07-89f19fd95d49′]

First Runner-Up: [amazon_textlink asin=’B00H5BQICG’ text=’Pyrex 1.5-Quart Clear Basics Glass Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f6b79586-3675-11e8-904d-bb04c913e92a’]

Glass pans distribute heat more evenly than metal pans do, which is one of the main advantages of the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00H5BQICG’ text=’Pyrex 1.5-Quart Clear Basics Glass Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’0b49b254-3676-11e8-81d3-6d23e7967ffb’]. Another nice feature is the ability to see the bottom of the loaf while it is still in the pan, helping you prevent any soggy or underdone loaf bottoms. When I was first starting out as a bread maker, I really appreciated being able to check if the bottom of my bread was done in my glass pan.

Specs

I find I have the best results when I reduce my cooking temperature slightly with glass pans to prevent the loaf from cooking too quickly on the outside, a byproduct of the better heat distribution. My bread crusts are softer as a result of the lower temperature. If you prefer a sandwich bread with a soft crust, try baking it in a glass pan. You will need to preheat the glass pan before adding your dough—a major obstacle with most yeast breads—if you are looking for a crispy crust.

The one major downside of baking in a glass pan is that loaves are prone to sticking unless you thoroughly grease the pan prior to baking. This is especially true of quick loaves of bread like banana and pumpkin, which was ultimately why we chose the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b23b8a16-3675-11e8-81f2-b1929da38b26′] as our top pick instead. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00H5BQICG’ text=’Pyrex 1.5-Quart Glass Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ec70bf0d-3677-11e8-b53b-a94db10faa0c’] stands up to scrubbing and is dishwasher safe, so you can wash off any stuck-on bits without worrying about scratching the pan or having it rust.

Second Runner-Up: [amazon_textlink asin=’B001K2058E’ text=’Wilton Perfect Results Large Non-Stick Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’310bfc50-3676-11e8-9278-75ea90f126db’]

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B001K2058E’ text=’Wilton Perfect Results Large Non-Stick Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’3b1df5dd-3676-11e8-abb7-dbe614e62f6e’] is a popular choice among bread bakers for good reason. Wilton is known for making quality products accessible to home bakers—both in price and availability. As long as the non-stick coating is intact, nothing will stick to the pan, making it incredibly easy to use and clean.

Specs

The dark non-stick coating leads to a darker crust, which can be a positive or negative factor depending on the type of bread you bake. Bread also cooks more quickly in this pan than in any other pan on our list because of the dark coating. Oversized handles on each end make it easy to grab without sticking a thumb into the side of your load, even with bulky oven mitts on. In the end, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B001K2058E’ text=’Wilton Perfect Results Large Non-Stick Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’58cb4f8e-3676-11e8-9b21-79ace8c3251f’] just missed the top of our list because it is significantly less convenient once the non-stick coating is scratched or damaged in any way.

My Wilton loaf pans were my go-to pans for over a year before one of the pans was scratched too much to use. Before the coating scratched off, it was the best bread pan in my kitchen. It fell just short of our pick for the best bread pan, however, because it was not nearly as durable as my [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan loaf pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4d86bf9b-3675-11e8-9278-75ea90f126db’].

Most of the scratches on my pan came from children trying to pry loaves out with butter knives, however, which may not be an issue at your house. As long as you care for your pans properly, or replace any worn pans promptly, you will love the ease of using and washing this truly non-stick pan.

Honorable Mention: [amazon_textlink asin=’B003OF9CY8′ text=’Mrs. Andersons Baking Silicone Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6f7d981c-3677-11e8-be2b-9d9ab81738c1′]

No list of loaf pans would be complete without mentioning a silicone option. Fans of silicone baking molds love them for how easy loaves of bread and cakes are to remove with a simple twist of the pan, even without any oil or spray. If you are looking for a non-stick pan without any non-stick coating, [amazon_textlink asin=’B003OF9CY8′ text=’Mrs. Andersons Baking Silicone Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7c0f5df8-3677-11e8-a2a4-cb611b633f41′] is our favorite.

Specs

Made from European-grade silicone, there are no fillers or plastics in the pan at all. While silicone baking molds do not hold their shape as well as glass and metal pans, [amazon_textlink asin=’B003OF9CY8′ text=’Mrs. Andersons Baking Silicone Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’856a8a6e-3677-11e8-959c-df8da65d6632′] has been reinforced for better longevity than most silicone pans on the market.

One disadvantage of baking bread in a silicone pan is that the bottom and sides will never brown as well as the top of the loaf because of the way heat is distributed along the silicone. Although we felt that knocked any silicone pan out of contention for our top pick, [amazon_textlink asin=’B003OF9CY8′ text=’Mrs. Andersons Baking Silicone Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’62388708-3677-11e8-9110-dd34fb30d904′] deserved honorable mention because of its superior ability to evenly bake and release quick bread loaves—which brown more evenly because of their high sugar content—and what it provides for any baker looking for a non-stick pan without any special coating.

For best results, place any silicone baking pan on a cookie sheet before filling. Some bakers even use [amazon_textlink asin=’B003OF9CY8′ text=’Mrs. Andersons Silicone Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a0b38dcd-3677-11e8-9d4e-1b1c6c9adf91′] as a non-stick liner with other bread pans.

Why Homemade Bread?

There are two main reasons I have enjoyed making my own bread for so many years: I can control what goes into each loaf and baking my family’s bread saves us money.

Homemade bread gives you better control over ingredients.

Making your own bread allows you to decide what ingredients go in your bread. The basics of yeast bread are the same no matter what variation you make. Once you master basic sandwich bread, you can easily try your hand at three-cheese bread, raisin cinnamon bread, and more.

Our family favorite is a walnut and sunflower seed whole wheat bread that we’ve never seen in stores. The same is true of quick loaves of bread; banana nut bread is not any harder to make than pumpkin, zucchini, or poppyseed bread. You will be surprised how easy it is to create your own variations once you learn the basic technique.

Do you have any dietary restrictions? Is anyone in your family gluten or dairy-free? If so, baking your own bread is often easier than carefully reading ingredient labels as you try to find your favorite loaves of bread at the store. By baking at home, you can make variations of all your favorite loaves of bread that everyone can eat. Choosing the best bread pan for the job is a major part of learning how to bake bread at home.

Baking homemade bread saves money.

In an earlier article, we told you the secrets to cutting your monthly food bill (according to the internet). The number one way to save money on food each month was to cook at home, and baking your own bread can be a part of that. Once you settle on a favorite recipe, you can easily purchase ingredients in bulk for a fraction of the cost of storebought bread.

It does take more time to make bread than to buy it at the store, but the difference in flavor and the quality of ingredients more than makes up that difference, especially because bread freezes so well. I make two loaves of bread almost every weekend: my family and I eat one loaf fresh over the next few days and I freeze the second loaf, pre-sliced, for quick toast and sandwiches later in the week.

While the actual cost per loaf will vary depending on the recipe you use and where you buy your ingredients, we’ve broken down the cost of homemade vs. storebought bread for comparison, assuming a basic whole wheat bread recipe and a loaf of standard whole wheat sandwich bread costing $2.98 per 1-lb. loaf.

The Cost of Homemade Bread vs. Storebought Bread

Storebought bread: $2.98
Per slice: $0.17

4 c. whole wheat flour: $0.88
1/2 tsp. instant yeast: $0.14
1/2 tsp. salt: $0.03
1/4 c. granulated sugar: $0.10
1/4 c. oil: $0.13
Homemade bread: $1.28
Per slice: $0.09

Even factoring in a smaller loaf size (15 slices) for homemade bread than storebought bread (18 slices), homemade bread is still a savings of over a dollar per loaf for a basic loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread! Baking your own specialty and artisan bread will save you even more money since many rustic loaves run upwards of $5.00/loaf at the supermarket. Baking bread not only saves you money compared to purchasing a loaf from the store, but the bread tastes better! There is nothing quite so delicious as a hot slice of fresh bread with butter and honey.

What to Look for in the Best Bread Pan

There are four main factors to consider when shopping for a new bread pan: How evenly does the bread bake? Will your bread loaf stick to the pan? How easy is it to clean the loaf pan? What is the bread pan made of? Any of the pans on our list will outperform disposable bread pans in all four areas, but let’s take a closer look at each to help you determine the best bread pan for your kitchen.

How evenly does the bread bake?

Ultimately, a bread pan that fails to produce an evenly-baked loaf will never see the light of your kitchen. I had a beautiful, decorative bread pan that I held on to for many years (and through multiple moves!) but rarely used because I was always unhappy with the results. When you are searching for a pan that leads to an even bake, start by testing weight. In general, heavier pans will distribute the heat more evenly.

Loaves baked in dark metal pans will brown faster than loaves baked in other pans, while loaves baked in glass or silicone will brown less on the bottom and sides. For yeast loaves of bread, I prefer a sturdier crust; when it comes to quick loaves of bread, I like the softer crust of a glass or silicone pan.

Will your bread loaf stick to the pan?

Loaf pans with the non-stick coating are the absolute best when it comes to removing bread without leaving any behind on the sides of the pan. The downside to coated pans is that the coating eventually scratches off or deteriorates with heavy use. That said, the coating on my favorite pan, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’5dc512a0-3675-11e8-9fa5-cf4964d72d16′], has held up to many years of regular use: I bake bread in my pan at least once a week and have washed it by hand and in the dishwasher both without any reduction in its non-stick quality.

Stainless steel and glass loaf pans require greasing before each use, but they have the potential to outlive non-stick pans. Silicone baking molds provide the same non-stick ability without greasing the pan, but they do lose their shape over time.

How easy is it to clean the loaf pan?

Both the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’686ce327-3675-11e8-86df-63e0d7e5172c’] and Wilton loaf pans wash up quickly with just soap and hot water, although the former is also safe to clean in the dishwasher. If you are shopping for a pan without non-stick coating, look for something that can stand up to scrubbing for times when you need to use a little elbow grease to get it clean. Glass pans are my top choice for durability because they can withstand scrubbing with even abrasive chemicals and metal utensils.

What is the bread pan made of?

In the end, most bakers have a favorite material when it comes to bakeware. If that is true for you, find a loaf pan to match. I have recently started replacing my own muffin tins and cake pans with USA-brand pans because of how much I love the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6edef8d0-3675-11e8-aec1-55e27a81e813′].

If you still aren’t sure which material to choose, start by figuring out what traits matter to you most. Is durability your primary concern? If so, then the Pyrex 1.5-Quart Clear Basics Glass Loaf Pan or a simple stainless steel pan are probably your best bets. Do you need a pan that releases even the stickiest loaf every time? The Wilton Perfect Results Large Non-Stick Pan and [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’75b1577b-3675-11e8-8daa-494ec3168209′] is equally fantastic, although I favor the latter slightly because the coating is much more durable. If you are hesitant to use a non-stick pan for whatever reason, you may prefer a ceramic or silicone pan. While Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Silicone Loaf Pan is not perfect for every recipe, it does offer superior loaf release without any chemical coating or added oil.

Non-Stick Coating

A note on non-stick coating: Many home chefs are concerned that their non-stick coatings may contain dangerous materials. Ongoing research is underway about many of the chemicals used in non-stick coatings. At the time of this writing, the primary concern is for skillets and pans that are heated to 500°F.

Most bread is baked at 350°-425°F, so your bread pans should never be exposed to dangerous levels of heat. If you are still worried about what makes up the coating of your non-stick pan, carefully read the product description before purchasing or select another type of pan.

The Best Bread Pan for Everyday Use

Loaf pans are often inexpensive enough that you can purchase more than one model if you want to do your own at-home trial. In the end, however, there is only one pan I reach for each time I bake yeast or sweetbreads and give as gifts to all the graduates in my life getting ready to leave home (with a copy of my favorite bread recipe, of course). The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan Bakeware 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’7fad0935-3675-11e8-8867-b54702c0b0e0′] is our top choice because it performs well in each of the four factors I used to evaluate bread pans for both yeast breads and sweet quick breads.

If you are looking for the best bread fan for everyday use, I am confident you will love the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0029JQEIC’ text=’USA Pan 1 lb. Loaf Pan’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’885670fe-3675-11e8-9968-31d49a9c1cd6′] as much as I do.

FAQs About Baking Homemade Bread:

Q: Where do I find bread recipes?

A. You can find great bread recipes online, in most cookbooks, and even on the back of many flour bags. My favorite way to get bread recipes is to ask friends and family for recommendations; many people have a favorite family recipe they are happy to share.

Q: Doesn’t making bread at home take too much time?

A. It does take a few hours to bake bread from start to finish, but there are quite a few ways you can reduce the time commitment. One way is to make a no-knead or overnight bread recipe that requires very little active preparation time. Another way to save on the time commitment is to make a larger batch of bread. Two loaves (or even four loaves) take the same amount of time to make as a single loaf, as long as you have enough pans and oven space. Like I mentioned earlier in the article, most bread freezes beautifully.

Q: How do I go about freezing my homemade bread?

A. If you find yourself with more fresh bread than you can eat in a day or two, freezing the rest is a great option. I prefer to slice my sandwich bread before freezing to make it even easier to use for breakfast and lunches during a busy week.

Once the bread is completely cool, slice up your loaf and wrap it in plastic wrap or a zip-top freezer bag before freezing. When freezing sweet bread, simply wrap the entire loaf in plastic wrap and freeze whole. Although it is possible to freeze individual slices of quick loaves of bread, the loaf retains its moisture better if you freeze it whole.

Q: What about thawing my frozen bread?

A. One reason I prefer to slice my homemade sandwich bread before freezing is because it makes thawing the bread so convenient. Remove the slices you need from the freezer and thaw at room temperature for around 20 minutes. For an even higher-quality result, warm the bread slightly in an oven preheated to 350° before serving. For quick loaves of bread, thaw the entire loaf in the fridge overnight or on the counter for an hour.

Q: How should I store homemade bread?

A. Homemade sandwich bread will maintain the best texture if you store it in a plastic bread bag once the loaf is completely cool. A bag leftover from a storebought loaf will work, or you can purchase specialty bread bags online. Quick bread should be wrapped tightly in plastic or stored in a plastic bag. Crusty, artisan bread should not be kept in plastic, however, as it will prevent the bread from keeping its signature crackly crust. To maintain a crisp crust, store rustic bread in a paper bag instead.

Q: How can I be sure my non-stick bread pan is safe?

A. Look for a pan that does not contain PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is a suspected carcinogen, and avoid using any non-stick pan at heats about 500° F. Fortunately, no bread recipes I have ever used—even when baking crusty loaves like baguettes—have called for temperatures above 500°. If you are still concerned about what might be in the non-stick coating of your bread pan, opt for a glass or 100% silicone pan instead.

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The Best Home Coffee Roaster

Have you found yourself looking for a home coffee roaster? Maybe it began with an overwhelming desire to recreate that perfect coffee house aroma. Or, maybe you’ve become frustrated with the cost of really good coffee. No matter the reason, I’m happy to welcome you to the wonderful world of coffee snobbery. After having spent over 6,000 hours roasting, brewing, crafting and generally obsessing over all things coffee, I myself am proud to be called a coffee snob.

No matter how you got here, it’s time to decide which coffee roaster is right for you. Just like beer enthusiasts can turn to this WalletPath article for Today’s Best Kegerators, I aim to give you all the knowledge you need to make the best decision for your expertise and needs.

The Top Home Coffee Roasters For The Perfect Roast

The Best Coffee Roaster Machine: [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’The Behmor 5400 1600 Plus’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e4db61ff-1bea-11e8-a4d0-f5c289f8c17b’]

The difference between pre-ground staleness and custom roasted goodness is the difference between driving a Pinto and a Porsche. There is no comparison. Roasting coffee can be as simple as throwing beans in a skillet and seeing where you land. Or it can be as complicated as pouring a carefully measured dose into a gas powered drum coffee roaster and lovingly babying the beans into perfection. 

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’22df6425-1beb-11e8-8233-4b801ec2be09′] does a little of both. It provides the traditional drum roasting experience of a commercial coffee house roaster, without the hassle of using a gas source. Buttons galore on the front keypad may overwhelm you at first. But hang in there – the machine is a lot less complicated than you may think.

Basic Operation

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’9e185778-1beb-11e8-b03d-170c3f8843bb’] is an electric coffee roaster, so operation begins with a simple plug-in. Open the door, add your beans, push some buttons, and you’re on your way to roasted bean perfection. Unlike many drum roasters, [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f59ebcbd-1bed-11e8-a946-c9e2716a7cd2′] factors in preheat time, so you don’t need to stand and wait around before adding the beans.

However, you will still have to stand and wait for the beans to roast. Like all coffee roasting machines, [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c149e544-1beb-11e8-80e6-4d6912d38c7c’] does not like you leaving the machine unattended. To help prevent that, they’ve programmed in a couple of “hey are you still there” features to get your attention. Ignore the beeps, and the machine turns off. Getting comfortable with any coffee roaster and walking away is natural, so the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’06cb67f4-1bee-11e8-9476-eb3ce4c2959d’] helps keep you honest.

When the beans are done, the heating element shuts off, and the drum keeps rotating to cool the beans. You’ll never experience the hot bean dance because the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’caf4b833-1beb-11e8-9bc9-e183f1a985db’] doesn’t shut off completely until the bean drum is cool enough for you to remove safely.

The Design

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d79b650d-1beb-11e8-8c54-21a7b2f197fe’] gets an A+ for design, not because it’s pretty and pleasing to the eye. It’s not. The high score is because the design is incredibly simple. It actually looks like a toaster oven (I suspect that’s where the creators got their inspiration). There’s an easy open front door to completely remove the roast drum and chaff tray.

Cleaning is by far the easiest compared to every other roaster I’ve used. Chaff, that messy outer skin that flakes off the bean during the roast, collects into a tray that covers the bottom surface of the roasting compartment. Any additional chaff in the compartment can be sucked out with a vacuum hose or wiped down with a damp cloth.

What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?

If you’ve been full-on coffee snobbing for some time now, you’ll know. Or if you’re still getting your feet wet in the wonderful world of coffee bean cultivation, you’re well on your way to knowing.  Coffee beans vary immensely in flavor profile, hardness, size, and quality. This depends on the region in which it’s grown, the methods used to grow it, and the processing method.  

The folks at [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’e7aa6afb-1beb-11e8-894e-1b473f0b8b9b’] have thought about this. They built in different roasting profiles, depending on the origin of the bean. This is one user manual you’ll want to keep. Within it is a guide that teaches what profile button is best used with which type of bean.

This may be overwhelming at first but you’ll probably start leaning towards one particular type of coffee bean you love. You’ll roast with the same setting for that every time. For me, it’s a Dry-Processed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. I set my profile for that bean, sit back, and enjoy watching it roasted to perfection.

 

[amazon_link asins=’B00PKEZ3M6′ template=’Custom’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ text=” link_id=’94c9d006-1ccc-11e8-bf4f-dd689040425e’]

Best Coffee Roaster Runner-Up: [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’The Kaldi Wide Home Coffee Roaster’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’f8f4d769-1beb-11e8-bd0e-5771e09e62f6′]

Drum roll, please…yes, another drum coffee roaster takes second place in my top three coffee roaster line up.  

Basic Operation

The only reason this home coffee roaster is second and not first is the amount of involvement required for this machine. You’ll get commercial roaster quality beans from this, but it’s operation is not quite as simple as the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’635b9319-1c05-11e8-860a-4d00aa2ff96b’].

To begin roasting you’ll need the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi ‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’2268df40-1bec-11e8-80af-d5c4738b5ff4′] coffee roaster, a gas stove, and a ventilated tray for bean cooling. If you want to cool efficiently you may need to have a small fan handy.

You’ll need to turn the machine on, let the coffee roaster get up to temperature (somewhere between 385 and 400°F), then slowly dump the beans into the removable hopper. Once you’ve got the beans in, you can replace the hopper with the cap to keep the heat in. Now the rest of the roast is completely up to you.

This is where knowledge about coffee roasting kicks in. Knowing when to pull the coffee is as much dependent on personal preference as it is trial and error. Just make sure that at the very minimum, the coffee beans have gone through “the first crack”. This is a process similar to the sound of toothpicks breaking that indicates the beans have begun to caramelize.

Design

This 13-pound stainless steel machine is essentially what you’d get if you sprinkled shrinking powder over a commercial drum coffee roaster. Almost everything a commercial coffee roaster has – bean hopper, bean probe, roasting drum, temperature gauge, and chaff collector – the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi home roaster’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’05e27967-1bec-11e8-9fb5-b392652b422a’] has. And it works much in the same way.

Unlike a commercial coffee roaster though, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’121ad49b-1bec-11e8-b162-3d48bae649db’] does not come with an infrared burner. You’ll supply the gas and the burner. A Coleman camping stove will do just fine. Or you if you’re lucky enough to cook on a gas range at home, you can just sit the roaster right on top.

What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’317939d4-1bec-11e8-baa8-17053e35eaa8′] mimics a commercial drum coffee roaster so much, I couldn’t find any difference in roasting profile and flavor between this roaster and the coffee house roaster. With the bean probe, you can watch the color transformation of your beans from golden yellow to deep chocolate brown. You get to decide exactly when to pull the beans instead of the machine deciding for you.

And the Bronze Medal Goes To: [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’The Fresh Roast SR500′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’929e9c17-1bec-11e8-b3e2-fb6fa776ab29′]

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’a4397269-1bec-11e8-a4a1-f5dc018584ff’] is by far the most convenient, easy to use coffee roaster with the smallest footprint. You may want to consider working in the garage, or with a decent exhaust fan nearby for the other machines. But the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b267aa4b-1bec-11e8-984b-63c507f92c96′] can roast discreetly on your kitchen counter right next to your favorite coffee brewer.

Design

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’bc5e2b6e-1bec-11e8-8a22-330bee7017ce’] coffee roaster is vertical in design, and has a small footprint. It almost resembles a coffee grinder, so don’t get confused when you stumble into the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. It’s an attractive little machine, so it will fit right in with any aesthetically choosy kitchen. No eyesores here.

Basic Operation

This is an air roaster, so its operation is very different than what you’ll find with the more traditional drum coffee roasters. The coffee chamber consists of a heat-safe glass cylinder placed on top of a heat blower. There are adjustable knobs for heat and fan and a button to start the roast and begin the cool cycle.

Roasting is as easy as filling the chamber with about a ¼ lb of beans, pushing the ON button, and letting it go. You can play with the heat and fan a bit to get the beans dancing at just the right tempo. Optimally you’ll want the beans to dance around a bit. But don’t let them dance too energetically or you won’t get the magical thermal transfer between beans that is necessary for a quality roast.

What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?

The wonderful thing about the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’cd20c9d8-1bec-11e8-90e7-91328cca0276′] is the degree of quality in bean roast compared to the machines small size and simple design. The tradeoff though is capacity. Ideally, only about a ¼ lb of beans should be roasted in this machine at a time. But, if you’re only roasting for yourself, this shouldn’t be a problem. And, since you can keep it in the kitchen, you can get a great roast in 7 minutes while you’re busy cooking dinner or doing a little kitchen clean up.

Honorable Mention: [amazon_textlink asin=’B00LHEKY68′ text=’The Nuvo Eco Ceramic Handy Coffee Bean Roaster’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4c5dd51e-1c96-11e8-ae2d-97f1022cbb8b’]

Handy is right. We give this coffee roaster an honorable mention just for the sheer practicality of it. You can literally take the home out of this home coffee roaster, and out on your next camping trip with you. Just don’t forget your camping grinder when you go.

Design

The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00LHEKY68′ text=’Nuvo Eco Ceramic Coffee Roaster’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b0ed8c07-1c96-11e8-8e60-9d1dcb53e5e8′] is basic in design. Made of ceramic wrapped in a genuine cowhide sleeve, you can comfortably keep this handheld roaster moving for the few minutes required to get the roast you want over an open flame.  It’s quite an attractive little device too, harkening back to the essential beauty found in the simple process of roasting coffee. The rounded edges and subdued color bring focus less to the device, and more to the art of roasting.

Basic Operation

This handheld coffee roasting machine is less machine and more tool. It is the simplest way to roast a small batch of coffee…period. Just pour a handful of your favorite beans in, hold over a gas flame or campfire and shake in a circular motion. In less then five minutes, you’ll have roasted beans. You’ll know they’re done when you’ve heard both cracks, seen the color of the beans, and sensed the changing aroma.

This roaster won’t provide as a consistent roast as other roasters, but for a handheld, it does a pretty good job. You may need to wear a heat protective glove while roasting though. Be sure if you want to go dark in the roast to keep the exhaust fan on or roast outside.

What Makes This Coffee Roaster So Special?

The origins of coffee can be found in Ethiopia, where to this day roasting coffee over an open fire in an elaborate ceremony is a part of welcoming any new guest to the home. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00LHEKY68′ text=’Nuvo Eco’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’1cc078c8-1c99-11e8-8a84-69cf69588d6a’] ceramic replicates a portion of that experience in its simple way of slowing life down for a few minutes, causing you to fully focus on the simple art of craft roasting.

What Makes A Coffee Roaster Worth Buying?

Consistency

If you feel like you’re reinventing the wheel every time you roast, then the coffee roaster is just not worth the price. Home coffee roasting equipment should be nothing more than a vehicle you can use to put your roasting knowledge behind the wheel. The ride to roasted coffee should be fast and smooth.

Too much fluctuation in temperature will leave your beans with a one-dimensional flavor profile. Too much time to get from bean to roast will dry out your beans. Just the right amount of both will give you an even colored, consistent roast with a full flavor profile.

Each of my top three, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’34952a83-1bed-11e8-91e3-cd27e4486ba2′], the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’416f1269-1bec-11e8-b4c1-4bf59c9187a5′], and the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’dc7cd3e9-1bec-11e8-b9d4-f7196b152dab’] gives you a perfect ride.

Usability

You need to be able to figure your machine out fairly easily and look forward to using it each time. If the manual reads like stereo instructions, run away. Unless you’re using your mom’s old popcorn machine to roast, there should be at least a small learning curve on each of these coffee roasting machines. After all, roasting coffee is an art that takes some perfecting, no matter your level of experience, or the machine you use.

The best home coffee roasting machines should be straightforward and easy to use once these factors are taken into consideration. Roasting coffee should take no more than twenty minutes from start to finish. Yes, you will need to be with the roaster the entire time since max roasting temperatures can reach between 420 and 440°F. But there shouldn’t be too much you need to do besides making minor adjustments to either temperature, airflow, time, or all three.

Reliability

Coffee roasting mechanics are simple. Even machines that have some programming component are usually pretty basic. Any coffee roaster should be built with a fairly high tolerance for chaff and carbon collection – an unavoidable part of the roasting process.

The roasting chamber and accessory components should be fairly accessible for occasional cleaning beyond the routine chaff removal and oil wipe down. The [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’47048dc1-1bed-11e8-afc0-138b93af2c40′], the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’521834f8-1bec-11e8-93b5-a193cd4fa536′], and the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ef07fd04-1bec-11e8-a95e-03ab91bd87cd’] all have removable, easy to clean components.

Cost

The price you’ll pay for a coffee roaster will increase as it approaches commercial roaster styling and capability. However, higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. I’ve paid over $1,000 dollars on good home roasters that I’ve ended up having to order a lot of replacement parts for.

So, although cost is something to take into consideration, its better to consider what you’re looking for in a home coffee roaster. If you just want a nice, convenient little coffee roaster that you can use here and there, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’fd703120-1bec-11e8-8987-f17fc4847ade’] is an incredible deal. If you want to more closely mimic a commercial drum roaster, and you’ve come armed with coffee roasting knowledge, definitely look at the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’62aa9bfc-1bec-11e8-8b1e-7f4bf6dd9493′] at about $400 more. But if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, convenient profile buttons, and a drum style roast, the [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’59015a0d-1bed-11e8-b6ec-83a372bcb35b’] will not disappoint.

Savings

A lot of home roasting has to do with someone’s obsession with quality coffee. But a component of roasting is about savings too. You may be like me, someone who feels very strongly about paying coffee farmers in developing countries fairly for their crop.

Many large roasting companies don’t take the farmer into consideration. Other smaller roasting companies have to charge very high prices to cover the cost of ethically sourced beans. Purchasing a roaster, although a considerable up-front cost at first, allows you to purchase green beans at a fraction of the price they would come roasted. The price savings gives you more flexibility to buy ethically sourced beans. It is a worthy investment.

Comparison of Specs For Each Coffee Roaster

Behmor 5400 1600 Plus KALDI Wide Fresh Roast SR500 Nuvo Eco Ceramic
Roaster Type Drum Drum Air Handheld
Average Roast Time <20 min. <10 min. <10 min. <5 min.
Max Batch Size 453g 300g 120g 70g
Heat Source Electric Gas Electric Gas/Open Fire
Dimensions 9 x 9 x 15.2 in. 18 x 6.7 x 14.6 in. 6 x 6 x 13 in. 9.5 X 5 x 1.3 in.
Weight 22lbs 12.8lbs 5.35lbs .75lbs
Material Metal Stainless Steel Glass, Metal, Plastic Ceramic, Leather
Preset Programs Yes No No No
Manufacturer Behmor KALDI Fresh Roast Nuvo

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I know when my beans have finished roasting?

A: First ask yourself how dark you like your coffee? To achieve the maximum flavor, you’ll want to stop the roast somewhere right before or right after the second crack. Beans go through two stages called cracks. They make a cracking sound similar to snapping plastic forks or toothpicks.

If you’re working with a roaster where you can see the beans easily, listen for the first crack. It should be somewhere in the general ballpark of the 400°F mark. Once you’ve passed the first crack, keep an eye on those beans. Some people prefer the flavor profile of a light roast (not letting your beans hit the second crack). Some prefer a medium roast (just at the second crack). And some prefer a darker roast (just after the second crack).

What you don’t want to do is go dark on any home roasting machine. Anytime your beans get oily, you’re destroying its flavor profile, and essentially wasting your money on the roaster and the beans. You could easily grab a bag of whole beans at your local grocer to achieve the same taste.

Q: How do I know what roast is best for the region my beans come from?

A: Most of the time, green bean suppliers will offer suggestions for roast levels based on individual coffee farms, processing methods, and growing regions. Though as a general rule of thumb, the lighter the roast, the brighter the flavor – the darker the roast the more caramelization is brought into the flavor of the cup.

Q: Should I be roasting indoors?

A: Well, it depends on how much you like the smell of roasting. If you’re using a [amazon_textlink asin=’B00PKEZ3M6′ text=’Behmor’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6838765d-1bed-11e8-aee7-fbc5014c8f05′] or [amazon_textlink asin=’B00SM3HXXY’ text=’Kaldi’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’75b49281-1bec-11e8-a7dc-b9fbb414c229′], you can absolutely roast indoors. But I recommend you use it near a running overhead exhaust fan, such as on the stove.

The lighter your roast, the less smoke you’ll notice. The aroma can be pungent as its going through the process, so on nice days, you may choose to roast in the garage or outside. I do all my roasting in the basement. The aroma wafts upstairs but never permeates the house for long. If you’re using the [amazon_textlink asin=’B0034D9ONO’ text=’Fresh Roast’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’walletpath-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’130517b7-1bed-11e8-9ad7-298774d658e0′] coffee roaster, roasting in the kitchen is perfectly fine without need for a fan.

Final Thoughts

Coffee roasting is a little bit of science and a whole lot of art. Home coffee roasting is a fun and cost-effective way of enjoying high-quality specialty beans from all over the world – without paying premium prices. Any of the top home coffee roasters listed here will give you exactly what you’re looking for: a rich, lively, deeply satisfying cup of joe.

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Utilizing Medical Premiums to Augment Retirement Saving

The Power of the Health Savings Account

Traditionally, medical insurance is purchased via our employers and premiums are deducted from our paychecks in exchange for medical coverage. Health Savings Accounts (FSAs) are challenging this traditional paradigm by allowing the employee to channel the vast majority of these premiums into an FSA bank account. In exchange for holding onto these premiums, the employee must shoulder more of the deductible burden. How nice would it be to keep the premiums you would’ve been paying anyway while still having access to the identical medical plan?

High Deductible Health Plans

Individuals, families, and corporations alike share a commonality with regard to reducing overall health care costs. Collectively, we’re constantly searching to reduce expenditures pertaining to medical expenses to decrease overall cost structures. More companies than ever are now offering High Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs) with a companion HSA option. More than two-thirds of companies with 1,000+ employees are offering this HDHP/HSA option. The popularity of the HDHP/HSA combination has increased substantially over the past decade.

As of 2014, 17.4 million people were enrolled in HDHP/HSA compared to a mere 3.2 million in 2006. In brief, an HDHP is a pre-tax medical plan that requires the employee to shoulder the cost of medical expenses out-of-pocket. It must also be paid upfront to a defined dollar amount to satisfy a deductible. Once this deductible is reached, the traditional medical plan provides coverage. These plans may be a win-win for both the employer and employee over the long-term.

For 2016, a qualified HDHP translates into a medical plan that has a minimum deductible of $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family. This must be met prior to insurance benefits kicking in and providing coverage. HSAs offer many great advantages to address current medical needs. They also simultaneously provide the potential for long-term account accumulation.

Advantages of HSAs

Leveraging the advantages the HSAs offered via pre-tax contributions, tax-free earnings from interest and investments, and tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses is just the beginning. There’s long-term potential in the fact that unused contributions roll over each year and are not subject to the “use it or lose it” rule.

At age 65, withdrawals can be made penalty-free for non-medical reasons. In turn, it can have a very significant impact on retirement. At age 65, the HSA acts in a similar fashion as a traditional IRA. It’s taxed at the individual’s effective tax rate. Thus over the long-term, HSAs can serve as an invaluable source of retirement income while simultaneously serving as a personalized long-term health care cost containment plan.

Key HSA Points

1) All HSA contributions belong to you and are deposited into a bank account in your name

2) All HSA contributions and earnings from interest and investments are tax-free

3) Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free

4) Unused contributions roll over each year and are not subject to the “use it or lose it” rule

5) At age 65 withdrawals can be made penalty-free for non-medical reasons

6) At age 65 one can make withdrawals for non-medical expenses and taxed at his effective tax rate on those distributions

 

HDHPs and the HSA Component

HDHPs include an HSA that allows employees to save tax-free money for current or future medical needs, even in retirement. Unlike a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), money contributed to an HSA rolls over year after year and is not subject to the “use it or lose it” rule that governs FSAs. The funds deposited by you and your employer into the HSA belong to you forever and are never relinquished under any circumstance, except on the account holders’ accord.

These HSA funds are not limited to the cash deposits from each paycheck. Thus, funds in excess of a balance threshold amount (typically $2,000 but usually determined by your employer and the HSA provider) are eligible for investing in a variety of mutual funds and other investment products. For 2017, the contribution limits are set at $3,350 and $6,750 for individuals and families, respectively.

If over the age of 55, one may contribute an additional $1,000 as a catch-up contribution. These gross amounts are the total amounts deposited into the HSA account between yourself and the employer. Thus leveraging the HSA, one has the potential to benefit from long-term account accumulation, interest, and appreciation while saving for future medical needs and retirement.

HDHP and Traditional Medical Plan Premiums

HDHP premiums will cost a fraction of the price when compared to a traditional PPO90 plan. This means more money in your pocket each paycheck. However, the trade-off is the financial obligation to shoulder the entire deductible upfront prior to your selected medical plan kicking in. This means potentially paying higher maximum out-of-pocket expenses.

For 2017, the maximum out-of-pocket expenses for an individual and family are $6,550 and $13,100, respectively. Note that this may change. However, many companies will have much lower maximum out-of-pocket expenses built into their HDHP.

Many companies provide corporate wellness programs that incentivize employees to maintain a preventative and healthy lifestyle. These wellness programs typically require an annual biometric screening along with a blood panel. In return, the employer will apply discounts to the medical premiums employees pay.

Factoring in the wellness discount, individual policyholders may pay as low as $0 in premiums. A family will likely pay a nominal premium for access to the HDHP. The maximum contributions to an HSA are $3,350 and $6,750 for individuals and families, respectively. For a family, medical premiums can easily run north of $6,750 annually for a PPO90 plan. Instead of paying the ~$6,750 in premiums, you have an opportunity to contribute this amount to an HSA.

The potential for long-term account accumulation using the money that normally would have been allocated towards traditional medical premiums. Channeling these funds into an HSA instead presents a financially compelling case.

Deductible and Medical Coverage

Satisfying the predetermined deductible is a prerequisite within HDHPs prior to the medical plan kicking in and providing coverage. Per the IRS guidelines, the minimum deductible is $1,300 and $2,600 for an individual and family, respectively. To encourage employees to enroll in the HDHPs, typically the employer will make a one-time annual contribution on behalf of the employee to the HSA, thus offsetting the deductible amount.

Two-thirds of employers offering the HDHP/HSA options place money into those accounts. In many cases, the employer contribution can be significant. Contributions of $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families is commonplace throughout large corporations. This decreases your deductible by as much as ~40%, rendering your effective deductible to a much more manageable amount.

In terms of medical coverage using the HDHP, the insurance plan usually covers preventative care at 100%. Additionally, all ancillary medical expenses are billed directly to the insurance company. The policyholder is charged the negotiated rates between the provider and insurance company. The insurance coverage, albeit in the deductible phase, still provides financial benefits in your favor via these negotiated rates.

All covered medical expenses are applicable to this deductible, including prescriptions. Once the deductible is satisfied, your selected insurance coverage takes over as a normal plan would. The deductible amount that one must satisfy varies from company to company, however, the minimum is set by the IRS.

The Triple-Tax Advantage and Retirement Implications

HSAs provide a triple tax advantage

1) Contributions are tax-free or pre-tax

2) All earnings from interest and investments are tax-free

3) Withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are tax-free.

At age 65, withdrawals can be made on these accumulated funds, penalty-free for non-medical reasons. This is similar to a traditional IRA at the individual’s effective tax rate.

The HSA Flexibility

HSAs have tremendous flexibility with regard to making contributions and paying medical bills on your own terms and circumstances. When electing to enroll in an HDHP, you have the ability to modify your contributions at any time and in fact, you’re not required to contribute any money at all to the HSA account.

If you’re single, in good health, and don’t anticipate utilizing any non-preventative medical treatments, you can take the employer contribution. You may pay next to nothing for the HDHP while saving thousands. In the event a medical situation arises, you can increase your contributions accordingly. Therefore, you can contribute when and how much you want at any time as your medical situation dictates. You can even make a lump sum contribution from an external bank account and make the tax adjustments during filing.

You also have the ability to pay medical bills several different ways. Using your HSA debit card at the point of sale, reimbursing yourself after paying out-of-pocket, or coordinating with the HSA provider to pay the insurance company on your behalf using the funds in your HSA account are all options.

Utilizing the HSA as a Loss of Medical Coverage Hedge

HSAs can provide peace of mind in the face of an unexpected job loss or job transition and subsequent loss of medical benefits. The accumulated funds in this account are readily accessible and will likely mitigate the loss of medical insurance since money in this account has been earmarked for medical expenses.

Depending on the account balance, this may provide the option to purchase a lower value plan and thus pay much lower premiums in a job loss situation when expenses are particularly important.

Summary

Utilizing funds normally reserved for paying medical premiums can be earmarked for an HSA to augment your long-term retirement goals and contain long-term health care costs. A family that normally opts for the PPO90 medical plan and satisfies their deductible each year can make a meaningful impact on their retirement.

These funds can be withdrawn at age 65 without penalty for non-medical reasons at the individual’s effective tax rate. This could potentially serve a dual purpose; 1) additional retirement income and 2) the flexibility to content with current and future medical costs.

For further details and plan requirements, refer to http://www.irs.gov/publications/p969/ar02.html.

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How Much Do Weddings Actually Cost?

For some, dreamy ideals of the perfect wedding swirl around in the mind years before the right person comes along. Weddings are often referred to as the best day of a couple’s life together, and a well-planned event is remembered by guests for years to come. However, the dollars and cents that go into planning a wedding can add up quickly, given the sheer number of details necessary to pull off an event for potentially a few hundred people. Everything from invitations and seating charts to food and alcohol must be budgeted for, regardless of the extravagance of your big day. If you’re on the cusp of planning for a wedding or have already started the tedious process, it is important to know how much weddings actually cost.

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Average Total Cost by State

According to recent survey data, the average cost of a wedding held within the United States is an impressive $31,213. That’s quite a bit of dough! Costs vary widely from state to state with the lowest average coming in at $15,257 in Utah. Overall, the celebration of your nuptials is lower in the Midwest and Southwest. Arkansas closely follows Utah at the lowest average cost. For those planning to get wed in the Northeast, however, the average costs quickly creep up. On average, couples planning their big day in Manhattan pay an average of $76,328 – the highest in the nation. Northern and Central New Jersey, and Chicago, Illinois round out the most expensive wedding areas throughout the country.

What Goes into Wedding Costs?

Keeping a lid on the exorbitant cost of a wedding can be a challenge. This is especially true if you don’t know all of the factors involved in planning the event. Traditional weddings often require planning for a reception space. Additionally, the items that go along with throwing a fabulous party, like entertainment and music, decorations, tables, chairs, and linens can add up easily. A ceremony space is a must for the most conventional couples, which can either be held at the same venue as the reception or in a different location altogether.

Adding to the list is the attire for the couple, which not only includes pricey suits or dresses but also accessories, shoes, hair, and makeup services. Flowers for bouquets, boutonnieres, and ancillary décor may also be needed. Some couples include gifts for the supportive friends and family who are an integral part of the wedding party. Photography, videography, parking, and transportation should also be considered. Invitations, save the date announcements, and wedding rings are other items to consider. If you’d rather not take on the arduous task of planning every detail of your event, plan to spend some of your wedding funds on a planner, too. Last but far from least is the food and beverages that will be provided during the reception.

Given this lengthy list, it is not surprising that the cost of a wedding skyrockets for some. The average cost of each wedding expense is as follows:

  • Attire and accessories: $1,629
  • Beauty treatments (hair, nails, and makeup): $129
  • Entertainment (live music or DJ): $1,389
  • Flowers and décor: $1,563
  • Gifts, including guest favors: $702
  • Invitations: $789
  • Jewelry, including wedding rings: $4,133
  • Photography and videography: $2,835
  • Event planner: $827
  • Venue, including catering and table/chair/linen rentals: $11,944

Budgeting for the Wedding

To steer clear of a massive wedding bill, budgeting ahead of time is key. Establishing a budget for a wedding is not much different than it is for monthly expenses, but there are a few key differences. First, family assistance is often a major help in reducing the out of pocket costs for your big day. If you know parents, grandparents, or other relatives are planning to lend a hand with the wedding expenses, talk with them openly about how much they plan to contribute before you start spending. Not sure if the family is able to help? Simply ask. The worst that could happen is that the wedding cost falls squarely on your shoulders as a couple. It may result in pinching pennies along the way. But knowing what you’re up against prior to starting your planning will help overall.

Another aspect of creating your wedding budget relies heavily on the type of event you want. If you’re planning a formal ceremony and reception, you’re safe to add a substantial amount to your venue and catering budget. Conversely, a celebration that is more casual in terms of location and feel often costs significantly less. It is also important to know your projected guest list size, as this has a direct impact on your total spending. Invitation costs, favors, food, and venue costs all rise as your guest lists grows. Building out your wedding budget should be based on these considerations. You’ll have far more success when you create a system of budgeting – and stick to it.

Tips for Reducing the Expense

The cost of a wedding does not have to overwhelming. There are a number of methods to cut out expenses. First, pay close attention to the contracts you sign, specifically for the venue and the caters. Are there “hidden” fees such as overtime or cleanup that add to the total costs? Will tips be included in the contracted amount? Are you paying for their servers, security staff, and/or parking attendants? Most of the time, wedding vendors provide this information up front in the contract, but it is up to you to know what you’re getting into.

Sizing down your total guest list also helps reduce the total cost, as that number directly affects every aspect of your planning. Taking just 10 guests off the list could put nearly $1,000 back in your pocket. Don’t be afraid to trim the headcount as needed. Additionally, keep things simple as much as you can, leaving out glamourous details that simply don’t fit into the overall budget. Oftentimes, pricey additions are a waste of hard-earned cash, and you nor your guests will notice their absence.

Finally, be prepared to negotiate with wedding vendors before an agreement is signed. It never hurts to ask. Some wedding professionals offer discounts for referrals, while others may cut off a portion of the cost if you leave a solid review of their services online. If they are unwilling to wiggle in terms of price, it may be worth seeking out alternatives. Whatever you do in your wedding planning adventure, keep your bottom line in mind.

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How To Get a Cheaper Monthly Payment On Your Cable Bill

One of the biggest annual expenses we pay for on a regular basis is on entertainment. From movies to TV shows and everything in between, we as consumers shell out hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year on just television alone. While cable is one of the easiest ways to make television available to us, it is also costly. But it doesn’t have to be.

lower cable bill

Here are a few ways you can have a cheaper and more affordable cable bill each and every month while still being able to soak up all of your favorite shows and programming.

Why is cable so costly?

Before we dive in, it’s important to have a basic understanding of why your bill is the way that it is – one large fee for a lump service. Cable providers are –more than anything– middlemen for the television studios that produce the content that is available on your screens. The studios produce content then sell that content to the providers of your cable service. The cable services then sell that content to those who subscribe to them.

The reason cable bills are so high is due to cable companies are paying high studio costs while also trying to make a profit. Every television studio and content producer has varying costs that they charge to cable companies, with ESPN and other sports channels being at the highest cost to cable providers.

These individual cable channel cost differences are what lead to the different packages that are available to you as the cable subscriber. From packages that are basic with just regular programming channels, to the deluxe packages that include movie channels and/or sports channels, the prices you will be looking at are widespread.

The package that includes sports channels like ESPN and other official team sports channels (such as dedicated channels for the Lakers or Dodgers) cost more than a basic cable package because of the original cost to the cable provider. They need to buy the channels and sell them to you while also making a profit.

How do I get a cheaper cable bill?

And now we cut back to the matter at hand: how to reduce your standing cable bill. There are several ways in which you can make this happen, but you should know now that it will take patience, a calm temperament, and an eye on the prize of a reduced monthly bill.

Here are some tips to get that cost down:

  • Research their competition.

Before you get on the phone with your provider, do your research on pricing elsewhere. Hunt around for deals that are being offered by competitors, and have those numbers ready for when you are on the phone with them. Explain that you’d like similar or better prices.

You will build more credibility with the research you present. Their job is to keep you as a client, so they will hopefully try to be helpful in making you satisfied.

  • Know that they want to keep you.

The principle that “it is cheaper to keep a customer than to sign on a new one” is held fast in the realm of cable. Knowing that cable companies want to retain your business is a mindset that you can take advantage of.

NOTE: This maneuvering will require you to speak to a live person. If speaking on the phone makes you nervous, be sure to do a bit of a pep talk before you dial. You will need to put your negotiating hat on. 

  • Making the Call.

Call your cable provider. When the automated service asks why you’re calling, select the “cancelation” option. There is a high chance that you will be connected with a live operator whose purpose is to convince you to stay with them. This is the person you will be negotiating with.

Once connected, tell them that your bill is just too high. You may ask them to consider your history with them (hopefully one of on-time payments and longevity). Explain that you want a lower monthly rate or you will take your business elsewhere.

They may try to throw some “deals” at you like 6 months of free movie channels or a new cable box. But keep your eyes on the long-term prize: you want a lowered monthly rate.

If the person is not willing to help you and won’t budge, all is not lost. Call again until you get on the phone with somebody who is willing to hear you out. Be cordial on the phone. You will be surprised as to how much the tide can turn in your favor.

  • Consider replacing cable altogether.

If all else fails after speaking to a representative, maybe it’s time to go all in and cancel. Canceling does not mean that you will be missing out on your favorite shows and programming. With streaming services being mostly up to date, you would be hard-pressed to miss an episode.

Streaming services like Hulu and Netflix are in popular demand for a good reason: they are affordable and entertaining. As for the sports channels, you can find your favorite teams playing online through streaming apps. This may be a viable option for seasonal sports fans.

Taking your viewing habits into consideration may also help when determining what services you need. Many programs are now offered on streaming services and may be more convenient for you. A little research may save you time and money.

 

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Here is How You Can Decrease the Cost of Your Monthly Rent

What separates the children from the grown-ups is the ability to pay and continue to pay rent –on time and in full. Being able to conjure up the funds to keep you and your belongings under a solid roof is one of the facets that declares success in adulthood, but just because you have to pay rent, doesn’t mean that you are stuck paying those exuberantly high prices every month.

Although complaining to get your monthly rent lowered via a heated chat with your landlord is not advised, there are other ways that you can diminish the number you are currently putting towards your rent, whether that be for a condo, a townhouse, an apartment, or even a rented room above your aunt’s garage.

Below are a few ways that you can decrease the cost of your monthly rent bill.

Moving around to a less expensive neighborhood.

One of the best money saving ideas that you can partake in –but probably not the first that you would think of– is to simply move out of that expensive neighborhood you currently live in and move into a cheaper one.

This swapping of neighborhoods is best suited for the individual who is looking to save more money on rent over the long term rather than the short, as moving costs can add up if the distance is large or if the amount of belongings that need to be moved is competing with that a “Hoarders” episode.

  • Consider the cost of the commute when you move…

If you are focusing on staying close to work, then factor in what will save you more money: A) Moving closer to work and being able to walk, or B.) Moving farther way into a cheaper neighborhood.

If you move into a cheaper neighborhood, then check to make sure that the amount of funds that you use on commuting to work from your new location is making you come out on top in terms of costs. If you will wind up spending more on transportation due to your move into a cheaper neighborhood, then maybe you can solve the issue by omitting transportation costs entirely and move closer to work.

If you think that you have found a real estate sweet spot that is right in the location that serves you best, but you still want to cut back on your rental payments, then C.) Consider moving into a smaller unit. Less square footage means less you have to pay for.

Consider the high cost of living per state.

If you are in the position to hit the refresh button on your career or are even just being relocated to an out-of-state branch of the company you already work for, chances are that the state you are currently living and working within now has a higher cost of living than the state you are moving into.

For example, if you live in California, more specifically in Los Angeles or San Francisco, the rent needed to call a one bedroom apartment in the city your own is roughly the same rent cost as a two bedroom house in North Carolina.

The cost of living spikes and drops as you move from state-to-state across the country, so if you are looking for a radical overhaul in your living expenses, consider the very root of your problem: your home state is just too expensive.

A solution? Switch states. Cheaper living and a completely different lifestyle awaits. Sometimes it pays to branch out.

Good ol’ Mom and Dad.

Almost an expectation of millennials is living with your parents. Moving back in with (or never leaving) Mom and Dad’s house used to be a mark of shame or failure in the olden days, but now it is nothing more than an expected answer to the question “so how about you– where do you live?”

Living with your parents for any amount of time during your professional life, or even just before, can be a great help to your financial situation. So much of your weekly and monthly finances will go towards your rent, where it goes in and will never be seen again. Staying with your parents –if that is an option for you that both Mom and Dad are on board with– can be a great help to your situation. Whether it be a way to save on rent so you can eventually save up to purchase a home of your own, or just soften the blow of the cost of monthly rent, moving back in with Ma ‘n Pa is a solid option to help cut down or even eliminate your monthly rent.

Switch to a job that offers lodging.

If you are looking for a complete shake-up in your life that will allow you to experience a change of pace while also shaving down on the cost of lodging, consider switching to a line of work that offers lodging in exchange for services rendered.

Jobs like that of a park ranger, cruise ship worker,  groundskeeper, full-time nanny, or for those seeking more structure in their lives, a role in the military all are jobs that potentially offer lodging as a part of the deal if you sign on to work. 

Share the load.

One of the most obvious and popular methods of saving on rent every month is to sublet the space you are living in and taking on a roommate.

Adding another rent payer to the mix will help take the sting off of a high monthly payment and make the monthly bill breakable into portions. Why would you want to take on a roommate? A smaller bill, even if smaller by just a hundred bucks can leave you with extra cash to spend on other necessities that you otherwise would not be able to purchase due to pretty much all of your paycheck usually going towards rent.

Spread the weight.

If your landlord allows the option, try to bargain your way to stretching the monthly across a longer period of time. By committing and locking yourself in to a longer lease, you gain the possibility to bargain your way into a lower monthly rent. This may not be an option given by all landlords, but it’s worth a shot to bring up the next time contracts need to be discussed and renewed for your living situation.

Barter for room and board.

A less common method of saving on rent is to bargain with your landlord about exchanging services for a reduced rate. Options that you can barter in exchange for a little of your rent being shaved off are responsibilities like working as a tenant manager, or an onsite landlord representative to deal with other tenants immediate issues like repairs or other quick-fix needs.

Find out if your landlord is willing to be flexible on the rent, and then poke around to see if there is anything you can take off of their plate that could earn you favor with them. Besides just helping out another human being in need, you could just wind up lowering your rent cost if your landlord takes a liking to you and your helpfulness. It’s worth a conversation and investigation to save a couple hundred bucks a month, wouldn’t you say?