Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

December 4, 2019

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Denise and Chris Arand

Denise and Chris Arand

Executive Vice Presidents/Financial Strategists

2173 Salk Ave
#250
Carlsbad, CA 92008

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November 27, 2019

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year. By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality.

FamZoo is popular, offering prepaid cards with a matching family finance app for iOS and Android. Prepaid cards are a dime a dozen but FamZoo’s card and app do much more than just limit spending to the prepaid amount. Kids can earn interest on their savings (funded by parents), set budgets according to categories, monitor their account activity with useful charts, and even borrow money – complete with an interest charge. Sounds a bit like the real world, doesn’t it? FamZoo can be as simple or as feature-packed as you’d like, making it a good match for kids of any age.

Money habits are formed as early as age 7. If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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August 7, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 1)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 1)

What’s the difference between a black hole and a checking account?

One is a massive void with a force so strong that anything that enters it is stretched and stretched, then disappears with a finality that not even NASA scientists fully understand.

… And the other is a black hole.

Joking aside, did you know that a black hole and your checking account actually have a lot in common? Spaghettification is the technical term for what would happen to an object in space if it happens to find itself too close to a black hole. The intense gravity would stretch the object into a thin noodle, past the point of no return.

If you don’t have a solid financial strategy, the money in your checking account may be stretched past the point of no return, too. Why? If your money is sitting in “The Black Hole of Checking” for years on end, you may find that as you get closer to retirement, each dollar is spread thinner and thinner (until it disappears).

Where are you storing your retirement fund? If you’re keeping it in your checking account, instead of growing your money, you might just be stretching it impossibly, uncomfortably thin.

Say you already have $10,000 saved for your retirement. A checking account comes with a 0% interest rate. That means a $0 rate of return. Even if you managed to not touch that money for 10 years, you’d still only have your starting amount of $10,000. With inflation, you’d really have less value at the end of the 10 years than you had to start with.

But if you took that $10,000 and put it into an account with a 3% compounding interest rate, after 10 years, your money will have grown to $13,439. And that’s without adding another penny! Can you imagine what kind of growth is possible if you start saving now and contribute regularly to an account with a compounding interest rate?

This is the power of compounding interest – interest paid on interest plus the initial amount. (This is also a huge reason why getting as high of an interest rate as you can is important!)

So what are you waiting for? If all of your money is disappearing into that Black Hole of Checking, maybe this is the exploding star “sign” you’ve been looking for! Don’t “spaghettify” your money. Do the opposite and give it the chance to grow with the power of compound interest.

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May 15, 2019

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

3 Advantages to Being the Early Bird

Extra-large-blonde-roast-with-a-double-shot-of-espresso, anyone?

As the old saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm.” But not everyone is an early riser, and getting up earlier than usual can throw off a night owl’s whole day.

But there are a couple of things that, if started early in life (and with copious amounts of caffeine, if you’re starting early in the day, too), could benefit you greatly later in life. For example, learning a second language.

The optimal age range for learning a second language is still up for debate among experts, but the consensus seems to be “the younger you start, the better.” It’s a good idea to start early – giving your brain an ample amount of time to develop the many agreed upon benefits of being bilingual that don’t show up until later in life:

  • Postponed onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s (by 4.5 years)
  • Much more efficient brain activity – more like a young adult’s brain
  • Greater cognitive reserve and ability to cope with disease

Imagine combining that increased brain power with a comfortable retirement – an important goal to start working towards early in life!

Here are 3 big advantages to starting your retirement savings early:

1. Less to put away each month.
Let’s say you’re 40 years old with little to no savings for retirement, but you’d like to have $1,000,000 when you retire at age 65. Twenty-five years may seem like plenty of time to achieve this goal, so how much would you need to put away each month to make that happen?

If you were stuffing money into your mattress (i.e., saving with no interest rate or rate of return), you would need to cram at least $3,333.33 in between the layers of memory foam every month. How about if you waited until you were 50 to start? Then you’d need to tuck no less than $5,555.55 around the coils. Every. Single. Month.

A savings plan that aggressive is simply not feasible for a majority of North Americans. Nearly half of Canadians are just getting by, living paycheck-to-paycheck. So it makes sense that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the less you’ll need to put away each month. And the less you need to put away each month, the less stress will be put on your monthly budget – and the higher your potential to have a well-funded retirement when the time comes.

But what if you could start saving earlier and apply an interest rate? This is where the second advantage comes in…

2. Power of compounding.
The earlier you start saving for retirement, the longer amount of time your money has to grow and build on itself. A useful shortcut to figuring out how long it would take your money to double is the Rule of 72.

Never heard of it? Here’s how it works: Take the number 72 and divide it by your annual interest rate. The answer is approximately how many years it will take for money in an account to double.

For example, applying the Rule of 72 to $10,000 in an account at a 4% interest rate would look like this:

72 ÷ 4 = 18

That means it would take approximately 18 years for $10,000 to grow to $20,000 ($20,258 to be exact).

Using this formula reveals that the higher the interest rate, the less time it’s going to take your money to double, so be on the lookout for the highest interest rate you can find!

Getting a higher interest rate and combining it with the third advantage below? You’d be on a roll…

3. Lower life insurance premiums.
A well-tailored life insurance policy may help protect retirement savings. This is particularly important if you’re outlived by your spouse as he or she approaches their retirement years.

End-of-life costs can deal a serious blow to retirement savings. If you don’t have a strategy in place to help cover funeral expenses and the loss of income, the money your spouse might need may have to come out of your retirement savings.

One reason many people don’t consider life insurance as a method of protecting their retirement is that they think a policy would cost too much.

How much do you think a $250,000 term life insurance policy would cost for a healthy 30-year-old?

Less than $14 per month. That’s a cost that would easily fit into most budgets!

You may still need a little caffeine for the extra kick to get an early start on powering up your brain (or your retirement savings), but sacrificing a few brand-name cups of coffee per month could finance a well-tailored life insurance policy that has the potential to protect your retirement savings.

Contact me today, and together we can work on your financial strategy for retirement, including what kind of life insurance policy would best fit you and your needs. As for your journey to the brain-boosting benefits of being bilingual – just like with retirement, it’s never too late to start. And I’ll be here to cheer you on every step of the way!

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January 14, 2019

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Should I pay off my car or my credit cards?

Credit card statements and auto loan statements are often among the bigger bills the mail carrier brings.

Wouldn’t it be great to just pay them off and then use those monthly payments for something else, like building your savings and giving yourself a bit of breathing room for a treat now and then?

Paying extra money on your credit card bills and your car loan at the same time may not be an option, so which is better to pay off first?

In most cases, paying down credit cards might be a better strategy. But the reasons for paying off your credit cards first are numerous. Let’s look at why that usually may make more sense.

  • Credit cards have high interest rates. When you look at the balances for your auto loan vs. your credit card, the larger amount may often be the auto loan. Big balances can be unnerving, so your inclination may be to pay that down first. However, auto loans usually have a relatively low interest rate, so if you have an extra $100 or $200 per month to put toward debt, credit cards make a better choice. The average credit card interest rate is about 15%, whereas the average auto loan rate is usually under 7%, if you have good credit.[i]

  • Credit cards charge compound interest. Most auto loans are simple-interest loans, which means you only pay interest on the principal. Credit cards, however, charge compound interest, which means any interest that accrues on your account can generate interest of its own. Yikes!

  • You’ll lower your credit utilization. Part of your credit score is based on your credit utilization, which specifically refers to how much of your revolving credit you use. As you pay down your balance, you’ll not only pay less in interest, you may also give your credit score a boost by reducing your credit utilization.

The numbers don’t lie
Let’s say you have a 5-year auto loan for $30,000 at 7% interest. You also have an extra $100 per month you’d like to use to pay down debt. By adding that 100 bucks to your car payments, over the course of the loan you can cut your loan length by 10 months and save $972.32.[ii] Impressive.

Let’s look at a credit card balance. Maybe the credit card interest rate is higher than the car loan, but hopefully the balance is lower. Let’s assume a balance of only $10,000 and an interest rate of 15%. With your minimum payment, you’d probably pay about $225 monthly. Putting the extra $100 per month toward the credit card balance and paying $325 shortens the payment length for the card balance by 26 months and saves $1,986 in interest expense.[iii] Wow!

The math tells the truth. In the above hypothetical scenarios, even though the balance on the credit card is one-third that of the total owed for the car, you would save more money by paying off the credit card balance first.

Financial strategy isn’t just about paying down debt though. As you go, be sure you’re saving as well. You’ll need an emergency fund and you’ll need to invest for your retirement. Let’s talk. I have some ideas that can help you build toward your goals for your future.

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[i] https://www.valuepenguin.com/auto-loans/average-auto-loan-interest-rates
[ii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/auto/early-payment-payoff-calculator.aspx
[iii] https://www.bankrate.com/calculators/credit-cards/credit-card-payoff-calculator.aspx

December 24, 2018

It may not be as hard as you think

It may not be as hard as you think

Once upon a time, a million dollars was a lot of money.

And it still is. If you time it right, becoming a millionaire might be within reach for nearly anyone. There are some catches, however – you’ll have to stay focused, and time plays a significant role, so starting early is part of the millionaire game.

Time is important because you’ll use the leverage of compound interest to help build your nest egg. For example, let’s assume an average rate of return of 8% in a tax-deferred account, like an IRA or a 401(k). This 8% example is lower than the historical return for the S&P since its inception in 1928. Historically, the S&P has rewarded investors with about a 10% average annual return, including dividends.[i]

Then let’s assume your current savings are at zero. Let’s also assume that you can find $100 per month in your budget to invest. $100 per month is about $3 per day.

Starting your account with your first $100 and then contributing $100 per month (every month) will yield the following amounts, assuming that your account’s returns stay at the 8% average:

  • After 10 years, you’ll have about $17,600\
  • After 15 years, you’ll have about $33,000\
  • After 20 years, you’ll have about $55,000

Uh oh. None of those numbers are even close to $1 million. To reach $1 million by saving $100 per month, you’ll need 55 years at the 8% rate of return, at which time your account would be worth approximately $1,025,599. (By the way, the account would grow by $75,000 from year 54 to year 55 since your compound growth would be based on a much bigger number.)

If you can step up your investment to $150 per month, you might be able to shave five years off your goal and reach $1 million in 50 years. At $200 per month, you might reach your goal in just over 45 years.[ii]

Looking at these numbers, ask yourself how much you can save each day. When you spend money now, it’s gone. It never has a chance to grow. By saving (and investing) instead of spending, you can help set yourself up for a comfortable future where you can afford the treats you’re skipping now so you can fund your savings.

At $15 per day – the price of dinner at a fast food restaurant – you could save $450 per month, enough to make you a millionaire in just over 35 years.

The market refers to the process of investing a consistent amount monthly, regardless of the price of shares, “dollar cost averaging”. Let time take care of the math through compounded returns. Just keep saving for your future consistently.

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

[i] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042415/what-average-annual-return-sp-500.asp
[ii] https://www.investor.gov/additional-resources/free-financial-planning-tools/compound-interest-calculator

November 5, 2018

Understanding compounding in investments

Understanding compounding in investments

Successful investors like Warren Buffett didn’t just hit a home run on a stock pick.

Warren Buffett hit lots of home runs, but compounding turned those home runs into history-making investment achievements.

Compounding doesn’t have to be a big mystery. It just means that the annual increase is added to the previous year’s balance, which, on average, gives each year a larger base for the next year’s increase. The concept of compounding applies to any interest-bearing savings or investments or to average percentage gains.

Here’s a quick example:

Starting investment: $10,000 Interest rate: 7%

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 1.32.35 PM

The rule of 7 & 10
There’s a reason a 7 percent return was chosen for this example. You can see that the total interest return over 10 years is about double the original investment. This is an example of the “Rule of 7 & 10”, which says that money doubles in 10 years at 7 percent return and that it doubles in 7 years at 10 percent interest. It’s not an exact rule, but it’s close enough so you can quickly estimate without a spreadsheet or calculator.

The simple interest example above only begins to show the power of compounding. It doesn’t include any additional investments after year one. In investing, compounding can come from more places than one, particularly if the stocks you own pay dividends. (A dividend is a share of the profit that is distributed to shareholders.)

Compounding in investing
Investing in stocks or mutual funds may provide an average annual return in line with the simple interest example, assuming investments are well diversified to mimic the broad market performance. For example, the S&P 500 return over the past 10 years is just over 7 percent annualized.[i] When you adjust for dividends, the annualized return is close to 10 percent. If those numbers sound familiar – like the rule of 7 & 10 – it’s a coincidence, but the past 10 years of S&P returns are very close to historical averages. Knowing what we now know, it’s easy to figure out that $10,000 will double in 7 years, assuming that market performance is aligned with historical averages. In reality, market performance may be higher or lower than past averages – but over a longer time line, short term peaks and valleys usually blend into an overall trend in direction.

If you’re concerned that you don’t know as much about investing as Warren Buffett, don’t think you need to be an oracle to be a successful investor. Many times, the best stock to pick for individual investors may be no stock at all. There are a myriad of investment options from which to choose without buying stocks directly. Talk to your financial professional about what choices may be available for you.

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[i] https://dqydj.com/sp-500-return-calculator/

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

October 15, 2018

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

The More You Know! Building a Financial Vocabulary

Part of gaining financial literacy is becoming familiar with the lingo.

Like all subjects, finance has its own terms, acronyms, abbreviations, and slang.

If you’re just beginning to dip your toe into the pool of personal financial planning, here’s a handy guide to some terms that are likely to come up when learning about finance and investments.

ROI: ROI stands for Return on Investment. It’s an acronym usually used when referring to the performance of a stock. ROI can also refer to the performance of other investments, including real estate and currencies. In short, the term describes how much bang you get for your investment buck.

Compound Interest: Compound interest refers to the instance of interest collecting on interest. The best way to understand compound interest is with an example. Let’s say you invest $1,000 in a high interest bearing account. Over the course of one year, your savings collects $100.00 in interest. The next year you’ll earn interest on $1,100.00, and so forth.

Money Market Account: You may hear about money market accounts if you’re shopping for a savings account. A money market account is like a savings account, but it may earn higher interest rates – making it a better choice for some.

There are money market accounts that come with checks or a debit card, so your funds are easily accessible. If you’re planning on opening a money market account to hold your savings or emergency fund, pay attention to any minimum balance requirements and fees.

Liquidity: Liquidity refers to how easy it is for an asset to convert to cash. You can think of it as an investment’s ability to “liquidate” into cash. For example, real estate investments may offer great returns over time, but they aren’t considered liquid assets because they are not easily turned into cash.

A stock or bond, on the other hand, has high liquidity because you can sell a stock and have access to its cash value quickly.

Roth IRA: A Roth IRA is a retirement savings account. IRA stands for “Individual Retirement Account”. A Roth IRA allows you to make contributions or deposits to fund your retirement. The contributions are made with taxed income, but when you take deposits from the account in retirement, the income is not taxed.

A few characteristics of a Roth IRA:

  • Your contribution is always accessible, tax and penalty-free at any time
  • It can help keep you in a lower taxable income bracket during retirement
  • You can contribute to a Roth IRA at any time if you have a job

Bear Market: A Bear Market is a term used to refer to the stock market while there are certain characteristics present. Those characteristics include falling stock prices and low investor confidence.

The term is said to originate from the way a bear attacks – swiping its arm downward on its prey. The downward motion illustrates falling stock prices as investors lose confidence, become pessimistic about the market, and they may begin to sell their stocks to try to prevent further losses.

Bull Market: A Bull Market is a period in which stock prices are increasing and investor confidence is high. A Bull Market mostly refers to stocks, but it can also be used to describe real estate, currencies, and other types of markets.

This term may come from the action of how a bull attacks, by swiping its horns upward.

Finance lingo is for everyone
No matter where you are on the personal finance spectrum – just beginning to create a budget with your first job or preparing to retire – there are special terms to describe financial phenomena, tools, and features. Learning some of the lingo is a great first step toward taking charge of your financial life!

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October 8, 2018

Retirement planning tips you can use right now

Retirement planning tips you can use right now

The sooner you start planning for retirement, the better off you’re going to be.

That’s hard to argue with. But no matter where you are on your retirement planning journey, there are always great financial planning steps you can take to help you get and stay on the road to a happy retirement.

Time is money
When it comes to retirement savings, the old expression, “Time is Money” means more than ever. It makes sense that the sooner you start saving, the more you’ll have when your retirement comes. But there’s a phenomenon you can take advantage of that can help your money grow while you’re saving.

It’s called compound interest. This is basically earning interest on the interest. This is how it works: Your principal investment earns interest. The following year, your principal plus last year’s interest earns interest. You could stuff the same amount of cash under your mattress – and you might be able to store away a hefty sum over the years that way – but with compound interest, your money can “grow”. Taking advantage of compound interest can be one of the best ways to build your retirement savings.

Starting to save in your 20s and 30s: Set yourself up
If you’re in your 20s or 30s and you’re already thinking about retirement – give yourself a pat on the back. This is the best time to begin planning for your golden years. At this age, a retirement strategy is probably going to be the most flexible, and it’s more likely that your retirement dream can become a reality.

One of the best tools to take advantage of during this time is an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. Make sure you’re taking full advantage of it. There are two major benefits:

  1. Time: Remember compound interest? The more you invest now in a retirement savings plan, the more you’ll have come retirement time.
  2. Company match: This is the money your employer puts in your 401(k) plan for you. Most employers will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. It’s like free money. Be sure you don’t leave it on the table.

Starting in middle age: Maximize your retirement savings
If you’re in your middle years, you still have some advantages when it comes to a retirement strategy. First, retirement should feel a little less like a fantasy and more like reality at this age – it’s not too far beyond the horizon! Use this reality check as motivation to start some serious planning and saving.

Second, your earnings may be higher on the career curve than they were when you were just starting out. If so, this is a great time to go all out with your savings plan. Try these tips for starters:

  1. Consider an IRA: An IRA can function as a savings tool when you’ve maxed out your 401(k). The savings are pre-tax as well.
  2. Professional financial planning: If you’re having a hard time getting your head around retirement planning, seek financial planning expertise. A financial professional can help make sense of your particular retirement picture. This way you can better identify needs and create strategies to fill them.

Your 50s and 60s: Getting real about retirement income
This is the age when retirement planning gets real. You’re thinking may now shift from savings to distributions. The question that arises is how you’ll replace that paycheck you’ve been earning with another source of income, if you’re not willing or able to work beyond a certain age.

  1. Social security benefits: You become eligible to tap into your social security benefits at 60. You can collect full benefits at around 65, but if you wait until you’re 70, you’ll get the largest possible payout from social security.
  2. Distributions: When you’re 59 ½ you can take distributions from your retirement accounts without a penalty. But keep in mind those distributions may count as taxable income.

A good retirement favors the prepared
No matter where you are on the road to retirement, wise financial planning is the key to a happy and healthy retirement. Start today!

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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