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January 13, 2021

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Jonathan Brutto

Jonathan Brutto

Financial Professional

15150 Preston Rd Suite 300

Dallas, TX 75248

December 23, 2020

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

More than 174 million Americans spent an average of $335.47 between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday this year. And the holidays are just getting started!

You and your wallet don’t have to suffer if you follow these simple ways to curb holiday spending. Well, ways to curb the rest of your holiday spending.

1. Decide beforehand how much you’re going to spend on gifts. Yes: Budget. This is one of the most spoken of tricks to curb spending, but do you actually follow through? Before you ever start your holiday spending, have a firm plan about what you’re willing to spend, and do not go a penny over. If you’re one of the millions mentioned above that already spend a good chunk of cash, be sure to take that into account when you set your new amount. A budget can help get the creative gift-giving juices flowing, too. Remember White Elephant parties where no one could bring a gift that cost over $15? There had to be a little extra thought involved: What would be an unforgettable gift that would fit right into your budget?

2. Dine in. When you’ve budgeted for picking up the tab on a big family meal outing, it can be no sweat! But when you haven’t, the cost can really sneak up on you. Say you venture out with a party of 15 family members. At $10 an entree plus appetizers, desserts, cups of cocoa for the kids, eggnog or something harder for grown ups, and any other extras… Whew, that’s going to be a credit card statement to remember! But what if you instead planned a night in with the whole family? A potluck or pizza night. The warmth and comfort of home. Baking cookies. Still with cups of cocoa and eggnog, but at a fraction of the cost. And with much more comfortable chairs.

3. Stay with relatives when you travel home for the holidays. This practice is standard for some, but if this suggestion makes your face flush and your blood run cold, this may help you change your mind: the average hotel stay costs $127.69 per night. That’s not including taxes and fees. Let’s say you head to the town where you grew up for 4 days and 3 nights. The 3 nights at a hotel are going to cost you…

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

Add in tax and hotel fees as well as the daily cost of gas to and from the hotel, and the thought of a few nights spent in your childhood bedroom that now has the surprise treadmill-as-a-clothing-rack addition might not be so terrible.

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December 16, 2020

Save Money This Holiday Season

Save Money This Holiday Season

Have you ever looked at your wish list and thought you heard a muffled scream coming from your wallet?

Inevitably, someone you love will wish for a $1,000 t-shirt or a chocolate fountain. And because you love them, you might go with it. But when December 26th rolls around and the ripped up wrapping paper settles, your wallet might feel a little battered and bruised!

The holidays don’t have to derail your financial future. Here are some straightforward tips that will help keep you on track during your annual shopping spree.

Establish a holiday budget
Entering a department store without a cap on how much you’re willing to spend is like walking into a bakery when you’re on a diet. Could you resist picking up a dozen donuts “for the family” or a couple of fresh baked loaves of bread “to make sandwiches later”?

A gift list and realistic budget can cut through the feverish fog of free-for-all shopping and impulse buys. They help you focus as you navigate aisle upon aisle of half-off sales and shiny things you don’t really need but feel like you do.

A budget can also help curtail extravagant gift requests. Telling someone that you want to buy them a gift that’s under $50 can hedge against extravagant designer clothes or the latest technological gadget.

Use cash!
Part of the power of cash is that it works in tandem with your budget. Walking into a store with no cards and just $50 limits your spending and forces you to buy only what you intended.

Cash also reduces your reliance on credit. Unleashing your cards to cover Christmas shopping is an easy way to enter the New Year with extra debt. Plus, the interest payments can add up and make your holiday shopping even more expensive in the long run. Stick with cash and save yourself the headache!

Play Secret Santa
Secret Santa has long been a staple of huge families that don’t have the time or money to get gifts for two parents, nine siblings, the in-laws, and all the cousins, nieces, and nephews. Everyone still gets a gift or two, but it helps the whole family out on their holiday budgets. Here’s how it works!

Have everyone write their names on scraps of paper. Include some highly specific gift ideas with the names. Then, put all the paper into a hat and shake it up. Have the secret Santas choose names from the hat one at a time. You get to buy gifts for ONLY the person you select!

What’s great about Secret Santa is that the mystery of the game offsets the expectation of getting tons of presents. It’s a fun way to save some extra cash!

So let chance decide who’s been naughty and nice, make a budget and list and check them twice, remember that some cash will suffice, and do some holiday shopping that won’t make you think twice (about derailing your financial dreams)!

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December 9, 2020

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Setting Up Your Reindeers For Success

Dasher. Dancer. Prancer. Vixen. Comet. Cupid. Donner. Blitzen. (And Rudolph too, of course.)

This is a holiday roll-call that’s instantly recognizable: the reindeer that pull Santa’s magical sleigh. But what if things got so hectic at the North Pole (not a stretch when you’re in charge of delivering presents to every child on Earth), that when it was time to hitch up the reindeer on Christmas Eve, they were all out of order?

Prancer. Cupid. Dasher. Comet. Dancer. Vixen. Blitzen. Donner.

Hmmm, someone’s missing…. what happened to Rudolph? (Looks like he got left behind at the North Pole. In all the hubbub one of Santa’s elves forgot to review the pre-flight checklist.)

Since so much can change during the year from one crazy “Happy Holidays!” to the next, your ducks – or reindeer, that is – may not even be in a row at this point. They could be frolicking unattended in a field somewhere! And who knows where your Rudolph even is.

We can help with that. An annual review of your financial strategy is key to keeping you on track for your unique goals. Lots of things can change over the course of a year, and your strategy could need some reorganizing. I mean, did you hear about everything that changed for Prancer? (What do you call a baby reindeer, anyway?)

Here are some important questions to consider at least once each year (or even more often):

1. Are you on track to meet your savings goals? A well-prepared retirement is a worthy goal. Let’s make sure nothing drove you too far off track this year, and if it did, let’s explore what can be done to get you back on the right path.

2. Do you have the potential for new savings? Did your health improve this year? Did that black mark on your driving record expire? Changes like these have the potential to positively impact your life insurance rate, but we’d need to dig in and find out what kinds of savings might be in store for you.

3. Have your coverage needs increased? Marriage, having a child, or buying a home are all instances in which your life insurance coverage probably should be increased. Have any of these occurred for you over the last year? Have you added the new family member as a beneficiary?

If you haven’t had a chance to review your strategy this year, we can fit one in before Santa shimmies down the chimney. Which of your reindeer do you need to wrangle back into the ranks before the New Year gets going?

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August 26, 2019

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.

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August 12, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

Previously on “The Black Hole of Checking”…

In Part 1, we learned that any object pulled into a black hole will be stretched into the shape of spaghetti through a process called – wait for it – spaghettification. If you threw your shoe into it, the black hole’s gravity would stretch and compress your footwear into an unimaginably thin leather noodle as it was pulled deeper and deeper into the hole. Your shoe would be unrecognizable by the time gravity had its way.

The same thing can happen to the money in your checking account. Having a child, replacing an old automobile with something newer and more reliable, or taking a last-minute trip to see the grandparents in Florida over the holidays, can put a strain on your finances and stretch your reserves farther than you might have anticipated. As new bills create a bigger and bigger hole in your budget, your financial strategy may become something you don’t recognize.

Here in Part 2, let’s talk about how assigning an identity to your money can keep your financial goals on track, and help reduce the stretching of finite resources.

For example, say you keep all of your money in your checking account. Simple is better, right? If you want to go on a family vacation, you’ll just withdraw the funds from your account. Paying in cash to secure a “great” package deal up front? You’re all over that. But what happens if you pick up some souvenirs for Uncle Bob and Aunt Alice? Hmmm…if you get something for them you’ll have to get something for Greg and Susan too. (You’ll never make that mistake again.) And you just have to try that chic little cafe that you read about – you may never pass this way again. (But how can they get away with charging that much for a mimosa?!) Buy One, Get One all day pass at “The Biggest Miniature Museum in the World”? Let’s do it!

When you’re on vacation – having fun and enjoying yourself – it might be hard to resist taking advantage of unique experiences or grabbing those unusual gifts you didn’t account for. On the other hand, you may have no problem being thrifty when travelling, but what if someone gets sick or injured and needs hospital care on the road, or the car breaks down, or there is unexpected bad weather and you have to stay an extra day or two at the hotel?

After it’s all said and done, when you return home from your fun-filled trip, you may find a gaping hole where you had a pile of cash at the beginning of the month. If you had given your money a specific role before you planned your vacation, you may not have had such a shock when you got home – and you can enjoy your memories knowing you stayed on track with your financial goals.

Give your money identity, purpose, and the potential to grow by separating it into designated accounts. Try these 3 for starters:

1. Emergency Fund. Leaky roof? Flat tire? Trip to the emergency room? Maybe you’re great at resisting impulse buys (like those fabulous shoes you spied the other day), but sometimes things happen that are out of your control. Your emergency fund is for situations like these. Unexpected, unplanned-for expenses can derail a financial strategy very quickly if you’re not prepared.

The most important thing to keep in mind about this account? Do. Not. Touch. It. Unless there’s an emergency, of course. Then replace the money in the account as quickly as possible until it’s fully funded again.

How much should you keep in your emergency fund? A good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least $1,000, then build it to 3-6 months of your annual income. However much you decide suits your financial goals, just make sure you aren’t dipping into it when you don’t have an emergency. (Note: Grabbing a great pair of heels on sale is not an emergency.)

2. Retirement Fund. If you want to retire at some point (and most of us do), this one is a no-brainer. Odds are you’ve already begun to set aside a little something for the day you can trade in your suit and tie for a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of flip-flops, but is your retirement fund in the right place now? Unlike a day-to-day checking account with a very low or non-existent interest rate, your retirement fund should be in a separate account that has some power behind it. You’re taking the initiative to put away money for your future – get it working for you! Your goal should be to grow your retirement fund in an account with as high of an interest rate as you can find.

3. Fun Fund. This category may seem frivolous if you’re trying to stick to a well-structured financial plan, but it’s actually an important piece that can help make your budget “work”! Depending on your priorities, you might contribute a little or a lot to this account, but making some room for fun might make it more palatable to save long-term.

You might try setting aside 10% of your paycheck for fun and entertainment and see how that works – is that too much or not enough? Bonus: this is easy to calculate each month. If you’re bringing in $2,000 per month, put no more than $200 in your Fun Fund.

What you do with your Fun Fund is your choice. Will it be more of a vacation fund or a concert fund? A wardrobe fund or a theme park fund? It’s all up to you. And when the rest of your money has a purpose and is growing for your future, you might feel less guilty about snagging those hot shoes you’ve had your eye on when they finally do get marked down.

Don’t let your goals and your money get lost in a black hole of coulda, woulda, shoulda. What kind of purpose do you want to give your money? I can help!

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April 1, 2019

Phishing, Part 1

Phishing, Part 1

If you’ve ever peeked in your spam folder, you’ve probably noticed multiple emails from people claiming all sorts of nonsensical and unbelievable things.

It is not recommended that you open these emails, but be aware they most likely contain links that will claim to send you to a particular webpage but in fact will send you elsewhere.

This is an example of “phishing”, and thanks to advanced spam filtering today, you may never have to deal with these kinds of threats directly. But there are other kinds of phishing you should be aware of.

What is phishing?
Phishing is the act of looking for individuals who are willing to hand over their important personal information. One technique is to use a “shotgun approach”, where the phisher attempts to contact as many people as possible. General phishing like this relies on large numbers: Even if the probability that someone would actually give their information to a phisher is something like 0.001%, if the attack vector reaches 100,000 people – which isn’t unusual – there is that chance there will be at least one victim.

Phishing can also be targeted, in which the attacker directs the strike against a particular individual. This type of attack usually involves employees of an organization or high-ranking officials, as these targets are the most valuable. This kind of phishing often requires a degree of social engineering as well, wherein the phisher may appeal to various tactics to gain information. They may pose as coworkers or customers who have lost their passwords, for example, or they may try to subtly encourage the victim through conversation.

An example of conversational phishing may unfold as follows:

Through a seemingly normal conversation with a stranger, the attacker volunteers information about their own (fictitious) children, then asks the victim about their children. To follow social norms and reciprocate, the target may provide information like school holidays, partial names, or even birthdates. This may be inadvertent, like mentioning their child recently had a birthday party. School holidays can be cross-referenced against nearby school districts to potentially find the school the victim’s children attend. Once neighborhoods are determined, this could connect to full names or addresses of the victim. And since names and birthdates are still used by many people as passwords (not recommended), this could be a lead for the phisher. Armed with passwords, addresses, birthdates, and names, a lot of damage can potentially be done.

Phishing and hacking
Since high-value targets are more likely to be educated in internet security and less likely to fall for simple spam email attacks, phishers may use more subtle tactics. These kinds of attacks usually occur against people at work. A lot of IT security relies on trust, since employees need to be able to access the systems to do their work. If someone’s credentials are compromised, though, the person who has those credentials can potentially infiltrate the IT system. This is how a lot of “hacking” is perpetrated. Certainly there are plenty of attacks against software code, but if an insider can be compromised, it may be quicker, easier, and less detectable than finding a hole in the system’s security. So phishing is a prime tool for hackers, simply because humans are more easily hacked emotionally and psychologically than IT systems with established electronic security measures.

Most people should already be aware of shady tactics a phisher might use to gain access to sensitive information – but if these attacks didn’t work, no one would use them. So someone out there must be falling victim. Make sure it isn’t you.

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