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 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/

November 7, 2022

Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

Most of us might feel at least a little anxiety when the subject of preparing for retirement comes up.

Many Americans feel like they haven’t saved enough. In the face of inflation, 40% of American workers plan on working longer to make up for what they haven’t saved.¹

But anticipating staying in the workforce may not be the best strategy when it comes to funding your golden years. Why? Because there are many unforeseen events that can affect your ability (or desire) to work – health problems, caretaking, loss of opportunity in your field… or just wanting to spend time with your grandkids or travel with your partner.

With so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many Americans feel stressed, burdened, and unprepared when it comes to saving for retirement.

But don’t let retirement worries steal your joy. When it comes to saving for retirement there are a lot of choices you can make to help you prepare. Read on for some principles and tips that may help lessen your stress about the future.

Small changes add up

Retirement saving may seem like an insurmountable task when faced with the high cost of daily life. It’s easy to think we can’t afford to save for retirement and get stuck in a pattern of defeat. But small changes over time can add up to big results.

Shake off despair by implementing small strategies. Consistent saving adds up over time, and it can help build your finance muscle. Read on for some more easy tips.

Direct deposit

Set up a portion of your direct deposit to go straight into a savings account. This is a “set it and forget it” savings strategy, and you’ll be amazed how quickly it can build.

Save found money

Found money is extra cash that comes your way outside of your normal income. It can be from bonuses, gifts, or even a side gig. You weren’t planning on receiving that money anyway, so throw it right into your savings.

Practice frugality

Instead of becoming stressed out and hyper-focused on saving every possible penny, practice frugality. Frugal living can put your energy into something positive – creating a new habit and lifestyle. Also, frugal habits may help prepare you for living on a fixed income during retirement. Try these tips for starters:

Consider downsizing your home

Cut back or eliminate “extras” such as dining out, movies, and concerts When making a purchase, use any available coupons or discount codes Seek sources of free entertainment such as community festivals or neighborhood gatherings

Hire a financial professional

If no matter what you do you still can’t help feeling unprepared and stressed about your retirement, consider hiring a financial professional.

A financial professional may be able to help you change your perspective on preparing for retirement and help empower you with strategies custom made for you.

Remember, financial professionals work with people of all income levels, so don’t hesitate if you need help to get a handle on your retirement. They may assist with:

  • Creating a budget
  • Setting up savings accounts
  • Clarifying your retirement goals
  • Strategies for eliminating debt

Change your perspective on preparing for retirement

If you’re anxious about having enough money for your retirement, try changing your perspective. Focus on small goals and lifestyle habits. Frugality, consistent savings, and solid financial strategies may help take the stress out of retirement planning.

Consistency over time is the name of the game with retirement savings. So implement a few strategies that you can live with now.

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¹ “What Happens When 40% of Workers Postpone Retirement? We’re About to Find Out,” Mary Ellen Cagnassola, Money, Oct 3, 2022, https://money.com/40-percent-older-americans-delay-retirement-inflation-effect-on-younger-workers/#:~:text=Forty%20percent%20of%20American%20workers,Institute%2C%20a%20retirement%20insights%20group.

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.

September 28, 2022

Take Your Dream Vacation Without Causing a Retirement Nightmare

Take Your Dream Vacation Without Causing a Retirement Nightmare

Now that the kids are out of the house, maybe you and your spouse want to take that once-in-a-lifetime island-hopping cruise.

Or maybe your friends are planning a super-exciting cross-country road trip to see all the sites you learned about in school. It can be tempting to skim a little off the top of your retirement savings to fund that dream vacation and make it happen. But whatever your vacation dream is, you shouldn’t sacrifice your retirement savings to live it.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take that trip. Vacation is important to health and wellbeing. If anything, studies show that Americans aren’t taking enough vacation during the year.

But, for those that do take a break, many are going into debt to do it, sadly enough. A survey by the financial planning platform LearnVest asked 1,000 adults how they finance their vacations. The answer? They go into debt.

The study found: • 21% of Americans have gone into debt for vacation. • Most of those who used debt to fund their vacation incurred $500-$2,999 in new debt.¹

So, what to do if you’re hungry for travel and need a getaway? Here are some simple strategies to help you save for that vacation, all while protecting your funds for retirement.

1) Follow the $5 a day rule: The $5 a day rule simply means you put a fiver away each day toward your vacation. Most of us could probably scrape together $5 a day just by making coffee at home and bringing a sandwich or two to work each week. If you muster up the discipline to stick to it for a year, you’ll end up with $1,825 – a pretty decent vacation fund.

2) Use a rebate app: Rebates can put cash in your pocket. Try an app like Ibotta. Just sign up and select the rebates for items you purchase at the stores you frequent. Shop and scan your receipt. The app will put the rebate into an account. You can withdraw the cash through Paypal or Venmo.

3) Cancel the gym: Working out is critical to staying healthy! But ask yourself if you really need that gym membership. Gym memberships can cost anywhere from $35 to more than $100 a month. Consider saving that money for a vacation and start working out at home.

4) Cut down on your food budget: Of course, you gotta eat. But we could all probably tighten up our food budget a bit. Try meal planning and batch cooking. Plan your meals around what’s on sale and in season.

5) Find free entertainment: Can’t live without getting some weekly entertainment? You don’t have to – just look for the free events going on in your community. Consult your local newspaper or town’s website for info on community festivals, outdoor concerts, and art shows.

Keep Calm and Save On Saving for anything has its challenges. But with a little effort and perseverance, you can have your dream vacation and your retirement, too!

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¹ “Inflation Anxieties and Personal Debt Are Not Stopping One-Third of Americans From Planning Travel in 2022 and 2023,” Yahoo, Sep 20, 2022, https://www.yahoo.com/now/inflation-anxieties-personal-debt-not-130000277.html

September 26, 2022

Playing the Lottery is Still a Bad Idea

Playing the Lottery is Still a Bad Idea

A full third of Americans believe that winning the lottery is the only way they can retire.¹

What? Playing a game of chance is the only way they can retire? Do you ever wonder if winning a game – where your odds are 1 in 175,000,000 – is the only way you’ll get to make Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops your everyday uniform?

Do you feel like you might be gambling with your retirement?

If you do, that’s not a good sign. But believing you may need to win the lottery to retire is somewhat understandable when the financial struggle facing a majority of North Americans is considered: 77% of millennials are living paycheck-to-paycheck, as are nearly 40% of Americans earning over $100,000.²

When you’re in a financial hole, saving for your future may feel like a gamble in the present. But believing that “it’s impossible to save for retirement” is just one of many bad money ideas floating around. Following are a few other common ones. Do any of these feel true to you?

Bad Idea #1: I shouldn’t save for retirement until I’m debt free.

False! Even as you’re working to get out from under debt, it’s important to continue saving for your retirement. Time is going to be one of the most important factors when it comes to your money and your retirement, which leads right into the next Bad Idea…

Bad Idea #2: It’s fine to wait until you’re older to save.

The truth is, the earlier you start saving, the better. Even 10 years can make a huge difference. In this hypothetical scenario, let’s see what happens with two 55-year-old friends, Baxter and Will.

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

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

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

Is that a little mind-bending? Do we need to check our math? (We always do.) Here’s why Baxter ended up with more in the long run: Even though he set aside less than Will did, Baxter’s money had more time to compound than Will’s, which, as you can see, really added up over the additional time. So what did Will get out of this? Unfortunately, he discovered the high cost of waiting.

Keep in mind: All figures are for illustrative purposes only and do not reflect an actual investment in any product. Additionally, they do not reflect the performance risks, taxes, expenses, or charges associated with any actual investment, which would lower performance. This illustration is not an indication or guarantee of future performance. Contributions are made at the end of the period. Total accumulation figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.

Bad Idea #3: I don’t need life insurance.

Negative! Financing a well-tailored life insurance policy is an important part of your financial strategy. Insurance benefits can cover final expenses and loss of income for your loved ones.

Bad Idea #4: I don’t need an emergency fund.
Yes, you do! An emergency fund is necessary now and after you retire. Unexpected costs have the potential to cut into retirement funds and derail savings strategies in a big way, and after you’ve given your last two-weeks-notice ever, the cost of new tires or patching a hole in the roof might become harder to cover without a little financial cushion.

Are you taking a gamble on your retirement with any of these bad ideas?

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¹ “What Are the Odds of Winning the Lottery?” Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, Oct 24, 2021, https://www.thebalance.com/what-are-the-odds-of-winning-the-lottery-3306232

² “Nearly 40 Percent of Americans with Annual Incomes over $100,000 Live Paycheck-to-Paycheck,” PR Newswire, Jun 15, 2021 https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nearly-40-percent-of-americans-with-annual-incomes-over-100-000-live-paycheck-to-paycheck-301312281.html

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

August 17, 2022

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why Families Buy Term Life Insurance

Why does term life insurance seem to be so common among your friends and family?

For many, it’s simply the most affordable strategy for securing life insurance. And that means it can provide critical financial protection for many different situations. Here are a few of the most common reasons families choose term life insurance.

The power of term life insurance is that it’s typical affordable. It provides a death benefit for a limited term, typically 20-30 years, which means you can often purchase more protection at a lower price than other types of policies. As long as your protection lasts while you have financial dependents, you’re covered.

But there are more pragmatic reasons why families buy term life insurance. For many, it serves as a source of income replacement. When a breadwinner passes away, the income they provide is gone. That means a family might find themselves with a serious cash flow deficiency in addition to the tragic loss. The death benefit can replace the lost income.

A family might also need to purchase life insurance when they have dependents, such as college-aged kids with high educational expenses. If a family has dependents and no life insurance, the burden of funding higher education falls on the family, who are down an income. With term coverage in place, they have the financial power to help cover those bills with confidence.

Term life insurance can also be invaluable for families with high debt obligations. Because it’s often so affordable, term life insurance may provide significant coverage without diverting financial resources away from getting out of debt. And, if the policyholder passes away before the debt is eliminated, the death benefit can also go towards finishing off loans.

Finally, term life insurance can be used to cover the costs of funeral expenses. Families who don’t have any other form of coverage for these out-of-pocket bills often need extra cash to cover the costs of burial. Term life insurance is a simple way to pay for the funeral the family needs.

In conclusion, term life insurance can be a great way to cover the costs of many big ticket items and expenses at a reasonable cost. Would that be a good fit for your family? Contact me, and we can explore what it would look like for you!

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August 8, 2022

Moves to Make Before Maxing Your 401(k)

Moves to Make Before Maxing Your 401(k)

Maxing out your 401(k) is boilerplate financial advice.

That’s because so few Americans are on track to retire with wealth—as of 2017, workers age 55-64 had saved only $107,000 for retirement.¹

With such bleak numbers, it’s no wonder financial professionals encourage 401(k) maxing. When possible, it’s a simple strategy that can help you reach your retirement goals and avoid a post-career catastrophe.

But consider this—the 401(k) contribution maximum as of 2022 is $20,500. For a single professional making over $100,000, that’s no big deal.

But what if you earn $60,000? Or have a family? Or have medical bills?

Suddenly, $20,500 seems like a much larger pill to swallow!

The simple fact is that saving shouldn’t be your first financial priority.

Before you save, you should create an emergency fund with 3-6 months worth of expenses.

Before you save, you should secure financial protection for your income in the form of life insurance.

Before you save, you should eliminate your debt to maximize your saving power.

Even then, you may not have the financial firepower to max out your 401(k) and make ends meet. It may take a side hustle to supplement your incomes to increase your contribution ability.

A helpful rule of thumb is to at least match your employer’s contribution. It’s a simple way to get the most out of your 401(k) without overextending your finances.

And above all, consult with a financial professional. They can help evaluate your retirement goals, your cash flow, and steps you can take to make the most of your 401(k).

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¹ “Jaw-Dropping Stats About the State of Retirement in America,” Jordan Rosenfeld, GOBankingRates, May 13, 2022, https://www.gobankingrates.com/retirement/planning/jaw-dropping-stats-state-retirement-america/#:~:text=According%20to%20a%20TransAmerica%20Center,saving%20 for%20 retirement%20is%2027.

July 27, 2022

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Almost 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved.¹

That means most Americans couldn’t cover unplanned car repairs, home maintenance, or medical bills without selling something or going into debt. They’re constantly living on the edge of financial ruin.

That’s where your emergency fund comes in. It’s a stash of cash that you can easily access in a pinch. You’ll be able to pay for that blown transmission without visiting a payday lender or selling your grandma’s silverware!

But here’s the catch: Your emergency savings account won’t help you much if it’s under-funded.

Follow these two rules to ensure that your rainy day savings can withstand the storms of life.

Rule #1: Only use your emergency fund for real emergencies.

I get it. Your emergency fund is an easily accessible chunk of money. Of course it’s going to be tempting to tap into it when you’re buying a new car or planning a dream vacation.

But your rainy day savings shouldn’t fund your lifestyle. They should protect it.

Think of it like this. Your vacation fund pays for your annual beach trip. Your emergency fund covers the bill when your car breaks down on the drive home. Only touch your emergency fund for unexpected expenses and enjoy the peace that comes from being prepared.

Rule #2: Always refill your emergency fund when it’s low

Ideally, your emergency fund should be stocked with 3 to 6 months of your income at all times. That should be enough to cover the gambit from small unexpected costs to a month or two of unemployment.

Don’t be afraid to tap into your emergency savings when you face unforeseen financial hiccups. Just remember to refresh your fund when the emergency has passed. The last thing you need is to be caught in the crosshairs of another crisis without a buffer.

Don’t let a financial storm blow you off course. Prepare for your future, and start building an emergency fund now. If you follow these rules, it can help financially protect you from the challenges life will inevitably send your way.

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July 21, 2022

Mental Health And Money

Mental Health And Money

There is a deep yet often unconsidered connection between mental health and money.

The data is clear as day. The Money and Mental Health Institute discovered that…

  • 46% of people__ with debt have a diagnosed mental health condition
  • 86% of people with__ mental health issues and debt say that debt exacerbates their mental health issues
  • People with depression and debt are 4x more likely to still have debt after 18 months compared to their counterparts
  • Those with debt are 3x more likely to contemplate suicide due to that debt¹

What these statistics don’t reveal, however, is what comes first. Do mental health issues spark financial woes? Or do financial woes spark mental health issues?

The answer, of course, is yes.

The connection between mental health and money can’t be reduced to simple causation. Instead, it’s a spiral where both factors can feed off of each other.

Consider the following pattern…

  • A financial crisis ramps up stress levels.
  • Ramped up stress levels activate negative self-talk.
  • Negative self-talk sparks unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms wreak havoc on the financial situation. And repeat.

This is an example of a financial crisis sparking mental health issues. But notice that a financial crisis isn’t the only situation that can cause the cycle. For instance…

  • An unhealthy relationship ramps up stress levels.
  • Ramped up stress levels activate negative self-talk.
  • Negative self-talk sparks unhealthy coping mechanisms.
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms wreak havoc on the financial situation. And repeat.

In short, there’s a two-way relationship between mental health and money. If you’re seeking to start building wealth and changing your life, you must address both. Practically speaking, that means steps like…

  • Reducing financial stress by building an emergency fund
  • Increasing financial flexibility by reducing debt
  • Unlearning toxic self-talk habits that spark anxiety and depression
  • Developing healthy coping skills to alleviate stress

These can be daunting steps if you’re going it alone. That’s why it’s always best to seek the help of both mental health and financial professionals. They’ll have the insights and strategies you need to blaze a different path for your future.

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¹ “Data Shows Strong Link Between Financial Wellness and Mental Health,” Enrich, Mar 24, 2021, https://www.enrich.org/blog/data-shows-strong-link-between-financial-wellness-and-mental-health

July 11, 2022

The Real Reason You Aren't Saving

The Real Reason You Aren't Saving

“I’ll start saving when I turn 30.”

“I’m too old to save.”

“I’m in too much debt to save.”

“Why do I need to save? I don’t have any debt!”

You may have heard your friends and loved ones say things like this before. You may have even said them yourself!

It doesn’t take much sleuthing to recognize these statements for what they are—excuses. And excuses always suck.

But the fact that people feel compelled to make excuses reveals the truth…

People are afraid of saving.

In one sense, it’s easy to see why. Everyone knows saving is critical. But no one knows the “right way” to go about it. And that ignorance makes building wealth seem mysterious, or even dangerous.

An excuse serves as a justification for avoiding that great unknown. It makes not saving feel like the safer option… for now.

But never saving can have disastrous consequences like…

  • Running out of money in retirement
  • Struggling to cover medical emergencies
  • Constant stress about affording the basics

The choice is simple…

Risk a financial disaster.

OR

Face your fears and start saving.

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to face that fear alone.

Having mentors and companions to aid you on your journey can mean the difference between success and financial shipwreck.

In fact, that’s what I’m here for—to offer insight, tips, and support as you start building wealth and financial security for your family.

So if you’re ready to face your fears and to start saving, let’s chat! We can review your situation, and what it would look like to overcome your financial obstacles.

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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 16, 2022

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

Why Retirees Are Going Bankrupt

“Bankruptcy” and “retirement” are words that shouldn’t belong in the same sentence.

But it’s become an increasingly common phenomenon—12.2% of bankruptcies in 2018 were filed by people over 65, up from 2.1% in 1991.¹

What’s driving this unexpected trend? The collapse of pensions and the lack of savings by people nearing retirement age are the two primary culprits.

The pension problem is relatively straightforward. In the past, pensions were pretty much a given—a common benefit that companies provided to their employees as part of their compensation package. Employees would work a set number of years, and then receive a monthly check from their employers upon retirement.

But in recent years, pensions have all but disappeared. Today, only 15% of workers have access to a pension plan.²

That alone isn’t enough to fuel the increase in bankruptcies among retirees. After all, workers now have access to 401(k)s and 403(b)s, which can help replace pensions to some extent.

The problem is that most people nearing retirement age don’t have enough saved up in these accounts to support themselves. In fact, the median retirement account balance for baby boomers (age 57-75) is just $202,000.3 Using the 4% rule, that’s a retirement income of about $8,000 per year, well below the poverty line.

Is it any wonder then that retirees are going bankrupt? They go from having a stable income to having almost no income at all, and they don’t have enough saved up to cover the basics. What are they supposed to do when the medical bills start piling up or the car needs repairs?

If you’re approaching retirement age, don’t become a statistic. Meet with a licensed and qualified financial professional ASAP to discuss your retirement options and see what steps you might need to take now to support yourself.

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¹ “Retirees and Bankruptcy,” Bill Fay, Debt.org, Sep 30, 2021, https://www.debt.org/retirement/bankruptcy/

² “The Demise of the Defined-Benefit Plan,” James McWhinney, Investopedia, Dec 18, 2021, investopedia.com/articles/retirement/06/demiseofdbplan.asp

³ “Average Retirement Savings for Baby Boomers,” Lee Huffman, Yahoo, Apr 10, 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/average-retirement-savings-baby-boomers-125500443.html#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Transamerica%20Center,income%20of%20%248%2C000%20per%20year

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

April 4, 2022

Rising Interest Rates and You

Rising Interest Rates and You

In mid-March, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates for the first time since 2018.¹

The Fed’s benchmark rate rose from .25% to .50%.

Now here’s the big question…

So what? Who cares?

You’re facing your share of financial challenges. Rent keeps climbing. The job market is in chaos. Gas prices are punishing. And almost everything in the grocery store just keeps getting more and more expensive. Who cares if the suits in Washington are changing made-up numbers on their spreadsheets?

The answer? YOU should.

Here’s why…

The Fed uses interest rates to combat inflation. The lower the interest rate, the higher inflation can rise. High interest rates tend to squash inflation.

That’s because interest rates impact demand. Think about it—are you more likely to borrow money when interest rates are low, or when they’re high? Everyone in their right mind will say low. So when the Fed lowers rates, a spending frenzy ensues. People borrow money to invest, start businesses, buy cars, buy homes, take vacations, get that game console they’ve been wanting, and to finally have that checkup they’ve been putting off. In other words, demand for everything skyrockets.

So what did the Fed do when a global pandemic shut down economies, closed businesses, and locked people indoors? They slashed interest rates from already historic lows.

And it worked, perhaps too well. Consider the housing market. In the dark early days of the pandemic, no one left their homes. Mortgage rates plummeted. And people noticed. More and more people took advantage of the situation to buy new homes. The demand for housing soared. So did home prices.² Cue the bidding wars and escalation clauses, and now we’re paying a king’s ransom for a 1 bed, 1 bath hovel.

And that’s been repeated in industry after industry as climbing demand meets clogged supply chains.

Now, the Fed is boosting interest rates, presumably to soften demand and discourage spending. Given the inflation of 2021 and early 2022, it’s an understandable move!

It’s critical to note that the Fed’s interest rate hike isn’t a guarantee—inflation could plummet, or it could soar. But it’s worth noting. It may even merit a call to a financial pro. They’ll be equipped to see if your financial strategy will be impacted by higher interest rates.

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¹ “Federal Reserve approves first interest rate hike in more than three years, sees six more ahead,” Jeff Cox, CNBC, Mar 16 2022 https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/16/federal-reserve-meeting.html

² The housing market faces its biggest test yet, Lance Lambert, Fortune, March 28, 2022, https://fortune.com/2022/03/28/mortgage-rate-hike-could-slow-the-housing-market/#:~:text=When%20the%20pandemic%20struck%20two,to%20jump%20into%20the%20market.

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