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Putting a Wrap On the Sandwich Generation

November 11, 2019

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Brian Stewart LUTCF FSCP

Brian Stewart LUTCF FSCP

Insurance Representative

m: 410-746-6438 f: 301-352-3695

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Bowie, Md 20715

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Now’s the Time for Future Planning

Now’s the Time for Future Planning
October 21, 2019

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a “million dollars” for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out your friends and neighbors for a little spending money was vastly different from your grown up reality – writing checks for all those bills, paying your taxes, and buying all the things that children seem to need these days, all while trying to save as much as you can for your retirement. When you were a kid, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. More opportunities. More responsibilities. More choices. As the years go by, finances get more complicated. So knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is something you need to determine sooner rather than later – even before your source of income switches from mowing lawns and babysitting to your first internship at that marketing firm downtown.

A great way to get a better idea of where your money is going and what it’s doing when it gets there? A financial strategy.

No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of your future self is going to drift your way from Easter Island. A sound strategy for your money is essential, starting as soon as possible is better than waiting, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going.

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Turn your hobby into a side gig

Turn your hobby into a side gig
September 3, 2019

Do you have a hobby that you really love? Could you use a little extra cash?

What if you could get paid for doing something that you already enjoy doing? We’re all good at something. Many people have turned their hobbies into a side business as a way to earn extra money. For nearly everyone, there’s a topic they know well or a skill they have that many other people don’t have. That niche can spell opportunity – and a chance to turn something you enjoy doing anyway into a money-maker.

Depending on the type of hobby you want to monetize, your startup expenses may be quite low. For writing, coding, or graphic design, you might only need a laptop or tablet – something you may already have. If your hobby is fixing up old cars, however, you might need a place to do the work – possibly adding to the expense. For that scenario, you could check out the possibility of putting in a couple of Saturdays per month at a local shop to help save on rent and insurance costs.

With a little ingenuity, you might be able to earn $10 to $40 (or maybe more) per hour doing work you enjoy. Artists can earn extra money by selling arts and crafts items on specialized sites like Etsy.com. Freelance writers, coders, designers, and even teachers can find work on Upwork.com, Fiverr.com, and similar websites that bring clients and service providers together. Have you been on eBay.com lately? Would you bet that many of those successful eBay sellers began as hobbyists? If you have a knack for knowing what’s valuable, you may be able to turn garage sale and estate sale buys into a rewarding business. (Hint: If this is something you’d like to try, start out small. Concentrate on one type of item that might be near and dear to you, like brass musical instruments, or antique mason jars.)

The old saying that asserts “knowledge is power” applies here as well. Let’s say your childhood fascination with dinosaurs never quite went extinct. Maybe there’s a successful educational blog or a YouTube channel in your future. Technology has given us the power to reach a larger audience than ever before and to bring our knowledge to anyone who wants to learn more. Sharing what you know can be monetized in many ways and – if you love doing it – you might not feel like you’re working at all!

Do your research and understand any legal or insurance requirements that may apply to the area you want to get into, but don’t let a little legwork bar the way to your next great endeavor – even if it just starts as a side gig.

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Opportunity cost and your career

Opportunity cost and your career
August 26, 2019

“Opportunity cost” refers to what you can potentially lose by choosing one option over another – even when you aren’t thinking about it.

Nearly every choice you make precludes something else that might have been.

Opportunity cost exists in everything from relationships to finances to career choices, but here we’ll focus on that last one. Over a lifetime, the cost of career decisions can be massive.

The math
For opportunity costs that can be measured, usually in dollars, there’s even a math equation.

What I sacrifice / What I gain = Opportunity cost[i]

Let’s say you have two career choices. One is to work as a mechanic at $50 per hour and the other is to work as a karate instructor at $20 per hour.

Opportunity A / Opportunity B = Opportunity cost

Here it is with numbers: $50 / $20 = $2.50

To translate that, for every $1 you earn as a karate instructor, you could have earned $2.50 as a mechanic. The ratio remains the same whether it’s for one hour worked or 1,000 hours worked because it’s based on earnings per hour.

Adding a time element
We can only work a certain number of hours in a week and we can only work for a certain number of years in a lifetime. Adding time into the discussion doesn’t change the math relationship between the opportunities but it does recognize real-world constraints. Sometimes these limits are by choice. You could be both a full-time mechanic and a full-time karate instructor, but most people don’t want to work 80 hours per week.

Something has to give, and that’s where considering opportunity cost comes in. If you only want to work 40 hours in a week, you’ll have to choose one career over the other or split your time between the two. But even in splitting your time, there is an opportunity cost. Think about it like this: Every hour spent in a lower paying job costs money if you had an opportunity to earn more doing something else.

The bigger picture
In our example using the mechanic vs. the karate instructor, the difference in annual income is over $60,000 per year ($104,000 minus $41,600). Over a 40-year working career, the difference in earnings is nearly $2.5 million, and it all happened one hour at a time.

Life balance
Your career choice shouldn’t just be about money – you should do something you enjoy and that gives you satisfaction. There may be several other considerations as well – like opportunity to travel, the kind of people you work with, and the greater contribution you can make to the world. However, if there are two choices that meet all your criteria but one pays a bit more, just do the math!

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[i] https://blog.udemy.com/opportunity-cost-formula/

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The state of financial literacy

The state of financial literacy
August 5, 2019

We learn a lot of things in school, some of which are useful later in life, some of which are hurriedly memorized and then promptly forgotten, and some of which barely get a passing glance.

In decades past, financial literacy wasn’t an emphasis in school curriculum – unless you include the odd math problem that involved interest rate calculations. For all our years of education, as a nation we were woefully unprepared for one of the largest challenges in adult life: financial survival.

Recently, however, schools have begun to introduce various topics regarding financial literacy to the K-12 curriculum. Some states have fared better than others in this effort, with graded results ranging from A to F, as measured in an analysis done by the Washington Post.[i] Read on for more!

How we’re doing so far
In its annual Survey of the States, the Council for Economic Education reported that not one state had added personal finance to their K-12 standard curriculum since 2016, and that only 22 states require high school students to take a course in economics. Only 17 of the 50 states require students to take a course in personal finance.[ii]

We can’t count on schools (at least not right now)
While it’s easy to pick on schools and state governments for not including financial literacy education in the past and for only making small strides in curriculums today, that’s not solving the problem that current generations don’t understand how money works. As with many things, the responsibility – at least in the short-term – is falling to parents to help educate younger people on financial matters.

Other financial literacy resources
Given the general lack of financial education provided in schools, unsurprisingly, most teens look to their parents to learn money management skills.[iii] Fortunately, there are some great online resources that can help begin the conversation and help educate both parents and children on topics such as budgeting, how (or if) to use credit cards, differences in types of bank accounts, how to save, managing credit scores, etc.

Pepperdine University offers a “Financial Literacy Guide for Kids, Teens and Students”[iv], which covers many of the basics but also provides a useful set of links to resources where kids and parents alike can learn more through interactive games, quizzes, and demonstrations.

Included highlights are mobile apps which can be useful for budgeting, saving, and so forth, and even listings of websites that can help kids find scholarships or grants.

Another useful resource can be found through InCharge, a debt solution organization that has also invested in creating a large collection of financial literacy resources.[iv] So if you feel like you haven’t learned quite as much about money and finances that you wish you had in school, contact me so that we can explore how money works together, and I can help you put a strategy in place for you and your family!

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[i] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/12/19/grading-u-s-states-on-teaching-financial-literacy-some-earn-as-while-others-flunk/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3faad208d1d9
[ii] https://www.councilforeconed.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018-SOS-Layout-18.pdf
[iii] https://www.juniorachievement.org/documents/20009/20652/2015+Teens+and+Personal+Finance+Survey
[iv] https://mbaonline.pepperdine.edu/financial-literacy-guide-for-kids-teens-and-students/
[v] https://www.incharge.org/financial-literacy/

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Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Who Can Be My Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Do you have a recipient in mind for the proceeds of your life insurance policy?

Many people have someone in mind before they purchase their policy. This person or entity can be named as your beneficiary. Naming your life insurance beneficiary helps to ensure that the party you choose gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, even if your will leaves your estate to someone else. If you’ve decided that you want to provide for a special person or organization through your life insurance policy, it’s important that the beneficiary section will do what you expect.

Here are some simple tips that can help point you in the right direction:

Choosing Your Life Insurance Beneficiary
Who you name as your beneficiary is a deeply personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Family: Spouses, children, siblings, and parents: These are all very common choices as life insurance beneficiaries. However, children under the age of 18 are a special case. Life insurance companies won’t pay a death benefit to a minor, so you may want to set up a trust for the child’s benefit or choose a responsible adult whom you trust with the welfare of your child. This adult would be named as their guardian.
  • Legal guardian: If your life insurance policy does name a minor as your beneficiary, it may be a good idea to name a legal guardian for the child.
  • Trusts: You can name a trust as your life insurance beneficiary, and trusts are helpful, for instance, when naming a minor, pet, or someone who may not be great with handling their finances as a beneficiary.
  • Friends, etc: You can also name a friend as a beneficiary – assuming your friend isn’t a minor, in which case you can name a legal guardian or trust for the minor.

Note: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t name a pet as your beneficiary — but you can name a trust on behalf of your pet. (Sorry, Fluffy.)

Multiple Beneficiaries and Contingent Beneficiaries
You can name multiple beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, but when doing this, it may be beneficial to use percentages rather than fixed dollar amounts. For permanent life insurance policies, like whole life insurance and universal life insurance, the death benefit payout amount can change over time, making percentages a better strategy for multiple beneficiaries.

You can also name contingent beneficiaries. Think of a contingent beneficiary as a back-up beneficiary. In the event that your primary beneficiary passes before you do (or at the same time), the proceeds of your policy would then go to the contingent beneficiary.

Final Thoughts
Avoid using general designations, such as “spouse” or “children” as your beneficiary. Spouses can change, as divorce statistics remind us, and you never know which long-lost “children” might appear if there’s a chance of a payday from your life insurance policy. In the very best case, general designations will cause delays in payment to your intended beneficiaries.

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Creating Healthy Financial Habits

Creating Healthy Financial Habits

When it comes to building wealth and managing finances well enough to live comfortably, it’s up to your participation in a long-term financial strategy, which – more often than not – depends on creating healthy financial habits NOW.

Check out these ideas on how you can do it!

Automate It
Fortunately for us, we live in the electronic age, which can make streamlining financial goals a lot easier than in decades past. Whether building savings, investing for the future, paying down debt, or any other goals, take advantage of the apps and information available online. Savings can be put on autopilot, taking a fixed amount from your bank account each month or each pay period. The same can be done for IRAs or other investment accounts. Many mobile apps offer to automatically round up purchases and invest the spare change. (Hint: Compare your options and any associated fees for each app.)

Be Mindful of Small Purchases
It can be much easier to be aware of making a large purchase (physically large, financially large, or both). Take a physically large purchase, for instance: it’s difficult to go into a store and come out with a washing machine and not have any memory of it. And for large financial purchases like a laptop or television, some thought usually goes into it – up to and including how it’s going to get paid for. But small, everyday purchases can add up right under your nose. Ever gone into a big box store to grab a couple of items then left having spent over $100 on those items… plus some throw pillows and a couple of lamps you just had to snag? What about that pricey cup of artisan coffee? Odds are pretty good that the coffee shop has some delicious pastries, too, which may fuel that “And your total is…” fire. $100 here, $8.50 there, another $1.75 shelled out for a bottle of water – the small expenses can add up quickly and dip right into the money that could go toward your financial strategy.

Paying with plastic has a tendency to make the tiny expenses forgettable… until you get that credit card bill. One easy way to cut down on the mindless purchases is to pay in cash or with a debit card. The total owed automatically leaves your wallet or you account, perhaps making the dwindling amount you have to set aside for your financial future a little more tangible.

Do What Wealthy People Do
CNBC uncovered several habits and traits that are common among wealthy individuals. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all hard work. They found that wealthy people tend to read – a lot – and continue learning through reading. Your schedule may not allow for as much reading time as the average billionaire – maybe just 30 minutes a day is a good short-term goal – but getting in more reading can help you improve in any area of life!

Another thing wealthy people do? Wake up early. This may help you find that extra 30 minutes for reading. You’ll get more done in general if you get up a little earlier. A 5-year study of self-made millionaires revealed that nearly 50% of this industrious group woke up at least 3 hours before their work day started.

Making these healthy financial habits a part of your regular routine might take some time and effort, but hang in there. Often, success is about the mindset we choose to have. If you stay the course and learn from those who’ve been where you are, you can experience the difference that good habits can make as you keep moving toward financial independence!

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Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges, too.

In fact, money matters are the leading cause of arguments in modern relationships.* The age-old adage that love trumps wealth may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.

These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.

1. Set a goal for debt-free living.
Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.

2. Talk about money matters.
Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.

3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account.
As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.

With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)

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Avoid these unhealthy financial habits

Avoid these unhealthy financial habits
March 27, 2019

As well-intentioned as we might be, we sometimes get in our own way when it comes to improving our financial health.

Much like physical health, financial health can be affected by binging, carelessness, or simply not knowing what can cause harm. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – as with physical health, it’s possible to reverse the downward trend if you can break your harmful habits.

Not budgeting
A household without a budget is like a ship without a rudder, drifting aimlessly and – sooner or later – it might sink or run aground in shallow waters. Small expenses and indulgences can add up to big money over the course of a month or a year. In nearly every household, it might be possible to find some extra money just by cutting back on non-essential spending. A budget is your way of telling yourself that you may be able to have nice things if you’re disciplined about your finances.

Frequent use of credit cards
Credit cards always seem to get picked on when discussing personal finances, and often, they deserve the flack they get. Not having a budget can be a common reason for using credit, contributing to an average credit card debt of over $9,000 for balance-carrying households.[i] At an average interest rate of over 15%, credit card debt is usually the highest interest expense in a household, several times higher than auto loans, home loans, and student loans.[ii] The good news is that with a little discipline, you can start to pay down your credit card debt and help reduce your interest expense.

Mum’s the word
No matter how much income you have, money can be a stressful topic in families. This can lead to one of two potentially harmful habits.

First, talking about the family finances is often simply avoided. Conversations about kids and work and what movie you want to watch happen, but conversations about money can get swept under the rug. Are you a “saver” and your partner a “spender”? Is it the opposite? Maybe you’re both spenders or both savers. Talking (and listening) about yourself and your significant other’s tendencies can be insightful and help avoid conflicts about your finances. If you’re like most households, having an occasional chat about the budget may help keep your family on track with your goals – or help you identify new goals – or maybe set some goals if you don’t have any.

Second, financial matters can be confusing – which may cause stress – especially once you get past the basics. This may tempt you to ignore the subject or to think “I’ll get around to it one day”. But getting a budget and a financial strategy in place sooner rather than later may actually help you reduce stress. Think of it as “That’s one thing off my mind now!”

Taking the time to understand your money situation and getting a budget in place is the first step to put your financial house in order. As you learn more and apply changes – even small ones – you might see your efforts start to make a difference!

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[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt
[ii] https://www.fool.com/taxes/2018/04/22/how-much-does-the-average-american-pay-in-taxes.aspx

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The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt

The return of – dun, dun, dun – Consumer Debt
March 18, 2019

It might sound like a bad monster movie title, but the return of consumer debt is a growing concern.

A recent New York Times article details the rise of consumer debt, which has reached a new peak and now exceeds the record-breaking $12.68 trillion of consumer debt we had collectively back in 2008.[i] In 2017, after a sharp decline followed by a rise as consumer sentiment improved, we reached a new peak of $12.7 trillion.[ii]

A trillion is a big number. Numbers measured in trillions (that’s 1,000 billion, or 1,000,000 million – yes, that’s correct!) can seem abstract and difficult to relate to in our own individual situations. So let’s take a closer look.

Good debt and bad debt
Mortgage debt still makes up the majority of consumer debt, currently 68% of the total.[iii] But student loans are a category on the rise, currently more than doubling their percentage of total consumer debt when compared to 2008 figures.[iv] Coupled with a healthier economy, these new levels of consumer debt may not be a strong concern yet, but the impact of debt on individual households is often more palpable than the big-picture view of economists. Debt has a way of creeping up on families.

It’s common to hear references to “good debt”, usually when discussing real estate loans. In most cases, mortgage interest is tax deductible, helping to reduce the effective interest rate. However, if a household has too much debt, none of it feels like good debt. In fact, some people pass on home ownership altogether, investing their surplus income and living in more affordable rented apartments – instead of taking on the fluctuating cost of a house and its seemingly never-ending mortgage payments.

Credit card debt
Assuming that a mortgage and an auto loan are necessary evils for your household to work, and that student loans may pay dividends in the form of higher earning power, credit card debt deserves some closer scrutiny. The average American household owes over $15,000 in credit card debt,[v] just under a quarter of the median household income.[vi] The average interest rate for credit cards varies depending on the type of card (rewards cards can be higher).

That level of debt requires a sizeable payment each month. Guess what the monthly credit card interest for credit card debt of $15,000 at an interest rate of 15% would be? $187.50! (That number will go down as the balance decreases.) If your monthly payment is on the lower end, your debt won’t go down very quickly though. In fact, at $200 per month paid towards credit cards, the average household would be paying off that credit card debt for nearly 19 years, with a total interest cost of almost $30,000 – all from a $15,000 starting balance! (Hint: Calculator.net has a great set of financial calculators that let you figure out how much it really costs to borrow money.)

You may not be trillions in debt (even though it might feel like it), but the first step to getting your debt under control is often to understand what its long-term effects might be on your family’s financial health. Formulating a strategy to tackle debt and sticking to it is the key to defeating your personal debt monsters.

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[i], [ii], [iii] & [iv] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/17/business/dealbook/household-debt-united-states.html
[v] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
[vi] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/12/median-household-income-climbs-to-new-high-of-61372.html

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You don't have to be a rocket scientist

You don't have to be a rocket scientist
January 21, 2019

The best way to make sure your insurance is working well for you is to conduct an insurance review.

It might sound complicated, but you can do it!

Around the beginning of the year, many of us might be prompted to consider our financial health. Maybe we’re setting new financial goals. We could be re-adjusting our budgets or strategizing about how we’re going to pay for our summer vacation. But whatever’s on your mind as far as finances go, don’t leave out insurance, an integral part of your financial health.

What is an insurance review?
An insurance review takes a deep dive into your insurance protection to make sure you’ve got the coverage you need at the best rate. You’re going to want to take a look at all your insurance policies and the premiums you’re paying. Examine your life, health, auto, and home insurance policies. Don’t forget to include any insurance provided by your employer.

If you come across something that you’re not sure about or don’t understand, just jot it down. At the end of your review you can contact your insurance representative with your questions.

Why do I need an insurance review?
Every insurance consumer needs an insurance review. When your life changes, your insurance should change with it.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you treated yourself to a new entertainment system. You used your year-end bonus and finally bought that huge 4K OLED TV and wireless sound system you’ve been dreaming of for years. You’ll want to find out if the new system is going to be covered on your renter’s insurance policy. Also, you’ll need to add the new system to your personal property inventory.

If you forget to make these updates, you could come up short come claim time. An annual insurance review catches situations such as this and helps make sure you’re fully covered.

An insurance review may save you money
Another benefit of an insurance review is it may save you money. Life changes may affect our insurance coverage and rates. Sometimes though, we don’t change but our insurance company does. Insurance companies change rates and offerings regularly. It’s essential to conduct an annual review to make sure you’re getting the best possible rate from your insurance company.

Your insurance agent or carrier can review your policies and underwriting factors to make sure you’re still getting the best policy rate.

When you need an insurance review
Keep in mind that anytime your life changes in certain ways you may need an insurance review – moving, purchasing a new car, getting married, starting a family, buying a home, etc.

As a rule of thumb, an annual insurance review is part of good financial health. Take a close look at your policies to make sure you’re getting comprehensive coverage at the best price. Insurance coverage and costs change as your life changes, so make a regular insurance review part of your financial strategy.

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New Year, New (Financial) You!

New Year, New (Financial) You!
January 16, 2019

The new year is best known for resolutions.

The trouble is that many new year’s resolutions don’t survive past the first month or so. Why is that? You might suspect it’s because we set unrealistic goals or lack the proper motivation.

If you’ve got some financial resolutions you want to stick to, the key is to set realistic goals and have the proper discipline to hang in there, especially when the going gets tough.

Consider the following tips. Everyone can improve their finances and – as a bonus – you won’t end up with a basement full of barely-used exercise equipment that’s standing in for clothes drying racks.

Put away your credit cards
Do you have a fireproof box at home? (You probably should to store your extra-important documents, like the title to your car or your will.) This might be the perfect place for your credit cards. Many families struggle with credit card debt and in many cases, they aren’t even sure where the money actually went.

Credit can be a crutch that only ends up helping us postpone healthy financial habits. The frequent result is years of accumulating interest payments and growing balances that may prevent you from maximizing your savings. (Debt also may lead to household friction.) Lock the credit cards in the strongbox and make a pact with the rest of your household to use a credit card just for when you have a real emergency – and this would only occur if you’ve depleted your normal emergency fund.

Get your own life insurance policy
It’s great to see families insured by at least an employer-sponsored policy, but how insured are they really? Employer plans usually don’t follow you to the next job, and the benefit for your family is typically limited to a fixed amount, such as $50,000, or in some cases up to one to two times your salary.[i] That’s probably not enough coverage for your family – and it might disappear at any time if you were to change jobs. Get a quote for your own life insurance policy that better meets your needs and that you can control.

Make a budget
Many of us think we know where our money goes, but making a budget will illuminate your spending in vivid, full-color detail. You might startle your family with loud exclamations as you realize how much you actually spend on gourmet coffee stops, eating out, clothes, golf accessories, etc. It can add up quickly. A budget may not only help you cut spending, but it may also help you build your emergency savings (yes, this should be a budget item) and start piling away more money for retirement (another necessary budget item).

Know your number
Nope, not the winning lottery number. In this case, your number is the one that can help you reach a financial goal. Saving for retirement without knowing how much you’ll need or how much you can put away each month is like running a race blindfolded. You need to see the course and the finish line ahead. That’s your number. Whether saving, paying down debt, or accomplishing any other financial goal, you need to identify the number that will define your short-term targets and help you reach your ultimate destination.

If you need help with your goals or aren’t sure how to find the number you need to know to prepare for your future, reach out. I have some ideas we can discuss.

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[i] https://www.policygenius.com/life-insurance/group-life-insurance/

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Worry Once. Suffer Twice.

Worry Once. Suffer Twice.
July 23, 2018

If you Google “how to be financially independent,” over 4 million search results come back.

And for good reason: People are really worried about their finances. Last year, 76% of Americans experienced some kind of financial headache.

Are any of these top 5 concerns true for you?

  1. Health Care Expenses/Bills
  2. Lack of Emergency Savings
  3. Lack of Retirement Savings
  4. Credit Card Debt
  5. Mortgage/Rent Payments

Chances are that one of these is going to hit home with you. If worrying about a problem means that you suffer twice, millions of people are suffering twice over their finances.

Are you? And are you ready for a way out?

An effective way to learn about financial independence is to talk with someone who already knows – an ally who can walk the road with you. Someone who has been where you are. Someone who isn’t buried somewhere in a 4 million hit search result. All it takes is one phone call or email to an experienced and trusted financial professional. Then, together you can start moving toward financial independence – and stop the suffering over your finances.

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How to Avoid "Financial Infidelity"

How to Avoid "Financial Infidelity"

If you or your partner have ever spent (a lot of) money without telling the other, you’re not alone.

This has become such a widespread problem for couples that there’s even a term for it: Financial Infidelity.

Calling it infidelity might seem a bit dramatic, but it makes sense when you consider that finances are the leading cause of relationship stress. Each couple has their own definition of “a lot of money,” but as you can imagine, or may have even experienced yourself, making assumptions or hiding purchases from your partner can be damaging to both your finances AND your relationship.

Here’s a strategy to help avoid financial infidelity, and hopefully lessen some stress in your household:

Set up “Fun Funds” accounts.

A “Fun Fund” is a personal bank account for each partner which is separate from your main savings or checking account (which may be shared).

Here’s how it works: Each time you pay your bills or review your whole budget together, set aside an equal amount of any leftover money for each partner. That goes in your Fun Fund.

The agreement is that the money in this account can be spent on anything without having to consult your significant other. For instance, you may immediately take some of your Fun Funds and buy that low-budget, made-for-tv movie that you love but your partner hates. And they can’t be upset that you spent the money! It was yours to spend! (They might be a little upset when you suggest watching that movie they hate on a quiet night at home, but you’re on your own for that one!)

Your partner on the other hand may wait and save up the money in their Fun Fund to buy $1,000 worth of those “Add water and watch them grow to 400x their size!” dinosaurs. You may see it as a total waste, but it was their money to spend! Plus, this isn’t $1,000 taken away from paying your bills, buying food, or putting your kids through school. (And it’ll give them something to do while you’re watching your movie.)

It might be a little easier to set up Fun Funds for the both of you when you have a strategy for financial independence. With some work, you two have the potential to get closer to those beloved B movies and magic growing dinosaurs.

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The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)
April 16, 2018

Previously on “The Black Hole of Checking”…

In Part 1, we learned that any object pulled into a black hole will be stretched into the shape of spaghetti through a process called – wait for it – spaghettification. If you threw your shoe into it, the black hole’s gravity would stretch and compress your footwear into an unimaginably thin leather noodle as it was pulled deeper and deeper into the hole. Your shoe would be unrecognizable by the time gravity had its way.

The same thing can happen to the money in your checking account. Having a child, replacing an old automobile with something newer and more reliable, or taking a last-minute trip to see the grandparents in Florida over the holidays can put a strain on your finances and stretch your reserves farther than you might have anticipated. As new bills create a bigger and bigger hole in your budget, your financial strategy may become something you don’t recognize.

Here in Part 2, let’s talk about how assigning an identity to your money can keep your financial goals on track, and help reduce the stretching of finite resources.

For example, say you keep all of your money in your checking account. Simple is better, right? If you want to go on a family vacation, you’ll just withdraw the funds from your account. Paying in cash to secure a “great” package deal up front? You’re all over that. But what happens if you pick up some souvenirs for Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice? Hmmm…if you get something for them you’ll have to get something for Greg and Susan, too. (You’ll never make that mistake again.) And you just have to try that chic little cafe that you read about – you may never pass this way again. (But how can they get away with charging that much for a mimosa?!) Buy One, Get One all day pass at “The Biggest Miniature Museum in the World”? Let’s do it!

When you’re on vacation – having fun and enjoying yourself – it might be hard to resist taking advantage of unique experiences or grabbing those unusual gifts you didn’t account for. On the other hand, you may have no problem being thrifty when traveling, but what if someone gets sick or injured and needs hospital care on the road, or the car breaks down, or there is unexpected bad weather and you have to stay an extra day or two at the hotel?

After it’s all said and done, when you return home from your fun-filled trip, you may find a gaping hole where you had a pile of cash at the beginning of the month. If you had given your money a specific role before you planned your vacation, you may not have had such a shock when you got home – and you can enjoy your memories knowing you stayed on track with your financial goals.

Give your money identity, purpose, and the potential to grow by separating it into designated accounts. Try these 3 for starters:

1. Emergency Fund. Leaky roof? Flat tire? Trip to the emergency room? Maybe you’re great at resisting impulse buys (like those great shoes you spied the other day), but sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Your emergency fund is for situations like these. Unexpected, unplanned-for expenses can derail a financial strategy very quickly if you’re not prepared.

The most important thing to keep in mind about this account? Do. Not. Touch. It. Unless there’s an emergency, of course. Then replace the money in the account as quickly as possible until it’s fully funded again.

How much should you keep in your emergency fund? A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least $1,000, then build it to 3-6 months of your annual income. However much you decide suits your financial goals, just make sure you aren’t dipping into it when you don’t have an emergency. (Note: Grabbing a great pair of shoes on sale is not an emergency.)

2. Retirement Account. If you want to retire at some point (and most of us do), this one is a no-brainer. Odds are you’ve already begun to set aside a little something for the day you can trade in your suit and tie for a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of flip-flops, but are you storing your money for retirement in the right place right now? Unlike a day-to-day checking account with a very low or non-existent interest rate, your retirement account should be a separate account that has some power behind it. You’re taking the initiative to put away money for your future – get it working for you! Your goal should be to grow your retirement savings in an account with as high of an interest rate as you can find.

3. Fun Fund. This category may seem frivolous if you’re trying to stick to a well-structured financial plan, but it’s actually an important piece that can help make your budget “work”! Depending on your priorities, you might contribute a little or a lot to this account, but making some room for fun might make it more palatable to save long-term.

You might try setting aside 10% of your paycheck for fun and entertainment and see how that works – is that too much or not enough? Bonus: this is easy to calculate each month. If you’re bringing in $2,000 per month, put no more than $200 in your Fun Fund.

What you do with your Fun Fund is your choice. Will it be more of a vacation fund or a concert fund? A wardrobe fund or a theme park fund? It’s all up to you. And when the rest of your money has a purpose and is growing for your future, you might feel less guilty about snagging those hot shoes you’ve had your eye on when they finally do get marked down.

Don’t let your goals and your money get lost in a black hole of coulda, woulda, shoulda. What kind of purpose do you want to give your money?

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Will Your 2018 Routine Work for You?

Will Your 2018 Routine Work for You?
February 5, 2018

Someone streamed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl every single day in 2017 – for a total of 365 swashbuckling times.

Now that’s a commitment. How did they make it part of their daily routine? Was it the perfect length for a workout in their home gym? Or for winding down at the end of the day? However they were enjoying it, it was something they did consistently over time. Every. Single. Day.

When it comes to your money, how is your financial routine working for you? What are you doing on a regular basis with your finances? Did you know there’s a tool that you can add to your routine that will keep working for you 365 days a year (and beyond)? And you don’t even have to be connected to WiFi to stream its benefits.

All you need to do is make a habit of setting some money aside in an interest-bearing account, and let it do the work for you using the Rule of 72.

Here’s how it works: Take the number 72 and divide it by your annual interest rate. The answer is approximately how many years it will take for a lump sum of money in an account to double. Applying the Rule of 72 to $10,000 in an account at a 4% interest rate would look like this:

  • 72 ÷ 4 = 18

That means it would take approximately 18 years for $10,000 to grow to $20,000 ($20,258 to be exact). This formula really shows the value of finding as high of an interest rate as you can, doesn’t it? Now imagine what would happen to your money if you kept adding funds to your account consistently over time.

This equation may not be quite as exciting as a scene-stealing pirate, but it’s a tool that for 365 days has the potential to grow your money while you’re not even thinking about it. (Now that’s thrilling!) Ready to make it part of your 2018 routine?

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A New Year and New Opportunities to Teach Kids About Finances

A New Year and New Opportunities to Teach Kids About Finances

Kids aren’t getting the financial education they need: Only 20 states require high school students to take an economics course.

Right now at the beginning of a new year is a great time to share your financial knowledge and help your kids put it into practice. Imagine what can happen if your kids learn good savings habits when they’re still kids. When they hit their 20s and get their first “real” job, they can start right away to set aside a bit of their paycheck each month. Their money will have literally decades to grow.

In this hypothetical scenario, check out what happens with Susan and Tom.

  • Susan started saving when she was 25. Over the next 10 years, she put away $3,000 a year for a total of $30,000 in an account with an 8% rate of return. At this point, Susan stopped contributing but let it keep growing for the following 20 years.
  • Tom started saving 10 years later at age 35. He also put away $3,000 a year into an account with an 8% rate of return, but he contributed for 20 years (for a total of $60,000).

Even though Tom put away twice as much as Sarah, he wasn’t able to enjoy the same account growth:

  • Sarah would achieve account growth to $218,769.
  • Tom’s account growth would only be to $148,269 at the same rate of return.

Why did Susan end up with more in the long run? Even though she set aside less than Tom did, Susan’s money had more time to compound than Tom’s, which, as you can see, really added up over the additional time. (Keep in mind: All figures are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect an actual investment in any product. Additionally, they do not reflect the performance risks, taxes, expenses, or charges associated with any actual investment, which would lower performance. This illustration is not an indication or guarantee of future performance. Contributions are made at the end of the period. Total accumulation figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.)

Susan’s 10-year head start made a huge difference for her.

So back to you and your kids. Chances are the majority of your children’s financial education will happen at home. Feel free to use the above illustration to explain the importance of early retirement saving to your 8-year-old, but be warned – you might get a blank stare or a full-on fidget fest. Luckily for everybody involved, there’s a simple exercise you can do with your kids today to give them a head’s up about what it might be like to set aside some of their paycheck when the time comes.

For the really young ones, each time they receive money (earned, received as a gift, etc.), help them save part of it. It really is that simple. No complicated formulas or examples. After all, the basis of saving for retirement is…saving money. If your kids are a little older and ready for the next step, help them save with a specific goal in mind, like 1 big toy or activity at the end of the month.

Working on exercises like this with your kids has the potential to make a huge difference for them when they start preparing for retirement. It may seem small, but you’re laying the groundwork for solid financial literacy, one saved dollar at a time.

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