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 16, 2022

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Whether you’re renting or you own your home, there are various insurance options you may want to consider.

Like any insurance, they’ll help provide financial coverage in the event of an unexpected disaster. There are also varying levels of insurance that you may choose.

For Homeowners

There’s a general category known as “homeowner’s insurance”, which usually covers four categories: interior and exterior damage, damage to or loss of possessions on the property, and personal liability coverage that will help cover the cost of injuries sustained while on the property (such as if a guest slips and falls down the steps to the front door). The damages section of the policy usually won’t cover acts of war or nature, the latter including things like volcanic eruptions or floods. However, many policies will cover lodging and meals while the property is under construction and not able to be inhabited for the duration, such as if an exterior wall is destroyed by fire.

For geographical areas prone to certain disasters, a separate, specialized insurance policy may need to be purchased in order to cover damages or loss caused by such disasters. For example, for areas that are low-lying and near rivers where frequent heavy storms occur, general insurance may not cover damage to the property. Conversely, properties in mountainous areas are unlikely to need flood insurance but may need earthquake and/or landslide insurance if such events are more common there.

For Renters

While homeowner insurance will cover damage to the property – which is a major concern for those with a financial stake in the property – renter’s insurance usually covers damage to and loss of possessions, and also offers coverage for personal liability for injuries sustained on the property. The landlord likely has an insurance policy on the property to help protect against financial loss in the event of physical damage, but their insurance unlikely will extend to the tenant’s possessions or guests’ injuries. Thus, those who rent the property will need to consider insurance policies for these events.

Which Policies to Choose

As with any insurance policy, there may be deductibles, liability limits, covered and noncovered events and assets, and premiums. Generally the higher the limits and the broader the group of included incidents or assets, the higher the premium will be.

Some issues to consider:

  • If you choose a high deductible you may have a lower premium.
  • If you have guests over regularly, greater coverage for personal liability may be worthwhile.
  • If you travel often, an extension to protection may be a good idea. This is because many insurance policies may not cover theft or certain damages (like those arising from fire) for “vacant” homes, since these can be a greater risk when no one is living there for an extended period.
  • Many companies and policies may offer discounts to the premium if you have certain protections, like an alarm system, if you regularly perform maintenance, or opt for fire-retardant materials.
  • Some companies offer premium discounts if you have for example, both your car insurance and your renter’s or homeowener’s insurance with them.

The bottom line is that you should shop around for the best rates and coverage. Each individual will need to find the best fit. Make sure you have coverage for any specific circumstances that may be common in your area. And most importantly, make sure you thoroughly read and understand your policies, and the situations they cover, and don’t cover.

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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 15, 2022

5 Challenges for Entrepreneurs

5 Challenges for Entrepreneurs

Starting a business can be an exhilarating experience.

It may seem like the next logical step for someone who’s looking to grow and develop their career. But before you take that leap, it’s smart to consider the pros and cons involved with entrepreneurship. In this article we’ll explore five things that budding entrepreneurs should think about before starting a new business venture!

The first thing to consider? Startup cost.

Depending on your idea, take some time to research what equipment or things will be necessary for getting started. Every penny counts. For example, if you’re opening an ice cream shop— which may seem simple enough—you’ll need freezers, scoopers, a storefront, and, of course, ice cream. That’s a lot of upfront investment for a little ice cream shop!

The second thing to consider is competition.

It’s wise to research what types of businesses already exist in your space before jumping into entrepreneurship. For example, what if there are five dog parks within a couple of miles from where you live and you want to open up a sixth? This may be fine if there’s a large population of dog owners in your area. But unless you’ve got a unique idea or innovation that will blow your competition out of the water, you may want to consider another type of business or a different location to get started.

The third thing to consider is customer acquisition.

How will you reach your customers? Do you know your exact market, their needs, desires, and insecurities? What’s the strategy for getting them in and keeping their business over time, even if there are competitors nearby with similar products/services?

At first, you might be able to rely on your friends and family as your first customers. But eventually, you’ll need to develop a marketing and brand strategy to acquire and keep new customers.

The fourth consideration should be building product inventory.

If you’re producing goods, do your finances allow for significant inventory investment? What if it’s a service-based business—will customers need to wait weeks or months before they receive the first round of services from their purchase with no cash flow in between?

When you first open, stock your business with every service or product you can possibly offer. Then, track which ones seem most popular and how much they sell. Then, start building inventory accordingly. You may need to scrap the services or products that aren’t making you money.

Finally, think about compliance with legal standards.

Some industries are regulated in ways that you may not anticipate. Food and beverage businesses need to follow health codes. Construction contractors must be bonded for their work on public projects like schools. And the financial industry is heavily regulated to protect clients. Whatever your industry, make sure you understand the legal requirements you’ll be asked to meet as a business owner.

There’s more to starting a business than excitement and glamour. It’s hard work that requires careful research and diligent preparation. Tackle these considerations before you start so you can lay the foundation for your business’s future success.

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April 20, 2022

Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 28, 2022

Does Work-Life Balance Make Any Sense?

Does Work-Life Balance Make Any Sense?

It’s a well-known fact that work can be tough on your health and wellbeing.

But is it possible to have a healthy work-life balance? And if not, should everyone just resign themselves to the idea that they must choose between their careers or their families?

The term “work-life balance” is often used to describe the ideal of maintaining equal priorities between your work and personal life. But is this balance really possible? And if not, does that mean we should just accept that work will always come first?

There’s no denying that work can be demanding and time consuming. But many people feel that they can’t just leave their work at the office—it often follows them home in the form of stress, worries, or even arguments with loved ones.

On the other hand, it can be tough trying to fit in all the things you want to do with your personal time, and you may even feel like you’re sacrificing your career in order to have fulfilling experiences with your family.

So what’s the answer? Is work-life balance really possible, or is it just an unattainable fantasy?

The answer to this question is tricky, as it depends on individual circumstances. For some people, having a good work-life balance is definitely possible—they may have a job they love that doesn’t consume all their time, and they may be able to fit in personal commitments.

But for others, it’s a challenge. CEOs, lawyers, engineers, business owners, doctors, and high achievers often wake up to find they’ve spent their lives prioritizing their careers over their families, friends, and making memories. It’s one of the worst realizations a person can have.

Here’s a different take on the problem—what if the question isn’t about how to balance work and life, but about what you actually want?

Do you want a career full of travel and boardroom dealings?

Do you want a happy home surrounded by white picket fences?

Do you want peace, quiet, and a few acres with grass, trees, and streams?

Do you want limitless time to exercise your creativity?

These are tough questions with no easy answers. You may find yourself nodding to all of the above!

But here’s the truth—only one can be your top priority.

Decide what matters most for you. Then, integrate the rest into your vision of your life.

Prioritize your career above all else? Create a 5-year plan that will get you to your ideal job and then make it happen.

Value your personal relationships and family time above your career? Then build a business or take on freelance work that allows you the time and freedom to do the things you love outside of work.

The key is to find what works for you. And that means being honest with yourself about what you really want.

So ask yourself—what do you want? And how can you make it a reality?

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March 7, 2022

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Home

Buying a home is one of the largest investments many people will ever make.

It’s also among the most complicated and time-consuming transactions. So before you sign on the dotted line, it’s best to ask yourself these key questions:

What are my needs for space?

How much can I afford to spend each month on my mortgage, utilities, and repairs?

Are there pre-existing problems with this property?

How is the neighborhood? Is it safe? Are the schools good? What kind of amenities are nearby (i.e., grocery stores, restaurants, sports)?

How much will I need for closing costs and my down payment?

What’s my strategy for a bidding war?

What are my needs for space? When you’re buying a home, it’s important to take stock of your needs for space. Do you need a lot of bedrooms for a growing family? A large backyard for barbecues and birthday parties? Or would you be happy with a more modest property that will save on monthly mortgage payments?

Planning ahead will help you stay within your budget and find the right property for your needs. Take time to sort through the options and be vigilant to rule out homes that may seem appealing at first glance, but might not truly serve your family.

If you’re unsure about what you need in a home, consult with a real estate agent who can help figure out the amenities that are best suited for you.

How much can I afford to spend each month? It’s important to be realistic about how much you can afford to spend each month on your mortgage. A good rule of thumb is that your mortgage payment should not be more than 30% of your monthly income. And remember—just because you’re pre-approved for a certain amount, that doesn’t mean it’s what you can actually afford to spend.

It’s also a good idea to have a budget for other costs associated with homeownership, such as property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, utilities, maintenance, and repairs. It’s impossible to fully estimate these costs in advance. But by planning ahead, you can get an idea of your potential monthly expenses and weigh them against your income.

Are there pre-existing problems with this property? It’s critical to be aware of any potential problems. This includes checking for any major repairs that may need to be done, as well as researching the surrounding neighborhood. Is this house in a flood plain? How is the foundation? When was the last time the roof was replaced?

It’s a good idea to have a home inspection done before making an offer on a property. This will help you get a better idea of the condition of the property and what repairs need to be made.

If you’re not comfortable with the condition of the property—no matter how beautiful or spacious the house is—it’s best to walk away and find a property that’s a better fit overall.

How is the neighborhood? Is it safe? Are the schools good? What kind of amenities are nearby? When you’re buying a home, it’s important to take into account the surrounding neighborhood. This includes researching crime rates, checking out traffic patterns, inquiring about the schools, and seeing how close you are to stores or activities that are important to you.

If you have children, it’s critical to research the schools in the area. You’ll want to make sure that there is a high-quality education available. You’ll also want to be aware of any negative reviews about the schools in the area.

How much will I need for closing costs and my down payment? There are a number of costs that you’ll need to budget for. This includes the down payment, closing costs, and moving expenses.

The downpayment is the amount of money that you pay upfront when you buy a home. It’s usually between 5% and 20% of the purchase price. So if you’re buying a $400,000 home, you’ll need to pay between $20,000 and $80,000 upfront.

Closing costs are the fees that are charged by the bank and the government when you buy a home. These costs can range from 2% to 5% of the purchase price. So in the example above, you would be paying between $8,000 and $20,000 in closing costs.

Moving expenses can range from $500 to $5,000, depending on how much stuff you have and how far you’re moving.

It’s important to budget for these costs ahead of time so that you’re not surprised when you sign the paperwork and are handed the keys.

What’s my strategy for a bidding war? It’s a problem that’s caught many off guard in the current housing market. That’s why it’s important to have a strategy in place. This includes knowing how much you’re willing to spend and being prepared to make a higher offer than the other buyers.

It’s also important to have your finances in order. This means that you should be pre-approved for a mortgage and have enough money saved up for your down payment.

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of a bidding war, it’s best to walk away and find a property that’s a lower price.

Buying a home is never an easy decision. That’s why these questions should all be considered ahead of time—preferably with your realtor—so they don’t catch you by surprise when buying a house! What other factors can you think of? Let us know what future homeowners might want to consider when purchasing a new home.

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January 31, 2022

How to Get Financial Security Through Starting a Business

How to Get Financial Security Through Starting a Business

The idea of starting a business is often intimidating for people.

They might be afraid they don’t have the money to launch one, or they’re not sure if their ideas are good enough to turn into reality and make a profit. It sounds like the exact opposite of financial security!

But that doesn’t have to be you. There are strategies to get financial security through business ownership. You just need to know where to start. Here are some options.

1. Start part-time. It might seem contradictory to start as a part-time entrepreneur. But if you’re new to business ownership, it’s a great strategy. Why? Because it helps limit risk—you’re not relying on this business’s success to put food on the table. If it fails, it’s not going to hit so hard. And that risk limitation can make starting a business far less intimidating.

2. Stick with what you know. It’s normal to feel inspired to create the next Amazon, Google, or Apple. But one of the biggest mistakes new entrepreneurs make is biting off more than they can chew. Big ideas can be counterproductive if you don’t have experience in very competitive markets.

Instead, start small by choosing a field that you know. Are you secretly a guitar shredding maniac? Offer music lessons to your neighbors. Marketer by day? Become a marketing consultant by night.

There’s data to back up this strategy. Entrepreneurs with 3 years of experience in their industry are 85% more likely to succeed than entrepreneurs with no experience.¹

So follow the data, and stick with what you know.

3. Solve a problem. All successful businesses solve problems. They eliminate barriers and ease headaches. They make shopping easier, networking easier, working out easier. Think about your skills. How can you apply them to a problem?

Worthwhile problems for your business to solve can be widespread, highly niche, or underserved.

But the “best” problems are all of the above—they impact a vast market, they demand highly specific solutions, and are currently unsolved. The solutions to those problems can create vast fortunes for those who discover them.

It’s possible to get financial security through business ownership. Part-time entrepreneurship, sticking with what you know, and solving a problem are just three strategies that can boost your cash flow and help you reach your financial goals.

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¹ “Research: The Average Age of a Successful Startup Founder Is 45,” Pierre Azoulay, Benjamin F. Jones, J. Daniel Kim, and Javier Miranda, Harvard Business Review, July 11, 2018, https://hbr.org/2018/07/research-the-average-age-of-a-successful-startup-founder-is-45

December 30, 2021

Stocks vs. Bonds: What's The Difference?

Stocks vs. Bonds: What's The Difference?

You’ve probably heard of both stocks and bonds. You also might know that they’re tools that many use to build wealth.

And if you have your ear to the ground, you know that stocks and bonds aren’t created equal—stocks are usually riskier, bonds are usually safer.

But…why? What’s the difference between these wealth building vehicles?

Glad you asked! Let’s explore how stocks and bonds work.

Before we begin, bear in mind that this article is for educational purposes only. It’s not recommending one vehicle over the other or a particular strategy. It’s just illuminating the differences between two common investments.

In a nutshell, a bond is a loan, while a stock is a share.

Let’s start with bonds. Governments need money to function. Historically, they’ve kept the lights on through conquest and taxation. Conquest has fallen out of fashion in the last 100 years, and sometimes taxes just won’t cut it.

So instead of demanding more money in taxes or—yikes—printing more, governments can issue bonds.

A bond is a loan. You voluntarily loan the government money, and they pay it back with interest. You get a fixed income stream, they get to build roads and schools.

Other entities can issue bonds, like states, cities, and corporations. But when people talk about bonds, they usually mean Federal Bonds. Why? Because they’re generally perceived as safe. The U.S. government has a consistent track record of paying back bond-holders.

A stock is ownership. When you buy a stock, you’re essentially buying a tiny slice of a corporation.

Why would corporations sell ownership to the masses? Because it’s a simple way to raise money. They then can use this money to expand the business, increasing the value of their stock. Eventually, you may choose to cash out your stocks for (hopefully) a handsome profit.

Some stocks also pay a portion of their earnings to stockholders. This is called paying a dividend. Normally, it’s calculated as a percentage of your stock. For instance, a $10 stock with a 2% dividend would pay $.20 each quarter.

But there’s a major catch to buying stocks—they are far less stable than federal bonds. That’s because corporations can experience bad years and even bankruptcy.

And when that happens, stockholders lose money. So while there’s potential reward for buying stocks, there’s also more risk.

That’s why it’s absolutely critical to work with a financial professional if you want to start investing in either stocks or bonds. They have the knowledge and experience to guide you in wealth building decisions based on your goals.

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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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March 29, 2021

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

Personal Finance Moves For Small Business Owners

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for everything—from saving on office supplies to making sure folks get paid to knowing what taxes to file and when.

A big part of success is educating yourself on how your personal finances affect your business and vice versa. Here are a few moves that can help keep your personal finances healthy while you grow your business.

Keep track of your monthly income and expenses. Your business income can vary dramatically from month to month, depending on the season, number of sales, trends in your market, etc. These could potentially cause your average bottom line to be lower than anticipated.

That’s why it’s critical to track your monthly income and then budget accordingly. As your income grows and shrinks, you can adjust your spending.

Set up an emergency fund. This money can be used to cover unexpected costs, such as unanticipated repairs or an illness. But, when you own a business, it can also help you make ends meet if business is slow or, say, if a global pandemic shuts down the world economy. Save up 6 months’ worth of spending in an account you can easily access in a pinch!

Know what you owe, to whom, and when it is due. Personal debt can be a serious challenge for small business owners. It may motivate them to make foolish financial decisions to pay off what they owe, regardless of the consequences.

That’s why it’s important to manage your finances responsibly so that debt doesn’t become a problem. Adopt a debt management strategy to reduce your debt ASAP. Your business may benefit greatly from it.

Get professional advice if you need help with your finances. If it’s at all feasible for your business’s budget, get a professional set of eyes on your books. They’ll help you navigate the world of finances, share strategies that can help make the most of your revenue, and show you how to position yourself for future success!

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January 25, 2021

How Your House Can Earn You Money

How Your House Can Earn You Money

If you’re a homeowner, your house can do more than just consume cash flow–it can generate it as well!

Here’s how…

Rent out a unit, basement, or room of your house at a price that helps offset the cost of your mortgage. It’s really that simple!

Let’s consider an example that demonstrates why this strategy is so effective.

Suppose you’ve saved enough money to put a down payment on your first home. Good for you! You’ve done the legwork, and discovered that your mortgage payment will be around $1,000 per month. You’ll also need cash for property taxes and homeowners insurance, too. Even though you’re glad you’re in a home of your own, you might start wondering if you’ve bought a money pit that will consume your cash flow for the next 15 to 30 years.

But you’ve also bought a potential source of income, if you think a little outside the box.

See, your house has a finished basement that’s begging to be transformed into a rentable space. All told, you could rent it out to a friend and put those funds toward your mortgage.

By simply utilizing space that you already own, you can unlock a revenue stream that can help offset your mortgage payments!

That extra cash flow can cover daily expenses, pay down the house faster, or help you begin saving and investing.

This strategy, called “house hacking”, may not be for everyone–it favors homeowners with duplexes or finished basements. Plus, it requires the homeowner to become a landlord, a role some may not care for.

If you have the space, consider renting out a slice of your home to someone you trust. It’s a simple way to leverage resources you already have to generate the cash flow you may need!

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¹ “Forget coffee and avocado toast — most people blow nearly 40% of their money in the same place,” Lauren Lyons Cole, Business Insider, Apr 26, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/how-to-save-more-money-2017-8#:~:text=Housing%20accounts%20for%20about%2037,further%20limiting%20his%20housing%20expenses.

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

December 7, 2020

How To Save Money On Transportation

How To Save Money On Transportation

Americans drain a huge portion of their income on transportation.

It eats up roughly 16% of our income every month, the majority of which is spent on car purchases ($331 per month), then gas and oil ($176 per month), and then insurance ($81 per month).¹

But what if you made that money work for you?

Here are some simple ways to spend less on getting around, so you can save more for your future!

Drive the speed limit <br> Speeding is never a good strategy. Zipping around town with your pedal to the floor is dangerous for you and others and realistically doesn’t save you much time.¹ Even worse, speeding can cost you money in the long term.

Obviously, speeding tickets are expensive. They cost about $150 on average.² They also have a nasty habit of increasing insurance premiums by up to 25%.³ But that’s not all. Rapidly accelerating and suddenly stopping reduces the efficiency of your engine and can cost you at the pump as well. Stick to the posted speed limit, accelerate gradually, and drive safely!

DIY the basics <br> There are plenty of car maintenance basics you can handle from the comfort of your own garage. For instance, a new air filter can boost your gas mileage by up to 10%.⁴ They’re also cheap and usually easy to change out once they get dirty. Even something as simple as inflating your tires can boost your car’s performance.⁵ Remember to do your research and consult your car’s owner manual.

Take the bus <br> If public transportation is available, use it! Research says trading your car for a bus or train can save you over $10,000 annually.⁶ The cost of tickets and metro passes pales in comparison to car insurance premiums, car maintenance, loans, and gas.

Buy Used <br> Don’t have access to public transportation? Stick with used cars and drive them as long as you can.

New cars almost always lose value. By the end of their first year, a new ride will shed 20% to 30% of its value. Over 5 years it loses 60% of its value.⁴ Unless you’re restoring a vintage masterpiece or have cash to blow, you’re much better driving an older model of the same car for a fraction of the price.

Remember, how you get around is a practical problem. It doesn’t need to be fancy or flashy when you’re starting your journey towards financial freedom. Utilize local transportation options, buy a clunker that you maintain yourself, and drive the speed limit. Your wallet will thank you in the long term!

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September 28, 2020

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

So You Want to Buy Life Insurance for Your Parents...

Playing Monopoly as a young kid might have given you some strange ideas about money.

Take the life insurance card in the Community Chest for instance. That might give the impression that life insurance is free money to burn on whatever the next roll of the dice calls for.

In grown-up reality, life insurance proceeds are often committed long before a policy holder or beneficiary receives the check they’re waiting for. Final expenses, estate taxes, loan balances, and medical bills all compete for whatever money is paid out on the policy.

If your parents don’t have a policy or if you think their coverage won’t be enough, you can plan ahead and buy a life insurance policy for them. Your parents would be the insured, but you would be the policy owner and beneficiary.

A few extra considerations when buying a life insurance policy for your parents: <br>

  • Insurable interest still applies. If your parents already have a significant amount of life insurance coverage, you may find that some insurers are reluctant to issue more coverage. Insurable interest requires that the amount of coverage doesn’t exceed the potential financial loss. (In other words, if your parents already have enough coverage, a company may not want to insure them for more.)
  • Age can limit coverage amounts. Assuming that your parents are older and no longer generating income, coverage amounts will be limited. If your parents are younger and still have 20 or more years ahead of them before they retire, they can qualify for a higher amount of coverage.
  • Age can limit policy types. Certain types of life insurance aren’t available when we get older, or will be limited in regard to length of coverage. Term life insurance is a good example. Your options for term life insurance will be fewer once your parents are into their sixties. The available term lengths will also be shorter. Policies with a 30-year term aren’t commonly available over the age of 50.

How Can I Use The Life Insurance For My Parents? <br>
Depending on the amount of coverage you buy – or can buy (remember, it may be limited), you could use the policy to plan for any of the following:

  • Final expenses: You can expect funeral costs to run from $10,000 to $15,000, maybe more.
  • Estate taxes: Estate taxes and so-called death taxes can be an unpleasant surprise in many states. A life insurance policy can help you plan for this expense which could come at a time when you’re not flush with cash.

Can Life Insurance Pay The Mortgage Or Car Loans? <br>
It isn’t uncommon for parents to pass away with some remaining debt. This might be in the form of a mortgage, car loans, or even credit card debt. These loan balances can be covered in whole or in part with a life insurance policy.

In fact, outstanding loan balances are a very big consideration. Often, people who inherit a house or a car may also inherit an additional mortgage payment or car payment. It might be wonderful to receive such a generous and sentimental gift, but if you’re like many families, you might not have the extra money for the payments in your budget.

Even if the policy doesn’t provide sufficient coverage to retire the debt completely, a life insurance policy can give you some breathing room until you can make other arrangements – like selling your parents’ house, for example.

You Control The Premium Payments. <br>
If you buy a life insurance policy for your parents, you’ll know if the premiums are being paid because you’re the one paying them. You probably wouldn’t want your parents to be burdened with a life insurance premium obligation if they’re living on a fixed income.

Buying insurance for your parents is a great idea, but many people don’t consider it until it’s too late. That’s when you might wish you’d had the idea years ago. It’s one of the wisest things you can do, particularly if your parents are underinsured or have no life insurance at all.

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September 23, 2020

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Who Needs Life Insurance?

Life insurance is important… or so you’ve been told.

But do you really need it? And how can you know? Let’s take a look at who does and doesn’t need the family and legacy protecting power of life insurance and some specific examples of both.

Protecting your dependants <br> Is there anyone in your life who would suffer financially if your income were to vanish? If so, then you have dependents. And anyone with financial dependents should buy life insurance. Those are the people you’re aiming to protect with a life insurance policy.

On the other hand, if you live alone, aren’t helping anyone pay bills, and no one relies on you financially to pursue their dreams, then you still might need coverage. Let’s look at some specific examples below.

Young singles <br> Let’s say you’ve just graduated from college, you’ve started your first job, and you’re living in a new city. Your parents don’t need you to help support them, and you’re on your own financially. Should you get life insurance? If you have serious amounts of student or credit card debt that would get moved to your parents in the event of your passing, then it’s a consideration. You also might think about if you have saved enough in emergency funds to cover potential funeral expenses. Now would also potentially be a better time to buy a policy early while rates are low, especially if you’re considering starting a family in the near future.

Married without children <br> What if your family is just you and your spouse? Do either of you need life insurance? Remember, your goal is to protect the people who depend on your income. You and your spouse have built a life together that’s probably supported by both of your incomes. A life insurance policy could protect your loved one’s lifestyle if something were to happen to you. It would also help them meet lingering financial obligations like car payments, credit card debt, and a mortgage, even if they still have their income.

Single or married parents <br> Anyone with children must consider life insurance. No one relies on your income quite like your kids. It’s what clothes them and feeds them. Later on, it can empower them to pursue their educational dreams. Life insurance can help give you peace of mind that all of those needs will be protected. Even a stay-at-home parent should consider a policy. They often provide for needs like childcare and education that would be costly to replace. Life insurance is an essential line of defense for your family’s dreams and lifestyle.

Business owners <br> No one wants to think about what would happen to their business without them. But entrepreneurs and small business owners can use life insurance to protect their hard work. A policy can help protect your family if you took out loans to start your business and are still paying down debt. More importantly, it can help offset the losses if your family can’t operate the business without you and has to sell in poor market conditions.

Not everyone needs life insurance right now. But it’s a vital line of defense for the people you care about most and should be on everyone’s radar. The need might not be as urgent for a young, debt-free single person, but it’s still worth it to start making plans to protect your future family. Contact a financial professional today to begin the process of preparing!

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August 24, 2020

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

Renting vs. buying a home: Which is right for you?

100 million Americans live in homes they or their families rent.

Which means about 250 million live in homes that are owned by themselves or their families.[i]

What about you? Are you a renter or an owner? If you’re thinking about making a change, take a look at these important factors when deciding to rent or own.

The Case for Ownership One very oft-cited benefit of owning over renting is building up equity. When one rents, the entire rent payment goes to the landlord, and the tenant does not own any part of the dwelling at all. With a mortgage, on the other hand, the payer receives some percentage of ownership after every payment (assuming the payment is going towards the principal rather than interest alone), eventually leading to full ownership of the property.

For those with enough capital to outright purchase a property, ownership is almost certainly the best decision financially: no money is paid to a landlord for a service that is consumed but non-saleable in the future. Even for those without sufficient capital, mortgages tend to offer low interest rates (compared to other loan products), and the buyer can usually justify the mortgage interest in return for eventual full ownership. Even if the owner decides to move before the mortgage is completely paid off, the equity that was built thus far can be recouped and used later.

Other reasons to own may include more privacy and greater ability to customize the property. There is also the feeling of stability that you won’t have to renew a contract or potentially pay higher rent during the next cycle when your lease renews.

One of the biggest drawbacks of ownership is the potential that the property value may decline, particularly when still under mortgage. If the value of the property goes down – possibly due to a natural disaster or a lot of foreclosures in your neighborhood [ii] – the equity that was built by the owner may decline, not the amount owed on the loan. Thus a substantial decrease in prices as happened in the late 2000s, could cause an owner to be in the same position financially as a renter – that is, with no equity to speak of.

The Case for Rentership For those who cannot meet ownership’s capital requirements, renting is not a choice – it’s a necessity. However, even those who would qualify for a mortgage may be better off renting, especially if they insist on flexibility. Selling a property is an involved, complex financial transaction that may take many months to complete. If you’re renting and you need to move, finding a subletter (if allowed) is a possibility, and even when not, a standard rental agreement usually only lasts one year, after which the renter may decline to renew. Thus flexibility is one of the most important factors for those who wish to rent.

And while there is usually much less customization allowable at rental properties, there may be significant benefits included in rent with utilities paid, maintenance performed, and communal facilities like gyms, pools, or laundry facilities available. For owners, maintenance, utilities, and tax bills are solely the responsibility of the owner, whereas for renters, these may be paid in part or in full by the landlord. Regarding the investment side, renters do not own the property, so they do not have to worry about losing equity if the property market decreases in value.

Some drawbacks of renting may be less privacy, not being able to build equity, and the uncertainty of future rental prices or even availability. Of course, if the rent increases too much, the renter has the flexibility to leave the property at the next cycle.

So whether you’re thinking of renting or buying, before you sign on the dotted line, examine your short and long term goals, the risks you’re willing to take, and your budget.

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August 10, 2020

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

First time home buyer? Beware hidden expenses.

If you’re getting into the home buying game, chances are you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Purchasing a home for the first time is exciting but it can also be very stressful! Anyone who’s been through that process could probably share a story about a surprise hidden expense that came along with their dream home.

Read on to help prepare yourself for some common costs that can pop up unexpectedly when you’re purchasing a home.

Emergency fund
Before we get into the hidden costs of homeownership, let’s talk a little about how to help handle them if and when they do arise. If you’re getting ready to buy a home but don’t have an emergency fund, you may want to strongly consider holding off that purchase, if at all possible, until you do have an emergency fund established. It’s recommended to put aside at least $1,000, but preferably you should save 3-6 months of your expenses, including mortgage payments. An emergency fund is the most fundamental personal finance tool you can have in your toolkit. It’s like the toolbox itself that holds all your other financial tools together. So, before you start home shopping, build your emergency fund.

Homeowners associations
If your dream house happens to be in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), be prepared to pony up HOA fees each month (some HOA’s may charge these fees every quarter, or even annually). HOA fees may cover costs to maintain neighborhood common areas, such as pools or parks. They may also cover maintenance to your front lawn, and/or snow removal from driveways, etc. Typically, a homeowners association will have a board that enforces any agreed-upon property standards, such as having you remove ivy from your home exterior, or making sure your sidewalk is pressure washed regularly.

If you purchase a home with an HOA, be prepared for the added cost in fees as well as adhering to the rules. You may incur a fine for such things as your grass not being mowed properly, or parking your boat or camper in your yard.

Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI)
PMI comes into play if you can’t make at least a 20% down payment on your new home. If that’s the case, your mortgage lender charges PMI which would kick in to protect them if you default on the loan. It can cost 0.3 to 1.5% of your mortgage. However, once you have 20% equity in the home, you don’t have to pay it anymore. (Note: You may have to proactively call your mortgage company and tell them to remove it.)

Maintenance costs
If you’ve been living the maintenance-free life in an apartment or rental home, the cost of maintaining a house that you own may come as a shock. Even new homes require maintenance – lawn care, pressure washing, clearing rain gutters, painting, etc. There’s always going to be something to upgrade or repair on a home, and many first-time home buyers aren’t prepared for the expense.

A good rule of thumb is to budget about 10 percent of the value of your home for maintenance per year. So, if you buy a $250,000 home, you should prepare for $2,500 a year in maintenance costs.

Home insurance
Be prepared for some sticker shock when purchasing your homeowners’ insurance. Homeowners insurance is typically significantly more expensive than purchasing a renter’s policy. If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, be prepared to pay top rates for homeowners’ insurance. If you live near a body of water, you may also need flood insurance.

Life insurance
Many first-time homebuyers may not give life insurance a thought, but it’s an important factor that can help protect your investment. You probably need life insurance if anyone is depending on your income. Especially if your income helps pay your mortgage every month, you should strongly consider a life insurance policy in case something were to happen to you. This will help ensure that your spouse or significant other can continue to live in your home.

Homebuying is exciting and part of the American dream. But don’t neglect to come back to reality – at least when making financial decisions – so you can budget properly and anticipate any hidden costs. This will help ensure that your first-time home buying experience is a happy one.

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May 11, 2020

When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

When Wall Street Bailed Out Washington

We all know about government bailouts.

They’ve been around for a while. But did you know that the government was once bailed out by Wall Street?

Gold Runs <br> Dollars used to represent actual gold in the treasury—what we call the “gold standard”. Dollars had value because they could be traded in for gold. But here’s the catch; the US didn’t have gold to match every dollar floating around the economy. If everyone suddenly decided to trade in their dollars for gold, the government would eventually run out and have to start turning people away. Faith in the US economy would collapse.

This nightmare situation was called a gold run, and it was pretty common in the 19th century. But the Panic of 1893 was especially bad. European investors, startled by collapsing investments in South America, started what became a huge gold run on the U.S. Treasury, pulling out millions of dollars. People quickly started pulling their money out of banks, trying to secure as much of their cash as possible. The economy was in total meltdown.

J.P. Morgan Enters the Scene <br> Business mogul J.P. Morgan had enough powerful connections to realize that the U.S. Treasury was in deep trouble. Morgan wasn’t the wealthiest man in the world; his fortune of $120 million ($1.39 billion in 2020) was pocket change compared to the net worth of John D. Rockefeller, who would be worth about $340 billion today (1 & 2). But Morgan had influence and connections, and he was committed to bailing out the government.

However, there was a problem. Morgan and the gold standard were both unpopular. Grover Cleveland, president at the time, wasn’t excited about aligning himself with either to save the economy. Fortunately, Morgan had a trump card; he knew from inside sources that the government was almost literally within hours of defaulting. And he had done his research. An obscure statute from the Civil War allowed for the government to sell Morgan bonds while he gave them enough gold to avoid going broke. Cleveland knew he was picking his poison. He would either look like a Wall Street pawn or let his country go broke. But he eventually gave Morgan the bonds and accepted the gold.

The aftermath <br> It worked. The economy restabilized and the country was solvent. Cleveland lost his next election. Morgan continued to prosper. But the days of Wall Street bailouts were numbered. Business owners decided after a panic in 1913 that the government should be the one to fix economic downturns. And the Fed has been bailing out Wall Street ever since!

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April 1, 2020

Banks vs. Credit Unions

Banks vs. Credit Unions

On the hunt for a new bank?

You might find yourself looking at local credit unions vs. big national banks and wondering “what’s the difference?” It turns out that there are significant differences between the two financial institutions. Here’s a quick summary of the distinctives of credit unions and banks.

Credit Unions <br> Credit unions are not-for-profit. Becoming a member makes you both a customer and a co-owner. Money that the credit union makes from car loans and mortgages gets used to help other credit union members. However, membership in a credit union can be restricted. It might require a certain religious, social, or community affiliation to join.

Banks <br> Commercial banks (we’ll just call them banks for now) are for-profit entities with one goal—make money for their shareholders. How exactly do banks accomplish that? It’s not too complicated. They loan money out to people (or you) at a high interest rate. It’s their business model: Use other people’s money to grow their own. That means the top priority for banks is getting as many customers as possible into low interest accounts while providing high interest loans.

Which one is the better fit for you? <br> It might seem like credit unions are the obvious choice. They’re designed to work for the customer and may offer better interest rates. But they also have limitations. They’re highly localized, meaning you might have a hard time withdrawing cash if you’re on the road. Plus they might lag behind in online or phone app banking. All of these benefits and drawbacks vary greatly between credit unions, so do your research before you decide which one to go with!

The big advantage (and disadvantage) of banks is that they’re often massive nationwide institutions. That means you’re almost guaranteed to find an ATM or branch no matter where you go. Their for-profit model gives them the resources to develop technology, meaning you can probably manage your bank account on the go via your laptop or phone. Just realize that the bank’s primary goal is to make a profit off of your money, so sometimes customer service isn’t a priority.

There are big differences between banks and credit unions that could save you time, money, or both. Don’t just trust your money to a bank because it’s convenient or to a credit union just because it’s local. Do your research to find the right fit for you!

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November 6, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

The journey to financial independence can feel a bit like driving around with your entire retirement fund stashed in the open-air bed of a pickup truck.

Every dollar bill is at the mercy of the elements. Think of an unforeseen medical emergency as a pop-up windstorm that whips a few thousand dollars out of the truck bed. And that time your refrigerator gave out on you? That’s swerving to avoid a landslide as it tumbles down the mountain. There goes another $1,000.

Emergencies like a case of appendicitis or suddenly needing a place to store your groceries usually arrive unannounced and can’t always be avoided. But there are a few scenarios you can bypass, especially when you know they’re coming.

These scenarios are the potholes on the road to financial independence. When you’re driving along and see a particularly nasty pothole through your windshield, it just makes sense to avoid it.

Here are some common potholes to avoid on your financial journey.

Excessive or Frivolous Spending
A job loss or a sudden, large expense can change your cash flow quickly, making you wish you still had some of the money you spent on… well, what did you spend it on, anyway? That’s exactly the trouble. We often spend on small indulgences without calculating how much those indulgences cost when they’re added up. Unless it’s an emergency, big expenses can be easier to control. It’s the small expenses that can cost the most.

Recurring Payments
Somewhere along the line, businesses started charging monthly subscriptions or membership fees for their products or service. These can be useful. You might not want to shell out $2,000 all at once for home gym equipment, but spending $40/month at your local gym fits in your budget. However, unused subscriptions and memberships create their own credit potholes. If money is tight or you’re prioritizing your spending, take a look at your subscriptions and memberships. Cancel the ones that you’re not using or enjoying.

New Cars
Most people love the smell of a new car, particularly if it’s a car they own. Ownership is strange in regard to cars, however. In most cases, the bank holds the title until the car is paid off. In the interim, the car has depreciated by 25% in the first year and by nearly 50% after 3 years.

What often happens is that we trade the car after a few years in exchange for something that has that new car smell – and we’ve never seen the title for the first car. We never owned it outright. In this chain of transactions, each car has taxes and registration fees, interest is paid on a depreciating asset, and car dealers are making money on both sides of the trade when we bring in our old car to exchange for a new one.

Unless you have a business reason to have the latest model, it’s less expensive to stop trading cars. Think of your no-longer-new car as a great deal on a used car – and once it’s paid off, there’s more money to put each month towards your retirement.

To sum up, you may already have the best shocks on your financial vehicle (i.e., a well-tailored financial strategy), but slamming into unnecessary potholes could damage what you’ve already built. Don’t damage your potential to go further for longer – avoid those common financial potholes.

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