Preparing to buy your first home

November 29, 2023

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Andre & Mara Simoneau

Andre & Mara Simoneau

Financial Consultants

Lynx Creek Cir

Frederick, CO 80516

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November 29, 2023

Preparing to buy your first home

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford

One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying

If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home

Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork

Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage

Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework

With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

March 27, 2023

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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March 6, 2023

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

You'll Still Need This After Retirement

Ask anyone who’s had a flat tire, a leaky roof, or an unexpected medical bill – having enough money tucked away in an emergency fund can prevent a lot of headaches.

It may seem obvious to create a cushion for unexpected expenses while you’re saving up for retirement, especially if you have kids that need to get to their soccer games on time, a new-to-you home that’s really a fixer-upper, or an injury that catches you off guard. But an emergency fund is still important to keep after you retire!

Does your current retirement plan include an emergency fund for unexpected expenses like car trouble, home or appliance repair, or illness? Almost 50% of Americans surveyed said they have less money saved this year than last year for emergencies. That means 50% of Americans may need to turn to other methods of coverage like taking loans from family or friends or accruing credit card debt.

After you retire and no longer have a steady stream of income, covering unexpected expenses in full (without interest or potentially burdening loved ones) can become more difficult. And when you’re older, it might be more challenging to deal with some of the minor problems yourself if you’re trying to save some money! You’re probably going to need to keep the phone number for a good handyman, handy.

Don’t let an unexpected expense after retirement cut into your savings. A solid financial strategy has the potential to make a huge difference for you – both now and during your retirement.

Contact me today, and together we can put together a strategy that’s tailored to you and your needs.

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February 27, 2023

The Shelf Life of Financial Records

The Shelf Life of Financial Records

When you finally make the commitment to organize that pile of financial documents, where are you supposed to start?

Maybe you’ve tried sorting your documents into this infamous trio: the Coffee Stains Assortment, the Crumpled-Up Masses, and the Definitely Missing a Page or Two Crew.

How has this system been working for you? Is that same stack of disorganized paper just getting shuffled from one corner of your desk to the top of your filing cabinet and back again? Why not give the following method a try instead? Based on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA)’s “Save or Shred” ideas, here’s a list of the shelf life of some key financial records to help you begin whittling that stack down to just what you need to keep. (And remember, when disposing of any financial records, shred them – don’t just toss them into the trash.)

1. Keep These Until They Die: Mortgages, Student Loans, Car Loans, Etc.

These records are the ones to hang on to until you’ve completely paid them off. However, keeping these records indefinitely (to be on the safe side) is a good idea. If any questions or disputes relating to the loan or payment of the loan come up, you’re covered. Label the records clearly, then feel free to put them at the back of your file cabinet. They can be out of sight, but make sure they’re still in your possession if that info needs to come to mind.

2. Seven Years in the Cabinet: Tax-Related Records.

These records include your tax returns and receipts/proof of anything you might claim as a deduction. You’ll need to keep your tax documents – including proof of deductions – for 7 years. Period. Why? In the US, if the IRS thinks you may have underreported your gross income by 25%, they have 6 whole years to challenge your return. Not to mention, they have 3 years to audit you if they think there might be any good faith errors on past returns. (Note: Check with your state tax office to learn how long you should keep your state tax records.) Also important to keep in mind: Some of the items included in your tax returns may also pull from other categories in this list, so be sure to examine your records carefully and hang on to anything you think you might need.

3. The Sixers: Property Records.

This one goes out to you homeowners. While you’re living in your home, keep any and all documents from the purchase of the home to remodeling or additions you make. After you sell the home, keep those documents for at least 6 more years.

4. The Annually Tossed: Brokerage Statements, Paycheck Stubs, Bank Records.

“Annually tossed” is used a bit lightly here, so please proceed with caution. What can be disposed of after an annual review are brokerage statements, paycheck stubs (if not enrolled in direct deposit), and bank records. Hoarding these types of documents may lead to a “keep it all” or “trash it all” attitude. Neither is beneficial. What should be kept is anything of long-term importance (see #2).

5. The Easy One: Rental Documents.

If you rent a property, keep all financial documents and rental agreements until you’ve moved out and gotten your security deposit back from the landlord. Use your deposit to buy a shredder and have at it – it’s easy and fun!

6. The Check-‘Em Againsts: Credit Card Receipts/Statements and Bills.

Check your credit card statement against your physical receipts and bank records from that month. Ideally, this should be done online daily, or at least weekly, to catch anything suspicious as quickly as possible. If everything checks out and there are no red flags, shred away! (Note: Planning to claim anything on your statement as a tax deduction? See #2.) As for bills, you’re in the clear to shred them as soon as your payment clears – with one caveat: Bills for any big-ticket items that you might need to make an insurance claim on later (think expensive sound system, diamond bracelet, all-leather sofa with built-in recliners) should be held on to indefinitely (or at least as long as you own the item).

So even if your kids released their inner Michelangelo on the shoebox of financial papers under your bed, some of them need to be kept – for more than just sentimental value. And it’s vital to keep the above information in mind when you’re considering what to keep and for how long.

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February 8, 2023

Cash in on Good Health

Cash in on Good Health

3 Big reasons to fix meals at home instead of eating out:

  1. Spending some precious quality time with your family.
  2. Getting a refill on your drink as soon as it’s empty.
  3. Taking your shoes off under the table without getting that look from your partner (probably).

Here’s another reason to fix meals at home more often than going out: Each ingredient at your favorite restaurant has a markup. (Obviously – otherwise they wouldn’t be in business very long.) But how much do you think they mark up their meals? 50%? 100%? Nope. The average markup for each ingredient at a restaurant is 300%!

A $9 hamburger (that’s right – without cheese) at a diner would cost you less than $2 to make at home. Go ahead and add some cheese then! Restaurants need to make a profit, but when you’re trying to stick to a financial plan, cutting back on restaurant-prepared meals can make a big difference.

In addition to saving you money, cooking at home also has health benefits. A study conducted by the University of Washington found that those who cooked at home 6 times per week met more of the US Federal guidelines for a healthy diet than those who cooked meals at home 3 times per week. In other words, if you’re eating at home more often than you’re eating out, you’re more likely to be getting in your fruits, veggies, and other essentials of a balanced diet.

Taking better care of your health and saving money? Now that’s a reason to fire up the backyard grill!

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February 6, 2023

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

6 Financial Commitments EVERY Parent Should Educate Their Kids About

Your first lesson isn’t actually one of the six.

It can be found in the title of this article. The best time to start teaching your children about financial decisions is when they’re children! Adults don’t typically take advice well from other adults (especially when they’re your parents and you’re trying to prove to them how smart and independent you are).

Heed this advice: Involve your kids in your family’s financial decisions and challenge them with game-like scenarios from as early as their grade school years.

Starting your kids’ education young can help give them a respect for money, remove financial mysteries, and establish deep-rooted beliefs about saving money, being cautious regarding risk, and avoiding debt.

Here are 6 critical financially-related lessons EVERY parent should foster in the minds of their kids:

1. Co-signing a loan

The Mistake: ‘I’m in a good financial position now. I want to be helpful. They said they’ll get me off the loan in 6 months or so.’

The Realities: If the person you’re co-signing for defaults on their payments, you’re required to make their payments, which can turn a good financial situation bad, fast. Also, lenders are not incentivized to remove co-signers – they’re motivated to lower risk (hence having a co-signer in the first place). This can make it hard to get your name off a loan, regardless of promises or good intentions. Keep in mind that if a family member or friend has a rough credit history – or no credit history – that requires them to have a co-signer, what might that tell you about the wisdom of being their co-signer? And finally, a co-signing situation that goes bad may ruin your credit reputation, and more tragically, may ruin your relationship.

The Lesson: ‘Never, ever, EVER, co-sign a loan.’

2. Taking on a mortgage payment that pushes the budget

The Mistake: ‘It’s our dream house. If we really budget tight and cut back here and there, we can afford it. The bank said we’re pre-approved…We’ll be sooo happy!’

The Realities: A house is one of the biggest purchases couples will ever make. Though emotion and excitement are impossible to remove from the decision, they should not be the driving forces. Just because you can afford the mortgage at the moment, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to in 5 or 10 years. Situations can change. What would happen if either partner lost their job for any length of time? Would you have to tap into savings? Also, many buyers dramatically underestimate the ongoing expenses tied to maintenance and additional services needed when owning a home. It’s a general rule of thumb that home owners will have to spend about 1% of the total cost of the home every year in upkeep. That means a $250,000 home would require an annual maintenance investment of $2,500 in the property. Will you resent the budgetary restrictions of the monthly mortgage payments once the novelty of your new house wears off?

The Lesson: ‘Never take on a mortgage payment that’s more than 25% of your income. Some say 30%, but 25% or less may be a safer financial position.’

3. Financing for a new car loan

The Mistake: ‘Used cars are unreliable. A new car will work great for a long time. I need a car to get to work and the bank was willing to work with me to lower the payments. After test driving it, I just have to have it.’

The Realities: First of all, no one ‘has to have’ a new car they need to finance. You’ve probably heard the expression, ‘a new car starts losing its value the moment you drive it off the lot.’ Well, it’s true. According to CARFAX, a car loses 10% of its value the moment you drive away from the dealership and another 10% by the end of the first year. That’s 20% of value lost in 12 months. After 5 years, that new car will have lost 60% of its value. Poof! The value that remains constant is your monthly payment, which can feel like a ball and chain once that new car smell fades.

The Lesson: ‘Buy a used car you can easily afford and get excited about. Then one day when you have saved enough money, you might be able to buy your dream car with cash.’

4. Financial retail purchases

The Mistake: ‘Our refrigerator is old and gross – we need a new one with a touch screen – the guy at the store said it will save us hundreds every year. It’s zero down – ZERO DOWN!’

The Realities: Many of these ‘buy on credit, zero down’ offers from appliance stores and other retail outlets count on naive shoppers fueled by the need for instant gratification. ‘Zero down, no payments until after the first year’ sounds good, but accrued or waived interest may often bite back in the end. Credit agreements can include stipulations that if a single payment is missed, the card holder can be required to pay interest dating back to the original purchase date! Shoppers who fall for these deals don’t always read the fine print before signing. Retail store credit cards may be enticing to shoppers who are offered an immediate 10% off their first purchase when they sign up. They might think, ‘I’ll use it to establish credit.’ But that store card can have a high interest rate. Best to think of these cards as putting a tiny little ticking time bomb in your wallet or purse.

The Lesson: ‘Don’t buy on credit what you think you can afford. If you want a ‘smart fridge,’ consider saving up and paying for it in cash. Make your mortgage and car payments on time, every time, if you want to help build your credit.’

5. Going into business with a friend

The Mistake: ‘Why work for a paycheck with people I don’t know? Why not start a business with a friend so I can have fun every day with people I like building something meaningful?’

The Realities: “This trap actually can sound really good at first glance. The truth is, starting a business with a friend can work. Many great companies have been started by two or more chums with a shared vision and an effective combination of skills. If either of the partners isn’t prepared to handle the challenges of entrepreneurship, the outcome might be disastrous, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It can help if inexperienced entrepreneurs are prepared to:

  • Lose whatever money is contributed as start-up capital
  • Agree at the outset how conflicts will be resolved
  • Avoid talking about business while in the company of family and friends
  • Clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • Develop a well-thought out operating agreement

The Lesson: ‘Understand that the money, pressures, successes, and failures of business have ruined many great friendships. Consider going into business individually and working together as partners, rather than co-owners.’

6. Signing up for a credit card

The Mistake: ‘I need to build credit and this particular card offers great points and a low annual fee! It will only be used in case of emergency.’

The Reality: There are other ways to establish credit, like paying your rent and car loan payments on time. The average American household carries a credit card balance averaging over $17,000. Credit cards can lead to debt that may take years (or decades) to pay off, especially for young people who are inexperienced with budgeting and managing money. The point programs of credit cards are enticing – kind of like when your grocer congratulates you for saving five bucks for using your VIP shopper card. So how exactly did you save money by spending money?

The Lesson: ‘Learn to discipline yourself to save for things you want to buy and then pay for them with cash. Focus on paying off debt – like student loans and car loans – not going further into the hole. And when you have to get a credit card, make sure to pay it off every month, and look for cards with rewards points. They are, in essence, paying you! But be sure to keep Lesson 5 in mind!’

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January 30, 2023

Is a home really an investment?

Is a home really an investment?

The housing market has experienced major peaks and valleys over the past 15 years.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you might be wondering if buying a house is a good investment, or if it even should be considered an investment at all…

“Owning a home is the best investment you can make.”

We’ve all heard this common financial refrain: “Owning a home is the best investment you can make.” The problem with that piece of conventional wisdom is that technically a home isn’t an investment at all. An investment is something that (you hope) will earn you money. A house costs money. We may expect to save money over the long term by buying a home rather than renting, but we shouldn’t (typically) expect to earn money from buying a home.

So, a home normally shouldn’t be considered an investment, but it may offer some financial benefits. In other words, buying a home may be a good financial decision, but not a good investment. A home may cost much more than it gives back – especially at the beginning of ownership.

The costs of homeownership

One reason that buying a home may not be a good investment is that the cost of homeownership may be much higher than renting – especially at first. Many first time homebuyers are unprepared for the added expense of owning a home, plus the amount of time maintaining a home may often require. First-time homebuyers must be prepared to potentially deal with:

  • Higher utility costs
  • Lawn care
  • Regular maintenance such as painting or cleaning gutters
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) if you don’t provide a full 20 percent down payment

A long term commitment

Another problem with considering a house as an investment is that it may take many years to build equity. Mortgages are typically interest heavy in the beginning. You can expect to be well into the life of your mortgage before you may see any real equity in your home.

Having the choice to move without worrying about selling your home is a benefit of renting that homeowners don’t enjoy. The freedom to move for a career goal, romantic interest, or even just a lifestyle choice is mostly available to a renter but may be out of reach for a homeowner. So, be sure to consider your long term goals and aspirations before you start planning to buy a house.

When is buying a home the right move?

Buying a home in many cases can be an excellent financial decision. If you are committed to living in a specific area but the rent is very high, homeownership may have some benefits. Some of those may be:

  • Not having a landlord make decisions about your property
  • Tax savings
  • Building equity
  • A stable place to raise a family

Buying a home: Not always a good investment, but may be a good financial decision

Although buying a home may not pay you in high returns, it can be an excellent financial decision. If owning a home is one of your dreams, go for it. Just be aware of the costs as well as the benefits. If you’ve always wanted to own your own home, then the rewards can be myriad – dollars can’t measure joy and the priceless memories you’ll create with your family.

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

January 23, 2023

Emergency Fund Basics

Emergency Fund Basics

Unexpected expenses are a part of life.

They can crop up at any time and often occur when you least expect them. An emergency expense is usually not a welcome one – it can include anything from car repairs to veterinary care to that field trip fee your 12 year old informed you about the day of. So, what’s the best way to deal with those financial curve balls that life inevitably throws at you? Enter one of the most important personal financial tools you can have – an emergency fund.

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is essential, but it’s also simple. It’s merely a stash of cash reserved solely for a financial emergency. It’s best to keep it in a place where you can access it easily, such as a savings account or a money market fund. (It also might not hurt to keep some actual cash on hand in a safe place in your house.) When disaster strikes – e.g., your water heater dies right before your in-laws arrive for a long weekend – you can pull funds from your emergency stash to make the repairs and then feel free to enjoy a pleasant time with your family.

Some experts recommend building an emergency fund equal to about 6-12 months of your monthly expenses. Don’t let that scare you. This may seem like an enormous amount if you’ve never committed to establishing an emergency fund before. But having any amount of money in an emergency fund is a valuable financial resource which may make the difference between getting past an unexpected bump in the road, and having long term financial hindrances hanging over you, such as credit card debt.

Start where you are

It’s okay to start small when building your emergency fund. Set manageable savings goals. Aim to save $100 by the end of the month, for example. Or shoot for $1,000 if that’s doable for you. Once you get that first big chunk put away, you might be amazed at how good it feels and how much momentum you have to keep going.

Take advantage of automatic savings tools

When starting your emergency fund, it’s a good idea to set up a regular savings strategy. Take a cold, hard look at your budget. Be as objective as possible. This is a new day! Now isn’t the time to beat yourself up over bad money habits you might have had in the past, or how you rationalized about purchases you thought you needed. After going through your budget, decide how much you can realistically put away each month and take that money directly off the top of your income. This is called “paying yourself first”, and it’s a solid habit to form that can serve you the rest of your life.

Once you know the amount you can save each month, see if you can set up an automatic direct deposit for it. (Oftentimes your paycheck can be set to go into two different accounts.) This way the money can be directly deposited into a savings account each time you get paid, and you might not even miss it. But you’ll probably be glad it’s there when you need it!

Don’t touch your emergency fund for anything other than emergencies

This is rule #1. The commitment to use your emergency fund for emergencies only is key to making this powerful financial tool work. If you’re dipping into this fund every time you come across a great seasonal sale or a popular new mail-order subscription box, the funds for emergencies might be gone when a true emergency comes up.

So keep in mind: A girls’ three day weekend, buying new designer boots – no matter how big the mark-down is – and enjoying the occasional spa day are probably NOT really emergencies (although these things may be important). Set up a separate “treat yourself fund” for them. Reserve your emergency fund for those persnickety car breakdowns, unexpected medical bills, or urgent home repairs.

The underpinning of financial security

An emergency fund is about staying prepared financially and having the resources to handle life if (and when) things go sideways. If you don’t have an emergency fund, begin building one today. Start small, save consistently, and you’ll be better prepared to catch those life-sized curve balls.

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January 16, 2023

Quick Guide: Life Insurance for Stay-at-Home Parents

Quick Guide: Life Insurance for Stay-at-Home Parents

Life insurance is vitally important for any young family just starting out.

Milestones like buying a home, having a baby, and saving for the future can bring brand new challenges. A solid life insurance strategy can help with accommodating the needs of a growing family in a new phase of life.

A life insurance policy’s benefits can

  • Replace income
  • Pay off debt
  • Cover funeral costs
  • Finance long-term care
  • And even more, depending on the type of policy you have.

And replacing family income doesn’t only mean covering the lost income of one earning parent.

Replacing the loss of income provided by a stay-at-home parent is just as important.

According to Salary.com, if a stay-at-home mom were to be compensated monetarily for performing her duties as a mother, she should receive $184,820 annually. That number factors in important services like childcare, keeping up the household, and providing transportation. Sudden loss of those services can be devastating to the way a family functions as well as expensive to replace.

Stay-at-home parents need life insurance coverage, too.

Contact me today to learn more about getting the life insurance coverage you need for your family and building a financial plan that will provide for your loved ones in case a traumatic life event occurs.

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December 21, 2022

How to Know When You Need Life Insurance

How to Know When You Need Life Insurance

You might expect someone in the insurance business to tell you that anyone and everyone needs life insurance.

But certain life events underscore the reasons to secure a policy or to review the coverage you already have in place, to help ensure that it’s structured properly for your needs going forward.

Following are some of them…

You got married.

Congrats! If you have a life insurance policy through your employer, it probably won’t provide enough coverage to replace your income for more than a year or so if you pass unexpectedly. (You might want to find out the specifics for your policy.) It’s time to get a quote and learn your coverage options now that you have a spouse.

You started a family.

Having children is a responsibility that lasts for decades – and costs a lot. The average cost of raising a child until age 18 is estimated at $310,605.¹ That figure doesn’t include college tuition, fees, room and board, etc. It’s time to consider a coverage strategy.

You bought a house.

We don’t always live in the same house for the length of a mortgage, but a mortgage is a long-term commitment and one that needs to be paid to help ensure your family has a roof over their heads. In many cases, two incomes are needed to cover the mortgage as well as life’s other expenses. Buying a home is among the top reasons families buy life insurance.

You started a business.

Congrats, again! Starting your own business may be a terrific way to build your income, but it isn’t without risk. Business loans are often secured by personal guarantees which may affect your family if something were to happen to you. Also consider the consequences if you aren’t around to run the business. How much time and money would be needed to find a replacement or to close the business down? All things to consider when looking for coverage.

You took on debt.

Any sizeable debt can be a reason to consider purchasing life insurance. When we die, our debt doesn’t die with us. Instead, it’s settled out of our estate and paying that debt may require liquidating savings, selling assets, or both. In some cases, family members may be on the hook for the debt, particularly if the only remaining asset is the home they still live in. Life insurance can help put a buffer between creditors and your family, helping prevent a difficult financial situation.

Your birthday is coming.

Seriously. Life insurance rates may be more affordable now than they’ve been in the past – but every year you wait may cost you money in the form of higher premiums. Life insurance rates go up with age.

It never hurts to take some time and review the coverage that you have in place. To be sure, life insurance can be an essential part of a financial strategy and help provide a safety net for your family if something were to happen to you.

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¹ “What does it cost to raise a child?”, Abha Bhattarai, Dan Keating, Stephanie Hays, The Washington Post, Oct 13, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/interactive/2022/cost-raising-child-calculator/

December 19, 2022

How Young People Can Use Life Insurance

How Young People Can Use Life Insurance

Sometimes life insurance doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

Most of us know it’s used to replace income if the worst were to happen, but that’s about it. If you’re in your twenties and just starting out on your own, especially if you’re single or don’t have kids yet, you might be thinking that getting a life insurance policy is something to put off until later in life.

On closer inspection however, life insurance can be a multi-faceted financial tool that has many interesting applications for your here-and-now. In fact, there’s probably a life insurance policy for most every person or situation.

Read on for some uses of life insurance you may be able to take advantage of when you’re young – you might find some interesting surprises!

Loan collateral

If you have your eye on entrepreneurship, life insurance can be of great service. Some types of business loans may require you to have a life insurance policy as collateral. If you have an eye on starting a business and think you may need a business loan, put a life insurance policy into place.

Pay off debt

A permanent life insurance policy has cash value. This is the amount the policy is worth should you choose to cash it in before the death benefit is needed. If you’re in a financial bind with debt – maybe from unexpected medical expenses or some other emergency you weren’t anticipating – using the cash value on the policy to pay off the debt may be an option. Some policies will even let you borrow against this cash value and repay it back with interest. (Note: If you’re thinking about utilizing the cash benefit of your life insurance policy, talk to a financial professional about the consequences.)

Charitable spending

If a certain cause or charity is near and dear to you, consider using the death benefit of a life insurance policy as a charitable gift. You can select your favorite charity or nonprofit organization and list them as a beneficiary on your life insurance policy. This will allow them to receive a tax-free gift when you pass away.

Leave a legacy of wealth

A life insurance policy can serve as a legacy to your beneficiaries. Consider purchasing a life insurance policy to serve as an inheritance. This is a good option if you are planning on using most or all of your savings during your non-working retirement years.

Mortgage down payment

The cash value of a whole life policy may be able to be used for large expenses, such as home buying. A whole life policy can serve as a down payment on a home – for you or for your children or grandchildren.

Key man insurance

Key man insurance is a useful tool for businesses. A key person is someone in your business with proprietary knowledge or some other business knowledge on which your business depends.

A business may purchase a life insurance policy on a key man (or woman) to help the business navigate the readjustment should that person die unexpectedly. A life insurance policy can help the business bridge that time and potential downturn in income, and help cover expenses to deal with the loss.

Financing college education

With the rising cost of college tuition, many families are looking for tools to finance their children’s college education. You may consider using the cash value of your life insurance policy to help with college tuition. Just remember to account for any possible tax implications you may incur.

Life insurance policies have many uses. There are great applications for young people, business owners, and just about anyone. Talk to a financial professional about your financial wishes to see how a life insurance policy can work for you.

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Read all of your policy documents carefully so that you understand what situations your policies cover or don’t cover. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Before purchasing an insurance policy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options and the consequences with use of the policy.

December 14, 2022

Home Insurance: A Primer

Home Insurance: A Primer

A properly set up home insurance policy can be peace of mind.

Home insurance is designed to help you financially if something goes wrong with your home. It’s one of the most important insurance coverages you can have because it protects the very place that protects you.

Home insurance is a contract. Your policy lays out what it covers and what it doesn’t cover. It also includes your rights and responsibilities and those of your home insurance company. So how do you know if you have the right type of home insurance policy? How can you help ensure your home insurance will cover what you need it to cover? Read on to learn some basics.

What does a home insurance policy cover?

Basically, home insurance pays to repair or replace your home or property if it’s damaged in a covered loss, such as theft or fire. A proper home insurance policy also should offer liability protection if someone is injured on your property and then sues you.

Do you have to purchase homeowner’s insurance?

Homeowner’s insurance may be required if you have a mortgage. Your bank will want to make sure the asset is protected, so they’ll likely require you to purchase a homeowner’s policy. They’ll also want to see proof of coverage – sometimes called a binder or an Evidence of Insurance certificate. Such a document will list the insurance limit, deductible, and declare the bank as the mortgage holder.

How much insurance do you need on your home?

The limit for your home policy is based on the cost to replace your home – not the value of the home – and on several other factors. Considerations for replacement cost include:

Construction: The replacement cost of your home will depend greatly on the construction. Is it a wood frame? Masonry? Concrete block? What is the square footage? How about roof construction? All these construction features will help determine the replacement cost of your home.

Personal property: The policy limit for your personal property typically defaults to a percentage of the amount for which your home is covered. For example, if your home is insured for $100,000 and the percentage is 50%, the default personal property limit would be $50,000.

Bonus tip: Highly valuable personal property is excluded from typical homeowner policies. Special property such as antiques, fine art, or jewelry may be covered only up to a certain sublimit. If you have highly valuable property stored within your home, talk to your insurance professional about getting the proper coverage for these items.

Liability insurance: As stated, a basic home insurance policy should come with some liability coverage to protect you if you end up in a lawsuit. Such a suit may stem from someone getting injured on your property.

Bonus tip: Homeowners should have some extra liability protection. An “umbrella” liability policy can add more liability coverage in case you end up in a lawsuit.

What type of deductible should I select?

A typical homeowner policy deductible is between $500-$1,000 (this can vary by state).¹ But there are options for $5,000 all the way up to $100,000 deductibles. Some policies offer percentage deductibles where the deductible is counted as a percentage of the policy limit. For example, if your home is insured for $150,000 and you carry a 10% deductible, your out-of-pocket cost in the event of a claim would be $15,000.

Many homeowners opt for a high deductible to save on the cost of the policy. Bonus tip: Select the highest deductible you can afford. Just keep in mind that if you have a claim, you are responsible for paying the deductible. If the damage is less than the deductible, you will have to make the repairs without the help of insurance. Know your risks and select the right policy.

Home insurance policies don’t cover everything. They contain exclusions. For example, many homeowners policies don’t cover flood damage. Flood insurance must be purchased separately. If you live in a coastal area or near a large body of water, consider purchasing a flood insurance policy.

Bonus tip: Flood insurance has become more important for homeowners in recent years. Flooding can cause catastrophic damage and can also affect homeowners who are not in a so-called “flood zone”.

Knowledge is power. The more you know about homeowners insurance, the better prepared you’ll be if something goes wrong with your home. Get to know your policy’s limits, coverage, and deductibles, so you can help ensure you have the coverage you need, when you need it.

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Please consult with a qualified professional and read all of your homeowners insurance documents carefully. Make sure you understand your policy(s) and know what situations are covered or not covered.

¹ “Average Homeowners Insurance Deductible,” Jeff Gitlen, LendEDU, Aug 31, 2021, https://lendedu.com/blog/average-homeowners-insurance-deductible/

December 7, 2022

How to Handle an Inheritance

How to Handle an Inheritance

If you’ve just come into an inheritance or another windfall like a settlement, it may be tempting to spend a little (or a lot) on some indulgences.

Even if – especially if – you’re already prudent with your budget and spending habits. You might be thinking, “I’m on top of my finances. What’s the harm of blowing a little cash on a few treats?” But read on. An inheritance or other monetary bonus – if handled wisely – has the potential to make a lifelong financial difference.

Start with these tips to help you make some lasting decisions about your newfound money.

Don’t make quick decisions

If you’ve received an inheritance from the death of a family member, you may want to take some time to grieve and start to develop a “new normal” before you make any big financial decisions.

Consider parking the money in a money market account or a high-interest rate savings account and letting it sit until you’re ready. A good rule of thumb when making a major financial decision is to give it at least 30 days. Shelve it for 30 days and then see how you feel. If you’re still not sure, put it back on the shelf for another 30 days.

Don’t feel rushed into making decisions about how to handle the money. It’s more important to take your time and make a careful decision than rushing into purchasing big-ticket items or making investments that may not be right for you.

Don’t shout it from the rooftops

Be cautious with whom you talk to about the inheritance. It’s best to discuss it with only a few trusted friends or family members. The more people you tell, the more “advice” you’re going to get about what you should do with the money. Some might even ask you to invest in one of their interests. (Which may be OK – that’s up to you!)

If you do come in to some money, one of your first calls should be to a qualified financial professional. Remember, it’s probably best to keep input minimal at this point, so tell as few people as possible.

Create a financial strategy

When you’re ready, it’s time to create a financial strategy. A financial professional can help you clarify your financial goals and offer a roadmap to get you there. No matter how much you inherited, developing a financial strategy is a must. Here are a few considerations to start:

Debt: If you have debt that is costing you money in the form of interest, this may be a good time to pay it off.

Emergency fund: If you don’t have a proper emergency fund, consider using some of the inheritance to fund one. An emergency fund should be 6-12 months of expenses put away in an easily accessible account for emergencies. An emergency is something like home or car repairs or unexpected medical bills (not a spur of the moment vacation or purchase).

Pay down your mortgage: If you have a mortgage, you may want to pay down as much as possible with some of the inheritance. The smaller your mortgage the better, because you’ll end up spending less in interest.

Saving for retirement: Saving some of your inheritance is probably never going to be a bad choice. Work with a financial professional to see what your options are.

Charitable donations: A charitable gift is always a good idea.

Have some fun

Coming into some unexpected money is exciting! You may be tempted to rush out and start spending. Make sure you do your financial decision-making first and then be sure to have some fun. Maybe give yourself 10 percent of the money to just enjoy. Maybe you want to take a cruise or buy a new high-end kayak. The point is to treat yourself to something, but only after you have a solid financial strategy in place.

An inheritance is a gift

Keep in mind that an inheritance is a gift. Somewhere along the line, someone worked for every one of those dollars. Something to keep in mind is that you can honor that person’s hard work by being a responsible steward of their gift.

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December 5, 2022

Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

When you apply to purchase a life insurance policy, you may be asked to submit to a life insurance medical exam.

The insurance company requests this exam to determine your risk for certain medical conditions. They may also test for drugs in your system, including nicotine.

Depending on the insurance company, the medical exam may include blood work, a urinalysis, physical examination, and maybe even an EKG.

Also, in case you were wondering, many insurers will pay for the exam when you’re seeking a whole or term life insurance policy.

What you can expect during a life insurance medical exam

After you submit your application for life insurance, a third party company will contact you to schedule your exam. These companies are hired by the life insurance carrier to conduct exams on their behalf. They may come to your home or have you visit a medical facility.

You may be asked to refrain from having anything to eat or drink for at least 12 hours prior to your exam.

The exam typically takes less than 30 minutes and may consist of:

  • Taking your height and weight
  • Questions about your health as stated on your application
  • A blood draw
  • Urine sample

When your test is complete, and your results are ready, the company furnishes your results to the insurance carrier. You may also request a copy.

What does a life insurance medical exam test for?

A life insurance medical exam investigates three major areas:

  • Confirming the information you provided on your application
  • The condition of your health
  • Illicit drug use

The exam may test for diseases such as HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. It also may identify indicators of heart disease such as a high cholesterol level. The test results may also point out kidney disease or diabetes.

How to prepare for your life insurance medical exam

Be honest: It’s important to complete your application completely and honestly. If the insurance carrier finds a misrepresentation on your application, they can deny coverage. Keep in mind, the application may ask about your lifestyle and if you regularly participate in dangerous activities, such as skydiving. You may also be asked about driving history and speeding tickets.

Eat a healthy diet: Be mindful of your diet in the days and weeks leading up to your exam. Lower your sodium intake as well as your consumption of fatty or sugary foods. Salt, sugar, and fat may elevate your blood pressure and cholesterol, so it may be best to avoid them to help get the best results.

Shed a few pounds: If you’re above a healthy weight for your height, try to shed some pounds before the exam. If you’re overweight, your insurance carrier may charge a higher premium on your policy. It’s best to be as close to your healthy weight as possible.

Abstain from alcohol: Refrain from drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours before your exam. This will help ensure you don’t have a high blood alcohol level.

Drink plenty of water: Hydrating properly helps to flush toxins out of your system, and it may also make the exam more comfortable. You’ll have an easier time producing a urine sample and your veins will be easier to reach for a blood draw.

Dress lightly and practice good posture: Clothing can increase your weight by a few pounds, so dress lightly. Especially if you are approaching an unhealthy weight, your clothing may push you into a higher weight class. Also, stand tall so you are measured at full height.

Keep calm and… Undergoing a life insurance medical exam can make even the healthiest person a little nervous. Stay calm and complete the application as honestly as you can.

Hint: If you can’t pass a life insurance medical exam, consider a guaranteed issue life insurance policy.

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This article is for informational purposes only. You should discuss your exam criteria with a qualified financial professional.

November 30, 2022

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

How to Have Your Dream Wedding Without Nightmare Spending

Planning a wedding is both exciting and stressful. There are many moving parts to coordinate – guest lists, venues, menus.

Not to mention the fact that you’re making some major financial decisions – maybe your first as a couple. Needless to say, your wedding is a huge milestone. It’s easy to get caught up in the wave of excitement. But it’s also easy to go overboard with spending. One day you get engaged and the next thing you know, you’re looking at your wedding album (along with some potentially major credit card bills).

To keep your wedding costs as reasonable as possible, consider a fresh perspective. Read on for a few pointers to keep in mind as you embark on this new adventure.

Take the time to get your mind in the game

When you first commit to walk down the aisle together, it may be tempting to rush right out and buy your fantasy dress, secure the location where you’ll exchange your vows, and get your order in for your dream wedding cake. But slowing down a little and thinking about what would really make your day special can help corral your wedding costs (so you’ll have that much more for a down payment on your first home, for example).

Set a budget and stick to it

The average cost of a wedding in the United States is more than $34,000.¹ But don’t panic. You don’t have to spend $34,000 to have an unforgettable day. You’ve probably been to wonderful weddings that cost less than $1,000 as well as huge ballroom style weddings that can approach six figures.

Spend as much or as little as you can afford. The important point is to set a budget and stick to it. So sit down with your partner and create a budget you can live with, not just for the day itself, but for your future together. Decide on your most important elements, set the costs for them, and get started checking items off your list!

Spend only on what’s important to you

One thing to keep in mind is that this is your day. Your wedding doesn’t have to be all things to all people. What is most important to you and your fiancé? Love gourmet food? Maybe you splurge a bit on your menu. Into fashion? Maybe your attire is the big ticket item. Don’t care much for alcohol? Skip it and budget more money toward the DJ.

Call in favors and use your friends’ talents

Enlisting help from your friends not only can save money on wedding costs, but it can also make your wedding feel more personal and special. Gather up your talented friends and ask for their help.

Ask close friends to participate in the wedding prep instead of purchasing gifts. Acquaintances? Ask them if they will share their expertise for a minimal fee.

Hint: If your style is more casual, skip the professional photographer and ask your guests to take pictures with their smartphones. You can save a ton of money and end up with great true-to-life photos of your wedding (instead of professional portraits that might look a bit stuffy).

Stay calm and plan on

If you begin planning without a clear vision for how you want your day to unfold, you can quickly get caught up in the frenzy. Vendors and party planners will be happy to sell you lots of extras you may not want or need. So, think carefully about your plan, know it well, and stick to it as execution gets underway.

In short, the best way to save money on your wedding isn’t about cutting corners and limiting your guest list. Like any financial matter, it’s about knowing what’s important to you, setting a budget, and getting creative. Not only can this help save money on your wedding, but it also ensures a wedding that is uniquely yours. And the best news? Having some money left over for the honeymoon!

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¹ “This Was the Average Cost of a Wedding in 2021,” Kim Forrest The Knot, Feb 15, 2022, https://www.theknot.com/content/average-wedding-cost

November 28, 2022

Understanding Compounding in Investments

Understanding Compounding in Investments

Successful investors like Warren Buffett didn’t just hit a home run on a stock pick.

Warren Buffett hit lots of home runs, but compounding turned those home runs into history-making investment achievements.

Compounding doesn’t have to be a big mystery. It just means that the annual increase is added to the previous year’s balance, which, on average, gives each year a larger base for the next year’s increase. The concept of compounding applies to any interest-bearing savings or investments or to average percentage gains.

Here’s a quick example:

Starting investment: $10,000 Interest rate: 7%

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 1.32.35 PM

The rule of 7 & 10

There’s a reason a 7 percent return was chosen for this example. You can see that the total interest return over 10 years is about double the original investment. This is an example of the “Rule of 7 & 10”, which says that money doubles in 10 years at 7 percent return and that it doubles in 7 years at 10 percent interest. It’s not an exact rule, but it’s close enough so you can quickly estimate without a spreadsheet or calculator.

The simple interest example above only begins to show the power of compounding. It doesn’t include any additional investments after year one. In investing, compounding can come from more places than one, particularly if the stocks you own pay dividends. (A dividend is a share of the profit that is distributed to shareholders.)

Compounding in investing

Investing in stocks or mutual funds may provide an average annual return in line with the simple interest example, assuming investments are well diversified to mimic the broad market performance. For example, the S&P 500 return over the past 10 years is just over 7 percent annualized.[i] When you adjust for dividends, the annualized return is close to 10 percent. If those numbers sound familiar – like the rule of 7 & 10 – it’s a coincidence, but the past 10 years of S&P returns are very close to historical averages. Knowing what we now know, it’s easy to figure out that $10,000 will double in 7 years, assuming that market performance is aligned with historical averages. In reality, market performance may be higher or lower than past averages – but over a longer time line, short term peaks and valleys usually blend into an overall trend in direction.

If you’re concerned that you don’t know as much about investing as Warren Buffett, don’t think you need to be an oracle to be a successful investor. Many times, the best stock to pick for individual investors may be no stock at all. There are a myriad of investment options from which to choose without buying stocks directly. Talk to your financial professional about what choices may be available for you.

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¹ “S&P 500 Return Calculator, with Dividend Reinvestment” DQYDJ, Sep 24th, 2022, https://dqydj.com/sp-500-return-calculator/

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

November 16, 2022

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Renter or Owner: What type of insurance do you need?

Whether you’re renting or you own your home, there are various insurance options you may want to consider.

Like any insurance, they’ll help provide financial coverage in the event of an unexpected disaster. There are also varying levels of insurance that you may choose.

For Homeowners

There’s a general category known as “homeowner’s insurance”, which usually covers four categories: interior and exterior damage, damage to or loss of possessions on the property, and personal liability coverage that will help cover the cost of injuries sustained while on the property (such as if a guest slips and falls down the steps to the front door). The damages section of the policy usually won’t cover acts of war or nature, the latter including things like volcanic eruptions or floods. However, many policies will cover lodging and meals while the property is under construction and not able to be inhabited for the duration, such as if an exterior wall is destroyed by fire.

For geographical areas prone to certain disasters, a separate, specialized insurance policy may need to be purchased in order to cover damages or loss caused by such disasters. For example, for areas that are low-lying and near rivers where frequent heavy storms occur, general insurance may not cover damage to the property. Conversely, properties in mountainous areas are unlikely to need flood insurance but may need earthquake and/or landslide insurance if such events are more common there.

For Renters

While homeowner insurance will cover damage to the property – which is a major concern for those with a financial stake in the property – renter’s insurance usually covers damage to and loss of possessions, and also offers coverage for personal liability for injuries sustained on the property. The landlord likely has an insurance policy on the property to help protect against financial loss in the event of physical damage, but their insurance unlikely will extend to the tenant’s possessions or guests’ injuries. Thus, those who rent the property will need to consider insurance policies for these events.

Which Policies to Choose

As with any insurance policy, there may be deductibles, liability limits, covered and noncovered events and assets, and premiums. Generally the higher the limits and the broader the group of included incidents or assets, the higher the premium will be.

Some issues to consider:

  • If you choose a high deductible you may have a lower premium.
  • If you have guests over regularly, greater coverage for personal liability may be worthwhile.
  • If you travel often, an extension to protection may be a good idea. This is because many insurance policies may not cover theft or certain damages (like those arising from fire) for “vacant” homes, since these can be a greater risk when no one is living there for an extended period.
  • Many companies and policies may offer discounts to the premium if you have certain protections, like an alarm system, if you regularly perform maintenance, or opt for fire-retardant materials.
  • Some companies offer premium discounts if you have for example, both your car insurance and your renter’s or homeowener’s insurance with them.

The bottom line is that you should shop around for the best rates and coverage. Each individual will need to find the best fit. Make sure you have coverage for any specific circumstances that may be common in your area. And most importantly, make sure you thoroughly read and understand your policies, and the situations they cover, and don’t cover.

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November 14, 2022

How much home can you afford?

How much home can you afford?

For most households, buying a home means getting a mortgage, which means lenders play a big role in declaring how much house you can “afford”.

Many people take that calculation as a guide in choosing which house they want to buy, but after you’ve signed the papers and moved in, the lender might not be much help in working out the details of your family budget or making ends meet.

Let’s take a look behind the curtain. What is it that lenders look at when determining how large of a mortgage payment you can feasibly make?

The 28-36 Rule

Lenders look closely at income and debt when qualifying you for a certain mortgage amount. One of the rules of thumb at play is that housing expenses shouldn’t run more than 28% of your total gross income.¹ You also may hear this referred to as the “housing ratio” or the “front-end ratio”. The 28% rule is a good guideline – even for renters – and has been a common way to budget for household expenses over many generations. Using this rule of thumb, if your monthly income is $4,000, the average person would probably be able to afford up to $1,120 for a mortgage payment.

Lenders also check your total debt, which they call debt-to-income (DTI). Ideally, this should be below 36% of your income. You can calculate this on your own by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly income. For example, if your car loans, credit cards, and other debt payments add up to $2,000 per month and your gross income is $4,000 per month, it’s unlikely that you’ll qualify for a loan. Most likely you would need to get your monthly debt payments down to $1,440 (36% of $4,000) or under, or find a way to make more money to try to qualify.

Buying less home than you can afford

While the 28% and 36% rules are there to help provide safeguards for lenders – and for you, by extension – buying a home at the top end of your budget can still be risky business. If you purchase a home with a payment equal to the maximum amount your lender has determined, you may not be leaving much room for error, such as an unexpected job loss or other financial emergency. If something expensive breaks – like your furnace or the central air unit – that one event could be enough to bring down the whole house of cards. Consider buying a home with a mortgage payment below your maximum budget and think about upsizing later or if your income grows.

A home as an investment?

A lot of people will always think of their home as an investment in an asset – and in many cases it is – but it’s also an investment in your family’s comfort, safety, and well-being. In reality, homes usually don’t appreciate much more than the rate of inflation and – as the past decade has shown – they can even go down in value. Your home, as a financial tool, isn’t likely to make you rich. In fact, it may do the opposite, if your mortgage payment takes up so great a percentage of your monthly budget that there’s nothing left over to invest, pay down debt, save for a rainy day, or enjoy.

Homes are one of those areas where many discover that less can be more. Whether it’s your first home or you’re trading in the old house for a new one, you might be better served by looking at how big of a mortgage payment you can afford within your current budget, rather than setting your sights on the house your lender says you can afford.

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¹ “How Much House Can I Afford?” David McMillin, Bankrate, https://www.bankrate.com/real-estate/new-house-calculator/

November 9, 2022

How to expect the unexpected

How to expect the unexpected

Unexpected expenses can put a damper on your financial life.

You never know what may come up – vet bills, car repairs, unplanned travel expenses. Life is nothing if not full of surprises.

So, how do you pay for unexpected expenses when they arise? Borrow? Use your credit card? Take out a payday loan?

There is a better way. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some cash stored away to help you out when those emergencies pop up? Well, you can! It’s called an emergency fund. That’s what it’s for!

What is an emergency fund?

An emergency fund is a designated amount of cash – easily accessible – to prevent you from going into debt in case of a financial emergency. But how much should you put aside? Most experts agree a suitable amount for an emergency fund is 6 months’ worth of expenses.¹

Sound like a lot of money? It is, but don’t let that stop you. An emergency fund can help make the difference between getting through a single emergency with merely a hiccup or spiraling down the financial rabbit hole of debt. Or it may help you ride through a few months if you lose your source of income.

It’s okay to start small

The thought of saving six months’ worth of income might make most of us throw up our hands in defeat before we even start.

Don’t let that get you down, though. The point is to start, even if it’s small. Just don’t give up. Begin with a goal of saving $500. Once you’ve achieved that, celebrate it! And then work on the next $500.

Slowly, over time, your emergency fund will increase and hopefully, so will your peace of mind.

Take advantage of “found money”

Found money is extra money that comes your way, that isn’t part of your normal income. It can include things like bonuses, inheritances, gifts, or cash from selling personal items.

When you find yourself with some found money, keep the 50/50 rule in mind. Put half the money toward your emergency fund, and put half toward whatever you like – your retirement, making this holiday season a little extra special, or add it to the college fund.

Let’s say you earned a bonus of $500 at your job. You worked hard and want to reward yourself. Go for it! Use half the bonus to buy the new shoes or the basketball game tickets, but put the other half in your emergency fund. It’ll be a win-win for you.

Take advantage of direct deposit

One of the best ways to help build your emergency fund is to make your deposits automatic. Siphon off a percentage of your paycheck into your emergency fund. Again, it’s key to start small here.

Know what an emergency is and what it is not

One of the fundamentals of building and maintaining an emergency fund is knowing what an emergency is and what it’s not. Unexpected expenses that require a dip into your emergency fund will happen – that’s what it’s for. But tapping in to your emergency fund on a regular basis shouldn’t be the norm. (If it is, you might need to take a look at your overall budget.)

Unexpected expenses your emergency fund may help cover:

  • Car repairs
  • Unexpected medical bills
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Unplanned travel for a death in the family

Some expenses that are not really emergencies:

  • A great sale on a cute winter coat
  • A spur of the moment weekend getaway
  • A spa day – no matter how much you need it!

Keep financial safety in mind

So the next time you see a gorgeous pair of shoes that you just “have to have” – ask yourself if they’ll be worth it if your 10-year-old dishwasher fails and your next dishwasher has to be you!

Don’t forget – start small. An emergency fund is about helping put a financial safety net in place. Don’t find yourself potentially compounding the difficulty of a true emergency by not having the funds to deal with it.

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¹ “Emergency Fund: What It Is and Why It Matters,” Margarette Burnette, Nerdwallet, Dec 21, 2021, https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/banking/banking-basics/life-build-emergency-fund/

November 7, 2022

Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

Most of us might feel at least a little anxiety when the subject of preparing for retirement comes up.

Many Americans feel like they haven’t saved enough. In the face of inflation, 40% of American workers plan on working longer to make up for what they haven’t saved.¹

But anticipating staying in the workforce may not be the best strategy when it comes to funding your golden years. Why? Because there are many unforeseen events that can affect your ability (or desire) to work – health problems, caretaking, loss of opportunity in your field… or just wanting to spend time with your grandkids or travel with your partner.

With so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many Americans feel stressed, burdened, and unprepared when it comes to saving for retirement.

But don’t let retirement worries steal your joy. When it comes to saving for retirement there are a lot of choices you can make to help you prepare. Read on for some principles and tips that may help lessen your stress about the future.

Small changes add up

Retirement saving may seem like an insurmountable task when faced with the high cost of daily life. It’s easy to think we can’t afford to save for retirement and get stuck in a pattern of defeat. But small changes over time can add up to big results.

Shake off despair by implementing small strategies. Consistent saving adds up over time, and it can help build your finance muscle. Read on for some more easy tips.

Direct deposit

Set up a portion of your direct deposit to go straight into a savings account. This is a “set it and forget it” savings strategy, and you’ll be amazed how quickly it can build.

Save found money

Found money is extra cash that comes your way outside of your normal income. It can be from bonuses, gifts, or even a side gig. You weren’t planning on receiving that money anyway, so throw it right into your savings.

Practice frugality

Instead of becoming stressed out and hyper-focused on saving every possible penny, practice frugality. Frugal living can put your energy into something positive – creating a new habit and lifestyle. Also, frugal habits may help prepare you for living on a fixed income during retirement. Try these tips for starters:

Consider downsizing your home

Cut back or eliminate “extras” such as dining out, movies, and concerts When making a purchase, use any available coupons or discount codes Seek sources of free entertainment such as community festivals or neighborhood gatherings

Hire a financial professional

If no matter what you do you still can’t help feeling unprepared and stressed about your retirement, consider hiring a financial professional.

A financial professional may be able to help you change your perspective on preparing for retirement and help empower you with strategies custom made for you.

Remember, financial professionals work with people of all income levels, so don’t hesitate if you need help to get a handle on your retirement. They may assist with:

  • Creating a budget
  • Setting up savings accounts
  • Clarifying your retirement goals
  • Strategies for eliminating debt

Change your perspective on preparing for retirement

If you’re anxious about having enough money for your retirement, try changing your perspective. Focus on small goals and lifestyle habits. Frugality, consistent savings, and solid financial strategies may help take the stress out of retirement planning.

Consistency over time is the name of the game with retirement savings. So implement a few strategies that you can live with now.

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¹ “What Happens When 40% of Workers Postpone Retirement? We’re About to Find Out,” Mary Ellen Cagnassola, Money, Oct 3, 2022, https://money.com/40-percent-older-americans-delay-retirement-inflation-effect-on-younger-workers/#:~:text=Forty%20percent%20of%20American%20workers,Institute%2C%20a%20retirement%20insights%20group.

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