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September 28, 2020

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Jonathan Brutto

Jonathan Brutto

Financial Professional

15150 Preston Rd Suite 300

Dallas, TX 75248

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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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August 17, 2020

Dig yourself out of debt

Dig yourself out of debt

I hate to break it to you, but no matter what generation you are – Baby Boomer, Generation X, or Millennial – you’re probably in debt.

If you’re not – good on you! Keep doing what you’re doing.

But if you are in debt, you’re not alone. A study[i] by the financial organization, Comet, found:

  • 80.9 percent of Baby Boomers are in debt
  • 79.9 percent of Generation X is in debt
  • 81.5 percent of Millennials are in debt

There are some folks whose goal is to eliminate all debt – and if that’s yours, great! But one thing to keep in mind while you’re working towards that finish line is that not all debt is created equal. Carrying a mortgage, for example, may be considered a “healthy” debt. Student loan debt may feel like an encumbrance, but hopefully, your education has given you more earning power in the workforce. A car loan may even be considered a healthy debt. So, there are some types of debt that may offer you advantages.

Any credit card debt you have, however, should be dealt with asap. Credit card debt can cost money every month in the form of interest, and it gives you nothing in return – no equity, no education, no increase in earning potential. It’s like throwing money down the drain.

So, let’s get to work and look at some of the best tips for paying down credit card debt.

1. Get to know your debt
Make a commitment to be honest with yourself. If you’re in denial, it’s going to be hard to make positive changes. So take a good, hard look at your debt. Examine your credit card statements and note balances, interest rates, minimum monthly payment amounts, and due dates. Once you have this information down in black and white you can start to create a repayment strategy.

2. Get motivated
Taking on your debt isn’t easy. Most of us would rather not confront it. We may make half-hearted attempts to pay it off but never truly get anywhere. Need a little motivation? Getting rid of your credit card debt may make you happier. The Comet study asked respondents to rate their happiness on a scale of one to seven.[ii] It turns out that those who selected the lowest rating also carried the highest amounts of credit card debt. Want to be happier? It seems like paying off your credit card debt may help!

3. Develop your strategy
There are many strategies for paying off your credit card debt. Once you understand all your debt and have found your motivation, it’s time to pick a strategy. There are two main strategies for debt repayment. One focuses on knocking out the highest interest debt first, and the other method begins with tackling the smallest principal balances first. Here’s how they work:

  • Start with the highest interest rate: One of the items you should have noted when you did your debt overview is the interest rate for each account. With this method, you’ll throw the largest payment you can at your highest interest rate debt every month, while paying the minimum payments on your other debts. Utilizing this method may help you pay less interest over time.

  • Start with the smallest balance: As opposed to comparing interest rates, this method requires you to look at your balances. With this strategy, you’ll begin paying the smallest balance off first. Continue to make the minimum payments on your other accounts and put as much money as you can towards the smallest balance. Once you have that one paid off, combine the amount you were paying on that balance with the minimum you were paying on your next smallest balance, and so on. This strategy can help keep you motivated and encouraged since you should start to see some results right away.

Either strategy can work well. Pick the one that seems best for you, execute, and most importantly – don’t give up!

4. Live by a budget
As you begin chipping away at your credit card debt, it’s important to watch your spending. If you continue to charge purchases, you won’t see the progress you’re making, so watch your spending closely. If you don’t have a budget already, now would be a good time to create one.

5. Think extra payments
Once you are committed to paying off your debt and have developed your strategy, keep it top of mind. Make it your number one financial priority. So when you come across “found” money – like work bonuses or gifts – see it as an opportunity to make an extra credit card payment. The more of those little extra payments you make, the better. Make them while the cash is in hand, so you aren’t tempted to spend it on something else.

6. Celebrate your victories
Living on a budget and paying off debt can feel tedious. Paying off debt takes time. Don’t forget to take pride in what you’re trying to accomplish. Celebrate your milestones. Do something special when you get that first small balance paid off, but try to make the occasion free or at least cheap! The point is to reward yourself for your hard financial work. (Hint: Try putting up a chart or calendar in your kitchen and marking off your progress as you go!)

Reward yourself with a debt-free life Getting out of debt is a great reward in and of itself. It takes discipline, persistence, and patience, but it can be done. Come to terms with your debt, formulate a strategy, and stick to it. Your financial future will thank you!

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August 12, 2020

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

A 2017 survey found that 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.(1)

“Paycheck to paycheck” is an expression we’ve all heard, but what does it really mean? Have we taken the time to understand its implications for our daily lives and futures? Here’s a crash course in what it means to live paycheck to paycheck.

Living paycheck to paycheck technically means that all of your “income” goes towards your “outgo” each month and you’re not saving anything. You get paid, spend everything, and have to rely on that next check to make ends meet. And millions of Americans seem okay with this lifestyle of razor thin margins. They’re certainly comfortable with sharing it on their social media!

But the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle means more than just spending all you earn. It means you’re constantly on the verge of a financial catastrophe. What happens if you’re spending your whole paycheck each and every month and you lose your job? Suddenly, you’re facing your normal expenditures but the cash isn’t coming in. Or what if you face an emergency car repair? Where will you find the money to cover that unexpected expense? Living paycheck to paycheck means you’re standing right on the knife’s edge of money mayhem!

Thoughtless spending doesn’t just leave you exposed to a present-day disaster. It also means you aren’t preparing for your future. By definition, a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle excludes saving. You can’t stash money away for a house or your retirement if you let every penny fly out the window. Most Americans are poorly situated for the future; 70% have less than $1,000 in savings, and 45% have saved exactly $0.00.(2) That’s not enough to cover a new transmission, much less the retirement lifestyle most of us envision!

But there are alternatives to the paycheck to paycheck trap. You can take steps to move away from financial insecurity towards financial freedom. Let’s talk about what that would look like for you!

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July 22, 2020

What Are We Spending Money On?

What Are We Spending Money On?

We spend a lot of money.

All things told, we spend about $101 per day, whether we feel it directly or not.(1) That comes out to roughly $36,764 per year. Over half of all Americans spend more than what they earn.(2) The bulk of that goes to important categories like shelter and utilities.(3) But it doesn’t take much digging to find some less important spending patterns. Here’s a quick look at what we’re spending (i.e., wasting) our money on!

Food
How can you waste money on food? It’s essential to survival and health!

But it turns out that throwing away cash on food is really easy. Americans spend an average of $209 per month on just eating at restaurants, which comes to a total of $2,508 yearly. Add in the cost of drinks and you’re at $4,776!(4) But that’s just eating when you’re out. Another huge issue is chronically overbuying food to consume at home. We throw out around $1,600 of food per family every year.(5)

That brings us to a grand total of $6,376 dollars spent each year on restaurants, drinks, and wasted food. And that’s not including categories like takeout!

Shopping
We’re notorious shoppers. We spend around $108 on approximately five impulse purchases per month. Online shopping is a substantial category as well, with our digital purchases costing us around $84 monthly. Interestingly, we spend nearly $94 per month on subscription boxes. That adds up to $3,432 on non-essential shopping annually.

Personal care
Everyone wants to look, smell, and feel attractive. And it turns out that most people are willing to pay a king’s ransom on their appearance. Personal grooming comes out to $94.25 monthly. Gym memberships (which often go unused) cost the average American $72.53 per month. All told, we spend around $2,000 annually on looking good.

Cable and streaming
Another big category of spending is entertainment and apps. The biggest culprit here is—surprisingly—cable. On average, we shell out $90 per month for unlimited access to reality shows and documentaries, many of which are now available online. Throw in spending on movie streaming ($23.09), music streaming ($22.41), and other paid apps ($23.24), and our overall spending on digital entertainment is around $1,904.88 per year!

Tallying these four categories, we see that Americans are spending about $13,712.88 annually on non-essential items. That’s a staggering amount of money! It’s enough for a full year of college, including tuition and books.(6)

Non-essential spending does have its place—it can actually be very important to your quality of life and overall well being. But you might be surprised by how much of your financial power is getting wasted on things that are truly unnecessary or have cheaper alternatives.

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July 8, 2020

It may not be as hard as you think

It may not be as hard as you think

Once upon a time, a million dollars was a lot of money.

And it still is. If you time it right, becoming a millionaire might be within reach for nearly anyone. There are some catches, however – you’ll have to stay focused, and time plays a significant role, so starting early is part of the millionaire game.

Time is important because you’ll use the leverage of compound interest to help build your nest egg. For example, let’s assume an average rate of return of 8% in a tax-deferred account, like an IRA or a 401(k). This 8% example is lower than the historical return for the S&P since its inception in 1928. Historically, the S&P has rewarded investors with about a 10% average annual return, including dividends.[i]

Then let’s assume your current savings are at zero. Let’s also assume that you can find $100 per month in your budget to invest. $100 per month is about $3 per day.

Starting your account with your first $100 and then contributing $100 per month (every month) will yield the following amounts, assuming that your account’s returns stay at the 8% average:

  • After 10 years, you’ll have about $17,600\
  • After 15 years, you’ll have about $33,000\
  • After 20 years, you’ll have about $55,000

Uh oh. None of those numbers are even close to $1 million. To reach $1 million by saving $100 per month, you’ll need 55 years at the 8% rate of return, at which time your account would be worth approximately $1,025,599. (By the way, the account would grow by $75,000 from year 54 to year 55 since your compound growth would be based on a much bigger number.)

If you can step up your investment to $150 per month, you might be able to shave five years off your goal and reach $1 million in 50 years. At $200 per month, you might reach your goal in just over 45 years.[ii]

Looking at these numbers, ask yourself how much you can save each day. When you spend money now, it’s gone. It never has a chance to grow. By saving (and investing) instead of spending, you can help set yourself up for a comfortable future where you can afford the treats you’re skipping now so you can fund your savings.

At $15 per day – the price of dinner at a fast food restaurant – you could save $450 per month, enough to make you a millionaire in just over 35 years.

The market refers to the process of investing a consistent amount monthly, regardless of the price of shares, “dollar cost averaging”. Let time take care of the math through compounded returns. Just keep saving for your future consistently.

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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. 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.

[i] https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/042415/what-average-annual-return-sp-500.asp
[ii] https://www.investor.gov/additional-resources/free-financial-planning-tools/compound-interest-calculator

July 6, 2020

Should You Only Use Cash?

Should You Only Use Cash?

Bills and coins are outdated.

Who actually forks over cash when they’re out and about anymore? Paper money and copper coins are a relic of the past that are useless in a world of credit cards and tap-to-pay…

Except when they’re not.

Using cards and digital payment systems actually comes with some pretty serious drawbacks. Here’s a case for considering going cash only, at least for a little while!

The card convenience (and curse)
Plastic cards can make spending (a little too) easy. See an awesome pair of shoes in the store? No problem! Just swipe at the counter and you’re good to go. Online shopping is even more frictionless. Everything from new clothes to lawn chairs is a few clicks away from delivery right to your front door.

And that’s the problem.

You might not notice the effect of swiping your card until it’s too late. Those shoes were a breeze to buy until you check your bank account and see you’re in the red, or you get your credit card bill. It’s easy to find yourself in a hopeless cycle of overspending when buying things just feels so easy.

The pain of spending cash
Handing over cash can be a different phenomenon. Paying with actual dollars and cents helps you connect your hard-earned money with what you’re buying. It makes you more likely to question if you really need those shoes or clothes or lawn chairs. Studies show that people who pay with cash spend less, buy healthier foods, and have better relationships with their purchases than those who use credit cards.(1) That’s why going with cash only might be a winning strategy if you find yourself constantly in credit card debt or just buying too much unnecessary stuff every month.

Security
To be fair, cash does have some safety concerns. It can be much more useful to a criminal than a credit card. You can’t call your bank to lock down that $20 bill someone picked out of your pocket on the subway! That being said, cards expose you to the threat of identity theft. A criminal could potentially have access to all of your money. There are potential dangers either way, and it really comes down to what you feel comfortable with.

In the end, going cash only is a personal decision. Maybe you rock at only buying what you need and you can dodge the dangers of overspending with your cards. But if you feel like your budget isn’t working like it should, or you have difficulty resisting busting out the plastic when you’re shopping, you may want to consider a cash solution. Try it for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference!

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June 24, 2020

Read this before you walk down the aisle

Read this before you walk down the aisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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June 1, 2020

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

What Are the Effects of Closing a Credit Card?

Americans owe over $900 billion in credit card debt, and credit card interest rates are on the rise again – now over 15%.

If you’re on a mission to reduce or eliminate your credit card debt, you may decide to just close all your credit cards. However, some of the consequences may not be what you’d expect.

Lingering Effects: The Good and the Bad
Many of us have heard that credit card information stays on your credit report for 7 years. That’s true for negative information, including events as large as a foreclosure. Positive events, however, stay for 10 years. In either case, canceling your credit card now will reduce the credit you have available, but the history – good or bad – will remain on your credit report for years to come.

Times when cancelling a card may be your best bet:

  • A card charges an annual fee. If you’re being charged an annual fee for the privilege of having a credit card, it may be better to cancel the card, particularly if you don’t use the card often or have other options available.
  • Uncontrolled spending. If “retail therapy” is impeding your financial future by creating an ever-growing mountain of debt, it may be best to eliminate the temptation of buying with credit by cutting up those cards.

When You Might Want to Hang Onto a Credit Card:
You may not have known that one aspect your credit score is the age of your accounts. Canceling a much older account in favor of a newer account can leave a dent in your credit score. And canceling the card won’t erase any negative history, so it may be best to hang on to the older credit account as long as there are no costs to the card. Also, the effects of canceling an older account may be larger when you’re younger than if you have a long credit history.

Credit Utilization Affects Your Credit Score
Lenders and credit bureaus also look at credit utilization, which refers to how much of your available credit you’re using. Lower percentages help your credit score, but high utilization can work against you.

For example, if you have $20,000 in credit available and $10,000 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50 percent. If you close a credit card that has a credit limit of $5,000, your available credit drops to $15,000, but your credit utilization jumps to 67 percent (if the credit card balances remain unchanged). If you’re carrying high balances, going on a credit card cancelling rampage can have negative effects because your credit utilization can skyrocket.

To sum it all up, if unnecessary spending is out of control or there is a cost to having a particular credit card, it may be best to cancel the card. In other cases, however, it’s often better to just use credit cards occasionally, or if you have an emergency.

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May 27, 2020

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

How Do Youtubers Make Money?

People make tons of money on YouTube.

And a lot of it doesn’t seem to make any sense. The highest paid YouTuber is Ryan Kaji, an eight-year-old child who opens toys and plays with them on camera. He made $26 million from June 1, 2018 to June 1, 2019 (1). The list of highest earning YouTubers includes another child, multiple gamers, and a group of guys who do tricks.

So how do people make money opening toys, playing video games, or doing makeup tutorials? What value are these people bringing to their millions of viewers?

The power of the parasocial
It’s important to understand why people watch YouTube. Part of it is for the occasional funny video. Those are great, but they’re difficult to monetize. What’s become more common is for someone to start a channel dedicated to creating a certain kind of content. It can be anything from music reviews to makeup tutorials to skit comedy. Viewers stumble onto the channel and enjoy what they see, but soon something special starts to happen; they form a type of relationship with the content creator.

This is a well-observed phenomenon called a parasocial interaction. People start to feel like they know someone without ever actually meeting them in real life. You’re not just watching someone play video games or watching the news or listening to a music review. You’re spending time with someone you relate to and think of as a friend, sort of. And that results in racking up consistent viewing hours.

Ads
Roughly 1 billion hours of YouTube videos get watched every single day (2). It’s really the perfect platform for almost anyone trying to advertise their business. Content creators can become YouTube partners once they have a certain number of subscribers and watched hours. This allows them to put ads in their videos with Google Adsense, provided they follow certain guidelines.

On paper, ads don’t pay much; Forbes estimated in 2018 that top YouTube talent could make about $5 per 1,000 views from ads (3). That’s why the key is to create lots of bankable content. Uploading 5 days a week with an average of 100,000 views per video 52 weeks per year could hypothetically earn you $130,000 annually. But there’s more ways to monetize YouTube than ads.

Sponsorships
There are plenty of businesses looking for more personal ways of marketing their products. (Remember that YouTubers can have parasocial relationships with their audiences.) A recommendation from your favorite channel feels like a recommendation from a trusted friend. And brands are willing to pay big dollars to cash in on that opportunity. Compensation for a sponsored video varies on the size of a YouTuber’s audience, but on average it’s around $2,000 per 100,000 subscribers. This is where the numbers start to skyrocket. A single sponsored video per week with 100,000 views can now potentially net you $130,000 annually. At that point, you’re poised to grow your audience and further increase your cash flow.

Realistically, YouTubers make money the same way entertainers have for years. They draw attention to ads and are mouthpieces for brands. The differences are that the barriers to entry are incredibly low and scope of the audience essentially limitless. There’s no doubt that YouTube has revolutionized who gets to shape modern media.

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May 20, 2020

New Money

New Money

Last time we looked at old money.

We saw that it’s built on a very specific set of values and exists in very specific places. But what about so-called new money?

The new money story
New money is characterized by a story. It begins at nothing, or next to nothing, and builds a fortune through hard work, grit, and determination. These rags-to-riches tales have been around for a while, but they’ve gripped the American imagination, especially since the last half of the 19th century. Andrew Carnegie and Steve Jobs are the classic examples of new money narratives, both men coming from immigrant families and amassing huge fortunes for themselves to change the world.

New money values
Building a fortune from scratch relies on a different mindset than managing a pre-existing legacy. Risk taking and innovation are often encouraged and even flaunted by the new money class. It’s a forward-thinking, even progressive, attitude that’s always looking for the next way to make another dollar.

The openness of new money
Progressivism and hustle are the hallmarks of new money. That’s resulted in new money existing in a unique world. New money tends to be found in the hotspots of entertainment or technology. That means movie studios attracting actors look for a break or technical schools swarming with students trying to build a digital future. The new money ethos has also resulted in very specific spending patterns that are more public. Highly visible charities, brash social media presences, and expensive toys and gadgets are all part of the package. But so is an interest in looking like an everyman. Fashion choices tend to be simple, most classically t-shirts or turtlenecks. It’s a far cry from the aloof elegance of old money!

Blurry borders between old and new
The lines between old and new money get complicated in how life plays out. Plenty of tech fortunes have been squandered over the last 30 years, while others have quietly decided to manage their wealth in obscurity. Plus, there’s no shortage of American aristocracy looking to flex on social media!

The biggest key is that old money and new money are built on values and mindsets. You can manage wealth earned from a mobile game like an oil tycoon from a long lost era and secure a legacy for your kids. Or you can forsake your family’s business of 200 years and forge your own path with hard work and grit. It’s up to you how you manage your specific circumstance!

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May 6, 2020

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How Much Should You Save Each Month?

How much are you saving?

That might be an uncomfortable question to answer. 45% of Americans have $0 saved. Almost 70% have under $1,000 saved (1). That means most Americans don’t have enough to replace the transmission in their car, much less retire (2)!

But how much of your income should you send towards your savings account? And how do you even start? Keep reading for some useful strategies on saving!

10 percent rule
A common strategy for saving is the 50/30/20 method. It calls for 50% of your budget to go towards essentials like food and rent, 30% toward fun and entertainment, and the final 20% is saved. That’s a good standard, but it can seem like a faraway fantasy if you’re weighed down by bills or debt. A more achievable goal might be to save around 10% of your income and start working up from there. For reference, that means a family making $60,000 a year should try to stash away around $6,000 annually.

A budget is your friend
But where do you find the money to save? The easiest way is with a budget. It’s the best method to keep track of where your money is going and see where you need to cut back. It’s not always fun. It can be difficult or even embarrassing to see how you’ve been spending. But it’s a powerful reality check that can motivate you to change your habits and take control of your finances.

Save for more than your retirement
Something else to consider is that you need to save for more than just your retirement. Maintaining an emergency fund for unexpected expenses can provide a cushion (and some peace of mind) in case you need to replace your washing machine or if your kid needs stitches. And it’s always better to save up for big purchases like a vacation or Christmas gifts than it is to use credit.

Saving isn’t always easy. Quitting your spending habit cold turkey can be overwhelming and make you feel like you’re missing out. However, getting your finances under control so you can begin a savings strategy is one of the best long-term decisions you can make. Start budgeting, find out how much you spend, and start making a plan to save. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a financial professional if you feel stuck or need help!

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March 23, 2020

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Are Gym Memberships Worth It?

Let’s face it—we’ve all botched a New Year’s fitness resolution.

Sure, we started the year with great intentions and a few gym visits, but it didn’t take long for our resolve to waver and we never returned. However, many of us have kept that membership around. After all, we paid so much to sign up that we might as well hold on to it just in case our motivation comes back, right?

Wrong.

It turns out that gym membership might have been a bad value right from the start. But how can you tell? Here’s a few things to consider if you’re thinking about finally moving on from your overly ambitious New Year’s resolution.

How gym memberships work
Gym memberships seem pretty simple on the surface; you pay once a month for access to gym equipment during operating hours. But annual fees and initiation fees can add up pretty quickly, meaning that you can potentially sink hundreds of dollars into a gym. National gym chains may range in price from $164 to $1,334 per year, but the national average comes out to $696 annually. Plus, some gyms make you sign a contract locking you into a year-long membership. You have to pay for the membership regardless if you work out!

The big question: Are you paying for something you won’t use?
Gym memberships are more cost effective the more you take advantage of them. Going to the gym seven times a week at an average priced gym? Let’s do the math. You’ll pay $1.90 per visit. Go four times per week? $3.36 (1).

But let’s say you visit the gym about four times per month for an hour-long sweat session. You’ll wind up spending $14.50 per hour! To put that in perspective, we spend an average of $0.28 on Netflix per hour. Sitting around watching TV is far more cost effective than working out.

Alternatives to gym memberships
So what can you do if you want to get fit but don’t want the potential financial black hole of a gym membership? It’s often cheaper in the long run to build your own gym at home rather than getting a membership. You also might want to see if your apartment or office has a serviceable gym. If all else fails, you can always do body weight exercises. You might be surprised by how grueling and intense push-ups and squats can be!

The bottom line is that the keys to making your gym membership worth it are motivation and discipline. The cost of buying a membership isn’t enough incentive (2). You have to find a deeper drive to get you in the gym week in and week out. Check out the costs of your local gym, weigh the alternatives, and ask yourself why you want to start working out before you sign that contract!

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February 12, 2020

What's a Recession?

What's a Recession?

Most of us would probably be apprehensive about another recession.

The Great Recession caused financial devastation for millions of people across the globe. But what exactly is a recession? How do we know if we’re in one? How could it affect you and your family? Here’s a quick rundown.

So what exactly is a recession?
The quick answer is that a recession is a negative GDP growth rate for two back-to-back quarters or longer (1). But reality can be a bit more complicated than that. There’s actually an organization that decides when the country is in a recession. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) is composed of commissioners who dig through monthly data and officially declare when a downturn begins.

There’s also a difference between a recession and a depression. A recession typically lasts between 6 to 16 months (the Great Recession was an exception and pushed 18 months). The Great Depression, by contrast, lasted a solid decade and witnessed unemployment rates above 25% (2). Fortunately, depressions are rare: there’s only been one since 1854, while there have been 33 recessions during the same time (3).

What happens during a recession
The NBER monitors five recession indicators. The first and most important is inflation-adjusted GDP. A consistent quarterly decline in GDP growth is a good sign that a recession has started or is on the horizon. Then this gets supplemented by other numbers. A falling monthly GDP, declining real income, increasing unemployment, weak manufacturing and retail sales all point to a recession.

How could a recession affect you?
The bottom line is that a weak economy affects everyone. Business slows down and layoffs can occur. People who keep their jobs may get spooked by seeing coworkers and friends lose their jobs, and then they may start cutting back on spending. This can start a vicious cycle which can lead to lower profits for businesses and possibly more layoffs. The government may increase spending and lower interest rates in order to help stop the cycle and stabilize the economy.

In the short term, that means it might be harder to find a job if you’re unemployed or just out of school and that your cost of living skyrockets. But it can also affect your major investments; the value of your home or your retirement savings could all face major setbacks.

Recessions can be distressing. They’re hard to see coming and they can potentially impact your financial future. That’s why it’s so important to start preparing for any downturns today. Schedule a call with a financial professional to discuss strategies to help protect your future!

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February 10, 2020

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Is Your Employer-Provided Life Insurance Enough?

Just because your company provides you with free life insurance coverage doesn’t mean you’re fully protected.

While it certainly doesn’t hurt to have, it may not be enough to provide for your family in the event of a tragedy.

For the first time ever, more Americans have employer-provided life insurance (108 million) than have individual life insurance coverage (102 million), according to a new LIMRA study. This is important especially during Life Insurance Awareness month to make sure you’re aware that typically life insurance through your job is not portable. Which means you can’t take it with you. Everyone should make sure they have individually owned insurance to protect their family just in case they switch jobs or lose their job or potentially start your own company.

How employer-provided life insurance works.
A life insurance policy from your employer is typically a group plan that’s offered to you and your co-workers. Your policy is held by the company, and they’ll often pay most if not all the premium costs. The amount of insurance you’ll receive varies, but it’s normally one to two times your annual salary.

Problems with employer-provided life insurance.
A $50,000 payout, for example, may seem like a lot. But you may notice a problem when you stop thinking in terms of numbers on paper and look at how long the insurance money would last. You go from $50,000 per year to just $50,000, period! A life insurance benefit is essentially buying your family time to grieve and plan for their future in your absence. That might mean looking for new jobs, adjusting to a single-income lifestyle, taking out student loans, and so on.

If your employer-provided policy just matches your annual salary, your loved ones would only be covered for a single year as they go through the process of readjustment (assuming their spending habits don’t change and they don’t encounter any emergencies). In fact, 5 to 10 times your annual income is considered a reasonable amount of insurance for just this reason; it gives your loved ones plenty of time to figure things out.

Another problem with an employer-provided life insurance policy is that it depends on your employment status. If you leave that job (voluntarily or involuntarily), what might happen to your family if they are left unprotected? While employer-provided life insurance is definitely a perk, it often might not be enough.

Alternatives to employer-provided life insurance.
That’s why considering an individual plan is so important. It may not be provided by your employer, but you’ll get what you pay for – a safety net for the ones you love and the time they’ll need to recover… regardless of where you’re working.

Have questions? Feel free to contact me! I would love to help you prepare your insurance strategy and help protect your family’s future.

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February 3, 2020

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

Begin Your Budget With 5 Easy Steps

A budget is a powerful tool.

No matter how big or small, it gives you the insight to track your money and plan your future. So here’s a beginner’s guide to kick-start your budget and help take control of your paycheck!

Establish simple objectives
Come up with at least one simple goal for your budget. It could be anything from saving for retirement to buying a car to paying down student debt. Establishing an objective gives you a goal to shoot for, and helps motivate you to stick to the plan.

Figure out how much you make
Now it’s time to figure out how much money you actually make. This might be as easy as looking at your past few paychecks. However, don’t forget to include things like your side hustle, rent from properties, or cash from your online store. Try averaging your total income from the past six months and use that as your starting point for your budget.

Figure out how much you spend
Start by splitting your spending into essential (non-discretionary) and unessential (discretionary) spending categories. The first category should cover things like rent, groceries, utilities, and debt payments. Unessential spending would be eating at restaurants, seeing a movie, hobbies, and sporting events.

How much is leftover?
Now subtract your total spending from your income. A positive number means you’re making more than you’re spending, giving you a foundation for saving and eventually building wealth. You still might need to cut back in a few areas to meet your goals, but it’s at least a good start.

If you come up negative, you’ll need to slash your spending. Start with your unessential spending and see where you can dial back. If things aren’t looking good, you may need to consider looking for a lower rent apartment, renegotiating loans, or picking up a side hustle.

Be consistent!
The worst thing you can do is start a budget and then abandon it. Make no mistake, seeing some out-of-whack numbers on a spreadsheet can be discouraging. But sticking to a budget is key to achieving your goals. Make a habit of reviewing your budget regularly and checking your progress. That alone might be enough motivation to keep it up!

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January 29, 2020

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

We all know we should be saving for the future.

But depending on your stage in life, it might feel like retirement is either too far away or it’s too late in the game to make much of a difference. Regardless of your income—or which season of life you’re in—you can (and should) start saving for retirement. Here’s how to get started:

Make savings automatic
Have your employer deposit a set dollar amount or percentage from each paycheck to a savings account or your 401(k). It’s an effortless way to start loading your savings account while also reducing temptations to overspend.

Pay yourself first
Your attitude towards saving makes a big difference. It shouldn’t be something that is optional after all of your other spending. If you view saving the way you would a bill and pay it to yourself first, you will be far more likely to save.

Investigate IRA options
An IRA is a retirement account that invests your money in stocks and bonds. Many people opt for either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, though there are other types to choose from. The big difference between the traditional and the Roth is how and when their tax exemptions kick in. Contributions to the traditional are tax deductible until they are withdrawn. A Roth, on the other hand, gets taxed on contributions but withdrawals are tax deductible and get to grow tax free. The maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA is $6,000 – $7,000 per year (depending on your age), so you’ll need to consult your budget to see how much you can put away.

Establish your permanent lifestyle
It’s easy to be tempted to try to one-up our friends’ and neighbors’ lifestyles. But continually increasing your cost of living can set your retirement up for failure. Establish a basic amount of what it takes for you to live a comfortable lifestyle, and stick to that mode of living. Doing so can help you save money right now and also give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save for retirement.

Meet with a financial professional
Investing can be intimidating, especially when it’s your future on the line. Be sure to meet with a licensed professional before you make any big saving decisions. Getting an extra pair of qualified eyes on your goals and strategies is always a good move and can help bring you peace of mind about your retirement strategy!

Whether you’re just entering the workforce or retirement is right around the corner, there are many ways to contribute to your future. By adjusting your lifestyle, investing carefully, and making it a priority to prepare for the future, you can nurture your peace of mind and look forward to seeing how your financial strategy unfolds in your golden years.

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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 or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial profes

January 27, 2020

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

7 Money-Saving Tips for Budgeting Beginners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 20, 2020

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Tips for Getting Out of Debt

Americans owe a whopping amount of debt.

Total consumer debt, for example, tops $4 trillion (1), and the average household owes $6,829 on credit cards alone (2).

Debt can cause a serious drain on your financial life, not to mention increase your stress levels. You may be parting with a big slice of your income just to service the debt—money that could be put to better use to fund things like a home, your own business, or a healthy retirement account.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get out of debt. Here are 3 of them…

Create a budget
Before you can start digging yourself out of debt, you need to know how you stand with your income versus your outgo every month. Otherwise, you may be sliding deeper into debt as each week passes.

The solution? Create a budget.

First, start tracking your expenses—there are apps you can get on your phone, or even just a notebook and pencil will do. Divide your expenses into categories. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Food, utilities, rent, entertainment, misc. Add them together every week and then every month.

Then, review your spending and compare it with your income. Spending more than you make? That has to be reversed before you’ll ever be able to get out of debt. Make a plan to either reduce your expenses or find a way to raise your income.

If debt payments are driving your expenses above your income, call your lender to see if you can get a plan with lower monthly payments.

Seek out lower interest rates
If you’re paying a high interest rate on credit card debt, a good portion of your monthly payment may be going towards interest alone. That means you may not be reducing the principal—the amount you originally borrowed—as much as you could with a lower interest rate. The lower your interest rate, the more your monthly payments can lower your debt—and eventually help you get out of it.

Find out the annual percentage rate (APR) on your current credit card debt by looking at the monthly statements. Then shop around to find any lower interest rates that might be out there. The next step would be to transfer your credit card debt to that new account with the lower rate. The caveat, however, is if any fees you may be charged now or after an introductory period would nullify the savings in interest. Always make sure you understand the terms on a new card before you transfer a balance.

Another option is to apply to a lender for a personal loan to consolidate your high interest rate debt. Personal loans can have interest rates significantly below those on credit cards. Again, make sure you understand any fees, penalties, and terms before you sign up.

Increase your monthly debt payments
Now that you’ve got your spending under control, it’s time to see if you can raise your debt payments every month. There are two primary methods to do this.

First, review your expenses to see if you can cut back in some categories. Can you spend a little time each week clipping coupons to reduce your grocery bill? Can you make coffee at home rather than purchasing it at the coffee shop every day? These changes can add up! Review entertainment costs, too. Can you cut out one or more streaming or cable services? It might be a good idea to find introductory offers that can reduce your monthly payments. Check into introductory cell phone offers, too, but always read the fine print so you don’t have any surprise fees or costs down the road.

Second, make a plan to increase your income. Can you ask for a raise at work, make a case for a promotion, or find a higher paying job? If that’s not in the cards, consider working a side gig. A few extra hours a week may increase your monthly income significantly—and help get you out of debt a little faster.

Are you struggling with debt? Get in touch with me and we can work on a strategy for a debt-free future.

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January 15, 2020

7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

7 Tips for Talking to Your Partner About Money

Dealing with finances is a big part of any committed relationship and one that can affect many aspects of your life together.

The good news is, you don’t need a perfect relationship or perfect finances to have productive conversations with your partner about money, so here are some tips for handling those tricky conversations like a pro!

Be respectful
Respect should be the basis for any conversation with your significant other, but especially when dealing with potentially touchy issues like money. Be mindful to keep your tone neutral and try not to heap blame on your partner for any issues. Remember that you’re here to solve problems together.

Take responsibility
It’s perfectly normal if one person in a couple handles the finances more than the other. Just be sure to take responsibility for the decisions that you make and remember that it affects both people. You might want to establish a monthly money meeting to make sure you’re both on the same page and in the loop. Hint: Make it fun! Maybe order in, or enjoy a steak dinner while you chat.

Take a team approach
Instead of saying to your partner, “you need to do this or that,” try to frame things in a way that lets your partner know you see yourself on the same team as they are. Saying “we need to take a look at our combined spending habits” will probably be better received than “you need to stop spending so much money.”

Be positive
It can be tempting to feel defeated and hopeless that things will never get better if you’re trying to move a mountain. But this kind of thinking can be contagious and negativity may further poison your finances and your relationship. Try to focus on what you can both do to make things better and what small steps to take to get where you want to be, rather than focusing on past mistakes and problems.

Don’t ignore the negative
It’s important to stay positive, but it’s also important to face and conquer the specific problems. It gives you and your partner focused issues to work on and will help you make a game plan. Speaking of which…

Set common goals and work toward them together
Whether it’s saving for a big vacation, your child’s college fund, getting out of debt, or making a big purchase like a car, money management and budgeting may be easier if you are both working toward a common purpose with a shared reward. Figure out your shared goals and then make a plan to accomplish them!

Accept that your partner may have a different background and approach to money
We all have our strengths, weaknesses, and different perspectives. Just because yours differs from your partner’s doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Chances are you make allowances and balance each other out in other areas of your relationship, and you can do the same with money if you try to see things from your partner’s point of view.

Discussing and managing your finances together can be a great opportunity for growth in a relationship. Go into it with a positive attitude, respect for your partner, and a sense of your common values and priorities. Having an open, honest, and trust-based approach to money in a relationship may be challenging, but it is definitely worth it.

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January 13, 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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