Take Your Dream Vacation Without Causing a Retirement Nightmare

September 28, 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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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

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 3, 2022

Now's The Time for Future Financial Planning

Now's The Time for Future Financial Planning

What happened to the days of the $10 lawn mowing job or the $7-an-hour babysitting gig every Saturday night?

Not a penny withheld. No taxes to file. No stress about saving a million dollars for retirement. As a kid, doing household chores or helping out friends and neighbors for a little spending money is extremely different from the adult reality of giving money to both the state and federal government and/or retiring. Years ago, did those concepts feel so far away that they might as well have been camped out on Easter Island?

What happened to the carefree attitude surrounding our finances? It’s simple: we got older. As the years go by, finances can get more complicated. Knowing where your money is going and whether or not it’s working for you when it gets there is a question that’s better asked sooner rather than later.

When author of Financially Fearless Alexa von Tobel was asked what she wishes she’d known about money in her 20s, her answer was pretty interesting:

Not having a financial plan is a plan — just a really bad one! Given what I see as a general lack of personal-finance education, it can be all too easy to wing it with your money… I was lucky enough to learn this lesson while still in my 20s, so I had time to put a financial plan into place for myself.

A strategy for your money is essential, starting early is better, and talking to a financial professional is a solid way to get going. No message in a bottle sent from a more-prepared version of yourself is going to drift your way from Easter Island, chock-full of all the answers about your money. But sitting down with me is a great place to start. Contact me anytime.

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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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April 13, 2022

Can You Create a Will Without An Attorney?

Can You Create a Will Without An Attorney?

The short answer is YES. You can create a will without an attorney.

There are dozens of templates you can download and use to draw up your estate plan. It’s fast, easy, and convenient.

But the real question isn’t IF you can create your own will. It’s if you SHOULD.

Your will is fundamental to your financial legacy. It’s a legal document that must meet specific qualifications and standards because it’s going to control how your loved ones will receive the wealth and assets you’ve worked so hard to amass.

Any oversight with your will could result in the mishandling of your estate. Your assets could end up in the hands of the wrong people. At the very least, it could cause a legal headache for your family.

If your estate is simple, you might be able to navigate those challenges alone.

But you’ll most likely need an attorney if you…

  • Own a family-run business you want to pass to your children.
  • Plan to pass your wealth to a step-child or step-children.
  • Want to disinherit someone in your existing will.

In other words, you should hire a lawyer if your will is anything more than boilerplate. Otherwise, the risk and consequences of errors become too high.

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March 21, 2022

Homemakers Need Life Insurance, Too

Homemakers Need Life Insurance, Too

Are you a stay-at-home parent? Even if you’re not contributing monetarily to your family’s income, you still need life insurance.

That’s because you offer support to your family that’s as valuable as the main breadwinner.

Let’s break it down…

The goal of life insurance is to replace income. If the main income earner dies, the death benefit can replace their salary. It offers financial headroom for grieving families to help put their lives back together.

However, a stay-at-home parent provides services for their family that are just as important and can be expensive to replace.

For instance, what if you provide childcare for your family? Replacing your services could cost $8,355 yearly per child.¹

Then factor in other potential costs like…

  • Education
  • House cleaning
  • Driving kids to events
  • Running errands
  • Managing home repairs and yard maintenance
  • Planning meals, shopping, and cooking

And so much more! These costs are simply a snapshot of how much life insurance a homemaker could need. It should be enough to cover expenses to replace all the work you do around the house and on your family’s behalf.

If you’re not sure what that number is, contact me. We can sit down, review your family’s situation, and draw up a strategy to help provide for your loved ones, no matter what.

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“Parents spend an average of $8,355 per child to secure year-round child care,” Megan Leonhardt, CNBC, May 19 2021, https://www.cnbc.com/2021/05/19/what-parents-spend-annually-on-child-care-costs-in-2021.html

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

March 2, 2022

Playing With F.I.R.E.

Playing With F.I.R.E.

Financial Independence. Retire Early. Sounds too good to be true, right?

But for many, it’s the dream. And for some, it’s even become a reality.

What is the Financial Independence Retire Early, or “F.I.R.E.” movement? It might be obvious, but it’s a movement of people who are striving to achieve financial independence so that they can retire early. How early? That’s up to each individual, but typically people in the F.I.R.E. movement are looking to retire between their 30s and 50s.

How are they doing it? By saving as much money as possible and living a frugal lifestyle. That might mean driving a used car, living in a modest house, and cooking at home instead of eating out. They scrimp and save wherever they can to save.

So why is the F.I.R.E. movement gaining in popularity? There are a few reasons…

Some people want freedom. They want the freedom to travel, to spend time with their family, and to do whatever they want without having to worry about money.

Others are tired of the rat race. They’re tired of working jobs they don’t love just so they can make money to pay for things they don’t really want. They’d rather be doing something they enjoy and have more control over their own lives.

And finally, people want security. They want the wealth they need to live comfortably and fear-free, and they want it now. They don’t want to wait until they’re 65 or 70 to start enjoying their retirement.

It’s a challenging path. Achieving financial independence and retiring early takes hard work, sacrifice, and planning. You’ll have to face financial challenges like covering health insurance, for one.

So if you’re thinking about joining the F.I.R.E. movement, what are some of the first steps?

1. Assess your finances. Figure out how much money you need to live on each month and how much you need to save to achieve financial independence.

2. Set financial goals. Determine where you want to be financially and create a plan to get there.

3. Make a budget and stick to it. Track your spending and make adjustments as needed so you can save more money.

4. Invest in yourself. Education is key, so invest in books, courses, and other resources that will help you build your wealth.

5. Stay motivated. Follow other F.I.R.E. enthusiasts online, read blogs and articles, and attend meetups to keep yourself inspired on your journey to financial independence.

So are you ready to play with F.I.R.E.?

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December 28, 2021

The Right Way to Spend

The Right Way to Spend

There’s endless advice about how not to spend money. And it’s often delivered with an undertone of shame.

“You’re spending WHAT on your one bedroom apartment? Why don’t you find roommates?”

“I’ll bet those lattes add up! That money could be going towards your retirement.”

“You still buy food? Dumpster diving is so much more thrifty!”

You get the picture.

But make no mistake—pruning back your budget is great IF overspending is stopping you from reaching your goals.

But what if you’re financially on target? What if your debt is gone, your family’s protected, your retirement accounts are compounding, your emergency fund is stocked, and you still have money to spare?

Good news—you don’t have to live like a broke college student. That’s not you anymore. Instead, you can spend money on the things you really care about, like…

• People you love

• Causes that inspire you

• Local businesses

• House cleaning services

• Travelling

• Building your dream house

• New skills and hobbies

This isn’t a call to wildly spend on everything that catches your momentary fancy. That might be symptomatic of underlying wounds that you’re trying to heal with money. It won’t work.

Instead, it’s a call to identify a few things that you’re truly passionate about. Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich fame calls these Money Dials.¹ They’re things like convenience, travel, and self-improvement that excite you.

Just imagine you have limitless money. What would be the first thing you spend it on? That’s your money dial.

And, so long as you’re financially stable, there’s no shame in spending money on those things. This is why you’ve worked so hard and saved so much—to provide yourself and your loved ones with a better quality of life. Give yourself permission to enjoy that!

So what are you waiting for? Start planning that backpacking adventure through Scandinavia, or drafting blueprints for your dream house, or decking out the spare room as a recording studio. You’ve earned it!

Not positioned to spend on your passions yet? That’s okay! For now, let your goals inspire you to take the first steps towards creating financial independence and the lifestyle that can follow.

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¹ “Money Dials: The Reason You Spend the Way You Do According to Ramit Sethi,” Ramit Sethi, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Oct 22, 2021 https://www.iwillteachyoutoberich.com/blog/money-dials/

May 19, 2021

The Advantages of Survivorship Insurance

The Advantages of Survivorship Insurance

A survivorship policy pays out only after two people pass away.

Why does that matter? For many families, it doesn’t. They need more traditional forms of life insurance that protect income for their spouses and children.

But there are specific situations where survivorship insurance might be critical for your legacy. Read on for the advantages of survivorship insurance!

First, survivorship insurance can be an invaluable tool for estate planning. If one spouse dies, they can pass their assets to their spouse without facing federal estate taxes.¹ Not so for wealth left to future generations! For some couples with substantial assets to pass on to children, survivorship can leave a sizable death benefit that can offset the cost of estate taxes.²

If this strategy appeals to you, reach out to an attorney and a financial professional. You’ll need their help to get your estate in order and navigate your state’s tax system.

Second, survivorship insurance can cover ailing or elderly couples. As a rule of thumb, survivorship insurance is a good option for those who don’t qualify for term or permanent life insurance due to health or age. That’s because the rates are based on two life expectancies, potentially lowering rates and increasing your likelihood of qualifying.³ This is especially useful if the couple has children who are still dependents or will need special care.

In conclusion, survivorship insurance can be a powerful tool for specific people in specific situations. That’s why it’s best to collaborate with legal and financial professionals to make a decision that will be right for you and your family.

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¹ “An act of mutuality: Survivorship insurance,” Shelly Gigante, MassMutual, Mar 30, 2021, https://blog.massmutual.com/post/survivorship-insurance

² “An act of mutuality: Survivorship insurance,” Shelly Gigante, MassMutual, Mar 30, 2021, https://blog.massmutual.com/post/survivorship-insurance

³ “An act of mutuality: Survivorship insurance,” Shelly Gigante, MassMutual, Mar 30, 2021, https://blog.massmutual.com/post/survivorship-insurance

May 5, 2021

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

First of all, what is insurable interest?

It’s simply the stake you have in something that is being insured – and that the amount of insurance coverage for whatever is being insured is not more than your potential loss.

To say things could become a bit awkward might be an understatement if your insurable interest isn’t considered before you’re deep into the planning phase of a project or before you’ve signed some papers, like a title or a loan.

It’s better for your sanity to understand insurable interest beforehand. Where the issue of insurable interest often arises is in auto insurance. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have a car that’s worth $5,000. $5,000 is the maximum amount of money you would lose if the car is stolen or damaged – and $5,000 would be the most you could insure the car for. $5,000 is your insurable interest.

In the above example, you own the car, so you have an insurable interest in it. By the same token, you can’t insure your neighbor’s car. If your neighbor’s car was stolen or damaged, you wouldn’t suffer any financial loss because it wasn’t your car.

Here’s where it might get a little tricky and why it’s important to understand insurable interest. Let’s say you have a young driver in the house, a teenager, and it’s time for him to go mobile. He’s been saving up his lawn-mowing money for two years and finally bought the (used) car of his dreams.

You might have considered adding your son’s car to your auto policy to save money – you’ve heard how much it can cost for a teen driver to buy their own policy. Sounds like a good plan, right? The problem with this strategy is that you don’t have an insurable interest in your son’s car. He bought it, and it’s registered to him.

You might find an insurance sales rep who will write the policy. But there’s a risk the policy won’t make it through underwriting and – more importantly – if there’s a claim with that car, the claim might not be covered because you didn’t have an insurable interest in it. If you want to put that car on your auto insurance policy, the car needs to be registered to the named insured on the policy – you.

Insurable Interest And Lenders If you have a mortgage or an auto loan, your lender is probably listed on your policy. Both you and the lender have an insurable interest in the house or the car. Over time, as the loan is paid down, you’ll have a greater insurable interest and the lender’s insurable interest will become smaller. (Hint: When your loan is paid off, ask your agent to remove the lender from the policy to avoid any confusion or delays if you have a claim someday.)

Does Ownership Create Insurable Interest? Excellent question! It might seem like ownership and insurable interest are equivalent – they often occur simultaneously. But there are times when you can have an insurable interest in something without being an owner.

Life insurance is a great example of having an insurable interest without ownership. You can’t own a person – but if a person dies, you may experience a financial loss. However, just as you can’t insure your neighbor’s car, you can’t purchase a life insurance policy on your neighbor, either. You’d have to be able to demonstrate your potential loss if your neighbor passed away. And no, it doesn’t count if they never returned those hedge clippers they borrowed from you last spring!

Now you know all about insurable interest. While insurable interest requirements may seem inconvenient at times, the rules are there to protect you and to help keep rates lower for everyone. Without insurable interest requirements, the door is open to fraud, speculation, or even malicious behavior. A little inconvenience seems like a much better option!

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April 26, 2021

Pay Yourself First!

Pay Yourself First!

Pay yourself first!

Why? Because it can help you take control of your finances and reach your goals. But what does it mean to “pay yourself first?” It means the very first thing you should do with your paycheck is put money towards saving, then use what’s left for bills, and then finally for personal spending. Let’s break down how—and why—you should pay yourself first in 3 steps!

Step 1: Figure out your goals. What are you saving up for? Knowing what goal you’re trying to reach can help guide how much money should go towards it—saving for retirement would look different than saving for a downpayment on a house. Having a goal can also give you the motivation and inspiration you need to start saving in earnest. Write down your goal or goals, and start planning accordingly.

Step 2: Make a budget that prioritizes saving. When you’re creating your budget, the first category you should create is saving. Then, figure out how much rent, bills, food, and transportation will cost. Whatever you have left can go towards discretionary spending.

Your focus should be to treat saving like a mandatory bill. It’s a simple mental trick that can help you prioritize your financial goals and help make it much easier to say no when you’re tempted to overspend. You actually might literally not have the cash on hand because you’re saving it!

Step 3: Automate your saving. Once you’ve got your savings goal in place, automate the process. Whether it’s through an app or automatic deposits from your checking into a savings account, automating saving helps make building wealth so much easier. You can start building wealth without even thinking about it! Just be sure to automate your deposits to initiate right after your paycheck comes in. It removes the temptation to cheat yourself and overspend.

Remember, this doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just because you can’t save a massive amount each month doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! It’s about saving as much as you can. And paying yourself first with your paycheck is an easy way to start!

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April 12, 2021

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Home Buying for Couples: A Starter Guide

Buying your first home is an exciting, yet daunting process.

You and your significant other already have a lot on your plate in planning this huge purchase—from deciding how much house you need to fitting it all into a budget. Read on for some tips that will help ease the process of buying a house as well as help you save money in the long run!

Evaluate your financial situation before you start house hunting. It’s important to know what kind of mortgage payment is feasible for the income in a household. You’ll also have to contend with hidden housing costs like property taxes, renovations, and repairs. Calculate your total income, and then subtract your current expenses. That’s how much you have at your disposal to handle the costs of homeownership.

Improve your credit score. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, your credit score is important—it can profoundly affect your ability to get approved for loans and mortgages! The higher that number goes up, the easier it may become to get approval from lenders. You can help yourself out by paying off any outstanding debt balances such as student loan payments, medical bills, and credit card debt before going house hunting.

Start saving for a downpayment. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to put down at least 20% of the home’s purchase price. This can take years, especially if your budget is tight! However, it’s well worth it—you may avoid the hassle of paying private mortgage insurance (PMI), which can substantially add to your monthly housing payments. A sizeable downpayment can also lower your interest rate and reduce the size of your loan.¹

Decide how much house you need. This is a tough question to answer, but it’s crucial that both partners are united on this front. Otherwise, one partner might feel like a house doesn’t meet their needs. Sit down with your partner and discuss what exactly you desire out of your home. How many bedrooms will you need? Do you want a big yard or a small one? How close to work do you want to live? Hammer out the important details of what you want in a home before the shopping begins!

Decide on your budget. Knowing how much you can afford before shopping for a home will help narrow down the options. Typically, housing costs should account for no more than 30% of your budget. That includes your mortgage payment, repairs, HOA fees, and renovations. Spending more than 30% can endanger your financial wellness if your income ever decreases.

Buying a home can be an exciting time for couples. But it’s important to take the necessary steps before you start house hunting. Remember, you want your new home to be a source of joy, not financial stress! Do your homework, talk with your partner, and start saving!

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“Do you need to put 20 percent down on a house?,” Michele Lerner, HSH, Sep 2, 2018, https://www.hsh.com/first-time-homebuyer/down-payment-size.html

December 30, 2020

The Millennials Are Coming, the Millennials Are Coming!

The Millennials Are Coming, the Millennials Are Coming!

Didn’t do so well in history at school? No worries.

Here’s an historical fact that’s easy to remember. Millennials are the largest generation in the US. Ever. Even larger than the Baby Boomers. Those born between the years 1980 to 2000 number over 92M.¹ That dwarfs Generation X at 61M.

When you’re talking about nearly a third of the population of the United States, it would seem that anything related to this group is going to have an effect on the rest of the population and the future.

Here are a few examples:

  • Millennials prefer to get married a bit later than their parents. (Will they also delay having children?)
  • Millennials prefer car sharing vs. car ownership. (What does this mean for the auto industry? For the environment?)
  • Millennials have an affinity for technology and information. (What “traditional ways of doing things” might fall by the wayside?)
  • Millennials are big on health and wellness. (Will this generation live longer than previous ones?)

It’s interesting to speculate and predict what may occur in the future, but what effects are happening now? Well, for one, if you’re a Millennial, you may have noticed that companies have been shifting aggressively to meet your needs.² Simply put, if a company doesn’t have a website or an app that a Millennial can dig into, it’s probably not a company you’ll be investing any time or money in. This may be a driving force behind the technological advancements companies have made in the last decade – Millennials need, want, and use technology. All. The. Time. This means that whatever matters to you as a Millennial, companies may have no choice but to listen, take note, and innovate.

If you’re either in business for yourself or work for a company that’s planning to stay viable for the next 20-30 years, it might be a good idea to pay attention to the habits and interests of this massive group (if you’re not already). The Baby Boomers are already well into retirement, and the next wave of retirees will be Generation X, which will leave the Millennials as the majority of the workforce. There will come a time when this group will control most of the wealth in the US. This means that if you’re not offering what they need or want now, then there’s a chance that one day your product or service may not be needed or wanted by anyone. Perhaps it’s time to consider how your business can adapt and evolve.

Ultimately, this shift toward Millennials and what they’re looking for is an exciting time to gauge where our society will be moving in the next few decades, and what it’s going to mean for the financial industry.

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¹ “Millennials: Coming of Age,” Goldman Sachs, http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/pages/millennials/

² “May We Have Your Attention: Marketing To Millennials,” Kelly Ehlers, Forbes, Jun 27, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/yec/2017/06/27/may-we-have-your-attention-marketing-to-millennials/?sh=2f3cb7cb1d2f

November 30, 2020

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

4 Insights Into Paying Off Debt

On paper, paying off debt seems simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

In fact, it can get downright discouraging if you don’t see any progress on your balances, especially if you feel like your finances are already stretched.

Fortunately, there are ways to take your debt escape plan to the next level. Here are a few insightful tips for anyone who feels like their wheels are spinning.

You must create a plan <br> Planning is one of the most important steps towards eliminating debt. Studies show that creating detailed plans increases our follow-through.¹ It also frees up our mental resources to focus on other pressing issues.²

Those are essential components of overcoming debt. A plan helps you stick to your guns when you’re tempted to make an impulse buy on your credit card or consider taking that last-minute weekend trip. And tackling problems that have nothing to do with debt can be a breath of fresh air for your mental health.

You have to stop borrowing <br> Seems obvious, right? But it might be easier said than done. Credit cards can seem like a convenient way to cover emergency expenses if you’re strapped for cash. Plus, spending money can feel therapeutic. Kicking the habit of borrowing to buy can be hard!

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your financial house with an emergency fund before you start eliminating debt. Save up enough money to cover 3 months of expenses. Then quit borrowing cold turkey. You should always have enough cash in reserve to cover car repairs and doctor visits without using your credit card.

Your lifestyle has to change <br> But, as mentioned before, debt can embed itself into lifestyles. You can’t get rid of debt without cutting back on spending, and you can’t cut back on spending without transforming your lifestyle.

When you’re making your escape plan, identify your highest spending categories. How important are they to your quality of life? Some of them might be essential. But you may realize that others exist just out of habit. Be willing to sacrifice some of your favorite activities, at least until you’re debt free.

You can still do the things you want <br> This does NOT mean that you have to be miserable. You can still enjoy a vacation, buy an awesome gadget, or treat your partner to a romantic dinner. You just have to prepare for those events differently.

Create a “fun fund” that you contribute money to every month. Budget a specific amount to put in it and dedicate it to a specific item. This allows you to have some fun every now and then without derailing your journey to financial freedom.

Debt doesn’t have to be overwhelming. These insights can help you stay the course as you eliminate debt from your financial house and start pursuing your dreams. Let me know if you’re interested in learning more about debt-destroying strategies!

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¹ “Making the Best Laid Plans Better: How Plan-Making Prompts Increase Follow-Through,” Todd Rogers, Katherine L. Milkman, Leslie K. John and Michael I. Norton, Behavioral Science and Policy, 2016, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/making_0.pdf

² “The Power of a Plan,” Timothy A Pychyl Ph.D., Psychology Today, Nov 17, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dont-delay/201111/the-power-plan

November 4, 2020

Disappearing Pensions and Protecting Your Retirement

Disappearing Pensions and Protecting Your Retirement

The old days of working at the same company for 30 years and retiring with a company pension are just about over.

Today, very few companies offer pension plans and those that do are finding those plans in peril.

Most modern workers must learn to plan their retirement without a pension. Luckily, there are still great financial tools for your retirement strategy, and workers who save diligently and prepare well can still look forward to a well-funded retirement.

Disappearing Pensions and the Rise of the 401(k) <br> A company pension was commonplace a few decades ago. In exchange for hard work and service for somewhere around 30 years, a company would provide you with a guaranteed income stream during your retirement.

Many Americans enjoyed a comfortable and secure retirement with a pension. Coupled with their social security benefits, they lived fairly well in their golden years.

The reason pension plans are going the way of the wind has many factors, including changes in workers’ behavior, longer life expectancies, and rising costs for employers.

A study by the professional services firm Towers Watson found that from 1998 to 2013, the number of Fortune 500 companies offering pension plans dropped 86 percent, from 251 to 34.1 Couple that with the Revenue Act of 1978, which allowed for the creation of 401(k) savings plans, and you’ll have a good view of the modern retirement landscape.

How to Retire Without a Pension <br> The company pension isn’t coming back, so what can workers do to secure a retirement like their parents and grandparents had?

Here are a few retirement planning tools that every worker can put to good use.

Take Full Advantage of Your Company 401(k) Plan <br> If your company offers a 401(k) retirement plan, make sure you’re taking full advantage of it. Here are a few ways to maximize your 401(k) plan.

  • Make the match: If your employer offers matching contributions, don’t leave the match on the table. Contribute the required percentage to collect the most you can.
  • Get fully vested: Make sure you are fully vested before you make any employment changes. Your contributions to a 401(k) will always be yours, but to keep 100% of your employer contributions, you must be fully vested.

Open a Roth IRA <br> A Roth plan is funded with taxed income. The upside is that you won’t pay taxes when you take it out. If your 401(k) contributions are maxed out, a Roth could be a good savings vehicle for you.

Consider an Annuity If you like the idea of a guaranteed income stream, consider an annuity. An annuity is an insurance product, so most of the time it isn’t invested. In exchange for a lump sum of money, an annuity will pay a guaranteed monthly income stream.

Talk to a Trusted Financial Professional
Pensions are all but gone. This means today’s workers must be more involved in how they create a strategy for their retirement. There are many great retirement savings tools. Talk to a trusted financial advisor to understand and learn how you can make sure your retirement income is going to be there when you need it.

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.

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“Pensions Are Taking the Long, Lonely Road to Retirement,” Lou Carlozo, U.S. News and World Reports, Jul 20, 2015, https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/mutual-funds/articles/2015/07/20/pensions-are-taking-the-long-lonely-road-to-retirement

October 19, 2020

When Education Isn't Worth It

When Education Isn't Worth It

After room and board, a degree from a private university costs $46,950 per year.¹

A public university charges less than half that, with an annual price tag of $20,770.² That’s over double what it was in 1980 after adjusting for inflation.³ Why the sharp increase? Part of the answer is that demand has skyrocketed over the past 40 years. An information age requires knowledgeable, highly-skilled workers, and getting a degree is the traditional way of meeting those criteria. Rising demand has occurred alongside a steady decline in state funding for public education. One report found that 79% of tuition increases stemmed from such cuts.⁴

But there’s always been an assumption, despite the ballooning costs of higher education, that attending university would be worth it. Afterall, graduates almost always earn more than their peers.⁵ It’s an investment in a future income, right?

The diminishing returns of a degree <br> But that old model is simplistic at best. College simply doesn’t pay off for some graduates. Data demonstrates that the lowest earning college grads actually earn less than their highschool educated counterparts. ⁶ They actually lost income by going to university! It makes sense when you do the math. Going into crippling debt to get a speech and drama degree only earns you about $28,300 after graduation. ⁷ And the huge supply of highly-educated workers has put pressure on once prosperous careers. For example, more people graduate from expensive law schools in the United States than there are job openings for attorneys. ⁸ Sure, there’s 6-figure potential there if you can land a job, but you’re competing with dozens of other qualified prospects. It’s easy to see why people have become so cynical about higher education.

Simple solutions? <br> Overall, there are certainly times when a college degree is not worth the time and treasure. Spending 12 years at a private institution to get a doctorate in an obscure field with low pay and a brutal job market? There are probably more profitable ways to spend your time. But overall, there are numerous degrees that may still pay off; the average Bachelor’s degree is worth around $2.8 million over a lifetime. ⁹ But you must plan strategically. It all comes down to how you reduce the cost of your education and maximize your upside potential post-graduation.

Narrow your search to only include public schools in your state. Do as much research on scholarships and apply for as many as possible. Live with your parents to cut down on room and board costs. Take a gap year of work between your bachelors and masters degree. And do some research on job opportunities in the field before you get a diploma. You might decide that going into debt to become a petroleum engineer is a better investment than signing your life away to the humanities!

If you’re a parent, start planning your child’s higher education today. That will involve choosing the right schools and encouraging them to work hard and love learning. But you must also provide them with a steady financial foundation to pursue their dreams. Helping them get a degree debt-free might empower them to study their passions instead of chasing paychecks to fight off loans. There are financial products on the market designed to help you save for your child’s future, no matter what level of education they decide to pursue. Let’s schedule a time to meet and we can discuss your options in detail!

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¹ Hillary Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been, and the 5 reasons why suggest it’s only going to get worse,” Business Insider, JunE 26, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/why-is-college-so-expensive-2018-4

² Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

³ Hoffower, “College is more expensive than it’s ever been,” Business Insider

⁴ Abigail Hess, “The cost of college increased by more than 25% in the last 10 years—here’s why,” CNBC, Dec 13 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/13/cost-of-college-increased-by-more-than-25percent-in-the-last-10-years.html

⁵ Anthony P. Carnevale, Ban Cheah, Andrew R. Hanson, “The Economic Value Of College Majors: Executive Summary,” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2015, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf

⁶ Emma Kerr, “Is College Worth the Cost?,” U.S. News & World Report, June 17, 2019, https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2019-06-17/is-college-worth-the-cost

⁷ Alison Doyle, “Average College Graduate Salaries: Expectations vs. Reality,” The Balance, June 6, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/college-graduate-salaries-expectations-vs-reality-4142305

⁸ “Occupational Outlook Handbook, Lawyers” Bureau Of Labor Statistics, Sept 1, 2020 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm#tab-6

⁹ Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose and Ban Cheah, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings” Georgetown University Center On Education And The Workforce, 2011, https://cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/the-college-payoff/

June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Don’t let financial trouble ruin your future wedded bliss.

Most newlyweds have a lot to get used to. You may be living together for the first time, spending a lot of time with your new in-laws, and dealing with dual finances. Financial troubles can plague even the most compatible pairs, so read on for some tips on how to get your newlywed finances off to the best possible start.

Talk it out If you haven’t done this already, the time is ripe for a heart to heart talk about what your financial picture is going to look like. This is the time to lay it all out. Not only should you and your fiancé discuss your upcoming combined financial situation, but it can be beneficial to take a deep dive into your past too. Our financial histories and backgrounds can influence current spending and saving habits. Take some time to get to know one another’s history and perspective when it comes to how they think about money, debt, budgeting, etc.

Newlyweds need a budget Everyone needs a budget, but a budget can be particularly helpful for newlyweds. A reasonable, working household budget can go a long way in helping ease financial stress and overcoming challenges. Money differences can be a big cause of marital strife, but a solid, mutually-agreed-upon budget can help avoid potential arguments. A budget will help you manage student loans or new household expenses that must be dealt with. Come up with a budget together and make sure it’s something you both can stick with.

Create financial goals Financial goal setting can actually be fun. True, some goals may not seem all that exciting – like paying off credit cards or student loans. But formulating financial goals is important.

Financial goal setting should start with a conversation with your new fiancé. This is the time to think about your future as a married couple and work out a financial strategy to help make your financial dreams a reality. For example, if you want to buy a house, you’ll need to prepare for that. A good start is to minimize debt and start saving for a down payment.

Maybe you two want to start a business. In that case, your financial goals may include raising capital, establishing business credit, or qualifying for a small business loan.

Face your debt head on It’s not unusual for individuals to start married life facing new debt that came along with their partner – possibly student loans or personal credit card debt. You may also have combined debt if you’re planning on financing your wedding. Maybe you’re going to take your dream honeymoon and put it on a credit card.

Create a strategy to pay off your debt and stick to it. There are two common ways to tackle it – begin with the highest interest rate debt, or begin with the smallest balance. There are many good strategies – the key is to develop one and put it into action.

Invest for the future Part of your financial strategy should include preparing for retirement, even though it might seem light years away now. Make sure you work a retirement strategy into your other financial goals. Take advantage of employer-sponsored retirement accounts and earmark savings for retirement.

Purchase life insurance Life insurance is essential to help ensure your new spouse will be taken care of should you die prematurely. Even though many married couples today are dual earners, there is still a need for life insurance. Ask yourself if your new spouse could afford to pay their living expenses if something happened to you. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to help cover things like funeral costs, medical expenses, or replacement income for your spouse.

Newlywed finances can be fun Newlywed life is fun and exciting, and finances can be too. Talk deeply and often about finances with your fiancé. Share your dreams and goals so you can create financial habits together that will help you realize them. Here’s to you and many years of wedded bliss!

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June 10, 2020

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

The Food Waste Epidemic... And What You Can Do About It

Food waste is a big problem.

Don’t believe me? Just check out these food waste facts:

- The average family throws away around $1,500 of food every year.(1)

- One recent study found that we toss around a third of all consumable food, with wealthy nations being the biggest culprits.(2)

- Cutting back our food waste just 15% would free up enough food to feed 25 million Americans.(3)

Those are incredible numbers. And they touch everything from the poor in other parts of the world to your own wallet! But what can you do? How can you not only combat a global problem but also look out for your own financial needs? Here are a few practical ways to reduce food waste and save some money while you’re at it!

Shop with a plan <br> The first step to not wasting food is only buying food you plan on eating. That means deciding ahead of time what you want to eat, making a list, and only buying those items at the store. Sure, it’s thrilling to walk down the produce aisle just waiting for an exotic veggie to catch your eye or buying extra meat just in case you want pork chops instead of chicken thighs. But you’ll quickly find that shopping without a strategy can lead to overbuying. This raises the potential that food won’t get prepared and will get thrown out. Always start with a list and shop from there.

Online shopping may help you stay on track with your list—and save you a ton of time! It’s fairly simple these days to log in to your favorite grocery store app, check items off, then click Delivery or Pick-up. (Keep in mind the store may charge a small fee for these services, but if it means not throwing out yet another unopened box of spinach, it might be worth it!)

Store wisely <br> Even the best planner will overbuy at some point. Maybe there’s a great sale on your kids’ favorite snack crackers, or you want to pick up a couple extra bottles of wine since they’re BOGO. You might stock up on Monday and then remember you have dinner plans with the in-laws on Friday. Don’t panic! Keeping your food from going bad is actually pretty simple. For many perishable items, just take a deep breath, open your freezer, and put your food inside. Close the freezer door. Your food should be safe from going bad until your schedule clears up. Just remember to dethaw your food before you try cooking it!

If you find you’re stocking up often on dry goods, you might want to invest in some quality containers (plastic, glass or metal) to help keep your food fresher, longer.

Reuse (safely) <br> But what happens if you prepare a ton of food for a meal only to discover that your stomach is smaller than you anticipated? Open up the trash can and dump all of that delicious, edible food?

Never!

The classic leftovers loophole is to put your food in proper containers and leave them in the fridge until you can get back to them in the next day or two. You can also freeze leftovers if you need. But why stop there? Those leftovers are just begging to be transformed into something fresh and delicious! Why not stir fry them with some rice or cook them into a casserole? Get creative and make something new and amazing!

Reducing food waste takes a little work and planning. But with the right attitude, it can be a fun way of contributing to your community, helping the planet, and avoiding a hunger strike by your bank account!

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January 27, 2020

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

Starting a budget from scratch can seem like a huge hassle.

You have to track down all of your expenses, organize them into a list or spreadsheet, figure out how much you want to save, etc., etc.

But budgeting doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. Here are 7 easy and fun tips to help keep your budget in check and jump-start some new financial habits!

Take stock <br> Laying out all of your expenses at once can be a scary thought for many of us. One key is to keep your budget simple—figure out what expenses you do and don’t really need and see how much you have left over. This method will help you figure out how much spending money you actually have, how much your essential bills are, and where the rest of your money is going.

Start a spending diary <br> Writing down everything you spend for just a couple of weeks is an easy way of finding out where your spending issues lie. You might be surprised by how quickly those little purchases add up! It will also give you a clue about what you’re actually spending money on and places that you can cut back.

Don’t cut out all your luxuries. Don’t get so carried away with your budgeting that you cut out everything that brings you happiness. Remember, the point of a budget is to make your life less stressful, not miserable! There might be cheap or free alternatives for entertainment in your town, or some great restaurant coupons in those weekly mailers you usually toss out.

That being said, you might decide to eliminate some practices in order to save even more. Things like packing sandwiches for work instead of eating out every day, making coffee at home instead of purchasing it from a coffee shop, and checking out a consignment shop or thrift store for new outfits can really stretch those dollars.

Plan for emergencies <br> Emergency funds are critical for solid budgeting. It’s always better to get ahead of a car repair or unexpected doctor visit than letting one sneak up on you![i] Anticipating emergencies before they happen and planning accordingly is a budgeting essential that can save you stress (and maybe money) in the long run.

Have a goal in mind <br> Write down a budgeting goal, like getting debt free by a certain time or saving a specific amount for retirement. This will help you determine how much you want to save each week or month and what to cut. Most importantly, it will give you something concrete to work towards and a sense of accomplishment as you reach milestones. It’s a great way of motivating yourself to start budgeting and pushing through any temptations to stray off the plan!

Stay away from temptation <br> Unsubscribe from catalogs and sales emails. Unfollow your favorite brands on social media and install an ad blocker. Stop going to stores that tempt you, especially if you’re just “running in for one thing.” Your willpower may not be stronger than the “Christmas in July” mega sales, so just avoid temptation altogether.

Keep yourself inspired and connected <br> Communities make almost everything easier. Fortunately, there’s a whole virtual world of communities on social media dedicated to budgeting, getting out of debt, saving for early retirement, showing household savings hacks, and anything else you would ever want to know about managing money. They’re great places for picking up ideas and sharing your progress with others.

Budgeting and saving money don’t have to be tedious or hard. The rewards of having a comfortable bank account and being in control of your spending are sweet, so stay engaged in the process and keep learning!

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