Why It's a Good Idea to Track Your Budget

December 4, 2019

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Laura McElroy

Laura McElroy

Senior Vice President



Olathe, Kansas

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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 27, 2019

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Allowance for Kids: Is It Still a Good Idea?

Perusing the search engine results for “allowance for kids” reveals something telling: The top results can’t seem to agree with each other.

Some finance articles quote experts or outspoken parents hailing an allowance, stating it teaches kids financial responsibility. Others argue that simply awarding an allowance (whether in exchange for doing chores around the house or not) instills nothing in children about managing money. They say that having an honest conversation about money and finances with your kids is a better solution.

According to a recent poll, the average allowance for kids age 4 to 14 is just under $9 per week, about $450 per year. By age 14, the average allowance is over $12 per week. Some studies indicate that, in most cases, very little of a child’s allowance is saved. As parents, we may not have needed a study to figure that one out – but if your child is consistently out of money by Wednesday, how do you help them learn the lesson of saving so they don’t always end up “broke” (and potentially asking you for more money at the end of the week)?

There’s an app for that.
Part of the modern challenge in teaching kids about money is that cash isn’t king anymore. Today, we use credit and debit cards for the majority of our spending – and there is an ever-increasing movement toward online shopping and making payments with your phone using apps like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay.

This is great for the way we live our modern, fast-paced lives, but what if technology could help us teach more complex financial concepts than a simple allowance can – concepts like how compound interest on savings works or what interest costs for debt look like? As it happens, a new breed of personal finance apps for families promises this kind of functionality.

FamZoo is popular, offering prepaid cards with a matching family finance app for iOS and Android. Prepaid cards are a dime a dozen but FamZoo’s card and app do much more than just limit spending to the prepaid amount. Kids can earn interest on their savings (funded by parents), set budgets according to categories, monitor their account activity with useful charts, and even borrow money – complete with an interest charge. Sounds a bit like the real world, doesn’t it? FamZoo can be as simple or as feature-packed as you’d like, making it a good match for kids of any age.

Money habits are formed as early as age 7. If an allowance can teach kids about saving, compound interest, loan interest, and budgeting – with a little help from technology – perhaps the future holds a digital world where the two sides of the allowance debate can finally agree. As to whether your kids’ allowance should be paid upon completion of chores or not… Well, that’s up to you and how long your Saturday to-do list is!

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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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November 18, 2019

Matters of Age

Matters of Age

The younger you are, the less expensive your life insurance may be.

Life insurance companies are more willing to offer lower premium life insurance policies to young, healthy people who will likely not need the death benefit payout of their policy for a while. (Keep in mind that exceptions for pre-existing medical conditions or certain careers exist – think “skydiving instructor”. But in many cases, the odds are more in your favor for lower premiums than you might guess.)

At this point you might be thinking, “Well, I am young and healthy, so why do I need to add another expense into my budget for something I might not need for a long time?”

Unlike a financial goal of saving up for a downpayment on your first house, waiting for “the right moment” to get life insurance – perhaps when you feel like you’re prepared enough – is less beneficial. A huge part of that is due to getting older. As your body ages, things can start to go wrong – unexpectedly and occasionally chronically. Ask any 35-year-old who just threw out their back for the first time and is now Googling every posture-perfecting stretch and cushy mattress to prevent it from happening again.

With age-related health issues in mind, remember that the premium you pay at 22 may be very different than the premium you’ll pay at 32. Most people hit several physical peaks in that 10 year window:

  • 25 – Peak muscle strength
  • 28 – Peak ability to run a marathon
  • 30 – Peak bone mass production

If you’re feeling your mortality after reading those numbers, don’t worry! You’re probably not going to go to pieces like fine china hitting a cement floor on your 30th birthday. But there is one certainty as you age: your premium will rise an average of 8-10% on each birthday. Combine that with an issue like the sudden chronic back problems from throwing your back out that one time (one time!), and your premium will likely reflect both the age increase and a pre-existing condition.

If you experience certain types of illness or injury prior to getting life insurance, it often goes in the books as a pre-existing condition, which will cause a premium to go up. Remember: the less likely a person is going to need their life insurance payout, the lower the premium will likely be. Possible scenarios like the recurrence of cancer or a sudden inability to work due to re-injury are red flags for insurance companies because it increases the likelihood that a policyholder will need their policy’s payout.

A person’s age, unique medical history, and financial goals will all factor into the process of finding the right coverage and determining the rate. So taking advantage of your youth and good health now without bringing an age-borne illness or injury to the table could be beneficial for your journey to financial independence.

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November 6, 2019

Common Financial Potholes

Common Financial Potholes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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October 28, 2019

3 Simple Benefits of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

3 Simple Benefits of Indexed Universal Life Insurance

If you’re not familiar with indexed universal life insurance, you’ve come to the right place.

What is an IUL?
Indexed universal life insurance (IUL) is a type of permanent life insurance that has an investment element that helps the policy build cash value.

Part of the premium for an IUL is invested in stock options that track an index, like the S&P 500 or NASDAQ 100. This provides a higher growth potential than a whole life policy or a standard universal life policy (both of which provide a conservative fixed return). Gains may be capped in an indexed universal life policy, but the policy provides protections that prevent stock market meltdowns or slow slides from eroding the cash value in your policy.

Here are some of the main benefits of an IUL:
1. It protects your downside. Unlike direct investments, mutual funds, or other types of investments – an indexed universal life policy protects your downside. If the market drops for the index (or indexes) your policy tracks, you keep the gains and are sheltered from the losses. Don’t you wish your 401k or private investments could do that?

2. The cash value in your policy grows tax-deferred. Without the frequent tax liability that often comes with trading in and out of stocks or funds, the cash value can grow unhindered by the ball and chain of capital gains or income taxes.

3. Gains for an indexed universal life policy can be significantly higher than with a whole life policy or a universal life policy. Even with capped gains, which is a tradeoff in exchange for providing a floor to protect your policy from losses, the gains in an indexed universal life policy can outpace the earnings in fixed-rate policies. As with any investment, time tends to be your best friend, smoothing the down years (flat years for an IUL) with strong years to build an upward trend line.

An indexed universal life insurance policy can help supplement your retirement savings strategy and work in parallel with your existing 401k and IRAs – but with access to your cash value before age 59 ½ – or after – and without the dreaded 10 percent penalty for early withdrawal.

Summing It Up
As both a permanent life insurance policy and a tax-deferred investment vehicle that shields you from market losses, an indexed universal life policy can help provide for your family at nearly any point in life and then provide for your beneficiaries when you pass away.

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October 16, 2019

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Tips on Managing Money for Couples

Couplehood can be a wonderful blessing, but – as you may know – it can have its challenges as well.

In fact, money matters are the leading cause of stress in modern relationships. The age-old adage that love trumps riches may be true, but if money is tight or if a couple isn’t meeting their financial goals, there could be some unpleasant conversations (er, arguments) on the bumpy road to bliss with your partner or spouse.

These tips may help make the road to happiness a little easier.

1. Set a goal for debt-free living. Certain types of debt can be difficult to avoid, such as mortgages or car payments, but other types of debt, like credit cards in particular, can grow like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill. Credit card debt often comes about because of overspending or because insufficient savings forced the use of credit for an unexpected situation. Either way, you’ll have to get to the root of the cause or the snowball might get bigger. Starting an emergency fund or reigning in unnecessary spending – or both – can help get credit card balances under control so you can get them paid off.

2. Talk about money matters. Having a conversation with your partner about money is probably not at the top of your list of fun-things-I-look-forward-to. This might cause many couples to put it off until the “right time”. If something is less than ideal in the way your finances are structured, not talking about it won’t make the problem go away. Instead, frustrations over money can fester, possibly turning a small issue into a larger problem. Discussing your thoughts and concerns about money with your partner regularly (and respectfully) is key to reaching an understanding of each other’s goals and priorities, and then melding them together for your goals as a couple.

3. Consider separate accounts with one joint account. As a couple, most of your financial obligations will be faced together, including housing costs, monthly utilities and food expenses, and often auto expenses. In most households, these items ideally should be paid out of a joint account. But let’s face it, it’s no fun to have to ask permission or worry about what your partner thinks every time you buy a specialty coffee or want that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing. In addition to your main joint account, having separate accounts for each of you may help you maintain some independence and autonomy in regard to personal spending.

With these tips in mind, here’s to a little less stress so you can put your attention on other “couplehood” concerns… Like where you two are heading for dinner tonight – the usual hangout (which is always good), or that brand new place that just opened downtown? (Hint: This is a little bit of a trick question. The answer is – whichever place fits into the budget that you two have already decided on, together!)

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October 14, 2019

Getting a Degree of Financial Security

Getting a Degree of Financial Security

The financial advantage gap between having a college degree and just having a high school diploma is widening!

In 2015, the average college graduate earned 56% more than the average high school graduate. This is the widest gap between the two that the Economic Policy Institute has recorded since 1973!

This income difference is making saving for retirement difficult for millennials without a college degree. According to the Young Invincibles’ 2017 ‘Financial Health of Young America’ study, millennial college grads – even with roadblocks like student debt – have saved nearly $21,000 for retirement. That’s quite a lot more as compared to the amount saved by those with a high school diploma only: under $8,000.

However, a college grad may encounter a different type of retirement savings roadblock than a reduced income – student loan debt. But the numbers show that even with student loan debt, the advantages of having a college degree and a solid financial strategy outweigh the retirement saving power of not having a college degree.

Here’s an issue plaguing both groups: more than two-thirds of all millennial workers surveyed do not have a specific retirement plan in place at all.

Regardless of your level of education or your level of income, you can save for your retirement – and take steps toward your financial independence. Or maybe even finance a college education for yourself or a loved one down the road.

The first step to making the most of what you do have is meeting with a financial advisor who can help put you on the path to a solid financial strategy. Contact me today. Let’s work to get your money working for you.

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October 9, 2019

Are You Sitting Down?

Are You Sitting Down?

When things go wrong or we face an unexpected expense, we usually have one of two choices: Use credit to navigate a short-term cash crunch, or dip into savings.

In either case, it’s a good idea to have liquid funds available. Using credit can actually make your money problem worse if you don’t have enough to pay off the balance each month to avoid incurring interest charges. If you use savings but don’t have a comfortable cushion put away, repairing your home’s ancient A/C system may deplete your emergency stores, leaving you with nothing to replace the washer and dryer that decided to break down at the same time.

Ideally, you’ll have enough money saved to cover the unexpected. However, if you’re like many American households, that may not be the case. The U.S. personal savings rate continues to fall.

National Savings Rate
The savings rate is calculated as the ratio of personal savings to disposable personal income. In March 2018, the U.S. personal savings rate was about 3% shows that we’re not as good at saving as we used to be. In the past, the long-term average personal savings rate was over 8%, with some periods of time when it was over 15%. Kind of shames our current 3% savings rate, doesn’t it?

The national personal savings rate is also skewed by higher income savers, with the top 1% saving over 51% and the top 5% saving nearly 40% of their disposable income. Unsurprisingly, lower income families can have more difficulty with saving, as most of their paycheck is often already earmarked for basic bills and normal household expenses.

A recent survey by GOBankingRates found that nearly 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 saved and more than a third have nothing saved at all. Yikes. Age and levels of responsibility can influence savings rates. Anyone with a growing family – particularly a homeowner or a household with children – knows that surprise expenses aren’t all that surprising because the surprises just keep coming. This can put pressure on the best laid plans to try to increase savings.

How to Save More
If you have a 401(k), your contribution to it comes from a payroll deduction, meaning your 401(k) contribution is paid first – before you get the rest of your paycheck. If you have a 401(k) or a similar type of retirement account, there are lessons that can be borrowed from that account structure which can be used to help build your personal savings.

Paying yourself first is a great way to begin building your emergency fund, which can leave you better prepared for the proverbial rainy day. If you look at your monthly expenses, and if your household is like most households, you’re almost certain to find some unnecessary spending.

Start paying yourself first – by putting some money aside in a separate account or a safe place. This can help prevent some of those unnecessary expenditures (because there won’t be money available) while also leaving you better prepared.

The next time the car needs repairs, the A/C stops working, the fridge stops freezing, or the lawnmower breaks down, you’ll be ready – or at least you’ll be in a better position to bail yourself out!

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October 2, 2019

3 Easy Ways To Save For Retirement (Without Investing)

3 Easy Ways To Save For Retirement (Without Investing)

Our retirement years will be here sooner than we think.

Ideally, you’ve been putting away money in your IRA, 401k, or other savings accounts. But are you overlooking ways to save money now so you can free up more for your financial strategy or help build your cash stash for a rainy day?

1. Pay Yourself First.
If you’re making contributions to your 401k plan at work, you’re already paying yourself first. But you can also apply the same principle to saving. (If you open a separate account just for this, it’s easier to do.) If you prefer, you can accomplish the same thing on paper by keeping a ledger. Just be aware that paper makes it easier to cheat (yourself). With a separate account, you can schedule an automatic transfer to make the process painless and fuhgettaboutit.

Here’s how it works. Whenever you get paid, transfer a fixed dollar amount into your special account – before you do anything else. If you don’t pay yourself first, you might guess what will happen. (Be honest.) If you’re like most people, you’ll probably spend it, and if you’re like most people, you might not really know where it went. It’s just gone, like magic.

Paying yourself first helps to avoid the “disappearing money” trick. Hang in there! After a while, as the money starts adding up, you’ll impress yourself with your savings prowess.

2. Got A Bonus From Work? Great! Keep it.
What do you think most people are tempted to do if they get a bonus or a raise? What are YOU most tempted to do if you get a bonus or a raise? Probably spend it. Why? It’s easy to think of 100 things you could use that extra cash for right now. Home repairs or upgrades, a night out on the town, that new handbag you’ve been coveting for months… Maybe your bonus is enough for you to consider trading in your car for a nicer one, or getting that new addition to your house.

Receiving an unexpected windfall is fun. It’s exciting! But here is where some caution is wise. Pause for a moment. If you had everything you needed on Friday and then get a raise on Monday, you’ll still have everything you need, right? Nothing has changed but the calendar. If you hadn’t gotten that bonus, would your life and your current financial strategy still be the same as it was last week? Consider putting (most of) that extra money away for later, and using some of it for fun!

3. Pay Down That Debt.
By now you’ve probably heard a financial guru or two talking about “good” debt and “bad” debt. Debt IS debt, but some types of debt really are worse than others.

Credit cards and any high-interest loans are the first priority when retiring debt – so that you can retire too, someday. Do you really know how much you’re paying in interest each month? Go ahead and look. I’ll wait… Once you know this number, you can’t “unknow” it. But take heart! Use this as a powerful incentive to pay those balances off as fast as you can.

The cost of credit isn’t just the interest. That part is spelled out in black and white on your credit card statement (which you just looked at, right)? The other costs of credit are less obvious. Did you know your credit score affects your insurance rates? Keeping those cards maxed out can cost more than just the interest charges.

Every month you chip away at the balances, you’ll owe less and pay less in interest. (You’ll feel better, too.) And you know what to do with the leftover money since you knocked out that debt. Hint: Save it.

But keep this in mind – life is about balance. It’s okay to treat yourself once in awhile. Just make sure to pay yourself first now, so you can treat yourself later in retirement.

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September 25, 2019

Improve Your Love Life... With a Financial Strategy?

Improve Your Love Life... With a Financial Strategy?

You may not know this, but a financial advisor is also a relationship expert.

It’s true!

Here’s the proof: Ally Bank’s Love & Money study discovered that 84% of Americans think a romantic relationship is not only stronger but also more satisfying when it’s financially stable. What does it mean to be financially stable?

Here’s a simple 5-point checklist to let you know if you’re on the right track:

  1. You aren’t worried about your financial situation.
  2. You know how to budget and are debt-free.
  3. You pay bills on time – better yet, you pay bills ahead of time.
  4. You have adequate insurance coverage in case of trouble.
  5. You’re saving enough for retirement.

If you didn’t answer ‘yes’ to all of these, don’t worry! Chances are this checklist won’t come up on the first date. But when you have the “money talk” with someone you’ve been seeing for a while, wouldn’t it be great to know that you bring your own financial stability to the relationship? It’s clearly a bonus (remember that stat up there?).

Everyone could use a little help on their way to financial stability and independence. Contact me today, and together we can work on a strategy that could strengthen your peace of mind – and perhaps your love life!

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September 23, 2019

When Should You Retire?

When Should You Retire?

Have you ever thought about when you want to retire?

You’ve probably daydreamed about what you want to do when you no longer have to withstand the 9-to-5 routine, but do you know when you want retirement to become a reality?

The average retirement age for people in the US is about age 63, but there is a large group of people who continue to work past 65. Two motivations that could be contributing to this situation are:

  • They choose to work, but don’t have to.
  • They have no choice but to keep working.

It’s apparent that the first option might be more preferable than the latter – even if you love what you do.

Here’s why: having the choice is better than having no choice at all. Imagine that as you approach the time when you want to retire that you love your job and gain a lot of satisfaction in what you do. But there is no option for you to stop even if you wanted to, because of bills or obligations to yourself or your family.

As you approach retirement age – whatever that may be – there could be other things in your life that matter to you, that come into conflict with the job you love. Some of these “other things” may include (but aren’t limited to) spending time with family, volunteering at an organization you’re passionate about, traveling the world, etc. Except for a lucky few, we can’t be both traveling around the world AND doing the job we love. That’s when having the resources to choose comes in handy.

It’s important to have a strategy to reach your retirement goals, whether it’s retiring at age 65 (or earlier). Having a strategy in place doesn’t mean you absolutely have to retire when you plan to, but you’ll at least have the option to do so.

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September 4, 2019

Savings Rates Need Some Serious Saving

Savings Rates Need Some Serious Saving

Ever hear the old story of the 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine?

In the years when there was an abundance of crops, it was wise to store up as much as possible in preparation for the years of famine. However, if instead of saving you ate it all up during the 7 years of abundance, the result would be starvation for you and your family during the 7 lean years. This might be an extreme example in our modern, First World society, but are you “eating it all up” now and not storing enough away for your retirement?

The definition of retirement we’ll be using is: “An indefinite period in which one is no longer actively producing income but rather relies on income generated from pensions and/or personal savings.”

According to this definition, the “years of plenty” would be the years that you are still working and generating income. While you still have regular income, you can set aside a portion of it to save for retirement. This amount is called the “Personal Savings Rate.”

According to the latest statistics, the personal savings rate for Americans is approximately 2.4% annually. If you compare that with the average during the 1970’s of a 10% annual savings rate, you’ll see it has decreased significantly. This should set off some alarms concerning the impact on your retirement savings.

Suppose you’re looking to retire for at least 10 years (e.g., from 65 years old to 75 years old). Even if you’re planning to live on only half of the income that you were making prior to retirement, you would need to save up 5 years worth of income to last for the 10 years of your retirement. But if you’re currently saving only 2.5% of your income per year, it would take 200 years to save up 5 years of income replacement!

So unless you’ve found the elixir of everlasting life, we’re going to need to do some serious “saving” of the personal savings rate. Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes. If you’re looking for possible ways to store up and prepare for your retirement, I’d be happy to have that conversation with you today.

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September 3, 2019

Big Financial Rocks First

Big Financial Rocks First

A teacher walked into her classroom with a clear jar, a bag of rocks, a bucket of sand, and a glass of water. She placed all the large rocks carefully into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks emptying the entire bucket into the jar.

“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her student’s surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.

“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.

One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”

The teacher smiled and shook her head.

“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”

This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.

Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important –but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.

Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.

Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.

What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals - and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.

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August 28, 2019

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

Why You Should Care About Insurable Interest

First of all, what is insurable interest?

It’s simply the stake you have in something that is being insured – and that the amount of insurance coverage for whatever is being insured is not more than your potential loss.

To say things could become a bit awkward might be an understatement if your insurable interest isn’t considered before you’re deep into the planning phase of a project or before you’ve signed some papers, like a title or a loan.

It’s better for your sanity to understand insurable interest beforehand. Where the issue of insurable interest often arises is in auto insurance. Let’s look at an example.

Let’s say you have a car that’s worth $5,000. $5,000 is the maximum amount of money you would lose if the car is stolen or damaged – and $5,000 would be the most you could insure the car for. $5,000 is your insurable interest.

In the above example, you own the car, so you have an insurable interest in it. By the same token, you can’t insure your neighbor’s car. If your neighbor’s car was stolen or damaged, you wouldn’t suffer any financial loss because it wasn’t your car.

Here’s where it might get a little tricky and why it’s important to understand insurable interest. Let’s say you have a young driver in the house, a teenager, and it’s time for him to get mobile. He’s been saving up his lawn-mowing money for two years and finally bought the (used) car of his dreams.

You might have considered adding your son’s car to your auto policy to save money – you’ve heard how much it can cost for a teen driver to buy their own policy. Sounds like a good plan, right? However, the problem with this strategy is that you don’t have an insurable interest in your son’s car. He bought it, and it’s registered to him.

You might find an insurance sales rep who will write the policy. But there’s a risk the policy won’t make it through underwriting and – more importantly – if there’s a claim with that car, the claim might not be covered because you didn’t have an insurable interest in it. If you want to put that car on your auto insurance policy, the car needs to be registered to the named insured on the policy – you.

Insurable Interest And Lenders
If you have a mortgage or an auto loan, your lender is probably listed on your policy. Both you and the lender have an insurable interest in the house or the car. Over time, as the loan is paid down, you’ll have a greater insurable interest and the lender’s insurable interest will become smaller. (Hint: When your loan is paid off, ask your agent to remove the lender from the policy to avoid any confusion or delays if you have a claim someday.)

Does Ownership Create Insurable Interest?
Good question. It might seem like ownership and insurable interest are equivalent – they often occur simultaneously. But there are times when you can have an insurable interest in something without being an owner.

Life insurance is a great example of having an insurable interest without ownership. You can’t own a person – but if a person dies, you may experience a financial loss. However, just as you can’t insure your neighbor’s car, you can’t purchase a life insurance policy on your neighbor, either. You’d have to be able to demonstrate your potential loss if your neighbor passed away. And no it doesn’t count if they never returned those hedge clippers they borrowed from you last spring.

So now you know all about insurable interest. While insurable interest requirements may seem inconvenient at times, the rules are there to protect you and to help keep rates lower for everyone. Without insurable interest requirements, the door is open to fraud, speculation, or even malicious behavior. A little inconvenience seems like a much better option.

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August 26, 2019

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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August 19, 2019

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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August 14, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 3)

Are you feeling the gravity of this checking account situation yet?

All of the money lessons from Parts 1 and 2 dealt heavily with the importance of helping you make sure that all of your money isn’t just sitting in your checking account where it’s neither growing nor working for your future. However, there are a couple of important money-saving details to consider before emptying your checking account.

To avoid becoming too starry-eyed and moving all of your money without considering potentially pricey consequences, ask yourself these 2 questions:

1. Does your personal bank have any kind of fee attached to the minimum amount of money in your checking account? Staying on course to your financial goals can be tough enough, but when you’re hit with a surprise fee from your bank, can that feel like losing vital g-force in the right direction? Americans paid an average of $53 per person below with your bank’s unique rules to avoid those course-altering fees via your checking account:

  • Have the minimum balance requirement
  • Enroll in direct deposit
  • Open multiple accounts at the same banks
  • Find free checking elsewhere

2. Do you have enough in your checking account to avoid overdraft fees? $15 Billion. That’s how much Americans paid in overdraft fees last year alone. You could probably build your own space station for that kind of money! (A really small one, at least.) Remember the advice in Part 2 to have accounts for differing money occasions like an Emergency Fund or Fun Fund? These separate, deliberate accounts have the potential to help shield against many unexpected and/or large withdrawals from your checking account. Additional ways to protect yourself from overdraft fees are Overdraft Protection through your bank (but watch out for a fee for the service) or having a small cushion in your checking account, just in case.

Moving your money away from the Black Hole of Checking is important. But ignoring the asteroids of unexpected banking fees headed your way could strip away any potential forward momentum you have to make with saving and getting your money to work for you.

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August 12, 2019

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

The Black Hole of Checking (Part 2)

Previously on “The Black Hole of Checking”…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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