How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

November 30, 2022

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Bir Grewall

Bir Grewall

Sikh American, India born; Bir is a "Top Recommended" Financial Strategist, Advisor & Author



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November 30, 2022

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

Planning a wedding is both exciting and stressful. There are many moving parts to coordinate – guest lists, venues, menus.

Not to mention the fact that you’re making some major financial decisions – maybe your first as a couple. Needless to say, your wedding is a huge milestone. It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of excitement. But it’s also easy to go overboard with spending. One day you get engaged and the next thing you know, you’re looking at your wedding album (along with some potentially major credit card bills).

To keep your wedding costs as reasonable as possible, consider a fresh perspective. Read on for a few pointers to keep in mind as you embark on this new adventure.

Take the time to get your mind in the game

When you first commit to walk down the aisle together, it may be tempting to rush right out and buy your fantasy dress, secure the location where you’ll exchange your vows, and get your order in for your dream wedding cake. But slowing down a little and thinking about what would really make your day special can help corral your wedding costs (so you’ll have that much more for a down payment on your first home, for example).

Set a budget and stick to it

The average cost of a wedding in the United States is more than $34,000.¹ But don’t panic. You don’t have to spend $34,000 to have an unforgettable day. You’ve probably been to wonderful weddings that cost less than $1,000 as well as huge ballroom style weddings that can approach six figures.

Spend as much or as little as you can afford. The important point is to set a budget and stick to it. So sit down with your partner and create a budget you can live with, not just for the day itself, but for your future together. Decide on your most important elements, set the costs for them, and get started checking items off your list!

Spend only on what’s important to you

One thing to keep in mind is that this is your day. Your wedding doesn’t have to be all things to all people. What is most important to you and your fiancé? Love gourmet food? Maybe you splurge a bit on your menu. Into fashion? Maybe your attire is the big ticket item. Don’t care much for alcohol? Skip it and budget more money toward the DJ.

Call in favors and use your friends’ talents

Enlisting help from your friends not only can save money on wedding costs, but it can also make your wedding feel more personal and special. Gather up your talented friends and ask for their help.

Ask close friends to participate in the wedding prep instead of purchasing gifts. Acquaintances? Ask them if they will share their expertise for a minimal fee.

Hint: If your style is more casual, skip the professional photographer and ask your guests to take pictures with their smartphones. You can save a ton of money and end up with great true-to-life photos of your wedding (instead of professional portraits that might look a bit stuffy).

Stay calm and plan on

If you begin planning without a clear vision for how you want your day to unfold, you can quickly get caught up in the frenzy. Vendors and party planners will be happy to sell you lots of extras you may not want or need. So, think carefully about your plan, know it well, and stick to it as execution gets underway.

In short, the best way to save money on your wedding isn’t about cutting corners and limiting your guest list. Like any financial matter, it’s about knowing what’s important to you, setting a budget, and getting creative. Not only can this help save money on your wedding, but it also ensures a wedding that is uniquely yours. And the best news? Having some money left over for the honeymoon!

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¹ “This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2021,” Kim Forrest The Knot, Feb 15, 2022, https://www.theknot.com/content/average-wedding-cost

November 14, 2022

How much home can you afford?

How much home can you afford?

For most households, buying a home means getting a mortgage, which means lenders play a big role in declaring how much house you can “afford”.

Many people take that calculation as a guide in choosing which house they want to buy, but after you’ve signed the papers and moved in, the lender might not be much help in working out the details of your family budget or making ends meet.

Let’s take a look behind the curtain. What is it that lenders look at when determining how large of a mortgage payment you can feasibly make?

The 28-36 Rule

Lenders look closely at income and debt when qualifying you for a certain mortgage amount. One of the rules of thumb at play is that housing expenses shouldn’t run more than 28% of your total gross income.¹ You also may hear this referred to as the “housing ratio” or the “front-end ratio”. The 28% rule is a good guideline – even for renters – and has been a common way to budget for household expenses over many generations. Using this rule of thumb, if your monthly income is $4,000, the average person would probably be able to afford up to $1,120 for a mortgage payment.

Lenders also check your total debt, which they call debt-to-income (DTI). Ideally, this should be below 36% of your income. You can calculate this on your own by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. For example, if your car loans, credit cards, and other debt payments add up to $2,000 per month and your gross income is $4,000 per month, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify for a loan. Most likely you would need to get your monthly debt payments down to $1,440 (36% of $4,000) or under, or find a way to make more money to try to qualify.

Buying less home than you can afford

While the 28% and 36% rules are there to help provide safeguards for lenders – and for you, by extension – buying a home at the top end of your budget can still be risky business. If you purchase a home with a payment equal to the maximum amount your lender has determined, you may not be leaving much room for error, such as an unexpected job loss or other financial emergency. If something expensive breaks – like your furnace or the central air unit – that one event could be enough to bring down the whole house of cards. Consider buying a home with a mortgage payment below your maximum budget and think about upsizing later or if your income grows.

A home as an investment?

A lot of people will always think of their home as an investment in an asset – and in many cases it is – but it’s also an investment in your family’s comfort, safety, and well-being. In reality, homes usually don’t appreciate much more than the rate of inflation and – as the past decade has shown – they can even go down in value. Your home, as a financial tool, isn’t likely to make you rich. In fact, it may do the opposite, if your mortgage payment takes up so great a percentage of your monthly budget that there’s nothing left over to invest, pay down debt, save for a rainy day, or enjoy.

Homes are one of those areas where many discover that less can be more. Whether it’s your first home or you’re trading in the old house for a new one, you might be better served by looking at how big of a mortgage payment you can afford within your current budget, rather than setting your sights on the house your lender says you can afford.

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¹ “How Much House Can I Afford?” David McMillin, Bankrate, https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/new-house-calculator/

November 9, 2022

How to expect the unexpected

How to expect the unexpected

Unexpected expenses can put a damper on your financial life.

You never know what may come up – vet bills, car repairs, unplanned travel expenses. Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

So, how do you pay for unexpected expenses when they arise? Borrow? Use your credit card? Take out a payday loan?

There is a better way. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some cash stored away to help you out when those emergencies pop up? Well, you can! It’s called an emergency fund. That’s what it’s for!

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is a designated amount of cash – easily accessible – to prevent you from going into debt in case of a financial emergency. But how much should you put aside? Most experts agree a suitable amount for an emergency fund is 6 months’ worth of expenses.¹

Sound like a lot of money? It is, but don’t let that stop you. An emergency fund can help make the difference between getting through a single emergency with merely a hiccup or spiraling down the financial rabbit hole of debt. Or it may help you ride through a few months if you lose your source of income.

It’s okay to start small

The thought of saving six months’ worth of income might make most of us throw up our hands in defeat before we even start.

Don’t let that get you down, though. The point is to start, even if it’s small. Just don’t give up. Begin with a goal of saving $500. Once you’ve achieved that, celebrate it! And then work on the next $500.

Slowly, over time, your emergency fund will increase and hopefully, so will your peace of mind.

Take advantage of “found money”

Found money is extra money that comes your way, that isn’t part of your normal income. It can include things like bonuses, inheritances, gifts, or cash from selling personal items.

When you find yourself with some found money, keep the 50/50 rule in mind. Put half the money toward your emergency fund, and put half toward whatever you like – your retirement, making this holiday season a little extra special, or add it to the college fund.

Let’s say you earned a bonus of $500 at your job. You worked hard and want to reward yourself. Go for it! Use half the bonus to buy the new shoes or the basketball game tickets, but put the other half in your emergency fund. It’ll be a win-win for you.

Take advantage of direct deposit

One of the best ways to help build your emergency fund is to make your deposits automatic. Siphon off a percentage of your paycheck into your emergency fund. Again, it’s key to start small here.

Know what an emergency is and what it is not

One of the fundamentals of building and maintaining an emergency fund is knowing what an emergency is and what it’s not. Unexpected expenses that require a dip into your emergency fund will happen – that’s what it’s for. But tapping in to your emergency fund on a regular basis shouldn’t be the norm. (If it is, you might need to take a look at your overall budget.)

Unexpected expenses your emergency fund may help cover:

  • Car repairs
  • Unexpected medical bills
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Unplanned travel for a death in the family

Some expenses that are not really emergencies:

  • A great sale on a cute winter coat
  • A spur of the moment weekend getaway
  • A spa day – no matter how much you need it!

Keep financial safety in mind

So the next time you see a gorgeous pair of shoes that you just “have to have” – ask yourself if they’ll be worth it if your 10-year-old dishwasher fails and your next dishwasher has to be you!

Don’t forget – start small. An emergency fund is about helping put a financial safety net in place. Don’t find yourself potentially compounding the difficulty of a true emergency by not having the funds to deal with it.

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¹ “Emergency Fund: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Margarette Burnette, Nerdwallet, Dec 21, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/banking-basics/life-build-emergency-fund/

October 17, 2022

Consumer Debt: How It Helps And How It Hurts

Consumer Debt: How It Helps And How It Hurts

What exactly is consumer debt? It’s “We the People” debt, as opposed to government or business debt.

Consumer debt is our debt. And we, the people, have a lot of it – it’s record-breaking in fact. In May of 2018, U.S. consumer debt was projected to exceed $16.5 trillion in 2022.¹

That’s a lot of zeros. So, in case you’re wondering, what makes up consumer debt?

Consumer debt consists of credit card debt and non-revolving loans – like automobile financing or a student loan. (Mortgages aren’t considered consumer debt – they’re classified under real estate investments.)

So, how did we get buried under all this debt?

There are a few reasons consumer debt is so high – some of them not entirely in our control.

The rise of student loan debt: Much consumer debt consists of school loans. During the recession, many Americans returned to school to re-train or to pursue graduate degrees to increase their competitiveness in a tough job market.

Auto loan rates: The number of auto loans has skyrocketed due to attractive interest rates. After the recession, the federal government lowered interest rates to spur spending and help lift the country out of the recession. Americans responded by financing more automobiles, which added to the consumer debt total.

Is all this consumer debt a bad thing?

Not all consumer debt is bad debt. And there are ways that it helps the economy – both personal and shared. A student loan for example – particularly a government-backed student loan – can offer a borrower a low-interest rate, deferred repayment, and of course, the benefit of gaining a higher education which may bring a higher salary. A college graduate earns 56 percent more than a high school graduate over their lifetime, according to the Economic Policy Institute. So, getting a student loan may make good economic sense.

Credit card debt that won’t go away

Credit card debt is a different story. According one survey, 55% of people have revolving credit card debt.² Nearly two in five carry debt from month-to-month.

Still, the amount of credit card debt Americans carry has been on the decline, with the average carried per adult a little more than $3,000.

Credit card debt won’t hurt you with interest charges if you pay off the balance monthly. Some households prefer to conduct their spending this way to take advantage of cashback purchases or airline points. As always, make sure spending with credit works within your budget.

If you’re carrying a balance from month to month on your credit cards, however, there is going to be a negative impact in the form of interest payments. Avoid doing this whenever possible.

Stay on the good side of consumer debt

Consumer debt is a mixed bag. Staying on the good side of consumer debt may pay off for you in the long run if you’re conscientious about borrowing money, plan your budget carefully, and always seek to live within your means.

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¹ “Average American Household Debt in 2022: Facts and Figures,” Jack Caporal and Dann Albright, The Ascent, Sep 20, 2022, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/average-american-household-debt/#:~:text=Data%20source%3A%20Federal%20Reserve%20Bank,the%20second%20quarter%20of%202022.

² “Jaw-Dropping Stats About the State of Debt in America,” Gabrielle Olya, Yahoo, Oct 11, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/video/jaw-dropping-stats-state-credit-130022967.html#:~:text=A%20separate%20survey%20conducted%20by,balance%20from%20month%20to%20month.

October 12, 2022

Can you actually retire?

Can you actually retire?

Retirement is as much a part of the American Dream as owning a home, owning a small business, or just owning your time.

It’s built into the American psyche.

Many while away their working lives dreaming of the day they won’t have to wake up to a jarring alarm clock, fight rush hour traffic, and spend their days trapped behind a desk.

No matter your retirement dream – endless golf, exciting travel, or just hanging out with the grandkids – will you actually be able to pull it off? Will you actually be able to retire?

Sadly, about 59% of Americans say no, according to a poll by MagnifyMoney.¹

It turns out there are some reliable indicators that you may not be ready for retirement. It’s time for a reality check (and some tough love). So roll up your sleeves and let’s get honest. If you regularly practice any of the following financial habits, you may not be able to retire.

You spend without a budget

Do you have a budget? Are you spending indiscriminately on anything that tickles your fancy? Living day to day without a budget – especially if you are approaching your middle years or later – can wreck your chances of retirement. Commit to creating a budget and stick to it. Overspending now can turn your retirement daydream into a nightmare.

You’re not dealing with your credit card debt

If you struggle with credit card debt, you must have a plan to attack it. Credit card debt can cost you money in interest payments that could be funding your retirement instead. If you’re carrying credit card debt, get rid of it as soon as possible. Stick to a payment plan, be patient, and remain diligent. With time you’ll knock out that debt and start funding your retirement.

You’re not creating passive income

Being able to retire depends on whether you can generate income for yourself during your retirement years. You should be setting up your passive income streams now. Your financial advisor can inform you about options you might have, such as retirement investment accounts, real estate assets, stocks, or even life insurance and annuities. Make it a goal to formulate a strategy about how you can generate income later or you might not be able to retire.

You’re pipe dreaming

Ouch. Here’s some really tough love. If your retirement plan includes so-called “get rich quick” scenarios such as investment fads, lottery winnings, or pyramid schemes, your retirement could be in jeopardy. The way to retirement is through tried and true financial planning and implementing solid strategies over time. Try putting the 20 dollars you might spend each week on lottery tickets toward your retirement strategy instead.

A great retirement life isn’t guaranteed to anyone. It takes planning, sacrifice, and discipline. If you’re coming up short, make some changes now so you’ll be ready for your retirement life.

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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, talk with a financial professional to discuss your options.


¹ “59% of Americans Don’t Believe They Will Have Enough to Retire,” Deanna Ritchie, Due, Jun 1, 2022 https://due.com/blog/americans-dont-believe-they-will-have-enough-to-retire/#:~:text=Unfortunately%2C%20a%20majority%20of%20Americans,to%20save%20enough%20for%20retirement.

October 5, 2022

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Getting the Most Bang for Your Savings Buck

Savvy savers know that if they look after their pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

So, if you’re looking for places to gain a few extra pennies, why not start by maximizing your savings account?

Granted, a savings account might not be a flashy investment opportunity with a high return. But most of us use one as a place to park our emergency fund or the dream car fund. So, if you’re going to put your money somewhere other than under your mattress, why not put it in the place that gets the best return? Here are some tips for getting the most out of your savings account.

Try an Online-only Account

Your corner bank branch isn’t the only option for a savings account. Why not try an online account? As of May 2022, some banks are offering online checking accounts with rates of 1.25% (some even higher).¹

With the help of technology, you can link one of these high-interest savings accounts directly to your checking account, making moving money a breeze. Say goodbye to the brick and mortar bank, and hello to some extra cash in your pocket!

Check Out Your Local Credit Union

A credit union offers savers some unique benefits. They differ from a traditional bank as they are usually not for profit. They function more like a cooperative – even paying dividends back to members periodically.

A credit union can also be beneficial as they typically offer a higher interest rate than your everyday bank. Membership in a credit union may also have other perks, such as low-interest rates on personal loans as well as exceptional customer service.

Money Market Accounts

A money market account is like a savings account except it’s tied to bonds and other low-risk investments. A money market can deliver the goods by giving you more for your savings, but there are often account minimums and fees. Before putting your savings into a money market account, check the fees and account minimums to make sure they’ll coincide with your needs.

Don’t Use a Parking Place When You Need a Garage

A savings account is a like a good parking place for cash. Its usefulness is in its ease of access and flexibility.

This makes it a great place to keep savings that you may need to access in the short term – say, within the next 12 months.

For long-term saving (like for retirement), it’s generally not a good idea to rely on a savings account alone. Retirement savings doesn’t belong in a parking place. For that, you need a garage. Talk to your financial professional today about a savings strategy for retirement, and the options that are available for you.

Shopping for a Savings Account

Just because a savings account doesn’t offer high yields, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it carefully. To get the most bang for your savings buck, search out the highest interest possible (which might be online), be aware of fees and penalties, and remember – any saving is better than not saving at all!

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¹ “10 Best Online Checking Accounts of 2022,” Chanelle Bessette, Nerdwallet, May 26, 2022, https://www.nerdwallet.com/best/banking/online-checking-accounts

September 21, 2022

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

The Pros and Cons of Budget Cars

Buying a car can be pricey.

The average used car costs over $33,000,¹ while the average for a new one is around $48,080.² When it comes to transportation (or anything else for that matter), it only makes sense that you’d want to save as much money as possible. But are there times when buying a used or budget car is a better investment than buying a new one? Here are some questions to ask yourself before you make that purchase.

How much mileage can you get out of this car?

One of the big things to consider when researching a budget car is how many miles of prior travel you’re paying for. Buying a cheap (although unreliable) car that breaks down on the regular due to wear and tear may give you fewer miles for your money than paying more for a car that might last 10 years. If you’re committed to buying used, you’ll probably want a mechanic to inspect the car for issues that might affect your car’s lifespan.

How much will maintenance and repairs cost you?

You might be one of the few who know someone with the auto know-how to keep an ancient car running for years. However, the average person will need to have car problems repaired at a professional shop, which can become expensive if it constantly needs work. This can be especially costly if you sink thousands into maintenance only for your vehicle to die for good earlier than expected. It’s worth considering that buying new might save you a huge hassle and potentially give you more miles for your money.

How does the interest rate compare for a new car vs. used?

The uncertainty involved with buying a used or budget car can increase the cost of financing. Lenders will often charge you higher interest for purchasing a used car than they would a new one.³ Having a high credit score will improve your rates, but that extra cost can still add up over time.

What you’re trying to avoid is buying a used piece of junk that requires constant maintenance at a shop, has a higher interest rate, and gives out too soon. There are definitely used and budget cars out there that have great value. Just be sure to do your research before you make such a significant investment!

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¹ “Consumers are shelling out an average $10,000 more for used cars than if prices were ‘normal,’ research shows,” Sarah O’Brien, CNBC, Jul 21 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/07/21/consumers-paying-average-10000-above-normal-prices-for-used-cars.html

² “The Average Price of a New Car Is Creeping Toward $50,000,” Brad Tuttle, Money, Sep 14, 2022, https://money.com/new-car-prices-average-50000/

³ “Why Do Used Cars Have Higher Interest Rates?” Doug Demuro, Autotrader, Oct 13, 2013, https://www.autotrader.com/car-shopping/why-do-used-cars-have-higher-interest-rates-215730

September 14, 2022

Has Your Debt Outpaced Your Income?

Has Your Debt Outpaced Your Income?

Are your finances feeling tight? It may be because your debt has outpaced your income.

Your debt-to-income ratio is a key factor in determining your financial health. This ratio is simply your monthly debt payments divided by your monthly income, multiplied by 100 to make it a percentage.

Banks and other lenders will look at your debt-to-income ratio when considering whether to give you a loan. They want to see that you have enough income to cover your monthly debt obligations. A high debt-to-income ratio can make it difficult to qualify for new loans or lines of credit since it can signal that you’re struggling to keep up with your debt payments.

Fortunately, your ratio is easy to calculate…

First, add up all of your monthly debt payments. This includes your mortgage or rent, car payment, student loans, credit card payments, and any other debts you may have.

Next, calculate your monthly income. This is typically your take-home pay after taxes and other deductions. If you’re self-employed, it may be your net income after business expenses.

Finally, divide your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. Multiply this number by 100 to get your debt-to-income ratio.

For example, let’s say you have a monthly mortgage payment of $1,000 and a monthly car payment of $300. You also have $200 in student loan payments and $150 in credit card payments. Your monthly income is $3,000.

Your debt-to-income ratio would be (1,000 + 300 + 200 + 150) / 3,000 = .55 or 55%.

A debt-to-income ratio of less than 36% is typically considered ideal by lenders—anything more can signal financial stress.¹

If your debt-to-income ratio is high, don’t despair. There are steps you can take to improve it.

First, try to increase your income. That can mean working extra hours, scoring a raise, finding a new job, or even starting a side business.

Second, you can lower your debt. You can do this by making extra payments on your debts each month or by consolidating your debts into a single loan with a lower interest rate.

Making these changes can be difficult, but they can make a big difference in your debt-to-income ratio—and your financial health.

If you’re not sure where to start, contact me! I can help you develop a plan to get your debt under control and to start building wealth.

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September 7, 2022

A Matter of Life and Debt

A Matter of Life and Debt

You might never have thought about this before, but how are debt and life insurance connected?

Well, the answer is very simple. Debt is one of the largest financial struggles in society today—total consumer debt has grown to a staggering $14.9 trillion as of 2020.¹ That represents a staggering financial burden on Americans throughout the country.

But what happens if someone in debt passes away? The debt doesn’t just vanish. The estate of the deceased is often responsible for repaying creditors.² That means a family, already down an income, has to cope with the stress of managing debt.

That’s where life insurance can help.

Life insurance pays out a lump sum in the event of death. The money can help family members repay debt, care for children or other dependents, and provide financial security to those left behind.

So how much life insurance do you need?

That’s something only you can answer for your own household. Typically, experts recommend 10X your annual income to provide a sufficient financial cushion for your family. But, depending on your level of debt or the particular needs of your spouse and children, you may require more coverage!

Life insurance could be critical for the financial well-being of your family if you’re carrying debt. It might provide the cash they need to pay your creditors and start building a new future.

If you’re looking for life insurance, contact me. We can estimate the amount of protection that’s right for your family!

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August 31, 2022

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

A Beginners Guide to Saving and Shredding Documents

It’s time to manage all those papers that are taking up space in your filing cabinets!

But how? Which documents should you preserve? Which ones should you shred? Here are 11 helpful tips on what to do with tax documents, legal documents, and property records.

Documents to keep.

At the top of this list? Estate planning documents. Your will, your living trust, and any final instructions should be carefully labeled, stored, and protected. Your life insurance policy should be safeguarded as well.

Records of your loans should be preserved. That includes for your mortgage, car and student loans. Technically, you can shred these once they’re paid off, but it’s wise to keep them around permanently. Someday you may have to prove you’ve actually paid off these debts.

Tax returns.

Here’s a trick—keep tax returns for at least 7 years. Why? Because there’s a 6 year window for the IRS to challenge your return if they suspect you’ve underreported your income.¹ Keep your records around to prove that you’ve been performing your civic duty by properly reporting your income.

(Check your state’s government website to determine exactly how long you’re supposed to keep state tax returns.)

Property records.

Keep all of your records pertaining to…

  • Your ownership of your house
  • The legal documents for buying your house
  • Commissions to your real estate agent
  • Major home improvements

Save these documents for a minimum of 6 years after you move out of your home. If you’re a renter, keep all of your records until you’ve moved out. Then, fire up your shredder and get to work!

Speaking of your shredder…

Annual documents to destroy.

Every year, you can shred paycheck stubs and bank records. Just be sure of two things…

First, make sure that you’re not shredding anything that might belong in your tax records.

Second, be sure that you’ve reviewed your finances with a professional who will know which documents may need preserving.

Once you’ve done that, it’s fine to feed your shredder at your discretion!

Credit card receipts, statements and bills.

Once you’ve checked your monthly statement against your bank records and receipts, you’re free to shred them. You may want to hold on to receipts for large purchases until the item breaks or you get rid of it.

When in doubt, do some research! It’s better than tossing out something important. And schedule an annual review with a licensed and qualified financial professional. They can help you discern which documents you need and which ones can be destroyed.

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¹ “Save or Shred: How Long You Should Keep Financial Documents,” FINRA, Jan 27, 2017, https://www.finra.org/investors/insights/save-or-shred-how-long-you-should-keep-financial-documents

June 29, 2022

Sinking Funds 101

Sinking Funds 101

You can put down the life jacket—a sinking fund is actually a good thing!

Why? Because a sinking fund can help you avoid high interest debt when making big purchases. Here’s how…

Put simply, a sinking fund is a savings account that’s dedicated to a specific purchase.

For instance, you could create a sinking fund for buying a new car. Every paycheck, you would automate a deposit into the fund until you had enough money to buy your new ride.

And that can make it a powerful tool. Instead of putting big ticket items on a credit card or using financing, you can instead use cash. It can work wonders for your cash flow and your ability to build wealth over the long haul.

Here are a few tips for making the most of your sinking fund…

Plan in advance

Sinking funds work best when they’ve had time to accumulate—you probably can’t save for two weeks and then expect to buy a car!

First, write a list of all major upcoming expenses on the horizon. List how much you expect them to cost, and when you plan to purchase them.

Then, divide the cost by the number of pay periods between now and then. That’s how much you need to save each paycheck to buy the item in cash. Even if you can’t spare the cash flow to save the full amount, you can at least save enough to lower the amount of debt you’ll be taking on.

Prioritize access

What good is saving for a purchase if you can’t access the money? Not much.

That’s why it’s best if your sinking fund is highly liquid. No penalties for withdrawal. No delay between selling assets and accessing cash. Otherwise, you may find yourself unnecessarily twiddling your thumbs instead of actually making the purchase!

Prioritize safety

Remember—this is for a specific purchase on a relatively short timetable, so you might not want to put these funds in a more aggressive account. The last thing anyone wants is for their car savings to get halved by a bear market. There are other accounts specifically designed for building wealth. This doesn’t need to be one.

So before you make your next big purchase, call up your licensed and qualified financial professional. Give them the details about what you plan to buy and when. Then, collaborate to see what saving for the purchase could look like. It could be the alternative to credit card spending and financing that your wallet needs!

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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. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed and qualified financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

May 25, 2022

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

How to Build Credit When You’re Young

Your credit score can affect a lot more than just your interest rates or credit limits.

Your credit history can have an impact on your eligibility for rental leases, raise (or lower) your auto insurance rates, or even affect your eligibility for certain jobs (although in many cases the authorized credit reports available to third parties don’t contain your credit score if you aren’t requesting credit). Because credit history affects so many aspects of financial life, it’s important to begin building a solid credit history as early as possible.

So, where do you start?

  1. Apply for a store credit card.
    Store credit cards are a common starting point for teens and young adults, as it often can be easier to get approved for a store card than for a major credit card. As a caveat though, store card interest rates are often higher than for a standard credit card. Credit limits are also typically low – but that might not be a bad thing when you’re just getting started building your credit. A lower limit helps ensure you’ll be able to keep up with payments. Because you’re trying to build a positive history and because interest rates are often higher with a store card, it’s important to pay on time – or ideally, to pay the entire balance when you receive the statement.

  2. Become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card.
    Another common way to begin building credit is to become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Ultimately, the credit card account isn’t yours, so your parents would be responsible for paying the balance. (Because of this, your credit score won’t benefit as much as if you are approved for a credit card in your own name.) Another thing to keep in mind is that some credit card providers don’t report authorized users’ activity to credit bureaus.¹ Additionally, even if you’re only an authorized user, any missed or late payments on the card can affect your credit history negatively.

Are secured cards useful to build credit?
A secured credit card is another way to begin building credit. To secure the card, you make an initial deposit. The amount of that deposit is your credit line. If you miss a payment, the bank uses your collateral – the deposit – to pay the balance. Don’t let that make you too comfortable though. Your goal is to build a positive credit history, so if you miss payments – even though you have a prepaid deposit to fall back on – you’re still going to get a ding on your credit history. Instead, it’s best to use a small amount of your available credit each month and to pay in full when you get the statement. This will help you look like a credit superstar due to your consistently timely payments and low credit utilization.

As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit – but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive.

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¹ “Does Being an Authorized User Impact Your Credit Score?” Discover, Jan 13, 2022 https://www.discover.com/credit-cards/resources/authorized-user-and-credit-scores

May 9, 2022

Stop Hitting Yourself!

Stop Hitting Yourself!

There are two powerful emotions that come with self sabotage.

The first is that freeing feeling of “who cares?” That’s what pops up when you see that perfect dress with the staggering price tag but still reach for your credit card. It’s a rush.

The second is that sinking feeling of “I can’t believe I did this again.” That’s what pops up when you get that mind-boggling credit card bill at the end of the month. It can be crushing.

And then you go through the same old routine—you swear off the plastic, promise yourself that this time will be different. And it works… for a little while. But your willpower grows thin. Suddenly, there’s another shiny trinket on your screen and you just. Can’t. Resist.

Oops, you did it again.

It’s a vicious cycle, and it can feel like you’re stuck in quicksand. But there is a way out.

The first step is recognizing that self sabotage is a form of negative reinforcement. In other words, you’re doing it because you—and others—tell yourself it’s just a part of you and you can’t help it.

For instance, what thoughts run through your head when you self sabotage? Do you think, “Gee, I made another mistake. Thank goodness my actions don’t define me, and I’ll get through this. I am capable of changing my behavior.”

Or do you think, “I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I did that again. I guess I’m just fundamentally flawed and doomed to repeat this over and over again.”

For many, it’s the latter. And that narrative condemns you to self sabotage, even if you would love to do things differently.

Think about it. This line of thinking reinforces that you can’t change, even though you sharply feel the consequences of your actions. It implies that you’re helpless. And if that’s what you tell yourself, is it any surprise if that becomes the narrative of your life?

So what do you need? A better story.

The key to breaking out of the cycle of self sabotage is changing your mindset. You need to think about yourself in a different way—a way that empowers you and gives you control over your actions.

Instead of thinking “I’m a flawed person who will always make mistakes,” think “I am human and I will make mistakes. But I can also choose differently. I just need to do it.”

And the best part about it? You’ll finally start telling yourself the truth. You are capable of change. You just made a mistake. And there’s no reason that you have to keep making them.

So the next time you find yourself hitting yourself for another financial slip up, stop for a moment and ask yourself—what story am I telling myself about myself? Is it limiting? Or is it the truth?

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April 25, 2022

Lessons From the Super Frugal

Lessons From the Super Frugal

The world of the super frugal can be an overwhelming place.

In a sense, it’s inspiring. The creativity and grit of the super frugal are sure to put a grin on your face. You may even find a few fun money saving projects that are worth your time. Saving money with french toast? Sign me up!

However, there’s a fine line between inspiring and weird, and the super frugal sometimes cross that line. Could reusing a plastic lid as a paint palette save you money? Sure! The same is true for bartering with store clerks. Will you get funny looks? Almost certainly.

It’s not that funny looks are bad. There’s wisdom to defying the crowd and marching to the beat of your own drum. But sometimes there’s a good reason to raise an eyebrow at super frugality…

That’s because it can miss the point.

Your financial top priority must always be providing for those you love. In this day and age, that means building wealth.

Some people may need extreme measures to do that. Let’s say you have deep credit card debt or a spending problem. Coupon clipping, saving on utilities, and thrifting may help you knock that debt out faster and free up the cash flow you need to start building wealth.

But don’t mistake the means for the end. Obsessing over coupons, stressing over recycling, and cutting too many corners can reach unhealthy and even pathological extremes. That doesn’t create wealth and prosperity—it can just cause more suffering.

So take lessons from the super frugal. Find a few money savings projects that you enjoy. Maybe do a spending cleanse. But keep your eye on the ultimate prize—building wealth for you and your family.

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April 20, 2022

Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?

It’s not a question if buying is better than renting. It’s a question of when you’ll be ready to buy.

That’s because rent money is lost to your landlord forever.

A homeowner, though, has the chance for the value of their house to increase. It may not be an earth-shattering return, but there’s a far higher chance that you’ll at least break even from owning than renting.

Even with its advantages, owning a home isn’t for everyone… at least, not yet. Here are a few criteria to consider before becoming a homeowner.

You’re ready to put down roots. If you’re not yet prepared to live in one place for at least five years, home ownership may not be for you.

Why? Because buying and selling a home comes with costs. As a rule of thumb, waiting five years can allow your home to appreciate enough value to offset those expenses.

So before you buy a home, be sure that you’ve done your homework. Will your job require you to change locations in the next five years? Will local schools stay up to par as your family grows? If you’re confident that you’ll stay put for the next five years or more, go ahead and start planning.

You can cover the upfront costs of home ownership. The upfront costs of buying a home, as mentioned above, are no laughing matter. They may prove a barrier to entry if you haven’t been saving up.

The greatest upfront costs you’ll face are the down payment and closing costs. A down payment is usually a percentage of the total purchase price of your home—for instance, a home priced at $200,000 might require a 20% down payment, or $40,000.

Closing costs vary from state to state, with averages ranging from $1,909 in Indianna to $25,800 in the District of Columbia.¹ These include fees to the lender and property transfer taxes.

The takeaway? Start saving to cover the upfront costs of purchasing a home well in advance. Your bank account will thank you!

You can handle the maintenance costs of home ownership. Say what you will about landlords, but at least they don’t charge you for home repairs and maintenance!

That all changes when you become a homeowner. Every little ding, scratch, and flooded basement are your responsibility to cover. It all adds up to over $2,000 per year, though that figure will vary depending on the size and age of your home.² If you haven’t factored in those expenses, your cash flow—as well as your airflow—might be in for trouble!

Do you have residual debt to deal with? The great danger of debt is that it destabilizes your finances. It dries up precious cash flow needed to cover emergency expenses and build wealth.

That’s why throwing a mortgage on top of a high student loan or credit card debt burden can be a blunder. You might be able to cover costs on paper, but you risk stretching your cash flow to take care of any unplanned emergencies.

In conclusion, owning a home is an admirable goal. But it may not be for you and your family yet! Take a long look at your finances and life-stage before making a purchase that could become a source of stress instead of stability.

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¹ “Average Closing Costs in 2020: What Will You Pay?” Amy Fontinelle, The Ascent, Sept 28, 2020, https://www.fool.com/the-ascent/research/average-closing-costs/

² “How Much Should You Budget for Home Maintenance?” American Family Insurance, https://www.amfam.com/resources/articles/at-home/average-home-maintenance-costs

March 24, 2022

The Complete Guide to Buying Happiness

The Complete Guide to Buying Happiness

You’ve probably heard that money can’t buy happiness. But what if it could?

What if you were able to find a way of spending your money that made you happy, and the more you spent on it, the happier you became? Doesn’t sound possible, does it? But it IS entirely possible.

At least, that’s the premise of a paper written by scholars from Harvard, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Virginia. The title? “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right.”

The thesis? If you spend money right, it makes you happy. If you spend money wrong, it makes you feel… well, meh.

Here’s what they found…

Buy experiences, not things. The researchers found that people tend to be happier when they spend money on experiences rather than things. That’s because experiences provide us with opportunities to create memories, which can be recalled and enjoyed long after the experience is over. And as you get older, those memories become constant sources of joy, satisfaction, and happiness.

So if you’re looking to spend your money in a way that will make you happy, focus on things like travel, getaways, skydiving, sunsets, long walks, and conversations. Those will remain with you for the rest of your life.

Help others first. It’s a fact—social relations are critical for happiness. The better your relationships, the greater your happiness.

So it follows that one of the best ways to spend your money in a way that will make you happy is to help others. This could mean donating money to charity, or simply spending time with friends and family.

Focus on little pleasures. Another way to spend your money in a way that will make you happy is to focus on little pleasures. This one seems counterintuitive—shouldn’t you save a whole bunch of money and spend it on something fancy?

However, the paper cites research that frequency is more powerful than intensity. Is eating a 12oz cookie better than eating a 6oz cookie? Absolutely. But is it two times better? Probably not. It’s a concept called diminishing marginal utility—the more you indulge in something, the less enjoyable it becomes.

What does that mean? Frequent day trips beat rare but epic vacations. Fun, quiet date nights once per week beat going all out twice a year.

Pay now, consume later. Again, this seems counterintuitive. But it makes sense when you think about it.

Consider the all-too-common alternative—buy now, pay later. First off, this model encourages rampant spending. Without facing immediate consequences, it’s just too tempting to rack up debt and buy stuff you don’t need.

But more than that, it entirely removes antici…

.. pation from the equation. And that’s half the fun!

So instead of whipping out the credit card, save up. Pay cash. Delay gratification. You’ll enjoy your purchase more, and you’ll be happier overall.

So there you have it! The complete guide to spending your money in a way that will make you happy. Just remember—experiences over things, helping others first, little pleasures, and pay now, consume later. Follow these tips, and you may find that your money’s doing its actual job—making you happy.

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March 14, 2022

Financial Essentials for Retiring Baby Boomers

Financial Essentials for Retiring Baby Boomers

Are Baby Boomers out of time for retirement planning?

At first glance, it might seem like they are. They’re currently aged 57-75, meaning a good portion have already retired!¹

And those who are still working have only a few precious years to create their retirement nest eggs and get their finances in order.

Perhaps you’re in that boat—or at least know someone who is. If so, this article is for you. It’s about some essential strategies retiring Baby Boomers can leverage to help create the futures they desire.

Eliminate your debt. The first step is getting rid of your debt. After all, it’s not optional in retirement—you’ll need every penny to fund the lifestyle you want.

That means two things…

  1. Don’t take on any new debt. No new houses, boats, cars, or credit card funded toys.
  2. Use a debt snowball (or avalanche) to eliminate existing debts.

That means focusing all of your financial resources on a single debt at a time, knocking out either the smallest balance or highest interest debt.

Eliminating, or at least reducing, your debt can help create financial headroom for you in retirement. It frees up more cash flow for you to spend on your lifestyle and on preparing for potential emergencies.

Maximize social security benefits. Delay Social Security as long as possible (or until age 70). Delaying Social Security increases your monthly payments, so it’s a simple way to maximize your benefit.

For example, if you started collecting Social Security at age 66, you would be entitled to 100% of your social security benefit. At 67, it increases to 108%, and by 70 it increases 132%. That can make a huge difference towards living your dream retirement lifestyle.

Check out the Social Security Administration’s website to learn more.

Protect your wealth and health with long-term care (LTC) coverage. The next step is to protect your assets from the burden of LTC. It’s a challenge 7 out of 10 retirees will have to overcome, and it can be costly—without insurance, it can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $100,000. That’s a significant chunk of your retirement wealth!²

The standard strategy for covering the cost of LTC is LTC insurance. It pays for expenses like nursing homes, caretakers, and adult daycares.

But it can be pricey, especially as you grow older—a couple, age 55, can expect to pay $2,080 annually combined, while a 65 year old couple will pay closer to $3,750.³

The takeaway? If you don’t have LTC coverage, get it ASAP. The longer you wait, the more cost—and risk—you potentially expose yourself to.

Pro-tip: If you have a permanent life insurance policy, you may be able to add a LTC rider to your coverage. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional to see if this option is available for you!

Review your income potential with a financial professional. The final step on your path to retirement is reviewing your income options. You want to strike a balance between maximizing your sources of cash flow and keeping control over your retirement plan.

Many retirees lean heavily on two primary income opportunities: Social security and withdrawals from their retirement savings accounts.

And that’s where a financial professional can help.

They can help you review your current retirement lifestyle goals, savings, and potential income. If there’s a gap, they can help come up with strategies to close it.

You’ve worked hard and made sacrifices—now it’s time to reap the rewards of all that elbow grease. Which of the essentials in this article do you need to tackle first?

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¹ “Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen A Explained,” Kasasa, Jul 6, 2021, https://www.kasasa.com/articles/generations/gen-x-gen-y-gen-z

²”Long-term care insurance cost: Everything you need to know,” MarketWatch, Feb 19, 2021, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/long-term-care-insurance-cost-everything-you-need-to-know-01613767329

³ “Long-Term Care Insurance Facts - Data - Statistics - 2021 Reports,” American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, https://www.aaltci.org/long-term-care-insurance/learning-center/ltcfacts-2021.php

February 14, 2022

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Tips for Saving Money on Homeowners Insurance

Trying to free up cash flow? Then look no further than your homeowners insurance.

That’s because there are several techniques you can use to help cut down your monthly premiums. Here are a few worth trying!

Go all out on security. One of the easiest ways to save money on homeowners insurance is to make your home more secure. Installing deadbolts, window locks, smoke detectors and fire alarms, motion detectors and video surveillance will not only help keep burglars out but may also reduce your premiums.

Just be sure to count the costs before you deck out your home. It may be more expensive to go all out on security than to pay your premiums as they are. Depending on how secure you already feel in your home, investing in extra measures may not be something you choose to do just yet.

Boost your credit score. Your credit score can have a big impact on your insurance premiums. The majority of insurers use it as a factor to determine what you will pay for homeowners insurance, so if your score is low, expect to pay more.

What can you do to improve your score? For starters, focus on paying all your bills on time. Next, reduce the balance on your credit cards. It’s a good idea to set up automatic monthly payments for your utility bills and other recurring expenses. It’s a simple, one-time action that can save your credit score from slip ups and oversights.

Eliminate attractive nuisances. If you have a swimming pool or trampoline on your property, expect to pay more for homeowners insurance. Insurers view them as attractive nuisances, and raise your premiums accordingly. That includes things like…

Swimming pools Trampolines Construction equipment Non-working cars Playground equipment Old appliances

It’ll be a weight off your shoulders—and your bank account.

Maximize discounts. You might be surprised by the wide range of discounts insurance companies offer homeowners. They include everything from not smoking to choosing paperless billing to membership in specific groups. It never hurts to ask your insurer what discounts are available.

Bundle your home insurance with auto insurance. Businesses love loyalty. And they’re not afraid to incentivize it. That’s why insurance companies will often reward you for bundling your home and auto insurance together. So if you already own a car, ask your insurer if you can purchase discounted home insurance. It may significantly lower your monthly rate.

Some methods are more obvious than others, but all of them can add up to big savings over time. Ask your financial professional for their insights, then reach out to your insurer. You may be surprised by how much you save!

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February 7, 2022

Why Debt Is A Big Deal

Why Debt Is A Big Deal

Debt is a word that strikes fear in the hearts of many. It ruins fortunes, causes untold stress, and topples governments.

Just ask a millennial about their financial struggles—student loan debt will certainly top their list.

But why? Why is debt so bad, anyway? After all, isn’t credit just money you can use now then pay back later? What’s the big deal?

Well, actually debt is a very big deal. In fact, it can make or break your personal finances.

This article isn’t for hardened debt fighters. You already know the damage debt can do.

But if you’re just starting your financial journey, take note before it’s too late. At best, debt is a tool. It certainly isn’t your friend. Here’s why…

It begins by lowering your cash flow. All those monthly payments bite into your paycheck, effectively lowering your income.

And that has consequences.

It can make it a struggle to afford a home. You simply lack the cash flow to afford mortgage payments.

It makes it a struggle to build wealth. Every spare penny goes towards making ends meet.

It makes it a struggle to maintain your lifestyle. You may find yourself choosing between the pleasures—and even the basics—of life and appeasing your creditors.

And that brings the risk of bankruptcy. It’s a last-ditch effort to erase an unpayable debt. It comes with a heavy price—creditors can take your home and possessions to make up for what you owe. And even if bankruptcy erases the debt, it will have a lasting impact on your credit score and financial future.¹

It can change your life forever, throwing your life into chaos.

Think about it—when was the last time someone smiled and fondly recalled that time they went bankrupt? Never. It’s a traumatic experience. This is something you want to avoid at all costs.

This isn’t to scare you into a debt free life or guilt you for using a credit card. Rather, it’s to educate you on the stakes. Debt isn’t something to be taken on lightly. It can have lasting consequences on your life, family, finances, and even mental health. Act accordingly.

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¹ “Bankruptcy: How it Works, Types & Consequences,” Experian, accessed Jan 7, 2022, https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/credit-education/bankruptcy-how-it-works-types-and-consequences/

January 12, 2022

Financial Steps in the Right Direction

Financial Steps in the Right Direction

It’s not just about money. It’s about what you do with it… and how you feel about it.

It doesn’t matter if your balance is $0 or $1 million dollars, because that dollar figure is meaningless without context and perspective. What matters most is how you feel about your finances and the choices you make with them every day, week, month—all year long.

But there are some very practical things we can all do to keep our financial ship on course even in challenging times:

1. Pay off high-interest debt

2. Save 10% of your income

3. Buy life insurance now

4. Start a side gig

Pay off high-interest debt before saving for retirement. This is a very important step that should not be overlooked or minimized. Paying off credit card debt with high interest rates can save you huge amounts of money and make other savings goals easier to reach.

Save 10% of your income. It’s always wise to consistently save as much as you can. Yet, the rule of thumb that says we should save 10% of our income is still a solid one. Remember – saving is just for you – it’s not an investment per se, but rather a protection from any nasty surprises down the road and a way to ensure you have more money to save, invest and live on.

Buy life insurance now. Life insurance is often misunderstood and misused. As such, many people fail to see its value in terms of providing for their loved ones or even protecting their own future. However, life insurance provides a way to protect your family and business in the event of an unforeseen tragedy.

Start a side gig. It will not only provide you with a second stream of income, but will offer an additional sense of security and freedom.

For many people, their financial lives become clouded with stress and anxiety because they don’t have a way to earn extra money. The solution is often as simple as taking some of the time they’d normally spend watching TV and learning a new skill, or getting a part-time job on weekends.

However you choose to start making more money, focus on what is going to make you happier in life. Because if you’re financially free, secure and happy – that’s true wealth.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about how much money you make or have, but what you do with your money—how you feel about it. Make smart financial choices and things will happen for the better.

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