Is the RV Life Right For You?

January 13, 2021

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Jonathan Brutto

Jonathan Brutto

Financial Professional

15150 Preston Rd Suite 300

Dallas, TX 75248

January 13, 2021

Is the RV Life Right For You?

Is the RV Life Right For You?

2020 was the year of the RV.

You might have noticed as you scrolled through social media that more of your friends, family, and maybe even your in-laws are moving out of their homes and living on the open road. Don’t believe it? Search #vanlife on Instagram and see what comes up!

It’s not hard to see why. The RV lifestyle pairs material minimalism with adventure. The possessions and mortgage payments that can weigh you down are replaced by bare essentials and the open road.

People crave freedom. A bigger house and lots of toys can’t promise happiness. If you’re a born adventurer, exploring the country in an RV might be the opportunity for escape that you’ve been waiting for.

But it’s not a decision to be made lightly. RVs cost anywhere between $60,000 and $600,000.¹ Beyond that, you’ll have to buy gas, food, and pay for vehicle maintenance. Unless you have a job that allows you to work remotely, you’ll need to save diligently in order to afford life on the road.

That fact has made the RV lifestyle an attractive retirement choice. It’s increasingly common for retirees to sell their homes and use the proceeds to buy a van or RV.

So if you are an adventurer, love freedom, and have the career or savings to afford it, life on the road might be the choice for you!

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¹ “Is an RV the Perfect Retirement Lifestyle for You?,” Margo Armstrong, The Balance, July 21, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/retire-in-an-rv-2388787

January 11, 2021

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Simple Ways to Streamline Your Budget

Is your budgeting system slowing your financial progress?

It’s not hard to tell if it is. Consistently ignoring your budget and failing to see results like increased cash flow and reduced debt could be indicators that something’s wrong.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to streamline your budgeting process. Here are two simple steps you can take to make your budget more manageable and more effective.

Prioritize your short-term budgeting goals
Splitting your cash flow between non-discretionary spending, savings, your emergency fund, and debt reduction may make you feel like you’ve got all the bases covered, but spreading yourself too thin might actually be diminishing the power of your money. It creates a house of cards that’s waiting to collapse!

Instead of trying to knock out everything at the same time, your budget should reflect your current financial situation. Prioritize where you put your money for the goal you’re trying to achieve. Start by putting all your excess cash flow towards an emergency fund. Then, target your debt. And finally, start directing your income towards building wealth. You’ll more effectively clear the obstacles that block the way towards financial independence.

Automate everything
What if there were a way to automatically make wise financial decisions without even thinking about it? That’s the power of automation.

Once you’ve determined your short-term budgeting goal, set up automatic deposits that move you closer towards achieving it. If you’re building an emergency fund, set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to a high-interest savings account every payday. You can do the same with essential bills and utilities as well.

Once you prioritize and automate your budget, there’s a great chance that you’ll see real progress towards your goals. And once you see progress you’ll feel empowered, maybe even excited, to keep pushing towards building wealth and creating financial independence.

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January 6, 2021

Bridging the Retirement Gap

Bridging the Retirement Gap

If you’re already eyeing the perfect recliner for your retirement, hold that thought. And you might want to start rifling through the ol’ couch cushions for a little extra change…

Here’s a doozy: women age 65 and older are 80% more likely to be impoverished than men of the same age.¹

That number represents a staggering degree of human tragedy. But there’s a sad logic to it when you consider that women save 43% less for retirement than their male counterparts.¹

But that’s not all. According to the 2016 Financial Finesse Gender Gap in Financial Wellness Report, to retire at age 65 (without a career break):

  • Men need $1,559,480.
  • Women need $1,717,779.

Women have to come up with $158,299 more! This increase is due to the unique set of circumstances women face while preparing for retirement:

  • Women live longer
  • Women pay more for healthcare

To summarize, women all too often aren’t in a position to save as much as men, even though they need more to sustain their retirements. The tragic result is that many spend their retirements in poverty instead of living out their dreams.

But that doesn’t have to be your story. The savings gap may seem huge, but it can be bridged. And it all starts with a solid insurance strategy. Just think of it as pulling the footrest lever on your dream retirement recliner!

Your unique situation and goals all factor into how you want to kick back when you retire. I’m here to help. When you have a moment, give me a call or shoot me an email.

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December 28, 2020

More financial tips for the new year

More financial tips for the new year

There’s nothing like the start of a brand new year to put you in a resolution-making, goal-setting, slate-cleaning kind of mood.

Along with your commitment to eat less sugar and exercise a little more, carve out some time to set a few financial aspirations for the new year. Here are some quick tips that may add up to significant benefits for you and your family.

Check your credit report
Start the new year with a copy of your credit report. Every consumer is entitled to one free credit report per year. Make it a point to get yours. Your credit report determines your credit score, so an improved score may help you get a better interest rate on an auto loan or a better plan for utilities or your phone.

Check your credit report carefully for accuracy. If you find anything that shouldn’t be there, you can file a dispute to have it removed. There are several sites where you can get your free credit report – just don’t get duped into paying for it.

Up your 401(k) contributions
The start of a new year is a great time to review your retirement strategy and up your 401(k) contributions. If saving for retirement is on your radar right now – as it should be – see if it works in your budget to increase your 401(k) contribution a few percentage points.

Review your health insurance policy
The open enrollment period for your health insurance may occur later in the year, so make a note on your calendar now to explore your health insurance options beforehand. If you have employer-sponsored health insurance, they should give you information about your plan choices as the renewal approaches. If you provide your own health insurance, you may need to talk to your representative or the health insurance company directly to assess your coverage and check how you might be able to save with a different plan.

Make sure your coverage is serving you well. If you have a high deductible plan, see if you can set up a health savings account. An HSA will allow you to put aside pretax earnings for covered health care costs throughout the year.

No spend days
Consider implementing “no spend days” into your year. Select one day per month (or two if you’re brave) and make it a no spend day. This only works well if you make it non-negotiable! A no spend day means no spur of the moment happy hours, going out to lunch, or engaging in so-called retail therapy.

A no spend day may help you save a little money, but the real gift is what you may learn about your spending habits.

Do some financial goal setting
Whether we really stick to them or not, many of us might be pretty good at setting career goals, family goals, and health and fitness goals. But when it comes to formulating financial goals, some of us might not be so great at that. Still, financial goal setting is essential, because just like anything else, you can’t get there if you’re not sure where you’re going.

Start your financial goal setting by knowing where you want to go. Have some debt you want to pay off? Looking to own a home? Want to retire in the next ten years? Those are great financial goals, but you’ll need a solid strategy to get there.

If you’re having trouble creating a financial strategy, consider working with a qualified financial professional. They can help you draw your financial roadmap.

Clean out your financial closet
Financial tools like budgets, savings strategies, and household expenses need to be revisited. Think of your finances like a closet that should be cleaned out at least once a year. Open it up and take everything out, get rid of what’s no longer serving you, and organize what’s left.

Review your household budget
Take a good look at your household budget. Remember, a budget should be updated as your life changes, so the beginning of a new year is an excellent time to review it. Don’t have a budget? An excellent goal would be to create one! A budget is one of the most useful financial tools available. It’s like an x-ray that reveals your income and spending habits so you can see and track changes over time.

Make this year your financial year
A new year is a great time to do a little financial soul searching. Freshen up your finances, revisit your financial strategies, and greet the new year on solid financial footing.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, health insurance representative, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

December 21, 2020

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Permanent or Term Life: Which is right for you?

Life insurance has many benefits.

Most people purchase life insurance to serve as a safety net for the financial health of their family if something happens to them as the primary provider. A life insurance policy in such cases could be used for funeral costs, medical bills, mortgage payments, or other expenses.

You’re finally convinced you need a life insurance policy, and you’re ready to buy. But what do you need exactly? What type of life insurance is best for you?

When preparing to purchase life insurance, there are two main types of policies to consider – permanent and term. Read on for a short primer on the differences and which one may be right for you.

Term life insurance at a glance
Term life insurance offers life insurance coverage for a set amount of time – the “term”. If you pass away during the term, the policy pays out to your beneficiary. A term policy is sometimes called a pure life policy because it doesn’t have financial benefits other than the payout to your dependents should you die within the term.

There are different terms available depending on your needs. You could purchase a term life policy for 10, 20, or 30 years.

Term life insurance pointers
When purchasing a term life policy, consider a term for the number of years you’ll need coverage. For example, you may want life insurance to provide for your child in case you die prematurely. So, you may select a 25-year term. On the other hand, you may want a life insurance policy to help with the mortgage should something happen to you. In this case, you may opt for a 30-year term which will expire when your mortgage is paid off.

You’ll need to purchase enough insurance to cover your family’s needs if something happens to you and you cannot provide for them. Term life insurance benefits could serve as income replacement for your wages, so buy enough to pay for the expenses your paycheck covers.

For example, if you cover the mortgage, car payment, and child care, make sure the term life policy you purchase can cover those expenses.

Term life insurance policies when appropriately used should expire around the time the need for them goes away, such as when your children are self-sufficient, or your mortgage is paid off.

Permanent insurance at a glance
This type of policy can provide coverage for your entire life, unlike a term policy that expires at a set time. A permanent life policy also contains an investment benefit which is known as the policy’s cash value. The cash value of a permanent life policy grows slowly over time but is tax-free (provided you stay within certain limits), so you don’t pay taxes on the accumulating value.

A permanent life policy can be borrowed against. You can borrow against the cash value, but you must abide by the repayment terms to keep the policy payout unchanged.

Some permanent life insurance policies offer dividends. The dividends are paid to the policyholders based on the insurance company’s financial profits. Policyholders can take dividends in the form of cash payouts or use them to earn interest, payback a loan on the policy, or purchase additional life insurance coverage.

Some of the key points regarding permanent life insurance include:

  • The premium can remain the same throughout the policy term if you abide by the conditions and terms in the policy
  • The policy offers a guaranteed death benefit

Cost of life insurance
Term life insurance is generally less expensive than permanent life insurance because the policy has a pre-selected term. Permanent life insurance, on the other hand, covers the insured for their entire lifespan, so you can expect premiums to be higher.

Which life insurance policy is right for you?
If you aren’t sure which policy is right for you, talk to a qualified financial professional who can help you find the right type of life insurance policy to meet your goals and budget.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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 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
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
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
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.

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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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
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
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
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
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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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
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
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
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.

November 23, 2020

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Dollar Cost Averaging Explained

Most of us understand the meanings of “dollar” and “cost”, and we know what averages are…

But when you put those three words together – dollar cost averaging – the meaning may not be quite as clear.

Dollar cost averaging refers to the concept of investing on a fixed schedule and with a fixed amount of money. For example, after a careful budget review, you might determine you can afford $200 per month to invest. With dollar cost averaging, you would invest that $200 without regard to what the market is doing, without regard to price, and without regard to news that might impact the market temporarily. You become the investment equivalent of the tortoise from the fable of the tortoise and the hare. You just keep going steadily.

When the market goes up, you buy. When the market goes down, you can buy more.

The gist of dollar cost averaging is that you don’t need to be a stock-picking prodigy to potentially succeed at investing. Over time, as your investment grows, the goal is to profit from all the shares you purchased, both low and high, because your average cost for shares would be below the market price.

Hypothetically, let’s say you invest your first $200 in an index fund that’s trading at $10 per share. You can buy 20 shares. But the next month, the market drops because of some news that said the sky was falling somewhere else in the world. The price of your shares goes down to $9.

You might be thinking that doesn’t seem so great. But pause for a moment. You’re not selling yet because you’re employing dollar cost averaging. Now, with the next month’s $200, you can buy 22 shares. That’s 2 extra shares compared to your earlier buy. Now your average cost for all 42 shares is approximately $9.52. If your index fund reaches $10 again, you’ll be profitable on all those shares. If it reaches $12, or $15, or $20, now we’re talking. To sum up, if your average cost goes up, it means your investment is doing well. If the price dips, you can buy more shares.

Using dollar cost averaging means that you don’t have to know everything (no one does) and that you don’t know for certain what the market will do in the next day, week, or month (no one does). But over the long term, we have faith that the market will go up. Because dollar cost averaging removes the guesswork involved with deciding when to buy, you’re always putting money to work, money that may provide a solid return in time.

You may use dollar cost averaging with funds, ETFs, or individual stocks, but diversified investments are potentially best. An individual stock may go down to zero, while the broad stock market may continue to climb over time.

Dollar cost averaging is an important concept to understand. It may save you time and it may prevent costly investment mistakes. You don’t have to try to be an expert. Once you understand the basics of dollar cost averaging, you may start to feel like an investment genius!

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. 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. Examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

November 18, 2020

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The Most Important Retirement Rule

The best way to determine your retirement target savings is to use your income.

Here’s why.

Almost nobody wants to work 40 hours a week in retirement. Not you, not me. To avoid that, you must have money at your disposal to cover expenses like food, travel, and medical bills.

But how much do you need?

There’s a 38% chance that if you retire at 65 you will live to 85, and a 5% chance that you’ll make it to 95.¹ That means you’ll need enough cash to cover at least 20 years of life with no income.

This is where your paycheck comes into play.

Aiming to save 20 to 30 times your income helps prepare you to maintain your current lifestyle into retirement. You might even have extra spending money if you’re debt free!

Plus, it forces you to scale your savings as your income grows.

Setting a goal based solely on how much you want to spend in retirement can result in lowering your savings goal. You might splurge more now, telling yourself that you’ll just live on less later. But you’re cheating your future self!

Using your income as a retirement benchmark forces you to increase your savings amount as your paycheck grows. Let’s say you make $80,000 annually and you start saving. Your goal is to stash away 20 times your income, or about $1.6 million.

After a while, you’re able to save 5 years worth of earnings, or about $400,000.

But then you get a raise! Suddenly you’re making $100,000 per year. Your retirement target shifts up accordingly to $2 million. That $400,000 you have in the bank is a hefty slice of cash, but it’s now only worth 4 years of income instead of 5.

In other words, basing your saving around your income actually encourages you to save more as your income increases.

The best thing about this method is that it focuses on the most important part of retiring—to sustain the lifestyle that you envision. Meet with a licensed financial professional to map out what that would look like for you and how much you must save to make that vision a reality.

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¹ “How Long Will Your Retirement Really Last?,” Simon Moore, Forbes, Apr 24, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/simonmoore/2018/04/24/how-long-will-your-retirement-last/?sh=31a59fb37472

November 11, 2020

How Much Should You Pay For a Car?

How Much Should You Pay For a Car?

Cars will drain your wealth.

In 2019, Americans were spending about $773.40 per month on their vehicles, or $9,281 annually.¹ That’s like owning a tiny house whose value nosedives the instant you buy it!

That’s not even counting the opportunity cost of throwing that money at a car. How much could that cash grow if it were invested or saved?

That’s why you should follow this simple rule for guarding your wealth from a car.

It’s called the 20/4/10 rule, and it’s composed of three parts. Let’s explore them one by one.

Start with at least a 20% downpayment.

Committing a hefty downpayment to a car curbs how much you’ll lose in interest later down the road. It’s always best to cover as much as you can up front with cash.

Finance the car for no more than 4 years.

How long would you want to dump money into an “investment” that doesn’t grow in value? Not long! Keep your financing period short and sweet and then get back to saving for your future.

Dedicate no more than 10% of your income to car expenses.

Your cash flow is a powerful wealth building tool if it keeps, well, flowing. Don’t let a car divert it somewhere else that it won’t grow and won’t build wealth.

Remember, this is not a bulletproof strategy.

You might be facing substantial mortgage or credit card debt obligations that make it difficult to afford the car you want. It’s always a good idea to meet with a licensed financial professional before you commit to buying a new vehicle.

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November 4, 2020

Disappearing Pensions and Protecting Your Retirement

Disappearing Pensions and Protecting Your Retirement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you.

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

November 2, 2020

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

Two Rules That Could Save Your Financial Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 26, 2020

Is Your Home An Investment?

Is Your Home An Investment?

It’s a law of the universe that your house is an investment, right?

Just ask your grandparents who bought a $250,000 home for $50,000 during the 1950s. Better yet, listen to your savvy landlord buddy who rules an urban real estate empire that they gobbled up following the Great Recession. We’re surrounded by evidence that conclusively demonstrates the power of houses as investments… or are we?

Hmmm.

It turns out that buying a place of residence may not actually pay off in the long run like it might appear on paper. Here’s why you might want to rethink having your primary residence be an investment only.

Houses (usually) don’t actually grow more valuable
Think about that suburban mansion your grandparents snagged for $50,000 that eventually “grew” to be worth $250,000. On paper, that looks like an awesome investment; that house quintupled in value! But remember, $1 in 1950 had about the purchasing power of $10 today. Four gallons of gas or two movie tickets were just one buck!¹ That means $50,000 at that time could buy a $539,249 house today. Your grandparents actually lost money on that house, even though it looked like they made off like bandits!

It’s all because of one simple feature of economics: inflation. Prices tend to rise over time, meaning that your dollar today doesn’t go as far as it would have in 1950. So while it looks like your grandparents netted a fortune on their house, they actually didn’t. They lost over half its value! Unless your neighborhood suddenly spikes in popularity with young professionals or you start renting, your house probably won’t accrue any real worth beyond inflation.

Houses have to be maintained
But it’s not just that houses usually don’t actually appreciate in value. They also cost money in property taxes, utilities, and maintenance. Homeowners spend, on average, $1,105 annually to maintain their dwelling places.² You can expect to pay $12,348 annually on the average mortgage and $2,060 for utilities.³ & ⁴ That comes out to a total of $15,513 per year on keeping the house and making it livable. Let’s say your home is worth about $230,000 and appreciates by 3.8% every year. It will grow in value by about $8,740 by the end of the year. That’s barely more than half of what it costs to keep the house up and running! Your house is hemorrhaging money, not turning a profit.

It’s important to note that homeownership can still generally be a good thing. It can protect you from coughing up all your money to a landlord. Buying a property in an up-and-coming neighborhood and renting it out can be a great way to supplement your income. Plus, there’s something special about owning a place and making it yours. But make no mistake; unless you strike real estate gold, your place of residence probably shouldn’t be (primarily) an investment. It can be home, but you might need to rely on it to help fund your retirement!

Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings, investment, or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings, investment, or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.


“7 Things You Could Buy For $1 in 1950,” Megan Elliott, Showbiz Cheatsheet, Oct 9, 2016, https://www.cheatsheet.com/money-career/things-you-could-buy-for-1-dollar.html/

“How Much Should You Budget For Home Maintenance,” Paula Pant, The Balance, May 26, 2020, https://www.thebalance.com/home-maintenance-budget-453820

“National Average Monthly Mortgage Payment,” Hannah Rounds, LendingTree, July 11, 2018, https://www.lendingtree.com/home/mortgage/national-average-monthly-mortgage-payment/#:~:text=What%20is%20the%20average%20monthly,the%20typical%20homeowners'%20monthly%20income

“How much is the average household utility bill?,” Nationwide, https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/personal-finance/articles/average-cost-of-utilities#:~:text=The%20typical%20U.S.%20family%20spends,climate%2C%20and%20your%20usage%20patterns

October 7, 2020

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Money

Family finances isn’t always a fun topic.

But getting in the habit of discussing money early on in your relationship may help pave the way for a smoother future. Whether or not you see eye to eye, learning each other’s spending habits and budgeting styles can help avoid any financial obstacles in the future. Below are some tips on getting started!

Talk about money regularly
One of the best ways to approach a conversation about money is to decide in advance when you’re going to have it, rather than springing it on your spouse out of the blue. Family budgeting means making the time to talk upfront and staying transparent about it on a consistent basis. If you and your spouse choose to set a monthly or annual budget, commit to sitting down and reviewing family expenses at the end of each month to see what worked and what didn’t.

Start a budget
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you don’t have a family budget and don’t know where to start. However, with the development of mobile applications and online banking, you can now more easily track your spending habits to find ways to cut unnecessary expenses. For example, if you see that you’re going out to dinner most nights, you can try replacing one or two of those evenings out with a home cooked meal. Small changes to your routine can make saving easier than you might have thought!

Remember your budgeting goals
Budgeting comes down to a simple question—how will these money decisions affect the happiness of my family? For example, you might need to ask yourself if taking an awesome vacation to your favorite theme park will give your family more happiness than fixing your minivan from 2005. Can’t do both? You aren’t necessarily forgoing the vacation to fix your car; instead, you might need to invest in your car now rather than potentially letting a problem worsen. You might then decide to rework your budget to set aside more money every month to take the trip next year.

The key is that talking to your spouse about money may actually become more about talking to them about your goals and family. When you put it that way, it may be a much more productive and rewarding conversation!

Even if you haven’t discussed these things before you walked down the aisle, it’s never too late to sit down with your spouse. This topic will continue over time, so talking about your financials with your partner as you approach new milestones and experience different life events as a family can help you financially prepare for the future.

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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
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
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
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 21, 2020

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Many of us may be chair-bound during the workday and may come home lethargic and sluggish – seeming results of a sedentary lifestyle and some potentially unhealthy habits of office life.

You might be itching to break this cycle and establish some healthier habits for yourself, but you don’t want to break your budget either.

If you’re interested in improving your healthy habits – but aren’t interested in spending a lot of money to do it – read on!

Getting more exercise
Many people equate maintaining a regular exercise regimen with an expensive gym membership, but you don’t have to have one to exercise. One can perform body-weight exercises just about anywhere, so getting in some sit ups, push ups, squats, and a brisk jog can be free of charge. Other body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, may require finding a place to do them, but all one needs is a horizontal bar. This can range from a sturdy tree limb to the monkey bars at the playground.

Not sure where to begin? There are a myriad of free videos and programs online for all ages, goals, and body types. (As always, get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.) If an exercise program is all new to you, you might want to start with only 10-15 minutes, then work up from there.

It does require forming a habit to establish a regular exercise routine. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build exercise into a part of your day. That way, a sense of something missing may arise when the exercise is not completed, which can be a motivation to get the workout in.

Eating healthy
This one may be a little harder to solve than the exercise issue, because saving money on your food bill may require a bigger time commitment than you’re used to, with additional shopping and food preparation. The good thing about fruits and vegetables is that many of them can be eaten raw with minimal prep time.

Internet shopping provides a myriad of resources for finding good deals for nutritious foodstuffs. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there may also be a local communal garden[i] in your area. Some apartment complexes offer their roofs to be used as gardens, and for those with no other options, growing right in your high-rise apartment is feasible[ii]. One of the best parts about gardening? It may give you some exercise in the process.

Unfortunately, most people can’t raise their own livestock, so for meat (and alternative protein sources) online delivery is an option, as well as shopping sales and using coupons at your local grocery store.

If all of this seems like too great of a commitment (admittedly it may take some extra work), there are other ways to start the journey without running headlong into an agricultural venture. Simply avoiding processed and fast foods is a start, as these options can be more expensive and may offer less in the way of solid nutrition. And if you find the “healthy” option too bland, make a pledge to yourself to stick with it until your taste buds become accustomed to the new foods, or experiment with spices and herbs to increase the flavor intensity.

Eating healthy and beginning an exercise program certainly demand a degree of attention and commitment, but they do not always require a lot of money. Regardless of what advertisers want you to believe, it is possible to stay in shape without a gym membership or expensive home gym equipment, and you can eat healthy without spending a week’s paycheck in the grocery store’s organic aisle.

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September 16, 2020

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

A Life Insurance Deep Dive

We’ve explored the basics of life insurance, how it works, and what it’s for.

Today we’ll be fleshing out some concepts you might encounter as you look at your options for protecting your family. Let’s start with the different kinds of life insurance.

Different types of life insurance
Life insurance will almost always have a few basic parts—the death benefit (the amount paid to your loved ones upon your passing), the policy itself (the actual insurance contract), and the premium (how much you pay for the life insurance policy).

There’s a wide range of life insurance policies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

  • Term life insurance is the most straightforward form. It lasts for a set amount of time (the term), during which you pay a premium. You and your beneficiaries won’t receive any benefits if you don’t pass away during the term. This type of policy typically doesn’t feature other benefits on its own (you may be able to add other benefits with what is called a rider).
  • Whole life insurance is exactly what it sounds like. It never expires and is guaranteed to pay a benefit whenever you pass away. But it often comes with other benefits. For instance, it can include a saving component called a cash value. It usually builds with interest and you can take money from it any time.
  • Indexed Universal Life Insurance is similar to whole life insurance, but the cash value is tied to the market. The market is up? Your cash value goes up. The market goes down? Your cash value is actually shielded from loss.

Each of these types of life insurance have different strengths and weaknesses. A term policy might be right for you while a whole life policy might be better for your neighbor. Talk with a financial professional to see which one fits your needs and budget!

The right amount of life insurance
But can you have too little life insurance? How about too much? The answer to both of those questions is yes. In general, the purpose of life insurance is to replace your income in case of your passing for your loved ones and family. That should be your guidestone when deciding how substantial a policy to purchase. Typically, you’re looking at about 10 times your annual income. That’s enough to replace your yearly earnings, pay-off potential debts, and guard against inflation. That means someone earning $35,000 would want to shop around for about $350,000 worth of coverage.

Employer life insurance
This means that most employer-provided life insurance isn’t enough to fully protect you and your family. There’s no doubt that a free policy from your workplace is great. But they typically only cover about a year of wages. That’s not nearly what you need to provide peace of mind to your beneficiaries! Don’t necessarily refuse your employer-provided life insurance, but make sure that it supplements a more substantial policy.

Still have questions? Reach out to a licensed financial professional and ask for guidance! And stay tuned for next week’s article where we’ll debunk some common life insurance myths!

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before enacting a life insurance policy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional to discuss your options.