Transform Your Mess Into Money

December 8, 2021

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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 8, 2021

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

February 22, 2021

What Are The Odds of Winning the Lottery?

What Are The Odds of Winning the Lottery?

Your odds of winning the Powerball are 1 in 292.2 million. For Mega Millions, your odds are 1 in 302.5 million.¹

Translation—you almost certainly will not win the lottery.

You have a greater chance of being killed by lightning (1 in 2 million), having a fatal encounter with a venomous plant or animal (1 in 3.4 million), or being crushed by a falling plane (1 in 10 million).²

The worst part? Playing more doesn’t improve your chances of winning. The probability of drawing the lucky numbers resets every time you buy a scratch-off or choose your “lucky number.” You’re throwing money at a tiny moving target that you’re almost guaranteed to miss.

If you do like to purchase lottery tickets for entertainment—try to keep it to just that. Make sure you budget in ticket purchases with other fun-related activities, and if you do reap some winnings, make sure you have a strategy for saving a portion towards your financial goals.

Buying lottery tickets is generally an unproductive activity. If left unchecked, it can turn into a money blackhole that will almost certainly never pay off. You work too hard for your paycheck to waste it on what amounts to impossible odds.

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¹ “What Are the Odds of Winning the Lottery?,” Kimberly Amadeo, The Balance, Nov 4, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/what-are-the-odds-of-winning-the-lottery-3306232

² “The Lottery: Is It Ever Worth Playing?,” Investopedia, Jan 29, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/

December 14, 2020

Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

Good Financial Decisions You Can Make Today

Are you afraid to fix your finances?

It’s understandable if you are! Confronting a bad spending habit or debt problem can feel overwhelming and uncomfortable.

But leaving financial issues unresolved is never a good idea. Little annoyances become serious threats if you don’t take initiative to nip them in the bud!

Fortunately, there are dozens of simple financial decisions that you can make today. Here are some of the most important ones!

Save anything you can, no matter how small <br> If you stash away a single dollar, you’re already ahead of the game. Half of all Americans had zero dollars (you read that correctly) saved before the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020.¹

Anything that you’ve put away where you can’t spend it is a good thing, even if it’s a dollar. Putting money away regularly is even better. You might literally have only $1 to start. That’s fine! It’s the thought (i.e., habit) that counts, and you’ll already be closer to financial stability than many people in the country.

Don’t gamble <br> Americans might not be great at saving, but we sure do love playing the lottery! We spend, on average, $1,000 per year on precious tickets and scratch-offs.² Yikes! You’ll probably get struck by lightning or crushed by falling airplane debris before you win a powerball.³

If you don’t play the lottery now, don’t start. If you do play (which should fall in your budget under “fun fund”), write out how much you’ve spent on tickets vs. how much you’ve won. That’s a ratio to always keep in mind!

Eat at home <br> Regularly eating out can devour your income. We spend about $232 monthly at our favorite restaurants, or about $2,784 annually.⁴ There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a meal out at your favorite spot. But it becomes a problem when you’re eating out multiple times a week and using fast food as a substitute for cooking for yourself while your budget goals suffer.

So instead of hitting up a drive-thru tonight, go to your local grocery store and buy some fresh ingredients. It doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Ground beef and pasta or chicken curry with rice are both great (and tasty) ways to start. Check out some online recipes and try some new dishes!

Just trying these three simple things can put you ahead of the curve. They might seem small, but you’ll take a huge step forward to financial independence. Choose one of these actions and try it out today!

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¹ “Here’s how many Americans have nothing at all in savings,” Ester Bloom, CNBC Make It, Jun 19 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/19/heres-how-many-americans-have-nothing-at-all-in-savings.html

² “Americans spend over $1,000 a year on lotto tickets,” Megan Leonhardt, CNBC Make It, Dec 12 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/12/americans-spend-over-1000-dollars-a-year-on-lotto-tickets.html

³ “The Lottery: Is It Ever Worth Playing?,” Investopedia, Jan 27, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/

⁴ “Don’t Eat Out as Often,” Trent Hamm, The Simple Dollar, April 13, 2020, https://www.thesimpledollar.com/save-money/dont-eat-out-as-often/#:~:text=What%20kind%20of%20money%20are,Again%2C%20that’s%20reasonable.

November 25, 2020

Money Black Holes You Should Avoid

Money Black Holes You Should Avoid

It’s true that sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money.

But there are plenty of things that people spend money on that give them absolutely no return. Some of these are obvious (lottery tickets and ponzi schemes), but others are subtle parts of our lifestyle. Here are three money black holes that you should avoid at all costs!

New Cars <br> Nothing feels better than driving off the lot with a new set of wheels. Until, that is, you realize that your car’s value has already started plummeting.

The most important rule to remember is that cars are practical tools, not long-term investments. Blowing a huge stack of cash might feel cool, but it’s a huge misallocation of money if you don’t have any to spend. Try to find a used model of the same car that’s five years old or more. Chances are you’ll get many of the same features for a fraction of the cost.

Pricey Phones <br> It seems like phones are improving every day and in every way. But is your high-end, name brand personal assistant really worth the steep price tag? Phones always decline in value after you buy them; The highest value-retaining phone dropped almost 50% a year after its release.¹ Unless your mobile device is a tool of your trade (i.e., you’re a TikTok influencer), dodge the hype and choose a cheaper or refurbished alternative.

Designer Clothes <br> New threads are awesome. You’ll never feel more like a hero than when you first hit the town in a freshly fitted suit or a designer t-shirt.

They’re also insanely expensive. Sure, they might not all cost $1,690 like a Tom Ford long sleeve solid T-Shirt. But regularly buying top-of-the-line clothes can burn huge holes in your wallet.

Fortunately, you have some fun alternatives at your fingertips. Off-price retailers might sometimes carry your favorite brands at a fraction of the cost. And thrift stores can be goldmines of high quality finds if you’re adventurous enough to explore them with a friend!

Remember, it’s okay to spend money on cool gadgets and gear if you’ve saved up for them or you’re already financially independent. But if you’re just setting out on your journey, it’s best to practice some discipline and seek out cheaper alternatives to these potentially dangerous money black holes.

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“Depreciation among top smartphone brands compared: Apple’s iPhone tops the list as the least depreciating brand,” Abhin Mahipal, SellCell, Oct 14, 2019, https://www.sellcell.com/blog/depreciation-among-top-smartphone-brands-compared-apples-iphone-tops-the-list-as-the-least-depreciating-brand/#:~:text=Apple%20once%20again%20blows%20the,release%2C%20making%20it%20worth%20%24580.

October 5, 2020

What Are The Odds?

What Are The Odds?

Your brain is more powerful than any computer on the planet.

It can store roughly 2.5 million gigabytes of information.¹ Yahoo’s colossal data warehouse can only store 2 million gigabytes.² And your brain does it with the same energy it would take to light a light bulb, not a huge power grid!³ But all that computing firepower still doesn’t help the brain understand one simple concept: probability. Which is unfortunate, because misunderstanding the odds of something happening can seriously impair your decision making, especially when it comes to money and finances. Let’s take a look at the problem of comprehending probability, how it impacts your money, and a simple strategy to counteract it.

We don’t understand probability <br> It’s a scientific fact that humans struggle to properly understand probabilities. A 2018 meta-analysis from the University of Rensburg found that presenting people with probabilities often results in potentially huge errors of judgment.4 For instance, a woman was wrongfully charged with the murder of her sons because a medical professional testified to the low probability of their dying naturally.

Part of the problem is presentation. The meta-analysis showed that presenting tasks as natural frequencies (i.e., 1 out of 10) instead of percentages (10% chance of something happening) actually increased peoples’ performance in understanding the probability they were presented with. Even then, the leap was only from 4% to 24%. You still have merely a 1 in 4 chance of effectively grasping a probability! So while presentation helps, it doesn’t address the deep-seated mental block people have regarding understanding odds. Humans just seem to overcomplicate, misinterpret, and misconstrue probability.

Probability and Money <br> But does that really matter if you’re not buying lottery tickets or spending weekends at the races? You might be surprised by how often our inability to understand chance impacts our money decisions. There are countless examples. You want to start saving and investing your money. You’ve figured out that buying when the market is low is the best way to maximize your dollar. You hold back, waiting to time the market for that dip that’s certainly right around the corner. Perhaps you decide to start a business right when the economy is cooking. The DOW’s been climbing for the last three years, so there’s no reason for it to stop now, right? Or maybe you’ve held off on buying life insurance because the odds of your suddenly passing away are one in a million. Those are all instances of risky behaviors that stem from an innate human inability to grasp probabilities.

How a professional can help <br> But there’s a surprising solution to the probability problem: education. Ask a mathematician to gamble on a coin toss. They’ll choose either heads (or tails) every time. Why? Because they know how probability works and don’t let a few flips throw them off. It’s a 50/50 chance every time the coin is tossed, so why try to game the system? Your personal finances are no different. You need someone on your side who knows the math, knows the economy, and can guide you through a run of bad luck without losing their head. You need a financial professional. They can help you grasp some basics and the strategies that can help protect you from the seeming randomness of finances. Stop rolling the dice. Reach out to a professional today!

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¹ “What is the Memory Capacity of a Human Brain?,” Clinical Neurology Specialists, https://www.cnsnevada.com/what-is-the-memory-capacity-of-a-human-brain/

² “What is the Memory Capacity of a Human Brain?,” Clinical Neurology Specialists, https://www.cnsnevada.com/what-is-the-memory-capacity-of-a-human-brain/

³ “Computation Power: Human Brain vs Supercomputer,” Foglets, 10 Apr, 2019 https://foglets.com/supercomputer-vs-human-brain/#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20energy%20required,charge%20a%20dim%20light%20bulb

⁴ “Why don’t we understand statistics? Fixed mindsets may be to blame,” ScienceDaily, Oct 12, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181012082713.htm

September 11, 2019

Your Life Insurance Rate & You: The Risk Takers

Your Life Insurance Rate & You: The Risk Takers

Lightning strikes and shark attacks and winning the lottery – Oh my!

Two big things to keep in mind:

  1. None of these are likely to happen to you. (The odds of winning the lottery alone are 175 million to 1! Being killed by a shark: 3.7 million to 1. Getting struck by lightning: 960,000 to 1.)
  2. Occasionally playing in the rain, swimming in the ocean, or buying a lotto ticket won’t affect your life insurance rate.

But…

Bungee jumping and kayaking and skydiving – Oh my! These 3 are a different story when it comes to determining your life insurance rate!

When you apply for a life insurance policy, the underwriting process involves reviewing a variety of different factors about you – your age, gender, family health history, lifestyle, etc. The underwriters need to help your potential insurer determine what kind of risk you pose to the insurance company.

What are insurance companies looking for? Ideally, someone who is young, healthy, and will not likely need their policy payout soon. These are the individuals who typically enjoy the lowest insurance rates. However, it’s important to note that no matter your age or how healthy you are, if you engage in some risky hobbies, they have the potential to bungee you right out of the easy-to-insure category.

Let’s take a look at skydiving, for instance. You voluntarily:

  • Strap a giant piece of cloth stuffed in a bag to your back.
  • Get into an airplane, take off, and then open the door mid-flight.
  • Approach said open door of the plane.
  • Jump. Out. Of the plane. Roughly 13,000 feet above the ground.

And we’re not even addressing the part where you trust the giant piece of folded up cloth to deploy correctly and carry you safely to the ground! This is textbook risky. (And certainly just one way to look at skydiving – most insurers don’t care that this might be a big check mark on your bucket list.)

When you raise your odds of being in harm’s way, you raise your life insurance rate – and sometimes your inability to be approved for a policy at all. In 2016, 1 in 153,557 skydiving jumps resulted in a fatality in the US. While these odds are not as likely as the odds of getting your cheek pinched by Great Aunt Gladys at Thanksgiving or seeing a brand new Porsche taking up two parking spaces at the mall on Black Friday, it’s a lot more likely than your lottery odds, to be sure.

And willingly leaping out of a plane is going to raise a red flag for any insurer.

Some other risky hobbies that may have an impact on your life insurance rate or policy approval:

  • Hot air ballooning
  • Scuba diving
  • Car racing, boat racing, bike racing
  • Skiing and snowboarding
  • Hang gliding

If you enjoy living a bit more adventurously than most, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get life insurance to protect your future and your loved ones. Working with me gives you a distinct and adventurous advantage: you’ll have multiple products and insurers to work with. This isn’t a guarantee for success, but we can embark on this journey together and explore your options. Finding a life insurance policy that suits your lifestyle isn’t an impossible task, but you should take that leap sometime soon. Why not start today? (Parachute optional!)

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June 26, 2019

A Lotto Bad Ideas

A Lotto Bad Ideas

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

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: 78% of American full-time workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 71% of all American workers are currently in debt.

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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September 24, 2018

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 25 percent of Americans say no, according to a survey[i] by TD Ameritrade.

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.

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.

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