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Should I Buy Or Rent?

May 27, 2020

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Mark A. Pensero, LUTCF

Mark A. Pensero, LUTCF

Insurance Representative

m: 570-690-5393 w: 570-622-4319 f: 570-622-4586

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Pottsville, Pa 17901

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3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence into Independence

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence into Independence
May 20, 2020

On Monday mornings, we’re all faced with a difficult choice.

Get up a few minutes early to brew your own coffee, or sleep a little later and then whip through a drive-thru for your morning pick-me-up?

When that caffeine hits your bloodstream, how you got the coffee may not matter too much. But the next time you go through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each and every time you indulge in a “luxury” that has a less expensive alternative, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. Delay it too long and you might find yourself working when you should be enjoying a comfortable retirement. Sound dramatic? Alarmist? Apocalyptic? But that’s how it happens – one $5 peppermint mocha at a time. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy an indulgence every once in a while. You gotta “treat yourself” sometimes, right? Just be sure that you’re sticking with your overall, long-term strategy. Your future self will thank you!

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

1. Make coffee at home. Reducing your expenses can start as simply as making your morning coffee at home. And you might not even have to get up earlier to do it. Why not invest in a coffee pot with a delay brewing function? It’ll start brewing at the time you preset, and what’s a better alarm clock than the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen? Or from your bedside table… (This is a judgment-free zone here – do what you need to do to get up on time in the morning.)

Get started: A quick Google search will yield numerous lists of copycat specialty drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

1) Will an expensive gym membership fit into your monthly budget? 2) How often have you gone to the gym in the last few months?

If your answers are somewhere between “No” and “I’d rather not say,” then maybe it’s time to ditch the membership in favor of working out at home. Or perhaps you’re a certified gym rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of your gym membership each month. Then ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym might offer. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, of course. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can get in a solid workout without a few of those pricey extras, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Instead of a using a treadmill inside the gym, take a walk or jog around your local park each day – it’s free! If you prefer to work out at a gym, look into month-to-month membership options instead of paying a hefty price for a year-long membership up front.

3. Ditch cable and use a video streaming service instead. Cable may give you access to more channels and more shows than ever before, but let’s be honest. Who has time to watch 80 hours of the greatest moments in sports every week? Asking yourself if you could cut the cable and wait a little longer for your favorite shows to become available on a streaming service might not be a bad idea. Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire series every now and then? There’s also the bonus of how easy it is to cancel/reactivate a streaming service. With cable, you may be locked into a multi-year contract, installation can be a hassle (and they may add an extra installation fee), and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up.

Get started: Plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial. Don’t forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking time to address the luxuries you can live without (or enjoy less often) has the potential to make a huge impact on your journey to financial independence. Cutting back here and investing in yourself there – it all adds up.

In what areas do you think you can start indulging less?

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Should You Give Your Child An Allowance?

Should You Give Your Child An Allowance?
May 18, 2020

Should parents give their children an allowance?

It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Teaching your kids how to handle money is important. But how you go about giving them cash can set precedents that last a lifetime. Here are a few different takes on giving your kids money.

Not giving your kids money
There’s a lot to not love about this system at a glance, especially if you’re the kid. It seems like a way to simultaneously prevent your children from having fun and learn nothing about handling money. But it has some silver linings. Not paying your kids to do chores can be a way to teach them about the value of work without tying it to a monetary reward. That’s an important life lesson that can be applied to volunteer work and responsibilities with their future family. You also may be on a tight budget and handing out an allowance is just not part of your financial strategy right now.

Giving your kids an allowance (no work required)
This is a system where you give your kids a set amount of money each week or month. This is a straightforward way to get your kids some cash that they can spend, save, and use to learn about money.

But just giving your kids an allowance without requiring something in return, like doing chores, has some potential drawbacks. Most people will eventually have to get a job so they can earn money. Giving cash to your kids without tying it in some way to work may create a sense of entitlement that simply isn’t realistic.

Paying your kids commission
In this system, you pay your kids as they complete tasks. You would set up a job posting with different payments for different chores. Pay your kids when they’ve completed the work. If they get the job done quickly with a good attitude and some extra flourish? Give them a raise! It’s a great way of rewarding excellence and teaching children the monetary value of their time and hard work.

But this system also has flaws. Some of the most rewarding work we do can be for family or friends, or to serve our communities—with no reward other than appreciation and pride in a job well done. Giving the impression that one should only put in hard work or help out with the family for cash isn’t something every parent is comfortable with.

Fortunately, there are many ways to combine each of these systems. You could have non-paying chores that are duties simply because the kids are members of the family and then extra paid jobs. Or maybe offer a base allowance to teach your kids about saving, giving, and spending, and then paid chores added on. These systems can evolve over time as your kids grow. Let the needs of your family and what you want to instill in your children guide you.

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TAN257286-05.20

Splurging Responsibly?

Splurging Responsibly?
May 13, 2020

We have an odd relationship with splurging.

Many of us treat it like a guilty pleasure and almost take a little pride in our extravagant purchases, even seeing it as “self-care”. But there’s also a part of us that knows we’re not being wise when we senselessly spend money.

So how do we resolve that tension between having fun and making good decisions? Here are a few ideas to help you splurge responsibly!

Budget in advance
“Responsible splurging” might seem like a contradiction, but the key to enjoying yourself once in a while and staying on track with your financial strategy is budgeting. Maintaining a budget gives you the power to see where your money is going and if you can afford to make a big/last-minute/frivolous purchase. And when you decide that you’re going to take the plunge, a budget is your compass for how much you can spend now, or if you need to wait a little longer and save a little more.

Beware of impulse purchasing
The opposite of budgeting for a splurge is impulse buying. We’ve all been there; you’re scrolling through your favorite shopping site and you see it. That thing you didn’t know you always wanted—and it’s on sale. Just a few clicks and it could be yours!

Tempting as impulse buying might be, especially when there’s a good deal, it’s often better to pause and review your finances before adding those cute shoes to your cart. Check your budget, remember your goals, and then see if that purchase is something you can really afford!

Do your research
Have you ever spent your hard-earned money on a dream item, even if you budgeted for it, only to have it break or malfunction after a few weeks? Even worse, it might have been something as significant as a car that you wound up trying to keep alive with thousands of dollars in maintenance and repairs!

That’s why research is so important. It’s not a guarantee that your purchase will last longer, but it can help narrow your options and reduce the chance of wasting your money.

Responsible splurging is possible. Just make sure you’re financially prepared and well-researched before making those purchases!

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TAN257084-05.20

Healthy Financial Habits

Healthy Financial Habits

Consistency is essential for anything, and the key to consistency is habit.

Habits are behaviors that we do so frequently that they feel second nature. So your friend who’s woken up at 5:00 AM to work out for so long that it seems normal to him? He’s unlocked the power of habit to wake up, get out of bed, and make it happen.

Healthy money habits are the same way; they open up a whole new world of financial fitness! Here are a few great habits you can start today.

Begin with a Budget
Developing a budgeting habit is foundational. Consistently seeing where your money is going gives you the power to see what needs to change. Notice in your budget that fast food is hogging your paycheck? Budgeting allows you to see how it’s holding you back and figure out a solution to the problem. The knowledge a budget gives you is the key to help you make wise money decisions.

Pay Yourself First
Once you’re budgeting regularly, you can start seeing who ends up with your money at the end of the day. Is it you? Or someone else? One of the best habits you can establish is making sure you pay yourself by saving. Instead of spending first and setting aside what’s left over, put part of your money into a savings account as soon as you get your paycheck. It’s a simple shift in mindset that can make a big difference!

Automate Everything
And what easier way to pay yourself first than by automatically depositing cash in your savings account? Making as much of your saving automatic helps make saving something that you don’t even think about. It can be much easier to have healthy financial habits if everything happens seamlessly and with as little effort as possible on your part.

Healthy financial habits may not seem big. But sometimes those little victories can make a big difference over the span of several years. Why not try working a few of these habits into your routine and see if they make a difference?

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This material is intended for education purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sales of any specific securities, financial services or other non-specified item. Please consult your Financial/Investment Advisor for advice and guidance on your particular situation. Neither Transamerica Agency Network nor its agents or representatives may provide tax or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.


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So You've Graduated... Now What?

So You've Graduated... Now What?

Graduating from college is a big deal.

It represents a transition from student to adult for millions of people. But leaving university and joining the workforce can be intimidating. Looking for a job, paying bills, commuting, and living independently are often uncharted territory for recent grads.

Here are a few tips for fresh graduates trying to get on their feet financially.

Figure out what you want
It’s one thing to leave college with an idea of what career you want to pursue. It’s something else entirely to ask yourself what kind of life you want. It’s one of those big issues that can be difficult even to wrap your head around!

However, it’s something that’s important to grapple with. It will help you answer questions like “What kind of lifestyle do I want to live” and “how much will it cost to do the things I want?” You might even find that you don’t really need some of the things that you thought were necessities, and that happiness comes from places you might not have expected.

Come up with a budget
Let’s say you’ve got a ballpark idea of your financial and lifestyle goals. It’s time to come up with a strategy. There are plenty of resources on starting a budget on this blog and the internet on the whole, but the barebones of budgeting are pretty simple. First, figure out how much you make, how much you have to spend, how much you actually spend, then subtract your total spending from how much you make. Get a positive number? Awesome! Use that leftover cash to start saving for retirement (it’s never too early!) or build up an emergency fund. Negative number? Look for places in your unnecessary spending to cut back and maybe consider a side hustle to make more money.

Looking at your spending habits can be difficult. But owning up to mistakes you might be making and coming up with a solid strategy can be far easier than the agony that spending blindly may bring. That’s why starting a budget is a post-graduation must!

Meet with a financial professional
Find a qualified and licensed financial professional and schedule an appointment. Don’t let the idea of meeting with a professional intimidate you. Afterall, you trust your health, car, and legal representation to properly trained experts. Why wouldn’t you do the same with your financial future?

Being scared of starting a new chapter of life is natural. There are a lot of new experiences and unknowns to deal with that come along with leaving the familiarity of college. But the best way to overcome fear is to face it head on. These tips are a great way to start taking control of your future!

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This material is intended for education purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sales of any specific securities, financial services or other non-specified item. Please consult your Financial/Investment Advisor for advice and guidance on your particular situation. Neither Transamerica Agency Network nor its agents or representatives may provide tax or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.


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5 Financial Strategy Tips for Couples

5 Financial Strategy Tips for Couples
April 29, 2020

Talking to your spouse about money can be tricky.

Different spending habits and conflicting money management values are sometimes sources of tension between partners. Finances are the number one cause of arguments within relationships. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons for divorce (1).

With bills to pay, emergency expenses, and a child’s college tuition and retirement on the horizon, many couples find their finances are stretched as they seek solutions to cover the cost of everyday life. The following 5 tips may help you and your spouse gain control of your finances.

1. Set Goals
The goal-setting phase allows a couple to talk openly about their financial history, current obligations, and future objectives. Gauging your spouse’s retirement preferences can often be a challenging obstacle before establishing a financial strategy.

2. Identify Risky Spending
Overspending and making frivolous purchases may damage your financial future. Discussing mistakes respectfully on both sides of the relationship can help prevent poor decisions in the future. If an expense proves to be a blunder, own up to the fact and move on.

Review the household “record of accounts” (that is, your budget) and your current financial landscape before adjusting your strategy. This may help protect your family from further problems that might delay the timeframe you want to retire.

3. Pay off Bills
Be fair. If—or when—your spouse admits to overspending, try not to blow up. We live in a consumerist society designed to push our buttons and trick us into spending. Even worse, it’s a pattern that can be difficult to break because it’s a very socially acceptable addiction.

Instead of exploding, ask them open-ended questions about their spending habits. The key here is working towards a compromise in a way that doesn’t villainize your partner but also protects your financial future together.

4. Periodic Review
Due to the dynamics of financial decision-making between spouses, it’s clear that periodic review has a benefit. Changes in income, lifestyle, and family or business obligations can alter a couple’s financial goals for retirement. Try to meet at least once a month (maybe over a cup of coffee) to review your finances and update your budget.

5. Don’t forget to have some fun!
The goal of getting in control of your finances is not to make life miserable. Sure, you might need to cut back on frivolous spending in the present to have more in the future, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life. Set aside a little each month for a movie night or dinner with friends. You actually might discover that things like budgeting free up cash!

Building a financially sound relationship takes time. It takes a willingness to listen, to compromise, to take responsibility, and to prepare. Sometimes it might take some experience as well. Contact a qualified and licensed financial professional to help you and your loved one come up with a strategy to build your future together.

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(1) Natalia Lusinski, “9 signs your spouse is spending more money than you think” Business Insider (28 June 2019)

This material is intended for education purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sales of any specific securities, financial services or other non-specified item. Please consult your Financial/Investment Advisor for advice and guidance on your particular situation. Neither Transamerica Agency Network nor its agents or representatives may provide tax or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.


TAN255834-04.20

Financial Strategy - The Importance of Having One

Financial Strategy - The Importance of Having One
April 27, 2020

A financial strategy is many things.

It’s not just a budget. In fact, a solid financial strategy is not entirely based on numbers at all. Rather, it’s a roadmap for your family’s financial future. It’s a journey on which you’ll need to consider daily needs as well as big-picture items. Having a strategy makes it possible to set aside money now for future goals, and help ensure your family is both comfortable in the present and prepared in the future.

Financial Strategy, Big Picture
A good financial strategy covers pretty much everything related to your family’s finances. In addition to a snapshot of your current income, assets, and debt, a strategy should include your savings and goals, a time frame for paying down debt, retirement savings targets, ways to cover taxes and insurance, and in all likelihood some form of end-of-life preparations. How much of your strategy is devoted to each will depend on your age, marital or family status, whether you own your home, and other factors.

Financial Preparation, Financial Independence
How do these items factor into your daily budget? Well, having a financial strategy doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to an oppressive budget. In fact, it may actually provide you with more “freedom” to spend. If you’re allocating the right amount of money each month toward both regular and retirement savings, and staying aware of how much you have to spend in any given time frame, you may find you have less daily stress over your dollars and feel better about buying the things you need (and some of the things you want).

Remember Your Goals
It can also be helpful to keep the purpose of your hard-earned money in mind. For example, a basic financial strategy may include the amount of savings you need each month to retire at a certain age, but with your family’s lifestyle and circumstances in mind. It might be a little easier to skip dinner out and cook at home instead when you know the reward may eventually be a dinner out in Paris!

Always Meet with a Financial Professional
There are many schools of thought as to the best ways to save and invest. Some financial professionals may recommend paying off all debt (except your home mortgage) before saving anything. Others recommend that clients pay off debt while simultaneously saving for retirement, devoting a certain percentage of income to each until the debt is gone and retirement savings can be increased. If you’re just getting started, meet with a qualified and licensed financial professional who can help you figure out which option is for you.

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This material is intended for education purposes only and is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, an offer or solicitation for the purchase or sales of any specific securities, financial services or other non-specified item. Please consult your Financial/Investment Advisor for advice and guidance on your particular situation. Neither Transamerica Agency Network nor its agents or representatives may provide tax or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.

Transamerica Agency Network is a marketing group with Transamerica. Insurance products are sold through United Financial Services, Inc. and affiliated Transamerica companies.


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How To Save For A Big Purchase

How To Save For A Big Purchase
April 15, 2020

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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7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

Dealing with finances is a big part of any committed relationship and one that can affect many aspects of your life together.

The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!

Be respectful
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.

Take responsibility
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.

Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”

Be positive
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.

Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…

Set common goals, and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!

Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.

Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.

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TAN253297-0320

4 Ways to Get Out of Debt

4 Ways to Get Out of Debt

Dealing with debt can be scary.

Paying off your mortgage, car, and student loans can sometimes seem so impossible that you might not even look at the total you owe. You just keep making payments because that’s all you might think you can do. However, there is a way out! Here are 4 tips to help:

Make a Budget
Many people have a complex budget that tracks every penny that comes in and goes out. They may even make charts or graphs that show the ratio of coffee made at home to coffee purchased at a coffee shop. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, especially if you’re new at this “budget thing”. Start by splitting all of your spending into two categories: necessary and optional. Rent, the electric bill, and food are all examples of necessary spending, while something like a vacation or buying a third pair of black boots (even if they’re on sale) might be optional. Figure out ways that you can cut back on your optional spending, and devote the leftover money to paying down your debt. It might mean staying in on the weekends or not buying that flashy new electronic gadget you’ve been eyeing. But reducing how much you owe will be better long-term.

Negotiate a Settlement
Creditors often negotiate with customers. After all, it stands to reason that they’d rather get a partial payment than nothing at all! But be warned; settling an account can potentially damage your credit score. Negotiating with creditors is often a last resort, not an initial strategy.

Debt Consolidation
Interest-bearing debt obligations may be negotiable. Contact a consolidation specialist for refinancing installment agreements. This debt management solution helps reduce the risk of multiple accounts becoming overdue. When fully paid, a clean credit record with an extra loan in excellent standing may be the reward if all payments are made on time.

Get a side gig
You might be in a position to work evenings or weekends to make extra cash to put towards your debt. There are a myriad of options—rideshare driving, food delivery, pet sitting, you name it! Or you might have a hobby that you could turn into a part-time business.

If you feel overwhelmed by debt, then let’s talk. We can discuss strategies that will help move you from feeling helpless to having financial control.

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TAN253296-0320

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To

How To Make A Budget You Can Stick To
March 16, 2020

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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When should you start planning for retirement?

When should you start planning for retirement?
January 27, 2020

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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Are you sure about this?

Are you sure about this?
September 23, 2019

Nearly every working adult dreams of a comfortable retirement, to finally be free to enjoy life.

If you’re approaching retirement age, it’s important to check on your numbers to be sure you’ve considered all the factors. If you’re younger, it might be difficult to know exactly how much to save. Think of it this way: strive to put away as much as you can.

What age do you want to retire?
Social Security can play a big role in retirement income, and the difference on a monthly basis between taking a benefit at age 62, 65, or waiting until age 70 to begin drawing benefits can be substantial.[i] If you choose to wait until 70 to take benefits, the total amount paid is comparable for all three options. However, from a cash-flow perspective, the bump in pay could be valuable when the monthly bills arrive in the mail.

How long will your money last?
One rule of thumb for knowing how much to take out of your retirement account each year is the “4% rule”.[ii] As its name suggests, you would withdraw 4% of your retirement savings each year. If you have a larger amount saved, your “income” from your retirement savings will be higher. The 4% rule is designed to prepare for 30 years of income after retirement. Of course, if your expenses are higher than your income, the money has to come from somewhere, potentially drawing your savings down faster – and that’s where many people get into trouble. Save as much as you can now.

Are you prepared for your health care needs?
The cost of health care for a couple retiring at age 65 varies, with estimates ranging between $197,000 and $265,000.[iii] This is the expense that often catches retirees by surprise. It’s relatively easy to budget for housing, food, utilities, and other essentials but medical care costs can vary widely and your actual expenses can be much higher or lower than average estimates.

By building a strategy for income from multiple sources, you’ll be much better prepared for retirement. Taking the time to prepare now is essential. Once you leave the workforce there might be less room for mistakes and fewer ways to earn additional income. When it’s time to retire, you’ll find that there’s no such thing as too much when it comes to retirement savings.

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Should you get rid of your credit cards?

Should you get rid of your credit cards?
September 18, 2019

There’s no doubt that credit card debt is a huge financial burden for many Americans.

On average, each household that has revolving credit card debt owes $7,104 (1).It might be tempting to see those numbers and decide to throw out your credit cards entirely.After all, why hang on to a source of temptation when you could make do with cash or a debit card? However, keeping a credit card around has some serious benefits that you should consider before you decide to free yourself from plastic’s grasp.

You might have bigger debts to deal with
On average, credit card debt is low compared to auto loans (​$27,934), student loans ($46,679),and mortgages ($192,618) (2). Simply put, you might be dealing with debts that cost you a lot more than your credit card. That leaves you with a few options. You can either start with paying down your biggest debts (a debt avalanche) or get the smaller ones out of the way and move up(a debt snowball). That means you’ll either tackle credit card debt first or wait while you dealwith a mortgage payment or student loans. Figure out where to start and see where your credit card fits in!

Ditching credit cards can lower your credit score
Credit utilization and availability play a big role in determining your credit score (3). The less credit you use and the more you have available, the better your score will likely be. Closing down a credit card account may drastically lower the amount of credit you have available, which then could reduce your score. Even freezing your card in a block of ice can have negative effects; credit card companies will sometimes lower your available credit or just close the account if they see inactivity for too long (4). This may not be the end of the world if you have another line of credit (like a mortgage) but it’s typically better for your credit score to keep a credit card around and only use it for smaller purchases.

It’s often wiser to limit credit card usage than to ditch them entirely. Figure out which debts are costing you the most, and focus your efforts on paying them down before you cut up your cards. While you’re at it, try limiting your credit card usage to a few small monthly purchases to protect your credit score and free up some extra funds to work on your other debts.

Need help coming up with a strategy? Give me a call and we can get started on your journey toward financial independence!

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(1). Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019 (2). Erin El Issa, “Nerdwallet’s 2019 American Household Credit Card Debt Study,” Nerdwallet, December 2, 2019 (3). Latoya Irby, “Understanding Credit Utilization: How Your Usage Affects Your Credit Score,” The Balance, February 20, 2020 (4). Lance Cothern, “Will My Credit Score Go Down If A Credit Card Company Closes My Account For Non-Use?” March 2, 2020


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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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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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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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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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