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How Much Should You Tip?

I was catching the news this morning and one of the stories caught my eye - how digital transactions affect tipping for services. I thought it fascinating that businesses had seen hikes in the amount of tips collected when they use services like Square to handle their transactions.

Lately I’ve noticed more and more business leaving out tip jars and other hints at the register. While I certainly understand that employees are trying to maximize their pay for service, I sometimes get frustrated because I’m trying to figure out what’s appropriate (and that’s even before the digital tips).

The Basics – Tipping Customs

Like most people, I knew about how much to tip a waiter at the restaurants, but didn’t know much about other services. In general, I tip 20% when I go out to eat at a restaurant unless the service is sub-par. Having been a server I know that they give some of that tip money to the hostess or the busboy.

For everything else, I’ve either had to ask friends what they tip, searched online, or just asked the person themselves. To help simplify things, I’ve rounded up some of the customary tips for services that many people use throughout the year. (Please let me know if I’m missing something by leaving a note in the comments so I can add it to the list.)

  • Barber/Beautician: 10-15% for barber while 15%-20% seems customary for beauticians
  • Barista: No customary gratuity, but I’ve seen people leave their change from their purchase
  • Bartender: $1/drink
  • Hotel Bellman: $1-2 per bag
  • Hotel Maid: $2-$5 per night
  • Parking Valet: $2-$5
  • Pizza Delivery: 10% of your bill
  • Shuttle Drivers: $1-2 per bag
  • Taxi Driver: 10% of your fare

I’m just highlighting some of the more common amounts suggested, so please don’t be surprised if it higher or lower than what you thought. I also want to note that you should check your bill to make sure you’re not paying for gratuity twice (unless you believe the service deserves such a tip).

Tipping in the Digital Age

Going back to the news story, the report highlighted that businesses switching to a service like Square seemed to have dramatically increased the amount of tips they receive. One reason mentioned is that there are default amounts given that take the guesswork out for customers. The coffeehouse featured in the story showed how easily someone could tip $1 or $2 as they sign their receipt.

Swiping your card and having a suggested tip makes it easier to go ahead and pay. Some studies have noted that people tend to tip more when using credit cards instead of cash and to be honest, I’ve noticed that I’ve been guilty of that too. (That’s one reason I’ve been using Simple as my personal checking account, so I can better track my money and save more.)

Another explanation given was that some customers feel guilty leaving no tip. Jeremy Lyman, co-founder of Birch Coffee shared his take on the tip boost.  “I feel like sometimes people actually do feel bad pushing ‘no tip’.'” I can certainly understand that, but at the same time, I don’t believe every service deserves a tip. If I get a regular coffee with nothing special, I don’t feel like tipping. However if I have a special order, then I will leave some thing. I don’t like the idea of being pushed into tipping.

Thoughts on Tipping

This is a topic that can vary greatly by region, so I’d love to get your take and feedback on it. What are your thoughts on tipping? What services do you usually tip? Do you think some shops are pushing tips more than they should?

Manage All Your Bills with Finovera

For years, Mint has been my favorite – allowing me to get a snapshot of our finances and giving me a way to watch our spending in an easy and free way.

Finovera – A Comprehensive Financial Solution?

Now, though, there’s a another option out there – Finovera. The company is hoping to take money management a step further – giving users not only the ability to see their budget, but also manage their bills  AND store their financial documents in one place.

Blogging about personal finance, I’ve seen various companies try to provide a practical solution for money management so I was a bit hesitant to check this out as Finovera had been in private beta until this past fall. However what they were offering intrigued me to I decided to check it out.

I looked online and dug around to see what they were about and was curious to see if they were as comprehensive and handy as they advertised.

After chatting with their senior product manager to answer some questions I still had, I will say that I believe Finovera can address a need to keep family finances organized.

Finovera Features

This is most definitely a comprehensive tool. With Finovera, you can do so much with your budget and bills right off the bat.finovera bill managementKnow your bills

After you link your bills into Finovera, it pulls 12 months of history and tracks averages. That gives you a snapshot of where you are with your monthly expenses.

For utilities like electric and gas, you can see if your bills sky rocket during the winter and/or summer, making it easy for you to plan accordingly (and also optimize your home).

As they add more and more companies to their list of partners, Finovera becomes even more convenient and useful for users. Even if your current provider is not in their database, Finovera allows you to link online and offline accounts.

Stay on top of your budget

Finovera makes it easy to set up alerts for when you are spending more than normal. This is a handy tool as you can make adjustments immediately for the next month.

Store your important financial documents

In line with their vision of giving you one spot to manage your finances, Finovera gives users a digital filing cabinet (currently with no size limit) to store documents such as bank statements, tax returns, and other important records.

They plan on expanding what you can upload (see below for details about their mobile app) so you can easy find what you need.

Bank level security

If you’re worried about security, just know that Finovera uses a 256 bit SSL encryption technology for its security, the same as banks.

Mobile Coming Soon

Later this month Finovera will be launching their mobile app, which will give users the capabilities of uploading to their digital even more easily through their smartphones.

I think will make the service that much better and could be a way to de-clutter your file cabinet this spring while still retaining the documents you want.

Thoughts on Finovera

I think the biggest endorsement I can give with this product is that I signed up for it myself. I think it’s a wonderful tool that can many couples manage their money, bills, etc easily.

How about you? What do you think about online solutions like Finovera? Do you think your family’s finances could benefit having everything in one place?

3 Bad Money Habits That Seriously Harm Your Relationship

We are all guilty of making mistakes,  but some money habits need to be fixed sooner rather than later. These are actions and choices that not only put your finances in trouble, it can hurt your relationship.

Letting Your Spouse Handle ALL the Finances

I know that there is usually one person who seems more interested in the number crunching, budgeting, and investing portion of finances. We all have strengths and go ahead let someone do what they enjoy. However that does not mean that the other spouse is left in the complete dark or has no say.

This toxic money habit leaves the family weakened because one spouse doesn’t have vital information.

You may not like to budget, but you should have input with how you spend your money. You can not leave all the responsibility in one person’s hand, it’s not fair to either spouse.

Should something happen to the one managing the money, then where will that leave the other? Both of you are responsible and both of you have a say.

Financial Say is Based on Income

This is related to the first bad money habit, but it’s own special mess. Couples are unique and each family has their own financial situation. sometimes both spouses work outside the home, perhaps one or more are self-employed , or maybe one spouse works for income while the other manages the home and children.

Some couples grant financial say based on income earned. This  harmful money habit can lead to resentment and that can erode your relationship.

Each couple has to decide what works best for them, but what should be an agreement in all these situations is that both spouses have a say.  If one spouse earns less or is a stay at home parent, they still have input and it is not proportional to their income.

Not Having Regular Money Chat

You don’t have to a chat every week, but you should be on the same page and aware of what’s going on.  For some couples, it’s once a month, just looking at the numbers.

It can be uncomfortable because at some point you will hit bumps on the road. No one likes taking about problems, but avoiding it will only lead to bigger ones.

Start off simple – do a money chat about your goals for this year and a few years down. Let it at that. Come back a few days later and look at your current situation. Talk about how you want to get to your dream based on where you two are today.

Thoughts on Breaking Bad Money Habits

I think as you can see above, the root of these bad money habits is based on lack of communication, trust, and respect. We all have to work to keep our marriages strong and our finances on target. I’d love to hear from you about what you think are bad money habits and what can be done to break them.

Photo Credit: Steve Wampler

Are You Financially Compatible on Retirement?

Couples show their love for one another in various ways, such as going on romantic dates or weekend getaways, buying flowers or preparing home-cooked meals together. While these are the classic displays of affection, the truth is, realizing a common future together may be the ultimate sign of love—and establishing long-term financial goals is a key step in making that envisioned life a reality. Unfortunately, many couples disagree about their financial future together. Or worse, they don’t speak about it at all.

Are You Both Planning for Retirement?

Need some proof? According to Fidelity’s fourth Couples Retirement Study, nearly four in 10 couples disagree about the lifestyle they want in retirement. What’s more, 51% admit to arguing either frequently or occasionally about money—and 38% never resolve these arguments in a mutually satisfying way. While it’s no surprise that couples argue, it’s a shame so many are strained because of financial issues that never received the benefit of a clear outcome.

The solution to this problem is fairly obvious. Set aside some time as a couple to talk about financial matters—and do so before problems have developed, not after. By spending some time talking about and aligning future plans with your finances, couples stand to strengthen their fiscal and personal relationships. At the very least, you’ll establish lines of communication that will make it easier to address financial problems that inevitably will arise.

Working Together for Your Retirement

To ensure a productive conversation, it’s important to bring a few ideas to the table. Here are some topics for couples to consider:

  • Milestone Events. Discuss “big” events early, like buying a house or starting a family. This takes pressure off making those important decisions down the line without giving it much thought.
  • Plan Together. Only 45% of Gen Y (born 1978-1888) women say they are a joint decision maker when it comes to retirement savings, and 36% of Gen Y-ers say their partner is primarily responsible for decisions regarding their retirement. This generation has time on their side, and can build a solid retirement savings account by starting early and saving as much as possible.
  • Financial Styles. Make sure to get to know each others’ planning and investing style. Are you on the same page about your risk tolerance and goals? Knowing what financial accounts and insurances policies you own as a couple is important for maximizing long-term growth potential.
  • Today and Tomorrow Funds. Buying school supplies for the kids, saving for college, and taking family vacations are all important, but make sure you’re setting enough aside for retirement through a 401(k), an IRA or other tax-advantaged savings vehicles.  The earlier you get started, the bigger the long-term impact.
  • Work Resources. Make sure you’re both making the most of your employer’s retirement plan—at least up to any company match—and other benefits like health savings accounts.

Covering key topics like these will help make you more aligned with your partner. It’s also a nice foundation to bring up broader discussions regarding your future life plans together, which shows a long-term commitment to the one you love.

If you’re looking for even more insights, find out your financial personality and compatibility with your partner by taking Fidelity’s Couples Quiz. Are you are your partner financially compatible?And if you have any personal experiences to share, let’s hear them!

When was the last time you discussed finances with your partner and what was resolved? What did you talk about and what are some useful tips to avoid arguments?

Lauren Brouhard is the senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity.

Photo Credit:  Ed Yourdon

Google Fiber Coming to the Triangle?

Last night I got an email alerting me that Google Fiber is expanding and the Raleigh/Durham area is on the list as a potential location. Right now the company is talking with mayors in nine metro areas across the country, evaluating the current infrastructure and examining the feasibility of bring their service.

What is Google Fiber?

Google Fiber provides internet and cable television service  through fiber optic cables (instead of the more common method of coaxial and copper network). This technology is superior and  allows much faster data transfer.  Google estimates that their Fiber service is 100x faster than the average U.S. broadband service.

In 2012, Google Fiber selected Kansas City to be its pilot city and has since expanded to Provo, Utah and Austin, TX.  Even though they are still working on those cities, the company is already looking at rolling out their service across the country. Here’s a map with all of the cities marked:

google fiber expanding


Google Fiber’s Potential Impact

There has been a lot of speculating with the impact having such high speeds on technological and business development, but for the sake of this post I’ll just focus on more near future and ground level view.

While I think most families will not be needing the full capacity of the network, I believe there are plenty of practical benefits to having Google Fiber in the area:

  • Better Prices/Services: Having Google Fiber means having more choices when it comes to internet service. Currently the big players in this area are Time Warner Cable and CyberLink. More competition can mean better deals for residents; AT&T has started promoting a faster service in Austin, TX (which is getting Google Fiber installed now).
  • Job Opportunities:  To get this fiber service up and running, there will have to a slew of people working to get the infrastructure in place.
  • Raise Property Value:  For those areas that get the service, owners may see their property value rise as more potential buyers may be keen on getting in.

As great as this seems, there are some limitations. Even if Google selects the Raleigh/Durham area, it does not mean that every neighborhood in all the cities will get it. Google will be focusing on ‘fiberhoods’ and building by demand – looking at  areas where they is both a desire for their service and a substantial population.

However, Google is offering free internet access to certain institutions such as schools and libraries. This means that even if neighbors do not sign up for the service, there may still be hubs around the community that will give residents access.

Google Fiber ‘s Service Plans

One of the complaints customers have had with their cable and internet service is the price of their services. Even with bundled discounts, some customers are paying  $80-$150/month to get internet services with significantly lower speeds (15-30Mbps).

What are Google’s plans? While its too early to give out numbers for the proposed cities,  looking at what Google is currently offering in Kansas City and Provo can give a reasonable idea of what to expect.

  • Free Internet: Yes, there is an option to receive internet service at current speeds (Up to 5 Mbps download & 1 Mbps upload speed). While there is no monthly fee for it, there is a $300 construction fee. You can pay it upfront or you can break it up in a year ($25/month). This free internet is guaranteed for at least 7 years for each address.
  • Gigabit Internet: For $70/month, customers can get up to 1 gigabit (both for download and uploads).
  • Gigabit Internet + TV: Google offers their internet service with over 200 TV channels for $120/month, with a Nexus 7 included the package to serve as your remote (and more).

Right we pay for internet service since I need it for my job as I’m self-employed and have clients and partners around the country (and a few outside). My husband also uses it as he has needed to work remotely from time to time. As I have mentioned before we also use the internet for Netflix and Amazon, which eliminated the need to continue our cable service.  Looking at Google’s price for Internet for an additional $10/month we could have much faster service.

Thoughts on Google Fiber

Personally, I’m excited about this possibility and hope that the Triangle area is chosen. How about you? How many of you are in one of the 34 cities looking to get Google Fiber? What are some things you are looking forward to (or you’re concerned about)? If you want to get more information about Google Fiber, you can sign up for updates.

Photo Credit: Google Fiber