What It Means To Live Paycheck to Paycheck

August 12, 2020

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Dani Sumner

Dani Sumner

Financial Professional

791 Price Street
Suite 320
Pismo Beach, CA 93449

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July 31, 2020

Tips For Working At Home

Tips For Working At Home

You’ve most likely become a work-at-home pro over the last few months.

At this point you’re probably perfectly comfortable with your routine and feel like you’re highly productive!

But you also might need a refresher on some working at home basics. Even at the office—where you’re more likely to be held accountable—it’s easy to slide into bad habits. Here’s a quick rundown of some tips to help you get back in your groove!

Start strong
Sleeping in is almost always a temptation. Crawling out of bed, hitting the snooze button until it breaks, and rushing out the door just feel like a routine to many of us! Working from home can compound this. Suddenly, you have the luxury of peacefully sleeping until 8:55am, making some tasteless instant coffee, and booting up your laptop in your PJs right before your 9 o’clock video call. Sounds like the life, right?

But this ritual of jumping right from your mattress to your dining room table/temporary desk can have serious drawbacks. Staring at a computer screen while barely keeping your eyelids open is an incredibly uninspiring way to start a day. It’s much better to do things that help you wake up and get your mind focused. Make breakfast! Go for a walk! Meditate! Use that time you would normally spend looking at brake lights for something productive.

Make a workspace
Homes are (hopefully) relaxing. They’re where we go at the end of a long, stressful day to binge watch shows, eat delicious food, and spend time with our families and friends. Those associations can make working from home tricky. You might notice that the temptations to watch TV, talk to a roommate, or reorganize your kitchen for the 100th time are interfering with your job performance.

The solution to this problem is to create a workspace in your home that is dedicated to being productive. Remind your family that you love them, but that you’ll need some space when you’re in your home office. Move TVs and other distractions out and create a place where you can focus. And it’s probably wise to avoid setting yourself up in your bedroom unless absolutely necessary!

Always communicate
One of the biggest downsides of working at home is that it can strain communication with your coworkers. On one hand, that’s probably not awful. Less chatter with your office buddies about the latest reality TV show might be a welcome productivity booster! But collaborating with your team, getting approvals from bosses, and receiving feedback are essential parts of getting projects done and growing your skillset.

So don’t go off the grid. Stay in touch with your colleagues. Ask your boss for feedback. Get advice from your mentors. Staying vocal keeps work moving forward, it keeps you socialized and feeling accomplished, and it reminds the higher-ups that you still exist!

Whether you’ve finally decided to upgrade your work-at-home game or you just needed a reminder, try out these tips and let me know how it goes!

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July 27, 2020

Power Naps

Power Naps

It’s 3:00 pm on a Wednesday and you’re running out of steam.

You didn’t get much sleep last night and keeping your eyes open feels impossible. The energy drinks and coffees and caffeine pills gave you a quick boost in the morning, but your yawns are getting deeper and that stack of papers is starting to look like a comfy pillow. What can you do?

It turns out that a quick power nap might be the solution to your midday energy slump. But there’s an art and a science to productive sleep. Here’s a quick guide to power naps!

The science of sleep
Sleep is surprisingly complicated. Even though we all need it to function and survive, scientists haven’t been able to figure out exactly why our bodies and brains have to shut down for about 8 hours every night. Theories exist (you can read those here), but there’s no definitive answer. For the purpose of power naps, what’s important is understanding what happens while you sleep.

Your body goes through 4 different stages while it sleeps. The first three are essentially your body’s transitioning from a light sleep (stage 1) to a deep sleep (stage 3). These are followed by the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage. This is when your brain processes information and when most people experience dreams. You then start the cycle over at stage one and repeat. A full four stage cycle happens over about 90 minutes, and it occurs multiple times when you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep.

The art of power naps
The key to nap powerfully is to control when you wake up in the sleep cycle. The goal is to wake up during the lightest stage of sleep. That normally occurs within 20 to 30 minutes after drifting off. Anything more than that will have you waking up in the middle of a deep stage of sleep. Ever emerge from a nap feeling like you’re on a different planet? Then you know how awful waking up too far into a sleep cycle can feel!

The benefit of power naps
A quick nap that doesn’t go through all the sleep cycles can have big benefits. It can boost alertness and motor function for up to two to three hours.(1) And it normally doesn’t produce the stress-inducing and hyperactive side effects of caffeine. Naps that go over 30 minutes can still have benefits as well, despite the grogginess.(2)

The greatest drawback of the power nap is how inconvenient it can be in an office setting. But if you find yourself working at home, it might be worth developing a nap routine. Skip the mid-afternoon coffee, let everyone know you’ll be unavailable for around 30 minutes, get some quick shut-eye and see how it goes!

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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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June 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

All About Food Deserts

You’re hungry.

You just got home from work, you haven’t had anything since lunch, and you need a bite to eat ASAP. What do you do? Most of us just pop over to the local grocery store, pick up some ingredients, and prepare a meal. But that’s actually not possible for many Americans who live in areas without access to fresh groceries. It’s a phenomenon known as “food deserts”, and it affects millions of people throughout the country.

What’s a food desert?
Defining food deserts can be tricky. Roughly speaking, a food desert is an area where residents have limited access to healthy food options. But limited access doesn’t always look the same. The United States Department of Agriculture looks at things like distance from grocery stores, income, and access to vehicles when delineating a food desert.(1) Consider a few examples…

Let’s say you live in a densely populated, low income, urban area. You and your neighbors mostly take public transportation to work, and there aren’t many cars to go around. While there might be plenty of gas stations and corner stores nearby, the closest supermarket or grocery store is around a mile away. Technically speaking, you live in a food desert. You don’t have easy access to healthy food options.

But there are examples from the other side of the spectrum. Let’s say you live in a low income rural area. You own a vehicle out of necessity, but your closest neighbors are a mile away and the closest real grocery store is over ten miles away. Once again, you would technically live in a food desert. The settings and details are totally different, but getting healthy food is still a massive hassle.

Why do food deserts matter?
Remember that a food desert is all about access to healthy food. There might be plenty of fast food and processed food to be found in urban and rural food deserts. But living on junk food carries a steep price tag. The upfront cost of constantly eating out can add up quickly. That’s already less than ideal for a family in a low-income neighborhood. But consuming junk food may also increase your risk for obesity and other health problems. That could eventually translate into increased healthcare expenses. It’s a double whammy of problems; you pay more for bad food that will cost you more later down the road!

How many people live in food deserts?
According to a 2009 report by the USDA, there were roughly 23.5 million people who lived in food deserts.(2) About half of those people were impoverished.(3) Americans drive on average over 6 miles to go grocery shopping.(4) In the Lower Mississippi Delta, locals sometimes drive over 30 miles just to find a supermarket!(5)

We’re still trying to figure out solutions for food deserts. Some communities have formed local gardens that grow fresh produce. Grocery trucks have started to pop up throughout the country, bringing healthy options into neighborhoods. Only time will tell for the long-term effectiveness of these solutions!

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June 19, 2020

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

3 Ways to Shift from Indulgence to Independence

On Monday mornings, we’re all faced with a difficult choice.

Get up a few minutes early to brew your own coffee, or sleep a little later and then whip through a drive-thru for your morning pick-me-up?

When that caffeine hits your bloodstream, how you got the coffee may not matter too much. But the next time you go through a drive thru for that cup o’ joe, picture your financial strategy shouting and waving its metaphorical arms to get your attention.

Why? Each and every time you indulge in a “luxury” that has a less expensive alternative, you’re potentially delaying your financial independence. Delay it too long and you might find yourself working when you should be enjoying a comfortable retirement. Sound dramatic? Alarmist? Apocalyptic? But that’s how it happens – one $5 peppermint mocha at a time. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy an indulgence every once in a while. You gotta “treat yourself” sometimes, right? Just be sure that you’re sticking with your overall, long-term strategy. Your future self will thank you!

Here are 3 ways to shift from indulgence to independence:

1. Make coffee at home. Reducing your expenses can start as simply as making your morning coffee at home. And you might not even have to get up earlier to do it. Why not invest in a coffee pot with a delay brewing function? It’ll start brewing at the time you preset, and what’s a better alarm clock than the scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen? Or from your bedside table… (This is a judgment-free zone here – do what you need to do to get up on time in the morning.)

Get started: A quick Google search will yield numerous lists of copycat specialty drinks that you can make at home.

2. Workout at home. A couple of questions to ask yourself:

1) Will an expensive gym membership fit into your monthly budget? 2) How often have you gone to the gym in the last few months?

If your answers are somewhere between “No” and “I’d rather not say,” then maybe it’s time to ditch the membership in favor of working out at home. Or perhaps you’re a certified gym rat who faithfully wrings every dollar out of your gym membership each month. Then ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles that an expensive gym might offer. Elliptical, dumbbells, and machines with clearly printed how-tos? Yes, of course. But a hot tub, sauna, and an out-of-pocket juice bar? Maybe not. If you can get in a solid workout without a few of those pricey extras, your body and your wallet will thank you.

Get started: Instead of a using a treadmill inside the gym, take a walk or jog around your local park each day – it’s free! If you prefer to work out at a gym, look into month-to-month membership options instead of paying a hefty price for a year-long membership up front.

3. Ditch cable and use a video streaming service instead. Cable may give you access to more channels and more shows than ever before, but let’s be honest. Who has time to watch 80 hours of the greatest moments in sports every week? Asking yourself if you could cut the cable and wait a little longer for your favorite shows to become available on a streaming service might not be a bad idea. Plus, who doesn’t love using a 3-day weekend to binge-watch an entire series every now and then? There’s also the bonus of how easy it is to cancel/reactivate a streaming service. With cable, you may be locked into a multi-year contract, installation can be a hassle (and they may add an extra installation fee), and you can forget about knowing when the cable guy is actually going to show up.

Get started: Plenty of streaming services offer free trial periods. Go ahead and give them a try, but be careful: You may have to enter your credit card number to access the free trial. Don’t forget to cancel before your trial is over, or you will be charged.

Taking time to address the luxuries you can live without (or enjoy less often) has the potential to make a huge impact on your journey to financial independence. Cutting back here and investing in yourself there – it all adds up.

In what areas do you think you can start indulging less?

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May 4, 2020

Where Did Banks Come From?

Where Did Banks Come From?

Banks are so common that we never really question where they came from.

But banks actually have come a long way since they first got started. Here’s a quick lesson on the origins of banks!

The First Banks
Coins first came on the scene as a way to pay for goods or services around the 5th or 6th century BC. But there was a problem; where do you store huge troves of them? Homes were vulnerable to robbery. So people started trusting temples with their cash. They were everything you would want—accessible but still secure, temples were the perfect balance of public and prestigious. Eventually, temples started loaning out money in addition to protecting it.

Eventually, the Romans created distinct banking institutions. These were large-scale enterprises that developed enormous power; they could confiscate land from nobles if they weren’t paying back their obligations. Some of these institutions even outlasted the empire after it fell.

Medieval Banks
The Middle Ages were an odd time for banking. The Catholic Church developed strict rules about usury; lending money for profit was seen as decidedly unchristian. In a somewhat dark twist, small-time money lenders were often heavily regulated as the Church started employing private merchant bankers to fund its various exploits.

These bankers had one problem; they failed a lot. The Middle Ages were violent and kings often turned to papal bankers for war time loans. It wasn’t uncommon for rulers to default on these loans either due to defeat or costly victories, bankrupting lenders.

Goldsmiths and Endless War
This only got worse as wars became intercontinental during the Age of Discovery. The English in particular found themselves in constant war with both Spain and France and started looking for innovative ways of funding their conquests. Private citizens in England had started taking their money to goldsmiths for safekeeping. Goldsmiths often had huge vaults, meaning they could easily protect cash for a fee. They also started issuing notes that allowed customers to withdraw money as they needed.

The crown was not so lucky. The credit of England was so bad that by the end of the 1600s they couldn’t borrow enough money to build a navy. Merchants came together to form a centralized lending institution to raise money and make loans on behalf of the government. They started issuing bonds and banknotes to customers and essentially became one of the first centralized banks in the world.

Banking would evolve by leaps and bounds as the industrial revolution transformed European economies in the 18th and 19th centuries. But the foundations of modern banking had already been set to fuel the massive technological changes of the next few centuries.

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April 29, 2020

Budget Date Ideas

Budget Date Ideas

Budgeting might seem like the death knell for your dating life.

No more extravagant dinners? No more fun times at the movies? No more nights out on the town? How else can you keep that spark alive? But sometimes adding constrictions to your dating life can be a fun change of pace and actually spice things up. Here are some great budget-friendly date ideas.

Cook dinner together
An expensive dinner in a nice part of town is always a killer date idea. But it can start to add up if you’re not careful. That’s why cooking a special dinner at home as a couple is a great alternative. You save money on ingredients, you get real portion sizes that will last you for days, and it’s a fun activity that takes teamwork. Not a chef by nature? YouTube will be your best friend. There are tons of great recipe walkthroughs that will help you two knock this one out of the park!

Go on a hike
You should never tell your partner to take a hike. But you should definitely ask your partner to go on a hike! There’s nothing much better than some physical exertion in the great outdoors with someone you care about. Just remember that this one can add up if you’re not careful. Here are some pointers to make your hike a thrifty winner:

-Drive your most fuel efficient car

-Avoid cutesy stops full of expensive trinkets

-Research and see if the trail you’re hiking charges for parking

-Pack as much food as possible

Follow these tips and you might be surprised how inexpensive a trek can be!

Watch a sunset
Sunsets are incredible. There’s no reason that you and your significant other shouldn’t be sitting outside to take in the everyday beauty of the sun slipping behind the horizon. Any sunset is good, but here are a few steps you can take to find the absolute best sunset for your dollar!

-Choose the right day. The best sunsets typically occur a few hours after rain while there’s still a bit of cloud coverage. Too many clouds hide the sun, but just a few will catch the final light of the day. Check your forecast ahead of time!

-Choose the right location. You don’t have to go far to find the perfect sunset viewing spot. Watching the last beams of the sun shine through skyscrapers? Amazing. Hitting up a small, local airport to watch planes at twilight? Gorgeous. Bathing in the light of golden hour on your front porch with your gal (or guy) beside you? One for the books.

-Pack a picnic. Wherever you decide to watch the sunset with your partner, just remember to pack some food. It’s a great alternative to an atmospheric (and expensive) restaurant!

Creativity is key. The more inventive your budget date ideas are, the more memorable they’ll be. You might find yourself looking back on your budget dating years as some of the best and most exciting of your relationship!

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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 17, 2020

Habits of Successful People

Habits of Successful People

Successful people come from all types of backgrounds.

But did you know there are certain habits they tend to have in common? What’s better yet, they’re mostly practices that don’t require a huge budget to start doing. Here are three concrete ways that you can imitate the wealthy—starting today!

Wake up early (but also get enough sleep)
Let’s establish right away that most people shouldn’t wake up at four in the morning if you’re going to bed at midnight. Lack of sleep can exacerbate or cause dozens of health and mental issues ranging from obesity to depression (1). That’s the exact opposite of what rising with the sun is supposed to do!

The primary perk of going to bed early and waking up early is that it helps give you control of your day. You’re not simply rolling out of bed forty-five minutes before work and coming home too tired to do anything useful. Instead, you get to devote your most productive hours to something that you care about, whether that’s meditating, working on a passion project, or exercising. Speaking of which…

Exercise
Exercise is something that the successful tend to prioritize. One survey found that 76 percent of the wealthy devoted 30 minutes or more a day to some kind of aerobic exercise (2). It seems obvious, but working out doesn’t just improve physical health; it can help ward off depression and increase mental sharpness (3). It’s no wonder so many successful people make time to exercise.

Read
Almost 9 out of 10 wealthy people surveyed said they devote thirty minutes a day to reading. Why? It turns out that it can improve mental awareness and helps keep your brain fine-tuned (4). But reading can also be a valuable way of expanding your perspective, learning new ideas, and drawing inspiration from unexpected places.

Some of these habits might seem intimidating. Switching your bedtime back three hours so you can wake up before sunrise is a big commitment, as is working out consistently or reading books if you’re just used to scanning social media. Try starting off small. Get out of bed thirty minutes earlier than usual for a week and see if that makes a difference. One day a week at the gym is much better than zero, and reading a worthwhile article (like this one!) might pique your appetite for more. Whatever your baby step is, keep expanding on it until you’re an early rising, iron-pumping, and well-read machine!

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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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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 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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December 25, 2019

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

Ways to Curb Holiday Spending

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

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

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

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

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

$127.69 x 3 = $383.07

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

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December 23, 2019

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 11, 2019

Party of Two?

Party of Two?

Life insurance is the most personal type of insurance you can have in today’s world.

But there seems to be a lot of confusion about it. Every consumer has different priorities and feelings. Add to that the fact that life insurance can be used for a variety of financial goals and needs, and you have a recipe for befuddlement.

When it comes to life insurance, most agree that if you have children, you should probably have it. There is no question. But what if you don’t have children? Do you need to purchase life insurance? Here’s why it may still be important, even if you don’t have kids now (or don’t plan to):

Many households need a dual income to survive.
Since women began entering the workforce en masse in 1960, household incomes have been on the rise. Many households have now adopted a lifestyle that depends on a dual income to maintain itself. If you’re in this situation, there might be some consequences of your life insurance decisions.

If something happened to you or your spouse, would the survivor still earn enough money to maintain their lifestyle? If the answer is no, consider how a life insurance policy might help.

Mortgage debt is big debt.
Mortgage debt in the United States is big – bigger than credit card or student loan debt. Still, mortgage debt is “healthy” debt assuming the growing equity in a home makes it worthwhile.

But mortgage debt can become a problem if a household’s income takes a hit. Life insurance can protect families from this risk by helping to pay off a mortgage, should something happen to you or your spouse. Either a term life policy or a special mortgage life policy can be used to pay off a mortgage.

Mortgage life insurance can be a nice layer of protection for couples that don’t have children but do have a mortgage.

Life insurance can be used as a savings tool.
Many life insurance policies offer a cash value. This means that certain policies can be cashed in whether or not a death has occurred. In this way, a life insurance policy can act as a savings tool.

Couples without children can pay into their policy in the form of the premiums, and then cash it out for a retirement dream: a new home, a hobby business, or an extended vacation. Using life insurance as a savings tool can offer tax benefits, a guaranteed savings method for the “savings challenged”, and a creative way to finance a dream. In short, it’s a savvy use of life insurance for couples who don’t have kids.

Funeral expenses can wipe out an emergency fund.
A life insurance policy can help cover funeral expenses for you or your spouse. This is one of the most common uses of life insurance. The average funeral today can cost between $7,000 and $10,000. That’s enough to wipe out an emergency fund, or seriously deplete it.

Having a life insurance policy in place can help cover expenses if you or your spouse were to pass away unexpectedly, so you can leave your fund for the day-to-day difficulties intact.

Whether you have children or not, a sudden illness or loss of a breadwinner can have lasting consequences for the loved ones you leave behind. Taking advantage of a well-tailored life insurance policy to shield them from an unnecessary financial burden if something were to happen is one of the best gifts you can give.

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December 9, 2019

The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

The Keys to Paying Your Bills On Time

Not paying your bills on time can have significant impacts on financial health including accumulating late fees, penalties, and a negative hit on credit scores.

But maybe you – or a friend – learned about those consequences the hard way. Most late bill payers fall into 1 of 3 camps: they forget to pay on time, they don’t have enough income, or they have enough income but spend it on other things.

In case you – or your friend – are stuck in 1 of these camps, consider the following tips to help pay the bills on time.

I forget to pay my bills on time.
If this is you, you’re actually in a more advantageous position. There are many easy fixes that can help get you back on track.

  1. Use a calendar. This is a tried and true, but often underutilized, method to track your bill due dates. When you get a notice for a bill – either by email, text, or snail mail – jot the due date on your calendar. You can also set a reminder if you use an electronic calendar.
  2. Fiddle with your due dates. Many companies offer flexible due dates. Experiment with what due dates work for you. Some people like to pay their bills all together at the beginning of the month. You may find that you like to pay some bills in the beginning and some in the middle of the month. It’s up to you!
  3. Take advantage of grace period/late fee waivers. If you do forget about a bill and have to make a late payment, give the company a call and ask them to waive the late fee. Late fees can add up, ranging from $10-50 depending on the account. It’s worth a try!

I don’t have the money to pay all my bills.
If your income doesn’t cover your outgo no matter how diligently you pinch those pennies, it won’t matter what type of bill payment method you use, you’re going to have trouble. If you’re in this situation, there are 2 solutions: increase your earnings or decrease your expenses.

  1. Find a side gig. Take a temporary part-time job to make some extra income. Delivering pizza in the evenings or on weekends might be worth doing for a few months to make some extra dough.
  2. Shop around. Shop around for savings. Prices vary on almost everything. Take a little extra time to make sure you’re getting the rock-bottom best prices on your insurance, cable, phone plans, groceries, utilities, etc.

I overspend and don’t have enough left to pay my bills.
Managing income and expenses takes some practice and persistence, but it is doable! If you find yourself consistently overspending without enough left over to cover your bills, try the following:

  1. Create a budget. Get familiar with your income and expenses. This is the only way to know how much disposable income you’re going to end up with every month. You can track your budget daily on an app like PocketGuard, Wallet, or Home Budget.
  2. Stash the money for bills in a separate account. Put your bill money in a separate checking or savings account. This will keep it quarantined from your spending money and help make sure it’s there when the bills come due.

Good Financial Habits
If you feel bill-paying-challenged, or you have a friend who is, try some of the above tips. Taking care of your obligations when you need to can relieve stress, build good credit, and reinforce healthy spending habits for life!

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December 4, 2019

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

So you’re finally on board with this whole budget thing.

You’ve set up your plan. Now you’ve got a budget complete with average historical spending by category. You’ve discussed it with family members, roommates, and anyone else to whom the budget applies. You’ve checked off all the boxes. Yet somehow – at the end of the month, the math isn’t working out. The budget is busted.

What went wrong? Life is full of mysteries, like who left an empty box of cereal in the cupboard? Where are my glasses? Why won’t the baby go to sleep? And, where did all my money disappear to?

For a budget to work well, you’ll need to track it regularly and often. Many times, the reason you made a budget in the first place is that there’s very little room for error with saving and spending your money. A budget’s got to be loved and nurtured, kind of like a garden. Sometimes you have to get out there and pull some weeds or dig up a few rocks to keep it thriving.

Making Your Budget
To make your budget (if you haven’t already), there are several methods you can use. Good old pencil and paper never goes out of style. And it might help you see where you stand a little faster than potentially losing your initial momentum by learning a new “app”. Specialized software or online budgeting tools can be great – but they can also be fiddly if you’re not used to them. Rather than trying to figure out complicated menus and search for hidden buttons from the get-go, you might want to try it on paper first to work through your budget and establish a limit for each category of spending. Writing out your expenditures by hand has the added benefit of helping you face reality. It hurts a little more than automated solutions if you have to write the numbers down in black and white. If you’re good with spreadsheets, Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets can also be used to quickly build a budget without a frustrating learning curve.

Tracking Your Budget
Technology can be friend or foe in the home budget process. Even though you may have started out on paper, when it comes to tracking your spending for the long haul and in real time, technology is definitely a friend.

Mobile apps come in two forms: free and not free. We’ll focus on free apps for now because it’s consistent with the goal of keeping your spending under control.

Mint.com is owned by Intuit, famous for Quicken and Quickbooks software, and makes budget tracking very simple. Mint links to your bank account and other accounts you’d like to track, so you can see a complete view of your finances at a glance either on your mobile device or on your computer. Budgets are set automatically for each category but can be changed easily. Spending and income are also automatically tracked and categorized so you can view your progress – including budget amounts remaining for the month. Cash purchases can be added from the home screen.

Another good option is Clarity Money, which tracks spending by category but also provides an easy way to cancel subscriptions and access your free VantageScore Credit Score (by Experian). Clarity Money was featured by Google Play as a “Best of 2017” and is also available for iOS.

Paper or spreadsheet methods help to make the budgeting process more tangible. Automated tracking makes it easy to monitor your progress against your budget – and to maybe think twice about spending on impulse.

The important thing is to think of your budget like a garden – once you have it planned and laid out, it’s going to take regular maintenance to ensure it stays beautiful.

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December 2, 2019

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

Royal Wedding or Vegas? Keeping Your Wedding Costs Under Control

The average cost of a wedding in the U.S. is over $33,000. That’s an expensive day by any standard.

By comparison, that amount might be enough for a down payment on a first home or for a well-equipped, late-model minivan to shuttle around your 1.6 to 2 kids – assuming your family has an average number of children as a result of your newly wedded bliss.

Having cold feet about shelling out that much cash for one day’s festivities? Or even worse, going into debt to pay for it? Here are a few ideas on how you can make your wedding day a special day to remember while still saving some of that money for other things (like a minivan).

Invite Close Friends and Family
Many soon-to-be newlyweds dream of a massive wedding with hundreds of people in attendance to honor their big day. But at some point during any large wedding, the bride or the groom – or maybe both – look around the well-dressed guests and ask themselves, “Who are all of these people, anyway?”

You can cut the cost of your wedding dramatically by simply trimming the guest list to a more manageable size. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to invite that kid who used to live next door to our family when I was 6 years old?” Small weddings are a growing trend, with many couples choosing to limit the guest list to just close friends and immediate family. That doesn’t mean you have to have your wedding in the backyard while the neighbor’s dog barks during your vows – although you certainly can. It just means fewer people to provide refreshments for and perhaps a less palatial venue to rent.

Budget According to Priorities
Your wedding is special and you want everything to be perfect. You’ve dreamed of this day your entire life, right? However, by prioritizing your wish list, there’s a better chance to get exactly what you want for certain parts of your wedding, by choosing less expensive – but still acceptable – options for the things that may not matter to you so much. If it’s all about the reception party atmosphere for you, try putting more of your budget toward entertainment and decorations and less toward the food. Maybe you don’t really need a seven-course gourmet dinner with full service when a selection of simpler, buffet-style dishes provided by your favorite restaurant will do.

Incorporate More Wallet-Friendly Wedding Ideas
A combination of small changes in your plan can add up to big savings, allowing you to have a memorable wedding day and still have enough money left over to enjoy your newfound bliss.

  • Consider a different day of the week. If you’re planning on getting married on a Saturday in June or September, be prepared to pay more for a venue than you would any other day of the week or time of the year. Saturday is the most expensive day to get married, and June and September are both peak wedding season months. So if you can have your wedding on, say, a Friday in April or November, this has the potential to trim the cost of the venue.
  • Rent a vacation house – or even get married on a boat. The smaller space will prevent the guest list from growing out of control and the experience might be more memorable than at a larger, more typical venue. Of course, both options necessitate holding the reception at the same location, saving money once more.
  • Watch the booze costs. There’s no need to have a full bar with every conceivable drink concoction and bow-tied bartenders that can perform tricks with the shakers. Odds are good that your guests will be just as happy with a smaller-yet-thoughtfully-chosen selection of beer and wine to choose from.
  • Be thrifty. If you really want to trim costs, you can get creative about certain traditional “must-haves,” ranging from skipping the flowers (chances are that nobody will even miss them) to purchasing a gently-used gown. Yes, people actually do this. Online outlets like OnceWed.com provide beautiful gowns for a fraction of the price of a new gown that you’ll likely never wear again.

There’s a happy medium between a royal wedding and drive-thru nuptials in Vegas. If you’re looking for a memorable day that won’t break the bank, try out some of the tips above to keep things classy, cool – and within your budget.

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November 25, 2019

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

What to Do First If You Receive an Inheritance

In many households, nearly every penny is already accounted for even before it’s earned.

The typical household budget that covers the cost of raising a family, making loan payments, and saving for retirement usually doesn’t leave much room for extra spending on daydream items. However, occasionally families may come into an inheritance, you might receive a big bonus at work, or benefit from some other sort of windfall.

If you ever inherit a chunk of money (or large asset) or receive a large payout, it may be tempting to splurge on that red convertible you’ve been drooling over or book that dream trip to Hawaii you’ve always wanted to take. Unfortunately for many, though, newly-found money has the potential to disappear quickly with nothing to show for it, if you don’t have a strategy in place to handle it.

If you do receive some sort of large bonus – congratulations! But take a deep breath and consider these situations first – before you call your travel agent.

Taxes or Other Expenses
If you get a large sum of money unexpectedly, the first thing you might want to do is pull out your bucket list and see what you can check off first. But before you start spending, the reality is you’ll need to put aside some money for taxes. You may want to check with an expert – an accountant or financial advisor may have some ideas on how to reduce your liability as well.

If you suddenly own a new house or car as part of an inheritance, one thing that you may not have considered is how much it will cost to hang on to them. If you want to keep them, you’ll need to cover maintenance, insurance, and you may even need to fulfill loan payments if they aren’t paid off yet.

Pay Down Debt
If you have any debt, you’d have a hard time finding a better place to put your money once you’ve set aside some for taxes or other expenses that might be involved. It may be helpful to target debt in this order:

  1. Credit card debt: These are often the highest interest rate debt and usually don’t have any tax benefit. Pay these off first.
  2. Personal loans: Pay these off next. You and your friend/family member will be glad you knocked these out!
  3. Auto loans: Interest rates on auto loans are lower than credit cards, but cars depreciate rapidly – very rapidly. If you can avoid it, you don’t want to pay interest on a rapidly depreciating asset. Pay off the car as quickly as possible.
  4. College loans: College loans often have tax-deductible interest but there is no physical asset you can convert to cash – there’s just the loan.
  5. Home loans: Most home loans are also tax-deductible. Since your home value is likely appreciating over time, you may be better off putting your money elsewhere rather than paying off the home loan early.

Fund Your Emergency Account
Before you buy that red convertible, put aside some money for a rainy day. This could be liquid funds – like a separate savings account.

Save for Retirement
Once the taxes are covered, you’ve paid down your debt, and funded your emergency account, now is the time to put some money away towards retirement. Work with your financial professional to help create the best strategy for you and your family.

Fund That College Fund
If you have kids and haven’t had a chance to save all you’d like towards their education, setting aside some money for this comes next. Again, your financial professional can recommend the best strategy for this scenario.

Treat Yourself
NOW you’re ready to go bury your toes in the sand and enjoy some new experiences! Maybe you and the family have always wanted to visit a themed resort park or vacation on a tropical island. If you’ve taken care of business responsibly with the items above and still have some cash left over – go ahead! Treat yourself!

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