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JotForm Tables: A New Collaboration Tool to Challenge Airtable and Google Tables – ReadWrite

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JotForm Tables


A decade ago, if you wanted to build a complex spreadsheet or a full-fledged database, you had to know how to code. Fast forward to 2020. There has been an explosion in no-code/low-code software. Now, you can build a powerful database — often in a matter of a few minutes and without writing a single line of code. Here is all about JotForm Tables. JotForm is a new collaboration tool to challenge Airtable and Google tables.

Three of the biggest heavy-hitters in the space are Airtable, Google Tables, and the newest addition, JotForm Tables, which was launched in October 2020.

Finding the Best Solution for your Business.

We’re comparing all three solutions to help you decide. We’ll cover all of the following in detail:

  • Overview
  • Product features
  • Specific use cases and applications
  • Pricing
  • Limitations
  • Conclusion

Overview

Here’s a brief overview of the basics of JotForm Tables, Google Tables, and Airtable. Though the tools are considered direct competitors and target similar end-users, each has a unique set of features.

JotForm Tables

JotForm Tables Sales CRM Template

JotForm is known for its suite of productivity tools, including a Form Builder, a PDF Editor, and Mobile Forms. Now, JotForm Tables is part of that suite of services.

JotForm Tables has all of the flexibility and customization options of a full-fledged database with the ease of using a spreadsheet.

. You can easily manage all of your data and sync form submissions in one workspace.

In addition to all of the now-standard spreadsheet functions, such as organizing, categorizing, editing, searching, filtering, collaborating, and exporting, you can also use JotForm Tables to track the progress of projects by adding a checklist indicator, a function calculator, a data counter, and a rating scale.

You can also generate tables, calendars, reports, uploads, and card views. However, the real power of JotForm Tables lies in how you can link forms and tables and how they work together seamlessly.

Let’s say you’re organizing a virtual conference. If you use JotForm Tables, all of the registrations from your virtual event registration form automatically populate your JotForm Tables workspace. You can even create new columns in your table that mirrors the functionality of your form and filter any specific form entries, such as email addresses, names, or phone numbers.

Plus, you can turn the data in your workspace into a professional PDF using JotForm PDF Editor, create a polished report on event registrations for your chief marketing officer using JotForm Report Builder, and even respond to event support questions through JotForm Inbox.

You can also sync your JotForm account with many of the other software and apps that your company uses, such as Dropbox, Square, ActiveCampaign, Slack, Zapier, and Zendesk.

With the addition of JotForm Tables, JotForm is now a comprehensive workflow automation solution that enables your team to get work done quickly and efficiently without relying on manual data entry or other software tools.

Pro tip: Want to see a demo of JotForm Tables in action? Check out all of the functionality for yourself in this free webinar recording.

Google Tables

Google Tables
Google Tables Simple Task Tracker Template

Google recently rolled out Google Tables, a new workflow tool that’s part of Area120, Google’s in-house incubator. Essentially, it’s home to experiments and passion projects from the Google staff.

Think of Tables as a lightweight spreadsheet-database tool similar to Airtable or Microsoft Access. The Kanban board layout resembles Trello’s project management software.

Google Tables combines the power of a database tool with the flexibility of a spreadsheet. It gives teams and businesses a more visual way to display information than Google’s original spreadsheet software, Google Sheets. Those already using Google Sheets can import their data directly into Google Tables.

The features included with Google Tables make it ideal for lightweight data like form responses. With Google Tables, you can track tasks, customize views, and collaborate with a single tool. The software lets users trigger emails, send weekly reports, and update statuses with automated actions or bots. One of the most helpful features of Google Tables is seamlessly integrating with other Google products like Drive and Sheets.

Airtable

Airtable
Airtable Simple Applicant Tracker Template

Airtable’s collaboration software is part powerful database and part familiar spreadsheet. It’s designed to let users create a database (or base, as it’s known in the platform) that fits their workflow with automation that works for them.

The software helps a variety of industries and roles, from marketing and nonprofits to freelancers and event planners. The company has been around since 2013 and has worked hard over the years to provide a product with robust features and flexibility for its users.

Airtable has a variety of features on both paid and free plans. Users can create customized bases where they can add fields for attachments, long text notes, links, checkboxes, barcodes, and more.

The software gives teams the flexibility to view their data in Kanban view, gallery view, grid view, or calendar view. The collaboration software includes a vast catalog of templates to help teams build their bases. Of course, users can always create their workflows from scratch.

The marketplace lets users choose from more than 50 prebuilt, click-to-add apps to bring their data to life. Much like users can create their own bases, they can also create their own apps with JavaScript and React. The software integrates with popular apps like Google products, email, Asana, GitHub, Instagram, Facebook, Mailchimp, and much more.

Automation features include creating custom notifications, coordinating work via integrations, and automating redundant tasks. An additional new feature, Airtable Sync, lets users sync records from a source base to a destination base.

Use Cases

To decide which software option fits your individual or business needs, you first need to know what industries and customers the tool is geared toward. Here’s the intended audience for each one.

JotForm Tables

Out of all three software options, JotForm Tables has the most diverse use cases. It’s ideal for most businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits.

In addition, since the JotForm Form Builder is fully HIPAA compliant (as long as users have a Silver or Gold plan and opt for HIPAA compliance), this also makes it a solid option for doctors’ offices, hospitals, and wellness clinics.

JotForm Tables is best suited for collecting, curating, managing, and acting on data. Generally, it’s a good, all-around solution when it comes to project planning for most industries.

Here are some popular use cases, including but not limited to

  • Project management
  • SOP checklists
  • Inventory management
  • Expense tracking
  • New employee onboarding
  • Payroll tracking and management
  • Customer registration
  • Virtual (and in-person) attendee registration
  • Content/editorial calendars
  • Web design asset management
  • Custom personal CRM
  • Medical logs
  • Student attendance sheets

With more than 250 ready-made templates available, there’s a great chance that you’ll be able to find a template you can use as-is or as a building block.

For example, a doctor’s office might want to use the JotForm Tables patient sign-in sheet template to create an efficient patient sign-in sheet, which would allow you to keep track of all of the patients you saw in a given day, along with the patient’s name, email address, appointment time, the purpose of the visit, and the specific doctor they saw.

Google Tables

Google Tables was made for teams from a variety of industries. If you’re already a G Suite power user, you may find Google Tables to be a suitable and convenient option for managing projects and tasks with your team. Google Tables can be handy if you work in IT operations, recruiting, product launches, and software development, which are just a few of the teams that can benefit from using Google Tables.

Unlike JotForm Tables and Airtable, Google Tables doesn’t provide ready-made templates. While you can find some user-generated ones, they leave it up to you to decide how to best set everything up. It is a truly blank canvas.

Airtable

Airtable was also designed for a variety of different users. For instance, the provided templates range from product launches to bug trackers. However, while Airtable is designed to be fully customized, its customers heavily skew toward tech-savvy entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creatives.

If you look through Airtable Universe, which houses hundreds of templates, you’ll see that it’s full of DIY templates catering to writers, filmmakers, content creators, and freelancers.

For example, if you’re an author, you can use this Book Promotion for Authors template to keep track of all of the free and paid sites where you’re promoting your new book.

Pricing

All three software options have free tiers. Here’s the pricing information for each.

JotForm Tables

JotForm’s free Starter plan includes access to all JotForm Tables features, which means that JotForm Tables is completely free to use. It only takes a few seconds to get started.

JotForm also has several paid plans, which range from $24 per month to $83 per month if you pay annually.

The paid versions of JotForm come with additional form submissions and storage, among many other things, such as

  • Unlimited form views
  • Unlimited reports and fields
  • Custom branding
  • HIPAA compliance

Google Tables

The free Google Tables plan can be a viable option for small teams or individuals. It’s worth springing for the paid version of the software for those that need additional functionality and features.

The free version of Google Tables includes the following features:

  • Unlimited collaborators
  • Unlimited workspaces
  • 100 tables
  • 1,000 rows per table
  • 1 GB attachments per table
  • 50 actions per table each month
  • One week of change history

The paid version is designed for teams and businesses in need of a holistic collaboration and productivity solution.

Pricing is set on a per-user basis. This means you only pay for team members who need more capacity to build or modify tables and workspaces. The pricing structure is simple, at $10 per user, per month for the paid plan.

A free three-month trial is available so that users can test the software before purchasing.

The paid version also allows for unlimited collaborators and workspaces but comes with more features, such as

  • 1,000 tables
  • 10,000 rows per table
  • 10 GB attachments per table
  • 500 actions per table each month
  • 12 weeks of change history
  • 20 forms per table
  • 20 bots per table
  • 20 views per table

The primary difference between the paid and free versions is the additional capacity.

Airtable

Pricing for Airtable is slightly more complex than Google Tables. The essential features are all included in the free plan, but more functionality comes with the Plus, Pro, and Enterprise plans.

Features available with the free version of Airtable include

  • Unlimited bases
  • 1,200 records per base
  • 2 GB attachment space per base
  • Two weeks of revision and snapshot history
  • Rich field types like file attachments
  • Grid, calendar, form, kanban, and gallery views
  • Web, iOS, Android, and desktop apps
  • Real-time collaboration and commenting
  • 100 automation runs per month
  • Two weeks of run history
  • One synced table per base
  • Manual synced tables update method

There are three paid tiers for Airtable that each come with an upgrade in features, specifically additional record and attachment space. Additional advanced features include

  • Apps
  • Additional color and styling options
  • Advanced calendar features
  • Custom branded forms
  • Personal and locked views
  • Password and domain restricted shares
  • Field and table editing permissions
  • Early access to new features
  • Email support

Airtable describes the Plus plan as giving teams room to grow at $10 per user, per month. The Pro plan offers a more comprehensive collaboration experience at $20 per user per month. The Enterprise plan is designed for maximum business value. To get pricing for the Enterprise plan, contact the Airtable sales team for a quote.

Users can test both the Plus and Pro plans with a free trial.

Limitations

Before you move forward, it’s important to know the limitations of each tool. Here are some considerations.

JotForm Tables

While JotForm Tables is the most flexible tool and easiest to use, it is also the newest option. It was launched in October 2020. For most early adopters, this is a selling point. You get to be one of the first users and can experiment with it all you want. However, if you tend to be a late adopter and like to wait until all of the bugs are resolved and the solution is mature, this could be a drawback for a solution like JotForm Tables.

Google Tables

The most important drawback to Google Tables is that it isn’t a full-fledged Google product like Sheets or Docs, yet. As part of Area120, Google Tables is still in its beta or experimental stage. This doesn’t mean that Google won’t give it a more official rollout or adopt it into its G Suite offering. It’s just not there at this point.

In addition, unlike JotForm Tables and Airtable, which both provide hundreds of templates, Google Tables doesn’t provide any official templates. When you try out Google Tables, it’s a blank canvas. Some people will love this because it allows them to be as creative as possible when building their workspace. However, others might freeze because there are so many options to choose from, and they aren’t sure which one will be best for their specific use case.

Finally, there is a chance that Google will drop or discontinue the product. As a less mature product than other Google tools, the software also isn’t quite as robust. Additional features aren’t out of the question; it’s just a waiting game. If you prefer the stability of an already established platform, then you might want to hold off on Google Tables until it officially joins the Google family of products.

Airtable

Though Airtable has been around longer than Google Tables, the software isn’t without limitations. If you’re using the free version of the platform, it’s easy to go over the record limit. The free tier is restricted in terms of features, and upgrading to the Premium version can add up quickly for teams with multiple members.

Aside from limitations with the free version, Airtable also comes with the steepest learning curve. If you aren’t tech-savvy, you may struggle with using Airtable or be unable to use it to its full potential. While Airtable does offer templates, how-to articles, and videos to help beginners, some users may still find the software to be overwhelming and complex. Luckily, there are many Airtable alternatives available for you to find the best fit.

Conclusion

All three of these software options are built to suit a variety of industries and functions.

Lightweight Google Tables has the advantage of being part of Google’s impressive product family, but it’s still in the beta phase. Airtable, on the other hand, has had years to hone its feature offerings. However, it’s best suited for tech-savvy creators.

JotForm Tables is a great option for businesses, medical practices, nonprofits, and many more industries and organizations.

Each tool has its benefits, so it’s important to make a list of your essential features and nice-to-haves to see which one feels more intuitive for you.

Chad Reid

Chad is the VP of Marketing and Communications at JotForm, a software used to create and publish online forms. He’s a wizard with a Vitamix and likes all cat pictures he sees on Instagram.

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5 Ways To Better Reach Your Audience

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Brad Anderson


Attempting to reach your audience is difficult, as the internet is full of information, and consumers are flooded with the constant noise of advertising, social media, and email. It can be intimidating for a company to get its message heard over the noise. However, with a bit of care and planning, you can successfully reach your target demographic and interest them in your product.

Maybe you’re a new business with a great product and want to know how to drive traffic to your site. Or perhaps you’re established but have something fresh and exciting to offer, and you need to know how to spotlight it. Maybe you’re interested in learning how to reach a whole new demographic and are unsure how to do that.

To reach out to a new audience online, keep your existing customers interested, or drive conversions, you need to plan your content strategy and SEO carefully. It’s not enough just to launch a product website, announce it on social media, and wait to see what happens. Instead, you’ve got to find a way to amplify your voice.

Initiating a Strategy

Content encompasses everything you use to communicate information to the world: social media, graphics, written communication, and your website itself are included in this category. Your content strategy and SEO should tackle the questions: Who am I trying to reach, What do I need to tell them, and How am I going to do that? MarketMuse’s extensive content strategy guide notes that an effective content strategy outlines business goals and aligns with SEO.

Depending on your company’s scale, you may want to hire someone to help you develop a strategy, manage a team of writers, designers, and developers, and keep an eye on metrics to ensure your messaging is on target and getting the results you need. However, be aware that it can take six months or more to gain traction and that there are some questions you’ll want to ask when hiring an SEO expert.

Here are five steps you can take today to ensure that you successfully communicate about your brand to reach your intended audience.

1. Identify who you want to reach

Regardless of company scale or team size, an effective content strategy begins with research and planning. This step can be time-consuming but is so important. It’s the foundation for building your overall content strategy.

The first rule of content is: know your audience. Who are you trying to talk to and why? Get as specific as you can in this step. For example, identify an age range, gender, if applicable, socioeconomic status, and interests. It is sometimes helpful to create an avatar or character to represent your target market and talk specifically to that person. If you nail your demographic, your message will carry.

Once you know who you’re targeting, make sure what you’re saying to them makes sense. For example, promoting your retirement savings 101 blog cluster and planning tools will not be effective if your language and approach only appeal to a 60-year-old.

2. Sell a lifestyle, not a product

This is one of the trickiest elements of content marketing strategy for any company to master. But, first, it’s important to remember that content isn’t about directly promoting a product or about making a sale. At least, not overtly.

Content strategy is about building relationships and offering something your audience values and needs: information. If your information is solid and you get it in front of the right people, you will build trust and drive conversions over time. It’s helpful to think about strategies employed by large brands – especially what they don’t do.

Athletic shoe companies don’t bore you with all the technical specs of their product; they show you an image of athletes running fast or thriving in their sport. They let you imagine yourself succeeding in the same way. Similarly, the best tech companies don’t talk about RAM or GPUs in their ads. Instead, they show you how sleek you look with the latest gadget. They show you how much that gadget will simplify your daily tasks.

If you work too hard to tell your audience about the details of your product (which may be exciting and important) in your content marketing, you’re going to bore them and lose them.

3. Make sure your content is on point

Great content isn’t necessarily about volume. If what you’re offering is sound, you don’t have to drone on forever. For example, we’re all annoyed by recipe blogs that make you scroll through five pages of irrelevant nonsense to get to what’s of value to you: the recipe.

If you want to avoid being the next recipe blog cliche, ensure your writing and graphics are clean and clearly communicate the data or insights you want to highlight. Plan social media posts to be playful and fun and get to the point right away. Attention spans are minimal when people are scrolling.

Your written content (emails, blogs, website copy) should be clean, clearly written, and well structured. Organize your site to include a search feature, ensure it is responsive to various devices and has multiple easy-to-find navigation options. The key is to eliminate the need for your audience to work to find what they want.

4. Use your digital tools thoughtfully

To ensure your content rises above all that noise online, you absolutely need to include SEO in your content strategy. This is where brands can get a little intimidated, confused, or overzealous, however.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is not as esoteric as you might think, but it takes time, research, and effort to implement correctly. SEO can include keywords that help ensure your page shows up in search results, your website’s design and security, and your site’s responsiveness to different screen sizes.

So, what does that mean? Well, the answer to that may vary, but a few essential points will put you on the right track. First, you want to ensure you’re not basing your content strategy on SEO considerations and keywords.

The result will be that your content feels shoehorned around obvious keywords (because it is) and won’t offer much value to readers. Maybe you’ll appear in search results, but that won’t do anything for you once people click on your page and decide there’s nothing valuable. At that point, you’ve lost trust. You may also lose those initial clicks as search algorithms constantly evolve.

The key is ensuring you are offering quality information to your target audience. Make sure that information is clear and that your website is navigable, and then find ways to work in keywords naturally. Also, don’t be afraid to use social media to toot your horn.

5. Post often and repurpose content

In addition to optimizing your website and content, you’ll want to plan a solid social media strategy and use appropriate posting techniques to boost your web traffic and conversions. The good news is that not everything you post has to reinvent the wheel. For example, it is ok to repurpose the same link with slightly different messaging.

It’s also important to remember to post on different platforms for different reasons. If you’re trying to talk to a Gen Z demographic, you’re probably not going to be successful if your entire social media presence is based on Facebook. You might look at Instagram or TikTok instead.

As with blog and website content, you’re not going to be effective if you simply post ad copy on social media. Instead, find innovative and fun ways to draw your audience in. Make them laugh. Tell them how to solve a problem. Teach them a new skill.

And don’t forget to update your blog copy, too. For example, you might have a blog that predicts the best crypto investments in March. You can create an updated version in April without starting from scratch.

If you take the time to do your homework, develop a solid plan, allow your strategy appropriate time to work, and measure results (and use those to revise your plan, and so on), you have a solid foundation for your content marketing presence. Make sure your content is tailored to the right audience, easy to read, easy to navigate, and actionable, and you can’t go wrong.

Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska; Pexels; Thanks!

Brad Anderson

Editor In Chief at ReadWrite

Brad is the editor overseeing contributed content at ReadWrite.com. He previously worked as an editor at PayPal and Crunchbase. You can reach him at brad at readwrite.com.

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Connected Medical Devices are Revolutionizing Health Care

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The Internet of Things (IoT) may be about to transform almost every aspect of people’s lives. Health care is one industry already seeing significant adoption of IoT technology. Connected medical devices are helping doctors and nurses remotely monitor patients, access health data, and conduct follow-ups online. As a result, IoT in health care could revolutionize the industry over the next few years.

How Does the Health Care Industry Use Connected Devices? 

The Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) includes various devices used inside and outside health care facilities. In most cases, these items provide a few of the same benefits — including streamlined treatment, reduced risk of error, and greater availability of critical data, like information on patient vitals.

Smart Patient Monitoring Devices

One popular application of IoT in health care is the smart patient monitor. This device continuously collects health care information from a patient, including data on heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and blood oxygen levels. 

These devices help make patient health data more accessible to doctors and nurses inside facilities. A patient’s medical team can quickly and remotely check their vitals from a hospital workstation or a secure device anywhere in the world. The smart patient monitor can also alert staff if someone’s vitals exceed safe levels.

Smart health care wearables and remote patient monitors allow doctors to continue tracking patient vitals without requiring them to remain in the facility. In addition, people who have been recently discharged from the hospital may bring smart patient monitors with them, allowing them to send important health information to doctors without having to return to the hospital for a follow-up. They can also access this information and get a valuable window into their post-release health.

The patient and their doctor can discuss any concerning health information over the internet using a telemedicine video call solution. The doctor can also immediately recall the patient to the hospital if the monitor suggests their health is in danger.

Various IoMT patient monitoring devices exist, ranging from large machines built for hospital settings to lightweight health-tracking wearables people can take with them wherever they go. 

Specific use-cases for IoMT monitoring technology include general-purpose smart patient monitors, motion sensors that track the progression of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and mood sensors that can help doctors manage a patient’s mental health.

Smart Infusion Pumps and Medication Delivery Devices

Correctly dosing and delivering medicine is essential for patient treatment. However, medication errors remain a common challenge in many medical environments. These mistakes can cause serious injuries or adverse reactions that can lead to death.

The IoMT can help prevent medication errors by streamlining the dosing process and delivering IV medicine.

Smart infusion pumps are medication delivery devices that use innovative technology, barcode readers, and drug information libraries to reduce risk when administering IV medicine. The health care worker will designate an area of use — like the adult ICU or NICU — which will automatically configure the pump based on needs. The clinician will then select the medicine they need to administer from an internet drug library, select a concentration and configure the pump’s dose.

Information from the drug library will help prevent some of the most common medication errors — like dosing mistakes and combinations that may lead to health problems.

Some pumps may require that the clinician scans the drug using a barcode on its packaging rather than choosing one from a list.

Most pump systems incorporate a few safeguards that will help reduce the frequency of medication errors. For example, the pump may include the height and weight information of the patient receiving a drug, helping ensure they receive the appropriate dose.

The pump system may also include information on average drug concentrations and dosing units. As a result, it can double-check with health care workers to ensure an unusual dosage is correct, potentially preventing medication errors. 

Smart Device Scanners

Manufacturers will often use laser marking to create a unique device identifier (UDI) codes on the surface of connected medical devices like orthopedic implants and medical instruments. They provide a wealth of information about the marked device — including the specific version or model number.

Under current regulations, the manufacturer must provide this code in plain language and a machine-readable format.

Smart medical scanners can read the second version of the UDI instantly, draw on relevant information from cloud-based databases and update records. This makes them a powerful tool for conducting inventory, determining an instrument’s specific model or lot number, and verifying the plain-language portion of a UDI.

These devices are connected to the internet, so they can also be used to update cloud-based records as they scan automatically. For example, hospitals that maintain an online database of critical medical instruments can use a smart scanner to update it with new products.

In practice, these scanners can also make it much easier for health care organizations to comply with traceability requirements. For example, clinicians can use information from the UDI to quickly verify the model number, expiration date, and recall status of a medical instrument or device before it is used.

Clinicians that locate faulty or expired equipment can quickly remove it, ensuring it won’t be used for a procedure. 

Smart Pills, Capsules and Medications

New smart pills and capsules can help patients take their medications regularly. They are outfitted with special sensors that activate when they hit the acid in a patient’s stomach. They then communicate with a wearable medical device — like a patch on someone’s chest — signaling that the pill has been taken. 

The wearable device that receives the signal can automatically generate a log or report showing the medication was taken successfully. 

The connected medical device can also track other information — like the patient’s activity and rest times.

The first smart pill approved by the FDA was Abilify Mycite, which contains aripiprazole, an antipsychotic used to treat conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Patients with these conditions may struggle to remember if they’ve taken their medicine, but missing a dose can cause adverse reactions — including nausea, lightheadedness, anxiety, and a return of symptoms associated with the mental health condition the aripiprazole is meant to treat. 

The smart system can help patients track their medication adherence and review patterns when they take their medicine.

Smart pills are not widely used yet, but they may soon help patients and health care providers improve medication adherence and track home-usage. 

Future smart pills may also provide additional functionality. For example, those containing onboard sensors could help doctors track a patient’s core temperature, detect intestinal bleeding, or keep tabs on gut health. Many of these pills already exist in an experimental capacity and may become commercially viable by the end of the decade.

The Future of Connected Medical Devices and IoT in Health Care

Connected medical devices can make providing effective health treatment much easier. The right one can streamline care, reduce error risk, and simplify record-keeping.

IoT in health care is growing fast over the next few years. According to Fortune Business Insights, the market may be worth as much as $187.6 billion by 2028, up from just $41 billion in 2020. As a result, new applications of smart medical technology may become widely available.

For example, it may also become standard for health care facilities to adopt connected robots, like those used in Italian hospitals during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently used IoMT devices — from smart monitors to smart pills — will likely become much more common over the next few years as the market expands and health care facilities look to adopt devices that make daily work easier.

Image Credit: Provided by the Author; National Cancer Institute; Unsplash; Thank you!

Emily Newton

Emily Newton is a technical and industrial journalist. She regularly covers stories about how technology is changing the industrial sector.

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How to Stop Inflation from Deflating Your Savings

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Free Your Money: Strategies for Keeping Your Money In The Best Place Possible - ReadWrite


No, you aren’t imagining things. Everything costs more than it did before, and these higher prices make it hard to balance the budget while saving and thinking about retirement. But you can stop inflation from deflating your savings!

In April, the Bureau of Labor released the latest data from the Consumer Price Index (CPI), revealing inflation’s steady creep upward hasn’t stopped yet. The rate of U.S. inflation climbed to a whopping 8.5% in March, marking this spike as the most significant increase in the cost of living in 4 decades.

You aren’t alone if you’re struggling to handle prices at their 40-year high. Nearly half of Americans (45%) polled by Gallup last year admitted inflation caused financial hardship at a time when the CPI was just 6.8%. Moreover, of those that reported facing difficulties, 10% revealed their challenges impacted their standard of living.

While the Federal Reserve claims inflation’s bubble will pop soon, experts anticipate the CPI won’t fall below 4% by the year’s end. That means you can expect another year of high inflation bumping up prices.

Is your budget ready? If not, don’t panic. Instead, keep reading to understand more about inflation and what you can do to protect your savings.

Inflation: An Overview

Inflation is not a product of the pandemic, although it may initially seem that way. On the contrary, between lockdowns and labor shortages — and now the Russia-Ukraine crisis — the past 3 years have kept inflation well-fed.

These special circumstances allowed inflation to grow to dizzying heights, but it’s been around a lot longer than COVID.

Have you ever heard your dad tell you a story about buying a bag of candy for a nickel, only for your grandfather to chime in to say he bought the same thing for a penny? They aren’t just yearning for the good old days of their youth. That’s inflation at work.

Inflation is an economic principle describing how the prices of goods and services generally increase over time. Another way to think of it is how your money — or what’s called your purchasing power — decreases in value as time goes on.

Usually, inflation only increases by around 2% each year. And if you’re lucky, your employer matches this increase with an equivalent raise. This zero-sum game means a lot of people may not notice inflation. Sure, things cost more, but you also earn more, so it all evens out.

The problem with today’s record-breaking inflation rate is that prices are climbing far too fast for wages to keep up. While employers have been handing out raises, a survey shows they averaged 3.4% in 2021, less than half of today’s current inflation rate.

With inflation and wages out of balance, you may notice how your dollar doesn’t stretch as far as it used to before the pandemic. Each expense takes up more of your very finite budget as a result.

Americans Are Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Now that everything costs more, many Americans are feeling the financial crunch. According to CNBC, nearly two-thirds of Americans (64%) live paycheck to paycheck today. This isn’t necessarily new. In fact, survey after survey has revealed people have been living this way for nearly a decade.

If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, most, if not all, of your monthly income goes towards making ends meet. With your income tied up with bills, you may have practically no cash for anything else.

Your Paycheck May Not Go As Far — But Don’t Deflate Your Savings

It’s hard to keep up with your savings goals when you live like this. You might even hit pause on savings altogether. And without contributing to savings, Americans increasingly turn to credit cards and short-term personal loans for help in an emergency.

CNBC reports that 56% of Americans could not handle an unexpected $1,000 expense with savings. Most of those without savings would charge credit cards or ask a loved one for some help. But others would go into debt and borrow money online via short-term personal loans to cover unexpected expenses.

While credit cards and short-term personal loans function as emergency backups in unexpected cash crunches, they’re meant as temporary stopgaps for singular expenses. Moreover, borrowing money won’t solve the issue that high inflation is an ongoing problem that will long outlast most cash advances and personal loan terms.

More still, debt can add to your money troubles. If you’re already living paycheck to paycheck, you may not have the cash available to repay your personal loan on time. Late fines and extra interest are soon to follow.

Updating Your Budget with Inflation in Mind

Americans point to high costs preventing them from saving as much as they want, regardless of whether they rely on credit cards or short-term personal loans as crutches.

Unfortunately, there’s no telling just how long high inflation will hang around. Still, one thing is for sure: a higher-than-normal inflation rate will affect prices for the foreseeable future.

Higher prices are the new normal, so it’s time to tweak your budget, updating it for another expensive year. Let’s dive into how you can do that.

1. Make a List of Priorities

When things are tight, you need a plan of action to understand your next move. So sit down and write out your list of priorities. These expenses are the absolute essentials you need to pay each month to keep a roof over your head and food on the table.

Besides housing costs and groceries, this list may include insurance payments, utilities, basic household items, and toiletries. In addition, the minimum payments for personal loans, cash advances, and lines of credit also belong on this list. These minimum payments will help you avoid late fines, extra interest, and credit damage.

This list shows the bare minimum for what you need each month. It serves as a good reminder of what you need to pay first before moving on to other things.

2. Cut Discretionary Expenses

As judge, jury, and executioner of expenses, you should be looking to slash non-essential spending until you have more wiggle room in your budget. Then, the unnecessary expenses (i.e., those you don’t need to lead a safe or comfortable life) should be on the chopping block.

Which expenses didn’t make it on your list of priorities? It can be daunting to say goodbye to the fun things in life, but it’s easier to let go knowing it won’t be forever. You can reintroduce the non-essentials when you start to feel less pressure.

To help you get started, here are some discretionary expenses you can cut:

  • Streaming services: If you have multiple streaming subscriptions, pare them down to the one you use most often.
  • Subscription boxes: While the average subscription box doesn’t cost a lot, it may be too much if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Put them on pause until you have more wiggle room in your budget.
  • Gym memberships: The average gym membership costs about $600 a year. You can pocket that change by switching to a free at-home workout.
  • Takeout: According to The Fool, the average American spends $2,375 on takeout a year. If you eat out multiple times a week, you stand to save a lot by eating at home.
  • Alcohol: Happy hours after work and wine with dinner add up. Going dry can help you free up more cash for bills.

Finding it hard to say no when you’re out and about? Apply the 30-day rule. In other words, wait for 30 days before you commit to the purchase. A month is long enough to take the wind out of your sails, revealing the splurge for what it is: a waste of money.

3. Automate Savings

Even at this time, savings are an essential part of your budget. It can help you weather unexpected emergencies, reducing how often you tap into credit cards and short-term personal loans.

Admittedly, saving through high inflation is challenging, so you might want to ignore the usual advice to save 3 to 6 months. But, that’s a goal for another day.

For now, save as much as you can to get started, even if it’s just $10 a month at first. Financial advisor David Ramsey suggests lowering your goal to $1,000 when you’re first starting out.

4. Tweak Your Phone and Internet Package

Having a phone and access to the Internet is as close to essentials as possible nowadays. You might need them for work, or it may be the only way you can contact the outside world. So cutting these expenses for the sake of saving money just doesn’t make sense.

If you’re on an unlimited plan, consider downsizing to a cheaper plan with strict data and talk limits. Be careful not to exceed these limits to ensure you aren’t penalized. You stand to save even more each month if you can stomach a prepaid contract.

5. Update Your Insurance

Like your phone and Internet packages, insurance is another essential with some wiggle room. But first, you’ll want to do some research. Go online to compare other insurance companies to see what they offer. Then, when talking to your current provider, you can leverage this info to know if they’re willing to match the competition.

Another thing you can leverage is your loyalty. If you’ve been with the company for a long time, bring this history up while talking to your provider. They might be willing to cut you a better deal knowing you’re thinking about jumping ship.

You may also get a better deal if you’re willing to bundle your life, home, and auto insurance under one company.

6. Eat Better for Less

Putting food on the table has never been more expensive. But, unfortunately, you can’t precisely cut groceries from your budget!

Meat and dairy have been some of the hardest-hit items in the grocery stores, with bacon, eggs, and beef taking most of the brunt. Now that bacon is 26% more expensive per pound than last year, you might think twice about including it on your breakfast plate.

Plant-based eating promises some financial savings at the grocery store, especially if you stay away from costly prepared meat replacements. Instead, focus on tried-and-true cheap ingredients like lentils and rice.

Following a meal plan is also another great way to keep your spending in check at the supermarket. Make a list of meals you want to eat every week, adjusting your plan for weekly flyers and coupons.

7. Use Less Energy

Your utility bills are taking a bigger bite of your budget, like electricity, water, and gas cost more. According to the Guardian, utility prices in the U.S. rose by 33% last year.

Reducing energy consumption across these utilities can help you control runaway expenses.

One of the biggest things you can do to save is set your thermostat according to the Department of Energy’s recommendations. These tips can help you save as much as 10% of your annual heating and cooling costs.

Summer: If you have an air conditioner running, set it to 78°F when you’re at home. Try increasing the temperature as high as you feel comfortable when you’re out.

Winter: During the cooler months, try to keep your thermostat to 68°F while you’re at home, reducing it even lower when you’re at work or in bed.

8. Reduce Your Fuelling Costs

Between inflation and the Russia-Ukraine crisis squeezing the American fuel supply, drivers can expect to spend more at the pumps. If you can’t reduce how often you’re behind the wheel, you should download an app like GasBuddy to find the lowest gas prices in your area.

More often than not, this ends up being Costco, but they don’t get a membership just to qualify for their gas. So you probably won’t save more at their pumps than what it costs to become an annual member.

Another way to keep your driving costs low is by using gas station loyalty cards so that you can redeem points as often as possible. You can also consider carpooling with local friends and colleagues to share the burden of driving.

9. Learn How to Negotiate

The art of negotiation is a hard-earned skill that can do wonders for your budget. Depending on your strategy and your creditor’s policies, you can push out due dates to take the pressure off your budget and reduce what you owe.

If you aren’t sure how to persuade big companies, check out this script for guidance. When it comes to medical expenses specifically, ask if they offer a financial plan that offsets your costs. In many cases, healthcare businesses are willing to give you a discount if you offer to pay the reduced amount in full immediately.

10. Investigate Financial Assistance

Let’s face it — juggling all your bills as inflation nudges them higher, and higher is hard. Sometimes, not even your best attempts at negotiating bills and saving money at the grocery store will be enough to help you balance your budget.

Reach out to a free credit counseling organization for advice. They can provide more significant insights into how to shrink your budget. But more importantly, they can direct you towards government assistance programs that help you offset the burden of your living expenses.

The Takeaway for :

Although inflation is beyond your control, there are ways you can get back in the financial driver’s seat. As prices continue to rise, your budget is your most crucial resource throughout it all. You can refer to this spending plan to understand your priorities and focus on areas of your spending that need work.

You can reduce your monthly spending and save more, whether it’s unnecessary splurges or excessive fuel spending. Keep these tips in mind for the rest of the year.

But more importantly, know that you aren’t alone in facing these prices. There are resources you can fall back on for more guidance if you can’t balance the budget, no matter how hard you try.

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