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The downside of payday loans and cash advances

August 19, 2019

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Kevin Kiefer

Kevin Kiefer

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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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What to do first if you receive an inheritance

What to do first if you receive an inheritance
July 31, 2019

In many households, nearly every penny is already accounted for even before it’s earned.

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for spending on daydream items. However, if you’re fortunate, you might be the recipient of some unexpected cash – your family might come into an inheritance, you could receive a bonus at work, or you might benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately for many though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear with nothing to show for it, if there is no strategy in place ahead of time to handle it wisely.

If you do receive some sort of unexpected bonus – before you call your travel agent – take a deep breath and consider these situations first.

Taxes or Other Expenses
If a large sum of money comes your way unexpectedly, your knee-jerk reaction might be to pull out your bucket list and see what you’d like to check off first. But before you start making plans, the reality is you may need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or tax advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability.

If you suddenly become the owner of a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing to consider is how much it might cost to hang on to it. If you want to keep that house or car (or any other asset that’s worth a lot of money), make sure you can cover maintenance, insurance, and any loan payments if that item isn’t paid off yet.

Pay Down Debt\ If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved with an inheritance. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:

  1. Credit card debt: This is often the highest interest rate debt and usually doesn’t have any tax benefit. Pay your credit cards off first.
  2. Personal loans: Pay these next. You and your friend/family member will be glad you knocked these out!
  3. Auto loans: Interest rates on auto loans are lower than credit cards, but cars depreciate rapidly (very rapidly). Rule of thumb: If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pay interest on a rapidly depreciating asset. Pay off the car as quickly as possible.
  4. College loans: College loans often have tax-deductible interest, but there is no physical asset with intrinsic value attached to them. Pay these off as fast as possible.
  5. Home loans: Most home loan interest is also tax-deductible. But since your home value is likely appreciating over time, you may be better off putting your money elsewhere if necessary, rather than paying off your home loan early.

Fund Your Emergency Account\ Before you buy that red convertible, make sure you’ve set aside some money for a rainy day. Saving at least 3-6 months of expenses is a good goal. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

Save for Retirement
Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.

Fund That College Fund
If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to put away all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.

Treat Yourself!
NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!

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Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?

Does your budget have more holes than Swiss cheese?
July 15, 2019

Given enough time, even the best planned budgets can start to feel like they’ve sprung a leak somewhere.

Sometimes you’ll notice right away (getting halfway through the month and realizing it’s going to be peanut butter sandwiches for lunch every day). Other times it can take a while for imperfections to show (you thought you were going to have more in the vacation fund by now).

When you first start building your budget, a good place to begin is to list all the big expenses – the ones that are impossible to miss. Then it’s time to turn to the little ones that can escape notice – these are the ones that might keep your budget math from working out the way you planned.

Dig out your bank statements. Try to go back at least 6 months, if not a year. Some regular expenses may not occur monthly and can be a surprise if you only used a month or two of bank statements to track spending and build your initial budget. Many times, automatic payments or fees may be charged quarterly or even annually.

Read on for some common expenses that might sneak up on you:

Subscriptions and online services – Many of us have subscriptions for software packages or online services. Remember that deal they offered if you paid for a whole year at once? At renewal time, they may charge you for another year unless you cancel.

Memberships – Gym memberships or dues for clubs may be quarterly or annual charges as well, so they might be missed when building your budget.

Protection plans – From credit monitoring to termite protection plans, there are lots of chances to miss an annual or quarterly expense in this category.

Automatic contributions – Many charities now offer automatic contributions. These can be easy to miss when budgeting.

Things you forgot to cancel – Free trials (that require your payment info) won’t be free forever. It’s easy to miss these as well.

Bank fees – Budgeting mishaps can lead to bank fees if your balance dips. Yet another potential surprise.

Automatic deposits – Saving for your future is a great move. Just be sure to know how much is going to be withdrawn and when, so your budget doesn’t feel the pinch.

Oftentimes, when people first make the commitment to create a budget and stick to it, it can be discouraging if it doesn’t seem to be working as expected right away. Try to keep in mind that your budget is a work in progress that will evolve over time. It probably won’t be perfect from the get-go.

If you hit a speedbump, take a little time to evaluate where the numbers aren’t quite adding up, and then make adjustments as necessary. You can do this!

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When should you start planning for retirement?

When should you start planning for retirement?
July 8, 2019

Depending on where you are in life’s journey, retirement may seem like a far away dream or it may be closing in faster than expected.

You might think that deciding when to start planning for retirement requires complicated algorithms. Yes, there may be some math involved – but the simple answer is – if you haven’t started planning yet, the time to start is right now!

The 80% rule
Many financial planners recommend saving enough to provide 80% of your pre-retirement income in your retirement years so you can maintain your standard of living. Following this rule isn’t an exact science though, because expense structures for each household can differ greatly. It is, however, a good place to start. How do we get to 80%? Living expenses typically decrease in retirement because costly commutes, investing in business clothing, and eating lunch out 5 days a week are reduced or eliminated. The other big expense that often changes is housing. At retirement, it’s common to trade in your 3, 4, or 5-bedroom home for something smaller, easier, and less expensive to maintain.

Retirement planning when you’re young
When you’re younger, planning for retirement may be a fairly simple process. Two considerations are life insurance and savings. This can’t be overstated: Now is the time to buy life insurance. If you’re young and healthy, life insurance rates are much more likely to be low. This also can’t be overstated: Now is the time to start saving. Every penny you put away now can get you closer to your goal. As anyone who’s older can tell you, life is full of surprises that end up costing money, and these instances have the potential to interfere with your savings strategy.

Longevity considerations
Another consideration is that we’re living longer. In the U.S. in 1960, life expectancy for men was 67 years. By 2016, life expectancy had increased to over 76 – with even longer life expectancy likely in following years – as medicine advances and as we become more aware of behaviors that affect our health.[i] Women tend to live even longer, with an average life expectancy of about 81 years by 2016.[ii] Life expectancy rates are essentially averages, with low and high numbers in the mix. If you’re fortunate enough to beat the average life expectancy, your retirement savings may become slim pickings in your later years, a time when you might not be able to generate supplementary income.

Manage your expenses
Whether you’re young or getting on in years, the time to start saving is now. But if you’re nearing retirement age, it’s also time to take an honest look at your expenses. Part of the trick to stretching retirement savings is to eliminate unnecessary costs. If you’re considering moving to a smaller home to cut costs – and you’re feeling adventurous – you might want to consider moving to a different state with a lower tax rate to enjoy your golden years. If you’re younger, it’s still a great time to assess your budget and eliminate any and all unnecessary spending that you can.

For younger people, time is your ally when it comes to saving for retirement, but waiting to start saving might leave you with less than you’d hoped for later in life. If you’re closer to retirement age, there’s still time to build your nest egg and examine your projected expenses. Talk to your financial professional today about options that may be available for you!

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[i] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.MA.IN?locations=US
[ii] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.FE.IN?locations=US

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The Closest Without Going Over Wins

The Closest Without Going Over Wins
July 1, 2019

“How many jellybeans are in the jar?” This is one of life’s serious questions.

You know how it works. If your guess is the closest without going over, you win the prize. And whether it’s a cash pot, a season pass for your hometown’s team – or even just the jellybeans themselves, it’s a situation with a lot at stake. You’ve been presented with a ripe opportunity to prove your keen intellect, not to mention maybe winning some free candy!

You may start pulling out your old high school algebra equations. You may laboriously count the visible jellybeans so you can extrapolate the total. You may even pick the jar up and hold it to the light – shaking it and assessing any gaps in area coverage.

Take your time. It’s a big decision.

Unfortunately for many people, it seems not as much thought goes into estimating how much a life insurance policy may cost. Can you guess how much a policy might cost?

LIMRA’s 2017 Insurance Barometer study shed a little light on just how off these guesses can be: When those surveyed were asked how much they thought a healthy 30-year-old would pay for a $250,000 policy, their median guess was $500 – more than 3 times the actual cost!

That stat is pretty revealing: odds are that the number you have in mind may be a lot higher than what you might actually end up paying for your policy. As a result, it may feel like you’re saving money by not having life insurance. But in the case of the passing of a breadwinner or an unexpected loss of income, not having (what is potentially affordable) protection for your loved ones feels as silly as writing down a guess of 1,000,000 jellybeans next to the mathematician’s answer of 1,086.

The bottom line: Have you overestimated how much a well-tailored life insurance policy could cost you? Not sure? Reconsider your guesstimate with a financial professional who can help you with the ins and outs of your needs and what coverage may be available that fits your budget. (It’s like knowing how many jellybeans are in the jar before you have to guess!)

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Matters of Age

Matters of Age
June 24, 2019

The younger you are, the less expensive your life insurance may be.

Life insurance companies are more likely to offer lower premium life insurance policies to young, healthy people who will likely not need the death benefit payout of their policy for a while. (Keep in mind that exceptions for pre-existing medical conditions or certain careers exist – think “skydiving instructor”. But in many cases, the odds are more in your favor for lower premiums than you might guess.)

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, I am young and healthy, so why do I need to add another expense into my budget for something I might not need for a long time?”

Unlike a financial goal of saving up for a downpayment on your first house, waiting for “the right moment” to get life insurance – perhaps when you feel like you’re prepared enough – is less beneficial. A huge part of that is due to getting older. As your body ages, things can start to go wrong – unexpectedly and occasionally chronically. Ask any 35-year-old who just threw out their back for the first time and is now Googling every posture-perfecting stretch and cushy mattress to prevent it from happening again.

Don’t worry: you’re probably not going to go to pieces like fine china hitting a cement floor on your 30th birthday. But your mortality is certainly something to keep in mind. The human body breaks down with time, making it more susceptible to illness or injury. Combine that with an issue like the sudden chronic back problems from throwing your back out that one time (one time!), and your premium may reflect both the age increase and a pre-existing condition.

If you experience certain types of illness or injury prior to getting life insurance, it would often be considered a pre-existing condition, which may cause a premium to go up. Possible scenarios like the recurrence of cancer or a sudden inability to work due to re-injury are red flags for insurance companies because it increases the likelihood that a policyholder will need their policy’s payout.

A person’s age, unique medical history, financial goals, along with other factors, will all be taken into consideration during the process of finding the right insurance coverage and determining the rate. So taking advantage of your youth and good health now without bringing an age-borne illness or injury to the table could be beneficial for your journey to purchasing life insurance.

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How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To
June 19, 2019

Some people love to live a life of thrift.

It’s a challenge they tackle with gusto. Shaving down expenses with couponing, hunting the best deals with an app on their phones, or simply finding creative ways to reuse a cardboard box, gives them a thrill. For others, budgeting conjures up images of living in tents, foraging for nuts and berries in the woods, and sewing together everyone’s old t-shirts to make a blanket for grandma.

To each their own! But budgeting doesn’t have to be faced like a wilderness survival reality TV competition. Sure, there might be some sacrifice and compromise involved when you first implement your budget (giving up that daily $6 latte might feel like roughing it at first), but rest assured there’s a happy middle to most things, and a way that won’t make you hate adhering to your financial goals.

Simplifying the budgeting process can help ease the transition. Check out the following suggestions to make living on a budget something you can stick to – instead of making a shelter out of sticks.

Use that smartphone. Your parents may have used a system of labeled envelopes to budget for various upcoming expenses. Debit cards have largely replaced cash these days, and all those labeled envelopes were fiddly anyway. Your best budgeting tool is probably in your pocket, your purse, or wherever your smartphone is at the moment.

Budgeting apps can connect to your bank account and keep track of incoming and outgoing cash flow, making it simple to categorize current expenses and create a solid budget. A quick analysis of the data and charts from the app can give you important clues about your spending behavior. Maybe you’ll discover that you spent $100 last week for on-demand movies. $5 here and $10 there can add up quickly. Smartphone apps can help you see (in vivid color) how your money could be evaporating in ways you might not feel on a day-to-day basis.

Some apps give you the ability to set a budget for certain categories of spending (like on-demand movies), and you can keep track of how you’re doing in relation to your defined budget. Some apps even provide alerts to help keep you aware of your spending. And if you’re feeling nostalgic, there are even apps that mimic the envelope systems of old, but with a digital spin.

Plan for unexpected expenses. Even with modern versions of budgeting, one of the biggest risks for losing your momentum is the same as it was in the days of the envelope system: unexpected expenses. Sometimes an unexpected event – like car trouble, an urgent home repair, or medical emergency – can cost more than we expected. A lot more.

A good strategy to help protect your budget from an unexpected expense is an Emergency Fund. It may take a while to build your Emergency Fund, but it will be worth it if the tire blows out, the roof starts leaking, or you throw your back out trying to fix either of those things against your doctor’s orders.

The size of your Emergency Fund will depend on your unique situation, but a goal of at least $1,000 to 3 months of your income is recommended. Three months of income may sound like a lot, but if you experience a sudden loss of income, you’d have at least three full months of breathing room to get back on track.

Go with the flow. As you work with your new budget, you may find that you miss the mark on occasion. Some months you’ll spend more. Some months you’ll spend less. That’s normal. Over time, you’ll have an average for each expense category or expense item that will reveal where you can do better – but also where you may have been more frugal than needed.

With these suggestions in mind, there is no time like the present to get started! Make that new budget, then buy yourself an ice cream or turn on the air conditioning. Once you know where you stand, where you need to tighten up on spending, and where you can let loose a little, budgeting might not seem like a punishment. In fact, you might find that it’s a useful, much-needed strategy that you CAN stick to – all part of the greater journey to your 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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What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?
April 29, 2019

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.

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Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt?

Are You Unwinding Yourself Into Debt?
April 10, 2019

Americans owe more than $1 trillion in credit card debt.

You read that right: more than $1 trillion.

That number is up 6.2% from 1 year ago. At this rate, it seems like more and more people are going to end up being owned by a tiny piece of plastic rather than the other way around.

How much have you or a loved one contributed to that number? Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, there are a couple simple tricks to get and keep yourself out of credit card debt.

The first step is to be aware of how and when you’re using your credit card. It’s so easy – especially on a night out when you’re trying to unwind – to mindlessly hand over your card to pay the bill. And for most people, paying with credit has become their preferred, if not exclusive, payment option. Dinner, drinks, Ubers, a concert, a movie, a sporting event – it’s going to add up.

And when that credit card bill comes, you could end up feeling more wound up than you did before you tried to unwind.

Paying attention to when, what for, and how often you hand over your credit card is crucial to getting out from under credit card debt.

Here are 2 tips to keep yourself on track on a night out.

1. Consider your budget. You might cringe at the word “budget”, but it’s not an enemy who never wants you to have any fun. Considering your budget doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a night out with friends or coworkers. It simply means that an evening of great food, fun activities, and making memories must be considered in the context of your long-term goals. Start thinking of your budget as a tough-loving friend who’ll be there for you for the long haul.

Before you plan a night out:

  • Know exactly how much you can spend before you leave the house or your office, and keep track of your spending as your evening progresses.
  • Try using an app on your phone or even write your expenses on a napkin or the back of your hand – whatever it takes to keep your spending in check.
  • Once you have reached your limit for the evening – stop.

2. Cash, not plastic (wherever possible). Once you know what your budget for a night out is, get it in cash or use a debit card. When you pay your bill with cash, it’s a concrete transaction. You’re directly involved in the physical exchange of your money for goods and services. In the case that an establishment or service will only take credit, just keep track of it (app, napkin, back of your hand, etc.), and leave the cash equivalent in your wallet.

You can still enjoy a night on the town, get out from under credit card debt, and be better prepared for the future with a carefully planned financial strategy. Carefully assess where you are on your financial journey and what steps you need take to get where you want to go – hopefully by happy hour!

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Building your budget

Building your budget
April 1, 2019

The number of Americans who don’t have a budget is alarmingly high.

One poll puts the number at 34%.[i] That equates to over 100 million Americans who have no budget.[ii] Yikes!

You don’t have to be a statistic. Here are some quick tips to get you started on your own budget so you can help safeguard your financial future.

Know Your Balance Sheet
Companies maintain and review their “balance sheets” regularly. Balance sheets show assets, liabilities, and equity. Business owners probably wouldn’t be able run their companies successfully for very long without knowing this information and tracking it over time.

You also have a balance sheet, whether you realize it or not. Assets are the things you have, like a car, house, or cash. Liabilities are your debts, like auto loans or outstanding bills you need to pay. Equity is how much of your assets are technically really yours. For example, if you live in a $100,000 house but carry $35,000 on the mortgage, your equity is 65% of the house, or $65,000. 65% of the house is yours and 35% is still owned by the bank.

Pro tip: Why is this important to know? If you’re making a decision to move to a new house, you need to know how much money will be left over from the sale for the new place. Make sure to speak with a representative of your mortgage company and your realtor to get an idea of how much you might have to put towards the new house from the sale of the old one.

Break Everything Down
To become efficient at managing your cash flow, start by breaking your spending down into categories. The level of granularity and detail you want to track is up to you. (Note: If you’re just starting out budgeting, don’t get too caught up in the details. For example, for the “Food” category of your budget, you might want to only concern yourself with your total expense for food, not how much you’re spending on macaroni and cheese vs. spaghetti.)

If you typically spend $400 a month on food, that’s important to know. As you get more comfortable with budgeting and watching your dollars, it’s even better to know that half of that $400 is being spent at coffee shops and restaurants. This information may help you eliminate unnecessary expenditures in the next step.

What you spend your money on is ultimately your decision, but lacking knowledge about where it’s spent may lead to murky expectations. Sure, it’s just $10 at the sandwich shop today, but if you spend that 5 days a week on the regular, that expenditure may fade into background noise. You might not realize all those hoagies are the equivalent of your health insurance premium. Try this: Instead of spending $10 on your regular meal, ask yourself if you can find an acceptable alternative for less by switching restaurants.

Once you have a good idea of what you’re spending each month, you’ll need to know exactly how much you make (after taxes) to set realistic goals. This would be your net income, not gross income, since you will pay taxes.

Set Realistic Goals and Readjust
Now that you know what your balance sheet looks like and what your cash flow situation is, you can set realistic goals with your budget. Rank your expenses in order of necessity. At the top of the list would be essential expenses – like rent, utilities, food, and transit. You might not have much control over the rent or your car payment right now, but consider preparing food at home to help save money.

Look for ways you can cut back on utilities, like turning the temperature down a few degrees in the winter or up a few degrees in the summer. You may be able to save on electricity if you run appliances at night or in the morning, rather than later in the afternoon when usage tends to be the highest.[iii]

After the essentials would come items like clothes, office supplies, gifts, entertainment, vacation, etc. Rank these in order of importance to you. Consider shopping for clothes at a consignment shop, or checking out a dollar store for bargains on school or office supplies.

Ideally, at the end of the month you should be coming out with money leftover that can be put into an emergency fund (your goal here is at least $1,000), and then you can start adding money to your savings.

If you find your budget is too restrictive in one area, you can allocate more to it. (But you’ll need to reduce the money flowing in to other areas in the process to keep your bottom line the same.) Ranking expenses will help you determine where you can siphon off money.

Commit To It
Now that you have a realistic budget that contains your essentials, your non-essentials, and your savings goals, stick to it! Building a budget is a process. It may take some time to get the hang of it, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.

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[i] https://nypost.com/2018/01/18/americans-are-clueless-when-it-comes-to-personal-finance/
[ii] http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/
[iii] https://news.energysage.com/whats-the-cheapest-time-of-day-to-use-electricity-with-time-of-use-rates/

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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

TAN108366-1018

4 Easy tips to build your emergency fund

4 Easy tips to build your emergency fund
March 25, 2019

Nearly one quarter of Americans have no emergency savings, according to a recent report.[i] Without an emergency fund, you can imagine that an unexpected expense could send your budget into a tailspin.

With credit card debt at an all-time high and no meaningful savings for many Americans, it’s important to learn how to start and grow your emergency savings.[ii] You CAN do this!

1. Where to keep your emergency fund
Keeping money in the cookie jar might not be the best plan. Mattresses don’t really work so well either. But you also don’t want your emergency fund “co-mingled” with the money in your normal checking or savings account. The goal is to keep your emergency fund separate, clearly defined, and easily accessible. Setting up a designated, high-yield savings account is a good option that can provide quick access to your money while keeping it separate from your main bank accounts.[iii]

2. Set a monthly goal for savings
Set a monthly goal for your emergency fund savings, but also make sure you keep your savings goal realistic. If you choose an overly ambitious goal, you may be less likely to reach that goal consistently, which might make the process of building your emergency fund a frustrating experience. (Your emergency fund is supposed to help reduce stress, not increase it!) It’s okay to start by putting aside a small amount until you have a better understanding of how much you can really “afford” to save each month. Also, once you have your high-yield savings account set up, you can automatically transfer funds to your savings account every time you get paid. One less thing to worry about!

3. Spare change can add up quickly
The convenience of debit and credit cards means that we use less cash these days – but if and when you do pay with cash, take the change and put it aside. When you have enough change to be meaningful, maybe $20 to $30, deposit that into your emergency fund. If most of your transactions are digital, mobile apps like Qapital let you set rules to automate your savings.[iv]

4. Get to know your budget
Making and keeping a budget may not always be the most enjoyable pastime. But once you get it set up and stick to it for a few months, you’ll get some insight into where your money is going, and how better to keep a handle on it! Hopefully that will motivate you to keep going, and keep working towards your larger goals. When you first get started, dig out your bank statements and write down recurring expenses, or types of expenses that occur frequently. Odds are pretty good that you’ll find some expenses that aren’t strictly necessary. Look for ways to moderate your spending on frills without taking all the fun out of life. By moderating your expenses and eliminating the truly wasteful indulgences, you’ll probably find money to spare each month and you’ll be well on your way to building your emergency fund.

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[i] https://money.cnn.com/2018/06/20/pf/no-emergency-savings/index.html
[ii] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-card-debt-hits-an-all-time-high-how-much-do-you-owe/
[iii] https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/life-build-emergency-fund/
[iv] https://www.qapital.com/

TAN098393-1018

How to save for a big purchase

How to save for a big purchase
March 13, 2019

It’s no secret that life is full of surprises. Surprises that can cost money.

Sometimes, a lot of money. They have the potential to throw a monkey wrench into your savings strategy, especially if you have to resort to using credit to get through an emergency. In many households, a budget covers everyday spending, including clothes, eating out, groceries, utilities, electronics, online games, and a myriad of odds and ends we need.

Sometimes, though, there may be something on the horizon that you want to purchase (like that all-inclusive trip to Cancun for your second honeymoon), or something you may need to purchase (like that 10-years-overdue bathroom remodel).

How do you get there if you have a budget for the everyday things you need, you’re setting aside money in your emergency fund, and you’re saving for retirement?

Make a goal
The way to get there is to make a plan. Let’s say you’ve got a teenager who’s going to be driving soon. Maybe you’d like to purchase a new (to him) car for his 16th birthday. You’ve done the math and decided you can put $3,000 towards the best vehicle you can find for the price (at least it will get him to his job and around town, right?). You have 1 year to save but the planning starts now.

There are 52 weeks in a year, which makes the math simple. As an estimate, you’ll need to put aside about $60 per week. (The actual number is $57.69 – $3,000 divided by 52). If you get paid weekly, put this amount aside before you buy that $6 latte or spend the $10 for extra lives in that new phone game. The last thing you want to do is create debt with small things piling up, while you’re trying to save for something bigger.

Make your savings goal realistic
You might surprise yourself by how much you can save when you have a goal in mind. Saving isn’t a magic trick, however, it’s based on discipline and math. There may be goals that seem out of reach – at least in the short-term – so you may have to adjust your goal. Let’s say you decide you want to spend a little more on the car, maybe $4,000, since your son has been working hard and making good grades. You’ve crunched the numbers but all you can really spare is the original $60 per week. You’d need to find only another $17 per week to make the more expensive car happen. If you don’t want to add to your debt, you might need to put that purchase off unless you can find a way to raise more money, like having a garage sale or picking up some overtime hours.

Hide the money from yourself
It might sound silly but it works. Money “saved” in your regular savings or checking account may be in harm’s way. Unless you’re extremely careful, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear – but not like what happens in a magic show, where the magician can always bring the volunteer back. Instead, find a safe place for your savings – a place where it can’t be spent “accidentally”, whether it’s a cookie jar or a special savings account you open specifically to fund your goal.

Pay yourself first
When you get paid, fund your savings account set up for your goal purchase first. After you’ve put this money aside, go ahead and pay some bills and buy yourself that latte if you really want to, although you may have to get by with a small rather than an extra large.

Saving up instead of piling on more credit card debt may be a much less costly way (by avoiding credit card interest) to enjoy the things you want, even if it means you’ll have to wait a bit.

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TAN108360-1018

10 ways to save more this year

10 ways to save more this year
February 25, 2019

If you’re still writing “2018” on your checks, then it’s not too late to commit to a few New Year’s resolutions for 2019!

Here are some ideas for financial changes you can put in place today that can help get you closer to your saving and retirement goals.

1) Start a budget
There are few things that can paint your future financial picture as clearly as starting a household budget. In the process, you’ll track your spending – both in the past and in the future – and you’ll identify wasteful expenses as well as establish your priorities.

2) Start couponing
Once upon a time, clipping coupons could be quite a chore. Now, mobile apps make finding coupons for popular stores effortless, and there are online websites that provide promotional codes for all sorts of brands. If someone gave you money for buying something you were going to buy anyway, you’d take it, right?

3) Target home energy costs
Is your thermostat programmable? You can adjust your home temperature while you’re at work. Do you need to fix the insulation in the attic or that gap under the front door? Get to it as soon as you can! The longer you let those things go equates to money you might be saving on your energy costs.

4) Buy “pre-owned” items
When we think “pre-owned” we tend to think of cars. But the truth is that almost all consumer items depreciate. How much might you save by buying a refurbished phone instead of a new phone? Used laptops may cost a fraction of what you’d pay for a brand new computer. When it’s time to replace household items, consider buying used.

5) Use the 30 Day Rule to keep impulse spending in check
If you’ve got money burning a hole in your pocket, just wait. It won’t really burn you. By waiting 30 days before making a purchase, you’ll have time to decide if you really need the item or if it was just an impulse buy.

6) Use a shopping list
Want a way to stay focused when shopping and avoid wasteful spending? It might seem obvious, but get in the habit of using a shopping list. Before you head to the store, take a few minutes and write out a list (on paper or your phone), and include only the items you need. Stick to the list!

7) Quit smoking
Smoking seems to be less common these days, but for many households it’s still a costly expense that literally goes up in smoke. Think about how much you could put towards your retirement instead if you kicked the habit. (As a bonus, your health will probably improve.)

8) Stop using credit cards
Credit cards are the most expensive type of debt in many households. If you make a plan to pay off credit card debt and to save credit for (real) emergencies, you’ll probably wish you had given up your credit card habit sooner.

9) Cancel unused memberships and subscriptions
Memberships and subscriptions have a way of becoming forgotten – that is, until they automatically renew. Ouch. Keep the ones you want or need, cancel the others.

10) Cut the cord
Cable TV has become a norm but is your family really using it? Try to find less expensive ways to watch shows or movies online. Major broadcast networks can be picked up for free with an HD antenna.

Bonus ideas: Get a strategy in place to start building an emergency fund. Check your insurance policies to make sure you have the coverage you need. Research some ways in your community to have free (or nearly free) fun with your family.

It might take a little extra effort, but putting any of these ideas in place this year will help you and your family save more of your hard earned money and help get you closer to your retirement goals.

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115688

How to live without credit cards

How to live without credit cards
February 13, 2019

Our parents, uncles, aunts, and maybe even our grandparents tried to warn us about credit cards.

In some cases, the warnings might have been heeded but in other cases, we may have learned the cost of credit the hard way.

Using credit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it may be a costly thing – and sometimes even a risky thing. The interest from credit card balances can be like a ball and chain that might never seem to go away. And your financial strategy for the future may seem like a distant horizon that’s always out of reach.

It is possible to live without credit cards if you choose to do so, but it can take discipline if you’ve developed the credit habit.

It’s budgeting time
Here’s some tough love. If you don’t have one already, you should hunker down and create a budget. In the beginning it doesn’t have to be complicated. First just try to determine how much you’re spending on food, utilities, transportation, and other essentials. Next, consider what you’re spending on the non-essentials – be honest with yourself!

In making a budget, you should become acutely aware of your spending habits and you’ll give yourself a chance to think about what your priorities really are. Is it really more important to spend $5-6 per day on coffee at the corner shop, or would you rather put that money towards some new clothes?

Try to set up a budget that has as strict allowances as you can handle for non-essential purchases until you can get your existing balances under control. Always keep in mind that an item you bought with credit “because it was on sale” might not end up being such a great deal if you have to pay interest on it for months (or even years).

Hide the plastic
Part of the reason we use credit cards is because they are right there in our wallets or automatically stored on our favorite shopping websites, making them easy to use. (That’s the point, right?) Fortunately, this is also easy to help fix. Put your credit cards away in a safe place at home and save them for a real emergency. Don’t save them on websites you use.

Don’t worry about actually canceling them or cutting them up. Unless there’s an annual fee for owning the card, canceling the card might not help you financially or help boost your credit score.[i]

Pay down your credit card debt
When you’re working on your budget, decide how much extra money you can afford to pay toward your credit card balances. If you just pay the minimum payment, even small balances may not get paid off for years. Try to prioritize extra payments to help the balances go down and eventually get paid off.

Save for things you want to purchase
Make some room in your budget for some of the purchases you used to make with a credit card. If an item you’re eyeing costs $100, ask yourself if you can save $50 per month and purchase it in two months rather than immediately. Also, consider using the 30-day rule. If you see something you want – or even something you think you’ll need – wait 30 days. If the 30 days go by and you still need or want it, make sure it makes sense within your budget.

Save one card for occasional use
Having a solid credit history is important, so once your credit balances are under control, you may want to use one card in a disciplined way within your budget. In this case, you would just use the card for routine expenses that you are able to pay off in full at the end of the month.

Living without credit cards completely, or at least for the most part, is possible. Sticking to a budget, paying down debt, and having a solid savings strategy for the future will help make your discipline worth it!

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[i] https://www.myfico.com/credit-education/improve-your-credit-score

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Are you credit worthy?

Are you credit worthy?
January 28, 2019

Credit scores are determined by credit reports, which are built over time by those who utilize credit.

However, there is a sizeable portion of the United States population, numbering in the tens of millions of individuals[i], who either have no credit history, credit history that’s too limited to provide a score, or credit history that’s too old to provide a score. These people may be rejected by lenders simply because they can’t prove their creditworthiness.

A large segment of these citizens are either just becoming adults and have yet to build a score, have little access to today’s modern financial system, or are from older generations who no longer need loans and thus their history has become “stale” or too old for scoring purposes. New immigrants who have no credit history in the United States also face this issue. The invisibles tend to cluster in dense urban centers or in small, rural towns, and, according to the latest Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s report, lack of internet access seems to have a stronger correlation to credit invisibility than access to a physical bank branch.[ii]

The detriment of credit invisibility
It might seem better to always cover your bills with cash and simply save up for whatever items you wish to purchase. And this is generally a sound practice. However, if doing this leads to credit invisibility, it may have a detrimental effect on your financial life.

Most people – even if they have enough money on hand to cover normal bills and the occasional emergency – might someday want to purchase a home, start a business, or need a new car. It’s not usual that someone could pay for these high-dollar items with cash. Entering a loan agreement for any of these situations may be something you choose to do if the benefits seem to outweigh the costs, and if you have a solid strategy in place to repay the loan. If you can’t prove your creditworthiness, it might be more difficult to secure a loan for these things.

How to avoid being credit invisible
If you are credit invisible because you have little to no assets and lenders refuse to open accounts for you, one possibility is obtaining a secured credit card.[iii] The cardholder deposits cash and the deposit amount is usually the credit limit. The issuer has zero liability against your non-repayment, because they already have the money. Using a secured card and paying the balance back on time helps you build a credit history if you have none.

Once you’ve started to build a history, you may be able to apply for a “real” credit card. At that point, you’ll want to be cautious with your spending (according to a budget, of course) and always make sure to pay your bill on time, especially in full whenever possible so you can avoid interest. Then you should be on your way to establishing a solid credit history, which may help you with other milestones in life, like buying a home, replacing an old car, or even starting a new business venture with a friend.

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[i] https://www.americanbanker.com/opinion/senate-should-take-up-bill-to-help-lenders-see-credit-invisibles
[ii] https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/new-research-report-geography-credit-invisibility/
[iii] https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-is-a-secured-credit-card/

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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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113338

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/

113384

Budgeting 101: Where should I start?

Budgeting 101: Where should I start?
January 14, 2019

It’s the new year so there are bound to be some new resolutions you want to stick to.

If one of them is improving your budgeting skills – or maybe just creating a budget in the first place – read on for some guidelines that may help reduce some of your expenses (including what you might call the essentials).

Start with debt and interest rates
If you have any loans in your name, rest assured there will be interest associated with those loans, unless you’ve got a really nice aunt who leant you some money interest-free. From the borrower’s perspective, interest is simply the expense of receiving money from a creditor which you’re required to pay back over time. No one wants to pay higher interest than necessary.

In contrast to other expenses, like rent, food, or entertainment, interest itself produces absolutely no value for the borrower. The borrowed money may produce value, but the interest itself does not. For that reason, you’re going to want to pay as little interest on your loans as possible.

One strategy is to transfer credit card balances to lower APR credit cards – just beware of transfer fees. Read the fine print to make sure the new card actually carries a lower interest rate, as sometimes the rate after the introductory period may go up. If you can refinance any of your loans, like student, auto, or home, consider it. For example, there’s no reason to pay 5% if you can pay 4%. (Again, make sure you understand the terms and any fees involved.)

Slim down the essentials
This is the time when all items in your budget are going to come under consideration. Everything is on the table. For transportation, any reduction in cost you can make is going to depend on your location. If you live in a high-density urban area and you normally drive yourself or use public transit to get to work or other destinations, ask yourself if you can walk or cycle instead. These options often provide health benefits as well. If you live in a rural area, you’re probably going to drive to get to where you want to go, but think about using an electric bicycle or motorcycle as an option to help save on fuel.

The key? Look at the essential sections of your budget and mentally run through how you obtain those essentials, like driving to the nearest grocery store or who your landlord is. Then brainstorm alternatives for paying for these items or services – anything is fair game! (For example, would your landlord reduce your rent if you help out with yard maintenance?) Finally, do a little research and analysis to see if those alternatives are cheaper (and feasible).

Eliminate non-essentials
The next step is to look at each non-essential and determine its utility to you. If you barely think about the actual purchase, you might have simply developed the routine of purchasing that item or service (think: “monthly movie subscription service you never use anymore”). In that case, the hardest part might be combing through your credit card statement and nixing the services you never use. Another example of routine, autopilot spending might be the soda you buy with your lunch. Do you really need it? Maybe not. Switching to tea or coffee that you can brew at home may be cheaper. And water is (usually) free.

Repeat this process with every non-essential. Are you really using your 10GB/mo mobile internet plan? If not, look for a lower, more cost-effective GB plan. The key here is to try to distinguish between convenience and necessity.

Don’t discount the discount
There are discounts everywhere, from loyalty programs to manufacturers’ coupons to seasonal specials. If there is an essential that burns your budget, it may be worth checking to see if you’re eligible for a government program.[i]

Some credit cards offer rewards programs, but be very careful to pay off the full amount each month to avoid accruing interest, otherwise your rewards could be negated.

Keep the big picture in mind
Sometimes it can be hard to justify the time and effort that might be involved to save $2 per day. It’s just two dollars, right? But look at the accumulated savings. Saving $2 per day for a full year translates to $730. If you choose to brew that tea instead of buying the soda, maybe you can afford the 10GB plan instead of the 1GB plan.

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[i] https://www.usa.gov/benefits

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